A daily dose of beauty and inspiration.

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The Lernen to Talk Show

With hard work and dedication you can learn a language in one year too!  Here’s living proof.

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Uploaded on Jun 11, 2011

Nature’s beauty can be easily missed — but not through Louie Schwartzberg’s lens. His stunning time-lapse photography, accompanied by powerful words from Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, serves as a meditation on being grateful for every day. (Filmed at TEDxSF.)

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The Power of Belief

Published on Nov 18, 2012

The way we understand our intelligence and abilities deeply impacts our success. Based on social science research and real life examples, Eduardo Briceño articulates how mindset, or the understanding of intelligence and abilities, is key. When students or adults see their abilities as fixed, whether they think they’re naturals or just not built for a certain domain, they avoid challenge and lose interest when things get hard. Conversely, when they understand that abilities are developed, they more readily adopt learning-oriented behaviors such as deliberate practice and grit that enable them to achieve their goals. But this belief is itself malleable, and there are clear actions we can all take to establish a growth mindset and enable success for our children, our peers and ourselves.

Eduardo Briceño is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mindset Works (http://www.mindsetworks.com), an organization that helps schools and other organizations cultivate a growth mindset culture. The growth mindset was discovered by Stanford professor and Mindset Works co-founder Carol Dweck, Ph.D., and is described in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (http://www.mindsetonline.com). Mindset Works offers Brainology, an innovative blended learning program to teach a growth mindset to students, teachers and schools, as well as teacher professional development and tools (http://www.mindsetworks.com/brainology/).

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How Laos busses transformed us into SuperWomen.

March 26, 2015

By now Richelle and I have taken quite a few busses around Asia(1); they’re cheap and frequent, but that’s mostly it for their ‘pros’. If you’re a traveler on a budget, they are a necessary evil.

In the past month (Feb/March 2015) we’ve logged about 45 hours on various types and classes of bus (2). Most of those trips are better described as endurance tests, usually requiring a couple of days afterwards to work out various body kinks, sore backs, colds, and to catch up on lost sleep.  But the last one was the one folks, the one that transformed us into Super Women.

This bus was a VIP Sleeper Bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, Laos, advertised as an 8 hour night trip (10pm – 6am).   We booked it through an agent and paid more for it due to its VIP classification.   The ticket agent assured us that we would get a double sleeper near the front (3)of the bus. We were looking forward to sleeping our way to the destination (our expectations weren’t too high ~ we’re veterans now and not that naïve) and arrive ready for a day of exploration in a new and exciting city.

You’ve probably guessed by now that the bus was… not to our liking, but, you can’t possibly imagine the actual horror of it! This is how our transformation began…

As we’re arriving at the pickup destination the ticket agent instructs us: ‘just leave your luggage, RUN, go line up for the bus’, he would take care of the luggage for us.  Ha!  He chose that minute to tell us because, unknown to us, another tuk-tuk load of tourists are also racing to catch the same bus and the seating is limited (people have been known to have to sit in the aisle for an entire trip!). Everyone knows what this means and… the Amazing Race is on! Every desperate ‘falang’ for themselves! Richelle unloads or rather throws out the luggage from the tuk-tuk and we make the mad dash for the bus, daring anyone to butt in front of us: we’re stoked, ready and willing to take on anyone who threatens to take our spot in the queue.

As I requested, they did save us a double berth and thankfully, it wasn’t in the lower 5 berth, in fact there was no lower 5, that was filled to the rafters with baggage. Though, our berth was right in front of it. To get into it you had to be very creative ~ they had tied a dirty bus tire to the main berth entry, leaving a 2’x1’ opening to squirm into it. So my first transformation was into a contortionists. Did I mention that I injured my shoulder the week before and had it immobilized for most of that time ~ I was not happy. The bus aisle is less than half a regular aisle because they have double berths on both sides of the bus, also, they must have filled the storage space below because there was no room for most of our baggage in the hold. Their solution was to line the aisle with it. They even piled it up in from of our entry hole. So now our backpacks have a dual purpose, they’ve become foot cleaners and stepping-stones for everyone, (Holy Cow Batman!)

I truly know now, how Winnie the Pooh felt when he got stuck in the Rabbits hole. After some pushing, shoving and lots of grunting we finally got in and took stock at what we got ourselves into. It was not pretty but incredibly we found it hilarious ~ at first! If only our friends and family could see us now! The seat covering was vinyl, perfect for hot, sweaty skin to produce more sweat for sliding around in on an incredible bumpy and winding road.   Now add to that the gravelly dirt from previous tenants and you get a good mixture for 9 hours of skin exfoliation. Our shoulders were pressed together, our feet are stuck in a plastic compartment made for size 6 shoe (we’re size 9), and impeding our head space is some of that excess baggage. The window is 4 inches high so that when you look up, to look out, you get glimpses of tree tops and sky ~ at least it’s something, right! Within 10 seconds of pulling away, the driver turns off the neon disco lights, which is a relief at first,  but then, it’s pitch black and things start feeling a little more dire, not so funny anymore.   Just like SuperWoman, my mind switches into over-drive with the ‘what if’ game. OMG! How am I going to squeeze out of the 4 inch window in case of emergency, etc… To top things off, I now have to pee!

Luckily, the bus driver stopped within 2 hours. Richelle and I squirm our way out of our hole to get to the nasty W/C. On our way back down the aisle to start the squirming struggle into our lair, the man behind Richelle doesn’t feel we’re going fast enough. What he does next to remedy the situation is astounding… he actually forcibly nudges her down the aisle with his groin. Yes, you read that right; now try to picture the whole scene without laughing. To top it off, the driver pulls away and turns off the lights ~ we are again left in the pitch black ~ oh what fun!

4 hours into  mountainous terrain (approx. 2:30am), the bus breaks down and worst of all the miserly A/C has now given up the ghost altogether! The heat and humidity rise unbearably within minutes. Again we wriggle ourselves out of our hole to get some outside air. Luckily, they got the bus back on the road in about 1-2 hours, and we’re off again. Miraculously, Richelle and I managed to finally fall asleep (or did we become unconscious?) only to be awoken with one of the bus attendants lying across Richelle, trying to get at the window above me. She wakes up with a start and a man on top of her, and I wake up to the same man’s face staring into mine about ½ away.   It’s all very perfunctory though…he throws open the window and we have cold mountain wind blowing in our faces. Earlier, Richelle thought she smelt exhaust seeping in so I wondered if this was their safety measure to keep us alive, and so now ~ we’re wide awake and freezing.

Well we made it to tell the tale. There were a few other gruesome concerns that thankfully didn’t materialize. Suffice it to say that we had ‘Mexican’ for lunch, and I had to conquer  scary memories of some pretty tight spelunking spots I got myself into years ago (both situations had very real similarities for me).   We did conquer our many fears, and we even took a step in getting over the ‘polite Canadian’ label (we yelled heartily, several times, at the driver to turn the!#%#$ lights back on till we got into our lair!).  And there it is, the moment in time where we magically transformed into Superwomen.  We are now in Luang Prabang, we did some exploring today and find this place to be so beautiful and unique ~ well worth the trip, even the trip from hell. But, now that we are superwoman, you can bet that we’re going to use our new Super Powers to FLY back to Bangkok!


(1). A brief background on bus categories: Public busses are very cheap but they are usually overcrowded, very hot, very slow, and very uncomfortable for a long haul; Tourist busses come in many guises but are usually newer, have A/C, have more comfortable seats or sleepers (relatively speaking), but are much more expensive; minivans are usually comfortable, have A/C, and get you where you’re going to fast.

(2). Bus trips in Vietnam: one 11 hour and one 5 hour sleeper bus, a 2 hour public bus; and a 9 hour minivan trip; in Thailand we went on a 5 hour minivan excursion; in Laos, a 4 hour minivan, and we just got off of a 9 hour VIP Sleeper bus.

(3). On our last sleeper bus experience we were crammed like the proverbial sardine in the lower berth for 5 people at the very back of the bus ~ let me assure you that trip was another horror story, it was very uncomfortable but, lesson learned ~ we will never take that berth again ~ ever.

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Express & Explore: Our Claim to Fame

Hai Duong, Vietnam

I found out that being ‘famous’ isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I guess it’s different if you were born into it or have an actual legitimate claim to fame; you probably get used to it overtime, or at the least have some pretty good disguises.  My daughter and I however did not have a legitimate claim, and while the attention at first was very flattering, it soon became tedious. This may sound a little mean spirited especially when everyone is so happy to see you ~ they only want to get to know you better.  Everyone was very kind and generous without exception, but, it’s very much like what I imagine being stalked is like: you are always being watched, followed, scrutinized.

What was our claim to fame?  Simply being Westerners in the small town of Hai Duong (Hi Zung) in Vietnam.  Being a small town just outside of Hanoi with no attractions to speak of and not much to do, Hai Duong doesn’t get many tourists ~ so since we had come to live & work there, we became the Main Attraction for the locals ~ the token Foreign English Teachers. We had freakish celebrity status! Everywhere we went people were constantly calling out “Hello!” to us, watching us, smiling at us, wanting to practice their English with us, wanting our face book ID, following us, wanting us to talk with their kids, hold and kiss their kids, wanting to know where we’re from, wanting to take a picture with us, etc., etc.  Like I said before, it’s all very flattering (…at first), the people are very kind and generous but it can be very tiring being on display all the time. When you’re tired, in a bad mood (yes it happens on rare occasions!), or just in a hurry, you still have to stop, smile and be polite since we are upholding the ‘Foreign English Teachers ‘ image and so we never get time off. Another factor to this fame is that very few people over the age of 10 can actually speak English, when they can it is often so broken that it takes extreme concentration to understand what is being said, so most of the time conversation is painfully drawn-out and awkward.

In our first few weeks there we were booked to speak to 8 classes of high school students, each with about 100 students and each class wanted a Q & A session with time for pictures. We were in so many pictures that one day while we were having a meal at our favorite Punja place; the restaurant owner comes over to show us her pictures. I thought we were about to see all her grandchildren etc. but no, she shows us pictures of …us! It was such a shock to see our mugs on a stranger’s laptop!

Among our calendar of events: being presented with big beautiful bouquets of flowers at school functions, (the schools way of getting unwarranted status); being seated at the head table for all school functions, being the featured guests at many dinner parties, and; given an exclusive guest spot in an elaborate school Christmas Event where we were interviewed on stage before an audience of 100’s on “Christmas activities for kids in Canada”.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I do not like being in the spotlight so this whole experience was difficult for me to get used to, and I just listed the headliners, there were countless of other smaller events. I guess a big element to travel is the stretching of your personal boundaries, and that we have done in spades.

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Express & Explore: A week in Thailand

Nov.22/20152014-12-08 19.40.26

While our passports were in the care of the ‘English Center’ there were some logistical problems in the renewing process and they expired, so Plan B: we had to leave the country in order to renew our visa’s.  Airfare was about $200US each to Thailand, so we happily packed our bags for a 1 week vacation in ‘The Land of Smiles’.

While in Thailand, Richelle and I took a tour to the province Kanchanaburi. One of the day trips was to the spectacular Erawan waterfall. It just wasn’t one fall; it was a series of 7 tiers, each one outstanding in beauty. These waterfalls are inside the Erawan National      Park and are thankfully protected. One of the ways they protect it is by checking that each person does not bring in any garbage, so everyone has to line up, check/sign in their lunches, etc. into lockers to be eaten in the lunch area only, and, you must sign for each water bottle you take up the trail plus leave a deposit, to be returned when you return the bottle. I am so grateful they have this system in place, but even so, there was still garbage littering the site and marring the natural beauty.

The 1.5 km. pathway is mostly natural, with stone steps, tree roots popping up everywhere, railings in some of the tougher spots, and quite a rise in elevation, I’m sure that on rainy days the path would be more like a mud bath. So it’s not a hike for the faint of heart, but on the other hand we saw people of all ages and abilities on the trail, everyone could probably get to the first couple of falls. Richelle and I unfortunately only had flip-flops for this adventure which was a definite handicap, it proved too difficult to scramble over some of the wet, slippery rocks we encountered between the 6th and 7th waterfall , and bare feet was too painful and option for us.

After seeing the 6 breathtakingly beautiful falls we decided on the 4th to go for a swim. That falls had a huge rock you could climb up on and go through and behind the waterfall, also, we saw a group of monkeys there on the way up and was hoping to see them again. Now, to refresh ourselves in the beautiful, cool, green, green pool of water. Freezing was more like it, but certainly refreshing!   We wanted to go in slowly since it was so cold but the unexpected ‘Footy Fish’ nibbling made quick work of our submerging into the icy depths. At first the Footy Fish nibbling brings to mind all the horror movies you have ever watched with creatures coming up from the depths of hell especially to eat you and your tasty feet. After taking a few deep breaths and being assured that there is no blood involved you can relax… a bit, although I never got used to it. In Bangkok you can find spas where they put your feet into a tank filled with these fish and they will nibble all the old skin off and refresh your feet, kinda like a luffa. It’s a special treat, I imagine that it even tickles your toes and it costs a fair amount so it must be great, right! But, in the spas they use tiny, little baby Footy Fish, under an inch long whereas in contrast the Footy Fish in these pools were mostly over a foot long and probably weighed over a pound! The sensation is definitely not painful but it is very strange, and they are very persistent in glomming onto your feet and legs. The other weird part to get used to is that you can’t actually see the fish, the water is silty, not clear. So the jury is still out as to whether or not I actually enjoyed it or if I was ‘thrilled’ like I am when facing the downside of a very high roller coaster ride. I suspect that the more one swims with the Footy Fish the more one would enjoy the relaxing experience. Will let you know how that goes the next time we encounter the strangely weird Footy Fish.

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Express & Explore: Nha Trang, Vietnam

February 21/2015

We took a cab from our hotel (Ngoc Thach Hotel, $27.50 US/night) to Long Son Pagoda ~ founded in the late 19th century. The Pagoda grounds stretch up the side of a hill where there are nice views overlooking the city, mountains and ocean. At the top sits a huge white Buddha (I think the monk said it was 24 meters high). You can enter a chamber inside the Buddha which is elaborately decorated with relief pictures covering the walls, 2 Hindu god statues, and a huge pillar in the middle embedded onto the back of a turtle. Just a little ways down the back side of the hill is where the remains of 2 million people are kept. I’m not sure who the people are; some of the compartments have a picture of the person inside and a date. The monk who showed us the crematorium also showed us where his mother‘s ashes were kept.

On our way up the 150 stairs to the top we stopped to visit a very large Reclining Buddha (approx. 30’ long), but best of all was our discovery of a little pagoda housing a single large temple bell. It wasn’t until I saw the monk banging the gong that I finally became fully aware of the low bell sound that had been floating around my subconscious since the moment we arrived on the site. The monk motioned Richelle to sit on the seat inside the bell, then using the battering ram style banger he bonged the bell 3 times, he then motioned her to come out and it was my turn. I have to admit that seeing Richelle’s legs coming out of the bottom of the bell while he ‘banged the gong’ was funny because it was so strange. He then indicated that we were to make a donation.   The monk then positioned Richelle (and then me) by putting our foreheads and palms against the bell while again he bonged the bell 3 times. What an incredible experience these ‘activities ‘were. With my head against the bell I felt my brain vibrating and resonating with the sound waves, it was very uplifting and something I will never forget the feeling of.

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