Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Living off my phone

This fall has definitely been a season of travel. I'm enjoying it, but finally reached the point where it was easier to reach for my phone than a camera when taking pictures... Last week started with a trip to NY in preparations for our even more exciting trip to Brazil!

What an ordeal to prep and submit visa applications for a whole family. The assembly line approach was required. My office computers, which are typically running economic models, were hijacked for the work, and, of course, our trusty side-kick Ca$h tried to get in there and "help" whenever he could.

We were in New York for just a day ~ enough time to drop off the paper work and do some shopping. The city was much drier than it is today {and we are lucky that the storm passed by our town with just 48 hours of light to medium rain and no other damage to report}. I made a concerted effort on this trip to finally stop in Purl SoHo. If you haven't found it yet, their blog is a treasure trove of ideas for knitting, sewing and crochet projects. On this visit I picked up yarn for the infant mittens {it's great to be able to pick up just enough of an accent color rather than a typical skein} and for a baby bonnet.

After that it was off to Boston for a thrilling two+ days of work. Unfortunately this trip didn't leave as much time for exploring my old favorite shops and squares, but I did sneak off one evening for dinner at Wagamama.

And now, a week at home. We're prepping for the halloween fun tonight, I've cast on for a new hat since a winter chill is officially in the air, and the pooch is so happy to have his pack back together that he'll sleep in the most uncomfortable positions just to be between us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Camping Trip 2012

Last weekend we escaped our computers, phones, and yard work for a weekend in the woods. It was the second annual fall hike {last year's hike}.

We were down a Calder, who was busy at a conference, but gained a dog... it was this dog's first camping trip, and no one clued him in that you're supposed to sleep when the sun goes down. Yes, he paced and paced around the tent all... night... long... Lesson learned ~ we're going to have to take him out on a few more trips so he gets the hang of it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I'm up to lately ~

There is never a shortage of projects around these parts, but there is a shortage of updates. Last weekend I was cleaning up and organizing the many {many} works in progress. One of them includes this pile of crocheted circles that I made in a flurry last winter ::

It's so easy to make a pile of circles when you have fun skeins of yarn that changes color as you go... and then comes the task of putting the circles together to make an afghan and that's where everything comes to a halt. I had no interest in taking that last step until I saw the pile sitting there and realized that at this point with just a little bit of work I'd have an afghan finished in time for the coming winter... and of course, I'm only thinking about the crazy multi-day blizzards that I'm sure we're going to get this year.

I laid the circles out on the floor into an arrangement I like, then I piled them in rows and now it's easy to throw a single row in my bag and work on the white boarder that turns the circles into squares. Once I have a row done I'll start whip-stitching them together.

And for those keeping up with my many works in progress, I'm still chipping away at the hexagon afghan, but there are lofty goals for that one to be quite a bit bigger than this one.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Happy Friday! Happy Fall!

What are your plans for the weekend?

I'll be recovering from this cold I caught on the way home from our trip,

~eating bowls full of the delicious sweet potato bisque Sarah cook up from these sweet potatoes,

~knitting :-),

~raking plenty of leaves and shredding them for mulch {to think that we were worried the leaves would all have changed while we were away!},

~and getting a jump start on our halloween decorations,

~ and and baking an apple crisp, because it's fall!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Traveling Light

I thought it would be fun to finish up the Costa Rica posts with a few pictures that end up on the camera, but don't show much of anything other than how we travel.

For this particular trip we had to take three flights both ways. That's six flights total, and surprisingly only two of them were together! Since I was traveling for work, and Sarah was traveling for fun, we had to book our reservations through two different services. Sometimes, we can finagle the reservations to get the same flights, but in this case, we had to take what we could get.

On top of the separate flights, there was no way to travel from our little town in central PA to Costa Rica without an over-night layover. We had two flights the first day, delivering us in Houston at midnight, and then our next flight wouldn't take off until 8am the next day. So what's a traveler to do?

If you demand a bed, then you can check in to the nearest airport hotel. But that never seems like a good deal to me ~ on average it's going to take me at least an hour to get off the plane, to the hotel, checked in, and settled in your bed. Then you have to wake up in time to get up, dressed, and back to the hotel in time to make it through security... and if you're me, you won't be able to fall asleep right away because you'll be thinking about how you have to wake up in five hours to make it all happen. So what do we do? Sleep in the airport!

It's not for the the weak of back, because no matter how much you try, your sleep is likely to be uncomfortable, but it's free! and free of worry! You will not miss your next flight. Of course, I come up with the plan to sleep in the airport, and then worry that some worker is going to come along and say that I can't do it {they never do}. And, you'll find there are quite a few other folks with the same idea.

If this is your plan, you want to pack appropriately. Sarah and I both packed lightweight blankets that we could easily fit in our packs. She also packed a pillow. I forgot mine, but made due with some rolled up clothes {we saw a guy in the airport that brought a therma-rest!}. In the photo below, we're spread out for the night. And unfortunately, you can see that we were stuck in an airport with arms | between | every | seat. I slept on the floor, while Sarah folded herself into a pretzel on the seats.

Unfortunately, the next morning we were on two different flights to Costa Rica. Neither of us wanted to face the charges of using our cell phones abroad, so we came up with a solid plan for meeting at the airport. Solid until my plane landed before hers {it left an hour later}, and then neither of us were where we were supposed to be! It only took an hour or so of confusion and getting to know every nook of the San Jose airport before we found each other. So, if you find yourself in a similar flight situation, you might want a plan and a backup plan.

While traveling, we always opt for trains and buses over private taxis or cars. Taking buses and trains over taxis saves you money, lets you interact with local citizens and other travelers, and gives you a more intimate glimpse of life in the places you're visiting.

First a note about saving money. There's almost always a trade off between the money saved and the time spent. As I mentioned above, we were delayed at the airport because we couldn't find each other, and unfortunately we had to make an hour trip to our eco-lodge and check in before the front desk closed for the evening. In this case, we knew there was no way to take the two buses required and get to the lodge in time, so we opted for the taxi.

When I made the reservations at the lodge, I asked them about all of the travel options that would get us from the airport to the lodge. In the conversation I asked them what the average price would be for a taxi from the airport, so I knew ahead of time that it would cost about $100. With that information, when it was time to get a taxi, I could be a more informed customer and do a bit of negotiating. Also, when you're dealing with prices that high, it's always good to know approximately what you should pay so you don't get ripped of. Airports are one of the easiest places to catch a cab, so with the first guy who approached us, I asked if he could take us to the lodge for $80, he came back with an offer of $90, we agreed and were off.

When we were leaving the lodge the next day, we wanted to take a bus to San Jose. The bus price for two people? ~ $6.00! So given the choice between a $90 taxi fare or a $6.00 bus fare, I would take the bus any day.

Although, taking buses aren't for the weak of heart. In the photo above, Sarah's flagging down the bus. Notice that there's no stop and we had to stand on the side of a fast-moving highway. Once that bus arrived, there were no more seats left, so we were standing in the aisle for the full 40 minute ride.

After a night in San Jose, we caught another bus from the city to the smaller town where we would stay for the rest of the week while I attended meetings and Sarah sunned herself by the pool.

As you can see in that photo, we're sitting in seats this time {!}, but with all of our luggage on our laps. Whenever traveling by bus or train, it's important to keep an eye on your belongings, and often that means keeping them on your lap. If you're lucky and the bus isn't crowded you can spread out, but I rarely find an empty bus.

While this doesn't seem like the comfiest option, it gives you the most peace of mind, and with some careful planning you can make it comfortable by packing light. We like to travel with carry-on only. For us this means two backpacks. The larger one carries all of our clothes, but is still small enough to fit in the overhead bins on planes and is light enough to carry for as we're walking around foreign cities {Sarah has her larger pack on her back as she waves down the bus above, but you can't tell from the front!}. While suitcases are nice for wheeling around hotels and airports, they can be a pain in the butt when you're trying to wheel them over cobblestone of old cities, or trying to flag down buses on the side of the highway. The second, smaller pack carries our cameras, computers, and other valuable essentials. This one often gets worn on our chest. It looks silly, but makes it easy to grab our camera or some cash as we're walking around cities and interacting with vendors.

And with that, our little trip is over.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Leaf Cutter Ants

Do you know about leaf cutter ants? What a crazy agricultural community! They use fresh leaf matter as a substrate to grow a particular type of fungus that's a food for the community. When a queen ant is going to start a new colony, she carries some of the fungus' mycelium in her mouth to start the new crop.

Within a single colony different ants have different jobs based upon their body size::

~ the smallest ants care for their fungal gardens and care for the young ants
~ the slightly larger ants are the first line of defense for the colony. They patrol the area attacking anything that interferes with the foraging line. {We saw some of these guys riding on the leaf fragments that the larger ants were transporting!}
~ the second to largest ants are the foragers. They go out and collect the fresh leaf matter that is taken back to the colony and used as the nutrients for their fungal gardens.
~ the largest ants in the colony are soldiers that help to defend the nest and clear trails for the foragers.

It's amazing to be walking in the Costa Rican rainforest and come upon a line of the leaf cutters carrying leaf fragments back to their colony. The leaves look like large sails. Below are two ants passing in opposite directions.

It's easy to know when you come upon a leaf-cutter colony because the area above the colony has been completely cleared of low vegetation. You just see the brown soil of the forest, and a few holes where the ants enter and exit the colony.

Sarah and I were both lamenting the fact that our pictures don't completely capture how amazing it was to come upon these ants...but we have the memory, and if we're lucky, maybe we'll find another colony or two in Brazil next month!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

San Jose

After 20+ hours at the lodge, it was time to check out and catch a bus to San Jose. After the lodge, we were looking for a budget hotel in San Jose, something simple, private, and relatively clean... what we didn't count on was the amazing decor.

Since we were only going to be in San Jose for one day, we wanted something downtown, that way it would be easier to walk around, get food, and see the city without having to pay for transportation. After a nap and some computer time, we joined the crowds that were walking around the downtown pedestrian malls. We were looking for dinner and had to bypass multiple Quiznos, Taco Bells, McDonalds, and Pizza Huts to find something that wasn't a chain and promised us some authentic Costa Rican food.

The restaurant we found didn't disappoint, after stuttering our way through the spanish menu, we both picked combination plates that offered up piles of beans, rice, grilled meats and veggies, and plantains. When it came to the drinks our waiter took things into his own hands. We asked for bottled water, and I even pointed to it on the menu, but he was convinced that we would enjoy the tamarind juice better.

The next day was a bit relaxed for us, other than eating and making our way to the next hotel, our schedules were open. It gave us some more time to walk around the city, which is one of my favorite travel activities. It's so much fun to wander and see the similarities/differences between life in different cities. For example, while it's common to see a pig or half a cow delivered to a butcher in many cities, I've yet to see this in the US.

On our stroll we picked up some pastries and coffees for breakfast, and found a bench for the perfect city picnic spot.

And that is where one of those serendipitous travel moments occurred. As we're sitting on the bench, Leo walks up to us and says "Hello ladies" {at first we thought it was a random Costa Rican practicing his spanish}! It was so nice to see a familiar face in a different setting and to get his help figuring out the more complicated city bus system.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Night Hike

Yesterday's post was all about our day in the rainforest, today, it's a few shots from our night. After dinner, Leo took us out for a night hike through the forest.

Leo led the way, checking for snakes. Actually, his walking stick always led the way, alerting any unsuspecting snakes before he walked through an area.

We each had flashlights. You would think they would scare away the critters, and they probably scared some, but the flashlights were really handy for picking out the reflecting eyes of insects, the blob of a snake on a leaf, and the hairy legs of a tarantula.

So, what did we see? A lot of insects mostly, and no two were alike {except for the army of army ants and the lines of leaf cutter ants}. Do you see the leaf cutter ants in the photo above? They're carrying their treasures back to their colony. I love the leaf cutters and will blather on about them in another post.

First prize for the evening goes to the tarantula. Do you see it in the photo below? Put your pointer right in the middle of that photo and you're looking at the body of the tarantula. Nothing in the photo really gives you a good perspective of scale, but the furry guy was at least five inches across!!! {!}  I'm sure our eyes were about that wide when we saw it.

In my book, second prize goes to the glowing click beetle. Unfortunately, I was the only one to see it before it scurried away, which isn't as exciting as seeing it with someone so you can both talk about how amazing/crazy it was. Seeing two green glowing dots that look like eyes? crazy.


Last Friday Sarah and I ran off to Costa Rica. It's a trip for work, but we flew down early and squeezed in a few days of fun in the sun rainforest.

With only 48 hours to burn, we decided splurge on one of Costa Rica's eco-lodges for the first day. It was a great decision for our situation. Our schedule was packed, from the the night hikes to the early morning bird walks and afternoon tram rides through the canopy. We had a private guide, Leo, that accompanied us on every adventure into the forest, naming plants, describing the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals, and of course pointing out the poisonous snakes as we passed.

It's rare to see a tree in the rainforest without moss and epiphytes growing on its bark. This weight can be dangerous for the trees because it makes them more vulnerable to falling over in the wind. But the tree above? It's bark remains free from growth because it contains nutrients that are beneficial to red squirrels. The squirrels scrape off bits of bark and in doing so keep the tree clean.

Snakes? We saw pit vipers a-plenty. The two snakes above are actually the same species, but they come in three different colors ~ green, brown, and yellow. The little green guy was perched on that leaf outside our cabin for the first day, letting us check in with him whenever we passed.

And it wouldn't be a rainforest without ants. There were army ants, leaf-cutter ants {our faves!}, and then there was this little ant colony that was made of mud on the underside of a palm leaf.

The lodge had a butterfly house. We peaked our head in one morning to see these guys feeding on bananas.

Near the back of the house, cocoons are hanging as the larva matures.

We were lucky enough to stop in the house later in the day just as three butterflies were drying their wings before their first flight. The blur in the photo below was a camera shy butterfly that decided to take off as the shutter closed.

The reserve was filled with a maze of trails that took you into the thick of the jungle. But remember, only a fraction of the rainforest species stay near the forest floor; the canopy is a different ecosystem with its own mix of life. The reserve's aerial tram took us into the mid and upper layers of the canopy for a closer look.

The tram was the brainchild of a US scientist that wanted a non-invasive way to study the upper canopy. In the early days of this research, scientists would wait for trees to fall before they could study was was living and growing up their. Unfortunately within a day or two of falling, organisms on the tree were already making their way back into the canopy, making the precision of this work difficult.

The tram was built using low-impact techniques. All materials {except for the large support poles} were transported into the rainforest on foot or by hanging cables so that the weight of the materials would not disturb the forest floor. The poles holding up the tram were installed by helicopter so that they would not have to clear a path through the forest.

This is the rainy season in Costa Rica. Of course, it's not raining all the time. Usually just one or two showers a day. It's enough to keep most tourists at bay, but here's a little secret ~ the flights are amazingly cheap, the hotels have openings, and sometimes, you're lucky enough to be the only guests... that was our situation at the lodge. We had the whole place to ourselves, and it definitely added to the secluded experience. Of course it is funny when you're the only two in the dining area...

The soils in the rainforest are extremely shallow. Between the high level of rainfall and heat, organic matter breaks down quickly and the nutrients are washed away. This creates intense competition for nutrients, and causes the trees to produce a shallow and relatively small root system. There is also competition for sunlight, so trees grow tall and straight relatively quickly. Between the shallow roots and fast growth, the trees are not very stable. Some species use buttresses to increase their stability.

Many of the bright colored plant parts that appear as flowers are actually leaves or bracts. Leo told us that the common name for the plant below is the chicken feather plant.

And that, minus the three-toed sloth that we saw (!), was how we spent our daylight hours in the rainforest.