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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On Waiting and Waiting....


This morning
Probably nothing jolts me out of my peaceful life more jarringly than when I am forced to wait. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I am waiting for something pleasant or something unpleasant. Either way – the very fact that I am waiting shifts my focus away from the present – and into the future or the past. Granted, if I’m looking forward with anticipation like a visit from one of my sons or a lunch with a friend, I have an easier time of it. Looking forward begins to add in opportunities for pleasant expectations about the upcoming event.  

And therein is the problem. Stealthily, it is little Expectations that begin to weasel their ways in. It is nearly impossible ever to fulfill an expectation, especially if it is flavored with accents of hope and wishes.  What a perfect set up for disappointment.

And what if the wait is focused upon something not pleasant? In a similar fashion, the recollection of unpleasant experiences from the past come into play.  A flash memory of my survival of a near drowning plays a melodic background note whenever I enter water.  It may only last a few seconds – but it remains tucked in a distant memory of fear, helplessness. And right now the first drop of rain on the roof triggers a flashback to a month ago when my front yard disappeared down onto my neighbors’ access driveway in a thunderous mud slide. Days and nights of continued rain had turned the clay soil to a liquefied feral force that pushed through retaining walls of rock and reinforced concrete. It happened all over Costa Rica – landslides, mudslides, bridges and homes and even entire villages washed away by mud and too much water racing to the sea.  That was Tropical Storm Nate – and though it didn’t even make the news in the rest of the world, it was the most destructive event in memory here.

October 5, 2017
At my place we did what we could. With the help of my Tico friend ‘like a son’ Billy, we got my neighbors’ access road cleared of rock, mud and concrete within 12 hours – which was near miraculous as the entire country struggled through shock and denial and directly into action.

So now I am set up for the Wait. I am waiting for the Dry Season to come so that the building of my replacement retaining wall can happen. It must be dry before the project can begin.  Added onto the waiting time is all sorts of extenuating circumstances, each with its own basis in experience that adds the element of fear to the waiting time.
·      The wall is the only way to fix the gradual erosion of the 20 ft. slope in front of my house – that threatens the house, Frank’s house, the palm tree that is now leaning.  It is urgent, but cannot be done until the dry season.
·      Global climate change is bringing into play more extreme forms of weather patterns and records.
·      This rainy season has been the heaviest in memory and has now been predicted to be longer than usual – extended by one or two weeks.

My rational mind has explored each of the points and come up with very rational responses, of course. We have come up with our plan and it is a good one. After researching through engineers, contractors and others, the gavione wall with good drainage in place will secure the slope in the best way possible. Additionally, with Billy managing the project, we will hire neighbors who will help insure the success through community involvement.  

But what to do about the things that are not in our control like the heavier than normal rainfall, the tropical storms, longer rainy periods, sudden earth changes?  For those things we need another solution – one that can only be controlled within oneself. Perhaps all we can do is shift our perception. We still have to wait. So I must find a better way to wait.

“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love - even the most simple action.”


My friend Suzanna finds her way through meditation. She has even done a twelve day silent retreat in order to go more deeply into a meditative state where she finds her peace.

I am finding my own ways to focus on a present moment.

At any moment, any time I can choose to focus on the particular task or activity that I am currently doing. And then I slow down my perception of each little part. This morning I was opening an avocado for breakfast. I felt the pressure of the knife as it passed through the skin and around the seed.  Then I noted the angle of the knife as I laid it on the edge of the cutting board. Next I paid special attention to how I took each half of the avocado in each hand and turned them in opposing directions in order to break the fruit into halves – each half a perfect piece of itself. I focused on color and appreciated the shade of green that changed so subtly towards a golden hue as my eye moved from the skin to the center. When I saw one small sliver of avocado at the edge, I touched it with my tongue and noted the cool, smooth texture in my mouth. And I continued my intense awareness of my actions as I finished removing the pit, preparing the avocado slices and placing them on the edge of my plate.  Then I moved on to the papaya. 

Suddenly I noticed that I had no awareness of what time had passed – probably only a few minutes – but that I was in another place entirely. The inclusion of color, texture and taste had magically transported me to the Now.

I was refocused. Refreshed. And content to allow the next moment to evolve as it would.

That night I heard from Frank….


12:34 Tuesday, November 7 2017
 
I am here with you Jan – as a breeze, as a calm note in the night, as a momentary pause of wakefulness during the night. Life on earth is so very tenuous and brief and can only be marked by the moments that you spend in the present. There is no other way to go through this time except as a series of present moments. Right now this is a struggle for you because you want to feel life is good. You want assurances that all is well. And truly all is well only right in the moment. In the larger realm there is much change. Roiling changes are occurring.  Your job now is to use the time that you have moment by moment and immerse into each moment as best you can. I am here to help with that, but only if you can meet me to receive my help. Yes, you are right – the animals are your teachers. They show how it is done. Yes they get excited about something that is coming – something they look forward to – anticipation – going for a walk, getting a bone to chew, going outside – but the teaching is that the anticipation is for the next moment.  A moment that is still nearly touching this one in the present. That is what they are showing. The lesson then becomes un-attachment. Disengaging oneself to the outcome. Peace on earth implies a calm. A persistent calm – and that isn’t possible during a great turning – which is what is happening now. I can help you with the choices, moment to moment and it is best if you will leave to us the progression of the turning. You can take charge of the moment. These are the great challenges of living right now. For us here – beyond- there is no time. We are continually in the moment, continually at peace because we no longer are attached to distant, or a next, or a future. We can project through analogies like paths, and steps and walking and moving, but we are always in repose and of course we know that this place is so very different than what you are experiencing in the dimension of time and change. So we can help by expanding the sense of the present moment so that it is overflowing with beauty and love and completion. This is the great turning. Turning within to experience the fullness. And I am helping you with this, dear Jan.  feel the peace in that. Now, rest – and rest into the moment. Feel the softness of the pillow and the comfort of your bed and the stillness of the night.

Living in layers of moisture, moment by moment
I think this is a lot to take in.  This immersion into the moment –but it is what I am working on.  I like that Frank says he can help with that. And he does.  Sometimes, when I am remembering to be really attentive to the just what is right with me in the moment, I can feel the slight cool breeze that I know is Frank. This morning, while seeing the amazing morning I was just taking in the colors, the light, the sense of the breeze in the fronds of the palm – and I heard, before I saw, the buzzing wings of a hummingbird that swept close to me as part of the moment. That moment. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Red Plastic Chair



The Red Plastic Chair

It may be that after a significant traumatic event in our lives, we carry on - kind of unsure how we are doing day by day, step by step. We manage - and sometimes we look like we are doing just fine. And other times we notice that the can opener has been placed in the refrigerator. Or a name or word is forgotten. Or that we feel very vulnerable - close to tears for no apparent reason. I believe these are subtle effects of trauma, even PTSD.

On October 5, the entire country of Costa Rica was hit by its worst disaster in remembered history - Tropical Storm Nate. It sneaked in with heavy, non-stop rain for several days along with some wind. But the real calamity was that its heavy rainfall fell onto earth completely saturated from an almost twice normal rainfall for September. The earth just could not receive another drop. And so the countless drops that fell on the tops of this mountainous land ran down to join others, gathering momentum and might as they changed from rivulets and streams to become
courtesy of The Costa Rica Star
rivers, joining other rivers on their mad rush to the sea. Wherever the water couldn't be contained, there was massive flooding taking trees, livestock, homes, villages, bridges and anything else in its way. Suddenly there were landslides marking the slopes leaving major roads and highways blocked with mounds of liquified clay soil.  A distant photo of Costa Rica's crown jewel of biodiversity, Monteverde looked like the mountain was crying.  

That morning I lost the main part of my front yard along with the retaining wall that failed and all the grass and bougainvilleas and much loved trees. My damage was slight compared to so many others. But the horrific sounds and mounds of mangled steel, concrete and suddenly massacred life tore into my heart and lodged in my mind. For the next countless days and nights I would suffer some sort of PTSD, along with so many others - both Ticos and Gringos. 
 
The country is busy repairing, digging out, rebuilding bridges and roads and electric lines as this country does. With the help of Billy, my Tico neighbor and 'like a son', we cleared my neighbors' access drive below and have made plans for the new gavione retaining wall that will be built when the dry season begins - mid December.


This morning I stepped out to my front porch to enjoy the sunshine and noticed the red plastic chair I had placed the night before. I thought how strange that it looked so good in the morning light.  Back inside I scrolled through all the photos I had taken since the event - curious about where the chair had been throughout the past 24 days..before and after the landslide.

I wondered if the chair was a metaphor for me. 


On the morning of the crash the red plastic chair had been sitting near the edge, next to the bougainvilleas. It had been carried down to find its spot, resting on its back, halfway down the slope. The small red plastic stool was nearby.

Too dangerous to retrieve, I mostly pushed it out of my mind. It was, after all just an old, red plastic chair. 
After the access road below was cleared for my neighbors, Billy brought rolls of black plastic to place over the slope to protect it from further rain; further sliding.   One of the neighbors climbed up to hand the chair up to me. I thanked him and set it aside. After hosing the accumulated mud off its surface, I set it aside on a small patch of grass.

It appeared to silently watch from that place.
On the sidelines.

Billy tied the upper corners of the plastic sheeting to some anchors to hold it in place. It held for a week or so until one of the ties broke. 
Without thinking, I used the red plastic chair as a prop to hold up the edge and insure the continued rain run off.
The red plastic chair had become useful to the project. 


Though I felt relatively sure that the plastic would hold and protect the slope, I didn't feel good sitting out on my rocking chair front porch anymore. I had lost my privacy.  My well meaning neighbors  waved and shouted up to me as they passed below. They had an unencumbered view up to my porch and even into my house. 

About that time, my friend Jill came to visit and made a wonderful suggestion. What about hanging a low 'wall' of shade cloth across the yard? It would shield my view of the remaining wreckage below and the jagged edge of the broken yard. More importantly, it would provide privacy for me and my dogs. 

The following day Billy and I designed and he put the new privacy 'wall' in place while I directed from my rocking chair according to the view I wanted.  I had to be able to clearly view the twin steeples of the San Isidro church in the center plaza downtown.


The red plastic chair was again set aside. But that evening, just before the sun went down, I placed it in the corner of the yard next to the red leaves and infinity deck. And that is where I found it in the morning - with lovely sunshine and dancing shadows.  

It felt almost alive!











 




Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tropical Storm Nate, October 2017


Tropical Storm Nate

Thursday, October 5, 2017

My house from above, 2014
For two days the rain drizzled and poured and my view from my front porch ended in a solid white cloud soup. I could see my front yard and the bougainvilleas we had so carefully planted along the edge of the retaining wall.  We were immersed in Tropical Storm Nate - our 42nd of the season. Nate kind of slid in unannounced and at first un named a couple of days ago (October 5) on the heels of persistent rain that just didn’t let up - all through September. So after several days of rain and clouds, the ground was saturated – and the last thing it needed was more rain.  That’s what Nate brought – heavy, sustained rain – all day and night.  I kind of didn’t get it – was down at La Princesa in the evening for dinner with Linda (owner of La Princesa) and Billy’s family – Eliza, Kimberly and Leislani. Yes it was raining, but oh well…    Then, during the night there was heavy wind, which is really unusual.  I got up several times to check on it, close any windows I could, and look out to see if everything looked okay.  I was uneasy.  By 3:30 a.m. I was up with a flashlight wondering about the crack in the newly planted grass – close to the gravel area we’d just finished as the final touch for the front yard. Bordered by bougainvilleas, it was so beautiful. Just in front of the incredible view over the valley of San Isidro de El General.But what about that crack in the grass area that seemed just a little lower than it had been the evening before. In the morning light I worried about it and wondered if the retaining wall looked just a little bit lower on one end.  I decided to wait until the rain let up a bit so I could walk down to see it from below – on my neighbor’s driveway access.  I fixed coffee and was sitting at my computer checking emails and Facebook when suddenly I heard a huge, unidentifiable sound – a roar.  The dogs started barking and because I didn’t have my hearing aid on yet, I looked to them to see the direction that caused their alarm. The front yard.  Opening the front door I simply stood in complete disbelief. Shock, actually.  Over half of the front yard – with the grass, the bougainvilleas, the gravel edging, the carefully tended gardenias and vines and the entire retaining wall was gone. It had all been pushed away and down onto the neighbor’s access driveway. Huge concrete and steel beams that had been anchored to the wall had been ripped out of the earth and were standing semi upright like totem poles. The steel fence along the neighbor’s driveway was mangled beneath the gigantic pile of spongy wet dirt. Even the base of stone filled gaviones had been rolled and pushed across the driveway. An avocado tree dangled at a precarious angle, still clinging to the part of the yard that remained. I simply stood and stared. 
Standing above on what was left of the grass yard - looking down.
The rest of that day - Wednesday was kind of blurry. I called Anita, who came up with Melany to see if it looked like there was more damage above. And then I called Billy who came up to see the damage, talk with my neighbors and begin the process of looking forward a bit to what we would do once the rains stopped. The first thing would have to be to clear the driveway below – and would require a backhoe and a dump truck to carry away the concrete. We’d try to save the stones for later use. At least there was a bit of an immediate plan – and we all had to wait for the rains to let up. It weighed heavily on me that my neighbors were trapped in their house below and that they had no electricity or phone because of my mudslide.

Meanwhile, all of Costa Rica was being hit hard by this storm, the likes of which no one could remember. The combination of a very wet September (over 50% above the normal rainfall) followed by such a slow moving (7 mph) Tropical storm simply drenched the soil all over this mountainous country. Over the day the reports just did not let up – several bridges in the San Isidro area were destroyed or damaged and unusable and trapped many people. Mudslides and landslides were everywhere – two on the road from my place down to Billy’s.  Suddenly no one could travel on the roads. Buses were trapped between mudslides on the Pan Am Highway and power poles crashed leaving large parts of the population without electricity. A dam failed that provided fresh water to most of the San Isidro residents – 35,000 people. The earliest they will get water is in a week. As the day continued there were more reports and the entire country declared a stage 4 emergency. Creeks became rivers and existing rivers overflowed and flooded.   By the days end, six people had died and over 5000 were evacuated to shelters. Airports, main roads and businesses closed. Though this tiny country didn’t make the news in the states, it was the only topic of conversation here.  Even the futbol game that would decide the playoffs was cancelled for Friday and re scheduled for Saturday.  (Though Costa Rica didn’t play well, we tied with Honduras which means we are in the World Cup!)

Though NOAA was predicting two or three more days until  ‘Nate’ moved north into Nicaragua, I tuned in to Windy.com – which was forecasting a different scenario, a more hopeful one. And sure enough, Friday the 6th dawned with sunshine and calm. At first light I reached for
the phone to call Billy, who was simultaneously calling me to say that he had already found a man with a back hoe and dump truck who could come do the work today, though he was a little more expensive than others. I replied ‘Yes – let’s do it now’, knowing that the government would be quick on this dry day to hire all available equipment and workers to clear roads and deal with country wide emergencies. They all arrived at 8:30 and for the next 9 hours worked non-stop.

One of our biggest issues was where to put the debris – that included the huge reinforced beams of concrete and steel ‘deadmen’ that had braced the existing wall by extending back into the yard nearly to my house as well as the steel fence and the six gaviones that failed to hold the base. (A gavione is a steel wire cage of approximately 3’ x 6’ containing tightly packed but loose river rocks).  Mixed in was all the slushy and slimy liquified clay mud along with my beautiful array of bougainvilleas, gardenias, birds of paradise and ginger. The nearest landfill was miles across town – and Billy again came to the rescue. He had just helped another neighbor with a mud clogged drainage pipe so he asked if we could dump the refuse on his land. We were given the permission that would save time and a lot of money.

Throughout the day the work continued and I spent my time answering emails, talking with my concerned sons by FaceTime and Skype and checking with Billy, who became a one person diplomat – taking with my neighbors, the backhoe operator and me. And of course I would be the one who paid for the work.  By the end of the day, the slope was scraped clear, the driveway was open and as day turned to night, the neighbors were putting up their temporary electricity and phone lines until they could get them better situated. Billy said he would go to the hardware store in town in the early morning to purchase plastic sheeting and plastic drain pipe to replace the broken pipe that carried water from my studio roof to the road – again to protect my neighbors below from heavy water runoff. It was done in a couple of hours and finally I was able to relax a bit. 

So how is it now?
With the slope protected by plastic (hopefully) and my neighbors with full access to their houses again, I am relaxing a bit and letting the shock abate before I do anything more.

I now have time to reflect…and plan.

I am thinking back to the many small decisions and mis steps that got me to this place  with a clear view down to my neighbors' driveway from my front door - once again. It wasn't always that way.

March, 2008 - day of purchase.
Back in 2008, when I bought the property – there was a good sized yard that extended from the house out to a steep slope down to my neighbor’s driveway. Then, just a few months before I left the states to move in, Tropical cyclone, Alma came in from the Pacific causing widespread damage throughout Costa Rica. About half of my front yard slid down onto my neighbor’s driveway. I was notified and of course I  sent money to have it removed.  A fence was built at the base of the slope and around the property for security and dog safety.  Plantings along the top of the slope provided some visual privacy from below, but it was difficult to maintain because of dogs clamoring up and down the slope, barking at neighbors and the neighbor dogs.  What to do?

2014 - after Frank's house was finished
In 2014 I finished Frank’s house, soon after he passed in March. Suddenly – the yard looked too constrained and I spoke to my builder Oscar about the yard. That’s when the word ‘level’ came up.  

I inquired about a level yard that extended out to the edge of Frank’s house and he agreed that he could build a level yard with a wall.  My view was a retaining wall  and the word ‘level’ to me meant horizontal, at the same level as the existing yard. His view was a sloping yard that sloped in a consistent or level or even fashion down to the neighbor’s driveway, where there would be a wall built. Translation differences and Tico engineering created the misunderstanding that was compounded by his need to go to Panama for work and leaving the makeshift gaviones to be filled by his son and another worker. Who didn’t. Work. Suddenly I understood that we had two very different views – and I halted it all. I hired others to complete what was begun on the existing base of gaviones. The first wall that was built failed soon after and I scurried to repair by hiring a new guy who had experience with retaining walls. Just then, Oscar returned from Panama and pleaded to repair the wall with ‘deadman’ anchors, a lot of concrete and steel and heavy reinforcement that
The beautiful yard...
would be tied and anchored back into the existing yard. Teetering on the edge of a decision to start over entirely or to allow Oscar to save face – I opted for Oscar. The result looked good and I loved the beauty with the border of bougainvilleas for two years. I especially loved the privacy. Now it has failed and I must start again. This time I am in no mood to do it without good advice and abilities.

From friends and Facebook acquaintances, I have received a lot of advice – and mostly to do with a favorite perennial grass that is known to prevent erosion - vetiver. While erosion control is so important and desirable, it is not my main design preoccupation.  I want my privacy back. I remember well before the wall and the yard – kind of like it is now – with barking dogs, a fence needed at the base, my neighbors below playing and waving from the driveway and how I had gradually retreated into my house for the quiet I craved.  So – we will wait for the dry season, coming up in a couple of months – and this time the retaining wall will be engineered, soils tested etc. This time it will be built to stay put–as much as is possible in a country that is nearly constantly in motion. 

I am remembering back – years ago, when I first met Frank who was visiting me at my house. Frank–a geologist and Canadian Expat with nearly 15 years of living in Costa Rica–simply smiled when I pointed to a crack in the summer season earth. I told him I was a bit concerned about the fact that it stretched across my yard parallel to the edge of the slope. 

His reply:  “Jan, do you not realize that everything on the mountain is very slowly moving towards the sea?”.  My response was “Oh”.

Now I get it. 

Stay tuned...I'll post more of the process....



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.