A sweet and simple thank you from a girl who survived a brain tumour.

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Thank you note from the little girl Grace in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Impoverished Children http://www.impoverishedchildren.com

Pleased to share with you this thank you note from the little girl Grace in Kenya who was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year. When funds were short to pay for medical care, a small group of people came together via Facebook to raise the money she needed. She subsequently underwent brain surgery and has recovered. Here she is, back at her school in Nairobi, with a message in her own words. That’s her with her mother and the school’s principal Catherine Whiting.Isn’t she cute? This great story reminds me of that quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 

In the place where I was most happy, I believe I also learned how to be more grateful. This has had an incredible impact on my life.

I believe it was while I lived in Malawi that I finally learned how to look for, find, and appreciate the little things in life, instead of just accidentally stumbling upon them. There was something I discovered in the Malawian people that filled me with joy – happiness, a satisfaction, an interest in others, deep echoing laughs, and beautiful smiles. I saw that they had genuine interest in the well-being of others. The place was not always a barrel of laughs for me – work didn’t always go smoothly, I sometimes had trouble finding diabetic-friendly foods, the power and/or the water would go out about once a day – but it taught me to be more resilient, helped me learn to live with less, and most of all, that I could find wonder and awesomeness in these incredible little moments during the day. In every day of my life now and frequently during those days, I find myself feeling grateful for the things that happen around me. The smile from a homeless man on the street, the succulent taste of a juicy red apple, and the glorious green of the leaves on the trees as summer approaches. This is what carpe diem means to me.

RIP my dear cousin Fran

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My cousin Frances (Fran) Cartman and I in Montreal, Canada – August 2007

RIP my dear cousin Fran. You always had listening ears and encouraging words for everyone around you. I have vivid memories of your smiling face as you helped students (and me) at the John Molson School of Business, your frequent and fierce hugs, and how you never failed to use an opportunity to tell me you loved me. Please give Bob a poke in the tummy for me.

When I learned to relax and be myself, I learned I could be happier.

I learned an important lesson about myself some time ago. That when I relax and just let myself be, to be myself, then I begin to feel more natural, freer, and happier. I also feel a greater willingness to accept failure, learn from it, and keep plugging on, helping as many people as I can in the process with the lessons I have learned.

As my self-confidence grows, so does my ability to acknowledge my weaknesses and realize how they can hurt and help me. Facing this vulnerability and being authentic with the people around me has become one of my life’s passions. And the willingness to be true to myself, has helped me feel more confident in responding to those with whom I have differing points of view. And that has actually made those relationships stronger too because it fosters mutual respect and understanding. And sometimes, my points of view change as I realize I’m wrong.

I’m scared to grow old but also looking forward to it so much.

Bring life on! Carpe diem friends.

I witnessed a moment of love at a public library in Arizona and was filled with happiness.

This morning I was waiting outside a public library as it got ready to open. Others were gathering around me too and an elderly couple ambled slowly along the path, holding hands. As they approached, they greeted another fellow standing across the sidewalk from me. This other fellow asked how they were doing. The elderly man replied: “So far, so good”. His partner chuckled and said to the fellow: “He always says the same thing – So far, so good.” The elderly man smiled to himself and my eyes drifted to his hands, which were lovingly caressing hers. I saw the wedding ring on her finger and saw her respond by tightening her hands around his. It gave me happiness and a comfortable and warm feeling inside just wondering about the path they took in life to arrive at this moment together. A nice way to start the day.

Observing environmental contrasts in Arizona

I decided to visit Arizona for the Easter long weekend. Good decision: as I write this, Chapel Hill is undergoing a deep freeze of 30-50° F (6° C) while I am thoroughly enjoying the warm and dry 94° F (34° C) weather.

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It was not a difficult decision to come here. Arizona offers intense hiking opportunities, awesome and raw natural beauty, and a major plus is that an equally keen adventurer friend of mine is based here. He and his wife recently had a baby boy who I was eager to meet. And so the plans were drawn.

It’s my first time here and I was surprised to discover that Phoenix has 4.2 million people in the metropolitan area. This makes it the sixth largest city by population in the country, according to Wikipedia. The metro area also includes the large and well-known towns of Scottsdale and Tempe, which is where I have spent my time so far.

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The town of Tempe is home to the campus of Arizona State University and like most college towns in the US, it has a vibrant, hip and liberal feel to it. The streets are pedestrian-friendly, decorated with palm trees, and lined with trendy bars and restaurants, yoga studios, and smoke shops. You’ll see young professionals chatting it up over cocktails and beers and students sipping iced coffees and pounding away on keyboards trying to get their papers finished. Still, I was horrified to see one bar with its patio sliding doors thrown wide open and its air-conditioning system cooling the city air at full blast. And another restaurant across the street was spraying misted water on to its patrons to cool them down. (I found the temperature to be quite balmy.) I had gotten off the plane just 30 minutes earlier and so unfortunately these were among my first observations of my life in the Phoenix area …

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My friend Paul and I stopped at the Handlebar Tempe, a restaurant with an airy beer garden out back. We ordered sausages, burgers and sweet potato fries accompanied by cold local ale. That was enough for me to declare it a meal of champions!

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The roads around Scottsdale are lined with Saguaro cacti and palo verde trees which are among the dominant forms of fauna here. The entire area is situated within the Sonoran Desert, one of four desert ecosystems found in the United States. Despite the low amounts of precipitation in this climate there is apparently enough rain (or groundwater) to sustain some life. Certain types of plants have evolved to thrive here, but they tend to have a dusty or dull brownish and greenish colour to them and this is a dominant feature of the landscape.

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Scottsdale city authorities have undertaken efforts and put rules in place to protect the sensitive local environment. For starters, developers are apparently prohibited from removing the road-side brush. The result is that nearly every road is lined with the original desert vegetation and resident and commercial developments are a secondary feature, blending more readily into the landscape. I understand that homeowners may only plant species of vegetation which are native to the area and which are adapted to the low rainfall levels. Moreover, as a water conservation measure, properties have drip-irrigation systems built in at the time of construction which are designed to provide only a minimal amount of water to the plants growing around the home. And you’ll notice from the photo below that there is no grass – just light-coloured grey stones. Where grass exists, it’s usually Astroturf! These efforts are quite a contrast to the waste of water I witnessed in downtown Tempe.

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Another dominant characteristic of the landscape is its sharp mountainous relief. Everywhere you look you will see conical or triangular shaped mountains rising abruptly out of the desert. These are the McDowell Mountains. Some of them rise only a few hundred or a thousand feet, while others must be easily twice that height. It is funny because as we were driving along the way, I found it difficult to tell where the homes and businesses were, so well were they obscured by the same landscape that was occupying our attention.

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Early one morning, Paul and I decided to hike up into one such set of mountains, following the Pinnacle Peak Trail. The hike was about 2 miles long, with an elevation change (both up and down) of about 1,300 feet, and took us about 2 hours to complete. There were dozens of other hikers and joggers on the trail with us. I wondered at those who were running up and down the mountains. I thought to myself that they must be doing interval training (an exercise format that aims to improve strength and recovery time after highly intense periods of physical exertion).

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From the top of Pinnacle Peak, you can see a few golf courses built into the desert.

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And one home with an infinity pool, set into the mountain side.

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An African bush elephant in Liwonde National Park

An African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) along the banks of the Shire River in Malawi.

This is Loxodonta africana, or the African bush elephant, which is the largest living land animal in the world. It is found in about 37 countries on the continent. I photographed this elephant on the banks of the Shire River in Malawi. From what I have read this is likely a female – distinguished from the males by a rounder, more sloping shape of its head.

Preparing okonomiyaki in Tokyo, Japan

Preparing okonomiyaki in Tokyo, Japan. © Ryan Rowe / ryanrowe.com

Preparing okonomiyaki takes a lot of concentration. This is a popular Japanese dish that looks like an omelet or a pancake and is made with ingredients such as flour, egg, potato, cheese, onions, cabbage, and other vegetables. But really you can put anything you want in it. It is then grilled to your taste and you can season it with mayonnaise or seaweed flakes. Some restaurants, like this one, offer the DIY (do-it-yourself) option. Its a lot of fun and a good way to spend time with friends. Definitely a must on your next visit to Japan or even in the Little Tokyo neighbourhood of your city!