Earlier this month, our family set out on our last adventure of 2020. We visited Costa Rica, and I must tell you- everyone should experience this magical place at least once in their lifetime. Our last trip of the year was filled with more angst than normal. I learned the government of Costa Rica was requiring Health Passes before entering the Country, which means you better have good health insurance, and proof of that insurance submitted to the Costa Rican Embassy no earlier or later than 48 hours to arriving in Country. During the scramble to get the required paperwork from our insurance company, it struck me that this trip was a goodbye to our old world. I was in the liminal space between past and present, floating as witness to a rift in time. It seemed appropriate for us to visit one of the places on our Bucket List, while we could.
While there wasn't a single place I didn't like during our visit, the place I loved the most was the Monteverde Cloud Forest. First I must tell you, visiting a Cloud Forest has on my bucket list for a very long time, then after sharing a little bit about Cloud Forests the rest of the family jumped on board adding it to their bucket lists too! I think my wanting to experience a Cloud Forest started when I purchased a canvas photograph in my twenties, of one of the rope bridges (no longer rope bridges now) in one of the Cloud Forests... because there are actually 6 Cloud Forests in Costa Rica. But the photograph was beautiful, mysterious...just like the real thing, but the real thing is MUCH better!
So first things first...I had to first navigate how to purchase a guided tour of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde. For whatever reason our phones converted to Spanish as soon as we arrived in country. So that was a fun learning curve. I only know swear words in Spanish and our oldest son Aiden has 2 years of Spanish under his belt, so it was the blind leading the blind most of this trip! But that's what made it fun. Once I was able to purchase tickets in advance, we set out early the next morning for our 2.5 hour drive to Monteverde.
The other fun part of our adventure was the Google GPS doesn't work in Costa Rica. So we had to download their version, Waze. Which fun fact, took us on the back (dirt roads) of the Costa Rican jungles! Typically I think most parent's would be somewhat nervous, however we embraced it, my husband often saying "We were supposed to go this way for a reason, maybe there is something we are supposed to see". I won't lie, there were a couple times I wasn't so sure it was a good idea, and in fact we did get lost. Then all our children decided the winding jungle roads weren't what they had planned for, yes even being from Colorado- so we made several stops because they all got car sick.
Once we did arrive atop this amazing mountain in the town of Monteverde, we realized how we were not prepared for the weather! It was cold, windy, and raining. The weather in Monteverde is strongly influenced by moisture-saturated air currents that enter the country from the northeast (trade winds). When ascending the Cordillera de Tilarán, orographic rains originate because of the cooling they experience, or fog, which characterizes the predominant Cloud Forest in the area. These conditions generate a marked rainy tropical climate; where seasonal variation in temperatures and rainfall is minimal, both remain high throughout the year. Likewise, the persistent cloudiness causes the particular conditions for the development of the so-called Cloud Forest.
Not only were we cold, we were also starving. I guess getting carsick will do that to you. We ended up finding this cute little cafe, 'Stellas'. I have to tell you, should you ever find yourself in Monteverde, Costa Rica- YOU MUST STOP HERE!! Not only is Stella the owner so welcoming, her food is amazing (even though there wasn't a single meal we didn't enjoy the entire week) and the ambiance was MAGICKAL!!!!
Fun Fact: Monteverde hosts 2.5% of the world's biodiversity. The 10% of its flora is endemic. Meaning the plants here are ONLY found here, no place else on Earth has some of the plants we saw. (I talk about this later) and 50% of flora and fauna of Costa Rica is in this paradise.
We were the only guests in this cute little cafe, that smelled like chocolate and coffee beans. As we sat down at our table we noticed the set of sliding glass doors to the back of us, that led to the most amazing garden I have ever seen. In the center of the garden was a tall bird feeder surrounded by birds of every color in the rainbow. I have never seen so many different species of birds in so many colors!!! As I stood in awe, Stella approached me and pointed behind me, as I turned around, right at my feet was a Coati! Close enough for me to touch, completely unbothered by my presence!!! And of course me being me, tried to pick it up, but he waddled off to look for food. Shortly after, a Toucan landed on top of the bird feeder to snack on the banana Stella had placed out there. Several resplendent quetzals showed up for lunch too.
Next, the most beautiful looking squirrel ran up the feeder, scaring away the birds, to help himself to a snack as well. After it was his turn this weird looking creature approached the bottom of the feeder to eat what the birds and squirrel knocked off onto the ground. It was as if these animals made this a daily ritual, and were completely unbothered by humans. Our family just stood in such awe and amazement of what was happening. I could have stayed there all day watching all the animals. However, we were late, and ended up getting lost for the second time trying to find the Cloud Forest. We ended up missing the guided tour, but we were able to venture out onto the trails and bridges alone.
Fun Fact: More than 100 species of mammals live in the park, including howler and capuchin monkeys, all five species of cats, deer, tapir and sloths. A total of 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles live in the reserve, including venomous and non-venomous snakes, frogs and toads
We started along the very muddy path and within minutes approached the longest and tallest bridge in the park, Bridge 6 (236m (774ft) long and it's height being 70m (230ft)). You can tell instantly that they designed this park so the trails and hanging bridges are designed and maintained to cause the lowest impact to nature, trying always to keep the forest intact for everything living in it. You are instantly overwhelmed by nature. There is literally life at your feet, around you, and above you. The bridges you cross (6 in total) are perfect to appreciate Costa Rica’s magnificent biodiversity admiring nature from different perspectives.
Then something happened halfway through our trek through this beautiful forest. It was as if nothing was outside of us. No world, no COVID, just complete awareness. Nature has much to teach us about the present moment . Nature also teaches us how life and death are a beautiful dance, but humans do a terrible job at facing both.
Fun Fact: Extensive plant collections have been conducted in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. An ever-growing list of plants above 700m details more than 3000 species. There are more than 750 species of trees alone, representing 92 plant families. Each type of forest or “life zone”, from the lowland rainforest to the elfin forest, has its own set of characteristic tree species.
As the lockdowns from the virus continue on, many of us are stuck in our homes, yet there are still endless opportunities to visit nature and what stories she has to share with us. Yes, we share funny videos on social media, and show off our latest recipe creations in the kitchen. We are reconnecting with old friends, since now a phone call out of the blue is socially acceptable. We help our neighbors, donate, volunteer, and ask if people are OK. We say hi to neighbors and strangers. All of these things are important, but during this collective deep breath, we need to find the space to reclaim a small part of our lost humanity. Nature provides that space. Nature is also a lot like a time machine that takes us back and pushes us ahead to confront our own mortality, as well as giving us renewed gratitude for all the times we are gifted here amidst so much beauty and love. I cannot tell you how long I stood in front of some of those gigantic ficus trees. hundreds of years old realizing we all exist now in the ether, the neither-here-nor-there-ness of awaiting the unknown. That the hundred daily griefs can compound into our inability to move or function. However, the force that can allow motion through this time of in between is in the very actions that have bound humanity since our beginnings some 300,000 years ago. Being in nature opens up a part of your soul, opens up your senses which are our new survival superpowers during this time of pause. It's helps you feel more alive.
What we learned that day is death feeds into life perhaps most spectacularly here among the giant ficus trees, the strangler figs that wrap themselves so fully around a host tree that the host dies and rots away and the ficus becomes a tree itself, spreading up into the sky and out toward other trees so the process can begin again.
Monteverde had gifted us a heightened perception, and a month later, I feel ever so much more alive than when I first walked into that Cloud Forest, transformed by the hands of something much bigger than all of us, something not even COVID can take away...G-d.
Click on the gallery photos below
Holy shit! I can’t believe it's only a month before Thanksgiving! Time is flying! Then Christmas will be here before we know it. However, I think it is safe to say we are all excited to get 2020 over and behind us.
For me personally, it has been a crazy couple weeks with design appointments, interviews for my new designer position, homeschooling 4 kids, and I still have several more weeks of design appointments before I can get excited about taking a few days to relax and spend time with family and close friends.
I'm thinking about hosting holidays at our home this year, so I wanted to spend my day today making my home cozy and beautiful. It's snowing today, so there's no reason for me to go outside, nor do I want to. You may be wondering why would I care about how my house looks and feels a month before the holiday season officially begins. If there is one thing I have learned from COVID, it is I DO have a little more time to plan things, where as before it would have been a very different scene….. most likely where I spend the whole day of, running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to find just the right napkins, plates, name tags, flowers, etc. for the perfect holiday dinner. The day would then conclude with me frantically screeching into the driveway, unloading bags of “stuff” I don’t need, feeling incredibly stressed and probably picking a fight with my husband because he is sitting on the couch with his feet up doing exactly what the holidays are all about… relaxing and enjoying himself!
Over the years I have had to learn about the “art” of being not only a happy host, but also a happy guest at my own party.
Something else I've learned from COVID is how quickly the things we once took for granted were taken away...quickly. No more birthday parties, weddings were cancelled, vacations (not us) cancelled, dinner parties and date nights forbidden, the list goes on and on. Once we were "allowed" to have those moments back (with limitations), I realized a great occasion is really about presence. Even if we’re surrounded by the very best and beautiful things, we can’t enjoy them if we don’t have the presence of mind to truly be in the moment.
Whether you are going to be the host or a guest the year (because WE WILL NOT LET THEM CANCEL OUR HOLIDAYS), the most important element for a Happy Holiday gathering is your presence, more so this year than any.
When we are present (instead of perfect), we have such a greater chance at enjoying everyone around us, dancing with unexpected twists ’n turns, and most importantly being grateful for what we have.
With all that being said though….
There are many tangible things we actually CAN do to help ourselves be more centered and grounded this holiday season.
Below are some of my favorite tips for being both a fabulous host and guest this holiday season! I hope you find these helpful and be sure to share any other tips and tricks you may have of your own in the comments below!
Wishing you a beautiful, peaceful and fun holiday season with your family and friends!
Holiday Planning Tips For Hosts
Look at lighting.
Beautiful lighting can create a sense of warmth, connectedness, and flow. Adorn your home with candles, soften those overhead lights, and make it cozy!
Think about who’s coming, and what would make them most comfortable.
Would your guests get squeamish if you asked them to take turns saying what they’re grateful for? Then don’t do it! Tailor your plans for your guests’ comfort: from the food to the activities to the seating arrangements.
Be a peaceful leader.
As the host, your presence truly ripples out to everyone there. If you’re stressed about the turkey or anxious about Uncle Jack, your guests will pick up on this, and be stressed, too. However, if you’re calm (and not just pretending to be calm!), everyone else will relax. Plan for everything to be ready and settled 20-30 minutes before your guests arrive, so you can put up your feet, read a magazine, and enjoy the calm.
Ask for and receive support.
(Disclosure- this is a struggle for me) Get creative with this! Can you have someone come clean your house the day before or after? Could you book a massage the day before? What about cooking the turkey in the morning, then watching a movie before everyone arrives? Accept support from others before, during, and after the event. (Often, tension as a host comes from a reluctance to receive support, believing we have to “do it all” ourselves. This is complete bullshit! When you ask for help (or receive it graciously when it’s offered), you’ll invite others to take care of themselves, too … which leads to more presence and peace … and that’s where the real magic of a gathering begins!
Shift your furniture to facilitate connection.
Create little areas for different-sized conversations. That lone chair you read in? Pull up a companion for it, so two people can have an intimate conversation. Create larger and smaller arrangements so different sized groupings of people can talk easily.
Adorn your home with intentions.
Every time I light a candle, I say a little intention (for joy, ease, love, etc). So when my guests arrive and there are lots of candles in my home, they’re actually walking into a meadow of meaning! This way, even if my guests aren’t the kind of people who’d love sharing appreciations or setting intentions out loud, I’ve already enjoyed this ritual, in my own way. I also suggest smudging your home beforehand too. Start at the front door of the home and light your smudge stick. Then, begin to move around the home. Move mindfully and with care, walking clockwise around the entire perimeter of the home. Be sure to allow the smoke to drift into even the hidden spaces, like inside closets, basements and dark corners. When you arrive back at the front door, chant your final mantra or prayer. Visualize the entire home is filled with bright white sunlight. Then speak your intention one last time to close the smudging ceremony.
Play soft music.
I think of music as the thread that weaves an event together. We want it to be soft enough so it doesn’t steal the show, but pleasant enough to set a beautiful mood.
Make time for your favorite parts.
For the reasons I mentioned above, you can imagine that Vince (my husband) used to hate it when I hostessed parties. I ran around like a crazy person, attending to all the details — and it wasn’t fun for anyone. When I finally realized that in order to create an enjoyable experience for my guests, I needed to enjoy myself too, everything changed! For me, this meant identifying my favorite parts of hostessing, and making time for them. Back then, I would spend so much time cooking (which I didn’t love), that I’d run out of time to do my favorite: make things beautiful! Now, I’ve learned to get support for the cooking, so I can spend more time doing what I do best and love: creating a beautiful environment for the gathering. Take a moment to identify what you love most about hosting, and find creative ways to make more time for it.
Holiday Planning Tips For Guests
Even if you aren’t the host, you can show up as a leader: model presence, love, and calm for everyone around you. You’ll have a better time — and so will they! Take a few minutes before you leave the house to breathe, relax, and set the intentions to have a wonderful time.
Calmly offer to help your host, in small, creative ways — like setting the table, pouring drinks, or cleaning up. Be sensitive to the fact that your host may not want to receive help, though; if taking care of everything is a source of pride for them, don’t deprive them of it.
Be responsible for your own comfort.
If you need a break, take one. If you get cold, put on a sweater. If you’re allergic to nuts, make sure you don’t eat any. If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask, wear it. If you feel more comfortable and free without a mask, then don't. It sounds simple, but taking responsibility for your own needs is actually one of the most helpful things you can do. Strive to care for yourself gracefully — and you just might inspire others to do the same. This will help everyone have a better time (including the host!).
Things probably won’t go exactly as you imagined. Go with the flow: embrace that new tradition, try that new recipe, have a talk with that new friend.
Hosting a big gathering takes a ton of work, so be sure to thank your host. Share specific things you enjoyed and appreciated. Let them know that you know how much work they put into things, and how grateful you are.
Whether you’re the host or the guest this holiday season (or staying solo!), take a few moments to set intentions for yourself, get grounded, and truly arrive.
Then let the magic and merriment begin!
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Author, Candance Toscano
"You can design the life of your dreams and acquire that luxurious, fulfilled and empowered lifestyle you know you have always wanted."