Jan's New Blog

My writings about the Constancy of Change in Life and beyond. From my view spot above the city in southern Costa Rica, I write.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Intensives of 2017 that Were

2017 was a year that began in disarray. Personal upheavals seemed to parallel the political ones. I had scheduled four Intensives for the first four months of the year – and suddenly, plans were changing nearly as fast as the US political rhetoric. Five people suddenly canceled while two more just as suddenly signed up. Disarray. But those who participated in the first four months of 2017 will remain in my heart forever! I told them all – you are best ever! And I meant it.

January -  Two Painters and a Writer
I met them in the rain on the top of the Cerro del Muerte, ‘The mountain of death’ where we agreed to meet for our first meal together. And our time began over lunch at the Chespiritos cafeteria style restaurant with all kinds of great Tico food that included ensalada rusa, arranche, arroz con pollo, and so many other wonderful dishes I've come to love.

Three people, all from the Pacific Northwest. Two were experienced watercolor painters – Rick and Jeanne. Carla, married to Rick was in the process of writing a book. And all three exuded creativity and enthusiasm.

For the next five days we established a routine that included time for me to read what Carla was writing, doing a painting demo for Jeanne and Rick on a selected subject, lots of painting time for us all in the outdoor studio and time for Carla to respond on her laptop to the writing
thoughts I had after reading her in process book – a wonderful fantasy adventure about a 12 year old boy discovering his powers and sense of belonging. I even found some moments to rest a bit in the midst of the active schedule. Meals were cooperative and Anita came up several times to provide home made Tico dishes that we all enjoyed.

February - Two Painters and a Dog!

Que has participated in an Intensive or a workshop here in Costa Rica for the past seven years and was ready to gear up for lots of painting time in the studio. Julia, a fellow ExPat who had arrived from Colorado and her sweet dog, Chloe stepped in to take an available spot after two cancelled. It was a win win for all. Que, along with her painting experience has also been a dog trainer and helped Frida to accept (mas o menos) another dog in the outdoor studio. (Frida is pretty protective of her space after spending a few years on the streets).

And this group painted start to finish at least five paintings each! Including me! We even took on the formidable 'sleeping angel clouds'!

Frida said goodby from her place above the road and valley.

March -  Two Intrepid Canadians!

I was so very pleased to welcome two Canadians to my place and studio and I am pretty sure Frank enjoyed their presence, too. Both Jayne and Helene set up their goals which mostly centered around understanding and using color more effectively. And Jayne added another goal – to FINISH a painting!

In the process we painted, critiqued, enjoyed Anita's cooking and attended a talk in town given by a local writer, Carol Vaughn who spoke about her new book, about to be published by The Costa Rica Star -"Crazy Jungle Love: Murder, Madness, Money & Monkeys" (see synopsis below)

At the end of our time together Jayne finished at least two paintings as did Helene. And Helene, a consummate designer carried her love of color and Costa Rica cooking tastes home with her. She sent me this amazing photo featuring her dinner party preparations of seared tuna, gallo pinto, fried platanos and fresh fruit. The photo says it all. 

Best of all – the Intensives in 2017 were intense and exuberant! Thank you all!

And oh - did I mention that Canadians really know how to enjoy the sun!

Synopsis of Crazy Jungle Love: Murder, Madness, Money & Monkeys

Synopsis, by Carol Blair Vaughn
Crazy Jungle Love is the true story of an American couple who arrived in Costa Rica in 1998, leaving behind their lives in the United States -- forever.  John Bender was a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager, and Ann Bender was his beautiful and exotic wife.  The Benders both suffered from bipolar disorder, and perhaps other mental illness challenges.  They settled in one of the most remote and wild areas of the country, an area famous for dangerous animals and unfriendly neighbors.  Their dream was to create the area’s first nature reserve, and to live out their lives peacefully, discovering new flora and fauna on their 5,000-acre estate, while creating an animal conservation program for the Southern Zone.  That dream began to unravel after the first three years, as the Benders both descended into the agonies of mental illness, exacerbated by neighbors they had alienated, and financial problems which they had not foreseen.  Then their Costa Rican lawyer allegedly stole one hundred million dollars from the trust they had created for the reserve, and a former business partner of John’s sent goons to Costa Rica to attempt to collect on a debt of ninety million dollars he claimed John owed him.
John’s life ended tragically in 2008, by a single bullet wound to the back of his head, with only John and Ann present in their master bedroom on the night of his death.  Ann was accused of John’s murder, and was tried three times for intentional homicide.  During these three trials, Ann fell in love with Greg Fischer, an American fitness trainer and fellow nature lover.  Greg died under mysterious circumstances in his own bedroom, while Ann was in Preventive Detention for John’s murder.  Ann had lost the nature reserve, $20 million of her jewelry collection, and her house and household effects while in detention. It was assumed that their lawyer had absconded with the Bender fortune, and moved to Nicaragua to build his own Shangri-La, complete with Arabian horses and fantasy mansions.  Costa Rica confiscated Ann’s passport, leaving her few options for escape.
Crazy Jungle Love describes an operatic love affair set against the background of the jungles of one of Central America’s most beautiful countries. The plot is replete with shady characters, questionably honest police and judicial officials, antiquated forensic techniques, profound mental illness, strange behavior by lawyers and friends, native legends and folk tales, and a tragic heroine who seems to have lost everything of any value in her life.  Ann Bender has survived, but at a terrible cost to her wellbeing.  The story is told in intimate detail by the reporter from The Costa Rica Star who covered Ann’s case for four years, documenting each twist and turn from a bird’s eye view in a Costa Rican town very near the Bender estate.  The question still remains to this day, Who killed John Bender? 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

BFFs Forever

A Story of a Dog Rescue

Originally written and blog published in August, 2014.

When I moved to Costa Rica in 2008 I brought my animal family consisting of four parrots and two dogs. The four parrots lived together in an aviary attached to my house and readily open to my office. My two dogs, Livvie and Seurat were best pals. A year after our arrival, Livvie died at a respectable age of 12 for a German Shepherd and Seurat was alone, which he seemed to manage. After Frank and I got together, we often talked about getting another dog pal for Seurat. At different times there were puppies made available to us – but Seurat would have nothing to do with them. When Frank brought one of his dogs to my house, Seurat was incensed. It seemed he was pretty particular about who he would share his family with.

Two days before the end of 2013, Frank and I decided to stop by a local dog shelter owned by a Tica Veterinarian, Dr. Milena Elizondo. This compassionate woman rescues dogs abandoned in San Isidro de El General. We decided to try again.

Dr. Milena was excited and said she knew just the dog - and a man was taking care of her but would bring her over immediately. Randall soon arrived with a sweet, starving german shepherd mix who had recently given birth but was without puppies. He had noticed her wandering the streets in a nearby town and took her to his friend, Milena. Wasted and starved to her bones, there was something in her lovely eyes that implored Frank and me to return the next day, New Year's eve - with Seurat. We hoped he would let us know how he felt about her.

The meeting of the two dogs began on Dr. Milena's porch. I immediately called the quiet dog Frida - for Frida Kahlo who also suffered a painful early life. And her name would be in keeping with the artist nomenclature I'd adopted with Seurat. I would often reply, 'Pointilist' when someone asked about Seurat's breed. Though only artists 'got it', it always made me smile. 

Seurat was immediately just fine with Frida as we walked them together to see how they interacted. It was almost as if they both knew they belonged together. We just shrugged our shoulders and went home with Frida and Seurat. When I put Livvie's old collar on her, Seurat actually jumped for joy!
We fell into a routine of 4 meals a day for Frida and Seurat began training his new pal - when to bark, how early to wake up the humans, taking her out each morning to walk the road and check out all the new smells - and he even brought her back! Frida was very mellow, and slept a lot. We understood she was still weak and recovering from her starvation on the streets.

After about two weeks of steady improvement, Frida one day began walking unsteadily and appeared disoriented. One eye was filled with blood. We immediately took her to see Dr. Milena who diagnosed her with Erlichiosis or Canine Hemorrhagic Fever.  A terrible blow. This is a most often fatal blood parasitic disease carried by the brown tick. Frida, unfortunately was in the chronic phase with includes retinal hemorrhage. Dogs can often live with the parasite and show no visible evidence until it reaches the chronic stage, as with Frida. Dr. Milena armed us with antibiotics, blood and immune building capsules and we decided to do the best we could and not give up on this sweet girl who wanted only to live. Seurat watched her carefully, too and was nearly always by her side.

Frida fought back! After a week+ on antibiotics (which I was only able to get her to eat through extreme trickery), she started acting more upbeat, gaining a little weight and the retinal bleeding happening not as often, permitting her to see and enjoy her surroundings. Her pal, Seurat stayed right there for her. He seemed to understand.

And one morning they began their serious business of playing! It is often just a blur of growls and occasional yelps. 

They are best friends forever, after all!

Frank loved Frida, reminding him of his first shepherd, Osa a long long time ago. It was lovely to see the bond these two developed.

After Frank passed in early March, Frida and Seurat seemed to miss him so and I began to take them on the walks they had so enjoyed with Frank. It has become a regular treat for them and exercise for me.

By August, Frida appears to be completely healthy and sooooo rambunctious! She is best friends with Seurat and they share bones, food and anything else, including me. 

What a lovely family! And this family of dogs helped to get me through losing Frank.  But last I heard from him, he told me that my old sweet Shepherd, Livvie and his shepherd Osa are with him – as well as Flash, the parrot he also loved.

BFFs forever.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Eagle Insight

Wheeling high above the silent, mostly pink dotted and slowly moving human mass, the eagles watched.  From where they viewed, the sight was anything but normal. No noisy vehicles or trucks or horns this gray January morning in the streets of Seattle. Just a congested collection of humans slowly moving along the three+ mile path through the city from Judkins park to Seattle Center. Many of the marchers wore pink "pussy hats".

Several people looked up into the gray blue sky and actually saw the two bald eagles in their slow circular dance. One of them was Christina, who posted her video recording on Facebook. Another was my son, Tim who also noted it on his Facebook page. Others tweeted or photographed or simply observed the curious appearance of the nation’s symbolic emblem high above the group of mostly women marchers. 

It was the morning after the new president’s inauguration. January 21, 2017. And it was the largest protest march in U.S. history – with estimates of over 4 million people marching in 600 places throughout the country and more in sister cities throughout the world. Primarily identified as a womens’ march, there were some men who were marching too – as advocates, feminists and fathers. Many of the women had children with them as did my own daughter in law, Alethea with my Grandson, Jack, just 3 years old. 

All were united in protest and solidarity against the election of the 45th President of the United States. 

The marchers carried signs with written messages that included:
  • There Is So Much Wrong It Cannot Fit on This Sign
  • I Can’t Believe I’m Still Protesting This Shit  (an older woman carried this one)
  • Sorry World, We’ll Fix This
  • 1968 is Calling. Don’t Answer
  • Sad!

United in an emphatic demonstration of solidarity, the marchers and those who cheered them were strongly protesting about the election and the frightening shift in focus from the oft-stated American ideals of liberty, equality, democracy, individuality and diversity. 

How appropriate that two of the national symbols, representing these ideals flew silently above. And it was unusual. Normal sightings are of eagles flying alone, searching for prey. These two were likely a mated pair and their presence suggested that they were curious. Watching.
The Bald Eagle is a large bird of prey native to North America. They are sea eagles (located close to rivers and oceans) with fish as their most common and main food source though they eat other small animals. With a wingspan of up to seven feet, they are easily spotted flying against a bright sky.

In addition to being the national emblem and mascot for the U.S. since 1782, the Bald Eagle has also been a spiritual symbol for the Native people for longer than that.  It is said that because the eagle flies higher than any other bird, it conveys the powers and the messages of spirit to mankind.  Some say that if the eagle appears, it bestows freedom and courage to look ahead.  And with eyesight that is up to eight times more powerful than human, it is understandable.  

From Trish Phillips, Fly Like the Eagle 
When an eagle appears, you are on notice to be courageous and stretch your limits. Do not accept the status quo, but rather reach higher and become more than you believe you are capable of. Look at things from a new, higher perspective. Be patient with the present; know that the future holds possibilities that you may not yet be able to see. You are about to take flight.
The lesson in the sighting is clear. We must have the courage to see exactly where we are now. We must pay attention and improve our own abilities to see clearly what is happening. We must notice when we are told things that are untrue or shown actions that make no sense. Together, in solidarity we can then soar into unknown realms expanding our views and opening our hearts and minds to new possibilities. 

We march in solidarity inspired by the eagles' insight.

Friday, December 30, 2016

So You Want to Learn Watercolor in 2017

After receiving three separate emails asking for some advice on learning to paint with watercolor, I am doing what I always do when something happens as a part of three. I pay attention.

So here's how I suggest you begin to learn to paint with watercolor.  Beginners are my favorite people! You are full of good questions and are excited and terrified. We should all be – throughout our lives. With watercolor and with life.

Some suggestions

Get a few good supplies.   On my website (janhart.com) is a material list for those coming to a workshop and also a color wheel that I use constantly. The color wheel can be downloaded and printed from a pdf format.  ( I recommend printing it onto glossy paper, 8 1/2 " x 11") It has names and important chemical numbers of paints I prefer – which helps with color/paint selection.


         Material List and Color Wheel

Keep the supplies to a minimum – especially the paints.

To start with:

·      Paper.  My preferred paper now is Arches, cold pressed 150# watercolor sheets – 22” x 30”.  I’d start by cutting or tearing them into 4 pieces and you can use both front and back.   Don’t skimp with bad paper, especially with watercolor.

·      1 -2 brushes.  I do all my painting with a ½” wash brush, preferably a mix of real hair and synthetic. I also like a small pointed brush for details (but I suggest keeping details to a minimum at the beginning. Try to get the hang of using the very edge of your wash brush for details. It’ll pay off eventually.)  And make sure you get watercolor brushes, not oil painting brushes.

·      Palette:  A small-medium plastic palette with a cover and a place to mix your paints. I prefer about 12 – 18 wells into which you will squeeze your new paint, individually.  Be generous with the amount and also be sure to label each so you’ll start getting to know the names of your paints. (There are all kinds, prices and sizes available online through Cheap Joe’s and Dick Blick. I avoid Hobby Lobby and Michaels because they don’t carry good brands)

·      Paints:  Start with 3. Paints each have a personality and need to be understood fully before you add more.  The trouble with buying a whole kit is that you get a lot of paints that often include those that are composed of several pigments. The manufacturers love to make these because they make more money by creating new paints to sell. The trouble is that if you mix paints made of 2 – 4 pigments with each other, you often get into ‘mud’. Just too many pigments mixed together and losing their individuality. This is likely the greatest disappointment to beginners – who don’t know how it happened. It is NOT your fault!

Wild Leaves at Papas, JH
Here are the paints I would start with.  These are Primaries (on the color wheel) and mixed together they will make a gray or black (if you don’t use much water). They are pure colors which means that they are not mixes of pigments (and on each tube in tiny tiny writing you can see what the pigment is.  If it is a single pigment, it is pure.

  • Quinacridone Magenta – PR 122 or PV 19  (scientific chemical number – means Pigment Red – 122 or Pigment Violet - 19)

  • Cobalt Blue  (PB 28)

  • Aureolin or Lemon Yellow  (PY 151 or PY 175)


And – if you look at where each is on the color wheel – these three are Primary colors meaning they cannot be mixed from other colors. That is lesson #1 on color theory.

There are several good watercolor brands – like Daniel Smith, Graham, Winsor & Newton, some Holbeins, Shminke, and others.  Important:  If the paint tube does not have a chemical pigment number on it, don’t buy it even if it is cheap and looks good.  It will disappoint and discourage.  Look carefully – the type is very very small.

A good online source for all information about watercolor pigments, paints and manufacturers is Handprint.com  The author, Bruce MacEvoy has created this huge website and provides much more information than most want to know.  A great resource.  http://handprint.com/HP/WCL/water.html   I find that if I want to know about the best magenta watercolor paints  I'll just Google Handprint Magenta   and up pops the page I need in his website.

A recent watercolor sketch done during an Intensive here in Costa Rica

photo at Villa Leonor
wc sketch: Not Seeing the Forest For the Leaves, JH

 If possible, join a group.  Many of my students began with watercolor sketching and there are many Urban Sketcher groups out and about.  I am personally a bit unfamiliar with Urban Sketching as an art group format but certainly have had several students here who belong to an urban sketching group.  If you have no group to join, you can do it alone – and watch some YouTubes.

The most important thing is to start PAINTING.

Croton Leaves in a Vase, JH 2016
Start using just these three paints, mixed together or alone or just two mixed together and see all the colors you can get from those. The biggest problem you will likely encounter is how much water to use – and believe me, that is a problem that will only work itself out through experience and time. There is no way to teach it.

How to start?   I’d try to get hold of a watercolor tablet of some sort – or you can use the cut up sheets of Arches watercolor paper.


Begin by choosing what you want to paint. Here I put some croton leaves in a blue vase in my studio and loved the back lighted bright colors. 

Then do a fairly quick pencil sketch on the paper of whatever you are looking at. If you are painting something directly from seeing it outside – you are painting en plein aire.  If it is from a photo – you are painting in studio. I painted using a 7" x 10" sketchbook.  I guess I'm doing both since my studio is outside.

After your sketch, add paint from the concocted puddle in your palette that is mix of a bit of pigment(s) with some water. And try as hard as you can to turn off your self critical left brain that will begin screaming things like ‘this is horrible’, ‘what a joke’, ‘this looks like….’,  Just know that the left brain hates being out of control – but it is your right brain that is being awakened and knows best. Sadly the right brain, your artist self is not verbal and can easily be overwhelmed with the most verbal left!  A good book on this is a classic Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain, Betty Edwards. 

After you have put some paint on all the parts of the paper except those you intentionally left white and blank, look at it and let it dry. Some at this point like to add ink line, which is just so much fun.  Urban sketchers love ink line (and so do I)….

So give it a try!  

If you are still reading this and you want to, you can send me a jpeg via email and I can take a quick look and then get back to you with a quick critique/suggestion…..   Something like “I think you may be using too much water. Try…..”   I offer this sincerely and promise that I will treat you and your work with deep respect.

After all – I can still clearly remember when my New Year’s resolution was to paint in watercolor….

Resources:   My book, The Watercolor Artist's Guide to Exceptional Color, 2007 is out of print and will not be re-printed. You can occasionally find copies on Amazon for as low as $45 though usually much higher. Keep watching. OR you can order an online version through my website for $29.95.  http://janhart.com/product/jan-s-watercolor-book/

And consider coming to paint with me in Costa Rica as part of a 5-Day Intensive!  http://janhart.com/private-5-day-intensive-with-jan-at-casa-de-corazon/

Claudia painting the crotons in the vase in my open air studio.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Busy Summer and Fall, 2016

I know I made a promise 'to blog' - and thought I was safe to say 'every two weeks'. Ha.  It has been months.  And now, tail between legs and head hanging low, I'm attempting to make up with a brief review of Summer and Fall (June - October, 2016) which is Costa Rica's winter or Green Season. Increasingly rainy, it's a great time to finish up all the projects that need to get done by the end of the year.  I had a few to finish up!

First up - my book, A Woman Awakens: Life, AfterLife was numero uno on the list.  

After sending out carefully worded and individually tailored query packages to thirty different agents, I waited. And waited. From January to June. I did get some good refusals, meaning that they weren’t ‘canned’ – but no offers. In June I talked it over with my editor, Marie and I decided to turn my efforts toward self publishing – sometimes called ‘vanity press’. For me it wasn’t vanity or ego; it was simply time. I really wanted the book to be out of my computer and onto paper before I turned 74 in December. 

My first look at the book.
I selected CreateSpace, which is the publishing arm of Amazon.com  - mostly because of their great personal service team that guided me step by step through the process.  My great editor/friend Marie Beswick-Arthur helped immensely as we prepared the Marketing Essentials, formatting and Interior proof for uploading.  After one long, last read – I gathered my courage to push the 'Publish' button and uploaded the 80,000 words and forty photos to my Team at CreateSpace. It wasn't until September that I was able to hold in my hands the first paperback proof of the book that arrived at the home of my good friends, Joan and Myles O'Byrne.

I asked my son, Jonathan (Jay) to do my book cover, shown here. As a graphic designer and artist, he jumped in - using one of my early Raphael paintings to create the perfect cover. Thank you Jay! 

In July my other two sons,  Tim and Mike came to visit for two weeks, giving me a welcome break during which we went on the crocodile tour for Mike and the monkey tour for Tim and plenty of family and rest time for Mom. 


I had not returned to the states since just after Frank passed in 2014 – and it was time. After a quick but delightful stop in Seattle to see a few friends and experience the barely remembered joy of actually shopping for watercolor paints and a few brushes at Daniel Smith.

Echo Canyon, a favorite
Then – off for a long planned Fall workshop in Española, New Mexico with fourteen great students. We all worked hard practicing some new approaches with new insights into this medium called watercolor that I believe never gets mastgered on one lifetime. One evening we went in to Santa Fe to see the Georgia O’Keeffe Watercolor show at the O’Keeffe Museum. Some watercolor sketches that I've never before seen.  Dark, experimental and abstracted - she appeared to use the medium of watercolor to explore shapes and design. I loved them!

Roof with Snow Study, 1916
Sky with Houses, 1916

October rains in Costa Rica allowed a lot of indoor computer time to work with son, Jonathan (Jay) – this time for a website to accompany the book. Because of expense, the forty photos could only be published in black and white. Most of the photos were of my paintings that were integral to the 18 year story.  The Website Gallery contains all the photos in brilliant color. Awomanawakens.com

We were finished. And then Jay had another idea!  “Mom – since you want to write more about your conversations with Frank – how about a small website that introduces and expands upon the conversations?” 

And so he did it!  Take a look. Notesinthenight.com  This lovely website introduces and elaborates on the continuing conversations with Frank which were introduced in Part 3 of  A Woman Awakens: Life, AfterLife. I selected several subjects among the 80,000 words that I have from Frank and Jay did the rest . I will use these and others to write the next book titled either Notes in the Night or Frankly Speaking. And Frank is still speaking....

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pura Vida!

Pura Vida

A Pura Vida sky on a walk with the dogs
Pura Vida is an often repeated phrase among the Ticos (what the Costa Rican people call themselves) in Costa Rica. The term has been part of the Costa Rican dialect for over fifty years and now an indelible and audible amenity of this gracious country.

It is deceptively simple. A direct translation means ‘Pure Life’, but there is so much more in the two words. As you pass a neighbor walking along the road you share the simple greeting. She smiles and says, Pura Vida!  You reply with the same, Si, Pura Vida!  You and your neighbor have just said to each other that life is good in spite of all the things that interfere or disrupt or change and that no matter what the current situation is in life, it is good. It also acknowledges that there are others less fortunate so it is good to consider that in comparison, one’s own life is just fine – no matter how much or how little one has.

Where did the term come from? According to one study of the expression, there was a film called Pura Vida that came to Costa Rica from Mexico in 1956, directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares. In that movie the term ‘pura vida’ was the expression of eternal optimism used by a comic character who unfortunately seemed not to be able to do anything right in life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaxHoJSnI-U
"Pura Vida!"

After the film’s viewing a small population used the term and by 1970 it was being used nationwide -as it is today.  http://bestcostaricantours.com/about/puravida.html

One of the most satisfying parts of living here in Southern Costa Rica in my poor neighborhood, surrounded on all sides by my Tico neighbors is that I’m finally getting to understand the depth of Pura Vida. It has taken awhile – especially with regard to my closest neighbors.

I moved into my simple, leaky roofed Tico house in 2008 after losing most of everything I had in the US financial crisis and medical bankruptcy. And though I knew the precariousness of my financial situation, I appeared ‘rich’ as the only ‘gringo’ in my neighborhood. While I was immediately accepted by Anita and her family who had sold me the house, my adjacent neighbors were not so quick to welcome. Immediately below my small place were four houses occupied by three generations of the family clan with the grandparents, Virginia and Antonio occupying the closest house.

My first encounter with grandfather, Toño and his son in law Sergio was about money. Though their rapidly spoken campesino dialect was impossible for me to translate using my infant spanish, I understood that they thought I owed them money. It was unclear how the debt had evolved – but somehow there was a reference to their part in my purchase of the property. Without any legal reason for them to be reimbursed, I basically ignored it – not knowing what else to do.  

And the years progressed – amicably, but from widely different viewpoints. They assumed that I was rich and had everything I needed and wanted – and quite separate from them. They could not know that my $673/month social security in 2008 barely provided. Much like them, I was also living in poverty though I was fortunate to have access to more income through teaching watercolor. Though our day to day commonalities were mostly invisible, I planted my roots deep into the Costa Rican red soil.  Through teaching and art I was able to rebuild the termite ridden house and replace the leaky roof, build an outdoor studio and two cabinas. All my Tico neighbors helped me with the labor.

Other neighbors, Billy & Jesus planting along the wall
Perceptions gradually changed over the years. It was as if the torrential tropical downpours gradually smoothed us out. The surface qualities and visible differences were slowly washed away to lay bare our human soul connections beneath. We were more alike than different.

I witnessed from afar the family’s pain with the grandson’s drug addiction and their constant struggle for ‘enough’. They witnessed the collapse of my roof in a mighty storm and the awful tragedy of Frank’s sudden death. Through the succession of seasons – with the sunrises and sunsets – my place in the neighborhood slowly became embraced.

Toño's house and driveway below my wall and house, upper left.
It mostly came through neighbor to neighbor interactions - beginning with the trees that grew along their entry driveway just under my expansive view. If the trees grew too tall they blocked the view. Early on I was able to pay $20 and Toño, the grandfather and patron of the family or a son in law would trim a tree. But then it began to look like all their new plantings along their driveway were deliberately focused on fast growing vegetation. A new cash crop? One year I managed to barter a pruning by taking Toño to the local nursery and buying him small fruit trees. But that could only work once.

On year seven I devised what turned out to be a winning plan. It was a few weeks before Christmas and I knew that the family would welcome money at this time. I put a 20,000 colone bill in my pocket ($40.00) and waited for the opportunity to encounter Toño on the road. (He was rarely home). One morning he was there and I told him I had money for him. He smiled and approached my car. As I extended my hand with the bill I said I hoped he could cut just a little from two trees and to my delight, he agreed and asked me to show him which trees. I pointed them out and later that afternoon I heard him chopping just below my wall. There he was – the same age as I at 73 – up in the tree with his machete cutting branches as I pointed and exclaimed from my higher vantage point. Finally I pleaded for him to get out of the tree and back to safety on the ground – and he laughed.  That Christmas Eve I took a big basket to them containing things I knew they would not buy themselves – peanut butter, olive oil, cinnamon rolls and fresh baked coconut macaroons. 

Everything changed.

Now we live more Pura Vida. If I have leftover materials from a building project, I offer whatever I have as a gift to my neighbors. I recently gave them leftover rocks from my retaining wall gavione project. They reciprocated by placing some of the rocks in the muddy center of the road in front of my house so I could more easily drive into my carport. And there was Toño - placing them with a huge smile on his face!

I knew we had reached a new level in our relationship when I arrived home after returning from a walk with my dogs. Virginia, the sweet grandmother of the clan was waiting for me in my carport. She extended fresh baked bread pastries to me with a big smile. “Para mi?” I questioned in surprise. “Si. Si. Come!” (Yes. Yes. Eat!) 

I returned the gesture a few weeks later with fresh cinnamon rolls I purchased at the market from the Mennonite community.  A win win – as it must always be in Pura Vida land.  And - it turned out to be Virginia’s 74th birthday!  We shared a big hug.

Pura Vida!

And that view I want to preserve? 
View out over the city - rain is on the way.
View out over the city - night fall