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Penny's Peace of Paradise

A gringa and her family's adventures living in Costa Rica.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Something's in the air

Our first day in our new home, we noticed a wonderful smell of fresh baking cake, or cookies. It was heaven! At least four times a day our property is saturated with the smell of fresh baked goodies right of the oven! We tried in vain to see where these smells were coming from, but until we visited our neighbors home, up the hill, we couldn't see it. There is a small commercial bakery, hidden by trees, not far from us with little elves in white bakers outfits (complete with hats) busily going about their people pleasing business. OK, not really elves, but whatever they are making smells so incredible, it's magically delicious! I have lost 16 pounds since we moved to Grecia, I guess my sweet tooth has been satisfied by deep breathing!

We used to live higher in the mountains, and were surrounded by coffee fields. Now we're in sugar cane land. It is harvest time and the overloaded tractors and trucks haul the cut cane to the processing plant not too far from our house. We are fortunate to live in a small valley and the aroma of sugar cane processing floats by overhead, unnoticed. Driving near it is another story. I can't imagine how the plant's neighbors have grown accustomed to the plant's odors. It goes from sickeningly sweet to outright nasty! The other challenge living in sugar cane land is the fact that, once the fields are harvested, biannually, they are burned. Our landlord prepared us for the potential of frighteningly high flames near us, but assures us they are monitored and over fairly quickly. The fields surrounding our place have not been burned yet, but they did burn up in the hills yesterday and for the day, the air was pretty miserable and don't get me started on the resulting pool maintenance!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who's the lucky girl? or Chunk #2

He was gripping the cord way too tight, but it was his first time, and he was scared! The harder he grasped, the more precarious his journey became. Suddenly his back end slipped off the cord and as it swung around he could not muster enough upper body strength to recover. It was a quiet moment in the day. I'd completed most of the gardening chores I'd set out to, although that regenerating list is like a lizard, and grows new chores once others are eliminated. My smoothie sat beside me and I was perusing the day's news on the web. It happened so quickly, I didn't have time to really freak out...I saw something fall out of the corner of my eye and it landed on the table next to my smoothie! It seemed to take a few moments as it righted itself, during which time I realized it was a mouse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What happened next is hard to dissect, screaming, leaping, and doing that little foot lifting dance on the couch, which I assume, is used to ward off future encounters with unwanted vermin. The kids magically appeared on the couch beside me also doing the hoppy dance as the little fellow made his way to a corner behind my chair. We gathered our nerve and found a plastic container which we would use, as all great indoor hunters, to set over him. Then we'd slide a piece of cardboard under the container and relocate him outside. The plan was brilliant, his capture would be a cinch, and he was cute and round like a dollop of whipped cream. As he sat on his tiny rear haunches, just like the lovable mice in the kids movies we'd seen lately, I imagined that had on tiny red mouse boots... None of that helped us actually get close enough to it to make the capture. It's funny that he was cuter than the mice at the pet shop, but the thought that he was born and raised somewhere outside, or in the walls, prejudiced us against him. Like those pet shop mice are bathed, up to date on their vaccinations and ready for adoption? Anyway, my brave daughter, who barely cringes when she gets shots, was the one who finally captured him and carried him outside. It was hard to get to the point of relaxing after that, I mean, he was young and I know there are siblings not far, but I just had to steel myself and try to recapture my peaceful moment.

back to blogging... Who's the lucky girl? I am! In the states, I felt privileged to have one, maybe two blooms on a amaryllis plant in my home, but check out this abundance that just keeps showing off in my yard.

Tourists are struck by the amount of color that can be found in even the most inhospitable locations here. The tree canopies look like someone drizzled bright orange sauce over them, and the bougainvillea bushes have twice as many blossoms on them, than leaves. You can't escape the beauty of the flora here, they are colorful intruders in each rusty or dingy corner. It's hopeful and lifts my spirits!

To touch on my last topic, or Chunk #1, I'm preparing a showcase of the myriad of school uniforms here, so stay tuned!

I'm without a relaxation novel right now. I had donated and purchased used books at a pet shelter in Monte de la Cruz, but now must find a new "library." I am plodding through two books right now, the first is hardly just before bed reading, The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. It's well written and a great way to review the country's history that you know, and learn lots of dirty little truths you didn't. The other book I brought with me, as I knew it would be relevant sooner or later, The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, M.D. I know I'm not pregnant, but I am tuned into my, rarely problematic, body, and things they are a changing. No hot flashes, nothing that obvious, just mood changes and things hurting for no apparent reason. Ms Northrup is an amazing physician, who looks at the whole body, and encourages women to recognize women's history and how we fit into the natural flow of life. If you haven't hit perimenopause, I recommend her earlier book, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. So, I will soon venture to the big city and check out a new, primarily, vegetarian cafe in Escazu. They have a book exchange going on there, plus I am excited to try their fare after reading about one of the owners, his wife and family on her blog, Asi es Costa Rica. So until then, I'll be dreaming of the colonial slave trade.

Sweeter dreams to you,


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Got to break it down into manageable chunks...Chunk # 1

Yesterday was a big day here, no not Presidents Day, back to school! I used to love the commercial for Staples, that had the song playing in the background, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year..." then you see two morose children shuffling down the isle with their dad behind then jumping and clicking his heels together with a wide grin. The announcer says, "It's that time of year again...THEY'RE GOING BACK!" If your child is older than kindergarten, you totally get it! I love to share in the shopping, preparation, and dressing for this big day, and am so excited for them, but nothing compares with the first moments of silence when you return home! In fact I was ready to write this yesterday, and I couldn't do much of anything, too much anticipation I guess. I just sat in a rocker! Well, I'm all better today!

Things are a little bit different here, shopping for back to school is fondly known as the January Hump. Our kids have attended three schools here, as it has taken time figuring out the best place for our family to settle. Not great, but they have adapted well and are very happy. They first attended a large private Catholic school in Moravia, and basically got lost. I say this because they were not warmly welcomed by the students or the staff. Teachers and administrators here are openly affectionate with their students, which I love, but the size of the the Moravia school limited their ability to get to know their students, and give the extra help to our kids that they needed with the language. We transferred them to a very small private bilingual school near our home up in the mountains above Heredia. It was a fantastic move as the kids were embraced by the students and staff and assisted with any language issues so they could be successful. We moved about an hours driving distance away from that area to accommodate my husband's new business. Their new school is "just right" as Goldilocks would say, ...not too big, not too small!" Is is not far from our home, less expensive than the other two and there are a handful of other gringo kids attending so they are not an oddity, but an asset. They had an amazing first day and, "...love their new school the best!"

The moves have given them confidence and they both have become more outgoing and make friends easily. Back to the "January Hump," New uniforms, of course none of the three schools has required the same color shoes, socks or pant, really! So we have bought shirts pants, skirts, gym clothes, socks, shoes, and jackets at all three schools, but I will not complain, because I LOVE UNIFORMS! Our oldest is in his first year of college, I remember the morning drama over clothesand the huge expenditure expected on a new school wardrobe each fall, NO MORE!
In Costa Rica, you buy the books, like college, also supplies; copy paper, tape, glue sticks, glue, construction paper, liquid soap, TP, etc. I think that is great. I am happy to contribute! I've seen too many teachers in the states spend their own hard-earned money on supplies. Each class requires a small non-spiral notebook that must have a name tag sticker affixed on it, then must be covered with clear contact paper. In these books the children do a lot of pasting of papers they are working on and then all note taking. One of these notebooks is for communication al hogar,( with the home.) This one gets a lot of action at our hogar, because we are always confused about what is requested. My husband is fluent in Spanish, but what is common in Costa Rica can only really be known by those who were raised here. This said, we have not provided the correct item, or snack for our poor kids numerous times, like the time we sent our boy in , in his swim trunks for water-play day...two days early! It's all good though, I am just happy to make fewer mistakes as every day passes!

I am so proud of the kids though, they both understand almost everything that is said to them in Spanish. Our daughter has had more exposure as she spent a year in a Spanish immersion program in kindergarten in the states, so she is more comfortable responding than our younger son, but his confidence grows daily too. Their pronunciation is flawless, and makes me feel like a total tourist! A bit more horn blowing... our daughter had spent six months in second grade when we moved here, but started the school year when we arrived in February, at that point all of the second graders knew how to write in cursive and that was all that they were supposed to use, so she sat down and taught herself how to write in cursive in one week! What a trooper!

I need to tell you about how the Costa Rican mind works, because it is fascinating, but per the posts' title, that will be "Chunk #2."

more soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

here we are!

I stumbled across my first blog in the months before the presidential election, as I was trying to get more information on the republican vice presidential candidate. I was fascinated by how many people world over were communicating with each other, and was impressed by the thoughtful and diverse comments. I moved onto blogs about Alaskan politics,my favorite is the mud flats, I then unearthed Costa Rican blogs and discovered very eloquent and funny writers who are gamely sharing their lives with others.

We have been in Costa Rica for one year, and have loved just about every minute of our time here! I needed this past year to decompress from some challenging years in the states, so I've kept to myself and concentrated my energy on helping our family to settle into our new life. As I near fifty, I am more particular about how I expend my resources, and up until recently, have not been up for much socializing.

I am married to an incredible optimist, with boundless energy, and a devotion to his family that melts my heart! He is in the food service industry, so he needs to tap into that energy source constantly. I'm a few years older than my man, so I am learning how to balance parenting young children while my body and psyche are moving right ahead with perimenopause! I have taught enrichment classes for babies/toddlers/preschoolers/kindergartners, and their parents in the Lake Tahoe area for 15 years. I hope to offer these classes to local schools in the near future, as there seems to be a strong desire by Costa Ricans to expose their young children to English.

We have an eighteen year old son attending university in the states, a nine year old daughter and a six year old son. They attended private Catholic bilingual school last year in the mountains above Heredia, and will attend another private school this year near our home in Grecia, as we have relocated across the central valley. Our daughter spent a year in a Spanish immersion program in a public school in Northern California, so she has had an easier time of communicating and learning the language. Her pronunciation is incredible, and she is a huge help as I feebly attempt to speak Spanish!

We first lived in the hills above Heredia. The quiet mountain community appealed to us, as the weather seemed closer to what we had known in Tahoe. We found a non-working farm on about 10 acres, complete with an established vegetable garden, fruit orchard, dairy, chicken coop, naturalized areas, a five bedroom house and lots of room for the kids to play and roam! Our neighbor/caretaker of the property was a wonderful man who joyfully shared his and his family's life with us, letting the the kids "work" with him as he tended his cows, bulls, chickens and vegetable gardening. He had a beautiful oxcart and two magnificent bulls. He often used them for collecting cut grass, cultivating, and proudly paraded them in every nearby celebration. It was such a treat to hear the wooden wheels coming down the dirt driveway in front of the house, and we would all run our to greet them! Everyone told us how cold and windy it was up in the mountains, and of course we poo-pooed them, but living in the cloud forest is not for us! We realized that we didn't have to be bundled up inside looking out at the fog and sideways rain, we needed to embrace our new home and enjoy the fine weather for goodness sake! It is spectacular in those mysterious cloud forest communities, but we need sun to survive and thrive. There will be a long rainy season ahead, but a few degrees warmer, and perhaps just little less fog will be easily survivable.

My husband was driving to San Jose, which was only thirty minutes, but is helping out friends in Alajuela now, and the commute has become overwhelming. I began looking for a rental in Sarchi, Atenas and Grecia area. We lucked into securing a terrific smaller home on a almost two acres with a pool, soccer field, rancho, basketball court and beautiful manicured grounds with lots of fruit trees! This is great, because I am not a clean freak, and I much prefer spending time outside in the garden! Since we moved in a month ago, we've learned about palm tree and pool maintenance (which is new to us) and have been just chillin' in our little paradise.

I want to share some of the many things I love about our adopted home....blue crowned mot-mots-toucans-parrots and kiskadees visiting the yard each day, the dish soap in tubs formulated for cold water, delicious local produce, people always out getting exercise, teachers showing love to their students, umbrellas, constant celebrating of anything and everything, picnicking and families on Sundays, stick it in the ground...it grows, frog-night bird and cricket sounds at night, floating on the Caribbean ocean, not many Ticos are stressed-just the gringos, paying bills at the grocery store or bank, a reverence for children, women embrace their figures-without self consciousness, ropa Americana stores( CR thrift shops,) ceviche, fresh fruit smoothies year-round, learning patience, older couples holding hands, homes kept so neat and tidy, having bird of paradise-gardenias-ginger-heliconias-hydrangeas and all the magnificent others that grace our yard, color in unlikely places, our dogs, kind-considerate and conflict avoiding Ticos, our children are incredibly happy, and coffee-coffee-did I mention coffee?

Well, this is glimpse into my new life. I hope your interest is peaked and you'll return for updates.

Hasta luego