How to Choose a Holiday of Happiness

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This view of Rangitoto from St. Heliers Bay is always happiness-inducing.

The travel writing world is continually creating lists of where you should travel next. Barcelona, Morocco, Cape Town, or Singapore? It is too hard to decide, so you decide to go to Hawaii, again. (Or in my case New Zealand.) Vacations days are few and travel can be expensive, so it can feel like a big risk to try something like a safari in Kenya.

My recent New Zealand vacation is the first overseas trip where I have listened to podcasts everyday along the way. (I figured out how to download them on the podcast app Breaker when I have wifi access.) And on the Hidden Brain podcast from NPR “You 2.0: Decide Already!” Daniel Gilbert Stumbling on Happiness Harvard Professor, I learned why we might hit repeat instead of trying something new.

Imagine a future event, such as where you will live in retirement. Many of my friends have made decisions recently about retirement living with either a decision to stay in their long time home or a decision to move. One couple chose a active senior community with a beautiful apartment and lots of community activities and space; another couple chose a smaller but still gracious water adjacent apartment walking distance to many of their favorite places; another couple chose to stay in their longtime home but hire repairmen instead of the usual DIY. Each seems very happy with their choice. In each case it seems that they selected something not so distant from what their lifestyle was already because they were already happy.

When we think of the future we tend to focus on a few key details; and only one or two of the many, many details that are part of the experience. So they might notice the square footage of the apartment but not how many other apartments are on the floor and the number of daily interactions that it implies, or the pet policies and how that might impact you. I was impressed that the apartments in Meadowbank allowed a 90 day-no risk trial period. The community-oriented lifestyle is not for everyone and if you don’t get on with your neighbors it’s better for everyone if you opt out, rather than remain unhappily. I recently met a very lovely, cheerful 96-year old who exercised the opt out clause because she was being bullied at the senior community she tried.

Fortunately travel isn’t as high stakes as retirement living. Nonetheless, it is a real drag if your limited vacation time and savings involves a dud tour with obnoxious people. All the research might have pointed to an enjoyable experience, but we don’t know who we will be when we experience that event; imagination rarely matches the experience; we underestimate how much we’ll change. This happened to me when I tried to recreate the first Tour de France experience I had on Thomson bike tours . My experience with the group I traveled with in the Alps was so much fun, and a two of the couples were going to go on the Tour d’Italia. Alas the chemistry wasn’t the same within the group and I ended up counting the days till I was traveling on my own again. I enjoyed Venice even more for being free from the oppressive group dynamic. Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 12.06.05 PM

Don’t rely on imagination; look for data. Gilbert recommends finding measures of the happiness of the people doing what you think you might like doing.  I have also found it really helps to know yourself and correctly apply the data to your situation. If you despise crowds then going to one of the “top 10 travel destinations” is probably not a good fit unless you can travel during off-season.

This Global Citizen ranking equated happiness with values I share: “What stands out about the happiest and most well-connected societies is their resilience and ability to deal with bad things,” said report co-editor John Helliwell, referencing New Zealand. “After the 2011 earthquake and now the terrorist attack in Christchurch, with high social capital, where people are connected, people rally and help each other and [after the earthquake] rebuild immediately.”

Gilbert also highly recommends using surrogation, that is relying on other people’s experience as a guide for your own. There are many platforms now that facilitate this: Yelp, Trip Advisor and others. Just remember even crowds can be biased; but you may share those biases. They are not perfect tools; however, GilbertTrip Advisor can round out your imagination and give your more detail to consider. Maybe the experience you were thinking of adding to your itinerary based on a friend at Book Club’s recommendation is panned on-line by someone who found it claustrophobic. And you get claustrophobia. 

Gilbert gave the example of choosing a movie–people prefer relying on the trailer over more detailed reviews by people who’ve seen it. We like to “trust our gut” because we live in the illusion of diversity (we are all so unique), when in reality, the reviews are a more reliable guide.

There is also a role in making a commitment to increasing our happiness. We think we’ll prefer keeping options open, but Gilbert’s research says committing to your choice will result in greater happiness. And we like a little mystery and surprise–not a a lot, just a little.

I choose New Zealand again and again. Similarly my adult children and I choose Monterey get aways every year, because I trust my own experience more than any travel writer’s opinion. I always have a wonderful experience when I go to New Zealand and I can create new adventures there so I still get some variety. I know that what makes me and my children happiest is beach access, trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Gianni’s pizza. We are perfectly right to book another condo in Pacific Grove or Monterey. To put a cherry on top, add some mystery–new restaurants, or new beaches–and the research says you will be even happier.

This is what the research says. What’s your experience?

 

 

 

Gutted for Christchurch and New Zealand

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This is an emergency blog to express my dismay at the Mosque attacks in Christchurch by white supremacists. Part of me doesn’t want to believe it because the New Zealand people I know and love are so far removed from this hate. Just look at the example of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in the days following the attacks.

These fellas were hanging out in St Heliers on my last visit. Chillin’. This is what I believe better represents the Kiwi spirit. IMG-0783

I heard people make racist remarks in bars and in unguarded moments–made by much older people and never with any intent to do physical harm. I’d heard worse in the US, but as we witness in the United States, these attitudes are pernicious and difficult to change without real effort by everyone in society: education, neighbors, political and business leaders.

IMG-0793One of my favorite memories of New Zealand was in the community hall in St Heliers. They adopted the USA for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the town was festooned in stars and stripes. The village hosted a celebration with the US Consulate and everyone was invited. A young woman sang the New Zealand national anthem and it was the first time I’d really listened to the words. I was so moved. It summed up the complicated beautiful people that I met throughout the North and South Islands. It is always sung in both English and Maori before the rugby test matches. Tonight I am saying it as a prayer for Aotearoa.

English “God Defend New Zealand” Māori “Aotearoa” Māori “Aotearoa” translated

1. God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific’s triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.

2. Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

3. Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.

4. Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country’s spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.

5. May our mountains ever be
Freedom’s ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations’ van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.

1. E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai
Aotearoa

2. Ōna mano tāngata
Kiri whero, kiri mā,
Iwi Māori, Pākehā,
Rūpeke katoa,
Nei ka tono ko ngā hē
Māu e whakaahu kē,
Kia ora mārire
Aotearoa

3. Tōna mana kia tū!
Tōna kaha kia ū;
Tōna rongo hei pakū
Ki te ao katoa
Aua rawa ngā whawhai
Ngā tutū e tata mai;
Kia tupu nui ai
Aotearoa

4. Waiho tona takiwā
Ko te ao mārama;
Kia whiti tōna rā
Taiāwhio noa.
Ko te hae me te ngangau
Meinga kia kore kau;
Waiho i te rongo mau
Aotearoa

5. Tōna pai me toitū
Tika rawa, pono pū;
Tōna noho, tāna tū;
Iwi nō Ihowā.
Kaua mōna whakamā;
Kia hau te ingoa;
Kia tū hei tauira;
Aotearoa

1. O Lord, God,
Of all people
Listen to us,
Cherish us
May good flourish,
May your blessings flow
Defend Aotearoa

2. Let all people,
Red skin, white skin
Māori, Pākehā
Gather before you
May all our wrongs, we pray,
Be forgiven
So that we might say long live
Aotearoa

3. May it be forever prestigious,
May it go from strength to strength,
May its fame spread far and wide,
Let not strife
Nor dissension ensue,
May it ever be great
Aotearoa

4. Let its territory
Be ever enlightened
Throughout the land
Let envy and dissension
Be dispelled,
Let peace reign
Over Aotearoa

5. Let its good features endure,
Let righteousness and honesty prevail
Among the people of God
Let it never be ashamed,
But rather, let its name be known
Thereby becoming the model to emulate
Aotearoa

From Wikipedia.

Celebrating Penguin Awareness with Dr. Michelle LaRue

 

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Estimating populations of penguins is a challenge given the ice even in summer. Can you tell the difference between Adelie and Emperor penguins? Photo from https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/

Dr. Michelle LaRue is an ecologist and science communicator who specializes in using Geographic Information Systems, satellite imaging and other tools to count penguin, seal and mountain lion populations. I follow @drmichellelarue on Twitter—I especially enjoy her #Cougarornot game. She recently moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ. This new adventure includes research opportunities in Antarctica.

The USA and New Zealand have a history of collaboration in Antarctica. The McMurdo research station is just down the road from the Kiwi Scott base, and both are supported from Christchurch. Dr. LaRue agreed to answer questions about this new opportunity.

Q: You’ve done research in Antarctica whilst maintaining your University home base at University of Minnesota. What prompted the move to New Zealand?

A: A faculty position with Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury! Here I will continue my research on the ecology of Southern Ocean predators and look forward to building a lab in the next few years.

Q: From your new position, what do you hope you’ll be able to contribute to our understanding of penguins and the endangered polar habitats?

A: My goal is to effectively fill in the pieces of the puzzle that are missing – we’ve got several baseline population estimates now for Adélie and emperor penguins and we’re doing the same for Weddell seals and crabeater seals. Once those pieces are filled in, we get to start asking: why? Why are these populations in certain spots and not others? How do these species interact with each other across space and time? How might climate change impact their populations and habitats? To ask these questions we first need to know how many animals there are and where they live, so that’s my focus at the moment.

Q: Have you experienced an earthquake yet in Christchurch? And what is your favorite discovery about living in New Zealand?

A: For the first time, I felt a 3.2 earthquake back in December, though I will say the people around me didn’t even notice! I think my favorite discovery or realization is just how unbelievably beautiful it is – I mean this is something I knew before but now that I live here it’s remarkable to me how much diversity there is in the landscape in just a short distance. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to be an outdoor enthusiast!

Recall that it is currently summer in Antarctica, so she was in the field this past November. You can follow her team’s current research at https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/. Dr. LaRue also has links to a number of her video presentations and written papers on her website.

Dr. LaRue works on teams gauging the status of Adélie and Emperor penguin populations in Antarctica. There are things we can do to reduce human impacts on penguins and their habitat. First, more efficient fishing vessels are harvesting the krill that makes up the food supply of penguins and whales. It is important that we stop using krill oil (I didn’t realize this was a thing; however, a quick Google search and apparently lots of people are taking it as supplements). Second, the ice is shrinking in both polar regions due to rising ocean temperatures from rising CO2. We can all reduce our use of fossil fuels by riding a bike, walking, or carpooling.

Christmas Recipes from Abroad

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The mincemeat pie I baked for Jim Adan. I used my favorite pie crust recipe that uses Crisco.

Christmas is an inspiring time for baking. I usually focus on pie but I never liked mincemeat pie. Until I spent a Christmas season in New Zealand and fell in love with mince pies (a tart size version). Kiwis sell them in coffee shops, in the grocery store in 6 and 12 packs, and at church bake sales. When I was in Ireland I fell back in love with mince pies at Starbucks of all places. Their shortbread crust and mince is the perfect combination.

Plus my art dad Jim said all he wanted for Christmas was a mincemeat pie. In the past I’ve tried mincemeat from a jar. Even the fancy stuff leaves me “meh”. I looked at the prepared mincemeat sold in the Powerscourt shop and also knew I didn’t have room in my suitcase. So I asked my friend UK Sarah if she had a recipe. She took a photo of it and sent it to me right away.

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Delia Smith’s recipe. Makes enough for two big pies or lots and lots of tarts.

I looked through the ingredients and read the instructions. I can do this! Oh, except what is suet. UK Sarah said to look in the shops before I leave Ireland. So on my way back to the airport I stopped at the grocery in Bray and found suet. I slipped it into my suitcase in case TSA might confiscate. (At the time I wasn’t really sure what suet is; I learned that it is beef fat, which sounds much grosser than it tastes.)

Once I was home I bought the rest of the ingredients and proceeded to make the mincemeat. It is not difficult. It does take time with the resting 12 hours and baking 3 hours on low heat. I made the pie for Jim and it was a big hit.

IMG_6452 (1)For the tarts I used Nigella Lawson’s crust recipe. I don’t have a photo of the mince tarts but so far everyone has been enthusiastic (and they disappeared quickly). Several people commented that the tarts are just the right balance between the mince and crust.

My friend Carole gave me Christina Tosi’s new cake cookbook. And my neighbor friend Tiffanie presented me with gorgeous persimmons. I do believe I will be baking a lot this season.

Where are you going in 2018?

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All of my travel magazines have lists of the best places to see in 2018. Some of the places on their list are on mine also, making me rethink my list. (Will it be too crowded?) I don’t actually think the travel magazines has as much influence as they want their advertisers to think they do. Travel is an investment and most people have many reasons for choosing the places they go. If you are like me, these articles sometimes help with information on a location I already plan to go. They have never been the spark for wanting to go in the first place. Have you had a different experience? Did an article inspire you to go somewhere you never thought of before?

Actually, I just experienced something similar with a story on National Public Radio. I’ve never been that keen to go to Puerto Rico. Then I heard this story about one of the world’s best bioluminescent bays getting its glow back after Hurricane Maria. Suddenly I wanted to go. Plus it would have the added bonus of helping the economy.  So Vieques, Puerto Rico is on my 2018 list of possibilities.

This year I was able to go to a few places that have been on my list for years, such as Denmark and Sweden. In 2018 I hope to finally visit Detroit, Michigan. Some friends are interested in meeting up there. We have another friend who grew up there so if she can’t meet us we know we’ll get some good recommendations from her. She still visits often. I realize that going to visit friends is a huge motivational factor in my travel wish list.

I’m hankering to get back to Belfast, Northern Ireland after a decade away. And to New Zealand after just a year away. I already have my tickets for another trip to New York City with my mom for Broadway plays and the New York Times Travel Show.

Where are you going in 2018 and why? Where are you dreaming about as close out 2017?

I have been away from my blogs for a couple of months. I bought a house and moved. I traveled and had a lot of work on my plate. I also just needed to gain some perspective on blogging. Why do I do it? Shall I continue to do it?

Then I read something my daughter wrote to me in a card about how I observed more closely the beauty in the world and shared it in my blog. She appreciates that and so do I. The process of writing about the encounters with wonderful generous people, or special places does help me look at the world more generously, more kindly.

Finally, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I was reminded of all the good things about blogging. Including big ideas like freedom of expression and creativity. The Smitten Kitchen inspires ME to cook so a blog can clearly be powerful.

I hope you have wonderful lists of places and travel ideas where you may go next and heaps of photos from the places you already been. Happy New Year.

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My reason for staying home more…

 

Swatch: Vogue Knitting 35th Anniversary

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My son is 30 years old, so it is easy for me to track how long I’ve been knitting–30 years. When I was learning to knit, I assumed Vogue Knitting magazine had been around as long as the sewing patterns (1899). As a beginning knitter I regarded Vogue Knitting as the hippest, most fashionable knitting resource. Like the sewing patterns, I found the patterns more challenging. Within a few years I stretched my skills to knit entrelac and intarsia patterns from Vogue Knitting.

A few years after that it was with a huge sigh of relief when a yarn store employee remarked that Vogue Knitting often printed patterns with errors. It gave me permission to question Vogue’s authority. All the same I give Vogue Knitting a straight needle salute for inspiring me over the last 30 years. I especially enjoy the knitting events, Vogue Knitting Live, they host in New York City and Seattle.

Check out the 35th Anniversary issue of the magazine on newsstands until 11/7 for US $7.99.

Postscript: Sometimes when I travel I find a favorite food. In New Zealand I always look for Arnott’s chocolate mint cookies. They are as close to the old Mystic Mint cookies that were available in USA until the recession of 2008 put so many cookie companies out of business. The other day I found these TimTam’s in mint! At first I was concerned I wouldn’t have the self control to keep from pigging out on them regularly. However, I can’t remember in what store I found them, so I look forward to my next visit to New Zealand to be able to eat my favorite store bought cookie.

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Stocking Up on Fav New Zealand Products

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TiOra.co.nz

Whenever I leave New Zealand I make a plan in my head for a return visit, Lord willing. I also stock up on my favorite NZ products. The Dove roll on deodorant is better here, not sure why. I also bought a number of Lynley Dodd children’s books for my newborn grandson. Finally I bought manuka honey. It is a lot more affordable to buy it here than in the USA.

Manuka honey doesn’t taste distinct from other honey, but it has terrific medicinal properties. The Maori have long known the medicinal qualities of the manuka plant and of honey from bees collecting manuka pollen. In 2006 German scientists isolated the property that gives it antibacterial properties (methylglyoxal). I use a little every morning on my toast or in a bit a of tea if I’m feeling under the weather. The amounts are probably not enough to be more than a placebo effect. Nonetheless, I like to have some on hand.

Bees generally collect from one type of flower rather than sample many types. Manuka grows in groves (like manzanita or gorse) and once they start collecting the bees are able to recognize and return to the same flowers by sight and smell. Once the hive is committed to the manuka flower the bees use dance to communicate to the rest of the workers locations of blooms. Beekeepers can also test their honey to establish the level of “unique manuka factor”.

I am trying a new manuka product this visit. Our penguin guide swears that manuka tea will cure sea sickness. He’s used it and it worked instantly. I am skeptical since my seasickness is both severe and related to the convoluted shape of my ear canal. Nonetheless, I am going to try to find a way to test it because then I could go to Antarctica with less trepidation.

The final product I am bring home is chocolate. I mail Crunchie bars to my friend Mara. They are a Cadbury bar made with honeycomb and chocolate. I also bring chocolate fish (also by Cadbury)–fish shaped marshmallow dipped in chocolate. I also usually bring a Picnic bar for myself when I’m feeling low from missing the clean air and southern light of New Zealand.

I bought my AllBirds in the USA (from the internet: http://www.allbirds.com). On this visit I noticed AllBirds are trending in New Zealand, although Kiwis are more likely to wear them without socks. I also learned they are washable and I have subsequently washed them and they look like new! Check it out:  http://thisnzlife.co.nz/put-new-zealand-merino-allbirds-shoes-test/