Friday, January 29, 2016

Simplifying To-Do List

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Yesterday I took a day off social media. By that I mean I didn't scroll through my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds multiple times a day. (I did tweet an article I read, but I didn't scroll through the app.) A break was just what I needed. I remembered how good it feels to simplify, so I made a to-do list for simplifying all aspects of my life in the coming months. Some of these tasks will take more than a day; my plan is to work on at least one of these per day until they are done.

1. Go through notes in my memo app and delete ones that are no longer necessary.
2. Sell or donate DVDs. Graham insists on keeping his, but I plan to get rid of most of the DVDs I came into this marriage with. We haven't watched a single DVD in more than a year, and they take up space on my bookshelf. They have to go.
3. Sell or donate books I don't need or care about. I still have books from college. Why?!
4. Sort through craft supply box and get rid of anything I haven't used in a year. It's just taking up space in my office closet.
5. Scroll through text app and delete old threads.
6. Delete pictures from my phone. I have been doing this for a couple of weeks now and I am shocked at how many pointless photos I take. Do I really need 10 shots of my dessert? 
7. Donate and sell clothes, again. I most recently went through my closet in December, but I plan to do it again with coats and jackets I didn't wear last fall and this winter.
8. Go through accessory, sock and bathing suit drawers to get rid of anything not worn in a year. Why do I feel the need to keep a bathing suit I bought in college? 
9. Delete and archive work emails.
10. Get rid of shoes not worn in a year. I am known to wear the same shoes all the time: flats. I really only need one pair of heels for when I go into work. All other pairs just seem to take up space. 
11. Get rid of extra contact lens cases. I have millions of these. Where do they come from? I really only need an extra one, right?
12. Buy new matching dinner plates and get rid of both sets of mismatched plates we have. Most of them are chipped at this point anyway.
13. Get matching set of flatware and donate/get rid of all mismatched ones.
14. Donate extra or unused kitchenware and jars. I keep old spaghetti jars, clean them and use them to store things, but I don't need as many as I have.
15. Get rid of worn-out pillows. We only need a few extras for guests.
16. Look through boxes of stuff from high school or college and get rid of anything I don't have a reason to keep. I'm not sure why I felt the need to keep old movie-ticket stubs. Do you?
17. Sort through our miscellaneous drawer in hallway and organize. Get rid of all the extra cords and cables we have in there. 
18. Consolidate all important paperwork in one place. Shred old paperwork.
19. Donate holiday decor that I'm tired of using.
20. Get rid of old dog toys and accessories we no longer use.
21. Unsubscribe from retailer emails.

What do you think of my list? What would you add?

P.S. I know the point is to get rid of things, but I have seen people rave about "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." I am kicking myself for not accepting it from someone who was recently giving it away. I am considering buying the book and then paying it forward to someone who is interested after I read it. Have you heard of this book?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

That Time Our Boat Left Us in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

In the months before Costa Rica, I agonized over our itinerary. I second-guessed my decision to schedule travel to another town on my husband's birthday. He reassured me that it'd be fine, so I stuck with my plan. After all, the whole week would be his birthday celebration. On the morning of his birthday, we hiked, ate breakfast, packed our belongings and said goodbye to the lovely staff at the Tortuga Lodge. Other guests were checking out and making their way to the boat heading for Tortuguero that morning, and we joined them. The lodge has a boat scheduled to go into town every day at 9:30 a.m., and our reservation for our boat/shuttle to Puerto Viejo said to be at the dock at 9:45. I was a little nervous about cutting it close, so I called Caribe Shuttle at 9:30 to ask that the boat wait for us if we weren't there in time. They seemed to be confused by my call, but they assured me that our boat captain would not leave without us. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Tortuguero to see a boat next to us boarding. It seemed that it would be full of about 15 or so passengers and their bags. I wondered how we would fit on it. With my reservation confirmation in hand, I walked up to the captain and asked if this was the boat to Moin. He looked at it confused. He told us he didn't hear anything about us (under our name). I wondered if there was another boat departing to Moin. I showed our lodge staffer the confirmation and he called Caribe Shuttle, who said the boat was departing at 10. Meanwhile, the captain was saying his boat was full and that no one called him to let him know. In 5 minutes, the boat was fully loaded and departing with Graham and I standing on the dock with our bags.
I called Caribe Shuttle repeatedly and was told that they didn't know why the captain said that and that another boat would be sent to us. I was asked to call back at 1 p.m. if a boat had not arrived for us. Breaking the news to the birthday guy that we would have to sit with our things for three hours was tough. I felt guilty, angry and confused. We decided to make the most of our situation by grabbing him a beer and myself some fries at the adjacent restaurant. We met a German 20-something woman who was traveling by herself. She shared her itinerary with us, and she was heading to Puerto Viejo as well. It was nice to chst with such a nice woman over a snack. After about an hour and a half, we moved to the courtyard near the dock to wait. At long last, 1 p.m. arrived, but there was no sign of a boat. I would have no idea which boat was ours either, because no one seems to be looking for their passengers. At 1:05, I called Caribe Shuttle back. They asked me to wait on hold while they called the boat captain. Then they told me he was in Tortuguero already, and that once we arrived in Moin the owner of the boat (or shuttle company?) would drive us to Puerto Viejo in his personal vehicle. I could hear the dispatcher on the phone asking the captain what time we would leave and that I had already waited three hours. This is when I lost it. I just didn't know what to say anymore. The frustration came out in the form of uncontrollable tears. I wasn't even responding anymore. Five feet away from me, another Lodge employee was on the phone with them asking them what was wrong and trying to get us a ride out as soon as possible. Partly because I was touched by his kindness and partly because of frustration, the tears just intensified. Finally the boat captain motioned to us that he was taking us and we could board. I walked over wiping away tears that would not stop. Now they were tears of relief, maybe, I don't know. As I boarded, everyone seemed to be concerned about the crying woman who wouldn't say anything. The captain turned around and asked if I was OK, telling me he would get us to Moin in 2 hours. He had just returned from Moin and was going to take a lunch break but instead skipped it to take us. His kindness again sparked more tears. For the first 20 minutes I couldn't let it go. We were on our way but I wasn't enjoying myself. I wasn't looking around. Then, finally, the captain turned around and gave me a thumbs-up to again ask if I was OK. It was then that I decided I needed to instead by grateful that we were on our way; we would be OK. He asked if we wanted to sit in front of the boat to see the flora and fauna better. I was hesitant; it seemed dangerous. I agreed anyway, and it was the best decision of the day. I will never forget the sights: Howler monkeys just overhead, caiman jumping in the water, birds flying toward and above us, and even two crocodiles. I will never know how, but he spotted a sloth hanging out in a tree, staring at us. He stopped each time we saw something so we could take photos and look around. Best of all, we had the boat to ourselves instead of being on an overcrowded boat. I realized that what started as a frustrating situation turned out to be the most amazing ride through rainforest on canals and rivers. We stopped to see where the rivers flowed into the ocean, we watched as angry white-faced monkeys threw branches toward us and we waved as packed tour boats floated by us. We spotted and said hello to locals fishing in the river. We arrived in Moin that afternoon, where the owner was waiting with his friend. He apologized profusely for the mixup and said he would take us to our hotel, which was an hour car ride away. The day was adventure made better by all the helpful people we encountered. I appreciated them tremendously that day.

Scenes from the ride:

A river flows into the Caribbean Sea. We rode on the Tortuguero and Pacuare rivers, along with some canals.

What difficulties have you encountered while traveling? Did you ever have a negative experience or one that taught you a lesson?

P.S. Get Costa Rica tips in Lonely Planet's guidebook, which I used in my own planning.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive compensation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Birthday Wishlist

I turn the big 3-0 in 3 weeks. I know I have some big changes ahead, and I can't wait to share of those experiences. When I think about what I'd like for my birthday, it's a short list. I'm a firm believer in collecting memories over possessions, and I plan to simplify more in the coming months. But if you'd pull my arm, here's what I'd like to get for my birthday.

  • Irie Shells Aloha pearl necklace. I love everything about it. Irie Shells also makes cute tanks, earrings and starfish headbands for all the mermaids of the world.
Photo credit: Irie Shells

  • A trip to New Orleans. This has been on my wishlist for more than 10 years! I have always wanted to taste the food, check out the French Quarter and listen to the music.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jeff Anding

Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jeff Anding

  • A race medal holder and entrance into the Chicago Marathon. The lottery application process doesn't start until March, but my birthday wish is to be selected. I was inspired to run my second marathon when I watched the runners during the 2015 race. It was amazing!
Photo by Eat a Mango Creations.

Last year I put Chicago on my wishlist and we ended up moving to the city, so I'm excited to see what this next year brings for me. What's on your wishlist right now? 

P.S. Joining the Tutu Tuesdays Linkup today!


Monday, January 25, 2016

Nature Air Flight to Tortuguero, Costa Rica

The morning after we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, I awoke at 3 a.m. after a whole four hours of sleep.

I checked my phone 10 times to make sure it wasn't after 5. Graham and I had a flight to catch from San Jose to Tortuguero at 5:50 a.m. Our hotel's check-in agent advised us to arrive at the airport an hour early for domestic flights, but that didn't seem like enough time (Spoiler: It is). Unfortunately, the shuttle at the Wyndham San Jose doesn't start running until 6, so we had to pay for a taxi to take us to the airport. It was a $15, 10-minute drive. (The taxi charges more on the way to the airport because they stop to pay a toll.) Only about 10 people were in line for Nature Air check-in, which was not available online as far as I can tell. We were asked to step on scales and allowed a 40-pound bag to carry on and a 10-pound personal item. The Nature Air agent gave us handwritten boarding passes with photos and instructed us to use the "fast-track" security line. After check-in we made our way through airport security, which had no line at all. I was allowed to bring my opened water bottle and a soda, in addition to keeping my flats on. Our Nature Air flight was set to depart from Gate 12, which is downstairs. We waited with the seven or so other passengers on our flight until it was time to walk outside, hop on a shuttle bus and drive to the runway where two small planes were waiting for us. Our initial flight reservation was a direct 35-minute flight to Tortuguero, but two days earlier we had received an email that a stop had been added in Limon. A second plane was heading to another destination (Nicaragua, I think).

I should mention that on a flight this small the pilots are the flight attendants. They introduced themselves and mentioned where the exits were, not that it's necessary on a plane this small. As we took off, the sun was rising over the mountains near San Jose. We could see the vast city, then never-ending forest, rivers, mountains and clouds. The flight itself could be a tour of the beautiful country. In about 30 minutes, we landed in Limon, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The airport was a small building next to a runway. Outside, four people were waiting for us. They boarded our plane and we took off over the ocean to Tortuguero. This 15-minute part of the trip was over the turquoise water. We soon saw a narrow strip of land with a runway on it right next to the ocean. The Tortuguero airport is non-existent. It is just a runway with an empty shell of a building next to it. On the other side of the runway is a river. As we landed I could see several boats waiting for their passengers. I had called the Tortuga Lodge, located just across the river from the runway, three days earlier to request a pickup, and as soon as the plane doors were opened a lovely gentleman from the lodge asked if I was Marette Flora. He helped us with our bags, took our photo and led us to our boat, which took us on a 30-second ride across the river to our accommodations for the next two nights. It was an amazing start to our Costa Rica trip. If you want to visit Tortuguero, where sea turtles nest at certain times of the year, you can only do so by plane or boat. I highly recommend the flight, which saves you a day of travel from San Jose and only costs $90 (for the two of us). I will never forget those views. Best of all, Nature Air is a carbon neutral airline! 

Nature Air, Costa Rica
Waiting for takeoff.

Nature Air, Costa Rica
Sunrise in San Jose, Costa Rica

Nature Air, Costa Rica
View of the country from the plane.

Nature Air, Costa Rica

Nature Air, Costa Rica

Nature Air, Costa Rica
Passengers wait to board the Nature Air flight back to San Jose from Tortuguero.

View of the Tortuguero river on our way to Tortuga Lodge.

Happy travels!

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Friday, January 22, 2016

5 Journaling Prompts + A Lovely Notebook

The plane rides to and from Costa Rica gave me lots of time to journal. I even came up with journal prompts of my own. Sometimes I want to journal but I need a prompt to get myself started. Hope these inspire some self-reflection.

  • Think about your travels. What have you learned from them? Was there ever a time you felt uncomfortable? What places are on your list? Who is/are your favorite travel companion(s)? Are you a planner or improviser when it comes to your itinerary? Are you satisfied with the amount of travel you've done? What was the most unexpected experience you've had?
  • List 3-5 words that describe you now. Then make another list of 3-5 words that you would LIKE to describe you in five years. What do you need to do to get there? Is there a difference?
  • Write down one thing that has been troubling you. Set a timer for 2 minutes and write nonstop. List how it makes you feel, what resources can help you, and what the best possible outcome could be, etc.
  • Choose a goal you recently set for yourself. Why is it important to you? List all people, book, classes and other resources that can help you achieve that goal. What's your timeline? 
  • Think about a positive influence in your life. What makes this person special? What qualities does this person possess that you would like to emulate? Have you expressed to this person how inspirational he or she is to you?
Do you journal? What prompts would you suggest for journaling?

I also came across this notebook with artwork by artist Meera Lee Patel. Not only is it beautiful, but a part of the proceeds go toward the building of schools in developing countries. Check it out on Denik's website. Plus, free shipping is being offered through the month of January!, notebook
Photo credit:

Happy journaling!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Travel Thursday: Ziplining in Costa Rica

Costa Rica brought out a flurry of emotions. At times I was thrilled beyond belief, and at times I was terrified. The fear struck when I stood on a platform wearing the safety equipment for ziplining through the rainforest canopy in the Bribri area. I nearly burst into tears when the guide asked "lista?" No, I wasn't ready. He told me I was fine and sent me on my way. As I zipped down the cable, I struggled with the instruction to use my back hand to guide myself down the line and steady myself. I would panic for a moment and grip the cable too tightly. I made it through the first three lines, when we reached a platform that was especially high. The guide told us this was a faster run. As I descended, my hand hit leaves on a tree, and I nearly turned. I panicked and gripped the cable tighter. I kept zipping down the line until I started to turn again, so again I gripped the cable. I slowed down dramatically, stopping short of the end of the line. Great, I thought. I turned myself around and started to pull myself toward the platform. I quickly realized the next zipliner had started coming toward me. He braked to avoid colliding with me, and then we both pulled ourselves toward the platform. The guide became impatient and came to get me. From this point on, I could not do it on my own. I completed the remaining lines (with the exception of a short easy one) with the guide. Even that was terrifying to me. At one platform, the trees started spinning and I grabbed onto the safety straps for dear life. Needless to say, ziplining is not for me. I did it to challenge myself while making my husband happy -- he loves high-adrenaline activities. I'm glad I did a canopy tour, but I doubt I'll ever do it again. Have you ever done anything you're afraid of on a vacation? Tell me about it!

If you go:

Our canopy tour departed from Puerto Viejo. Of course, ziplining tours are available in other parts of Costa Rica as well. Our tour was through Terraventuras and cost $55 a person. The Superman cable (last line) costs an extra $10. There's also a free Tarzan swing option. You are picked up from your hotel and driven to the office, where you sign a waiver and pay (if you haven't already). From there, the van takes you to an unpaved road, where you get out and board the back of a truck with a roll cage on it. This truck drives you up a mountain. At the mountain office, you are outfitted with your safety gear and given instructions. (The entire tour is supposed to be four hours but ours was four and a half.) And then you're on your way!
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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pescatarian Diet in Costa Rica

If you're traveling to Costa Rica as a vegetarian, you better like fruit, assorted carbs, and rice and beans. I eat fish as well, so that gave me more options. Some places offered vegetarian options, but some smaller mom-and-pop restaurants didn't. Here's what I ate on our Costa Rica vacation:

Day 1: 

For breakfast I had the Gallo Pinto (traditional black beans and rice) with cheese, a plantain, fried eggs, and a tortilla at the Tortuga Lodge just outside of Tortuguero village. I thoroughly enjoyed all of it except the cheese (I'm not sure what kind it was, but it wasn't my favorite.) I paired the meal with mango juice.

gallo pinto, Costa Rica
Gallo Pinto Breakfast

Lunch was also at the Tortuga Lodge. I ordered a veggie wrap with fries that came with a fresh salsa. I devoured every bite.

After a day of hiking and exploring, we also ate dinner at the lodge. I ordered a beet salad (below), but I had some of Graham's sea bass, too.

beet salad, Costa Rica, Tortuga Lodge

Day 2

We skipped breakfast because we went on a river boat tour on the Tortuguero canals. I ate a breakfast bar that I had brought in my luggage from the U.S.

Lunch was a snack plate of jalapeño poppers and a salad. Also bread; lots of bread.

Costa Rica, Tortuga Lodge

We went into town for dinner at a Caribbean restaurant. I wish I remembered the name, but it's to the left on the main path through town. It has lots of Jamaican decor and played Bob Marley music loudly from its speakers. (The town is so small that this vague description would probably help you find it.) I had papas bravas (not pictured) and plantains with black bean/salsa dip. The spicy potatoes came with a house salad. Graham had a chicken rice and salad and non-spicy potatoes. I mention this because I ended up also eating his salad and potatoes.

Costa Rica, Tortuguero

Costa Rica, Tortuguero

Day 3

Breakfast was Gallo Pinto again (see above) with no cheese at the Tortuga Lodge. I also ate some fruit and yogurt from my husband's plate.

Costa Rica, Tortuga Lodge

We were on the go at lunchtime so I only ate snacks.

Dinner was an amazing meal at La Pecora Nora in Cocles near Puerto Viejo. It's an amazing Italian restaurant that's worth the splurge. *Excuse my cellphone photo; I didn't have my camera with me. The meal came with a lentil soup starter for free, as well as lots of bread. I ordered a penne arrabiata that was delicious. We also had a tasty tuna meatball starter. Graham ate a fish pasta that also was incredible, though I can't recall what kind of fish it was.

La Pecora Nora, Cocles, Costa Rica
Tuna meatballs from La Pecora Nora in Puerto Viejo

Day 4

Breakfast was pancakes with fruit at Physis Caribbean Bed and Breakfast in Cocles.

Physis Caribbean Bed and Breakfast

Lunch was a cheese, basil and tomato empanada we got outside the Jaguar Rescue Center in Playa Chiquita. It was the best empanada I've ever had and only cost $2. Also pictured is a chicken empanada (not mine).

Dinner was margarita pizza at an Argentinian place in Cocles, next to the Super Cocles. It was huge.

Cocles, pizza

Day 5

Breakfast was eggs, toast and fruit at the B&B. Simple but effective.

Physis Caribbean Bed and Breakfast

Lunch was snacks and a spinach empanada that wasn't nearly as good as the one I had the day before.

Dinner was the vegetarian plate at Soda Johanna's in Cocles. It was delicious. I especially enjoyed the Caribbean salsa.

Soda Johanna, Cocles

Day 6

Breakfast was French toast with real Canadian maple syrup and a fruit cup.

Physis Caribbean Bed and Breakfast

Lunch was a veggie sandwich and potato salad from Bread and Chocolate in Puerto Viejo. It was a little pricey but good. ($22 for two sandwiches with sides and two drinks) We took it to go on our way to Cahuita for some hiking.

Bread and Chocolate, Puerto Viejo

Dinner was sushi at Chile Rojo in Puerto Viejo. We weren't really that hungry but knew we should eat something. We washed it down with piña coladas. A musician from Chile played while we ate. He had the most beautiful voice.

Chile Roja, Puerto Viejo

Chile Roja, Puerto Viejo

Day 7

Breakfast was gallo pinto, eggs, toast and orange juice before our river rafting trip. Lunch was a make-your-own-bean burrito, pineapple slices and a cracker with jelly. Dinner was a cheese empanada we got on the go.

Day 8

Breakfast was assorted savory and sweet pastries from a local bakery.

Lunch was snacks on the go again: more jalapeno poppers and fries because I couldn't resist the junk food. Dinner was spaghetti (not pictured).

As you can see, I didn't make the healthiest eating options, but damn were they great-tasting. *We had two other half days but I am only recounting full days in Costa Rica.

When you travel, are you good about eating the same foods you would at home or do you like to try new things? Do you choose healthy? Junk food?