Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tortuga Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Our first stop in Costa Rica after flying into San Jose was Tortuguero. It's a village on the Caribbean side of the country that is known for the turtles who nest and hatch on its beaches. The village is only accessible by boat or plane. Our options were to rent a car, drive to a nearby village and take a boat, or we could take a 30-minute $90 flight (for both of us) to Tortuguero. We did have the option to take a guided tour with everything included, but we prefer to be on our own.

The Nature Air flight made getting to the lodge extremely easy. We called the lodge the day before we landed and told them we'd be arriving at 7 a.m. They said they'd have a boat waiting for us at the air strip. When our flight landed, we deboarded the plane to see a young man, who asked if I was Mrs. Flora. He was there to help us with our bags and escort us to the boat that was waiting. The boat took us on a two-minute ride across the river to the lodge. How convenient is that?!




We were early for check-in and our room wasn't ready yet, so we headed to the lodge's restaurant for breakfast. We ate al fresco while admiring the scenery. I opted for the gallo pinto breakfast.



After breakfast, we checked into our room, which was located in the building next to the office. On one side of our room we had a view of the river, and on the other we had a view of the grounds, which led to a nature preserve area that is part of the property. We received a map of the trails on the property; they allow you to hike on your own and see monkeys, birds, iguanas and tiny dart frogs. Guided nature walks are held every morning around 6 a.m. and you can also book private walks at any time. For your convenience, rain boots, walking sticks and maps are available at the start of the trail (behind the office). It was such a treat being able to hike whenever we wanted. The hikes allow you to see animals in their habitat, but the iguanas weren't shy about roaming the grounds.




We hiked every day we were there. It was so beautiful and serene. We could start our hikes right outside our door, and we roamed every trail on the property several times a day.







Each morning, we awoke to the sounds of howler monkeys, which the lodge called nature's alarm clock. You really have no choice but to adjust your schedule here because the lodge rooms have no windows, only screens. Every room has hammocks and chairs outside your door where you can sit with your coffee and watch the sunrise. You are open to nature, and this trip is about relaxing and exploring. You won't find a TV or A/C in the room; the lodge considers itself eco-friendly. We found that we were OK with the fans that were provided. At any time we could ask for ice from the bar or a wet towel.






Another nice perk is that free snacks are offered every night before dinner. You can lounge in the bar area and grub on hummus and chips or whatever they provide that night. Coffee and tea are always ready as well, along with cookies or crackers.

The property also has a pool and hammock area.  Boats wait at the dock and regularly take guests into town. You can also book a water taxi if the lodge boats aren't running. If at any time you want to go to the beach on the other side of the air strip, you can ask for a boat to take you and they will gladly do so. When you want to return to the lodge, you simply wave your arms in the air. People in the office will see you and send a boat to go get you.




Various tours are offered by the lodge. We booked a nature tour ($100 per person) on the rivers and canals and when we returned, we had lemonade and wet towels waiting for us. It was a much-needed treat on a hot, sunny day. 

The weather tends to be unpredictable. It might start off raining but turn into a gorgeous sunny day. Or vice versa. That's why those rain boots are necessary! The lodge has umbrellas and bug spray waiting outside the office for guests to use at any time. You can sit and watch the rain from chairs that are set up with a view of the river.



The service was excellent. When our transportation out of Tortuguero left us, one worker called multiple times to straighten out the situation, and another waited with us and tried to console me. I really appreciated their kindness. I would definitely stay at the Tortuga Lodge again.

Have you been to Costa Rica? What was your favorite thing to do?

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Listen to Yourself

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Yoga has changed my life. One of the many lessons I've learned from yoga is to listen to my body and myself. I tend to take on a lot. I set a lot of goals. I say yes to everything. When I hear about an event, I want to attend. When I learn about a restaurant, I want to go. I want to do everything.

I entered the lottery to run the Chicago Marathon. I signed up for two half marathons so far this year. I made plans for a trip to Louisville. I plan to visit Phoenix again in June. I want to go to Belize, Thailand, Australia, Seattle, you name it. I want to finish my book. I want to find more freelance work. I want to get in better shape. I want to teach yoga again. I want to enroll in more yoga teacher training.

Last month, I was reminded about a work-study program at my local yoga studio and I immediately wanted to do it. I filled out an application without hesitation and returned it to the studio manager within an hour. I interviewed for the position and was offered two shifts. When I took a look at my schedule, I no longer felt the same enthusiasm. Was this something I really wanted to do? Or did I just not want to miss out on something? I thought about how I'd feel during my six-month commitment. I looked at what I'd have to give up to do it. Was that something I was willing to do?

I meditated on the question for a few days. I was asked for an answer and I posed the question to myself. Should I take this on? I realized that when it came down to it, the idea of enrolling in the program didn't spark the joy it should have. It spurred more stress about trying to fit something else in, and I don't want to do that to myself. 

I realized that I'm filling time because there are three aspects of my life that are so uncertain right now, and I won't know what happens for a couple more months, or longer. I finally saw that I was trying to occupy all of my time so that I didn't have to face the feelings that surface when I think about the possible changes this year will bring. 

That's the beauty of yoga. It helped me see that all the answers I need I already know.

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Have you ever discovered an answer you were seeking by looking inward? Tell me about it in the comments!



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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Physis Caribbean Bed and Breakfast, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

If Graham and I owned a bed and breakfast, we would want it to be like Physis Caribbean B&B near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It's clean, comfortable and adorably decorated. It's also relaxing and has amenities we loved.


We arrived in Cocles on Graham's birthday after being delayed for three hours. We were tired and hungry. We were welcomed by two friends of the owners who were taking care of the B&B for a few days. They were so warm and welcoming, and they had welcome drinks for us, which was much-needed after a long day. They showed us to our room, Room 3, which had an outdoor shower. It is located downstairs of the two-story home. The room had both queen and full beds, closets, a safe, a fridge and satellite TV.

Outside our room were two hammocks, a drink station, shoe racks, books and lots of tropical plants. A calming water feature and a vibrant mural on the wall added to the relaxing ambiance. In the back of the yard was the third room and a picnic table. A cat named Mr. Lucy roamed about. We often found him snoozing in a seating area located in the front of the B&B.




The B&B offered several breakfast options, and we tried nearly all of them: eggs and toast with a cup of fruit and tea or coffee; pancakes with fruit; and French toast with fruit. The upstairs dining area has no windows, so we always felt the breezes and watched the rain. Each morning we met and chatted with our fellow guests. We met a couple from Argentina, a businessman from Tennessee who was looking for his retirement home and a couple of Germany. We loved hearing their stories and about their long vacations. I envied the fact that most of them were spending weeks in Costa Rica.

Physis offers bike and snorkel gear rental. Bikes are $8 a day and are a great mode of transportation in Puerto Viejo, Cocles, Manzanito and the other small towns on the Caribbean side of the country. You see many people riding bikes on the main road. It was also nice to have the option to rent our own snorkel gear and snorkel at Cahuita National Park. Many online sites had said you need a guide, but some people we met told us they often do it without one.

Our hosts were happy to book a ziplining tour for us and tell us how to take the local bus to Cahuita. The owner Emily gave us a schedule to take with us and Jeremy gave us a recommendation to get sandwiches at Bread and Chocolate and take them on our hike. Good call! The bus stop actually stops at the end of the street leading to Cocles, so it's easy and cheap. A cab ride to Puerto Viejo was only $4.

The best part of our stay was the service. When we lost our GoPro, the first host's husband, Chad, helped us look for it in the water for more than an hour. He then gave us a ride back when we gave up looking for it. Owners Jeremy and Emily encouraged us and gave us advice about owning a bed and breakfast in the future. If we return to Costa Rica, I would love to stay at Physis. It's a well-run, comfortable B&B.


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Monday, March 28, 2016

Half-Marathon Training, Week 5

I am proud to say I rebounded from a terrible week of training last week and had a strong Week 5. I made it to three Orangetheory sessions, ran twice by myself and did some at-home yoga. Next week I hope to make it back to group training after two weeks away. Fitness is more fun with friends!

Here's how Week 5 went:

Monday: Rest day.

Tuesday: 2.3 mile run before traveling back to Chicago.

Wednesday: At Orangetheory, I ran 2.67 miles as part of multiple rounds with 30-second all-outs. My fastest all-out was 7:19 minute/mile pace. Floor workout included pushups and knee tucks with my feet in the TRX straps, static crunches with overs/unders with my feet, and hip raises. We also rowed 150 meters and 300 meters in one round and 200 meters and 400 meters in another round (repeated).

Thursday: 1.2 miles as part of a run/row at Orangetheory. I warmed up for .4 mile; ran .5 mile at a 3 percent incline; rowed for the same amount of time I ran .5; then ran for .3 mile at a 5 percent incline. I ran out of time before we had to move on to the floor. The floor blocks were:

  • Walkouts to pushups (2), then 12 tricep dips on the bench.
  • Walkouts to pushups (3), then 13 tricep dips
  • Walkouts to pushups (4), then 14 tricep dips
  • Walkouts to pushups (5), then 15 tricep dips
  • Walkouts to pushups (6), then 16 tricep dips
My arms were burning. I felt the burn for a few days, actually. We did more floor workouts before ending the class with 4 minutes of NONSTOP froggers, 180-degree jump burpees, froggers, burpees, froggers, burpees and more froggers. Ouch.

Friday: 30 minutes of yoga at home. I tried to record a video for YouTube until I started to doubt anyone would be interested in it. I will attempt it again once I have an actual plan for what to record. I also ran a mile.

Saturday: 8-mile run. It was slow and I was chilly. I celebrated an anniversary of sorts: my first run in Chicago was a year earlier. I remembered how stressed and scared I had been that day, and how now I was just cold. OK, maybe a little stressed, too, but over things I can't control, which is pointless.

Sunday: 1.2 miles at Orangetheory. I also rowed 1,900 meters. Floor workout included weighted crunches, 1 full minute of squat jumps with medicine ball press and single-leg squat jumps with TRX straps. Those squat jumps were killer.

Week's mileage: 16.37.
Yoga minutes: 35.


Reflections

I became discouraged when I felt like I was getting into better shape and then saw what I look like on camera when I tried to make a yoga video. The number on the scale, which I've only really checked three times since October, has only increased. I'd love to think it's muscle, but the real problem is that I'm not happy with my midsection. Yet, I haven't brought myself to actually stop eating chips and queso. You can't solely exercise your way to your fitness goal. At least I can't. It's going to take some changes in my eating habits.


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How's your training going? Share with me in the comments!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My First Experience with Spirit Airlines

I started to write this at 1 a.m. last Wednesday in Dallas. I should have landed in Phoenix by then. My flight from Chicago was delayed because of the thunderstorms moving into the city. We were reassured repeatedly by the gate agents and pilot that our connection in Dallas would be held so that we could make our flight. We sat on the tarmac waiting to take off for 20 or more minutes, landing in Dallas about 11:45 local time.

The flight to Phoenix had left. 

About 20-30 of us were stranded. Some people took 6 a.m. flights to Minneapolis to connect to Phoenix the next day. Some people were put on the next flight to Phoenix at 11:14 p.m. the next night. By the time it was my turn, there were no seats on the next flight, or so I was told. I heard person after person be told by the agent they would get no hotel voucher, nor would they be booked on another airline. I was told I wouldn't be flying to Phoenix until Thursday night.

That meant two days in Dallas.

No hotel. No flight on another airline, No meal voucher. No refund, unless I flew back to Chicago, and even then I might only get a partial refund because "I took half the trip." Not exactly, but OK.

I struggled with what to do. I could fly back to Chicago and miss my cousin's wedding. I could pay for my own flight to Phoenix on another airline, but money is tight this month -- that's why I chose Spirit in the first place. 

But no amount of savings is enough to compensate for having to be stuck somewhere for almost two days. No amount of savings is worth having agents say they can't do anything to help.

 I learned my lesson the hard way. 

I called Spirit's customer service to talk to them about it and was told to take the flight on Thursday. I called again the next day and was told I could get on standby if I pay $25. So I would have to pay even more money to get to my destination?

I was exhausted so I decided to just stay in Dallas another night and catch up on sleep. But the hotel ended up being booked that night, and in desperation, I took the shuttle back to the airport to get on standby.

(The hotel, by the way, was just what you'd expect for $48.)

My husband had called Spirit as well, but he got nowhere. By the time I walked up to the Spirit check-in desk, I was fed up, I was tired, I was hungry, I was angry.

"I need to get on the flight to Phoenix tonight," I said. Tears were flooding down my face at this point.

"OK, we have a seat for $116 tonight."

"No, I was on the flight from Chicago and our connection left without us. I need to get to Phoenix tonight. I can't stay in Dallas another night; I have nowhere to stay. I need to get to Phoenix tonight."

I would say I lost my composure, but I had never had any composure. I felt like the airline didn't care about what happened to me.

The supervisor saw me crying at the desk and walked over. They whispered among themselves, and I said, "I'm not even flying back to Chicago with you guys; can't I just get on this flight?"

Just an hour before I had booked a return to Chicago on Southwest for only $100 that would allow me to make up for lost time in Phoenix.

That's when the supervisor said, "We have three seats left; just put her in one."

I could have cried more. I was going to Phoenix!

I spent the next three hours catching up on work and celebrating with Mexican food. I was put in the third row, which had slightly larger seats, but they weren't any more comfortable. I was just happy to get to Phoenix at this point, so I didn't care.

After this experience, I will avoid flying Spirit at all costs. I have heard from a few people who don't mind flying with Spirit, and at first I could see how. But as soon as weather hit, things went downhill quickly. I now see that you pay more at other airlines but can expect customer service when things go awry. That's the biggest lesson I learned in my travels last week.


Have you flown with Spirit Airlines? What did you think?




Wednesday, March 23, 2016

One Year in Chicago

One year ago today, Graham and I drove into Chicago after a two-day trip from Phoenix. We arrived at an Airbnb in Logan Square at nearly midnight. We were exhausted but exhilarated at the same time. In the previous 10 days, we had packed, shipped, sold or donated our belongings; said goodbye to friends and family; and arranged for me to work remotely. When I look back at this time last year, I am still shocked at how much we did in such a short period of time. We said yes to an opportunity and went at it full steam ahead. We were rewarded for our big risk (I had never even been to Chicago before) in many ways. Some of the highlights of the past year:

  • Being able to see the Cubs' amazing season from beginning to end. I remember going to Opening Night by myself because I didn't have anyone to go with. I didn't dress in weather-appropriate clothing and had to go home early because I was so cold. 


  • Supporting Graham in his new job and seeing him happy to have made the change.
  • Welcoming friends and family to come visit us, including my friend Charlsy, who surprised me by flying in for a weekend. We had the most fun few days of exploring the city. It wasn't until about that time that I really decided I liked living in Chicago.
  • Celebrating our first anniversary. We had such a wild first year of marriage, but I wouldn't change a thing.

Abigail Joyce Photography
Abigail Joyce Photography

  • Living near the lake. We love walking our dogs at the beach and going to Montrose dog beach, and I love running on the lakefront path. It's the best!


Of course, I still have a lot more to see and do (and eat!) in Chicago. See my Chicago Bucket List and tell me what I should add! I hope you'll follow along! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Wedding at the Farm at South Mountain

Cousins are your first best friends. Growing up, my cousin Paulette, my sister Angie and I were inseparable. So when Paulette's wedding came up this month, I was thrilled to be able to fly back to Phoenix from Chicago. I was also excited to attend a wedding at the Farm at South Mountain. It's the perfect venue. 

The ceremony was in the Stone Grove, followed by the dinner reception at Quiessence. The decor fit the farm nicely. The bridal suite is spacious and adorably decorated. It has plenty of dress hooks for those must-have wedding dress photos. It also has abundant closet space and a kitchen. The groom used a smaller suite next to the Stone Grove to get ready. Cute little clear and green mason jars filled with assorted white flowers hung on the ceremony chairs. Burlap decor was placed throughout. It was a Pinterest wedding come to life.








I may be biased, but the flower girl is pretty darn cute.


After the ceremony, we headed to Quiessence for the most delicious meal I've had in a while. One of the highlights was the apple mascarpone cannolis.


Have you ever been to the Farm at South Mountain? Isn't it just the cutest place ever?


Monday, March 21, 2016

Half-Marathon Training, Week 4

Travel hiccups completely threw me off this week. I had every workout and social event planned out perfectly in my calendar, but life decided I needed to be tested. The week started off just as previous weeks and then I found myself in an unfamiliar city with a racing mind that left me unable to sleep and therefore function. Here's what happened:

Monday: Rest day.
Tuesday: 2.5 miles at Orangetheory. Floor workouts included high rows with the TRX strap, many all-out rows and spiderman planks.
Wednesday: I wanted to run once I was in Phoenix but I was delayed and stuck in Dallas since Tuesday night. I got no sleep, worked from a Starbucks and then went to the airport four hours early to get on stand-by. I then flew to Phoenix. I managed maybe 10 minutes of yoga during the stressful day.
Thursday: I wanted to go to Orangetheory, but my great aunt was coming into town and I wanted to see her. I was so exhausted that I could hardly keep my eyes open.
Friday: After 8 hours of sleep I didn't feel rested, likely because I still had to make up for two previous nights of little sleep. I skipped my planned run to get as much sleep as possible before work and my cousin's wedding.
Saturday: 4 miles before brunch, a Dbacks game and another family celebration. I meant to run 6 but I experienced some chafing on my thigh from my shorts. I had nothing to put on my thigh for chafing. It was a painful lesson not to run in those shorts and to invest in more comfortable running attire. 
Sunday: Orangetheory. I ran 1.6 miles as part of a 4,5-minute progressive run and then a run/row.  Floor workout included rollouts with the Ab Dolly, single-leg weighted V-ups and torso rotations with the TRX straps,

Mileage: 8.1 miles.
Yoga minutes: 15.

Reflections:


I learned that life will throw you curve balls. I learned it's OK to sleep if your body tells you it needs it. I learned to do the best I can under the circumstances. I learned I am strong enough to handle situations on my own. And while I did half the mileage I wanted to do, I at least got three workouts in. I have to remind myself I get a fresh start each week. Plus, I signed up for the lottery to run the Chicago Marathon! Wish me luck!


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Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day in Chicago: Dyeing of the Chicago River

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Chicago river dyeing, St. Patrick's Day
Some of my favorite buildings above the green Chicago River.
I missed St. Patrick's Day in Chicago last year, so this year seeing the dyeing of the Chicago River was a must for me. I wanted to see the river turn green and experience the festivities. Graham and I awoke at 6:20 a.m., a difficult feat on a Saturday. We took the train down to the river, where we saw the party had already started by 8 a.m. Revelers dressed in green from head to toe were everywhere I looked. People lined the river, waiting to see the boats. It was initially tricky to find a spot. People must have gotten there so early! But two people left their spots and we jumped in for a look. It didn't take long for the river to have its green hue and for boats to start parading down the river. There was even a guy on a standup paddle boat! I would love to see the event from a boat; it seemed like the prime viewing place. We were in a good location, underneath some of my favorite Chicago buildings.





If you're celebrating St. Patrick's Day tonight, stay safe and have fun. Are you planning to celebrate? 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thoughts on 'Spark Joy'

I recently read a review of Spark Joy that said it was better than the first book, but I saw it as a more detailed companion version. Many of the same methods Marie Kondo introduces in "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" are repeated and explained more thoroughly. Also, it has cute little illustrations throughout to show you her methods. She reassure readers of the first book that it's perfectly normal for your home to get messy while you are tidying; it's part of the process. Also, it's important that you finish discarding before trying to find a home for each of your things. She explains how to store things by category, making it easy to skip that section if you don't have those items. Reading her book reminded me that parts of our home such as my office don't have to be purely functional. They should bring us joy. The most profound lesson I learned, though, was this: If you're anxious all the time, try putting your things in order.

More of her suggestions and my thoughts on each:

  • Cleaning is not the same as tidying. You must finish tidying before you clean, such as at spring cleaning time. This makes complete sense, because cleaning needs to be done regularly and finding a home for things should only have to be done once.
  • Make a personal space in your home with only things you love to increase your enjoyment. I try to do this with our entire apartment, but especially my office.
  • Discard empty boxes immediately. I agree with this because I don't want to be tempted to fill them up. They waste space.
  • Store by materials. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this in practice, but it makes sense the way she describes it.
  • Drawers should look full but not stuffed. Yes!
  • Play the word association game when figuring out where to store things. Again, it makes sense.
  • Fold properly. She shows how to fold cardigans, jackets and turtlenecks, but I wouldn't fold them at all; I would hang them. (She says this is OK.) I also don't see myself folding underwear.
  • Store bras properly. She shares that after tidying bra drawers many people discard ones and purchase much prettier ones, and I could definitely see that happening. I already want to replace plain bras with cuter ones.
  • Examine your books. She explains that words "make our reality" so we should only keep books that align with the life we want to live. I kept books on yoga, travel and journaling and books by my favorite people (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Walter Cronkite). 

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P.S. I'm joining the Tutu Tuesdays linkup with Blush Blonde and Fairy Princess Diaries!

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