Sunday, August 30, 2009

Up Close and Personal with Capuchins







The last couple of days have been filled with wildlife opportunities galore. Friday, as Michael and John played at the rock-pile across from Stella’s bakery, we were beckoned by Miguel (our friend from the Hotel Bosque) to come see the white faced monkeys in action across from his reception area. He had a huge bundle of bananas with him and we hurried quickly behind him to get a glimpse of these animals. In a word…AMAZING! This troop was about 20 in size, with 3 ‘bosses’ from what Miguel tells me. Miguel extended his hand with the bananas and the monkeys came right down from the tree to snatch them out of his hand. He then proceeded to high-five one of them – awesome! He gave bananas to the boys and told them to be patient – however the monkeys weren’t sure what to make of us, so Miguel assured us that in four or five more visits, they would feel comfortable with us, make the quick descent down from the tree tops and too feed from our hands. I have never been so close to a monkey where I could actually see their face, (I mean really see it) WOW –
Unfortunately, my pics are blurry and do not do the experience justice, they move so fast it was hard to get a good photo!

The day prior, we discovered a little treasure in our extra bathroom toilet….a drowned mouse. We figure the mouse must have been thirsty, leaned in for a drink and that’s all she wrote. After talking with Mike (‘do we flush or retrieve?’ Mike decided to flush and just have it decay with all the other ‘stuff’ – pleasant!.

We found our first scorpion (albeit dead) in a kitchen cabinet….yes, inside the house. A little thing, but none the less, you really have to be ‘one’ with the bugs or you’ll never make it here!

A couple of other finds from Dad and the boys as well…caterpillars and not sure what the other creature is?

The wind was quite strong today – good for drying clothes, not so good for the stench it was blowing directly our way. As I went for a run, I left the three boys in charge of discovering just what was causing the odor and where in the world was it coming from. As I arrived back 45 minutes later, their task was done. They led me to the edge of our property and there about 100 feet away lay a dead armadillo. We are hoping the vultures circling overhead find this little treasure and do away with it pronto so we can again enjoy the fresh mountain air.

Signed: S

P.S. – As mentioned in a previous blog – the artwork (compliments of Michael and John) adorns our living room/dining room wall – we have a great little nook outside on our patio for crafts and painting – the recent paintings were done using foam cubes (I cut up a large piece of foam the boys ripped out of one of the mattresses (how’s that for resourceful)?

Cost Of Living In Costa Rica



Is the lower wage of the average worker offset by lower cost of goods and services in Costa Rica? I am not an economist, but I will attempt to give some details of costs and wages to provide a perspective on the cost of living here. Wages are certainly lower here than in the US and some things are much less expensive here, but some things here cost as much or more than in the US.

As a baseline for thoughts on income, yearly compensation for teachers, which includes a housing bonus and health insurance averages about $10,000. Many people here work ‘odd’ jobs, doing what they can to earn 1 to 3 dollars/hour. These jobs include cooking, cleaning, repairing, cutting grass, babysitting. Drivers and guides appear to earn decent wages from tourists, but even that work can be sporadic especially during this weak year for tourism. The men on the horses are off to a day of work in the forest to measure and cut wood, likely from fallen trees. This traveling sawmill is equipped with cans of gasoline, chains for maneuvering logs, chainsaws and a hearty lunch.

Now, an extensive list of items that are much less expensive here! Ready? Mangos, bananas, papaya, and pineapple. Yes, they are delicious and we buy them by the kilo but man cannot survive on juicy tropical fruit alone. Most other groceries such as dairy, grains, beans, meat, spices, condiments, toilet paper, soap, wine and beer are similarly priced as in the US. Automobiles and any foreign made appliances, electronics, etc are expensive here, as Costa Rica places high tariffs on imported goods. Gasoline costs the same here and electricity rates are similar at $0.10 kwh. Monteverde is not cheap. The American dollars brought in by tourists and the cost of transporting goods to this mountain town push prices up.

Saturday, walking to Santa Elena, we received a free ride from a neighbor to the ATM for a cash withdrawal. We purchased a hammock at a general store for $20, spent $20 at the ferria (market) for fresh produce, and $60 for groceries at Super Compro. I passed the Planters peanut butter ($3 for 15 oz) but splurged on a bag of chips ($2) a liter box of vino ($4) and cinco cervezas grandes ($8). We treated the boys to scoops of ice cream ($3) and the taxi ride back home set us back $3. During the week, we will purchase bread from the local baker couple, cheese and yogurt from the local farmer and milk from the dairy down the block for a total of $20.

If you do the math, you can see that as we consume food, food costs alone consume most of a teacher’s ‘competitive’ income. A MUCH higher percentage of income is spent on food here than in the US. How do people here keep their costs down? In general, very little meat is purchased, starches and fruit are found at every meal, and any leftovers are eaten the next day, not to spoil in the refrigerator. Since disposable income, or money left over for other things, including savings, is minimal, people just do not purchase unnecessary items. They walk almost everywhere or those with cars offer rides to others without. Private school is a luxury which few can afford, admission to museums and preserves are out of the question for most families, and attics loaded with extra stuff are non-existent.

We were informed about the local economy prior to moving here, so none of this is a surprise. Life is quite basic here and people are happy with what they have and this is part of the appeal of living here. There is still worry about income and how will one support a sick parent or put food on the table when the breadwinner loses a job. This is just a way of life here, just as there is a way of life anywhere else.

FYI
Costs of other items: 100 sheets blank paper $3
Music CD $12
Set of 12 colored pencils el cheapo $2- Rose Art $5
Glue stick $2
2G Flashdrive $30
Crockpot $40
Table Lamp $40
Restaurant dinner for family of four $35
4 ½ hour bus ride to San Jose $5
Private van to San Jose $140

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More on Sponsorship – Thanks for the Inquiries


Thank you to those of you who have expressed interest in helping fund the tuition for Loandry so he may continue to attend Kinder at La Creativa (formal name is Centro de Educación Creativa). I am enclosing the link to the school; aka The Cloud Forest School. www.cloudforestschool.org
The Cloud Forest School is twice the size of the Monteverde Friends School where Mike teaches and focuses it’s emphasis on the environment. It came about as an alternative to the Friends School as MFS has a discreet number of students…clearly the demand was greater than what the school could offer from an enrollment perspective, thus the idea for an alternative school in the area was born.

I am speechless as to the generosity and the willingness to help such a kind and gentle family. Loandry loves to play soccer and simply adores anything having to do with dinosaurs! He enjoys eating beans and rice made by his Grandmother, who raised his mom Goudy. He has a smile that can light up a room and is a wonderful playmate to our boys. They live in San Luis which is another village about 7 km from Monteverde. John and Michael get a kick out of Goudy’s motorcycle and they are quite jealous that Loandry gets to ride on back – this is their main mode of transportation!

I will call the school this week to inquire about the protocol and logistics of setting up a fund or direct deposit to the school so any transactions can be done without me as the middle-man.

The offer to help is a huge gift; and will bring hope to a family for the continued education of this little one.

More to come on this – stay tuned!

Signed: S

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Teaching at Monteverde Friends School



My first weeks have been complete with teacher orientation, boxing an abundance of mismatched texts from my shared classroom, and attempting to figure out what math curriculum needs to covered in my combined grade classes. Toting my Spanish/English dictionary everywhere, I attempt to make the most of teacher meetings that are conducted in Spanish. All school meetings are mostly English but people are free to speak in either language and someone might translate. I am the only staff member not fluent in Spanish while there are several who are not fluent in English. Most students are bilingual, except for those who have recently moved here from the States. One family just returned to Monteverde after seven years in Tanzania, so the children are re-establishing their Spanish while teaching me a few words in Swahili. Fortunately, I teach math (matematicas) and science (ciencias) in English and need to use strategies to assist second language learners.

The strength of the school community can be attributed to its small size of 114 students ranging from preschool to high school, the many related family members that study or work within its walls, involvement of parents during Thursday afternoon minicourses, daily all school meetings complete with singing “feliz compleanos” to the day’s birthday celebrant, the hour long silent meeting held each Wednesday morning, the all school cleanup each day at 2:50 PM where each and every student and teacher plays a role in cleaning the building and taking care of compost, garbage and burnable toilet paper, the multi-age soccer games that occur every recess, lunch and rain or shine, the local bread bakers or dairy farmer selling their goods each afternoon, and the smiles that accompany a ‘buenos dias’ or ‘pura vida’ or ‘good morning’ shared amongst all.

The feel and philosophy is similar to Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, except only1/8th its size and about 1/80th the budget (an estimate at this point). Overall, people here are very resourceful and purchase only what they plan to use rather than what they might use. Lights are rarely turned on even on cloudy days and computers are off when not in use. I heard that the finance committee was concerned when the electrical bill soared close to $100.00 in a month. Which brings me to another topic for another day: cost of living!

The school follows a Quaker philosophy that fosters democracy, peaceful attitudes and personal responsibility without coercion or manipulation. We are all on first name basis with each other, yes, students call me ‘Mike. Are there any challenges? Sure, one major challenge is the general lack of material resources and difficulty in shipping things to the school. I would like to add a few things to create an environment that feels more like a science lab than a regular classroom. Some of this is a space issue while some is a funding issue. Fortunately, if I am going to practice at a school with limited funds, why not do it where the personnel resources are great?

Monteverde is a haven for biological research and I am establishing relationships with local naturalists with the goal of creating better connections between the school and the local body of research. Today, a PhD candidate from the University of Washington and his assistant joined my class to share their research about local army ant colonies. Did you know that army ant colonies are nomadic? They do not dig an underground home, but bivouac into a giant ant ball when not raiding an area for tasty critters to eat. For more info about army ants, see: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/08/army-ants/moffett-text

Caio for now, Signed, M

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mom Who?... and looking for student sponsorship information?

A great start to the school week – although a very early waking at the little brown house, the boys made it to school in one piece as I kept them entertained with stories of how their mom and dad fought off a huge marshmallow eating coyote while camping (yes, I take some poetic license with my story-telling…anything to get those feet to keep moving forward on the trail!) I am finding out (being new to this whole full-time mom thing) that it is all about keeping your child engaged and inquisitive…it requires some quick thinking on my part, but all worth it.

Miss Melody met us at the front door of the classroom with a bin of tools for the sandbox out in the play-yard. “John, Michael, can you help me get these tools out to the sandbox? ” she asked. With that, they shot off around the corner, I gave a quick wave to Melody which clearly signaled the time is right to run for the hills (or the mountain in my case) – so I did and smiled the whole way home….success!

I spent the next 90 minutes back home helping Goudy, the charming gal who helps me around the house and with the kids, attempt to gather information on patrocinios or “sponsors” for her son’s education. Loandry is a ‘just’ five year old who is attending school at the other private school in Monteverde, La Creativa or “CEC”. Goudy and her husband are looking for a sponsor for Loandry so they can continue his education. The tuition is 80.000 colones per month which equates to roughly $140.00 / month and this is only for Kinder. We huddled close together over my laptop and let Google do the work for us. WOW…lots of information, but mostly on public schools or for groups of kids that cannot afford any type of schooling. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, Goudy cleans a lot of the educator’s houses and other members of the community while her husband also works. Her mother in law also contributes to the tuition by cooking meals for some of the Gringos in the community that either don’t necessarily cook or have the time to cook. Giving little Loandry a quality education is a real family commitment. I spoke to Loandry’s grandmother today and told her I would pass the word around town in hopes that her days would fill up.

If anyone has any information on how to request a sponsor/patrocinio, connections or simply wants to learn more about how you may help, please contact me by replying to this post. Although we have only known Goudy for a month, she has a huge heart and like any parent, wants the best for her child.

I again hiked into Santa Elena today for some bananas as I am on task to bring the ‘shared snack’ tomorrow for the Kinder class. On the menu, bananas, mango and papaya pancakes (home-made by Mike) with Guava marmalade. I raced home to gather the boys by 3 p.m.. Melody tells me they both had a great day and boy that made me breathe a huge sigh of relief. The boys and I hung around the school until 5 p.m. when Mike’s staff meeting concluded – we spent time on the playground and doing experiments with a poor little caterpillar to see what it liked most to eat (choices from under the picnic table included (a kernal of popcorn, leaves, grasses or a piece of watermelon from the compost pile)…none of the above ranked high on its list. This lil creature kept us engaged for an hour until Genna (a new teacher) emerged from her classroom with a book and read to the boys for 15 minutes. It was delightful to watch – not sure who had more fun!

On my way out, I made a date with a gal (Marta) who cleans the school a couple days a week – next Tuesday, my house, to make banana bread; apparently she has a great recipe!

All for now -
Signed: S

Zenith Day

Wednesday, August 26th is Zenith day in Monteverde. At 11:41 AM, the sun will pass directly overhead and I should not cast much of a shadow. Significance you ask? In the United States, we always think of the sun as being to the south, because it is there for most of each day throughout the year. Costa Rica is below the Tropic of Cancer, so the sun is in the northern sky for part of the year, from mid April to late August, and then travels lower in the southern sky until the Winter Solstice in December. So does that make the fallacy that moss only grows on the north side of a tree even more of a fallacy in Costa Rica?

I have usually felt confident with my navigational skills and using the sun as a daytime guide, could easily find the four cardinal directions: N,E,S &W. Navigating in Costa Rica has been somewhat more challenging because the sun is so high in the sky, it is difficult to find north, we are surrounded by trees, there are no straight streets set on a giant grid (Chicago) and there is no Lake Michigan to the east. (Chicago)

One other practical thing I observed about the sun’s position in the sky is the disproportionate time it takes for laundry to dry. On most mornings, we do have a few hours of sunlight. Despite the humidity, which really subsides on sunny days, why does it take so long for clothes hanging on the line to dry under this intense tropical sun? If you have an answer, please let us know your thoughts! Hint: Zenith Day might not be the best day for hanging laundry. Signed M

Monday, August 24, 2009

Poco a Poco







Little by Little indeed!
Friday was a tough day, I knew the minute our feet hit the trail to the school that it was going to be a challenging afternoon. As I escorted the boys into their classroom, Michael had a strong hold on my legs…John followed suit which was uncharacteristic for him…’monkey see, monkey do’ perhaps. After 30 minutes of trying to get the boys comfortable so I could slip out, we decided that best if I ask for help from the teachers and leave it with them. Not a pretty site as I left (Mike could here the well-known scream of John from his classroom just across the patio and upstairs, talk about a concentration buster!). Michael settled down quickly with a book, John however fell asleep after about 20 minutes of screaming. I found him fast asleep still on some pillows when I returned several hours later to collect them. Miss Melody and Miss Elioth assured me that it is a process and it will take time for the boys to adjust (little by little) – clearly they are needing a nap in the afternoon (which they are not getting as school begins at noon), especially since we are all rising at 5 or 5:30 a.m. Miss Melody shared with me that they may have the kids start out in the play-yard this coming week which will be more of a diversion then having the parents escort them into the classroom. I can now understand why the teachers at Seton Montessori in CH met the child at the car and requested that the parents not get out of their vehicles. As Miss Elioth reminded me….poco a poco! Bless the teachers!

We received the packages from my mom and dad Friday – so it is about an 8 day journey to send something from the states (not too bad). I actually saw the packages in route as I was walking the kids that morning – a motorcycle with three packages on the back (I thought to myself, could this be our packages?). The boys were so excited to receive packages that they carried them all the way home from school and busted them open as soon as we set foot in the house. Happily, the tree swing is back up – and holding strong. The peanut butter granola bars; a huge hit and we’ve already broken in the Old Maid, Matching game and Go Fish Cards 100 times over. Thanks Pop and Chop!

Friday night it was off to La Colina Lodge for a dinner with other members from the community. It was a great night, delicious food and AH, a nice cold margarita to boot! The kids had fun with the other little ones watching TV in the lobby (first in a month) and chasing the 40+ animals. The boys thought it a real adventure walking home at 8 p.m. in total darkness only to the light of our two flashlights. The darkness here is like no where else…black as black can be.

Up early on Saturday and at the Farmers Market by 8 a.m. A delightful couple from Vermont was kind enough to lift us to the market – they have been here for 7 years, and are in the process of buildng a house. Their initial thought was to visit for several months... years later here they still are….apparently this place gets under your skin.

We had a very impromptu dinner with our neighbors (the School director, his wife and little girl) – It was nice to connect and to get to know them better…a very peaceful / gentle couple The boys were very rambunctious and unfortunately saw the inside of their bedrooms a couple of times that night.

We attended an afternoon tea on Sunday at school given by the boy’s teachers – it was a nice event where we were able to learn more about the structure of the classroom, their methods and to meet the other students and their families. Each family was asked to bring a snack / drink to pass – lots of yummie treats to fuel the boys for the afternoon. I was simply proud that I understood the entire presentation and enjoyed talking afterward with some of the parents. The boys got into an impromptu game of soccer in the play-yard. I am hopeful that this coming week will be less of a challenge for the boys and that they will want me to get out of their hair so they can settle into their class and get down to business. I think the Sunday get-together helped build confidence and forge relationships with their teachers. A very peaceful and calming place. It is so nice to have time to visit and converse and not be 'by the clock', continually checking calendars or blackberries to see what's next on the To Do List. Everyone continues to be very welcoming.

I continue to enjoy my hour of running and sacrifice fashion as is quite evident in this lovely pic! An old sheet ripped by yours truly to keep the sweat out of my eyes. One plus on living here is that I have not worn a stitch of make-up in a month – so I am sure the little I brought with me will expire before I break it out! Although I do continue to shave my legs – there are a few things I just can’t part with yet.

For those of you that think you shouldn't save your zip lock bags...you really should. Zip lock bags and any bag for that matter are real treasures here. I now wash them out and hang them up with the laundry to dry outside. re-use..re-use...re-use. Most, if not all products we've purchased, for example, coffee, cereal come in bags with no re-seal ability (and tear all the way down when trying to open) so we re-use any bag that can hold up to the wash and rewash and the outside elements.

Signed: S

Saturday, August 22, 2009

National Healthcare

Except for the little guy’s fear of more pain, everything went quite smoothly. No paperwork, no bill, not even a signature nor proof of ID! Children are automatically covered in the health care system. Period.

The other afternoon, we had our first experience with the local health care system. One of our boys had fallen and received a gash in his forehead. It was late in the evening and we patched him up as well as we could, not wanting to deal with a new medical system the hour that we all needed to get to bed. Concerned about infection and scarring, we brought him to the clinic in nearby Santa Elena the following afternoon. A word about our transportation: After twenty minutes of walking along the road looking for a taxi or bus to flag down, a kind neighbor stopped and offered us a ride. He cleared room in his car, and stayed with us the entire time helping with translation and making sure we made it home.

We walked into the clinic about 4:03 and left the building at 4:23. In that span of twenty minutes, we walked directly to the emergency window, answered questions, and followed the nurse with our frightened child to the exam room. The doctor gently cleaned, examined and repatched the wound without stitches while the patient gathered his bravery. She provided a cleaning solution and sent us on our way. Of course, we stopped at the window to inquire about paperwork and the nurse informed us that we were finished and “que tenga un buena noche” (have a good evening.)
Signed: M

Thursday, August 20, 2009

School - Outside looking In

When I picked up the boys from school the first day and emerged from the wooded path, I saw a sight I've never seen before in the U.S. (although I am sure it exists). It was completely foreign to me, so I am sure i looked a little 'deer in the headlights', but nonetheless, it was refreshing. Brooms, brooms and more brooms, kids sweeping up the front of the school, emptying trash, composting, etc., at the end of each day. Now - that is a great way to teach accountability and responsibility not to mention keeping the maintenance and clean-up costs of the school to a minimum. It is quite a social scene when the bell rings - kids head to the play-yard, the local farmer may be taking orders or dropping off dairy goods from their farm or some transplants from Argentina selling home-made breads and sweets. A flurry of activity...you can only imagine what it is like inside the classroom.

Yesterday when I dropped the boys off for their second day, I ended up staying around for about 40 minutes as Michael had quite a hold on me...I think he was a little apprehensive and insecure coming out of the clinic the night before. The teachers gave him extra TLC and once they mentioned celebrating a birthday with cake, that's all it took for Michael to let me loose. I was able to observe the teachers in action and the Spanish is full throttle forward. During 'circle time', I was happy that I could at least sing along with the select song...'Buenas Tardes, buenas tardes, como estas....' I come to find out tonight at the dinner table that Michael helped clean the chalk board and John watered the plants outside. It is like pulling teeth sometimes to get any information about school from a three year old! They have met all their classmates and have already formed a boy-bond with Jackson, another very active little one.

The kinder teachers are hosting a Sunday tea where they will share their teaching philosophy (Montessori) and give the parents and children a chance to meet and interact....looking forward to it. I have met many families walking to school on the way to drop or pick up the boys...all with very interesting stories as to how they have come to know Monteverde.

Mike attended a meeting tonight at the school for new teachers, parents, sort of an orientation...pot-luck dinner afterwards. I stayed home with the kids as we could not get a sitter and thought since the meeting coincides with the bewitching hour, no naps and already up for 12 hours, better to stay home than to trudge through the pouring rain. I walked into Santa Elena today to get some ingredients at the Super Compro to make a beet salad for the pot-luck. Santa Elena is a grueling walk on the return trip...and I thought I was in shape????

We are watching the Director's dog as he and his wife had to go down to San Jose unexpectedly today...the boys are enjoying Ellie, not so sure Ellie is enjoying all the attention from them though :)

Watching the boys is constant chore (I mean joy), with no TV or fenced yard to send them off to, you always have to keep one eye on them or an open ear. Couple this with the daily chores - no wonder why I am passed out by 8 p.m.

Looking forward to another weekend and opportunity to expand our social network.

BTW - It is 8:30 PM, pouring rain and we hear a very boisterous howler monkey outside and much closer to home, one of the many dogs who hang out here (there are upwards of 1/2 dozen)...this one we have affectionately named "Limper" as he is an old, (I think relatively harmless) dog with a bum leg and no tail. He is scratching at the door and frequently wakes us up at 4:30 a.m. with his whining. He sits on the bench outside our bedroom window and stares at us through the window with a very forlorn look; it breaks our heart but we have decided not to get in the boarding business! Sorry Limper -

Signed: S

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First Day of School with Bandage to Boot









Here I sit on the porch crafting this post (sun shining and brilliant blue sky again…for now) – a memorable day as I sent my three boys off to their first day of classes at the Monteverde Friends School. Mike strolled through the pasture about 7:15 a.m. and the boys about 11:30. We enjoyed visiting with the horses in the pasture over the weekend as they ate constantly for three days straight. Back at home by 12:10, I’ve already done the laundry, swept, done the morning dishes, translated the letter from School for everything I need to know about Kinder...and now a moment for myself to think about all the change this family has undertaken. It is almost surreal to think that we are here, experiencing very similar tasks and daily activities….just in a different way.

After spending a couple of hours in the classroom over this past weekend, Mike is no doubt, ready to WOW his students with his special gifts and talents. John and Michael stepped right into their class at noon today; a kiss and hug for mom, and off they went to join the others in a circle. They will be exposed to lots of Spanish as the teachers have structured the weeks as; one week English, and the next week in Spanish. My boys will be rolling their double r’s in no time for sure. Mom still needs some help with that!

We had a little scare last night about 7 p.m. – the boys were rough-housing on our bed and all of a sudden, Michael took a tumble and all I could see was blood all over this face. It is a little frightening to know that there is not a hospital nearby and that the clinic in Santa Elena may not be staffed 24X7. NOTE TO SELF: We need to confirm and post some emergency phone numbers on the fridge…just like in CH. We quickly applied a compress and reached for our trusty first-aid kit. We patched him up good and all was well until 10 this morning, when John and Michael got into it again and WHAP, John gave Michael a slap (of course right on the bandage which is so prominently displayed on his forehead) and then Doctor Mom had to spring into action. Luckily blood wipes right up off a concrete floor. Michael is a trooper and after a second round of nurse-maiding, off we went to school...none the worse. We are uncertain if he needs stitches, likely not, but will probably have a scar no doubt in the middle of his forehead. We need to keep brother John at bay for a couple of days :) No running 5 minutes up the street to the Hinsdale emergency room last night. Pictures to follow as Mike has the camera at school today. Goudy came at 7 a.m. for two hours this morning to help me with the boys and to again give us another dose of Spanish. What a God send she is and so great with the kids.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, so there was no school, we ventured out in the a.m. to the pig farm down the road but all the pigs were inside so no sightings; although we enjoyed bird watching and chatting with other visitors along our way. In the late afternoon, we ventured to Santa Elena to grocery shop and seek out a hammock for our front porch. We had our full rain garb on and trecked only a ½ mile before we flagged down the last bus coming down from the Cloud Forest Reserve.

Sunday we met a fellow who owns a hotel just up the road. It is a charming place with a lovely view. He and his wife, along with their two kids purchased the hotel about six years ago after fleeing from LA. A very interesting guy…they have over 40 animals at their place, including a goat and a tarantula. He is serving a dinner (all in the community welcome) at their restaurant this Friday, which we have on our calendar…should be a lot of fun.

Saturday we loaded up on fruits and veggies at the Farmers Market...YUM. John enjoyed a ride on the merry-go-round.

I have enjoyed my runs each morning the last few days up to the Cloud Forest and back, about 5 km round trip. All up hill on the way up, so my lungs are still adjusting to the altitude…the hour I spend does wonders for my spirit and my soul, not so great for my 45 year old knees though ☺

I will close this for today, as I will spend this next hour before getting the kiddies on looking for work. I am wanting to do some consulting (perhaps 10 to 15 hours a week) and will start to pull up my network of friends and co-workers from the past to see if I can make some connections.

P.S. - We did take Michael to the clinic in Santa Elena after school today. The son of one of the long time residents (transplants from NY) gave us a ride, helped us out during checkin and drove us home. What a nice community, always willing to help and lend a helping hand. No stitches, just a butterfly bandage so all is truly well. Entire time spent at the clinic....about 20 minutes...now that's service!
Signed: S

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Shipping to Costa Rica

Everything you ever wanted to know about Shipping and more...

Some friends and family have inquired about how to ship things to us. So, here is our attempt to share what we’ve learned. My mom and dad shipped an envelope early last week so we are all anxiously awaiting its arrival so we can use it as a ‘benchmark’. In it, is the most important thing of all --- a heavy-duty rope (that we just can’t find here) to repair the tree swing….of course.

This is the information we have as of today, August 16th:
Sending envelopes is the way to go. Anything in a box is likely to get stopped at Customs either in San Jose or in some port town and if that happens, we would have to make the 3 to 5 hour trip down the mountain to claim our package and hope that all is still intact. If sending anything by envelope, be sure to include a Customs Declaration Form on the outside which you can get at any post office. Do not have packages mailed DHL or FEDEX as they usually get caught in customs.

We will continue to ask others/business owners how they receive their packages….obviously these folks receive boxes of goods, just not sure how it works with transportation up the mountain.

Anything shipped should be sent to Mike at the following:
Michael Schaefer
Escuela de los amigos Monteverde
300 metros sur de la fabrica de quesos
Monteverde, Puntarenas 5655
Costa Rica

Phone if needed 506 2 645 5530

With the school year kicking off this Tuesday, as Mike gets more into his practice, he will have a better idea of particular needs within the school. When MFS teachers know of an American coming to CR for a visit, they order materials and have them shipped to the US address asking the visitor to carry it down. The school’s resources are only a fraction of what would be expected at a typical US school and it looks like he will have to be very resourceful as he gets started.
Signed: S

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good Day...Sunshine





First, let me respond to a comment from Yesi (one of our followers).
We did not ship anything - the school provides us with a home which is furnished (albeit rustically at best). We regret not packing our good knife set and had to purchase a new knife (single) when we arrived as the one in our kitchen looked like it not only cut veggies, chicken, fruit, etc., but also served as a hack saw and a tool to chop firewood:).
The furnishings in our house are old and outdated, concrete floor, towels that can double as loofah sponges and a coffee maker that just doesn't heat up the coffee enough to our liking, so we start by boiling water on the stove before pouring it into the coffee maker...perhaps we just need to go with the coffee sock that was left behind. We have entertained purchasing a dryer since the laundry for a family of four is quite a task; however with three straight days of brilliant sun we may defer. As long as the sun shines and you keep one eye on the weather, I think you'll be okay. We saw a new dryer in Santa Elena for about $400 US dollars...not sure what your quote is for shipping. Also, the hardware stores are hit or miss but this may because of our location in the mountains. I believe most people from here go into San Jose for the day/weekend to do some special shopping. There are only two 'real' mattresses in the house --- the others are foam along with pillows...no wonder why we are up at 3 a.m. every day??? We did bring sheets for the boys beds - thinking it would be a comfort thing for them, but now wish I had brought my own sheets and pillows...we are making due. One last thing...the washing machine is a two step process, one side for washing and rinsing and then a second bin for spinning, there is a drain lever that controls when to empty to the dirty water... One of the things I would recommend doing is getting all your dr. appointments taken care of...and we were able to get a year's supply of any maintenance type prescriptions which is one less thing to worry about. Let me know if you have any other questions....

Today was another beautiful sunny day, I think the third in a row. I am getting spoiled and will have a dose of reality once the real rainy season starts next month. Another busy day, the boys were out of sorts today in the evening...no naps which is difficult as they are probably expending double (if not triple the energy) than in Chicago. Not to mention the increase in their appetites. They are putting away three times as much food as they were last month as well. By 7 a.m., I had hung laundry, boiled pasta for lunch, cut up mango and tomatoes only to have the boys consume 1/2 the pasta by 8 a.m. - What is that saying...growing boys?

Goudy and Loandry came today, and I spent three solid hours with her talking Spanish as the boys played. The boys are feeling more comfortable with Loandry and they are having fun playing in the trees and eating lolly-pops together. The boys are warming up to Goudy as she really has a sweet way with them. I had to run a passport up to school today which was a good test as I left Goudy in charge - the house was still standing when I returned and no war wounds either...so they survived without me for 20 minutes.

Yesterday, we walked up to school and played at the playground only to be called into the multi-purpose room to watch one of the high-school kids teach the Marenge (sp) to all the teachers. The student, Randy, is the friend of Doug and Annette Barndt who are college friends from Lenoir Rhyne. Mike strutted his stuff on the dance floor while the boys and I looked on.

I am tired tonight and will close in an attempt to get some quality sleep.
Hasta Luego,
Signed: S

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Racoons, Parties, Hikes & Laughter

By the time I returned home from the party last nite, all I wanted to do was hit the hay…so this post is a day delayed. A beautiful day yesterday….the best one yet. Brilliant blue sky and no rain until after 5 p.m. – In a world “Delightful”.

Early in the a.m, we headed to Casem Coop which is just down the road from us. It is a shop that sells art, jewelry, etc and I think is run by a group of women. It is the rock pile just in front of Casem that attracts the boys. Casem sits across from Stella’s Bakery and Meg’s Stables. Both of which have mention in this blog. As we played in the rock pile, Miguel (a young man) beckoned us over to the entrance of his hotel (Hotel Bosque) as he wanted to point out the Quetzals – apparently there were three sets of these beautiful birds earlier in the morning perched high in trees, but after several calls to attract them, we moved on. Miguel guided us down the path to peek at the two baby raccoons which Bodie (the dog) quickly chased but came back empty handed. We wandered around the hotel grounds and looked at the butterflies, flowers and the quaint little cabinas. “Hey – want to check out a 300 year old strangler fig tree? Miguel said very enthusiastically – “por supuesto” we replied, and off into the woods we went, following yet another trail. This tree was enormous and powerful and commanded the entire forest. Mike will surely be jealous that he missed this masterpiece. We headed back home and bid Miguel an “adios” before moving onto our next adventure. A quick popsicle to refuel and we were off into the woods again to hike the same trail that started just beyond Bromelias. After a few wrong turns, mom got us back on the right trail, through Stella’s patio and onto the long descent of moss covered stairs. The trail ends at Meg’s stable where we spied Meg, of course, lunching over a stove with her husband, friend and mother “Stella” (which I surmise the bakery is name after) roasting hot dogs and cracking open an Imperial Beer. I bravely asked “Meg, can we cut through your garage and interrupt your lunch?” She gestured us forward and introduced us to her mom (Stella) who lives in the house above all those stairs. Meg said she was by our house earlier to drop off a choir practice schedule as they are eager to recruit singers for their Christmas concert….after some chit-chat and talk of politics and the state of affairs, we quickly bid them good-bye as we were to meet Goudy and her son at noon back at the house so she could finish cleaning the windows. Her son, Loandry was full of energy today so the three of the boys played well together. Loandry attends the other school in town “La Creativa” which I need to further investigate myself – apparently it is well respected as well in the community.

Shortly thereafter, a mom and a little toe-headed girl came bursting through the pasture….It was Kath (who I had met the second day here) and her little 4 year old daughter, Amily. They had heard us playing on their way back from school and decided to check out where all the ruckus was coming from. Kath and her family are from the UK and have been in CR for a couple of years. After spending six years in Spain, they are enjoying Monteverde. She translates documents over the internet (she is fluent in three languages) and her husband also works over the web. I need to do further investigation into some part-time work as I am pleasantly surprised by the speed and stability of the internet here at the house. As I settle in and establish a routine when the kids are in school, I would entertain doing some consulting from home. The four kids played for hours together and re-energized themselves with popsicles and brownies.

The evening was spent with all the teachers at John and Adrienne’s house just down the hill from our house. They hosted a dinner where everyone had a chance to learn how to cook authentic Costa Rican cuisine. It was delicious and inspiring at the same time. All the teachers are very engaging, enthusiastic and have a zest for sharing their gifts and collaborating with the community. I had a chance to chat with Melody (the boy’s teacher) and learn more about her experience and structure of the class and schedule. The boys start on Tuesday – I for one can’t wait.

Finally, I am glad others are finding my postings helpful. The gal that commented yeserday (Yesi) – I would be happy to answer any specific questions you may have as you prepare to transition into the San Ramon area. Feel free to post in comments or we can connect through private email.

Wednesday morning – I steal these few minutes while the boys are in the back room making a fort under the bed. It is these rare moments when I can tickle the keys on the keyboard and recount the ‘goings-on’ of the day.
Signed: S

Monday, August 10, 2009

Diversity Abundant Today








Early wake up and the boys were raring to go and out on the patio exploring by 6:30 a.m. They got up close and too personal with a plant with an orange flower and then the itching began. Benedryl was handy, so they both got a healthy swig of that and then into the shower to scrub down. Itching subsided quickly --- needless to say, they will stay clear of that flower surely in the days to come.

7:30 a.m. found us making popsicles – Mike was forward thinking when he packed the popsicle kit. We used fruit we had purchased from the farmer’s market (mangos, papaya and watermelon). The boys had a great time guiding me through the process as Dad spent lots of time back in Chicago making smoothies with them. In the freezer by 8:00 a.m. and we were off and running. There is a decent blender at the house, so no mashing or stirring required. What I did not count on was the novelty of making them – the boys must have opened up the freezer 20 times checking to see if the mush had frozen. Todavia No! – not yet!

By 8:30, Goudy and O’deilla stopped by to say hello and I confirmed with Goudy that I could use her help at 10 this morning after she finishes across the field with our neighbors. Goudy is a very vivacious young gal, full of life and one that likes to talk (which is great, as I got 4 hours of Spanish with her today as she cleaned all the windows in the house (there are many, so I welcomed her help). The boys enjoyed her animation and gentleness and wanted her close as they snuggled in mom and dad’s bed while she was over us reaching high for those windows. I broke into my story telling and by the end of the first one, Michael had asked her to rub his ear and John was clinging tight to her. I had fun recounting scary stories, both in Spanish and then restating in English. Goudy will tackle the outside of the windows tomorrow…I’ll await her visit.

Attention Auntie Beth - Happy to report that the fire pit is now completed. While John napped, Michael and I wandered past Bromelias and gathered the remaining stones to line the fire pit. Mission accomplished, now all we need is the marshmallows!

Shortly after John awoke, two energetic boys poked their heads through our dutch-door (hey there, are your boys up for a game of soccer?) . We quickly got a lesson in the game, as Kyle is quite an expert at only 8 years of age. Unfortunately, John, Michael and I got creamed, but it was great fun. Interrupted by a phone call - I would soon be greeted by another neighbor lady who had baked brownies and would be making the trek through the pasture shortly to deliver them to our doorstep. She is a dear elderly lady which I would like to get to know better. The boys eyes brightened with the site of treats, so in we went for a quick snack before we resumed our game. I am thrilled that the boys are meeting some playmates (some older and some younger, some bi-lingual, some not (solo espanol). Kyle seems wise beyond his years, with confidence oozing out from the inside. He attends the Friends School so likely we will see more of him. As we await sturdy rope from the U.S. to repair our tree swing, Kyle quickly improvised - moving a stump so the boys could still swing (relatively safe for now)

Mike returned from school about 5 p.m. with fresh milk, yogurt and cheeses from the Guindon farm which he ordered at the Quaker meeting yesterday. We enjoyed the cheeses tonight at dinner.

Tomorrow, more of the same? Would we be so lucky?
P.S. - Eddie - the boys enjoyed a lolly pop from the stash you told us to pack away in our luggage...they screamed your name when I presented a choice of green vs. red - Green won out today!
Signed: S

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sleep - Here's hoping it happens tonight

After almost two weeks of no contact with our family back home in the States, we finally put our Skype account to work today with a call home to Mike's mom and my folks. It was wonderful to hear familiar voices and to have the boys huddled around the computer shouting 'we miss you and love you'. Perhaps Sunday will be our day to connect with family and friends.

Today was a tough one...I don't even know what time we awoke...everyone ended up in our bed this morning..totally doable in our king-size mattress back in Chicago, but the full mattress here in MV, leaves little room to even breathe when you have two additional three years olds in it. Needless to say, we all woke up cranky and 'needy'. Looking on the bright side, my arm muscles are getting a work out as both boys want to be held and carried when they are tired and cranky. We had hoped to attend the Catholic service in Santa Elena this morning, but with the lack of sleep, Mike ended up going to the Quaker meeting and I stayed home with the boys. Finally, both went down for a two hour plus nap which afforded Mike and I a chance to clean the kitchen. The contact paper on the shelves have been there no doubt for years and, after asking Mike whether I should peal it off or clean it, he promptly said, 'clean it, as you don't know what you'll find when you peel it off'. YUCK. We were able to salvage some old bins that the previous tenants had stacked up by the laundry area. John helped early in the a.m. to clean them out and we have already put them to use in the kitchen, laundry area and will have some left over to store and organize the boy's crafts. How's that for resourceful.
I actually took 1/2 hour to myself - got reacquainted with my IPOD and took a run/walk up toward the Cloud Forest Reserve. First music I had listened to in two weeks...music to my ears. My eyes were glued to the road and I didn't want to end up with a sprained ankle...the roads are a mix of dirt, mud and rocks, boulders that are embedded - so running may not paint an accurate picture, more like and 'obstacle course workout'. Mike took the boys out for a late afternoon hike while I finished cleaning. A late dinner and then games with the kids....tonight on the game menu - SIMON SAYS and CHARADES. It was great fun. The TV is not missed at all and the pure and minimalistic way of living leaves it open for making your own entertainment - engaging in your relationships rather than disengaging and sitting in front of the box.

Another week is starting...final week for Mike's orientation and then school begins the following. The boys will start then as well. My work back in Chicago is a distant memory...how did I do it? Working long hours, til midnight most nights, on the weekends...the priorities shift and now it is time to focus on my family and my boys. It is late, we all need some sleep so we can have four refreshed and happy creatures, as 5 a.m. wake ups from the roosters come mighty early.
Signed: S

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chores, Chores and more Chores




Today was a beautiful day; no rain until late in the afternoon so any day when we can fold completely dry laundry…is a good day in my book. The most eye opening revelation for me is the amount of time spent on chores, whether it be sweeping the concrete floor, doing dishes by hand or doing/hanging laundry. Yesterday I swept the kitchen and living area at least six times, mostly because the boys are messy eaters and any crumb left unswept is an open invitation for our four, six, eight legged friends. I am still getting use to the little ‘land shrimp’ that visit late in the evening in the kitchen…they are small critters and they hop, they must have a short lifespan as they are expired by the time morning light hits. Part of my morning routine is to just sweep them onto the patio and out onto the grass. The laundry keeps me close to the house as I don’t dare leave it unattended for fear that the rains will come and set me back 24 hours…it really is a game…laundry that is. Early this week I hung and re-hung the same clothes over ½ dozen times in one day (lines out in the sun, vs. lines under the overhang)…It is interesting how my frustrations and hot buttons have shifted…most of my frustrations two months ago centered around missing deadlines at work and stress of client satisfaction--now much of my angst is centered around the exhaustive task of laundry!

I am happy to report that Mike and Michael survived their shower…a little touch and go as we started to smell burning plastic and looked up to see the smoke coming from the half way exposed electrical wires (YIKES). After mentioning this to Risa, she replied “oh ya that happens, you may want to talk to the school about that one). Mental note….everyone to shower in mom and dad’s bathroom from here on out!

We headed to the farmer’s market again today and were lucky to have been offered a ride (early in our journey into Santa Elena) by two American women from Portland who have settled here and now call MV home for the past three years. We stocked up on produce and ran into some other teachers who had transportation, so again, scored a ride home. We enjoyed the mariachi band while surveying the produce and chatting with the local farmers. The boy’s behavior is so much improved (really Auntie B) staying close to mom and dad – we hope we are redeeming ourselves at the local Supermercado after the havoc we wreaked during our first trip (chalk it up to transition)! The Tico kids seem very well behaved, always holding the hand of a parent and just overall very respectful. We then hiked a trail to the Dairy where we enjoyed ice cream and replenished our milk supply. We were eager to show Dad the trail I had hiked with the kids earlier in the week, so we headed to the children’s rainforest where we enjoyed the nature center activities and getting up close and personal with a coati. Home for a quick game of WAR, an early dinner and bedtime for the boys. The biggest surprise/pleasure of the day came when Michael stated he was done with dinner, promptly got up, hung up his bib on the back of his chair (we use old bibs instead of napkins) and took his plate, cup and silverware right to the sink…with no prompting)...AH, YES VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chronicles of our first week in Monteverde










Thanks to all for hangin' in there with us….we are struggling to get our 128 KB internet connection hooked up here at the house and hope to have success tomorrow with a visit from the local communications / utility company. Hit or miss connection at Mike’s school and little time to trek the short distance to an internet café down the street is an obvious challenge for us in trying to keep the blog clean and fresh….appreciate your patience.

Now that we have been here over a week, we are trying to establish some semblance of normalcy, routines and family ground rules for the boys. The boys are doing great and show little to no sign of major stress with the move. We continue to talk about family, friends and of course, the little green house on Tuttle Ave.

Here are some of my random thoughts and a ‘brain dump’ (in no particular order) of what has been keeping us busy here south of the border.
Last Saturday, we drove to the market in Santa Elena, assisted by our neighbor Adrienne, purchased 20lbs of produce for ten dollars. The market is held in the gym of the public high school and offers all wares, music and opportunites to practice our Spanish. The boys found their new favorite snack, leche nuts’!

We also set out to hike a trail which started just behind our house that Mike thought would lead us to the Dairy, but the thickly forested winding path led us in the opposite direction, up and down hills and to the home of Anna and her baby and then beyond to Stella’s bakery. Anna was kind enough to guide us back to the trail (As her baby crawled outside on a blanket, Anna continued holding the bowl and stirring whatever it was she was in the middle of cooking while guiding us past her patio, through her neighbors garden, under a trellis and then finally, to the stairs that she had described. Apparently it is not uncommon to have trails wind through private property. We were greeted by hundreds of moss covered stairs that led us through lush forests….very cool!


On Sunday, we all walked to school so Mike could attend the Quaker meeting and after, share in the pot-luck. Everyone brings a dish to share and is responsible for toting their own plates, silver-ware and napkins. Beth and I watched the kids in the school playground until the meeting concluded, then we all ate and mingled with others from the community.

The hike to the school is quite manageable from our home…about 20 minutes with the boys and it is more of an adventure through the woods, over bridges and waterfalls and finally through a spot frequented by bird-watchers, with a last chance to snatch a ripened raspberry before finding yourself at the school entrance. On the walk home, we stopped at the dairy to enjoy ice cream, buy fresh milk and yogurt.

In the afternoon, we drove to the Cloud Forest Reserve and watched the numerous hummingbirds as the boys practiced their photography skills. From there, we went on a very adventurous ride, especially driving stick shift, down to San Luis, a spectacular ride with views unlike no other. We spied a waterfall off in the distance and had ambitions of reaching it….would the rental SUV get us there? We came to a river which had washed out part of the road and after getting out and surveying whether we should carry on, decided to go for it…only to be greeted by a sign “See Miguel to pay for access to the waterfall”. Dusk was upon us, so we decided to head back for the day and save our chat with Miguel for another day. It was another harrowing ride uphill towards home as we smelled the taxed transmission of the rental (yet again).

Monday (Auntie Beth returns to Chicago and we head towards San Jose to meet up with the other new teachers for finger printing and work visas.) Down the mountain we drove, making a day of it…deciding to head for the beach. We drove to Jaco beach, giving a local (Dennis, a deacon from Lindora) a ride part of the way. Oh if I had a dime for each time we got lost – Mike earned his first speeding ticket, but the Officer must have taken pity on us as he waived one of the other ‘violations’ . The kids had a great time at the beach…what a difference in temperature…glad we are in the mountains with the more temperate climate. We finally arrived back in Allejuela where we would spend the night before meeting up with the other new teachers early that next morning. We stayed at a very quaint villa, Villa Pacande which we highly recommend. It is nestled just outside of the village proper and is a great stopping point after a long day of travel before heading up the mountain. Our boys played with little Sebastion (the little nephew of the owner), Bruno the dog, picked limes and oranges and received the loving attention given by so many adults in Costa Rica. Beth and I were grateful to sleep on ‘real’ mattresses, and feel the tile floor beneath our feet rather than the concrete floor we are already accustomed to at our new home. We are grateful for Auntie Beth’s visit and all of her help in easing our transition…we miss her terribly already.

The next morning was a full one, we met the two new teachers who would make the trip back up to the mountain with us after spending half the day in San Jose applying for visas. Virginia and Tedi, both very nice, fluent in Spanish and very patient with our little ones. Our boys did well and asked why they could not get finger-printed as well. Needless to say, they slept the majority of the hike back up the mountain which was a good thing for all.

Mike, me and the boys, along with the other new teachers received a nice orientation on Wednesday by Risa, the school’s Assistant Director. We now know where the hardware store is, how to establish a bank account and her favorite lunch spot.. We had our first experience on the local bus which got us from our house to the center of town in Santa Elena. We took advantage of loading up on groceries while in town and am happy to report that the boys were well behaved as they are getting use to having to hold hands everywhere we go in public…even in the grocery store.


Thursday: Mike’s first full day of school responsibilities….will Sally survive a full day with the kids? Happily the answer is YES. Mike had a great day and said that all the meetings were conducted in Spanish which will afford him the chance to tune his ear and become a better communicator. I took the boys down through the pasture, across the street and into the Eternal Rainforest for Children and for a hike on the Bajos de Tigre trail. We spent three hours there…they have a great little nature center with activities for the kids. The boys were consumed with catching butterflies for the first hour at the entrance to the trail. All types of butterflies…any color, shape, size…simply amazing. The boys are certainly appreciating the wildlife and I continue to stress respect, not only for human kind, but also all creatures within the forest. I spied a family of white faced monkeys up in the trees only minutes into our hike, the kids were amazed and we considered ourselves lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. I, myself, am grateful that I did not get the family lost as I’ve always relied on Mike to navigate the trail maps. The afternoon was spent doing crafts (we are decorating the house with the kid’s artwork – which is certainly a cheaper décor option than what had adorned our walls in Chicago). Finally, our neighbor introduced us to a local gal (Goudy and her 5 year old son) who will assist them with their little one. We will also have Goudy come in a couple of times a week to help us. It will give me a chance to practice my Spanish, learn more about the Costa Rican culture, allow me to run out to do errands, etc. and have help with the laundry which is all consuming.

Each day begins between five and six in the morning and ends while we all fall asleep reading bedtime stories in the evening. Living close to the equator, there is not as much variation in time of sunrise and sunset as we experience in the States. Daylight wakes us at 5:30 and darkness occurs quickly about 6:00 PM allowing a couple of hours for dinner, evening chores of dishes and sweeping, card games and family stories. Speaking of chores….the boys have taken real ownership in cleaning and sweeping. Much to the amazement of Mike and me, we have to laugh under our breath when they bicker as to who will wash the dinner dishes and who will sweep…what a delight!

UPDATE: Finally, we have connection to the outside world...so I am writing this from our new home, in a not so well lit master bedroom. YAY
Signed: S

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Finally arriving at our new home

Luckily we found a rental SUV that would accommodate all of our luggage and off we went up the mountain…well aside from a small detour, we got on the right course and headed arriba! The ride was rainy, foggy and hardly an opportunity for a vista view. We certainly know why this is called the Cloud Forest! I’d heard the trek was a four hour ride up the mountain, however After an hour and a half up the road, we saw a sign saying Monteverde, 25 kilometers…I thought “WOW, we’ve made great time, little did I know the next 25 K would be harrowing stair climbs, hairpin turns, dropaways, ruts that jarred the bones for the next two hours. While it afforded spectacular views, the drive was rather harrowing, most of my focus was on the road rather than the vistas unfolding before us. After gasping up the final hill in Santa Elena, we made the last two mile drive up to what we affectionately now call the ‘little brown house’.

The Eleventh Hour – Can we postpone a day?


The movers showed up around 9:30 Monday morning and we were all surprised at how smooth the day went. I kept the boys occupied at the neighbors while Chris and I relaxed on their back deck (thanks Laheta’s),! The boys enjoyed jumping on their trampoline. The storage unit was full to capacity; however the house still had ‘stuff’ in every room which then went to my sisters for further inspection and disposition. (Take, Leave or Ask her to Store). We had hoped to be out of the house by 1 PM, but did not give our final wave to the little green house until 5 pm. With a toot of the horn…off we went to my sisters for our last evening on US turf. We then spent from 6 PM to 2:30 a.m. deciding on what HAD to go and what could be left behind as “decoration” in Beth’s house ☺.

A wake up call at 3:30 a.m. to ready for the taxi driver at 4:30…dreading getting the boys out of deep sleeps, much to my amazement, they awoke in excellent moods, ready to meet the day head on…would it last the next two plane rides? By the time we reached Charlotte for our connecting flight to Costa Rica, things turned ugly…and
the rest, I will leave to your imagination. (5 tired passengers, another four hour plane ride, kicking seats in front of us, missing the toilet seats in the lavoratory, temper tantrums (not just from the boys) and then finally hearing the call for a mechanic to open the plane door as we wait to repair the jet-way.) Through immigration, unexpected swine flu papers to fill out and then finding a vehicle large enough to transport our ‘world’ to Allejuela for a night before heading up the mountain. First wake up call that we were in foreign country…no car seats. The boys were free to roam much to Mommy’s dismay. Finally we reach the hotel and had we known, we would have sent out a warning “The Schaefers have arrived…there will be no sleeping tonight!” Flush toilets, YES, toilet paper down them…NO WAY JOSE! We ventured out to a local market for dinner and sat down at the Parque Central so the kids could release some pent-up energy. They frolicked in the courtyard and enjoyed chasing pigeons and playing in the fountain.

Toads, Taranula’s and Horses…..OH MY!


My first thought upon arriving at the “little brown house” was ….Whoa… this is truly paradise. An enormous front yard to run and play in, a pasture below to climb trees, and stand of tall pines beyond that and views to take the breath away. Once we surveyed the yard it was time to check out the little brown house and I must say I had a deju vu moment of being 11 years old again and shipped off to summer camp to survive with my plastic holder for my soap, my one towel, that would never quite dry, the feeling of sand, dirt and squished bugs ever present in my bed, and the memory stirring scent of damp blankets and wood! In a word….rustic. Now I know how Dorothy felt…..I don’t think I’m in Clarendon Hills anymore. To tag onto an earlier blog YES there is running water but only cold in the sink to wash dishes. Yes there is hot water in the shower but only on odd days when there is a crescent moon and the temperature reached 26 degrees celsious. To be sure there will be challenges in living in Monte Verde. The closest grocery store is a good half hour walk up steep hills and down even sharper drops. Which side of the road to walk on was determined by which upcoming turn (and there are many) afforded me the best view to on coming traffic. Oh that’s another thing. Traffic is taxis, horses, or the ubiquitous four wheelers or dirt bikes which seem the preferred mode of travel by the locals and the one best suited for the steep hills and rutted roads.

I learned quickly how to say “café con leche por favor, as the machine at the house never heated the water enough to deliver enough caffeine to truly wake me up. No matter though, as I found a lovely little bakery with hot java a stones through from the house. I saw a tarantula as we were clearing some logs to make a fire pit, heard the thundering of hooves in the front yard one evening at dusk as 3 horses appeared out of no where, and mistook a Cane toad for a squirrel! I saw hummingbirds, and beetles, and mist, and clouds….and I didn’t even have to leave the front porch of the house! Imagine the wildlife and animals beyond the front door. I met people of all nationalities that had moved their families here for a chance to live a more full and authentic life leaving behind the trappings we all think we cannot do without. After only a few days ….I realize how possible it is to do more with less. I saw surreal mountains with waterfalls, tranquil pastures and felt a peace of the outdoors, and release from the to do list, no need to no what time it was and an exhaustion at the end of the day, not from frayed nerves and stress of my normal day but from being outdoors each day and taking in all that a country life has to offer.

As I sit outdoors today near San Jose waiting for my flight home I have a new appreciation and admiration for what my family is doing. The courage and faith in one another to take this leap and embrace this new adventure is inspiring. While I will miss them all terribly I know they have found and been welcomed into a community that has already embraced them and will help them on their way. Until I see the “green mountain” again, Adios and muchas gracias for a most breathtaking and grounding experience. Signed Auntie B.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Day 3 – Still waiting for Laundry to Dry




As I write this, I am sitting on my front porch, watching Mike push the boys on a home made tree swing.  The last three days are somewhat of a blur, will write more when I can sort out the last 72 hours.

No rain yet today, which allowed us to finally dry some clothes.  After a lesson in operating the washing machine, it ain’t no MayTag .  It is a cross between what we consider to be a washing machine and taking your clothes to the river and beating them on a rock.  Once figured out, the window of sunlight was highly unpredictable.  As the rains came, our laundry laiden  lines were no match for the weather. – they snapped in two and our laundry was strewn all over the yard.  The hopes for dry clothes were done for the day due to the weather and no prospects for a new clothes line at the grocery store, hardware store or in our home.  However, the next day, after dodging a tarantula, a cane toad, two dogs that we’ve adopted and a beatle the size of my fist, we spied some cable hanging in a tree and were able to retrieve it and fashion a much sturdier line, now all we needed was the sun to shine…and shine it did today…it was a beautiful day.

Signed:  S