Costa Rica: Snapshots – The Friends School


At the Monteverde Friend’s School, the library is on the honor system for checking out books, and it is open 24/7!  It’s an example of how terrific this K-12 bilingual, Quaker based school is in Costa Rica.


Quaker school library.

“Surrounded by Nature, Supported by Love”

“Nestled in the cloud forest community of Monteverde, Costa Rica, the Monteverde Friends School was founded over 60 years ago by Quakers who left the United States in search of a country and community that supported their peaceful principles. Today, our school continues to promote the universal values of peace, love and respect in the context of a challenging bilingual education and a sense of community,” notes the website <>.



This solar oven is where students and staff heat up their lunches

They have a garden too.

We loved seeing this busy school with students and teachers learning together in a beautiful atmosphere.  We felt the love of learning in the Monteverde Friends School.

Go visit Escuela de los Amigos when you are in Monteverde.

Pura Vida, Renée



Costa Rica: Snapshots – Johnny’s

Johnny's Restaurante in Monteverde

One of the great things about being on vacation is we get to try a variety of food – all cooked by other people.  One place we enjoyed in Monteverde was Johnny’s, a pizza place with beautiful teak walls and open light space.  We were lured in as well by the name, our son’s.  Roberto, an older Costa Rican who spoke excellent English, was our friendly, well-trained waiter.  I had the veggie burger – one of the best I’ve ever had.  Barry opted for the  lunch special pizza.

We loved the attention to detail, the open seating, and the tasty food.

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Stairway to the second floor of Johnny’s – on our last lunch there

We liked sitting on the balcony.

But thinks can quickly change.   We’d heard fire sirens and smelled smoke earlier that morning.  And as we walked toward the Cloud Forest, we saw the fire hoses.  I kept saying, “I hope it isn’t Johnny’s.”


The hose for the water ran over two blocks – up hill.

It was Johnny’s.  The owner was there talking urgently into his cell phone.  His wife held him, her arms circling his shoulders.  The restaurant, opened since 1993,  was completely destroyed.  We passed the still smoking, charred remains.


The smoldering remains of Johnny’s

The owner and his family must have put everything into what had been a beautiful restaurant.  Roberto and the other employees are out of work.  Does Costa Rica provide unemployment insurance?  Did the owner have insurance?  No one I asked seemed to know.  The owner, staff, the community are all impacted in this loss.  :(

Elizabeth, a Monteverde resident, says that things in Monteverde have a way of working themselves out.

When you go to Monteverde (and I return), I hope that we find a rebuilt Johnny’s.

Pura Vida, Renée


Costa Rica: Snapshots – Ecological Sanctuary

Second growth forest - but big

Of course, Barry and I did the Cloud Forest hikes, places of great beauty and activity (tour bus destinations), but we also found the Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary, a Costa Rican family run site that we had to ourselves much of one morning.  It is on 48 hectors (about 118 acres) of reclaimed logged forest.  Although second growth, this forest is beautiful and a wonderful place to wander and explore.


Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary – cost is $15.00 U.S.


For the most part, the trails are very well marked.

We were impressed by the large and the small.

We learned of trees we didn’t know.


The “Hippie Killer” tree – for all those darn tree huggers:)

One trail was particularly steep, but well worth the climb.


With a rainbow too

Although we didn’t see mammals up close – probably because we were there mid-day and because conservation land that doesn’t allow people is nearby, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary.

Be sure to visit.    We think you will like the Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary too.

Pure Vida, Renée

In Costa Rica: Snapshots – San José


Although most tourists stay in San José for only a night before heading out for adventure in other parts of Costa Rica, Barry and I were there for several days both at the beginning and the end of our trip.

We liked the architecture.  Even if a building wasn’t really architecturally special, often the color made it memorable.

Sometimes the building material is unusual like this building that is now a school; the outside is made of metal.


A school made of metal – in San José


Many places in San José offer good food or drinks


Even the underpasses can be memorable

And you never know what might come down the street:


Blindfolded, they walk along the street


Is this a comment on going to war? Or could it be how we blindly follow others? We saw it in San José.

San José parks are great places to watch people, listen to a guitarist, read.

We liked the architectural details and beauty of the buildings.

We enjoyed walking through San José streets.



Of course, some places in San José look very familiar


Art on a street wall – in San José

San José is mainly a city of low-rise buildings – and walking streets.

Costa Rican police  cruise up and down the walking streets to run off vendors and buskers – which probably means there aren’t enough jobs for the people who live in San José, but the people we met were friendly and looked happy.


A San José walking street

In the days we spent wandering through San José, we had good food, met terrific people, saw good museums, and heard lively music.    So when you find yourself in Costa Rica, enjoy San José, the capital city – before running off for adventures in the forests.

Pura Vida, Renée








Costa Rica – Snapshots: Bugs and Butterflies


In San José, the capital of Costa Rica, Barry and I loved wandering the colorful, bustling streets.



But Costa Rica is known for its land conservation and rich natural life.  So we liked being outside the capital too.  Most of the birds, the animals, and even the bugs are beautiful and wonderful.


A bird feeder outside a Monteverde café and bakery

You may know of the sloths, monkeys, and coatis of Costa Rica, but did you know that the country is also host to many insects?  Surprises, for me, included:


Assassin bug – also known as “the kissing bug” – that little brown bug with the orange edges.

Not everything is good for humans.  I’d never heard of the assassin bug – that Sara, our informative and friendly naturalist guide at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, had found in her own bed!  To know how troubling that is, she told us facts about this small seemingly harmless bug.

They are known as “kissing bugs,” because they tend to bite sleeping humans in the soft tissue around the lips and eyes. Then, says Sara, when you wake up and the bite is itchy, you scratch it which allows the venom to get in your blood.

Those bites can be vectors for the trypanosomal Chagas disease, sometimes called “American trypanosomiasis.”  In the early stage, symptoms are typically either not present or mild, perhaps a fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, or swelling.  After 8–12 weeks, the chronic phase of disease can begin, but for 60–70% of the victims, it never produces further symptoms. 

The other 30 to 40% of people, however, can develop further symptoms 10 to even 30 years after the initial infection.  Ten percent may experience an enlarged esophagus or enlarged colon.  The damage includes enlargement of the  ventricles of the heart in 20 to 30% of those bitten, which leads to heart failure – death.

Later, we were told by a young Costa Rican woman that these are bug bites that disproportionately affect the indigenous and poor – and the reason many die early.  According to her, little research is being done on treatment since “it is a poor person’s disease.”

But don’t avoid Costa Rica or the tropics.  Know what an assassin bug looks like – as Sara does – and be aware.

Another insect here is big and not pleasant to see – but it is not a vector for disease:


A Giant Blaberus cockroach.  Sara is holding it, not me

Another insect is known for its strength.


Hercules beetles

The Hercules beetles are amazing.  They can reach 6 inches (15 cm) in length, making them the largest species of the Rhino Beetle, the largest beetle in the world.  Besides, pound for pound, these beetles are the strongest animals in the world. Where an adult elephant can lift about 25 times its weight, the rhino beetle can lift 850 times its body weight!  That is more than any other animal recorded.

Especially for Asian boys, they are  a popular pet; you can easily spend $350 U.S. dollars on a rhino beetle although they live only about a year.  Or just come see them in Costa Rica.



A red liliko’i (passion fruit) flower in the butterfly garden!



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Sometimes you can have a very close encounter

Butterflies that feed on fermenting ripe fruit – like the Morpho butterfly below – become intoxicated; they tend to have short – and perhaps – happy lives.


The Morpho butterfly



Of course, we saw more leaf-cutter ants. These were marching along a roof pole on a shed in the butterfly gardens.

So know that when you come to Costa Rica, you can enjoy the museums, night life, and people of the city – and the interesting critters in the conservation areas as well.

Pura Vida, Renée

In Costa Rica: Facts


Costa Rican flag


Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a world leader in land conservation – but it hasn’t always been that way.  In 1500, over 95% of the area was forested, but by 1987 only 21%.  By 2010, 52% was forested and today, a bit more.   With 20 national parks, 8 biological reserves, plus animal refuges, and protected areas, 26 percent of Costa Rica’s land is protected.


Along a trail in Costa Rica

One of those important parks is the Arenal Volcano National Park,  29,692-acre (12,016-hectors) that includes both the Arenal Volcano and the dormant Chato Volcano.  Beginning near Lake Arenal, the park has hiking trails and observational points.  Of the over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica about 112 have shown some type of activity: Arenal is the most active volcano in Central America, while Poás is the second widest volcanic crater in the world, and Irazú is Costa Rica’s tallest volcano.

Arenal Volcano National Park - the largest recorded eruption was in 1968

Arenal Volcano – the largest recorded eruption was in 1968

Costa Rica is serious about land conservation; it offers farmers, for instance, yearly subsidies if they keep part of their land forested.

Another popular tourist destination is  Manuel Antonio National Park: on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast; it includes rugged rainforest, white-sand beaches and coral reefs.  It contains a  vast diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, including three-toed sloths, endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys, and hundreds of bird species. The park’s 1,680 acres (680 hectares) have hiking trails meandering from the coast up into the mountains.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park – beautiful!

But these are only two of the many wildlife and conservation sites you can visit in Costa Rica.  It is one of the most valued environmental destinations in the world – with over 100 protected areas to visit.


Wildlife Crossing – puma


Costa Rica – a land of conservation and adventure


There are zip lines, water adventures, beaches, wildlife tours, and much more to see in Costa Rica.


The first – and some of the best zip lines

Other important facts:

  • The Costa Rican army was abolished in 1948 after a grim civil war that killed 2,000 people in 44 days.
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    Costa Rican civil war in 1948

  • On 24 April, 1944, led by José María (Pepe) Figueres, a powerful coffee grower and outspoken rival of Calderón (the previous president), anti-government forces entered San José, almost six weeks after beginning a revolt in southern Costa Rica against the contested election of the Picado government.  The United States helped determine the outcome of the revolution by its mobilization in the Canal Zone, constant pressure on Picado, and cutting off Nicaragua’s (Somoza’s) help.  Also, throughout the country, armed groups were formed, trained by Guatemalan military advisors, in part, we were told, because of a promise by Figueres to send Costa Rican fighters later to Guatemala.
  • No ArmyOver the following 18 months, Figueres acted as interim president, during which time he drafted a new constitution that prohibited presidential reelection, dissolved the communist party in Costa Rica, granted women and blacks the right to vote, abolished the army, and established a neutral body that would oversee future elections (the Electoral Tribunal). All of the social reforms that Calderón had established were maintained. Banks and insurance companies were nationalized, and ten percent of all bank funds were seized for reconstruction. In 1949, Figueres turned the country over to Ulate, who  had run as the unified opposition party leader, challenging Calderón’s party in the 1948 election. “Don Pepe” Figueres was elected president in 1953 and again in 1970. Upon his death in 1990, he was remembered as one of Costa Rica’s greatest leaders and a crusader against political corruption.  He also never kept his promise to send troops to Guatemala; he knew the horror of war and didn’t want any more Costa Ricans to die.  Costa Rica still has no standing army.
  • 2014 celebration of with former President José %22Don Pepe%22 Figueres Ferrer

    “Don Pepe” Figueres on the right

  • Costa Rica has more teachers than police!
  • Literacy rate is 95% for men and women.
  • Infant mortality /maternal mortality rate is 25 per 100,000 live births and it continues to go down.  In contrast, in 1987, there were 7.2 deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, that number more than doubled, jumping to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 births mainly because of obesity-related complications.  While the U.S. rate is still better than Costa Rica’s – that may not be true for long.
  • President Luis Guillermo Solís won the 2014 election with over 77% of the vote.  This was the largest margin ever recorded for a free election in Costa Rica. He is a member of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party. Now he isn’t as popular as when he was elected because the employment rate hasn’t improved as much as hoped.
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    Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís

    Previously, Costa Rica’s president was Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s first female president and sixth female elected for president of a Latin American country.

  • In the 1950’s, the Monteverde Quaker community started with nine families from the U.S. – seeking a peaceful country.
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    A Quaker dairy treat – in Monteverde, Costa Rica

  • It has one of the highest life expectancies in the world according to the World Bank, Life expectancy at birth is 80 years compared to 79 in the United States.  The Nicoya region of Costa Rica is also one of five Blue Zones—“longevity hotspots” populated by the longest-living people in the world—on the globe.
  • At 19,730 square miles, Costa Rica measures slightly smaller than Lake Michigan. It has  801 miles (1,290 km) of coastline.
  • It is home to more than 500,000 species – with nearly 3 percent of the world’s biodiversity.   Corcovado National Park has been deemed “the most biologically intense place on the planet.”
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    A colorful bug on my jeans – in Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica contains approximately 90 percent of the butterfly species found in Central America, 66 percent of all neo-tropical butterflies, and about 18 percent of all butterfly species in the world.

    A Sara butterfly

    – and over 50 species of hummingbirds.


    One of the many kinds of hummingbirds in Costa Rica

  • Costa Ricans are some of the happiest people on Earth according to the Happy Planet Index, which uses three criteria—life expectancy, experienced well-being, and Ecological Footprint—to determine the overall happiness levels of 151 countries across the globe. With a score of 64.0, Costa Rica is near the top of this list while the United States has a happiness index of 37.3.
  • In case you think that Costa Rica is perfect, know that pedestrians are called “targets” and speed bumps are “son muertos” – [they are] dead people. Do pay attention when you cross a street.
  • Pura Vida is the response of  locals when asked how they are or in passing to say “hello or goodbye.” Pura vida is a state of mind. Costa Ricans take every opportunity to live life to the fullest.

Visit – you will love the people, the conservation lands, the adventure tours. . .


A magnificent – and fun (for people) – Strangler Fig



That’s me on the way up. The view from the top was spectacular. I felt like a bird perching high above the land.

Go to Costa Rica.  You’ll love it.

Pura vida, Renée

In Costa Rica: San Luis Ecolodge

Huge trees, interesting animals and bugs, great people

One of the most interesting adventures we had in Costa Rica was experiencing the University of Georgia’s research facility and ecolodge in San Luis, which is just a short “as the crow flies” distance from Monteverde.

Check-in wasn’t until noon.  We’d gotten an early start,  and the public bus didn’t come for 45 more minutes.   We’d walked to the Quaker meeting the day before, and according to Google Maps, the eco-lodge was just kilometers beyond.  How bad could it be?


View toward the Nicoya coast

We started walking to the UGA San Luis Eco-Lodge.

art on the way to sL

Artist studio on the way toward San Luis

The sun was shining – and the wind blowing –  at 25 miles an hour – with gusts much higher.

The views were  stunning.

view of sL

View down to San Luis

What we couldn’t tell from Google is the walk included several kilometers of a very, very steep grade down toward San Lois – at about 25%.  It’s so steep that trucks and buses are prohibited.


A 25% grade-no trucks are busses are allowed on the road to San Luis

Much of the road to San Luis is not paved.

At times, I thought I’d be blown over the edge by the gusts of wind.  Barry was backpacking all our stuff, and before we got to San Luis, he said it felt like about 100 pounds.

However, the walk was beautiful.  And we did make it, but what we thought would be about a one-and a-half-hour walk turned into about three hours.

on the way to san Luis

Cows near the San Luis EcoLodge


Welcome sign

We did arrive about 15 minutes before lunch.  Perfect.

And we had a great lunch – a buffet.   I ate two full plates!

And then we got to go with naturalist Dan, an enthusiastic, knowledgeable intern, on a three-hour hike/lecture to the Eco-Lodge farm and through a forest.

Dan, me, David

Naturalist Dan – at the UGA sustainable farm in San Luis, Costa Rica.  David, on the right, from the U.S.

Along the way, we saw three white-faced capuchin monkeys, a coati, and an agouti – a big rodent that is the favorite meal of pumas, and, of course, colorful birds.


An arguti in Costa Rica

We saw cool birds, animals, bugs, interesting trees and plants.   You would love it there.

At the farm, we saw innovative practices to promote sustainability.  One of their composting strategies is using black plastic tarps, which we are trying at home.

dan at UGA

Dan sharing wisdom of the forest


Raised beds, rotated crops – beautiful lettuces

sloth tree

A symbiotic relationship of stinging ants and this tree give the ants a home and a sweet nectar to eat, and the tree gets defense so it can  grow tall quickly.

leaf cutters

Leaf-cutter ants are busy day and night. They can strip a tree in one day!

Before dinner, we went up and sat on the great deck in wooden rocking chairs, drank delicious Costa Rican coffee, and chatted with other tourists and University of Georgia interns and staff.


Waiting for the next meal at UGA Eco-lodge

Again, I got two full plates for dinner.  We’d heard the hot chocolate served after dinner was stupendous; it was.


Dinner with the interns at the San Lois Eco-Lodge

Then we had an interesting lecture about the history of Costa Rica.  We could have chosen a night hike looking for frogs and snakes, but we’d had enough of hiking for the day.    I was asleep by about 9 that night.


UGA – Costa Rica staff

The next morning, we went at 6:20 to milk cows and see the biodigester that converts  all the waste materials into cooking fuel.


We had a  medicinal plants lecture and field trip after breakfast.

Among many other facts, we learned from Dan that guava is good for hangovers; coffee is anti-Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases; dumb cane is for toothaches; catnip is like cocaine for cats, but as a tea, is calming for people; papaya is a good meat tenderizer; yellow oleander is very poisonous; the root beer plant is for headaches – put a leaf on your forehead . . . The reason aloe is good for sunburns is because it holds in moisture which allows the skin to heal.  The sap from the dragon-blood tree is anti-fungal and an antiseptic. . .

After lunch, we got an an introduction to bird watching.  Costa Rica has 850 species of birds; 250 species are in San Luis near the eco-lodge – beautiful and diverse!


The rain brought rainbows

After dinner, I took a night hike seeking mammals.  Because it was windy and rainy, we mainly found spiders, moths, leaf-cutters, and other small beings.  Again we slept well in our beautiful and comfortable bungalow.

The next morning, we went out at dawn for bird-watching with a naturalist.


We watched for birds from the deck on this rainy morning


A bird on the deck railing


After breakfast in the San Luis dining hall, Barry trying a Spam can strung like a guitar!  With Susan Stanley of The Hobohemians, a blues, folk, jazz group

Generally, we did lots of activities – and then we’d eat again.


Another great meal


No burning of cane as is done on Maui. On this conservation land, the cane is just dug up at its roots.


On our coffee tour

Actually, there was much more!

But you get the idea: you will  learn about plants, animals, bugs, sustainability, Costa Rica, coffee,  history, and more from enthusiastic and knowledgeable interns and naturalists, meet other travelers, eat well, enjoy hot water and a new, clean bungalow, and have an eventful and wonderful time at the beautiful Ecolodge San Luis.

For more information and to reserve your visit, go to the website:

You will love the experience.

Pura vida, Renée

P.S. To leave the eco-lodge, did we walk back up the steep road?  No!  We took a cab.:)

Barry’s Gleanings: Truths – Easter, Bernie, & Denied Justice


Saturday was the Democratic caucus in Hawaii.   The printout lists of registered voters were not up-to-date; the volunteers too few, and the lines to cast a single vote were ridiculously long.  At the Kihei polling place where I volunteered, some people waited three hours; some walked away.


At Lokelani Intermediate School in Kihei, HI – line to vote in the Democratic caucus – from The Maui News -3/27/2016

For the most part, people were wonderful; a Bernie supporter gave us cookies, people chatted with friends, some said it was like a party;  only a few yelled in frustration.  Many were first-time voters – young and old.  Some life-long Republicans said they were voting as Democrats for the first time.

Americans want change.  Many people are struggling, and we know it doesn’t have to be this way.   Bernie won in Hawaii, a historically union and Democratic state!  Thank you to all who came (and waited)  to vote their preference for the Democratic presidential candidate.

It’s now Sunday morning, Easter.  Birds are chirping as it gets light; Barry’s making coffee; later I’ll go to a Quaker service and then gather with family and friends at the beach.  We celebrate and remember Jesus.

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With John, Barry – and Nalu at Kama’ole Beach Park III – Easter Sunday

As we feel the Christian love of the season, and the hope of real change in the U.S., it’s troubling to know that laws still remain in the U.S. that deny justice to many.

One such law is called the Doctrine of Discovery.  It is based on official papal letters from the 15th century and a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, most notably Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823.

“Three papal bulls make up the Doctrine of Discovery, which established the worldview that a certain group of people, Western Christendom, had moral sanction and the support of international law to invade and colonize the lands of non-Christian Peoples, to dominate them, take their possessions and resources, and enslave and kill them.

The doctrine blessed slave trade and genocide.  It yielded a body of international law known as the Law of Nations.  The U.S. embraced these doctrines, creating a constitutional framework for slavery and later segregation, and adapted the Law of Nations as Federal Indian Common Law.

Over the last 150 years, we have seen the repudiation of both slavery and segregation, and the U.S. Constitution has been amended.  Yet Federal Indian Common Law, devoid of human rights principles, remains intact.  It defines Indigenous people as a political entity, giving land titles to Congress and reducing Indigenous property rights to occupancy.  Enforcing concepts of plenary power and unfettered guardianship, rejecting the the relevance of “principles of abstract justice” or the “morality of the case,” it affords remedies to Indians as “a matter of grace, not because of legal liability,” as stated in the Marshall Trilogy, the foundation of federal Indian law.  The Doctrine of Discovery was most recently quoted in a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Case, City of Sherrill, New York v. Oneida Nation:

Under the ‘doctrine of discovery…’fee title [ownership] to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign-first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States.


Great Bear, an Oneida dancer of peace

Today’s massive human rights violations against Indigenous people are the results of such applications of the Doctrine of Discovery.  Life expectancy for Native people in the U.S. is 48 to 52 years.  Unemployment rates in Indigenous communities run from 45 to 75 percent.  And incarceration rates and suicide rates are higher than in any other racial or ethnic group–as are rates of violence against and murder of Native women and the likelihood of being shot by law enforcement.  [Learn more at].

After examining this information, New England Yearly Meeting [Quakers] decided to embark on a multi-year journey of healing.  Their Meeting Minute of the Doctrine of Discovery states:

We as New England Yearly Meeting repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. We are beginning a journey to consider the moral and spiritual implications of how we benefit from and have been harmed by the doctrine as individuals and meetings . . . We need to learn more, find ways to seek forgiveness, and to ask how the Spirit might lead us . . . We encourage consultation with Indigenous Peoples to restore the health of ourselves and our planet.  We recognize that this is our work to do.  On this path, respectfully traveled in love, our goal is true healing. 

. . . It is not enough to apologize.  We must make amends.”

Excerpt from Quaker Action, “Beyond right relationships: A journey of healing,” Winter 2015, p. 16-17.  Full article at –

“When Indigenous peoples exercise self-determination, they come in conflict with governments and corporations that rely on the legal lineage of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery to assert claims on natural resources, such as coal, oil, uranium, natural gas, and water. This is one of many lasting effects of the doctrine today.”  From

In Hawaii too, we have a mainly unrecognized shame of the overthrow of the Hawaiian government.  On January 17, 1893, U.S. troops took part in a conspiracy led by a small group of wealthy, white businessmen and sugar plantation owners to overthrow the monarchy of Queen Lili’uokalani.


Queen Lili’uokalani – last Hawaiian monarch


Businessmen behind the overthrow of the Hawaiian government

Most Hawaiians opposed the coup, as did incoming U.S. President Grover Cleveland.


‘Iolani Palace 1893 – overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom

ʻIolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.

When we act as Jesus would – in love, compassion, and inclusion – He is alive.    There is much to love and many  wrongs to correct.   Consider what Jesus would do – and do it.

Happy Easter.

Aloha, Renée

P.S. If you are a U.S. citizen,  please volunteer to help at your polling place in November.  We hope you – and everyone – votes.  We need to correct injustices; we want just change.






Thought for the Day: A Life

In Bocas de Toro

From what we get, we make a living.

From what we give, we make a life.  – Winston Churchill

Sign in front of a surf shop in Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

Aloha, Renée






Barry’s Gleanings: The Herbicide Atrazine

SL greenhouse

One of the great things about being on vacation is catching up on reading – especially The New Yorker magazines that I never seem to finish.  This article although from February 2014 is pertinent since atrazine is still being used in the U.S.

In The New Yorker, “A Valuable Reputation: After Tyrone Hayes said that a chemical was harmful, its maker pursued him” by Rachel Aviv reports on Hayes’ experiments with the herbicide atrazine, which is applied to more than half the corn in the United States.  After his experiments indicated that the pesticide causes birth deformities (especially in males), Syngenta  tried to discredit Hayes.


Below are excerpts from the article:

“Syngenta, which is based in Basel, sells more than fourteen billion dollars’ worth of seeds and pesticides a year and funds research at some four hundred academic institutions around the world. When Hayes agreed to do experiments for the company (which at that time was part of a larger corporation, Novartis), the students in his lab expressed concern that biotech companies were “buying up universities” and that industry funding would compromise the objectivity of their research. Hayes assured them that his fee, a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, would make their lab more rigorous. He could employ more students, buy new equipment, and raise more frogs. Though his lab was well funded, federal support for research was growing increasingly unstable, and, like many academics and administrators, he felt that he should find new sources of revenue. “I went into it as if I were a painter, performing a service,” Hayes told me. “You commissioned it, and I come up with the results, and you do what you want with them. It’s your responsibility, not mine.

Syngenta Headquarters, Basel, Switzerland:



Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S., where sales are estimated at about three hundred million dollars a year. Introduced in 1958, it is cheap to produce and controls a broad range of weeds. (Glyphosate, which is produced by Monsanto, [- which we in Maui know about too much] is the most popular herbicide.)  A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that without atrazine the national corn yield would fall by six per cent, creating an annual loss of nearly two billion dollars. But the herbicide degrades slowly in soil and often washes into streams and lakes, where it doesn’t readily dissolve. Atrazine is one of the most common contaminants of drinking water; an estimated thirty million Americans are exposed to trace amounts of the chemical. . .[my emphasis].

The E.P.A. approved the continued use of atrazine in October [2004], the same month that the European Commission chose to remove it from the market. [It’s been banned in Italy and Germany since 1991, according to].

The European Union generally takes a precautionary approach to environmental risks, choosing restraint in the face of uncertainty. In the U.S., lingering scientific questions justify delays in regulatory decisions. Since the mid-seventies, the E.P.A. has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment [my emphasis]. Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process—they may sue regulators if there are errors in the scientific record—and cost-benefit analyses are integral to decisions: a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use. Lisa Heinzerling, the senior climate-policy counsel at the E.P.A. in 2009 and the associate administrator of the office of policy in 2009 and 2010, said that cost-benefit models appear “objective and neutral, a way to free ourselves from the chaos of politics.” But the complex algorithms “quietly condone a tremendous amount of risk.” She added that the influence of the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees major regulatory decisions, has deepened in recent years. “A rule will go through years of scientific reviews and cost-benefit analyses, and then at the final stage it doesn’t pass,” she said. . .

To redirect attention to the financial benefits of atrazine, the company paid Don Coursey, a tenured economist at the Harris School of Public Policy, at the University of Chicago, five hundred dollars an hour to study how a ban on the herbicide would affect the economy. In 2006, Syngenta supplied Coursey with data and a “bundle of studies,” and edited his paper, which was labelled as a Harris School Working Paper. (He disclosed that Syngenta had funded it.) After submitting a draft, Coursey had been warned in an e-mail that he needed to work harder to articulate a “clear statement of your conclusions flowing from this analysis.” Coursey later announced his findings at a National Press Club event in Washington and told the audience that there was one “basic takeaway point: a ban on atrazine at the national level will have a devastating, devastating effect upon the U.S. corn economy.”. . .

Hayes was confident that at the next E.P.A. hearing there would be enough evidence to ban atrazine, but in 2010 the agency found that the studies indicating risk to humans were too limited. Two years later, during another review, the E.P.A. determined that atrazine does not affect the sexual development of frogs. By that point, there were seventy-five published studies on the subject, but the E.P.A. excluded the majority of them from consideration, because they did not meet the requirements for quality that the agency had set in 2003. The conclusion was based largely on a set of studies funded by Syngenta and led by Werner Kloas, a professor of endocrinology at Humboldt University, in Berlin. One of the co-authors was Alan Hosmer, a Syngenta scientist whose job, according to a 2004 performance evaluation, included “atrazine defence” and “influencing EPA.”

After the hearing, two of the independent experts who had served on the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel, along with fifteen other scientists, wrote a paper (not yet published) complaining that the agency had repeatedly ignored the panel’s recommendations and that it placed “human health and the environment at the mercy of industry.” “The EPA works with industry to set up the methodology for such studies with the outcome often that industry is the only institution that can afford to conduct the research,” they wrote. The Kloas study was the most comprehensive of its kind: its researchers had been scrutinized by an outside auditor, and their raw data turned over to the E.P.A. But the scientists wrote that one set of studies on a single species was “not a sufficient edifice on which to build a regulary assessment.” Citing a paper by Hayes, who had done an analysis of sixteen atrazine studies, they wrote that “the single best predictor of whether or not the herbicide atrazine had a significant effect in a study was the funding source.”

In another paper, in Policy Perspective, Jason Rohr, an ecologist at the University of South Florida, who served on an E.P.A. panel, criticized the “lucrative ‘science for hire’ industry, where scientists are employed to dispute data.” He wrote that a Syngenta-funded review of the atrazine literature had arguably misrepresented more than fifty studies and made a hundred and forty-four inaccurate or misleading statements, of which “96.5% appeared to be beneficial for Syngenta.” Rohr, who has conducted several experiments involving atrazine, said that, at conferences, “I regularly get peppered with questions from Syngenta cronies trying to discount my research. They try to poke holes in the research rather than appreciate the adverse effects of the chemicals.” He said, “I have colleagues whom I’ve tried to recruit, and they’ve told me that they’re not willing to delve into this sort of research, because they don’t want the headache of having to defend their credibility.” . . .

Syngenta denied repeated requests for interviews, but Ann Bryan, its senior manager for external communications, told me in an e-mail that some of the studies I was citing were unreliable or unsound. When I mentioned a recent paper in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, which showed associations between a mother’s exposure to atrazine and the likelihood that her son will have an abnormally small penis, undescended testes, or a deformity of the urethra—defects that have increased in the past several decades—she said that the study had been “reviewed by independent scientists, who found numerous flaws.” She recommended that I speak with the author of the review, David Schwartz, a neuroscientist, who works for Innovative Science Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in “product defense” and strategies that “give you the power to put your best data forward.” Schwartz told me that epidemiological studies can’t eliminate confounding variables or make claims about causation. “We’ve been incredibly misled by this type of study,” he said.

In 2012, in its settlement of the class-action suits, Syngenta agreed to pay a hundred and five million dollars to reimburse more than a thousand water systems for the cost of filtering atrazine from drinking water, but the company denies all wrongdoing. Bryan told me that “atrazine does not and, in fact, cannot cause adverse health effects at any level that people would ever be exposed to in the real-world environment.” She wrote that she was “troubled by a suggestion that we have ever tried to discredit anyone. Our focus has always been on communicating the science and setting the record straight.” She noted that “virtually every well-known brand, or even well-known issue, has a communications program behind it. Atrazine’s no different.”


Tyrone Haynes

See the whole article at –

How does atrazine compare to glyphosate (Monsanto’s choice)?

Glyphosate (commonly sold as RoundUp) will kill everything. Atrazine will kill much of what it touches but in small amounts.

However, there is hope for the future.

In an update from Sustainable Pulse in a March 24, 2016 article:

“The Environmental Protection Agency will analyze the impacts of atrazine and glyphosate — the two most commonly used pesticides in the United States — on 1,500 endangered plants and animals in the United States under the terms of a settlement reached today with the Center for Biological Diversity. The EPA will also analyze the impacts of propazine and simazine, two pesticides that are chemically similar to atrazine. It has committed to completing the assessments by June 2020” – from

Although the EPA assessment results are years away, we are becoming more aware of the dangers of atrazine and other pesticides thanks to Tyrone Haynes and other scientists who have spoken out for years about the results of their experiments.

Healthy plants grown in healthy ways - at the UGA sustainable farm in Costa Rica

Healthy plants grown in healthy ways – at the UGA sustainable farm in Costa Rica

Learn about the food you buy for your family.  Let’s make good choices.

Aloha, Renée


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