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I know you think we are crazy, but let me explain the scenario. When Greg agreed to work at the Wilson Botanic Garden in Costa Rica we knew it was a 9 month position. Rather than leaving our house in Chapel Hill ,NC vacant for that time period, we rented it out furnished for a year. Thus we are without a home base until March 1.
With this in mind, Greg researched places of interest to spend the month of January and came up with Oaxaca. He did a great job! The above photo is of the 2000 year old ruins at Monte Alban which is an absolutely humongous archeological site near Oaxaca. We have been to Tulum and Chihen Itza ruins in Mexico in the past and they are minuscule compared to the physical scope of this! It is mind boggling to imagine this enormous stone complex being built by HAND. The scale of this is hard to imagine but it took 2 hours to explore.
One of the major attractions of this area are the handmade textile crafts. Costa Rica was sadly lacking in artistry and craftwork and we are happily exploring ( and buying) Mexican textile art. These rugs/wall hangings were made by hand. By that I mean that the raw wool was processed into yarn, hand dyed, hand designed and hand woven! Phenomenal! We met the people who made these. The red ones were done by a different person than the orange rug. Now we just have to figure out how to fit them in the suitcases!
We also saw many Alebrije which are hand carved and hand painted wooden figures. Many are animals but we saw just about anything you can think of. We got a couple of small ones, but at this beautiful Airbnb we are staying in there is the biggest and most beautiful of all.
So Happy New Year to all and I hope to hear about your adventures too!
The contrast between a grocery store in San Vito, Costa Rica VS the USA, This is the entire ice cream section of the big grocery store! Basically, you like it, you buy it or you go home. A lot of this small town in the jungles of Costa Rica remind me of Kauai in the 1970s but also of growing up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Longmeadow is a lovely town next to Springfield in southern MA. Growing up in post WW11 there were many families with small children which was perfect for a ready made group of friends. We lived in similar houses and had basically the same stuff. We were moving from ‘a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot’ towards 2 cars in the garage and TV dinners in every freezer. We were all reasonably content because we understood that TV life was fantasy and no one really had a Leave it to Beaver family. But even the tv shows represented homes similar to ours with common household items we had in common.
Kauai 1978 was a throw back to that era although I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Houses were small, possessions limited and the kids played outside. Like the ice cream in San Vito, there was one store in Lihue: Kauai Stores. If you went looking for shoes and a pair FIT, you bought them, otherwise you went home!
So what happened Upward mobility, expanded viewpoints and reality TV. What was once ‘Leave it to Beaver’s’ world of homework and what’s for dinner suddenly turned into a Kardashian nightmare! Suddenly we were seeing outlandish homes of the rich and famous. Did we learn to keep that in the fantasy parts of our brain or did we learn discontentment and an endless striving for more, bigger and better? And the ultimate question, are we happier now that we have a 3 car garage and enormous kitchens in which we only ever use the microwave to heat up calorie laden meals from restaurants delivery services? I’ll let you decide.
There is no visible striving in San Vito-what you have, is what you’re gonna have. The result: smiling faces, happy people, small houses that are not on reality TV on how to live tiny, but everyday life. All gringo’s are considered rich. Why? Well, they had enough money to fly here, right?
One of our priorities before Greg accepted this position was permission for us to take off to the U.S. in August for our niece’s wedding on Cape Cod. With that request granted, we heading out to Massachusetts on August 7. Just to update you on the process of travel here, it begins with a 6 hour car ride through the mountains, or 7 hours on the coastal route. Thank god for Dramamine or I wouldn’t have made it to the garden initially. The garden is situated at 3500 feet above sea level with narrow, twisty and windy roads. Most of the roads are one lane in each direction, but since there are tons of motorcycles here due to the fact that they are cheaper to buy and run, often a third lane is randomly created.
Anyhow we stayed in a hotel in San Jose and were able to leave our car there free providing we stayed overnight again on our return. The morning of the 8th we set the alarm at 3:15 and took the free shuttle to the airport at 4:15AM. Our first flight was to Miami where we had to go through US customs, that meant that we had to collect our luggage to have it inspected. Then we had to re-check everything and change terminals for a domestic fight. I’m sure that many of you world travelers have had similar experiences. The flights went off without a hitch and upon arriving in Boston at 9:00 pm we picked up our rental car and drove 40 minutes to the bride and groom’s apartment, where they graciously let us stay the night after our tiring trip.
We headed to Cape Cod the next morning and to the house we rented for our family to stay in for the wedding weekend. You have to understand that after months in the rain forest, Greg was excited and overwhelmed by the abundance of stores and restaurants. The Whole Foods seemed larger that the whole town of San Vito. We viewed it with a mixture of wonder and disbelief. Why does anyone need 6 different kinds of ketchup to choose from? The US is indeed a country of consumerism with a bloated “want gland”.
In SanVito everyone is satified with what they have and can afford. The houses are small and immaculately kept. Many people don’t have cars and depend on the local buses. There is little in the way of luxury because who needs extra bedrooms and bathrooms for people who don’t even live there. I am 64 and grew up in a 3 bedroom 2 bath house for a family of 4. My parents did not strive for a bigger and better house, my father’s dream was to pay off the mortgage (which he did), not get a more expensive and fancier house. The Costa Rica mentality reminds me of that U.S. era gone by.
The hours before the ceremony the women had our hair and makeup done by professionals. After my “make over” I felt so sophisticated and serious that I celebrated with cheese balls!
I was asked by Erica to say a few things at the beginning of the ceremony. My tribute was entilted: I Love Erica
A child is a gift to the universe kind of like coming on stage with no script. It is a privilege to observe and in a small way perhaps influence the emergence of a soul. I have been privileged to see Erica Robin bloom and grow under her family’s nurturing care.
We also have to thank Lucille Ball for inspiring Erica’s sense of humor. She learned how to make candy on an assembly line, how to stomp grapes and how to trick her husband into let her play at the club; or the, in this case, the movies.
From the little girl who hated kisses to a bride, the journey has been a joy to observe. The wit and wisdom of Erica Wysk are now rising towards the beginning of the alphabet thanks to Mr. Boutselis. May future children bask in being second in the alphabet rather than twenty-third. Remember it’s not just the twenty-third letter its WYsk.
So that is one major criteria for a husband checked off her list: Cute: check
Hard worker: check
Committed and loyal: check
Cat lover: check
Awed by the beauty and charm of Erica: check
Let me guess what was on Kirk’s want list: Sweet, funny, beautiful, caring, kind and compassionate. Yup that pretty much sums up Erica.
As I pieced together the quilt for your wedding present I realized that life is a puzzle requiring matching the seams, aligning the angles, and ultimately celebrating the variety of color and pattern. May the quilt offer you warmth, comfort, solace, and occasionally a hiding place from the outside world. And a place for the cats to hide when it’s time to go to the vet.
May your cranberry sauce always be jellied from the can. May your dinner always be chicken. And may your team always be the Red Sox. Go SOX.
Yesterday we participated in festival at the Wilson Botanical Garden here in San Vito, Costa Rica. It was an event enjoyed by all. It was geared towards the local tico (Costa Rica) population. There were guided tours of the garden, local musicians on the marimba, quijongo as well as more easily identified as guitars. Very happy and lively music, which is a mirror of the tico personality.
True to my reputation, I was at the cookie table, next to the San Vito Bird Club display. Most of the events were free of charge but food was the exception. Several women from the community made cookies to be sold at the event to raise money for some landscaping equipment. There were also volunteers painting the children’s faces and overseeing various art projects.Behold chocolate chip cookies and different types of biscotti I contributed. The best compliment I received was from 2 Italian ladies who bought a bag full of biscotti after they each tried one. They asked if I spoke Italian but had to inform them I only spoke the language of biscotti.
Greg gave informal tai chi lessons which was comically attending by masses of small children. The report I received mentioned that there was hardly room to move in the designated area, but laughter could be heard as the experience was enjoyed all the same. The research lab was organized and manned by graduate students from Stanford, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Nebraska. Looking through the microscopes was a great hit for all ages. One table featured a quiz to see how many birds could be recognized by song only. I did not embarrass myself by participating, I was content to cheer others on.
The garden’s nursery gave away small plants to spark the interest of the children and local families in gardening. There were guided bird walks through the garden including plant identification. The kitchen staff was simply amazing, and I don’t use that word lightly. Their day went as follows: get to work at 5:30AM. Martina was by herself in the early hours as she prepared breakfast for the guests staying at the cabins on the garden grounds. Greg and I eat all meals at the comedor (dining hall) thus know the staff. After breakfast I noticed that the morning dishes were piling up which was unusual for the efficient staff. Entering the kitchen I saw that Martina and other staff from the laundry and housekeeping were frantically making and packing “to go” lunches for some of the researchers who would spend the day in the field. I started washing the dishes. The kitchens here do not have hot water, so the dishes are done with a scrub pad and solid dish soap that is very gritty. I got about half way through the stack when I had to head out to the cookie table.
The rest of the kitchen staff (5) came in and proceeded to make lunches ordered from a menu for the visitors followed by regular lunch for the people staying at the garden followed by lunch for the volunteers!!! The staff has decades of experience which showed itself on Saturday. Everybody works together while happy to help out where needed. Happy to be here.
It is facinating to try to grasp what others think of as beautiful. I’m not a bug person, come on I’m from Longmeadow, so when I hear joy and excitement over a bug I am in disbelief. Now granted a hooded mantis-thank you Jo for looking it up for me-is cool looking and a pretty color but I don’t think I want it inside!
Talk around the on site dining room will vary from scientific ponderings of hummingbirds, heliconias, flocks ( which I later learned she was talking about birds) pollinators, mosquito borne illnesses, zika, malaria, applying and minute tracking devices on birds. You getting the idea. Much of it I find interesting but I have to admit I have excused myself feeling queasy. The other thing that I periodically notice is how nature blind I am. I tend to overlook what’s staring me in the face as geography. Today I took out my trusted camera (read iPhone) and made a point to try to SEE what’s around me. Funny how it seems as though I suddenly see what has been around all the time. Along the same lines as color blind I would imagine, only my nature blindness is correctable, thank goodness.
Now I do see people which is a relief. In Costa Rica I see people of indigenous origin who speak their own dialect and make their own dresses as well as for daughters of bright fabric with braided trim. I see people here for birding and nature experiences wearing Columbia hiking pants and shirts to match, or not as the case may be. Rain boots, Keens and headlamps often complete the ensemble. Not to mention the binoculars and cameras with lenses the length of an elephant’s trunk! Then of course there are the data recorders who note the species, location, size and color for their personal bird diary.
As you can see, I stole the picture from the internet, which I personally love because I get to see the birds without all the mess and bother of birding. So much for Miss Nature….
When we think of a foreign country we often think either in terms of luxury or poverty. Turns out it is neither of these but emphatically both.
There are a lot of horses in and around San Vito. I didn’t get a photo of my favorite encounter so you have to turn your imagination on. Picture this: a white car driving down the road. Two men in the front seat. The man in the passenger seat has his window down and is holding a rope. Attached to the rope is a horse! They are exercising the horse from the luxury of their air conditioned car!! Hee Haw
Then there are the crazy looking cows with long floppy goat-like ears. We are used to seeing fattened cattle in the US, but here you see their ribs sticking out. Never thought of a cow that way.
Driving along, following a curve, and this rock/cloud formation greets you. I had heard the term ‘cloud forest ‘ but until you actually drive up to the cloud layer and then above it, those words do not evoke an astounding image. Pondering the difference between clouds and fog. I came up with clouds are way above you and fog is when a cloud descends towards earth. I have NO idea if that’d correct but it is now my explanation and that’s that!!Speaking of strange vehicles and modes of transportation
Not Costa Rica but pretty darn funny!!!!!
I am in the US for a couple of weeks visiting kids. Currently in Houston with Trevor and Haley. Then onto Dallas to see Tyler, Annie, Cooper (5) and Morgan almost 4. Then off for Chicago to spend time with Aaron, Katie and Koa!!!I’ve experienced a feeling of overwhelm at the grocery stores. I picture a native Costa Rican with poor to none English skills
Having grown up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Raid was my friend. Along with baby oil mixed with iodine to create a pre spray tan fake tan look. I also had a sun lamp for my face so to insure the future of dermatology. Anyhow from Longmeadow to San Vito, Costa Rica is indeed another world! Here bugs are cute, not icky. An intern here at the Wilson Botanic Garden Field Station was from Mexico. Alma would pet and bugs that landed on the dining table during meals, while I am screaming and batting them all away. Any wonder I am the preferred target for all that bite and sting?Let me tell you about the carpenter ant invasion. That’s right not carpenter bees, but carpenter ants. Sound harmless? I have the huge, red, swollen, painful bites to insure otherwise! Anyhow, thank god Greg was here otherwise I’d be in the looney bin. All of a sudden we are inundated by hundreds of thousands of huge biting ants. Within seconds the entire floor around our kitchen door is literally covered with ants the size of flies. Greg grabbed the broom and started sweeping them out not quite as fast as they were coming in. He was lucky enough to have shoes and socks on whereas I was barefoot-hence the tons of painful bites. This went on for seemingly hours while actually about 20 minutes. Then they mysteriously began to leave as they had come. For those of you who know me know I hate alcohol, so when this was over and my hysterical screaming died down-I asked Greg for a gin and tonic!! Fortunately I came to my senses before he had a chance to mix it.
Come to find out these are called housekeeping ants here because they eat everything in their path, including other bug and assorted debris. Good news is they ate the termites that were trying to take over as well! Such is life in the cloud forest.
It’s hard to be witty and funny when you live in a country that speaks a language you don’t. I have spoken many different languages in my lifetime. My first language was Boston. I understood that one had to paaac your caaar in Havaaad Yaaaad. I guess I also knew some Yiddish from my Jewish heritage. My father’s mother, like all my grandparents, came from ‘the old country’ and never learned how to read and write English. She spoke a mixture of English and Yiddish, kind of like my English/Spanish conglomeration. My father’s faaatha died shortly after I was born, so I have no bio on him. I was strictly told not to ask about the ‘old country’, so I didn’t which is hard to believe since I am nosy and want to know everything about everyone.
My birth name is Barbara Jane Cooper. However with a Boston accent it becomes Baaaabra, you know kind of like the baaaa of a sheep. To make matters worse was the coming of the Baaabie Doll and the questions like ‘how come you have dark curly hair when the Baaabie doll has long straight blond hair? Without going into an ethnic rambling, I just blushed and turned away.
When I met my husband after moving to San Diego with my college roommate, Cindy, I had to become acquainted with the language of motorcycles. However this language was never to be spoken to any of my conservative family members. Talks of gearing, fairings and pipes was indeed a new language, one which I still speak today.
After we got married and moved to Kauai, Hawaii in 1978 for Greg’s job as director of the Olu Pua Botanic Garden, I got to learn Pidgen . Pidgin is a combination of English, Hawaiian and Japanese etc. It is characterized not so much by the words themselves as the cadence and pitch of the spoken language. Most sentences are shortened: Like go? VS would you like to go now? Signs on stores flip from OPEN to CLOSE. All older females are called Auntie and the males Uncle. This also applies to my favorite language: food. Poke, sashimi, plate lunch, spam musubi, saimen, haupia etc.
Next onto North Carolina where I had to learn Southern. Any word can be strung out for at least 3 syllables. Of course there is the ever present Y’all and grits and hush puppies. I also tried to one interpret the word cealls. I assumed it was sails, but come to find out it was about cells, you know terrorists cells. When speaking to a hog farmer from Clinton, I had to smile and nod because I could not interpret hog farmer lingo.
On to Pittsburgh and the language of Yinz. The Pittsburgh version of y’all. And of course the cookie tables. What is a cookie table you may ask? A table filled with a large assortment of cookies served at a wedding. More important than the cake. Family members bake and freeze for weeks ahead of time and try to outdo each other. The other is the combined language of Steelers, Penguins and Pirates!
I’m not sure of the bloopers I have said here in Costa Rica because I can’t understand anyone’s reply. I do know they speak a language of love, friendship and joy. What more could you ask for in a language?
After two weeks in the US, I am back at the garden in Costa Rica. First of all I want to warn you that the shelves in the stores may be bare considering all the stuff I brought back here. You go with an extra empty suitcase and go over the weight limit on the return. Mine was only over by 1 1/2 pounds, so a couple of bags of Costco nuts in my carry on and I was good to go. No confiscation at the airport or intense inspection by TSA. Hooray!
It was so strange that the first time I went into a grocery store was in Houston and the HEB is gigantic. My first thought was why do they have so much stuff and so many brands of everything? Secondly it was a flashing isight as to why Americans tend to be overweight. So here I was so overwhelmed and then my American side kicked in and I bought everything in sight!
I find that I’m still partially, mentally anyway, in the US. Flashes of my grandchildren in Dallas (Tyler and Annie) are constantly in my peripheral vision. Trevor and Haley in Houston are wonderful hosts as always. I could walk to Trader Joe’s from their house and I gathered up things to make biscotti. I also went to Costco and proceeded to buy about 15 pounds of nuts-no exaggeration! I love to cook and bake and I am limited to what I can bake in a toaster oven in Costa Rica so it was wonderful to have use of their stove and oven. I usually make cranberry pistachio biscotti. Recipe as follows:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp lemon extract
1/2 cup jam-you can use any flavor but I prefer raspberry
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup dried cranberries
3 cups shelled pistachios, roasted if desired
Mix oil, eggs and sugar till well blended, add jam, salt and baking powder and mix. Add flour one cup at a time stirring it in after each addition. Batter will be stiff. I use my kitchen aid mixer. Add dried cranberries and pistachios and mix.
Cover baking sheet with parchment paper (can use oil), and spoon the mixture in the shape of logs on the cookie sheet. This recipe will make 4 logs. With damp hands pat them down till they are about an inch high and the with your hands lightly coated with olive oil, smooth out the surface of each log. Sprinkle with sugar for a crispier loaf.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Check when the loaf is lightly browned and somewhat firm to the touch they are done with the first baking. Peel them gently off the parchment paper and let cool on a rack, leaving the paper on the pan if possible. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.
Turn oven down to 325 degrees. When logs are cool cut them on the diagonal in 1 inch strips. Place these back on the cookie sheet with a little space between each strip and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the cut sides of the biscotti are somewhat crisp. Remove and let cool. These cookies are made to be dunked in your coffee which is why they are so crisp.
My son Aaron is a professional photographer in Chicago. His company Phlearn is set up in a studio from which he teaches photography and photoshop and other computer programs.
His staff ranges from CFO to video editor and a photo production team. Aaron writes and records all the tutorials speaking from experience. He and his team recently went to the California desert to shoot multiple scenes from which he developed photography tutorials.
Then back at the Chicago studio comes the real work. Editing and writing the script for the tutorials and arranging the photo composition.
My favorite part of the Phlearn studio is the kitchen. Work at Phlearn includes lunch prepared and served to the staff as well as a stocked refrigerator. The staff is happy to work longer and harder when they feel valued.
Greatest gifts in the world are happy successful children. I’m so lucky to have three!