Sunday, May 29, 2011

and More Sod!

So, I've never been to a barn raising, but I imagine it would feel something like today! I was unable to accompany the boys to MFS yesterday but made sure I would 'get in on the action' today, and that I did!

Mike was up and out of the house by 6:15 a.m. to meet the sod truck and some other truly dedicated parents and community members. The boys and I followed about 8 a.m. As we neared La Colina Lodge, we were greeted by a huge sod truck and several parents hoisting and transferring the sod off this huge flatbed into individual 4X4's offered up by parents and others. Wow, what an effort just to get the sod up onto the school property. Whew...I'm tired just thinking about it!

Michael and John fetched shovels and rakes from the storage room and helped Mike with drainage. Good little helpers..sigh...they are growing up :)

Michael surely is the QC guy in this pic, critiquing with a watchful eye as John works with the water ('don't even think about it bro!)

The day was perfect, a mix of sun and clouds - thinking to myself how great it would be to have the rain hold off until the last square of sod was neatly tucked into place. Oh, "square" does not really paint an accurate picture - we were lucky to get an actual square of grass - certainly not like the sod you receive at the local nursery back in the states...more like a complicated puzzle; twisting and turning the sod to fill wholes and bare spots left complements of oddly shaped grass. As I write this, it is 8:30 tonight and still no rain, not even a hint of a thunder boomer off in the distance. So, prayers for rain would be great appreciated at this point.
I marveled in the demographics of the event - people from all over pitching in; youngsters no older than 3 up to men and women in their 60's and 70's! Sharing time and company with others, no matter your age, race, religion or political preference. I had great conversation with several folks; a community member who has been here for 20 years, a fellow parent who shared his running stories with me, a long-time Quaker family member and my best friend! All having a very unique story about how they came to call this place home, yet so united in their love and commitment to the school.

We worked until the sod ran out...indeed it did with about 3/4 of the job complete. So, now we wait for the next delivery to complete the job.

Students putting the finishing touches on the day's work.

How it all started!

Let us remember and be truly thankful for the life of Andy Walker as we celebrate her life and passions as we work hand-in-hand, side by side long after the last root finds its new home!
I will fall asleep tonight tired, a little sunburned and greatly about you?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Laying the Sod

The Monteverde Friends School community has been wishing for a smooth and safe soccer field for the past many years. It is finally getting its wish due to the ideas and hard work of many community members. The playing field has gone through major reconstruction in the past months and is receiving its new surface this weekend.

The old playing field was pockmarked with scars from the remnants of a leaf cutter ant colony all on top of a ten degree slope. Fortunately the slope slanted down toward the school to the teachers' benefit as the force of gravity just funneled kids back to their classrooms. Yes, it was a tricky and somewhat hazardous field to play on, and I believe people really honed good balance and falling skills in addition to dribbling and passing. I also believe that many of the falls and injured ankles, ribs or aggravated backs were due to the potholes and gravity induced speed players generated as they ran for the ball or frisbee.

So, driven by the management of one man and his love of inspiring people to play field games and to the generosity of another caring man and his wife's memorial fund, a new field is born. The tractors and dump trucks started digging and moving earth in April. The field was smoothed and leveled to a comfortable one degree slope. A neighboring farmer accepted the extra earth to raise the level of his pasture.

This morning, many people from the community arrived to rake soil, spread fertilizer, unload and lay the sod as the final major step in the process. Many hands make light work and many characters make fun work. Tomorrow morning, we will continue the work. I just heard the second sod flatbed rumble up the road and we are now getting a light rain to keep today's sod damp and the access to the field impassible to the big rigs. It looks like we will again rely on a few smaller vehicles to move the sod from the flatbed on the road to the playing field.

Signed M

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pura Vida, Relax

Last week, on our trip to and from the running race at the beach, there were two events that I keep thinking about. They are indicative of a specific aspect of the local Tico culture here and very different from how I could have naturally responded, or should I say how I am conditioned to respond due to my socialization in a different culture.

The first event occurred when my family arrived at our main meeting point to discover that a road construction crew had dug a trench in front of the driveway, making vehicle access impossible. We parked our car on the other side of the farm, walked across pastures to the house and hopped in a van loaded with 18 people. We warned various members of our group that the driveway was now impassable. Remember, farms can have very long driveways, so everyone seemed oblivious to the road construction. Well, each response was "no preocupada, tranqilo" or "no worry, relax." We arrived at the construction crew and trench across the driveway and remarkably there was barely a response inside the van. I heard a couple of "ohhhh"s and some light conversation about the workers and equipment. Without a complaint or a 'heh, what the beep are they doin? they didn't tell me about any construction!!! Holy crap, well never get out of here. Oh my gosh, how bleepen long is this gonna take, I've got a race to run! We're stuck! There's no other way out!". Everyone remained calm, no one appeared annoyed and without any verbal communication between our group and the road crew, the backhoe operator pushed around some earth to fill in a section of trench, our driver turned the wheel tightly and hit the gas. With a beep and a wave, we were merrily on our stress-free way.

The second event occurred that evening as we started heading up the mountain. The van jerked, the driver sad "oh no" and the van stopped moving. He explained something about the clutch missing a screw and then got out to look underneath the van. So, we have 18 people crammed in a van sitting on a dark road 2 hours from home. Again, light conversation, joking with the driver, a couple of phone calls to relatives and a solution is on the way. We proceeded in 1st gear to the next town, a scattering of houses along the main road. An in-law of one in our group lived in the town. He met us and scrounged up a screw that the driver must have jimmy-rigged into the hole. The ordeal lasted about an hour. We all hung out along the road, I took one of our boys away from the group so he could poop on the side of the road. No, we did not use leaves, we usually have a roll of TP on hand for such times. Again, no complaints, no muffled conversations about how the driver is a bleep for not taking care of the clutch problem BEFORE the trip, no concern about getting home later than expected, no checking watches, just enjoying the present and watching cows eat their grassy dinner. I did confirm with the driver that the van brakes functioned properly.

I keep thinking about the relaxed nature of the Ticos and the level of stress these events might have caused if they occurred in Illinois. Thankfully, I was with a group of people who were confident that solutions could be found. Did they even think about it as a problem/solution event? They did not appear to let these situations negatively affect their day or the trip. It was a great lesson in "Pura Vida" a common saying in Costa Rica that means 'all is good.'
Signed M

Tree Climbing

Here are a few more pictures from our tree climbing events. Last Sunday after meeting, we invited some people to give the climb a try. The rope is hanging high over a strangler fig tree branch. The climber's harness is attached to the rope with hand devices called jumars. The climber places their feet in straps that hang from the jumars, and in a coordinated motion, uses legs to push up while lunging up with the hands to move the one-way jumars up. It takes a certain amount of strength and coordination. A couple of climbers have a fear of heights, but it appears that the concentration to physically move up the rope overrides the fear.
Signed M

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On your Mark...Get Set….GO

WOW, what an experience! My first race outside the zone and I live to tell about it. A great day, spent with family and friends! So many highlights it is hard to remember them all, heck, I barely remember the race – it was like a blur or was that just the sand in my eyes?

Welcome to the Sol y Arena race in Puntarenas! Celebrating its 25th anniversary with sand, sun, and more than 7000 runners!

We left a sunny and dry day in the mountains and piled into the minivan that we all chipped in for so we could travel in comfort and not have to worry about parking…a great idea. I think (at one point during the day, there were 18 of us in the van). Lots of jokes and stories during our two hour ride down the mountain with 80’s music blaring from the radio. Everyone from Michael Jackson, Men at Work to Flock of Seagulls…some of us sang at the top of lungs while others reviewed our strategy for the race.

We arrived in Puntarenas about noon; I was indeed happy to see the clouds and the waves, sure bet that there was a breeze and the sun would not be a factor. I was thankful for any advantage the weather would bring. The beachfront was packed with vendors selling souvenirs, fruit, sunglasses, hats and of course ice cream and snow cones.

We (Raul, Edward and I) scouted out a restaurant to eat a light lunch before heading up to the start of the race. The streets and the restaurants were filled with racers getting ready. I delighted in watching everyone ‘suit-up’, some rubbing Vaseline on their legs while others applied (what smelled like, BenGay or Vicks Vapor Rub) on their skin. I was just happy to get my mole-skin applied to the blister on my foot that I had been nursing from my rain boots and a cut on my right foot after slipping on the trail as I was coming down from last Wednesday’s tree sit for the Canopy Campaign. Oh, and then, let’s not forget the inflamed right ankle I’ve been dealing with since last Monday night (complements of nasty horse flies that pack a real punch to their bite) They apparently nibbled away my ankle and left it inflamed and red.

I tried to select the healthiest meal on the menu, a piece of baked chicken and a couple of sips of John’s peach smoothie. We said our goodbyes to our ‘cheerleaders’ and haled a taxi to take us back up the beach to the start of the race, 10K away.

Okay, here is how the demographics play out...I'm 46, Raul is 27 and kid brother, Edward at a mere 15 years of age! Three very distinct age groups represented. Not so sure I liked being the eldest in the group, let's just say....the wisest!

It was 2 p.m. and the race did not start for another two hours. "What on earth were we going to do for two hours?", I thought to myself! As we crowded into the taxi, it was then that Raul said, “Oh, I think the race is actually 12K, not 10K”! “Great, thanks for that tidbit of info”, I snapped back jokingly, growing more excited as we neared the start. Racers were milling around, I hung out near the bathrooms, as my bladder was showing signs of nervousness (I’ll spare you the details) ☺

Finally, we found a spot and started to warm up and stretch out. As I was warming up, I found myself sizing up the competition and was amazed at all sizes and shapes of runners; old, young, thin, pleasantly plump – it was a smorgasbord!

Finally at 3:10 p.m., we took our spot at the start line, Raul wanted to get out in the first pack, so we were all at the front of the line – frankly I just wanted to keep upright and was feeling uneasy about being at the beginning of the pack with 7000 racers behind me. 45 minutes of being crunched in a pack waiting for the start of the race – I was becoming nauseous as all the smells started to come together – sweat, body odor, BenGay! Finally, with the two-minute warning, I got a glimpse of the TV cameras overhead and the helicopters circling the beach. The start came with some pushing and jockeying for position; I quickly ran to the side and let the competitors wiz by, not wanting to be the cause of a major pile-up. Low tide had left the beach sand nice and firm – I found my stride and just kept my eyes focused down the beach. I was thankful for the water stations and other kind runners who handed me bags of water along the way. I felt great and plugged along at a good pace. 50 minutes into the race, I saw the end and could not believe that I was approaching the finish line already. As we approached, we ran under a pier and were thankful for the spectators manned with hoses, spraying full blast…so refreshing and so thankful for a quick shower. With a few 100 meters to go, a gal who had been at my side the final three kilometers, grabbed my hand and we crossed the finish line together. The last minute or so was grueling as we headed into the dryer, heavier sand. I was oblivious to all the hollering and screaming and did not even hear the boys yelling from the sidelines! Talk about a novice racer – I forgot to stop my watch and it wasn’t until I asked Carla (the gal I finished with) how we did. She smiled and said, “56 minutos”! The best I’ve done here on the mountain is 1 hour 1 minute for a 10K, so I was happy with my placement. I quickly found the food/water station at the end and hydrated myself as I scanned the crowd for family and friends. I was completely soaked and covered in sand – so happy! I was greeted by Raul who had finished the race in 42 minutes and was ecstatic as he shared his experience with me, saying that he kept sight of the leaders the entire time. Edward crossed the finish line in about 1 hour 2 minutes, as he suffered from cramps at the midway mark and had to walk a while to work through his pain.

I finally found the boys and Mike who had spent two hours playing in the sand and surf – I think Mike was relieved to see me breathing and upright as he knew my training had been interrupted by (what I refer to as...) ‘the massacre of the mango’.

After an hour or so, we piled back into the van and headed for home. The boys were out in about 15 minutes and all was well until we hit Gaucimal where the clutch on Alex’s (our driver’s) van went haywire as we lost a screw that kept things working. Luckily, Raul’s brother-in-law contacted a friend of a friend who lived on the main road we were travelling and met us out on the road with an assortment of screws to try. Everyone piled out of the van; (some headed for the bullfight in the town stadium), which was just 100 yards down the road to get a cold one, while others relaxed on the road side, listenening to the cows serenade. No stress or panic; by anyone – just part of travelling here in Costa Rica. Tranquila! One of the screws fit the bill and onward we went. We were all tired when we arrived back in San Luis, but with big smiles on our faces as we recalled the day’s festivities.

My fondest memory of the day was not centered around my personal satisfaction of finishing or even seeing Raul and Edward finish, rather it was the sharing of the experience with my family and friends and seeing how proud Raul and Edward were as they pinned a picture, with a dedication of the race to their father, on the backs of their shirts. Their father had died unexpectedly 10 years ago in an accident. It was one of the most poignant moments as I spied Raul taking the laminated sheets out of his backpack and sharing with me that his father would be watching them race from above. Amen to that!

I barely remember my run; it seemed to happen in a blink of an eye. I’m wondering if that is normal – one minute, I am at the start line and the next, I am holding a stranger’s hand running toward the finish.

Signed: S

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Climbing Class In Costa Rica

I first learned about Monteverde twelve years ago when I showed a video in my Chicago classroom about a woman scientist who examined the variety of life high up in trees. The scientist was Nalini Nadkarni and she was conducting research in Monteverde, Costa Rica. She taught the show host, a young girl named Carla, how to ascend a rope high into the cloud forest canopy. Nalini found a perfectly camouflaged walking stick living amongst the epiphytes that hang on to this massive and predacious strangler fig tree and introduced us to the hooting growl of howler monkeys. I was very intrigued and learned about a Spanish language school in Monteverde from my friend Sharmilla, so I signed up for a Spanish class here. In the Cloud Forest Reserve, I met a tree scientist, Bob Laughton, who gave me Nalini’s email off the top of his head. The next month I joined Nalini in Washington state for a climb into a pacific coast tree canopy.

Over the years, I have vividly recalled the exhilaration of ascending the rope, the macabre life of the strangler fig, the crazy variety of insects and the thick green growth up on the ‘green mountain.’ I have also thought much about Monteverde’s integrated community, the Quaker story here and the simple way of life.

Well, as life often circles, I now find myself cheering on my 7/8 grade students as they ascend a rope high into a strangler fig tree. It is a moment to be cherished as they experience the exhilaration of the climb, the lush green of the canopy, the sheer wonderment of standing on a epiphyte laden tree limb 20 meters above the cloud forest floor, and the satisfaction of doing something exciting. Their CCVs (climbing curriculum vitaes) ranged from some experience to none. I am impressed by their maturity and confidence to attempt and tackle this physical and mental challenge with nary a word of fear. I am impressed by the flexibility and efforts of former MFS students and local residents that make this adventure possible.

I hope something about this experience will vividly remain in the minds of the kids. I wonder how calm Huayra would remain if a column of army ants marched up her leg as she was attaching a repelling device to her harness. Would Eric respond in like kind if a troop of territorial howlers threw their scat at him? In the unlikely encounter with a snake, would Ale casually escort it down with a flick of her rope? How loud would Esteisy laugh if we had a sudden afternoon downpour?

I think about the opportunities children here have to live with a high degree of interdependence and adventure. The outdoor hands-on lifestyle builds practical life skills and a keen awareness of the systems and cycles that make human living possible. I think about the welcoming and supportive community here and almost any gathering, like this one, involves all ages.
I now spend much of my time teaching science at the Monteverde Friends School. Two years ago my wife and I moved from Chicago with our two young boys because we desired to experience a more simple, natural and different way of living. Like many families here, we walk to school, climb trees together, and are continually thankful for life’s beauty.

Signed M

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mango...I have a bone to pick with you!

In Season: Mango, big ones, small ones, juicy ones, orange ones, green ones!

Not in Season: Allergic reaction, complete with hives all over body, arms, legs, stomach, neck, back, itchy palms, itchy eyes and allergic sinus infection!

Culprit: My favorite fruit...Mango!

I have not run for three weeks due to horrible allergies that just about stopped me COLD in my running tracks. About a month ago, I started to eat upwards of three to four mangos a day. Okay, here comes the clincher, not only was I eating the mango, but I was also devouring the peel (either eating it or putting the peel in a fruit/veggie smoothie I would blend up/gulp down after a 10K training run). All this time, not a clue that this was a huge contributing factor to how awful I was feeling. I am sure the dusty gravel/dirt roads I was running on weren't helping, especially with the never ending tour vans and buses whizzing by me stirring up clouds of thick, white, chalky dust!

Easter Sunday, after church, I decided to visit the clinic and was treated for an allergy related infection; received a five day dose of steroids (which I was oh so familiar with) and a steroid injection in my rump! (Thank you very much and OUCCCHHH). Surely I would feel better in a few days and be off running again. After all, the Sol y Arena (Sun and Sand) race at the beach in Puntarenas is on May 14th, fast approaching and I really want to participate. Several days later, feeling no better, I visited the private doctor in Cerro Plano and had my blood tested to rule out a bacterial sinus infection. Nothing doing - all normal, so I dropped my drawers again for yet another shot in my rump and went on with my day, feeling draggy and miserable.

Two days after I finished the steroids, I was preoccupied with itchy palms and a rash under my underarm extending down my side. Hmm - I know I'm a little worked up about not having run in a few weeks, but could this rash be brought on by running withdrawal or anxiety? I knew I was stressed about the race and not being well enough to train, but would that be causing all this itching? The following night, the rash was creeping all over my body, hives, urticaria!

A couple of days later, while shopping at the little market at the bottom of our hill, two gals commented on my rash and asked if I had been eating a lot of mango! I replied, "a ton...why do you ask?" One of them remarked "Can't even touch them - I break out in a rash", the other saying, "well, at least your not eating the peel"! HOUSTON...WE HAVE A PROBLEM! "Of course I am eating the peel, why not?". Well, our exchange continued and I learned that the skin of the mango is toxic. How I wished I had only touched the peel, nothin doing...oh no, I go all out...not only was I touching the peel, I was digesting the dang skin! I ran home popped open the top of my laptop and put to work to find this...

Mango peel contains urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy and poison sumac that can cause urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. JACKPOT - mystery solved!

I travelled to San Jose on the bus Wednesday to meet with my Naturalpath and to have some blood work done. And, yes, those little eosinophils in my white blood cells were going crazy - confirmation that I am one allergic gal! I apologized profusely to my doctor as I itched and scratched myself through our 30 minute appointment. Off to the pharmacy to purchase Allegra before heading back up the mountain. The hives and itching have subsided and Mike has been relegated to chief mango smoothie maker in our household.

I am having serious mango withdrawal, and well, although I enjoy pineapple, bananas, papaya, melon, etc., nothing is going to replace the love affair I had with mango!

Finally today I ran for the first time in three weeks. Twenty-five minutes only, but I did it. Will I be ready for the race Saturday? Time will tell. I am super excited as this will be my first race outside the zone. I hear HOT does not even begin to explain the feel of the sun beating down on you as you run for over an hour, no less, on the beach. The race begins at 4 p.m., so here's hoping the suns intensity is a little forgiving! They expect 6,000 competitors, hoping I won't be the last!

Life here continues to surprise me...This week I can certainly say I learned something! Did you?

Signed: S