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Archive for May, 2009

Hiking to Volcan Pacaya

May 29th, 2009 at 02:13 pm

There was no school on Wednesday, so at dawn, the air clean and fresh from the evening rain, our group took the shuttle to the starting point of our climb up the slopes of Pacaya. After more than 100 years of being dormant, Pacaya had a violent eruption in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then. In fact, Pacaya is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. In 2000, the activity was such that flights to Guatemala City were suspended for two days.

This is a photo I took of Volcan Pacaya on the way up the trail.


I have to admit being a little apprehensive about the climb... but dh assured me even "old" people make it up the mountain. He does have a way with words! My right ankle has been troubling me after pulling a tendon a few months back, and despite therapy, it still gets sore easily. The perfect solution for me involved spending $25 for a guided horseback ride up and down the slope (more than 7 kilometers), led by Miguel, a young man of about 16. Even some of the more fit and younger members of the group opted for the horseback ride. Dh, an avid hiker, led the others up the steep slope.

I rode Canario up the steep 7 kilometer slope.


What can I say... by hook or by crook, I was going to see the red-hot lava flow close up. On my horse, Canario, the ascent was fast-paced but I was able to chat with my guide... my fluent Spanish coming in very handy. Miguel said he no longer attends school because he has to help support his widowed mother and 3 younger siblings. Despite the obvious challenges in his life, this young man demonstrated a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, and great interpersonal skills. Imagine what he could do with his life if he had access to a good education!

Miguel knew a great deal about the local flora because he told me all about the numerous plants we passed on the way to the volcano. For example, one plant, called "Hoja de Queso" is used to press cheese between two large leaves. It has antibacterial properties and can also be used as emergency TP or to wipe a sweaty brow. Miguel earned a nice big tip for his extra-special guided tour.

"Hoja de Queso" is a versatile plant.


At the summit, from my vantage point I could see the roiling red-hot lava spilling from the caldera... a wizards brew, complete with an occasional pungent whiff of sulfur. A tremendous heat radiated from the flow, and I was happy to observe from a distance. Thankfully, the thick soles of my hiking boots protected me from the sharp lava we stood on. To my surprise, I learned the lava we are standing on is only 5 months old. I am grateful I decided to pack my hiking boots and gloves to protect my hands as I negotiated through the craggy lava flow. As I steadied myself on the sharp, black lava, my walking pole was looking pretty beat up. I took photos with my Flip video and later will convert some footage to still shots. It was fascinating!

One of our students can be seen crossing to the lava flow on horseback.


I took this photo of the lava flow with a 3X zoom.


The ride down was harder than the ride up. Because of the steep grade I had to lean back very far and press tightly into the stirrups. Canario, only seven years old, was a veteran of the trails... not even phased by the poisonous snake he stopped for on the trail.

The poisonous snake on the trail down was more startled by the horse than vice versa.


I had a view of another volcano called Agua on the way down the trail.


By 1:30 we were back at the posada, in time to make lunch and then get to work planning the seminars for the coming week. Later, I paid $12 for a soothing 45-minute reflexology massage... what a treat for my tired feet!

Casa Santo Domingo

May 26th, 2009 at 08:44 am

One of the "must see" places in the beautiful Antigua, Guatemala is the five-star hotel, Casa Santo Domingo. It is actually one of the grandest monasteries from the 16th century colonial period of the Americas and it has been converted to a luxury hotel, complete with all the amenities and conveniences of the 21st century. The gardens are exquisite with a vast array of tropical foliage and perched macaws, and the artwork on display in the lobby and the many passageways makes for a museum-like experience. In addition, there is an actual museum beyond the ruins of the original structure and also a unique open-air church.

The lobby of Casa Santo Domingo.


The church is beyond the ruins seen in this picture.


The macaws are colorful and charming. It's almost as if they know you are watching because they perform silly "tricks" like hanging upside down.


You can see the macaws in the gardens.


Our group enjoyed the "all you can eat" Sunday brunch, reasonable at ~$20 per person, considering the vast array of food and drink available. The food truly defies description... one can choose from typical "American-style" breakfast fare such as waffles, pancakes, sausage and eggs to personally prepared omelets and crepes. Then there is the typical Guatemalan food such as tamales, beans, cheeses, enchiladas, exquisite tropical fruit and much more. The students were in heaven, sampling the many dishes. I chose the typical food, including some Salvadoran pupusas (stuffed tortillas) that are my favorite.


The experience was all the more special because my cousin, ML and her husband, were here from El Salvador for the weekend. And, no, they did not stay at Casa Santo Domingo. They stayed at the posada with us, where a small but clean and comfortable room is ~$40 a night compared to ~$250 or more at Casa Santo Domingo. In our travels, we rarely, if ever, stay at such expensive digs, but we know can still get the flavor of a place by dining, having a drink, or just visiting the public areas and gardens of interesting and unique places like Casa Santo Domingo.

The Coffee Museum

May 23rd, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Well, here we are in beautiful Antigua, Guatemala. This colonial-era city is surrounded by lush fincas (plantations) where IMHO they grow some of the best coffee in the world. The coffee is exported to countries such as the US, Europe, and Japan... you may have even tasted Guatemalan coffee at Starbuck's. This afternoon our group took a tour of La Azotea, a coffee finca and museum.





Coffee trivia: After oil, coffee is the second-largest traded commodity in the world. Around the globe, coffee lovers like me drink more than 2 billion cups each day! Mmmm... delicious, just give me a strong cup and my day is off to a good start!

On our tour we learned how coffee is grown, harvested, toasted, and prepared for export. The tour was interesting and educational and, I learned much about the coffee industry in Guatemala. Sadly, coffee workers are paid the equivalent of ~$5 a day or ~$100 a month even though imported Guatemalan coffee can be very expensive.



Why? One factor is the middleman's cut and the growers' profit margin. Another factor, and this is solely my opinion, poor hungry people will work for less than the minimum monthly wage of ~$195, hardly enough to subsist on as it is. But it is better than nothing, I suppose, even though it's very hard manual labor to hand pick 100 pounds of coffee a day.

Countdown to Guatemala

May 20th, 2009 at 08:20 am

The day after tomorrow, Friday, we leave with our 18 students who will be student teaching in Antigua. I am going as a volunteer instructor. And there is still much to be done:

~ TC will be living with a friend who has taken care of her before, so I have to pack her things: big tub of kibble, her Fancy Feast, new litter pan and scoop, litter, and her favorite toys... it brings back memories of the days when I used to cart around my babies and all their gear.

~ Put mail and newspaper on hold (can be done online), deep water all my house and patio plants, go to bank, return books to library, pay or schedule any bills that will be due while we're gone.

~ Take the new printer we are donating (to a Guatemalan school) to the kind student who agreed to haul it as his second "suitcase" since he's traveling light.

~ Figure out the best way to pack supplies we bought for our students and still stay within weight limits: printer ink, white board markers, tape, children's books, paper, Purell hand sanitizer, first aid kit, and OTC meds for common ailments (e.g., Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Tylenol, NyQuil, etc.).

~ Buy and pack the food and snacks we are taking: Trio bars, raw almonds, dried blueberries for cereal, and canned chicken.

~ Clean out the refrigerator... eat leftovers or give away any good stuff that won't last three weeks.

~ Oh yeah, finish packing my clothes and personal belongings!

Some students changed their flight plans to avoid stopovers in Mexico but most are still proceeding with the original itinerary to fly through Mexico City. The original flight was cheaper ($415 vs $595), but some felt it was worth paying extra to not have that additional worry. Dh and I are in that group.

Since dh and I canceled our original flight with Mexicana, we will have to pay a $100 change fee to use the ticket within a year. The university will reimburse us for our flight to Guatemala, but we are out the cost of the first ticket plus the change fee. So now we are motivated to use it to fly somewhere we've never been before the "use it or lose it" deadline. Well, I've much to do, so I'd best get to it... but I'll stay in touch, time and technology permitting.

My Blogoversary

May 19th, 2009 at 08:43 am

Today is my one-year blogoversary. ONE YEAR that went by quickly, but here we are. At this time last year, I had just made the decision to retire and was looking forward to the change. And, even though I don't post as often as I thought I would, I enjoy blogging because it helps me reflect as I continue to grow personally and learn more about myself. Yes, even old dogs like me can learn new tricks! And after a year, I still enjoy reading everyone else's blogs, too. Thank you all for your support!

Newfound Appreciation

May 18th, 2009 at 08:17 am

Before I retired, I had a busy and rewarding, albeit stressful job as an elementary school principal. Although I enjoyed the work and it paid well, the job required ~60+ hours a week and there was always something happening at least one evening a week, and even on weekends. I used to think that that my dh had it made with the easier job because he is "just a teacher."

Well, since retiring, I have a newfound appreciation for my dh's job. Now that I am home more, I see and understand how much time he puts into his job. He teaches adults, graduate students, and they generate copious amounts of writing through the various required course assignments. He carefully reads every paper and writes comments on each one. He stays on top of the research in his field and must prepare for his classes, not to mention having to publish scholarly articles and books on a regular basis, and coordinate his program. And then there are the frequent and time-consuming department and committee meetings.

I guess I never noticed before because I was too busy with my own job. In retrospect, I was so wrapped up my work that I became oblivious to what my dh actually does and how hard he works. The workaholic life I used to lead was a selfish life because I tended to focus on my own work as if it were more important then dh's, and it consumed so much of my time. Now, things are very different... although I earn less than half of what I used to, life is by far richer and more rewarding.

Nothing like a deadline...

May 17th, 2009 at 09:26 am

to prod you into action! Deadlines motivate me, so I volunteered to create a slideshow for a celebration at the university where I've been working part time. I used iDVD, iPhoto, iTunes, and Keynote to create a 10-minute slideshow that loops. Students emailed me photos and I incorporated more than 150 of them in the slideshow. After I added transitions and music, it was ready to be burned on a DVD. The DVD was played on the high-tech audio system of the auditorium and the slideshow projected on a huge screen behind the podium.

Based on the positive comments from students and their families, the slideshow was a hit. I've wanted to learn how to create a DVD slideshow for a while, and having this project with its deadline forced me to work on it until I figured it out and got it just the way I wanted. Now I know how to use digital photos and video clips to create a special DVD... and this could make a great, inexpensive, and unique gift. All the programs I used came pre-installed in the laptop I bought last year, so I only had to spend about 40 cents each for the 5 copies of the DVD.

My next project: scan old family photos from the pre-digital days and create some DVD "albums" for our children.

Where did the year go?

May 16th, 2009 at 06:50 pm

I really enjoy my part-time job and just completed one year of teaching in a .20 position (the equivalent of one day a week). I evaluated all assignments, had conferences with all my students, and was able to post my grades yesterday. It feels great to have completed all the requirements and to see the success of my students.

My PT job pays a modest sum, but nonetheless the money is greatly appreciated and it's been going into my travel fund. Most importantly, for me the work has been a good transition from full-time work. So now I'm off until the fall semester begins in August, except for the volunteer work I will be doing in Guatemala, and this is coming up very soon.

I've been told I'll be rehired for the 2009-10 academic year, but I will only be able to work until December 2009, when the fall semester ends. Dh is retiring in July and he'll work the fall semester, too (as a retired annuitant). Then in early 2010, we are off to have some adventures. This includes spending about a month in Peru to study the ancient cultures of the various regions, something we've been planning for a while.

She Devil

May 15th, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Ever since I was a small child, I have had a cat or two in my life. My cats have always been big mellow, gentle males with friendly personalities. Then TC wandered into my school about a year and a half ago and adopted me. And, most of the time I like her, although she has a bad "catitude" every so often. Today was one of those days.

My sweet little TC went to the vet this morning for her annual exam and vaccinations. Normally, she is calm and quiet riding in the car in her carrier, but today was the exception. How do cats know when they're going to the vet? She fussed in the car but became very quiet and still once we were in the waiting room.

When the technician weighed her, TC growled and hissed. Then when the doctor came in to begin the exam, she ran back in her carrier. When he took her out she became the cat from h*ll. She bit and scratched the doctor when he tried to listen to her heart and lungs. The doctor and I both looked as if we were wearing angora sweaters... the fur was flying everywhere.

The good news is TC is a very healthy 10.4 pounds, but she cannot gain more weight. The bad news is the exam cost $96 and the doctor has an ugly bite on his hand. The vet said TC will not need shots for three years. Hmmm... maybe he just doesn't want to see us again.

And TC? Well, she has been giving me the cold shoulder all day, acting as if I am not in the room and ignoring me completely.

A Great Weekend

May 12th, 2009 at 07:36 am

The weekend went by very quickly... I guess time flies when you're having fun. My DD2 came from ID for the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together until I took her to the airport late Monday. On Saturday, we went to the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It was the first time we'd been there since it was rebuilt and then reopened in September 2008. This is the "greenest" museum in the world and houses the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum, a four-story rain forest, and more. It was crowded and the lines long, but we got right in because I bought our tickets online and printed them at home. Following are some photos taken at the CAS.

The albino alligator is very rare and has become a CAS mascot.


The giant sea bass lumber around like gentle giants.


These tiny red and blue bromeliad frogs thrive in the rain forest.


Watch out for hitchhikers in the rain forest.


Looking down from the second story of the rain forest.


For Mother's Day, we had a lovely brunch at my sister's house and were joined by my niece and her family, so it was even more fun and special because the cousins rarely see each other. On the way home, we stopped at the Farmer's Market in Santana Row for fresh fruits and vegetables. My DD insisted on buying me a beautiful white Phalaenopsis orchid, my favorite. I love orchids because they last for months and this one has lots of blooms that are just starting to open. I love shopping for produce at farmer's markets and the Santana Row market features organically and locally grown fruits and vegetables, something I am trying to buy more of this year. Hope all of the mothers at SA had a wonderful Mother's Day, too.

Can You Really Save 50% on Groceries?

May 6th, 2009 at 08:38 am

On the news last night, they featured a young SAH mother who routinely cuts coupons and saves 50% on the family grocery bills. She does it by using the mygrocerydeals.com website. I was intrigued and checked it out... You do have to register but once you do, it searches out all the deals at the stores you select by zip code. I tried it this morning and got a HUGE list of coupons and specials at my closest supermarkets (Lucky's and Trader Joe's). On top of being very convenient, features I like are that you can add an item to your shopping list and also get the nutritional value. This could be helpful saving me time and money. We'll see.

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

May 1st, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Well, thanks to Joe Biden's comment about not flying due to the swine flu (uh, I mean the Type A, H1N1 flu), some of our students are getting concerned about our upcoming trip to Guatemala. The university already recommended the group change flight plans so that we do not have connections in Mexico... I was OK with that, even though it was not without cost. But now, there seems to be an increasing panic situation, fueled and exacerbated by the media.

Biden's comments were in direct contradiction with "official advice from numerous U.S. government agencies and worldwide health organizations, who are NOT suggesting that people avoid all air and land-based travel." Biden is now back-peddling and trying to smooth things over. Yet, I am seeing some signs that people are reacting out of fear.

Today, at my local supermarket almost all pork and pork-products were on sale. Ditto with anything "Mexican," whether it came from Mexico or not. Don't people read that you CANNOT get the flu by eating pork? Well, I bought some nice sausage which I will cook for breakfast, along with some luscious, Mexican-grown mangos at 2/$1. I also bought some grated Mexican cheese from Kraft that was on sale for $2.50. And forget trying to find any Purell hand sanitizer. Yesterday I went to SIX stores around here, and all are completely out.

My dh and have, for years, carried around a small container of hand sanitizer. We know using it regularly helps prevent colds, and we've done this since way before it became the thing to do. And, even though we've endured friendly teasing and comments by people who think we are over-reacting, we rarely get colds. I also always use my own pen at the bank or to sign credit slips. This is a tip I got from my daughter, an RN, who says "public" pens are a breeding ground for microbes.

I am not downplaying the seriousness of the flu outbreak, but it's important that people follow common-sense practices and not panic. So, the trip to Guatemala is still on but we are continuously reassuring our students. We even bought facemasks to use on the plane, the shuttles, and anywhere crowded, if necessary. I ordered them from a dental supply company and paid $7.49 for 50. They came today and are excellent quality. Hopefully, we will never have to use them.