Category Archives: Photo

My California

Standard

 

 

image

On a recent trip home to Northern California, I decided make the attempt to capture my California – the California where I spent my childhood living and my adult hood visiting – in pictures.

The California of my childhood – in the shadow of Mount Umunhum,

image

 

On the edge of the Santa Teresa Hills,

image

With the currently shrinking Calero dam, just beyond,

image

Where my suburban neighborhood,

image

Nestled right alongside the farms and ranches of rural Nor Cal,

image

A place where the sky is sometimes pink,

image

and even during a drought or dry spell is always beautiful,

image

My California. The place that will always be home.

 

For more Sweet Spot travels- Sweet Spot Travels

 

Weekend Wedding in Monterey, California

Standard

I was vastly appreciative to my niece for choosing to have her wedding in Monterey, California.

Mr. and Mrs.!

Mr. and Mrs!

While I doubt my wishes were high on her list in decision making, I was nonetheless both thrilled to able to share this day with her and enjoy such a picturesque place. While this was not my first time in Monterey (Mini Break in Monterey), it was my first time in the fall and with my family.  We were blessed with the perfect Monterey weekend.

Cannery Row

Cannery Row The Aquarium, Cannery Row

The Murals

Beaches and murals, Monterey, ca

The Foggy Mornings

image

Being Tourists

Dippin dots on Cannery Row, Monterey

Cannery row, Monterey, california

Never pass up a weekend in Seaside Northern Californa!

FOR MORE SWEET SPOT TRAVELS: Sweet Spot travels

 

Somewhere in Mexico: Beautiful Bacalar

Standard

Bacalar Lagoon, MexicoWe weren’t supposed to stay there, in fact we considered driving right on by and not even stopping.  However, we hate to feel like we might have missed something (like a talking cross that doesn’t talk, or incidentally – sing!).  So, into the town of Bacalar we went.  The town is small, and still relatively untouched by the tourism hordes.  In fact, it reminded me of the quiet, bohemian feel of Playa Del Carmen long before the overflow from Cancun turned it into a perpetual spring break.

Maybe we were lucky, maybe it was kismet or maybe we simply paid enough travel dues (like flying all the way to Ecuador next to “Forrest Gump” , getting his views on the countries’ high altitude, “lawdy, lawdy it’s high up in there”) – whatever the reason,  we found ourselves outside this gate…

Bacalar, MexicoLike a Mexican gated community.

Our tentative knocks on the gate were greeted by a young women’s head squeezing out of the smallest crack in the gate opening.  We explained to her head that we were looking for a room for the night. We must have looked normal and harmless enough, with one teen’s face stuck to the screen of his phone, and the other scarfing Mexican Doritos and thus we were allowed into the secret chamber.  As soon as we walked in, the reason for the secretive nature became clear…

Bacalar, MexicoWho wouldn’t want to guard this?

The hotel had 5 cabana type rooms, right on the lagoon, nestled in palm trees.  Lucky for us, one of the reservations had decided not to show up and we were more than happy to take their place!

Bacalar, MexicoA room with a view.

We didn’t waste any time jumping into the that beautiful jewel green water…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

Or making use of the hammocks…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

Or digging our toes into that soft (albeit a little creepy in that soft squishy, ‘what exactly is that stuff’  kind of way) spa like mud/sand lagoon bottom.

Bacalar lagoon, Mexico

Or lounging and enjoying meals in the open air lobby…

Bacalar, Mexico Casa Caracol

Or hanging out on the jungle encased swing set…

Bacalar, Mexico

But, eventually we had to say goodbye and move on down the road…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

At least now, we know where the road leads

Bacalar, Mexico

and how to gain access into the inner sanctum…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

Until we meet again…

Bacalar, MexicoFor more travel in Mexico:

Somewhere in Mexico: Roberto Barrios Falls

Somewhere in Mexico: The Talking Cross

Thanks for the Memories, Mexico

For more SWEET SPOT Travel: GO HERE

Somewhere in Mexico: The Talking Cross

Standard

Felipe Carillo Puerto, MexicoI had to keep reminding myself we were in search of a “Talking Cross” and not a “Singing Cross.”  As much as I wanted to be in a Disney movie, the legend only accounted for a cross that had talked (although, seriously, I think the big bucks would have been to go with a cross that could belt one out).  Anyway, as the legend goes…

in 1849, when the War of the Castes turned against them, the Maya of the northern Yucatan Peninsula made their way to Carrillo Puerto seeking refuge.  Regrouping, they were ready to sally forth again in 1850 when a ‘miracle’ occurred.  A wooden cross erected at a cenote on the western edge of the town began to talk – exhorting the Maya to continue the struggle against the Spanish and promising victory (bold cross or ventriloquist?). The oracle guided the Maya in battle for more than eight years, until their great victory, conquering the fortress at Bacalar.  Carrillo Puerto today remains a center of Maya pride – as a symbol of the Maya people’s struggle against inequality and injustice.*

On this particular day of driving from Bacalar to Playa Del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, we found ourselves in the vicinity of the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.  It was decided we could not move forward until we had found and seen this talking cross (secretly, I was still hoping for a Let It Go reprise).

We, duh, went to the main church square in town – seemed like the logical place to find a revered cross.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico

I don’t see any inanimate objects here that look loquacious…?

But no luck.  Further inquiries with the very kind overseer at the old church led us next to a location a few blocks away – down a deserted road on the edge of town…

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico

…where we found the talking cross housed in an old thatch roofed building, with some – while not so illustrious – but very attentive caretakers:

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico - The Talking Cross

No shoes allowed, no shirts required.

No shoes were allowed worn inside the premises, and apparently one of the caretakers felt this translated to shirts as well.  Anyway, at long last, we were finally able to view the Talking Cross.

The talking cross - Mexico

Teen is enthralled…with the thought of getting an actual coke soon. 

It’s back there behind all the garlands, liter coke bottles filled with water and other various offerings – the reason for which our guide was not really able to explain to us (the cross might get thirsty if it decides to talk again…?)

It did not talk for us (nor did it sing) – but I thought I might have heard a few bars being hummed as we left the premises…or, that might have been Teen doing his best ventriloquist imitation.

For more travels in Mexico:

Somewhere in Mexico: Roberto Barrios Falls

Somewhere in Mexico: Beautiful Bacalar

Thanks for the Memories, Mexico

 

For more SWEET SPOT TRAVELS: Go Here

*Mexico Lonely Planet

Somewhere in Mexico: Roberto Barrios Falls

Standard

Roberto Barrios Falls, MexicoWe briefly wondered if we had made a mistake as we watched the large tour bus, bound for Agua Azul, pull out of our hotel parking lot in Palenque, Mexico.  We, my husband, two teenage sons and I,  had decided instead to go on a quest in search of a different set of waterfalls that day – Roberto Barrios Falls in the small town of (you guessed it) Roberto Barrios.  We were excited about the prospect even though the town of Roberto Barrios was not on any map we could find,  the Cascades de Roberto Barrios were not listed in any guide books or brochures, and other than some random blog posts and a few references on Trip Advisor, the falls seemed to be a bit of a hidden secret (which meant we absolutely had to find them!).

Here is what we did know:

  1.  If we drove 7 km on the road towards Agua Azul there would be a right turn onto a “paved road” and 14 km later we should arrive  in the town of Roberto Barrios.

2.  Once in the town, we needed to find the “central park”.  The central park turned out to be more of a large grassy area with a neat old church.

Photo Aug 04, 6 05 58 PM

3.  We would know we were in the right spot when local children approached us to be our guide to the waterfalls for 20 pesos (about $1.25) per person.

With that limited amount of information, we actually made it to our destination!

Since there was no actual indication of where the falls were, we decided to take up the offer of a guide. Our guide was a teenage boy named Rafael.  He spoke only Spanish.  As we walked down the dirt path into the jungle he explained that the people of the town owned and operated the falls together.  Tourists had only started coming there in the last 4 years but (unfortunately in a way) interest seemed to be growing.

After a relatively short walk down a jungle path,

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

we came upon the first of the several waterfalls and it took our breath away!

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

At Rafael’s suggestion, we continued on the path to the lowest of multiple falls and began our exploration there.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

We moved up the falls both by walking the path or (in the teens case) climbing up through the rocks and falls to get to the next level up – Going behind waterfalls into small caves to see bats and swimming in the bigger pools.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

At  one of the upper level pools, there were some natural diving boards to jump off of.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

At every turn there was another beautiful vista.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

All of water was a clear sea green, warmed by the sun.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

We were loath to leave, but as we made the walk back we purchased from local merchants some sliced mango (the most amazing ever,  according to Teen).

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

… fresh off the tree coconut water.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

 

And homemade fried plantains.

Side note: Afraid to eat homemade food in Mexico? GOOD – that means more for me.  The best food I have  had in Mexico has been at the hands of locals, cooking right on the street or out of their own kitchens and no “Montezuma’s revenge.”

Teen says, in actuality,  bad WiFi in Mexico is Montezuma’s true revenge.

As we were leaving, the local boys were reclaiming their watering hole.  I hope it stays that way.

Roberto Barrios Falls, MexicoFor more Sweet Spot Travels: GO HERE

For more on Mexico:

Somewhere in Mexico: The Talking Cross

Somewhere in Mexico: Beautiful Bacalar

Thanks for the Memories, Mexicog

Teen Talk: Episode #14

Standard

When Mom says “Go play outside!”…

Teen plays outside

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you another episode of Teen Talk. I assure you, everything you are about to hear see is real and unedited. Please, do not try this at home. Unless  you don’t mind turning your living room into outdoor furniture.

The end.

For more Teen Talk: Go Here

Ecuador Part 4: Getting Lost on the Avenue of Volcanoes

Standard
Kinda hard to miss

Kinda hard to miss

How do you get lost when a volcano is your navigating landmark?  Apparently, it is not as difficult as one would think.

We are big believers in seeing a country by driving a car on your own (or taking a train).  There are so many things missed when flying over, or being escorted by a tour.  We also bow down at the alter of the GPS (Costa Rica: No Signs Allowed).  However, due to my limited Spanish (yes, the GPS was all in Espanol!), the sparce map programming for Ecuador, or just (I fear) my mental capacities – the GPS rented from the car rental company in Cuenca, Ecuador was not as much help to us as expected.

Truth be told, we saw much more of the country than originally planned (much, much more)on our drive along Avenue of the Volcanoes from Cuenca to Banos to Quito.  Lucky for us, there were only a few roads that take you through those mountains (and we found them all), or we would probably still be searching for a way out…

We did manage to locate the Ingaperca Inca Ruins between Cuenca and Banos:

Ingaperca Inca Ruins

And see some colorful things along the way:

No billboards needed when there is the side of a house to paint.

Who needs billboards when there is the side of a house to paint.

We kept driving when it was raining:

I think we do this way...

I think we go this way…

And took random breaks when it wasn’t.

Anyone for a game of hoops?

Anyone for a game of hoops?

Sometimes we drove by the view,

No shortage of cows in Ecuador.

No shortage of cows in Ecuador.

And sometimes, we got out of the car to take in the view:

We will get there someday.

I think it is too far to jump.

And sometimes, we just followed the truck in front of us:

Goin' my way?

Goin’ my way?

Driving though the rural and mountainous parts of Ecuador, we came away with two impressions: Ecuador is a vastly beautiful country, and those volcanoes may be big, but they do not a navigational tool make.

In the end, we made it to all of our planned destinations…and a few unplanned ones as well.

All in a days travel…

The best days that is.

For other articles on Ecuador:

Ecuador Part 1: Forrest Gump Goes to Quito

Ecuador Part 2:  Getting Mobbed and Spit On in Cuenca

Ecuador Part 3:  Throwing My Kids Off a Bridge in Banos

For More Sweet Spot Travels: GO HERE

Ecuador Part 3: Throwing My Kids Off a Bridge in Banos

Standard

Banos, EcuadorIt is pretty much impossible to go to Ecuador and not jump or repel off of something (or so I was told). We chose to head to the town of Banos – right at the edge of the Amazon Basin – to seek out our eco adventures.  And here is where I found myself thinking, I am either the coolest parent in the world…or the most negligent – maybe, they go hand in hand.  But I digress.

First, Banos.  A cute little town nestled in a pocket of the Volcano Avenue.

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador,

For the obvious reasons, it is popular with the back packer set as there is no shortage of adventures and beautiful vistas to be found.  The town itself has the same colorful attributes found in other parts of Ecuador:

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, EcuadorIf not a little rustic (in a good way!)

Banos, EcuadorBut, what we really came for was the adventures and we were not disappointed.

Unlike our usual, we (and when I say “we”, I mean my husband) did not do much research as to which company to use.  Something we learned during our time in Ecuador is that Ecuadorians are candidly straight forward.  Generally, what you see is what you get, no hidden agenda or secret costs or over exaggerated offers.  So, we drove into town and went to the first company we came to for our initial adventure:

Banos, EcuadorNo way,  not biking! We are just not ambitious enough for biking up the mountain! (I just like the picture)

Our first excursion was Jeep on and off-roading.  It turned out to be a great way to see the mountains, canyon,waterfalls and almost get killed trying to drive a stick shift up hills and through tunnels (my non-licensed teens may or may not have taken turns driving…but you didn’t hear it from me).

No, I would never let my kid ride on top of the car...never.

No, I would never let my kid ride on top of the car…never.

Next up – Zip Lining across a 600 foot deep canyon.  Again, we just drove along the mountain edge until we came to a Canyon that looked beautiful and walked right into the Zip Line office to sign up.  And here I am going to give Canopy Agoyan a shout out because they were fun, safe and I kid you not, $15 per person to Zip line across the canyon and back.

The main attraction on this zip line was the exhilarating fly over a deep canyon and view of the waterfall pouring into the river at the canyon basin.  We were able to choose how we zipped across, and we chose to fly!

Zip lining in Banos, Ecuador

But all involved agreed, the bungee jumping was hands down the coup d’etat – or, you know, the most fun!  I myself did NOT jump (how stupid do you think I am).  No, I had my kids do it. I stood on the bridge across from the jumping bridge to video and dodge traffic – like this guy who came tearing across the bridge (well, not quite tearing, but I did have to get out of the way…)

Banos, EcuadorIt was at this moment, as I was taking video (by request) that the thought from the beginning of this article occurred to me – either I am either the coolest parent in the world for letting my kids dive head first off a bridge over a rocky river…or the most irresponsible ever (jury is still deliberating).

But, I did not have much time to contemplate because I had to attend to the task at hand…video taping and making permanent record of my parental negligence.

After the first jump facing forward, both Teen1 and Teen2 agreed it was “so fun” they needed to jump again… this time backwards.  Lucky for them, the second jump came at a discounted rate and I am never one to pass up a deal.

It wasn’t until after the event Teen1 and Teen2 pointed out to me on the video(see below) how the handler flipped their feet up and out as they jumped to insure they would clear the bridge (and that they did not try to change their minds)…

Photos just did not do justice – so here goes – a sampling as it were.  One jump forward (Teen1) and one jump backward (Teen2). And yes, that is me screaming in the background:

You game? Or rather, do you have any kids you want to throw off a bridge?

Last post – Lost somewhere in Ecuador.

For other posts on Ecuadorian:

Ecuador Part 1: Forrest Gump Goes to Quito

Ecuador Part 2:  Getting Mobbed and Spit On in Cuenca

For More Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here

Ecuador Part 2: Getting Mobbed and Spit On in Cuenca

Standard

Cuenca, EcuadorDid I mention I absolutely loved Cuenca, Ecuador? Of all the cities traveled to, Cuenca would rate right up there with the best.  It is beautiful in the way it is historically preserved, clean and colorful.  The people are relaxed and engaging. The weather, perfect! But,  I have to say, my favorite aspect of Cuenca was rounding a corner, or climbing some steps and randomly seeing things like this:

Can someone just paint me into this mural?

Can someone just paint me into this mural?

Or this:

Cuenca, Ecuador

Even just the everyday life of the city was filled with colors.

How do I get these home on the plane?

The Flower Market: How do I get these home on the plane?

Cuenca, Ecuador

Outside Municipality Church.

Cuenca, Ecuador

Rooftops of Cuenca in repair – feels like home.

 

 

 

Cuenca, Ecuador

Parque Calderon: The place to chill.

Parque Calderon: The place to chill.

I am sure Teen would say his best moments in Cuenca happened when he was mobbed by a group of school girls  wanting to take photos with him.  This went on until the teacher chaperone shooed them on to their destination.

Yeah, he was happy to oblige...

Yeah, he was all too happy to oblige…

And I am sure my husbands best moment was meeting the Shaman women in the meat market doing “cleansings” on children and then (through his perfect Spanish which can be a blessing, or in this case, a curse) discovering that they do cleansings on adults as well.  He was way too happy to sign me up- as I clearly needed the most cleansing!

Apparently, the ritual process included being smothered and beat with herbs, getting spit on, and a bottle of “magic juice” to-go (re-used plastic bottle filled with a strange pinkish liquid that smelled like dirt) .  The little Ecuadorian kids did not seem to mind…

All cleansed and good to go!

All cleansed and good to go!

But, I think my cleansing was a little more involved:

What did I ever do to deserve this...

What did I ever do to deserve this…

I can't breath...no, I really couldn't breath.

I can’t breath…no, really, I can’t breath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the cleansing wasn’t over until the Shaman Lady spit:

Yep, that just happened...

Yep, that just happened… (thank you, Teen, for capturing this precious moment)

Teen2’s best moment was NOT necessarily eating Cuy (that’s Guinea Pig for you English speaking folks).  He objected to the bits of fur still attached, the general lack of any meat, and having to look at an animals teeth on his plate:

Tastes like chicken...

Tastes like chicken…

Tastes like chicken.

My cute friend whose Mom whipped up these delicious pets for us…

I would go back to Cuenca again – mobbing, spitting and all – in a heartbeat.  As for the Cuy?  Well, been there done that.

Oh, and if you are wondering if my cleansing worked – all I can say is, I have not been sick yet this winter, even with the pestilence ranging all around me and I can suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound (ok, not really on that last part, but I do feel pretty good…so who knows)!

Cuenca, Ecuador

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow”

Next stop Banos!

For more posts on Ecuador:

Ecuador Part 1: Forrest Gump Goes to Quito

Ecuador Part 3: Throwing My Kids Off a Bridge in Banos

For more Sweet Spot Travels:  Go Here

Ecuador Part 1: Forrest Gump Goes to Quito

Standard

Quito, Ecuador

“Y’all ever been ta Queeetto b’foa?” …

Were the first words we heard from fellow passenger on our flight to Quito, Ecuador -(picture Forrest Gump meets Yosemite Sam).  Unfortunately, having to answer “No” to this question opened us up to a complete narrative including statements such as “Lordy, Lordy it’s high up in there” (the high altitude?).  Actually, only my husband was treated to the full show (’cause he is too polite), as Teen1, Teen2 and I shrunk into the sanctuary of our devices, picking up only enough one liners from our new friend to be annoying later on.

Starting out the trip under such auspicious beginnings could only mean one thing…of course, a completely memorable travel experience.

Initially the main goal in going to Ecuador was to, duh,  stand on the equator(and to go anywhere warm).  However, in the very first moments in Quito, we fell in love with the country, its people, its mountains, its cities, and its cheap gas!

QUITO – THE CITY

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

QUITO – THE PLAZAS

Plaza Grande

Plaza Grande

Quito, Ecuador

Plaza San Francisco

Plaza Santo Domingo

Plaza Santo Domingo

Plaza 24 de Mayo

Plaza 24 de Mayo

PEOPLE WATCHING IN QUITO

We sat on the convent steps and rested with this colorful Ecuadorian woman.

We sat on the convent steps and rested with this colorful Ecuadorian woman as she sold her fruit. I don’t think we helped her sales.

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

QUITO – THE REAL EQUATOR

Apparently, the original monument, Mitad del Mundo (“middle of the earth”), is not actually in the middle of the earth, but rather 600 feet away from 00 coordinates – who knew? The French scientists, who calculated the original coordinates, did a pretty good job in the 1700’s given the tools of the time.  But like indoor plumbing and shows with zombies, GPS is better.

We tried all the “tricks” at the equator – walking the line with eyes closed (harder than you think) to feel a magnetic pull between hemispheres, balancing the egg on a nail, which is supposed to be easier at 00 (only Teen2 felt the magic), and watching a demonstration of water swirling different directions in the Northern and Southern hemisphere.  Truth or trick?  I have no idea, but we had fun trying to figure it out!

The Equator Water Myth:

Good thing they did not ask me to say the alphabet backwards, too!

Good thing they did not ask me to say the alphabet backwards, too!

The symbol of the city – Virges del Panecillo

Virges del Panecillo

She overlooks the city from atop her hill and can be seen from almost anywhere in Quito.

We were able to ditch Forrest Gump at the airport before he made good on his offer to show us around. But he was right about one thing… Lordy, Lordy, it is high up in there!

For more on Ecuador:

Ecuador Part 2:  Getting Mobbed and Spit On in Cuenca

Ecuador Part 3:  Throwing My Kids Off a Bridge in Banos

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

iPhone Photography: Sweet Spot Goes to School

Standard

*In light of recent events, I can no longer in good conscience recommend the IPhone Photography School courses by Emil Pakarklis.  The business practices have become such that it is impossible to have confidence in the product and services*

It is so rare one has a legitimate excuse for procrastinating. In such cases, it is absolutely necessary to capitalize to the fullest. The truth is, diligent post writing has not been my strong suit as of late. I blame this on my husband… no particular reason; he is just a gracious fall guy.

However, my recent distraction has been so fun and educational, I wanted to share. For the past 7 weeks, I have been taking an online iPhone Photography class. I just got tired of having not quite in focus, overexposed photos or photos not exactly what I wanted them to be. I had seen amazing photos taken with the iPhone, so I knew it was possible. Plus, when I travel, I never want to lug around my big DSLR camera and rely mostly on my phone camera and little point and shoot.

Somewhat by chance, as I was once again searching for answers as to why my iPhone photos were not living up to my expectations, I came across the iPhone Photo Academy 6 week (plus 1 bonus week) online course given by Emil Pakarklis.

Since I had nothing better to do for the next 7 weeks – except all the things I needed to do – I decided to give it a go.

Suffice to say I learned a ton; basic iPhone camera use, photo composition and techniques, understanding how to use creativity, light, and shadows, good app editing that does not compromise the photo quality, photo moving and backing up and so much more. Plus, (and best of all for me since my brain in dog years functions more along the lines of a sieve as opposed to a sponge) the classes are always available online for me to revisit and review.

In the end, I learned (partly that many people will always take vastly better photos than I ) but mostly, taking better and even sometimes amazing photos with my iPhone is within my grasp.

I will share a few (or say seven) of my favorite photos I took (or in two cases, re-edited) during the course. Please be kind – I am a work in progress…

iPhone Photography

iPhone Photography

iPhone Photography

iPhone Photography

iPhone Photography

iPhone Photography Portrait

iPhone Photography

Disclaimer Alert: I did not receive anything from Emil Pakarklis for writing this review. I just got so much out of the course, more than even expected, I wanted to share with Sweet Spot readers (and capitalize on a good excuse for my lack of writing). If you are interested, the link for the class is below. Emil does a wonderful job presenting and explaining, and answers  all questions through an online chat as the course progresses. I don’t know when he will be offering another course cycle, but in the mean time, he also offers some free video instruction. I highly recommend the complete course!

iPhone Photography School

Teen Talk: Episode #13

Standard
Comic by K

Comic by K

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you another episode of  Teen Talk.  I assure you, everything you are about to hear is real and unedited. Please, do not try this at home. Unless you enjoy talking about boobs .

One day, Teen offered his critique of nude art.

SCENE:  Family of 4 (Mom, Dad, 2 teenage boys) check into a hotel in a foreign country, (like for example Costa Rica perhaps?). Upon entering their hotel room they find themselves standing in front of the only wall decor in the room…. a 5′ x 5′ painting of  a topless woman on the beach.

Mom: “I don’t at all object to nudity in artwork, but that painting is just plain disturbing!”

Teen: “Oddly enough, it doesn’t disturb me.”

Mom: “Well, now we have established you’re a  healthy 15 year old.”

Teen: “But, it is kind of like the Mona Lisa.”

Mom: “What? How do you mean?!”

Teen:  “Well, you know how wherever you go in the room, Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you?”

Mom: “Yeah….?”

(Teen continues to pace back and forth in front of the painting)

Teen: “Wherever you go in the room, her boobs follow you.”

The End

Epilogue

She looked cold, so I gave her a suit.

She looked cold, so I gave her a suit…

The End.

For more views by Teen Go Here: Teen Talk

Personal favorite: Teen Talk: Episode #3:  Teen’s recycling techniques.

 

 

Costa Rica Part 3: The Eco Adventures

Standard

When in Costa Rica, one must Eco Adventure. In fact, I am pretty sure they don’t let you leave the country until you have partaken in some Eco activity. Luckily, there is something for everyone where that is concerned: from hikes through the rainforest, canopy hikes over suspended bridges or tram rainforest tours , to activities of varying extremes like white water rafting, zip lining, ATV riding, kayaking, horseback riding, surfing, plus you can pretty much rappel and jump off of anything – waterfalls, canyon walls, the Marriott Hotel (not really, but Teen considered the possibility). And the list goes on!

There are two good things about the Eco Adventures in Costa Rica.  First, almost all of the activities are offered in every region and, second, the Costa Ricans, across the board, are vastly adept at making the experiences safe, fun, and exhilarating!

Although we could not work in every activity we wanted to do, we did manage to come away with some amazing adventures. In fact, every tour we went on was a memorable experience.

1. ATV  RIDE– The Four Hour Tour

Tour Company: AXR An Xtreme Rider – Jaco, Costa Rica

ATV tour

Our ATV Tour in Jaco, Costa Rica started out to be a 2 hour ride through muddy river beds, rainforest trails, rivers and in the mountains above Jaco with beautiful vistas of the Pacific Coastline. However, at the end of our scheduled 2 hours, we were just not ready to be finished! So we kidnapped our guide and demanded he take us to a waterfall, kindly asked our guide, Luis, to take us for a few more hours, to a waterfall (‘cause in Costa Rica there is apparently a never ending supply of waterfalls to go to and swim in). He agreed, and off we went!

ATV TourTo top off what turned out to be our favorite Eco experience, Luis (who I should point out made the ride really enjoyable and exhilarating, and was very patient with myself and younger son who were first time ATV riders!), took us to mountain high restaurant – Rancho Shadday – to experience, hands down, the best homemade Epanadas (made to order no less) in the whole of Costa Rica (I still dream about them!)

"Welcome to the place where there's no world crisis"

“Welcome to the place where there’s no world crisis”

2. WHITE WATER RAFTING – Monkey See Monkey Do

Tour Company: Hacienda Pozo Azul Adventures – La Virgen, Sarapiqui River

Whte Water RaftingLet’s see, white water rafting, through a rainforest river, with Toucan and Howler Monkey’s looking on – not much to dislike here (except, I am pretty sure those Howler Monkeys were laughing at us because despite the many promises throughout our time in Costa Rica of seeing monkeys, the glimpse of them in the trees as we tried to not get flipped out of the boat was the only siting we would ever have!).

Add to it, the midway stop with fresh pineapple, machete’d on an overturned boat on the shore (Note: Costa Ricans love their machetes, available for purchase in the local grocery store), 15 foot high ledge to jump off of, and a swim in the Sarapiqui River and you have the makings of a pretty perfect experience.

The rapids were just extreme enough to be fun and not terrifying – 3’s and 2’s (although the rest of my family was ready to take on some 4’s by the end!).

White Water rafting, Sarapiqui river, Costa RicaThe beauty of the river winding through the lush rainforest is not an experience I will soon forget, if ever! Luckily, since the truth is, I don’t have any pictures that really do justice to the beauty of the surroundings. You will just have to take my word for it!

3. ZIP LINE AND TARZAN SWING – Ahhhhhaahhhhhhaaaahhhhhhahhhahhahaaa

Tour Company: Ecoglide – Arenal Park, La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Zip Line, Arenal Park, La Fortuna , Costa RicaZip Lines are everywhere in Costa Rica – you would think they, like, originated the idea or something (which, of course, they did). We chose this particular Zip Line tour partially because, duh, the added Tarzan Swing. At no extra cost, we just could not pass up the chance to potentially lose our lunch doing a bungee like drop on a “Tarzan Swing”. However, it proved to be worth the risk of losing stomach contents (which we didn’t) to scream our way to the bottom (which only I did) on the Tarzan Swing– actually, the whole experience was serious fun.

The 13+  Zip Line runs (plus Tarzan Swing) were thrilling, beautiful, and felt like a once in a lifetime experience. The guides at each  tree stand between runs were fun, the level of safety was exemplary and the instruction for first time & repeat zip liners was just the right amount.

Zip Line, Costa Rica, Arenal Park

4. HORSEBACK RIDING – The Frog of Death, our new pet

Tour Company: Discovery Horseback Tours – La Quina (near Jaco), Costa Rica

Horseback Riding, Costa RicaWhat do horses and spa quality volcanic mud have in common? Only the Discovery Horseback Tour company’s Spa Tour in Costa Rica. Owned and operated by English couple, Chris and Andrea, now 12 year residents in Costa Rica, the tour was the best possible choice for our desire to ride horses in Costa Rica. The horses were beautifully kept and cared for, many rescued from abuse situations. We chose to take the 2 hour ride by a local farm, up into the rainforest and to a small waterfall (remember what I said about the waterfalls…) where we got to slather volcanic mud (a boys dream) all over ourselves before swimming in the waterfall pool.

After emerging from the pool with smooth as silk skin from head to toe, we were treated to fresh fruit, homemade fruit juice and flavored tea before continuing on our ride. Along the way on our ride, Andrea educated us with knowledge of rainforest growth patterns, ecology, wildlife and insect habits,  and located for us various creatures to observe including the infamous Costa Rican poison dart  frog (no, pre-teen-now-teen, you can’t take him home…but he is cute for a frog that emits poisonous juices)

Poison Dart Frog, Costa RicaAnother perfect experience – Pre-Teen-now-Teen’s favorite.

5.  RAINFOREST CANOPY HIKE

Tirimbina Rainforest– La Virgen, Costa Rica and Arenal Rainforest – La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Here is the thing, rainforests in Costa Rica are as plentiful as dirt on a ditch digger (little redneck humor for ya there). They are all stunning and I don’t really think it matters which rainforests you choose to visit, just make sure you do! The Canopy hikes – going across bridges suspended over the rainforest floor– offer a view from the “upper floors” of the rainforest. (Tirimbina)

Canopy Bridge, Tirimbina Rainforest, Costa RicaWhile the hikes through the rainforest gives you the up close and personal touch. (Arenal Rainforest)

Arenal Rainforest, Costa RicaMany of the hikes offer views of waterfalls along the way and they all offer an abundance of insects (don’t mess with the ants, they may carry you off), wildlife (be sure to look up high into the trees to see monkeys – if you are lucky- and exotic birds), and lush green foliage.

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa RicaLa Fortuna , Costa Rica

Some areas offer an aerial tram that can be a good alternative for seeing the rainforest from above if you are not inclined to Zip Line.

 

Honestly, when it comes to Eco Tours in Costa Rica, you can’t really go wrong – turn the wrong direction, yep- that could happen, but have a bad tour…not likely!

More on Travel in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica Part 1: Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer

Costa Rica Part 2: No Signs Allowed!

For More Sweet Spot Travels: GO HERE

Sweet Spot Tells All

Standard

chickenbrainsWell, not exactly “all”, but some…

Running today over on fellow Travel Blogger’s site, KarolinaPatryk.com, is Sweet Spot Travel’s first ever interview!

It was an honor and also very fun to answer questions about one of the things I love to do best!  Travel

To check it out – GO HERE! . It is short and, well,  sweet!

 

Also, while you are there,  you might check out Karolina and Patryk’s  wedding plans! Love this unique idea!

More SWEET SPOT TRAVELS

*Cartoon courtesy Doug Savage /www.savagechickens.com

Costa Rica Part 2: No Signs Allowed!

Standard

Costa Rica

Want to get the most out of a trip to Costa Rica? Then, I have one piece of vastly important advice for you…

Rent a car!

But wait, there’s more!

Actually, as with all unsolicited advice, there is a catch.

If you are going to follow my lead and rent a car to get around Costa Rica, (preferably one with 4 wheel drive) it is absolutely essential (in that, always put on clean underwear before you leave the house kind of way) to rent (or bring) a GPS!

Our initial reaction when the rental car salesman in San Jose, Costa Rica started urging us to also rent their Garmin GPS, was something like “Sure, gouge the tourist for more cash!” However, there was something in the earnestness of his insistence (and, the fact that Costa Ricans in general tend to be vastly straight forward about things) that made us finally relent and rent the GPS for $8 per day. It didn’t take long (about two blocks) to realize the complete and utter necessity of the gadget.

You see, the Costa Ricans, while a lovely people in general who really know how to host a traveler in their beautiful country, have a cultural abhorrence for street signage…anywere! Technically the streets all have names – the maps are loaded with them – but trying to find an actual street  sign anywhere in the towns and cities is like looking for a teenager without a phone in hand. Even Costa Ricans, when queried about this phenomena, expressed their own difficulties when travelling to a town they had never been to before.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You will get enough signage to get the general sense of your place in the world,

I think I know the way to San Jose...

I think I know the way to San Jose…

But,  other directions will look like this:

We must be almost there...

We must be almost there…

Or, come from locals (and even printed in online directions) in the form of relational positioning such as “six blocks from the Church”, or “around the corner from the store”, or “over there (points to some distant corner of the town)”. Of course, success with directions of this sort is dependent on knowledge of where the actual “church”, “store”, or “there” is located.

I think he knows where we need to go...but he's not talkin'

I think he knows where we need to go…but he’s not talkin’

By the time we had completed our first drive from San Jose to La Virgen, successfully winding our way around myriads of unmarked streets as the electronic voice told us just where to turn, we were ready to get down and kiss the proverbial feet of our precious rented GPS. (just in the figurative sense, of course – we did not want to look weird). The truth is, without the GPS we would probably still be driving in circles around the mountain towns of Costa Rica (which wouldn’t be so bad, aside from the bothersome reality of work, school and pets demanding to be fed).

About now I suppose you are asking yourself why the crazy Sweet Spot chick is encouraging you to risk driving around Costa Rica at all! Perhaps some perverted plan to send travelers randomly driving in circles around the wilds of Costa Rica?

For one reason, and one reason only – really, the only one that matters.

If you don’t get in a car and drive yourself around Costa Rica, you will miss seeing things like this:

Rio La Paz. Drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Rio La Paz. Drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Farmland - drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Mountain farm – drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Drive from La Virgen to La Fortuna

Drive from La Virgen to La Fortuna

Sheep farm between Jaco and Quepo

Sheep farm between Jaco and Quepo

Beach between Hermosa and Quepo

Beach between Hermosa and Quepo

 

Driving into La Fortuna

Driving into La Fortuna

Drive from Jaco to San Jose

Drive from Jaco to San Jose

The Defense rests.

For other posts on Costa Rica:

Costa Rica Part 1: Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer

Costa Rica Part 3: The Eco Adventures

For more Sweet Spot Travels: GO HERE

 

 

Costa Rica Part 1: Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer

Standard

Costa RicaWhat can you say about a country that offers so much in the way of  beauty, adventure, food and culture?  It would seem, not much as I have been home from a recent trip to Costa Rica for almost 2 weeks and have yet to be able to get anything down on paper!  I attribute my speechlessness to the fact that I spent the entirety of the trip, traveling around the country muttering to myself over and over again “It’s so beautiful!”, “It’s so beautiful!”, “It’s so beautiful!”…

While I know my muted status will not persist forever, much to the disappointment of my kids, (although I am sure they are glad the muttering has stopped), I decided the best way to get the ball rolling was to share some of my favorite photos from the trip.

What I can’t seem to put into words, possibly I can attempt to portray in pictures. Even though, it will be a poor man’s version of the real thing!

At least, it is worth a try…

Esterillo Beach

Esterillo Beach, Costa Rica

La Virgen, Costa Rica

La Virgen, Costa Rica

La Virgen, Costa Rica

La Virgen, Costa Rica

Hermosa Beach, Costa Rica

Hermosa Beach, Costa Rica

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Rainforest in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Rio Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica

Rio Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica

Hermosa Beach at Sunset, Costa Rica

Hermosa Beach at Sunset, Costa Rica

Sand Dollar found on Esterillo Beach, Costa Rica

Sand Dollar found on Esterillo Beach, Costa Rica

Get the picture?

Other posts on Costa Rica:

Costa Rica Part 2: No Signs Allowed!

Costa Rica Part 3 – The Eco Adventures

For more Sweet Spot Travels – GO HERE

50 Is the New 30 – A Napa Excursion

Standard
Happy Birthday to us!

Happy Birthday to us!

50 is the new 30. I have decided this to be a fact – partly because this is the year I turn 50…actually that is the only reason. However, after a one night stay in Napa, California (yes even at 50 one can still do a “quickie”) with 5 truly inspiring lifelong friends (all of whom occupy my same 50-years-of-age rickety boat), I am more convinced than ever 50 is clearly the new 30.

These women, my fellow Napa excursionists, are accomplished Doctors, Educators, Designers, Writers, Managers,  Business Owners, Moms and Wives – perfect in their imperfections, beautiful both inside and out. And no matter how many years go by without seeing each other, we seem to pick up right where we left off – as if REO Speedwagon had just been blasting on the car radio.

So what do 6 such women ringing in their 50th year do? Meet up in Napa, CA, of course. There is no better place for such a milestone – except for possibly one of those spas where you magically emerge with a face as shiny and wrinkle free as a bowling ball, lips that look like something on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float and perky boobs. But no, I think Napa is definitely the place.

It is beautiful,

Napa, CaliforniaThere is lots of wine.

Napa, California

Now, we just need to get stomping.

Seriously, barrels of the stuff.

Like that little chain is actually going to stop anyone!

Like that little chain is seriously going to stop anyone!

And chocolate is always welcome (hint: it is especially advantageous to have friends of supreme intelligence who know to pack chocolate and lots of it).

Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills Estate

Speaking of packing, we didn’t get to be 50 without learning a thing or two about how to arrive prepared. Since I am the youngest of my group of 6 by at least a full 2 weeks (that’s right, I can retain my youthful status of 49 until almost the end of 2014), I decided to offer to carry everyone’s bags. That is until I saw how much was required for an overnight 6 girl stay in Napa – then I silently reneged (I might possibly have been thinking to myself something like let the old bats carry their own luggage, it’s good for the circulation).

And that is how you arrive prepared!

And that is how you arrive prepared!

And then it was off to the wine tasting, complete with a hired driver to keep us on schedule (and out of jail).

Caymus Vineyards

Caymus Vineyards

All in all, it was the perfect way to spit in the eye of welcome 50.

If I have learned anything in my 50 years it would be this – cherish the people who knew you when you had to wear a head gear to school, thought Leif Garret was cute and attended Jr. High instead of “Middle School”. When it is time to turn 50, they will have your back (and understand why you can’t stay awake past 11:00 pm).

Also (and clearly just as crucial a life lesson) always wear shades when being photographed in bright sunlight.

50 is the new 30 (only, with an earlier bedtime)

50 is the new 30 (only, with an earlier bedtime)

Next time, I follow the rabbit.

 

Big rabbit, hard to miss...

Big rabbit, hard to miss…

My Son, the Grave Digger

Standard

grave digger2My kids love their electronics. For this, I am immensely grateful! Oh yeah, you heard me right.  I thank my little parental stars for the attachment my kids have to their respective devices for one reason and one reason alone – it is the best tool known to man/woman (the parenting kind, that is)when it comes to getting  kids to do parental bidding. Nothing says get your chores/homework done like the threat of losing a device – or screams curb your teenage posturing after being separated from Clash of Clans or (gasp) texting for a few days.

Little did my kids know when they succumbed to the charms of their electronics, the slippery slope of manipulation they were setting themselves up for. Their misguided devotion has most definitely been my gain!

However, maybe, a complete ban from all electronics for say something like – not doing your homework when you are told to leaving it until the last possible moment having to stay up late into the night with Mom helping you in order to just finish adequately and then being all snarky about it to boot – is sometimes a little precarious as well.

Case in point. Recently, Pre-Teen, lost his electronic privileges for an extended amount time due to…well, I think you got the general idea above. For the first few days, he walked around the house like one of those zombies looking for fresh meat (the kind that says “I’m bored” a lot). Now don’t get me wrong, Pre-Teen loves the outdoors, when the weather is nice (which it’s not) and reasonably warm (which it hasn’t been for what feels like an eternity). However, finally out of sheer desperation – i.e. looking for something to do that did not involve my offer of household chores – outside he went. I have to say, I did not pay much attention. I suspected the basketball hoop was getting some long denied attention and there was likely some random rock throwing going on, but other than that, I did not have much concern…until Pre-Teen came blustering inside one afternoon.

Pre-Teen: “Hey Mom, do you think Dad will care if I dig a hole in the field?”

Mom: (picturing something the size of your average garden hole) “No, I don’t think so.”

And back out he went.

When it started to get dark and still he had not come back in the house, my parenty senses (you know, the Mom version of spidey senses) began to tingle and I felt compelled to go and investigate. This is what I saw:

Don't bother me, I am busy exploring a new career path.

Don’t bother me, I am busy exploring a new career path!

And as the days ensued, he began to gain eager followers, or rather, enthusiastic diggers.

His brother, Teen, got in on the action:

Finally, something they can do together without fighting!

Finally, something they can do together that does not end in somebody bleeding!

Soon, friends began to show up…fully equipped with shovels and picks for the task at hand.

Where was this gang when I needed sticks picked up?

This gang could come in handy come yard clean up time…

And every day, there seemed to be more work than one guy could handle.

Where will this madness end?

Where will the madness end?

Pre-Teen has long since earned electronic privileges back, and still the digging continues on a daily basis, rain or shine, no matter the temperature – except now, he has a pad to play music on while he works and a phone to text friends to come over during his hours of operation.

Where it will all end, I have no idea.

But, I do know these three things…

1.  The hole keeps getting bigger,

2.  I have been parenting long enough to know, sometimes it is best not to ask too many detailed questions, and…

3.  If you have something dead you need buried…I know just the guy for the job.

(But, he probably won’t come cheap)

Other adventures with Pre-Teen

A Decade of Wisdom

Never Sit On a Couch at a Nudist Colony

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 2: The Clothing Optional Tour

The Day I Killed the Vacuum

 

All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Standard

One of my favorite (in a love/hate kind of way) travel oddities is all the souvenir junk one feels compelled to purchase (and pay way too much money for), all in the name of travel memories. The items you absolutely must have whose destiny is to be stuffed in a drawer for a number of years until someday, if you are really lucky, you may get .25 for it at a garage sale.  One of the most annoying,  (although tied in a close race with the snowglobe/paperweight combo and destination logo-ed shot glass), of these travel mementos is the t-shirt with a stupid saying – one that says something like “My parents went to Jamaica and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” 

So, what does this soliloquy (because, I am sure I am talking to myself these days since my family has ceased to listen) have to do with my ultra lame post today?  Well, just this, I have been so busy with work, kids, life, staying warm, shopping on eBay, doing stuff, I have not had the time nor creativity to write a decent blog (or even an indecent one for that matter).

Ok, here it comes…the great connection…ready?

“I came to Sweet Spot today and all I got was this lousy photo.”

daylight savings

Daylight savings, in February, really?

Here's a quarter, call someone who cares...only, I don't think they take quarters anymore?

Hey, here’s a quarter, call someone who cares…only, I don’t think they take quarters anymore…

And because today’s post could not get any worse (well it could and is about to) a public service announcement:

DON'T TAKE PHOTOS AND DRIVE!DON’T SHOOT (a camera that is) AND DRIVE!

Please, come back again someday, I promise it gets better.

It can only go up from here.