Hiking in January!

The last time we came to Mexico, we took a taxi about 9 km from Coatepec to the smaller town of Xico where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. Today, we went a little further past Xico and down a very rough cobbled stone road to go hiking. Hiking, in January! What a treat!

The last time our friends went hiking in the area, they were able to take a trail down to the bottom of Cascado de Texolo, but today that trail appeared to be closed. Instead, we crossed a suspension bridge and took a trail that climbed to a ridge high above the valley.

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Cascada de Texolo

In many ways, the hike reminded me of hikes we’ve done at the BC coast and in the Rocky Mountains except that the plant life was entirely different. Instead of forest, we were hiking through jungle.

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As we climbed higher, we could see a building perched on the edge of the ridge above us. Could it be a restaurant? If it was, we decided, we’d have lunch there.

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Sure enough, it was and we did! The food was delicious and the view was amazing.

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I had to pinch myself and remind myself that it really is January as I enjoyed the brilliant flowers along the trail.

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Museo de Antropología de Xalapa

When I registered for my first year of university I intended to take a sociology course, but it was already full. I had to find something else that would fit into my timetable, so I registered for introductory anthropology. The study of human societies and cultures sounded interesting enough, but I didn’t anticipate it capturing my attention to such an extent that I would take as many anthropology courses as I could over the next four years and if money had been no object, I would have gone back to school after earning my education degree to get a second one in anthropology!

When I learned, after our first visit to this part of Mexico, that nearby Xalapa is home to the second largest museum of anthropology in the country, seeing it immediately took first place on my list of things to do on a return visit. With more than 25 000 pieces, the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, also known as MAX, houses the world’s largest collection of artifacts from the ancient cultures of the Mexican Gulf Coast including the Olmec, the Huastec, and the Totonac.

The most notable amongst these pieces are the colossal Olmec heads that date back to at least 900 BC. That’s hundreds of years before Alexander the Great! Sculpted from huge basalt boulders, 17 of these heads have been discovered to date and 7 of them are housed in the MAX. The heads vary in height from 1.47 to 3.4 metres and weigh between 6 and 50 tons. All of them depict mature men with flat noses and fleshy cheeks.

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There are also tiny heads like this one depicting a newborn baby.

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Also Olmec in origin, this 55 cm tall sculpture is thought to depict a priest holding a limp child, either sleeping or dead.

I won’t bore you with all of the 80+ photos that I took today or too many details about ancient culture, but as a lover of anthropology, I was absolutely amazed by the collection.

A few pieces even reminded me of the masks carved by the natives of the Pacific Northwest.

MAX is also noted for a series of small Totonic faces, called “caritas sonrientes” (little smiling faces) in Spanish. The first one shown here makes me laugh!

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In contrast to the little smiling faces, this poor fellow looks terribly sad.

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For Mesoamerican people childbirth was considered a form of battle, therefore, women who gave birth were revered as heroes and great warriors. Losses on any battlefield are inevitable, so women who died as a result of childbirth were given the same honour as men who fought and died in conflict. I was very impressed with the sculptures, like this one, representing these women.

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Here’s one of a series of tiny sculptures showing an ancient culture’s concept of the ideal female form; tiny waist, abundant hips, and voluptuous breasts. Clearly, with my boyish figure, I’d have been one of the ugly ones!

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The colours of Coatepec

The last time we came to Coatepec, Mexico to visit our friends, Richard M and Colleen, I fell in love with the Spanish colonial architecture. On that visit, I wrote a post about the amazing doors and windows, but another thing that stood out to me was the vibrant colours!

img_3579Living in Alberta, we spend the long winter months in a mostly monochromatic world. With the trees bare and the ground covered with snow, we live in shades of black, grey, and white. Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to this colourful culture. Today, we spent several hours walking around the central part of town.

Just off one side of Miguel Hidalgo Park is the beautiful San Jerónimo Church.

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Homes and businesses are equally as colourful. Come walk with me.

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It’s been cloudy and fairly cool since we arrived, but the colours of Coatepec are definitely a welcome respite from our Canadian winter!

How to identify your personal style

LogoOne of my fashion goals for 2019 is to resist the pressure of friends or family to buy clothing that they like, but that isn’t right for me. The only way that I can accomplish that is to know what is right for me; to know my own personal style. I’ve had a pretty good idea what I like and don’t like and what looks good on me for a long time, but I wanted to further clarify that. As it turns out, Pinterest is the perfect tool to do that. If you’re new to Pinterest, you can find a simple tutorial to help you get started here.

So, how can you use Pinterest to identify your own personal style? First, create a virtual bulletin board, simply called a board on Pinterest, and begin pinning images of styles that you like, that you think you would be comfortable wearing, that might convey the kind of message you want to send about yourself.

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Once you have a collection of images, look for common elements. These might include colour, cut, prints or solids, timeless or trendy, minimalist or extravagant, accessories, and footwear.

Now, before you decide that you need to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe, shop your own closet. Which of the style elements that you’ve identified are already there? Using the images on your board as inspiration, try putting the things you already own together in new and different ways. Have fun developing your own personal style, a style that tells people who you are!

Here are a sample of the photos that I’ve pinned to my “My Style” board.

It’s easy to see that some of my common elements include:

  • neutral colours (grey, navy, cream, beige, khaki)
  • classy, but casual
  • comfortable fit
  • solid colours, Breton stripes, occasional prints
  • hats!
  • flat shoes, sneakers, and boots

Now let’s look at how I used pieces from my closet to create a look that fits my classy, but casual style.

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In this outfit,  I incorporated neutral colours (dark navy, grey, and white) and Breton stripes, comfy casual fit, and flat shoes. I added a pop of colour (burgundy) and pattern mixing with the scarf and shoes. Most important of all, I feel like me when I’m dressed like this because it fits my personal style.

A ruana by any other name

LogoForgive me for misquoting William Shakespeare’s famous line “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but it seemed appropriate! My daughter and I each purchased one of these at a great Boxing Week sale, but I’m not really sure what to call it!

The store clerk referred to it as a scarf, but that’s definitely not what I’d call it. I’ve seen bloggers from the southern US refer to this kind of garment as a ruana, but I’ve never heard that word used here in western Canada. In fact, the first time I saw the word, I had to check a dictionary to see what it meant.

ruana: [roo-ah-nuh] noun. a poncho-like outer garment of heavy wool, worn especially in the mountains of Colombia.

While my new wrap is similar to a poncho, that’s not quite right either. The word poncho also originated in South America where it refers to a heavy piece of woolen cloth with a slit in the middle for the head. I remember wearing ponchos back in the late 1960s and early 70s when they were all the rage among the younger crowd. This is one of my favourite photos of myself from that era. In it, I’m wearing a poncho that belonged to my boyfriend.

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I suppose I could call my new blanket-like garment a mantle, but that sounds awfully pretentious or I could call it a shawl or, as I already did in the paragraph above, a wrap. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a cozy, comfortable addition to my wardrobe and great to snuggle up in on a chilly Alberta evening.

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New hats

LogoShortly after I started following Pamela Lutrell’s blog Over50Feeling40 back in 2012, I read this post in which she writes about overcoming her fear of wearing hats. In it, she tells of a time that “hat-fear” left her sitting in her car for 20 minutes before entering an event! A hat is a great accessory, but it’s also an attention getter.

In spite of the fact that I’m inherently shy, I’ve always loved wearing hats. You can see a few from my collection here. Of course, I was absolutely delighted to find a new one waiting for me under the Christmas tree.

Handcrafted by Dorfman Pacific, my new hat hat is crushable and packable which is definitely a bonus for someone like me.

There was actually a second hat amongst my gifts on Christmas morning. My crafty daughter knit this cozy toque and matching mittens for me. The mittens are fleece lined and oh so warm! Depending on where you live, you may know the toque as a knit cap. Here in Canada, where it’s an essential part of any winter wardrobe, most of us agree that it’s a toque, but there’s no consensus on how it should be spelled! To some it’s a touque, to others a tuque, but to me it’s always been a toque!

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This cartoon is a bit off topic, but when I saw it right after Christmas the hat caught my eye and then I thought the message was worth sharing.

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Check your facts please!

One of my pet peeves is the amount of false or misleading information that people post or repost on social media. How is it that seemingly intelligent and honest people can be so gullible, so naive, as to believe everything they read? Just because you see something on Facebook, on somebody’s blog, or in an email doesn’t mean that it’s true!

As a teacher, it was part of my job to insist that students learn to check their sources and back up their statements with fact. Perhaps that’s why it bothers me so much when I see people spreading false information like dandelion seeds on the wind. It’s more important than ever to be critical online. The amount of misinformation that is spread on the web is absolutely staggering!

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Some of the false information that is spread on the internet consists of ridiculous hoaxes that play on people’s fears, like the ones that are continually circulating warning us that Facebook is about to make everything we’ve ever posted public. Others are more damaging. Here’s a little video that explains this more clearly than I ever could.

In addition to scams and hoaxes, politics and religion are particularly hot topics for false information, but it goes far beyond those topics. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people repost missing person reports only to discover when I check that the person has already been found safe and sound, sometimes many months or even years before! I can only assume that people repost these things because they simply don’t know how to distinguish fact from fiction or they don’t know how to fact check.

How to spot bogus stories

  1.  The author is anonymous. If it were true, why wouldn’t the author put their name on it?
  2. On a similar note, beware of quotes from famous people. The internet is rife with false quotes attributed to everyone from Albert Einstein to Abraham Lincoln to Adolph Hitler.
  3. The message is riddled with spelling mistakes. This is pretty much a sure sign that it’s false. Why would you trust someone who doesn’t even bother to use spellcheck?
  4. The message itself argues that it isn’t false. “THIS IS NOT A HOAX!’ likely means that it is and “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” is probably a sure sign that it isn’t.
  5. And then there’s the old adage, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  6. Perhaps above all else, be skeptical!

How to fact check

  1.  Ask the person who has posted the story if it can be verified. If they can’t offer any evidence for the claims that are being made, perhaps they aren’t true.
  2. Check the date and time that the original post was published.
  3. Consider the source. Is it reputable? For example, the internet is rife with wacky health advice. Use the search feature on the Mayo Clinic website to check for accurate information.
  4. If it’s a news item that seems questionable, check to see if other news sources are reporting it.
  5. If a news source is unfamiliar, go to their About tab. It may acknowledge the site’s bias or say that it’s satirical.
  6. Do a Google search. If you don’t find what you’re looking for right away, try other search terms. Whenever I see a missing person report on Facebook, I google the person’s name (eg. John Doe missing) and I can almost always find out immediately whether or not the person has already been located.
  7. Use one of the following fact checking sites. Again, you may have to try different search terms to find what you’re looking for. Be as specific as you can.
    • Snopes.com  Snopes is an excellent go-to for checking out hoaxes, rumours, urban legends, false quotes, etc. The number of topics that they cover is astounding and the site is constantly updated.
    • TruthorFiction.com  TruthorFiction is another excellent site that provides the truth about a wide variety of rumours, inspirational stories, virus warnings, hoaxes, scams, humorous tales, pleas for help, urban legends, prayer requests, and calls to action.
    • Hoax-Slayer.com  Hoax-Slayer is yet another recommended site that is dedicated to debunking email hoaxes, thwarting internet scammers, combating spam, and educating web users about email and internet security issues.
    • FactCheck.org  FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit site that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in American politics.

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So how should you respond to someone who reposts false information? Keep it light. The goal isn’t to make anyone feel foolish. Assume that they weren’t intentionally trying to mislead anyone. Perhaps suggest a site where they can get accurate information about the topic or provide a link to the Snopes article that debunks the myth or rumour that they’ve reposted. Most people will respond well to gentle correction. The ones who boggle my mind are those who respond with something like “I know, but I thought it was interesting anyway” when I point out that they’ve posted something false. So far, I’ve managed to bite my tongue, metaphorically speaking, but in cases like that I’m sorely tempted to be less than polite!

And lastly, what do you do if you share something online and subsequently discover that it’s not true? It isn’t easy to put the genie back in the bottle, but by all means, try! Admit your mistake and do your best to correct it.