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Feb 202015
 

So I created a GMO board within my house…. WTF and Why?! Well here’s the short of the long- GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, they are “plants or animals that have undergone a process wherein scientists alter their genes with DNA from different species of living organisms, bacteria, or viruses to get desired traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides.” In other words, they aren’t natural, it’s not real food and they will no longer be welcome in my home. I don’t like them, I don’t want them in my body and just like the 30 countries who have banned them prior to me, I’m taking a stand. I’ve made an effort in the past but have admittedly been a little on the lazy side with it. This time, I did some hard research and took a few notes, on my living room chalkboard, for all to see, just above the sofa and to the right of our door.  Anyone who comes into my home will definitely leave with an understanding of what a GMO is, at the very least.

gmo, genetically modified organism, food, safety, organic, no to gmo, shopping guide

So how does one avoid GMOs?

The basics:
  1. Look for the labels. USDA Organic & The Non GMO Project are just a few examples. If you see “USDA organic” or “Non GMO” then your GMO safe for sure. It’s always good to go organic but USDA organic is a sure thing. They prohibited the use of GMOs in the production and handling of organic products in October of 2002.
  2. Eat more nuts, fruits & veggies. It’s much easier to find produce that is GMO free, just check the most recent GMO crop list and buy accordingly. If you need something on that list, just make sure it’s USDA organic. An excellent website and ap for confirming which foods are truly organic is: The non GMO Project and the Non GMO Project Shopping Guide ap. Wikipedia also keeps an updated list within their pages. We printed a few out and left them on our board for people to take. It’s always good to have a copy on hand for reference.
  3. Research your sources on meat. Meat can be tricky as the animals are often fed GMO products. Research must be done to find out which of your local farms raise GMO free meat and which stores support them. Make sure to cover all bases- milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, pork and beef.
  4. Know your additives. Corn, Canola, soy, cotton and sugar beets can all end up as additives within packaged food. Be aware of things like corn syrup, various oils, dyes, flavoring, etc. 70% of packaged foods contain GMOs. There are many companies who refuse to use GMOs. A few of them can be found at GMO Awareness.com.
  5. Keep updated on the GMO list (it grows longer & longer each year). Again, wikipedia is pretty good with the updates (see link above). Today the full list consists of: Alfalfa, Canola/Rapeseed, Corn, Cotton (cottonseed oil), Papaya (Hawaiian), Potato (food & starch), Rice, Soybeans, Squash (zucchini/courgette), Sugar Beet, Sugarcane, Sweet Peppers, Tomatoes, Wheat and the newest addition- Arctic Apples.
Start these basics and create a plan that works for you and your family. At the very least, lets start the conversation.

 

 

Feb 032015
 

There are no words, no images even, that could eloquently  express the love that I have for Cinque Terre. I’ve been to Italy three times now but wasn’t introduced to Cinque Terre and its five peninsulas until my second trip. The charm, the character, the people, the wine! I fell in love with it all and always vowed that I would come back… and so I did, ten years later. This time, I brought my husband.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

I love this pic of Joe…  We are but small fish in a huge Italian pond.

My favorite of the five villages has always been Riomaggiore… a small village valley in the Liguria region of Italy. Its shoreline resides on the Mediterranean’s Gulf of Genoa. It is the first of the Cinque Terre peninsulas that one meets when travelling north from La Spezia.  It’s quirky, old, and utilized primarily as a fisherman’s village that literally exists on the edge of a cliff. Oh and the sunsets?…. sublime.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore was first documented in the 13th century and many believe it was created for the safety and protection of its local people. The homes hang vibrantly off the cliff-side and often contain small spaces that then hold up to four floors each. Due to its height, the town consists of hundreds upon hundreds of stairs. There are a few elevators but most were damaged in various storms so if you go to Riomaggiore, prepare to walk.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

The village is divided up into two main areas- the fisherman’s village below, located near the bay, and the community village that is located above, with hundreds of colorful houses in the between. According to Wikipedia: “The variation of house colors is due to the fact that while fishermen were doing their jobs just offshore, they wanted to be able to see their house easily. This way, they could make sure their wives were still home doing the housework.” #lol In fact, many have made the cliff a unique part of their home’s architecture. We met a man named Michaelangelo (he’s in the video below) who invited us in for an afternoon espresso, biscotti and then gave us a tour of his home’s four floors. Each floor showcased the cliff itself, as one of its four walls. You could smell the earth and rock within. It was a beautiful feature. Located up top, was a roof-top garden where he could easily, and organically, cultivate his meals and catch up on the local gossip, since all of his neighbors could often be found within their own roof-top gardens as well…. I mean, does it get any better than that? It actually does, there is also no corporate development within Riomaggiore. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach the village from the outside. There is no Starbucks, no McDonalds, no fast food of any kind! People know each other, their families and the businesses they run. There is no such thing as dine and dash in Cinque Terre- you go, you chat, you pay, you chat some more (maybe have an espresso in the back) and then you go. I love it.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Quick tips for this region-

  1. Pack Light! OMG, I can’t say this enough. Bring nothing and then shove that nothing into a tiny bag that you can throw over your shoulder. Trust me. You do not want to lug anything through those streets/ staircases. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Want one fancy night out? Try Enoteca Dau Cila. The food is amazing and it’s a great place to stare longingly out at the sea, while enjoying your favorite glass of vino. It’s priced a bit higher than some of the other eateries in the area but well worth it for the view from its outdoor patio, which over looks the entire bay.
  3. Bar Centrale is a great way to meet the locals. It’s located, well… centrally. Right smack in the middle of Via Colombo St, the main vein that runs through Riomaggiore. It’s a great place for people-watching since it also has patio seating. One can easily view the variety of “storie magici” as they all flash by.
  4. Go shopping at the local markets and cook a few meals. There are only a few markets within Riomaggiore, 2-3 small ones but they’ve probably been there, within the same family business, for generations. It’s a great way to taste the local gardens and support the people, as well as keep your budget down which, brings me to tip #4-
  5. Apartment vs. Hotel or Hostel- Rent an apartment! Rent an apartment with a kitchenette. Rent an apartment with a kitchenette and a balcony. We found that apartments for rent were considerably lower in cost than your average hotel and they usually come with more character, culture views and well, appliances. I like to cook so this was a must for me. We went through Tripadvisor to book all of our rentals but really, any travel-booking site will have vacation rentals available.
  6. If you have a car, park it in La Spezia and take the train or bus up to the villages. Parking is a major B in Cinque Terre, especially during peak season. So why stress? You’ll be walking everywhere so park it in the main town and leave it behind for a few.
  7. Explore! There is a ton of hiking, walking and exploring to be done here. I highly recommend starting at the top of the main road, to the village above, and then working your way down to the fisherman’s village, by the bay. There is so much history to explore along the way- The Church of San Giovanni (built in 1340), The Castellazzo of Cerrico, The Church of the Confraternita and The Oratory of San Rocco, to name a few. It’s a great way to get a different perspective of the town and you never know who you’ll meet along the way. That’s how we met our newest Italian friend, Michaelangelo. Once you’ve walked the village, you can then walk to its neighboring villages. The coastal walking path, from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is called the “Via dell’Amore.” In fact, all of the Peninsulas are connected and make for a fabulous day of hiking.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

In the fisherman’s village, shortly after sunset, the men could often be found chatting away, eagerly awaiting a glimpse from the female tourists that strolled by.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

We spent so many hours on the top floor of our cozy apartment, overlooking the bay from our balcony. I loved this apartment so much.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

I loved our balcony so much that I decided to make a time lapse of it. Often, I could be found working away out there; reading, writing and then shortly after, enjoying a light breakfast or a glass of wine. On this morning, I decided to wake with the sun.  Our video is just a small taste of the terrain within Cinque Terre but it’s a sweet one (in my humble opinion).

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Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy, travel, Mediteranian, photographer, ©Jen Castle Photography

I hope these tips help. Basically, if you’ve never been to Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre… go. I don’t often come back to the places I’ve journeyed to, mainly because I want to continue on to new locations and foreign cultures. That being said, Cinque Terre has been a recurring love for me and it will definitely continue to be. I will no doubt return to its rocky shores one day, again and again and again and again, till I’m wise, old and grey. Who knows, in the end, I may even be buried there.

 

 

Jan 192015
 
A long time ago, when I was just a wee impressionistic fresh young thang in college, I made the big decision to go to UCLA, where I learned to embrace all things art. While there, I met another fellow impressionistic young thang who was also an art major. She sat down next to me one day, cracked a few jokes & then announced (after about five minutes of bonding) “I’m Sarena and we’re going to be good friends….”  And well, she was right.
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And Because of our mutual passion for art, we made many projects together. And because of our love for dance, one of those projects was a dance concert. We gathered the dancers, performed in it and we each choreographed a piece of our own. It was one of my favorite projects. Sarena’s choreography was set to the tune of Lenny Kravitz’s “Butterfly,” which was written by him, for his daughter. It’s a beautiful song and I always remembered it.
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Flash forward to today, Sarena is now a proud mama and her daughter Amaya is a 2-year-old reflection of herself. Amaya also loves to dance. I baby-sat her 2 days ago and upon my arrival she immediately announced “We’re gonna dance!” So we did, up & down the hallway, till dark. She would choreograph & I would perform, then I would choreograph and she would perform. I was mesmerized by her. She was a natural ballerina, just like her mama and as I sat in the doorway, smiling on this, I was suddenly flooded with memories and then “Butterfly” began to play in my head, as Amaya danced on…
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Sarena is one of the greatest spirits I know. She has always been so supportive and is always doing her best to push forward positivity. I look up to her like a sister and love her like a best friend. Today is her birthday. So Amaya and I made her this gift.