Nov
28

Helping the Konojel Community Center in Guatemala

I am helping to spread the word about an amazing program in San Marcos, Guatemala that is helping to end malnutrition amongst children, and provide opportunities for local women to gain meaningful employment. My beautiful friend Jennifer Miller is heavily involved in this program, having spent many months in San Marcos with her family. If you are able to donate to this worthy cause, I encourage you to do, every dollar counts and we need your help!

At the Konojel Community Center in Guatemala, a young woman sits on a straw mat reading Curious George with her 7-year-old son Derek. Elena has been a part of Konojel for four years. At 25, she found herself struggling to provide enough nutrition to keep Derek’s hair from falling out. Elena’s struggles, and her success in providing for herself and her son over the past 5 years, is among the clearest success stories Konojel can share.

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As a girl born and raised in a small Mayan village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Elena was never afforded the chances that many people take for granted. The San Marcos indigenous community suffers from high rates of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition; more than 50% of children are malnourished according to the Secretariat for Food Security (SESAN), and many families live on less than $2 US per day per household according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA). At the age of 11, Elena had to leave school to help her household. For years she collected firewood in the mountainside, loading wood on to her shoulders to light the fires that made the tortillas; the main staple of her diet. Hers is a typical story of a Mayan woman: born into poverty, with little formal education, and almost no disposable income for food. It wasn’t a life, it was survival.

This is the reality that so many of the women in San Marcos La Laguna face. Many suffer from malnutrition because they can’t afford a nutritious and nourishing diet, subsisting mostly on tortillas. They bear children who are also malnourished because their poor health during pregnancy directly impacts the development of the baby. And the cycle continues.

Konojel opened its doors in 2011 to address this exact problem in the community. Their goal is to provide the most at-risk people with food, immediately addressing chronic malnutrition. Once they are healthy and energized, they provide jobs and opportunities to empower the women of the community. The ultimate goal is to help them raise their own standards of living through education and job training.

Derek, Elena’s son, was exhibiting the telltale signs of malnutrition: at just 3 years old, his hair was falling out and he was well under the weight and height of someone his age. Every day, Elena and Derek walked up to the Konojel Community Center for Derek’s healthy lunch. One day, a job opened up in the Konojel kitchen and Maria Mejia, the Director of Operations, thought Elena would benefit from the chance to learn a new skill. While she didn’t have any experience in preparing bulk lunches, she proved herself to be a trustworthy and loving person, and quickly learned the tools to be a professional cook in a small restaurant. When Elena finished her residency as a Konojel cook, Maria recommended her for a position at a local business nearby. As of November 2017 Elena celebrated her three year work anniversary there.

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To this day, Elena and her sisters complete their school assignments at the Konojel Computer Center; her sister Griselda recently completed a year-long English course run by Konojel. Derek’s hair has grown back and his speech is getting better. He still comes to the community center several days a week to read with his cousins, who themselves are recovering their health as beneficiaries of the Nutrition Program.

Elena was finally given the resources to pull herself out of the cycle of poverty. Through her fearlessness and desire to learn, she is now armed with skills, working and thriving in the community. Most importantly, her son Derek will have a chance. Maybe he will be the town’s first doctor or engineer.

Konojel helps so many women in the community like Elena, all of whom are friends and neighbors of the staff. In order to continue providing these opportunities and meals to the hardworking, kind, and courageous women of the community, they need your support. They tell the story of Elena to show you that this is working; Konojel, along with all of you, can legitimately change the course of the lives of the people of San Marcos La Laguna. It’s not complicated: help them spread the word, connect them with donors in your network, or even make a donation yourself. We know there are so many people in the world today that need help, and although we can’t help them all, we can make a genuine difference in the lives of women and children like Elena and Derek. Join the #konojel1128 fundraiser today!

Nov
27

10 Reasons to Love San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The FREE six-month visa to Mexico for Canadian and American visitors make Mexico an easy country to visit, and to fall in love with. There are not many countries that offer such a long visa at absolutely no cost (I could probably count them on one hand!)  The ease of entry, the reduced cost of living, the ease of finding rentals in Mexico, and the gorgeous weather make Mexico a hot spot for North American vacationers, expats, digital nomads, and snowbirds!

Our family decided to drive from our home in British Columbia, down to Las Vegas to visit with my sister and then catch a plane from there to Mexico. Originally we planned and booked for five weeks. Well, within two weeks of arriving in San Miguel de Allende we extended our visit another month, and we would stay longer if we hadn’t promised our children that we would come home so they could ski this winter.

Yes, we love it here, and that surprised us! I had heard a lot of good things about San Miguel. Indeed, I already knew four families that had settled here! But you know when you hear of those popular tourist destinations and they just seem TOO popular? That is how we felt, we wondered if it would be TOO easy, TOO overrun with tourists, TOO many expats. While there are a tonne of expats and tourists here (most of the tourists are domestic) they are here for a reason. It is beautiful!

So what do we love about San Miguel de Allende, Mexico? Read the rest of this entry »

Nov
04

Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende

We have experienced some really jaw-dropping festivals around the world. We’ve lit lanterns in Thailand’s Yi Ping Festival, watched the Ogoh Ogohs dance in the streets of Bali at Nyepi, and witnessed the self-mutilation at the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket. Experiencing the Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is right up there on our list of awe-inspiring cultural experiences.

Each year, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. It is believed that on these two days the veil on the spirit world is temporarily pulled back and the spirits of loved ones can come back to this world to visit. November 1st is when the spirits of children return, November 2nd is when the spirits of adults return. For the most part, this is not a somber occasion, rather it is a full-blown party! After all, what spirit would want to return to sadness?

The main part of the celebration comprises of making a shrine to the spirit you are welcoming back. The shrine will include pictures of the loved one, favorite foods, favorite items, flowers, candles, drinks, and more. The alters are to help the returning souls feel welcomed and show them that they have not been forgotten. Most alters are placed in the home, but some are placed for public display as well.

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Oct
21

Hola San Miguel de Allende!

The seed was planted right after we finished up with the 2017 Family Adventure Summit. Most of the organizing team was still at my house and we dove in deep to the huge task of planning the 2018 summit in San Miguel de Allende. Brainstorming and inspiration come much easier when enthusiastic minds are able to collaborate in the same space and feed off each other’s energy!

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That is when Mike and I started to think about coming down to SMA this year. I’m the Logistics Coordinator and Social Media Manager for the Family Adventure Summit and planning would be SO much easier if our family could swing a trip down to Mexico for this year’s Day of the Dead. Experiencing it this year so we would know what to expect and plan for next year would be so helpful!

Once the seed started to grow, the flower bloomed within a weekend. On Friday we were researching, by Sunday night we had booked our tickets and a one month stay in San Miguel! Read the rest of this entry »

Sep
14

96 Days in Europe. Costs For A Family of Four.

This spring our family of four spent a grand total of 96 days in Europe. With my background in bookkeeping and my incessant need to always know how much we are spending, we kept a detailed log of ALL of our costs along the way. We used a handy, dandy app called Trail Wallet to track our spending. With this app you can record spending by trip (super handy) and input all of your transactions in the local currency. Trail Wallet takes the day’s exchange rates and converts to your home currency (super dandy).

Our trip started out in Vancouver. We were able to drive there from our home base in BC and leave our car at my Uncle’s house (thanks again Uncle Jim!!) We spent the night at a hotel close to Vancouver International that had a free shuttle to the airport for our morning flight. From there we grabbed our direct flights to London. We got a great deal on those flights, $2506.44 CAD return for four people.

Once we arrived in London we were picked up by Mike’s Aunt and Uncle and spent the next five days with them in their flat in Portsmouth, England. How lucky are we to have such good relatives? (Big Love to Aunt Laura and Uncle Jimmy!) From there we flew to Barcelona where we spent an entire month in an Airbnb apartment. Next up came Rome for one week, then Budapest for one month. While spending our month in Budapest, a house sitting gig fell out of the sky and into our laps and we housesat for an amazing family in the Hungarian countryside for the next two weeks. After that, we flew back to London, spent four nights trying not to break the budget in that expensive city, then took a train back down to Portsmouth for another five nights at Mike’s Aunt and Uncles before we flew back to Canada. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun
10

London on the Cheap. Is It Possible?

Is it possible to see London with a family without breaking the bank?

Accommodation

I don’t know that it is possible to do London cheaply….unless you can find a housesitting gig or if you have family to stay with.  We found accommodation in London to be RIDICULOUSLY expensive! It is the most expensive city we have every stayed in!

We spent hours scouring the Internet looking for a reasonably priced hotel room. We even looked at hostels and they were not any cheaper than a hotel since we are a family of four. I asked for advice in Family Travel Groups, searched on Airbnb, and asked friends for their recommendations.

In the end, the cheapest place we could find was a Travelodge, all the way out in Greenwich. The cost? Over $160 CAD per night (About $135 USD) for a very basic room. On the plus side, that room had a queen bed and two singles (Yay for not sharing a bed!) and included a decent buffet breakfast. On the downside, it was nothing special and for that kind of money, I expect something really nice! Depending on traffic it took between 40 minutes to an hour to get into downtown London by bus.

Now if we wanted to save time instead of money, we could have reserved a room in downtown London but that would set us back upwards of $250 per night. No thanks!

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May
28

London And The Kindness Of Strangers

We arrived in London from Budapest tired and a bit anxious to make our way to our hotel in Greenwich so we could settle in for the night. We flew into Stansted Airport which is about an hour North of London. We had pre-purchased tickets on The National Express bus (you pay much less if you pre-purchase) and had everything mapped out on Google maps offline since we were arriving in England without data on our phones. In case you are wondering, we put our cell phone plans at home on “vacation” as the prices to use them in Europe are astronomical. As soon as we get to a new country in Europe we buy a new SIM card and a data plan but this means on the day of arrival we are without Internet.

The bus ride into London was smooth and easy. We took the bus to London Bow station where we planned to take the DLR all the way to our hotel. But, when we got to the station the station was closed for weekend maintenance! What?

With no Internet on our phones ,we were able to sleuth out where the next DLR stop was using offline Google maps and we walked with all of our bags to the next station. We arrived at the second station only to find it was closed too. The entire northern DLR route was closed for the weekend. Talk about bad timing!

By this time we were stressing out. We were tired, in a new city, and had no idea where to go. Seeing we were in distress, an older Muslum man approached us and asked where we were going. He had a very thick accent and a mouth full of beetle nut and was very, very hard to understand! When we could not quite figure out what he was telling us to do he motioned for us to follow him. We did. This kind, old man walked us to the closest bus station, showed us on the board what bus we should take, gave us directions once we got off the bus (we think, we could not quite understand) and then bid us goodbye.

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The correct bus came soon after and Mike talked to the bus driver about our predicament. I went to pay for our fair using our contactless credit card and the machine would not work with my card. We thought we were going to be hooped as we did not have cash on us either (It has been so easy in Europe to only rely on credit cards).  The bus driver told us we did not have to pay and said he would let us know when to get off. When it was time to leave the bus the driver actually took the time to tell us exactly where to go next to get to our hotel.

The kindness of strangers. When you are in a bind, chances are someone will be willing to go out of their way to help you out. What a great introduction to London. 🙂

May
21

Six Awesome Day Trips In Hungary

We have been housesitting in the small town of Erdőkertes, about an hour North of Budapest. While public transport here is still good, it is time-consuming and inconvenient to take busses to explore all that we wanted to see. Because of this, we decided to use the money we are saving on accommodation and rent a car so that we have the freedom to explore the country of Hungary!

Hungary is a small country, especially by Canadian standards. It takes about 5 hours to drive from one side of the country to the other. Since we are situated close to the middle of the country we have been able to explore a lot of things within a two-hour drive from the home we are staying in. We are so happy to have found this housesit, as it has given us such a great opportunity to explore Hungary in an in-depth way. There is so much to see and do outside of Budapest! Read the rest of this entry »

May
17

The Beautiful City of Székesfehérvár

Don’t you just love the name Székesfehérvár? It is one of those typical Hungarian names that people who are not Hungarian look at and wonder how on earth it is pronounced.  After a lot of coaching from our new-found family, I can tell you it is pronounced Say-Kesh-Fair-Har-Var. Easy right?

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Székesfehérvár is less than a one hour train ride outside of Budapest. The train cost our family of four 3200 HUF (about 15 CAD). We were invited here by our cousins on quite a few separate occasions and were lucky enough to explore the city with locals!

At first glimpse, the city seems to be a lot of unadorned apartment blocks, but looking deeper, the city has so much beauty and charm! Read the rest of this entry »

May
11

One Month in Budapest

It is hard to believe our one month in Budapest is already over. It seems like we have just arrived and it is already time to leave.

We loved the apartment that we rented for the month with it’s soaring ceilings, large open rooms, enough beds for all of us, and not one, but two couches! Oh, it’s the little things that we appreciate when we are sleeping in other people’s homes for months at a time!

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And although we loved the apartment, we did not fall in love with the area we were in. We were right in the ruin bar district which made things rather loud at night, especially on the weekends. But it was within walking distance to a lot of sites and the metro, bus, and tram stops were all super close.

We loved a lot of things about Budapest. We found that prices were quite reasonable there. Eating out was not too expensive (much less expensive than Barcelona). We could have sit-down meals for about $8 CAD each, and street food like Gyros for $4 CAD each. We also loved the weekend markets and would often go to one each weekend just to try new Hungarian foods.

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