As I sat finishing a cup of black tea in a small café in downtown San Jose, the owner walked in and switched on a small television behind the counter. I noticed fairly quickly that he was watching the start of a bike race and I, a cyclist and avid bike race fan, was immediately intrigued. The television coverage appeared to be live and the images of buildings and streets in the background looked familiar. I approached the owner and spoke my slow, painful Spanish as he stood patiently trying to understand. I quickly learned that indeed, a professional bike race was leaving San Jose at that very moment, just a couple of kilometers away. I thanked the owner as he pointed me in the direction and I handed him the few hundred colones for the tea.

I was in Costa Rica to volunteer. Of the eight planned days, only one was designated to be an actual vacation day, the remaining time was to be spent in an orphanage and in the poorest slums helping to spread some joy and good will. Staying with a host family, I awakened early with them each morning – I had not just stepped outside of my comfort zone – I was literally living outside of it for the week.  I took comfort and refuge each morning by stopping and enjoying a cup of hot, black tea.

My morning tea ritual helped prepare me for the poverty that would envelope me, the children who had “zero chance” of being adopted, and for the little girls who would reach out and hang onto me, repeating “ojos azules” (blue eyes) – for some, their first experience seeing someone with blue eyes. As I had a couple of hours to spare that morning the enthusiastic cycling fan within me became alive and jumpy…cherubic almost…wanting to see, wanting to watch, to perhaps catch a glimpse of professional cyclists in the big peloton – wearing the colorful kits, their shiny bikes, with their muscular yet almost emaciated, bodies.

I scurried out of the café and headed toward the start only to realize that the peloton had departed along with their team cars. I caught glimpses of the taillights of the team busses as they pulled away, heading 100 kilometers away and had missed the opportunity to see them. Even watching the team busses pull away was exciting and I was grateful to have been close to the disappearing bike race.

I didn’t think too much more about the 7-day race that week. I was told the peloton would not be close again as they raced all over Costa Rica and I accepted that, indeed, it had disappeared.

I spent the week volunteering – coloring with kids, painting the tiny fingernails of little girls who relished the attention, wanting every nail a different shade.  We painted a mural in a drug-ridden community and I taught a 7-year old girl how to catch a ball – destined to live out her youth in the orphanage.

The week of volunteering went quickly and we had designated our final day as one to be tourists.  We decided to take a tour to see area volcanoes, one actively spewing ash, and the others decades old.

The active volcano in the distance.

And so it was, early that morning, our van driver pulled up right on “tico time”, which in Costa Rica typically means 30-45 minutes late (which is on time). As we took our seats the guide began to talk about the “special day”. It turns out the disappearing bike race was about to reappear! The peloton would be racing through the very area we were touring, up the hills, and down the canyons. We weren’t there to be cycling fans, we were there to see volcanoes. As excited as I was about the possibility of seeing the race, it was a bit of an obstacle for our tour guide. As we sped through villages and along differing routes to stay ahead of the race, roads literally closed behind us, making way for the approaching cyclists. All the while, the enthusiastic cycling fan within me kept one eye ahead on the breath-taking vistas and one eye behind, hoping to catch a glimpse of a breakaway cyclist. Our guide did a great job. We saw the spewing, active volcano, we walked along the craters, and we dipped our hands into water at the bottom. We carved our initials in the ash and spent time walking the rim of the volcano. We saw vistas and tree’s blooming with mistletoe, leaves the size of car doors, and acres and acres of vegetables and fruit growing along the steep hillsides.

As our van sped away from the volcano, trying to get off the mountain before the roadblocks closed us in, we began to see the emerging fans, local people wearing polka dot jerseys to honor the king of the mountains rider, and every other nuance that only a cycling fan would understand. Inside the van I sensed the excitement on the sides of the road, I understood the feeling of anticipation of seeing the first cars drive through to be followed by the riders. Oh how I wanted to push pause on our van ride, have it pull over so we could join in the revelry on the roadsides. And I laughed to myself knowing that what I saw as an exciting adventure, most everyone in the van saw as an obstacle to their tourist day.

As we came to a T in the road, I looked left as our van turned right, and there they came….the initial lead cars with the flashing lights on top and I knew the peloton was closely behind. As the crowds of fans grew smaller behind us, I smiled knowing that once again, I had encountered the disappearing bike race.

The week spent volunteering was meant for the children, it was not a week designated for me to indulge my whims and wants. I am fortunate to live a life where my needs are met, and most of my wants. I had just spent a week with children who have neither. Missing an opportunity to see a bike race helped remind me of how fortunate I am. Less than 24 hours before, I had been sitting in a corrugated metal “house” trying to see well enough to color as I sat beside young children who live with no windows while older kids openly used drugs just steps away from us.

For me, the disappearing bike race was a great lesson. I knew I was fortunate enough to be somewhere for it to have appeared in the first place and I also know that it was a reminder to keep things in perspective. I look forward to seeing more bike races in my future and I also look forward to experiencing the ones that disappear.

Thanks for reading,

~ Haven

Beautiful, sweet Sunny.

As I stood leaning against the gate to Marley’s stall, talking with Dayna, a woman who is strong, wise, and peacefully unassuming, I had one of those internal ‘ah ha’ moments. It was a beautiful early morning on New Years Eve, and we fell into a natural conversation, initially about Marley’s resilience, and then our conversation grew from there. Having gone a few months without seeing her, I was honored to have some time to spend catching up on a quiet time at the ranch. As we talked about the holiday, it turns out she also keeps a gratitude jar. Unlike me a relative beginner with the jar, Dayna has kept a gratitude jar since she was a kid. As I listened to her I thought…of course, it makes sense that I’m so drawn to her wisdom and perspective…she’s one of ‘The Grateful Ones’.

Cooking alongside my chef friend this year has been so much fun.

I love New Years Eve. For me, it’s far more meaningful than Christmas or a birthday or any other day that people enjoy. The last day of the year is a highlight for me because that’s when I read every entry that I had placed in my gratitude jar throughout the year – it’s a time to be reflective and it’s a time to enjoy a year’s worth of gifts. To learn that Dayna felt the same way felt really good.

Due to the almost daily ritual of feeding my gratitude jar, I’m a different person. Gratitude is no longer something I consciously think about or consider…feeling gratitude is part of who I am, what I feel, what I emote…I no longer have to try. And it’s not that I’m grateful for only good things, I’m grateful for challenging experiences and people, I’m

Whale sharks, manta rays, eels, giant lobsters – epic experience!

grateful for the lessons that come with opening my heart and letting people in even when I get hurt – my compassion has grown for others, my compassion has grown for myself.

As years go, 2016 will likely go down in history as one of the shittier ones for many Americans. Too many beautiful hearts and minds died, our nation reared its divisive and ugly head with its political agendas and opinions, there were acts of international fear and violence, and reactionary chaos and turmoil. Yet, once again, on the last day of the year, I sat and emptied out a jar filled with a years’ worth of love and gratitude. As I sat surrounded by bright, colorful reminders of all that I loved, and laughed about, appreciated, and took lessons from throughout the year…you’d never have known this was considered to be a shitty year. I sat surrounded by hundreds of reminders of how good it had been.

Playing hide and seek in San Jose, Costa Rica!

I’m not sure if I ever feel as rich as I do on New Year’s Eve. This year, as I realized I had indeed become one of ‘The Grateful Ones’, it was hard for me to go slow…I wanted to devour the next entry and the one after that and the one after that. I was aware that I wanted to simultaneously savor and devour whatever was written on the hundreds of slips of paper. My entries were filled with gratitude for people and experiences, not things. This was a year that I got a new car but it wasn’t the car I was grateful for, it was the people who helped me during the process.

As I relished each entry in my jar, I thought of the friends who were doing the same thing, which filled me with even deeper gratitude because I realized that I’ve begun to attract The Grateful Ones. Unhealthy relationships, toxic people, and negative experiences continue to distance themselves from me, from my life and increasingly, each day, The Grateful Ones have a bigger place in my heart and occupy a large part of my life.

The jar continues to teach me about truth and authenticity and appreciating every moment for what it is. The gratitude that emanates from the jar isn’t superficial and it’s not a Pollyanna perspective. I don’t see the world through rose-colored glasses yet I also don’t have to experience it with a thick, hardened skin. I’ve never wanted to do that or be that person. I like being soft, I like being open, and my gratitude jar has helped me optimize the opportunity to learn and to grow.

Adopting Gracie has brought new friends into my life, (and hers too)!

2017 doesn’t have to be a good year, or a bad year…it just has to be a year. The Grateful Ones are out there, they are among us, and the more gratitude we invite into our life, the more we attract them. Becoming more grateful allows us to truly become.

Thanks for reading,

~ Haven