Costa Rica Adventure, Day Five–Part Two: Santa Anita Rainforest Ranch


After visiting the Tony’s gallery, we headed north on mostly non-paved, narrow roads.  The clouds increased; the landscape became greener if that is possible.  We crossed to the Caribbean side near the Nicaraguan border.

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The previous photos were taken from the bus window on the way to La Anita which is located more or less just above where the a is located in the word Cordillera at the top of the map.  It lies near Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Volcano Vieja) past Volcano Miravalles–the volcano covered in clouds in the previous Costa Rica post.

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As soon as we arrived, we came to the veranda of the building where they process cacao.  This view overlooks the road in and a small pond.

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Ginger plants in front of the pond, bouquets of ginger flowers, and rain clouds greeted us.

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I had no idea that the ginger roots we eat come from plants that look like this.  We later ate lunch in the building in the distance.  First, seated on picnic tables on the veranda, we drank pure chocolate grown on the ranch and coffee grown on another property at higher altitudes.  Cacao requires lots of rain and tropical heat.  This coffee is shade grown at much higher altitudes, e.g. 1500-2000 meters, by 700 families who belong to the cooperative which produces the coffee.  The coffee from here (Finca la Anita, Costa Rican Dota Mountain Coffee) requires much less sugar even for those who love lots of sugar in their coffee.

The couple who own and run La Anita primarily grow organic cacao.  Originally, they sold what they grew and did not process it there.  They decided to accomplish what they wanted, to grow and sell the most sustainable quality chocolate in the world, they would have to control the entire process themselves.  One of their specialties is a healthy replacement for Nutella, La Anita Chocolate Spread.  We bought four little containers and carried them around the rest of the trip.  Rather than spreading it on something, I keep it in the refrigerator and spoon out a tiny sco0p when I want a super treat.

 

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Nearly constant rain and heat produce a botanical heaven.

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A tractor pulled wagon took us through the lushness to the area with the cacao trees grow.

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We finally arrived where the cacao grows.

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In addition to cacao, they grow other crops because cacao takes a long time to grow and the chocolate market worldwide is very unstable.

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Open up cacao and you find all this fuzzy stuff inside.  Yes, it is actually tasty.  Like with coffee, you eat–actually mostly just suck on it–the outside.  The bean is the seed inside.

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If you want to walk around here, sandals are not a good idea–too many snakes, many of which are poisonous like the fer-de-lance.  Yes, they live here.  Like where I live, this requires looking at the ground and paying attention where you are walking. This is the owner.  The name La Anita comes from his wife.IMG_2023

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The view of the lake from the building where we ate lunch.

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This is the hearts of palm plant which shortly after this photo was taken became the main ingredient of ceviche of hearts of palm which we ate for lunch.

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Making ceviche of hearts of palm in the white square bowl.

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After lunch I walked down the road to the pasture with the horses.  In the background are cabins they rent.  From here the traveler can tour several national parks including Rincon de la Vieja National Park which is quite close.

This is one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica, located on the northern Caribbean side.  It rained several times while we were here.  The rain stops for a while, a downpours arrives, it stops.  This process continually repeats.

 

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Five-Part One


After spending our first leisurely late afternoon and evening at Rio Perdido, we arose early the next morning heading to a farm near the Nicaraguan border.  On our way, about 3/4 to one hour from Rio Perdido, we stopped at the studio of the sculptor Tony Jimenez.  Apparently, Tony loves–perhaps an understatement-the female form.  With few exceptions, he carves women, mostly giant women, in wood.

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He sells smaller statues, even as small as eight inches high, but refuses to sign them partly because they are made from less substantial wood.  I bought one about a foot high.  Later, in another part of Costa Rica I saw some very similar to mine.  When I asked if Tony made them, I was told his cousin was the sculptor.

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Although Tony sells sculpture, his front door fascinated me even more.  It, too, is carved, a frieze.  Even the crossbars on his windows are carved.

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We drove along the west side of a volcano for hours.  Because of clouds, wind, and weather from the Caribbean, even though we were on the Pacific side, we never saw the top of the volcano.  It remained misty and rainy most of the morning as we crossed from the Pacific to the Caribbean side.

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I do not recall anyone mentioning the name of this volcano.  Given where we were headed, it would appear to be Volcano Miravalles.

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Four-Part Three


Yes, Part Two of Day Four is missing–it will show up later.  After floating down Rio Tenorio (the missing photos) and eating lunch by another river just off the Pan American Highway, we went a short distance off the Pan American highway to Las Pumas, a wildlife rescue center.  This photo was taken on the way–a very common sight in this area, grazing cattle.

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The center rescues various animals but mostly wild cats, including puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi–a long bodied, grey cat with short legs and a tiny head, margay, and tigrillo which is the size of a house cat.  Their goal is to eventually release the animals back into the wild.  However, the only place open to visitors is an area where none of the animals can be released back into the wild.

I mostly photographed the pumas–one of my obsessions.

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See if you can find the puma.

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Now you can.  He kept moving.

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Most of their stories went like this:  mom was killed or caught by a rancher for stealing livestock; baby was found and rescued and had become too familiar with people to release.  Another common story dealt with injuries where the animal had been caught in a trap and suffered too much of an injury to ever be self sufficient in the wild.  The smaller cats knew how to either hide themselves or hunker down where it was too dark for a good photo.  In the largest enclosure a jaguar lay right next to the fence.  Once he had been returned to the wild without success.  He did not seem particularly pleased with all us humans so close.  He arose, suddenly turned his butt toward the fence, and sprayed.  One unfortunate (or fortunate if she wanted a good story) girl was the recipient.  She took it well.  How often does one get sprayed by a jaguar!

Eventually, after twisting and turning on various unpaved roads through the dry tropical forest (a totally different type of forest than one usually thinks of when hearing the word tropical), we arrived at Rio Perdido early enough for some relaxation, a bit of exploring, and swimming.

 

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Four–Part One


 

People love food.  One of the fun things about travel is exploring the food.  My two favorite, traditional Costa Rican foods are gallo pinto and platanos fritos.  Fruit shows up everywhere too.

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Breakfast at El Establo just before heading down the mountain to the Pan American Highway on the way to Rio Tenorio.  The plate in the background contains gallo pinto and platanos fritos.  I have made gallo pinto three times since I returned.  See recipe at end of post.

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The final view of El Establo as we drove away.

The following photos were all taken riding along the highway, dropping altitude dramatically all the way from Monteverde to the Pan American Highway.  The beauty one passes going to and from Monteverde remains unrivaled anywhere–miles of green vistas, colorful mountain homes, cattle grazing.

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Typical country houses along the side of the road painted colorful hues.  Even here the houses have electricity and running water. Most of the way the road was gravel.  In spite of all the green in these photos, this is the dry side of the mountains, the Pacific side.

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A lot of Costa Rica is cattle country.  In the lowlands all the cattle have Brahma blood in evidence.  In the high country it varies.  Frequently, they look exactly like the common dairy cattle in the United States.

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The farther we drove down the mountain, the drier the foliage and grasses became. Finally, we arrived at a paved road and a town.

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Most places, even small towns, in Costa Rica are clean.  People take pride in the appearance of their houses no matter how small. Flowers bloom brilliantly throughout the country.

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Streams run everywhere even through towns.

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Finally, we headed north on the Pan American Highway.  In all of Costa Rica living fences surround fields.  In this area it appeared the major commercial endeavor is cattle, all distinctively Brahma or at least part Brahma.

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Looking at these photos it seems hard to believe this is the dry season.  We saw large irrigation ditches bringing water all the way from Arenal, a huge lake on the other side of the mountains, a place I visited on my previous trip.

Recipe for gallo pinto:

Enough vegetable oil to lightly cover bottom of a skillet

1 1/2 cups day old, cooked  rice

1 cup day old, cooked, black beans

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 small, sweet red pepper, finely diced

2 Tbls. chopped cilantro (optional)

2 Tbls. salsa (optional)

Add chopped vegetables to the skillet.  Saute until onions are clear.  Then add the beans and salsa.  Finally, add the rice and heat through while stirring constantly.  The mixture should be moist but not wet.  There should be enough juice from the beans to color the rice.  Experiment to see what you prefer.  I use garlic instead of onion and poblano peppers instead of the red.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Three–Part Two


After the six mile hike through the Cloud Forest and visiting the hummingbirds, we arrived a bit messy and muddy at a local Italian restaurant which surprisingly served some of the best Italian food I have eaten anywhere.  After this leisurely lunch we headed back to hotel to ready ourselves for the afternoon activities.  Some chose zip lining while the rest of us headed to a local organic coffee farm or remained at the hotel.  For me it was no choice really; I love coffee.

Our guide at the farm had to be one of the most entertaining guides I have experienced anywhere in the world.  He was not only informative but also extremely witty; we chuckled all the way.  After a brief introduction we headed to the coffee plants, tasted raw coffee fruit, and picked coffee.

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Here I am picking coffee as instructed–only the ripe, red berries.

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He also instructed us to taste them.  They were surprisingly sweet.

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Here is the basket where we all put the berries we picked.  Then we headed to the processing area.

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First he showed us the old way, how they used to get the fruit on the outside off with only the seeds, the beans left to dry.

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For good coffee, they spread the beans out and sun dry them.  The roof here shelters them but allows natural drying. These beans have just begun the drying process.  When they are ready, they are a darker, more golden color.

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The next part of the tour involved chocolate.  Here he is hand grinding chocolate into relatively fine pieces.  Yes, in a mortar.  He added a little hot water and raw cane sugar, whisked it around, and gave us all a little cup.  Luckily, it was not a big crowd so most of us received seconds.  When I run out of the chocolate I have here at home, I will consider doing it this way myself.  The difference in taste from this and that which we get ready mixed here in the US is remarkable.

They had sugar cane growing here but only ornamentally.  Sugar cane requires heat.  We were too high in the mountains; it was too cold to produce cane for sugar.  Later, near the coast in Guanacaste, we saw mile after mile of commercially grown sugar cane.  He had some and gave us all a taste.  Yes, we sucked on pieces of sugar cane.  I expected to dislike it, to find it excessively sweet.  Actually, it seemed only mildly sweet and quite tasty.

It was a full day.  We returned to the hotel rather late and experienced an even later dinner at the Tree House, a restaurant in Monteverde built around a large tree.  The live band played a lot of reggae music.  Many of the residents of the east coast of Costa Rica are the descendants of Jamaicans who came many, many years ago to help build the railroad.

The last time I visited Monteverde we had time to wander around the town, shop, and eat ice cream.  I sorely missed not having the time to hang out there a bit and especially eat the ice cream.  Both the cheese and ice cream in Monteverde are, well, yummy and different.  I also missed going to the club next to the Tree House where you find people of all ages hanging out and dancing.  Maybe next time.

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Three–Part One


After lunch at the National Theatre we headed to Monteverde, a small town with only one unpaved road in and out.  One big change since I was there three years ago is the road.  It has been widened considerably and apparently plans to pave it are in the works.  The original reason for not paving was to prevent hoards of tourists from invading.  Apparently, that failed; tourists came anyway.

This town’s origination grew out of Costa Rica’s decision to disband its military in 1948, a practice which continues today.  Quakers from Canada moved here for that reason and created Monteverde, now famous for its cheese and, of course, the nearby Cloud Forest.  The hotel, where I have now stayed twice, El Establo, is owned in part by Quakers and serves a favorite of mine, fried cheese.

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Nine buildings up and down the mountain house rooms.  Previously, I stayed in one of the lower buildings; this time we were near the top way above this lake.

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The views from all the rooms provide a vista all the way to Nocoya Bay.  After we put luggage in our rooms, we headed out for a night walk in the forest, the reason we had been instructed to bring flashlights on the tour.  We saw spiders, birds sleeping, a mouse, all sorts of insects, but nothing too exciting.  Probably some of the group members were too scared and too noisy.

The next day breakfast occurred at 7 just before we took off for the Cloud Forest and a hike to the Continental Divide–all six miles or so.  I had hiked here before but on a different trail and in a huge downpour.  Luckily, it rained only a little.  However, if you are in the clouds, you get wet.

Lush does not even begin to describe the Cloud Forest, a huge reserve with numerous indigenous species of everything from hummingbirds to insects to all sort of plants that exist nowhere else on earth.

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Every tree, branch, every living things is covered with other living things.  This must be botanist heaven.

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Looking up into the branches of a tree fern.  Yes, that is a fern. So much to see, it is hard to keep up with the guide, a native Quaker whose father was one of the founders of Monteverde.

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It is difficult to know what photos to take; everything holds some kind of fascination and lots of beauty.

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Another tree fern right by the trail.

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In the clouds at the Continental Divide it’s incredibly windy yet the clouds stay and you get wetter and wetter even though it is not raining.  Water dripped off my slicker, the trail oozed mud and water, it was hard to keep my footing on slopes.

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On the way back we crossed several streams.  Everywhere in Costa Rica signs in both Spanish and English instruct people to save water.  They made me chuckle.  Streams run everywhere in much of the country, especially on the Caribbean side.  Here I live in a semi-arid environment where I see wasted water running down streets in town and in Costa Rica they conserve water and recycle things I did not even know were recyclable.  Hotels provide recycling bins and some even turn off lights automatically when you are not in the room.

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The name for this flower translates from Spanish as hot lips.

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This looks like a tree but it is not.  A giant, parasitic fig plant surrounded the tree, eventually killed it, and this is the result.

After we finished the hike, we walked over to a shop that feeds hummingbirds, hundreds of species of which live in Costa Rica, many only in the Cloud Forest. Took a video of them, but it refuses to upload here.  Some were incredibly iridescent and much larger than any I had ever previously seen.

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Two–Part Two


The problem with tours is that they think you need to get your money’s worth and the best way to do that is to pack as much as possible into the shortest about of time possible.  When some of us complained a bit after a couple of days, we were informed that we should not confuse vacations and tours.  They are not the same thing.  We were on a tour, not a vacation.  Nevertheless, the tour did have some advantages like getting us into places we might have missed or never found on our own.  However, that was not really the case for Day Two.  That whirlwind morning in San Jose not only included the National Theatre and the Gold Museum, but also the Metropolitan Cathedral.  It does not have lighting conducive to photography with a “normal” camera, cell phone, etc.  Therefore, my attempts to photograph the endless and lovely stained glass windows proved futile.  Here is what I was able to photograph.

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This is a large church.  Yes, we were there as tourists, but many others were there praying, sitting silently, worshipping.

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I could not find a place where the chandelier did not interfere with the view where I could take a really good photograph.  Nevertheless, hopefully those of you who read this can get the feeling for this really wonderful place.

On a totally separate but perhaps related note, I watched Public Television for a while tonight about finding ones roots.  I keep thinking somehow my DNA results must be a bit screwy because the places where I feel most at home, the cultures in which I have an interest, the literature I love to read, and the music to which I usually listen have no relationship whatsoever with the places from which the majority of ancestors came.  I have been to Costa Rica twice now and to one particular town (besides San Jose)  twice–others were new this trip.  What concerns me is that all the tourists and people buying up property there who are from Europe, the US, and Canada will totally ruin its values and beauty.

Costa Rican Adventure, Day Two–Part One


After a buffet breakfast of traditional foods, e.g. gallo pinto and plantanos fritos–my favorites, we headed to the central part of San Jose which is only foot traffic, no vehicles.

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We strolled to El Mercado where my grandson bought a stuffed sloth–I love bargaining so we got it for a good price.  My only disappointment was the rush so we could see everything–the disadvantage of being on a tour. Eventually, we ended up at the National Theatre.

Located in the central section of San Jose, it is considered the finest historical building in the capital and remains relatively unchanged since it was built in 1897–it opened on Oct. 21 of that year.  Most of its opulent furnishing were imported from Europe.  At the time of its opening fewer than 20,000 people inhabited San Jose.  It was financed via a coffee tax which was then and still is the major export and cash crop.

This theatre remains in use today and houses a small, cosy restaurant next to the main lobby.  We ate our first Tico lunch there.

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This and the following photos were taken in the lobby of this theatre.

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I took this and the following photo while seated in the main seating area looking up to the ornate ceiling.  Originally, the theatre was designed for multipurpose use so the main floor has seating than can be removed and the floor risen to the level of the stage and consequently transformed into a dance floor.  Rarely is this aspect used today.

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We left this area and climbed the stairs to the balcony where the president and cabinet still sit for performances.  Neither the president nor any of the cabinet have body guards.  We were reminded that in 1948, the country disbanded its army and still has no military. The following two photos were taken from the stairwell.

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This area is a large reception room across from the balcony level.  The incredibly intricate parquet floor has been covered by carpet for protection  so you can see only portions of it as you walk around.

We also visited what is know as the Gold Museum, my favorite.  It houses a huge collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts and other antiquities. No cameras, purses, backpacks, iPads, nothing can be taken in so no photos.  It is literally underground.  Visitors are directed to lockers in which to put all these belongings, lock them, take the key with you as you browse the incredible collection.  There is an excellent gift shop where you can purchase copies of these artifacts, painted wood jaguar heads, and other handcrafts.  This is not our typical, touristy gift job.  As a result I now own four jaguars, three heads (two from Mexico and the one I bought here) and an entire jaguar from Mexico for a total of four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rican Adventure-Day One


Instead of staying in the US for Christmas, my daughter, grandson, and I went to Costa Rica on a National Geographic Family Adventure for seven days and then rented a car and explored on our own for three additional days.  We arrived in San Jose a little after three in the afternoon, met the other tour members and our two guides, Jose and Josie, and headed for our first hotel, the Intercontinental.

Because the capital, San Jose, is at an altitude between 6 and 7 thousand feet, it is cool.  On the day of our arrival it was also very windy which made the air seem quite chilly.  Altitude and whether you are on the Pacific or Caribbean side are everything in Costa Rica.  High elevations are quite cool, lower elevations tropical and hot.  The Pacific side is drier, especially in the north.  The Caribbean is always wet and rainy especially in the north so the two sides are just the opposite weather wise.  Down the middle runs the cordillera, the mountains, which determine many aspects of the weather.

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On the road to San Jose from the airport.  I know it says San Jose when you make reservations but the airport is not actually in San Jose or even in the same province.

The last time I was in Costa Rica it was summer here and the rainy season there–winter.  In much of the country even though it supposedly was the dry season, it did not seem very dry.  Look at those clouds.

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At the Intercontinental, a large, rather elegant hotel with multiple restaurants and shops, my grandson wanted to buy a plushy sloth in one of the shops.  We convinced him to wait.  The next day we found it nearly 50% less in a shop at El Mercado.

The food we had at the hotel, however, was excellent, the ceviche especially tasty.

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I was quite entranced by this bench, carved out of old wood.  It is illegal in Costa Rica to harvest certain woods considered rare and/or endangered.  This includes rosewood and mahogany.  If you find pieces made from these rarer woods, it is old wood from dead trees or at least that is what it is supposed to be.  You can find beautifully made wood furniture in various parts of the country.

We spent only one night and the next morning through lunch in San Jose.

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts at the End of a Rather Long Day


When I realized the time and know 5:30 tomorrow morning will come sooner than I may prefer, I decided I had to write something here to fulfill my commitment to write daily for at least one month–three weeks down and one to go.  Will I continue?  Don’t know yet.  Pluses:  I have gained quite a few new followers, at least ten, maybe more–have not taken an exact count; it proves that if you stick to something, there are pay offs; and it forces me to think about some things I’ve read or experienced in a way that I might not if I were not going to blog about it.

What are some of those things I am thinking about?  First, the weather.  We desperately need rain and this statement comes from someone not all that fond of rain.  I like the green results but do not like to be out in the rain normally.  It is a wonder I love Costa Rica because it rains almost daily at least it did when I was there two summers ago.  Fire warnings are even currently posted on overhead flashing signs on the interstates–not daily, but every time the wind rises which here is almost daily.  Second, when I think about the destruction of volcanoes–from reading another chapter in Apocalyptic Planet last night, I keep wondering what would happen today if another explosion like Krakatoa in the 1800s occurred.  Mass famine I imagine and a bunch of certain types of religious people claiming the end of the world.  Third, after spending two boring mornings giving STAAR tests–the state standardized tests in Texas, and another morning left to go, wondering exactly why I still think standardized tests are good.  Fourth, wondering how to turn this blog into a sort of website where people who want a signed copy of my new book, On the Rim of Wonder, can order it directly from me on this blog/website (I have had requests already which is, of course, a wonderful thing since book marketing is not all that easy).  Fifth, well this will have to wait until another day when my mind is really sharp and we can have a discussion about the effects of poverty and why it is so difficult to escape.

In the meantime, while I was out watering around my house–to keep my xeroscape garden alive (even drought resistant flowers need some) and to, I hope, make my house safer in case of a wildfire, I thought about all the lovely flowers blooming in spite of the dry weather.  Here they are in all their enduring beauty.

 

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