Wednesday, September 30, 2009

San Gerardo & Back

If you are reading this post, one of two things have happened – we’ve gotten our telephone/internet service restored (out since last Thursday’s storm) or I’ve connected to the wireless network on the school’s campus…regardless, happy to be back…and back we are!

Last Friday, we had an opportunity to (along with other teachers) go on an overnight experience with a very talented and well-known author and guide, Mark Wainwright. At a mere $15.00 charge for the adults, Mike and decided to seize the chance to experience this hike, overnight and night exploration led by Mark. Mike and I vacillated as to whether we should go as a family or if he should go solo – after some discussion and finding out that three other young boys would be going along, we made sure the van had room for the Schaefer crew. We departed about 3 p.m. Friday in three mini-vans, heading to the Santa Elena Reserve. This reserve is about a 30 to 45 minute drive and is for the most part up-hill. This Reserve has quite a unique feel to it – much different than the Monteverde Reserve. More tropical and what I would say, more lush than its counterpart. We arrived at the Welcome Center/parking lot with both boys fast asleep (they were coming right from a busy afternoon in Kinder). Mark summarized the activities for the night/next morning and we were all off – oozing with anticipation and excitement. Michael in dad’s arms, and John in mine. Luckily they both awoke shortly after we departed and walked the rest of the way (about a two hour hike in with a couple of stops along the way for Mark to point out and comment on fruit, trees and insects). With a sign up ahead “Estacion this way”, I thought to myself, won’t be long now – another ½ hour with the clouds/mist thickening and darkness descending upon us. Michael delighted in holding Miss Melody’s hand and chatting with her the last leg of the trip in. Miss Melody and Miss Eliotth (the boy’s teachers) were two of the 20 or 25 folks on the trip. Some teachers came with their spouses, others invited their children or mothers along…a nice mix of ages and backgrounds which contributed to the richness of the outing. Of course, Ginna and Tedi came along which I’m sure contributed to the boys comfort level and laugh/happy factor. ☺

We reached the Estacion about 5:00 p.m. – the accommodations were lovely, think of it as a ‘lodge’, with a multi-purpose room when you walk in, which was large enough to accommodate a ping-pong table and a couple of rooms off the back, partitioned off was the dining area and the kitchen. Above were the majority of the cabins (adjoining rooms)…about six, equipped with two bunk-beds, shower and toilet, very nice and clean. The balcony supported a ½ dozen hammocks and a spectacular view, not to mention a cozy place to rest your weary bones, crack open a book or suffice as a somewhat make-shift playground for the younger ones. Mike and I made sure the boys understood that although the balcony was awesome – it was very hazardous as the railing was surely not up to any code. The couple that took care of us (cooked the meals) were very accommodating and the meals, well – YUM in a word. I gorged myself and am quite sure none went away hungry. Everyone was responsible for cleaning their own plate, utensils and cup once done to assist with the clean-up. Mark announced the activities for that night (an earlier night-hike to depart at 7 p.m. and a later around 9 p.m.) – we opted for the 7 p.m. We outfitted ourselves in long pants, shirts and flashlights and took to the trail. Not even getting off the front porch, Mark’s son, Kyle, discovered several frogs hanging out in the front yard. Mark was so patient with the little ones and was sure that everyone had a chance for an ‘up close' and personal view of the little jumpers. Michael and John’s eyes lit up when the frog jumped onto their tummy and then SMACK, stuck to John’s forehead– how neat! We saw fungus on sticks that when all flashlights were turned off – glowed like a ‘glow-stick’ – having the kids keep the flashlights off to admire this was the challenge! We marveled in the sight of fire-flies hanging out in the tree canopies above and caught a glimpse of a tropical rabbit before it took cover. No rain to speak of, but plenty of little bugs which required me and a couple of others to pull up our hoods of our rain gear tight around our chins and ears!

Saturday, our day started at 5:30 a.m. – the kids slept through the night and no crying or whining – so all was good. Breakfast was a filler – complete with breads, rice and beans, fruit, eggs, granola, juice and plenty of coffee! The clouds broke for a spectacular view of Volcano Arenal – it is about three hours by car and much less by something called a Jeep-Boat-Jeep (I think). The lot that housed the lodge was open and wide with lots of Guava trees to entertain the little ones. Peaceful and serene with so much nature to take in. Mike and I both enjoyed getting to know the other teachers and meeting parts of their family. Trisha (the music/drama teacher) strummed the guitar and sang which was just perfect for this setting. Post breakfast, we suited up for another hike – have you ever seen a Blue Morpho butterfly up close? Mark pulled out his net (the smaller ones had fun playing with it and putting it over their heads – it covered Michael and John’s entire body). The one side of this creature a brilliant blue, the other side a kaleidoscope of colors (salmon, browns, blues, yellows) something I could see as an ensemble an interior decorator might select for a home. Back to the lodge for lunch, a group photo and a grueling hike back up to the main entrance. The hike back was all up-hill and I carried Michael on my shoulders the entire way (except for a short time when Ginna took him) – THANKS GINNA! At each corner I thought for sure we would be greeted with a flat section, but that did not come until the last 200 meters. Thankful that I had been running, my lungs were in good shape, but the almost 40 pounds on my shoulders still a chore. Michael slept a lot of the way and I jostled his position so as to balance the weight. The sweat was cascading off my brow as the sun was out and no rain insight this day either. Coupled by Michael's drool – I am sure I looked a “sight” when I reached the others waiting, huddling, sharing their snacks and cheering us on when we finally made it back to the vans. Mike and John followed shortly thereafter and all were accounted for. Back in the vans and home by 4 p.m. – just time enough for Mike and I to grab quick showers, accept the pizzas made by Goudy’s mother-in-law and hot-foot it to the Coffee House/Pizza Night/Talent Show Fundraiser at the school that night. From what I could tell, the event was well attended – John proceeded to devour 5 pieces of pizzas and a pumpkin pie. A long day was brought to a close quickly as the boys were going down hill fast – we scooped them up and headed for home with our flashlights and headlamps in toe.

We are blessed to have had this experience and would love to return to San Gerardo with friends or family (make sure your knees are in good working order and don’t forget your hiking/rain boots!

P.S. - Just had the phone company here at the house, so we are back in biz!

Signed: S

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alive in Costa Rica

Yes, we are here. It has been a few extra days since our last post. Reasons? I have been very busy with school tasks and Sally has been using her project management skills to assist me after the boys go down; our phone and internet connection has been down since the thursday afternoon thunderstorm - several hits of lightning very close; immediately afterschool friday, we joined the school staff for a wonderful overnight trip to the San Gerardo Biological station, I´m sure Sally will fill you in on the details, including the epic hike back yesterday; and last night, we attended the huge Coffeehouse event at the school.

Deciding to spend the day at school to prepare for upcoming conferences and the week´s curriculum, I also find Wendy, a lifelong resident and woodworker, building a drawer for a desk in my classroom. We proceeded to plan a minicourse to build shelving for my classroom, using old desks and scrap lunber.

Sending this message from the school PC and hoping to get our phone service running tomorrow, I will think about everyone and hope you are well. Signed M.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meeting - How I spent my silent time

I attended my first meeting last Sunday morning at the school. It started at 10:30 and thinking I was very prompt, arriving just before then, however; there were others already deep in reflection when I entered and selected my seat. I shared a bench with Ginna and folded my hands, closed my eyes and bowed my head. This was a silent meeting, so I spent the time in prayer and did not open my eyes until the introduction of any visitors and announcements at the end of the meeting.

The first thing I did was mouth the Lords Prayer. Following I offered up my prayers of healing and of thanksgiving:
A prayer of healing for a dear friend and colleague who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. I pray for wisdom for the doctors who will operate next month and for her strength and faith and that of her family as well.

A prayer of thanksgiving and celebration for a recent engagement in the family (brother John) and a hope that he and Amy will find peace as they plough through the logistics and challenges in joining their lives together.

A prayer for myself to strive to be a patient and caring mother as I continue to transition into the role of full-time mother. Asking for guidance and calm as I deal with my boys on a daily and almost minute by minute basis and that they may feel more at home as they settle in.

A prayer for Mike as he continues to acclimate to the school, his schedule and students.

A prayer for family and friends back home and that they may continue to be in good health.

I know for a fact that I fell asleep several times as I was so relaxed, however no head-bobbing (or at least I don’t think – Note to self: Ask Ginna to confirm ☺

The children came into the meeting with about 15 minutes left in the hour. Followed by introductions of any visitors (there were a hand-full) and announcements and greeting one another. The announcements were of a wide spectrum; included below is a sampling:
• A plea for a lost Cat
• The chiropractor will be at Rio Shanti this week (Rio Shanti is a boutique, yoga, massage place between our house and the school)
• The mini-super at the end of our drive-way and across the street is finally opening today (well, it actually opened on Monday, but whose counting?)
• Puppies and kitten adoptions
When the meeting concluded, I felt much like I do after a massage (although I think I’ve only had 4 in my lifetime, but clearly remember the feeling of total relaxation and feeling like a ‘wet-noodle’. There was something very soothing about the time spent, for me, it was in prayer, for others, who knows? It was good to be there and I will return.

P.S. – Thanks to those who responded to my post “Faith-Full”, your ideas are an inspiration to me.

Signed: S

Monday, September 21, 2009

Waterfalls & other Wonders

Although life here in Monteverde is at a slower, more manageable pace, I feel like the days get away from me.  “Was it yesterday that we hiked that wonderful little trail to the waterfall or was it last week”?  Activities seem to bleed over the days in the calendar; maybe it is because the activities are so diverse and ‘unscheduled’, much more spontaneous than perhaps what we are all used to.  Sometimes, the planning and scheduling of life gets in the way and contributes to our ‘stagnation’.  Here, my mind is freed-up from the clutter, you would think that would help me keep track of what day it is, but truly I have to look at my calendar setting on my watch each day to do the reality check…ah Yes, it is Sunday! 

Last Sunday we hiked La Catarata (the Waterfall Trail) which is just down the main road.  After calling out a few “holas”, and getting no acknowledgement, we decided to sneak under the chain link gate and see what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into!  The boys did really well – the trail provided many opportunities for them to hone their climbing skills, clutching onto old, wet ropes which were strategically placed along the trail to help navigate those tricky ‘ups and downs’.  We delighted in having the entire trail to ourselves -- all we could hear was the distant waterfall and the occasional bird.  A few water obstacles to navigate and luckily no snakes lurking.  The waterfall was perfect, not too big or overwhelming, but rather peaceful and serene.  We treated ourselves to an ice-cream at the Cheese Factory to cap off a great couple of hours.

A busy school week for Mike as he continues to get his routine and tools in place.  When he mentioned that he needed to plan out his math and science ‘scope and sequence’, I was like a kid begging for candy from their parents, with hands stretched out and fingers wiggling – “Gimmee, gimmee,  please, please, please, let me plot out your timeline on Excel”.  I was thrilled to lend my assistance and help organize and present his thoughts and vision.   I quickly put together a very colorful plan for Mike with bar charts, dates and key milestones.  Ah – was good to know I haven’t forgotten everything from a professional tools perspective.  I feel a little like Mike’s personal assistant – I have been helping him in the evenings with computer ‘stuff’ or just as a sounding board for any new ideas he has floating around his mind. 

Friday, we had Stewart (a first grader) over to play after school.  Fridays are short days – school wraps up at 2:15, so still a good portion of sunlight left for play.  His mom, Veronica was headed to Santa Elena and Stewart wanted nothing but to come over and play with the boys.  We had spent some time with them on Independence Day  and apparently Stewart had talked about (along with our boys) how great a time they had earlier in the week, so there you have it!  I would take the three kids home while Veronica did her errands and Mike stayed at school late to get a head-start on the coming week.  Personally, I considered just getting three kids home by myself a huge ‘win’ !,  It was hours of soccer, swinging, climbing and finally gardening… Earlier in the week, Stewart so proudly showed off his garden at his house, he quickly went to work gathering up bamboo shoots and aloe plants on our walk home from school and gave us all instruction on how to plant them in our backyard.  We shall see the fruits of our labor.

We had another awesome hike on Saturday, this time we ventured up to the Cloud Forest Reserve (where I run each day).  We hiked a trail with the boys that Mike and I had conquered seven years ago during our honeymoon.  I remembered it like it was yesterday, Mike not so much, of course I said that 7 years ago, his mind was all-consumed by his lovely bride so perhaps he was more focused on me than the trail J  We hiked up to the Continental Divide where the rain falls to the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other.  The boys did great and had plenty of energy to make mom nervous as they ran around the look-out deck, pushing their luck leaning over to get a better glimpse of the view.  No rain, but plenty of mist and clouds – the trails were quite dry and one could see the toll the dry weather has taken on some of the foliage along the trail.  Half way into our hike we heard the familiar word “Poop”, so after all the time we have spent trying to get our boys to use the toilet (and not pee in the woods or in the pasture or in the front yard for that matter), we told John, “well, you’ll just have to go in the woods”.  A confused little face looked back at us and after some additional reassurance from his mom and dad, that “yes, this is the only option”, he dropped his drawers and quickly took care of business.   Mike quickly pulled out a poop bag from the back-pack and stowed the little treasure away for the return trip!,   We ended up carrying the boys on our shoulders the last ½ mile where they both proceeded to fall asleep, they snoozed through the cab ride home, the transfer to their beds and proceeded to sleep almost to 4:30 p.m. that evening.  Did I mention we had to be at a dinner by 5 p.m.?  Luckily the boys woke up in good moods, a quick wipe-down and off we went to a dinner at a Parent’s home, put on by the School Board members.  Michael and John had a blast playing with the other kids and were excited to see some familiar toys (scooters, big wheels, dump trucks)…toy heaven, Costa Rican style of course, as the kids played hard, using the tile ramp in the back of the house as their runway…happy to report that no trips to the clinic were needed, although mom was on-edge the entire time watching and waiting to dive to protect a skull – no helmets!

Today, Sunday, another full day – a run for mom, a quick splash of the face and douse of powder and off to my first Quaker Meeting  (more on that later), as I left for the meeting, Mike and the boys were busy making Guava jam from the fruits on our trees.  Looking forward to having some on my toast tomorrow morning.  Very labor intensive, so Mike tells me.

P.S:  Although we love Strider (the dog – see earlier post), we have decided not to adopt him and make him part of our family just yet – our plate runneth over and adding a dog to the family is not in the cards right now


Side Note:  For those of you that know me, I don’t cook – I am one of the lucky women who married a man who enjoys to cook and is pretty good at it.  I can now say that I have cooked about 5 times in 7 years of marriage (three of these times being here in our new home).  I’ve even managed to bake banana bread a couple of times and have gotten the “YUM” word in return from the two boys.  Not bad, considering our oven does not have any temperature settings.


Finally, more crafts, the boys enjoyed necklace making last week and happy to report both are still ‘intact’.


All for now.

Signed:  S

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Independence Indeed!

Thanks Mike for posting such a detailed summary on the Torch Run – a nice harbinger of the meaning of Independence Day and the pride felt by all who call this home.  If you’re following the blog, you know that yesterday was Independence Day and Oh how we celebrated.  The day started early (as it always does) and we were out the door and on the road to Cerro Plano at 7:40 a.m.  We hiked up to the field across from the local school and took in the pre-parade address and national anthem.  It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies as far as the eye could see.  I knew it would be a hot one as I saw many a sunscreen bottle tucked into back-packs and bags.  The backdrop of the pre-celebration was one of anticipation, kids running around and frolicking about, school girls checking their outfits and make-up and all the spectators vying for that perfect spot on the parade route.

We spied a shady spot down a hill on the way out of Cerro Plan.  Not but 10 minutes into the parade we found ourselves out of battery power on our digital camera, so off Mike went in search of batteries.  30 minutes later he appeared and we were back in business. 

The parade was awesome, the drums, bands, dancing and on-lookers –all were part of this magical day.  The local schools have been preparing for this day  since we arrived here in Monteverde beginning of August,  so it is eerily quiet today without the ‘boom boom boom’ echos of  the drums practicing after school.   This holiday is marked by its parade and performance by the students in the community.  The schools perform the national anthem, carry the Costa Rican flag and twirl batons.  The colors were vibrant (lots of red, white and blue) representing the colors of the Costa Rican flag, the bright colors of the girl's skirts and the Costa Rican dress worn by so many of the youngsters.

We enjoyed watching not only the kids in the parade but also the spectators.   As we made our way through Cerro Plano and finally to Santa Elena we found ourselves watching others and wondering what they were thinking on this very special day.  Families, young, old, sick, healthy – all were out to watch this main thoroughfare turn into a stage for the day.

We saw many a friendly face as we made our way down to Santa Elena – and were surprised by the number of folks we already knew and who have become part of our social/support network. 

The scorching sun got the best of both boys as they rested on mom and dad’s shoulders and finally closed their eyes for the decent down into Santa Elena.  We stole away into the SuperCompro to replenish our water and to grab fixins for a picnic.  The streets were lined with people as the parade headed into the town proper.  The Friends School was well represented with the kids in Kinder riding in a float, older kids toting masks and yet others with colorful flags!

We scouted around for a shady spot to picnic (hard to find in the middle of a parade) and then ran into our trusty “go to guy”, Kyle, who led us up a path to an abandoned soccer field – bleachers were comfort for our tired bones.  We fueled our bodies with cheese, yogurt and bananas and then off we were heading back into town. 


The day was full and the boys did really well.  So well, that we decided to take Veronica and Stewart (her six year old) up on their offer to visit that afternoon .  So back home around 2 p.m. and then off to Stewarts by 3.  They live through the pasture, across the street and about a 7 minute walk away.  They have a sprawling pasture and a ton of Guava trees.  We had great fun and will plan another outing with them soon.

We were all tired and weary by the end of the day and had no trouble laying our heads down about 7 p.m.

A great independence day indeed!

Signed: S

Monday, September 14, 2009

Torch Day, Antorcha de Independencia

On Tuesday, September 15, five Central American countries, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate their independence from Spain in 1821. A torch relay, representing the message of freedom beginning in Guatemala City, the former capital of the Central America, traveled the Pan American Highway and crossed into Costa Rica yesterday. At intersections along the highway, the flame is passed to torches carried by runners who then shuttle the flame up the main roads into each town. Schools play an important role in carrying the torches and marching in Tuesday’s parades.

Today, I arrived at school knowing that there would be a little morning ceremony to welcome the independence torch, or antorcha de independencia. I soon realized that I would be joining the 7th and 8th graders, not in my classroom, but rapidly walking to Cerro Plano, the next town to the north. There, we waited for the high school students, some of whom had stayed up the entire night shuttling the torch up the mountain from the Pan American Highway. First hearing some cheers and then catching sight of a group running toward us from around the corner, our group let out a collective cheer. The excitement peaked as the torch reached us and we all picked up our feet and joined the run to school about three kilometers uphill. The torch passed from person to person and all attention was on the moment, cars and trucks had to pull over as our group passed. We collected more students and parents as we reached the rocky road at Monteverde. I decided to sprint ahead of the group to take advantage of photo opportunities. Passing near our house, I waved to Sally and the boys as they came running down the pasture cheering us on. Dodging potholes, passing the cheese factory and grazing cows, we finally arrived at school to deliver the torch to the field.

All gathered in a great circle to sing songs of peace and liberty from war. I looked around and thought about the reason why so many families moved and stayed here. The people here believe in and practice a life of peace and love. Quakers, non-quakers, Ticos and Gringos, spiritual and non-spiritual, children and adults singing about peace, flowers and justice (yes, social justice). So, this is how we celebrate Independence Day at Monteverde Friends School.

I could not help but be reminded of my Catholic grade school days when we sang songs about peace and how it begins with me. Maybe that is why I feel very comfortable here: the values in this community of peace and love fuse with primary lessons from my Catholic upbringing. The stories and teachings of Jesus were centered on peace and love, and turn the other cheek, and remove the log from your own eye first. Things change. In most of my world after eighth grade, talk about peace and love were reserved for a spiritual retreat or conversation with mom. In many circles, I could have exposed myself as being ‘whimpy’ or ‘na├»ve’ or ‘high’ for thinking about peace with the Red Russians, the Commy Chinese, or the Palestinians. Discussions about peace became much more challenging early this decade, and unfortunately, songs like If I Had a Hammer did not get much airtime on our radio waves. Approaching the end of this decade, I continue to hope for peace and will gladly sing Independence Day celebration songs about flowers and liberty, that is the liberty from war liberty.

Tomorrow is a national holiday and we will take the boys to Cerro Plano at 7:30AM for their first Costa Rican desfile or parade. So, more tomorrow. Peace and Love, signed M.