Thursday, January 31, 2008

Costa Rica: Discovering Me

by Donna L. Watkins

I've finished three weeks of my time in Costa Rica and they should be the hardest of my nine week stay since I will soon leave for the jungle. I would say that 95% of this period of time has been very difficult.

© 2008 Kathy Pol - Donna In Her Element
The 5% of greatness lies in the people. My homestay family is very kind and gracious and everybody at the school has been wonderful. It's amazing how efficient the Costa Rican Language Academy is in a country said to move on Tico time, meaning slow and not punctual. (View my photos of school.)

That's not the case for the school. Everything is orderly and well administrated. The amazingly friendly staff make you feel like you are family and their only job is to help you with your stay in Costa Rica. They also contribute 3% of my tuition fees to fund social and environmental projects.

With all the greatness of the school, it didn't make it less of a challenge. The age groups range from teens to 70's and it's been quite obvious to me that my brain can no longer be categorized in the teen group. The emphasis on auditory learning has been a big challenge since I am a visual learner. In the evenings I spent plenty of time in the workbook and writing to integrate what was taught during the day.

Stepping into unknown territory will help you to discover more of who you are. This time has certainly done that. With all its challenges, with school being the least, I've discovered more about myself. To think, I'm only 1/3 of the way through this nine-week adventure.

I'm already assessing ways that I want life to be different when I return home. I know this trip is not happening just to prevent any more rheumatoid joint damage in the winter of Virginia. It has been specifically designed to make me aware of many things and to challenge me to make life choices based on the information and experiences I walk through while I am here.

Once I took that initial step of booking the flight back in September, it all began to evolve. The first step is always the hardest. I know that God has a challenge for each of us ... an adventure just waiting for your first step. You already know what it is. Maybe it's been buried away so long that it doesn't come to mind any more. If you get real quiet and close your eyes seeking to know what it is, I'm sure you'll discover a potential adventure of your own.

Tomorrow I will pack for my trip to the jungle. Although I can't imagine that being a challenge, I'm sure, life being as it is when we're out of our comfort zones, I'll find more discoveries about me. Venture out and make some discoveries of your own. There's an incredibly wonderful and amazing person inside that body. Don't let life get too normal!

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How Many Species In Our World

Estimating the number of species that inhabit our planet is an exercise in educated guesswork. The challenges are numerous, but despite these challenges, it is valuable to have some idea of how many species inhabit our planet.

It gives us the perspective necessary to balance research and conservation objectives to ensure some groups of animals are not overlooked and helps us to better understand community structure and dynamics.

Read the entire article.

How Much Water Should I Drink?

We all know plenty of water is necessary for staying health and for weight loss; however, most people are not sure how much water is enough. This online calculator figures your daily water requirement for your individual customized needs.

Calculate water needs.

This website also has calculator to determine your ideal body weight.

Pets Suffer With Modern Veterinary Care, But There's an Alternative

Imagine if every time you went to the doctor you were given vaccinations that you don't need; vaccinations that offer no benefit but all of the risks of harmful side effects. Or you were given medications with no explanation or information provided. Or tests were being done for no reason.

Now imagine that you can't speak and you have no way to tell those who care for you that those vaccinations make you feel sick; you don't want those tests; and the medicine is causing more harm than good.

If you thought the veterinary world had escaped the 'bottom line' mentality of the Medical Community you are wrong. The world of veterinary medicine has become equally entangled with Drug and Insurance Companies. The result is not only rising costs for the animal guardian but also unnecessary treatments, over-the-top testing, and over vaccination for the animals.

BUT! There's an alternative!

A brand new, revolutionary approach to pet care is gaining attention. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation is emerging as an alternative answer to pet care. Based on a philosophy of integrative medicine, this holistic approach to animal health is saving the lives of pets diagnosed with conditions such as cancer, heart disease, auto immune disease, bladder problems, skin problems and seizures.  Read more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Costa Rica: Jungle Time

by Donna L. Watkins

My entire time here is now planned. Every day scheduled and booked. We finally found a place to go when Randal arrives. He'll spend 3 days here in the city and then 7 days out in the rainforest. More on that in a later post. The current excitement is my trip to La Selva Biological Station.

In six (6) days I'll be headed for the jungle! It's less than two hours by car. I've been reading the wildlife book I purchased prior to coming and it lists the various preserves and then has an index for each species where it can be seen. I'm amazed at the number of species that La Selva contains and feel so incredibly blessed that the Up and Down Battle was finally won to get to be there. Each day will be filled with so many memories and photographs.

Although I do not desire to include any close encounters of the many poisonous snakes in my treasure of memories. Their list is long including bushmasters that can be over 11 feet, boa constrictors, coral snakes, pit vipers and other vipers. Pit vipers have "pits" or depressions between their nostrils and eyes. They act as sensory organs.

Back in Alabama we relied on the King Snake to take care of the rattlesnakes seen in our neighborhood of woods. We were grateful to see King Snakes guarding our property. At La Selva I will have to rely on the Mussurana since they eat several of the poisonous snakes. Maybe I can hire one as my guide for my stay.

The fer-de-lance snake is known to have the most human kills because it actually attacks and never backs down. Randal and I encountered a fer-de-lance on our last trip to Costa Rica. We were returning to our cabin after dinner at dusk arm-in-arm and walking much too fast for a rainforest path. Before we realized it we were only 5 feet from a huge snake that was already coiled with head raised. Randal's first words were, "Get a picture!" And I did. Whether it was the flash or the fact that we looked so large being "tied" together, I do not know, but it began to crawl away.

The description sounded like a fer-de-lance to the lodge owner, but he said it couldn't have been because it would not have backed down. When the photograph was developed it was obvious. We really do have guardian angels. And I will be relying on them for my rainforest time at La Selva since I won't be arm-in-arm with anybody. I love all of God's creation but I also have a healthy appreciation of safety since I'm not good at identification during face-to-face encounters.

One great thing about poisonous snakes in the American tropics (besides their beauty) is that they tend to be nocturnal. So enjoying the wonders of nature during the day is relatively safe as long as you watch where you're walking. The motto is to stop if you're looking up, and to walk only while looking down. Each foot of the rainforest is filled with delicious delights and possible trouble, so it's a good motto to remember.

Fear of snakes is a common phobia brought forward from Bible times with many cultures having their own stories and legends of evil snakes. The reality is that there are few poisonous snakes in locales around the world, except for unfortunate Australia which has many, so they should be enjoyed for their beauty.

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Fruit Fly Fakes The Spider

From Creation Moments

One of the spider's virtues is that it loves to eat flies. However, not all spiders catch flies in their webs. The jumping spider stalks its prey until, like a tiny tiger, it is close enough to pounce. Rather than defining its territory with a web, the jumping spider takes its territory with it in a manner of speaking. Wherever the jumping spider is becomes its territory.

When one jumping spider encounters another, they wave their legs at each other, warning each other to back off. Herein lies the tale of how one species of fruit fly is able to outsmart the spider. Unlike most fruit flies, this particular species has stripes on its wings. When it waves its wings over its head, it looks something like a jumping spider declaring its territory. When stalked by a jumping spider, the fly is able to convince the spider that it's another jumping spider protecting its territory.

Researchers have discovered why this trick works even though the fly doesn't look much like a spider. The spider's response to the pattern is pre-wired into its brain and is triggered by certain cells in its eyes. These cells are only activated by a display of the pattern. The spider automatically reacts to the pattern. All the fly has to do is fake the pattern and it's safe!

The fruit fly's strategy requires a sophisticated knowledge of the jumping spider's nervous system as well as its behavior. It's safe to say that no fruit fly was able to create this strategy. It could have been authored only by the God who created them both.

References: On display: the stars of the stripes. Discover, May1987. p. 9.

Visit the Creation Moments website.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Catalog Choice - Stop What You Don't Want

Catalog Choice is a free service that lets you decline paper catalogs you no longer wish to receive. Reduce the amount of unsolicited mail in your mailbox, helping you to simplify life and preserve the environment. Find the catalogs you don't want and they contact the merchant for you.

Catalogs are being produced from the boreal forest where 30% of our North American land birds breed and 40% of its waterfowl. Boreal birds need your help.

Gather up the catalogs you do not want to receive and get them canceled at Catalog Choice today!

NYC Wants Fruit & Veggie Street Carts

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn support legislation lifting a cap on the number of food pushcarts allowed on city streets — but only for vendors who exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

City officials hope to get as many as 1,500 new fruit and vegetable carts onto sidewalks in neighborhoods where vegetable consumption is low, including Harlem, southeast Queens and most of the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Read the entire article.

This could be a great precedent for other cities to do. Large cities seem to want to compete for the "greatest" new idea. This healthy one would be a good choice, especially for those who have such long commutes and tend to not eat as nutritiously as they should.

Costa Rica: Weekends

by Donna L. Watkins

It finally seems that some of the Spanish is actually sticking. I've had two weeks of classes now and for the most part I've felt like there's a leak in my brain.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Rufous-collared Sparrow in Costa Rica
Maybe I forgot to load the software for the area that learns a new language? The more I learn the more I realize I do not know. However, I do find myself not only thinking in Spanish but actually forming sentences as I walk along.

My homework over the weekend was to do a written composition of what I did for the weekend. Writing is so much easier than speaking for me, but then that's the case in English also. My weekend was uneventful, so it was an easy assignment. Most of the students do weekend excursions since they have 3 days. Since I have plenty of rainforest and jungle time scheduled, I invest the time into studying. I like to study in the garden, but the birds play hide-n-seek with me and I'm easily distracted.

The Rufous-collared Sparrow is the most friendly since he forages on the ground, knowing he can fly into the brush if I move. I love hearing the different bird songs. Not only do the people speak a different language, the avian world here sounds different also.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Irazu Volcano From Homestay Window
The view from my window includes the nearby Irazu Volcano. This is the volcano that erupted in 1963 on the same day President John F. Kennedy arrived for a visit. Being on the second floor makes it easy to see above the buildings, but the glass window is covered with a bit of city smog.

On clear afternoons the sun shining on the mountain (volcano) looks very pretty. Reminds me of the views back home in Virginia near Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's home). As you can see there are home there. Very odd thought to live on the side of a volcano.

Every day is good weather here in the dry season. Mid-70's with a cool mountain breeze at all times. Some days are a bit cool in the morning, but it's a refreshing cool in mid-60's. I am very grateful to be warm and flexible in the months of January and February. I thought a lot about that as I walked up to the grocery for a melon on Saturday.

I do a lot of walking here since it's the first mode of transportation for people and it's more enjoyable than riding the buses, especially if you take some streets that don't have much exhaust. It doesn't matter where you are, pedestrians do not have the right of way. Sometimes it seems that the red taxis, which are everywhere in great numbers, are out to get you.

There is one thing I've learned. On the streets you will find some yellow hearts painted with a halo above them. Those are spots where pedestrians have been hit. Similar to our roadside crosses where somebody died in an auto accident. A great visual effect to remind you to not take any chances crossing streets.

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Spouse Bearing Burdens

by Donna L. Watkins

Do you have deep wounds that you can't talk about? How many times has your left-brained man from Mars been insensitive to your needs?

© 2007 Donna L. Watkins - Barnacle Geese
Men don't think the way women do and yet most women expect their husbands to be able to read their minds. They want them to know exactly what they're thinking and what they need ... even though it does change on a weekly or monthly basis many times.

After years of that you'll have wounds too deep to share and it will make you stay out of reach on an emotional level with the man you at one time considered to be all you could want in life.

What about you men? Has your wife's tongue been too acid to bear? Have you tuned her out? Is your soul crushed from too many tongue-lashings? For most men, women definitely seem to be from another planet and of a race that doesn't give a clue on communication needs. Coming home sometimes seems like you've exited the real world and come into the unknown. Unknown expectations that you've never quite figured out.

Maybe you've heard of this story:
An elderly couple celebrating their 50th anniversary had no secrets, except for one shoe box the wife had kept hidden away. She now decided to let her husband see it. When he opened it he found 2 crocheted dolls and $50,000 in cash. She explained, "Year's ago my mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was never to argue. She said that when I got angry I was to crochet a doll and keep quiet." The husband was elated that she had only been angry twice but had to ask about the $50,000. "Oh," she said smiling, "that's from selling dolls."

The world is full of dead marriages. Both parties do their daily lifestyle requirements and then withdraw emotionally to the closet. It's not the dreamy marriage you thought it was going to be and it never will be unless you get back to bearing each other's burdens. The saying goes, "it's not a bed of roses," but you can certainly grow a garden of love if you put your mind and heart to it.

Talking is not easy after years of misunderstanding the other's motives, but what's the alternative? Emptiness and anger? You're not perfect, so why would you expect your spouse to be? We need to give it another shot. Trying to make it work better can make a difference in your health both emotionally and physically. Happy relationships along with giving and receiving love makes healthy bodies and brings about healing.

Why not give the same amount of grace and mercy that Jesus showed? After all, we are supposed to be Christians right? That means Christ-likeness.

Jesus always saw the best in the worst of people and He went out of His way to reach out to them and heal them. Right down to the core of who they were. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery? One of the worst sins of that time. The shame of public exposure and the pain of being stoned.

In this woman, Jesus saw someone worth saving. Isn't there still a glimmer of love in you for that man or woman you married? If you imagine them being gone forever, I know you could write down 10 things that you really like about them. Isn't your marriage worth saving just as this sinful woman was to Jesus?

Jesus lifted this woman up by publicly recognizing that there wasn't anyone present without sin. We all blow it and make a mess of our lives if we don't take care of the junk daily. But no matter how may days and years you've missed ... Jesus in you can restore any relationship in time. Is it worth it to you?

Others are going through the same pain as you. They're crying inside just like you and they are alone and afraid, just like you. We get so hung up in our own burdens and pain that we're no longer capable of sharing anybody else's burdens to make the load lighter ... and yet, sometimes, especially in a marriage, sharing those burdens may just take your burdens away also.

Galatians 6:2-3 says, "Carry each other's burdens (troubles and problems), and in this will you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself."

Take your marriage and relationship back from the devil. Ask for your spouse's agreement to work at restoring the relationship. Seek their willingness to join you in the effort. Nehemiah restored the wall around the city even with enemies attacking while it was being done. Expect some bumps in the road ... but be determined that you're going to get the love of your life back. You're going to build that wall of protection around your family by repairing your heart and soul.

"Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so." Author Unknown

Copyright and Reprint Information

All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Sustainable Family Farms Need Help

Your help is needed in a battle to stop the trend toward a sterilized and industrialized food system that threatens biodiversity and the very existence of family-scale farms that grow food in a safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable way.

The USDA is considering a change in the federal regulations that could potentially require growers of all fresh leafy green vegetables to follow specified guidelines in the fields and during post-harvest handling.

The guidelines include growing practices that discourage biodiversity and sustainable/organic farming practices, deplete soil fertility, and create “sterile” fields—methods that have not been scientifically proven to actually reduce E. coli 0157 bacteria but are certain to reduce biodiversity, harm wildlife, and burden family-scale farms.

Read the entire article.

How Baldness Happens

The website on "how stuff works" has a real education on baldness. Reasons why it happens for both men and women, what solutions are being used, and a lot of information so you can be informed and stop baldness.

Read the entire article.

Learn CPR Step-by-Step

Every year, more than 600 times a day in the United States alone, somebody needs CPR. Sudden cardiopulmonary arrest is the leading cause of death for all adults, male or female.

Modern medicine has come up with a number of tools to combat cardiopulmonary arrest. Many require medical training and/or complex equipment, but cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), can be used by lay people with only a little bit of training.

This article will explore how this simple first aid technique can help save lives and give you step-by-step instruction to learn it. This would be a good plan to include in some of your family time.

Be Informed About Dog Breeders

If you're looking to get a new dog, recent headlines no doubt have warned you against buying an animal from illegal "puppy mills" run by unlicensed breeders. But don't be fooled into thinking that legal, licensed breeders and those with registration papers are a guarantee of a healthy puppy either.

'USDA approved' and 'AKC registered' are bare-bones requirements.

Read the entire article.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Costa Rica: Time For Flowers

by Donna L. Watkins

It's Friday and for me it's a long weekend since school is Monday through Thursday. However, learning is every day. I spend as much time studying after class as I do during. There is so much to learn and they go through the book so fast.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Orchid at Homestay
I have been enjoying the garden here at the homestay. My solace in the midst of city life.

On the way to school each morning there is a gardenia bush. I noticed it over a week ago when it had a bloom. I was so excited to see it. I love gardenias and we can't grow them because the deer eat them in our garden. I stood over that bush for minutes inhaling the aroma. I felt as though I had found an old friend that I hadn't seen in a long time. I'm sure I looked a bit silly standing there with my eyes closed breathing in so heavily, but I kept thinking about the phrase, "Take time to smell the roses."

How appropriate to take time for the little things that you love. Life gets too full of the many tasks and voices that demand attention. Our own inner voice quieting speaking its own needs gets drowned out and rarely gets attention. Some days I have passed the bush without stopping because there are no flowers. I approach like one would when meeting somebody at a cafe ... wondering if a flower would be there. I don't know if some passerby is taking them or if the owner cuts them for the home, but I miss not seeing and smelling one every morning there are none to be found.

Although Costa Rica is full of orchids, this time of year is not the bloom time for most of them. That doesn't mean the city lacks floral color. It's amazing the amount of flowers that are familiar to me and some that grace our own gardens. One of the things I have to giggle about is that poinsettias are native here, however, they grow into a small tree. There is one in the courtyard of the home I am staying in.

I've also seen a lot of ficus trees which remind me of the fake plants that we buy to place in the home. They have variegated ones also. Many of the indoor house plants common in the United States are outdoor plants here. I also see some I've had in the past that bloom beautiful flowers and berries here, but have never bloomed in my home.

The love of plants is a universal language. Actually no language is needed in a garden. Soul and spirits rise as one with all who love the garden. Words are not necessary and certainly never adequate for descriptions of such beauty.

Ten more days and I'll be at La Selva Biological Station with rainforest and gardens and my soul and spirit will certainly need no words, although my brain will still need the practice of Spanish, so my studies will follow me. I'm sure I will learn more in the forest than in the city since my brain will expand greatly in that expanse of beauty.

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Costa Rica: Fears and Phobias

by Donna L. Watkins

God is so faithful to keep us challenged if we will allow Him to! Since I've been here in Costa Rica, I have gotten emails of encouragement about adjusting to the fears of crime and security. I didn't mention specific fears I'm working on, so it's an excellent assumption in a city where the police have stopped us to tell us to get out of the neighborhood. Most folks do not feel very secure if they're watching, reading or listening to the daily news.

© 2002 Randal J. Watkins - Donna With Python in Singapore
Sometimes I wish I had the "usual" fears. We all have lack of faith in areas of our daily walk but feeling safe isn't one of mine. Walking through horrible neighborhoods, making sure the doors are locked in house or car, or traveling on country and city roads without a cell phone (almost unheard of these days) doesn't cause me any concern. God watches over me and protects me. The Bible says so and that's that. Don't I wish it could be so easy for all areas of life. My issues are things that aren't quite so clear. But then, that's why they are issues, right?

I grew up with parents who had phobias of grime and kitchens and bathrooms. Eating out, etc. Not the bacteria phobias that many folks have who can wipe everything down with anti-bacterial wipes or bleach and make it all okay. To me, all those chemicals are as bad as the grime. With phobias being an irrational fear, it's hard to come up with a rational definition.

Most of the people around me here get the creepies when I talk about going to the jungle, even the ones that live in the country, not just the students at the school. The school didn't have a transport option to the place I wanted to go. When I mention where I want to be, people tell me about snakes and huge insects and malaria and other health problems.

© 2002 Randal J. Watkins - Donna With Python in Singapore

I can relate to those two fears since I was terrified of insects (like my mother) until God took that away. When we moved "to the woods" I wanted to love ALL of His Creation and in little time the fear left by a strong desire to love what He made. With snakes too, although I still don't know how to pick one up, but I love holding them if somebody hands one to me. Which is what happened in the photos on this post. Love covered all fears.

Love covers all fears, so I just have to find something to love within the realms of the phobias, like I did with insects and snakes, right? Focusing more on loving people could maybe do both? I know God will direct! I used to be terrified of the dark from an experience I had as a child and God took that away the first year of salvation.

I have a couple of friends who can't do swinging bridges and for me it's like being part of a tree swaying up there in the treetops. Isn't it awful how we want to trade our fears and talents for somebody else's? Comparison is NOT a good thing.

It's just a process of switching the brain around, so I know there's a way to get beyond it. I see people all around me not even noticing what gives me the creepy crawlies, so it's a great visual picture of being able to do it. I know until I conquer all fear I am not all of who I am to be. Fear is sin and I believe it affects our health, joy, peace and very life on earth in ways that we do not see.

Thanks for all your encouragement and for sharing your own fears. Together we will overcome. Love does cover all. In His love all things are possible.

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Twinkies From Chinese Oil Refinery

Although eight of the ingredients in the beloved little snack cake come from domestic corn and three from soybeans, there are others — including thiamine mononitrate — that come from petroleum.

Chinese petroleum. Chinese refineries and Chinese factories. And there are other unexpected ingredients that are much harder to trace. So much for the great "All-American" snack food.

Read the entire article.

Blessings from Trees

From Creation Moments

In the Bible, Genesis uses only a few words and simple language to describe the creation of trees. That hardly seems fair, considering the importance, variety and complexity of the largest and longest-living things on earth.

The largest Sequoias in northern California weigh more than six blue whales. The tallest Australian eucalyptus trees and redwoods tower as high as a 30-story building. Some of the Bristlecone pines in the American west are 4,000 years old.

Trees do more than provide us with building materials, food and medicine. Like other green plants, trees take the waste carbon dioxide produced by animals and humans and turn it into oxygen.

As a bonus, trees produce sugar. The cellulose fiber we call wood is actually only thousands of sugar molecules linked into long chains. In recent years scientists have also learned that trees communicate with each other.

They cool the air and pump enough moisture into the air to transform a dry desert-like climate. If it were not for the mycorrhiza fungi, trees would battle through their roots for control of moisture and soil resources. However, when this fungus is present in the root systems, trees will link roots with each other and share water and nutrients.

References: Ponte, Lowell. What good is a tree? Reader's Digest.

©2005 Creation Moments, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Power of Love and Forgiveness

by Donna L. Watkins

© 2007 Donna L. Watkins - Great Spangled Fritillaries Mating

Our thoughts, spoken words, and beliefs are all a choice and that choice forms a pattern of life for us. We have to choose to trust and believe in what God's Word tells us rather than what we think or what the devil whispers in our ear. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and not seen."

When we accepted Christ's salvation, we were redeemed from the curse of this world. We can have joy, peace, and contentment in all circumstances, if we live within the spirit realm. That's what Christ gave us when He left this earth. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to provide us with comfort, peace and a joy unspeakable. A joy not based on circumstances is a sure sign of Christ's power within. The world is hungry for that and if we can't bring ourselves to that "table in the presence of our enemies" we allow the devil to keep us within prison walls with an unlocked door that we refuse to open.

There is no doubt that the Holocaust during World War II was beyond any bad circumstances and pain that most of us will ever endure. To lose family and loved ones, not knowing the torment and torture they were enduring while you were experiencing the same. We cannot imagine these things that we have not experienced, and yet there were people of faith that lived through it and made a good life for themselves after it was over. Were they created with special skills to be able to endure such events and come through "smelling like a rose?" I don't think so. Life is all about choices ... all about faith or fear.

To such a cruel and horrible situation, Corrie ten Boom's family in Holland provided refuge for Jews. This family was betrayed and the Gestapo hauled them all off to concentration camps. Why? For their humanitarian, Christian choice to do what was right? Where was God in all of this? Where was His protection?

When her father was asked if he knew he could die for helping Jews, he replied, "It would be an honor to give my life for God's ancient people." He died shortly after capture and Corrie's brother died shortly after the war from disease in the camps.

There is so much room for great bitterness, yet Corrie and her sister, Betsie, rose above it, even in the midst of the infamous Ravensbruck camp, and witnessed for Christ. Betsie died at Ravensbruck, but Corrie returned home from the death camps after the war. She realized her life was a gift from God, and she needed to share what she and Betsy had learned in Ravensbruck: "There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still" and "God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies."

At age 53, Corrie began a world-wide ministry which took her into more than 60 countries in the next 33 years! She testified to God’s love and encouraged all she met with the message that "Jesus is Victor." She was able to face those who had tortured and killed her family and forgive them.

She died on her 91st birthday. In the Jewish tradition, it is only very blessed people who are allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday! Read more history on this inspiring woman.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Removing Ovaries Promotes Dementia

Women who undergo removal of one or both of their ovaries before menopause have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia. The research shows that ovary removal boosts risks for cognitive impairment and Parkinson's Disease also.

Read the entire article.

Dog Lovers Challenge Rabies Vaccines

At The Rabies Challenge Fund website you see pictures of dogs who have developed health problems related to rabies vaccines. Names are not changed to protect the innocent. These are dogs of people who love them enough to stand up and be concerned about other dogs also.

Since the 1970's a few veterinarians have spoken out about the adverse reactions to rabies vaccines and now there's something you can do also! If for nobody else, but your own pet.

Rabies vaccination is required by law in nearly all areas. Even though protection from rabies is documented to last at least three years, current law in some states or areas still requires that boosters be given annually or biannually rather than the standard policy of every three years.

Why should you challenge the rabies vaccine?.

Costa Rica: Randal Plans To Visit

by Donna L. Watkins

I am very excited since Randal has booked a flight to Costa Rica and will arrive on February 29 to take me home on his white horse on March 11. Well, it's actually a white plane, but I have a good imagination. It will be wonderful to finish my trip here with him.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Costa Rica Flowers
Kathy, my neighbor that flew down with me to attend four weeks of classes, has her husband arriving tomorrow. She's been spending a lot of time planning excursions for him while she's in class, and also places to go together over the 3-day weekend. He leaves the day before her friend arrives, so she's had planning for that also. Kathy is a great planner, but like me, she's used to doing it before leaving for a trip.

I now have the same challenge to decide what to do while Randal's here. It's high season and the first few places I've wanted to book reservations at were not available. There are many wonderful options, but for such a small country, it's not very easy to get around Costa Rica. There are few highways and many roads are unpaved even in areas considered popular for tourists, like Monteverde. It takes time to travel in this small country because there are many mountains and volcanos, no matter which direction you go.

Bus service is prevalent but crowded, and if you've got luggage, it's not the way to travel unless it will sit on your lap or at your feet. So, making choices on where to go isn't an easy decision. Nobody likes to "waste" most of their day in transport for a few hours at an attraction. And there are so many great, wonderful and beautiful things to see, but transportation is as much a part of the planning as the place to see.

Fortunately, the husband at my homestay was a driver, now retired, so I asked him if he knew somebody that would transport me to La Selva Biological Station, the rainforest jungle area that I will spend 19 days at in February. He found somebody the next day so I am very excited since the lodge's transport was very expensive.

The differences in prices is incredible since the internet is geared to tourist prices and getting the school to book at my student rate is an incredible difference. For example, one of the lodges I was considering (that is not available) showed a rate of $162 for two (room, meals, entrance fees to reserve, taxes). The school got a rate of $98 but it is booked on the dates we need. That only means there's something better. One closed door just means an open window some place else.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Costa Rica Flowers
Spanish classes are still a challenge. I've never been an auditory learner. I have to write as people talk to truly learn what I heard and when my brain is translating the Spanish slower than the person is talking, there's definitely no time to write down what is being said. So brain strain in class is taxing, but at night I review the information and learn it visually.

When they say it's an "immersion" class they mean it. There is not one word of English in the book and the teachers speak Spanish throughout the class. Sometimes I sit and ask myself, "WHY am I doing this?" Have you ever wanted to do something really bad and then when you got into it you wonder if you really want to put that much effort into it? My answer to that is always yes, but I do have my doubts throughout the day.

This past weekend I spent 11-1/2 hours studying. My brain does not absorb as quickly as it did a "few" years back. The rainforest time is a great motivation for me since the more I know of Spanish the more I will get out of my travel within Costa Rica. I will continue to study while I am at La Selva and will return for another week of Spanish classes before Randal arrives.

It is true that the more you know of a subject, the more you know that you don't know anything. How true for me and Spanish. Now and then it's good to do something other than study. Kathy and I visited the Museo de los Ninos (Children's Museum) and enjoyed a bit of fun and laughter.

There was an exhibit where you could step on notes (Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do) and create a song while it lit up the notes on the wall. I did it with a young boy that was there. I think he was more intrigued watching "the old lady dance around" than making his own music.

One thing that challenges will do for you is allow you to more fully and enthusiastically enjoy a bit of fun. Consider also that this Children's Museum is in what was once a prison. "All work and no play" makes for dull people.

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Puerto Rico's Stray Dogs

Some visitors to Puerto Rico are leaving with an unusual souvenir — one of the thousands of scrappy abandoned dogs that roam the island’s beaches.

Hundreds of abandoned canines are being scooped up and flown to the U.S.: some by tourists unexpectedly touched by their plight, others as part of an expensive organized rescue effort.

Read the entire article.

Puerto Rican officials have launched a campaign to improve the treatment of animals after the allegations in October that dozens of cats and dogs were hurled to their deaths from a bridge.

The island will build new shelters and create animal protection units within every police department, said Terestella Gonzalez Denton, executive director of the island’s tourism department.

Read the entire article.

This is a good example of bad things happening being used for good.

Looking For Mr. Right

by Donna L. Watkins

Thanks to fairy tales and dreams, many of us women grew up believing there was a Mr. Right out there who would ride up on a white horse, with no worries or cares of his own, and carry us away to the land of Everything Wonderful.

© Donna L. Watkins - Pigeon in Love - San Jose
The truth is, Ms. Right, that Mr. Right is out there looking for somebody to respond to his own "Help Wanted" dreams.

Do you really believe there's anybody out there that would want to take on the weight of all your troubles? Even is somebody loves you enough to want to, nobody is able. We are all human flesh, not God.

Only God can make your life what you've dreamed it could be, so take your focus off of those around you that can never meet your expectations and get it on God. You'll never get around all your problems if you're looking for somebody else to make it happen.

If you've got your faith in a person, you've lost the battle. We become filled with bad events, thoughts, circumstances, and fears until we've got wounds all over us that are bleeding. Mr. Right is not your herbal solution for healing. Only the Balm of Gilead is able to heal wounds that may have been oozing since childhood.

God will ride in on the wings of your faith and hope and put your life back together if you'll let Him. His Words can bring peace to your soul. That peace can bring healing to the seemingly bottomless pit of pain. Your life can be in order again and you can make a difference in the lives of those around you.

Will you let Him? After you've read a zillion books, spent hundreds of hours in church, and gone through many emotional healing workbooks, it's hard to think there's an answer because we've been relying on our own strength.

You can't do this. Mr. Right can't do it. Only God can. Come before Him broken, empty of personal strength, seeking the Holy Spirit to know the sins that separate you from His holy presence. One of them might be in making somebody else god in your life.

Who have you been expecting to do what only God can do? That kind of pressure will kill a relationship. When you're done making it right with God, make it right with Mr. Right also. Maybe he'll follow your example and let God handle his dreams and desires also, whether it be husband, father, child, brother or friend.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Costa Rica: Ups & Downs of Travel

by Donna L. Watkins

The ups and downs of this trip have been a real test of my faith in God's provision and watch care over me. This is only one example:

© Donna L. Watkins - At Museo de los Ninos, Costa Rica
Before leaving I spent time looking through my tourist guide and online trying to determine where I would love to be for my rainforest time in Costa Rica. I wanted so badly to book it before leaving since I have never taken off for a trip without all plans made. Many people do so, but I don't like to spend vacation time deciding what to do, it's high season in Costa Rica now, and I knew school would be intense, so I really wanted it off my mind.

However! My insides told me to wait. I knew the Costa Rica Language Academy could get discounts on lodging, etc. so I figured it would save me money waiting. What a surprise when I asked them and they didn't even know where the lodge was or anything about it. Of course, I'm not your "typical tourist traveler" by any means. DOWN!

So, I emailed Randal to see if he could get a better rate than what was online, which was $88 a day. He called and asked for a student rate since I was in school and had a student card and they told him it would be $55 a day. That included three meals a day, entrance to the reserve, a guided tour, and the sales tax which can be from 13-16%. How excited I was! UP!

Now would they have the dates I needed? I found out what the time factors were on my homestay and gave Randal the dates. When he called back they said that the student rate didn't really apply to my circumstances. DOWN!

My sweet husband explained how much I loved Costa Rica and anytime somebody asks me what my favorite place in the world is, I say the rainforest of Costa Rica. He also told them I do travel journals online and take photographs and they would get quite a bit of promotion if I got to spend the time with them. Isn't he just marvelous? They approved the rate. UP!

However, they didn't have any cabins or houses available at La Selva Biological Station, so it would be at the River Station. From what I could tell online, that meant dormitory housing. Since I wanted to write and have solitude after the school and city, that didn't fit. I haven't slept much with the city noises, so I certainly wouldn't sleep well with the possibility of 5 other people snoring. I told Randal to cancel it. DOWN!

I then thought that maybe the school calling from within the country could do something. They are more than willing to book travel for the students so I put my request in for one of the girls to call. She said that she can usually get a better rate when they talk directly to the lodges. UP!

The next day she told me that they had nothing till April in a private room. DOWN!

At the same time Randal was calling to cancel the reservation for the dormitory room, but when he talked with them, they said that it was a private room and private bath and the rate was definitely $55. UP!

It seemed too good to be true. With all the ups and downs I actually couldn't believe it. Randal said he had asked many questions and was sure it was definitely private. The transport there and back was $180. Randal didn't want me taking the buses since baggage is commonly stolen and 4-5 hours with a suitcase on my lap would not be a good thing. I couldn't see paying that much for the trip because I knew it was very high because they weren't in the transport business. DOWN!

So again I asked the school to check on transportation so I could travel for less. They agreed it was a very expensive rate. She called and they told her it was $30 each way to the nearby town of Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui. UP!

I told her to book it for the dates I'd be there. She called and they had made a mistake. There are two Puerto Viejo towns and apparently the person wasn't listening to which one it was. This one is not well traveled so they didn't offer service there. DOWN!

Again I had an inside feeling that there was a better way. I don't like to waste money. It's part of my Pa. Dutch upbringing. So, I put Randal on hold for confirming the transport and asked the husband at my homestay about it. You see, he had recently retired from being a driver, so I figured he might know of somebody who would like the job and I could get a better rate. He said he would check. He told me the following day that he had found somebody. UP!

I'm all set for the rainforest time and I intend to keep studying while I am there. I have been reading the New Testament while I am here and Jesus' sermon on the mount has definitely been on a playback loop in my mind where He talks about not worrying about tomorrow and how God will take care of us if He's taking care of the lilies of the field.

It's very humbling to think that there is a destiny in life and that if we can let ourselves relax a bit, we may find that life is a whole lot easier than we think. Maria, my homestay wife, is a very tranquil person. She's been absolutely perfect. She's into natural foods with lots of fruits and vegetables. I knew vegetarian wouldn't be a problem since it was a common thing at the school, but to have somebody that doesn't make fried foods or sugar sweets has been such a big blessing.

As my husband says from one of his favorite TV programs while he was growing up, "I love it when a plan comes together." (A Team if you're wondering :-)

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Antibiotic-Resistant Bugs in Supermarket Chicken

Millar's findings of a range of resistant bacteria in chickens that could compromise antibiotic treatment in humans are expected to cause similar waves in medical circles.

The key finding was that the bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics not used in the poultry industry but important for treating serious infections in humans.

Read the entire article.

Get Your Garden Growing in the Middle of Winter

The weather outside may be frightful or it may be making you think of gardening. Either way you can still exercise your green thumb during winter. "This is the best time to plan your garden and decide what you want to grow," says Maureen Heffernan, director of public programs at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. It's also a good time to start planting seeds - indoors, that is.

Here's an article at National Wildlife Federation to give you some ideas and how-to information.

Pet Hospice Good and Bad

Pet hospice is increasingly an option for people wanting a dignified death for a terminally ill companion animal. Like its counterpart in human medicine, pet hospice, also known as veterinary or animal hospice, resonates with pet owners who see their companions as important members of the household and deserving of a peaceful end.

Yet as pet hospice becomes more commonplace, there's a greater likelihood for abuse by hoarders and well-meaning individuals lacking the skills and resources to provide adequate end-of-life care.

Read the entire article.

Unhappy? Self-Critical?

Just about any sports movie or motivational tape delivers a few boilerplate rules for success. Believe in yourself. Don’t take no for an answer. Never quit. Don’t accept second best.

Several recent studies stand as a warning against taking the platitudes of achievement too seriously. The new research focuses on a familiar type, perfectionists, who panic or blow a fuse when things don’t turn out just so.

The findings not only confirm that such purists are often at risk for mental distress, but also suggest that perfectionism is a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behavior to addiction.

Read the entire article.

Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

"A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it, than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

"Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it."

"I love Nature partly because she is not a man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. Here a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is restraint; she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world; she makes me content with this. None of the joys she supplies is subject to his rules and definitions. What he touches he taints. In thought he moralizes... How infinite and pure the least pleasure of which Nature is basis compared with the congratulations of mankind! The joy which Nature yields is like that afforded by frank words of one we love."

"...a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors..."

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone."

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Will Kids Outgrow ADHD

New findings that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may stem from a developmental delay that children could outgrow, rather than a cognitive deficit, have raised questions for parents of the 4.4 million children diagnosed with the disorder.

Read the entire article.

Costa Rica: Buses and Shopping

by Donna L. Watkins

Riding the buses helped me to feel like I was really integrating myself into the country and city, but now, 10 days later, it has lost all of its enchantment. My attention to the details of watching so I don't miss my stop, has waned as I have become more familiar with the landmarks. The crazy driving at rush hour holds no glitter for me. The time spent in the city becomes more suffocating with each day. When I think of the amount of people who deal with city life every day, I am amazed at the adaptability of the human race.

© Donna L. Watkins - Colita in Costa Rica
Last week on the way home I had an irresistible urge to shop for produce. We order our groceries every five months, so at home all I have to shop for is bread at the bakery and produce at the market. I guess I wanted to put a bit of 'normal' in my life. There's a store where I get off on the way home, so I strolled in to look for produce and bought seven (7) bananas and three (3) fat, obviously home-grown, carrots. My bill came to a total of $.38. This is the kind of travel budget I can love! Yes, that is thirty-eight cents.

It's nice to arrive home to a warm welcome from Colita. That's the family's Miniature Chihuahua. She actually runs downstairs hoping it's somebody in the family, I'm sure, but I pretend she's there to greet me. At home, I'm definitely not greeted by Squeek, my cat. She fits the description most people have of cats. Very independent and not the least bit interested in letting you think she may have missed you for a moment.

The city is a huge challenge for me with the exhaust and litter everywhere. I saw that they are budgeting to clean up San Jose which has 700 tons of litter in the city. It would make a huge difference on how tourists view the city, I'm sure. They're also working on solutions for the increase in theft and crimes. Seems this current president isn't burying his head in the banana trees.

My husband, Randal, is a wonderful man. After 30 years, he's only gotten better, like fruit as it ripens. When I arrived and processed through the culture shock, he was my rock and knight in shining armor. When all seemed lost on being able to stay at the place of my dreams for rainforest time, he made it happen! That story is to be told in the next post.

View all Costa Rica photo albums.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Costa Rica: Routine and Weather

by Donna L. Watkins

Maria, the homemaker at my homestay, is a fantastic cook. The flavors are delicious and there is great variety in the evening meals. She's into natural so I have not had to worry about offending somebody by not wanting dairy and sugar. I haven't seen anything sweet in the house which is a good thing for me since the rheumatoid problems are much more noticeable when I eat sugar.

My homestay now includes another couple from Minnesota. Mike is originally from England and Jenny originally from New Zealand. Mike reminds me a lot of my neighbor, Ken, not only with the English accent, but the delightful cheery way he has of speaking. The funny thing is that it's becoming more difficult to think of English words. If I were not doing these journal writings, I would probably be more challenged.

It takes about 20 minutes to get to school and an hour to get back, but I'm switching my departure time since inhaling all that exhaust is not working for me, although riding the buses gives me a feeling of really being settled in. The round trip fare is $.63 each day. My homestay fees are $18.50 a day which includes breakfast and dinner, along with a private room and laundry service. Internet is free at the school but my schedule is busy also. If I had to pay at an internet cafe it is $.50/hour.

The Costa Rican people (they call themselves Ticos) are very warm and kind people. It's easy to ask anybody on the street a question and they will gladly be of service "con mucho gusto" (with much pleasure). I've had two people even walk with me, in the opposite direction from where they were going, to make sure I see the place to go.

Now that school has started we don't spend time chatting after dinner. It's time to study. I have had homework each night. I make myself go to bed by 9:30 since I wake up at about 5 no matter when I go to bed. After the first few days of working on photos till late at night, I learned my lesson and get to bed early after studying and then have a bit of time in the morning for the computer.

The weather is unbelievable! It's always nice. It's cool in the mornings (60's) and gets warmer around noon (80) but the continual soft cooling breezes make it always comfortable unless you're standing in the sun. By 4 PM you can feel the chill settling in from the nearby mountains. It's a totally lovely climate, one that I could handle year round.

Half of the year they have a wet season when there is rain daily, but the temperatures don't change much in San Jose. Although I'm in the capital city with a lot of concrete and asphalt, there is green everywhere. It's very refreshing compared to the metropolitan cities in the U.S. There are a lot of park areas and houses have some kind of garden or greenery, with many growing some fruits and vegetables.

© Donna L. Watkins - Baltimore Oriole
I also caught a photo of a Baltimore Oriole on the garden wall. I live 3 hours from Baltimore and we've never seen one of these in our yard.

I can see why they say there's 60,000 Americans living in Costa Rica. The metropolitan areas provide just about anything you could find in the USA, although American brands do cost more due to 30% import fees. However, local brands are very reasonable. Lodging in a homestay provides lots of local tips and Ticos truly know how to make you feel like family. It's something I've never done, but it's something I've needed to do. I'm always up for an adventure!

View More Flowers, Birds & Costa Rica photos.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Balancing Life's Priorities

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Pond at Duke Gardens
While Martha scurried making preparations for her guests, Mary sat at Jesus' feet listening. For those of us who enjoy being busy, we understand Martha's position. We see all the things that need doing and want to get them accomplished so we too can sit at the Master's feet.

Sometimes perfectionism enters in and creates a lot of misery, as with the story of a mother of three children who complained to her doctor that she couldn't get the house cleaned the way she liked before everyone left in the morning. She was so stressed out, the doctor put her on antidepressants.

From her accounting of her days, it seemed that somebody had a gun to her head with a voice saying, "Every dish must be put away and every towel folded - or else!" Life becomes one emergency after another and "catching up" is an effort in futility that causes depression.

Yet, in the case of this mother, she was creating the stress herself, and surely dispensing it to others around her. Have your chores and daily goals become so consuming that you've forgotten your priorities in life? Is a neat house more important than time with a child? I heard these questions while I was a parent, but struggled with perfectionism. That season of life is now over .... I wish I'd spent more time pondering that question back then.

Do your accomplishments become a condition for whether you're happy or not? Do you berate yourself when you don't meet your deadlines and don't get "it all" checked off on the To Do List?

Admit you are creating your own stress. Talk to your family about it. Decide together what the priorities truly are. Don't wait till your health is gone or your children grown up. Whether you're obsessing over your home, your job, or your own looks and abilities, you'll never measure up when your goals are unreasonable.

When you hear those voices telling you that you're not measuring up, you focus on what God says about you. Take a Scripture from Psalm 139 and hold onto it as tightly as you can. Your self-worth comes from God and His opinion of you has never changed since the day He created you!

Another mother who struggled with juggling the hunger for God and the demands of a wife and mother found a solution. In each room of the house, she found a place to put paper and pen high enough for little hands not to reach it.

As she served the Lord in her household tasks, she also kept herself open to God's voice. When she thought of a Scripture or something to confess, correct or pray about, she would jot it down on the paper. In the evening after the children were in bed, she gathered up the notes and pondered these thoughts and messages from God from the day. She found a way to be Martha and Mary at the same time.

As God for your balance. Maybe this resource will be of help to you.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:
© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL:

Caffeine Chemistry

For the plants, caffeine acts as a natural pesticide. It paralyzes and kills insects that attempt to feed on the plants. The molecule was first isolated by the German chemist Friedrich Ferdinand Runge in 1819.

When purified, caffeine is an intensely bitter white powder. It is added to colas and other soft drinks to impart a pleasing bitter note. However, caffeine is also an addictive stimulant. In humans, it stimulates the central nervous system, heart rate, and respiration, has psychotropic (mood altering) properties, and acts as a mild diuretic.

A normal dose of caffeine is generally considered to be 100 mg, which is roughly the amount found in a cup of coffee. However, more than half of all American adults consume more than 300 mg of caffeine every day, which makes it America's most popular drug.

Read the entire article.

Antibiotics and Sinus Infections

New research suggests routine sinus infections aren't really helped by antibiotics and other medicine that's often prescribed.

In the British study, people suffering from facial pain and a runny nose with greenish or yellowish mucous generally improved within about two weeks — whether they took the standard antibiotic amoxicillin, steroid nose spray or fake medicine.

Read the entire article.

Costa Rica Language Academy

© Donna L. Watkins - Costa Rica Language Academy

1/14/08 and 1/15/08
The first day of class really changed my head around. The school is absolutely incredible. It's amazing what they do for the students besides the teaching. Orientation provided us with a long list of services they provide without charge. I am so glad to have chosen this particular school. With the excitement of the learning, the familiarity of the buses and city, it's becoming much more comfortable than the day of arrival. Although I was here 10 years ago, there wasn't any time in the city, so it has definitely been a process to work through the culture shock. I consider myself adaptable, so it's going well.

After an early morning oral quiz, I was placed in a class with two other people. Katrin from Germany and Jeremy from England. The teacher is excellent. I had wondered how I was going to contain 4 hours of study, but it flows by very quickly. We do lessons in a book, a lot of conversation, whiteboard with new words and even a game. There is no English spoken. Even the books are totally Spanish. If you want English you use your dictionary to find out what a word means. It seems very difficult at first, but I know this is the best way to learn. My brain won't have the option to be lazy and take the easy route.

There's a huge courtyard at the school and plenty of places for wireless and several internet rooms. With the 14 computers and the wireless laptop folks, the connection doesn't always work, so I never know what I'll find when I take my laptop to school. They don't recommend carrying the computer back and forth, but I can't leave it in a locker at school since I spend a lot of time on my photographs.

The students are from around the world. Belgium, Iceland, Germany, Scotland, Hungary, Australia, England, Canada, etc. Lunch is delicious. Vegetarian is not a problem here. A plate full of food for $2. I had the vegetarian burrito which was served similar to Chipotle's way of making it. You choose what you want in it. Black beans are standard fare here and it's no problem getting them vegetarian-style either. For one who is generally not interested in food, I've begun looking forward to meals. Using my brain and walking so much works up an appetite.

The dance class is rejuvenating to say the least. She didn't pause much between songs so I was definitely breathless, but since I'll be sitting most of the day in class, it's nice to get those steps on my step counter. The Latin dances keep you moving and I have always enjoyed Latin music. We've learned a lot of basic moves and then practiced the merengue.

View photos of the school.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Costa Rica: Adapting To San Jose

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Social Flycatcher
It's amazing how quickly you can adapt to something if you put your mind to it. I often use a lot of comparisons to convince myself that, what I think is currently a challenge, is not as bad as it seems. One of my visual images is of the horrors of concentration camps. It's easy to count your blessings no matter how awful a day you're having when you compare it to some of the really awful things that have happened in this world. I am truly blessed beyond measure compared to what some people live with every day.

We (my neighbor and I) spent our weekend days in downtown San Jose visiting several parks, the national museum, an art museum, and the national theatre. Getting a lot of steps on my step counter each day is not one of my challenges -- that is certainly easy! We visited a super market and were surprised at the large selection of U.S. brands of foods. The produce area was fascinating.

It's been good to arrive several days before class so I can get my orientation for the city and the bus routes and names memorized. Once school begins your brain is filled with so much new content, that feeling comfortable with public transportation is important. Having had a few days to practice the Spanish I know has been terrific. I will do much better with the initial exam they give to determine your placement. They teach in groups of 3 or 4, so it's very individualized. A quick way to learn the language. I've heard great things about the language school and getting to look around yesterday was good.

While walking downtown I saw my first hummingbird since I arrived. It's a challenge being in the city, but there's green everywhere you turn and I am enjoying the beauty of the flowers as I remind myself it's January and my garden in Virginia has no flowers. I had heard that poinsettias were native here but I didn't realize that they grow into a tree. I've seen several in the small courtyards in front of people's homes.

Although I've heard many birds in the fruit trees in the garden at the homestay, they hide very well and if I move to look they are quickly off. However, I got my first good look at one since it landed on the wire above the garden wall. I was very excited to be able to get a photo of a Social Flycatcher between two leaves. The bright yellow in the morning sun was so beautiful. They seem to be pretty common in the city gardens.

View photos of downtown San Jose, Museum & Park and National Theater.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mom Burnout

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Great-crested Flycatcher

Mothers have a tough role, especially if they've chosen to give up careers to be at home with their children. There are talented and brilliant women who have chosen to put motherhood as a top priority. It can be a thankless job. It goes from morning till night and there are grueling days of too many tasks and too many questions.

Sometimes moms can feel like they are unimportant because the world seems to revolve around job titles and possessions. Being a mom isn't bringing in the big bucks and when you choose to make sacrifices for your children, it's not adding possessions to your list of worth either.

But then worth is none of that, is it? Each of us is important regardless of title or rank. Your stuff doesn't make you more valuable and your net worth does not guarantee self-worth. Your value was defined by God, not Corporate America. When people overlook your role as mother, it's because they don't understand it. On the surface wiping baby bottoms, cleaning spills, learning the patience of Job to deal with all the antics of toddlers and the questions pre-schoolers, may not look like much. But in God's eyes, you've chosen a worthy and important profession.

There's a story about a "one-note musician." She takes her seat with her violin, arranges her music, tunes her instrument, and as the concert begins she sits quietly watching the conductor. It seemed the concert was about to end when he signaled to her, she sounded one note, and the moment was over. The orchestra played on and the one-note player sat quietly for the rest of the concert, satisfied. She had only one note to play, but with a great sense of fulfillment she played it in tune, on time, and with great gusto!

It may seem like life's concert is going on without you, but your note is critically important to the entire symphony of life. Remember Ananias? He shows up in the Bible only once after Saul met Jesus on the road to Tarsus. He enters, leads Saul to Christ, and promptly exits (Acts 9:10-19). He was a one-note player, but what a note! Saul who became Paul left quite a history behind him ... and so will you in your children.

Some days will be total chaos and much of the time you may feel like you're not making a difference. Ananias just did as he was directed and left the rest up to God. I'd say Paul made a difference not only in his generation but into every Bible-believing generation since. You may have a Paul growing up in your own house. You won't know it now ... just as nobody knew it when Paul was still Saul.

God will give you moments to remember. Focus on those. They won't come every day or every week, but you can look back and know that you are making a difference not only in your family and your world ... but for the world to come.

Do your best, let God take the mistakes and make them right. He'll finish the job. He'll answer your heart cries for your children. Meditate on Isaiah 44:3: "I will pour my Spirit into your descendants, and my blessing on your children."

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Costa Rica: Comfort Zones

by Donna L. Watkins

It's been 34 hours since I arrived here and it's quite amazing how much Spanish my brain has mustered up. I didn't know it was all in there, but when you don't get the option to speak English, it rises to the occasion. Thank God!

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Orchid in Costa Rica
My dictionary is such small print I can't readily retrieve words from it. I guess that's why they call it immersion. I feel like I'm swimming in Spanish. I have to think twice to come up with English already.

This morning my breakfast included fresh orange juice. The oranges had just been picked from the yard and squeezed. Whole wheat bread was served (organic) which was a very special treat. Little things mean so much more when you have other bigger things that are a challenge, so being grateful for the little things brings much joy.

I'm not going to detail the challenges because I want to focus on the positive. Rehearsing the results of our fears never does anybody any good, so I will get beyond mine, big and small, by thinking of the good while I keep hitting the hard things head on. Fear controls us if we don't control it.

I like something I read in a devotional since I arrived:
"He who deliberates too long before taking a step will spend his whole life on one leg."

I knew the challenges would hit me in the face and I believe it's a great way to grow. God can work better when we aren't in our comfort zone. My reward to myself will be rainforest time. I've never been too good at treating myself well. My friend who traveled here with me has stated this numerous times. Being raised in Pa. Dutch country means I do well at being frugal, reusing everything, and wasting nothing. That's easy. Spending money on myself is not. The business is paying for my language training because we get calls and emails in Spanish and it's needed, but the rainforest stay will be my travel expense.

I don't have the typical wants of most women but I know that God wants us to treat ourselves well and that it can be done while still caring about those less fortunate. This is part of that training ground to balance me out in some of the ways I'm crooked. I can't help but wonder who I will be when I come back.

One thing for sure, my husband will be different after nine weeks without me. I like the lines from the movie "Rocky" when he says about his wife, "she's got gaps and I've got gaps, but together we got no gaps." This time apart will leave both of us with a lot of gaps that only God will be able to fill.

His grace is sufficient for me!

Visit Costa Rica photo albums.

New Kitten & Adult Cat Issues

My six month old recued kitten won't leave my adult cat alone. I've tried everything, but the (indoors-only) kitten attacks the older cat every time he comes indoors. It has reached the point that the older cat, who is an indoor-outdoor cat rarely wants to come inside now. I love the kitten and don't want to have to get rid of him, but it really isn't fair to my older cat the way things are now. What would you suggest?

Read response.

Vitamin A Offers Hope For Gnarled Man

Sacked from his job, deserted by his wife, shunned by neighbours - "tree man" Dede has been treated as a freak for most of his life because of the gnarled growths sprouting from his hands and feet.

But now the 35-year-old Indonesian hopes a doctor in the United States will be able to treat the horn-like extensions that started appearing on his body in his teens and that earned him the "tree man" moniker.

Could a simple vitamin give this man a chance at life?

Read the entire article.

Costa Rica: Arrival and Homestay

by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Homestay Garden
The strangest thing about the day was adjusting to fact that I was on my way to Costa Rica after four months of talking about it. My neighbor, Kathy, has the first four weeks of language school, so our husbands took us to the airport. We both had that "pinch me" feeling. Mixed emotions of wanting to do this because we'd never done it, and also because in some ways it seemed "necessary." Then the thoughts rippled through that we were "abandoning our posts" by leaving us husbands.

When you step out of your comfort zone and the way things are usually done, you begin to discover a lot about who you are. Areas of your soul and unconsciousness that are not generally in your face while you're in your normal day-to-day environment. It shows you more of how you really think and believe which doesn't agree with all that you think you believe.

I knew in my heart this was going to be a great thing for Randal and me, but doing it was very difficult. Some days I couldn't get beyond how strange life would be without Randal. After 30 years of marriage, and working at the same business for 20 years, we're used to having each other around. Although I'm a very independent person, with the recent years of progressing rheumatoid arthritis, I've come to depend on him being there, more than I thought I did. Not that I allow him to do much for me, but his being around certainly meant mental comfort for any unknowns that I couldn't deal with. Letting go of that safety net was a great challenge.

Now ... I've launched from the shores of the known to the unknown and God has me exactly where He wants me. Having to trust and depend on only Him. I have to smile as I see Him smiling at me through this experience. It reminds me of a toddler learning to walk. He's been there saying, "Come on! Take that step! You can do it! Keep on walking! Come on! You did it!"

In many ways like Peter, I've been saying "bidst me come unto you, Master" and now God's taking me up on that desire. Like Peter, I have been filled with much faith in the asking, but as I stepped into the turbulent waters and made the commitment for nine weeks in Costa Rica, I've felt as though I would surely sink as I began to realize the challenges this trip would bring.

God has kept me afloat and now I've arrived. My homestay family is lovely! Very kind and gracious. My favorite place in the house is the garden courtyard out back (shown in the photo above). There are flowers, orange and lemon trees and birds. There are various areas to sit. It's an oasis from the city that is outside the walls that enclose it. View my room and garden of my homestay family.

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