Out of the Fog

So, for three years now… three years! I have been trying to write a post in the new year about resolutions. About starting the year off with a bang. About setting out on the right foot. About starting well and finishing well.

Well. I never finish that post. I start it. I muddle through it. I re-read it… it leaves me feeling yuck. It’s not quite right. And I think that I finally figured out why!

January can be a bit foggy.

Here in Sylvan Lake we get some good fog. The kind of fog that rolls in off a body of water and looks a little muddy, almost like you should be able to scoop it out of the air.

That is what January ALWAYS feels like to me. We ring in the new year with all sorts of amazing expectation… this one will be better than the last. This one has promise. This one is THE BEST! But then something strange happens, doesn’t it? By the end of the first week or so (usually about the time the kids have been back to school for a few days), that January feeling sinks in. The foggy one. Like it might never end (and for goodness sakes, I was AWAY for part of January this year!).

I think that I understand the fog a little bit better this year. I think it is all those expectations!! We put all this pressure on ourselves to stack up to some imaginary score-board that doesn’t even exist. It’s not reality!

At taekwondo this week, the masters asked the boys to repeat this mantra:

“A Goal Set is a Goal Met”

That got me thinking.

I do want to set some goals for myself this year. I do want this year to be a year of growth, learning, fun, and LIFE! But, I don’t want planning those things to suck the life out of me!!

So, in the spirit of simplicity, love, and gentleness that I hope you read in all my words… here is what I propose:

January might remain a foggy month. I will not put pressure on myself to re-invent the wheel each and every January. Instead, I will intentionally say “No” to anything that makes the fog more dense and “Yes” to anything that allows a bit of light to shine through. By February, I will set some clear, realistic, and flexible goals for the months ahead that give me purpose, direction, and put a spring in my step.

Here’s a few that I have already put in to action:

  • I will attend one month of Taekwondo classes to see if it is a good fit for me.
  • I will unapologetically go to bed at 9:30 every night.
  • I will devote 5 hours per week to beginning my own business as an Arbonne Independent Consultant.

And there. That feels doable. Those are not resolutions. They are goals. I can meet them. I can reevaluate to determine if they are working for me.

Fog is lighter. I can breathe.

Munday Funday: Family Holiday Style

I went on a family holiday… and I survived.

In the aftermath of our trip to Costa Rica, and after many wonderful conversations recounting our many adventures during our travels, I thought I REALLY needed to clarify one very important detail.

Namely: There is a DISTINCT difference between a family holiday, and a vacation, at least there sure is when your kiddos are 8 and 10 (I am open to the possibility that this improves over time).

Family Holiday: A time away with the fam which is likely to include hours and hours and hours and hours of exhausting fun with your kids, musical beds every night (somehow beds which are only a few feet apart are all the easier to climb in to each and every night), very little restful sleep, and exactly ZERO alone time.

Vacation: A refreshing, relaxing time away which leaves you feeling rested and rejuvenated.

Dear friends, we went on a family holiday. It was fantastic, amazing, a dream-come-true… but I am just now recovering. Just now. Three weeks after the fact. No joke.

Soul Food Sunday: February 7

Getting to church on Sunday morning can seem like a challenge (some weeks are better than others, right?!), so for those that didn’t make it this morning, I thought I might share my take-aways from Alliance Community Church this morning.

Here’s how Pastor Kevin started us off:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge or controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

We were asked to decide how we, as Christians, conduct ourselves at such times. In particular, we were asked to consider how we are currently conducting ourselves in the political climate we are living in.

I think for many in the room, this was tough medicine to swallow. There are many Albertans that did not choose our current national government. There are many Albertans that did not choose our current provincial government. There are many that are extremely frustrated as they watch these new authorities make choices on our behalf that they would not choose.

So, what are we to do? What does the Bible say we are to do in times such as these.

Pastor Kevin pointed us to some very relevant scripture written by Peter in a time of extreme political and cultural upheaval. Read 1 Peter 2:11-17 and decide what stands out to you.

Here’s what I took away:

  • We are aliens and strangers in this land, merely ambassadors of Christ in this life, meant to represent our heavenly home with justice, righteousness, and peace.
  • No matter what we are called to in this world, and particularly in those instances where politics and justice are concerned, we are NEVER to choose any kind of evil in the service of our cause. Loving God and loving people ALWAYS comes first.
  • We are called to pray for and respect our leaders. ALL our leaders. Those we agree with and those we don’t. We are called to promote peace.

Our human hearts become so easily entangled in webs of anger, frustration, and controversy, that we can easily forget our true mission. I intend to go in to this week trying to remember that even as I speak out against those things that I do not agree with, I must temper my words and my actions with grace and love.

Have a Simple, Sweet, and Special Sunday everyone!

Travel Diary: Adios Costa Rica

Well… All good things must come to an end, I guess. 😦

After 17 days away from home, we were ready to leave Costa Rica and breathe in a little, shall we say, fresh COLD Canadian air. Our travels home were uneventful, except for an unexpectedly long wait at customs in Houston (this is the 4th out of 4 times we have had difficulty getting in or out of Houston in anything less than 4 hours… Note to the wise, if you can connect ANYWHERE other than Houston, just do it. Do it. Really. Do it.)…

But, before I sign off on Costa Rica for go0d, I wanted to leave you with some photos of our adventures in Monteverde each afternoon when we WEREN’T picking, roasting, grinding, or packaging coffee… There is A LOT to do in Monteverde, and thanks to Andreas, the worlds BEST tour guide ever (you can find his contact information at the end of this post), I think we almost did all of them in 4 days!

We weren't able to get a good photo, but the hummingbirds, butterflies, and even a rare Resplendent Quetzal made appearances on our hike!! It was amazing!
We weren’t able to get a good photo, but the hummingbirds, butterflies, and even a rare Resplendent Quetzal made appearances on our hike in the Monteverde Cloud forest!! It was amazing!
An amazing view from the continental divide... straight on till morning to the Caribbean Coast!
An amazing view from the continental divide… straight on till morning to the Caribbean Coast!
Poor Jake... Some lessons are learned the VERY hard way... And he wouldn't let go of Paul's hand for the entire walk.
Poor Jake… Some lessons are learned the VERY hard way… And he wouldn’t let go of Paul’s hand for the entire walk.
Except for when Maureen was willing to walk with him... ;)
Except for when Maureen was willing to walk with him… 😉
A ride in an "Ox Cart" pulled by two Holstein steers! Don Juan's Coffee Farm was THE best coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour we have ever been on! Go there!!
A ride in an “Ox Cart” pulled by two Holstein steers! Don Juan’s Coffee Farm was THE best coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour we have ever been on! Go there!!
Mmmmm.... Chocolate.
Mmmmm…. Chocolate.
We chewed on enough sugar cane to make us all a little ill!!! And we also saw a Rainbow Billed Toucan and a sloth on this tour!!
We chewed on enough sugar cane to make us all a little ill!!! And we also saw a Rainbow Billed Toucan and a sloth on this tour!!
The beginning of a beautiful thing! (There are cocoa beans in that thing!)
The beginning of a beautiful thing! (There are cocoa beans in that thing!)
ANOTHER tasty cup of goodness (this time with chocolate on the side).
ANOTHER tasty cup of goodness (this time with chocolate on the side).
A Strangling Ficus tree... Lee and Maureen climbed up almost 100 ft to the top of the tree!!l
A Strangling Ficus tree… Lee and Maureen climbed up almost 100 ft to the top of the tree!! Cole stayed just about where you see him… And me too.
This Ficus set its roots down as a very convenient bridge across a deep gorge.
This Ficus set its roots down as a very convenient bridge across a deep gorge.
Ready for some zip lining. Selvatura Adventure Park was amazing! Go there too!
Ready for some zip lining. Selvatura Adventure Park was amazing! Go there too!
I might look calm... But I wasn't.
I might look calm… But I wasn’t.
Tarzan (A.K.A Jake) seemed to think this was all in a day's work... Both boys had a blast!
Tarzan (A.K.A Jake) seemed to think this was all in a day’s work… Both boys had a blast!
Can you spot the giant iguana? He lives behind the police station in a town somewhere between Monteverde and Liberia!
Can you spot the giant iguana? He lives behind the police station in a town somewhere between Monteverde and Liberia! Andreas hooked us up.

So, there you have it… A picture-by-picture account of our adventures! If you are travelling to Costa Rica and require transportation services or tourism assistance, particularly in the Monteverde area, you should absolutely look up Andreas at http://www.farotravelcostarica.com or on Facebook at Transportes Freylid. He was fantastic to deal with, speaks English well (for those of us that are still desperately trying to learn Spanish!), and has reasonable and competitive prices.

Also, if you are interested in La Bella Tica Organic Coffee Farm, they can be found online at http://www.bellaticacafe.com or on Facebook at Bellatica Monteverde.

So, until we travel again… I’m signing off on the travel diary for now…

… And thinking about how (and where) we might learn how to grow grapes?!

Travel Diary: Costa Rica (6)

Down a long, winding, picturesque country road… past a few tiny towns and brilliant green hills spotted with cows, banana trees, coffee plants, and jungle we found our little home for the week…

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Home of Oldemar and Elsie (and their lovely daughters), and far, far away from all the hustle and bustle of city life, it is striking to me almost immediately that this humble little place contributes coffee to our vastly metropolitan life. That the origin of the lovely bean that many of us rely upon for our morning mojo is a most tranquil, relaxed, and peaceful place. A paradox to be sure.

To answer a few most obvious questions about our week away right out of the gate…

1. The food was FANTASTIC. Elsie is a tremendously good cook and prepared for us a great variety of delicious dishes – stews, fried chicken, pasta, home-made corn flour tortillas, picadillo, and of course beans and rice 18 different ways (all yummy!)… all that accompanied with fresh fruit and coffee… oh the coffee!! We were surprised that we were not offered coffee breakfast, lunch, and dinner though ;). We sort of thought that since the place was swimming in the stuff, we should basically be given the option to bathe in it if we could ;)!! We weren’t. And we didn’t… maybe next time. ;)-

2. Our bunk house was modest (wood frame with corrugated tin roof), but comfortable. We had plenty of electricity and there is wifi… On that note, can someone please explain to me why I can get an excellent wifi signal and good cell phone reception in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle but lose calls regularly driving down Hwy #2 between Calgary and Red Deer?! Seriously?!

The view from our bunk house door... tarzan vines and all.
The view from our bunk house door… Tarzan vines and all.

The showers are typical to Costa Rica with a small heating system in the shower head. So, once you figure out exactly how much water pressure equals a steady stream of warm water, you have about an 85% chance of a warm shower as far as I can tell ;).

3. The owners of La Bella Tica Organic Coffee Farm (Oldemar and Elsie) are just absolutely lovely human beings. We felt terribly blessed and humbled to be allowed to share in a tiny bit of their business, which they are very proud of and work hard to maintain. They earn a living income from their farm and are able to sell all of their coffee locally, mainly to tourists who participate in tours of the farm, or those who visit for extended periods of time such as ourselves. They have a small cafe-style shop area in the kitchen of their home where they display their coffee (in environmentally friendly locally produced bamboo packaging and biodegradable plastic). Many other farmers in the area sell their coffee to the local fair-trade coffee co-op, which is then sold in larger quantities to buyers around the world. Many local farmers do not have the equipment to process and roast their own beans, so Oldemar also processes and roasts coffee for neighbors and friends (for use in their own homes) for a small fee.

So… now to the nitty-gritty… what were the Irvine’s and Cameron’s up to during their time on the farm?! Well… let me tell you…

Did you ever wonder about that little bean you spin around in your grinder before brewing that delicious nectar each day? Well… here’s the low down from bean to cup.

These are coffee cherries.

Coffee cherries high up on the mountin
Coffee cherries high up on the mountain

Our motley little crew picked 5 sacks (about 100 lbs per sack) full of them in two days (4 sacks day one… relatively flat picking ground and bushes that were quite full; 1 sack day two… EXTREMELY steep picking ground (some war-wounds in our group to show for it) and more sparse cherries on each bush).

Heading to work.
Heading to work.
My basket full of cherries!
My basket full of cherries!
Paul and Maureen hard at work!
Paul and Maureen hard at work!
Cole working hard on the steep mountain slope - billy goat style!
Cole working hard on the steep mountain slope – billy-goat style!

A good day's work!

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Cole and Jake watching the beans being carried down the mountain
Cole and Jake watching the beans being carried down the mountain (very steep) on Oldemar’s strong shoulders.

Of course, picking the beans (although the most difficult among the jobs involved in coffee production), is only one step in the process of producing finished coffee beans.

We were very lucky during our stay at the farm, to also participate in drying, roasting, and packaging the finished beans.

Coffee cherries drying in the sun (Oldemar says this "natural" coffee has the best flavor and is far superior to machine-dried coffee). He has a dryer, but prefers not to use it unless absoloutely necessary due to a large order.
Coffee cherries drying in the sun (Oldemar says this “natural” coffee has the best flavor and is far superior to machine-dried coffee). He has a dryer, but prefers not to use it unless absolutely necessary due to a large order.
Shelling the beans (these ones have been dried and washed by machine, not the "natural" method, but natural beans are also shelled in the same way).
Shelling the beans (these ones have been dried and washed by machine, not the “natural” method, but natural beans are also shelled in the same way).
Sorting out the chaff... old school (Oldemar knows when the wind is just right)!
Sorting out the chaff… old school (Oldemar knows when the wind is just right)!
Raw coffee beans ready for roasting.
Raw coffee beans ready for roasting.
Oldemar roasting the beans (he is careful not to drop a single bean on the floor, so we weren't allowed to do this job ;)).
Oldemar roasting the beans (he is careful not to drop a single bean on the floor, so we weren’t allowed to do this job ;)).
Beans cool before they can be packaged or ground.
Beans cool before they can be packaged or ground.
Grinding the coffee.
Grinding the coffee (Oldemar sells coffee in 300 g bags as ground or whole bean, but the majority of his customers prefer whole bean).
Preparing the packaging for the finished product!
Preparing the packaging for the finished product!
Bagging "our" coffee... this is the batch we will be packing in our suitcase tomorrow!
Bagging “our” coffee… this is the batch we will be packing in our suitcase tomorrow!
Almost done!
Almost done! Bags are sealed and placed in labelled packaging according to roast and grind, and are ready for the sale shelf!

And voila… 6 Canadians, 3 of whom drink A LOT of coffee (you can decide for yourself which 3), are a whole lot more educated about where our food comes from. Of course, during our week we were able to ask lots of questions about coffee production on a larger scale – Who works for the big companies? Are they paid fairly for their labor? Are local farmers in Oldemar’s region paid well for their products etc. These are big questions and the answers are not simple. But, hearing answers from the horses mouth, so to speak, was encouraging, eye-opening, and educational to say the least.

Here’s what I now know for sure… we drink A LOT of coffee… most of the people I know drink A LOT of coffee. Most of this coffee comes from places most of us have not visited, produced by people most of us don’t know, in cultures most of us don’t fully understand or appreciate, sold on markets most of us don’t follow. Therefore, the very least we can do is to try to support those places and people in whatever way we can to allow them to continue to produce the coffee we love in a way that is beneficial to them also. Knowing that there are farms such as Oldemar’s where good coffee is being produced and purchased at a fair price and allowing families to live a lifestyle they find satisfying and rich, encourages our family to seek out that product and support that industry as much as we can.

In the end, this little group of farmers (well, at least two farmers, and a family of almost-farmers) quite easily slipped in to the routine around this farm. Rise early, work hard, tell some stories as the day goes by… do it all again tomorrow (although Oldemar and his family work full days, we were lucky as guests to only work until lunch time each day ;)). We shared meals with Oldemar and Elsie and found that farming, well, farming is farming. Oldemar also has a few beef cows which he keeps nearby on land that is owned by a family member. He does his best to produce the best quality coffee beans possible so that they can be sold at a premium price. He is careful with his livestock to be sure that they are in good health and can be sold at the best time for the best profit. He does all of this because he loves farming, he loves his family, and he loves providing food for people. It’s not such a foreign story at all, is it? In fact, it’s a story we know well in Alberta too. And for the zillionth time during my relatively few trips around the sun, I realize that we are all so much more the same than we are different. I am reminded of one of the “Habits” our kids learn at school… “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood…” and it seems all the more important when we consider differences between people far and wide.

I’m going to muse a little more about that while I drink my next cup of Joe.

Travel Diary: Costa Rica (5)

For this next leg of our journey, I will be using my IVHQ travel diary as a platform. There will be LOTS to share in this short week, but our transition from vacation week to volunteer week most certainly started with a bang ;).

Click on the photo below for the tremendous tale of our journey from Tamarindo to San Jose, and back up to Monte Verde again!

Costa Rican Style
Public Transportation Costa Rican Style

Although I don’t wish to give anything away… yes, that’s us stuck on the side of a busy highway with all of our luggage (for 2 hours) after our bus broke down… 😉

Travel Diary: Costa Rica (4)

We are not the kind of family to lounge by a pool for long… but we have managed to fit in a great deal of pool lounging ;).

So… if you are the adventurous type and wonder what you might find to do in Costa Rica, many local tour companies in Guanacaste will set you up with an “All-Day Adventure” or “Combo Adventure.” Our adventure included zip-lining, rappelling, rock-climbing, Costa Rican lunch,  horse back riding, white water kayaking, and then some relaxing in volcanic mud and hot springs!

I have to be honest... watching my babies get hooked up to a line 100 ft above a canyon didn't seem like a great idea when I really thought about it... but "When in Rome..." right?! It turned out they both had a blast!!!
I have to be honest… watching my babies get hooked up to a line 100 ft above a canyon didn’t seem like a great idea when I really thought about it… but “When in Rome…” right?! It turned out they both had a blast!!!
For those that know me well, you can imagine that this was a *little* outside my comfort zone. But actually, after the first one or two zip lines, I enjoyed myself quite a bit! No hymn singing required ;).
For those that know me well, you can imagine that this was a *little* outside my comfort zone. But actually, after the first one or two zip lines, I enjoyed myself quite a bit! No hymn singing required ;).
Our guide warned us that although all of us would easily be able to do the rapelling, it was a difficult climb up (and in the bright sun!)... so Lee and a few of the other guys in our group were the only ones that gave it a go!
Our guide warned us that although all of us would easily be able to do the rappelling, it was a difficult climb up (and in the bright sun!)… so Lee and a few of the other guys in our group were the only ones that gave it a go!
It was a very hot, very long climb up!
It was a very hot, very long climb up!
We all felt a little badly at the look of these horses and tried our best to make it an easy ride for their sake!!
We all felt a little badly at the look of these horses and tried our best to make it an easy ride for their sake!!
The white-water portion of this trip was a little hairy if you ask me... but for the adrenaline junkies in the crew (CT and JJ included), it was a hit!
The white-water portion of this trip was a little hairy if you ask me… but for the adrenaline junkies in the crew (CT and JJ included), it was a hit!
Volcanic mud in Costa Rica is about as close as I plan to every get to a "tough mudder" ;)!
Volcanic mud in Costa Rica is about as close as I plan to every get to a “tough mudder” ;)!
Even the guys got in on the action!!!
Even the guys got in on the action!!!
Everyone needs a little natural hot springs after a hard day of fun!!
Everyone needs a little natural hot springs after a hard day of fun!!

You can imagine that after this day of fun in the sun (the temperature here has hovered between 33 to 36 degrees C for our entire trip), we had two VERY tired kiddos (and their associated grown ups) at the end of the day. Supper tasted good that night, and it didn’t take very long for anyone to fall asleep!

In addition to this fun day, our excursions have also included some surfing… well, the boys did the surfing… I bobbed in the wonderful bath-tub temperature water! We ate at a wonderful restaurant called “Eat at Joe’s” in Tamarindo located next to the Witch’s Rock surf shop after surfing. Excellent service, good prices, and very tasty food!

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Aaaaand… An awesome day at a local national park, where we saw over 20 species of birds, some very cute monkeys, some not-so-cute crocodiles, and enormous iguanas! We also had the opportunity to feast on a customary Costa Rican lunch… it was delicious!! For some great photos of this excursion, hop on over to Cole’s blog where he and Jake have written a little bit about their adventure so far! But, here is one of my favorite photos from that day!

We are LOVING Costa Rican coffee!!
We are LOVING Costa Rican coffee!!

To cap off our daily adventures, we took this show out on the high-seas for some ocean kayaking and snorkelling. The water was absolutely brilliant blue and clear. After a short paddle to a small beach, we were able to see several species of fish, coral, a sting-ray, and even an eel! I LOVE snorkelling, so this was by far my favorite excursion of the trip!!

So, there you have it friends. If you are looking for some excitement on your vacation, Costa Rica will not disappoint!

Pura Vida until next time!!