Tag Archives: San Jose

Mexican Alebrijes, Boruca Masks of Costa Rica

Our family just returned from a lovely vacation at Cielo Lodge in GolfitoCosta Rica where, among other discoveries, I learned about the indigenous artisans of Boruca. The Boruca folk art wood carvings remind me strongly of Mexican Alebrijes. Many years ago, I started a collection of Alebrijes when I was a member of the Board of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco. Alebrijes are fantastical folk sculptures often originating from Oaxaca. They are carved from copal wood and other materials, then painted. Many times it is the carver who signs the piece but the painting is often done by the whole family. Many people were introduced to Alebrijes as spirit guardians in the 2017 Disney movie Coco.

In the Boruca village, our indigenous guide told us that the carving wood is from the fast-growing balsa and designs are often inspired by traditional masks from the Danza de los Diablos ceremony. The annual ceremony celebrates the Costa Rican tribe fighting off the Spanish Conquistadores. Devils are a common theme in Boruca carvings but there are also images from nature, particularly jaguars (symbolizing male power and protection of the tribe) and butterflies (symbolizing female power and beauty). The bright blue Morpho butterfly is a favorite.

Insect Alebrijes by Tribus Mixes, Oaxaca, Mexico

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Lovely Costa Rica

Rainbow from Cielo Lodge, Golfito, Costa Rica, August 2021

John and Paul and I just returned from a lovely, restful vacation at Cielo Lodge in Golfito, Costa Rica. We had planned to be there for ten days but American Airlanes stranded us for two days in Dallas, Texas, on our way out (and then refused to communicate online or by phone, or reimburse for hotels or rides) so we had a shorter vacation. We got to see a remarkable number of Costa Rican plants and animals (here is my partial list), as well as visiting the indigenous artisans village of Boruca. John even got to explore what is left of two old trains from the Ferrocarril del Sur line in Golfito. The food at Cielo Lodge by Chef Cesar Chinchilla was excellent and we were very well cared for by owners Nicole and Keith Goldstein. Daniel Fonck, the staff naturalist, and manager and gardener Catalina Torres answered endless questions patiently.

This trip was to belatedly celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, postponed in 2020 because of the pandemic. Even though Costa Rica is at the top level of Covid-19 danger (CDC Level 4 – Very High), we felt safe. The eco-lodge is isolated and when we were in public, most people wore masks indoors and washed hands before entering any building. Before going to the airport to return to the USA, we took BinaxNow Covid-19 home tests to be sure none of us had caught the disease during our travels.

On the way home, we were able to see something of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, escorted by local guide Guiselle Sibaja. Of special interest was the Mercado Municipal De Artesanias, where we found the shop of Edgar Deo Alvarez of Guanacaste – Chorotega who makes traditional indigenous pit-fired pre-columbian-style ceramics and stone carvings.

Click for Video: Spotted grey dolphins, Golfito, Costa Rica, August 2021
Click for Video: Red eyed green frog, Cielo Lodge, Golfito, Costa Rica, August 2021
Click for Video: Coati – eating at Cielo Lodge, Golfito, Costa Rica, August 2021
Click for Video: Blunt headed tree snake, Cielo Lodge, Golfito, Costa Rica, August 2021

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Dogs and Birds

At the end of March 2021, we adopted Bailey from the San Jose Animal Shelter. She is a mostly Malinois (a type of Belgian Shepherd) who is just over a year old. That is, Bailey is a teenager in dog-years. She is smart and active and curious, so John is spending quite a bit of time socializing and training her. In the afternoons our two 10 year-old dogs (Redda and Gilroy) are happy to sleep in their kennel, away from her energetic puppy demands to play.

We have dogs not only as pets but also to warn us when there are trespassers on the Guadalupe River bank that is our back property line. Several times a week there are homeless or random people who think (despite the signs and fences) that our yard is some kind of public park. Some of these transient neighbors decide that our ladders, bikes, tools, or other stuff are just what they need. Our dogs earn their keep by making our yard less accessible to petty thieves and unwelcome sightseers.

Bailey is sweet and cuddly, loves to run fast, jump in her water trough, and try to drink from the hose. Gilroy is teaching her to play fetch but while she will take his ball, she does not want to give it back. On the advice of a dog trainer, we are nose training Bailey – that is, giving her the task of hunting for treats using only scent – to engage her mind. We have to enforce daily naps so Bailey does not get over-tired.

At the same time as managing the dogs, our 15 year-old cockatiel birds (Guapo and Sparky) have developed health issues. Guapo in particular has been falling off his perch. Our vet suggested that we raise the floor of their cage. We also added cotton pillowcases for padding to make his splats softer. Guapo’s tail feathers are already starting to grow back.

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Willow Glen Garden Update

Cercidium Floridum, Desert Palo Verde, Parkinsonia Florida, San Jose CA, June 2021
Cercidium Floridum, Desert Palo Verde, Parkinsonia Florida, San Jose CA, June 2021

Now that I am done with Spring 2021 classes, I have been able to tend my garden. Our house in Willow Glen (San Jose, California) was built almost 100 years ago in the old bed of the Guadalupe River, so the soil is amazing. Yesterday, we planted a green-bark, yellow-flower Palo Verde tree (Desert Palo Verde – Cercidium floridum – Parkinsonia Florida), that should thrive in our increasingly-hot summers. The tomato garden I planted in March is starting to fruit, and the giant white bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai), Pink Stripe Flax (Phormium), Matilija Poppies (Romneya), and four types of yarrow are blooming exuberantly. The oak tree named after my friend Seham Aljaafreh, who helped me plant it in 2014, has doubled in size this year.

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In Memory of Daniel Vega Martinez (1969-2021)

Daniel Vega Martinez 1969-2021, collage, from Peggy Bryan
Daniel Vega Martinez 1969-2021, collage, from the Rev. Peggy Bryan

On Sunday, a group of family and friends gathered to remember Daniel Vega Martinez (1969-2021). Daniel or “Big O” was a beloved member of our Stepping Stones reentry community, and had been in my class at Elmwood county jail. The Rev. Peggy Bryan, who leads the Stepping Stones community with Jack Fanning, wrote this tribute and account of Daniel’s death.

“Sadly, we said goodbye yesterday to Daniel Martinez, one of the first men I met at Elmwood and who, in reentry, was my teacher about the authentic challenges faced by living on the streets. Daniel was handed a tough life and the demons of addiction and shame finally tracked him down. Sunday he was found in flames in the cab of the truck he was living in. He was transported to VMC’s Burn Unit but his injuries were deemed unsurvivable so yesterday I offered final prayers as his wife, children and sisters circled him with love…Expressions of condolences and love are pouring in from those incarcerated and those outside who knew, loved and respect Daniel, ‘Big O’, as a man of God and a real St. Paul when leading behind bars, in prison or jail. The cause of the fire is unknown—accident, suicide, homicide…Please keep everyone in your prayers, those who call him father, brother, husband, mentor, friend and teacher are spread far and wide. As plans for a service are known, I’ll let you know. My heart is broken, this has been beyond brutal, but it helps knowing Daniel finally rests In God’s perfect peace.”

Fifty of Daniel’s friends and family got together in the San Jose parking lot to honor his life and lay flowers at the burn site where he was fatally injured.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him

30 May 2021 Update: Daniel’s Memorial Service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Daniel Martinez memorial, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 30 May 2021
Daniel Martinez memorial, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 30 May 2021

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Guadalupe River – Flood Season

San Jose, CA, Guadalupe River 27 Jan 2021

It’s that time of year: flood season on San Jose’s Guadalupe River. Late yesterday afternoon, yellow rain slicker clad city workers went house to house to tell us of immediate danger of flooding. In addition to the houses, city workers went to each of the homeless camps near us to be sure that our unhoused neighbors were also prepared. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many homeless living under bridges and in culverts near the river where they are in danger as the water rises. We are watching the water levels on the NOAA map.

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Four Family Clocks

We have four old family clocks, two of which work and one of which chimes. The sound of the two ticks and the chimes fills our downstairs with small comforting noises, even when everyone is silently interacting with their computing devices. The clocks keep time but not with each other. It is somewhat like how Terry Pratchett describes the clocks in his fictional city of Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld,

“Noon in Ankh-Morpork took some time, since twelve o’clock was established by consensus. Generally, the first bell to start was that one in the Teachers’ Guild, in response to the universal prayers of its members. Then the water clock on the Temple of Small Gods would trigger the big bronze gong. The black bell in the Temple of Fate struck once, unexpectedly, but by then the silver pedal-driven carillon in the Fools’ Guild would be tinkling, the gongs, bells and chimes of all the Guilds and temples would be in full swing, and it was impossible to tell them apart, except for the tongueless and magical octiron bell of Old Tom in the Unseen University clock tower, whose twelve measured silences temporarily overruled the din. And finally, several strokes behind all the others, was the bell of the Assassin’s Guild, which was always last.” (Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms, 1993).

The Junghans chiming mantle clock was a wedding present in 2000 from John’s parents. It was purchased by John’s great-grandfather Johannes Plocher in Holzhauzen, Germany. Joannes and his wife Anna gave it to their son (John’s grandfather), Karl on his wedding Adelia, in 1930. I love the art deco design on the clockworks inside the case.

I bought the Gilbert wall clock in 2008 as a birthday present for John. The clock itself is from about 1915. The Western Pacific glass is not original but is one of the reasons we like it, since we own WP668, a Western Pacific caboose. John winds up his Junghans and Gilbert clocks every week.

The two clocks which have stopped working are from my family. One is a gilt metal Rococo style clock that my father’s mother, Gladys Grace Oakes Dickinson, loved. The other is an ornate horseman clock that my mother, Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, had since I was young. Surprisingly, even though they are from different parts of my family, both were made by the New Haven Clock Company, probably over a hundred years ago.

Web search results showing many horse-only New Haven Clocks

Update: I have been looking for more information about the New Haven Clock with the ornate warrior horseman figure. I found that a version of this clock with the exact same horse but no rider is relatively common. All of the versions I have found on the web have a top piece above the clock that is missing on ours. Sometimes the horse is on the right and sometimes on the left of the clock on the pedestal. I still have not found an exact match. My Aunt Louise Creekmore Senatore read my blog and wrote that her father (my grandfather), Robert Elmond Creekmore, was once its owner in Knoxville, Tennessee, “the Ornate Horseman clock was on my Dad’s bureau for years when I was a child. It traveled with us to Windgate (1964), stayed on his bureau, and Eleanor asked Mom for it when Dad passed away (1976).”

I found this tiny, blurry thumbnail photo on the web of a gilded variant of our clock but it is on a dead website. Still hunting for more information!

New Haven Gilt Clock, horseman figure

(None of these clocks is for sale – please do not ask.)

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Updated 20 Oct 2020

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