Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Captured in the Canopy

April 27th 6:00 to 11:00 a.m. – Tree Sit at Vandusen/Joyce Platform - Here's a copy of the reflection I wrote during my 5-hour tree sit this morning. It should be posted on tomorrow.

As I stuffed my laptop into my backpack, downed my last swig of coffee, filled my water bottle, gathered my keys and kissed the three men in my life goodbye this morning at 5:45 a.m., I thought to myself, what a difference 22 months makes as I headed down through our pasture, to the rickety gate and crossed over the principal road here in Monteverde.

Since leaving Chicago almost two years ago, my life and my family’s lives have changed exponentially. Rewind to April 2009, my morning ritual: a mile walk from my house in the western suburbs of Chicago to the commuter train station at 5:30 a.m., crossing the train tracks, dodging cars, horns honking and train whistles ferociously blowing, fighting the crowds and jockeying for position to grab one of the remaining available seats, opening my laptop and watching the villages along the tracks wiz by out the window of the train as we express toward Chicago’s Union Station.

In sheer contrast, today, I walk a 10-minute ramble to a tree platform after having navigated through several hundred meters of narrow path balanced on a rather steep knife ridge. An extension ladder waits, which was my ‘stairway to heaven’ or almost! A wooden platform greets me high within the green canopy, my ears already filled with the steady hum of the gentle river underneath me. I am warmed by the sun, which is just now coming over the ridge. I am thankful for the little bit of rain last night and the refreshing morning dew!

Indeed, I am privileged to be perched a high this platform today and am thankful for the opportunity to be involved and integrated within this Monteverde community.

Greetings from above! My name is Sally Schaefer and I have the 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. tree-sit shift this morning, Wednesday, April 27th. Who am I? 46 year-old mother of two, very active, five year old boys, wife to an MFS teacher, active school volunteer and a still, recovering type A, business person from Chicago!

We came to Monteverde almost two years ago with our then, two, three year old boys – my husband had just secured a teaching job at MFS and we were eager to start our new adventure here in the cloud forest. Why such a move and why to Monteverde? I wanted desperately to exit corporate America after 20 years in technology project management and Mike, my husband, wanted to get back into the classroom after being a stay-at-home dad for several years. Monteverde seemed like a logical choice for us, Mike had done previous research and study here and we had honeymooned here seven years ago. As you may imagine, our first year here was filled with many challenges; new language, new house, new school, new parent at home as primary care-giver – the list goes on and on. In retrospect, the challenges faced were to be expected as our lives were reeling from several significant changes. It is this awesome community that helped us meet these challenges and to find peace and hope for a happy and fulfilling life here on the mountain. This place is just not a community, it is a family – if you are sick, chicken soup arrives at your doorstep, if you need a ride to the clinic because your child just gashed his head open after rough-housing and crashing into the concrete floor, someone is there to drive you to the clinic and settle you back into your home. What ever your need is – you can be sure the folks here will come a running.

From the school perspective, I have been blessed to be involved with MFS in a variety of ways, a member of the Fundraising Committee, helping to coordinate the annual Walkathon fundraiser, writing articles for the Gallo Pinto school newsletter, participating in parent/teacher and school committee meetings, conducting mini-courses, and assisting with a capital campaign for school facility renovations. There is never a shortage of activities to get involved with here at the school.

My husband, a science teacher, is, well, in heaven here as all he really needs to do is step outside the house where a science lesson practically invents itself. In turn, he passes his curiosity onto our, now, two five year olds boys.

I can see first hand, the truly magical things that are happening here at the school through the eyes and inquisitiveness of my boys. They are thriving in the Kinder program at school, which is based on the Montessori teaching methodology. Their classmates are a mix of local children and international students who may be here for a temporary stay of anywhere from a semester to several years. The kids here get hugged and loved on each day, not only by other teachers, but also by other students. It is not uncommon to see children three to four years of age being pushed on a swing or being helped up the slide on the playground by an older Colegio student. It is this mix and interaction of ages and their collaboration among themselves that makes MFS so special. My boys are learning the importance of respect and peaceful conflict resolution – this is evident by the “peace table” that sits atop the loft in the kid’s classroom. The education here is integral, whole and provides a solid foundation for whatever a student may choose to do later in life.

Personally, when I hear friends say, how great it is that you are giving your boys a ‘better life’, all I know, is that the life we are providing them is ‘different’ – better or worse…who knows? All I know for now is that I am content, present and enjoying life. This community has helped me to live in the moment and to be truly present in the lives of all I love.

I am having a great time assisting with the coordination of this Tree Canopy Campaign; helping to raise funds for financial aid and am completely, over the top, inspired by it. Recent graduates of MFS and Colegio students have taken on hefty leadership roles to not only get this event off the ground but also keep it running with timely updates and photos on the blog. The creation of the website, complements of a high school student, fabulous photos, complements of a high school student, scheduling and communication, complements of a recent graduate, tree climbing support and orientation, complements of a recent graduate…need I say more? How delightful it is to see young adults taking ownership of this very important program.

One of the things that set the Monteverde Friends School apart is its diversity and ability to offer a quality education to some children that may not otherwise have an opportunity to gain such an education. It is the school’s financial aid program (which is comprised of a scholarship and sponsorship program) that enables some of these kids to attend MFS.

The great thing about this campaign is that it aligns perfectly with the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Monteverde. So let us strive to reach our $60,000 goal with spending no less than 600 hours in the trees. Lets keep offering education to our children in the zone – is there really any greater gift to give a child?

While gathered in the Meeting room two nights ago, after school, huddled with other Campaign Planning Committee members, one of the parents said something that has stuck with me; I continue to replay it in my mind…she remarked, as we reach out to potential donors for their support, ask folks to simply “love the kids we love”. So, I ask…will you? - I challenge each follower of my blog to donate $5 or $10 to this campaign. Follow this link to donate via Network for Good or be sending a check to: Monteverde Friends US, c/o Clara Rowe, PO Box 993, Amherst MA 01004

Signed: S

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monteverde Friends School GOES VERTICAL!

Can you guess where I'll be tomorrow morning from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.? Bet ya can't! I'll be perched a high a platform in the tree canopy of Bajo del Tigre, balancing myself on a little more than a wooden platform raft, if you will, tethered to trees with rope and tires! I climbed up to the platform two weeks ago to check it out as we were just starting to mold the idea of a Tree Canopy Campaign. In three weeks, we (the fundraising committee, along with other parents and community volunteers) have brought this idea through concept and planning and now we are in true execution mode! SORRY FOR THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT LINGO HERE!

So, here's the scoop - Raising funds for financial aid (scholarships and sponsorships) so children from kinder to 12th grade can continue to attend this amazing school. The financial aid also helps students pursuing university studies abroad and in country. Here's some pics from the platform taken when we scouted this location. The kids got into the fun and loved the view from above. Hold on tight! Jude, clerk of the Fundraising committee, takes a peek as well before her tree sit the following week. Way to go Jude.

Check out for more information and to see how you can help us reach our goal. Also, our amazing Facebook page at Monteverde 60th: Friends in the Canopy. Any amount is welcome - even the kinder kids are donating spare colones in a jar in the classroom. We are positioned to spend 600 hours up in the trees and won't come down til we've reached our goal!

Here are some shots of Naomi Guindon (the daughter of Melody, the kid's teacher) using ascenders/hand held devices to reach the top of another tree sitting site (a gigantic fig tree on school property). She kicked off the campaign on April 19th Monteverde Day and spent 4 hours perched a high.

I'll post something in the next day or so to recap my time in the trees!
Signed: S

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Monteverde Day

Today, April 19 is Monteverde Day here in Monteverde. It marks the sixtieth anniversary of the arrival of the scouting group of three Quaker men who were to report back to a larger group of their findings. They were looking for cheap land suitable for farming and to set roots in a country that welcomed their peaceful values.

At a special picnic today, one of the original fifty or so pioneers that settled in Monteverde in the early 1950’s exclaimed that they decided to leave the United States due to its increasingly “militaristic and materialistic culture.” He, including several others had received international attention for serving prison sentences due to their refusal to register for a peacetime military draft after WWII. One of the core ‘testimonies’ of Quakerism is to practice peace in all ways, and thus denying support for war, militarism, and violence in any way.

The members of this first Monteverde group were true pioneers that had risked almost everything to save that which was most important. They desired to raise their children in a place where war was not institutionalized and where battle was not aggrandized. Even better, they wanted to move to Costa Rica because it had just abolished its military in 1948. The Quakers could support and participate in this new national experiment. The president himself received the Quaker group with open arms. Many areas of Costa Rica had not been developed and the government was encouraging farmers to tame the tropical landscape and produce goods for human consumption. A match was made.

These pioneers slept in tents for the first years until they had built their houses from trees they had cut. They soon discovered the trials associated with a rainy season that was incredibly rainy, a windy season that was incredibly windy, a dry season that was incredibly dry. They had traveled down with very little and learned to live with even less. They learned and shared medical knowledge, communicated with the locals in a different tongue, opened a cheese factory, and prepared locally grown food. Their stories and those of their children are numerous. The community of Monteverde has a rich history considering it has existed for only sixty years.

To find out more about Quakers, visit

Signed M

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feeling Inspired!

First things first! Thanks to all who sponsored and supported me on this year’s Walkathon for the school. The day started out slow but ended on a high-note. Why is it that every time when you absolutely need a solid 8 hours of sleep, you never get it. It never fails, right? Something happens during the night that just blows that theory out of the water. Welcome to my Friday night. After spending 8 hours at school Friday, setting up for the Walkathon, all I wanted at 8:00 that night was a decent night’s sleep. After the first whine from John, and the initial glimpse of his face and neck, I knew it ain’t happening. Hives on his neck and face and itching, itching, itching. After the tenth time up and the 2nd teaspoon of Benadryl, we finally fell asleep about 3 a.m. My mind was spinning as knew I had to be at school early to coordinate the influx of eager runners and walkers and that the sun would rise in less than 3 hours.

I rose to the occasion and bounded out of bed and off to school I went to meet all the folks that would be in charge of manning a refreshment station. All went off without a hitch and I left the school about 9:30, running at a slow pace, as I knew after the first kilometer, it was all up-hill.

God blessed us with a beautiful day, sunny and warm and I was assured a view of the Volcano at the end of the route. I struggled up the hill by the Cloud Forest School, but was encouraged by tiny voices “go Mom, you can do it”, as I made it to the top, I saw Mike and the boys handing out cookies/brownies and water from our trusty Gallopher. A site for sore eyes (and legs)! I was happy to see that the kids had not yet eaten the entire trunk full of homemade cookies and brownies and that there were indeed some to handout to hungry and tired walkers. How the Schaefer boys ended up with cookies at their station, I’ll never know – why couldn’t they have the station with the pineapple or melon? Next year for sure!

The run was spectacular, I felt energized and had forgotten about how tired I was as I climbed every hill, Raul’s words echoing in my mind (quick, short strides on the uphill)…thanks buddy!

About 10 kilometers in, this awesome vista opened up and there was Volcan Arenal in all her glory – it was something else. I arrived at the Mirador in 1 hour, 25 minutes only 10 minutes behind a group of five high-school boys, so I felt like I put in a good showing for all our 'over-forty' gals. One of the boys asked if I was a marathon runner, and I quickly said NO, but that it was on my ‘bucket list’. The day was filled with laughter, photos of each runner in front of the volcano and eating the left over treats from all the stations.

I am eager to find out how much the school raised – so if you are still inclined to sponsor, please do, as you have until May 15th and it is for such a great cause! I can’t wait until next year’s race.

I awoke Sunday without a muscle pain but decided to take the day off from running and focus on puzzles with the boys as the weather turned cold and rainy - winter is just around the corner and they say the rain will come early this year.

Last week, for the first time since we’ve had the boys home with us, I Skyped with the Foster Family in Guatemala. Anabella (or mama Anna) as we call her, sounded like she was just across the pasture from us. The connection was clear and crisp and my ability to communicate with her in Spanish was not at issue this time – I remember my broken Spanish years ago and hoped that she noticed the difference ☺. We chatted for about 45 minutes and caught up on everything. Next time, we’ll chat during the day so she can talk with the boys. What a blessing and a gift to continue to have this family in our lives. I told her that we include her and Papa Rudo and their entire family in our prayers with the boys each night – I could hear the smile in her voice as she thanked me for that.

Mike left early this morning for the 7/8th grade school trip to Rincon de la Vieja. Two days ago, Mike approached me, “Sally, how would you like to take one of my Thursday classes while I’m away?” I responded….”UGH, oh, oh, OKAY, please tell me you’ll be showing a video?” Big sigh, yes, he had planned a video and all I had to do was a warm-up exercise with the kids and then turn on the movie….Simple enough…right, Please Bill Nye the Science not dissapoint! Check back to see how I fared.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing about 90 minutes with other women in the community in prayer, song and fellowship When I picked my kids up from Elieth’s last Sunday after their Sunday School lesson, Elieth and I got to talking. Wouldn’t it be great for women in the zone to have a place to gather and share. YES, this would be perfect….”Are you ready, Sally”, Elieth asked…”You bet”, I responded in my best Spanish and we were off to the races. Six of us gathered yesterday afternoon from 4 p.m. to 5:30 in a shed just up from her house on her property. Her teenage son had helped her clean up the shed last week and it is now the perfect place for Sunday school and our Wednesday afternoon bible study group. It is simple and there is absolutely nothing fancy about it – the walls were insulated with cardboard and there was one lone, naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Her husband had made a makeshift bench out of trunks of wood and an old wood plank, a couple of pillows and blankets on the floor and we were set. The time together was great and Elieth did a fantastic job of leading the group. We opened with prayer, sang a couple songs and read several passages from the bible. We focused on a passage from Mark 12 V. 41, the story of the widow who gave everything she had (which was like two coins) to the temple and we asked ourselves, what could we offer God? It was a very special time – we finished in prayer and then adjourned to her kitchen table where we sipped coffee and snacked on the pineapple bread I had hastily baked earlier that day. We chatted about ideas for the program and how everyone could contribute in some way. Looking forward to next Wednesday.

Tomorrow, I meet with Hugh, he is the leader of the other prayer and share I attend in Santa Elena Thursday evenings. He and his wife are hoping to offer an Easter sunrise service at their home. I agreed to meet with him tomorrow to help outline the program. Exciting stuff and there is such a need here in the community.

Today, the boys had fun with a classmate who came to play for several hours after school. All went well and we hope he'll return.

Well, I will close this post for now as it is all mom tomorrow morning - breakfast, brush teeth, make snack, shuttle two boys to Kinder, 8:15 meeting to talk Fundraising and then off to meet Hugh for Easter Service planning - and oh, ya - would like to get a run in too!

Signed: S