Friday, July 31, 2009

We Have Arrived

We arrived here in Monteverde yesterday afternoon. I will avoid the details of the last several days except to say that it has been a whirlwind of transitions. The boys are settling into the 'little brown house' exploring its nooks and crannies and spending time swinging on the tree rope, helping the 15 month old neighbor girl, and discovering critters. We just visited the school, and I am hanging back typing this while Sally, Beth and the boys get a head start walking home. The hike will be a little soggy due to an afternoon downpour after a bright sunny day, temps are 70ish F day and 50's at night. 

There have been many adjustments and many more to come because this is not Clarendon Hills. 
Peace and pics to follow soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Say Hello & Wave Goodbye

This past weekend was very telling of what is to come as we visited with neighbors, were surprised by old friends dropping by to bid us farewell, the continued generosity of our neighbors and family members packing, cleaning and playing with the kids.  As I write this while the household sleeps, it is the first time that the 'end' and the 'beginning' (for me) converge into these last few days of transition.  Will it be the HELLO and the integration into our new life that will be what keeps me awake these last few days or will it be the GOODBYES that we impart to our friends and family?  Likely both will be emotionally taxing.  We have been so blessed to have the support of friends and family as we embark on this journey.  I for one, will miss my dear friend, my sister Beth, who has been my rock as I weathered through some tough times.  For the last five years we have lived on the same block where we have established many rituals...the most significant being the Sunday night "mooch a meal" (as she calls it).  ...clearly this will be a tough goodbye.  However, I can prolong that one a little longer since she is flying down with us for a week to help us settle in. We are thankful for her extra hands and her open heart.  

So many parties and impromptu gatherings over the last several weeks.  Many belly laughs with my family as they visited from North Carolina and Florida earlier this month and a wonderful 'shindig' hosted by Mike's clan a couple of weeks ago.  We enjoyed our family who traveled in from Minnesota for the event.  I will miss Mike's family tremendously - imagine marrying into a family of 10 kids.  I am a very blessed daughter-in-law, aunt, sister-in-law to have a fantastic extended family who cares and nurtures me as one of their own!  It is these connections and relationships that we cherish and will take with us as we head South.  
For me, these emotions are still under the layers of exhaustion as we pack and prepare into the early morning hours, the anticipation, excitement, anxiety - no doubt they will bubble up to the surface as I stare at my empty house later today and lay my weary body down on an air mattress later tonight.

I will think of it as HASTA LUEGO for now and leave the Goodbyes for another time.

Signed: S  

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Countdown: Hours

24 Hours: Movers transporting our remaining items to storage
48 Hours: Enjoying our final breakfast in The Little Green House 
72 Hours: Looking out small window at 37,000 feet high, 600 mph heading south
96 Hours: Driving up mountain to Monteverde
120 Hours: Waking to our first sunrise in new home

Saturday, July 25, 2009

To Purge, To Liberate

Tremendous purge and pack progress has been made these past few days in the little green house. Many smiling drivers with van loads, car loads, or wagon loads of things have rolled away from our house. It has been a win-win as we would much rather have our things be put to good use than sit in a lonely storage room. The whole move would be much different if we were throwing things in boxes to be unpacked in a different home next week. We are taking only suitcases to CR and storing our remaining possessions while the move date approaches. So, more thoughts on stuff: Our things have consumed us! They bring pleasure to our minds and bodies. They trigger memories, they can be manipulated, they help us connect with others, they help us prepare and serve food, they keep us warm and dry, they teach and entertain us and help keep us sane. Things might also distract us.

The purge process is resulting in a greater awareness of my strong connection with some physical things and causes me to reflect on how I might better spend my energies. It is easy to become complacent about important relational and social issues when a few possessions become a priority. Unfortunately, as I mentioned recently, 80% of my time is consumed with making decisions about physical objects but fortunately, the quantity of stuff in our personal possession is being reduced. If I attempt to prevent possessions from possessing me, I must learn to detach from them. We are learning more about detachment from possessions these days and it feels LIBERATING! We continually question why we haven't purged to this extent before or how did we possibly accumulate an Amvets trailer worth of give-aways that we now do not miss. We often hear someone say 'you can't take it with you', well that is almost our situation, unless we are willing to spend a chunk of cash to ship things to Costa Rica. 

The egocentric mind of a three year has a different view of things, but this transition has been a growing experience for our children as well. We explain that many of our clothes and toys have been given to us through the generosity of others and now it is our turn to pass them on to someone else who can use them. They understand that we are taking turns using things and it soon will be time for another family to live in the little green house and ride bikes on the sidewalk. They know that someone else will enjoy the yellow picnic chairs, swimming pool and small yellow car with the orange bottom. Surprisingly, they are usually OK with it, but if you have experience with preschoolers, you know their giving attitude can change with the wind. 

Its another late night, past midnight now and tomorrow will come with more stretching.

Signed M

Friday, July 24, 2009

Responding To Nature

During my first visit to the school in Monteverde this April, I asked a student if she could assist us with something. She responded in a matter-of-fact manner, "Sure, as soon as someone moves that scorpion." Looking down, the four inch arthropod was barely crawling near my shoe. The poor creature looked injured as if someone had inadvertently stepped on. Being my first experience with a scorpion, I allowed another teacher to simply scoop up the visitor with a piece of cardboard and toss it outside. I learned that scorpions in Costa Rica can cause a painful sting, similar to the sting of a wasp, but one should not be too concerned about them unless they have an allergic reaction to the venom. Hmmm, how do I find out if I am allergic? There are two ways - the safer one is to visit an allergist MD. 

All kidding aside, our boys are extremely curious about anything that moves or might move. In addition to observing animal visitors in the garden, they are especially enthusiastic to touch crawling things and on several occasions we have seen worms, cicadas, slugs and ants crawling on their three year old bodies. I encourage their interactions with the natural environment, but our yard in Costa Rica will have a greater variety of life than we see here in the suburbs, and us humans will be the visitors. Fortunately, little humans have an immense ability to respect wildlife and to learn safety procedures. Stay tuned for an update on our spider handling and snake training. Signed M 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Countdown: One More Week

A slight sense of urgency is felt in my gut. How will we get it all done in the next week? Movers arrive monday and we fly out on wednesday. Packing, documentation, charging our new walkie talkies, deciding which teaching materials and clothes to bring, and sharing hugs and final laughs with everyone. Fortunately, the boys spend creative hours inside with boxes and outside chasing each other and throwing dirt balls. They know that thing will be different in Costa Rica and they are excited about looking for new critters there. The new non-commuting Sally is sharing her energy with the boys while helping maintain balance within the household these days. I am still gathering curriculum materials, upgrading computer memory, contemplating the fate of my beer can collection, shopping car rentals in CR, and writing this blog.

Until a few days ago, I experienced the 'Oh my gosh, what are we doing' thought quickly followed by the 'Hey, we're committed now and its going to be a worthwhile adventure' response. Today, it could not feel more right. It is an opportunity that does not come around very often and lets run with it. For the past year, the major lights have been green, the children are becoming increasingly independent, and family and friends are providing tons of support. There have been many reality markers since making the decision to move: making the call to officially accept the position in Costa Rica, moving out the first truckload of furniture, signing the realtor contract, having an open house, signing the purchase agreement, our bedroom set being converted to a mattress on the floor, hearing an echo in the storage room, picnic tables gone, and in the morning, the closing on the sale of our house.  Signed M

Monday, July 20, 2009

God Speed

This past Sunday, our community church offered GodSpeed for our family and the journey we are about to take. I reflect on the prayer and the church itself as it was this church in which I joined as a single woman eight years ago, became a Deacon, married Mike six years ago, baptized our boys three years ago and now this same church sends prayers to us as we head south in just over a week.  As we land in Monteverde, I look forward to seeking out to gain a broader understanding of who the Quakers are and attend some of their meetings.  Mike also tells me there is a Catholic church in the neighboring village (Santa Elena) which we will check out as well.  A Presbyterian church (I imagine) will be hard to come by, so I look to the future as a time for spiritual exploration and new learnings.  Attending the Catholic church will provide us with a great opportunity to connect with the locals and practice our Spanish.  

I approach the continuation of my journey of faith with an open mind, a willingness and desire to educate myself and, to most of all, question, challenge and be challenged.
More to come on this one, so please check back! 
Signed: S

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Soggy Bread Crumbs

Since we will arrive in Costa Rica during the rainy season, even if we were to lay bread crumbs along our trails, they would quickly succumb to the elements and become nothing more than soggy blobs to be consumed by the many critters attempting to make a decent living. As we peruse through our belongings and decide what joins us on the trip, we learned that our leather hiking boots, so dependable on the trails here in the States will not be very practical on the muddy road through Monteverde. Their 'waterproof' status will be challenged, their low snug fit means our pant bottoms will be coated with muck, and the continued supply of H2O might even result in deterioration of its organic parts before the rainy season ends in December. 

While visiting this April, I was informed that a total of three types of footware should suffice for year round living at 4700 feet in a tropical zone. First, rugged sandals for the dry season from December through April, then, a pair of gym shoes for backup and general use, and finally a pair of tall rubber boots for keeping our feet dry and the mud at bay. We are set in the shoe category of packing. All of my shoes are the slip on type to ease transitions between the classroom, the trails and our front door. It is customary to remove dirty footware at the door as I learned at the school where many kids and teachers comfortably walked about in their socks. This seemed rather strange at first as I have always insisted that people where shoes in the science classroom. It was highlighted even more when we had an earthquake drill and we were informed to remove our socks before heading outside. Fortunately, there was no earthquake, I am now a qualified earthquake drill participant and only the soles of my feet were wet from walking on the moist grass outside.  Signed M

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Escuela de los Amigos

The Monteverde Friends School or Escuela de los Amigos will be our community center starting in two weeks. My math and science teaching will take place within its walls, our two boys will attend the preschool and Sally will likely be involved as a parent and volunteer. This private K-12 school offers a bilingual education to the local population as well as to children on long term stays from other countries. Established by Quakers, it is located about ten minutes (walking) up the dirt road from our home. 

MFS is a comparatively small school, with approximately two hundred students and twenty teachers. Its small size, its progressive philosophy, diverse student body, and location in the cloud forest are all appealing factors that helped pull us in! Many local families depend on farming or tourism for their livelihood and receive financial support to attend. As a teacher, it will be necessary to be much more resourceful at MFS then I needed to be at higher budget schools in the states. Fortunately, the area is a haven for biological research and I aim to utilize the natural environment and expertise of biologists to enhance learning experiences.

See for details and more pictures.

Its getting late, and I need to wake early to continue the purge and pack routine! More to follow. Signed M. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Life Here Is Pretty Darn Good

Beginning last summer, we mulled over options to experience life in a different way than how we had been living. It was feasible to make some changes to our current habits and daily activities, get formally involved in more community groups, take long weekend trips with the children, to name a few. Aiming for a better work/life balance, accepting the financial consequences, knowing that our professional skill sets could be transfered almost anywhere, we knew doors might open to something significant. 

Let me preface by saying that life here in the Chicago suburbs is pretty darn good. We enjoy the comforts of a safe neighborhood full of generous and friendly people. Our children have numerous opportunities to get involved in park district activities, play with the two dozen or so kids that live on our block and other close friends who live in our area. We love our family members and appreciate the geographic proximity and love given by aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. We have opportunity after opportunity to fill our days with friends, family, recreation and exploration. 

But let's face reality, sometimes people 'need a change.' Could be a change of work, hobby, relationship - or a combination of factors. You get the point. The first step is recognizing that a change might lead to increased life satisfaction.  The second step requires an assessment of options: Should I find a new job? Should I play a sport, learn to dance, try new recipes? Should I reconnect with an old friend, should I put boundaries on a relationship? Depending on the assessment, one might decide that change is too risky, too uncomfortable, or too anxiety producing. or maybe decide that it is worth the risk, leaving a comfort zone, and that the anxiety produced is positive and inspiring.  The final step is to make the choice: continue 'as is' or take action.  Seems simple, doesn't it?  

For us we have spent many a restless night wrestling with whether or not we are being selfish? are we unnecessarily uprooting our family? are we being careless about our finances? are we putting our children in a less safe situation? should we sell the house? have we fallen off of our rocker? We are fully aware that many of our current challenges related to parenting, work responsibilities and relationships will remain and that there will be new challenges as well. Signed M.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What draws me? Part II

From Sippy Cups to Petri Dishes....Another driving factor for me in making this move is the desire to live beyond my cubicle and wireless headset.  Don't get me wrong, there is a part of me that thrives on the stress of a busy work day, but I look forward to spending more time with my boys.  When we brought the boys home from Guatemala, Mike took a one-year sabbatical from teaching to be a stay-at-home dad (and yes, he has set the bar high) which allowed me to continue growing in my career.  A year turned into two and now as we celebrate their third year home next month, it is time for Mike to flourish in rediscovering his connection to science in the classroom and with the students he so enjoys.  Another baton in our three-ring circus is the one that he is passing to me as I transition into the primary care giver...Now that I am off work, truly I feel as tho I should be following Mike around with a pad and paper in hand taking down notes and tips "summer camp lunch (do's and don't pack), snack time at 3:00, bath time at 7 p.m". - okay I do exaggerate but he has it all down and I feel a little pressure to not 'erase' all the goodness he has instilled in our boys -- it so works!  
Signed: S

Living in Costa Rica: Answers to Common Questions

Many have inquired about our move and we have enjoyed having the chance to share our limited knowledge about our future life in Costa Rica. Right now, I will stick to the basics and provide answers to some common questions.

Yes, we visited Monteverde on our honeymoon trip six years ago.
Yes, both halves of our wedded partnership have been positively invested in this excursion.
Yes, our children can tell you where our new home is, but considering their age, are not fully aware of what is ahead of them. ...They should adapt just fine.
Yes, we do have running water.
Yes, we do have hot showers.
Yes, we do have internet and phone.
No, we do not need air conditioning and I do not think we have heating.
Yes, there is medical care in town and in the adjacent town. The nearest hospital is at least two hours away.
Yes, there are stores for food, clothing and any basic needs. Indicated by the little shop in the photo, we will enjoy a variety of fresh fruit.
No, there is not a Target, Walmart nor Costco.
No, we will not have a car although we might purchase a bicycle to run errands.
No, we are not shipping anything. Our two checked bags per person will have to suffice.
Yes, I have visited our future home. It is furnished and maybe a little rustic compared to the typical American house.
Yes, I will be speaking English in the classroom.
Yes, we will practice Spanish in daily interactions.
Yes, of course health and safety of our family is of paramount importance! There will be tradeoffs. More on this in the future.

Costa Rica, about the size of Illinois, is a democratic and politically stable country located in Central America, just north of Panama and a few countries south of Mexico. The language is Spanish and many Costa Ricans, speak or understand English, partly due to tourism, and an influx of retirees coming down from North America. We will be living in Monteverde, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country due to its nature preserves located up in the cloud forest. Some benefits from living at 4700 feet elevation include no mosquitos, moderate temperatures that range from 50F to 80F year round, plenty of rain to keep things green, and lots of mud to occupy our little ones as they splash and make pies.

Signed, M

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What draws me...Part 1

For me, the pull to Central America came about four years ago while Mike and I were in the throws of adopting two boys from Guatemala. Due to our schedules, we were afforded the luxury to visit Guatemala and the boys ½ dozen times within the ten month process! It is during these times when my spirit was filled up through the connections with the local people, the strong value of family, the generosity of a wonderful foster family and the gentleness of the people. I felt a calm and assuredness that I had not felt prior and a need to know and 'do' more. I am also very passionate about our family becoming fluent in Spanish and realized that immersion was the way to go.

Signed S,
more to come...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adios Corporate America

After 15+ years in Corporate America, I am leaving it all behind in two days – surely to be greeted by a whole new set of challenges…the grandest of all will likely be caring for my two 3 year olds. It is somewhat daunting to think my daily life will no longer be governed by back to back conference calls, meetings and deadlines; rather getting the kids to school, acclimating to a new country and keeping my boys minds, body and spirits active and thriving. As I pass the ‘career baton’ to my husband, I look forward to entering into this new chapter in my life where I can focus on my more creative and nurturing side opposed to the driven, competitive, process oriented part of my brain that has been in overdrive of late. Clearly it is the little bit of success that I have had in the corporate world that is now affording our family the chance to take this leap into the ‘unknown’. Tomorrow, I will turn in my laptop, security badge and board the commuter train outbound from Chicago for the last time…smiling the whole way home. Signed S

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Stuff, Stuff and More Stuff

One of the first problems I encountered when discussing our move out of the country is 'What do we do with all of our stuff?' We figured that we didn't have that much stuff, after all, our house is 'cozy' and cannot possibly contain too much stuff. Oh, the house! What do we do with the house? Find a renter? Sell it? The house is the largest item on our list of stuff, but is easy to liquidate because it is only one item. So, lets tackle the 9,999 items within the house. Our options for each and every item: keep and put in storage, take to Costa Rica, give to someone who might use it, sell at a garage sale, or throw away.  If we make decisions on 100 items a day, it will take 100 days to complete the sorting of stuff. Throw in two active children, daily responsibilities, meeting with family, friends and neighbors and the rate of sorting waxes and wanes over a period longer than 100 days. After dwelling on my associated memories with an item I then spend valuable time analyzing its best use and for whom. My more efficient Sally can clean out a closet in a shake of a lamb's tail. Over the last three months, we have given away, lent or stored car loads of stuff - furniture, clothes, toys, home decor, etc and we have car loads to go in the next two weeks. An eye-opening disproportionate share of my energy is being consumed by possessions. Do I consume or am I consumed?  I think about the time it takes for research, obtaining, cleaning, using, fixing, organizing, talking about, giving or throwing something away. It sure feels good to share, to give and to purge. Fortunately, many of our things have found wonderful homes and will be used for sleeping, sitting, eating and playing. I have to wonder what role my possessions will play in future decisions. Signed M.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"I'd like to move to a different country."

 "Mike, I need to talk to you. I need a change." Should I call my attorney? "I'd like to move to a different country." OK, Now we're talking. Six months later I accepted a teaching position in Costa Rica, and in a few weeks the house will be sold and we will be living 3000 miles south.