Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Blue Zone

All steel church in Grecia, CR. I thought it was the only one but then we saw another the next day

ox cart wheel in Sarchi CR. We were scheduled to go to the Poas volcano that day but they closed the park down due to its activity. A bit disappointed as visiting a ox cart factory didn't sound all that interesting but it was a good place to buy souvenirs

painting these carts is a skill

typical CR house: always surrounded by a fence which is sometimes topped with barbed wire, flat tin roof  Everything looked ramshackle Utility meters always next to the driveway as is an elevated basket for garbage. Dogs run loose

our 3 stops: Sarchi ox cart factory, butterfly house and a coffee plantation

dying Morpheus butterfly  We would see lots of theses on our last traveling day

passion fruit flower: we ate lots of passion fruit which are very tiny, the size of a cherry

we learned a lot about coffee bean processing. All of this is run by water power. No electricity. In the whole country, all electricity is either, wind, solar or hydro derived. No fossil fuel burning

typical scene from our bus window

Sarchi church

me raking the coffee beans. Plenty of sun for that. New factoid I learned. Peaberry isn't a specific species but is a mutant bean on the regular coffee bush. Only 1-2% of coffee cherries are peaberries. They are separated out as they have a distinct flavor. Coffee is their third export behind bananas and pineapples. Tourism is their top industry

The kiskadees coming for a drink that morning. Saw lots of those

some sort of fruit back in the hotel gardens

Where we went starting and ending in San Jose in the Central Valley: medium green first 2 days, yellow third,
burgundy, fourth, fifth, orange 6th and turquoise 7th. We went 765 miles but rarely going much over 40 mph
due to switchbacks
We spent most of the time on the Pacific side but crossed over the continental divide to get to Fortuna.
Different wildlife on the other side

There are 5 'blue zones' in the world where people routinely live over 100. Various factors contribute to this such as physical activity, strong family ties, vegetable and fruit based diet,
little smoking, engagement in the community and lack of stress. The Nicoya peninsula
(western CR) is one of the 5 as is some Greek Island, Sardinia, Italy, some Japanese remote
island and Loma Linda CA where there is a huge Seventh Day Adventist population. Ticans
(what people from CR call themselves) are a happy, friendly group. They are not particularly wealthy but they are never hungry and have universal health care. They have a stable,
intelligent government. They abolished the military 70 years ago. Their only wars were
against an American William Walker who tried to grab the country (along with Nicaragua
and Honduras) for himself. They are surrounded by corrupt countries such as Nicaragua and Panama. Most of their laborers are Nicaraguans. They are very environmentally conscious
and are attempting to undo the years as a Banana Republic of the US. Fortunately for them,
a banana virus scared off the Americans in the 50s.

We met up with the other 37 members of our tour group Thursday night coming from all
over the US with concentrations from Louisiana, Seattle and New Jersey. Over the next
week, we became friends with some of them drinking in the evening next to the pool or
in each other's rooms. We had assigned seats on the bus so that no one would get to
hog the front seats and you would sit across from different people each day. My friend
and I alternated morning/afternoons for the window seat. The bus was new and clean.
The air conditioner worked well. Our guide was a very knowledgeable friendly 40
something Tican. I liked him a lot. The bus driver, who probably did not speak English,
was competent and friendly. Some of the days we seemed to be on the bus forever
but I liked looking out the window watching the changing scenery or talking to various
individuals on the bus. We stopped for something every 2 hours alternating which
side of the bus got to get off first (rice and beans). There was another Caravan group
that travelled with us that we occasionally would meet up with. Caravan has lots of
clout in the country and is able to negotiate good prices on some of the luxury
properties so it was a good value.

Costa Rican food
Breakfast: rice and beans
Lunch: Rice and beans
Dinner: Beans and rice...they like to mix it up

I did like the food. Lots of plantains. I do not like bananas but do like fried plantains.
Lots of unusual fruit and juices too. Lots of fish, especially sea bass and tilapia though
I had salmon and mahi-mahi and snapper at some meals. They have a cattle industry.
You could see their skinny Brahmin (from India) cattle all over the place. Happy cows
though as they get to roam all over the place and are not fattened up by corn and
hormones. Meat is less fatty and a bit tough. They are not big on spicy food.
They add Lizano sauce instead of catsup to most of their food also known as
English sauce though I don't know why. It was good..sort of lemony and peppery. We
would have 3 buffets a day, some of it was very, very irresistible. I worried that my
deluxe breakfast buffets would make me fat in Spain. They didn't as I would be walking
for 15 hours a day and not eat much else. But here, less walking and even more food.
I would make myself eat the salads and fruits first. After much paranoia about gaining
20 pounds, it turns out it was only 2 pounds but this has been adding up. No more
traveling for awhile and now I can exercise much more as winter has disappeared back
at home.

So for our first tour day it was driving to the Sarchi, the ox cart town, the butterfly
garden and the coffee plantation where we had lunch. We also had a coffee tasting
too along with various liqueors. Most of the time in between stops, he would be
lecturing us on different facets of Tican life. We went through the town of car lots,
Grecia. Taxes make it prohibitive to get a new car excepting if you are very wealthy
so there are lots of used car lots of car repair places. Cars are inspected annually so
cars have to be in good repair. Toyotas are the favorites. As the roads are narrow,
big American cars are not useful especially as gas is about $5 a gallon at every
station, price set by the government. Lots of reliance on buses, both intercity and
between towns.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Pura Vida

Drinking wine in our b&b courtyard shortly after arrival

beautiful flowering trees in the nearby Sabana park

Interesting money all having various animals 10000 colones is roughly $18 US  I found the conversions annoying and have some coins left worth a fraction of a penny

plantains at our b&b part of every breakfast. Our $31 stay for 2 included breakfast and use of all the sitting areas inside and out. What it did not include was exclusive use of a bathroom

all lit up pretty at night but due to our extremely early start, we fell asleep quickly

some of the decor

more decor

One of three types of coral tree. I think this is the poro During the dry season (now!), leaves drop and the tree spends its energy on blossoms so the central valley was quite pretty

Muscovy duck at the park 


birds eat the base of the flower so this fell down

painted (by nature) eucalyptus

national soccer area provided by the Chinese government It's supposed to look like a dragon's eye

The relatively fancy soda we ate dinner and then came back for a lunchtime ice cream. Sodas are like diners, usually mom and pop set-ups. In small towns, people would set up tables in their garages and have crock pots full of food with crudely painted signs. Usually very cheap

little purple bananas at our hotel that we transferred to the next day

Our welcoming drink: San Jose Cocktail

View from our hotel to the soccer stadium that we had stayed by. Less than 2 miles as the crow flies but lots of obstacles to walk there. Uber ran us $2

same view at night

me and the tree  Only needed a jacket in San Jose. Very hot in other places

I've been home almost 3 days from our Costa Rican adventure but have been very busy. For the most part, I had a great time but the beginning was marred by having a cold for the first few days and worrying about a bunch of little things such as the two airlines we were taking not seeming to have any record of me and getting a call from Social Security (I applied on line for Medicare) saying that my application for a name change listed the wrong state for where I was born and I need to show up in person with an original birth certificate plus fill out a new application for a social security card which would include my parents' SSNs meaning I had to find all these things with little time. The kicker was they made the mistake, not me but I am the one who had to take 2 hours and drive 30 miles.

As soon as we got to our b&b, I noticed the zipper slide was missing on my suitcase. Did TSA try to break in? I had to pry the zipper apart to access our clothes. How were we going to deal with a broken suitcase? I bought some safety pins (not part of the 63% of Spanish vocabulary I had learned) and had an exercise band to keep the suitcase closed until on day 4 I managed to thread one of the zipper heads back on track. The suitcase held together until the very final leg of our journey. It arrived in Detroit in a container with bags of clothes spilling out. We didn't seem to lose anything though.

The nice lady at JetBlue gave us an upgrade without us asking for our flight to Florida. Yay! Big comfy seats. In San Jose, we tried to convince the Caravan people to give us a ride to the hotel a day early. They said they couldn't do that (though a ride was included in our price) but did flag down the only taxi there. We were very surprised to have a German driver (he claims 30% of Costa Ricans are German) and doubly surprised he knew where our tiny b&b was. We stayed in a nice, safe residential area near a huge park and lots of restaurants. Total cost: $31 for 2 which included a very good breakfast and snacks (the latter snarfed down before we could get to them). It had nice public areas and a cute courtyard full of mango and plantain trees where we could sip our wine.  Downside: it turned out we had to share our bathroom with lots of people so the shower would have to wait until we  could get to the fancy hotel. As alcohol is expensive there, I brought a 3 liter box of wine, which the JetBlue lady said was fine with their weight limits but Spirit will charge us extra. I said our luggage would lose 8 pounds on the return so not a problem. But on the way home, even minus the 8 pounds of wine and a few other things, our luggage mysteriously weighed the same with Spirit's crooked scales. They didn't charge us though. Other people said that their luggage weighed a lot more than they thought it should.

After enjoying maybe too much wine in our sunny courtyard, we went off to explore the neighborhood. First stop, at the ATM to get some colones. The exchange rate that day was 571 colones equal one US dollar. Trying to do the math made my head hurt but I got out several crisp 10,000 colones bills with sloths on them. I went back to get more the next day. All are gone now except for a few stray coins including a flimsy 5 colones coin which is worth less than a tenth of a cent. They do accept American dollars but give change in colones. And their exchange rate is not very favorable. For instance, at one pay toilet it was 200 colones (30 cents?) or one US dollar. The park had lots of unusual birds in it and flowering trees. Also, very comfortable temperatures.We enjoyed our walk and went back there the next day to explore other parts of it. We ate dinner in a soda, which is their version of a diner. I got a plate of steak, rice, beans, plantains and onions. Tasty. But the best was the homemade ice cream. Over the next 2 days, we had cas (green guava), natilla (sour cream) and guanobarra (soursop). As we had began our day at 4 am , we went to sleep early. We had a nice breakfast of rice, beans and plantains before another walk enjoying all the different birds before we got a uber to our hotel. As we got there 4 hours before the regular check-in (they did give us a room after an hour or so), we sat next to the pool sipping our welcome drinks and had a light lunch. The hotel had extensive gardens and lots of birds so it was fun to watch them. I am glad though we didn't stay there for the first day as it was expensive and so isolated, we could not explore the city.

Soon t was time to join our tour.

Monday, February 12, 2018


About 15 inches covered with a half inch of ice as we had freezing rain yesterday
At the thrift store they let Maya fill a bag with toys for a dollar. I added this snail. Best find? A Hatchanimal which before Xmas was very pricey to buy. This one had already hatched so maybe it isn't worth much more than the 10 cents I paid for it

I sound like a broken record with my constant whine about the cold and snow. It snowed non-stop from late Thursday to Sunday morning in which it was freezing rain instead. Maya had no school yet again and her dad could not pick her up. So back to grandma's. Added bonus she had a cold which I seem to be getting right before I leave for vacation. It will be the first cold in 2 years.

But I will leave in 36 hours. Got my nails painted in Cajun Shrimp so they will shine in the rain forest. I will be not blogging no thanks to apple and Blogger not getting along.

Hope to see some beauty and feel some warmth.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Semitic semantics

This artist specialized in taking photos of the Amish Goes well in my hall way
only orchid in bloom though I have some Xmas cacti blossoms and a kalanchoe 
art for the bathroom wall
She is with us yet again. We are in the middle of a blizzard. There was a snow day earlier in the week too though that one really wasn't necessary. No end in sight for all this snow. Hate winter!!!

Compare and contrast the two statements:

He is a real Christian

He is a real Jew

One is positive and the other is negative. Why is this so?

We did have one brief reprieve from the seemingly non-stop snow, yesterday in which I went out to eat with a friend. Running is impossible outside. Hopefully my boring elliptical trainer and weight lifting sessions will be enough to keep me somewhat in shape. Still haven't lost the weight I gained in January. and I had been so good up to then. Having fancy hotel meals during the next two weeks will not be good.

And Don'tae won't be able to drive through the blizzard to pick up Maya and Naomi has to work. Steve is all crabby, so much so I won't miss him much when I am gone.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


This is the couch at the AirBnB we are staying at in San Jose. We have to pick the one with banana couch right?We are going a day earlier as we are nervous about winter storms plus the air fare was way cheaper on the day before. It is in a safe neighborhood and one fifth the cost of the room we
will be staying at on the official tour. Plus breakfast is included

On the Berkeley-Oakland CA border, there are two signs. On the Berkeley side:


On the Oakland side:


There is a famous Gertrude Stein quote which is being used quite often these days describing several current situations
There is no there there

What was she talking about? I have had a history of puzzling over what Stein was trying to say starting with the awful to me To the Lighthouse. But here she is referring to visiting her childhood home in Oakland CA only to find it razed and repurposed as a parking lot or something.

So the sign makers thought it would be funny to put a 'there' in Oakland. So now there is a there there.

Another boundary: racism. I recently referred to the Jewish people (apparently the 'correct' terminology) as The Jews. I meant absolutely nothing negative about this but I was called out. Although I am not Jewish, these ARE my people. I was a tad annoyed at the time but dismissed it as there is no pleasing certain people who want to see me in a negative light no matter what I do. Imagine my surprise the other night listening to my favorite This American Life podcast in which the host Ira Glass admits to being called out for the same sin. And for the record, he is a "Jewish person". He too was surprised as he has lived on this earth for more than fifty years using the same term not knowing that some think it's a pejorative. As he said "I didn't get the memo".
The podcast itself was on the troubling use of language. Basically you can never please all the people all the time. A sex educator found herself referring to people as the penis owner and the vagina owner as some 'males' don't have a penis.

What to do in the doldrums of winter? Still too much snow to trudge around outside though by tomorrow maybe it will be packed down enough to run on top of it. On Sunday night, it was Naomi's turn to drive 130 miles in a blizzard to retrieve her daughter. I was so nervous for her. Lots of accidents that night. I was out too but far from the freeways. My car has this helpful light to tell me when I am in a skid, as if it was not obvious. In my mind, I have a list of things to do now that I can't get to in the summer: do genealogy, organize those photos, organize the kitchen once and for all Just can't get started. What I really need to do is sign up for Medicare (should be easy) and then choose a Medigap program. Steve did a lot of the homework already but I am not sure his choice will be best for me. I have a big pile of plans stacking up. Apparently my birthday is no secret to marketers.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Bad genes

amaryllis in full bloom

more stained glass

I bought this vintage dress..never had been worn but....very short. I do have 'good' legs but am a bit old perhaps for a mini dress. Lace bicycle shorts underneath?

sleeve detail. If I do wear this, will have to stay away from red wine, which I seem to dribble everywhere

Promethease is a service that you submit your raw DNA data to and it will check the DNA snippets for various medical conditions. It is not a full gene sequencing service. They recently updated their database and I resubmitted my data to them. I had the bad medical conditions listed first.

Number one: My DNA indicates that I probably have the BRAC2 gene. I found this very disturbing. Although it isn't as lethal as the BRAC1 gene, it is associated with increased chance of ER+ breast cancer (I had ER-) and ovarian cancer. Medical advice is usually double mastectomy and ovary removal. Furthermore, it is autosomal dominant so that my kids each have a 50% chance of inheriting it and thus should be tested. Also it means that one of my parent's had the gene. Which one? No history whatsoever of people dying young or even old with cancer on either side though my mom and her sister had ER+ breast cancer when they were old and it was early stage. This was not a day brightener! It was very expensive to test for the BRAC1/2 deletions in the recent past due to a company having a monopoly on the gene. This since has been overturned so tests now are one tenth  to one thirtieth the cost. Insurance would pay only if I were younger than 50 when diagnosed, Jewish and/or had a strong family history. I was 54 when diagnosed. A few years later they changed the age to 55. I was ready to do it a few years back when I was told I had a recurrence but when I found it was a false alarm, I dropped the testing.

So how worried should I be? As it turned out, not much. I am not the only one who got this result as they are finding that 50% of people whose dna was tested by Ancestry got this bad result. And upon further testing, they didn't have the gene at all. Maybe I will have my doctor OK the test at my next physical. Naomi's doctor keeps bugging her to bug me about it.

Other bad genes: peanut allergy (I don't seem to have one though one grandson does), a gene for high probability of thyroid disorders (yes, I had Graves' Disease), a gene making me likely to have a stroke (I usually have low blood pressure and my lipid levels are low) but my favorite bad gene is one that presumably causes me to have no empathy for people. What? By some definitions, one who has no empathy is considered to be a psychopath. Am I a psychopath? I don't really think so as I do worry about others' pain. I certainly don't want to distress those that I like. Do others feel more for others? I have no way of telling. I do know my father was so self involved that he could care less about how others felt, especially my mother. Interestingly, the polar opposite of being a psychopath is to have anxiety disorders. I don't seem to have anxiety but somehow some, if not all of my kids do. And my father who really could care less about how people felt was chock full of absurd anxieties so I am having a hard time believing they are opposite conditions.

So this gene testing so far is like a horoscope. sometimes they get things right but other times, totally miss the mark.

Snow again. I was able to run outside for the past 3 days though not comfortably as windchills were close to zero. I will leave next week for the tropics. We had dinner last night with Josh's family. Miss Hannah still refuses to even look at me.


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