Monday, August 30, 2010

Water Logged!

Another full weekend, dodging the rain and puddles. Mike tells me we’ve received over 20 inches of rain since August 17th , the day we stuck our rain gage into the overly saturated ground out back. You can imagine how green and lush the foliage is here with all the wet stuff. The boys really enjoy checking the rain stats with dad each morning….usually in their skivies and mom and dad’s boots that go mid-thigh on them…quite a sight! Who needs a cup of coffee to wake up when you have this to look forward to :)

I survived my first meeting on the new building with the core team this morning. It is an exciting time as we assemble the team and review preliminary floor plans for the new space. I have just taken a break from documenting the meeting to finish this post…as many family members are having ‘blog withdrawal’ since I missed an update this past weekend. I spent a good chunk of last week finishing up the painting in the house and what a difference it makes. Much more cheerful and welcoming (at least I think so).

The school held an open house this past Thursday, which I attended. The first part of the evening was spent in a general parent/teacher meeting where all parents were encouraged to sign up for a committee, a weekend cleanup day and a volunteer spot to assist with a Thursday afternoon mini-course. I spent the remaining time in the kinder space with the boy’s teachers, perched on the kid-size chairs as they demonstrated some of the 'works' and methods used in the class. I was happy to see how they’ve used their additional space, they even have a cook top and real kitchen area where the kids can help prepare the Wednesday ‘shared snack’. I was smiling from ear to ear when Melody (their teacher) said that the parents don’t have to cut up fruit if they choose to bring that for shared snack…”just bring your watermelons, mangos, papayas, pinas in their entirety, and we’ll have the kids do the prep”…ah, music to my ears.

We spent another delightful day yesterday in San Luis visiting with Gaudy and her family, exploring and taking in the beauty of the town and the surrounding vistas. I even got my nerve up to hop on the back of Raul’s moto as he gave me a nice tour of San Luis (both upper and lower parts). It is quite something; we waited for the rain to let up and then ventured out with my arms gripped tightly around his waist. As we made our way through the mountains, I was in awe of the beauty that seemed to greet me at every turn. The mist was caught in between the mountain’s peaks and valleys and one could truly imagine what paradise must look like. We stopped at the town’s Cancha (soccer field) and walked the soggy rectangle flanked at either end by two weather-worn goals. He shared some of his fondest memories with me, watching his late father play soccer; hoisting him up on his shoulders after winning a tournament, racing around the field with him held up high. He was proud to show me the ‘sweet spot’ in the field where his dad scored many a goal…how, I don’t know, but he said it was quite something to watch the ball arc around from the back corner of the field and land in between the uprights…GOAL! I really could feel his loss and even though his dad has been gone for several years, it must have been a very special father/son relationship. We then ventured a little further past Gaudy’s grandmother’s house only to meet her on the bridge just beyond her house where the raging river rushed below. I kept saying “I hear thunder’, and they remarked “no, that’s the rocks crashing together in the water due to the heavy current’! Ah, no swimming for sure that day!

Looks like I’ll be running my first race here in Costa Rica next month. Raul called me Saturday (I could hear his excitement in his voice) as he told me about the race in Heredia (think of it as a suburb of San Jose). I hesitated for a moment before I gave him my answer…”but Raul, I haven’t run in over a month”, he assured me it is a great experience, only 9 KM and all downhill. After running with him today (slowly and only a short distance), am I regretting my decision to run? Nope, I’ll ramp up my training and hope to finish the race and have fun – today I was glad to still be breathing after not running for six weeks…it’s the hills, the dreaded hills.

Between my meeting at the school and running with Raul, Michael and I visited the dentist for x-rays. All is well and he was delighted to view his x-rays and his permanent teeth that are sitting pretty waiting for their arrival (likely in another 2 years).

I am sad to report that the Pulperia (market) at the end of our road will be closing in 10 days. The family who owns will keep their other store in Cerro Plano in operation and will offer a “rapid service” delivery (think of it as Pea Pod)…just not the same tho. Half the fun of shopping was greeting others and seeing my boys try and finagle a ‘treat’ or a pack of gum out of me. I guess I’ll plan a weekly shopping day and hoof it into Super Compro to get my groceries. Times are a changing.

I am tired and will close for now. Oh, just in case you are wondering…the kids are doing wonderfully at school and I am out of there with just one kiss and hug…a far cry from last year when I would have two three year olds clinging to my legs….Thanks Guys!

Signed: S

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kicking & Screaming....Really!

A week filled with emotions, tears and yes, this dreadful cough and cold is still plaguing me...Relief already...please! Some of you may be clammering for a post about another awesome hike or a wonderful 'ah-hah moment' where Mike and I have looked at each other and said..."wow, this is why we are here!", but I'm afraid I need to use this post selfishly to scribe my thoughts in order to put this week into perspective. It is now 10:30 p.m. Sunday night, kids down, Mike snuggled up under the down comforter behind me in bed, and me, just enjoying the peace and quiet, watching the flickering of the lights on and off due to a passing storm and listening to the droplets of rain as the water finds the leaks in the rook and spill onto our concrete floor.

Good News: Mike had a GREAT first week and is thoroughly enjoying his experience, focusing on what he loves most....Science. He is also really excited to work with a very talented teacher, our friend, Tedi, assisting her in the 3rd and 4th grade as well. What a difference a year makes.

Not so Good News...but things are looking up: Both boys have been sick, snotty noses, cough, congestion, you name it...we've got it. Despite them not being 100%, we ventured off to school on Tuesday for the first day. School for them has changed quite drastically through the eyes of a 4 year old. The school has brought on another Kinder teacher who comes from the other private school in the zone, The Cloud Forest School, aka La Creativa. She will be a great edition to the team and will surely be a help as the Kinder program has gone back to only one morning program opposed to the afternoon and morning sessions they offered last year. What this means, is that the boys now can have 20 kids in the class...a big change from last year's 7 or so in the afternoon program. In order to accommodate the larger class size, they demolished a wall in an adjoining classroom, sort of a temporary build out, until the new Kinder space is ready (ETA...who knows...that's my other job to figure out). They've also constructed a covered porch and little nook where kids can hang their rain gear, boots, umbrellas, etc., so they aren't constantly sweeping and mopping the entryway of the classroom.

(First Day of School - I think Michael forgot to discard his dental floss prior to pic...sorry folks!)

Mid-week stroll to school - John engrossed in the cow-jam unfolding down the hill, holding up parents trying to get their kids to school before the 8 a.m. bell...good luck!

Tuesday, Michael, who probably should have stayed home, decided he wanted to try to make it to school. He made the decision not to stay and I didn't push it as he looked up at me with swollen eyes and somewhat of a snotty nose. Wednesday, both in school, no problem. Thursday, well, quite a different story...all things were a GO, dad was up ahead with John and nearly there, Michael pulls a "I don't feel well, I don't want to go" on me. After reasoning with him and starting to go soft, I saw my Guardian Angel appear through the woods, Veronica! I thought to myself....'just what the doctor ordered'. I must have had that look of "now, what do I do?...pick him up, kicking and screaming the rest of the way..."? "Of course" she remarked, and that I did. I am so past embarrassment and well, the Schaefer boys are 'well-known' at the school, so I plodded along through the parking lot best I could shielding my face from swinging fists. I spied Miss Melody out by the play-yard, she knew right away that I needed to hand over the 'goods' and walk away. In parting, I told her to 'take cover' and briskly walked away. Moira, a good friend and co-mother put her arm around me, offering comfort and a shoulder to whimper on. Being sick, with little reserves, it actually felt good to let go! (Yes Auntie Beth, even the Ice Princess can squeeze our a tear or two every decade or so)!. There were a hand-full of mothers in the parking lot waiting for me to impart their war stories of trying to get their kids off to school in hopes of lifting my spirits. I knew, before I even hit the trail and got through the parking lot that Michael probably had a smile on his face and had settled into his routine...I come to find out when I returned at noon, that was precisely the case.

When I returned home that morning, I had four hours of 'no-kid' time. Everyone gave me strict instructions to go home and rest in hopes of getting well...those of you that know me, 'ain't gonna happen', so I opened a paint can and proceeded to paint my bathroom and bedroom with the left over paint from the boy's room.

Fast Forward to Friday: No problem getting the kids to school, however Michael is walking with Mike up ahead until he can earn back the 'right' to walk with his mom and treat her nicely. I think he's learned his lesson....we'll see!

So what am I doing with my free time in the morning: Painting and a little work on the new building project. I am enjoying the peace and quiet and the ability to have a good chunk of time to be productive. I am missing my running and hope to make that part of my morning routine as soon as I get healthy enough to pound the pavement. Another run to Dr. Johnny in Cerro Plano is probably a prudent thing to do tomorrow - this crud is hanging around way too long, I'm sure the daily downpours are not helping. You can pretty much set your watch by the rain, around noon the sky opens up and down comes the water. Well needed, but you better have sturdy rain boots! (Sunday Update: got another round of Claritin D from the Doctor on Saturday, and another script for antibiotics in case I get worse, but hoping I wont' need it.)

Gaudy has been helping me with the kids in the afternoon until I feel stronger. She continues to be a delight and we plan on going down to San Luis on Sunday to share lunch with them and to celebrate her son's 6th birthday. (Sunday night Update: Had a fabulous time at the birthday party. Love San Luis, so tranquil and peaceful, off the beaten path of the more touristy Santa Elena and Monteverde. Raul gave Mike and I a great tour of their farm which has many beautiful vistas and affords a spectacular view of the Gulf of Nicoya on a clear day. The kids enjoyed the cake and being 'loved on'. Liliana, who works at the Pulperia at the end of our street shared a cab with us...Gaudy works at the store Saturdays to provide Liliana a day of rest; we enjoyed her company as well.

So, speaking of painting...About two weeks ago, I came to the point in the book I am reading about Spirited Kids where some kids (my John) can't sleep, not that they won't sleep, they just can't. So I decided to try and make the boys room a little bit more 'kid-comfortable'. The book recommended making a little nest, or cozy spot for their bed...equate it to the 'chickadee in its nest' theory. That was all I needed to get my creative juices flowing. Off to Santa Elena to purchase paint and a new mattress to replace the foam pad John has been sleeping on for the past year. Surely, a new coat of paint, new mattress and make-shift canopy (complements of a clothes line, four clothes pins and an old curtain) would do the trick. The boys helped me with the painting, I spent a good hour cleaning the blue and yellow paint off the concrete floor, but they had a blast and that's all the counts. I am still waiting for the night where John doesn't snuggle in between me and Mike...wouldn't be so bad if he didn't spend 3 hours tossing and turning and throwing the covers off us...what's that saying about Patience...? Not wanting the leftover paint to go to waste, I slathered on the blue paint in our master bedroom/bath and used the leftover yellow in the kitchen. A new 'contact paper' backsplash purchased at the Ferreteria and I barely recognize the joint. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll take one of the boys into town after school to buy another color for the living room/dining room. What a change, cleaner, more colorful and masks the moldy smell. Mike ripped up the contact paper in the bathroom closet and I can't even begin to explain the stench and the sheer blackness of the closet shelf once the paper was ripped off. Just took a lot of bleach and muscle to clean it...

Ant Traps - THANK YOU Elizabeth for the Borax and ant traps from the States. Mike and I amused ourselves last night about 9 pm finding just the perfect spot for the trap - once strategically placed, we sat in amazement as the critters climbed in and then transported the poison (looks like your regular household Borax, sweetened somehow to entice the ants) back to their colony. I reached for a flashlight and continued to watch as the trail of ants grew thicker on my newly painted kitchen wall.

Memorial Service - Mike and I had the honor of attending a memorial service for a member of the community who had settled here with her family about 7 years ago. The service was in the Meeting Room at the School and as you can imagine, well attended. The youngest daughter sat in the middle of the room on the floor at a small table and invited some of her friends to join her, lighting candles as the rain poured down outside. The family surrounded her on all sides - family, friends and community members shared their memories of this remarkable woman. Her middle daughter sang a Lullabye she wrote to close out the service. Her final wish was carried out with having her ashes brought back home, here to the Green Mountain.

Lots of emotions this past week, smiles, belly laughs, tears, anxiety, frustration and relief...I guess this is just life - ebbing and flowing like so many other things.

P.S. - I am getting a little more quick on reaching for the camera when a cool insect photo opp presents itself...yellow caterpillar (and I even remembered to have a human part in the pic to show scale:) and I found a poor scorpion at the bottom of my washer last week as I transfered the clothes from the washer to the spinner...NICE! Can't take credit for the agooti (sp) sharing our compost pile with a stray cat...the cat looks pretty fierce to me!

Signed: S

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Loving Life In Monteverde

"Oh my gosh, larva, larva!" I continued cutting vegetables for the Tico beef soup. We see plenty of larva around here. Michael continued, "I squeezed the fly and out came larva!" Now, he had my attention. Sally chimes in, "Oh gross, what. . . , take that outside .. . wash your hands really really well, oh they're all over the place!" I put the knife down on the counter and hurried to a new biological surprise. Michael and John were playing around with a unique looking fly trapped on the window pane. Apparently, this one was carrying her hatched brood first class in the cabin. Upon some external pressure from the fingers of a 4 year old, this diptera's (scientific classification: Kingdom: animalia; Phylum: arthropoda; class: insect; Order: Diptera) exoskeleton split open to reveal about a dozen minute, wiggly larva (maggots). Upon seeing the light of day, some larva had ventured out immediately onto little fingers and the window pane, while some stayed within the warm confines of their mother's reproductive tract. I was surprised to discover that this type of fly, I don't know the family, produced eggs that hatched inside the mother rather than eggs that hatch externally as in the case of house flies. (note the mating houseflies courtesy of wikipedia) Unlike the bloated grains of rice type maggots found in smelly garbage cans on a hot august day in Chicago, these little larva appeared quite innocent and undeserving of a premature separation from there mother. But so goes life on this Costa Rica Dia de la Madre, their mother had a gaping hole in her side and her future looked quite bleak. Sally was not too happy about the whole thing, so Michael threw the fly outside, we washed our hands really really well, and I went back to cutting vegetables.

"Oh gross, there's ants all over the windowsill, did you guys just leave the larva there?" Yes, we did. I murmured something about mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom in our house, grabbed the camera and joined the boys to watch round two of the larva drama. Within minutes, dozens of our little black ants had located their next meal, hoisted the doomed wigglers into the air and were hauling them into a crack in the wood. I imagined a fateful game of 'your larva feed my larva.'

It was an amazing scene, not gross nor gruesome, but real, natural, a wonderful story of the complexities of life and death, survival and competition, reproduction and predation. Of course the human involvement cannot be overlooked, after all this did take place in our house. Just these few minutes of play and curiosity on our part will lead to rich discussions and vivid memories for some time to come. The great thing about living here, is that these stories happen all the time. This is but one of many vivid displays of the natural world we've experienced today. Pics not in particular order: Star of larva story broken in two w/baby, ants and booty, today's long hike to a stream, red mushroom, more insects, and a spider visiting me right now. Note: it is bigger than Antarctica.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Open Wide..And Please Don't Bite Me!

I must admit, I was a little apprehensive earlier this week as I loaded my family onto the 4 p.m. bus into Santa Elena for the boys first dental appointment. I think I was more nervous then they were…”Would it be a knock down-drag out as to who went first, would they ‘accidently’ bite the dentist, would they run for the hills screaming or would I just rely on knowing my two boys and hoping the talks we’d had about the dentist would be enough to calm their butterflies? Lucky for us, the office had a nice play ground in back which kept the boys busy as Mike completed the paperwork. The dentist, Susana, was so caring and took pleasure in reviewing the Barney book which walked the kids through what the procedure would entail. Both boys were so well behaved, and so enjoyed the pink solution she coated their teeth with to highlight the troublesome plaque covered areas…OH MY! Of course, Mike brought the camera as we wanted to record this memorable moment. Not only is Susana a skilled dentist, but she is also quite the talented balloon artist. Both boys walked out with a sticker and a balloon animal, giraffe for Michael, elephant for John. Unfortunately we need to return for some fillings but nothing too serious. The culprit: Could it be the fact that they enjoy more sweets here than in Chicago….I’m almost sure of it!

The army ants are still hanging around and after a discussion with a friend of ours, I will welcome the next time they come knocking. Perhaps a ‘come hither army ant’ song and dance is on order by yours truly. Mills, our friend, said it beats the Orkin man and usually they are in and out in a couple of hours….okay, I’m convinced. We also have a small ant problem inside the house – Unsuccessful in finding Borax here, Mike concocted his own solution, part honey and part laundry detergent. A few dabbles on the counter and never have I been more fascinated to watch an ant’s demise unfold. Would they approach? YES, however, immediately most of them would shuffle backward (quickly), it was simply amazing, some would actually succumb to the sweet smell and dive in. I delighted in watching the ants fight through their neurological discomfort. Perhaps the army ants would ferret out their colonies and have them for lunch so to speak! Had to include this nasty pile of what looked like "magets" or larva of some sort, curled up in a ball on our porch...very active, perhaps some mating thing - YUCK!

I trudged to Cerro Plano today to see Dr. Johnny as a week on antibiotics from a nasty sinus infection, is hardly providing any relief. Been battling this since Chicago where I saw my doctor and finally filled the antibiotic and started taking it last Sunday. This illness has not only robbed me of my voice but also zapped me of my energy. Dr. Johnny confirmed the antibiotic was working but sent me to the Pharmacy for a decongestant…18,0000 colones to see Doc Johnny, then onto Santa Elena. 13,000 colones, about $23 for 8 tablets of Claritin D – Only having 30,000 with me, I had just enough to get the medicine, but realized I would have to hoof it back home on foot (no money left over for a taxi home). I met Mike and the boys at Megs as she had called and invited us over to celebrate Chako’s 5th birthday. The boys had a great time and you can be sure they are enjoying their goody bags. Choppy, we wrapped up one the airplane model/paint sets you gave us 'for a rainy day' which was the perfect gift. The boys made their own wrapping paper and voila – a perfect little birthday gift emerged! The second airplane will be perfect for Laundry’s upcoming 6th birthday.

What am I reading these days? I am enjoying one of the books I picked up in Chicago – “Raising your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka – I guess you have figured it out, I have two very spirited children. This book is so upbeat and focuses on all the positive and endearing qualities of what I use to call my “strong willed” children. I am learning how I can better help my introverted child recharge his energy supply and at the same time support my extroverted child as well. I’ve had some very ‘ah-hah’ moments as I flip from page to page – so $14.99 well spent.

Dinner Theater - Schaefer Style - Mike and I were entertained last night after dinner by the boys, as they sang and performed, continually reminding us that they are ‘actors’ and we are the audience. Everything from who can sing Jingle Bells the fastest to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and closing with a rendition of The Bonnie Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond. For those of you that are of my vintage, equate it to the Carol Burnett Show. Quite the variety and so many laughs. I have never seen my John so animated and free – it was a delight. Michael ate it up and made great use of all the ‘props’ in the house. The next performance is sure to be as comical.

I have yet to delve into the New Building Project, heck, I haven’t even made it up to the school yet. Still waiting for my energy to return –here’s hoping it does tomorrow as there is an all-day “Clean the School” activity tomorrow.

Mike and I visited with Heidi (the owner of the Bellbird School) beside Casem this week. I think the boys will benefit from taking a special class or two there; they offer so many (drums, piano, karate) would love to get them into swimming if there is room. Poco a Poco Hotel (which we use when we need our ‘swim fix’) is going to be the venue for the swimming activity – so we’ll wait to hear back from Heidi on the cost. They also have an afternoon 1 to 5 program where the boys could get a taste of lots of things, cooking, drama, music, art – so we are thinking that one of two afternoon’s might work. Certainly we want to reserve time for play-with Gaudy and exploring with mom.

Despite the afternoon rains, the main road that connects the Reserve to the Cerro Plano is being repaired and that means, lots of heavy equipment that makes the earth (and our fragile windows) shake! There is something clearly different this time around opposed to the previous times when they have repaired the road. I guess if I had to use one word to describe it, it would be precision – the material is probably the same, but so much more like powder (ground up) instead of the big stones they used last year. Some seem to think they are preparing the road for pavement; I’m not so sure! What I can tell you is that, from an adult perspective, it is so much more of a pleasurable experience riding in the back seat of a taxi now! The boys, not sure they’d agree with me. Can’t wait to feel well enough to put my runners to the road.

Mike continues to gear up for school, however he’s taken advantage of some opportunities that he’s created for himself – meeting up with a independent researcher to study epiphytes and this morning, meeting a group of students from Bank Street School in NYC. I’m sure my account of his experience would not do it justice, so I’ll leave the writing to Mike.

Mike is super excited about making his own yogurt with a little ‘starter’ help from the Cheese Factory. Not just the Keifer yogurt, but real yogurt (that the entire family enjoys☺). The kids have a real hand in it and I have to laugh when I see the tub of hot milk with some starter yogurt in a plastic tub inserted into another, larger tub, hugged by an old heating pad and wrapped in dish towels.. Who am I to complain, with a little vanilla added at the end, it is quite yummy atop some pineapple or mango!

I think I posted this on Facebook but forgot to mention it on my last entry in the blog. A little over a week ago, one of the bridges on the main road from San Jose to Monteverde and other tourist spots, collapsed due to rain and weather. Choppy, Poppy and Beth, if you’ll recall where we stopped and waited for the boys and Katya on our way to Quepos - I think we could see the Rio Seco from La Cuenca. Apparently when the bridge collapsed it also took with it one of the primary cables that provides internet to the mountain. We were without it for about two days. Not only this, but folks that were travelling by bus, had to get off the bus on one side of the bridge, carry their luggage across the river and then board another bus – I’m sure there were lots of wary travelers who after awaking in the early a.m. to fly all day didn’t bargain on this ‘extra adventure’ but, as my boys say….’that’s life’!

And, yes this is Benito Guindon with a baby porcupine. You never know who or what he'll bring to a Pot Luck!

Signed: S