Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!



"You say it's your birthday?" You can sing the rest. And all I want is for Bella to poop. I already got my period so that tiny question mark has been laid to rest after battling some kind of nauseous stomach thing for 3 or 4 days now that reminded me of, well, pregnancy. Other things I am not getting besides a 48-year-old immaculate conception since Andy's parts were snipped after Bella was born and I hung a giant CLOSED FOR BUSINESS sign on my uterus? Well, the swine flu, I hope, a boob job, a tummy tuck, or any other kind of narcissistic surgery - I'll save that for my 50th, a warm and sunny walk on Playa Conchal, a trip to DC to visit Hannah since she is in Rio, a trip to Brazil to visit Hannah, anything smacking of rampant consumerism, or a trip to Hawaii so I am posting this photo from our aquarium trip the other day instead. It is the Picasso Triggerfish, aka the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, the Hawaiian State Fish and I love that fact. Or a move into our yurts. Yes, my third move-in deadline is here and will not be met either. Instead, the carpenter called this morning and is checking himself into rehab. Surprise! Happy Birthday to me!

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Yesterday I went on Isaiah's fourth grade field trip. They are studying Oregon history, timely for us, and we went to two museums in Newport where I learned that Newport, OR, the next town to where Andy grew up in Waldport, was actually named after Newport, RI, the next town to where I grew up in Middletown! Ha! An apparently little known fact that even Andy never learned. It appears that one, Sam Case, hailing from Mom's great state of Maine, came west to seek his fortune and stopped when the land ran out on the Oregon coast where he conceded, founding Newport in 1868. Here he built the Ocean House, also named for a hotel in Newport, RI, which used to be the center of social activity and remains the same, of sorts, as now it is the Stop and Shop plaza. But back here in Newport on the left coast, I figure Sam Case was the first to arrive here from Newport on the right coast. And about 150 years later, I am probably the second.

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After lunch we danced at our first Pow Wow! Wow! Such a fun word. Pow Wow! Sorry the photo stinks. The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz are celebrating their reinstatement of tribalhood in 1977 which they lost for 20 years or so after apparently selling off most of their original 1.4 million acres which includes the land I am sitting on right now typing. Even though it is a mixed ragtag bunch of folks in appearance, I nearly wept at the beauty of the tiniest girls dressed in their regalia and dancing on their tip-toed mocassins with their hands placed proudly on their hips and moving with the graceful elegance of their genetic heritage. They, too, might morph into the caffeine-in-a-can-carrying teens who shuffled along behind them, unsure of their place in the world, but for now their enthusiasm remains the colorful and hopeful link between past and present. "Listen," the leader commanded us with the words of his Grandfather, "or your tongues will make you stupid."

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These are the reminders that you are back in the west. Christiana recently played the Chemawa Lady Braves in volleyball. The Siletz team, incidentally, are the Warriors. These folks aren't afraid of racial stereotyping. The Chemawa Indian School is the oldest operating school of its kind, from 1880, and used to be one of those horrid places where they forced reservation kids to board, speak English, and forget about being Braves and Warriors. Their team roster proudly lists what tribes the players are from and these gals hailed from more than a dozen tribes including the Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, Pueblo and Karuk. I sat in the stands and secretly cheered them on with historic guilt, admiring the variety of their ethnic beauty. Last year in Costa Rica Isaiah studied Native Americans and did a report on the Apache. Now this year he and Christiana are playing with them.

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We left the Pow Wow in better shape than my ancestors on the Mayflower afforded their native friends. We were welcomed openly, treated with respect, educated in their ways, invited to dance, and cheered by the crowd on our departure. My ancestors invited their native friends to dinner on the first Thanksgiving. Then they killed them and stole their land. As I sit here on former reservation lands, I am sure hoping the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz have not taken any lessons in history from us.

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Happy Birthday to me!

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K3




Friday, October 16, 2009

Yurts, yurts, everywhere...

Okay, yurt fans, here is the long-awaited sequel to the first, cliffhanging episode of Yurt Building 101. When last we left off, the yurts were basically a supporting structure with nothing to protect us from the elements. Now, they are finished! Well, almost. To recap, we managed to get the smaller yurt closed in before the rain fell. Here is how the structure of them looked before all the supports you can see lying on the floor were screwed into place and the covering process began.
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Working from the hole in the top, the interior roof liner is unfolded and worked around the top.
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Then the space blanket of astronaut-friendly insulation is unfolded on top of that and super heavy top cover is hefted up thru the hole and carefully unfolded as well.
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The interior insulated walls are hung from the interior support cable and the outside walls hung from an extra flap on the exterior roof. It's kind of like hanging a giant, heavy shower curtain. The skylight dome is carefully fed up to the center and put into place. The whole thing is cinched and tightened. And cinched and tightened. And cinched and tightened. And screwed into place. Tightly. Nobody wants a baggy, wrinkly yurt, after all.
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And here's how it looked before the rain began.
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And it did rain. And the larger yurt did get wet. And the water did pool on top and drip thru the floor boards into the insulation, which also dripped, and it was not a pretty sight. BUT. The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy and everything was fine and dandy, dandy. And we managed to get that one enclosed before the next rains fell and now I think we are out of the danger zone. Today we are supposed to get 6 inches of rain so that should be a good test.
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Now we are building the mudroom/bathroom in between.
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We had high winds a few nights ago and I lay awake listening to the howling gusts and imagining all that work flying around up there with my mother-in-law's words in my head, "It can get pretty windy up here you know," but am happy to report that in the morning they were intact and they were like, "What?" when we showed up all concerned and everything. Bella finally found a wall she can color on without getting in trouble.
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And here's a view of our dining/living room view. Lovely!
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K3

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You will know us by our layers

Columbus Day has come and gone and, as usual, I wondered, "Okay, what would Columbus do?" Especially if his kids were home from school on a 4-day weekend. There being no edge of the world to sail off and certainly no hope of discovering a new nation complete with old inhabitants, I, like most Americans, celebrated with the closest approximation available to us - I gathered my kin and sailed up the coast of Oregon to Lincoln City to the Tanger Outlet Mall. I think Columbus would have approved, not being much of a stay-at-home-and-watch-the-Red-Sox-lose kind of guy. He would definitely have sought an adventure of this kind, I am sure of it.
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While on our voyage, we slowed down in Depoe Bay long enough to annoy the traffic behind us until we spotted a whale spouting just off the surf, both of which seemed something else Columbus might have done. Whales aside, just imagine the tailgating and bird flipping that went on back in the glory days of the high seas.
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Once safely in port, I beat out my fellow celebrants for a prime docking space. No mooring buoy for us. I located my AAA card and got a free coupon booklet for fabulous discounts at each store which drew us lemming-like through its doors with the promise of giant Columbus Day markdowns, just as the old salt himself probably would have done. I think Columbus was your early day bargain shopper, after all, judging by the continent he scored. And my AAA card is gold, something he shopped around the world for. The only thing I perhaps did not do as well as Chris, himself, was spread pestilence and disease, but the verdict is still out I suppose. Another 24 hours should tell.
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So, why were we outlet shopping when earlier this year I lamented this all-American pasttime as a terrible waste of time and money right here on this blog, all but proclaiming it the harbinger of all things wrong with our society, albeit from the relative soapbox safety zone of my tropical paridise? Oh yeah, good point. But the answer is - layers. Layers, my girl, layers. Lots of them. As in name this movie: "You're so wrapped in your layers, onion boy." It is only mid-fall, I know, but already we are piling them on and we need more. Today I have on boots that seem stylish at first glance but are rated to 40 below, a good Canadian brand and those Kanuks know how to be stylish and warm. I have on thick tights and a dress and a belted sweater dress, don't tell Christiana, and a scarf and all this just to putter around the house and type away at my keyboard. I am in search of fingerless gloves. And when I dare to venture outside I will really have to get serious.
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Okay, so the temperature is still in the 50's. And I am still surrounded by central heating. I am worried. One year of all that wonderful tropical blood thinner and we are all freezing, all the time. I am looking at deer and elk in a whole new way. I don't want to eat them; I want to wear them. Last week we almost hit a huge elk in the road. He bounded up off of the road, revealing the yellow road sign that he had been blocking with his bulk. Elk Crossing, it said. Well alright then. At least he was in the right place and it would have made us look rather, well, illiterate had we crushed our car on his broad side. "Well, officer, we were just approaching the Elk Crossing sign when we came upon this big bull, er, um, elk..." I was busy imagining how many mukluks I could get out of that gorgeous pelt.
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Melanie wrote today and invited us to move to Dubai. I googled UAE quickly, even tho I admit that I was a geography major. Anyway, it was probably called something else back in those days. It's one of those fields of study you have to keep up with. Now, as a swimmer, deserts don't really interest me. They make me thirsty just thinking about them. But immediately I noticed it is a coastal country. I am not even sure what sea it lies on but Iran is a short sail away. Perfect! One of my top ten vacation destinations. I will pack Lolita and visit Tehran. The truth is, I fear the cold more than I fear terrorism. (And now I wonder how many Homeland Security types are about to read this blog because I used that last word.) Oh well, maybe they will offer me a job in a warm climate.
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Thanks, CC, for the great holiday. What was your middle name, anyway? Sure, we all struggled to get out of bed this dark and rainy morning, but honoring you with all that shopping was worth it. My AmEx card thanks you as well. My husband? Probably not so much. I can hardly wait to honor the pilgrims, my own ancestors, with even more blessed bargain shopping. We give thanks that here, in our beloved country, there is no end to the money you can save by honoring our past and simply spending.
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Amen.
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K3

Friday, September 25, 2009

So, What Exactly is a Yurt?

Okay, alternative dwellings fans, listen up. Your mongolian housing education course for the day is here, in case we have not already answered this question in person. All you ever wanted to know about yurts and more, coming right at you. So, what is a yurt? No, it is not yet another clever word invented by Dr. Seuss - remember Yurtle the Turtle, the king of the pond? Well, you should. Yertle wanted to reach higher than the moon so made all his fellow turtles stack on top of each other to raise him higher and higher until one of them burped, once considered a vulgar word for a children's book, landing Yertle in the mud where, you might conclude, he belonged. But I digress.
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According to the dictionary, a yurt is "a circular, domed, portable tent used by the nomadic peoples of central Asia." Think Mongolian yak herders... In our case this might read more accurately, "a circular, domed, tent made with high tech insulated astronaut-friendly fabric resting on a wooden platform with a lovely pine floor and technically considered "portable" but I would sure hate to move the darn thing(s), yak backs or no. But don't worry PETA supporters, no yaks have been harmed in the process.
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And why are we living in Oregon for a year? Well, because we rented our house in RI out for 2 years to a proper British naval officer and his family and spent only one of those years in Costa Rica before coming up with this brilliant next adventure. Three weeks ago we sat down with said proper British naval officer and he assured us all was in order in proper British naval officer fashion. So we loaded up all our belongings and sailed across the USA in a manner unlike my Mayflower ancestors but with perhaps some of the same ideology and motivation. Two weeks ago we arrived at our destination here on the left coast and unloaded our precious possessions, got the kids settled into their new schools, and continued pounding nails and generally getting our yurts to rise up in order. One week ago we received an e-mail from our proper British naval officer's housing and relocation department notifiying us that said officer and his family have been relocated back to England and effectively giving us 30-days notice of their impending departure as per their "military clause", a standard cursed feature of any military rental agreement. Did you hear that primal scream?
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Okay, so I digress, but if you know anyone in need of a lovely home in Portsmouth, RI to rent or buy please don't hesitate to holler! Meanwhile, back at the yurts... So, because there are five of us and we like a little bit of stretching space, we are actually building two yurts. Why not. And with a regular old rectangular-shaped building in between which will serve as the mudroom and official entrance to our little yurtdom. Yes, we are expecting a bit of mud. This is a photo of the larger of the two yurts so you get an idea of the structural framework.
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Next the floor is insulated and a lovely pine flooring nailed on and the whole thing cut into a circle to fit the yurt itself.
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Last Wednesday we took a field trip to Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove where we could walk around in a yurt for the first time and get a feel for our new concept of home, sweet home and start to envision where the furniture might go. We drove thru the equivalent of New England on our trip around one small section of this vast State through the land of magical words like Umpqua, Siuslaw and Siletz. Or Alpine. Or Drain. They loaded up the neat packages containing our new home on Andy's white truck - and here I could add that this is also the land of the white trucks. Trucks, in general, are abundant but there must have been an oversupply of white paint in Michigan in the past decade or maybe it's just like anything on your mind like when you want a baby you can't move without tripping over one. And even though I swore I would never live in a home that came on wheels, I am granting this one exception.
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So, by now you might have guessed that there is some assembly required. And soon you will be scratching your head wondering how the average Joe manages to erect one of these things. To begin, you put on a ring of insulation to prevent those nasty floor drafts and attach a ring of hardi-plank cement siding. Then you unfold the exterior like a baby gate and attach it.
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Now if it rains or floods inside you will effectively have a nice barrier which prevents the water from escaping, leaving you with a water feature. So you start to feel the urgency. Next comes the most dangerous part - inserting the roof rafters between the ring in the center and the high tension cable that runs around the top of the lattice. This is when Randy, one of your helpers, will stand on a 10 foot scaffold and regale you with the amazing story of how he fell 120 feet when a building he was working on was hit by a crane and collapsed around him. Three hours later they dug him out, finding him miraculously alive but quite broken. He was in a drug-induced coma for 3 months and 30 surgeries and so many pounds of titanium later here he is scampering around overhead declaring, "But I love heights!"
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Yesterday Christiana and I drilled and screwed four metal plates to the ends of 81 (That's 81x4x2 holes each!) vertical supports and attached them to the floor and rafters and sides, effectively screwing the whole thing together so the yurt does not collapse in case of snow or excessive rain or high winds!
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Today, with any luck, we will get the ceiling and walls and skylight dome on before the rains fall and the swimming pool forms. Pray for us, please, and look for the next cliff hanging edition of Yurts are Us...
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K3

Thursday, September 17, 2009

From Left to Right and Right to Left and Back Again

Okay, I guess it is only fair to warn you. This is a long blog detailing a long trip. But hey, it's been awhile since last I wrote and it is a big country. If you can, hum the tune, "This Land is Your Land", while you read along. It's probably been awhile... AND, there are pictures! I finally figured out how to add them to the body of the text!! Progress is being made daily. Grab a bowl of coffee and read on.
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Twenty one years ago this October 8 will mark the first time Andy and I drove across this vast nation we live in these days. The words, "I do," were still fresh on our lips as we had recently spoke them with great sincerity in front of a small crowd of family and friends in the Wayne Community Church and then danced until our shoes wore out on a snowy night in Maine during the peak of the foliage season. We had loaded up all our new possessions, which fit nicely in the back of a 2-door Honda Civic hatchback I purchased from my brother Brian using my readjustment allowance from the Peace Corps where Andy and I met and fell in love in the tropical warmth of Jamaica where everything seems like a good idea. But lest you think we had heatstroke and made the wrong decision, and you might not be the first, let me assure you that we heeded the extolled PC advice and returned home on the range to make sure it was the real thing before running off down the aisle with no looking back. Then off we drove, 3000 miles, for the first time to settle into our first home in the hills of San Francisco and our first jobs and soon welcomed our first baby, Hannah.
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Fast forward 11 years to 1999 when we loaded up two huge U-Hauls with our expanded collection of possessions once again, each with a car on a trailer in tow. We caved in and bought a game boy to entertain our three kids - Hannah plus two of our four Beaver State babies, Christiana and Micah. The kids traded off vans and mine held Micah's two spotted newts - Sir Isaac and Fig - and an assortment of plants I couldn't bear to leave behind like my single peony and we headed back from the left coast to the right. This time we were leaving Andy's home state where we had settled after being all shook up by the SF earthquakes. I was pregnant with Isaiah and we were leaving the remains of Noah and Jonah in a cemetery on a sunny hill in Salem where two sweetgum trees and a granite seat marked their spot. The sight of Mt. Hood retreating in my rearview mirrow allowed me to take a full breath and exhale a huge sigh of relief as I headed my family home to the Atlantic to heal.
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Fast forward another decade and there we were, last week and the week before, doing it all again in reverse. This time we had successfully whittled our "needs" down to one moving van, a Penske this time having learned from our "What maintenance?" U-Haul experience the time before. Andy had already driven one car across in July and I followed him across country like a good wife in my van with two bikes on the back and two different kids this time - our RI babies, Isaiah and Bella. (We left Micah behind, boo hoo, and Xana took the quick way, flying out to meet us in Portland.) Following that big yellow truck made for a quick game of "Banana", if you know what I mean... We figured they could switch off vehicles now and again but the DVD player and leather captain's chairs proved too much to resist. Technology has changed alot in a decade and the game boy lost its allure, replaced by a DS and an MP3 player which barely got used due to the DVD's and Polly Pockets.
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We headed up thru MA and back down thru RI and across CT and over the Hudson on the Tappan Zee bridge from NY to NJ, both of which have a no-cell-phone law while driving. We chatted freely after crossing the PA border and spent the first nite near U Penn. PA, by the way, has the best rest areas with great food choices. I can tell you right now that we saw a good many rest areas en route thanks to the "pinenut" bladders of Isaiah and Bella, who spent the trip filling them up as fast as we emptied them. "I'm thirsty," was quickly followed by, "I have to go potty." I figure they rode 3000 miles across this fair land but will mostly remember Middle Earth as they watched the extended play Lord of the Rings trilogy with perhaps some scenes from Rugrats in Paris mixed up in their memories of our trip across the nation.
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Skipping across OH and IN - not much to see besides barns and no wonder Michael Jackson left the armpit known as Gary - I have said this before, but seeing all the wind turbines spinning happily over the verdant waves of corn and soy in our nation's heartland - IL and IO - warmed my heart. But really, must they do all the work? And speaking of putting people back to work, I should add here that our nation's highways are under construction - all of them. We spent a night at Andy's cousin's farm and learned a bit about the farming-thousands-of-acres life before heading on to cross the mighty Mississippi River and eating lunch at ACOE dam #12 - voted the most scenic Subway in the nation in our very professional scientific study. There we sat in the sun and watched the heaping piles of coal on flat barges traversing the locks in Bellevue while chatting with the city manager. Iowa looks small on the map but it is not. I was elated by the "Welcome to Minnesota" sign and picked up the national public radio station broadcasting live from the MN State Fair. Perfect.
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We crossed over the mighty Missouri River on the Lewis and Clark trail, a great visitor's center where a gal walked her horse in the "pet walking" area and they had a "beware of poisonous snakes" sign on the scenic overlook trail. I figure they should post one of those at the airports in Costa Rica and that would pretty much cover them for the entire country where, by the way, we never saw such a warning in spite of the plethora of said creatures!
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Okay, here is where things slow down so read more slowly. One word - South Dakota (!) Guess we should have known we were in for some long miles ahead when they offered a 4 CD set at the first visitor's center on all kinds of fascinating and not-so-fascinating details to get you across their state without killing yourself from sheer boredom. Guns for Jesus should be their motto judging by the billboards and thank God we had those to read! I used to think it was terrible that the white man hung out of train windows and shot at the buffalo passing thru this vast expanse but now I understand their desperation completely. I was ready but we never saw even one buffalo in 3000 miles. Ask me anything about SD. They have a state dinosaur, the triceratops, and I really wished I would see one running at us thru the miles of sunflower farms which seemed so lovely at first... As an aside, many states have state dinosaurs. RI does not. But one of my wonderful uncle's lasting legislative achievements as a State Senator from our neighbor, CT, was to get them one - the theropod - never heard of it but there you have it.
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So it is really called the Mt. Rushmore State and that is as it should be since that awe-inspiring monumental achievement made every long and boring hundreds of miles across SD worth the trip. Dream big! It is an amazing achievement and you should make a point of seeing it before you die. Bella had a bloody nose there and bled on the stone, a family tradition as my Dad recently bled on the Blarney Stone, and we renamed it Mt. Gushmore.
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We had to seek shelter from an awesome hail storm as we hiked the presidential path and in the walkway of flags RI was touching OR, how poignant...
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Safe to say we were the only RI plates in the multi-tiered parking garage and we made the kid's day who was working his summer away taking money at the park entrance and asking folks, "Where you from?" That's what he said after he said, "No," when we said RI and asked for a discount for distance traveled - "But you just made my day!"
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When you do go to Rushmore, enter thru Wyoming. Here the deer and the antelope really do play and the landscape is varied and interesting with the Rocky's looming in the western sky. Black oil rigs pump away in folks' backyards like prehistoric critters themselves and their owners smile all the way to the bank. Wyoming is a state where you can really STREEETTTCCCHHH out and you can do whatever you want in your own backyard and nobody else will know. This is the state I was traversing as NPR reported on that poor gal who had been found imprisoned in that creepy CA backyard all these years later but looking around WY one can easily see how that could happen.
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Entering into MT the sky really does seem to get bigger. Courtesy of the pinenut bladder twins, we happened to stop at the site of Custer's last stand, the Battle of Little Big Horn. There we listened to a very engaging park ranger recount the entire day as well as a good bit of the history of those times. We should have stayed for hours but it was only supposed to be a pit stop... I sure felt sorry (read that with a western twang...) for how we treated Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and so many other proud and wise men of their time who fought so hard and unsuccessfully to live in peace. NPR chose this very moment to do a Pete Seeger show and I drove while singing along to folk music inspired by the landscape around me, including songs from his days with Woody Guthrie. We sang "This Land is Your Land" while we traveled thru Bozeman and crossed over the continental divide to Butte, home of the largest scary still-filling superfund lake site in the land, and on into Missoula where Steve and Heidi of the Christiana posse put us up for the night. We talked and dreamed of Jamaica with jerk chicken and Red Stripe in our bellies.
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We climbed thru the serious mountain passes all in the next day with gorgeous views of Lake Couer D'Alene as we crossed the skinny part of Idaho's panhandle. In WA the weather was wild and I ran over a good number of quintessential tumbleweeds in the road as we approached and entered into threatening dust and lightening storms under black skies. "I hope there aren't any tornadoes," Andy remarked casually, scaring me to death. It was blowing like crazy in the windy Columbia Gorge where hundreds of wind turbines lined the river, a new feature since our last trip thru. The wind and kite surfers criss-crossed the river with their splotches of fast-moving color and we pulled into Hood River in time for dinner. Our stated goal for the entire trip was to be right there so I could swim across the mighty Columbia from WA to OR on Labor Day the next morning and we made it!
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Early the next rainy dark morning ("Get used to it," I thought to myself), several hundred swimmers loaded onto a sternwheeler and travelled across the river where we jumped off the not-so-low side in flights of ten. By the time we reached the WA shoreline the sun had come out and before we jumped into the sweet water a rainbow appeared and spanned the course like a magical map. I held my nose and goggles and was the last one in after my new friend, Alcatraz Joe, who was celebrating his 75th birthday. I adjusted my goggles and started swimming easily for the border in the middle of the river to re-enter Oregon after a decade away. After 6 days of driving it felt heavenly to move and stretch with each stroke. I pulled my arms thru the pale green river waters which are home to the salmon and sturgeon I had worked for years to save. I thought of the waterfalls the dams had drowned but could not feel their pull. Each stroke brought me closer to crossing over as I swam directly and willingly towards Mt. Hood - the same white pointed peak I was so happy to see receding behind me a decade ago. The water was warm and the happy arms of my family greeted me with a dry towel as I emerged under the rainbow's end to begin our new life here. Again.
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K3

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Once More to the Lake


I woke up this morning shivering next to Bella. It has been in the 90's during the day but it cools off quickly in these Maine woods and I need to put a quilt back on the bed. "Mom, are we staying for the whole week?" Bella asked my still closed eyes. "Good, 'cuz Danielle's Mom says they are staying for the week too," she said snuggling in, assured that all was well in her 5-year-old world. She and her new playmate would have many more hours spent swimming to the raft and playing house between the red boat house and the big, wooden swingset.
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No matter where in the world I have been for the rest of the year, I have spent some part of almost every summer of my life on Pocasset Lake and on Richardson's Beach doing exactly what Bella is doing. This year she is finally able to swim to the raft by herself, a milestone she and all my kids have attained over the years, like my generation before them. If you look at the lake from above, it is shaped like a big, blue teddy bear lying on its back and gazing up at the sky from the green woods that surround it. Our beach is perched on the left shoulder before the open white doors of the boat house which have watched over all of us as we learned to swim in the sweet waters and rubbed our feet in the sand.
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This morning I emerged from the cool darkness of my back bedroom with Bella in tow and opened the sliding doors of the screened-in porch to greet the rising sun. A loon called loudly from the waters of Pickerel Pond sparkling in the sun behind the cabin. Yesterday's beach towels hung on the line, the neat procession of our new Save the Bay swim towels interrupted by Snoopy and Betty Boop. Slowly, everyone makes the transition from the cool darkness of their dreams to the skylit brightness of the cabin where the sun and the loons and I with my coffee are ready to greet them.
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It is another morning in Maine and soon we will all don our bathing suits and sunscreen for another day spent on our beach. We who have grown up with the taste of this water on our tongues will watch over our children as they learn its flavor. We will line up our chairs on the beach and stare out beyond the raft anchored to our shore by its yellow buoys to the opposite shoreline whose profile of trees and hills we have memorized unknowingly in our brains. It satisfies us because it is familiar. We will talk of our lives spent mostly away from this place we all love so viscerally until our voices trail off and the lure of the lake draws us back to the present. We will all realize that we are here and we are hot and even the older folks will eventually end up in the lake once more. We will run our fingers through its liquidity and catch glimpses of the fish who are drawn to the brightness of the shallow waters but quickly dart away to darker depths, frightened by our motion. We will float, surrounded by its willingness to hold us, and gaze up at the sky like so many misplaced buttons on our teddy bear's shoulder.
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The lake will know us and the loons will sing our names until our ashes are scattered and our cry becomes a distant echo.
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K3

Friday, August 14, 2009

I swim because I am part fish...


As promised, check out the following link to see my 3 seconds of fame on a Save the Bay commercial! Hot off the press... Tomorrow, we swim!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prjZIjHcsZE

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just Keep Swimming...


See Kelly. See Kelly swim!
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That is the opening line of my new swimmer's page. Now, in addition to this blog, my beloved e-mail account, my new Facebook wall, my cell phone, and about three street addresses I use regularly in spite of the fact that I live transiently out of my Toyota Sienna, I now also have a Swimmer's Page to manage! (follow the links on http://www.savebay.org/ if you dare) Is it summer? Is it sunny? Are my kids hungry? Who cares?! I am busy on my laptop... I love these things, I do admit, tho I'd be happy to throw my phone in the lake.
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But summer means swimming to me and swimming means Saving the Bay so log off I must. This is my ninth year to swim the 1.7 miles across Narragansett Bay, the waters of my youth and beyond. Rhode Island is the Ocean State and I grew up on Aquidneck Island, the original Rhode Island as you may have learned from an earlier post I ranted about. I have always been surrounded by water. But even you folks in, say, Iowa, really oughta learn to swim because the sea level IS rising after all and there once was this really big flood.. I love to swim. And other than that one time when I inadvertentely wore 17 pounds on my scuba weight belt I have always been perfectly at home in the water. The saltier the better. I spent half of my youthful summers at second beach riding waves and floating with my ears just below the water line drowning out the busy summer beach noise and watching the gulls fly overhead in search of someone's sandwich to steal. The other half of my summer was spent on our lake in Maine where there were no waves and the water tastes sweet. We waterskiied because in those days there was no easy tubing option and we swam to the raft where we practiced our diving skills and where I think I was 20 when I finally got up the nerve to do a back dive off the edge. We played King of the Raft for hours, screaming no and meaning yes to being highland flung off the edge by our teenage heart throbs. But, I digress...
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Swimming, yes, that was it. I love to swim, did I mention that? It is meditative for me and even though my shoulders are a bit tight from swimming about a mile the past three days in a row, I think I could swim forever. But I am prone to exaggeration. Save the Bay is a great organization dedicated to restoring Narragansett Bay and the surrounding waters, educating folks of all ages about the salty and brackish waters that surround us and the other critters who call it home and scrubbing it clean of all the nasty things we have seen fit to discard in it, out of sight, out of mind-ishly. This year is the 33rd Swim across the Bay which is the largest fundraiser for Save the Bay. Each of us 3 or 400 swimmers have to raise at least $300 to get a number sharpied onto our bulging biceps, don our brightly colored caps, wade across the seaweed covered rocks guarded closely by the War College and start swimming. Heading out in four different colored waves and escorted by a fleet of brightly colored kayaks, it makes for what must be a beautiful sight. Fortunately they stop all boat traffic in the bay while we make our way across so the best view is saved for those driving across the Newport Bridge. One year my nieces were riding across the bridge and spotted us swimming. "There's Aunt Kelly, saving the bay!" they said. And for me, that is the primary reason I do it.
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But the other one is that we have so much fun training and, did I mention I love to swim? I play, I mean "train," with a group of friends and one or another of my children. We meet for training swims at a variety of beaches and shorelines around Narragansett Bay and beyond so that each of these swims is an adventure in itself. Last year I swam with Joyce and Eve in the ancient emerald green Mayan waters of Lake Atitlan. This year I swam with Micah in the clear, turquoise waters along the white sandy shores of Playa Conchal below our house in Costa Rica. Every year I meet my friends in the greenish waters of second and third beach on our island or at Mackerel Cove on the next island over, Jamestown. This year Rachel and I swam at Narragansett Beach for the first time. We typically do a Provincetown Swim for Life in September from Race Point to the marimba band playing in drag in the waters below the Boatslip at the finish line. I swim in the sweet, brown waters of Pocasset Lake in Maine and in Siltcoos Lake in Oregon. When necessary, we enter the chlorine human habi-trail of any nearby pool where we talk and flip our way through lap after lap with our fins and kickboards. Like so many things in life, the journey to the swim can be more fun than the destination itself.
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But for me, being in the middle of Narragansett Bay in my swimsuit and Save the Bay cap is undoubtedly a worthwhile thrill. As I swim across to Potter's Cove in Jamestown, every time I turn my head to the left in my alternate breathing pattern I see the Newport Bridge moving across the water with me. To my right sits Gould Island which has an interesting history including as the former training site of the Harvard football team but which is currently owned by the military and used to test torpedos or whatever else they dream up. I make a point of stopping midway between the bridge's two lofty spires to warm the waters of my wetsuit, if you know what I mean, and take it all in. I always think the kayakers are lucky with their vantage point. In the years that Andy kayaked next to me he spent the whole swim talking to other paddlers and I spent the whole time vaguely hearing him through the water in my ears and exhaling with my breath, "What?" to which he would reply, "Nothing."
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I ushered in this new century with my first swim in 2000. Isaiah was a baby and I had gone back to the YMCA pool to get in shape where I met Rachel and Liz and they convinced me to do the swim. That year most of the swimmers got stuck in a rip tide and I swam in place for an hour trying to get into Potter's Cove before we all finally realized through our increasing hypothermia that we had to abandon our course. We cut diagonally across the tide and climbed onto the rocks south of our destination, hiking over to the cove and jumping back in to swim to the finish line. It took me hours to warm up and when I did I realized my numb feet were all sliced up from the barnacle-encrusted rocks we traversed. But I was hooked. The next year I was back out there swimming and have jumped in every year since. Hannah has joined me for three years and Micah makes his debut this year. Christiana does not love to swim long distances but I am hopeful that Isaiah and Bella will join me some day. I look forward to the once-a-year chiropractic adjustment I get before I swim and the free massage waiting for me at the end. I have a collection of great beach towels they wrap us in after each swim and have given away a hefty stack of swimming t-shirts.
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Somewhere in Costa Rica right now a Tico is sporting a Save the Bay t-shirt. A tourist is walking along Playa Conchal saying, "Well look at that, Martha, that towel is from Save the Bay! Isn't that in Rhode Island??" And I am preparing to swim across the lake on a sunny day in Maine. Nato ergo sum. I swim, therefore I am.
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K3
P.S. "All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.P.S. Usually the only press I ever get is when I am sporting an attractive swim cap and goggles. (Thanks John Martin for the great photo!) A couple weeks ago we made a commercial for Save the Bay where my hair is actually blowing in the wind for a change. I will attach the link when it hits the streets! Sure to be a YouTube hit...

Monday, July 20, 2009

At the Copa, Copacabana...




Summer has finally arrived in New England and waking up feels more like a celebration than a groan these days. And with all this sunshine comes more moving around. A week ago we said Ate Logo to Hannah after one short week together buying sandals and peanut butter. "Our little girl, all grown up and off savin' Brazil." From what, I am not sure. She is now living in Copacabana 4 blocks from the beach with a host family who have 2 sons her age. No wonder I have not heard from her except to say she arrived safely and her head hurt from speaking so much Portuguese. She will, indeed, Fala Portuguese for the next 6 months with all her classes in that Iberian tongue. Hopefully her head will not hurt the whole time.
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On the home front, after waxing dramatically on and on in my last post about the comforts of my minivan I was slapped upside o' my head by a short course in physics. Here in the Ocean State, you see, most folks consider the turn signal to be an optional feature on their vehicles, rather like the cigarette lighter. They figure that of course you can intuit where they are planning to go in a split second, even while traveling at 35 mph. My powers of perception being a bit blurry from my time away, I failed to foresee that the Ford Focus in front of me was actually a volunteer driver for the tennis tournament and would be turning right, right now, to pick up some players at the tennis courts and transport them back to the Hall of Fame. In order to avoid hitting the vehicle rapidly approaching in the opposite lane and the two ladies walking home from the beach on a sunny evening, I was forced to firmly apply my anti-locking brakes and get a better focus on, yes, his Focus.
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For the exorbitant cost of one undented bumper and a new headlight I could be sitting comfortably in a Herman Miller Aeron chair. I could even have his and hers in matching shades of black if I purchased them from Sit for Less. But no. I am stuck here waiting for the consequences of my unexpected meet-and-greet to be finished. In the meantime, I left my laptop cord in Maine and the washer and dryer broke in our house even while Andy was busy replacing a leaking window in our bedroom so all things considered, my brief honeymoon with life in the fast lane with all its modern accoutrements has come to a smashing end. Oh, and did I mention the flat tire? "How do I miss thee, Costa Rica. Let me count the ways..." I know, I know, all of these things could happen in the tropics as well. And they did! Let me just insert my brief bastardization of Shakespeare in a reverent moment of fantasy.
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And speaking of bastards...no, not you, honey. It would not be summer for Andy without the feel of four tires on hot pavement beneath him as he steers through an assortment of States and sometimes distant lands, logging thousands of road miles on some vehicle or another. To this end, Andy imported his brother, Buster, and the two of them left two days after Hannah to drive across country, the first wave of the family to hit the Oregon trail. They are somewhere around Ruby Ridge in Idaho as I type, where Buster owns the abutting property to Randy Weaver, whom you may or may not recall as the poor guy who invoked the ire of the FBI for various trumped up reasons, resulting in a stand-off and shoot-out at his cabin where he and his family had retreated from "a corrupted world" to worship God, home school their kids and live thru the apocalypse they believed was imminent. Turns out they were right, albeit for the wrong reasons. When the apocalypse came knocking in the form of our government, it ended the lives of his 14 year old son and his wife for what was ultimately determined to be the heinous crime of missing his court date and violating his bail. Right here in the land of the free and the brave while I was delivering my second baby, Christiana. Although reading the Mayflower, it turns out even the Pilgrims were not so tolerant of religious freedom when it was not focused in their own myopic vision. Okay, I promise not to use that word again...
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Christiana is busy bussing tables at the Salvation Cafe and living the life of luxury with her best friend and surrogate family on Meadowlark Lane. Micah is in Maine and me and my happy sidekicks are here in the smallest state with the still-longest name waiting for our wheels to join him. Altho, technically, he won't be there. He is heading to DC this week to spend time with friends from Costa Rica on Capitol Hill. Yes, summer is in full swing and the Kittels are on the move. You never know when you might encounter one of us...
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K3
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P.S. I might have said, "when one of us might come into focus" if I had not promised not to.
P.P.S. Have you voted for us on our 2010 Antarctica trip yet?



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Floating along...




Back in the land of the busy consumers, trying to readjust. I am looking out at another cool and rainy "summer" day in Rhode Island. (Photo of cold spring runoff still running off over the dam in Maine last week.) When our plane landed three weeks ago it seemed like only the portion of me that had fully arrived was the part that had her passport stamped. Slowly, slowly, the rest of me is starting to show up. But all seems a bit tilted. Walking the familiar sands of Second Beach which I have known and loved for over 40 years even seems a bit off. The color green dominates the landscape but it is not the same luscious green my eyes are used to watching explode in the tropical heat. The sky is blue and the clouds are white but neither are as brilliantly so. The color of the sand is brown-ish, definitely not the white shelly sand of Conchal or even the browner shades of Tamarindo. These sands have been formed by a different breed of elements tumbled smooth and tiny by the Atlantic, which is of a colder hue itself and feels less friendly to my bare feet. The shells I scan as I walk along are jingle shells, scallops and moon snails, not the puca shells, olives or screw augers I have perused on my beach walks in the previous months of this year. (Photo of moon jelly in much warmer waters.)
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I got in my Japanese-made mini van and gave thanks to the God of Craigs List that we were unable to sell it last year before we left, try as we did. Backing out of my brother's paved driveway for the first time onto a smooth road I said to the kids, "It feels like we are floating!" I count my blessings every time I get in it and scan the back-up camera, glancing at the kids in my rear view mirror with their alien head sets, silently tuning in to a movie. I adjust the lumbar support in my leather seat and think I could happily live in its heated and air conditioned comfort forever. This one vehicle offers more comfort and features than our whole house in Costa Rica. Arigato Toyota.
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Pressing "agree", I searched through the radio options and re-programmed my favorites on my car computer where they conveniently reside under the GPS map. Recalling how a radio search in Costa Rica often led to not even one station stop, I bid a fond farewell to Radio Doce and all those blasts from my past - it's National Public Radio from here on out for my brain stimulation as I float along oblivious to even the price of gas. As happy as I am to hear the familiar voices of Tom Ashcroft and Terry Gross providing intellectual fodder, I did have to pause and wonder at the all-to familiar commercial heard hourly - what exactly is the Herman Miller Aeron chair they are still incessantly advertising anyway? So I looked it up.
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Apparently it is the best office chair. Ever. It comes in your choice of nine fancy names for black and 13 fabric styles. You can swivel in luxurious ergonomic comfort on its sturdy graphite base, having just spent hundreds more dollars on your office chair than the average Nicaraguan makes in one year. Fabulous. I am getting one. Maybe two. It is difficult, after all, to decide between carbon or hematite. The website claims the name is synonymous with social responsibility so perhaps I can use the free shipping option to send the extra one to some poor Nico struggling to sit under his zinc roof at the Managua dump, Casa Dolce Casa, in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. I can even order it in Espanol. Who knew there was a website called Sit4Less where the fabulously low "right" price is only $649?
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I might get the foot rest with built-in massage balls while I am at it. All that lower back support will eliminate my need for stomach muscles, which are hard enough to come by at my age with my overtaxed uterus which has been fully inflated seven times. We all know how a balloon looks after you blow it up repeatedly... And those massage balls will conveniently replace my need to actually get out of my fancy chair and take a real walk, say barefoot - on a beach. I could probably hang a picture of seashells above my desk or a verdant tropical scene, sprinkle some sand between my toes, and really get my money's worth. I could sit all day in virtual peace with true comfort only one of 103 revolutions of "geometrical tilt tension based on natural human body linkages" away. Wow. Finally a real life use of geometry. I knew I should have paid closer attention in tenth grade.
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Anyway, for now I will enjoy the lower back support of my heated leather minivan seat instead. It may not have a lightweight and breathable Pellicle fabric back to it but it does have arm rests. And it cost me over 60 times as much as that designer chair anyway.
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K3
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P.S. Okay history buffs, pay attention. Here's a newsflash from here in the smallest state with the maybe soon-to-be-shortened longest name.
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How many of you know that the Ocean State was granted its charter by King Charles II in 1663 to become the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations? Or that the latter portion of this auspicious title bears reference to the large land holdings on the mainland across the water from this fair island on which I now sit and type? Or that this island upon which I write is the original "Rhode Island" referred to in said charter? It was named the Island of Rhodes upon discovery by the Italian explorer Verrazzano Island 500 years ago because it reminded him of its namesake island back home in the Mediterranean. Roger Williams saw fit to change it to the Island of Rodes, dropping the "h" in reference to the Greek word meaning "roses" which he must have found here in abundance as Rosa rugosa, beach rose, still thrives here and sweetens our salty air. This island is now commonly called Aquidneck Island to avoid the inevitable confusion folks from afar understandably have regarding whether or not our little state is an island.
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Well, it seems some people are offended by the reference to the word "plantations" in our State's title. They consider it a throwback to slavery. And while little Rhody was indeed a major player in the slave trade and efforts are currently underway to make reparations for the vast fortunes amassed on that historic front by families like the Browns and DeWolfs, the word in this instance is actually innocent of all such connotations. However, our venerable leaders have voted to put the State-formerly-known-as ballot measure before us citizens re said moniker for next year's election. They propose we agree to become quite simply, the State of Rhode Island. Period. And the originator of the legislation has stated, "It's got nothing to do with Barack Obama." As if. While I am all for simplification, I do think this is taking things a bit far. Our little State has been well served by our big name for hundreds of years. I see no need to change that.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Adios Amigos




Two chestnut mandibled toucans and one large green macaw named Fred are squawking outside our hotel room as I type my final farewell to this country we have called home for the past 10 months. It is with great sadness for us all that our time has drawn to a close for now.
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We spent our final weekend on the beautiful ranch of our friends, Finca de Imagines, and enjoyed the pastoral views of hundreds of healthy cows grazing and tens of horses cantering in the fresh green grasses brought by the welcome drops of the rainy season. We toured around and admired the primary and secondary tropical forestland, the canopy interrupted now and again by the spectacular green roundness of one individual who had managed to grow tall above the others and now commanded the best view to the ocean beyond. Midge and Brock are determined to protect these forests and are demonstrating to their neighbors that grasses for grazing the cows so loved by the Guanecastican ranchers actually grow best in the shade and the cows are happier out of the sun as well. This is an important lesson for a country of cowboys who have often been encouraged by their government to clear the rainforest for grazing.
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Back at the hacienda, the bromeliads and epiphytes burdening the ancient spreading arms of huge mangos in the yard attract a whole host of birds, leafcutter ants, and mariposas like the blue morpho to the rotting fruit beneath, each tree representing an entire ecosystem. I never tire of watching the lines of leaf cutters marching so precisely down the tree trunk and across the yard, each holding its own impossibly large sail of green leaf overhead on its long journey traversing a well-worn path back to the nest. Every so many of these leafy sails carried the tiny, minimus ants riding shotgun and protecting the burdened worker below from a wasp that likes to land on the leaf and lay its egg in the ant's head where the larvae will grow into its brain and kill its ant host before emerging to fly away. Yuck. These are amazing insects who compost the leaves in their enormous underground nests to grow a tiny fungus which feeds the colony. When a new queen emerges and leaves her birthplace to start a new colony she carries with her a tiny bit of this vital fungus, like the sourdough starter the Oregon trail brides carried across country to nourish their new lives in the unknown wilds of the west.
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I bathed in one of two rivers that traverses their land, cooling the roots of the trees and watering its wildlife, while we watched hopefully for a spider monkey to come swinging through the limbs above. We kept our eyes open to the possibility of seeing the scarlet macaws who fly through the area on occasion but they went unseen by us as well.
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Bella had her first horseriding experience on Gringo, a cinnamon colored mare, and Isaiah got back on the proverbial horse after his last bad experience riding with the older kids on Playa Conchal at Christmas time. Happily, his gentle steed restored his confidence. Senor Chino, as he is affectionately known, is retired now from his days of carrying all the ranch kids to school and patiently waiting outside the windows while they learned to read and write before bearing them all home again. Nowadays he is called into service from the pasture only on occasion to recall his days as the local school bus. I rode with Bella awhile and then we mercifully let the big kids go off on a longer, faster ride without us. It lifted my heart to see Christiana and Micah riding away with Kerry and Stewart with such a sense of confidence and freedom. Midge and I unsaddled the sweaty old timers and they perked up immediately, kicking up their heels and skipping off to join the herd with a friskiness they never dared show while we were onboard, lest we get the wrong idea. Clearly they had learned to work smarter, not harder, in their years of handling humans.
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It was a lovely place to end our time here on the "island." Micah will be staying on with Kerry and his family for another week or so and then they both will join us on our temperate island. The rest of us sat in the heat of the outdoor jacuzzi last night to ease the chill from the San Jose altitude and sipped on a cool drink while reminiscing about our year here with awe and sadness. It has been an amazing experience in so many different ways. The kids have all grown and matured and are returning back to the States healthy and taller with Spanish words in their brains and stellar school transcripts. We are thankful that nobody was injured or bit by a snake and have only the one scorpion tale from Micah to tell. Everyone made such great friends and we have met so many interesting people that we must figure out how to return very soon. I am very thankful for the time I had away from the usual distractions to pursue my lifelong dream of writing a book. I hope someday it will be published. Then perhaps I can revisit the subjects of this lovely land and write about the wildlife, the people, the beaches, and the rainforests of this country and the wonder of experiencing it all with my family for a year.
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So, for now, Hasta Luego, Amigos. Know that we will miss you all but carry you in our hearts and minds and conversations until we meet again.
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Mucho Gracias por todos. Amor Y Besos.
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K3




Saturday, June 6, 2009

Life is a beach




Happiest when sand is between my toes, I love to walk the beach, any beach, and have spent years of my life on the sands of beaches from Rhode Island to Oregon; from Portugal to Costa Rica. I have never lived far from the salty water I crave. With Hannah home here to visit we decided to move to a house on Tamarindo beach to live out our last days in our year of Pura Vida. It has been a great move. We enjoyed the final days and evenings before the move on the white sandy beaches of Playa Conchal swimming in her turquoise waters so clear you could see the sand between your toes. I had one evening swim with my three oldest children and one with my two oldest daughters that will take a permanent spot in my memory bank.
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In between houses we took all the kids on a road trip down south to Uvita where we have owned property for several years now. It is a much greener and lush part of the Pacific coast where the jungle meets the sea and the Ticos still outnumber the Gringos in a positive kind of ratio that lends to a more tranquillo life. We had the run of a lovely new house overlooking the sea where we sat around the dinner table enraptured by the tales of our host who has experienced life to the fullest in his travels from Africa to the Amazon.
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"You haven't lived until you have heard a hyena laughing outside your ring of fire," he told our captive ears.
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So, we have not. Lived. Yet.
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We took the five kids on a trip out to Canos Island which lies some 15 miles off the coast and is a gem. We took a panga, which is a small boat with an outboard and a canopy used by most fishermen here, down the many miles of mangrove lined Sierpe River until we reached the sea. Crossing the bar proved to be a rail gripping ordeal as we exited the river at low tide which meant there was a line of towering waves marching towards us between where we were and our open sea destination beyond. Walter, our driver, who looked about 15 but was probably 30 in true Tico fashion, expertly assessed the breaking waves and kept us jockeying for position until we could get past the white water.
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"Here we learn to drive a boat before we can ride a bike," our guide Michael explained to ease my white knuckled grip on Bella's life jacket.
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Once safely on the open ocean our boat, which seemed so natural in the river, suddenly felt very inadequate. We beat our way across the advancing swells towards the island which lay far in the distance. When we were nearing the island we came upon a pod of spotted dolphins, some of which were sleeping. They woke up, leaping into the air and entertaining us all, except Isaiah, who was feeling a bit sick by then and laid down in the merciful lull while we watched them.
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Once we could see the line of palm trees backed by the thick jungle of the uninhabited island I started to scan the sky, certain that I would see a flock of pterodactyls circling overhead. Canos is part of a chain of offshore islands that includes Cocos and the Galapagos which lie off the Pacific coast, the former being where they filmed Jurassic Park. Indeed, as we approached the island the theme music played in our brains and it felt very familiar from having watched those films multiple times. We snorkeled before converging on the beach for lunch with a small fleet of fellow snorkel and dive boats. The undersea life was lovely. We saw schools of bonita, yellow tailed surgeons, and our goal for the day, a shark. The trip home was also through a pod of dolphins, but crossing the bar at high tide with the surf was easy. Late afternoon on the river brought out the monkeys, howlers and white-faced capucins, and we saw cool bats (photo) and the piece-de-resistance, three scarlet macaws. Fabulous.
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Upon our return we loaded up the Black Panther a couple of times and moved to Tamarindo beach where I am sadly typing out my last morning. Usually we are woken up by howlers in the green space next door and we have had our encounters with bold raccoons partying on our porch all night long. Andy tried to speak to them politely in his best raccoon, which must ultimately be like his best Spanish, as instead of leaving they simply moved their dancing onto the metal roof. One afternoon a band of howlers ran across said roof creating a surprisingly loud cacophany and jumped into the matapalo tree which abuts our porch. We sat in our rocking chairs and watched about 20 of them munching away for happy hour a few feet in front of us (photo). Yesterday I got in the shower and looked out the large window next to me into the watching eyes of a howler hanging from her tail happily eating the yellow flowers growing between us. Magic. I cleaned and she ate and we parted company feeling mutually satisfied.
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In a few minutes I am going to take my final early morning beach walk down to the estuary with my friends - the ladies of Tamarindo. Yesterday Susan and I passed a herd of about 20 cows strolling down the beach, a Tico moment etched in my brain but unfortunately not on my camera. The day before we sat in the estuary with Midge and a pink roseate spoonbill flew between us and an impossibly blue sky - fabulous. These ladies have lived here since Andy and I first arrived on this beach in 1987 and it is always enlightening to hear their stories of this town that has changed so much in the interim. Some things are eternal, fortunately - the line of palms on the beach, the flocks of birds and crocs in the estuary, the eternal sunshine and warmth we will miss. I eye my one pair of jeans which have sat in my closet all year along with my capris and short sleeved shirts and socks and fleece, all of which have way too much fabric to even consider putting on my body here. Even shorts are too confining in the heat. Reluctantly I have placed these strangers in the bottom of my bag, scrolling forward to the day which rapidly approaches when I will be frantically digging them out in the coolness of June in New England.
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Soon the sand between my toes will be replaced by little balls of cotton which rub off my socks. The last of my footprints on these sands will be washed away by the relentless incoming tide and new ones will appear in my wake. My friends here on the beach will greet the new faces of this place which sees so many footprints come and go. And I, in turn, will sink my feet into newly familiar grains of sand which have been tumbled and polished by the waters of a different shore.
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K3

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Noah!


Today is our son Noah's birthday. He would be 13. We have not seen or held him since he was one. Twelve years have passed since the day we celebrated his first and only birthday. Twelve years since his brother and sisters helped him blow out one candle on a cupcake. Twelve long years yet some day soon twenty two years will have gone by. Tempis Fugit.
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Today Hannah is flying here for two weeks and we are all so excited to see her! She turned 20, as I blogged, a month ago and we will bake her a cake and eat chicken, again, as Bella points out often. After Hannah leaves we will only have one week left of our life here in Costa Rica. School gets out June 5 and we are now trying to put the brakes on the clock, which keeps its own pace. We have met so many great people here and do not want to say goodbye. Second and third thoughts cloud every daily event.
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Saturday I completed my scuba course! This time dolphins escorted us on the way out, leaping into the air and landing with a happy splash, and the mighty Pacific was as calm as a lake - perfect diving conditions. After swallowing a few moments of Panic - Remembered, I managed to concentrate on Hannah, the instructor, and not on the fear rising from my belly as I descended. "Do this for Noah and Jonah," I said to myself as the day fell in between their two birthdays and I found myself busy looking at nudibranchs in the clear and incredibly blue water around us. We completed my original dream of diving as a family, Andy, Christiana and I, and saw some very cool creatures - blue tunicates, moral and jeweled moray eels, a white tipped shark, a seahorse, spiny lobster, a spotted eagle ray, blue and red sea stars, octopus, and a fabulous assortment of fish including moorish idols, rainbow parrots, king angels, and my favorite bright blue juvenile damsels. It was fun, as it is supposed to be, and I am looking forward to going again before we leave.
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Yesterday we went to Agam's 4th birthday party. (photo) Agam is Bella's Israeli friend and we admire her beautiful family. Agam's brother Afik and sister Ella are at CDSG with the other kids. We had a delicious spread of middle eastern food and I loved listening to them sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew and carry Agam around in her little chair in celebration with another song. It was a fabulous cross-cultural event with people speaking Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, and English that i heard. One of the things I love about being here and will miss greatly!
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But the most meaningful encounter I had was meeting Candy, a stately, red-headed woman from South Africa who has lived here for many years now with her Argentinian husband. She has a beautiful family with one daughter, the youngest, and three older brothers. I could not help noticing, as always, that one of her sons was named Noah and was almost the age of our Noah. We started talking with the usual conversation here, which is where are you from, where do you live, where do your kids go to school, how long have you been here, but were interrupted.
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A little while later I was in the pool and she sought me out to ask about my family. Forever after I buried my sons this is a conversation I tend to avoid. Usually to no avail. What is the correct answer to "How many children do you have?" when the conversation is casual. How many times can you answer "five," when the correct answer is "seven," to avoid the inevitable but negate your son's existences? It is always a quandary for me. Candy pressed on. I noticed a slight belly on her tall, lithe frame and wondered if she were pregnant and if that was where we were headed. I wish that were so. As the conversation unfolded her need was revealed as she told me she had lost her second daughter, her fifth child, the week before Christmas.
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Candy and her husband, a doctor in Sta Cruz, live purposely in this country and in the bush for purity and peace. They don't believe in vaccinations and she never even uses Baygon, the lethal spray people here use like room freshener to battle nature in thir homes. But their neighbor rented out his land to a large scale rice farmer who has been spraying chemicals on his fields and they have been the unwitting recipients of his overspray, which has landed on them, their house, and their land. She was poisoned along with the rice pests and her baby died six months in utero. Their plants withered and their cows and six horses died, one of which also aborted her foal.
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This is a sad tale of environmental degradation and its human and inhumane consequences. We feed ourselves at our own peril. This farmer is within his rights here in the third world to spray his chemicals which have been banned in the US for safety and health consequences but are still manufactured by our homegrown wealthy chemical giants and sold to countries like this one instead. It is wrong. It is a crime. It is legal. And the results are tragic. In Nicaragua generations of cane workers are dying of kidney failure from chemical poisoning in the fields they must work to survive. Here in the land of eco-everything they use more agricultural chemicals than anywhere else in Central America, says one statistic. Bananas, rice, sugar cane, pineapple, melons - all brought to you by the good grace and giant bank accounts of chemicals that can kill you. Eat up! Perhaps it is best to stick with cheeseburgers in paradise.
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Tonight we will skip the rice and eat cake in celebration of the births of Hannah and Noah. And I will think about this sweet baby girl who was whisked away from the weeping eyes and pain-wracked body of her mother by well-meaning but ignorant nurses before she could be properly adored and memorized. Her name is Makeba and she is buried on her family's land in Costa Rica. Next door the plows are tilling the soil after the first rains in preparation for planting the new rice crop. She is named for Miriam Makeba who sang about Mama Africa for the last time in November of last year. Baby Makeba's song was silenced before it began, drowned by the sounds of a crop duster wiping her life from our planet while her family's tears water her grave.
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K3

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy Moth-ers Day!


Here's a special moth and a bad pun for all you moms out there on moth-ers day! Andy found it in Uvita a few weeks ago. And, a butterfly on Bella, of course. One of the nice things about living here is that we have two mother's days! Costa Rica celebrates on August 15 so we arrived to that unexpected holiday last summer. As a staunchly Catholic country, they have chosen this holy day of obligation - the Assumption of Mary - as the day to honor their Mothers. This is believed to be the day when Mary was assumed into heaven - body and soul - on the 40th day after her death and is one of the essential beliefs of the Catholic faith - that the Blessed Virgin Mary's body was not allowed to corrupt nor to lie in a tomb, a symbol of the promise Jesus gave that we will all be received into paradise. Here in Costa Rica on August 15 mothers prepare to receive tv's and appliances, the mark of true appreciation for mom in this culture.
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I am not Catholic, but there's your lesson for the day anyway. I am Metholic, having been raised both Methodist and Catholic all my life. I have always admired the Catholic faith for its unique reverence for Mary, the mother of God. I know about the BV's heavenly birthday because we buried our son Noah twelve years ago on August 15, unaware that here in Costa Rica mom's were busy cleaning out the old refrigerator in preparation for the new one. Noah was not assumed, as far as we know. He was cremated and we planted him around the planet instead. But he is remembered by me on Mother's Day, whatever day it falls on, as well as every other day.
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I had a great Mom's day yesterday. A bunch of families from the school descended on the new JW Marriott hotel near Tamarindo where we spent Saturday night. We enjoyed each other's company in the huge pool, took long beach walks, slept in their comfy beds, relaxed in the bathtub and the hot tub, and ate way too many french fries. They have a great kid's club and the little kids had 20 or 30 friends to play with. The big kids chose not to join us as their friends were in a fashion show in Tamarindo Saturday night at a club, but not a kid's club. They were modeling retro clothing from all the way back in the '90's! You know you're old when... I could have given them all kinds of things from that decade as I believe I am still wearing them! So that pretty much dates my wardrobe. I may even have something from the '80's, before most of my kids were even born!
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Friday afternoon we took the teacher's on an appreciation sunset cruise to mark the end of the school year. We sailed on a large catamaran with an open bar and pretty good guacamole to Playa Huevos, which probably was not named for chicken eggs. As soon as we dropped anchor we strapped on our snorkel gear and headed over to the shoreline. There we spent a good hour or more with Kim and Diver Dan Baldwin, two of the school's science teacher's exraordinaire, while they found creature after creature for us to examine. We played with a beautiful purple and orange sea star, a pencil urchin, a very cool arrow crab with a bright yellow mouth and were entertained by a spiny brittle star which undulated all around our hands. Underwater we found a jeweled moray eel hanging with a scorpion fish, lots of bright blue juvenile damsels, a few dainty butterfly fish, a hawkfish, and I followed a lovely spotted eagle ray. It was a great day spent with the fun faculty and great parents we have met here. We will miss them all.
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Well, I hope all you moths and mothers had a great day yesterday. If not, August is coming.
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K3
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PS My blog is being featured this week in Travelblogs.com! Welcome all you travel blogs readers, enjoy! Thanks Eric! And congratulations on your new baby and to your wife on her first Mother's Day!!







Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Micah!


Micah is 16, it's official. For two days now... He can't drive here in Costa Rica yet, but he can drink! Yes, you can drink before you can drive. Just not in quick succession, you should wait a year or two. Here he is in a rare appearance with clothes on before a school dance. The jacket did not even make it out the car door.
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It is the rainy season again here, though a much friendlier version than October. The air has become heavy and the mornings are sunny but the clouds build all day and the thunder threatens in the distance by sunset, alternating with the howlers who like to sing at dusk and dawn. The lightning shows have been great entertainment and the rain usually follows, clearing the air for sleeping.
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On Micah's big day Wednesday we picked the kids up from school after sports and headed to Tamarindo. It was humid and overcast all day. Micah wanted to eat at Mama's Deli and we sat at a table on the beach as the day drew to a close. I should mention here that Mama is the Mama of Geronimo, Bella's first boyfriend who was present and showing off for her with his friends in their boxers. Clothing is kept at a minimum here in the tropics, which makes it a lovely place for a 16 year old boy. Even I, after 7 kids, have brought my belly out of hiding and put it back in the public domain, for better or worse. Even a lined bathing suit has too much fabric for comfort!
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Christiana and Micah went for a run down the beach and Bella and I walked in the water. We converged back at the table for drinks and a salad when suddenly the bright orange sun dropped below the clouds and melted into the ocean. Too bad I didn't have my camera, but if you've seen one sunset, you know... With the end of the sun the mosquitoes descended so we decided to move to a table under cover off the ground. As we were eating our pasta the skies opened up and it started pouring rain which was heavenly! Fiesta! Fortunately we did not leave the cake out in the rain, ahem, and we sang Feliz Cumpleanos with a chorus of falling agua and ate cake with a cool mist on our skin.
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Someday soon I may live to regret singing the praises of rain, but after so many months without
even one cloud in the blue sky it is a refreshing change of pace. That is human nature, is it not? We always seem to desire that which we do not have, be it weather or food or that someone special in our lives. I am not sure why it is our nature to be discontent and we struggle all our lives to overcome that with various prescriptions for counting our blessings. But it is. Start counting when you forget. But don't count your blessings before they hatch!
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Back to one of my blessings, Micah. He has had a great year here at the Country Day School as a sophomore. Next year he will return to St. Georges, which granted him only year's absence, and he is excited to switch back from being a Pirate to a Dragon once more. He will be in the dreaded Junior year and that might be tougher than usual following a year in the tropics. He is a smart boy, though, and if he applies himself he should do fine. He has had near perfect grades this year and his Spanish has improved greatly. He is swimming now, which warms my heart to see, as well as playing basketball. For his birthday all he wants to do is rent a Yet Sky, which is what they advertise of the beach for waverunners, so on Mothers Day he and his friends will be speeding thru the turquoise waters of Playa Conchal below us here. We rented them one other time at Easter when our friends were visiting. I took one ride with Andy and it gave me an instant headache. He should enjoy these things while he is still young.
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I labored for two days with Micah, the primogenitor, to convince him to enter this world and he is still not one who rushes into new situations. He has always liked to know what the plan is beforehand and has stood back and observed before deciding to enter into new situations or not while his big sisters sallied forth. He loves music of all kinds, including from the Broadway musicals we have seen. He has learned a lot about history this year with Mr. Berey who had them do very creative assignments such as making a CD of songs that represented different historical events, planning an entire trip around the world given certain parameters, and reenacting WW2 battles on the beach. He aced Chemistry thanks to the enthusiasm of Mrs. Baldwin and had a very insightful year in English with Miss Brigin who encouraged them all to EMBRACE their education. Indeed.
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As Mother's Day approaches I am thankful, indeed, for my many blessings. Happy Birthday Micah, and many more...
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K3