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The other side of the coin in Ciudad Colón

It was a great experience to be welcomed to Costa Rica by a Costa Rican family.  Our next stay was with an expat family who have been in CR for over 20 years, so we got to learn about the country from another perspective.

Sharon, Dick and Maia (19) live on a “finca” (farm) in Ciudad Colón, a little further East of San Jose than we were at our last stop.  They rent houses on their property, called Finca Saramandia, as well as do home exchanges when they travel.  You can see more about their place, including pictures on this home exchange siteIn contrast to most places we’ve seen, their farm was very open and unprotected.  This is partly because they’re more out in the country, but mostly because of their good relations with people in their community.  Check out this sunset from their back porch!

Sharon was a font of information about where to go and what to do, and seemed to know everyone we needed to connect with in Costa Rica.  She was amazingly helpful as we planned our next steps in the country.  They travel a lot also, so it was nice to have their moral support in getting used to the uncertainty of travelling in a foreign country.  When we left them we didn’t know where we’d be sleeping that night.  We’d been used to that in the U.S., but I felt different about it in Costa Rica, and they really helped us feel OK about it here too.  Their laid back attitude was infectious and relaxing.

They were also a lot of support for the kind of schooling that I’ve been doing for the kids, which has leaned much more toward unschooling than homeschooling.  Where the kids are learning much more experientially and we dive deeper as we are presented with opportunities and as their interests dictate.  And we do a lot of math and spelling drills while we’re travelling.

Zippy and Adam really enjoyed having another young person to pal around with.  Much time was spent drawing, writing and reading together.  Adam picked out his favorite Pokemon characters, and Zippy enjoyed comparing notes about books with Maia.  The first night we were there the kids built a fire in the front yard and roasted oranges over it.  Thanks to Dick for helping us wash our smoky clothes after that! Maia also took us for a walk around the farm and down a steep hill to the river that runs there.  We had fun checking out the puddles with swarms of tadpoles; we also saw several frogs.

We ate well here, too.  Sharon is an amazing cook and made English Muffins from scratch every day.  And when I say “from scratch”, I really mean it — the process started with her making cheese, and using the whey by-product of that process in the English Muffins.  We also had a lot of eggs, as the have chickens on their farm and a good output from them.  We didn’t have any beans and rice while we were staying here, but we knew we’d be having a lot more in the weeks to come.  And who could miss that while having waffles for dinner?!

Marlon’s house in Escazú, Costa Rica

Our first couchsuring host in Costa Rica, Marlon, was the perfect host.  How wonderful to be staying with a Costa Rican family!  The family consists of Marlon’s Mom and Dad, Marlon, and his sister, Laura.

Marlon’s mom kept us well fed. Every meal in Costa Rica has rice and beans as part of it.  The breakfast is called Gallo Pinto, and is rice and beans with a special sauce (Salsa Lizano) and an egg with some roasted bananas on the side.  We all really enjoy this and both kids have requested that I make it when we get home.  Marlon’s mom even cut my hair for me.  I haven’t paid for a haircut in almost 17 years (some of you might be saying that I should ;) ) and she helped make sure I didn’t break my streak.

Marlon and Adam guitar

We hung out with Marlon all day.  This included a guitar concert from him.  He’s an accomplished classical guitarist, and as many of you know I’ve been trying to learn to play classical guitar for many years, so it was a treat for me to hear him play, and to even play a bit myself.  Even Adam got to try his hand at strumming.

Marlon took us for a nice walk around his town, Escazú where we saw nice views of the city of San Jose ringed by nice mountains.

We stopped to get some homemade “ice cream” (which was more ice-based than we were used to, but was delicious and refreshing).

Two other things we noticed about Costa Rica from this walk was the litter and the cages around the houses.  Apparently burglaries are very common and almost every house is ringed by a high fence.  Some have razor wire on top, and some are complete cages.  Every window has bars on it, etc.  Marlon’s house had three locked gate-doors to go through before getting in to the house.  You can see a bit of what these “cages” look like behind the ice cream picture.  I’m somewhat astonished by what appears to almost be acceptance of crime rather than doing something about that problem; I’m told it’s easier just to build the bars to keep the criminals out.

The other thing that I’m astonished about is the litter that’s all over.  On the walk we saw small litter almost everywhere, and in many places there were piles of trash that people had just dumped.  It was sad, as the countryside is so beautiful.  As our travels continueed, we saw the same thing almost everywhere.  It seems to be widely accepted also, as we were told that some busses used to have signs on them that said, “Don’t drop your trash in the bus, put it out the window where it belongs”, and we saw people doing just that while on busses.

Nevertheless, our introduction to Costa Rica, via Marlon, had some wonderful natural beauty, including his own back yard, which had an orchard.  He and the kids explored it at length, and we got to see some new and interesting insect life — they sure do grow them bigger down here in the tropics!

We are so thankful to Marlon and his family for being our first hosts outside of the US.  We had a lot of fun with them (we even taught them to play Uno). They took such good care of us and we are grateful that they welcomed us into their home.

Charm in the suburbs of San Jose

Charm in the suburbs of San Jose

Getting to Costa Rica

When we first started the trip, it was quite an ordeal to get all of our stuff into our van.  I remember that I’d estimated what we’d keep for the trip and then when I tried to put it in the van, we had too much stuff, so it took all day to winnow it down and run the excess to storage.  Well, the same thing happened when we tried to whittle things down into just our backpacks.  But amazingly we were finally able to pack everything we needed in a backpack for each of us, plus an extra front pack for me.

We took the train from Lake Worth to Miami Airport.  The train was easy and so was the airport.  After a few last phone calls and text messages (the phone won’t work in Costa Rica), we boarded the plane and were off on the next leg of our adventure.

We were all excited to be landing in a new country.  Before we could get in, however, we got to stand in lines.  First for immigration to add another stamp to our passports (yay!), and then for customs where they were really just looking for agricultural products.  And their X-ray machine found our apples and they were confiscated, alas.

Speaking of which, we definitely overpacked some things, and food is the biggest culprit.  We have a lot of nuts, and  food bars for emergency snacks, but they’re certainly heavy! I’m looking forward to eating them up.

We had great instructions from our first Couchsurfing host on how to meet him, it included taking a bus into the San Jose city center, and then meeting him at a pizza place.  We got some money from the ATM and after some hanging out at the airport (which was safer and more interesting than a street corner in downtown San Jose), we hopped on a bus.  On the same bus we met another traveller, Cara, who gave us information on some of the beach towns, as she was on her way home to NY after being in Costa Rica for 9 days.  Just the sort of serendipitous travel encounters that we’re hoping for.

Our host, Marlon, met us just on time, and after getting Cara on a bus to her destination, we headed on a different bus to Marlon’s house.

I’ll write more when I can. But wanted to make sure you knew we made it.

Update and Off to Costa Rica

Wow, it has been WAY too long since we have updated the blog.  I’m looking forward to things slowing down so I can catch up.  In the mean time, here is a quick update on what’s been going on since thanksgiving and what’s next.

  • We spent almost 2 weeks, including Christmas with the children’s maternal grandparents near Orlando.
  • We spent a week in Englewood, FL (south or Sarasota on the gulf coast) with our erstwhile friend Mrs. Solt and Noah and Oma.
  • We spent a night with a cousin in Sarasota, FL, who we just met on this trip
  • We spent two nights with a friend from Boulder who was visiting his parents in Lake Worth, FL (a connection we never would have made without Facebook).
  • We then explored the Everglades and camped there (bugs, snakes, alligators, oh my!)
  • 2 nights on the Keys, including one on Key West thanks to another cousin who we just met on this trip.
  • 2 nights in Miami with a friend from Tony Robbins’ work.  She rescues dogs, so we shared the house with 7 dogs and 22 puppies!
  • Now we’re back in Lake Worth, FL where we are preparing for our departure to Costa Rica.  We’re leaving our van and 90% of our stuff here, getting into three backpacks and taking off tomorrow.
During all of this my computer’s hard disk died and I lost about 2 months of stuff, but it looks like I had a backup of all the pictures and I think they came through OK.  Nevertheless, my computing has been very hampered, but I hope to be able to post some pictures soon.
And I will also write more about not only where we have been, but what we have been learning.  The trip, so far has opened our eyes to the inherent goodness of the world, has proven to us that amazing things are possible if we let them happen, that it’s OK to live in uncertainty (for a time), that fun can be had almost anywhere, and that things that don’t necessarily seem like fun at the time, can be the most bonding.
But right now, I must continue packing ;)

Reunited in Orlando

After 10 days of being apart, the children and I are together again near Orlando, Florida.  I had driven down to Florida to be volunteer crew at a Tony Robbins workshop in Orlando, and Zippy & Adam stayed at my parents’ house in Williamsburg, VA.  It was the longest I’d been away from them for many years, and we both missed each other very much.  We each had a fun time, though, which I will blog about separately.
In a big step in responsibility, they flew by themselves from Williamsburg to Orlando: not as “unaccompanied minors”, but just as regular passengers.  My mother brought them to the gate in Williamsburg, but on the other end I met them at baggage claim.  Zippy took charge and got all the way through the little train in Orlando and found the baggage claim area.  What fun to see them as such confident travelers!

Thanksgiving in Williamsburg, VA

Our travels have brought us to a nice place to catch our breaths at my parents’ house in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Perhaps, here I can catch up on the blog, among myriad other things!

We had a wonderful family Thanksgiving, with all the traditional foods and festivities, and we vegetarians cooked a Tofurky in juxtaposition to my parents’ turkey.  Adam actually tried the real turkey and said he preferred the Tofurky!

We missed being with our far-flung friends and relations (or are we the ones who are flung far?).  I enjoy thanksgivings with lots of people.  Nicely, a friend of my parents’ came to enjoy the dinner also.

Rachel and Noah sent us a lovely centerpiece, so their presence was with us and the distance keenly felt.

Zippy also made our traditional vegetarian Thanksgiving icon from some felt and a pineapple.  She did it with no pattern, and Adam created and added the wattle.  I told them they should start a business of them!

George Washington Carver Monument; sleep in Springfield, MO

On our way from Kansas City to Springfield, MO, our CouchSurfing host, Dana, suggested that we stop at the George Washington Carver national monument as an interesting sight to see, and it was.
This was George Washington Carver’s boyhood home.  The monument has been recently renovated and has lots of information about him and the science that he practiced, and how it affects our lives today.

Reproduction of George Washington Carver's teaching lab

Reproduction of George Washington Carver

We learned that George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri, and was a sickly young boy and as a result had only light chores on the homestead where he lived.  He thus had plenty of time to be out in nature and make observations, and this led to his interest and aptitude in the sciences.  I think children don’t get out in nature enough these days (there’s even something called “Nature deficit disorder”), so I’m always happy when the kids (and I!) get to be outside.

You can look up Dr. Carver’s history at wikipedia (and elsewhere), but we were left with some impressions that I’ll share:
•    Adam appreciated that his discoveries and inventions led to the manufacture of crayons.
•    He was a major proponent of the peanut as a crop that the south should grow instead of cotton.  He wrote 101 ways for people to eat peanuts, and 300 non-food uses, too.  However, he didn’t invent peanut butter (though it was invented in Missouri).
•    Particularly impressive was his thirst for knowledge: so set on getting an education, at age 11 he left home to go to a town where he (a black child) could go to school.  Later on when trying to educate the black southern farmers about new farming practices, he created a mobile school to bring the teachings to them.

I especially liked many of GWC’s quotes and sayings, for example:
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong.  Because some day you will have been all of these.”
“One of the things that has helped me as much as any other, is not how long I am going to live , but how much I can do while living.”
“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system through which god speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”

We arrived in Springfield, Missouri to a wonderful reception by Dana and Gary.  Dana had specially prepared a lovely vegetarian lentil stew for us.  We had a comfortable room, and learned a lot about Italy from Dana’s travels.  The kids loved playing with their two dogs, we miss Holly.

Genealogy (and less important stuff) in NW Missouri

My grandmother was born in Chillicothe, MO.  And many of you know that I’m really interested in my family genealogy.  So I took the opportunity today to visit Chillicothe, MO and St. Joseph, MO to do some genealogical research.

We started at the genealogy room of the Chillicothe Public Library, meeting with a genealogist there.  Then drove to St. Joseph, MO and did research at the NW Missouri Genealogical Society library that uncovered some great new information and family connections.

Then we met with Robert Rosenthal, an official at Temple Adath Joseph who gave us a tour of the cemetery in St. Joe, and took us back to his home to go over some notes he had.  He also was able to connect me with a distant cousin, who I will follow up with.

After that, we spent some time in the St. Joseph Public library, where I found the death certificate for my Great-Great Grandfather, who died in St. Louis.  That led me to information to find that he, my G-G Grandmother, and much of the family is buried in St. Louis.  Can you guess what one of the things we’re going to do in St. Louis is?

Well all this new genealogical information was thrilling to me, but not to the kids.  But they indulged me, and they understand sometimes daddy needs a day of fun too.  We did manage to sneak in a visit to the Pony Express Museum.  There we learned about the Westward expansion of America and delved into more of an understanding of those times — times that our ancestors were living through right there in St. Joseph!  For such a grand endeavor, and one that lives so large in the American ethos, the Pony Express was only in business for 18 months.  The gist is that it used to take weeks for a letter to get to California from the East (and vice versa).  Some men devised a way, through a relay of horses, that it would take only 5 days (longer in winter).  They charged a lot for each letter, and by the look of the saddle bags, didn’t carry much mail at all.  After 18 months the business wasn’t making enough money to keep going, and just at that time, also, the cross-continent telegraph was completed: so the Pony Express ceased to operate.  It still took weeks for a paper letter to get across the country, and many people lamented the loss of the pony express, but the telegraph allowed for fast communications instead.  The kids and I had great discussions about the implications of different speeds of communication, including the topical reason it takes so long for us to switch presidents.

Barbosas Castillo

Barbosa's Castillo

We ate fantastically poor Mexican food (what was I thinking getting Mexican food in the middle of the country?) at a restaurant in an awesome old mansion in St. Joe.  I love the architecture of the old houses in this part of the country.  I’d love to live in a house like this!

After dinner we zoomed down South of Kansas City to a CouchSurf with James, an MKP brother.  He and I have lots in common; it was like staying with an old friend.

What a long and packed day!

Lawrence, Kansas visit

We drove 9 hours the next day to Lawrence, Kansas.  This is a much longer drive than I’d normally like to make, but there wasn’t a lot we wanted to do between Colorado and our Lawrence destination (though there are a lot of things to see in Kansas if we’d had a lot more time).  Lawrence has a lot in common with Boulder: progressive outlook, focus on culture, community, spirituality, and healthy living.  We really enjoyed our visit here, as it felt a lot like home.

In Lawrence, we stayed with a family (Leda and Charlie) in very comfortable accommodations. They were very welcoming.  On the first night they even cooked us a vegetarian dinner and had friends over to meet us. They have three children, so Zippy and Adam got to get a little kid time in, too, which was nice for them.

The next day, Rachel and Leda took us on a tour of Lawrence, including a yummy lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant there.

As I’ve mentioned, we’re trying to live “in community” as much as we can on this trip, and this stop (under the auspices of was a wonderful example of that.  Not only did we get to be with our host family, but their friend Rachel and her children also spent a lot of time with us.  Being with these folks felt like visiting family.  We had great interactions, and truly enjoyed being with them and in their home.  We learned a lot about Lawrence and Kansas, expanded our knowledge of the Civil War Era, and  even learned a few things about the landfill and recycling business.

While in Lawrence, we also stopped off at the Waldorf school there to see how they do things, and also to soak up a little Waldorf energy.  The Prairie Moon Waldorf School is a startup school in many ways, they go to 4th grade, and combine grades 1&2 and 3&4, and they have two early childhood classrooms.  The school is blessed to have their own building in the form of a former public elementary school.  They also appear to have a vibrant and dedicated community.

Front of the straw bale home

Front of the straw bale home

We got to visit one of the community member’s homes, which was made of straw bale construction.  Monica welcomed us and gave us a tour of their home.  I’ve always been interested in straw bale houses, and this was a the first one I’ve seen that had more than one story (it had three!). We were enticed by the coziness of the home, and I appreciated all the details that they had, including a geothermal furnace that uses the differential between the underground temperature and air temperature to help heat and cool the house.  Plus they have an amazing view out over the plains.  They even won Natural Home’s Kitchen Of The Year Award in 2003. You can see more about their project at their Chrysalis Farm site.

Three stories

Three stories

Custom tile work in kitchen

Custom tile work in kitchen

See how thick the walls are

See how thick the walls are

Ah, a Waldorf home

Ah, a Waldorf home

On the road again

We departed Boulder tonight en route to Lawrence, KS.  We had hoped to get into Kansas tonight, but got a late start.  And then we ran into lots of blowing snow, fog, and slippery roads (who knew that Boulder would be so nice, and just an hour East it’s deep winter!?).  So after driving 40 MPH on the interstate we stopped at the first exit that had a hotel and found a motel where we’re snug and warm and will start our travels again in the morning.