11/22/63 by Stephen King

“She takes my hand like a woman in a dream. She is in a dream, and so am I. Like all sweet dreams, it will be brief…but brevity makes sweetness, doesn’t it? Yes, I think so. Because when time is gone, you can never get it back.”

I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Stephen King’s 11/22/63, it might have been the fact that I read and fell in love with King’s writing style while reading “On Writing” or it might have been because I watched Jackie and afterwards, wanted to learn everything about the Kennedy’s (through fiction, obviously), but whatever the reason I am so happy that I read the 849 page quasi-historical, science-fiction, love story.

Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine and recently divorced, finds himself in a predicament while facing a time-traveling portal that his friend Al Templeton found inside his Diner: Go back in time starting from September 9, 1958 and stop the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or remain in the present (June 2011) and constantly face the “what if” question. The portal rules are complicated, but two things remain the same: Trips only last two minutes in present day and every visit is a complete reset. Everything that was accomplished on a previous visit will be instantly erased the next time he returns.

What does Jake do? Of course he travels back in time to place the world back on its proper trajectory, where JFK lives. In 1958 Jake Epping becomes George Amberson, and with the guidance of Al’s notes from his visits to the past, Jake/George is able to live in history. He settles down in a small Texas town, becomes a teacher, falls in love, and tracks the movements of Lee Harvey Oswald.  But, as we are constantly reminded, “history is obdurate” and Jake/George is challenged many times as he tries to change history.

In 11/22/63, you will find memorable characters  – who touch us viscerally and make us root for them – and a powerful sense of place and time, which is remarkably described in great detail about the stores, songs, clothes and cars found in 1958-’63 that make this fantasy seem plausible.

I don’t know if I can read anything else by Stephen King, this book was my first fictional read by him and it surpassed all of my reading expectations: made me laugh, made me nervous, and made me cry. I recognize that this type of book may not be for everyone, but if you are up for a “what if” historical tale, then this tome is for you.  image1P.S. Have you seen the series on hulu? I think I may start binge-watching it this weekend.

Summers on the fruit farm(s)

I love summer in Niagara: senses are heightened, weather is perfect, and the landscape is abundant with delicious colourful local food. Farm-to-table is an easy motto to adopt, as farmers’ markets pop up in busy locales and fruit stands decorate dreamy country roads. But for many Niagara-ites, farming isn’t just perfect Instagram pictures, or tasty treats, farming is life.

During the sticky humid summer months, there is no shortage of work for eager hands in Niagara as fruit farmers enthusiastically welcome as many labourers as they can acquire. With over 700 fruit farms in the Niagara Region and a tight time-frame to follow, help is needed, albeit arduous and exhausting, and the pay is, well you’re not going to become a millionaire, but the memories gained outweigh the negative.

Growing up, my summers were spent helping my dad in the vineyard and neighbouring farmers tend their fruit, as my own eager hands, in quick succession, worked in fields and barns pruning, picking and packing.

Let me preface, when I say eager, I mean told – I didn’t want to spend my summers working on farms. I wanted to laze around the pool, binge-watch television, gossip with girlfriends, but instead, was instructed by the authority figures (my parents) to get off my keister and work. I hated it! It was hard work, the hardest work my teenage body ever encountered, and it was boring, so very boring. I can’t tell you how many grapevines I have pruned, or the number of cherries I have picked, or the amount of apricots, peaches and plums I have packed. However, I can tell you the horror stories of what happens when you eat too many cherries, or the feel of peach fuzz on your skin after an eight-hour shift, or what happens to your nails after repeatedly rubbing them against the rubber conveyor belt.

Once I learned how to overcome the, shall we say, obstacles, it wasn’t that bad. I worked with great people, both locals and migrant workers, and shared laughs, meals and stories. It helped that my bff was there as well, which made the time slightly speed on by as we would tell tales, listen to audio books, and get and give advice, mostly on school, guys, and clothes – the priorities of teenage girls.

Those four summers spent working on fruit farms created the foundation of who I am today. I learned what it takes to be a hard worker, how to listen to others, and the importance of respect, followed by a greater appreciation for the fruits of our labour.

So buy local, not only does it taste better, it supports our local agricultural communities.IMG_4426PS. Have you been following the “The Hands That Feed Us” series in the St.Catharines Standard by Niagara-based writer, Tiffany Mayer?  If not, you really should!

The Nameless Widow

Needing a change of scenery from my drab writer’s den, I headed to a nearby coffee shop to do the detestable: type away on my name brand laptop with a $5 venti latte. However, providence intervened and my laptop stayed untouched.

After ordering my drink, and settling into a corner table, an older lady approached me with her coffee in hand and asked if she could join. I didn’t know how to respond as there were many empty tables, and I had my laptop open and wanted to, no scratch that, needed to finish a deadline. I hesitate before a polite “sure” escapes my mouth.

“Thanks, dear. The weather today is awful, I feel it seeping right into my bones,” she says as she methodically places her purse on the table followed by her teacup and unwinds the shawl she has around her neck and hair. She is wearing a delicate string of pearls, which beautifully complement her purple dress. Rings decorate every finger except her right pinky, and her blush matches the pink hue of her lipstick. I later learn that she had her hair done, a ritual she has adopted specifically for this date. “Today marks the fifth anniversary of my husband’s passing. I just came back from visiting him and I am not ready to walk into our empty home, even though it has been many years of emptiness.’

“I’m sorry,” I mumble. How else is one suppose to respond to death or death’s anniversary?

“Don’t apologize, dear. Death has a funny way of creeping up on us, stealing those we love, and sometimes acquiring the ones we no longer want.”

I take a sip of my coffee and casually assess my surroundings to see if anyone else in the shop has noticed this woman, or her talk of death. Everyone else is too immersed in their laptop or smart-phone to notice me or this woman.

“Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I loved George dearly, but sixty-four years is a long time to be with someone, and after awhile love just starts to feel like a routine. How old are you, my dear?” She asks as she takes her first sip of tea.

“Thirty,” I shyly reply, as if my age will reveal something I am not willing to share. She takes another sip and I am reminded of a fortuneteller I visited years ago in Toronto; she, along with that fortuneteller, appear to have the ability to look past my exterior armour and into my naked soul, to my secrets – secrets that bare no value to strangers.

“So young, but not really,” she states.

“I know,” I sigh. “Lately I have been dealing with my own insecurities of not being the person I envisioned I would be at thirty.”

“And what is that?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I just thought life would be different, it wouldn’t look like this. I’m happy and I’m loved, but there are days when I ask myself, ‘Okay, what is next?’”

“There is that word again, love. Do you let that word define you?”

I lean back into my chair, look directly into her eyes, and say “Yes, I do, but don’t we all?”

“That is where you falter, my dear. Love is ubiquitous – it’s always there inside of you, you just need to know how to ignite it yourself and not be dependent on someone else because sooner or later, that person will diminish that love.”

“I politely disagree,” I rebut. “Yes, you need to love yourself, but a person is allowed to equate happiness by being loved. Isn’t that what we all want: to love and be loved in return? Cliché, but true.”

“I often forget the banalities of love,” she states, almost as if she is pushing aside the significance of the action to love. “My parents arranged my marriage to George, I was eighteen, and he was 21. I was in my prime to marry and conceive,” she emphasized prime, as if prime was the only reason she married. “But nature had a different plan and left me childless for many years. I prayed to a god every night to give me a baby, more for George than for me, as he so badly wanted children and to be a father. I was impartial though, but I knew a man’s legacy must continue and if I didn’t give him children then he would have gone elsewhere, and he did, many times, and I turned a blind-eye, like a good housewife. We stayed married, and eventually my prayers were answered, like god took pity on me for abiding by my husband while he strayed. I gave birth to a girl and boy, exactly two years apart. Do you have any children?” She asks as she glances at my ring finger.

“I do not.”

“Sometimes it’s for the best.”

“My partner and I want children, we just don’t have any yet,” My response is a tad over-zealous, but I don’t want her to assume that we share a similarity, although a part of me feels an affinity towards her, as if our past lives somehow intertwined once.

“These days, you can never tell with women.” She takes another sip of her tea, which must now be lukewarm. She glances around the room and studies those around us, as if she’s looking for someone. “When I was your age we were married, our children were in school and our afternoons were spent drinking vodka martinis gossiping about the latest Hollywood scandal. Our only worry was making sure we were home in time to fetch the kids from school and to make sure that a proper meal was placed on the table for our husbands.”

“Do you regret it?” As soon as the words slip out of my mouth, I fear that I went too far.

“Not at all. That was the way of life; it was what we knew and how we lived. Mind you, it would have been fun if the roles were reversed and I was the one that left for work in the morning, shagged who I wanted in the afternoon, and returned home in the evening to my dotting family. But that’s just a lascivious dream.”

The bell over the café door chimes and we both turn to look.

“Oh, would you look at that, it’s Max, my driver. He must have been wondering what was taking me so long.”

She quickly gathers her things as Max walks towards us.

“It has been a pleasure talking to you, my dear,” she says as she stands up.

I mirror her actions and stand as well. “You too,” I politely respond.

I look down at my mug of coffee, half empty, and cold since it sat mostly untouched as I was too engrossed with the conversation to move my body to something so mundane as sipping coffee. I glance up and see the back of my acquaintance.

“Wait, I didn’t get your name.”

“That’s the funny thing about names, they ruin a person’s aura.” And with that she walked out of the door.

Adventure awaits in Banff National Park

If you’re looking for a ‘wild’ weekend adventure with your significant other or besties, but at a loss of ideas, look no further than Banff National Park. Majestic mountains, breathtaking turquoise waters, and wildlife await; canoe rides, cozy lodgings and countless hiking trails are in store; and, a city like no other to explore! This year is the perfect time to discover these natural wonders as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Bonus, Parks Canada passes are free in 2017 as a way to entice and invite locals near and far to explore Canada. Read on for five must-do experiences in Banff National Park; then plan your trip, pack your backpack and head to the magnificent mountains this summer. Disclaimer: Be prepared for an extreme case of wanderlust.

Camp in an oTENTik at Two Jack Lakeside
Sleep in a cozy cabin-tent at Two Jake Lakeside right on Lake Minnewanka. This A-frame structure is mounted on a raised wooden floor and includes a queen-size bed and living area. These spacious accommodations are exclusive to Parks Canada, require no set-up and are super cute! Stay in one for $120 a night.IMG_8425

Canoe on the emerald waters of Lake Louise
Canoeing is the quintessential Canadian experience, add in the Rocky Mountains and now you’re living the Canadian Dream. Paddle on the emerald water of Lake Louise, while being surrounded by mountains, trees and the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise in the background – this iconic hotel dates back to 1890 and has welcomed many Hollywood elites, such as Marilyn Monroe and Alicia Silverstone, hello Clueless. Canoe rentals are available by the hour.   Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 7.58.16 PM

Hike Moraine Lake
This glacier-fed lake is the gem of Banff! Moraine Lake is nestled amongst the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and is a sight to behold. Hike the many trails around the lake, but be bear aware, depending on the season some trails may be restricted or require groups of four or more. Make sure to climb the Rockpile Trail for the money shot of Moraine Lake and its tranquil turquoise water – this very image was on the twenty-dollar bill in 1969-’79.  Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.01.39 PM

Town of Banff
Known as a Mountain Town, this legendary spot is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, dine and sleep, if you want the luxury and privacy of a hotel suite. Each street in this quaint town offers different views of the mountains. Chat with locals, and ask for their recommendations, they’re the ones that know where to find those hidden gems. Warning: This Mountain Town will leave you dreaming of living in the mountains.Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.14.02 PM.png

Banff Upper Hot Springs
After a day of exploring, relax and unwind in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Soak in the natural hot springs mineral water, while gazing at snow-capped mountains and pine trees. This natural spa-like oasis has a small entry fee of $7. Definitely worth it! For a romantic vibe, go in the evening and watch the sunset.Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.32.32 PM

Pro tip: Cruise through the Rocky Mountains in a Mustang Convertible – panoramic views on point. If timing permits drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper – stretching 232 km, this is a road trip like no other with mountains, glaciers and sweeping valleys.IMG_7632

Quick Links
Parks Canada
Order your Parks Canada Pass
Stay in an oTENTik
Canoe rentals at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Tourism Banff
Banff Upper Hot Springs

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

“Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.”

Claire Fuller’s latest novel, Swimming Lessons, imbues a catharsis of emotions as one family attempts to piece together the mystery of their missing mother and wife, Ingrid. In what is described as a spine-tingling tale, this novel lacks that nail-biting instant thriller, but slowly unravels a dark family secret. Told through alternating literary techniques (epistolary and prose), the reader is swept back in time by reading past letters and then quickly brought to the present with each new chapter.

The novel begins with Gil Coleman seeing his long-lost wife, Ingrid, walking on the street, he follows her, but to no avail, and while walking  back he takes a near fatal-fall. Nan, the eldest daughter, is on-hand at the hospital with her father, while Flora is enjoying an intimate foray with a lover, which we later learn is a similar trait of her father’s. What follows is an ebb and flow of heart-aching stories told through letters Ingrid wrote to her husband that she sporadically places in novels strewn throughout their home, while the other thread follows present day daughters, Flora and Nan, as they deal with their dying father and the true history of their parents’ relationship.

I did not love this book (I gave it three stars on my Goodreads account), however I did enjoy the unconventional way this story was told, and the references to the other books that Ingrid hid her letters in. Each letter  is hidden in a book that mirrors the letter’s theme. It’s a short read, only 295 pages, but I found the storyline too slow, and the dark family secret a bit too predictable.

What are your thoughts if you read the novel? I’d love to hear them.image1

An ode to my dad for Father’s Day

Fact: I am the biggest ‘daddy’s girl’ that ever lived and it is because my dad is pretty great. You see, my dad is much more than just a dad, he is a super dad. I know everyone thinks that their dad is the best, but I’m not bragging when I say I have you beat; I really do have the best dad. I’m not saying this because I was spoiled, a favourite, or continually got my way, I am saying this because my dad did everything conceivable with very little to care for me. My dad was young-ish when he became a father, my mum even younger, and the road they travelled on together was bumpy with a dead end in sight. My mum went one way, my dad and I another – I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for him; he had to survive, raise a child, and manage a new vineyard, all on his own.

At a young age (22!) my dad left his family, his friends and his home country, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to plant roots, vineyard roots, in Niagara. That alone could justify him as a super dad, but my super dad recipe also includes one special ingredient: a finicky tot. I am sure there were many days when he wanted to throw in the towel – or should I say, drop the pruners – on the new life he created, and on me, the finicky tot, but he didn’t. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did, we all call it quits when the ‘going gets tough’ but he didn’t and that is why he is a super dad!

Growing up I was embarrassed of him – I was embarrassed of his career choice. I would often compare my dad to my friends’ dads: Why couldn’t my dad have an office job where he could wear a suit, take family vacations and enjoy weekends off? Why did he have to till the land from morning to night; why were his clothes and hands always dirty when he came home; and why did he have to drive a rusty truck that rattles? I would equate farming to a lowly life status, and I didn’t want to be known as the poor girl. I was so naïve.

Today, there is no one I admire more than my dad. He is a man of integrity, loyalty, honesty, and the hardest worker I know. To imagine life without him is unfathomable, and not ideal, so I won’t! Here’s to you dad, to all that you are – farmer and father, aka my super dad!FullSizeRender

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In case you are curious: My mum is, and has always been, a part of my life. She’s basically my bff.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

“I think she’s sad because she never fell in love. Except she needn’t worry, because love doesn’t exist.”
“How do you know that?”
Rose wiped a large snowflake from her eyelash and raised her head to try to catch one with her tongue. Pierrot put his hands out to catch some.
“I read it in a Russian novel,” she said, looking at Pierrot again. “The Russians have figured everything out because their winters are so long. It makes them so thoughtful.”

A blend of whimsy, magic and sadness, The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill is a melancholic love story involving orphans, gangsters, circus performers, drug dealers and an imaginary bear; where the lines of innocence and seduction are blurred; and thievery, drugs and sexuality are ordinary ways of life.

Set in moody Montreal during the depression era, talented orphans, Rose and Pierrot, are the novel’s heroine and hero, and readers follow their cohesive, yet turbulent journey as the two navigate a world that is both brutal and fantastical.

Growing up in an orphanage under the care of vile and wicked nuns, the imaginative and dreamy performers are drawn to each other at a young age, and soon are sent to perform music and dance (Pierrot is a pianist, and Rose a dancer) acts to rich city folk in exchange for donations to the orphanage.  After one of their performances and under a snowy sky,  Rose and Pierrot develop a plan to create a travelling clown show called The Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza, and vow to one another that they will marry, become rich and famous, and live happily ever after. At age 15, these star-crossed lovers are separated; Rose is sent to be a governess to children of a wealthy gangster businessman, and Pierrot is sent to live with an old wealthy aristocrat.

What follows are stories of secondary characters that are intertwined in Rose and Pierrot’s narrative after life at the orphanage. But, the beauty of this novel, and its emotional core is the never-ending love Rose and Pierrot have for one another despite being separated for most of the book. Finally, the two are reconnected, and their dreams come true, but not without a new kind of pain.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a provocative and gritty read that may not be for everyone, but if you do happen upon this magical book, the dream-like narrative and loveable protagonists, will linger even after the novel is over.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Heather O’Neill speak as part of The Canadian Author Series in Port Colborne, Ontario. Not only is she a master storyteller, she is hilarious – the room was captivated by her words. If you have the opportunity to hear you speak, go.

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Dear Diary

How many of us have written that greeting under the incandescent glow from the lamp on our night table, while siblings softly slumber in the room next door and our pen, our mighty tool, anxiously scribbles the day’s events, the newest crush, the latest dream. Afterwards, we would quickly lock it, and hide the key in one place and the diary in another for safekeeping from prying eyes.

Keeping a journal knows no boundaries, it allows the writer to try-on and live-through various experiences through their own imagination, and it creates a form of autonomy by allowing the writer to control what is written: A diary lets us put who we are on to paper, it also allows us to describe who we want to be. What is writing in a diary but a messy melding of ink and paper that opens a window into a person’s soul.

For many years I was an avid journal-er: I wrote about my dull and mundane life; the troublesome times of my teens; the desire to be popular and soooo cool; the need to lose weight, get a boyfriend, wear cool clothes (don’t know why that was a priority since I wore a uniform in high school). All of this would somehow equate to a better and happier teenage life: the teenage dream.

And then my journal entries took a juicy turn as I entered my junior year of high school. I was sixteen, it was spring and I started seeing a guy (I use the term seeing loosely, as we probably saw each other once a week but we would talk on the phone for hours – “Don’t go on the internet, I am on the phone!”). As my love began to blossom, so too did desires to kiss, hold hands, cuddle, and god forbid, French kiss. These newfound feelings I would vigourously note on the pages in my journal: What were these feelings that made my head dizzy and my heart beat faster? What would it feel like to have my hand held, and in public?! What would it feel like to hug someone that was not a family member, and what does a kiss feel like. To quote an excerpt for my 2001 diary: “I think a kiss feels like a Hershey’s chocolate kiss, if not, why would they be called a Kiss?” Boy, was I right!

These desires weren’t rooted in sin, and I should point out, never acted upon, because hello brace face, but the cause of a natural curiosity towards another human. I could never talk about these feelings with my parents (“What are they teaching you at this Christian school!?”), I couldn’t share them with my friends for fear of embarrassment (“What do you mean you’ve never kissed a guy?”), but I could freely share these thoughts and ask these questions to my bff, Dear Diary. That was until my secret world was exploited, and my life as I knew it came tumbling down. Someone broke the unforgivable act, and read my diary without my knowledge or permission.

I will never understand why my diary was read, just as I will never understand why I, humiliated by my own words, had to read it out loud to my parents. But days later, and a two-month grounding serving as a form of punishment for my words, I watched my diary burn in flames and my words as I vowed to never keep a record of my secrets.

However, that vow was broken a year later when a new leather bound notebook fell onto my lap, and the well of words flowed, just as Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” continued to sing. These tomes full of wonder, anxiety, heartache and love are boxed away in my basement and once in a blue moon I will tiptoe downstairs and reread the workings of my mind from a different time. Some of these excerpts bring me joy, others tears, but most make me laugh.

These days I don’t keep a diary, I have good intention of writing my daily thoughts as unused notebooks pile atop one another collecting dust as my yesteryears become more faded and my memory becomes a blur. Diaries are meant to serve as secret reminders of the person one is because of the who they once was. Maybe I will start writing again?image1

Two ways to experience Costa Rica

Part One: Jungle life

It’s 12:30 p.m. and we are waiting in the customs line at the San Jose airport, the capital of Costa Rica. We are restless after sitting on a plane for five hours, growing even more restless as the customs line barely moves and our taxi plane taking us to our destination is schedule to depart at 2:00 p.m. With twenty minutes to spare, we finally make it through customs; we do a mad dash through the airport to check-in and go through security all over again, and then continue to run to our boarding gate. We are out of breath, but make it just in time. We hand out ticket the boarding agent, she smiles at us as we catch our breath, and says, “You made it! Pura Vida.”

This is not our first time in Costa Rica, so we know the Pura Vida saying, which simply translates to Pure Life, but said for everything. People greet one another by saying Pura Vida, they say it as a term of thanks, good luck, what’s up, and more. It is a phrase that is interchangeable.FullSizeRenderOur little 19-seat plane takes us to Quepos, a small tropical inlet backed by rainforest, where we meet my cousin and her partner for a tropical week in the jungle. We jump into the rebuilt 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser that is the pride of my cousin’s partner as we make our way up to the jungle. There is a bit of car talk, and the mention that 4x4s are a must in the jungle as we zoom by palm trees, a palm oil factory, homes, shops, restaurants, and hotels. “Look at the lines on the road” my cousin says; I look and they are just like ours – yellow on the outside, white dashes in the middle. Then she adds, “the lines on this road were recently painted, all by hand. Before, this road was dangerous. Cars would drive all over the road.”IMG_3058We enter the small town of Ojochal, where we say goodbye to paved roads, and hello to dirt. We slowly bump our way along the road: I see children playing soccer, chickens running on the side of the road, a mother feeding her baby on her front porch, and a man driving a young woman somewhere on the back of a little dirt bike. Shockingly, everyone that we pass smiles and waves – we are definitely not in Ontario anymore. We drive through a small river, ascend a scarily steep hill, descend another, and then climb one more before we get to the casa in the sky. Now I know why this truck brings my cousin’s partner so much happiness!IMG_2970Just after 5 a.m. the deep sound of howler monkeys stirs us from our slumber, as do the twittering birds, and the beginning of the sunrise, which turns out to be our alarm clock for the rest of the week. There is exactly 12.5 hours of sunlight in Costa Rica, no matter the time of year; the sun rises just after 5 a.m. and sets after 5:30 p.m. Left to our own devices we laze through the day by the pool with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. For dinner, our hosts take us to a nearby Italian restaurant, Mamma e Papa, where I enjoy the best homemade pasta I have ever tasted. The owners, born in Italy uprooted their lives and moved to Costa Rica to open a restaurant in the jungle. Seating is under a covered balcony, and part of the building serves as a hotel. During our meal, a tropical rainstorm entertains us and causes the electricity to flicker, which doesn’t bother our hosts as flickering lights is a norm during tropical monsoons.FullSizeRenderThe next day in 35° weather, we lace up our hiking shoes and venture to Cataratas Nauyaca. After a sweaty 4km uphill hike, with panoramic views that leave me breathless (that or being out of shape), we find what we are looking for: Nauyaca Waterfall, and to our surprise, two majestic waterfalls cascade in front of us. The Upper Falls is forty-five metres high, and the Lower Falls is twenty metres high with a tiered fall. After marveling at the indescribable beauty of the Upper Falls, we quickly rush to the Lower Falls, where swimming is a must. It’s an easy 4 km downhill hike back, where we replenish our electrolytes with coconut water straight out of coconuts that we purchase from a nearby fruit stand. A mother with her three children happily talk to us and laugh at how excited I get over the beautiful produce. We leave with a couple of bags bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables.IMG_3194Swimming in the pool no longer felt the same after that, so the following days we explore the land by ATV and go waterfall chasing! We find two incredible gems: A secret waterfall that is in someone’s backyard (visitors are welcome for a small fee), and Cascada El Pavon, a small but unique waterfall with a big rock in the middle. How did it get there?imageIMG_3388Because one must go dancing in the rainforest, we head to the Bamboo Room for dinner, drinks and dancing. The local entertainment keeps us boogieing until the early hours of morning – the smooth tequila also helps. Recently opened by a St.Catharines resident (I thought John looked familiar!) and well-known musician, the Bamboo Room is where tourists and locals go for their entertainment in the jungle.IMG_3316We spend a lazy day at a secluded beach, where hidden caves and a sand bar have us swimming, floating and exploring. Overhead, vibrant scarlet macaws freely fly from tree to tree, while unbeknownst to us, crocodiles were swimming in the marshy river 2 km away. One thing we quickly learned is to always watch where you are walking and to be aware of your surroundings – tourists (Gringos) walk with their head up high, where locals (Ticos) always watch where their next step will land.

And just like that, our week in Costa Rica ended, but not before buying a hammock to remember our week long siesta in the jungle.

Stay tuned for Part two: Resort life in Costa Rica.

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Breakdown of costs for for two people:
Flights: $1,900
Car rental + gas: $300 + 200
House rental with pool (7 nights – enough room for two couples): $850
Food: $500
Day trips (includes a day of zip lining for 2): $250
Extra spending: $100
Exit tax: $29 USD per person

Total trip: $4,158

This trip is super doable, especially if you split rental and food costs with another couple.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if your gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

Imagine witnessing your two best friends being killed: one caused by a drive-by shooting in a public park and the second by a trigger pulled by a cop. Can you imagine it? I can’t either, but for 16-year-old Starr Carter, this is her reality. New York Times bestseller, The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas, follows Starr’s story after the unjustly death of her best friend, Khahlil, who was murdered by a cop, “Officer One-Fifteen.” As the only witness to this crime, Starr has to bear the outrage from her community and of her race.

Starr lives a stable life that is divided by two worlds: the poor black neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy predominately white prep school in the suburbs that she attends. Her father owns a local convenience store and her mother is a nurse. Starr wears expensive name-brand clothes, is a devote basketball player, has two brothers, and unbeknown to her dad, is dating a white guy from her school.

The inner conflict in the novel is the dilemma of right and wrong: Starr wants to do what is right – tell the cops, tell the jury, tell her community what she saw, but telling the truth could also endanger her life. Finally, she summons up the courage to tell the truth to the grand jury, and as the world outside of the courtroom waits to hear if the officer will face charges, tension mounts as the reader suffers with Starr, her family and the community.

The Hate U Give, named for a Tupac’s song, (Thug Life – the hate U give little infants f*cks everybody) is a novel that exposes the injustices of the judicial system, systemic racism, and police violence but it is told with care, intelligence, and honesty. The reader falls in love with Starr, and is connected to he through the use of first-person narration. Starr allows the reader into her world: she is funny, she is authentic; she’s a 16-year-old girl who is faced with a reality that is different from her prep-school peers

As a book found in the YA section of a bookstore, The Hate U Give reminds readers that radicalized violence does not limit itself to one age group, but is everywhere. Not too long ago I was sitting in front of my computer, tears streaming down my face, as I watched the live feed of the injustice, the gob-smackingly blatant racism that tragically ended Michael Brown’s life way too soon. This event opened my eyes to the horrendous and unjust acts people with ‘power’ inflict on the ‘other.’ I know events like that happened before, and they continue to happen,  but this novel, albeit fictitious, mirrored a life that my white privilege shelters me from, yet it served as a tool that cultivated an emotional understanding. This book won’t make racism disappear overnight, but it does have the potential to make one think and reassess their own personal judgments.

Read it! Even if you think you’re too old for YA, do yourself a favour and read it. I’ll even lend you my copy.

On a side note: Have you been watching “Dear White People” on Netflix? A show clueless white people (talking to myself) should watch and learn. Synopsis from Netflix: “Students of color navigate the daily slights and slippery politics of life at an Ivy League college that’s not nearly as “post-racial” as it thinks.”

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