Abby is Going to School!

School is back in session, for at least one of our children.  In Costa Rica, the school year is divided into two terms, which run from mid-February to the beginning of July and from mid-July to December. There is a two week break at the end of the first semester. The local children returned to school on Monday, July 17th.  Abby enrolled in the Potrero Public School as a 5th grader for the second semester.  Big step. All on her own, she decided this was the direction she wanted in her schooling. A chance to fully immerse herself in the Spanish language and learn the Costa Rican culture and school traditions. To say we are proud and impressed by her courage is an understatement. 

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Abby with her new classmates

We completed one year of homeschool education for all of our children (grades 3, 5, and 8) at the end of June. We intended to take a month break and resume homeschooling the kids in August. However, we have had an unexpected and welcome change to our plans. Marc was offered a secondary science teaching position at the Costa Rica International Academy (CRIA) – a nearby international school. One of the benefits of teaching at CRIA is that we receive two free tuition spots. As a family, we decided that the boys would benefit most from returning to a traditional school. Tucker will be a freshman and Elliot will start 4th grade on August 16th.  Abby really wanted to continue homeschooling. She appreciates the ability to have more time and the flexibility to pursue her interests in swimming, horseback riding, and art. Abby’s decision to attend public school fits nicely, as it is only a half day. She goes to school 12pm-4pm most days.  Since learning Spanish is the primary objective and she is repeating the 5th grade, we will continue to supplement her learning, especially math and reading, keeping pace for 6th grade.

At the end of June, I asked our Spanish teacher to come to the school with me, as an advocate and translator, to see if we could enroll Abby. The school director said it would not be a problem. I had to complete some paperwork and then purchase insurance, uniforms and books. That seemed easy enough. I asked where to do all of these things and I got a very vague response from the director. Luckily, I knew a local family that spoke some English and I was able to get clarity re: the insurance. It was an obscure building in a small town 25 minutes away. Not sure how I ever would have found it on my own!  Thankfully, the process was easy and the annual student insurance coverage cost less than $10.00 per student. Other than that, a public education is free in Costa Rica. Most of the local schools have the same uniform – a white blouse, navy blue bottoms (pants for the boys and skirts for the girls), blue socks and black shoes. I asked around and was told by everyone that uniforms and books are found in Santa Cruz, approximately 60 km away. This seems very inconvenient for all the local families, but off we went to Santa Cruz. Abby and I had such a fun day and felt very accomplished when we came home with our uniform, as well as a couple other treasures we had been wanting.  We used as much Spanish as we could.  Very few people speak English in this part of Costa Rica. We are happy to try and the people are so kind and patient with us.  

One of our treasures was a chorradeor. A chorreador is a coffee brewing device used for over 200 years in Costa Rica. A couple of months ago I bought a cheap wire one at our local supermarket. I had been wanting a nice wooden one, but didn’t want to pay the souvenir / tourist prices in our beach town area. To brew, ground beans are placed in a cloth sock and hot water is poured over them.  We enjoy this brewing method very much! Marc had also been wanting a tortilla press to make our own tortillas and we found one of those. Abby loved the liberia (bookstore) where we picked up her school supplies. It also had many of the art supplies that she has been wanting. We were able to finish her shopping at a local hardware store. She is full of craft ideas!  

Abby had a short first week at school. The children began each day this week learning about and observing the national holiday, Guanacaste Day, celebrated July 25th.  This day commemorates the annexation of the province of Guanacaste to Costa Rica, which occurred in 1824. Prior to this year, Guanacaste was part of Nicaragua. We believe this is the main reason for a long weekend, but we can’t be totally sure. The schedule is a little “loosy goosy”- something we will have to get used to.  Abby is happy with her decision. The kids and teachers have made her feel very welcome. She loves recess time where the kids can go anywhere in the square. Most kids visit the local supermarket for a treat.  She happily and eagerly completed her homework this week and I have a feeling she will be our first fluent spanish speaker in the family! 

Pura Vida!

 

 

 

 

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Six Months

This month marks 6 months that we have been in Costa Rica.  In some ways that hardly seems possible, but most days it feels like we have been here much longer. It hasn’t been perfect or easy all the time, but it hasn’t disappointed us either. Our family has been blessed to find a community that “fits” us and we can call home.  We have slipped into a life that is ordinary in many ways – we have met wonderful people and we have a routine for school, work, church and extracurricular activities. At the same time, we are in awe of the extraordinary gifts we are blessed by along this journey.  We would surely miss these gifts if we came to Costa Rica and expected to live the life we were living in North America or kept our heads down not wanting to learn and grow. Like the blog’s name, our family has been on the path to pura vida – a journey towards a simpler and changed lifestyle. By far, the biggest difference in our lives is fewer distractions. We have more time and energy to focus on one another, our faith, and our goals. We need every bit of margin we can get, as we redesign our lives and seek out new careers. The everyday inconveniences are gentle reminders to be more kind, patient and grateful. Believe me, this a journey and sometimes a struggle, but it is the struggles that help us grow as individuals and as a family.

We have adjusted to having less and needing less, made easier by the limited access to stuff. No Target runs for me anymore. We came with 10 luggage pieces (2 per person and they weighed less than 50lbs each). Proud to say, we have accumulated very little over the last six months. We picked up a hot plate, waffle maker, skillet, ice cream maker, leaf blower, 2 surf boards, 3 boogie boards, 2 pool floaties, a few new games, and 1 vehicle.

I have had to adjust to people not showing up when they are supposed to, like the very nice woman who cleans my house often doesn’t show up and without notice. That is just how it is here. Pura Vida. In developing countries, like Costa Rica, automation has been slower to arrive, saving jobs for the people. While I have seen an occasional lawn mower or weed wacker, the more common form of grass cutting is a using a machete. There are also no machine operated car washes in our area. A regular car wash here is like a car detail at home. The last car wash I had took nearly 2 hours and only cost $16, including a tip.  Instead of a waiting room, I could have had a drink with the boys and watch bull riding on TV, but I opted for a walk on the beach instead. We recently were in road construction on a 2 lane highway, with one lane closed down.  The bi-directional traffic was taking turns. There were men at each side that were giving a flag to a car to take to the man on the other side of the construction stop to indicate it was time to switch.  

We encounter fewer “firsts” as the days go on.  Things that used to make our heads turn are becoming more ordinary, despite them being quite extraordinary for a family from Grand Rapids, MI. The roads in the rainy season, for example are never a dull moment. Frequently being held up by a herd of cows is not uncommon. The natural wonders and the scenery never gets old. On a recent snorkel excursion, the kids had the unique experience of seeing a green sea turtle, an endangered species, nestled under a rock. In four weeks, we will have 3 PADI certified divers in our family (Marc, Tucker, and Abby).  

Our kids are pursuing some of their same interests they had before moving to Costa Rica, like swimming, sailing and horse riding and we have picked up a few new hobbies, like surf, scuba, dodgeball and dance.  The best part of all of these is the people we meet and the diverse group that they can share these passions with.  In May, Abby and Tucker participated in a regional swim meet that was a qualifying event for a national meet in San Jose later this summer.  Tucker will be swimming one event at the national meet. We are looking forward to our trip to the capital city to cheer on our boy!

Six Months In…Still Living the Pura Vida!

 

Seasons Change

It is officially rainy season now and just after 10 days in the new season, the difference is unbelievable. The green is eye-popping and things are growing again. It’s hard to believe a few weeks ago, we had wild fires still blazing in the hills above us. Most of the trees had lost their leaves and the dust on the roads was almost unbearable. As we have traveled about over the past week, the kids can’t get over how different everything looks. You would think they never saw green grass! They point out every patch of green growth in delight and amazement. In Costa Rica, there are 2 seasons – the dry season which runs December thru April and the rainy season which is May to November. We arrived December 20th, so all we have known is the dry season.  By the end of April, we were bone dry and craving the rainfall.  

So, what has the rainy season been like for us so far?

  1. We literally danced in the rain for the first three rainfalls.  That has worn off, but we all still get a little excited to have a night time rainfall – who doesn’t love a rainy night (Eddie Rabbit, 1975)?  Our house has a clay roof and the sound is rhythmic and soothing.
  2. The nights are cooler and great for sleeping. Daytime temps are dropping too.
  3. You have to time clothes line-drying just right. Our electric bill might spike as we have to use our dryer more due to the humidity in the air.
  4. Frogs line up along our pool’s edge at night and serenade us to the point you need ear plugs.
  5. In the dry season, small fires are used to remove unwanted brush; in the rainy season, our gardener brings a machete to cut the grass.
  6. The mosquitoes are out and we should buy stock in Repel’s Lemon Eucalyptus, anticipating our usage. I am like a magnet and my daughter is scared to death to contract any mosquito borne diseases. Needless to say, we limit our time outside after dark or in the rain. We miss our outdoor living space already.
  7. The sunsets are just as beautiful – a cloudy sky makes for an awesome backdrop.
  8. The rivers are filling back up and driving will become a lot more interesting!
  9. Most mornings start with blue skies and sun. Rainfall comes late in the day and is hard, but brief. We live in the driest part of Costa Rica, so I know other parts of the country receive much more rain.
  10. I must buy rubber car mats ASAP and this season might be my true test in reaching pura vida (aka: “I don’t care how muddy my house gets, I am in paradise”).

I always welcomed the change in seasons. To go from welcoming a new season four times a year to twice a year is an adjustment, but one  I am content with for now. I miss the feeling of putting on a pair of jeans for the first time in months or the softness of a sweatshirt on a cool summer night. A trip to the mountains might be in order.

Pura Vida!

Family Disruption

Disruption is one of those buzzwords in business and in my case, the healthcare industry that was rampant during my tenure. My colleagues and I spent many hours anticipating the future, seeking ways to manage the disruptive forces and stay ahead of our competition. Some of the most successful companies seek out self-disruption. Apple is a great example. As I reflect on a question I am often asked, “why did you guys decide to move to Costa Rica?”, I am drawn to the strategy of disruption. Like most couples, we had a vision for our future and an ideal of how we wanted to parent and the identity we had for our family’s future. We knew we needed to make some changes to be living this vision as authentically as possible and improve as individuals and as a family. As a leader, I often said to my team, “you can’t keep doing what you are doing and expect different results”.  I was being put to the test. I knew we had to create a disruption in our path, in order for us to gain the perspective we were looking for and to have the lifestyle we envisioned for our family. Our family was getting older and if our disruption involved moving abroad, the logistics seemed to be more complicated the older our kids got, so our time was now. Also, anticipating our future of raising teenagers in a complicated world, we wanted to pick somewhere we didn’t have to work so hard to be uncomplicated. Our disruption was leaving everything comfortable – our jobs, our home, our family, friends, routines, traditional school, and steady income in hopes of family improvement.

Our disruption has led us on a #pathtopuravida.  Our destination was Costa Rica, but it could have been almost anywhere.  It turns out it is more about the journey than the destination. Disruption usually leads to innovation – a more sustainable product. In our case, we are seeking a changed family lifestyle.  One of the most obvious differences we have seen so far is the absence of materialism and commercialism.  These are things we spent a lot of time and energy trying to minimize in our lives in the U.S. The struggle was real and it was a constant battle. It is a non-issue here. I noticed it at Christmas, but Christmas was 5 days after we arrived and I was prepared to have an “easy” holiday.  Easter was another reminder, In the States, every grocery store is decorated; aisles are full of jelly beans, plastic eggs, chocolate bunnies, baskets and a reminder that you need to do more and buy more. I recall the pressure to make sure everyone has a cute new Spring outfit for church. That is not the case here, at all. Semana Santa is the Spanish term for Holy Week, a major Catholic holiday and it is a big deal for the Spanish cultures, including Costa Rica.  Most of the country has the week off from work and school. During this week, many Tico families head to the beach, to enjoy sun, relaxation and family time.  They make traditional foods to share and celebrate with loved ones. No bunnies, eggs, chocolate, baskets, bonnets or fancy dresses.

Another lesson has been to be patient and to slow down. The American lifestyle makes this lesson a hard one. Everything is so quick, convenient, and easily accessible. The other day I went to get our truck washed. There are no machine operated car washes where we live. They are locally owned and operated, often from their own homes. The wash is 100% completed by hand and took nearly an hour from start to finish. I sat on a stool in the driveway, as the kind gentleman did his handiwork. In the States, gas stations are on almost every corner. Here, I have to drive 20-25 minutes to access the nearest gas station. We have learned that you have to ask for your check at the end of the meal because the Costa Rican culture views it rude to bring it to you until you have indicated you are ready. 

Removing yourself from all that is known and comfortable is bound to lead to personal discovery and growth.  That has been the greatest gift so far. Each day we learn more about ourselves and our world.  Breaking free from mainstream way of life and fulfilling a dream has given my husband and I the confidence to do anything! We are together all the time.  Our life is simple. We are busy living life, not running a race.  So far, no regrets and we are optimistic about our future.  

Pura Vida!

 

Seven Beaches in Seven Days

When you have friends that come to visit and they say they are “beach people”, you start counting the beaches and playing the elimination game. Not a bad problem to have: too many beaches and too little time.  Our area of Costa Rica in the Province of Guanacaste is known as the Gold Coast for its dry tropical forests and the more than 50 beaches that line the coast.  We had our first visitors come last week for their Michigan Spring Break. They flew into the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, which is approximately 50 minutes from our house in Potrero.  Our goal was to mix adventure with relaxing beach time and not spend too much time in the car.  The following is a summary of our seven day beach vacation.  

Day One: Playa Potrero Sailing Club

After a long day of travel and a shock to the system (it was around 40 degrees when they boarded the plane in Chicago and nearly 100 degrees when they deplaned in Liberia), our guests started with a dip in our pool and a cold Imperial beer.  Later, after everyone was cooled off, we headed down to our local beach in Potrero, in front of the Sailing Center for our first set of waves and a Pacific Coast sunset.  

The Costa Rica Sailing Center nestled in Potrero Bay has already been the setting for many of our memories so far.  It is a great place for families to congregate and for water enthusiasts to get their fill.  They have a bar, a restaurant, pool, lounge chairs, bonfires and a boat house. This is where we rang in 2017 and watched the New England Patriots win the superbowl. Tucker won a game of beach side bingo and almost beat his dad in a sailing race in the bay. Kids have enjoyed late nights with friends playing soccer on the beach or singing karaoke.  The Costa Rica Sailing Center is a centerpoint for our new beachside community.

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Day Two: Playa Flamingo

One beach to the south of Potrero is Playa Flamingo. In contrast to Potrero, where the sand is dark and the beach has few sunbathers, Flamingo boasts white sand and is the backdrop to various beachside resorts with lounge chairs and beach umbrellas.  Crescent shaped, Playa Flamingo is a sunbathers sanctuary. Our day started out as cloudy, which was remarkable. These were the first clouds we have seen since moving to Costa Rica in December.  The clouds eventually opened to blue skies and everyone went home with a hint of color.  

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Day Three: Playa Penca

Following a fun morning flying high in the dry tropical forests of the Congo Trail Zip-Lining Adventure Park, our crew headed back to Potrero for a lunch at a local Soda, which is a Costa Rican diner. Following a delicious lunch, we headed to Penca Beach – a nearby, family favorite. It feels like a private paradise every time we go.  On this occasion, it was fun to share it with 20 of our Michigan friends., all visiting Costa Rica for Spring Break.  A memorable feature of this beach is the tree that provides shade and entertainment for the kids (I mean, monkeys).  It is bordered by rocky points on each side making it a cozy cove to enjoy an afternoon.  Usually the waters are calm and it is a great place to swim.

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Day Four: Playa Grande and Playa Tamarindo

Surf Day!  We got an early start this day because our friends had a date with our surf coach and friend, Rob, from Frijoles Locos Surf Shop at 9:30am.  Also home to the endangered leatherback turtles, Playa Grande has a consistent wave and swell, making it a popular surfing destination.  Rob comes with a money-back guarantee and he did not disappoint – our friends not only rode the waves, but a couple of them did it upside down!  The Las Baulas National Park is in Playa Grande and is the main draw for most visitors during the leatherback nesting season (Mid October -Mid February).  On our way home, we visited our friends, Maria and Santiago for a ChocoBanana – a perfect surfer’s snack!  

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Each week, our son has a late afternoon surf lesson in Tamarindo, so we took the opportunity to show our guests one of the most popular destinations in the Guanacaste region. The main street is full of restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and art galleries.  The vibe in Tamarindo is different than other nearby areas – much more lively and a bit more touristy. Famous for its long beach with a great surf, it hosts several national surfing competitions each year. Some decided to work on their surf, while others took to the street for some souvenir shopping.  Everyone met back for the sunset, which was worth jumping in the air for.  

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Day Five: Beach Rest Day and visit to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, located about 30 minutes south of Liberia. It is easily accessible and also offers an awesome swimming hole with cliffs to jump from.

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Day Six: Playa Danta

Playa Danta is within the new, hillside beach town of Las Catalinas. This town, less than 10 years old is an organically growing community.  The town founders envisioned a place that is healthy, sustainable and connects people to nature.  The town is free of vehicles and instead is made up of pedestrian walk-ways interwoven with nature in Mediterranean style. 1,000 of its 1,200 acres will be left untouched and remain natural. Surrounding the planned neighborhoods are hiking, biking and horseriding trails. Your one stop shop for adventure is Pura Vida Ride, where they specialize in Stand Up Paddle Boards, Mountain Bikes and Kayaks. Instead of playing hard in the water or hitting the trails, we enjoyed the cool breeze and a beautiful view of the ocean, while sipping cocktails and eating appetizers served up at Limonada, a fun outdoor restaurant there on the shores of Playa Danta. 

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Day Seven: Playa Conchal

The best part about Playa Conchal is getting there.  You must either walk about 1km south from Brasilito or if the tide is low, you can drive on the beach.  Its hard to imagine where you are going and what the allure might be. However, once you make it over the top of the hill and see the white sand, made up up of tiny shells that are surprisingly easy on the feet and the aquamarine water that is easy on the eye, you realize the hype. There is an area that is good for snorkeling.  The beach is lined with trees that provide comfortable shade and a great spot for hammocking.  The All-Inclusive Westin Resort is situated on Playa Conchal.  

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Seven beaches in seven days is not a difficult feat in the Gold Coast of Costa Rica.  We feel blessed to be in this corner of Costa Rica, easily accessible to the airport and a host to very diverse, unique and personable beaches.  We hope our visitors enjoyed their beach vacation and left feeling refreshed and recharged.  Perhaps their skin and hair is still thanking them!

Pura Vida!

It’s Half-Time

Recently, my mom said to me, “its like you are doing the retirement thing early”.  Well, I can’t really argue with that observation, however, I like to call it my half-time break. We are both in our mid-forties and we wanted to retire from the life of busyness, pursuing things that won’t last at the expense of the things that matter to us most. We both always said we will probably never retire in a traditional sense. We both love to work too much – we get a rush from the satisfaction of rising above difficult challenges, achieving goals, and taking risks. I’d rather work as long as I can, while also living life like I am retired for as long as I can. Our half-time break is a chance to reflect on the past and chart a new course for the future. I realize that we are the fortunate few.  Generations before us would not have had the opportunity to work remotely and live abroad; others don’t have the courage to stop life half-way and make big changes and some people might find themselves “alone” on the quest. Our half-time was and continues to be a family decision and commitment.

As an expat living in Costa Rica, there are rules and regulations on working here. For the most part, one cannot work at all in Costa Rica, unless one has gained permanent residency.  For highly skilled jobs or for jobs that cannot be filled by a Costa Rican, an employer can apply for a work permit for one year.  Costa Rica has a highly skilled workforce with a 9.5% unemployment rate, so that is not a very likely avenue for a U.S. citizen.  Also, compared to the U.S the pay rates are very low. So, even if one could work, on average, the pay is 15-30% of what it is in the U.S. for the same job and fluency in Spanish is a mandatory for many of these jobs.  We did our homework and understood the laws and the reality of the situation before moving here. Initially, we thought of making an investment, such as real estate or buying a business. As an investor or business owner, we could receive income from managing and owning the business, but we could not fulfill any jobs that can be performed by a Costa Rican. Investments over 200K can make you eligible to apply for temporary residency, in addition to providing a livelihood.  It seemed like the romantic thing to do. Call HGTV International and go on the hunt for an exotic Costa Rican retreat center, however, after our business trip to Costa Rica in May of 2016, we realized we were not ready for a decision like that or ready to jump into being business owners the minute we stepped off the plane.  Instead, we spent the six months leading up to our move developing a plan that enabled us to have a modest flow of income from the U.S. via our investments, savings and remote work assignments.  We knew that we needed extra flexibility in the first six months to adjust to our new surroundings, focus on the homeschooling of the kids, to travel and reflect on our first-half in order to begin planning for the second-half.  

I don’t want to diminish my first-half. I gave it all I had and I was happy doing it. I was driven, ambitious and passionate about my work, pouring my heart and soul into it. By all measures, I was successful, climbing the career ladder. I cared deeply about my team and the mission of our organization – it never lacked meaning. I’d like to think a small part of me lives on somewhere there, but the realization I’ve come to accept in this half-time break is that my legacy is short and does not run deep. I celebrate this half, as I know it is my foundation for the next half; my training ground, where I was able to define my abilities, in order to use them for their highest potential in the second half.  

fullsizerender-8It is important to me in the second-half that we do this together, as a family. Our second half will be about creating a lifestyle and making a meaningful impact for our world. I believe we were called to Costa Rica for our half-time break for a reason.

Marc and I have been spending the last several weeks exploring our ideas, meeting with potential partners and taking inventory of our talents. It is exciting to design our future and be budding entrepreneurs, at last!  Our office with a view isn’t bad either.

Since we don’t have residency and are currently on a tourist visa, we must leave the country every 90 days.  Our 90 day period is coming up and we have booked a trip week to Granada, Nicaragua.  Granada is one of the oldest colonial settlements in Central America. It sits on Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America and has views of the Mombacho volcano, which erupted more than 400 years ago and is home to a mystic cloud forest in its highest regions.  Wish us luck!  I will be sure to chronicle our border crossing adventures and feature in an upcoming blog.  

We started Spanish lessons this week.  We go to our  teacher’s home and she provides our family of 5 a group lesson.  Abby was most excited to receive her own colored notebook, folder, and homework.  Marc wins the award for best effort – he even started to read the book, The Alchemist in Spanish – a page a day!  

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As we immerse ourselves in the Costa Rican culture, shopping at our local feria (farmer’s market) and cooking have been one of our favorite things to do.  We recently tried to make a popular Costa Rican dish, Chifrijo, commonly found in bars.  It is a combination of rice, beans, meat, and pico de gallo.  This is the recipe we modified to recreate it.  For a healthier version, cook (not fry) your meat and brush olive oil over corn tortillas and bake them, using the tortillas as your crunchy base. 

Pura Vida!

 

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!

 

First Impressions

These are my first impressions of our experience and the place we now call home in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I am sure with time, these will change, but for now I will leave you with this slice of our new life as I see it.

# 10 Havaianas Flip Flops are a wardrobe essential for the most casual place on earth…
I love that we NEVER have to dress up – everyday is a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops kind of day. If you NEVER get out of your swimsuit, it’s a good day too!

#9 Many processes are very different, like banking and mail….
We had to pay our car insurance the other day. Instead of mailing a check or paying on-line, you must go to the bank to make your payment to the car insurance company. The bank is like going to the Secretary of State – a waiting game. It is a room full of tellers behind a glass wall along the perimeter of the room with seats in rows in the center of the room. You pull a ticket upon entering the bank and you wait for your number to be called. By the way, there is no home mailing service here either- can’t say I miss junk mail, but I do find myself dreaming of an Amazon Prime order from time to time. I have yet to see a post office, although I know they exist, they must be far and few between.

#8 Tico Time is a real thing…
While you will never meet a Tico without a smile or a helping hand, it is best not to count on them for punctuality. Rarely are people on time and you can’t count on things getting done when they say they will be done. Afterall, it might have been a great day to catch the surf and that is more important. This can be a bit annoying, but it is helping me realize most things can wait and this way of thinking is a sure path to pura vida.

#7 While generally more affordable than our life at home, Costa Rica is not inexpensive…
Our conclusion is that many goods and products are expensive and many services are very inexpensive. In an effort to save money, we try to shop and eat like locals, not tourists. We don’t buy products that are imported. We are learning how to cook and prepare locally grown produce and we don’t eat at the touristy restaurants, but we go to the sodas – a local restaurant. We notice our new lifestyle is also less expensive – we drive one car, not two. We don’t spend money on Starbucks, the movies, or umpteen kid’s activities. We work and do school from home, so we eat all our meals at home.  Our entertainment is spending time together in nature and being active outdoors. A few examples of the lower costs for services: a. men’s haircut $6  b. veterinarian home visit $30 c. house cleaning $3 /hour plus bus fare.

Tonight’s dinner: Gallo Pinto Empanadas served with homemade guacamole.

#6 We will never get tired of the sunsets…
Being close to the equator, the sun sets early, around 5:30 pm every day. Your days are often planned around this sacred time. Being on the Pacific Coast, we are in prime sun set watching territory. It is generally not a good plan to be driving the Costa Rican roads past dark, so there is no excuse not to park yourself on a beach, with a drink in your hand and within walking distance of home.

#5 Despite temps in the 90’s most days, we have not turned on the AC yet…..
Out of the direct sun, the air is cool and dry (at least now in the dry season December -April). We have a great breeze that blows through our house and our outdoor space is shady. Evenings are cool and comfortable here in Costa Rica – awesome sleeping weather! The night skies are clear and amazing for star gazing.

#4 Buying a car is not an easy proposition for an expat, but we succeeded…
You can’t rationalize the money you will spend for the age, mileage and condition of the car you will get…it will make you crazy. The only saving grace is that cars seem to hold value longer, so hopefully if and when we have to sell, we will recoup our spend. The roads and salt are not kind, so we pray we have good fortune. It is important that you know the language proficiently and know something about cars if you are going to negotiate a good deal – we know neither of those things.  We lucked out and found a nice family that was moving out of the area and we were saved from having to hire someone to accompany us to Liberia or San Jose. We got a 14 year old 4X4 SUV with 180K miles and a few scars from the Costa Rican roadways.  It met all of our requirements including extra seats, so we have room to pick up our parents when they visit.

#3 Canadians love Costa Rica…
I have met so many Canadians here! I was curious about the draw and did some research. I found this fun website: www.savethecanadians.org

Ok…I get it, after all, Michigan and Canada are neighbors and I am here!

#2 Paradise doesn’t mean everything is beautiful or perfect…
People call this paradise and it is, but my husband and I have decided that paradise is a sum of all the parts. There are positives and negatives to everywhere. I am in constant awe of the beauty but equally disturbed by the amount of trash I see. I love discovering the wildlife, but check our towels and shoes for scorpions (we have killed 3 so far). I look forward to hiking in the mountains and exploring the rain forests, but have too many mosquito bites to even count. I look forward to frequenting our local establishments for live music and adult beverages, but annoyed we have to set our house alarm and worry about petty theft.

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#1 Pura Vida except when driving…
I have already explained the way of life here as being slow, chill, no hurry, and no worries…..that is all true EXCEPT when you are behind the wheel. If you are going too slow, you will surely get the horn and will be passed on the curviest, most narrow roads imaginable. There are no sidewalks or shoulders, so I’m scared for pedestrians and bikers everyday here.

Pura Vida friends!

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Next blog: homeschooling the kids – please email me your questions in advance!