Multimedia Journalist | Travel Writer | Content Strategist

Posts by suzanna

Mindfulness – An Ancient Brand of Wisdom

Originally published for St. Louis Magazine Health & Wellness: Feb. 26, 2015. Click here to read online.

Buddhist Philosophy was the most challenging academic course of my college career, hands down. After the first lecture, a handful of students vanished without a trace. Like me, they’d signed up thinking it would be an easy A and a fun, mindless way to knock off that dreaded philosophy requirement.

lotus

I soon discovered that Buddhism is a whole lot more than interesting statues, fragrant incense and decorative prayer flags. There are two main schools—Theravada and Mahayana—and after that, the branches and terminology get a whole lot more confusing. I spent long nights memorizing flashcards and writing 20-page research papers. And I left the class confident, sure I was one of the most spiritually enlightened college seniors on the planet.

Five years later, I’ve gone back to meditation—and that college memory is almost laughable.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been plagued by anxiety, perfectionism and over-functioning, always worried about the next item on my to-do list or agonizing over some mistake I’d made at work earlier in the day. My brain loves to sink its teeth into any new concept—especially those that promise happiness and “freedom from suffering,” as the Buddha defines Enlightenment. But alas, if you actually read Buddhist sutras, you’ll be reminded that no amount of thinking will ever lead you to Nirvana.

I began giving meditation and mindfulness a real chance not too long ago, when my relentless way of doing things finally caught up with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not om’ing on my meditation cushion for an hour each morning, but for the past few months, I’ve been sampling sitting meditation classes around St. Louis.

Last weekend, I visited the Blue Lotus Dharma Center in Webster Groves, the world headquarters of theCenter for American Buddhist Practice. The 90-minute Sunday service fascinated me. Apparently, there would be some meditation time, but I was curious to see if I could re-awaken my old collegiate knowledge by witnessing a more traditional religious Buddhist service, which included a sutra reading and a talk by the senior Buddist priest.

Timidly walking into the room, I respectfully took off my boots and slunk to an open cushion on the floor—set in front of a low bench, with a binder of sutras, chants and reading material in front of me so I could follow along during the service. If you took away the intricate carvings and adornments gracing the shrine to Buddha in the front of the room and replaced the floor pillows with church pews, it wasn’t that different from the church services I occasionally visited as a girl.

Some people wore special robes, and I wondered if I’d stick out like a sore thumb in my sweatpants, but no one seemed to notice. As I followed along in the binder, the two service leaders sat in front, facing us, and the group moved through some chanting and silent prayer, followed by a sutra reading (in Buddhism, ancient sutras are the religious scriptures, similar to the Bible or the Torah).

I was surprised when the selected sutra reading was about mindfulness. No, let me re-phrase that. I wasn’t surprised that mindfulness—the state of active, open attention to the present moment—originated in ancient Buddhism. But the term has become such a catchphrase in the West, I’d forgotten how intertwined it was with Buddhism.

Any Western definition of mindfulness will cite its roots in Eastern spirituality, but “mindfulness science” seems to be a New Age concept rapidly losing its original meaning. Western “founders,” like Jon Kabat-Zinn, have won national fame for such techniques as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Defining the practice as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” he taps into this rich spiritual practice for good reason—it works.

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness meditation is linked to numerous psychological and physical health benefits, and although it’s harder to measure its effect in therapy, countless doctors and patients swear by its rewards.

Listening to Senior Priest Sha’ul Hirschmann (Ngakpa Chökyi Lodü) read the Buddha’s teaching on mindfulness brought it all home.

It’s easy to get caught up in the Western hype—the search and promise of some new technique or therapy model to provide instant relief from emotional burden and fix all our problems. But the weekend service reminded me of something I’d forgotten in my quest to just “feel better”: It is that simple. You don’t need to pay extra for a therapist who can list “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” on their list of credentials. It’s not rocket science. Mindfulness is an ancient art, practiced for thousands of years without any special equipment or training. All you need is your mind.

The idea of being in the present moment without judgmental thought (dwelling on the past or worrying the future) may be easy enough to understand on paper—or in a college course. But it’s a profound practice.

Focusing on my breath—recognizing the quality, the length, the sensation—is exactly what the Buddha prescribed thousands of years ago. So simple it’s hard for us to credit, it’s a transformative practice.

So, to give my trusty old brain some credit, I’m thankful my curiosity led me to Blue Lotus Dharma Center. It was the perfect reminder before the start of another hectic week that I have all the tools I need to “feel good” already inside me.

And it only cost $2.25 in gas to make that trip to Webster Groves…

Article: Volcano Beer Returns to the Beach

Originally published in the Tico Times on June 4, 2014, Click here to read online

By Suzanna Lourie

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – This summer, taking a six-pack of Imperial to the beach may not be the only option for surfers and sunbathers hitting the sand for a day of fun in the waves.

Beer lovers in Tamarindo and its surrounding beach towns can thank Joe Walsh, longtime resident and owner of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, for broadening beer selection in the Guanacaste region.

“First and foremost, I’m a surfer,” he said over the phone between sets on a surf trip in the Osa Peninsla. “I’m a brewery owner second.”

Volcano Brewing Company has returned from Lake Arenal to Tamarindo/ Suzanna Lourie/

But this diehard surfer and California native knows a thing or two about the beer industry.

After establishing Witch’s Rock in 2001 – a company that started out of the school bus Walsh drove from California as he surfed his way through Central America to land in Tamarindo – he spent the next 10 years building his brand. In 2011, Witch’s Rock was a thriving business, but something still didn’t feel right.

“I started Witch’s because I felt like it was the thing missing at the time,” Walsh recalled. “That’s sort of what happened with Volcano Brewing Company – I always joked this place would be perfect if only they had pale ale, but good beer was really still nonexistent.”

In the 2000s, Walsh and countless other nostalgic expats watched the microbrew industry explode across the U.S. and Canada. Bars donned row upon row of taps pouring artisanal brews from across the globe. Costa Ricans, however, continued to happily swig Imperial and Pilsen – craft beer wasn’t on their radar.

Years passed. Sick of waiting for that magical pale ale to suddenly show up on the supermarket shelves, Walsh decided to take matters into his own hands.

In 2011, he became one of the pioneers in Costa Rica’s budding microbrew industry by opening the doors of Volcano Brewing Co., a combination hotel and pub brewery on the shores of Lake Arenal in the Northern Zone. Good beer, it seemed, was the only thing that could tear Walsh away from the waves – just for a little bit.

“I’m not really into the whole driving away from the waves to the mountains kind of thing. It’s beautiful up there – don’t get me wrong. But it was temporary. The goal was always to get back to the beach,” he said.

Finally, after three years of mountain-beach travel, Walsh was ready to bring Volcano Brewing Co. back home to Tamarindo, where is it now housed under the Witch’s Rock umbrella.

“Everything takes longer than it should, … especially in Costa Rica, but we’re excited to finally be back at the beach and have everything in one place,” Walsh said.

Suzanna Lourie / The Tico Times

Moving to Tamarindo also meant closing the Arenal Hotel, a sad, but necessary move that allows Walsh more time to focus more on his two passions – beer and surfing – while getting back to his original vision for Volcano Brewing Co.

When he started the company three years ago, craft-brewing equipment was scarce in Costa Rica. So in 2011 when Walsh received an offer to take over the lease to a hotel with built-in brew facilities, he jumped at the chance. The out-of-the-way location on the far shore of Lake Arenal kept the operation small, allowing the company ample time and space to master the brewing process and work out any kinks before expanding.

Up to this point, the beer has only been served only at the onsite Arenal brewpub and Eat at Joe’s and El Vaquero in Tamarindo. But next week, Volcano Brewing Co. will celebrate an important milestone when Sharky’s Sports Bar in downtown Tamarindo becomes the first non-Witch’s Rock venue to sell Gato Negro Dark Ale and Witch’s Rock Pale Ale on tap.

Sharky’s is the first step of a plan to bring Volcano brews to the area. Over the next few months, distribution will begin in Tamarindo, starting with restaurants and bars that already have a tap system, such as Pangas Beach Club in Tamarindo and Lola’s in Playa Avellanas. From there, distribution will continue throughout Guanacaste in upscale hotels such as the Four Seasons in Papagayo and nearby towns like Playas Flamingo and Potrero.

“We actually don’t even have enough to serve everyone who wants to buy it right now, but it’s awesome to be growing in that direction,” Walsh said. “It’s a huge honor to know people want to sell our beer.”

As the company expands, Walsh says Volcano Brewing will begin the canning process – a novel idea in the craft beer industry, but something Walsh feels is essential for a beach beer. Glass isn’t ideal for tossing in the cooler or the back of a pick-up truck, Walsh explained.

“Cans aren’t necessarily the main packaging for a high-end beer, but that’s starting to change,” he added. “People are realizing quality beer can come in a can.”

Another reason to can is the ease of distribution, particularly to bars that do not yet have tap systems in place. “There have definitely been hurdles,” Walsh says, “but it’s exciting to be part of an industry that is still in its infancy in this country.”

He will also stay loyal to the surf world with Volcano Brewing’s planned distribution route – a path mirroring a traditional Costa Rican surf road trip beginning in northern Guanacaste and running down the Inter-American Highway all the way to the Panamanian border.

“That’s basically our mission – to grow from Tamarindo, down the Coast and in San Jose as well,” Walsh said. “We’re a Tamarindo brand at heart, but there are a lot of thirsty surfers (and non-surfers) up and down the coast.”

To stock Volcano brews in beach bars spanning over 500 kilometers from Witch’s Rock to Pavones, Walsh realizes Volcano Brewing still has a ways to go. Future plans include additional facilities, although the Tamarindo brew house will remain the Volcano Brewing Co’s showpiece at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo.

As things move forward, Wash and his 80-plus team at Witch’s Rock expect to refine the Tamarindo facilities even further – opening up the brewery to connect to El Vaquero, add a third beer-focused bar and add a large thatched-roof rancho to shade large event groups and parties.

“It’s happening in a couple of steps, but getting back to Tamarindo was the major part,” Walsh said. “We need to stay true to what we’re all about and that’s the beach.”

Article: Tamarindo Airport to Reopen, but Questions Linger

Originally published in the Tico Times on June 7, 2014. Click here to read online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Two weeks ago, Tamarindo Airport was shut down by Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority due to runway safety concerns. Now the company that owns the land – Hotel Diria Beach Resort Group – has stated that it will “continue with its aeronautical operation once everything is resolved.”

“Everything” includes working with consultants and construction companies to come up with quotes and alternatives solutions for repairing and reopening the runway, according to Diria Director Manuel Rockbran

The comments came after two weeks of radio silence from the Diria following the airport shutdown, which caused local residents and business owners to fear they were losing their airport for good. Without it, the town’s tourism-drive economy would take a hit, residents said.

While the Diria’s recent statements cleared up some of the misconceptions and put minds at ease, important questions about the airport’s future remain.

The Tamarindo airstrip lies on a large piece of the Diria’s privately owned land; land that is home to a driving range and may become a full-scale golf course. With signs, billboards and the recent completion of a model home advertising a future residential golf community, it’s no secret that the Diria has plans for the area.

According to a statement made by Civil Aviation at a recent meeting, its authorities first began sending safety reports to the Diria in 2009, informing the administration the runway needed attention. Five years passed and more memos were sent, but no one from the Diria responded.

IMG_7512

The Tamarindo Diria Airport Sign – Airport still closed.

So when the airport was temporarily shut down, some local residents feared the worst. One of them was Guido Scheidt, a pilot and area resident whose company, Auto Gyro America, has flown scenic gyrocopter flights from the Tamarindo Airport for over five years. He organized community fundraising to fix the runway, but once he heard the Diria’s statements, Scheidt admits the effort may have been premature.

“The Diria said they are not looking for help,” he said. “They don’t need financial help to rebuild the runway.”

Diria representatives told the group they remained silent until now because they had been negotiating with construction companies and contractors to determine a budget for runway repairs.

When it comes to Diria’s long-term plans for the airport, Rockbrand and other Diria representatives have declined to comment.

The uncertainty over the airport’s future has created frustration for Tamarindo businesses – particularly three real estate conglomerates reportedly interested in donating land for a new public airport. Those projects include Reserva Conchal in Flamingo, Hacienda Pinilla in Avellanas and a group in Tempate.

Once a location is chosen, the project could take up to three years to complete. Business owners say they are eager to get started and disappointed with lack of information coming out of the Diria. For a new runway to succeed in this region, it would rely on the service of regional airlines Sansa and Nature Air – both of which seem unlikely to add a new route so close to Tamarindo’s airstrip, should it remain open.

As for an exact date for the reopening of the airport, Rockbrand didn’t know. But the public can expect an announcement soon, he said.

 

Article: Tamarindo Airport Closed Due to Safety Concerns

Originally published in the Tico Times on May 18, 2014. Click here to read online.

By Suzanna Lourie

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Air traffic to and from the Guanacaste beach town of Tamarindo has been temporarily suspended due to growing safety concerns regarding the condition of the runway.

In a notice released Friday, May 16, Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority announced the airport will close immediately through June 30, at which point the runway will be inspected again.

Photo by Suzanna Lourie

Photo by Suzanna Lourie

For the tourism-based community of Tamarindo and its neighboring beach towns, the airport closure is a blow to the local economy, locals residents and business owners say.

“It’s not just my business – Nature Air and Sansa can’t fly – it hurts everybody,” said Guido Scheidt, owner of Auto Gyro America, which offers gyrocopter flights and classes out of the Tamarindo Airport. “The whole town – restaurants, hotels – we will all suffer if we can’t come up with the money to fix the safety issues to at least get the runway reopened temporarily.”

Scheidt called upon local businesses to come together and start a fund to fix the immediate problems with the runway – namely potholes and other debris cluttering the airstrip.

“I don’t think it will take a ton of money to repair it, just enough to get up to code,” Scheidt said. “What I’m trying to do is get the community involved to raise money and create a fund to reopen the airport for the transition period before we can move to a new runway, owned and run by the government.”

According to Scheidt, there is an ongoing, two-year discussion with Reserva Conchal, a large real estate conglomerate in the Flamingo area (15-minutes from Tamarindo), about donating a piece of their land to the government to open a public airport for the Tamarindo area.

“If Conchal donates the land, then the aviation authorities can build a new runway,” Scheidt said. “The authorities have the money to build a very nice airport, however, they can’t do this on private land – they need to own it – due to a legal issue.”

Land rights were also involved in the recent decision to temporarily close the Tamarindo Airport.

Currently, the airstrip is located on private land owned by the Grupo Diria – land the hotel group plans to eventually transform into a full-size golf course with residences for sale.

The privately owned runway generates little income, and according to Scheidt, with no one else helping to raise funds, it would make no sense for Diria to shell out money for reparations when there are long-term plans to move the airport.

“The government said the runway needed to be fixed so it no longer had any safety concerns, but since no one else is donating money to fix it and it doesn’t make any money for the Diria, they had to let the government close the runway until the community can come up with the money.”

Scheidt hopes that with the support of the community, local business owners will generate funds to quickly fix the runway to the point where Diria will allow the government to reinstate air traffic for the interim period until a new airport is complete – something he estimates could take at least two to three years, if not more.

But there is good news – Civil Aviation’s specific safety concerns include minor issues such as potholes and rocks obstructing the runway – all problems Scheidt believes can be fixed at a reasonable cost.

“Our goal is to come together and find enough money to reopen the runway and keep it safe and running until the new airport is built,” he added. “Everyone has an interest in this.”

As of Saturday, May 17, Civil Aviation had not yet published an official notice about the closing on its website (http://www.dgac.go.cr/). However, officials at the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia – the next closest airport to Tamarindo – did tell Scheidt the announcement should be up early next week.

A call to Grupo Diria for comment had not been returned as of Saturday. The Tico Times will update this story as more information becomes available.

 

 

Article: Big Changes for Guanacaste School

Originally Published in the Tico Times, May 30, 2013. Click here to read online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE

BRASILITO, Guanacaste – Although the students will soon vacate the halls and trade their textbooks for surfboards, the activity at Country Day School Guanacaste is just getting started for summer.

With the help of parents and community members, Country Day School’s Guanacaste campus stands poised to transition from a privately owned, for-profit business to a community-owned, nonprofit school.

 

Middle school students will return to their classrooms next year at Country Day School Guanacaste thanks to a community effort to keep the school open. Courtesy of Country Day School Guanacaste

Middle school students will return to their classrooms next year at Country Day School Guanacaste thanks to a community effort to keep the school open. Courtesy of Country Day School Guanacaste

“Country Day School Guanacaste (CDSG) was founded as a satellite school to a much larger campus in San José,” explained Bruce McKillican, Country Day parent and member of the school’s transition board.

“After years of falling short on making the Guanacaste school a business success, Country Day’s Escazú headquarters decided to consolidate their resources in Escazú,” McKillican said.

Early this year, several parents were approached by the school’s owners and were given the opportunity to take over the campus in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and recreate the school’s image as a community-based nonprofit.

Faced with the frightening prospect of their beloved school closing and leaving their children’s educational future in limbo, a group of parents came together to form the CDSG Transition Board, charged with adapting the new ownership structure.

“The families that have children in the school realized that a change in leadership could be an incredible opportunity – a chance to focus on the local issues and make decisions for the school based on the needs and desires of this community, while still maintaining the strong K-12 academic standards that Country Day has become famous for,” McKillican said.

But seizing the opportunity was no easy task. It took community outreach, in addition to support and dedication from the parents and the newly formed Transition Board to begin the process of remodeling Country Day’s ownership structure from private to not-for-profit.

In addition to raising money and solving teacher contracts, McKillican and the transition board had to vigilantly research other nonprofit school board models and consult with academic professionals to learn what was necessary to succeed under such a model.

“We couldn’t let the school close. As a parent, this school represents an educational pathway for children to any university on earth,” McKillican said.

“Without this pathway, so many families would be denied the ability to live here, including my own.”

Luckily, under the new ownership, the parents and students won’t have to forego what makes Country Day – both in Escazú and Guanacaste – a unique academic institution. Specifically, the school will retain its U.S. accreditation as well as Costa Rican Education Ministry status and continue to fill the role of one of the region’s few international, U.S. college preparatory schools.

Not only will the school maintain its defining characteristics, but it will also take on several new elements in the 2013-2014 school year, including reduced tuition rates that will allow more students the opportunity to study at CDSG.

“There’s nothing wrong with the educational program at Country Day and we want to maintain it. We’re happy with the school, but under a community-based ownership structure, we will be able to see it better reflect our values and interests,” McKillican said.

The new school board leadership will allow current boards and future members to create an environment that reflects the dynamic and changing interests of the community.

According to McKillican, these interests will be expressed in the coming year through an increased emphasis on extracurricular sports and heightened focus on the school’s Spanish program.

“We recently started a surf team, which is becoming more popular by the day and we’re developing additional golf, tennis and equestrian programs to add to our existing extracurricular options,” he added.

Next school year, English will remain the school’s official language, but more courses will be taught in Spanish in order to emphasize the local connection and focus on Costa Rican cultural immersion.

“We hope the renewed focus on the Spanish program will be one of many key elements in attracting foreign students to the school’s boarding and homestay programs,” McKillican said.

Country Day School Guanacaste features a boarding program where international students can study abroad in Costa Rica for a semester or a full year and live either in on-campus housing or in a homestay with a local family.

Re-energized and ready to seize new academic and extracurricular opportunities, the CDSG Transition Team recently announced its plan to the community. The news was met with an outpouring of local endorsement and support.

“We’ve achieved record high enrollments for the 2013-2014 school year,” McKillican said. “We’re looking at this transformation as an opportunity – we’re in a fortunate position where we can take all that was good with the school and better align it with the local community to make it thrive.”

Country Day School Guanacaste is still accepting applications for the fall in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as their newly developed play care program for younger children. For general information and to learn more about the new, reduced tuition rates, visit www.cdsgte.com.

Article: Napster Backer to Introduce Farm Box Concept to Costa Rica

Originally Published in the Tico Times, Friday, May 3, 2013. Click here to read online.

By Suzanna Lourie | Special to The Tico Times

SANTA TERESA – It’s a scary statistic, but according to the World Resource Institute, Costa Rica uses more pesticides in agriculture than any other country in the world. It’s also surprising, as this data sharply contrasts with Costa Rica’s worldwide image as leader in sustainability and green practices.

Barefoot1

Barefoot Founders

Despite the overwhelming numbers, one small company in Santa Teresa – the Barefoot Social Commerce Group – is poised to make big changes to benefit Costa Rica’s sustainable farming sector.

In early June, Barefoot founder Andreas Schmidt and his team will launch the company’s new Local Food Network, an online service that aims to change the way Costa Rican residents eat by connecting consumers directly to organic farmers across the country.

“You start from the ground up,” Schmidt said of the Barefoot business model. “You find one person who wants healthy food and one farmer who can grow it sustainably and organically. That’s the solution.”

The Local Food Network, an online order and delivery service for pesticide-free produce, can be found atOrganicFood.CR, where customers can select desired fruits, veggies and herbs, and then sign up for a delivery – either short-term or for a three-month growing season.

Then, Schmidt asks customers to have patience while a local farmer grows the food. When it’s ready, Barefoot delivers a fresh batch of healthy produce in what many in the U.S. would call a farm box. It will come straight to the door, he says.

“The great thing is, there is plenty of organic food and many small farms in Costa Rica; the only problem was they had no distribution system to get their food to the marketplace,” Schmidt said.

With an increasing demand for healthy food in Costa Rica, Barefoot’s new Local Food Network is just one piece of the bigger mission to build the infrastructure for organic food distribution across the country.

When the website launches in June, Barefoot will also open Costa Rica’s first distribution center for organic produce in Guachipelín, a suburb southwest of San José, near Escazú. According to the company’s Facebook page, the distribution center, which also will double as an organic market, will be located 800 meters from the Mall Multiplaza near Blue Valley School. That’s where all the food from farms across Costa Rica will be brought together before being distributed to customers around the country.

In the coming weeks, Barefoot Gourmet will open its new farmers market and farm box distribution center in Guachipelin, near Escazú.

In the coming weeks, Barefoot Gourmet will open its new farmers market and farm box distribution center in Guachipelin, near Escazú.

“Something like this doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, let alone Costa Rica right now,” Schmidt explained. “Once the news is out, we expect a lot more demand, restaurants and hotels will be a big part of it, and with the distribution center, we will be able to grow and ship more food to meet this demand.”

The concept might sound simple enough, but getting to this point was no easy task. In a country dominated by large, industrialized mono-crops with only 2 percent of its designated agricultural land certified for organic production, finding the right farmers took months of research and plenty of trial and error.

For Schmidt, former CEO of AOL Europe and investor in online music service Napster, the Barefoot journey began five years ago when he first visited Costa Rica.

“After Napster failed because it lost its legal battles against the music industry, I was tired,” Schmidt recalled. “After 25 years of working hard, I took a break and sailed across the world.”

Things changed after a stop in Drake Bay, where Schmidt met his now wife, a Costa Rican who had been managing an Osa Peninsula eco-resort in the jungle. The pair continued sailing for two more years, but eventually decided to settle in Costa Rica.

“It was so difficult to find any fresh or organic food in the Nicoya Peninsula, so we developed the Barefoot idea as a system that can help to bring change to one of the biggest problems we all face: healthy food that doesn’t make us sick and doesn’t destroy the planet,” he said.

With a clear goal and a helpful background in social enterprise – a business model focused on doing common good instead of maximizing profit – Schmidt and his wife started Barefoot on a small scale in 2011.

Traveling around Costa Rica in previous years, Schmidt was inspired meeting many local farmers who wanted to get their food into stores. The only problem was, there was no distribution system for organic food in Costa Rica.

Setting out to change that, Schmidt retraced his steps in 2011, but finding the farmers, checking the production and organizing transport and distribution took “a very long time.”

In the first six months, Barefoot tested its Organic Box Program – the backbone of the company. The program pioneered the infrastructure for an organic distribution system in Costa Rica, helping more than 1,500 small farmers ship boxes of chemical-free fruits and veggies to consumers.

In 2012, Schmidt and a small team opened the Barefoot Gourmet Store in Santa Teresa, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula, which served as a platform to learn more about what customers want and how to best sell organic food.

After two years of hard work, Barefoot stands ready to begin the exciting new phase of connecting consumers to farmers with the Local Food Network and National Distribution Center this June.

“It is a process where you learn every day and are challenged every day,” Schmidt said. “But, we have a great team of engaged and dedicated people that share our vision, so we hope our idea to build local food networks that connect people and farmers will help bring needed change to Costa Rica and serve all of us for a better, sustainable future.”

In five more years, Schmidt also hopes the Barefoot model’s success will spread to other countries and inspire change.

“We hope to see local food networks all over the world that bring people and farmers together and create vibrant local food economies,” he said.

“That is the beauty and power of our idea: With every salad, every grain of rice that someone orders from a local farm, they will have a huge, direct impact. It’s good for them, it’s good for the farmers and it’s good for the planet.”

Album: El Salvador

Album Review: Julia Stone – The Memory Machine

Originally Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine, Print & Online Edition, November 2010. Click Here to Read Online.

Julia Stone - First Solo Album, "The Memory Machine"

Julia Stone – First Solo Album, “The Memory Machine”

Oh Julia, sweet Julia: if no one else out there cares, we still love you. But honestly,The Memory Machine sounds like more of a cry for help than an intimate collection of ballads. To Stone’s credit, the album is a brave, soul-exposing work; it takes balls to put yourself out there like that. The album artwork sells itself with an old Hollywood movie-poster appeal. It seems like something out of a Hitchcock film with each track’s artwork featuring elements of the dark and sinister. Musically, however, the album falls short.

It’s lyrically similar to Angus and Julia Stone’s hit, ‘Down the Way,’ with simple, sweet lyrics chanted over and over again. Julia’s solo release is haunting and eerie with dark undertones and themes of insecurity, pain and love gone wrong. Spooky lyrics fill the tracks,‘He laid me on the floor/But my screams they go unheard/The lady living next door/Well she’s six feet under the dirt,’ on the ominous ballad, ‘Winter on the Weekend.’

The pace of the album is slow and brooding; the sort of thing you would need to listen to in the dark with a bottle in hand. A sort of bleak intimacy is established as Julia exposes her tortured soul track after track. Opening with the very Angus and Julia-esque ‘This Love,’ which was featured in Aussie flick The Waiting City, the tone begins positively as Stone croons “The angels got it right/When they made you.”

The second track, ‘My Baby,’ probably should have gone elsewhere in the song order. The ick-factor of placing two mushy love songs side-by-side is considerable and by the time you hear, “Clouds will cover your eyes/You’ll tell me lies/But I won’t leave you/’Cause you’ll always be my baby” you can feel a tinge of nausea brewing in the pit of your stomach.

In a welcome break from the romantic, the third tune, ‘Winter on the Weekend,’ is a well-crafted, mournful ballad about sex, violence and abandonment. The song, however, is executed well and Stone’s whispering range is captivating, sucking you into the dark scenario that spills from her lips. The title track is unfortunately skippable with uninspired lyrics, “I miss you/I miss you/And the memory machine.”

‘The Memory Machine’ does have its saving graces. We get to hear Julia crack a smile in the upbeat track, ‘Catastrophe,’ which features a nice little jazz-inspired trumpet riff. Stone shifts into track six, ‘Maybe,’ which is an appealingly sinister tune very much in-line with the horror film album artwork.

The tracks between six and ten fail are emotionally overwrought and just straight up sad. It’s tough listening to our beloved Stone lay her heart on the line, but by the time you reach the self-pitying ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ you can’t help but throw your hands up in despair and exclaim through tears, “Shit man why can’t anybody just cut this poor girl a break?” It’s truly a difficult listen.

Make it through the record’s mid-life crisis, however, and you will be rewarded. Track nine, ‘Horse with the Wings,’ uses an innovative mix of both electric and acoustic guitar and throws some flute into the equation. The last song on the album, ‘Where Does the Love go?’ is the other star along with ‘Catastrophe’. It speaks along the same lyrical themes of hardship, but Julia’s jamming on the ukulele complements her intoxicating vocals.

Overall, we commend Miss Stone on her brave solo performance. The soft-spoken songstress is beautiful and poised, but she should stick with her brother. There’s a reason the duo of Julia plus Angus Stone works so well and it’s probably best to stick to the formula that works.

Suzanna Lourie

‘Wasted on the Young’ Film Review

Originally Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine. Print Edition, March 2011. Click Here to Read Online

PDF: WastedOTY

WOTYBooze, babes and a party gone dangerously wrong set the stage in Wasted on the Young, a teen melodrama-thriller.

At a high-end high school in WA, Darren (Oliver Ackland) is the quiet misfit who lives in the shadow of his athletic stepbrother Zach (Alex Russell). When the boys become interested in the same off-the-radar blonde, Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens), Zach ends up with a bruised ego, setting the scene for a downward spiral of destruction and violence.

This alarming drama of rumour, rape and revenge unfolds over a series of dreamlike fantasies and jaw-clenching realities. Love it or hate it, Wasted on the Young is a film that gets under your skin. “I think the worst possible response you can get from someone is indifference,” says its writer-director Ben C Lucas. “It’s those one-star reviews that I love.”

The young director’s debut feature had unlikely beginnings. In 2005 Lucas won the ZTudio What IF? Award for his zombie screenplay, All Flesh Must Be Eaten: The Movie. He was working on a documentary project when he was offered the chance to direct Wasted, his first feature. “It wasn’t what I thought my first film was going to be,” Lucas recalls. The original script was a B-style schlock-horror film, but Lucas had his own agenda.

“I just kind of took the characters from the slasher film and put them into a new movie. I’m a different kind of filmmaker. I like fables and I like morality tales so I wanted to create something out of that.”

The result is a boundary-pushing high-school melodrama with cutting-edge visuals and surreal cinematography. “I think cinema, amongst its jobs, is to show people something new and also to just transport you and take you into that world,” he says.

Wasted on the Young absorbs the viewer into the twisted, cruel world of high school: a parent’s worst nightmare of sex, drugs, booze and violence. But mums and dads, don’t despair: Lucas says that realism was never the goal. “It’s melodrama. If you treat that kind of melodrama naturally you end up with a sort of TV soap so you need to create a structure where that kind of drama works and it only works if it’s surreal.”

With his bold filmmaking style it’s no wonder Lucas cites as role models Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). “They have really diverse material and make a lot of different kinds of films, but they’re all unmistakably theirs,” says Lucas. “I really aspire to that.”

Suzanna Lourie