Back from the Brink….

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What a long couple of years it has been…and although I will go into why my absence was for so long, I first want to apologize to any of my readers who might have been reading along, particularly my series about Costa Rica and were then just left hanging, maybe wondering if something had happened to me…or if I’d simply fallen off the face of the planet. Well I’ll get to that all here shortly, and hopefully you will find that your interest in my quirky yet refreshingly honest style of telling you exactly how it is, or at least how I see it…will still appeal enough to you to bring you back as loyal readers.

So where to start…I began this blog as a way to just have a place where I could post freely, whatever happened to be on my mind at the moment. At that time I had two other blogs that were syndicated by several Gen Y blogger groups/organizations, thousands of Twitter followers, and a Klout score to die for. In short I was a SOMEONE, at least in the new and exciting world of social media. I had a good run and am still very proud of all that I accomplished, both as a pioneer in new media and as a consultant helping others find their own way through the social media landscape.

Then about five years ago, it seemed the bottom was dropping out of my world. I got let go from the job that I thought would be my career and to make matters worse, was officially diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a disease of the spine where you continuously produce excess bone along your spine eventually leaving you immobilized. Turns out that by the time I was diagnosed there was extensive damage already done because as it turns out I had juvenile onset, which made me think back to all those years I spent in pain, complaining about my legs, my neck and my hip, only to be told it was just growing pains and in the worse case, called a hypochondriac.

Well now after four and half years of low-dose chemotherapy and regular pain meds, I have let go of any anger that I might have had towards my parents for their lackadaisical approach to my childhood medical care. But the anger towards the disease….that continues to be a struggle for me. As active as I was the worst thing is losing my mobility, playing with my kids, and getting out in the field….was all that education for nothing now?

Okay, so that was the rant. here is the better part of this post. Despite the pain and constant awareness of living with a disease that has no cure. no ribbons, no excited women raising money and walking 60 miles to find a cure, there are more good days than bad days. I am dedicated to staying active, to continue living my life, no matter what fate  may have in store for me.

No it isn’t easy, But I walk each day several times (both with and without the dogs) no matter how hot or cold it is. I dance with insanely wonderful group of ladies, The Modern Pin-Ups Apprentice company, and perform every chance I get.

I took my kids out of public school and am now homeschooling them, a decision that  has changed all our lives, most definitely for the better.We take awesome field trips and learn as much as I can teach them right out side our door, in the field where so many lessons should be taught. It also gives us so much more time together. No matter what eventually happens to me, they will always have this time that I spend with them everyday.

Of course our finances have taken a hit, but hey who”s hasn’t in this day and age. There are times we feel like walking away from this house, investing in a large motor home and just heading out…teaching the kids as we go. I lucked out in that I married a man with as much of a wandering spirit as I have. James goes off to college next year and so it would only by the four of us and our animals. Yes I know it sounds crazy but when else would we get the chance at something like this? No it’s not conventional, but then again, when have I ever been all that conventional about anything.

So now that you are all updated as to what has been going on with me. Know that these entries will become much more frequent as I keep you all up on the crazy goings on in my life. I can promise that not every entry will be like this one, which i’ll admit wasn’t that fun. But as things go forward, there is so much coming up, I hioe you will continue to keep reading so that you can be there to help me celebrate…..as I fearlessly live my life.

Costa Freakin Rica: Playa Grande – heading to the beach!

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Goodbye La Selva!

As much as I (and I think everyone else) enjoyed La Selva, we were all very excited to get to the beach. The morning that we left there was definitely excitement in the air despite the early hour. Alonzo the driver had returned which made everyone happy and whats more, he would be staying on with us through our time in Playa Grande!

DSCN8102We stopped for lunch at a very nice cafe in Tilaran which served delicious buffet style albeit traditional Costa Rican food. It was too bad my appetite still wasn’t 100 percent after being sick, but I did sample a bottled Ginger Ale to discover (or rediscover really) that soda in other countries is really much different from what I am used too back at home, much more “ginger-ey”. Caroline got a “Coca-Cola-Lite” and being the nerd that I am, I asked for the bottle to take home to my growing collection (it’s really my evidence that Coke is slowly taking over the world along with Disney and Wal-Mart but I won’t get into that…for now..)

DSCN8101After what seemed like such a long ride on the bus (I didn’t really mind though since we saw so much pretty scenery – Mount Arenal-Volcano primarily, and a much-needed rest!) we finally pulled into an area that I swear could have been any grouping of stores, anywhere in beach-town U.S.A. As I looked around out my window, I saw women pushing baby carriages down sidewalks, people carrying groceries to their minivans, men chatting on street-corners…it was like being in Brunswick, GA…even the smell…the hint of salt water in the air said hey, you’re in a beach town, but nothing just stood up and declared that this was any different, that this was a town in Costa Rica. Well that is until I stepped into the grocery store (the reason we had stopped was to buy supplies for our weeks at the beach).

What was really funny (to me anyway) was how 3/4 of the class made such a spectacle of themselves ogling the liquor aisle. (Most of my classmates were not quite old enough to drink by American standards, but plenty old enough in Costa Rica.) saw my old stand-by (Coors Lite) was only ~$4.30 a six-pack (cheap!) but that wasn’t why I was there, and who goes to Costa Rica to buy cheap American beer anyway right? I did make a mental note of though so I could share it with my husband once I returned home. I figured we’d get a good laugh out of it :) DSCN8103

Scott, Rose and Anna were off buying groceries for the class for the next couple weeks, and I had my fingers crossed they wouldn’t come back with too much sugar. I think after La Selva we are all on sugar overload! The class, or I should say my younger counter-parts ended up buying a crap-load of every kind of liquor imaginable, mostly stuff I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. There are times when I am glad I skipped over that phase of my life by having my son early…Anyway, when Scott saw their purchases he looked more than a little disappointed but didn’t say anything. (which now looking back on everything, seems really ironic, but I digress). I won’t act as if I am a total weenie or anything, Andrew and I split a twelve-pack of Imperial so I could say I had tried the local flavor and also because I really couldn’t see myself sitting around drinking any more Imperial than that anyway. I’m not exactly a big beer drinker anymore after more than eight months without it.

The kids in my class were so funny though, and I just have to relate this, even though they will probably call me an old fart. They were all standing around in that aisle, whispering and pointing, looking longingly at the alcohol products, giggling and looking over their shoulders like they were about to be caught doing something wrong, but not actually doing anything… then Andrew and I walked over and agreed on our purchase, picked it up and walked off to pay for it. Only then, did they start to load up…It was pretty amusing. I relayed this to Alonso, the bus driver, and he laughed and shook his head, getting it even though English isn’t his strongest.

After leaving the store, when we were almost to the beach he pulled over so we could all see the monkeys in the trees…finally! I didn’t get the best picture, but I could finally cross one thing off my list, I had seen a monkey, wild and just hanging out in a tree in Costa Rica.

Hotel Las Tortuga

DSCN8114When we first saw the Beach…with the HUGE waves crashing…we were all squealing like little kids, like people who had never seen a beach before. I don’t think most of us even heard Scott’s instructions, we just ran for our rooms, threw our stuff down and then headed back to the beach to watch the sunset. The waves were so huge, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. There were a few surfers, but mostly the beach was empty. The water was so warm when I ran to get my feet wet. It was so good to touch the ocean again.

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Okay – I will stop here for the moment, but next time I will fill you in on the best old soul of a dog I’ve ever met, and canoeing through the mangroves…

Costa Freakin Rica:Some Research and The Best Worst Birthday Ever

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What follows is the continuation of a multi-entry post of my adventures in Costa Rica as transcribed from both my class journal and my field journal kept while traveling. The name I can’t take credit for – that goes to Ms. Alex Fylypovich who created the corresponding Facebook group for us to stay in touch.

Research Project

We were put into groups so that we could begin to work on our research projects (we were in Costa Rica for an actual study abroad program after all) and I ended up working with Katie, Megan Chase and Sarah Kehlear. Megan is a wispy redhead who refers to herself as a “daywalker” and is a free-spirited girl who brings out my maternal side. I just want to hug her…and then give her a sandwich (she is so thin!) Sarah is the only one in the group who brought a computer and at times I think we all used it for things. She is also the only other person who had a birthday on the trip (she turned 21 on the day we got to Montverde.) We came up with the idea to do a general survey of the leaf-litter composition and its inhabitants within different habitat types (light-gap, dense canopy and swamp). Unfortunately when we were ready to take samples I came down with an awful bug.

Sick

Alex and Sarah dancing

A few days prior another girl (Anna Wilson) had been very ill and had actually just re-joined the group the day before I got sick. The night before I got sick, we had gone over to the classrooms for a fun night of dancing lessons. Me and my two left feet ended up dancing with Anna who I am sure simply took pity on me but it was fine since she is an accomplished and experienced salsa dancer. Unfortunately I am sure this is probably where I got sick though. (However Anna if you are reading this, know that this is purely my own theory so don’t take offense!) Although she was on antibiotics, it was the first activity she had felt strong enough to participate in since she had come back from the clinic and we were in close contact all evening. With my compromised immune system I probably was not prepared to fight off any lingering germs she might have been carrying. So I don’t have to spend a lot of time rehashing those awful two days I will simply cut and paste the email that I sent to my husband about my “adventure” to the clinic, the fact that it was my birthday of all things and being sick in Costa Rica – the ONE thing he told me NOT to do.

Officially the worst birthday ever.
I started feeling sick yesterday around lunch and was afraid I had somehow let my foot or the cut on my face get infected. I couldn’t eat lunch or dinner and laid down most of yesterday hoping it would go away and I would feel better if I rested and pushed fluids. I did tell the instructors though, one point for me. By early this morning I was nearly delirious, had explosive diarrhea, a migraine from hell, was hot then had chills and hurt all over, basically flu-like symptoms. One of the girls in my room told me to sit outside so I wouldn’t throw up in their room while she went to get Scott. I wanted to deck her but couldn’t stand up.

Scott told me we wouldn’t have much luck if we went to the clinic right away (it was 3:30 am) and asked if I could tough it out until 7am. He had just gone through this with Anna and was trying to avoid some of the mistakes they made with her. I said okay. I took a pain pill and blessedly was able to sleep for about three hours until it wore off and I messed my damn pants for the first time.

Scott came back and said they called the clinic and because it was Sunday I might not be able to get seen but they recommended I take a common antibiotic (the same one given to Anna) called Cipro. He asked me if I wanted to try it or go wait for what could be 6 plus hours. I asked for info so he printed off the drug fact sheets, read them and didn’t see anything that set off warning bells. I read all three pages. So I took one and just seemed to get worse and worse.

Now in addition to the pain and diarrhea I was vomiting until I had nothing left, and it was just bile and I knew something was wrong. Scott started making phone calls and the taxi driver that had taken them around all day with Anna (these guys are so nice it is unbelievable stayed with us all day today too) knew of a clinic in the next town where he said he knew the doctor, so he called and just like that I had an appointment, I just had to get there and the driver said no problemo.

I don’t remember much of the drive there; I was so out of it. I do remember getting examined, Anna stayed with me the whole time since 1)she was fluent in Spanish and 2) she had just gone through this and at first they had tried to tell her it was her appendix and she had to get all these tests so she was trying to cut out some of that for me. She told the doctor what I take, what I am allergic to and that I had taken Cipro and his eyes got big. Apparently it is a sulfa based drug and had inflamed my intestines more than the bacterial infection causing vomiting and pain, dehydration.

I was given two bags of fluids, an anti-inflammatory and antidiarrheal to combat the cipro and put on observation for about six hours. It was awful. I was so dehydrated when I got there I had a fever of 101 and they couldn’t get a good read of my blood pressure it was so low. They gave me something to bring the fever down and it made me mess my pants for the second time. Gross.

After all of that when I was feeling a little better he explained that yes I had a bacterial stomach bug, common to gringos who visit Costa Rica and that normally yes they give Cipro and they are better in a day or so but obviously that wouldn’t work for me. He also didn’t want to give me the second option antibiotic because after what the Cipro had done to my stomach he didn’t think I would like it because it is really rough on the stomach. So he gave me some more antidiarrheal to take every 8 hours until it stops, an anti-inflammatory for my intestines and something for pain and said the infection would run its course in a day or two if I pushed fluids but to come back immediately if I began vomiting or felt worse again. He was a really nice doctor.

*By the time I left the clinic Anna and I were actually half-laughing because the doctor kept calling diarrhea “leaky-leaky” which just sounded hilarious to us gringos.

So despite spending my birthday in a clinic in Costa Rica, at least I survived and I have to believe I am probably stronger and wiser for it. When I got back from the clinic I opened the package my husband had sent along with me (I had been patiently counting down the days) and there were handmade cards from my kids that made me cry as well as a book from my husband. They had also sent me a video via email of them singing happy birthday which when I opened later that week also made me cry.

Once I had returned to the land of the living, (which basically means I was able to go more than an hour without either throwing up or using the bathroom) I did my best to get up to speed as quickly as possible with everything. I spent a day in the lab weighing the samples that my group-mates had collected. I also sorted through the various macro-invertebrates they had collected with the leaf litter samples and made notes as to what they were. Some of the things we collected were really interesting so I put them in tubes to be looked at more closely once we reached Monteverde. Scott warned me a couple of times not to wear myself out but I just hated the thought of missing anything else. (As it was my appetite wasn’t normal for the rest of the trip.)

Since we were scheduled to leave La Selva just a day after I recovered, I didn’t even really have time to do much with our research project before it was time to leave which really frustrated me. At least I got all the wet weights done and everything recorded so it would be ready to be looked at in Monteverde. I tried not let me frustration ruin my last night in the rain forest.As it turned out I needn’t have worried…

The last night there I was still taking it easy with food obviously so I finished early and was about to get up from the table when Scott asked me to stick around so he could make an announcement. He had done this a few times before and I assumed it had something to do with the next day and the bus trip to Playa Grande so I was not suspicious…not even when they turned the lights down…(did I mention that I am a little slow sometimes?) I even said to Anna, “What is this, mood lighting for dinner?” and then of course Sarah, Alex and Megan came in carrying a cake and everyone in the room started singing happy birthday to me, even the people who were in other groups and didn’t know me! I was so surprised that I cried. It was a yellow cake with peanut butter frosting and absolutely delicious. So it actually turned out to be the best worst birthday ever.

Well that is about it for La Selva…until next time when I will tell you about Playa Grande, surfing and the sweetest old soul who is also a dog. I will leave you with one last photo:

Costa Freakin Rica: La Selva Biological Research Station/ Institute for Tropical Studies

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What follows is the continuation of a multi-entry post of my adventures in Costa Rica as transcribed from both my class journal and my field journal kept while traveling. The name I can’t take credit for – that goes to Ms. Alex Fylypovich who created the corresponding Facebook group for us to stay in touch.

The next morning we packed up early to head out for La Selva biological station which is literally in the middle of the rain forest. It was at this point that we got to meet our bus driver Alonzo (who would feature prominently later in this narrative!). I tried to put on regular shoes before heading out but was dismayed to realize that my foot was still too swollen so back to the boot for me for the time being while I silently sent out requests (call ‘em prayers if you like) that I would be able to get my hiking boots on my the time I needed them at La Selva.

The bus ride was a long one but I got to see a lot of the country side which for me told me a lot about the country. My husband had told me that in Costa Rica you could be in a place that was developed and it would seem just like any American city (well almost) and then just a few blocks away there would be abject poverty with people living in shanty houses or simply sitting in the dirt. Therefore I thought I was prepared but I wasn’t. The juxtaposition is simply something that is hard to get used to. You see some nice houses, paved roads, even a Wal-Mart and then you turn the corner and you see skinny, dirty kids with torn clothes playing in a lot filled with trash and dogs that look like their last meal was a few months back judging by how many ribs you can count. Despite all of that I was already in love with the country because everybody I came in contact with was so friendly, they were all smiling no matter what with the phrase “mucho gusto” (my pleasure)always on the tip of their tongues. If only Americans were that nice.

When we turned off the main road and onto dirt and gravel Scott informed us that it was all uphill and fairly dangerous roads from there on out until we reached the research station. He explained that it was pretty remote and that we would literally be in the jungle (at which point our driver switched on Guns & Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” which was pretty funny) and out of touch from most modern conveniences, however there were Wi-Fi enabled locations and a lab for us to work in while we completed our research projects. We would be staying in dorm style accommodations with a separate ducha and banyo (shower and bathroom) just outside but no air conditioning. The mention of no AC made several of the kids groan but as I grew up without it and generally prefer to go without it now it wasn’t a big deal for me despite the extremely hot conditions. I mean come on people, we are in the tropics!

I roomed with Katie again and also Caroline Fullerton, Rose Bloomberg, and Jeane Heard in the Iguana Cabina. Caroline and Jeane (pronounced Jeanie) are both ecology undergraduates and Rose is either an art or art history undergraduate – all three attend UGA. Nice girls although Rose seemed a little out-of-place since she is by her own admission “not much of a nature girl” and often the target of bug attacks…they seem to seek her out…as if they know she doesn’t spend a lot of time outside and are making up for lost time….well that’s my theory any way. I on the other hand didn’t get a single bug bite during the whole trip but I am outside nearly every day…I am even writing this while outside on 95° heat so….ok I digress.

Not long after arriving it was announced that we would be going for a night hike. The good news? I got my feet into my hiking boots! I still had to wear the compression wrap over an ace bandage over a bandage that was covering the wound on my foot but the swelling was down enough to get my foot into my shoe. It was tight but good enough for me! That first hike was so awesome. We saw so many things. Red-eyed tree frogs were everywhere. We actually had to watch where we stepped because they were on the path! I have never in my life seen so many frogs in one place. I also saw a coral snake, one of the most venomous snakes back home but just another one of the bunch here in Costa Rica which is such an odd twist of the way I view reptiles. Here you worry more about Fer-de-lances or eyelash vipers rather than coral snakes. Interesting.

Probably the most interesting about the hike was just the amount of biota. There was so much to look at that we kept stopping. It was like I had been starved my whole life living in the states and now I was gorging on a gigantic feast for the senses, especially the eyes and ears. It was almost deafening the sounds from all the frogs and the insects. Everywhere you looked there were beetles, moths, crickets, spiders, plant hoppers, frogs, toads, scorpions, snakes, bats….I could just go on and on. I took so many pictures and then drew all kinds of pictures in my field journal that Scott had given to each of us for that purpose. It was like I had to get it all down, to put it on paper so I could remember it forever all the color, the sounds, the smells even…although it seems at this present moment writing from memory, that I could never forget any of it. I know though that as I write further I will pull out my field notes to refer to while completing this series of blog posts to make sure I don’t miss anything.

I should probably stop for a moment to mention here the incident that most of the group will probably associate with me – and yes I f I am truthful I will admit it was somewhat memorable. I mean how often does a person fall absolutely FLAT on their face? But yes I did it, and chipped my tooth, busted my lip, my knee and my camera lens. I fell so hard that the next morning Scott made me stay in bed to rest while everyone else went birding with Oscar. I was so embarrassed and I looked like I had a Hitler Moustache where my lip was all busted. Oh well, I never claimed to be graceful. Moving on…

Meals at La Selva were an interesting ordeal. You had to remember a four digit number and be able to tell the ladies behind the counter what it as so they could mark you off the list. Technically you could hold on to your card that you were given and just show it to them but cultural immersion was a big part of the class so we were strongly encouraged to practice our Spanish language skills and nobody wanted to be the person after day one or two who still relied on the card if you know what I mean. What kept tripping me up was my previous language experience with French. I kept getting mixed up, especially the numbers. For whatever reason the number six was my downfall…you see six en Francais es six (pronounced like cease) but en Espanol it is pronounced sace with a long a sound. Each time I went through the line I said each of my four numbers correctly except for six which I said in French and each time the lady behind the counter would look at me and correct me in Spanish with an exasperated look on her face. On one hand she obviously understood me so was it really necessary to make such a big fuss? I mean I was at least trying right? But on the other hand I guess I understand that I am a guest in her country so I should make the best effort I can to speak correctly…but did she have to correct me so pointedly and loudly?

Anyway, once you survive the number hurdle you then carry your plate through the line and you tell each person (usually two or three people) if you want what is in the steam trays. It was almost always rice and beans along with something else. Vegetables, a meat, a vegetarian option, salad, fruit and it was always fresh and really good if not a little bland. There was also fresh juice of some sort on the table at each meal. That is probably one of the things I miss the most. There was never soda to drink at meals. You drank fresh juice, coffee or tea. It was awesome. Often it was mango, cocoanut, pineapple, passion fruit or some kind of citrus fruit that is kind of like an orange but has a green rind. That one was my favorite! There was also fresh fruit at most meals. I ate more fruit while in Costa Rica than I have eaten in years. Watermelon, Pineapple, mango, star-fruit and more YUMMY!

okay, that is all for today. Stay tuned for next time when I will tell you all about our research project, getting sick in Costa Rica and the worst/best birthday ever!

Costa Freakin’ Rica

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What follows will be a multi-entry post of my adventures in Costa Rica as transcribed from both my class journal and my field journal kept while traveling. The name I can’t take credit for – that goes to Ms. Alex Fylypovich who created the corresponding Facebook group for us to stay in touch.

Arrival

Just last month I was fortunate to be able to spend nearly a month living an experience that seriously changed my life forever, a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. I took part in the four-week May-mester class focused on tropical ecology for a number of reasons least of which was class credit since it was primarily an undergraduate class and being a graduate student whatever grade I make it will do nada for my GPA. No, I actually took the tropical ecology class because it is a dream of me and my husband’s to live and work in Costa Rica. We have talked about it for years, brainstorming ideas and researching different ways to go about it. A few years ago we got hooked up with a man named Kevin Peterson who founded the Eco-Preservation Society which is primarily based out of Costa Rica. I helped him out with a grant while working for the GADNR and he told me he owed me one. When I left DNR I called in the favor telling him I wanted to work for him and as of now we are still trying to work out a way to make that happen. All I know is that I want to teach and do outreach, do some research and live in the most beautiful and simple country I have ever been too….Costa Rica.

I left right after Mother’s Day on May 14th, 2012 early in the morning. Thanks to a timely lawn mower accident I was back in the dreaded “boot” which really sucked but actually came in handy in the airport since it allowed me to board early and get assistance with my bags!

blue skies over Cuba

The flight was pretty long and I admit I slept through most of it. I had a brief layover in Miami and again the “boot” helped me sail through my flight change and again through customs once I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. Once there though I was on my own and suddenly very aware of how little Spanish I actually knew.  I had borrowed my son James’ English-Spanish dictionary but still was suddenly drawing a blank. I took some deep breaths and told myself it was just nerves. It was and as soon as I calmed down I was able to make my way to baggage claim where I looked for the special bright orange/pink and yellow flagging our professor, Scott had insisted we attach to all our bags pre-trip. I was now glad he had done so because my black bag did indeed look like many others that were lazily circling the baggage carousel.

My bags seem to have morphed into leaden weights while airborne. Gone were the tightly compacted duffle and backpack suitcase I had packed within an inch of my life telling myself it was better to be safe than sorry! (Yes I WOULD need those extra four shirts and two pairs of jeans, the packet said they were two of the main things students commented that wished they had more of!) Somehow during the flight my bags had grown completely unwieldy and put on enough weight that my professor took one look at them and then at me with my stupid boot and cane and then back at the ridiculous bags and just shook his head mumbling something about appropriate amounts of gear and being able to carry our own crap…what a humiliating way to start a trip.

After everyone had congregated outside the airport all of us easily identifiable by our colorful flagging, our two instructors, Scott and recent Ph.D. graduate Andrew Mehring directed us to load the bus so we could head over to the hotel for our first night in Costa Rica!

Katie Lutes

That first night I was assigned to room with one of the only two girls in our program not from UGA. Katie Lutes attends the University of Tennessee. When we first met I was a little worried she would be a typical sorority girl but I needn’t have worried at all, she was actually very sweet and really smart in addition to being a very pretty girl. We split into three groups that night to go out to dinner and I ended up going to a somewhat traditional “Mexican” restaurant of all things with five or so others and Scott. There was another group that went with Andrew and one that went out with Oscar who had been introduced to us as a naturalist from San Luis Montverde who would be accompanying us to La Selva the next day. Dinner was good and filling but I must have been pretty tired from the flight because I admit that I crashed hard pretty early that night.

To be continued….

Make sure to check back soon for the continued adventure – next up, La Selva Biological Station.

Waking up is Wonderful

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There is a lot to be said for getting up with the sun. The birds are out, depending on what time of year the Morning Glorys are in full bloom or the Redbud trees are pushing forth little rose colored buds. And that is just spring and summer!

While I am by nature a morning person, I have deviated from this routine many times in my life, mainly for jobs (bartending) illness, pregnancy; being a teenager…you get the drift. But no matter what I always seem to come back to the call of the crickets and the first rays of sunshine.

Lately this habit has come to mean a great deal more than I ever thought possible. After some recent health issues left me to ponder on my own mortality, I really dug into the morning ritual with a new vengeance. Quite simply, to wake up, to be; is a wonderful gift and one I don’t intend to squander anymore.

I have always had a spiritual connection with nature. I love to be outside, I thrive when I can be barefoot and free to listen to the deer quietly picking through our woods, the squirrels clawing the bark for bugs, the spider examining her web or to just watch as the ants rebuild yet another pile in their endless task to create a kingdom for their queen.

Conservation of the Earth and her gifts is more than just a hobby or even a job for me. It is a way of life, one I share with not only my own children, but with as many as will listen. I often tell people that I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. As a realist, I don’t know that that is possible. But I do know that I can leave it better for me having been here, reaching out and making a difference where I can.

My morning walks are more than exercise or a way to wake up. They are a way for me to greet each day with gratitude, to give thanks that I am enjoying one more day.

Thank You Daddy

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When I was a very small child I used to ask my dad so many questions. Why was the sky blue, where had dinosaurs gone, why did we keep a concrete canoe in our garden, how did TV work, why did tomatoes make me itch, why were people different colors, why was my brother a pain in the butt, why was the awesome music we listened too referred to as “classic rock”, why could we only have Hostess snacks and McDonald’s when my mom was out-of-town, why, why, why???

Now as a parent I can fully appreciate that those questions, while borne out of a natural intelligent curiosity (inherited from him so I’m told) are enough to drive a parent crazy, or at least to consider taking up a nice bottle of scotch from time to time.

These days I put up with my own UNENDING questions, particularly from my six-year-old but insanely imaginative future mad scientist who is only happy when he is “inventing” something. At times I admit to wanting to tear out my own hair (and I can’t really afford to lose the thin gray stuff that’s left), especially when he is mixing God knows what kinds of chemicals in the bathroom or practicing to be an escape artist.

At the same time though, part of me is smiling because I know that as my dad used to tell me when he was at the end of his rope – Just you wait, someday you’ll have kids of your own. Then you’ll see how funny it is to paint the neighbor’s cat or mix a can of Coke with chlorine (DON’T DO THAT! IT WILL BURN A HOLE THROUGH THE PORCH!)

So on this father’s day I salute my father. Not only did he teach me that life is a series of adventures, even if not all of them are fun…he taught me several other important life skills that are absolutely invaluable.

1. He is not my entertainment committee so by golly get creative and find something to do.

2. If you keep bugging him for dinner he will serve you reconstituted catfish whiskers…seriously.

3. Make do…or do without. Improvising is the key to success in life. You don’t have to have all the latest gadgets, toys or clothes to have fun or be cool. (My blue spray-painted Chevy S-10 truck was AWESOME!)

4. Photos are better than “stuff” which will break, fade, get lost or wear out. Memories are forever.

5. Always be yourself…and if that means wearing a straw hat, knee-high socks and rocking out to AC/DC while gardening on a Saturday morning, so be it.

6. History rocks. Read it. Learn it. Or as they say…we will be doomed to repeat it.

7. Money does not grow on trees. You must work hard and even then you may never have enough of it…but if you have a roof over your head and food to eat and a loving family (even a dysfunctional one) then you have more than enough.

8. Dogs are truly a kid’s best friend. They will never tell your secrets, and they will be persuaded with a free hot dog when you can’t get them to come home after they have run away for the zillionth time.

9. The undersides of bridges are always worth taking a look at. Go ahead, stop the car on the side of the interstate or highway, climb up under there and get a good look at those supports while the family waits. It’s important to indulge your passion every now and then or else you’ll go crazy…and then everybody suffers.

10. Macaroni is the food of the gods and I thank you every day for teaching me to make it ( and so does everyone I’ve ever made it for!) It is my favorite food.🙂

Happy Father’s Day Daddy. I Love You, just for being you.

To be free…a gull’s flight to the heavens

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For some time now a wonderful and loyal friend of mine has been asking me to read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” A thin book, he urged I could read it quickly and that I would love it. For whatever reason however I put it off, always busy with other books or tasks…until today.

It is no secret that my life has been something akin to a roller-coaster for the last six months or so. There have been times when I felt that the only thing I could do was give up…that some sort of karmic energy was determined to keep me down.

Feeling low today I sat in my rocker unsure of my next steps. As I held my head in my hands I happened to glance to my left and what should my eyes come to rest on, but the very book I had been asked to read. I thought to myself, why not?

And so I began to read. It was unlike anything else I had ever read and at the same time, familiar as an old friend. It’s a simple story, one of flight, knowledge, hope, desire and love for those you’ve left behind. I’ve often said that I feel my purpose is to leave the world a little better than I found it but I am unsure as to how I might do that. I am not rich, or a great leader. I have little influence and am not arrogant enough to believe that my blogs, writings or public speeches will someday be of great worth.

This simple story though, well it felt like it was speaking directly to me. I too have been an outcast, stuck on the outside of society looking in with longing in my soul, wanting with every fiber of my being to belong… while at the same time certain that I was different in some way that even I couldn’t understand and knowing that this was as it should be.

The seagull wants only to experience the magic of flight, to be one with the air and sky rather than mired in a never-ending cycle, content to endure the misery of limitations placed on him by his body and his flock. Misunderstood by those who refuse to allow themselves to dream, he is cast out of the flock. Rather than sinking into a lonely depression however he soars beyond everything he knows, searching only for what he can’t name, only feel in his heart. He experiences the divine, ultimate freedom of mind and body, untethered by mortal wants and desires. There is only love, kindness and the glory of having the wind in your face as you fly faster and faster, becoming one with the sky.

When you move past being tied to ideals, earthly motivations…you become what I would say is an enlightened state. Perhaps this is what we all search for. Not Heaven, but the freedom that comes with truly letting go of all that holds us back, be it feelings, fear or friends.

I’m not sure where I will go, or what will happen to me in the future. But no matter what I know that I want to one day feel as free as the seagull, with only love and kindness in my heart, a strong wind beneath me and the sun in my face. Only then will I know the true grace of enlightenment, Heaven.

It is a journey I am now ready to embrace.

Look With Your Eyes…and Your Hands

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Summer vacation is in full swing for most families and as the temperatures rise unfortunately so do boredom levels. The good news? You don’t have to give in to the temptations of air-conditioned couchdom. The following activity is simple but one my kids and students have thoroughly enjoyed over the years. Even better…it costs next to nothing, provides hours of entertainment and will continue to expand your family’s eco-friendly education.

As a former journalist I like to refer to this activity as “Observe & Report”. Materials needed are some sort of notebook (or recycled-paper book), pencil, crayons or colored pencils, hand-lends and some sort of clear plastic container with a lid. If you have a bug-box, great but almost any clear container with a lid will work. Kids make sure you have permission to poke holes in the lid before you do it!

Once you have your materials it is time to take a walk. No matter where you live you can find some of the most basic creatures. Underneath rocks, steps and your front porch; Invertebrates, lichens and plants are everywhere. While not exotic, they

will seem all the more exciting when placed under a hand-lens. Younger kids will marvel at the quickness of ants marching, grasshoppers flexing their wings, a butterfly or moth’s fuzzy antennae or even the diversity of blades of grass.

Older kids can go so far as to capture different kinds of insects and then using paper and crayons or colored pencils, draw them on their paper for further observation. Find your local library and volunteer to check out field guides on insects, plants and other small creepy-crawlies. You can compare the drawings to the guides and then label them. Older kids can speculate the purpose behind an insect’s six legs, what a pair of pincers will do or why some are only active at night.

When done right, observing various insects, arthropods and plants can provide hours of entertainment for all ages. Most invertebrates can be kept for several days without harm. When finished, make sure to return them to wherever you found them.

Safety Tips to Remember:

Some bugs are better left alone or viewed from a distance. Remember that anything with a mouth can bite but some are more likely to take offense than others. Make sure you can identify venomous pests such as black widows and understand the difference between poison ivy and other similar-looking plants.

Got a great drawing of a caterpillar, dragonfly or beetle? Send me your pics and drawings and I will post them!

Cash Strapped Summer? You Can Still Have Fun!

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For many families this summer will be a time of stretched resources rather than carefree afternoons. However there are still many ways to enjoy the seemingly endless hours of daylight without spending a fortune.

Plant a wildflower garden – The State Department of Natural Resources encourages its citizens to plant native wildflowers and will often give away free packets of native seeds. You can check out their website for more information.

Learn your birds and/or frogs – what may seem like pleasant background music most evenings is actually a varied collection of both birds and frogs singing their unique songs. Learning to tell the difference takes a little effort but can be a fun experience for both you and your kids. Check out the USGS website for a primer on frog breeding calls. For bird calls there is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help you learn.

Form a neighborhood “Green Association” and make a pact to clean up your streets and garages. Have weekend recycle-thons where neighbors can get together to recycle and trade large items such as sofa’s or exercise equipment. Help each other dispose of things like tires and computers properly and remember that many places will gladly take old cell phones for use in 3rd world countries, soldiers or just to keep certain materials out of landfills. Check out the EPA cell phone site for more information.

Got a great idea for summer fun that green and inexpensive? Let me know in the comments below!