Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do we stay or do we Go?

Working on uploading some videos to this post - so check back later today!

Last Friday night; after the kids went down, we were left with a decision, merely 'to go, or not to go'.... to the swim tournament that is. Not a huge decision, or so we thought! Turns out the decision to make the three-hour trek to Zarcero for the swim tournament was, I imagine, like hitting the JACKPOT. Yes, the odds were slightly stacked against us, me being sick and on antibiotics, having to get up at 4 a.m. and drive 3 hours, the boys just getting over their virus and well, them choosing to spend their last swim practice (shall we say, less than focused) on their coach's instructions.

We chose “GO” and GO we did. We pulled out of Monteverde Saturday morning at about 5:20 a.m. headed down the mountain.

The drive took us through the town of Naranjo, which was settled in 1830, and originally known as “Los Naranjos” (the Orange Groves) due to the abundance of orange trees in the surrounding area. Although the name has been shortened and the amount of orange trees lessened, this city of 35,000 has remained an important agricultural hub for Costa Rica. Set at the base of the Espírito Santo Hills in Costa Rica’s gorgeous Central Valley, the area surrounding the town is stippled with farms growing all kinds of crops– plantains, corn, tapioca, coffee, rice, beans, sugar cane, tobacco, and beef, to name a few. The coffee plantations are perhaps the best represented, and plantation tours are becoming increasingly popular among tourists. This fertile area is drained by the Grande Colorado, Molino, Barranca, and El Espino rivers, and, at an elevation of 3,398 feet (1,036 meters), the temperature is a consistently cool 68° F (20° C).

From there, we ascended onto a ridge as we made our way to Zarcero.
Zarcero lies at an elevation of 1,736 meters above sea level in the Cordillera Central (Central Mountain Range) of Costa Rica, 50 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital city of Alajuela and 27 kilometers southeast of Ciudad Quesada.
Zarcero, known for its brisk mountain climate, lies in a dairy and agricultural area also noted for the local enterprises that practice organic farming. Distinctive jams, cheese and other dairy products are among the items produced.

Set in the northern hills of San Ramon, this charming town makes a great stop for those travelling to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. Surrounded by coffee plantations and lush rolling hills, it is an ideal retreat for those who wish to spend a few days in a lovely place away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

The town has a beautiful cottage style church. Admirers of religious architecture will be delighted by the interior of the church, which is covered with detailed religious paintings and elaborate pastel stencil work. Standing right in front of the San Rafael church is the famed topiary garden of ‘Parque Francisco Alvarado’. Sixteen green arches stand before the church, inviting you to the evergreen paradise around it. Offering a series of vibrant shrubbery, sculptured and clipped into whimsical shapes, the garden is a must-see. Well-manicured shrubs in the park are fashioned as animals, dancers and oxcarts. You will even find a dinosaurs, helicopter, airplane and even Christ carrying a cross.

This highland town is lined with cedar trees and is also home to the Los Ángeles Cloud Forest Reserve. This private park offers amazing trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. The views were spectacular as you looked out both sides of the car. The clouds hung, suspended in the valley and the fields of crops were neatly parceled out below. We arrived in Zarcero three hours later and found the swim arena without too much trouble. The arena was surrounded by pasture, which was hard to see due to the dense fog in the morning. As we walked into the arena, the boys were quick to note the various food tents outside and quickly put in their request for something ‘yummy’. We quickly found the Monteverde team and made our way over to join the group. I gave a quick wave to Beba, their coach, to let her know that the Schaefers were ‘in the house’.

The boys received their swim team shirts and we all chuckled over the spelling of Michael’s name on his sleeve. I just told him “that’s how Michael is spelled in Spanish’ and he bought it. MAICOL – exactly how it sounds, right? Mom even sported her shirt too to show her support for the team.

Again, we should know by now that nothing ever starts ON-TIME, so the 9:00 a.m. first race should have been billed out as a 10 or 10:15 a.m. start…but really, who is keeping track of time anyway.

After a four-hour wait, two hamburgers, Gatorade, banana bread, apples, beans and rice and chips, the boy’s first race was about to begin. They were super excited and followed Josue (assistant coach) into the staging area. Que frio! The staging area was a tent outside; mind you the tent had no side flaps, so you can imagine how cold the little 6 to 8 year olds must have been as they patiently waited for their seat assignments. I opted to stay inside, out of the cold wind, as my sinus infection did not need any help in getting worse. BRRRR! Michael and John quickly reminded me to put on their new swim caps and boy did they look ‘the part’. Mike and I were thrilled to see them step up and be independent as they were separated into different heats in their first race. The first race was with their flutter boards, 25 meters (about 10 meters longer than the hotel pool they practice in each week).

Here’s John getting a last minute pep talk from Josue before he takes the plunge.

Mike was positioned with the camera on one side as I flanked the other side with the rest of the team. And he was off – I had to chuckle as he kept sizing up his competition, looking to his side, rather than focusing on the straight away and the water ahead of him. It was exhilarating to hear all the other Team Monteverde parents encouraging him “VAMOS John”, “FUERTE, FUERTE”! He touched the wall and I jumped and hollered like any other proud parent. He had done it and I could not wait to scoop him up out of the water and into my arms.

Something happened to me at that very moment – it was like “oh my gosh, my little Gusty is growing up”, I felt that pride that all parents must feel when they see their child accomplish something. Perhaps this is a step in the process of ‘growing up and gaining independence’ that I had waited so long for. Believing in my children and letting them spread their wings, experience new challenges, triumphs and defeats!

Michael was next up and leaps into the water and kicks his way to the finish line.

Again, I am a crazy woman, screaming and yelling at the top of my lungs. I thought to myself “Oh, I’ve become one of those crazed sports mothers who make a spectacle of themselves as they cheer their children on’...did that stop me? Not a chance!

We waited for two more hours until the boy’s next race – Free Style, no floatation device, just sheer determination and will to make it the length of the pool. By this time, I found myself yawning and tired, so I could only imagine how Michael and John felt. As the entry forms for the race were being handed out, we discovered that John had been entered into the race as Jostin (Justin). After talking with him – he agreed that he would play the role of Jostin while being staged in the tent. However, he looked up at me and said “mom, can you call me John when I’m in the pool though?”. I laughed silently to myself as I gave him a reassuring pat on the back. By this time, some of the participants were leaving, so they started to consolidate some of the age groups. Besides Fabricio (a 13 year old boy) on our team, John and Michael were the only other kids from Team MONTEVERDE that swam the Freestyle. They again followed Josue up to the top of the pool – John quickly stepped up on the dive platform while Michael was a little apprehensive “What, I’m suppose to dive off this thing?”…with a thumbs up from me, he (in sure Michael fashion) cleared the pool with a huge belly flop and they were off. The other two boys in this race were at least 8 years old but that did not stop their determination to make it to the other side of the pool.

We’ve been talking a lot about perseverance with the boys and they certainly demonstrated the meaning of it on Saturday as they kept pushing the water past them as they did a mix of the front crawl and the doggy paddle. Both Mike and I, along with the other parents and kids, cheered them on – we all high-fived and butted fists during our congratulatory celebration.

We quickly dried the kids off, changed and met the rest of the team out front for a group picture and the medal ceremony. John was in all his glory, all smiles and oh so proud. Michael, who does not like to be in the limelight, graciously accepted his medal and stood quietly in the group, as a quick photo opp emerged.

The fog was rolling in as it was approaching 5:00 p.m. We grabbed a couple of snacks for the trip home and wandered back up the hill to our parking space.

We piled in, the kids exhausted, only to realize that I had left the lights on the entire day. We were going nowhere fast. Thanks to a very friendly family, the man just happened to be a mechanic; we were off toward Monteverde 30 minutes later. The ride home was quiet as the kids zonked out, barley making it out of the town of Zarcero. Mike and I reflected on the day as we headed toward home – we both agreed that the day was a success and that the boys gained so much in just a mere 16 hours! The participant medallion being the tangible ‘thing’, but it is those intangibles that we will remember and revel in for a long time to come.

Signed: S

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To Answer your Question Uncle John....

We are ABSOLUTELY not having Toucanet for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

We are hunkering down in the house today with blustery, rainy, cold weather outside. We had plans to go to the beach with some friends today, but with the weather as such, we are staying close to home. The kids are still recovering from a bad virus, after spending 4 days at home this past week. I guess you sort of know what my next statement is...YES, I now have the crud and have been in bed for two days. So this is WHEN Michael and John decide to be good sharers! Got it and thank you very much!!! I will venture to the clinic tomorrow if I see no improvement by tomorrow morning.

What we've missed this week:
Swimming Lessons (lots of the extra practices...the tournament is Saturday so I am hopeful we can make tomorrow's final practice and then muster enough energy to get out of bed at 4 a.m. on Saturday, drive the 4 hours there and back and still have energy to compete!

Five days of School - there were 10 kids out for two days straight just in the Kinder class! Teachers were begging parents to keep their kids home if the dreaded virus was lurking.

Christmas Fair Committee Meetings - Hey, I'm working with a competent team, they won't miss me.

Donor Database Training - yep, I volunteered for yet another effort to help automate the school's donor database - transfer data from index cards into an actual application to track donor trends!

Spanish Lessons - UGH -hoping I can make tomorrow's session, pobre Edgar!

Not a one bathroom, floor, door knob or faucet cleaning with clorox and lysol - good bye germs!

We celebrate John's 6th birthday today and as I type, Mike is in the kitchen making his b-day cake of choice "guava cake", what else would you expect?

Signing off for now, but did not want the day to go by without saying how thankful we are to have you all in our lives. We are thankful for so much-health, opportunities to experience life in Costa Rica, our two wonderful six year olds, loving and supportive family and friends..what are you thankful for?

Blessings and Peace,
Signed: S

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Lesson in Love and Letting Go!

So by now, I imagine Tookie has completed his 48 hours in "quarantine" at Zoo Ave. and that he is slowly adapting to his new environment. No little hands to contend with, the absence of cats, dogs, folks accidently stepping on his tail - oh, he must be in bird heaven! "Yep, I've lived through about 4 or 5 cat attacks and 1 from Troy, the local Huskie and still living to tell about it. Check out my injury, pretty nasty huh?".

We had a great trip to San Jose this past Saturday - leaving at 6:30 a.m. and arriving in San Jose at about 10:30. I was behind the wheel of the trusty Galloper and relied on Carla (a friend of ours here in Monteverde) to navigate and help us decipher the map. She accompanied us down the mountain as she also had things to do in the big city. She was a great help as she had lived here previously and knew more about the towns and roads. Although we missed our turnoff to the 'new' highway, we detoured through some old towns in the lowlands and enjoyed the meandering roads and the quaint little plazas in the center of the towns. Tookie enjoyed the four hour ride in his little plastic travel bin, equipped with papaya, a stick for perching and plenty of newspaper!

Arriving at the Clinica Biblica, I ran into my doctor's appointment and then we headed to the Koenig store to buy them out of garbanzo, tapioca, sweet potato and rice flour. I think we spent close to $80 in different types of flour, flaxseed and nuts, so Mike should be well stocked to create his yummy non-gluten breads. Just about to load up the car with our purchases!

From there, we headed out of the city proper to deliver Tookie to Zoo Ave, or so I thought! After circling around the city (I felt like I was going around and around as you had to be ever so mindful as to the one way streets), we ended up smack dab in the middle of the Central Market (not a place a Gringa driver wants to be stuck mid-day on a Saturday). I grew impatient and picked my words carefully as I negoitated around the many pedestrians, street vendors, vegetable and fruit toting sellers, obnoxious taxi drivers, et. al. What a sight - Mike turned to me and said that this amount of over-stimulation reminded him of his trip to India two decades ago - complete chaos but after 45 minutes, we got through the center of the city and headed onward.

We were all happy to find Zoo Ave. and disembark with Tookie perched upon John's finger. Zoo Ave. was a pleasant surprise, with a very natural feel to it, lots of thought provoking messages posted throughout and large cages for all types of wildlife. We met Carmen, the Veternarian at the entrance, the boys said their last goodbyes as I completed an intake form. The boys were very brave and gently kissed Tookster and handed him over.

Carmen said that Tookie would spend the first 2 days in 'the clinic' where he would be checked for parasites and given the same diet that he was accustomed to, before introducing him to his new, permanent home. With goodbye's said, we followed the trail around the zoo and checked out all sorts of wildlife; birds, pumas, ocelots, monkeys, crocs - it was great time.

The boys were very inquisitive and wanted to know everything about Tookie's new life, as we continued to look for the cage that read "Tocancillos Verdes. "Ah, here it is, I found it", I hollered and indeed there they were - lots of little Tookies hopping around. A perfect place to welcome the 'new kid on the block", I thought to myself.

The sign, translated, reads "hundreds of people have rescued animals, sick, without homes and have donated them to Zoo Ave. for rehabilitation and liberation - Thank you for your support!". Well put indeed.

Michael and John are very eager to return to Zoo Ave. to check on Tookie's progress - who knows, one day he may even be returned to the wild.

A quick hotdog and a cup of coffee for me and we loaded up again for our return up the mountain. About 2 hours into the drive, the sun had set and the roads became pitch black - forget any street lights, or reflectors - for me, it was sheer hazardness - perhaps it comes with age, but my driving glasses weren't cuttin it - so I pulled over and had Mike take over, Really, "would the Transit Police be out this late?" Hope not, as Mike does not have his CR driver's license. Home safely after a full day. Lots of 'I miss Tookie' and "Mom, what do you think Tookie is doing right now?" questions and statements, but all in all, the boys were troopers and learned a lot about loving and letting go! As I read to John that night and said prayers, Tookie was the first on his list - he began to sniff and tear up and I encouraged him to cry and close his eyes and remember all the fun times with his little feathered friend.

So, here it is Tuesday, and I am enjoying again having the doors open in my house and not having to watch where I step - I'll work on de-Tookifying the house this week and ridding the floor and walls of splattered bird droppings.

Our days are extra full these days with lots of activities up through the end of the month. We'll be heading to a swim tournament in Zarcero on 11/26 with about 15 to 20 other kids from the zone. This is a great opportunity that the boy's swim instructor has brought to all the families here and we decided to jump on it. Zarcero is about a three to four hour drive from here so we'll leave at about 4 a.m. that morning in order to arrive around 8 a.m. for the start of the competition. It is all about enjoying and participating in the event, as all the swimmers will come home with a medal and a feeling of accomplishment. I went to a meeting last week in Santa Elena to hear all the particulars about the tournament - I was the only Gringa and most of the other parents I did not know as their children most likely took lessons on another day. It was a great Spanish lesson in and of itself! The discussion focused on ordering swim shirts and swimming trunks, colors, names, sizes! I came home with lots of info to share and the boys were super excited to hear about their swim 'uniforms' and that their sleeve would proudly display their name. I ordered swim caps for both as John looks like a shaggy dog in the pool - it is a wonder he can even see beyond that mop of hair. They'll look like real professionals by the start of the tournament. Swim practice is every M-W-F up until 11/26 so they arrive home fully exhausted at about 4:30 :)

I'll close with a pic of the birthday boy (Michael) proudly displaying one of his gifts - more Bendaroos! Thanks Choppy and Poppy! Six years old - It is hard to think that when we arrived in Monteverde, they were only 3 - big boys indeed! We'll celebrate again in another two weeks with John Gustavo! Michael is truly enjoying these 20 days of being 'the big brother'!

Much more to tell, but that will be for another day!

Signed: S

Friday, November 11, 2011

Goodbye Tookie...Goodbye Tookie...Goodbye Tookie...

We're sad to see you go!

But, all good things must come to an end :)

We head to Zoo Ave in Alajeula tomorrow to deliver Tookie to his new home, to be cared for by a loving and caring staff and to maybe one day, even be reintroduced to the forest!

I'll post again soon to share the story. The boys are prepared and smothered Tookie with kisses this last night! For me, I'll greet Tookie's leaving with mixed emotions. I learned today from my Spanish tutor to say "I'm up to here with bird poop" in Spanish! "Estoy hasta aqui con cuitas". I'll leave you with that!

Stay Tuned!

Signed: S

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Joys of Rainy Season

What happens when you get 40 inches of rain in a month? Well, fortunately the land here is generally sloped and the soil very porous, so most of the water flows downhill to the many streams or is channeled to underground aquifers and springs. There was minor flooding along rivers, but this is not unusual during September and October in Costa Rica.

How does it affect our life here in Monteverde?
Put on rubber boots, grab an umbrella and go.
Walk right through the spring gushing at the pasture gate.
Be prepared to get cars out of the mud. A tow rope and another car does the trick.
Watch the mystery sprouts grow inside the car on your ChiaCarpet.
Enjoy a new leaf emerge from a banana plant.
Spend lots of time near the oven creating new meals.

In reality, its not very inconvenient – don’t have to get bundled up, its not dangerously cold or uncomfortably hot, just cloudy and wet! Much of the vegetation around the house was removed recently, giving the house more light and better airflow, so the indoors hasn't felt as damp as previous years. Yea - the sheets don't feel like cold slices of bologna!