The Community that Cooks Chilli Together…

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Yes, Jim and I are in Mexico once again. Theoretically, I am preparing for facilitating my writing retreat here in February, but let’s face it we are here to get out of the cold and rain of Vancouver and come home to our southern community.

I love it here for multiple reasons and Jim and I are starting to get inquiries of how we pull this off every year and how they can do it to, so maybe we will have to create a fun seminar about this.

DSCN3159Meanwhile, here we are in our little winter paradise, but this year is hotter than usual. Lucky me that this just happens to coincide with my getting hot flashes. I have both our ceiling fans going right now, but it’s not bad enough to want air conditioning on, but thankfully it is cooler this week than last. It forced me to learn my latest Spanish word, abanico, which is a hand fan. I tend to fall in love with 4-syllable Spanish words. My first year here it was desayuno, which means breakfast. Right now, my mantra during my hot flashes is abanico, abanico, abanico. I now have a few pretty Mexican Abanicos for 30 pesos each.

So, amid all this heat you wouldn’t think I would be looking forward to eating a ton of chilli, right? But I always am. Let DSCN3121me tell you a little bit about one of the events of the season here, The Annual Chilli Cook Off.

The cook-off is run by the Rotary Club here as a fundraiser for needed projects, mostly for improvements to local schools; children and literacy being a concern, but it is also one of the town social events for the season and brings together both Mexicans and Gringos, mostly Canadians and Americans or ex-pats now living here.

DSCN3154The competition itself brings in 30 competitors for two coveted prizes for the Best Chilli Awards, one for the professional restauranteurs, and one for the amateurs. There are also awards for the Best Salsa and the Best Decorated Booth.

These awards are given by the crowds who come and cast their ballots, not by professional judges, so it does become a bit of a sales and marketing and popularity contest too. But lets face it if your Chilli sucks, no one but your family will vote for it and they might lie about who they really voted for to your face as the ballots are secret and only one ballot per person.DSCN3141

So there are 30 Chillis to taste and this year Jim and I tasted a record 17 (that’s right you don’t have to taste them all to vote… hey folks it’s a fundraiser). Wow they were good, and so different, so I had to keep track on my notes and we developed a rating system. However, not to alienate any of our friends who had entered pots this year, who we voted for will remain unstated.

DSCN3134-001There always seems to be one person who does the fatal mistake of burning the bottom. Anyone who has made chilli knows that if you burn the bottom, even a  little bit, it will taste like someone threw cigarette butts into your precious pot.  Ugh!

The chilli tent row is a cave of booths and when they start serving it is so crowded you can barely move. Jim and I luck out as one competitor never showed up for their booth and we nab the table and chairs and start a tag team system, of one holding our great spot while the other brings in more sample cups of chilli.

Most are in styrofoam cups but some are in more creative containers, tortilla shell cups, Mexican clay pots (see the ballot photo above) and one comes with the chilli on a chilli dog. Yummy!DSCN3150

Sure this is about the Chilli competition, but really its about the community and a lot of gabbing and socializing goes on, and of course the musica, from a great Mexican band this year. Later on a duo from B.C. will keep us dancing all night long.

I love the MC brother and sister pair this year. His sister speaks the Spanish and he  translates to English or vice versa. After a barrage of Spanish the translation becomes, “same in English.” And we all laugh.

Later at the dance, I find myself as one of the ones initiating a conga line with my real estate friend, Sara, her employee, Alfredo, and our favourite maid, Nana.  In no time we have dozens lined up behind us trying to reproduce our crazy moves. It was hysterical and a great work out too.

Yes, mi Amigos, the sign of a healthy community is food, music and dancing.DSCN3136-001DSCN3143DSCN3152DSCN3149 With a little cerveza and margaritas thrown in for fun.

Introduction to the Labyrinth

Every time I introduce someone to the labyrinth I have both anticipation and anxiety. I have been walking a labyrinth for meditation for over 10 years. The labyrinth I walk is in the Anglican Church around the corner from me.

The first person I introduced to it was my sister, 10 years ago, and she still attends. She introduced her friend Aryana.  Aryana was so taken with the process of a walking meditation through the labyrinth that she started to visit labyrinths all over our province, and all over the world. My sister and Aryana recently returned from Chartres, France which has a famous 12th century labyrinth in the cathedral there. Our labyrinth in Vancouver was patterned after the very same one. Aryana loved the labyrinth experience so much that she wrote a unique guidebook of labyrinths all over the West Coast which she sells in bookstores and at the labyrinths themselves.

I introduced a group of writers to the labyrinth as part of a course I was running about connecting to your Muse. One writer was so enamored she started a project of leading the blind through the labyrinth. Another writer made a self-discovery that she had a hard time stepping outside the lines that society had drawn for her. She discovered this because she did not know what to do when someone was coming towards her in the labyrinth (there is not enough room for two to pass within the lines). We asked her why she did not just step aside? As there are no walls, just lines. This observation helped her realize that she was overly concerned what others thought, and this kept her creativity in a box.

The labyrinth has a knack of reflecting back to you who you are and what you believe. When I took my joyful friend who loves children, and has a childlike innocence of her own, she was less comfortable with the adult quietness and reverent solitude of it. But, it was during this visit that something happened that had never happened before or since. A few minutes after she entered the labyrinth, a whole group of young children came in the door. Normally, the labyrinth is reserved for adults. I had never seen any young children there before. To me, it was the energy of my friend who brought them. Or that’s what I prefer to think. She had fun with their playful energy, even if others found it disquieting. I was completely amused.

Today, I introduced another good friend to the labyrinth. I started walking it myself with one eye on my friend. I always hope people will gain something and have a positive experience, but my anxiety is they will not. My anticipation is that they will and I will witness or learn something new through them. It took me a few moments to drop the anxiety, to drop the anticipation, and focus on my own journey through the labyrinth.

My own journey often starts in a place of gratitude. Thank you’s to the universe for all that I have. Then, I usually end up asking for either guidance or healing. Far too often, as I grow older, I am asking for some physical healing of my complaints that come with an aging body. However, I remember in my first years of walking the labyrinth asking for psychic healing often. Today, I wondered if my younger friend was asking for psychic healing while I was asking for physical healing. And I started to reflect on our need as humans, for healing. When did we start asking for healing? When do we stop? Was there ever a time when we were whole? Is the process of life a process where we are continually incurring psychic, physical or spiritual wounds that require healing? Can you remember a time in which you had never experienced a hurt feeling? Or, lately, when my body is not experiencing some hurt? Do we not start out crying shortly after we enter this world? It seems we start to accumulate wounds as soon as we start the path. All of us have a need at some moment to pause and ask for healing in order to restore ourselves.

An interesting note, approximately at the age of six to 12 weeks old all babies inherently start laughing. Some research says that they do not need to see others laugh to learn how to laugh. It is as if we were put on this world to experience both joy and pain. But we often put our focus on the pain and ask for healing. This is not our fault. Pain is hard to ignore. We have only three choices other than to drug ourselves. The first is to seek healing. The second is to accept. The third is to distract oneself. These are all great lessons in themselves.

To seek healing takes effort. Currently, I am dealing with the condition known as frozen shoulder. It is a very frustrating condition and I have put in a great deal of effort towards healing it. Yet, the progress, has been excruciatingly slow. At this point, you must concede to a certain amount of acceptance. Acceptance is probably the hardest lesson that all of us must face in one form or another. Pain is very difficult to accept, in whatever form you are dealing with it. That is where distraction comes in. That is where laughter comes in. Rumi said that when laughter rises from the body it is glad to be gone. There is a lightness of being that is achievable only in joy, and distraction from our worries and pain. Meditation asks this of us too. Still your mind from worry, and painful thoughts and allow joy to enter the void.

When do we stop asking for healing? Perhaps never, if we, “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” as Dylan Thomas said, and do not want to give up. But perhaps we could put more effort towards finding joy, finding laughter, in small things and feel blessed in distraction. Now that science has amply confirmed the healing power of laughter, perhaps in distraction is where most healing is truly found. The best distractions are either immersions into things that demand total focus, or they are things that give us of joy and laughter that is “glad to be gone.”

My friend, who I introduced to the labyrinth today, said thank you, but I did not ask her if it was “good for her” or not. I did not want to intrude or make her feel like she should have received something if she did not. I accepted whatever was there for me and for her. Fortunately, while there, I did become distracted by my own reflections and have been distracted again chronicling them here. I do make an effort towards healing, and I ask for it, but I accept that I do not always have total control over it.  Now, I am ready to go into the world and seek joy and laughter.

PS – My friend later shared her experience in the Labyrinth where she became confused and thought she might have stepped across a line and gotten
on the wrong path. She was very upset until she realized the parallel to her own life where she was questioning, perhaps too much, whether she was on the “right” path and thus making herself unhappy. She realized that like being in the labyrinth itself, it doesn’t matter.  There is one path in, and one path out,
and no such thing as a “right” path. Another labyrinth lesson.

Kathrin Lake is the author of From Survival to Thrival and conducts writing and presentation excellence events in Vancouver and a writing retreat in Mexico. See www.survivaltothrival.com/services/retreats

Faberge Spider Brooch

I have a confession to make.  I have an addiction.  For years I have been telling my writing students that truth is stranger than fiction. And then came reality T.V.  I have also been telling my students, don’t let too many facts get in the way of a good story, OR no one loves a good storyteller for their accuracy. Again, enter reality T.V.  What is truth and what is staged, or at least made more spectacular?  Speculation abounds with these shows and should be, but then again, we both know that there are things that happen in life where everyone agrees, “You just can’t make this shit up.”

Thanks to reality T.V. anyone with eyes, who use to envy the rich, should just look at them and laugh after watching their juvenile antics on virtually any of the Real Housewives series. Not to say, I never have any human drama with my girlfriends, but some of what I see there, OMG. Surely these women wouldn’t want to be portrayed that way if they really knew how ridiculous they looked? Or is the show an incentive itself, under the guise of Barnum’s famous line, “No publicity is bad publicity.” Or are the shows very nicely compensating these “wealthy” individuals and their over indulgent lifestyles with paid salaries? Can someone leak the true financials please!  How much is Snooki getting paid exactly? Do the people who put up with, for example, the Four Weddings competition get a fee in addition to the 75% chance to lose a competition for a lousy $4000 honeymoon vacation? God I hope so. Or do the spouses who get dragged out in public and humiliated by Brian Baumler as home handyman idiots get more than their renos redone for them? Is there also humiliation pay?  They should, because it keeps dopes like me watching TV more than ever before.

This week I saw an episode that really made me realize I am an addict. How?  I Googled it after I saw it.  I had never done that before.  As it turned out a whole slew of other people did too because when it was first aired (they release later in Canada), the unlikely words “Faberge spider brooch”were number three on Google’s most Googled phrases for the day.  The story was on the show Pawn Stars. In this episode a woman walks into the pawn shop with a… you guessed it, Faberge spider brooch, she wants $2K for it, only the owner, Rick, in “good conscience” offers her $15K for it saying it’s a real Faberge.  She is a typical ignorant pawn shop customer and apparentlydoesn’t know what she’s got. She took the $15K.

Anyone who knows a little about this stuff, especially if they watched the original reality show, Antiques Roadshow, knows that Russian pre-revolution Faberge originals are some of the rarest and most expensive antique jewelry in the world, and also that it is frequently faked.  So, myself and millions of others, feeling that the story was not fully complete Googled to see what it was sold for, or if it was a fake.  Who won, the pawn shopkeeper or his customer?  Strangely, the hits I found online, though numerous, gave little resolve and more speculation.  1) Apparently the Faberge company says they never made spiders but they also acknowledge that all the records were destroyed in the 1930s. 2) Some suggest it absolutely is a fake and they found similar brooches online for sale for $3K. 3) Others say it is worth up to $80K and it is real, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and all. 4) Some others say it is a beetle not a spider 5) others say Rick ripped the woman off and would have taken the $2K if the cameras were not rolling. 5) Others say he knew he might be getting ripped off but the $15K in publicity was worth it (and they may have been right). And on and on it goes, with no doubt another episode to come.  It looks like the original episode aired in the U.S. in October 2010, and no sequel yet? More speculation.

So what am I to learn from this?  Why am I addicted to watching these stories? Why are any of us?  Here are some thoughts. The treasure hunter in all of us loves this stuff. The person in all of us who sometimes (or frequently) thinks how great it would be to be rich, but knows we probably won’t be, but needs to feel okay with this, loves this. The wife or husband who is suffering under their partner’s DIY dummy mistakes, or virtually any other spousal frustration, loves to think there may be a fairy godmother or father who can fix this, so we love it. In short, for whatever our fantasies or problems there is a reality show that acts like an answer from God, because, let’s face it, God doesn’t speak up that frequently, and certainly not in easy AV Technicolor and high-definition.

I watch these shows only after I have done my work for the day, or are on my meal breaks (a little dangerous if the show is more than half an hour). But I wonder often, does this mean I am not in Thrival, that my life is somehow not enough?  Or is it just my curiosity, my writerly thirst for new info to exploit, or my love of what goes on out there in this marvelous mixed up world, skewed as the TV versions may be? I do not think about the shows when the weather is nice or I am in Mexico. So vive le power of the sun and good weather on the soul.  But, when weather is gloomy in Vancouver and I am drawn to indoor activities and distractions, well, guilty as charged, I peek into these quasi faux versions of others lives. However, in my defense I haven’t been able to watch an entire episode of any of The Real Housewives Series ever. I inevitably roll my eyes and shut it off with a smug comfort that I love my life just the way it is, thank you very much. Maybe God does give a little Technicolor lesson for those that want to see it.

Kathrin Lake is the author of From Survival to Thrival and conducts writing and presentation excellence events in Vancouver and a writing retreat in Mexico. See www.survivaltothrival.com/services/retreats

The CLC

Other than a mutual hatred of the cold that takes us to Mexico every winter, what Jim and I share is a love of having dinner parties. Jim denies it, but he first fell in love with me at his own dinner party.  How did I get there?  Well he was dating my best friend, Elektra, or trying to, as we were all part of a Sunday night dance crowd at The Yale, infamous Blues Bar in Vancouver. I even told him, they made a cute couple on the dance floor, but I didn’t know him well.  One night, after sharing a laugh together he asked Elektra  if she knew me well, and she said I had been her best friend for 18 years. “Invite her to my dinner party,” he said.  

At the party, there was increasingly noticeable  attention paid to me, and less to Elektra. Not that it worried me a lot as Elektra had already told me that there was no sparks there for her, but it was a little embarrassing.  I was not looking for something, I was just enjoying being at a dinner party that wasn’t my own for a change.  But when I made a comment that indicated that I not only knew the artist Jim had on the stereo, B.B. King, but I knew the name of B.B. King’s guitar, Lucille, he started to fall heavy for me, and asked me out right then and there in front of all his friends. His friends, by the way, I had liked so much I had already invited them to dinner at my house in three weeks time, so it was kind of hard to say an outright no.  The whole story of the final pairing of us is longer, but here it can be said that a mutual love of dinner parties was a launch pad, and continues to be a main stay in our life together.

Fast forward seven years and we are in our beloved town in Mexico for another winter and we want to have a dinner party. We want to introduce two American couples together that we know and love but they don’t know each other…yet. Huff and Eileen, former Californians, and Jimmy and Juanita, living between Texas and Mexico are all great people, but I am curious to see if they are going to hit it off, because you never know. In particular, I am concerned because Jimmy is a expert level surfer but, Huff is a jet ski expert.  I don’t know enough about the battle over the surf, but I believe surfers and jetskiers are not always compatible. Am I setting up two species that don’t belong together?  Like the faux pas of asking a very right-wing Republican to dine with very left-wing Democrat, but instead of political differences, am I setting up a surf turf war at the dinner table?  I know that these are things Jim never considers or stresses over, so I take a page from his book and leave it alone.

The party starts with some beverages at the pool and gets lively quickly.  Not only do these two couples get along but the stories and laughs are flying.  Jim and I are not introverts at all, yet for the first time I felt like we were being polite Canadians and could barely get a word in edgewise to these gregarious Americans. Then the subjects of jet skiing comes ont he table, I look carefully at Jimmy, who I’ve known a little longer to see if he is trying to mask any disgust… Texans do play poker right?

Well, did I call that concern wrong, pretty soon it is out in the open that we have a jet skier with a surfer and they start to talk about the love of the waves that they have in common.  Now, in addition to being a surfer Jimmy is a business owner in Texas and Mexico, and suddenly I see a side of this man who is in great shape in his 50s partly due to his avid surfing, in a whole new light.  I had never heard him talk surfer dude talk before, suddenly if I had a dollar for every time he said “gnarly” and “bitchin” that night I would have made a tidy profit.  But I don’t recall ever having heard him say these kind of words before.

Huff and Jimmy start to launch on their tales, tragedies and triumphs of the tides, and I am reminded of the scene in Jaws where they are comparing shark encounter stories (coincidentally, I just heard that 75% of shark attacks are on surfers, and I am sure jet skiers aren’t far behind). I bone up on all kinds of surf talk like Pointbreak and a Barrel and in the process learn that jet skiers often tow surfers out to their favourite surf spots. “Less paddling, dude!” The long and the short of it is, I did not need to worry about these two not getting along.

Well, so starts our friendship of couples… or maybe it can best be called dating.  As Nora Ephron said, “couples date each other.”  Well, if that was true we seemed to be having a threesome dating experience.  Even when we were alone over at Eileen and Huff’s, inevitably Juanita & Jimmy would bang on the door and we’d all be together again.  It was Juanita who noted that all of us owned corner lots within two blocks of one another. And while we have yet to build on our lot, Juanita said “Let’s form The Corner Lot Club.”  Thus The CLC was born. Just for fun. I was so hoity toity and contradictory to the people there, that we just had to do it.

Out to the coolest, cheapest or best places to eat, sometimes all three in one, in our town or the four or five surrounding towns in the area, was part of our new group social adventure. Or having dinner parties and feeding each other, or one evening we fed the crocodiles together (see photos). The CLC is now our little institution.  I Skyped with Jimmy the other day and they just went to a Chinese restaurant run out of someone’s house, someone who was actually Chinese which is a little more rare in our small Mexican town then say…Vancouver.  See there are good things about Vancouver.

I guess the reflection today is how people’s lives change when you invite them over to dinner. Breaking bread with others will always be on of the great rewards of anyone’s life, from the poor to the mega-wealthy, aren’t we lucky.

The Mexican Chistmas Burro Boogie

Do you ever wonder what your Christmas would be like if you weren’t doing any of the traditional things you usually do, perhaps in a far away land… perhaps in Mexico for example?

I did not have to wonder this year. This Christmas eve, I spent trying to speak in three different languages: English, French and Spanish.  We were surrounded by our Québécois Mexico friends, Guy, Ramona, Alice, Luc and Joanne. Each person had different levels of fluency in different languages but we muddled through, and of course alcohol tends to help.

They took us to a restaurant in the neighboring town famous for its service where they make quite a show of it.  For example, we had seven people at dinner, so, when our orders are ready, seven waiters come to the table. They synchronize it perfectly and put each order in front of each of the guests simultaneously.

We laughed, told stories, in multiple languages, and then we walked through town where all the families were having their parties; lights, fireworks and firecrackers galore.  All night long, music, fire crackers, and party, party, party.  Everyone.  All ages. This makes for a pretty quiet Christmas morning, since everyone is sleeping in, or at least until we heard something we had never heard before.

This was the moment that I really knew I wasn’t having Christmas at home. We both heard what we thought at first was a very strange horn. Jim poked his head out the window and said, “Get a look at this, you won’t believe it.”  I did, and if I hadn’t seen it myself I might not have. To the entertainment of the neighborhood a donkey, really a burro, had gotten lose and was galloping down the middle of the street braying at the top of his lungs.  I had never heard an animal, relatively small, make such a big sound.  It was like a call to Christmas morning. With all the parades and re-creations of the nativity we had witnessed in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with a donkey always carrying a Mary and a baby Jesus, it was like the donkey was yelling its freedom from all this Christmas stuff at the top of his lungs. Everyone in the neighborhood was laughing.

After our novel alarm clock, we decided to go to brunch at my favourite breakfast place, La Casa de Mi Abuela, The House of My Grandmother.  I rode my little vintage folding bike that makes me feel like I am twelve again while Jim walked.  Despite the recession making a noticeable drop in tourism this year, the street side Abuela cafe is packed. Good food and service always attract.  There is always a range of 7 to 10 different kinds of fruits on their fruit plate and I always have to have the pancakes.  By accident, Jim and I discovered a new taste sensation.  Since the Mexicans put lime on everything, one day I tried it on my pancakes with maple syrup.  Damn if that wasn’t the best taste combo discovery I have ever made in my life. The sour lime and the sweet maple syrup compliment each other perfectly, and with Abuela’s fluffy pancakes, it is “to die for,” as my sister would say. Well I could go on about their spiced potatoes and their excellent complimentary condiments like granola, yogurt. jams and marmalades, and cookies with your coffee, but I think you get the idea.

We were also sitting beside Bonny and her partner, also here from Vancouver. She is a Jazz singer who comes here every season and will be making appearances in some of the nicer restaurants.  We make small talk and the usual gratitudes of how lucky we are to be here.  She admires my bike.  Again, I feel as proud as a preteen.  We talk about the Vancouver music scene and I mention to her that I noticed that in the women’s washroom  in the restaurant, on the back of the stall door is a fan club bumper sticker for a local Vancouver band, Brickhouse, from The Yale.  We both think this is pretty funny that it wound up here, but given how many Canadians are here maybe not so strange.

We return home to encounter the donkey across the street eating garbage at the empty lot.  I am worried for the donkey.  They will eat anything and we hatch a rapid plan to catch it.  Fortunately, we document the whole event with video and photos, and I add some music and commentary and post it on YouTube, calling it the Christmas Burro Boogie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MszDtbqE_L4 , it has a moral to the story which I will let you discover on the video rather than repeating it here.

The big revelation is that this was definitely not a “normal” Christmas, and while I love traditions, I am very happy forging new ones and discovering Christmas Mexico style.  Feliz Navidad and Feliz Ano!

Kathrin Lake, Story Coach, helping others discover themselves through stories and to write amazing books and speeches.  See our online group coaching for a low rate and our February writing retreats in Mexico: www.survivaltothrival.com

The Gala

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival documents her first Tango lessons inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 -Hour Workweek.

The Tango Gala

A brief post before I fly to San Francisco to join the Experts Academy.  The Tango Gala on Saturday was amazing.  I had no idea how many talented tango dancers there are in Vancouver.  They came dressed in glitter and glamour and in all shapes and sizes . All were extraordinary and impressive with their own personalities in their dance. Like the little Asian man who was always 5 inches shorter than any partner, yet his passion for the dance was tireless. He was living his dreams.  The demo from Guillermo Salvant and Silvia Grynt from Argentina brought by Gabriela Rojo was fun and of course, impressive. I caught some still photos from my video here.  I downloaded the video of one demo (they did three) to youtube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXjtBr97XfM . In addition, we saw on the dance floor Salsa, Milonga (a tango at double time), Merengue and Tango waltzes. We also saw a terrific Bellydance demonstration.  But the best was seeing Gabriela herself doing her Gaucha Bolero dance. I also downloaded a vid of that at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgTJgTIH848 .

Jim and I dance about 6 dances together and I managed to do a few things passably but we both felt way out of our league.  Jim even threw in a few swing dance moves to a few of his surprised dance partners. We are so much more competent at that dance.  Do what you know, they say but it takes time to learn anything, takes time to know anything. One day, I hope to be comfortable doing the tango. I wonder how may human beings on the planet at this time have tried to master a dance? Perhaps many more with Dancing with the Stars (must be very good business for dance schools these days).  Ah, but trying is one thing, gaining competence is another. Many people give up. Jim says, persistence + work = joy & ego strokes. And for some of us, it is delightful to move the body and express ourselves in whatever God gave us.

Towards Happiness

These are my thoughts on how to move from just surviving in life to thriving. Yes, I wrote a book by the similar title, From Survival to Thrival, but guess what? The journey never ends; life has ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, surprises and drudgery, but there are still core things that make all people healthy and happy and that is my journey… What are those things independent of traditional ideas of “success?”  We can all define our own parameters for success. A clue for me is the original Old French meaning of the word “success” which is “move to the next thing.”  And that is what I’m doing baby,  that is what I’m doing.