Posted on Jan 12th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Travel)

On Day 4 of my visit to Costa Rica, I enjoyed something most vacationers will never experience: The hospitality of a Costa Rican family in their own home.

But first, church.

I attended LDS church services for the first time in many, many years because Brandon wanted me to meet some of the wonderful friends they’ve made in Costa Rica. As a former mormon, I avoid these like the plague – but (other than the heat) this one wasn’t bad.

Every one was so very friendly, and everything was in Spanish (of which I understand very, very little) so I didn’t get irritated with whatever was being preached or testified about (it was a fast and testimony meeting).

It was fun to see that they had decorated their ‘chapel’ with a Christmas tree and garland. And I enjoyed singing the hymns – which is probably the ONLY thing I could ever say I miss about church.

Speaking of Christmas – there are nativity scenes EVERYWHERE. It’s mid-January now and no one seems in a hurry at all to remove their decorations. I’ve seen them on roofs, in parks, in hotels, restaurants – everywhere. I’m wishing now I’d started photographing them all – I could have a post devoted just to Costa Rican nativity scenes.

OK, now for the real fun.

After church we drove an hour to the beautiful area of Atenas, where the Bustillos family welcomed us into their home.

Each week, after church, the two families take turns hosting each other for lunch. This week was the Bustillos turn.

Along the way we saw this waterfall.

Brandon and Kincho are very similar – both in build and in their goofy personalities. They are two peas in a pod and have become dearest friends. Kincho said to me, “Brandon es mi hermano!” (Brandon is my brother).

Kincho proudly took us around the yard – showing us fruit trees, dogs and the absolutely HUGE leaf cutter ants marching in a row. They can devour a small tree within a day or so.

Kincho speaks about as much English as I do Spanish – but we’re able to communicate with gestures and expressions – and with the help of our bilingual counterparts. His wife, Maggie, and their darling girls Jimena and Sigrid both speak some English. And Brandon and family all speak Spanish.

I’d like to add here that Jimena is about the most photogenic person I’ve ever met. I have taken dozens of photos of her and she looks beautiful in every one of them!

Not a single bad photo in the bunch.

Anyway, the girls played on the computers and with the dogs while I took photos – and Brandon, Jennifer, Kincho and Maggie visited and prepared food in the kitchen. And no chauvinism in this house – Kincho jumps right in and helps with dishes and food preparation, child care and anything else that needs attending to.

Maggie is an excellent cook. Dinner was delicious – a traditional Costa Rican meal of arroz con pollo – (chicken with rice). Also a delicious salad of spinach, cucumber and the juice of lemon. So refreshing!

After dinner, we all hopped in Kincho’s Landrover so he could give us a tour of the area. Atenas is really beautiful.

Kincho taught us the local way of greeting each other – basically with a low voiced “hup” (rhymes with pup, cut off abruptly at the end) while raising a hand up. As we drove around town with the windows down, we took turns greeting people walking on the street to see if they’d respond in kind – and nearly every one of them did. A very friendly country.

We stopped and looked at land for sale.

We saw some cows (cattle are abundant in Costa Rica)

We picked and ate oranges right off the tree.

After our drive, we went back to Bustillos for grilled cheese sandwiches and cooled off with an ice cream treat. And stopped in Maggie’s parents home for a visit. They live on the same property – about 20 feet away. Very sweet family.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. But it’s the people here that really shine.

P.S. It’s so hard to pick which photos to include in my blog, so I’m working on a slide show so you can see more of the scenery and people – so check back soon!

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Costa Rica: Day 3

New year’s day was nice and relaxing. Friends of Brandon & Jennifer came by to visit and share what they’d learned about the process for gaining residency and the various hoop jumping necessary to prepare for the birth of the baby in June. The Engelhardts are really great people and we enjoyed some very interesting conversation. I’m glad I got to meet them.

I also took photos of them for their newborns birth announcement for their family in Holland.

And here are the lovely Pearce ladies in the garden.

We went out for an early dinner at a wonderful little open air restaurant just down the street – Monte Companas.

I experienced my first Costa Rican mixed fruit drink here – and it was delicious. This was peach, mango, papaya and starfruit. And I think it was only about $2.

I was lost looking at the menu (in Spanish), so just took Jen’s recommendation for a traditional Costa Rican meal – Arroz con pollo – rice with chicken. It was served with french fries (which seemed a bit odd) and steamed vegetables. It was very, very good – something I’d order again. I was so eager to eat it I forgot to snap a photo first. Sorry.

The food is only one of the great things about this restaurant. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere comfortable and inviting, and the prices very reasonable. They also have a playground for the girls (making it a great “date night” restaurant for Brandon & Jennifer), and an absolutely incredible view.

I give it 4 clams.

I’ll leave you with a couple of scenic photos I took on the way to dinner. You can click them to enlarge a bit. These were taken from the same place in the road – one shot to the southwest, the other to the southeast. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, isn’t it?

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Posted on Dec 31st, 2010 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Travel)

Ahhhh, Costa Rica.

I left this scene on Wednesday morning.

After a very full day of travel involving 6 hour layovers, conversations with interesting strangers (now friends), and very little sleep, I arrived at 6:30am CT on Thursday to this:

I’m here for a three week visit with my son, Brandon, and his family who have lived here for a year. I’ll have to do a little work while here, but I plan on enjoying a lot of vacation and relaxation time. If you’d like to know how and why they moved to Costa Rica, visit his blog.

Ashley & family will be coming down for a week vacation and be here the last 4 days of mine. Really looking forward to having all of us together again – and in such a beautiful place.

Brandon met me at the airport and we made our way through the lovely countryside to their home in Grecia. They actually live about 15 minutes outside of town on the side of a volcano.  The drive was lovely. I’ve arrived about a month after the end of the rainy season so it’s still pretty green, but not too hot. Though we did enjoy a light rainfall while in town late afternoon.

Here are Brandon & Emily on their front porch.

Marie is looking so much like her mom. I love her sun-kissed freckles.

After taking a long tour of the beautiful gardens (photos later) we all enjoyed a traditional Costa Rican breakfast – gallo pinto with eggs, fruit and juice.

Can I mention here how delightful it is to have someone cooking for me? I’m going to eat more nutritiously in the next three weeks than I have in a long time, I’m sure. And it’s so delicious!

Thanks, Jen – you’re a fabulous cook!

After the opening of the Christmas gifts, I took a much needed 3 hour nap in the guest cottage. I drifted off to sleep to lovely birdsong.

Speaking of birds… Costa Rica is known as a bird watcher’s paradise. I’ve seen quite a few interesting varieties – but was especially thrilled to have seen the beautiful and exotic Blue Crowned Motmot – on my first day here! Isn’t he gorgeous?

We headed into town to do a little shopping, stopped for an ice cream cone, and were treated to this beautiful purple sky as we headed back to the car.

The drive back up the mountain was very foggy – we could hardly see the road. I love fog, but it was a tad scary…

Brandon was disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to see the city lights from the veranda. But an hour later, the fog had all lifted, and this was the view (one direction).

These are the lights of San Jose. Simply stunning.

All in all, a fabulous first day. I was exhausted again by 7:30pm. But after a good night’s sleep, and enjoying the company, hospitality, food and incredible view – I think I can say I’m really going to enjoy this vacation.

As my final treat for you today, here is a video I shot just before I started writing this. Same veranda from where I took the city nights photo.

I really should learn to not talk while I’m shooting video. Next video you can look forward to a musical background.

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Each year, for the past several years, Kristin has hosted/put on an interactive murder mystery for her kids and their friends.

This weekend was the 2010 Murder Mystery – Til Death Do Us Part…set at a Medieval wedding event.

Something you should know about Kristin is when she puts on an event, she goes all the way. It’s not just a party – it’s a production!

And these are no murder mysteries you can buy in a box – no, those don’t meet her standards. Instead, she writes them from scratch.

I am a “creative consultant” on the projects, suggesting ideas for plot lines, characters, twists and turns, etc. I help with some editing/proof-reading and occasionally assist with a bit of writing.

But Kristin does all the heavy lifting – writing each character’s story, organizing, making sure each character has enough to do and have all the items they need to accomplish their goals – and that all the different plot lines fit together.

I don’t know how many spreadsheets and other documents she has to create to keep track of it all. I’m a bit in awe of all that goes into putting one of these things together. I think Kristin has a special gift for it.

It’s a huge job. HUGE.

And takes a particularly creative and organized mind to pull it off – not to mention a bit of a budget. I think she said she printed over 506 index cards for this particular mystery (the biggest one she’s done yet) in addition to other documents and necessary items.

She’s very clever. I was particularly fond of the Bible (a main theme of this mystery – lots of bibles with things hidden inside) which contained scripture from the Book of Armaments. Lots of clever bits like that.

“…And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, “O Lord, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy.” And the Lord did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats…”

She has spent the last 8+ weeks on the most recent murder mystery – literally, a full time (unpaid) job.

Although I have helped in the development of previous mysteries, this is the first event I have actually been able to attend (since she now lives only 90 minutes away). And even though I know she goes full out on anything she does, I was not prepared for what I discovered upon my arrival.

I was completely blown away.

  • All major main-floor furniture was being moved out of the house and into the garage. This includes all the tables, office desks, giant big screen tv, etc. With 28 kids in the house, every square foot was needed.
  • Her house was transformed into a castle! The white walls now appeared to be made of stone, doorways became staircases, torches and stained glass windows on the walls. The backyard was now a graveyard.
  • All 28 characters (plus two ‘oracles’ – Kristin and I) each had their own professional packets of information – including their character sheets, abilities, goals, secrets, trivia, and items in their possession.
  • Craig spent an entire day cooking to create a delicious feast for the Medieval wedding, and the entire night serving it.

Friday and Saturday were spent in these preparations, and the kids began arriving Saturday evening. And what an awesome group they were. Most took their costuming very seriously – they looked fabulous.

Even though most of them had never attended an interactive murder mystery (and were, therefore, completely confused for the first hour) – got into their characters and had a great time. They are not scripted – each character can do what they want with their part, so we never know how the evening will end. Makes for great fun.

Jousting while riding the stick ponies was a big hit, there were several attempted murders, three deaths, two coronations and five weddings!

So fun to see the creative ways the kids played their characters and created alliances and plotted against each other.

My character was Mirela the gypsy. I had a fabulous costume and spoke with a convincing Romanian accent.

My job was to help Kristin manage things, share my “visions” – and photograph the event… “capture their images with my magical contraption, provided to me the wizard”.

Anyway, it was an impressive and exciting evening…. and exhausting. We all slept til nearly noon today!

And then started brainstorming on the plot for the 2011 mystery – it’s going to be good! 🙂

If you ever get an opportunity to attend one of Kristin’s murder mysteries – BE THERE!

It’s an experience you’ll not forget.

I really think she should sell these… or perhaps even put them on as a paid organizer/hostess. So hire her for your next party! (and offer her a lot of money)

All hail Kristin – the Mistress of Murder!

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Posted on Sep 25th, 2010 by Allison (Family/Friends, Funny Stuff)

Last weekend was my cousin’s wedding open house out in Sequim (pronounced Squim, for you non-washingtonians).   I hitched a ride with Ben & Alex, who posed for my camera on the ferry.

Actually, Ben posed for the camera. Alex basically ignored the camera and went about his business, which made for some nice photos.

Once there, I discovered that my brother, Jeston, and his wife, Eve, were both wearing teal blue and black – same as me.  We chuckled about it and I said, “wouldn’t it be funny if Kristin showed up in the same color?”

Well guess what….   she did.  Apparently we all got the psychic “wear teal” memo.  It required a photo.

Which, of course, quickly turned into a silly session. Today’s was “Make A Fish Face.”

Eve makes an excellent fish face. Kristin tries to convinced me she “can’t” make one.

I don’t know if I believe her. I mean, who can’t make a fish face?? Though it is pretty hard when you’re laughing yourself silly.

We’re weird, I know. But we do have fun!

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Posted on Jul 17th, 2010 by Allison (Family/Friends, Travel)

As promised, here is a recap of the exciting adventures I enjoyed with Paul & Craig in California last month.

Paul took time off work to show me around… in his ‘baby’. She was a very comfortable ride 🙂

First stop, Armstrong Woods – a redwood forest just 3 miles up the road. Very peaceful and beautiful. Except for the two mosquitoes that dined on my arm….

A giant tree stump with markers showing it’s age – was around long before the Aztecs in 1300.

We stopped at the beach (it was a bit chilly)…

And saw beautiful wildflowers on the hillside…

Paused to marvel at the misty trees

We stopped in Bodega Bay to get up close and personal with stars of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Tippy Hedron wasn’t there that day to sign autographs, but someone recorded her July 4th visit. Enjoy.

Drove past many vineyards (it was Sonoma County, after all).   Sometimes I wish I liked wine.

We stopped by Powell’s Sweet Shop in Windsor where Craig gave me run of the candy store – anything I wanted. I highly recommend the Amaretto Truffles.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t like chocolate.

I was well fed.

Very well fed.

I gained over 5 lbs, but it was worth it.

Paul fixed several gourmet meals. My offering was a turkey havarti sandwich on sourdough (delicious, but not gourmet!).

And Craig treated me to the best ribs I’ve ever had. I also loved sharing in the traditional Sunday cheese/cracker and prociutto lunch. Yum.

We played a little Cribbage.

Craig and I tortured Paul by making him sit through the entire movie Avatar. We all agreed we want our gardens to glow like that at night.

Paul (the best blogger ever) worked on his blog.

We planted a few flowers, watched a little Design Star and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and all in all had a lovely time.

Thanks, guys, for being such gracious and entertaining hosts. It was so fun to spend time with you! Now, when are you coming to the northwest?

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Posted on Jun 27th, 2010 by Allison (Family/Friends, Travel)

Paul and Craig have invited me to come for a visit several times the past couple of years. Apparently they had ulterior motives for the invitation. Even so, if you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation, I urge you to accept – it’s an experience to remember.

After a drive through Sonoma wine country, I found myself amidst a redwood forest and, following the instructions of my handy gps, arrived safely at Craig and Paul’s home on the hill. I was greeted by Paul at the top of the long staircase that leads to their home and introduced to fish that let me pet them. Well, one of the fish lets me pet her. She seems to like it.

Paul showed me to my private suite – dubbed “Miss Kitty’s Boudoir.” The bathroom was decked out with everything a traveler could want – built in hair dryer, soft bathrobe and slippers, bath/hair supplies, toothbrush, etc. Paul had called prior to my visit to ask about any dietary requirements, and the fridge was filled with bottled water, fresh fruit and yogurt. More fruit – and hand dipped strawberries graced my private table. What a treat!

Then I got the tour of their home – which was originally a little cabin (now remodeled into the guest suite). They built their existing home, which connects to the suite through a laundry room. Paul has always been very ‘handy’ and he’s done a beautiful job with the design and construction.

I especially love the tile with copper flecks in the kitchen – and the unique wall treatments and custom railing Paul designed. Their space is so inviting – and he and Craig are delightful hosts.

Look at what a beautiful and comfortable home they’ve created for themselves. Those glass windows look out onto sun dappled, vine covered redwoods and douglas firs. Breathtaking.

We’ve been having a wonderful time together, and my next post will feature how we’ve been spending our time (if I survive the night). For now, I must go enjoy what promises to be a fabulous meal that Paul is just placing on the table…..

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Posted on May 21st, 2010 by Allison (Family/Friends, In the Garden, Living in the NW)

I’ve been such a slacker. I’ve taken tons of photos and have lots of things I could be writing about but I just haven’t. No excuses. Just haven’t done it.

No promises, but I will try to rectify that – starting with this entry about a wonderful visit from Ashley & Kennedy in April.

Since their flight arrived at 7pm, our first stop was dinner at Machiavelli’s, where Kennedy ate a huge plate of pasta..

The next day, Kristin joined us as we made the short trek to Mt. Vernon for the tulip festival.

The tulips were beautiful, as usual, but it the weather wasn’t. We faced what felt like freezing cold gale force winds.

Kennedy tried to be brave.

She managed a smile while cuddling with mom.

More soon. Or at least sometime…

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Posted on Feb 27th, 2010 by Allison (Family/Friends)

Two of my granddaughters are currently living in Costa Rica (with their parents, of course) and have started blogs to share their adventures.

This is Emily, age 6…  and this is her blog, Emily in the Jungle.

Emily - age 6 Emily In The Jungle

This is Marie, age 4… and her blog, Riding A Butterfly.
MarieRiding A Butterfly

I’m loving reading what they have to say and hope you will too. Stop by and say hi!

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Posted on Feb 9th, 2010 by Allison (Family/Friends)

My Valentine
I asked Kennedy to be my valentine this year.

She said yes.

Her mom set up an email address for her so she can send me messages. This is her first email to me:

“hi grandma. this is my e-mail. I wanted to say hi and I love you for as long as you’re alive.

And I’ll love you still and you’ll still love me after you’re dead.”

Now that’s love.

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