Dog Days

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Stella is a big sister!  Stella (left) is our five-year old golden doodle we brought from Michigan and Pugsy (right) is her new little brother, a one year old Tico-Rescue dog.  We decided the Pura Vida life is meant to be shared with not just one, but two dogs. Raising dogs in Costa Rica is different than in the U.S. There are appears to be no leash laws and dogs are everywhere.  While some owners walk their dogs with a leash, many do not.  Many establishments, including stores, restaurants and churches allow dogs to enter.  The dogs here are street smart and well socialized.  Beaches seem to be giant dog parks.  We have yet to run into an issue with another dog or human on the beach.  The dogs here are as laid back and friendly as the people.  Since there are so many free roaming dogs and not very many people spay or neuter their dogs here, there is an over-abundance of stray or homeless mixed breed dogs. Pugsy is a direct result of this practice.  We are guessing he is some compilation of pug, chihuahua, and /or dachshund.  

Famous last words to the kids:”we are not getting any pets when we move to Costa Rica”. Prior to our move, we had to adopt out our bunny, Coco and our 18-year-old cat was laid to rest. It was quite an ordeal to bring a 70 lb dog here, and she almost didn’t make it, so we were not eager to add another pet that we would later have to transport. However, once we arrived and saw so many dogs needing a home, we were pretty much goners. If we had stayed back in the States, we talked about getting a sibling for Stella, so it seemed like the right thing to do. Only requirement is that it had to be a small dog to make future airline travel easy. Just our luck, a 8 kg dog needed a forever home.  The shelter owner had rescued him from an abusive situation 7 months prior. He came to us well-trained and with a gentle, easy-going temperament.

We are fortunate to have found excellent vet care here and the cost, compared to the U.S. is much lower. Within the first couple of weeks being here, Stella developed a skin irritation that she licked raw and it became infected.  We didn’t have a car at the time, so we called on a vet that made house calls – what an awesome experience and it only cost $30.  We recently had Stella groomed and the bill was $38. Both of these services in U.S. would have cost $100 or more.  We work hard to keep our furry kids safe and healthy. The number one cause of death for dogs here is tick fever.  We double up with a tick collar and medication for the dogs.  We also learned there are poisonous frogs, more prevalent in the rainy season and at night. If ingested, the toxic venom of these frogs can be deadly for a dog, so it is very important we keep the dogs leashed at night and carry a flashlight. Two things we didn’t worry about back home.

Stella and Pugsy enjoy the same benefits we enjoy with our new lifestyle. We all get more exercise, more relaxation and a lot more family time!  The dogs love having us home during the day. They manage to beat the heat with a lot of naps on the cool tile floor.

If you doubt that Costa Rica is a dog-loving country, check out Territorio de Zaguates, or “Land of the Strays”, a privately funded, volunteer-run organization in Costa Rica.  It is a no-kill free range dog shelter and home to more than 900 dogs.  Each dog is given a name and is available for adoption, but there is no pressure for the visitors.  Anyone is welcome to come for a hike and day of play with the dogs.  It’s probably best I keep my kids away from here or we will have more dogs than people living in our house!  

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Home Is Where the Heart Is

home·sick

hōmˌsik/

adjective

  • experiencing a longing or yearning for one’s home during a period of absence from it.
  • “they were homesick for America after two months in Costa Rica”

Homesickness is something I never understood and never personally experienced. It seems to be a trait that I have also passed along to my kids – thank goodness! It has made sleepovers and summer camps, and now a move to Costa Rica a lot more enjoyable. It doesn’t minimize that we miss a few things from home…family, friends and Amazon Prime, however, we don’t dwell in the longing, pining, and yearning mode. It feels better to enjoy the moment and plan for the future. 

Although we are itching for a few Amazon conveniences, it is our family and friends, we miss most. Some friends are like family. I put our Bellclaire neighbors in this category. Bellclaire is our street in East Grand Rapids. We moved there in 2004, when Tucker, our oldest, was only one years old. The neighborhood was experiencing a turnover with many young families moving in. Before we knew it, we had a village and we were spending our days making wonderful memories together- Dinner Clubs, Easter Egg Hunts, 4th of July Parades, Christmas Eve Dinners, New Year’s Eve Dance Parties, Winter and Summer Solstices, Triathlons, Camping, Ski Trips, Lake Trips, Bike Trips and more. Our extended families became a part of this village – sharing in our upbringing of the kids and in making these cherished memories. So, last week, when we had the opportunity to meet up with a set of one of the Bellclaire grandparents, Kay and Bill, we jumped at the chance.  It was so good to be “home” with them for a day. 

Kay took us on our first, but not our last Costa Rican zip-lining adventure. The kids had been begging to go since we got here, so it was a great day in their books. Thank you for the amazing memory!

So, here we are in our new home, looking fondly on our past and optimistically to our future. We spent Valentines Day with a group of homeschool families. The kids exchanged the sweetest cards with their new friends. It was a good reminder that a home is supposed to be full of love and there is a chance for love no matter where you might be in this world…you just have to be open to it. What a great lesson for kids!

Last night we hosted our first dinner party with a couple of our new Costa Rican neighbors. We quietly made a toast to our Bellclaire Family who taught us how to do this thing right! Slowly, but surely, we are making Costa Rica “home”. 

Pura Vida!

 

 

Decision to Homeschool

Homeschooling is something we talked about on and off over the years, but nothing we acted on. Mostly because we had two great jobs that we genuinely enjoyed and our kids were enrolled in a superb school district.  All three kids were thriving academically and we had no reason to change.  Occasionally, we talked hypothetically…if we home-schooled, we could do this or that. Mostly it was about being able to travel more freely and not be confined to the school calendar. As the kids got older, we saw how school got in the way of the kids pursuing their passions. For valid reasons, school is generally inefficient, but admittedly, the inefficiencies are what kids like most and what our kids would later miss most. From my perspective, when a family has multiple children, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage each child’s interests amidst a school schedule, while maintaining sacred family time, leading some children to have a singular interest vs a diverse collection or families in constant divide and conquer mode. I know because we were there. 

Our goal for our children is to develop curious, confident, and innovative learners that crave knowledge and experiences. We are not setting out to have professional athletes or musicians, but we were seeking a lifestyle that allows them to practice their multiple interests outside of academics and enough time to experience success with those interests and activities.    

When we decided to move to Costa Rica in pursuit of a simpler life with more family time and travel, homeschooling was an obvious choice for us. Having my husband, an educator guiding us, I  felt confident with our ability to provide them an academic framework based on the curriculum and standards of their peers at home, so we could slip back into the school system later if we desired.  We were excited to help them pursue their passions in the newfound spare time. We knew it would be an adjustment for everyone, but we remained optimistic. We started homeschooling in September 2016, four months before our move to Costa Rica. Our oldest was the most skeptical. He worried that he would fall behind and all the kids missed being with their friends.  

After a routine was developed and the kids realized they could set their own schedule and somewhat direct their own learning, they began to appreciate the benefits of home-school. Our daughter immediately saw the benefits because she was able to triple the time she previously could spend on her horse hobby. She was able to be at the stables, working and riding, while other kids were at school. Tucker was quickly assured that he was not falling behind, but rather could move at a pace that was challenging and intrinsically motivating for him. If something really interested him, he could explore it further by reading and researching the topic. Both boys took piano lessons and Elliot took voice lessons, as well. In a short amount of time, we saw Elliot gain a new level of self-confidence. I attribute some of his confidence from his lessons, but also credit learning and succeeding alongside his older siblings. He always loved to perform, but was too shy to do it in public. He is now singing at our church in Costa Rica and was not afraid to try out for a local theater production here. 

Marc and the kids experimented with several different learning management systems (LMS) before selecting Edify, a LMS developed by our home school district and an ed-tech company, called Kickstand. We are fortunate to have Marc’s expertise due to his involvement in the product, as a project manager and course/curriculum developer. It is a standards based individualized learning tool. They also use Khan Academy for math. The kids have daily and weekly learning targets following common core standards, with access to a variety of resources including videos, lessons and links. The LMS tracks their progress and their achievements in mastering concepts and alerts us to how and where the kids might need additional assistance. 

The thing they like most about homeschooling is setting their own schedule and having flexibility in their day and week. As we become more settled here, we can’t wait to start tackling our Costa Rica bucket list and incorporating our adventures into our learning. On average, the kids work on school 12 hours per week and this includes current events, fitness, art, and music, as well as the core subjects of math, science, reading, and English language arts.

The common myth with homeschooling is that kids miss out on socialization. If our goal for socialization is preparing our children for the world – providing them the ability to interact with people from all races, religion, ages and backgrounds, we are able to do that through our travel to a new culture and through homeschooling. I have been impressed by the way our children have proactively reached out to people of all ages to share their ideas and learn from them. Our kids definitely miss their friends from home and the fun they had with them at school, but they are not missing out on socializing due to being home-schooled – it is just different. Homeschooling removes some of the negative pressures kids can face, instead we are able to directly work with them on treating one another kindly and working on the relationship they have with one another without a lot of the “noise”. We recently have been introduced to other home-schooling families in our area we are looking forward to getting together with them. Also, our kids can participate with sports and extra-curricular activities at the nearby international school.  Right now, they all are involved in a community theater production of Jungle Book and meeting a lot of great kids and learning a lot! 

So…I can honestly say, all is well in our world. Pura Vida!