Sunday, March 28, 2010

Volcan Poas Here We Come!

The Easter break (Semana Santa/Holy Week) could not have come any quicker for me...honestly, I need to get away and enjoy a change of scenery. The commitments at school have kept me too busy and I am finding it hard to steal an hour for myself..really! We will head down the mountain, tomorrow, on the 6:30 a.m. bus to San Jose, first stopping at my doctor's office for a quick appointment, then onto Thrifty rent-a-car and then up towards Poas.

The Poás Volcano, in Spanish Volcán Poás, is an active stratovolcano in central Costa Rica. Poás has erupted 39 times since 1828; hopefully it will refrain from doing so Monday through Wednesday :) We've booked a Cabina 13 km south of the volcano, so we should be close enough to get there by 8:00 a.m. the next morning to see it before the clouds roll in. We hope to have a chance to drive around and come out on the Carribean side. Looking forward to it!

The weather today is hot and sunny so the clothes on the line are drying in no-time. We've been busy with life here and enjoyed a low-key pot-luck last night at Elizabeth's as a few of us gathered to say goodbye to a family that was returning to their Colorado ranch after being here 4 months.

Mike and I enjoyed our conference last week with the boy's teachers. They are doing so well and we were happy that they are behaving well and it appears the systems we've put in place at home can be seen at school :) YAY! They will likely be almost fluent by end of next year so they'll be good practice for mom and dad. They enjoyed playing with Salimito (Kattya's son) on Friday; Salimito wants to learn English, so a nice fit. They scampered around in their spiderman, batman and knight's masks and ran through the forest, played with blocks and enjoyed just being four together.

I am enjoying running more and getting some 'lessons' from Gaudy's husband, Raul, who is an avid runner. He is giving me some great tips and techniques on breathing and how to handle these hills. We run weekly together and do about 8 kilometers. I even manage to make it up these hills now, which I never thought I could do. It is all in the breathing. Good training for the upcoming Caminata (Walk-athon) on April 10th. Thanks to all who have sponsored me, it goes to a great cause (Monteverde Friends School).

Little Daisy is settling in and has become quite at-home here with us. She is really patient with the boys and makes herself comfortable on the coach and on our beds. I am hoping my allergies are to the dry, dusty weather and the neighbor's long haired kittens opposed to her. As darkness descends each night, we need to hurry to close all the drapes in the house, as she'll get up on the bed and bark at her reflection...and oh, the oven door is another bark-fest. It is quite hilarious.

I saw my first "live" scorpion yesterday morning as I picked up the bath mat. I was not sure it was a scorpion as I had just awaken, but once I got focused, I screamed for the boys, but it was too late. These things can really move, as it scurried into the guest bedroom. Just as long as it doesn't make its home in my bed, I'm okay. One of the gals here in the community was bitten by one in her bed last week and her lips and tongue swell up. UGH!

And finally, we are again celebrating with ice-cream today as John spent last night in his bed (and not sandwiched in between mom and dad in their bed). No wonder I feel so refreshed today. GREAT JOB John!

That is it for now, as we need to start packing and checking off the To Do List for our trip.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Did I mention...We're Staying!

Well, Sally reminded me that I have not as of yet, informed any readers about our decision to stay in Monteverde another year. There are numerous reasons to continue life here and it certainly was no small move to get to Costa Rica. I will teach science next year, Sally will continue her involvement on school committees and the boys will be teaching me Spanish. We will visit Chicago and North Carolina over summer break, hoping to enjoy gathering with friends and family. Time flies, so if you are thinking about visiting CR, do so. There is much to see and do and we enjoy giving tours!

Highlights of the past few days.
Introducing the boys to the world of climbing up inside strangler fig trees
Finding a black scorpion along the trail on the way to school. (One lucky family escorts 7 or more scorpions out of their house each day, while we have found only two in our house since last July)
Searching for those elusive venomous snakes – the green and yellow Lora and the red, black and yellow striped Coral- only to come up empty handed.
Setting an appointment with Nat Wheelwright to join my 7/8 science class this Tuesday. Nat is an ecology professor at Bowdoin College in Maine, an accomplished researcher, and authority of the natural world here in Monteverde.
Reminding myself that I am 45, not 25, while feeling the pain of a broken rib or two from a tumble playing ultimate Frisbee last weekend. What should I expect when zoning in on the Frisbee and losing sight of the unlevel ground, the rabbit cage, and competitors who are twenty years my junior and 6 inches taller.
Roasting bread and marshmallows over a Saturday evening bonfire and burning cypress to smoke out all living creatures from the house.
Sharing English conversation with Jenny, an employee from the cheese factory two nights each week.
Watching John check-out the home-made pool, compliments of our friend,'s the water John?
Playing a mean game of soccer, dogs vs. humans...I think the dogs won!
Checking out the gardens and the trails at the other private school (La Creativa) & wondering how we can incorporate some cool stuff like composting and greenhouses at MFS.
Talking to mom and knowing that she is back up on her feet and taking care of herself again.

Signed: M

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Dog & New Girlfriend (Not in any particular Order!)

As the boys (and Daisy, our new dog) head out for a mid-day hike, I finally have some 'alone time', as I've missed writing this past week. School commitments continue to keep me busy every day...meetings, meetings, meetings! I just finished the draft of an article I am writing for the school's monthly newsletter (the Gallo Pinto) on the 11th and 12th grade students trip to Panama. A fascinating journey and a privilege to write.

Two 'creatures' have become prominent fixtures in our family since my last post...Daisy the dog, (of four-legged kind) and Catalina, a princess of a little girl in the boy's Kinder class.

Daisy started to show up at the tail end of my family's visit. She happened upon our house all by herself; perhaps being 'dumped' on the street. Veronica, my good friend, tells me that a lot of dogs from neighboring towns are left in Monteverde because people know there are a lot of Gringos that live here and there is a good chance that they will be given a home. So, that is just what we did with Daisy. She is so sweet, happily giving out licks to anyone in close proximity. I can 't help but think that she has, in her past, been a part of a family, as she is so loving and gentle. AND, she even puts up with the boys and all their (well, let's just call it...CONSTANT ATTENTION). Mike was quick to welcome her as a new family member, so off I hiked into Santa Elena two weeks ago to buy a collar, leash, parasite pills and flea control medicine. All that is left, is the spaying (which will be done this Wednesday) and she'll be all set. The boys and I gave her a bath yesterday - she did quite well and Michael and John enjoyed it too! We always find room on the coach for Daisy, especially at the end of the day when we read our bed-time stories. Veronica helped construct a run for Daisy yesterday, although she seems to enjoy just hanging around outside. WELCOME TO THE FAMILY DAISY! I am working with Veronica and some other community members; organizing the first, annual Pet Festival in Santa Elena, so I'll be eager to show Daisy off in May.

How am I suppose to feel when my four-year old son has his first crush? I don't remember having my first crush well into elementary school, so have times changed that much? OH DEAR! My little Michael just gooshes about Catalina. As a mom, it is endearing to watch, as they walk hand-in-hand to school, focus on completing a puzzle together or the look on her face when this 40 lb. 'linebacker to be' comes a running with a huge hug and kiss as he greets her at the pasture gate. She has been so good for both boys and now comes to play before and after school. Her aunt and grandmother work at local Co-op at the end of the street, so she can just run up and play at a drop of a hat. Her older sister and cousin also enjoy coming to play, but were disappointed when they discovered they are too big to fit in the little plastic pools for some water fun. The additional time speaking Spanish is great for the boys and they get more socialization, so it is a win-win situation. The kids enjoy a mid-morning snack of fruit and Catalina is also becoming a fan of the 'turkey, cheese and mayo' roll-ups that are the boy's faves! John is also smitten with Catalina, so I'm glad they both have a separate day at school without the other so each can have a turn escorting her to school. The trail to school has many twists, turns and steps, so I chuckle to myself when one extends a hand to Catalina or works hard to 'protect' her from any BEARS or LIONS they might encounter on the way.

Mike is working on closing out this quarter, with parent-teacher conferences next Thursday. Friday is a teacher work day; I'll be interviewing the Kinder teachers for another Gallo Pinto article, so my plate runneth over. I am also helping with the annual Caminata, Walk-a-thon fundraiser which is the biggest local fundraiser the school approaching on April 10th. I am responsible for ensuring that all 13 rest stations along the way have folks to man them, dish out snacks and water and other essentials. The route is about 13 km and ends up in San Gerardo with a wonderful view of Volcan Arenal. Really looking forward to it - I plan on walking and will be asking for your sponsorship. If I can get about $50 in pledges, I get a free Caminata T-shirt - WOO HOO. Stay tuned.

Speaking of volcanoes, we have a week of vacation for Easter (Semana Santa) at the end of the month, first of April - we are hoping to put a little trip together to check out Volcan Poas and another one not too far from San Jose. We need to get on the planning piece....or it will never happen. I hear you can drive right up to the crater at Poas. How Cool!

I am super excited to be attending John and Amy's wedding in May - I hadn't planned on attending, but hey, your little brother only gets married once...right? We've all been waiting a long time for this - Amy is worth waiting for and we are all super excited. My flight is confirmed and I leave end of April, I am thoughtful as to how I will feel being back in the States - my first return since end of July. I'm sure there will be plenty to write about upon my return.

We are busy as ever, enjoying everything this community has to offer. We continue to miss our friends and family and look forward to spending 6 weeks home with you all mid-June.

P.S. - Thoughts and prayers for the soon to be, newest member of the Schaefer clan (that I think is due in about a month). Hope you, Carol and David, are well and enjoy this last little bit of DINKdom! Mom Schaefer - hope you are feeling better and look forward to talking with you soon!

Signed: S

Friday, March 5, 2010

Family Fun Part II - Good Bye Beach....Hello Cloud Forest!

The time with my family represented two very different 'types' of vacations...the first, being the beach, so relaxing, sitting pool side or enjoying the views from our hotel room such relaxation found in Monteverde! We kept Poppy, Choppy and Auntie Beth busy and active every waking hour - can you believe they're actually thinking of coming back again next year to visit?

Monday morning, we saw Kattya's familiar red van pull into the Costa Verde Hotel. Since Kattya had made several round trips back and forth to Quepos in our short 2 1/2 day stay, Salimo (her husband) manned the wheel and drove us safely back up the mountain. I for one, was eager to get back into more of a temperate climate. Don't get me wrong, love the heat, beach, pool, but can't say I would want to live there. And to think I was a serious 'sun-worshipper' during my teenage years back in Miami.
As we wound our way up the mountain, the vistas were even better the second time around recalls Auntie Beth as the day was clear unlike the ascent we made together back in August. Mike had a great time conversing in Spanish with Salimo the entire ride and chuckling with Poppy over chickens, or was it Chicks of the two-legged kind? We made it safely to the Delucia Inn in Cerro Plano where our travellers would bunk down for the remaining five nights. Although the room in our house that Beth had stayed in back in August (still to this day called "Auntie Beth's Room") could sleep several, we thought they would be more comfortable in a hotel with more comforts of home. Their first impression of the little brown house was great - Beth could not believe how 'homey' we had made it - a far-cry from the stark walls and no personality back in August. Pop and Chop commented on how roomy and airy it is; not to mention the yard, great for playing, soccer and frisbee! The mist started to pour in but that did not keep the boys from wanting a baseball lesson from Choppy! The boys dove into the boxes and extra suitcases that had made their way from Chicago and Florida. Bat, balls, baseball gloves, card games, disc shooters, chutes and ladders, whiffle balls, puzzles - their eyes lit up and they were off into their own world of discovery. I delighted in new hand-cream, throw rugs, more plastic cups and bowls and a table cloth to throw over the outside table (oh what ambiance)! It wasn't long after, that Choppy investigated the boy's bike, trying to figure out just how that rear tire might be dis-assembled...nothing to tough for that gal!

Tuesday morning we put the washer and spinner to good use, not only handling our sandy clothes from the beach but our guests as well...not enough clothes line to accommodate, we made good use of a tree in the front yard. As we left the underwear a waving in the breeze, we walked the boys to school, Chop and Pop getting a taste of all the twist and turns we take to get the little ones to the Friends truly is a 'walk in the woods'. They were impressed by MFS and delighted in seeing the boy's Kinder classroom and meeting their teachers. So many friendly faces - I wanted them to meet EVERYONE. With the boys in school - AH, we had three free hours! First stop, the bike shop to repair the 'shot' tire, then on to Santa Elena and the Super Compro. We loaded up on food and supplies and restocked our fridge and somewhat barren shelves. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at Donde Henry! A quick pick up of the boys at school and off to the Cheese Factory for an ice-cream. Choppy and I picked up the boys, while Beth and Poppy secured a table at the Dairy (Right!, no doubt they snuck in an extra scoop while waiting for our arrival!) As we walked with the boys, we made an abrupt stop on the road as my friend, Shirley, stopped her pick-up truck and came out to introduce herself. She just happened to have a stash of coffee in the back of her truck, so Chop and I each bought a bag - something she could enjoy back in Florida. Shirley owns a farm where they harvest and roast their own coffee beans. You never know who you will meet on your way home from school - it never is just a 20 minute walk! We certainly deserved the ice-cream treat to top off a great day. The boys were delighted to have their 'bici' functioning again and showed off their riding acumen to the family! We enjoyed tamales for dinner - a real authentic meal!

Wednesday brought an early start as Mike had arranged a guided hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve with Ricardo Guindon (one of the son's of the first settlers - Wolf and Lucky). I stayed back with the kids while Mike 'got a pass' to miss Silent Meeting which usually kicks off Wednesday's school day. The hike was great - all enjoyed Ricardo, so knowledgeable. The beautiful quetzal bird was spied and a great shot was captured. Onto the Hummingbird Gallery and then home just in time to wash up and head down another trail to Veronica's house for a home-made lunch! Veronica is such a good friend and was so generous in treating us to a yummy lunch. I am sure Beth, Chop and Pop thought they were 'going to Grandmother's house', as we wandered through another thick trail, about a 12 minute hike to her house. If an early morning guided hike, and lunch with a friend wasn't enough, we had invited Sue and John Trossle over for dinner as I wanted them to meet my family. This family has been so gracious to Mike, me and the boys, always looking after us, bringing over food and giving us hugs when we need them (and even when we don't). Sue and John settled here from NY about 35 years ago. They have a lot of property, a beautiful house and lovely garden. We dined 'al fresco', dragging the kitchen table outside on the patio and lighting up the many candles which 'our travellers' brought with them. A lovely evening as we enjoyed hearing about their journey, their pull to Monteverde and their international travels.

Thank You Kattya for the wonderful recommendation to tour Trapiche (Sugar Mill and Coffee Plantation) - well worth the entrance fee. One of the boys missed school that afternoon, as Kattya had told us that this tour is great for little ones as well. $30.00 per person; includes pick-up and drop off, 3 hour tour, ride in a beautiful wagon pulled by oxen, coffee tasting, tortilla with picadillo and to top it all off, you get to take home the candy you make using the 'raw sugar cane'. YUM! You really have to use your muscles to get it to the right consistency. Our tour guide, Diego, was great, one of the son's, as this is a family owned business. Diego had quite the sense of humor and made it so entertaining. The kids enjoyed feeding the talapia fish in the pond, tasting coffee beans, drinking the coffee and of course, being part of the candy making festivities. (They actually slept that night; even after all that sugar and caffeine). The tour was so informative -- a wonderful way to spend a morning. Dinner was compliments of Gaudy and Raul. As you may already know, Gaudy is the gal that helps me with the kids as I run off to my various meetings, volunteer commitments and basketball mini-course. Talk about an authentic Tico experience. I really wanted to show my family the 'Costa Rica' that tourists rarely see', meeting the locals and experiencing their hospitality and humbleness. We hailed a cab and headed toward San Luis. We stopped at an overlook, that, back in August was clear and exposed the waterfall off in the distance; not so this late afternoon - it was misting, although the sun was trying its best to break through the clouds. Poppy was a trooper and got out of the cab enough to experience the vista. The rainbows were awesome as some other tourists were awed by them as well. We arrived to be greeted by their three dogs; and Loandri (their son), who is a good friend of the boys. Gaudy quickly pulled out her photo albums and was excited to show me her family; Raul was equally pumped to show off his various race medals and pictures! What perspective this gives one. Raul built the house in less than a month and laid natural stone in the kitchen and built a wood burning stove in their porch to keep them warm at night. The house only has one sink (in the kitchen) - as I was washing my hands at the kitchen sink after using the bathroom, I couldn't help but notice the three toothbrushes sitting to the side. Gaudy and her mother-in-law made quick work of making tortillas; we sipped coffee and ate a delicious dip on saltines as an appetizer. I did all the translating that night, so my Spanish was put to good use. Dinner was a delicious soup, with many local veggies, beef and rice...I had two helpings it was so good. Gaudy and her family are part of 'our' family; living a simple life, but so happy. Their stove reminded me of the Coleman camping stove we used while camping as a young family; but it sure served up great food. The rainbow that exposed itself just beyond their house was amazing and the sun shone onto their porch making a beautiful afternoon. We are grateful for this experience and for them sharing an evening with us.

Friday brought a 'free' day as we needed to catch our breath! The travellers did not show up until about 11:30 - I later learned from them when they arrived at our house, that they had walked into Santa Elena, had brunch at the Tree Top Restaurant and then walked all the way back; several miles and lots of huffin' and puffin' up the hills I'm sure. For those of you that know my mom "Choppy", you'll see her tearin' it up as she pulls ahead on the road with Beth and Poppy know where to be seen. After school let out, we decided to take a hike to the Catarata; the Waterfall, that we have done several times with the boys and Veronica and Stuart. I guess chasing after the boys, we don't realize how treacherous the trail really is, filled with ups and downs, narrow trails steep declines where one has to negotiate using ropes. Beth and I were a little on-edge; as Poppy and Choppy navigated the trail. Finally, 3/4 of the way there, Choppy slipped on some rocks and down she went. That was enough to have us turn back as we were perhaps a little aggressive to begin with; especially considering all the walking that had been done earlier in the day. We certainly didn't need anyone breaking a leg on the last day of the trip, so we decided to head back, crack open a bottle of wine at the house and watch a slide-show of the pics so far. Good choice! Chop and Pop were troopers the entire trip and kept toe-to-toe with their kids - Good Work! We ended the day with a fun dinner at the Argentine Cafe just a stones-throw from our house.

We said our good-bye's that night as they would leave on the 6:30 a.m. bus back to the airport in Alajuela for a long day of travel. Indeed it was, Chop and Pop arriving back in Florida at 11 p.m. and Beth back in the windy city at 2 a.m. the next morning. We had a fantastic time; although it went by way to fast. Thanks for coming and making the long trek - the boys loved every minute and so did their parents :)

I must admit I was in a funk for a couple of days after family departed; but have settled back into my routine and my 'family' here. Life is good and I look forward to my next visit; end of April in NC for Dunkie's wedding!

p.s. - The picture of the Guatemalan woman in traditional dress with the baby is done by a friend of mine here - some of her paintings hang in Stella's Bakery - both Mike and I love this painting - it reminds us of our two boys; their heritage.

Signed: S