The Eruv Wire: Did You Know That There's An Invisible Wire Hanging Above Manhattan?

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Nope, that web of wires you might notice above your head while wandering through Manhatten are not all for carrying electricity. 

There are actually 18 miles(!) of translucent wire that run throughout the borough called an eruv. The eruv (or eruvin) is there because of the Jewish Sabbath. A day of rest in the Jewish tradition, people observing the Sabbath aren't permitted to do any sort of work in public places, which includes carrying things like groceries, laundry, or books. 

What the eruv does is act as a boundary that symbolically transforms the public streets into a private space. What this means is that those observing the Sabbath can carry things, socialize and act as they would at home while within the boundary of the wire, and not break Jewish law!

How cool is that?! 

According to an article in Mental Floss, a rabbi inspects the wires every Thursday before dawn to ensure they are still attached. The wires are all a quarter-inch thick and must be at least 15 ft off the ground. Orthodox synagogues pay to maintain the wires, which can cost more than $100,000 a year!  

The location of the eruvin wires in Manhattan (source) 

The location of the eruvin wires in Manhattan (source

Manhatten isn't the only city where there is an eruv — they can also be found in cities all over the world. Check out the full list of where they are located here

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Reads For The Road: Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

North Korea is a fascinating country because there is so little that we know about it. Most of the information that we have is either propaganda fed to us from the country itself, or hearsay from people who have heard stories from someone who has heard a story.

That's what makes Blaine Harden's book Escape From Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West so fascinating. A veteran reporter, Harden wrote the original book (and this updated version with new information) after meeting and interviewing the only known person who was born and raised in a North Korean prison camp to escape — Shin Dong-hyuk. 

Like Nazi concentration camps, labor camps in North Korea use confinement, hunger, and fear to create a kind of Skinner box, a closed, closely regulated chamber in which guards assert absolute control over prisoners. Yet, while Auschwitz existed for only three years, Camp 14 is a fifty-year-old Skinner box, an ongoing longitudinal experiment in repression and mind control in which guards breed prisoners whom they control, isolate, and pit against one another from birth.
— page 107 of "Escape From Camp 14"

We know that prison camps in North Korea exist because they can be clearly seen in satellite photos — though the North Korean government denies their existence.  But little is known about the conditions inside the camps and what the people who live in them go through,

That is, until Shin told his story. 

Imagine being raised by parents who, when they are around, look at you as competition for food and basic needs. Or, not being able to confide in a single human being because anything you say may be used against you and lead to brutal beatings, or worse. How would you feel if you only had one set of clothing that you had to wear until it literally fell off of you, and you had no soap — or time — to wash it. 

This, and much worse, was Shin's reality. But, because it was something that he was born into — a world where being suspicious, hating others, and having zero loyalty to another human being — he had no idea that there was a different way to live. 

The book is a heartbreaking, eyeopening, and shocking true story about a mysterious part of the world that is told through the eyes of someone who lived immersed in it, and is now slowly trying to come to terms with who he is now that he has been removed from it. 

If you have any interest at all in North Korea and the conditions of the people who live there, I highly recommend it. It's a riveting, quick read, and I guarantee you won'r be able to put it down. 

Reads For The Road: Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

This novel by Swedish writer Lena Andersson is a whirlwind of intense and all-to-real emotions. Though I am not usually a fan of novels, this book — translated from Swedish — jumped out at me (literally, it fell off the bookshelf as I walked by) when I walked into a bookstore while travelling in Sweden this past summer. 

I decided to give it a go, and found that I couldn't put it down. Funny, raw and completely engrossing, the story follows Ester, a rational intellectual from Stolkholm, who completely (and irrationally) falls for Hugo, a man who, it turns out, is a complete asshole (not that she would ever admit that). 

Hugo never followed up with anything Ester said. Ester always followed up with what Hugo said. Neither of them were really interested in her. But they were both interested in him.
Ester made a mental note of his lack of curiosity and generosity, but did not let it influence the reverence she felt.
— from page 33 of "Wilful Disregard" by Lena Andersson

What results is an incredibly well-written, intimate look at what it is like to completely overthink every look, touch, word, and text in this modern and confusing age of dating, sex, and intimacy. Raw, hilarious at times, and way too relatable, Wilful Disregard is a book I (and you if you decide to read it) will never forget. 

It's small size and short chapters makes this is the perfect book to have for trips on the train, metro, or to polish off on a flight. 

The "Book Flood" Hits Iceland: The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books as gifts during the holidays

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I recently learned about a beautiful Icelandic gift-giving tradition that takes place every Christmas. During the holiday season, the country celebrates Jólabókaflóðið (meaning "the book flood of Christmas"), when publishers release new books. And, there are A LOT of them. 

According to an article on BBC News, there are "more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, [in Iceland] than anywhere else in the world". One out of every 10 Icelanders will publish one book in their lifetime! 

There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book.

The "Christmas Book Flood" or "Icelandic Book Holiday" begins when every household receives the Bokatidindi — a catalog  listing all of the new titles that is printed and distributed for free by the Iceland Publishers Association. Icelanders scour the catalogue picking out selections for themselves and to give to family and friends. 

As someone who will never give up buying and reading physical, printed books, I was happy to read in an article on TreeHugger, that there "is more value placed on physical, paper books [in Iceland] than in North America, where e-books have grown in popularity." Icelanders take pride in their authors, and in the stories that are produced, and books are a valued gift. 

The books are usually exchanged on Christmas Eve and then families will stay cozied up on couches or in bed reading and eating delicious food. 

What a delightful tradition!

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The Best Subscription Boxes to Give As Gifts For Any Occasion

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Are you travelling and want to send a unique gift to someone at home? Does your friend live on the other side of the country? Or, are you fed up with paying huge shipping fees? AGiving a monthly subscription box is the perfect solution! Not only is it unique, but who doesn't love getting something other than bills in the mail?! Subscription services can get pretty pricy, but there are a lot of really fantastic, affordable options out there. Here are a few of my favourite subscription boxes for men and women. 

Globe In

Dedicated to supporting artisans from all over the world, many in developing countries, Globe In offers subscriptions that are not only a great gift, but help reduce poverty and give talented artisans a global audience. Subscriptions are themed — cozy, kitchen, laundry — and there is information about where each beautiful product came from and the person who made it. The products come in a handwoven basket from Mexico monthly.
One basket is around $50, a three month subscription is $114, six months is $210, and twelve months is $420. 

Craft Coffee

Recommended by publications like The New York Times, Wired, and Fortune, this subscription service delivers craft coffee to your door just days after it has been roasted. According to the website, the service guarantees that you won't pay more than you would at the grocery store for better coffee, because cutting out the middleman also cuts costs. This is perfect for the busy coffee lover in your life! 
A one month subscription is $29.99, a three month is $74.97, a six month is $149.94, and a twelve month is $299.88.


Headquartered in New York City, this subscription is for anyone who doesn't have the time or money to try the millions of beauty products out there to figure out which ones they like best. Monthly boxes are filled with personalized samples for women and information about each one. BirchboxMan is also available, and brings guys tailored shipments of grooming and lifestyle products.  
Monthly subscriptions are $10/$20 (women/men), a six month subscription for men is $110, and a yearly subscription for women is $110. 

Papiermass Art Subscription

A BuzzFeed and Apartment Therapy recommended subscription, this service delivers original, unique and interesting art right to your door! So far, the husband and wife duo who run Papiermass have collaborated with more than 100 artists. Each month you get one art print, one art card, and one creative card. 
A one month subscription is $14, a three month subscription is $36, and a year costs $96. 

Try The World

Perfect for foodies, or those that love culinary travel adventures, this subscription service brings you a curated selection of gourmet food from a new country every month! You can order the signature box, which also comes with a Culture Guide to help you recreate dishes at home, or the Snack Box that is full of unique and delicious snack food to sample. 
Signature Boxes start at just $39 a month, and Snack Boxes at $19 a month. 


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The Dala Horse (not just a home accessory you can get at Ikea)

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Have you seen those white and black wooden horses you can get at Ikea? You know the ones — they are next to the vases and fake flowers, right before you hit the warehouse area. Ya, those ones. Well, it turns out that they are actually called Dala Horses, and they are an important part of Swedish history and culture. 

In the 17th century and early 18th century, men working in the forest in the Dalarna region during long, cold evenings began carving small wooden horses to bring home for their children to play with. They were unpainted, and simple, but soon became treasured objects. 

As they started to become more popular, and visitors to the towns in the region wanted to buy them, villagers started to paint them in bright colours and patterns inspired by what was painted on furniture and walls in the region at the time. Entire families started working on carving and painting these Dala horses (Dalahast in Swedish), and they soon became one of the official symbols of Sweden. 

The Dala horse became internationally recognized when a giant red one was places outside the Swedish pavilion during the World Exhibition in New York in 1939. The year after the exhibition, there was such a demand from consumers in the city that more than 20,000 Dala horses were shipped over to America and sold in stores! 

Now, almost every Swedish home will have a Dala horse somewhere, whether displayed on a shelf or tucked away. While red is the most common colour, you will also find horses in white, green, blue and black. They are still handmade and can be found for sale all over the country (not just at Ikea), and range in size, detail, and price (some are hundreds of dollars). 

What I'm Reading: The Shadow of the Wind

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I started reading this book because it was recommended to me by a friend that I met while travelling. He pulled it off his bookshelf and told me that it was one of his favourite books in the world. When someone goes to the trouble to tell me about a book that matters to them and recommend that I read it, I do. I find that reading things that people that I know have loved helps me to get to know them better, and the fact that they want to share that with me is pretty darn cool.

Though I don't usually read fiction, I have not been disappointed by Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of The Wind. The book completely transfixed me from the beginning. Reading it is like looking at a sprawling gothic painting — the author's rich language carries you through the streets of 1945 Barcelona as if you were there and helps you peer into the faces that the main character interacts with. 

Complex, dark, and fascinating, Zafon tells the story of Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son, who has no idea how his life will change when he discovers a mysterious book by Julian Carax in a hidden library in the depths of the city. When he tries to find more titles by the author, he stumbles upon a real-life tale of lost love, murder, and dark secrets that may put his own life, and his friends, at risk.

This is exactly the kind of book that you would want to have with you for a long train ride or lazy days at the beach — the perfect tome to take with you on your next adventure!