Thursday, August 15, 2013

summer love!

The sunny blue summer sky ... shot while laying out in my backyard.
Copyright (c) 2013 Wendee Nicole

"Step out in faith despite vibrating from fear. Don't go to the grave with cool visions shriveling up and dying inside of you." - Hybels

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you may have seen most of these pictures but since I'm sure most people don't just sit around stalking me all day, I thought I'd share some photos from my summer of love... it has been a great summer so far! I am feeling so grateful in my heart for so many things, and even in the wake of one of the saddest losses and disappointments of my life, I have found a deep sense of peace and contentment (ok, I'll give some props to medication)... but seriously, I really have been so happy for the little things.

I'm hopeful and excited - and quite a bit scared at the same time (hence the Hybels quote) - about my future, but it's fun to study for the GRE and think and dream and plan, and the fact that moving out of Texas is a reality in the next year is exhilarating! I've waited far too long! It's funny because as it gets closer, and I'm doing small things to improve my house, I really am starting to appreciate my house so much.  I have so much space here, and this lovely yard, and I've started to plant flowers in my front flower beds and a hibiscus in my back yard, and I love it! I am having so much fun with it. It's funny, my favorite DJ on the radio - Brant Hansen ("a nerd who loves God") on Air 1 (a national station - check it out!) talked about how if you look at every item in your life like it was the only remaining item after a shipwreck, how much wonder and excitement and appreciation we'd have over that one item... I started to look at some things in that way and it's really kind of cool. So I thought I'd share some photos, in batches. First up are the photos of the flowers I've planted in my yard. Some haven't fared so well but it's fun to try and experiment!

This was from the first batch of flowers I bought: purple coneflower (Echinacea) and Gaillardia. The Gaillardia have died... and the coneflower plants are doing well but they're not flowering anymore. But they're perennial so hopefully they'll root and do even better next spring and summer. I love them and they do really well in the Texas heat.

I love this pic! We've had quite a bit of rain, and a little mushroom fest grew up in the midst of my side flowerbed. The orange cosmos (my absolute favorite so far) are doing fabulous! The white flowers are cool - they only bloom until about mid-day.

This is Sam watering after we first planted the coneflowers and Gaillardia. We had to weed this whole bed out. I'm not a big fan of azaleas, but they've done great for many years so I kept them in the bed.

I am a big fan of the wildflower look and these Cosmos are great. They're annuals, but apparently seed easily so hopefully they'll come back next year. Or I'll just buy more!

I used to have a giant hibiscus in my backyard and it croaked after a hard freeze we had several yers back. I planted a new one, a small one, in the same spot and it's thriving! It has blooms all the time, and I love it!

One day it had three blooms. Lovely!

I bought this cute little Welcome sign too. Those yellow flowers there? They croaked.

This is a shot of the yellower flowers that croaked. Ha. I bought these ones ate Walmart - figures - and they were blooming like mad but quickly died. I thought they were Brown-eyed Susans but I think they were Zinnias because they didn't tolerate the heat and sun at all.

My latest batch of flowers from the local hardware store (their flowers are all locally grown and they've fared much better than the Walmart ones). I don't even know what these are... I should pay better attention! I also bought this super cute bird thingie on the right at 75% off! It was only like $13 (originally 50-something) and (see below) I hung it in my backyard.

Doesn't it look cool hanging on the corner of my house?! I want to put a plant in there.

This looks like a hibiscus but the flowers are way smaller (can't tell from this image) and they hang down so you really can't see the blooms the way you can a hibiscus blooms (this is some tricky photography). They're a type of mallow.

Ha! I am enjoying putting fresh flowers in my bathroom. Can you see me in the window taking the picture? And my "Bohemian" perfume?

Next up...

For brunch I went out with my kiddos to Cafe DuBois, a little French cafe. They made this cute dessert plate for me after our meal.

It is so nice to hang out with my daughter, even though she gets annoyed with my silliness sometimes! :) I told her, I have to be myself, and that self is silly! I have always been that way!

And then I had an awesome birthday party that evening! I didn't even get photos that night except this one of the cake Elise brought, and the one below of us playing poker later. We had a great time! And no time for pics! :)

I doubled my money playing Texas Hold Em! :) My friend Eileen was a beginner and she won the most! 

My friend Linda made this gorgeous fused glass necklace for me and gave it to me for my birthday! I love it! I love my friends!

Next up... 

A quick trip to AUSTIN!

I brought Sam and his best friend Zack to Austin to look at UT. We only stayed one night but we did a lot of stuff. The first day, we met up with my friend Deb and went to Zilker Park and swam in Barton Springs. It was cold! But once you're in, it's not bad at all, and feels great. I didn't get any photos of that though. But before I get to this photo of Congress Avenue above, we first went to dinner...

Deb and I at dinner (at Shady Grove restaurant), post-swim! She is the producer of the documentary How I Became an Elephant, filmed by my friend Tim Gorski who I met while trekking in Nepal.

Another shot of the Congress Avenue bridge with people lining it, waiting for... the bat emergence! I have written about this before in an article for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine (Attack of the Killer Fungus), and my ex and I brought Sam here when he turned 5 but he didn't remember it. I was happy the bats were there and he got to see them! We had bets on what time, and I picked one minute before they actually emerged - holla!

And there they go!

The following morning, Sam, Zack and I went on a tour of the UT campus for prospective students. I had gone on one of those yearrrrrs ago when I was a senior in high school. I chose Texas A&M (Lord knows why! I'm so much more inclined to UT! but I woudn't have met my ex, and wouldn't have had my amazing babies! So there ya go. It all works out). Anyway Sam liked the campus.

I liked this Martin Luther King, Jr statue. After the tour, we grabbed lunch with my awesome Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine editor Louie and some others from the magazine at Kerbey Lane Cafe, which was great. Then we headed home. 

And finally, lots of RANDOM GRATITUDE!

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” ― G.K. Chesterton

My awesome friend Elissa, who pilots small planes in Alaska, came to visit for a long weekend! We lived next door to one another when I was in 7th grade and living in Beaverton (a suburb of Portland), Oregon. And we've kept in touch since, and get along great! I stayed with her when she lived in Bozeman and I was working on that dratted book of mine (see the pics of us at Yellowstone and in Bozeman here). We went downtown, to Rice Village, and just poked around and ate and shopped. It was fun!!!We hung out in my backyard, talked and had a beer or two, and just caught up. She recently spent a year in the Mariana Islands and I really wanted to visit her but didn't get to, so it was great to catch up. And... I'm going to visit her in Juneau in September!

Most of the rest of these pics are in the somewhat random order that they got uploaded in... It sounds silly but I am so grateful for these earrings! I love them so much! I sort of borrowed them from my friend Paige when I visited her at Christmas (wow I just realized I didn't blog those fun pics! I came back from that trip and just emotionally crashed...). Anyway, she gave them to me because I liked them so much. And she'd bought them when we visited Fisherman's Wharf in San Fran a couple years before then so they have special significance to me!

The last 6 weeks or more have been consumed by studying for the GRE. I love this pic of Pippin on my kale chips and GRE book! Yea I know it sorta looks like something else but it's not!! I make kale chips all the time and love them!! And I love love love my kitty! She is the light of my life! (Along with my kids, but they don't really like to snuggle anymore, ha). 

I am such a shrimp next to my son now! I am grateful for my son! He lives with me full time now, and that has been such a blessing. It was heartwrenching when my daughter went to live with her dad for her senior year, and having him around all the time has really brought a lot of joy. He's a great kid (even if he plays video games too much!) He got his first job this summer, and his driver's license (which doubled my insurance - gah).

I have to have some more gratuitous pictures of my kitty. She's my baby! She is so adorbs! And yes, I said adorbs.

She really loves to cuddle. Sometimes it makes it hard to work. Reminds me of the good ol' days when I had babies and toddlers wanting to snuggle! She has the longest arms and she likes to wrap them around me. It's so cute!

I am thankful for my neighborhood pool! I have only gone there a few times but I love the summer sun!  It's not really green... that is just the Instagramification.

Another thing I am grateful for is popcorn and coffee. I think I pretty much live on these and kale chips.

I saw this in my GRE book and thought it was so funny because it's like a super-power! I have fractional powers - here's how to handle then - haha! OK, so I have a nerdy sense of humor...

My friend Stefanie and I hanging out in her backyard after we watched the Bachelorette finale! That was crazy! I can't believe that Reality Steve got it wrong, and she chose Chris and not Brooks. Wow that was a shocker. A good ending. She seems happy, and I'm happy for her. Yes, I do realize I watch a  ridiculous reality TV show but... what can I say. It's my mental Cheetos...

Because my old table literally rotted from the rain, I got a new one this summer! Love it! See the tiny hibiscus in the background? It's small, but a force of awesome.

And, I went to the eye doctor recently and got new hipster glasses. :) I love them! I only got contacts for the first time in 2008, and so my glasses were from way back then so although they still work for me they are a bit outdated fashion-wise.

When Elissa came to visit, I went though some old pictures and albums and found this funny scrapbook thing that I would write in (my aunt Linda gave it to me) and I laughed SO HARD when I read this. I must have been like 14 years old when I wrote this -- though it's possible I filled that part in during high school) but it asks what advice you would give to your daughter about marriage, and I wrote, "Don't put up with any of his bullshit." Bwahaha!!!! Honestly I think I must have written that in high school because I don't think I cussed when I got this in middle school. But it still cracks me the heck up!

I found this way cool cicada shell in my backyard. Poor guy, he's just a shell of his former self. #nerdhumor

It has been a blessing to see my daughter almost every week this summer. She leaves for UT- Dallas for college NEXT WEEK!! She's majoring in neuroscience but may change to visual communications/social media or something. She started a new business, Bright Lights Designs - check it out on ETSY(where you can actually order) or Like the Bright Lights Design Facebook page! She is creating and selling photographic and artistic prints to raise money for orphans in China and to fund her own trip to China hopefully next summer! 

I went to Dallas to visit my mom in July, and saved those pictures for a future post, because I'll be going up to Dallas again at the end of the month to see Savannah in her dorm, meet her roomies, and get HER tour of the campus so I'll post all those pics together. Plus I'll tell the story of the elephants, and my grandmother and Stanford and my path...

Savannah and I last week when we went shopping at the mall. I love this munchkin so much!!! She even let me take a pic with her smiling normally - that is amazing!

Last but not least, my favorite summer song!! Just say Jesus by 7eventh Time Down. It's really rockin' and kick butt!! I am soooo grateful for Air1, and the DJs that make me laugh and smile all day. Brant is so random and weird, so unlike any other DJ - it;'s totally fricking awesome. I recommend it! Especially if you are down or struggling for any reason. They are a huge blessing on the earth! (and you can listen online...)  

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Finca Rosa Blanca: a shade-grown, organic coffee farm & inn

A view of the central lodge building of Finca Rosa Blanca inn on a hill, set amidst the tropical forest. In this shot, clouds are coming in... a storm is brewing! It's absolutely gorgeous - both the setting and the buildings!!!! (Images Copyright (c) 2013 Wendee Nicole)

I'm finally getting the last photos from my trip to Costa Rica up on my blog. I can't believe it has been 4 months - wow! Where has the time gone? How is it August already? I have spent a month studying for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) because I'm applying to a Ph.D. program at Stanford.

Although I am technically a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University, I took a leave of absence in 2005, while going through my divorce. I couldn't finish due to finances and just the stress of raising young kids and being in grad school as a single mom. For a long time, I actually didn't think I would ever go back to grad school but I started systematically researching the three options I had for after the kids are both off to college (which were: go to Africa for 6 months to a year, buy a cheap RV and pimp it out and drive around the US for a year figuring out where to live, or grad school) and came upon the EIPER program at Stanford and it just clicked. I sort of knew in my soul I was meant to be there. There is a story behind that too, which I'll tell soon, but I don't want to distract from the Costa Rica images!

At any rate, I took a practice GRE and did great in verbal but am still needing to get much faster at the math... you only have like 1.5 minutes average per question.  I picked up the math itself pretty quickly (nothing like cramming 12 years of primary math ed into 1-2 months of review...) but just need to improve on the speed. I will probably take it at the end of the month. Anyway I have no idea if I will get into this program but I am really hoping and praying I do. It is perfect for me and my interests and what I want to do with the next phase of my life, which is returning to conservation work and combining that with poverty alleviation which I feel increasingly drawn to due to my faith. If you are so inclined, I would be grateful for your prayers for my GRE and grad school application! I also may apply to the law school there for a joint PhD/JD program... I am still debating on that one in my mind. I really want to, but it depends on how I do on the LSAT - ha!

A solar panel provides electricity to power the lodge. The sky was cloudy so the shot isn't great, but you can see a bit more of the main lodge architecture here. I absolutely love white stucco and this type of building and the decor inside. Finca Rosa Blanca is run by American expatriates Glenn and Teri Jampol, who are the nicest people! They both attended Berkeley so it was fun talking to them about that place, and the Bay Area. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (err, that would be my kitty Pippin attempting to communicate in human... she is apparently better at speaking than written English, apparently... hear her say "hello" here).

This is the foyer inside the main lodge (the white building in the images above). I absolutely adore the white stucco and the wood flooring. Everything is decorated in such a beautiful style. I love it! When myself, Elizabeth and Paula stayed here 2 years ago after the Planet, People, Peace Conference we arrived late so it was after dark and had to leave at 4am to catch a 6am flight so we never got to see it during daylight or tour the coffee plantation so I was excited to come back and see it in its full glory. CANAECO (the Ecotourism Bureau of Costa Rica, of which Glenn is President) just announced the 4th Planet People Peace ("P3") Conference to be held this fall. I hope I can make it! This year it will be held in San Jose, which I feel like I "know" now after the tour of the city Heidi and I had.

My room and Heidi's rooms were in a separate building behind the main lodge. These are the patios set amidst the gorgeous landscaping. The roof is made from plastic tiles made from recycled banana bags! Cool, huh!

My own personal patio! Wish I lived here....

This was inside MY ROOM! This whole thing was just my room - wow! To the left it went to the bathroom, with my bedroom to the far left (I didnt get a photo of it for some reason), and to the right is the breakfast nook. The middle door goes out to the patio. 

A closer view of the breakfast nook. 

A shot of the gorgeous pool. I have such a hilarious, fond memory of the last time I came here, with Elizabeth and Paula, and we arrived after dark and made our way to our rooms (which, that time, was in the main lodge, behind the pool) and we had to walk around it, and one of the two girls - I won't say who - was deathly afraid of toads, and there were like a hundred toads all around the pool at that time in the rain. At first we thought she was joking and just a bit leery but she was actually deathly afraid of them! It was cute. :)

Finca Rosa Blanca guide, Leo Vergnani (from Italy), took us on a tour of the lodge grounds and around the coffee plantation itself. Here he is sitting on the edge of a unique solar setup that heats water for the lodge.

This is Leo in the coffee plantation. He taught us SO much about how coffee is grown both here at Finca Rosa Blanca, and in different parts of the world, and later we went back and sampled it (pics to follow) with "cupping" - similar to wine tasting but with coffee. He was so funny with a hysterical dry wit that had Heidi and I cracking up. I took a few iPhone videos of him talking about coffee and hope to upload them here if I can figure out how. He has since moved to Belgium but his protege, Ulises Zúñiga, is now the coffee tour guide. This is an organic, shade-grown coffee product but it took a few years after the Jampols bought it to convert to organic because they have to make sure any chemical traces are gone from the soil.

They have banana (plantain) trees growing in the coffee plantation. Leo told us why but I can't remember!

Heidi and Leo on the trail up towards the main plantation.
Another view of the plantation during the tour.
This depulping machine is called a "chancador" in Spanish. It removes the pulp from the red coffee cherries after they're picked. It wasn't harvest season when we visited, so we didn't get to see it in action. 
This chute takes the de-pulped cherries ("grano" in Spanish) to a fermentation tank where they spend 2 days covered in the sweet mucilage or "miel." [OK, yes sweet mucilage sounds gross, but hey, you know it's just coffee cherry pulp remaining after depulping, right?]. Then it goes to the drying racks...

The drying racks, sometimes called African beds. (I think that has to do with the kind of coffee that is grown around the world). Glenn told me that they experimented with not fermenting the depulped cherries and just drying immediately, and they had a great flavor so they're doing about 50% of their crop this year that way. 

The green coffee beans... These are popular now for that "green coffee bean" extract that is getting a lot of attention! 

And then we went back to the El Tigre Vestido restaurant at Finca Rosa Blanca (which, by the way, is amazing!!) to try out the different coffees with "cupping." We tried Finca Rosa Blanca's espresso roast and the regular roast, as well as a cheap coffee sold in the country. They normally don't "cup" the crap coffee but have it there only to smell the grounds initially but I wanted to taste test/compare it and it was so fascinating to do so! It tasted like motor oil and garbage (not even kidding) compared to the lovely chocolate, caramel and cherry notes of the FRB coffees. 

Heidi and I laughed so hard doing this. You have to sip and then spit the coffee out, which is kind of gross and very funny! Especially with Leo and his cute/sexy accent. LOL. 

I was laughing so hard!! I don't even remember what about but it was fun :)

And they sell bags of the coffee... I finally opened a bag I was saving!

And last but not least, two photos totally out of place but which I forgot to post with my Playa Grande/Tamarindo beach images! I love this shot... It is the beach of Tamarindo, outside of the Hotel Daria where we stayed one night before heading to Finca Rosa Blanca. It is also where I dropped my iPhone in the ocean... and miraculously saved it with rice! 
Me, happy and content, at Hotel Las Tortugas Restaurant in the town of Playa Grande, where we ate before heading over to Tamarindo.