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No Artificial Ingredients Indeed

Back from our family's vacation to Costa Rica, I am left feeling extremely grateful for not only the well-received rest and relaxation with family; I enjoyed exhilarating experiences previously unimaginable.

Costa Rica's ad in this Sunday's New York Times includes the tagline "No Artificial Ingredients." I'll say. What with monkeys offering our singular wake-up call swinging limb to limb just outside our hotel balcony, to iguanas joining us on our walk to breakfast, to a highly venomous snake slithering right before our eyes on our drive to dinner, to native raccoon-like critters sharing the bar under the grass-thatched hut where we dined for most meals...nature called out loud and clear. Everywhere.

We watched the volcano erupt at Arenal and watched with delight when we saw it played again on the national news that night; patted the frogs which resident caretaker Valencio sheltered and raised; glared at the crocodile swimming in the same water where we white-water rafted; and enthusiastically spread mud on our faces while we sipped organic coffee at a mountaintop café. (I never thought I'd be wearing a volcanic mud mask in the middle of Costa Rica in front of strangers...but then again, I figured I'd never see these people again, either.)

I have to admit: my more frequent attire, when traveling south, looks a lot more like it leapt out of a Lilly Pulitzer closet. A couple of loudly colorful capris, coordinating Jack Rogers shoes, and cute straw bags can usually get me about anywhere in the summer.

But not in Costa Rica. It was the place for hiking boots, surfer shorts, and fanny packs. I was totally out of my element.

Risk taking is one of the things I heartily recommend for creative living. It is one of the secrets of creating creative genius. All creative people take risks. They live outside of their comfort zone. They engage in new activities, surround themselves with different types of people, and deliberately put themselves into foreign surroundings. They create situations over which they have little or no control over the outcome.

Such was the case with my family on our summer vacation. I was in totally foreign territory. I don't speak Spanish, and my feeble attempts at putting an "el" in front of every word with an "o" behind it (i.e. "el guide-o") were only met with side-splitting laughter by my fluent husband and kids. "Por favor, club soda with lemon" became another mealtime joke.

I also don't hang out in surfer shorts and those tight-fitting surfer tops. I can't surf. My husband and kids took lessons everyday while at the beach, but because of my mangled right leg (car accident twenty-seven years ago), I can't even think about it. Everybody at the beach in Costa Rica surfs. I was odd-man out there, too. I had no particular affinity for night hiking in the cloud forest, though my husband and sons found that to be one adventure they would not go home without experiencing firsthand. Nor did I desire a night trek beyond the "No Trespassing" signs at the erupting volcano, (can you even imagine what might lurk out there in the dark?) but my husband and sons found that irresistible. When we stopped for lunch at a local "soda" on the side of the road (literally) I announced that I wouldn't eat there for fear of catching malaria. But I was hungry. I ate there. It was good. I didn't catch malaria. But I did get laughed at-once again-by my husband and kids.

We traveled by SUV on paths that could only be described as just that. To call them roads would be incredible overstatement. Boulder-studded and dirt-lined, they were beyond anything I had ever seen-except when traveling to Panama. Signage was, well, confusing at best and non-existent at worst. We figured it was the native's conspiracy against US tourists.

But we're already anxious to go back. Costa Rica's national motto is "pura vida." The pure life. Or "life is good." And when all was said and done, I was very glad to have lived for a couple weeks with no artificial ingredients. No make-up...only volcanic mud on my middle-aged skin. No clothing labels...just cotton t's and baggy shorts. No jewelry..except for the green cat's eye cross-and-beaded-trinket I bought from a native craftswoman on the beach.

I walked on the most incredible beaches I'd ever seen, rode horseback through the woods, paddled down white-water rapids, and witnessed the cloud forest from 400 meters above ground level. I came back home sore and exhausted, but exhilarated and happy.

My biggest challenge now is figuring out how to translate all of Costa Rica's charm-and "pura vida" mantra-into my New England culture, family life, and schedule. But no artificial ingredients? Now that's a tough one.

Carolina Fernandez earned an M.B.A. and worked at IBM and as a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch before coming home to work as a wife and mother of four. She totally re-invented herself along the way. Strong convictions were born about the role of the arts in child development; homeschooling for ten years provided fertile soil for devising creative parenting strategies. These are played out in ROCKET MOM! 7 Strategies To Blast You Into Brilliance. It is available on Amazon.com, in bookstores everywhere, or by calling 888-476-2493. She writes extensively for a variety of parenting resources and teaches other moms via parenting classes and radio and TV interviews.

Please visit http://www.rocketmom.com to subscribe to her free ezine and get a weekly shot of inspiration.

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