Monday, November 30, 2009

Rubbermaid Tubs & Water Equals Hours of Play

Where did I put that bottle of sunscreen? I quickly reached for it today before the boys sported their swimming trunks and darted outside. Yesterday after spending three hours in the sun, we all needed a little bit of protection as the sun shone brightly again today. Glorious sun!

Rubbermaid tubs deserve a mention here...I remember that early morning back in July, when Mike and I were frantically packing at the 11th hour. The taxi to take us to O'Hare was arriving in three hours (4:30 a.m.) and we were staring at my sister's living room full of our 'stuff'. We quickly decided what was staying behind, the other 'essentials' were packed into four tubs that made the flight with us on the airplane. Great suitcase alternatives and they meet the approved dimensions for most airlines. Other uses, just in case you are wondering...
1. Great for building forts (and an added bonus, you can store all the sheets and towels one uses to construct the fort in the bin after your little ones tire of fort building (at least for the day)

2. Impromptu games of "Pop goes Michael, John, or Mommy".

3. Swimming Pools - It is this use that put a smile on my face yesterday and today as I remembered how much the kids enjoyed the little pool we had back on Tuttle Avenue. Throw in a couple of plastic water bottles, yogurt containers, funnels and measuring cups, and hours of fun quickly follow. While Mike buried himself in school work yesterday (Sunday), I enjoyed some relaxing in the sun as the boys frolicked in their 'tubs'. Their play was uninterrupted - mom didn't have to intervene once - what a welcomed change. They delighted in getting their hands wet and warming them in the sweet sun. We pulled the patio table and bench out into the yard and ate our lunch, picnic style. What fun!

We also enjoyed our version of a beanbag toss (I have two change purses) from Guatemala that we've filled with small change - they make great bean-bags - we had a blast!

After the fun in the sun, we ventured with Dad to school as he had to make copies of some material for the upcoming week. A quick detour into the Dairy to enjoy an ice cream and then up a side road as I wanted to check out a street that leads up around the Monteverde Institute. It was there that we ran into a family that we had previously met on one of our hikes -- they were in their car scouting out house rentals as they were preparing to move from San Jose. Andres is the Assistant Manager for one of the big hotels in town. Edda, his wife, came out of the house, holding 5 month old Luna, while 4 year old Javier, greeted us at the stairs, chatting us up in Spanish. "Ah, yes, Edda, how are you?" I said in Spanish. She welcomed us and invited us in - a quick tour of the house, and the boys were off playing, while we sat on her balcony basking in the sun in the late afternoon. I look forward to building a friendship with this family. She is eager to make new friends as I am as well. The boys laughed together and chased after Javier's new puppy, Kala. It is this spontaneity that I love.

Another high-light of our long weekend - WE FOUND A BABYSITTER! SWEET! Denise, a 9th grader, came over to the house Saturday monring and spent 1 1/2 with the boys - they loved her and showered her with goodbye kisses and hugs as she left for home through the pasture gate. Mike and I are thrilled as we have not had a chance to enjoy a night out without kids since we arrived end of July. Jude, my partner in crime, on various projects for the school, has invited us over for dinner on Sunday night. She and her husband, Theo, rent a house going toward San Luis and plan to live out their lives here in the Monteverde area.

Today, I spent some time again with Jude to prepare for another meeting this Wednesday with the School Director to update him on the progress of our project.

Good Day, Sunshine!

Signed: S

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday - No Malls, No Traffic, No Advertisements

There are so many things I love about living in Monteverde. Many have to do with adventuring outdoors in semi-natural surroundings (much of the forest around our house is second growth, but still very lush), learning about the lives of other people here, and living a more simple life.

Yesterday morning, we had a group of nine hiking through some trails at a neighbor's house across the street. Ages ranged from four to eighty-seven and to give you an idea of its challenge level, we had to take the dogs back home because John the elder of the group was worried they would fall into the ravine or pull someone with them. We ventured down to a waterfall, admired a massive strangler fig tree and a huge thirty five year old walnut tree that would take over one hundred years to attain the same size in Illinois. In future blogs, we will have to write about the strangler fig tree and about John's move to Monteverde in 1971.

As we started the hike, someone mentioned black friday and shopping. It literally brought a strange chill as I thought about sitting in a car attempting to navigate through the Best Buy parking lot and being continually bombarded with advertisements from every direction. I do not miss the gauntlet of commercialism that tells me "buy this, take your kids here, your life will improve if you have this, eat here, drink this, wear that, he can't be a man 'cause' he doesn't smoke the same cigarette as me," and on and on.

We do not have a TV, a car or radio. Yes, we do have internet and do need to buy things, but shopping is not part of the culture in this community. There are some signs with arrows pointing to a point of interest and most of the signs for restaurants and hotels are small and simple. There is one sign for the Super Compro along the road - its seems out of place and of course there are the two vehicles that occasionally drive by blasting commercials from their rooftop speakers. One driver we know, Ricky always stops and waves "Pura Vida", cheerfully accepts guayvas from the boys and lets the boys speak into his microphone! In general, consumerism is not a major part of people's lives here.

On a related note, I faced a challenge in the 7/8th grade classroom this week when I introduced a method for presenting an animal species. I instructed them to create a magazine, TV, or radio advertisement 1) as a vehicle to tell the audience about the animal while 2) encouraging preservation of its habitat and 3) discouraging the construction of a shopping mall that could endanger the species. The kids understood their animal and the concepts of habitat preservation and endangerment, but stumbled with the advertisement part. When I presented a task like this in Chicago, the students would run with it and I would be impressed with the creative juices, but these kids just did not understand advertising the way the Chicago kids do. I realized, after playing a TV commercial actor and showing magazine ads that this would be difficult. I asked, too late, who had experience with creating an advertisement, and two students raised hands. They presented their animals on tuesday, with a varying degree of fanfare!

Oh no! Children in this community will have a disadvantage when competing for that marketing executive job after college! These students have plenty of talent and skills that I would not find in a Chicago classroom (blog about that soon). I think about the meaning of education: Are we training our child to be a good worker? Or, are encouraging our child to be a learner for the sake of learning. Is education a combination of these or something completely different? Depending on the culture, does the purpose of education vary from neighborhood to neighborhood? and country to country? We are part of our culture.

Posted are some pics from yesterday's hike and of local advertisers. Signed M.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

'Pot Luck' as it is called here made Thanskgiving day seem almost normal. Yes, we missed family and frequently thought about the fun being had at David and Sandy's house. We did have a feast - sin turkey and stuffing, but loaded with lasagna, a variety of vegetables and sweet potatoes. We did not have a dessert table beyond belief but did enjoy a mango pie! Carol and Peter, Veronica and Stuart, Ginna, John, Adrienne and Odeliea joined us and brought their delicious dishes.

It was a warm day, about 75 degrees and I could not help but think of the games of running bases we would play back at the Scottsdale house after stuffing our tummies on a Sunday BBQ. The boys played on the swing, had several games of soccer with Veronica and Carol.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Walk to the Guindon Farm

On Sunday, we ventured out for a walk to the Guindon Farm to watch the milking of the goats and cows. Wolf and Lucky Guindon were part of the first group of Quakers that came to Costa RIca in 1951. They raised seven children here and the family has been and still is a keystone to the development and life here in Monteverde. Benito, their youngest son, has always had a passion for animals and now takes care of the farm making sure the animals are attended to twice a day. Benito is easy going and always welcoming of visitors, so we arranged to meet him for the 4:30 milking.

Along the two kilometer walk to the farm we stopped to talk with Miguel (on the motorcycle) and to say hello to the man on the horse. The boys found some vines on which to climb and strangler fig trees to look at in awe. We crossed a footbridge, passed a field with a colt and mother and finally came to the long(kilometer) driveway up to the Guindon house. As we gained in elevation, we found a view down into the valley and overlooking the Bay of Nicoya. The plant life was thriving and thick. Apparently, more rain falls here than at our house.

The first building at the top of the hill is the old Guindon house, now empty except for a few million termites and surely a snake or two. We are greeted by a handful of barking, yet friendly dogs wanting a sniff of fresh 4 year olds. Wolf and Benito soon arrived and it was time to empty some udders. We followed Bennie to the milk room as watched him rinse and prepare the stainless still milk cans. Out we went as he opened a gate and allowed the goats to walk the ramp up to their feeding and milking platform. Michael asks, "Why do you tie the goats?" "So they don't ram their horns into another one's butt!" Benito replies laughing, but completely serious. Michael laughs, "That's funny!" The goats are focused on eating their molasses sweetened while Benito does the milking. I would guess that the seven or so goat yielded about two liters of milk, or about 1/2 gallon. The largest amount was given by a goat that just gave birth 10 days ago while the others yielded little because they are pregnant. I thought about how much work went into the 1/2 gallon of goat's milk I bought from him that morning for two dollars. He let the boys feel warmth of the bucket before taking it to the milk cans. We waited while he called the five cows in from the pasture and started milking them -all by hand, no fancy machinery on this farm.

The sunset was beautiful and darkness was creeping over us and it was difficult to pull the boys away. Michael and John were naturally thrilled by the animals and wanted to see the chickens, ducks and rabbits. This will have to wait for another day explained mom and dad as we were eager to begin the hike back home. I was familiar with a trail through a forest and pasture that would lead us to the road. Darkness was settling in and the boys and I talked about how our night vision really improves when we don't use flashlights. Reaching the pasture, we were pelted by wind driven mist while dodging rather large cow pies. Almost to the road, I heard a strange noise behind me and John. We quickly turned to see a colt running and crossing our path just a few feet behind us. It let out some gas and galloped away. Interesting, I thought, glad it didn't strike us.

The boys were troopers and walked home the full distance in the dark of night on a slippery muddy road while being refreshed by wind driven mist.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Celebrations Abundant!

Oh, how my life is getting busy…as I write this, I am sitting outside the school office perched on a low bench waiting for Mike to finish his last class as we are observing Michael and John in Kinder today at 1:30.  Their teachers have extended an open invitation to all the parents to observe their child/ren in class during the month of November, so we look forward to this opportunity today.  Between 12 noon; the time I arrived with the two boys and this very moment, I have had a fruitful conversation with my husband over lunch/recess, quickly debriefed yesterday’s Fundraising Committee meeting with Jude and spoken to Yuri in the School Office about t-shirts, stickers and other MFS products (which, as of yesterday’s fundraising meeting) is my ‘baby’.  I need to put together a plan by the 12/9 meeting with my vision as to how to better market the school’s products and get them more visible in the community…sounds fun, eh? Tomorrow, I again meet with Jude to further design and plan out the work we are doing in preparation for the Master Facility Plan/new building.  Did I mention, I have to run home and make another birthday cake this afternoon?…YES, Happy Birthday John Gustavo!  We celebrate his turning four today …and is it just coincidence or providential that for the first time in over a year, I did not have to wake up (several times) in the night to lead him to the bathroom to go pee pee and lay back down with him in his bed while he fidgets for another 90 minutes before falling back to sleep.  We finally purchased a night light in Santa Elena last weekend and with the help of our dear friend, Veronica, implemented some strategies to break this most tiring habit… hopefully we are on our way…So indeed, Happy Day John!

We are thrilled to be opening up our home Thanksgiving Day for a ‘pot-luck’ lunch for other expats and ‘misfits’ J who are staying local for the holiday.  Again, thanks to Veronica for being the catalyst for this!  We have ample space for all in our home, so to the Schaefer’s they will come.  We plan on making eggplant lasagna while other’s menu includes, mango pie, fried rice/vegetables, sweet potatoes, etc.  We are considering our vegetarian amigos and happy to forgo the turkey this year.  I hear through the grape vine that turkey purchased here at the SuperCompro can have quite the case of ‘freezer burn’. 

Veronica invited us to a meditation group Thanksgiving morning at Rio Shanti (the local boutique/spa/yoga facility).  It will be a nice way for Mike and I to do something together while Gaudy watches the boys and Veronica’s little one, Stuart as well. 

Friday we plan on taking a hike with Veronica and Stuart as we so enjoy their company. 

Saturday, perhaps dinner with Jude and Theo sin ninos or drop in on a 40th birthday party for a friend/5 year anniversary celebration of their local business (Santa Elena Pension)...both contingent upon finding a baby-sitter (we've got to jump on that)!


Well, I look up and see Mike standing before me, my watch reads 1:30 on the dot, so we are ready to head to the Kinder class…I am sure we will have quite a healthy dinner discussion tonight with the kids!

Post Script:

WOW, what an awesome experience today in the Kinder class, both Mike and I were simply amazed and proud parents!  We spent 90 minutes with the class and marveled at how busy these little minds are...working, working, working!  Both boys worked so independently and we smiled at eachother when we saw their focus and concentration kick in as they worked with the different materials.  Michael worked with thread and needle, making a Christmas ornament while, of course, chatting the entire time- so excited to have mom and dad with him, while John worked on the floor with many different materials and with water and flour.  They put back all their materials and grabbed for the sweeper and the dust pan to wipe up any flour that may have spilled onto the table.  Very impressed with all the kids and all their capabilities.  Kudos to Ms. Melody!

Finally, check out the pic of our tie dye shirts...first attempt, so not too bad for nubies.  We had three extremely stained, grimey white t-shirts and thought we could extend their longevity with some color.  We had fun creating our designs and luckily had the supplies on hand (marbles and rubber bands) and SuperCompro supplied the fabric tint!  Watch out Martha Stewart!


Signed:  S

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Winter in Costa Rica

Its official, winter has arrived in Monteverde. Well, its not quite Dec 21st, but people here call this new season, invierno, or winter. Just as November brings dramatic weather changes to the States, it has brought a significant change up on the mountain. The daily downpours finally ended last week and we woke one morning to the sound of wind blasting through the trees. Since then, it has been very windy, misty, and few degrees cooler. I actually put on a long sleeve shirt at school for an hour. 

Tuesday was picture perfect. Blue skies, breezy about 70 degrees. After all that rain, I could almost feel the burst of new plant growth enshrouding the trails. Yesterday and today have been meteorological wonders for me as it appears that Monteverde sits directly under a dividing line of clouds or sun and a rainbow is a permanent feature in the daily sky. Sally has written in the past about rain in the back yard and blue skies in the front. The gusts of wind bring horizontal mist as the clouds dissipate overhead. To the East, clouds coming over the mountain ridge, to the West, clear skies. At one moment, everything glistens wet, but in another moment everything is wind dried. 

It is quite comfortable, although a few locals are dressed in their warmest clothing, sweaters, hats and gloves. I was laughing with one mother today as she was sporting her hooded parker purchased at an 'American' clothing store. There are a few of these stores that sell slightly used clothing from the States. A side note, the words  "American" or "America" in Latin America normally refer to North America, Central America and South America. One America means Nunavut to Patagonia and everything in between.  

Its getting late, I need to wake early and prep for 7/8 math. All my math groups will have tests next week before the Thanksgiving break. No, it is not a national holiday in Costa Rica - just in gringo influenced Monteverde.   No classes Thursday and Friday. 

I hear the trees blowing in the wind, a few types of crickets chirping, and several dogs barking. Our windows are shut but the many little openings in the house allow drafts to refresh the indoor air. Signed M.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again!

So just in case you are wondering...I really am ALIVE and still kickin' after one of the toughest weeks in a long time. (Although I am quite sure some of the teachers/parents at school may have thought I skipped out on Mike and the kids and headed back to the states....I'm here to set the record straight....I am still on the Mountain!)   Thanks to Mike for keeping everyone up to date on my health status...mostly Choppie and Poppie and Mom Schaefer as I knew their little minds would be whirling with all sorts of swine flu media hype and wondering just how was I coping???  Hmmm, don't think it was swine flu...cow flu...maybe?  Don't think it was a parasite either, I think it was some bad virus that glommed onto John Gustavo and then found its way to me after a week of caring for him.  (See my previous post re: underwear :)
I dare not wish this on anyone!  John fell sick with two days of fever followed by a week plus of diarreah.  After his 5th day of the runs, and my first day with slight fluish symptoms (a week ago Sunday), we decided we better get him into the clinic to rule out any type of parasite.  We left the clinic with orders to return the next day with a stool sample (ya right, tell me how I am suppose to pull that one off with a 3-year old...ain't happenin'.), a urine sample and an order for blood work.  Monday rolled around and I could not get out of bed.  Generally, my body temp is below 97.5, I started the day with a 99.2 and ended up with a temp over 102 the next day.  The bone pain was excrutiating; and the boys jumping over me, debuting their latest gymnastic move on my bed, didn't help the situation.  Finally, after sweating through three t-shirts in the night, my fever broke but left me with 6 days of diarreah and stomach cramps; like nothing I can remember.  Oh how I longed for my bathroom back in the little green house on Tuttle Avenue.  Instead, I hunkered down in my 'now' bathroom with my Spanish verb book in hand and stared either at the concrete floor below me or up above at the cob webs and mold infested ceiling.  Take your pick!  And let us not forget the dreaded toilet the garbage my dear friends, not down the toilet.  I made sure Mike had a little package with him every morning on his way to school last week which he could easily toss into the dumpster across from our pasture gate.  He was a trooper through my illness, coming home from school early, keeping me well hydrated, keeping the boys out of my hair so I could rest and that is only the beginning!  
Thursday came and I simply could not function so Mike stayed home from school and secured other teachers to take his morning classes until Gaudy arrived at noon.   Gaudy was a tremendous help, keeping up with the Schaefer laundry and running down to the Pulperia to fetch me gingerale and Gatorade.  I missed family in a bad way but found comfort in the offerings from the community, as Mike mentioned in a previous post, everything from chicken soup, lemonade, brownies, bread, plant leaves for tea, probiotics, yogurt and goat's milk to make more ourselves (yogurt that is), vitamins and DVDs to keep the kids occupied.  All so helpful!
I finally made it out of bed this past Saturday and yesterday stepped outside for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks to walk the kids to school.  
Somehow Mike and Michael escaped this who knows?...perhaps the luck of the draw.  As for me and John, we've done our time, so stay well my friends and know that I'll be waiting in the wings to come to your rescue with perhaps some chicken soup or a Powerade in hand.

Signed: S

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Walk To The Store

Last Sunday, while Sally and John weren't feeling well, Michael and I went to the local pulperia (grocer) to purchase some timely necessities: ginger ale, toilet paper and soda crackers. We figured that we would return in fifteen minutes as the store is at the bottom of our road. Unlike previous Sundays, it was closed, possibly due to new store hours or the rainy weather and lack of business. Although most shops follow a general schedule, hours are not posted and this does allow the propietor flexibility depending on the amount of potential business that day. 

I just stepped away from the computer for a few minutes to greet Climaco, a farmer who visits us about once a week selling his goods. He walks an hour up the road from San Luis loaded with a wood crate or a backpack over his shoulders. His first visit in September, he asked us for food due to hunger. I gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Since then, he has always had something to sell - tamales cooked by his wife, $1; manderinos, 8 cents; today I purchased ten lemons for about 70 cents.  The boys and I will make juice this morning.  

So back to last Sunday. In desperate need of those soda crackers and ginger ale, Michael and I started our journey to the next town, Cerro Plano. There is so much to see along the road and it is such a joy to walk with the eyes of a curious 4 year old. He stops to watch the rivulets of rain water curving their way across the dirt road, to touch the sensitive plants and delight in their closing leaves, to watch a quad (ATV) of waving people rumble by, to remind me about a trail we once walked, to contemplate what would happen if he fell down into a steep ravine, to point out a guyaba tree, to ask if I was big and strong enough to climb the tall eucalyptus trees.

While we were looking at a rushing creek under the road a man named Alberto and his lady friend joined us for some observations and conversation. He is a construction worker who is temporarily living in Monteverde while he builds a new hotel here. He inquired about his English skills and I practiced my limited Spanish. A few minutes later, Michael and I stopped to join some others looking at a green non-venomous snake on the road. It must have been run over by a tire and was suffering from a crushing injury a few inches down from the head. Umberto, the husband of Elliot, the boy's teacher arrived and carefully picked it up. We all had a chance to touch it before he tossed it into the grass. 

We sat upon a large boulder and waved to a family of four zoom by on their motorcycle. We looked over the valley down toward the Bay of Nicoya, barely able to make out the water through the layers of clouds. We looked at the moss and lichens growing everywhere and stopped to watch the trail of leafcutter ants carry their bits of leaves along the white line on the side of the paved road. We listened to the wind blow through the tall cyprus trees and ran past the row of waving bamboo.  Arriving in Cerro Plano, we took a left down a dirt road and followed a sign for a grocery. It was closed, so we continued our quest west passing modest houses, banana trees, people hanging laundry under an overhang, roaming dogs greeting everyone with waves and 'hola, buenas dias.' Michael told everyone about his brother and the diarrhea and our search for ginger ale. 

After a few more turns and rocky side roads, we finally arrived at an open store. We knew Lily, the woman at the counter, and a little girl flirted with my little boy. A student from MFS, Chris ran in and greeted us with "Da me cinco Michael!" Michael gave Chris a high five, then celebrated when he found the ginger ale. We picked up our goods, sat outside the store and enjoyed refreshing boxes of pear and mango juice. The two of us headed back home, greeting Karolay near her house, waving to some fellow teachers passing by on the yellow bus and walking with some of the familiar dogs. Michael stayed on his own two feet for the entire two and one half hour expedition. The final stretch up our road required some singing and and walking games to encourage him on. The mist, fresh breeze, greetings, greenery, wet feet - it was well worth the walk. Signed M.

Illness Update! Sally is up on her feet today!!! She improved tremendously yesterday and we tried to give her more R&R.