The official definition of “Composting” sounds, well, pretty gross.
According to Dictionary.com, composting is:
a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. A composition; compound.
verb (used with object)
to use in compost; make compost of:to compost manure and kitchen scraps.to apply compost to (soil).
verb (used without object)
to make compost:Shredded leaves will compost easily.“
But, here’s what I’ll tell you…Mother Nature has her way. Naturally, bio-degradables break down, get eaten, processed and regurgitated as amazingly nutrient-rich stuff.
If you compost, your contribution to the landfill will decrease DRAMATICALLY. And, thanks to city-wide composting programs like the one in Denver, it’s super easy. If you don’t have such services, perhaps you can ask your landlord or apartment complex to set up a small tumbler composter – reducing the impact space-wise and reducing nasty smells, waste to the landfill and more!’
A fellow green thumb contributed this fantastic guide to composting if you want to get started. Check out Kevin Rodrigues’ article on How to make your own Compost.
This week, Sustainable Three will be setting up composting at Newport Street Retreat in Denver (home of Sustainable Three). Now that they have raised garden beds, thanks to Denver Boy Scout Troop 62, they will have beautiful vegetation growing to help support their Dinner Church on Thursdays. Who knows what this will grow into, but they will need a composting system for peelings, leaves and other garden waste. That will, in turn, become nourishment that will go back into the garden.
Watch for my blog series on composting in the coming weeks!
After a good night’s sleep in our room at Meson de Leyendas, we ate a lovely buffet breakfast in the patio area of the hotel restaurant again. Fresh papaya, pineapple, yogurt, granola (with all the toppings), waffles, coffee and fresh squeezed juices hit the spot before another day of driving. From Valle de Bravo, we drove in the van back towards Mexico City with a stop at La Cabana del Oso (a roadside restaurant) for a lunch of Seta mushroom soup and squash blossom quesadillas. The soup was soothing on a wonky belly. 🙂
Back in the van after lunch, we were off again and stopped
in Toluca to visit the Jardin Botanico Cosmovitral (the
botanical gardens inside a building with the most incredible stained glass art
installation I’ve ever seen in that style).
Designed and created by Leopoldo Flores (1934-2016), this museum of sorts houses stained
glass windows all the way around the building as well as across the
ceiling. And, in themed sections all
around the indoor botanical gardens are flora from all around the world,
including an Asian Zen garden and cacti from the local area. The stained glass tells the story of
Humankind’s journey – and the battle of darkness and light, good and evil. Birds are represented in the glass – the wise
owl and the eagle (a strong symbol of pride in Mexico).
It was a great place to take a moment, take a breath, and
enjoy the morphing colors as the sun penetrated the stained glass creating
varying palettes on the plants.
Constellations speckled along the ceiling blend with the other designs
leading to the large installation at the far end of a man and a woman. The spiral between them is representing our
galaxy – a pattern echoed in the woman’s womb.
has a bit of a London vibe – except for the largest “mural” in the world living
on the exterior walls of the residents houses on the hill. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Our next morning was Valentine’s Day and we were headed to the butterfly sanctuary.
When my children were little and taking Music Together classes and watching “Dora the Explorer”, I heard this folk tale about a butterfly, “La Mariposa”, in which animals enamored by the butterfly would say “Mariposa, Mariposa, will you marry me?” (There’s a bilingual children’s book you can check out that tells the story HERE if you’re interested). That sing-songy phrase was in my mind as we headed to see the butterflies.
We got up at 7:00 and then were out in the patio area of the restaurant by 8:00a.m. for a buffet breakfast of fruit, granola, fresh squeezed juices, fresh hot coffee, and waffles. By 9:00, we were boarded in the bus and on our way to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
It took about an hour and a half to reach the reserve. Once there, we paid to pee and then were assigned our horses. My horse for the day was named “Rosito” and his handler was Francisco. The handlers lead the horses up a two mile trail (going up a few hundred metres) to a clearing where we saw thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering around. Trotting along the rocky, dirt path, we were in a flow of orange and black flitting.
Our guides said they had never seen so many just flying around like that. After a lovely, long rest enjoying the Monarchs, we remounted our horses and continued up the mountain to a trail where we dismounted our horses and hiked down and over to a most amazing viewing spot.
The butterflies, clinging like barnacles on the tall, old growth forest trees blended in in perfect camouflage, while others fluttered around, some seeking water in the river below and some seeking nectar in the salvia.
We can help the monarchs with their survival, growth, migration
and breeding by planting milkweed, tithonia,
brush. Here are 10 suggestions of
flora to plant to help and attract butterflies:
On Day 3 of our Reefs to Rockies exploration of Mexico, we toured a vanilla plantation in Guiterrez Zamor (about a four hour drive north of Veracruz). A lovely señora, Sylvia (with our guide Jorge’s translation), explained in loving detail how the vanilla plants are grown, harvested, beans processed and sold.
When we arrived in our 18 person van, we unloaded and walked up a steep walkway past beautiful murals and cypress trees stretching towards the heavy, grey sky. The vanilla plantation was founded by “finca” (estate boss) Orlando Gaya who immigrated to Mexico from Italy in 1873. Since then, the plantation has been operated with organic quality and purity as the highest priorities.
When we visited the orchid museum in Coatepec, we learned that vanilla is an orchid (which means “testicles” because of the shape of the bulbs). The two vanilla orchid plants grown at the Orlando Gaya Vanilla Plantation are Planifolia and Pompona. Planifolia’s flavor is a bit bitter, but the aroma is like chocolate. Whereas Pompona smells like prunes and tastes sweet. Vanilla likes to grow on two types of trees: Phichoco with its red seed pods (which we saw at the botanical gardens outside Coatepec) and the pequeena (a.k.a. Mexican bamboo). They can also grow on coconut trees (or Erythrina lanceolata) Sylvia described the vanilla plants as the “princesses” and the trees they like to grow up as the “princes”. They have a very mindful, symbiotic relationship in which the female vanilla plant nurtures the protective male trees.
vanilla plants are very sensitive and will actually switch genders if they are
exposed to too much stress.
As we walked further along the path, we saw the shade houses where these plants are painstakingly nurtured and tended. These plants have become extremely high maintenance over time and must be hand pollinated one flower at a time. The tenders use a thin bamboo stick to spread pollen from one bloom to the next and it takes about a month to hand pollinate 6,000 plants. They say that these vanilla plants have become “lazy”. The hope with some of the experimental plantings at this vanilla plantation is to make these precious plants more resilient. Interns are working to assist in this process.
vanilla orchid, once planted, takes 2 ½-3 years to produce flowers. Then, once pollinated, the flowers take nine
months to produce the vanilla pods/beans.
Only the healthiest are harvested and as the workers find fungus, worms
or other disease, those plants are sterilized to prevent the spread of the
The newer 19 to 25-year-old workers at the vanilla plantation get on-the-job-training as they are taught to pollinate, investigate, nurture, pick, inspect, separate, process and package the vanilla pods. Separation happens along a long conveyor belt and the pods are divided into hierba “grass”, pezon “nipple”, quebrados “broken”, and entero “complete”. The less perfect ones are used for ice cream and other vanilla products where appearance is not as important. Every step along the way, they are making sure it is a good, disease, pest and chemical-free product.
picked and separated, the beans are dried on mesh racks, put in a sort of
“sauna” for three days, then dried further over the course of six months in a
large room, regularly inspected, wrapped in blankets and kept safe. Once they are perfectly ready, they are
divided yet again by level of quality and processed into bags of seeds, powder,
pods, etc. and “vaulted” in stainless steel boxes behind cages, in a building
with bars on the windows and electrified wires.
Finally, the vanilla is inspected in a laboratory for a final
inspection. At US$5/vanilla bean, we can
now understand why they take such painstaking care to protect them.
touring the processing facility, we were given a sample of a drink made with
equal parts vanilla liquor and sweetened condensed milk (and ice) called beso
totonaca (from the name of the Beso Totonaca Kingdom).
you would expect, our tour ended in the gift shop where they sell many vanilla
products (extract, beans, candles, ice cream and a liquor (Xanat is a brand
they sell here)).
A good Mindfulness practice includes gratitude so it is good to acknowledge and thank the vanilla and its tenders for the patient process which it goes through to arrive in our chocolate chip cookies, cakes, coffees, ice cream and more.
Our exploring Mexico Reefs to Rockies, “In Search of Coffee, Vanilla, and Monarch Butterflies”, journey continued with an authentic (and delicious!) breakfast at the recently renovated and restored Hacienda Zimpizahua after we checked out of our hotel, Casa Real de Café. The weather was a beautiful, warm and sunny treat. We enjoyed dining al fresco and family style in the courtyard. Breakfast included sopes with frijoles, green or red chile, and queso, chicharones, huevos, bread, corn torillas, chorizo, fresh squeezed orange juice and delicious, local coffee from the nearby plantation.
The hacienda was formerly owned by the “Finca” (landowner/boss) who ran a coffee plantation. A still functioning water wheel provides nostalgia from the grand days of the Mexican coffee industry. As we followed the red tile paths around the property, we were led by our guide, Jorge, to the patio where the coffee beans used to be spread out and dried in the hot Mexican sun. Borderline slave workers would spread the beans in a single layer for drying over hot concrete and then scramble to collect it back if rain clouds rolled in. The process is more slightly efficient now, but the glamour of the coffee industry has faded as the price of coffee beans has plummeted to 3 Pesos/Kilo (~US$0.32 / pound).
The grounds of the Hacienda Zimpizahua is as beautiful as a botanical garden with orchids, air plants, a koi pond and poinsettias sprinkled throughout. From a balcony, we had a crystal clear view of Pico de Orizaba, the 19,000’ high dormant volcano. Along the road to and from what was the main reason for the road (the Hacienda), we witnessed bee hives, coffee plants (some covered with banana leaves to protect them from the recent unseasonable cold), roaming dogs and a workers strike protesting the recent developers infiltrating the region with no consideration for the landowners’ rights.
A quick drive down the road
brought us back to where we had the cooking class the previous night…a local
coffee plantation. We learned all about
how coffee is grown, how if it is not local to the region, it doesn’t thrive as
well as the local varietal, when it blooms and when the beans are red, ripe and
ready to harvest. Jorge again translated
for us all about the different processes and how they affect the flavors. We learned about the worms and fungi that
contaminate the coffee beans causing them to be rejected by these dedicated
coffee growers. The best roasted coffee
beans are a matte brown, but not super dark, not shiny and have a marzipan colored
line in the middle indicating the oils are still in the bean. (If the beans are shiny, all the oils have
already been released along with most of the flavors).
Our coffee guide emphasized how we must be Mindful about deforestation and climate change…factors that will affect whether or not we can enjoy really good coffee in the future. Coffee plants grow best in dappled sun light with a canopy above and biodiversity all around. Coffee plantations provide homes for a plethora of flora and fauna as well as homes for hundreds of bird species.
Our coffee plantation tour
concluded with an elaborate tasting where we explored the delicate, intricate
flavors of the coffee either as a shot of espresso, a cappuccino, a latte, or
straight out of the sifon (siphon – a
process where a hot halogen light bulb heats a round flask of water and then an
open topped funnel of sorts suctions the water through a filter up through the
coffee grounds and then, as it cools, the coffee sifts back through to the
flask ready for drinking at the perfect temperature for tasting once it’s
poured in a cool, ceramic cup. Flavors
of hazelnut, chocolate, vanilla and caramel swirled on our palates. Alex (the baristo) also produced some
impressive latte art. Three pounds of
this strictly pure and meticulously grown and processed coffee later, we were
on our way…although I’m not sure how I’m getting it home!
After we had our fill of Arabica, we went to a local restaurant and I ate a lunch of the local smoked trout, rice, vegetables and brown beer. It was one of our group members’ birthday and we all sang “Buon Cumpleanos” to her and, after giggling at the relighting candles, stuffed ourselves on vanilla and prune cake (with buttercream frosting).
Our final tour of the day was of the Inecol (Instituto de Ecologia AC) Botanic Gardens. Given that this is a tour organized by the Denver Botanic Gardens, it only made sense that we would check out the local botanic gardens, chock full of tropical flora and bird life. But, the surprise was our botanic gardens’ guide, Phil, from Great Britain. Despite living in Mexico for 23 years, he still has a thick British accent…which was lovely. 🙂
By far the coolest feature of this botanic gardens was their collection of Cycadas (Cycad) – these are sturdy, fern-like plants that were around on our planet Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs, but are still around today. One of their specimens is 1500 years old. They reproduce with seeds (two types: female and male) and need to be planted close together. Other impressive stars of the show were the huge cinnamon tree (cinnamomum zeylanicum), the Camellia Sinensis tree (where all black tree comes from in various forms of aging), the wild bee hives in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the Mexican bamboo.
The day ended with a four hour long drive north along Highway 180 (a two-lane road that stretches from Texas to Cancun, Quintana Roo) and our final arrival in Guiterrez Zamora, where we stayed in Hotel Santa Lucia after dinner in a town along the way – equipped with the state police packing automatic weapons and wearing bullet proof vests. (We felt very safe).
Sometimes it is a bit challenging to practice mindfulness at home with your family. But, sometimes it’s also as simple as adding in a new ritual.
It can be starting a habit of one minute of gratitude and/or kind thoughts after you get in bed. Or, taking a Mindful minute of deep breaths before you start to go to sleep. Using calming music or a Mindfulness app can be beneficial before sleep as well.
Here are some apps I recommend to our mindfulness students:
But, the reality is, you don’t need to install and app or listen to a YouTube video to practice mindfulness. All you need is your lungs and they are free and they are always with us.
Bring it to the Table:
Another option is to create some routines around shared meals. So, at the family dinner table, you can take a minute to breathe before beginning the meal. Or, everyone can take turns saying one thing they are thankful for that day. Setting the expectation that everyone is to focus on the person speaking is another way to be mindful.
Children, but humans in general, thrive on routine. So, creating a regular mindful activity can really benefit our children, but ourselves as well.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be “perfect”. Just give it a go!
If you want to dive deeper, here’s another great article about mindfulness apps:
We are super addicted to packaging in modern society. The item we are really purchasing is sometimes wrapped in plastic and again in a plastic container. And, again, plastic (although recyclable in most cases) is not biodegradable. So, today I’d like you to invite you to make something on your own that you normally buy in a container.
Try making your own.
Here are some examples of products you can make at home:
To make this easier, I am providing a couple recipes, but feel free to do your own research and get creative!
When I was growing up, my mother made her own bread, refried beans, cookies, cakes, etc.
As I’ve become a mother, I’ve learned about canning, juicing and making my own household cleaners and tea.
Yes, it’s more time consuming than just running to the store. But, can you turn it into an exercise in Mindfulness? Being aware that by making your own bread, you know where the ingredients came from, you know how it was handled and prepared. And, you can put the love in!
I keep a little spice container by my cooktop labeled “LOVE” and as I am cooking, I sprinkle a little into the dish I am preparing. It’s technically empty, but it is a reminder to get present to what I am doing and be Mindful of my current activity. Sometimes I’m in a rush and forget. But on those days, the meals are definitely not as delicious to my family or myself.
1. an informal social gathering at which coffee is served.
Today’s challenge is to have coffee (or tea) with someone at home or at a cafe and make a mindful connection with them. OR, have a coffee date with yourself. Can you make a new friend?
Whichever you choose, be sure to bring your own mug or ask for a “for here” mug so there isn’t any waste.
Most of my meetings these days happen over cups of a hot drink – coffee or tea. Because we are involved in the same activity, it creates a space for connection and communication.
In the spirit of Mindfulness, you can be Mindful in the way you enjoy your cuppa. Sit with your cup of warm beverage. Observe the steam rising from it. Observe the color. Make these observations as though you are an alien or a child and have never seen coffee or tea before this moment. Smell the aroma. What do you notice? Feel the warmth of the mug with your hands. Do you like milk or sugar, honey or lemon? Each of these changes the original beverage. I like my coffee with almond milk and agave nectar and for the color to be a beautiful caramel tan color.
Can we settle in to these moments and let them be little gifts to ourselves?
We are nearly halfway through this challenge and today is about taking some time for ourselves.
There has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about this thing called “Mindfulness”. In this world of smart phones and free wi-fi, it can be challenging to find stillness. The more busy schedules get, the more we are expected to multitask, eat on the go and rush through life, the more Mindfulness is desired.
What is it exactly?
Mindfulness is “being present and aware in a moment without judgement”.
That’s it. Getting still and letting our nervous systems settle is critical for balancing ourselves. If you can sit up in a chair with feet on the floor, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Close your eyes. Feel your belly, then your chest, rise and fall naturally, listening to the air come in and out of your lungs. As you repeat this, try counting to five on the in breath and down from eight on the out breath. Then repeat for a few, slow, deep breaths. Do this for a minute any time you need to reduce anxiety, calm down and focus. This is a great breath pattern for settling down to sleep at night as it is calming.
A lot of scientific research has shown that Mindfulness helps improve focus and concentration and reduce stress and anxiety. And the most beautiful thing about it is it’s just breathing. And, we have our lungs with us from the moment we are born until the moment we die. They are always with us and they are free. Finding our breath puts us in a happier mood, helps us sleep deeper, reduces anxiety, helps our hearts be healthier, and improves our air intake among other benefits.
The beauty of Mindfulness being trendy in the information age of smart phones, the Internet, tablets, and iPods is that there are free and low-cost apps available to guide us through Mindfulness meditation.
Some of the more popular apps are*:
The Mindfulness App (free)
Buddhify (Price: iPhone, $4.99 and Android, $2.99)