Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram French President Francois Hollande opened the prospect of striking a political deal with Greece to unlock bailout aid, as three-way talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reached deep into the night in Riga.Hollande, speaking as he arrived for a European Union summit in Latvia, said the meeting with Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would help pave the way for an accord to be hammered out by finance ministers at the end of May or early June. Negotiations between the three leaders began in a Riga hotel on the Daugava River after dinner and stretched beyond midnight.“With Tsipras we want to find solutions to restore confidence and release the funds that have been planned,” Hollande told reporters before the summit. “So it will be a friendly talk, but a talk in which we have to be able to draft solutions.”Hollande’s comments build on signs of determination to end the stalemate that has buffeted Greek markets since Tsipras’ election in January at the head of a coalition committed to ending austerity. The French and German leaders called two days ago for the pace of talks to pick up, and Merkel is already considering making a keynote speech to sell any deal to the German public and members of her Christian Democratic-led bloc.Greece’s benchmark ASE Index rose 0.6 per cent on Thursday, as the Stoxx Europe 600 Index added 0.4 per cent to 407.87 at the close of trading.Momentum buildingThe Greek government believes momentum has been building toward an end-May agreement with creditors that would alleviate the country’s cash crunch, according to an official from Greece attending the EU leaders’ meeting in Riga.Tsipras planned to highlight progress made in the staff-level negotiations between Greece and its creditors when he met with Merkel and Hollande, the official told reporters, asking not to be named because the talks are private.For all the signs of optimism, other policy makers warned of hard negotiations yet to come as officials haggle over pensions, wages and other contentious points of detail needed to free up the remaining 7.2 billion-euro ($8 billion) tranche of aid. Without an agreement, Greece risks a default that would put in question its future in the 19-nation euro region.Merkel didn’t comment on Greece when she arrived for the EU leaders’ meeting, instead focusing on the summit agenda of the bloc’s relations with six eastern nations including Ukraine.She and Hollande helped broker a ceasefire agreement in Ukraine during all-night discussions in February with President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus, another of the EU’s so-called eastern partnership states.‘Expected Deadline’Hollande said that the discussion with Tsipras would “help prepare for the expected deadline, especially the eurogroup” meeting of euro-area finance ministers “at the end of May or in early June”. That suggests an extraordinary finance ministers’ meeting on Greece, since the next regular gathering isn’t scheduled until June 18.BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest money manager, said it judged the chance of Greece leaving the euro area at 20 per cent to 25 per cent. While Greece remains a “major existential risk,” a debt deal is likely to be reached, according to Ian Winship, a London-based money manager at BlackRock.“The Greek people seem keen not to leave,” said Winship. “At the end of the day, Mr Tsipras may have to go with whatever is being offered by Europe. We don’t think Greece is going to leave.”France and Germany are not trying to force the matter for the rest of Europe, according to Hollande.“We are working to facilitate the process and at the same time to pass on certain messages useful to Greece and useful to Europe,” he said.
Denise Lisac and Lynn Van Vactor holding carrot and rose hip infusions. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)Right now the tundra and forests of Bristol Bay are exploding with flora. While many foragers have already supped on fiddlehead ferns and are looking forward to wild berry picking, some may overlook the traditional medicinal uses of many Alaskan plants. Two Dillingham women set out to capture the benefits of these native plants in a line of homemade bath products – they call it “Tundra Love.”Download Audio:It’s a bright spring afternoon, and the ground floor of Lynn Van Vactor’s home smells of shea butter and citrus. With hot plates, a weigh scale, and bottles of oils on the shelves, the space feels like part chemistry lab, part art studio.Van Vactor and her business partner Denise Lisac hand me a mason jar filled with a dark oily mixture.“That’s chaga,” she said, as oil sloshed around in the jar. “We’re infusing chaga. We haven’t used this yet and it’s just infusing. Look at that beautiful black color of the oil.”Local plant bits are left to solar infuse in oil for several weeks: (from left) cottonwood blossoms, chythlook (wormwood), rose hips, cottonwood blossoms, carrot. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)Other jars are lined up against the sunny window, filled with infusions of rosehips, carrot, and cottonwood buds. Van Vactor explains, this is an early step in the long process of making a soap or salve.“Let it sit for six weeks in the sun, and every day you turn and toss those oils,” she said. “Yeah, so that’s some chythlook.”This basement operation got its start just last fall, when Van Vactor and Lisac both signed up for a class taught by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on native plants.“‘The Store Outside your Door,’ basically,” she said. “So Denise and I sat next to each other. That’s how it started – yeah, that’s how it started.”The training taught about local plants that elders in Bristol Bay have used medicinally for generations. These healing plants are all over the place: Plantain is a natural antibacterial; Rose hips are high in Vitamin A for healthy skin.“And the birch bark has salicylic properties that can treat some of those conditions of inflammation and soreness,” she said.Van Vactor and Lisac shared a fascination with these plants.And when they decided to do something about it, they found they each brought a useful skill set to the table.“I started out in nursing, psych and pre-med,” Van Vactor said. “So I’ve always had an affinity for naturopathic medicine, and Denise has this expert gardening knowledge of plants.”The bars of soap are carefully crafted and topped with dried flower petals. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)So they had a pretty good foundation. But, she says, they still have a lot to learn on the healing side of things.“The native healers that use these products will spend a year just studying one plant to really understand the therapeutic benefits of those plants… so we’re no way in that category,” she said. “But we’ve had enough knowledge and ability to utilize the plants for things that we’d actually want in our day-to-day life.”So, with a lot of research and some digging in the dirt, they started making soaps, salves, and bath bombs. Each recipe includes local plants for a specific purpose. And the products have upbeat names like “Pick Me Up!” “Restore My Skin” and “Aches Away.”Denise Lisac shaping bath bombs from Epsom salt and oils – the fizzing bombs dissipate into bath water to create a soothing, aromatic soak. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)Both Lisac and Van Vactor are semi-retired from long careers, so they’re not expecting to make a living off Tundra Love. But with a price point of $10 for 2 ounces of salve or balm, they say they were able to earn back their initial investment. Their first big sale at Christmas time sold out.Since then, they’ve gotten rave reviews. Friends and family are asking them to make more.“I know of a person whose feet had been in pain for months and months,” she said. “And those salves have helped alleviate the pressure in their feet and they’re able to walk better… so there’s these little testimonials coming up.”Encouraged by those happy customers, Van Vactor and Lisac are dreaming up new products. They’re watching for summer plants to come up so they can infuse another batch of oils. One of the biggest lessons learned, Van Vactor says, is that the recipes go based on what Mother Nature provides.For example: they’re itching to try out a naturally bug repellent oil made from wild yarrow. But, “It’s gonna be at least a couple months for the yarrow… And it REALLY goes gangbusters in the fall. You’ll get little sprouts coming up between now and then – Yeah you’ll pull it out of your garden – Yeah but now, when we pull it out of our garden, we’ll set it aside – we’re going to use it!”While their first priority is to make enough for local customers, Lisac and Van Vactor eventually want to expand. They imagine a network of Tundra Love producers, bringing healing plants into homes all over Bristol Bay.