Friday, October 30, 2009

Mr. McGregor’s Garden & Other Musings

Have you ever had one of those moments where you come upon something ‘real’ that depicts a story or a tale in a book?  Well, I had that experience this morning while hiking with the boys.  The Tales of Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit are among the stack of books on the edge of the kitchen table (I’ll leave the stack of books to your imagination, but most times there are at least three stacks of books over a foot tall – a lot to choose from (a mix of children’s books, Spanish books, sticker books, coloring books (from soup to nuts)).  Some favorites we brought with us and a stack that I refresh every week from the MFS library.  The two tales about our veggie eating friends have made it into the ‘three stories’ of late; selected each night by the boys.  So there you have it!  Today, before school, after we had made beds, brushed teeth, dressed, washed and hung laundry, did dishes and swept the floors, we headed out for a hike across the pasture into Bajo del Tigre.  We decided to venture off the beaten path onto a side trail (I knew that ‘a’ trail spilled out onto the main path we take to school, so I felt like I could navigate us through the woods).  Little did I know, that there is quite a network of trails back there; hidden from the main road.  After some time, we crossed over a downed gate and found ourselves peering into a garden; which to me WAS Mr. McGregor’s garden.  I motioned to the boys that we needed to be quiet as I was not sure if we were trespassing or exactly whose property we had stumbled upon.  The first words out of my mouth was “Wow, this looks like Mr. McGregor’s garden”; the boys nodded with excitement.  I spied a wind chime made of tin cans to keep the birds away, vegetable and flower beds covered with bamboo and plastic, herb gardens and a bodega.  Yes, I was sure, if Mr. McGregor’s garden was to exist (not just in our imagination and in Beatrix Potter’s words), this would have to be it!  We were greeted by Jose who welcomed us to take a look around.  The farm belongs to the Trossel family which is a well-known family here in town.  Their son, Richard, was the kind soul who drove us to the clinic when Michael split his forehead open shortly after we moved in.  I told Jose, “yes, we know the Trossels, they have made us brownies and some rosemary foccacia bread – I now know where they get their stash of rosemary.  Jose gave us a tour of the garden and escorted us out through the side of the Trossel house.   Like I say, one never knows who or what they will encounter on a hike!  A great find indeed.

Miscellaneous Updates:

Schaefer Sickness:  Per my abbreviated post last night, I am still fighting something; as I take a sip of peppermint tea, compliments of Sandy.  I feel a tad better today and will hope to beat this without a trip to the clinic.  Friends are eager to pass along their remedies; everything from honey and cinnamon, to garlic, lemon, radishes and tamarindo for a gargle.  BTW, the MFS library is not the place you want to be when you are under the weather…the building is old and mold infested I am sure.  Some of the books date back from who knows when; so after selecting my ten books yesterday, I quickly got out of the building as it was kicking my cough into high gear.

Leche:  About a month ago; we started to purchase our milk from Goudy’s farm.  Goudy is the gal that helps me out during the week with the kids.  Previously we had purchased our milk from the Cheese factory/dairy just up the road, but when she said they have a farm and could provide milk cheaper than the dairy, we thought we’d try it.  I need my mom “Choppy” to chime in here since she is dairy farm born and bread, the straight cow milk from Goudy seems to have a different taste and only be 'good' for one day; the second day, the kids won’t touch it.  I imagine the milk from the dairy is pasteurized which increases its ‘fridge’ life.  So, as much as we want to support local farmers, I had to tell Goudy that the boys were not drinking the milk and that we did not want them to miss out on the vitamins and nutrients, so it is back to the dairy we go.  She understood and said that her husband is a ‘milk snob’ too and will only drink milk from the dairy…so that made me feel a little better - sometimes honesty is tough but the boys need their milk.

Weather:  Some sun this week which has lifted everyone’s spirits and given the boys their outside playground back.

Volunteering:  John, the MFS director, stopped by the other night to ask me to participate in a small meeting this Monday to discuss the school’s strategic plan.  He was kind enough to lend me some information and the governance handbook for Friends Schools so I could bone up on the Quaker traditions as it relates to Quaker education.  Good reading for this weekend.  I will also start attending the Fundraising committee meetings as well and look forward to helping out anyway I can.  This will be a real experience for me as I have never done any volunteering outside of my involvement as an active member and Deacon at my home church.

Childcare:  I am so thankful for Goudy and her wonderful care she is providing for our boys.  I realize now how important it is to have someone you can trust and count on who will provide for your children when you are away.  I am also thankful for Suzzeth who helped us out tremendously in Chicago.  She was such a vital part of our family and helped Mike out (which in turn made me able to focus on my career while away from the home).  We also had a wonderful sitter in Natalie (Suzzeth’s niece) who is dearly missed as well.  Being the primary care giver now, my eyes are wide open as to how integral this role is in the family unit and how blessed we are/have been since our boys came into our life three years ago.  THANK YOU to these outstanding ladies!

Finally, thanks to all for your comments back as I wind myself through this transition.  For those of you that know me; I have trouble with the ‘stuff in the middle’; the journey – for me it has always been about how can I get from A to Z the quickest, the most productively and perfectly…a daily challenge!  Enjoying the moment and taking time to examine a leaf on the trail or investigate a type of shelf fungus or ant hill – I am learning to just ‘be’ with it!

Upcoming Activities:

Tomorrow at school there is a Cachivache/Rummage Sale.  Parents are encouraged to drop off clean, wearable clothes and usable household items today and then return tomorrow morning from 8:00-12:00 pm and purchase items to restock our closet; perhaps we can pick up some puzzles or games for the boys.  Because we only brought the necessities with us, we don’t have much to donate, but will bring our colones with us tomorrow for the event.

Shirley, my friend from church invited me to a women’s event at her church on Saturday, 11/7 in the afternoon – I’ll check my calendar and see if I can make this work. 

And, for those wondering, we will be trick or treating tomorrow with a few other families…costumes are yet to be determined, you can be sure they will be simple.  

Signed: S

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gripe - I've Got It & Don't Want It!

Gripe - Influenza, Flu

I've got it, don't want it - seems like the entire town of Monteverde has it/will get it in a few days or just got over it.  Well, in my case, it is actually not the flu, more like a cold, swollen glands, cough and sinus pressure, but I think here in CR, 'gripe', pronounced like 'greepay' covers all of the above.

Will post again tomorrow as I need rest.

Signed: S

Monday, October 26, 2009

Even Soggier Bread Crumbs

As I write this, I hear the pitter - patter of rain on our roof and thunder looming over the mountains...yes, more rain!  The oven is becoming my best friend as it drys our clothes in no time.  Although we had a smattering of sun this morning, it is barely worth the mention.  The rain boots I purchased in Chicago prior to our move are finally getting put to good use!  For those of you that have been following our journey from the beginning - you may recall that back in July, Mike posted "Soggy Bread Crumbs", so this is a play on that initial Blog Title.  We attempted to get some shots of the mist floating into the kitchen, but like a ghost; almost impossible to capture the image.

We laid low this weekend as the boys are still with colds - we split the boys up on Saturday - Mike and Michael ventured to the Farmers Market while John and I went to the play-yard at school.  We made our first pizza this weekend (actually three) and can proudly boast....they weren't terrible!  

Sunday, we were invited to share lunch with one of the Spanish teachers at MFS and her family.  They live in San Luis where their house sits on a lovely piece of property.  The hospitality was top-notch; the lunch, excellent and the time relaxing and conversing with others..priceless.  

OH - a big thank you to Aunt Sandy and Uncle David for the packages...we love everything!  I am enjoying the tea as it soothing for my scratchy throat.  We love the Kids music CD - we've listened to it countless times already.  They broke open the paints ASAP and the creative juices were flowing immediately.  The boys love receiving packages; I wish I could capture the excitement and anticipation in their eyes as they clutch the packages tightly on the walk home from school (frankly - I've never seen them walk so briskly).  Also thanks to Poppy and Choppy for their packages as well (the second one arrived today).  Such comfort!

Not much else to report - missing family and having some bouts of homesickness (I'm quite sure the rain is not helping the situation but this too shall pass)   :)

Signed: S

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thank Goodness for Veggies Tales

With the third or fourth day of straight rain (I’m really trying not to count), I broke down this morning and popped a Veggie Tales DVD into the portable DVD player that Dunkie (my brother) had given us as a family gift prior to leaving the U.S.  – It has been collecting dust in our Safe for three months.  Dreary days, rain, mist and more rain and two kids with snotty noses – a morning movie sounded too good to pass up.

Michael stayed home from school yesterday as he has a terrible cough – Mike hurried home to collect John during his lunch hour and walk him up to school – I think he is getting sick as well, a day or two behind Michael…oh joy.  One can do so many crafts in one day.  Yesterday Michael and I must have done about three hours of reading, crafts, paper airplane making, sticker books, brain quest workbook and practicing our letters.  Keeping a little mind engaged and active is exhausting work.  What a difference it makes spending time with just one child.  I delighted in being able to devote my entire ‘self’ to Michael – He is such a character and what an inquisitive mind.  Dee Dee – if you are reading this, I am convinced he and Miss Cande have a blood relation as some of his expressions and phrases are dead ringers for her.   John bounded in the door with Mike about 4:15 and the boys were wrestling in no time.   Poof, the three hours of one-on-one time gone in a second.  I am hoping both boys will be well enough to go to school on Friday – we’ll see!

After staring at our still-soaking laundry for the third day as it continues to hang out on the clothes lines under the over-hang, we turned on the oven this morning to complete the drying process.  No fires to report, so a great alternative during the rainy season.  Even though the rain is depressing and dreary, it is so needed.  We are so dry here – to the extreme - so we are thankful for the moisture. UGH, if I am fretting over 1/2 a week of rain already- will I be ready to throw myself off a waterfall by the end of November???

John, the MFS Director, approached me earlier in the week - he asked if I would be interested in being on the school’s Fundraising Committee.  I replied, “Yes” and told him I would re-acquaint myself with the school’s goals, objectives and mission statement to ensure that the fundraising efforts are tailored and suited to support the mission statement.  I am hopeful I can put some of my PM skills to work.  More to come on this, but I am excited to get involved and ‘spread my wings’.

Other tidbits this week:

Two horses grazing in our pasture, the boys have enjoyed petting them and stuffing them with guavas.

Boys enjoyed Goudy's new little puppy "Bambi" - she brought him with her for a visit this week - a little fluff ball.

Robin, I have two messages into Maggie – spoke with Lidier yesterday and Marta this morning – Maggie was out both times I called, but I know Mike spoke with her quickly yesterday at school.  I’ll keep trying to connect with her (our phone only functions when it wants to – so perhaps she attempted to call yesterday and I just missed her).  If you chat with her, please encourage her to stop up anytime;  just tell her to have an open ear and listen for the screams and hacking coughs coming from beyond the pasture across from Bajo del Tigre.  :)

 Still missing my work and wondering what that is all about??

All for now

Signed: S

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cluck Cluck Here & A Cluck Cluck There…

An interesting weekend, full of surprises – I kept the boys busy Saturday morning while Mike tackled some more school prep for the return back to school this week.  In the afternoon, we decided to venture over to Meg’s to see if we could catch her at home.  If you’ve been following along, I’ve mentioned her (and her mom, Stella) in previous posts.  Meg owns stables, her husband, Richard, is the ‘bat guy’ and Stella’s bakery is named after her mom who lives up on the hill with those beautiful moss-covered stairs I’ve written about many a time.  We found Meg, her nanny, Anna and Meg’s grandson, Chako at home….and let’s just say, it was all fun from there.  Meg quickly came out to rescue us (I mean, greet us) after her dogs announced us…what a ruckus.  Three dogs, that I know of (hers) and Bodi (one of the many community dogs) following us, darting up their driveway.  Yes, we have arrived!  Chako is four and is the perfect playmate – he attends Kinder in the morning, so this is the first time the boys have gotten some real play time together since M&J are afternoon school ‘goers’.  They quickly started to chase each other, play hide and seek in the bushes and emulate a 70’s rock band with an old, worn out tin lid used as a drum, and some lumber as a make-shift guitar and tambourine.  Meg gave us a quick tour of her mushroom-making room – yes, she makes mushrooms – she starts out by cooking and pasteurizing wood shavings/hay/saw dust and adds an inoculated rice with spores of mushrooms and then bags them and hangs them in a dark cool cellar for about three weeks.  The mushrooms then grow out of the holes in the plastic bags – she then harvests them and sells them (and there you have it).  We then asked if we could tag along with Anna as it was time for her to feed the chickens.  Up to the hen house we went.   Anna carried a big bucket of organic compost with her which would be consumed by the chickens once we reached our destination.  We walked up a path, eating raspberries and guavas at each turn.  We passed many a garden that caught the eye of both me and Mike.  These gardens were covered with plastic which overlaid the arched up-rights to protect the plants against too much rain and sun.  Finally we reached the hen house - Chako needed some real prodding before entering.  I later learned why.  Later that evening, Meg told me that he recently had a run-in with a hen so he treads a little more cautiously now.  Once inside the hen house, my boys were like a deer-in the headlight – WOW – you don’t see this in Clarendon Hills.  It was way cool.  I can’t tell you the last time I was in a hen-house, but it was sheer chaos – chickens everywhere, hens, roosters – what fun!  We then followed Anna through a small door and ducked through the other side to the chicken yard where we proceeded to round-up all the stray ones to get them back inside.  Imagine three little boys and three adults trying to coax every last chicken inside - we all clapped our hands, trudged through bushes, picked up sticks to lead them the right way and finally success.  ‘Hurry, Hurry, everyone inside, close the door’ Anna said in Spanish.  Once inside, Anna got down to business collecting the eggs – At this point, Chako was still clinging onto Anna for dear life as he did not want to be ‘one’ with the chickens.  I held Chako while Anna showed Mike and the boys where the chickens laid their eggs.  The boys were very gentle and collected the eggs and put them in a pail – luckily not a one broke.  They were still warm to the touch and some eggs were even of a greenish tint.   A busy place, a hen-house!  We threw out some corn and toppled over the pail of the compost and made a quick exit.  I would love to strike a deal with Meg so we can take advantage of exposing our boys to helping out on their farm - feeding the chickens, collecting eggs - a great way to showcase responsibility and ownership.  I understand that Meg sells the eggs, so we would love to support her - I understand that they are extra yummy too!  On our way down, we saw horses in a nearby pasture, they were of course, Meg’s horses (hence, Meg’s Stables).  One would not know all this existed behind the stables from the main road.  We ended up at Stella’s house and walked into her back garden.  The garden was quaint in a word - she has a pond with beautiful plantings all around.  Stella was just finishing up a visit with a friend from a local Hotel who had brought over two clients of hers to meet Stella and see some of her artwork as these guests were also artists.  You see, Stella is a very talented  artist (she will be the first to tell you that she is blind as a bat and can hardly see much past her nose anymore), but you’d never know it by admiring her works. Her paintings adorn Stella’s bakery and are all over her home.  I peeked into her front room and she described each one that adorned her back wall– she had about ½ dozen paintings on  what she calls her “good guy” wall, ranging from Desmond Tutu to Ghandi.  Oh so talented.  She shared with me that she did not start painting until she was 52 years old, ‘so my dear, it is never too late, don’t give up hope’ she remarked.  The boys played in the pond and delighted over the fish and tadpoles…”WHAT, fish and tadpoles?” cried Mike…he immediately asked Stella if he could scoop up some water and  aquatic life for his classroom.  She quickly returned with strainers which sufficed as our net.  Michael and John were soaked by the time we left the garden, and the poor tadpoles and fish, I’m sure…shocked and terrorized after having 6 little hands a fluttering on top of their pond.  We invited Chako to play at our house that afternoon and after some swinging, tree climbing, matching card games and coloring, we took a break to gorge ourselves with popcorn.  Meg and Chako ended up staying for dinner which was fun for all.  A full Saturday and the kids were down without a problem shortly after dinner. 


Sunday was a chore trying to keep the little hands from mauling/over-handling the poor tadpoles we had collected the day before.  In the afternoon, we all decided to go to school to get the tadpoles settled in their new home (Mike’s classroom…at least for a while).  Oh – the worms! – Did I mention I was on worm duty?  “Boys, go out to the compost pile and dig up some worms would you please?” asked Mike.  Right then and there, I knew I was on shovel duty, so the boys and I headed across the back yard to the compost.  Worms galore, fat ones, thin ones, long ones, short ones, we must have collected close to 50 and I must admit I had a blast.  So Mike now has two new additions to his classroom, a worm bin and a tadpole farm. 


Today, I ran into Helena Guindon who is the sister of one of the boy’s teachers (Miss Melody).  She was cutting through our pasture when I stopped her to inquire about art classes for the boys.  I had heard from a friend that Helena offers classes and took the opportunity to inquire.  We start in two weeks and will see how it goes with two preschoolers.  She seems very flexible and adaptable which will be great for the boys.  She has a great attitude about exposing the kids and me for that matter and sure sounds like she has some cool stuff planned.  I am looking for ways to get them involved in a variety of social activities; outside of school and play dates, so why not art.  More on this to come.  $2500 colones per lesson.

Signed: S

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Wild West - Costa Rican Style

We returned from our mini-vacation Thursday night, perhaps even more exhausted than when we left…why is it when travelling with small children, one must ask themselves, is it really worth it?  The change in routine, 8 hours in a tour van, different food, new people, different bed (I loved the firm mattress)??  We had a lovely time at La Carolina Lodge; yet are glad to be back home.  And, oh the packing for two three year-olds, will the weather be hot or chilly? hiking clothes, bathing suits, hiking boots, sandals, multiple pairs of underwear for those accidents that do happen during the night, the bed pads (see aforementioned) and a stash of food to keep their tummy’s happy in between stops.  I have resigned myself to the fact that packing for a month or for a long weekend, when it comes to little ones, there is not much of a difference…and of course the make-shift fishing poles had to come along as well (bamboo, twine and their favorite plastic animal tied on) also found a spot in Katya’s van.


Katya (who is the mother of one of Mike’s students) was our transportation up and back.  On the way up, Naomi, her 14 year old daughter accompanied her – Mike and I had a chance to practice our Spanish and they graciously corrected us whenever needed.  It was so nice having them drive us as we left the negotiating of directions and the twists and turns up and down the various mountains to them.  We enjoyed hearing about their farm and what they like about being Tico.  Very nice people and it made our journey so enjoyable. 


We headed out at 8:30 Tuesday morning and arrived at the lodge just in time for lunch.  We stopped for a snack in Limonal where we got this wonderful shot of the scarlet macaws.  The owners of the restaurant have some animals out back so we greeted the white tailed deer (which I think is the national animal of Costa Rica) and some rather funny looking chickens. 


Katya was so knowledgeable of each town we passed and seemed to know everyone (even when we were out of the Monteverde area by several hours).  As we approached Las Juntas the weather grew very warm and sights of the volcan (Tenorio and Miravalles) loomed ahead.  As we passed Bijagua, the last town until we turned off onto another dirt road yet again, I knew we were in ranch territory.  The lodge was about 10 km off from the main road and very rustic.  Our travel day was sunny and beautiful which provided a lovely backdrop for the lodge.  The lodge is very rustic, clean and lindisimo!  It is surrounded by gardens and paths which are lit up in the evening by candles/hurricane lamps.  The river was breathtaking (and raging) and the hot tub made out of stone was nestled up right beside the river which made for a relaxing time.  We were greeted by a very friendly Tico staff (the women, busy preparing lunch and cleaning the exterior).  The place was simply ‘spotless’ in a word.  We were their only guests the first night (and the other nights, the guests opted for the cabins) so we had the entire main lodge to ourselves.  It was cozy, a little reading sala which was flanked by four rooms and a bathroom with a delightfully warm shower.  Our room had four beds, shutters/screen windows and a door which led you right onto the path towards the river/hot tub.  Everything was ‘outside’, the kitchen, the eating area (under a covered patio), a cozy corner with another stone fireplace surrounded by rocking chairs, yet another kitchen area and stone oven/fire pit for cooking meat. Hammocks and other seating on the other end of the building as well.  Relaxing in a word.  The hot tub was awesome (just the right size for the boys), it was heated by firewood, which they kept burning throughout the day/night and a coiled water pipe that spewed out hot water. ..very unique.  Katya’s daughter took many a photo as she wanted to convince her dad to build their family one…good luck Naomi!


All the food was included in the per night rate (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and was very typical and simple.  Breakfast consisted of eggs (either scrambled or fried), home-made cheese, compliments of the farm, bread, gallo pinto, a fruit, fresh orange juice from their fruit trees and a fruit.  Coffee for the adults and the boys were spoiled with hot chocolate.

Lunch was chicken or fish, with rice and beans, salad of carrots, cabbage, tomatoes and onion, and a vegetable.  Dinner was the same but with a different meat (beef, chicken or pork).  Everything was very simple but good and cooked on a wood burning stove.  If you are looking for a place with fancy feast, this is not it! 

The river was very refreshing, shortly after we arrived, on went our bathing suits, we grabbed the fishing poles and headed down the path to the river for a quick dip.  An all rocky bottom, but the rope that was securely fastened to a large tree gave me some sense of balance as the boys and I ventured in. The raging river was a constant throughout the night but was very soothing.  Next, we warmed up in the hot-tub and the boys loved it. 

Alejandro, one of the lodge’s employees gave us a tour of the grounds that afternoon and took us on a short hike through some of their property.  We came within feet of horses, oxen, not to mention the poisonous blue-jean frog – tiny little creatures, but venom that could seriously hurt you if one digests it or gets it in their mouth.  We spied a lizard (I think it is called the Jesus Christ Lizard).  The farm is 80 hectares so lots to see.  The lodge is owned by a 46 year old South Carolinian who purchased it when he was 28 – not bad huh?  I understand from Alejandro that they have 3 other farm/hotels as well.  Returning from the hike, John took a fall (imagine that) and the young horse in the pasture came to check out the cry.  The horse then proceeded to follow us closely behind…Alejandro said that the horse was likely very curious about John and Michael as it had never seen young children before.  We took some cool pics of the horse and oxen, almost toe to toe!  A quick shower by candlelight and then dinner.  As we returned about 5 p.m., the women were out in the garden lighting all the candles and the hurricane lamps in the lodge which burned throughout the night.  We opted to use our flashlights in the room instead of them illuminating it with candles (for obvious reasons) as we could only imagine what damage could be done with three or four candles and two pre-schoolers.

The boys were riled up so after many swings on the hammock and an after dinner visit to the hot-tub, we finally all turned in only to be awakened by John’s request for food about 2 a.m.   He truly is a bottomless pit. Katya was simply amazed at how much they ate during our journey...what is that saying about growing boys!

Wednesday we joined Juan (another lodge employee) for the 6:30 a.m. milking.  We headed up through the pasture to the cow barn.  The boys were very curious as they watched as Juan tied up the cows hind legs and secured it’s head for the milking process.  I am convinced I got my mom’s farm genes as I felt quite at home on the small wooden stool with a full utter staring me in the face.  I thought to myself "bring it on Betsy"!  John enjoyed the experience and tried to eek out a squirt of milk; Michael, on the otherhand, decided to keep his distance. Mike is a tride and true South Sider as his first attempt at milking was hillarious – like a good sport he returned to the stool to redeem himself, and that he did. J

A quick breakfast and then the four of us piled into the back of Alejandro’s truck and rode up to the National Park.  A rough ride, rocky road, Alejandro having the petal to the metal and Mike and I in back holding on for dear life and the boys.   We headed out and made it to the Waterfall (Rio Celeste) – quite a spectacular site, a blue you can’t even imagine.  As Alejandro and I stopped to wait for John and Mike on the trail, he turned his head and right there was a green parrot snake (luckily not poisonous, just hanging out in the trees).  We saw Tapir footprints, red millipedes and ground terminates, luckily no buschmaster snakes, although Alejandro recounted the story of his father stepping on one 40 years ago and living to tell about it.  The waterfall was breath-taking – when I asked if folks could swim there, Alejandro replied “No” as an 11 year old had lost his life to an undercurrent years ago, so we admired from afar.  Many more trails to experience (up to the volcan, Hotsprings) but we cut it short as the kids were growing tired.  We tossed our weary bodies into the back of the truck and we were off heaed back toward the lodge.  The rain started mid-way on our return trip – we were a little water-logged and dirty when we arrived back at the ranch.  Some of the workers were busy repairing the main entrance (all by hand, using huge rocks and breaking them into smaller pieces using some sort of ‘mallet’ type tool).  The rocks were transported  via the oxen.  The rain continued throughout the afternoon so we relaxed in the hot-tub once again and enjoyed playing dominos fire side while chatting with the ladies as they prepared dinner.  We were all exhausted and ready to hit the hay.

Thursday found us awake at the crack of dawn (at least John, up at 4:30 am, and that meant me as well).  Juan was to give us a tour of the grounds that morning on horseback and a great ride it was.  The boys were super excited, John rode with Juan, Michael with Mike and mom went it alone.  The expansiveness of the property and the views of the volcanoes were fabulous.   It was a beautiful sunny day and clear as the eye could see.  We enjoyed eating mandarinas from the trees and admiring a yellow viper ‘poisoness’ snake, snoozing and all curled up around a fence post.  I made sure Tigre (my horse) kept its distance. 

Katya arrived back at the lodge at noon as our mini-vacation was coming quickly to a close.  Talk about trusting employees, we had come to discover that they do not accept credit cards (we should have known better) so after they provided their account number we shook hands and said “we will transfer the money into the hotel’s account tomorrw”…and that we did.   Now how often would that happen in Chicago?

We arrived back home about 6 p.m. after stopping for an early dinner in San Rafael about 45 minutes outside of home.  We were all glad to see our own beds and had no trouble falling asleep Thusday evening.

We are thankful that we had the opportunity to see some more of this beautiful country and meet more of its very special people.


Signed:  S

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tarantula Wasp

Yes, spotting a tarantula under the tree swing yesterday was quite exciting, but watching it succumb to the powers of the tarantula wasp was absolutely amazing. “Mom, mom a huge thing, I think it’s a tarantula moving,” Michael called for others to enjoy watching the large arachnid. Sally arrived to see the spider crawling and noticed a large pair of red wings on top of it. “Oh my!” they thought, “the tarantula has caught a wasp!” They then realized the truth of the moment as the wasp gained control and started dragging the tarantula across the grass. Putting two and two together, Sally exclaimed, “I think that’s a tarantula wasp!” Michael responds excitedly with another, “Oh my, lets take a step closer.” Sally knowing better after hearing that this two inch wasp delivers one of the most painful stings of the animal world, decides they should keep their distance and not risk upsetting the determined predator.

Over the next several minutes, they observed the wasp haul its limp prey about five meters from the tree swing to the taller grass at the yard’s edge. John and I arrived home at this moment to join the Wild Kingdom moment and, yes, I knew that this was just the beginning of a fantastically gruesome relationship. The wasp buzzed off and burrowed nearby below the thick grass, and reappeared to cart the spider a few more inches. The pace of transport had slowed. It was like watching someone pulling an overloaded luggage cart through a crowded train station, as the spider would get caught on a grass blade and the wasp would attempt to maneuver it this way and that. Eventually, the wasp pulled the paralyzed tarantula under the grass and out of sight into a its new home for the next few weeks.

Spider wasps are common throughout the world, but rarely observed by urbanites, so we felt as if we were capturing a scene from Life In The Undergrowth. The wasp hides the still living spider in a burrow and lays an egg on it. The egg hatches, and the hungry larva feasts on this nutritious food source. The larva develops, morphs and leaves the burrow as an adult wasp to look for a mate and eventually a tarantula to play host for its young.

 Many species of wasp lay their eggs on living hosts or just eat the prey and regurgitate it to larva. We have seen wasp eggs stuck to the back of caterpillars in our tomato garden in Clarendon Hills. I’ll soon have to write about the cordyceps fungi. Ahhhh, the wonders of nature. Signed M.


Bus Virgin...No More!

Exactly 12 hours later, I am home from my epic journey today into San Jose, by bus, to see my Doctor.  I hope the 8 hours on the bus is worth it!  I left on foot at 5:45 a.m. this morning, heading for Santa Elena to catch the 6:30 bus.  Of course, within minutes of my departure, it started to rain, so I was somewhat of a soggy passenger.  This will be short and sweet as I am exhausted and we leave for a mini vacation at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.

The trip was uneventful except for when our bus 'broke'...about 90 minutes into the ride we all heard (what sounded like a huge muffler falling off the bus).  The driver pulled over, got off the bus for about 5 minutes and must have done a quick assessment and decided we could press on.  I was unaware of what had happened until we stopped about an hour later at a rest stop and heard the news that we would await the inbound bus from San Jose to Monteverde, change busses and then be on our way.  Sounds to me that we got the best deal out of that one!  Boarding a broken bus and heading up the mountain...OH MY!
It was interesting how people got off anytime or the bus took on new passengers at other times throughout our route down the mountain.  Men were hopping on and off as well to sell bread, freeze pops, etc. to the tired passengers.  
I met the Doctor at the Clinic (I was an hour early), he was prompt, 30 minutes later I was back in a cab and waiting for the return bus ride back home.  Waiting is such hard work!  Next time I will be more adventurous and do some shopping, this time, I didn't feel getting lost was something I wanted to experience or paying more money for a cab to take me around town for that matter, so I just cracked open my Spanish book, relaxed and waited.  

I am simply amazed how anyone can drive a huge bus up the mountain, it almost made me sick a couple of times -- I was the third seat from the huge, expansive windshield, and when he maneuvered this gigantic machine around each corner, I was happy to see that we were indeed NOT hanging out in the clouds and the back of the bus had followed nicely as it should!   These buses need every bit of the entire road to prepare for each hairpin turn.  

Anyway, that is all for now - home safe, lots of hugs and kisses from the boys so I am a happy (and tired) gal.

We will probably be away for a few days as we enjoy our few days away but surely there will be some adventures awaiting and pics to boot.

Signed:  S

Saturday, October 10, 2009

5 Things I Observed Today

Observation #1: 

Chicago is getting a blast of record breaking cold air tonight with temperatures forecasted to dip into the 20’s. Temperatures here in Monteverde have remained close to 20˚ since July. 20˚ Celsius, that is. Attached to this blog is a map of current humidity levels in Central America. Note that Costa Rica is at 100% humidity, but still quite comfortable here. It just means that getting a campfire started and keeping it hot enough to roast marshmallows is a huge ordeal and that laundry hangs for three days before it is finally not too wet to wear.

Observation #2:

We were walking down the dirt road to a friend’s house when we heard either a “Hello” or an “Hola.” It sounded like an older person, maybe it was Martha, we were near her house. We heard it again, where is that person, who is greeting us? It is often difficult to see into yards because of the dense vegetation everywhere. I responded back with a “Hello” but it took a moment for the person to call back. This time I could not make it out. Was that a “Hello” “Hola” or someone in trouble? The boys could not locate anyone either. Sally chimed in, “I think it’s a bird, a parrot, come on, lets keep moving.” A parrot? Possible? Now I was really intrigued and the boys were ever so confused, they did not know how to respond. Michael was speechless, which is rare these days. Well, we did keep moving, but fortunately on the way back, we once again encountered that scratchy “Hola.” There she was, a beautiful large green parrot sitting on the telephone line. Sure enough, “Hola” she bellowed. If you could see the boys faces! “The bird talked!!!” She did not speak again, but we will surely return for more small talk.    


Observation #3:

Instead of howler monkeys waking us in the morning, they are foraging elsewhere, it is the regular drop of a guyaba fruit onto our roof. The racquetball size fruits are ripening and several times a day one hits right above the bedroom with a ‘bonk’ and then reminding me of my bowling years, rumbles down our slanted roof and crashes into the gutter. The boys, accustomed to the noise, yell, “Strike!” with each crash.   


Observation #4:

The colony of ants that visit our front porch each evening looking for treats the children left behind had a special treat tonight when they marched into our dining room. Dinner was a little messy and our brown six legged friends found plenty of chip crumbs on the floor. During storytime, Michael was especially excited to spy one little fella carrying a chip chunk up the side of a chair. Watching the ant summit the wooden peak, Michael gleefully exclaimed, “I’m on top of the world!” I thought, ‘why sweep when the ants could have the place cleaned by morning?’ I don’t mind the ants, but organic goodies left on the floor, counter or sink invite other critters ever so common in warm locals. So I swept, cleaned the dishes and wiped the counters.


Observation #5:

Getting the dinner ready tonight, I noticed that the flame level under the rice cooker appeared rather low. Unsuccessful at raising the flame, I thought, Uh oh, were running out of gas. Fortunately, the lame flame lasted a few minutes, just enough to boil the water and thanks to the speedy pressure cooker, we enjoyed plates of tuna con soggy rice. Now the task is to find someone who can haul the empty propane tank for a refill. The tank stands about 5ft tall and will probably weigh over 200 lbs when full. Until then, our internal fires will be fueled with cold cereal, sandwiches, and any larva that make it through the strainer. 

Signed M.

A little of this….A little of that

Oh how the days pass – I can barely remember what we did this morning, let alone, four days ago! We are in full vacation mode and the boys are asking every hour “when are we leaving for vacation?” They are very hyped about our upcoming travels and spending time with animals and the opportunity to fish and ride horses. From all that I have read on the Internet and ‘word of mouth’, the La Carolina Lodge will not disappoint! We leave Tuesday for the Volcan Tenorio and Rio Celeste area and will return on Thursday.

Mike’s school week concluded with 8 hours of parent-teacher conferences on Thursday and a ½ day of school on Friday in celebration of Dia de Cultura where each class represented a country. Mike’s class represented Chile. Mike found himself welcoming kids into the classroom and speaking about Chile and using Spanish vocabulary he never new he had! Mike arrived home about 1 p.m. and we then walked into Santa Elena while Goudy watched the boys. We walked part of the way with three of his students and chatted them up to find out what their plans were for their vacation. Mike and I accomplished a lot, visited the bookstore, did some banking, bought my ticket to San Jose for Monday ($8.00) one way, purchased some iron pills at the pharmacy and stocked up on food/snacks at the Super Compro for our upcoming trip. Mike bought a ton of plastic containers for his classroom organization as well. We ended the night watching “The Kite Runner” on the laptop. The rain was so loud against our fiberglass roof that we had to resort to using my headphones from my IPod in order to hear any sound as the speaker on the laptop was drowned out by the heavy downpour.

Thursday, the boys had a ‘play-date’ with Jackson, one of their classmates. Nicolette and her husband live about 10 minutes away on the Rockwell farm. They have a charming house with a ‘to die for’ view of the Gulf of Nicoya. She and her husband own the Santa Elena Pension, are opening a bar, have just expanded the pension with a brand new building and have another venture in the works. She also owns a jewelry store “Luna Azul” right on the edge of Cerro Plano. They are transplants from Texas, but are here to stay for the long run. She has really personalized her house, has painted it, fresh flowers in a vase, hardwood floors, ceramic tile – ‘a real home’. I felt a little envious as I started to compare it to our house (concrete floors, smashed guayba fruit smeared all over the windows (compliments of the boys) and the only thing growing in a glass on top of our counter is a week old stalk of rosemary. Nicolette quickly reminded me of her first Tico house (they have been here 5 years) and the fact that each of the three houses she has lived in has had its own uniqueness and advantages. The boys had a great time playing, while Nicolette and I sat on the porch, enjoying the view while she recounted her story of how she and her husband got to where they are today. The boys devoured an entire watermelon and frolicked in Jackson’s fort.

I’ve been taking advantage of the library at the school in attempt to keep the boys excited about reading. They love to read anytime and any new book puts a twinkle in their eye. The library is filled with a musty, mildewish smell which clings to the pages of the books, so once home and opened, the familiar smell of the library is ever so present. Some of the books are so tattered and torn you wonder how on earth they can endure another pre-schooler’s handling – but they do! Quite frequently, I open a book and read the stamp imprinted on the front cover “For the Students of Monteverde Costa Rica, A gift from the citizens of your sister city, Estes Park, Colorado”. I usually get a mixture of books, some in English, some in Spanish.

Food and Insects – not for the squeamish. Thursday, I along with Goudy and the boys attempted to make grapefruit juice. In a secret mission, Goudy and I lifted the boys over the barbed wire fence marking our neighbors property to the east (there is a nice big house that sits on the property, but we have never actually SEEN anyone there). The boys were eager to collect the fallen grapefruit and escape back to our yard without being detected…mission accomplished!. After the boys cleaned the grapefruits, the boys cut them open and put our little juicer to work. “Is that a piece of pulp”, I asked, “nope it is insect larva”, NICE - we decided we could weed those little critters out using the strainer, so we pushed onward. A little sugar and water and ‘Que rico’! Speaking of insects and larva in food, it has been our week for quite these discoveries. For those of you that know Mike, he does not like to throw away any food, even if it is on the brink of going bad – so eggplant it was for dinner last night...or so we thought. Our friendly little insect larva appeared once again and wiggled and squirmed away on the cutting board – luckily Mike came to the realization that this eggplant was better suited for the compost. A good choice! Finally, while boiling some water for pasta, little did I know that there were dried insects (looked like the land shrimp we find on our floor every night) in the package of noodles. It wasn’t until after I munched on a few hard noodles while waiting for the water to boil that I spied the bugs as they floated up to the top once I dumped the noodles into the water. Did we buy the noodles this way? Or had the insects found their way into the bag while sitting on our cabinet shelf – no importa? Just life!

Today, Saturday, after my run, we walked up to school with the bins we had purchased yesterday in hand so Mike could start to organize his classroom and ready for some project work with the kids once back from vacation. The weekly game of ultimate Frisbee was taking shape. You can see them practicing in the pic above. As the afternoon wore on, more folks showed up, and the game got competitive. My boys enjoyed playing in the sandbox and the play-yard. We then headed to Pax and Raquel’s house to play with Sierra. She is a very mature 10 year-old who is chomping at the bit to baby-sit Michael and John. Stewart their neighbor, and Sequoia, her brother were also there, so good play for all. I enjoyed talking Spanish with Raquel and Pax and were thrilled when they commented on the improvement in my Spanish – YAY! Sierra’s room is filled with her crafts and jewelry making beads – the boys were captivated. She will watch the boys tomorrow at school when Mike and I attend the morning Meeting.

Finally, I think the rainy season is here – it is a good thing as we are so dry. We have had rain the last week, each day, which will hopefully continue. There is concern that come Spring, water may be rationed and only permitted for use before 7 a.m. and after 11 p.m. – Let the rain dances begin!

P.S. - Last weekend at the Farmers Market, the kids enjoyed an activity "making masks" compliments of an art-teacher from San Jose. It was great, I sat down with them on the make-shift table (an old door) while Mike purchased all the fruits and veggies. Michael was in craft heaven, John just enjoyed getting all his fingers in the glue!
Signed: S

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What to Do...What to Do

So here it is almost mid-week, and next week's vacation is fast approaching - 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, I am at the computer; Mike sprawled out on the bed with several Guide Books open and dog-eared on various pages. We hope we are getting closer and narrowing down our vacation plans; I think to myself "why is this so difficult"?
Monday - I have to take a bus into San Jose to see a Specialist (will leave on the 6:30 a.m. bus out of Santa Elena, meet with the Dr. at noon, maybe squeeze in some shopping and then catch the 2:30 bus back up the mountain in hopes of seeing Monteverde again around 7 p.m. that same night.
Tuesday through Thursday - as of now, looking like we may head to one of the volcanoes in the Northwestern region of the country. Arenal seems a little pricey so we have gotten some good tips from locals -- check out Guayabo or Bijagua which are near Volcan Tenorio and Rio Celeste. Rio Celeste is a river in the canton of Guatuso that is dyed light blue by a chemical reaction of minerals from the Tenorio Volcano. The magnificent color of the river, along with the lush forest that surrounds it, should make for a wonderful hike through the Tenorio Volcano National Park. We will probably hire a driver instead of renting a car; we have a friend here, Katya, who can help us with the transportation. We are looking at several options for accommodations and would love something that offers activities for the boys, fishing, horseback riding, helping on the farm, etc.; perhaps the LaCarolina Lodge will be our choice (more research needed)
Friday - Spanish tutoring
The rest of the time we'll hang out in Monteverde and Santa Elena and check out the Bat Museum, Butterfly Garden, Serpenterium, Insectorio, etc. We've also been invited to share some time with another teacher and her family in San Luis which would be great fun.
So you can see, we are busy planning and hope that we leave some time for relaxing :)

I am on Shared Snack duty again for Kinder tomorrow and just pulled a banana bread out of the oven at 9:30 and also made a decent chicken soup for dinner tonight. Just a little plug for myself (everyone needs a pat on the back once in a while, and when it comes to cooking, the more positive reinforcement I get....the more meals the boys will receive !)

I collected the kids from school today and we headed home quickly as the sky was threatening. At the pasture gate, we were greeted by Nicolette and her crew, she rolled down the window of her truck and yelled "heading to Chimera (a tapas restaurant in Cerro Plano) for a Margarita - want to join me"? After a brief hesitation - I shot across the road with the boys in toe, shoved them into her truck (she already had a full car-load of kids inside) and said "let's go"!. The kids (about 7 of them played in the garden and patio area outside while we enjoyed a cocktail (Margarita - a refreshing change from the red wine I usually consume - those of you that know me well, know that is my beverage of choice :)
The kids sat at another table and ordered various tapas (a much better snack than what I could have thrown together at the 4 p.m. hour) I was delighted to see Michael and John interacting so nicely with the other kids - they did well - no spillage or broken water glasses, so a successful evening. Deb (the other mother that joined us) is the owner of Chun Ches (which is a bookstore/coffee shop in Santa Elena). It was a nice way to end the day as I have been feeling a little disconnected of late...perhaps we are settling in as we fast approach our third month here, the rains are starting to come and the reality is creeping in that I do miss my work and am realizing just how much of my identity was wrapped up in it. So what does that mean? I thoroughly enjoy my kids and love the curiosity and expressions - the way Michael can contort his face is amazing - I am really loving the time with the boys even though a lot of it is challenging beyond words. So, I will continue to ponder this and sit with this feeling of 'Just Who is Sally beyond her laptop, global conference calls and metra train pass? and what is she being called to do here in Costa Rica?
I enjoyed my time Sunday at the Evangelical Church (iglesia Dios) in Santa Elena. I walked into town and found myself sitting on a church bench 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I watched as Ticos filled the church, lots of children, old and young alike. By the time 10 a.m. came, the church was packed, standing room only - the first 35 minutes was filled with song, drums, bongos, guitar - very upbeat - lots of clapping and hand waving - a far cry from my rather traditional Presbyterian church in Clarendon Hills. Shirely (my friend), found me and moved in to take a seat beside me - she was a comfort to my eyes and made sure I was following along (best I could as the 2 hours was all in Spanish). I spent a lot of time gazing around at everyone's faces, the way they greet one another, the way they greeted me - with hugs and kisses, I felt like I was an old friend. Perhaps I was? I reached over and took Shirley's hand as we all sang together. The kids left the main building and attended their own service (Sunday school) while our service concluded. At the conclusion, we all went up to the front of the church, some of us knelt while others danced and began to weep. For me, it was quite an experience as I have never been so free with my expressions. I told Mike about the service and said if we wanted to get a feel for a Costa Rican Evangelical service, this is the place to go.

So, another week filled with diversity, thoughts, rain and anticipation for what is to come.
Stay tuned
Signed: S

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Does Super Nanny make House-calls to Costa Rica?

An exhausting week, still trying to find some normalcy after just one day/night away last weekend. I guess our boys crave the routine/schedule so even an ‘overnighter’ can throw things out of whack for a week. It has been tough since our return from San Gerardo last Saturday. I continue to TRY to be consistent, fair and firm while attempting to keep a sense of calm when laying down the law at home. I always think of Miss Julie in these situations (their teacher last year at Seton Montessori) – she had such a calming way about her with the kids and even when she was in an ‘instructional’ mode, she was so gentle with her words. So she is an inspiration to me, especially over these last 6 days. Really concentrating on the importance of manners with the boys...(please, thank you, looking people in the eye when greeting them and keeping their left hand in their lap during meal times (the latter being quite the challenge). I remember Auntie Beth stressing meal-time manners with Josh and Zach at a young age, so I figure, start now and by the time they are off to college, they’ll get ‘it’ ☺ My ‘pet peeve’ of late is trying to get the boys to understand, instead of screaming at the top of your lungs from the tree swing, clear across the yard, to ask me for a PUSH – get off the swing, come to me in a calm manner, and ask “mom, could you please push me on the swing”!? You know boys, we do have neighbors here and although we rise at 5:30 a.m., doesn’t mean our poor neighbors need to. Frequently, John and Adrienne (the School’s Director and his wife) who actually ARE our neighbors, witness the meltdowns, tantrums etc. first hand. I just know that tables will soon turn and they will start to catch the boys in behaviour befitting almost four-year olds. So – this little recap, not only catches you up on how I've spent my last days but is also a preface for the summary below of my first school volunteer experience Thursday afternoon.

At the fundraiser last Saturday night, I was approached by Kimbra, another parent, to assist her and Mike with their final mini-course this past Thursday between 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. The mini-courses are offered each Thursday and often times, the parents get involved co-partnering with a teacher or another parent to teach a skill or showcase a particular talent they may have. (anything from computer skills, practical skills, cooking, sports, etc.) I think the courses span a quarter or semester. Mike and Kimbra's course (Art and Nature) involved getting the kids outside to observe nature, collect leaves, etc and draw some of their findings. Thursday's crescendo involved using fabric paint, leaves and book bags/T-shirts to stencil on the leaf prints with the intent of sharing the book bags with their parents during next weeks “parent-teacher’ conferences. There were about 12 kids in the mini-course; only two girls – kids ranging from ages 8 to 12.

Interesting to be out of the Three year-old world for observations were the following:

As I floated around the room, I was often asked for more paint, or help pressing a leaf onto the book bag – what amazed me is that I did not hear “Please, could you get me some more green paint” or “ could you please help me with this leaf” – perhaps I was so atune with these basic manners since it is just this type of thing that consumes my day with my two three year olds, but immediately I thought to myself “where are their manners”? Is it a cultural thing?

The kids address the teacher on a first name basis – “Mike – come here”, “Mike – can I see this” etc…this was such a new concept for me as the kids at Francis Parker in Chicago where Mike previously taught addressed faculty very formally. Again a cultural thing or perhaps MFS being a Quaker school, they encourage teacher/student relationships to be on a more informal basis. I didn't dare introduce myself as “Mrs. Schaefer”. Just another difference to get accustomed to.

It was a task keeping the kids focused and engaged for the 90 minutes – perhaps because they are of the pre-teen age (need I say more) or was the environment too informal to foster structure without rigidity?

After the activity I shared my observations with Kimbra and Mike and had another interesting conversation with Mike about it last night.

Miss Manners I am not – Gosh, I am so exhausted just trying to keep my own kids from screaming, throwing or hitting each other most days – however I do recognize how important it is for me to continue to re-inforce good behavior and respect. Is it time for me to call in Super Nanny? Does she make house-calls?

So what’s next? The school has reached out to the parents asking for volunteers to lead or co-facilitate mini-courses starting after the October break. I have expressed an interest in giving a course on “How to set up a Blog” or “How to play basketball” since I played in high-school (although it has been along time – I do recall something about zone defense vs. man –to-man???) There are plenty of opportunities to get involved at the school and I look forward to having some time to help out in anyway I can.

Speaking of the October break which is the week of 10/12, we had thought we may need to head to Nicaragua for three days as we are still waiting for our work visas to come through, but the school tells us we have paperwork that will suffice in the interim until the final papers arrive. So local we will stay! We are thinking about going somewhere with the boys for 2 or 3 days (perhaps to Arenal to experience the volcano and then head back home to take in some of the local attractions here that we have not had a chance to frequent as of yet. If we can swing it, Mike and I are also interested in taking some Spanish classes or hooking up with a tutor so we can concentrate on honing our Spanish while Goudy watches the boys. Need to firm something up as mid-October is fast approaching.

Mike and I are busy at night – I continue to assist him with some of his organization tasks (developing templates or entering data into his grading program as he needs to prepare 32 assessments for his kids in his 4 classes so he can present them to the parents during the 10/8 conference day.

One other comment, I plan on attending an Evangelical Christian Church this Sunday just outside of Santa Elena. One of the mother’s of a classmate of the boys (who I befriended at the Parent’s tea last month) attends and has offered to pick me up and have me accompany her and her family on Sunday. I look forward to it – I believe one of the Guindon sons is the Pastor.

Thanks Choppy and Poppy for the package (again) – ah, a new pot-holder, more stickers, balloons and granola bars for the boys, magnets, glad wrap ‘thingys” and a new Children’s Bible. The boys and I spent over an hour on the patio reading the stories before dusk set in last night and spent a lot of time talking about Moses (they loved the concept of the baby in the basket and also the parting of the sea) – when I said “enough, I need to start dinner”, the kids responded “more mom, read more’, so there you have it. Their minds are so inquisitive and OH the questions that come out of their little mouths. I look forward to re-inforcing the stories and working the readings into our daily/weekly routine.

Off to the Farmers market - All for today
Signed: S