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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Home - Cross Posted

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

- Robert Frost, Death of a Hired Man, 1915

And while our need is not that great, I am so grateful to have so many homes to welcome us.

We have thought long and hard about the choices we have made and the life that we are living. Costa Rica has been a wonderful experience, but like so many gringos that try it out, we won't make it past two years.

In the end, language barrier (totally my fault), lack of family and multitudes of friends, and fear of experiencing crime first hand have tipped the scales to our return. The final nail in the coffin was when I realized that we had successfully replicated our Silicon Valley life here. My husband is working the programmer schedule 10-7, nice for a single guy, sucky for a family guy. Might as well do that at home, where Mom can network with the other soccer/girl scout/karate/boy scout/ballet/science club?/PTA moms and understand the instructions.

After the decision had been made, we learned that Costa Rica is thinking of drastically changing the residency requirements. My friend talks about it in greater detail. So far they are just thinking about it, but.... um no. In a very amusing coincidence, our residency cards are finally ready.

You just can't make this stuff up.

I am sure that I will write more in the future about Costa Rica and our decision/transition to return home. And we will try to squeeze in as much more Costa Rica as we can in the meantime. But for now, there is so much to do.

26 days and counting.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gym Addition and Revelation

I may have neglected to mention it, but we FINALLY joined a gym. We picked Arena Trak. We picked it for many reasons:

  • possible star siting of the ever-famous Saratica!

  • proximity to our house

  • value for cost (probably the most important factor)

It really has what we are looking for:

  • Cardio equipment (bikes, ellipiticals, treadmills, and other items of heart beating torture)

  • Weight lifting stuff

  • Classes in things like yoga, pilates, dancey stuff, and beat yourself up as hard as you can

  • Extra stuff (that costs a little extra) like power plate equipment and pilates machines. Stuff that I want to try and for a much smaller sum and commitment than in the US, I can. I'll tell you about it later.

My only disappointment is that we didn't join a year ago. If we had, I would be one year fitter. Or not. But anyway, it feels like we wasted that time. But from now on, we will do good. We will go regularly. Work hard, look better, feel better, and all that good stuff.

I may have mentioned before that my husband looks a little young. I may have mentioned that the guys that work as security guards and the like are referred to as "muchacho" (literal translation is boy). I may have mentioned that I am a little overweight and starting to look a little older.

When we work out at the gym and people want to switch machines with Barry, they refer to him as "muchacho".

I have been called "Senora" (Mrs.) and on occasion, "Dona" (lady of the house, usually reserved for older women)

I am a "Dona" married to a "muchacho."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

CA vs CR

I recently spent several weeks in California. I was very interested to see how I would react, having been out of the US for almost one year. Here are my thoughts:

What I missed most about the U.S.
1) Street signs
2) Radio options in the car
3) Fountain Diet Coke that tastes so good.
4) Being able to chit chat with just about anyone I run into.

Can I live without those things. Yes, of course. But life there is definitely more convenient. But it also seems to take longer.

What do I dislike about there:
1) SO SO MANY Street lights.
2) People actually follow the rules. Yes this is good, but they do so without thinking if things make sense.
3) Life seems so much more compressed and fast paced at the same time.

Another big difference: Costa Rica is dirty outside, clean inside - the US, with it's manicured lawns and filthy restrooms, is quite the opposite.

What was interesting, on the airplane trip there, the airline showed a segment about the happiest places in the world. You have probably seen this, Denmark tops the list. But in the preamble they said, "...many countries lead the U.S., including ....Costa Rica." So I started thinking. Where were people (speaking in general) happier. And I think that they are definitely correct. Costa Ricans as a whole are more content than those in the US, or at least my little corner of the US. But that is the key word. Content. In a simplified idea, happiness is at odds with ambition. People here are happy, but not pushing hard for more. Or at least that is the way it feels to an outside observer.

But what about me? It is fine to speak in generalities, about the happiness of a group of people. But what about me? As I mentioned the other day, I can be happy anywhere. Part of me likes this place, the difference of it and what is available. Part of me wants to go home. Only time will tell which part wins out.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008

One Year here

Today is July 7. On 7/7/7 we were on a plane on our way here. We have learned so much about this place in the past year. And about ourselves. What are the most important lessons that I have learned?

1)I can be happy anywhere.
2)I will always miss something from the last place I was happy.

Good stuff to know.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Cow Parade

A little while back, some of the Costa Rica bloggers were talking about the Cow Parade art project coming to San Jose. I wanted to contribute some that we have seeen. I like the Pre-Columbian Cow with the gold jewelry in the nose and the Costa Rican Frog Cow, but my favorite has to be the Disco Cow Or DisCow as I like to call her.


You can see many more cow photos by others at the flckr group.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Panoramic view of our yard

We live in an enclosed compound type situation. It is great to let the kids go out and play - they can't go anywhere and nobody can get in (without a great effort). It is hard to explain. I have been playing with some stitching programs and a panaromic view. Here's my best attempts:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sausage Tree

Not sure what this is, but Bella noticed them in the Pricesmart parking lot. The "fruit" of this tree hangs down like sausages.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rock Paintings

We saw these painted rocks on the road to Atenas:

Here's one up close:

Not sure what the idea is here. Some seem to have numbers by them. Are they being sold? Judged? Do you take the rock? Is this artistic expression or for sale? It is an affront to nature?

Anyway, we thought it was interesting as we drove by.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

No Gringos

We recently took a trip to Manuel Antonio Park. It was a lovely trip and we had a great time. On the drive down, we saw this sign. The key thing to note is the anti-Gringo sentiment here. As you get to the coast, I believe that there is some of this thinking. I don't think that they mean the tourists, it's the Gringos that want to stay. I think. Still, we have never felt any direct anti-Gringo sentiment.

But it is out there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Hail Mary, full of Grace

I may have mentioned that this is a Catholic country. You may have seen my post about Semana Santa. But here is some more evidence, in case you are interested.

This statue is in the back play area/woods at my kid's school.

And again with a little help from photoshop.

Beautiful, no? It almost makes me want to whip out my rosary.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Costa Rica Spanish is a little different than high school

I may have mentioned that I took Spanish in high school. Three annoying years. Three years for which I am now so thankful. I never would have predicted I would need Spanish, I mean I lived three hours from Quebec, French would have been a more convenient choice, but I took Spanish.

But I have to tell you, some things are different here than in my "Churros y Chocolate" text book.

1) People here do not really say "Adios" - instead they say "Ciao" or "Hasta Luego"
2) People do not refer to others as "mi Amigo" (in fact I know a Filipino friend that says "Hola Mi Amigo" more than most Costa Ricans.
3) Instead, you refer to people as muchaco/a, or campesino/a - this is for a shop clerk/worker, or a co-worker.
4)Buenas is perfect for hello (more formal would be buenos dias, buenos tardes, buenos noches).
5)Gracias is said by saying the c, not like the soft s sound of "science". More like Gra C es.

That's it for now.... more as I figure it out.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Costa Rica and the environment

Costa Rica says it will plant a bunch of trees to be carbon neutral. This is wonderful, now if they would just stop throwing the garbage in the rivers.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Llavalo Me

The other day I was out without my camera and I saw the funniest thing. I saw a dirty car (an unusual site unless it is my car) and someone had rubbed a message into the grime on the rear window:
"Llavalo Me"

which translates to:
"Wash Me"

There are some parts of humor that are the same everywhere.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mel and Britney

Mel and Britney are coming to Costa Rica. Maybe we'll see them.

The ragamuffins are mine - end of the day at Manuel Antonio Park

We moved to Costa Rica to live a life less ordinary (at least for a while) and a life less regulated (I am not talking about governments or politics here - I mean that little girl needs a shirt kind of stuff.) So here you have it. Our kids look like ragamuffins living in a shack. We've got a kid in a sling, a kid with no shirt and a boy who is actually cleaner in this photo than most days. But don't they look happy?

In actuality, we just finished a lunch at a hard-to-miss restaurant on the road from Quepos to Manuel Antonio Park. Perhaps you have seen it?

It is a restaurant stuck onto an old airplane. Supposedly this is the plan that crashed in Nicaragua and outing the entire Iran-Costa scandal. I am not sure if I believe that, but this restaurant is still a fun place.

They made the interior of the plan into a bar area.

But the real attraction is the view from the patio dining at the top.

Food was okay (I have not been blown away by any food in Costa Rica, call me a California Food Snob, but it is true) but it was a lovely time and a great end to our visit to the beach that day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Friday, May 9, 2008

What's on Fire? - Info about the header photo

People often ask - what is going on with that photo on your header? What is on fire? Is everything OK?

So I will tell you. I could make up some great story about how the truck was on fire and the guy on the motorcycle was an undercover cop and my husband saved a baby that fell from the truck, and then the flying saucer landed - but you probably wouldn't believe it.

The truth is that it was twilight and starting to rain and we had to wait our turn to go across the "Oh Shit bridge" on the way back from Manuel Antonio Park. We took this picture through the windshield (lazy) and it just came out really cool. And that is kind of how Costa Rica has been for us. Things just kind of turn out cool.

Cumpleaños Feliz Costa Rica Crazy

I just realized that I have hit (or passed) my one year bloggy anniversary. Things were a little rocky there in November and December, but we pulled through. Cumpleaños Feliz a mi.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Who is taking the picture?

Actually it was Bell's playing around with the digital camera, but I just had to laugh.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Speaking Spanish with the ladies

The other day we were invited to a girl's get together after school. Little girls running around in Disney dress-up with makeup. Meanwhile, mom's could gossip talk.

We went and had a wonderful time. There were six other Mom's there. A few I know pretty well. A few were new. A few speak EXCELLENT English. A few speak none. Of course, this is a Latin country, Spanish is the first language. It is only because these are very well educated women that they speak English at all. So I will play along in Spanish as best as I can.

Lessons learned:
1)Do not sit too far down the table, adding hearing difficulties to the language difference is not helpful.
2)They speak fast.
3)I need to learn more Spanish to be able to keep up.
4)Smile and nod works well in most cases, even if you don't understand 100%.
5)I will probably never understand 100%
6)These are exactly the kind of women I want to hang out with.
7)They are quite funny.
8)Eventually any group of women will start griping about discussing their kids and husbands.
9)Even I can play along with that.

For more details about what good news came out of this visit, go here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Run on Rice

A run on rice? Are you kidding me? I never ate that much rice until I married a Filipino, now most meals have rice. In the states, I used to buy 25 pound bags of Jasmine rice for about $10-$13 depending on what store and what sales. A friend back in CA said the price recently went up for these bags to about $25. So I guess it is real. And I guess we will be switching to potatoes....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bell's new accent

Some of the reasons that we came here were for the kids. Expose the kids to a new culture. Let them learn Spanish. Bell's has been resistant to that idea and is finally starting to give in a little. When out in public, if someone speaks to her, she frequently asks me what they said.


Her accent is spot-on. She says words in Spanish the way they were meant to be said, not like her Gringa mom. In fact, she is frequently correcting me.


She also has started to speak English with a Spanish accent....


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Teacher versus the Bull dozer

First the scene:

At the kids school, there is a tall wall, and behind it is a construction site. More condos, of course. There is also an empty field next to this construction site. One morning as I arrived to drop the kids off, there was a bulldozer taking dirt from the construction site and dropping it over the wall into the empty field. Some stray dirt was tumbling into the school's driveway.

The players:

The kids have a teacher for what they call Enrichment. It is Catholicism and morals and ethics and all sorts of good stuff. The lady who teaches them is delightful. She is an older woman with hair all fluffy and white, but her vitality shines through.

This lady went out and yelled up to the bulldozer driver that he should not do that - it was getting into the school's driveway.

What do you think will happen next?

Probable US outcome #1: Never would have happened in the first place - all construction sites have meticulous plans for disposing of debris.

Probable US outcome #2: Bulldozer driver would have yelled back at old lady in some colorful language implying that it was none of her business and besides, she wasn't the boss of him.

Actual Costa Rica outcome: Bulldozer driver STOPS. Bulldozer driver brings bulldozer around into empty field to MOVE the pile of dirt further in and away from the school. Probably bulldozer driver apologizes.

I have recently seen some discussion of the machismo here, and it may all be true. However, they do listen to the little old Catholic teacher ladies!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The other day I was driving in Santa Ana after watching the boy at his swimming lesson and I was held up by a funeral procession. It was a thought provoking incident, for more than one reason.

First, let me explain what I saw. Then I will discuss why there are no pictures.

There was an old station wagon. Not a hearse, not even a black car. Something that looked like my Mom's family mobile from the 70's. It was beige with faux wood paneling. It had a bouquet of flowers on the top. It was driving about 5-10 miles/hour.

Behind were about fifty people walking. Some were very old and walking with a hobble. Some had umbrellas to protect them from the sun. Directly behind the car was a smaller group that must have been immediate family. I don't know how far this group had walked or were going to walk. Again I felt it a little like the Godfather. And I felt like an intruder.

I snapped a couple of photos and then felt like I was violating their experience, their privacy and their grief. I still have the photos, but I am not going to share them. I understand that there is a blur between blogger and journalist. I understand that people in public have very little right to privacy from photographers. But I am not yet ready to cross that line. So instead I will use my words to express myself.

This procession seemed straight from the movies. But it also felt more real and honest than the typical U.S. version. Somehow, it seems to me that walking in this group did many things for the mourners.

It seemed to show a collective grief, each person part of a greater whole. It seemed a testimonial of love to the deceased, that these people, even those somewhat infirm, would make this effort, do this act. It seemed to provide a sense of support and recognition for the immediate family. They were in the front, the closest to the dead, yet they were backed by this group of supporters, who would not let them fall behind. It also seemed very public, look everyone, look at what we have lost. In the US, we all get in cars and drive to the next stop, but these people journeyed with the dead to their last earthly destination. How connected. And this work, this walk, was a physical task to mingle with the emotional aspect of letting go.

I am not sure where the procession went after they passed me. I am not sure what a typical funeral is in Costa Rica. What is universal is the grief. It is always hard. In some ways seeing this procession made me think of my own mortality and my own family. In some ways it reminded me that I need to participate and not just observe the life I see. I feel a better person for this moment of introspection.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kissing in Costa Rica

I have been living in a Latin country for half a year now. That is long enough to have aquintances and some friends. There is something so different here than my New Englandish upbringing. They kiss hello and goodbye.

You see it everywhere. In the mall when people who know each other run into each other. When parents meet up at the little performance. And when visiting each others houses.

It was a little strange at first, to kiss people I barely knew. And I got to kiss my friend's husband, right in front of her. A little strange from the puritan background. But I have to say that over time I have adjusted and I LIKE IT.

It seems more affectionate than a handshake (in other words, there is not business being conducted). But less personal than a hug. No major body parts touch. Just lips to cheek. One time. Usually with the head turned to the left so right cheeks touch.

What's funny about this, is that I just saw a news clip that it is starting to be more a thing in the U.S. Maybe by the time we go home, it will be the norm.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Haiku Friday - Mops and Guns

Haiku Friday

Costa Rica is
A land where you always see
Many many mops.

The bathrooms are clean
Even the mall, McDonald's
Pristinely spotless

What a shock it was
Off the plane in Miami
Restroom's disgusting!

People here take pride?
Or maybe so many work
for so little pay.

Hire a dozen girls
It doesn't cost much money
To go mop the floors

Hire a bunch of guys
They must own their guns and bikes
to watch parking lot

Gotten used to it
At first it seemed so strange, now
It is very nice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Family Love

We just had a visit from Barry's sister M and her friend KC. It was a great time. We went out to Manuel Antonio for a few days and they took a trip to Arenal. We also spent some time around the house. Between this visit and my parent's visit earlier in the month, it is so nice to have people around that adore my children. People that will sit and do coloring books. People that will listen to their detailed stories. People that will get down on the floor with them and play. People that are not me.

I love my kids, but it is certainly nice to have a break from being my kids world. While the aunties were here, they could not have cared less if we were in the house, much less the room.

And to see that kind of family love.
It made it so hard to say goodbye.
We miss everybody.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Nothing but a Hound Dog

We caved (or I finally got Ibarra to cave) and got a dog. This is Willa who was named by Bells after a fairy in some Barbie movie. I think it is fitting, as in Willa Dog Last at our house? Time will tell.

For now, she is sweet. We got her in Atenas at an adoption fair but on by a local organization. She was living at a home with her mother/father and a brother. A couple of other pups supposedly had already been hit by cars. She is about 3 months old. She is supposedly part border collie, part bloodhound. Not sure if I see that, but she definitely has some hound. When we got her, fleas, ticks and worms, oh my. But that has been taken care of. And she hasn't been in the house. She lives out on our nice covered porch (where we spend a lot of time) and has run of the nice sized yard. We'll see how that changes in time.

Here is one of Snoopy's Willa's favorite spots to hang out:

Tell me there isn't hound in her.

Scary Stuff

Did anyone see this? Jenny this is right along the lines of what we were talking about (sophistication versus maturity) except with a touch of evil thrown in.
Totally Scary!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

100 Things We have learned about Costa Rica

In celebration of my 100th post - I thought I would compile a 100 things we have learned list. Here it is:

  1. Costa Rica can be cold.

  2. It does rain a lot during the rainy season, even in suburbia.

  3. There is a windy season.

  4. There is also a hot season.

  5. It is not hot enough in Escazu to really make the pool comfortably warm.

  6. The kids swim anyway.

  7. Cas fruit juice is delicious and easy to make.

  8. The fresh bread is delicious.

  9. Typical coffee is cafe con leche (served with hot milk).

  10. You can still get a Starbucks type fancy coffee.

  11. It will be yummy.

  12. It will be cheaper than Starbucks.

  13. Ground coffee available in the grocery store is inexpensive and delicious.

  14. Food is expensive.

  15. Especially imported brands.

  16. BioLand makes everything.

  17. You can buy almost anything in a smaller, bagged version (rather than plastic bottles): i.e. mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, jelly, condensed milk, bleach, liquid soap, etc.

  18. The dish soap is not liquid, but a compressed powder that you rub a wet sponge/cloth in to suds up.

  19. Christmas time means tamales. These are different than the Mexican version, no spicy pepper and cooked in a banana leaf. Somehow they are less dry and I like 'em.

  20. If you give out Christmas cookies, be prepared for strange looks because they are not tamales.

  21. You should practice Offensive driving here.

  22. Someone flashing their lights mean they will let you through.

  23. There is a general give and take (at least where I live) to let people turn left or merge.

  24. No one ever looks in a hurry.

  25. Stop signs are optional.

  26. Motorcycles are crazy.

  27. You see 13 year old kids still holding Dad's hand in the Multiplaza.

  28. Moms are the same everywhere.

  29. Little girls are the same everywhere.

  30. It is easy to get sick if you eat out.

  31. The safest restaurants are those with a lot of people.

  32. The fried chicken is usually good and pretty safe (high frying temperature?)

  33. You can fried chicken almost anywhere.

  34. Traditional Costa Rican cooking seems to entail a lot of frying.

  35. You will get tired of fried food.

  36. The beef tastes different.

  37. Burgers here are terrible, even at McDonald's - they don't taste like meat.

  38. The cows you see along the road are skinny.

  39. Diet Coke tastes different.

  40. They don't know how to make butter.

  41. Three kids is not typical, more like one kid and later in life.

  42. It seems acceptable to stop your car and get out to pee.

  43. I have seen many people urinating in public, by the side of the road and along buildings, etc.

  44. I have even seen a few people defecating in public. Not a pretty sight.

  45. In the case of a traffic accident, you are not supposed to move the cars. Wait for the police.

  46. I have only seen the police stopping someone for speeding once.

  47. Many of the Gringos here are in real estate.

  48. Many of the U.S. expats here seem to be against the U.S. (at least right now).

  49. For hotels in tourist areas, the price quoted at walk up will likely be less expensive than on the website.

  50. CIMA is great.

  51. Children with broken arms bounce back really fast.

  52. It is possible to enjoy a movie in Spanish, even if you don't understand everything.

  53. I don't need to understand everything, sometimes it is ok to nod and smile politely, even though I have no idea what the other person just said.

  54. The school is teaching my 6-year old Mandarin.

  55. High school musical and Hannah Montanna rule the Costa Rican 6 year old girls too.

  56. I still am not sure it is age appropriate.

  57. When we do touristy things and meet other vacationers, it is weird to tell them we live here.

  58. My husband needs to get out of the house, at least occasionally.

  59. Bananas cost almost nothing.

  60. 2 out of 3 of my kids don't like bananas.

  61. The kid that does like bananas is frequently constipated.

  62. We make a lot of banana bread.

  63. Radio stations are a strange mix. Nothing really for an American my age. Or American country, which I think that Costa Ricans would love.

  64. Discovery kids is pre-school appropriate programming (in English or Spanish) 24 hours a day.

  65. This place is becoming more like the US all the time. At least here.

  66. Hot water heaters are not typical. Usually there is a heater attached to the shower head or a small instantaneous heater that you turn on when you want hot water. It seems to work pretty well.

  67. In Escazu it is not common to have heaters.

  68. In Escazu it is not common to have air conditioners.

  69. You really don't need them.

  70. We have acclimated and now when people make small talk with "boy, it's cold, hot, windy, rainy" I really agree.

  71. The eggs are not cold in the grocery store.

  72. We haven't gotten sick yet.

  73. We wash the dishes with tepid water.

  74. We haven't gotten sick yet.

  75. We have not needed the generator we brought with us.

  76. I wish we brought more stuff (hangers, garbage cans, dressers) with us, rather than getting rid of them before we moved.

  77. I am really glad we didn't buy a house here (at least yet).

  78. I really like our rental place (both the house and the location).

  79. Fedex and UPS delivery here, no problem.

  80. The address is really funny.

  81. Our address references the Chinese Embassy, which was the Taiwanese Embassy. Now that Costa Rica has stopped recognizing Taiwan and the big China is stepping in, it is for sale. Wonder what this will do to our address?

  82. Paying the utilities at the drugstore is kind of cool.

  83. The kids still love McDonalds.

  84. You can find almost anything (or a version of it) if you look hard enough.

  85. If you can't find it, you probably didn't need it anyway.

  86. Sometimes I wonder if too many choices makes people unhappy.

  87. It's not inexpensive to live here.

  88. At least not how we live.

  89. There are sometimes cows along the side of the road.

  90. Most rich people here own their own businesses.

  91. They usually don't have cows.

  92. But maybe roosters.

  93. People here take pride in appearance and you don't see locals out looking unkempt or in old/dirty clothes.

  94. Most of the ladies usually wear long jeans.

  95. With high heels.

  96. I think it is funny considering the condition of the roads that they walk on.

  97. The current style is to have the jeans about 6 inches too long and fold them up in one long piece.

  98. I think it is funny.

  99. We don't look Costa Rican.

  100. And mostly, people are pretty nice.

Monday, March 31, 2008

School Clubs for the Kids

I may have mentioned this before, but I will say it again, I really like the school we send the kids to. They offer after school clubs. To show off some of the options, one morning this was on the road into the school. You can see chess, ballet, arts & crafts, yoga, taekwondo. They also have modern dance, painting, theater, soccer, gymnastics, swimming (offsite), and Costa Rican folk dance.

So for about $100/month we have the following:

Monday - Gus has soccer
Tuesday - both have swimming lessons (well not Bella right now, due to cast)
Wednesday - Gus has gymnastics
Thursday - Bella has Ballet
Friday - Bella has modern dance

While that is enough options to make a Mom's head swim and any kid find something they would like to try, that is not even the best part. They happen right at the school after classes. You don't have to drive anywhere, just pick the kids up an hour later. Now what Mom would say NO to that?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Haiku Friday - Shark by the Shore

Haiku Friday

Easter Sunday spent
On the road 3 A M to
Manuel Antonio

No easter bunny
The excitement of the day
A shark by the shore!

See all the people
Guard says out of the water
We all watch in awe

What is it? we say
Though some say it in Spanish
as "Que es esto?"

And we all see it
In the sea a dorsal fin
On a tiny shark

Only One Foot Long
If I had to guess it's size.
But so very close!

No picture to show
He's too fast - ten feet away
Have to believe me.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Semana Santa Procession for Good Friday

Sometimes I forget that this is a Catholic country. A Latin Catholic country. I was raised Roman Catholic in upstate New York. But that was english/irish Roman Catholic. We didn't do this kind of stuff.

It reminds me of The Godfather. It surprised me how nice this was. It made me feel religious again. And boy did the smell of incense bring me back.

We went to Santa Ana for the afternoon procession. It was scheduled at 5:00 pm. We got there about 5:30, perfectly timed for a Costa Rican event. We were there just in time for the outside procession.

In a glassed in casket, is a statue of Jesus.

And three statues (Mary in the middle).

These get carried through the streets and the faithful follow. We followed the procession for a few blocks, however we were not sure where it would go, it was getting dark and we needed to get home.

All in all a wonderful experience.

So Happy Easter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - How does this help?

You often see this in Costa Rica - a sawhorse blocks off the handicap spot. Not sure about the logic here. I guess the guard is supposed to come help. However, I once saw a lady get out of her car, move the blockade, get back in and park. Probably her passenger is handicapped, but it tickled me nonetheless.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Elbow blues and CIMA Song

This is not how a six year old's elbow is supposed to look:

On this past Friday, the last day of school before a week long vacation, I took Bell and Googie off to the Multiplaza to see Horton Hears a Who. In Spanish. We met up with another Mom and about 6 of Bell's school friends. We had fun. After the movie, while waiting for other Mom's to collect kids, we decided to go to the play area. Bells took off her shoes and got busy. Older kids were climbing the fence, climbing on top of the tree house. I walked over and suggested she NOT follow suit. She walked balance beam style away from the tree and jumped off. Unfortunately, another kid ran in front of her mid-jump and she kung-fued him in the head and fell backwards. Other kid (also mine) fine, although emergency doc detected just starting ear infection. Bells, not so fine. Obviously broken arm. Other Mom got us to hospital pronto. Bells screeched the whole way. For those of you familiar, the new little bridge that connects the backside of the Multiplaza to Office Depot, Pricesmart and CIMA is A GODSEND. From fall, to parking garage, to emergency room, to right in to doctor, to sedation was probably within 20 minutes. Although it FELT like an eternity. You can see why. Just look above. In this family, when we do something, we do it right!

Emergency Doc FANTASTIC. Orthopediac surgeon WONDERFUL. Bells was in surgery by 9 pm. Casted. Overnight hospital stay. Home the next day. ER doc was back to us before release and even gave us his cell phone number. He told Bella that if there was pain, "tell Mommy and she can call me for more meds." But seriously, look what a great job the surgeon did.

So we now have an intimate opinion of CIMA. All I can say is that they took excellent care of my daughter. They had her taken care of with only my name and phone number. No long forms, no triage (granted it was slow), no wait. Everyone I needed to have important conversations with spoke enough English to accomplish it. A few nurses, etc. were patient enough with my Spanish to get the job done in other cases. The nurses didn't hover, although I would have liked that a little more. And when we asked for lunch early (she had been on liquid diet and was starting to cry over her hunger) it still took too long. But on the important matters - Top Notch Care.

On the strange side, once she was in a private room, we looked for stuff. You know, towels, extra sheets, pillows, etc. NADA. Nothing in any of the cabinets. This goes back to the thievery and no trust issue. Still, they were very forthcoming with the stuff when asked.

Now for the price tag. Remember, no insurance. Mid emergency room visit and pre surgery we had to put down a deposit of $3000. No idea how much this would cost. Not the primary concern at the time. My only point of comparison was my own leg break ten years ago in Aspen, Colorado. One week in the hospital. Full bill over $100K - my portion with insurance, $3k. But the final bill came to $4100. That includes the surgeons charge, the assisting surgeons charge, the hospital stay, the emergency room visit, and all the extras. Only thing not covered was parking. We are now seeing the surgeon regularly. Saw him today, appointment next week. Didn't pay today. Not sure when next payment will be. Had X-ray today at $40.

So current breakdown is:
Hospital stay: $4100
Parking to stay overnight with her: $8
Elbow healing and kid back to normal: priceless

It was a rough couple of days. Went to Doc today. X-ray shows healing already. Now, we can't get her to take it easy. You know what they say, you can't keep a good six-year old down.

What's bothering her the most now, those were her favorite shoes!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baby Nursing on Billboard

This is a nice billboard I see on the way back from taking the kids to school. It translates to "her world is you" or maybe "you are her world." Very nurturing. I can't imagine a magazine ad, let alone a billboard showing a nursing mother in the States. But tell me, is it indecent?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Spring Costa Rica Style

This one's for Kathryn after her Haiku of Friday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Details of the Queen's Stay

For those of you who have been following, my parents just came for a visit. Of course it was nice to see them, but it is always hard for me when they leave. It is especially hard that there is no certain next time. We do no know when (or even where) we will see them next. It probably doesn't help that my Mom cries when she leaves. Or that I do too.

It is also tough to entertain them, because what they like best is to sit, interact and watch the kids and chat with us. Could be anywhere. Still, here is a little description of what great hosts we are and some highlights of the trip.

1)Picking up the kids at school, we parked and Poppie and I walked over. The pure delight in my daughter's eyes as she yelled "Poppie" and ran and jumped in his arms. Love like that can not be bought. After these things, it saddens me that there is not more togetherness. However, when we are together it is full-time. I do not worry that my children don't know my parents. They do. And will.

2)I had put some of my parent's laundry in with ours. At night, my Mom was looking for it.
"I gave some laundry to be done, where would I find it?"
"Folded and put on your bed"
"You've got to be kidding me. I could get used to this."
Some things here are definitely worth it.

3)Rosti Pollo's. We decided to eat out on Sunday night so that if there were to be any digestive issues (these would be the people from whom I inherited my sensitive stomach) it could pass before Tuesday travel day. We also decided to stick with something we knew (and liked) that was somewhat Costa Rican. So we decided on a drive around and dinner out. Escazu, Santa Ana, Belen, back to Escazu. This place was like a ghost town. Then dinner at Rosti Pollo's (okay so I hear it was started by a Nicaraguan, it is still different from home). My Dad is in love. We also had lunch and dinner at a Rosti Pollo's on Monday and I think he would have put chickens in his carryon if he thought they would last. For those of you who don't know. Rosti Pollo's serves chicken that is roasted rotisserie style of a fire of coffee wood. It is delicious. Everything else at the restaurant is mediocre. But the chicken is OUTSTANDING.

4)And of course multiple trips to the Multiplaza.

We had lots of discussions. About the good and bad of living here. About what we will do in the future. About my upcoming book. About Barry's career. About safety. About where to look in the US when we have to go back. Nothing is resolved but I hope that they feel more comfortable with us here now that they have seen the region of our daily exsistance. It may not last forever, but for now we are happy.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Queen's Companion - A guest post

I have asked my father to post his impression of Costa Rica as my parent's visit draws to a close. Here is what he has to say:

You may have heard reference to the Queen's visit... Well that visit is nearing it's end and "Crazy" has asked for a comment on the visit. I am the Queen's Companion and, as such, have been asked to make that comment. Costa Rica from my eyes so to speak. The most important part of this trip has been absolutely phenomenal. Granddaughters 1 and 2 Grandson 1 are just about as wonderful as any grandchildren could be.. they would be wonderful in Costa Rica, California, Kalamazoo or anywhere they chose to be.

That being said, let's talk of Costa Rica living. Of locking doors, setting alarms. Of being constantly aware that the poor of the world are not always honest in their pursuit of a better life. That, when the poor collide with the rich, the poor somehow are not always as noble as the rich.

Lets talk about the food.. not bad, not noteworthy, not spicy, not rich. The meat is chewy and somehow different from the meat in the States. The chicken, however, is excellent.. as are the bananas. And the coffee,the coffee is excellent.

The roads are beyond bad (by States standards) and the only rules of driving seem to be fight for your space, be nice to others and stay out of accidents. Traffic signs are all "optional" and motorcycles need not even be concerned with traffic lights (the few that exist)

A trip to the mall was exciting and fun. People of all ages and classes seemed to be courteous (and the vast majority were well dressed). The casual visitor wearing shorts stands out as under dressed. Driving around the towns of Costa Rica was quite like driving around a very poor, very rural area of USA. However, walking around in the mall was like going to a grand opening. Everything was immaculate, the floors shone and the bathrooms were just unbelievably clean.

All being said, some good some bad... but for me, I still chose the evils that I know in the States.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Haiku Friday - Queen Delayed

Haiku Friday

Another whole day.
The Queen has not yet arrived.
American sucks.

Four hours then cancel?
Please tell me - why this delay.
Ready yesterday.

Florida may be close.
But it's not Costa Rica
We want them today.

Leaving in one hour to FINALLY get my parents from the airport.

Mi Casa es Su Casa in Costa Rica

Welcome. Come on in. How was your trip? Did you have any trouble finding this place? Costa Rica is beautiful, isn't it. You are so going to love it here. But it is a little different than "the states," isn't it?

For anyone interested in moving to Costa Rica, visiting Costa Rica, or just on learning one family's take on this beautful, strange place - you've come to the right place.

I share things here like: our crazy family life (I am a small-town girl, worked in the tech business in Silicon Valley, married a Filipino and have three kids (6, 3 and 18 months), strange things about Costa Rica, beautiful images and the messages about how deep-down we are all the same.

I hope you enjoyed your stay and that when you are feeling tropical, you'll visit again.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Queen is coming

I am pretty excited today. Today, my parents will be arriving in Costa Rica to visit us for a long weekend. I must remind you that my parent's were not are not thrilled with this move. In fact, my mother's first words were, "I'll never visit you there."

But have three little kids, their only grandkids and true heirs to the throne. You see if you can keep them away. Also, they are currently in their "retirement" place in Florida, so it is a no-stop three hour flight. And they can come for just a four day weekend instead of a see-each-other-for-two-weeks-straight visit.

We won't do anything more exciting than:
Sit in the living room and watch the kids

  • Go to the mall and watch the people

  • Go to McDonald's and watch the kids

  • Go to the Big Chicken and watch the kids

Are you getting my drift? A family hang-out session that just happens to be in Costa Rica. Still, they won't be able to not see the place, at least a little. And it is different than the states. I am very interested to see what they think. I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Costa Rica Super Nanny Just Kicked My Butt

I just finished lunch. We had a delicious meatball soup, my husband, the maid/nanny, and I. We also had a great conversation. Somehow, we got on the topic of the behavior and habits of our children. She recommended a tv show that shows here. As she described it, guess what, The Super Nanita.

We spoke for about 30 minutes on the topic of dinnertime in the loco house. And ne'er a truer statement could be made. We always have good intentions of family dinners, but after a few tough nights we give in to the easy way, the fast way. We feed them only foods they like and we chase them with dinner. My husband never had regular family dinner (youngest of eight), and doesn't see the importance of it. I am weak and give in to the easy way.

So L. told us how important to change now because it is harder/worse later. She also went on about the diapers at night for all the kids (3 and 6 year old included) but we will save that challenge for another day. She went after us pretty good and we have agreed to try it again. The family dinner thing. I think this time my husband and I will be a united front and I hope we can draw strength from each other through the difficult transition.

Now this conversation went on in Spanish, so I hope I got it all. But I really want to say - if they ever want to do a Costa Rican version, she's your girl!

Wordless Wednesday: Hooters - We have it here too.

But seriously, I hear they have great wings.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Party Time

Okay, I am very late with my RSVP to this happening party, but I just gotta go. Mom would be so embarrassed that I sat on the RSVP for this long. But what are you gonna do? Maybe I will offer a hostess gift? Do you think that will smooth things over?

So, 5minutesformom (doesn't that sound nice) is hosting a blog party starting on FRIDAY. It will last for a week and the way I understand it, it seems like an open house tour. So I will try and straighten up for all my new neighbors.

And there are door-prizes!

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

And now for something completely different

After the last post, which was pretty serious, I thought something lighter was in order. It has been back to school time and this was a window display at a department store in the Multiplaza. Pretty funny, eh?

Hint: Look at teacher's butt....

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Crime in Costa Rica, some facts and some opinion

A guy named Jack posted a question about crime. Thanks Jack. He asked if there was much crime in Costa Rica. He linked to an article on Costa Rica HQ. This article gives some great common sense advice. I think that most of this advice can be related to any travel for sightseeing. I would be as careful in San Fransisco or London as here. Cities have a lot of people, and not everybody is honest. This is true anywhere. Tourists in tourist areas are often targeted. You must be somewhat cautious whenever you travel. But then I am married to a paranoid.

Now what about if you live here? We live in Escazu, probably the swankiest suburb of San Jose. Lots of expats. Lots of rich Costa Ricans. Lots of targets. What is the crime like here?

First some historical opinion. When we considered this move, we did some research. What I recall is that there was a fairly large amount of burglaries. The ladrones breaking into houses while you are away and take everything including light bulbs, toilet seats and the kitchen sink. Here is one first-hand account of this type of event. It seemed that this risk could be combated (or at least the risk lessened) with some safety precautions, i.e. live in a secure area, have good alarms, barred windows/compounds, good locks, perhaps a dog. Also, having employees (maids, gardeners, etc) around would help as well. We did all this. Rented in a very secure (at least we think and this is probably the most important factor) area. Every house we considered my husband was reviewing the break-in possibilities. We think this house is pretty safe. To top that off, I have always said (much to my husband's disagreement), take it all - just don't come in when we are here - don't threaten my family.

We belong to the Costa Rica Living group on Yahoo. For those considering spending some time here, I strongly recommend this board. Lately there have been many reports of exactly this kind of attack. This scares even me. Still, I am pretty secure in our setup. There were complaints on the board not to publish this kind of information. Anyone who is against publishing true, factual information is probably trying to sell you something. While I feel secure, I don't plan to take the ostrich approach regarding the safety of my family. In particular, Costa Rica may have overbuilt in anticipation of rich, retiring baby boomers from the U.S. With the current real estate conditions in the U.S. this is probably not going to be the flood that was expected. I believe that this will eventually have a backlash effect here. If sentiments become too Anti-American, we would hop the next boat home in a heartbeat.

Now let's talk about some statistics and specifics:

  • Many people cite that there is a much lower crime rate here than in location x,y,z. This may be true, but is probably not the most applicable piece of information. What is more relevant is the crime rate against ex-pats. We are certainly targets. The impression is that we have money. All of us.
  • There was a recent letter by some big wig Embassy guy that portrayed Costa Rica as having an excessive amount of small property crime. This may or may not be true, however this is where your common sense comes into play. There are "good parts" and "bad parts" of any city. Try not to go places that there might be trouble. For example, LA is beautiful, but I have no interest in a tour of East LA. Likewise Boston versus South Boston.
  • Crime happens everywhere. I have been reading some blogs of Silicon Valley Moms (it is nice to be reminded of home) and recently saw this. Unfortunately in this world, you have to watch yourself.
  • You can always lie with statistics.

Truly, common sense and a little vigilance goes along way. This has been a heavy topic, but I don't live my life in fear. I don't flash the money when I take it from an ATM. I do lock my doors. But that is no different than anywhere else I might live.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Haiku Friday - Beauty and the Bump

Haiku Friday

The tree was in bloom,
I didn't see the pothole.
Beauty and the bump.

Springish stuff is happening here in Costa Rica. It is the turning into the nice part of the dry season and things are blooming. Kind of strange for this New Yorker. Seems backwards, but beautiful.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friends coming to visit - oh the stress....

So we have invited friends over this weekend to stop by and visit. They live in Heredia and have been kind enough to offer to make the trek. I have advertised it as very low-key, cuz that's the new me. So now I need to get ready....

I need to straighten up the house - no, wait the maid does that
Mop the floors - nope, maid
Wash the windows - maid

But it will be the maid's day off, so I will need to make the food - nope, Pricesmart/Costco Pizza to the rescue.

How much do you hate me now?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Not as scary as it looks

This is the checkpoint to get in and out of our neighborhood. There is this little shack with a gun guy in it (see him peaking out - see the big gun). Another just like it on the other side. And a few gun guys riding around on motorcycles. They put the gates down at night and open them as you drive up. There are cameras mounted on the entry side to take an image of the car/license plate. Still - they don't stop you. They don't ask your name, your business or who you are visiting. I have definitely visited friend that have a more formal security system.

Still, this makes me feel safe. Also they will respond to alarms, etc. and on one occasion when Bars was knocking at the door (having forgotten a key) a motorcycle gun guy was going by and he stopped and waited until I came to let Bars in. Just to make sure.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dinner in a dash

I was reading the Silicon Valley Mom Blog - just to remind me of home and I came across this funny post here. I had to laugh because it is the same everywhere. Even here in Costa Rica. Look what was for dinner last night!

And it was DELICIOUS!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bird names and other business

By the way, the birds were in lieu of getting a dog just yet. I want to, but there are many complications. We got these from a veterinary/pet store in Escazu Centro. They only sold birds and rabbits (a rabbit is what Bella really wants - thanks cousin Rach). When the entire transaction was done, the jovial older big guy leaned over to me and told me in our broken Spanish conversation to make sure and love them. Guess he knows Mom is the one that changes cage paper/feeds/etc.

Bella picked the Yellow one (I think because it was the only yellow one at the store - that girl knows how to determine value!) and she tried several names that first day before deciding on Ella (from Ella Enchanted)

The green one belongs to Gus, and he named him FUEGO

Bird, Bird, Bird Birds the Word

We got lovebirds. That's what they call them here. Also in the Philippines. But I looked it up and they are actually budgies. Anyway, they are cute and musical and pretty easy as pets go. We move the cage out to the lanai/patio every morning, clean up after them and feed them -then they sing and play all day. Then at night I move the cage into the laundry room. It seems like just a little too cold for them and I am afraid of the neighbors' puddytat.

Bars thought Daddy might like to see this - although this is only a small cage, nothing like that mini-aviary he had back home.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Family life is the same everywhere

This video is Pachabel - suburban family style. So true, except we don't have a cat and I like the shrek songs....

This is "The BIG Chicken." It is at a little pay-to-play park near the Multi-Plaza (and our house). The real name is Brinca Landia, which means jump something. But we just call it the Big Chicken. We drive by it every day. Sometimes the chicken is "sleeping" and the head is deflated. Sometimes the whole slide is deflated and the chicken is missing. We always enjoy seeing what state our old buddy is in.

We have gone a couple of times to play. It is about $6 entry for each kid (a little steep by Costa Rica standards). It is great though, the kids love it and it is very different than anything like it in California. First, there is no signing away of liability to allow kids in, they figure you know kids can get hurt. Second, it is practically empty. We have been the only people there, or one of three families. Third, there is a staff of young guys that whatch the whole area, moving from thing to thing along with the kids. They watch, interact, play with the kids. Fourth, there are chairs for the parents to sit and relax (remember there are about 5 guys following the kids around and no other exits). It is really a good time.

If you come visit - we can take you there.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Schooling Mama

Yesterday I had to attend a "reunion de los familias" at the school. It sounds fun, right? It sounds like a family reunion or a party. Um, no. This is a meeting. A come sit in chairs designed for 3-year olds and listen to the teacher explain the proper way to outfit and bring your child to school. Entirely in Spanish.

Just when I think my Spanish is improving, God smacks my arrogant a** back into place.

First - I don't know why I think my Spanish is improving. The only practice I get is to talk with our maid. She is very nice and we can communicate fine, but I think it is more that she has learned to decipher jenish then that I have improved that much.

Second - What was I thinking? I was worried about being on time. Made it. I was worried that I might need pen and paper once I got there (and all I had was a black sharpie). They had some materials. I was thinking it was a bilingual school. I was thinking someone would simultaneously (or in short breaks) translate for me, I was thinking that it would be quick, I was thinking I could handle it. I was thinking wrong.

I got to the school, got to the class, sat in the forementioned chair and just before the teacher started, she leaned over to me and said, "I need to speak Spanish, but I will help you when it is over."

It began. She spoke soft and she spoke fast. And there were overhead fans. There was just no-way. But I didn't realize just how frustrating this was until there was parental feedback/discussion and I didn't understand that either. ONE HOUR LATER - I am ready to cry. My poor kids have been waiting for me to finish this and I haven't even really started. I left and made arrangements for the kids to stay a little longer and went back for "my version."

It went quick, between the little bit that I got (more than I thought), looking at the teacher's own notes (also in Spanish, but my reading gist is much better than my listening gist), my anxiousness to get going (did I mention I now needed to find a bathroom as well), and some commen sense, we were through it in 10 minutes. Should have done this in the first place.

So, I understand it and I made a special appointment with Bella's teacher for an individual run-down. At least I am smart enough not to sit through it again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Old-Fashioned Way

A few months ago, our dryer wasn't working. (Luckily it turned out that the electrical issue I heard (POP) was the line and didn't hurt the dryer - fixed now, thank goodness.) But in the meantime, we had to do things the old fashioned way. Wash early in the morning, get them out on the line. There is this little outside area for hanging clothes, not part of the house, not part of the yard. This is what it looked like.

The unfortunate thing was that during the rainy/damp season, it didn't get sunny enough or dry enough (even on the rain-free days) to completely dry the clothes. We would have to bring them in and hang them up in the shower (again, luckily there was a handy gadet there to make about four rows of clothesline the length of the tub - of course, no baths or showers then). And maybe by morning they would be wearable. But not completely dry. And definitely not smelling that sweat outside smell. Another Mom mentioned that ironing them would help finish the drying, but we just ain't an ironing kind of family.

Boy was this annoying. Made me realize that we wash way too regularly. And luckily there were no bed-wetting, throw-up issues during this time. I do love my modern convieniences, but we do wash less frequently and re-wear school uniforms and the like when possible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Years Resolution

My New Years Resolution is to stop procrastinating and actual post to my blog.
- Resolved on February 19 (only 50 days late for New Years!)