Homecoming

It has been almost 6 months since we began our new adventure. This last week Vie and I travelled back to Seattle so that Vie and some friends could attend Sakura-Con, a large anime convention in Seattle. It was my first time back to Seattle in a while and I thought I’d share some thoughts.

We arrived on a Friday and I immediately sent Vie to Utah to meet up with friends for a few days. A few of them would be coming back with Vie to Sakura-Con, but that gave me a few days on my own in Seattle. Fortunately, several good friends took me in for little mini-stays!

Everyone I’ve seen has asked me what it is like. Some things are the same and some are different as you might expect, Just going through the airport to the taxis was very familiar for example. I had travelled so much that this actually felt very comfortable. It really didn’t hit me that I was in Seattle after an extended time.

It was very strange wearing shoes and pants. I hadn’t done that in months. Of course, I had several long hours on the plane and a long layover in Miami to get used to those. At least, I saw a welcome site in Miami!

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Haagen Dazs in Miami

I immediately welcomed the sun in Seattle. I expected rain and cold (and I did get it a few days), but the weather was gorgeous when we arrived. It was about 50 degrees colder to be sure, but the sun made up for it. It will sound strange, but the sun in Seattle when it is out feels stronger and more intense than Costa Rica, despite temperatures there in the high 90’s. I love that intensity. It’s as if the sun, when out, wants to make up for lost time. I can be warm in Seattle in any temperature if I am in the sun.

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The sun in the yard of our house

Unfortunately, not all my time was in the sun, even when it was outside. I was constantly cold everywhere, even with layers. In Costa Rica, I had gotten used to taking a cold shower or a dip in the pool to cool off. It felt refreshing stepping back into the heat. Here, I quickly remembered at a visceral body level that you take showers to warm up and then immediately feel cold when you get out.

It did rain a few days before it got sunny again. The rain came just in time for soccer 🙂 One nice thing though about the rain here in Seattle is that you get stunning rainbows:

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Rainbow over downtown

I have yet to see a rainbow in Costa Rica. Given what I said about the sun, even if I do, I bet they won’t compare to Seattle.

The traffic here was another unexpected surprise. I drove in this traffic for a lot of years, but I quickly got used to two lane roads everywhere in Costa Rica, even to the capital. Traffic happens when they work on the road or a cow is crossing. I came out of the Seattle airport and immediately hit commuter traffic for an hour. The immensity of it was awesome: 10 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic on I-5 at one point. When I went to pick up Vie and company Thursday evening, I had to leave at 4:30 and it took almost 50 minutes to just hit the freeway. I don’t miss this at all. And the cows are awfully cute to watch – more so than (understandably) grumpy commuters.

I did get to drive our small MINI Cooper Coupe though and that was a welcome change from Mooseand Fanta. It was small, fast, and new. The first thing I did was turn on the heated seats! It’s one advantage to living in a cooler environment. I just wish I had those heated seats while I was sitting in the Convention Center for days!

Watching people here was fun, even before Sakura-Con. Both on the weekend and the weekdays, everyone always seemed to be rushing from somewhere to somewhere. I remember that. In fact, I had a long list of errands and activities myself for the days preceding the conference and I fell back into that rushing pace. I spent a lot of time between errands figuring out how long it would take to get somewhere, etc. It struck me at one point that I never do that in Costa Rica.

I was also pleasantly surprised about the people. I’ve written about how small Playa Flamingo and Playa Potrero are and how we seem to know most folks when we walk in a restaurant or pub. Seattle is a lot bigger of course, but 3 times since I have been here I just happened to bump into someone I knew unexpectedly. Maybe Seattle isn’t so small after all. I had to laugh at one point when I was walking down the street and heard “Hey, I thought you were in Costa Rica!” It was great catching up with those with whom I could, both planned and unexpected. There never seems to be enough time for that. It did make me savor every moment. I knew it would be a good while before I saw the particular person again. With everyone, it really didn’t feel like I had been gone; we picked right up as if I had not.

Eating and drinking was fun. One of the things I was really missing was good, strong, dark, heavy beer – like this:

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Scottish Oil Drum Ale at 74th St. Ale House

I also get a choice of wine here in restaurants beyond (the same) Merlot and Cab, both of which are refrigerated in Costa Rica. I was really looking forward to the food. At times it was absolutely awesome, like the chicken pot pie at the Daily Grill and the mac and cheese at this place in the U-District. At times, it was hideous. Vie and I had inedible pasta the night we stayed at an airport hotel and breakfast at the Best Western Executive Inn was horrible. Breakfast at the Tilikum Café more than made up for it though.

Soccer was a lot of fun but pretty surreal. It’s been about 95 degrees in Costa Rica. The games are pretty slow, actually. There’s a lot of shooting from midfield and short, fancy footwork followed by passing and resting. Here, it was cold and rainy. There was little fancy footwork and lot of running, which I like. It was great playing with my old team, and very comfortable. In Costa Rica, I tend to be the only “gringo” and everyone speaks only Spanish. They are also all men. It was refreshing to play co-ed again. Women make the game more balanced.

Now, about this Convention. Imagine 3000 people, most of whom are dressed up, raging through the convention center. About half seem to be under 21.

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Sakura-Con

The costumes (“cosplay”) were absolutely incredible. There was eye-candy everywhere. Most were anime-related. I saw armies of folks from Attack on Titan, Homestuck, Pokemon and more. There were a number of video game characters as well, from Super Mario Brothers to some stunning cosplayers from Halo and Borderlands. Super heroes abounded as well just like Comic-Con, but they tended to hang out with much cooler anime characters. I saw a particularly forlorn Thor trying to talk with some very attractive women cosplayers from Hetalia. The poor guy was out of his league on so many levels. I even saw several “bronies.” The best Cosplay I saw? An absolutely perfectly-crafted Master Chief with bunny ears worn by a woman. The workmanship was incredible.

Vie and friends Avery and Kam had several Cosplay costumes – per day. There was day and night attire and even pajamas one night. Sometimes the costume changes were quick, sometimes long, and sometimes painful (one particular cosplay for Vie involved contact lenses – see below). They were are home-made and awesome. The three of them worked months in preparation for this.

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Vie, Kam and Avery at Sakura-Con

Since the teens were over 12, I didn’t have to follow them around as in previous years – at least 15 back of course 🙂 This year, I just had to be in the building. I found a table in the café here where I sat for 10-14 hours a day, not including time when I was wandering around the Con. I saw a ton of costumes I would love to see Deb in, many for sale, but we don’t need more stuffright now. Besides, it’s more fun to make them anyway. Look for Debbie as Cortana on a future Halloween (if I can convince her).

Despite the cold inside the Convention Center (I was shivering Friday night), I had a blast. I got a good start on our Body Defenders video game (more on that soon). I watched a few terrible zombie movies. I know that sounds bad and expected, but if I watch romantic comedies, I usually miss Deb even more. I caught up and leaped ahead in my Spanish on Duolingo. I snuck out a few times for meals close by with friends. I read a book. I wrote two blog posts.

Mostly, though, I had a long period of time to think about things. We Cargiles are very lucky to have an opportunity to live for a year in Costa Rica. Coming back to Seattle reinforces that for me. When people asked if it was what we expected and wanted, I usually said “yes”, and “no.” Both are true at times. It’s the nature of a journey, an adventure where you don’t have the end planned. Where we left with one possibility about returning, we now have many, many more. Getting free from a day to day routine here really makes almost anything seem possible, and that’s a very powerful feeling – one that was harder in coming when we were here working and living on a regular basis.

Who knows what’s next? We have a long time yet to work that out. Meanwhile, even after only 10 days, I am missing many things in Costa Rica, especially Deb. Maybe our nature is to constantly miss what we don’t have. But, I don’t miss pura vida. I think I brought some here. At least, I think I brought the perspective of enjoying every minute with what you have and really appreciating things. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have that to the same degree the last time I was here.

I hope this experience is giving the young adults the chance to experience the change I’m feeling. Change is good. Feeling comfortable with change is priceless. Pura vida!

Tropicolidays

It is Sunday after Christmas week, leading into the New Year’s week. It’s a good time to reflect. It’s also a good time to share what we did over the holidays on our new adventure here in lovely Costa Rica.

I’ll start with a priceless thing that Aidan said. About two weeks ago we asked the young adults what they wanted for Christmas – a question I am sure everyone asks their kids at some point. Here is what the wise Aidan said: “How about having Christmas?” He had us rolling on the floor. It was such a great, unintended comment on the differences between our past Christmases with the young adults and this one.

Traditionally, Vie and Aidan have spent most Christmases in Seattle, with an occasional one in Kansas or the Bay Area. In Seattle, as our Seattle friends know well right now, it is cold and it often snows. That means of course snow men, snowball fights, sledding, and all the associated fun.

We get two trees. We get a small one for Aidan and Vie so that they can put up their odd assortment of ornaments. They decorate it with lights and a light up star as well. Then we have a big tree for the piano room (family room). Deb really has some strong tree design and decorating aesthetics that she tries to temper a bit since we had kids. What often emerged was a gorgeous green tree with white lights and a balanced set of hues of gold, silver and white ornaments.

Sometimes I put up Christmas lights. Deb loves them. To do it though, I need to take down the massive array of lights from Halloween. In most years, I kept the Halloween lights up – though they aren’t white and don’t match the Deb Christmas aesthetic.

One of our sets of parents usually fly in to stay with us for the Holidays. We make Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve day and decorate them (and ourselves!). I usually make something easy like Minestrone for Christmas Eve dinner and we open presents from the family that night. Santa has come in the past the next morning leaving a few more presents. To cap it all off, I make a huge dinner of rabbit and polenta that is a tradition in our family, using my Nona’s (grandmother’s) recipes. It takes most of the day to make and makes the house smell “like Christmas.”

Roll the clock forward a bit now to this year coming into Christmas week. The temperature is a balmy 90 degrees (F) here. As I noted last week, here was the forecast for the week.

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In fact, it’s the forecast for this week and next week as well. I’m sure January will be the same. So, no snow or winter sports.

We have seen some Christmas trees here. Folks seem to get them in Liberia an hour away and we have seen several people bringing them back on the bus. Most of them are wrapped in a shrink-wrap type plastic and come with red ornaments already on them. We decided that we didn’t really need a tree.

We don’t have a Christmas stockings here – and, well, we have no fireplace to hang them on even if we did. We also don’t have an oven and so we couldn’t make Christmas cookies.

We could have gotten Christmas lights, but they are expensive and few houses have them. The most I saw was one string. We also didn’t have any boxed or wrapped presents (not that we had a tree to put it under). Shipping is very expensive and/or unreliable depending on the method, so our parents sent digital gifts. Deb and I didn’t think we needed more stuff, so we chose presents that were experiences for Vie and Aidan.

[SPOILER ALERT – scroll down to read or skip]

 

 

 

There is one more thing. Small ears should not hear this. Aidan and Vie knew already that Santa was not real but we loved the tradition of presents Christmas morning and so we kept it alive. Well, Santa didn’t make it to Central America this year. I do expect he’ll return next year when his familiar snow is blowing. I hear the reindeer hate the heat anyway J

Looking at the whole thing from the point of view of an eleven year-old boy, you can now understand why Aidan asked for “Christmas” for Christmas this year. We are here for a new adventure, however, and so we were determined to add some new experiences to Christmas for everyone.

We started down this path early in Christmas week with a shopping trip to the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) store in Liberia, an hour or more away. It is sort of like a Home Depot, Costco, Walmart, Furniture USA, and Best Buy all wrapped into one. And it is huge. It is about 4 football fields long and about 40-50 feet or so high. To give you a sense of scale, here is a photo of the ceiling fan (no air conditioning). Each of the 8 blades is about 14 feet long.

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Prices were pretty good there for the most part. We got a light tube for under our counter so we can actually see when we cook. We also got a great deal on a printer and cartridges for unschooling. It was the one piece of technology we didn’t bring, thinking that we could order one cheaply from Amazon! We also got some harder to find items as well as a fire extinguisher and safety vest for Moose. These last items were the main reason we went. We have to carry these in a car and this was the closest place to get them.

Of course, we found a few items that were, we thought, ridiculously priced. Our favorite was this ice chest:

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Notice the price. 48,000 colones. That is about $100 for an ice chest that Costco sells for maybe $15!

We also ramped up our yoga that week. Deb saw a yoga poster with three levels (basics, expanding, radical expansion). Evidently, most of the moves we have been doing, even the P90X moves, are beginner level. She described a “crazy” one (one of the radical expansion ones) called “dragonfly.” That really inspired me. There were two more levels of difficult moves I hadn’t discovered yet, so I went on a bit of a quest. I asked our yoga instructor, Colleen, how to do it and she is working our class up to the move now (a bit to the dismay of our classmates, it seems; it really works you). I’ll hopefully report a successful outcome this coming week. Meanwhile, I just had to geek out a bit and create a spreadsheet with all the poses (asanas). My goal now is to do each one over the course of this next year. I’m sure there will be a post on that sometime.

Most of Christmas Eve day we spent playing 7 Wonders as a family. We finally read through the complicated set of directions and tried it. It is a wonderful game and turned out to be one that all four of us like equally well. We played 4 games then and several more since. It was one of the best family events we’ve had.

Adding to our new Christmas experiences, one thing we have in Costa Rica that we don’t in the US is fireworks! Our nearest big grocery store had a stand outside and so I bought an odd assortment of roman candles, sparklers, and ground based fireworks. We shot about half of them off Christmas Eve and are saving the last few for the beach on New Year’s Day.

After dinner Christmas Eve, we “opened” presents. Aidan and Vie got cards and emails with money or digital gift certificates from their grandparents. I expect they’ll download some fun games on Steam. Aidan will enjoy Minecraft Homeschool. Deb and I gave Aidan a gift certificate to go out on a fishing expedition. He’s been wanting to fish for some big fish – and then bring them home and cook them! Vie got a gift certificate to fly home to Sakura-Con in April, a huge anime convention in Seattle that Vie goes to with a bunch of friends from Utah and other places in the world. It is a really important event to Vie. I get to be chaperone.

On Christmas Day, we had thought to have a new family experience. We went to a new beach, Playa Conchal, and went snorkeling in 84 degree (F) water!

playa conchal

The beach here is one of the best in Costa Rica. It is a fine white sand beach. Even during the holidays it was pretty uncrowded at the end we were at, unlike most of the other beaches. Deb was in striking form as usual!

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Aidan loved snorkeling and now wants to learn to dive. I sense another possible future career for him J We plan on getting certified later in the year after all he tourists are gone.

We came back and I made our traditional (almost) Christmas dinner. I could not find rabbit anywhere, but substituted a chicken and it worked fine. I found everything else here, including polenta, so it was the closest thing to “traditional” Christmas elements as we got. And of course, we started with champagne (well, truthfully, it was a Prosecco).

We had a bit of a health scare that evening with my mom, but she is doing well now and is out of the hospital. It was scary but I’m so happy everything is better. It wasn’t anything major but we didn’t know that at the time. This was probably the most isolated I’ve felt since being here. I couldn’t get through to my dad on my Costa Rica phone and so had to get my Seattle phone and try him at the hospital with that. We just had to wait it out. Fortunately, everything is good and she just checked out of the hospital today. That’s the best Christmas present I could get.

We are heading now into a week where we basically will be “cocooning” at home. Evidently, this is the most crowded week in Guanacaste by the beaches. It’s not mostly tourists, per se, though. According to many of our friends here, thousands come from San Jose and camp on the beach for several says this week, leaving New Year’s Eve day. It is a week of major traffic, people sleeping on the beach, wild parties, noise, drunkenness, and a ton of litter to clean up. We expect to survive it with some movies, more 7 Wonders, Xbox, several bike outings, and lots of pool time.

To all of you, we wish you very Happy Holidays and pura vida!

Our First Unschooling “Period”

Aidan and Vie are motoring on their unschooling fronts as part of our new adventure. It’s been challenging for all of us in a few areas as we try to find an unschooling rhythm. It’s also been rewarding to see the young adults start to do some very interesting things.

There are so many things to write about as we get going. Here I think I’ll focus more on what the kids are doing. There are some higher level themes we are trying to engender, but I’ll go more deeply into those later.

I’m fortunate that I made my (over)scheduling mistake early and was able to correct it. Aidan and Vie have now mostly found their schedules and are getting into their respective rhythms. Aidan needs a little more structure so I developed a spreadsheet for him to track his unschooling hours, reading hours and technology use. I‘m secretly hoping he likes using Excel enough to use it for more planning activities as a tool.

Our primary goal for this first “period” (aka semester, quarter, etc.) of unschooling is really building confidence, engagement, and passion for learning more than mastery of any particular thing. We don’t think that mastery can come easily without the former. We are also using this first period to get the young adults familiar with some basic digital tools like Microsoft Word, Excel, Publisher and even some more specific ones.

Toward that end, Vie and Aidan both chose two projects to work on based on their interests. We added in some dedicated reading time and also learning Spanish. Learning Spanish was the one thing we asked them to add as a project because we’d like to get them starting to speak the native language here soon. We got a few grumbles from them over Spanish but they understood the importance and are working with it.

As I describe the projects Aidan and Vie are working on, you’ll see a gaming, or “gamification” theme influencing them. This is intentional on our part. I’ll speak more about this in another post soon, but gaming is a great way to foster engagement and really understand the core aspects of what they are learning – and they are both very interested in gaming.

Aidan chose two cooking related projects. He loves cooking, cooking shows, and trying new foods. We actually call him “Chef Aidan.” His first project is to create a cookbook of recipes that he’s created on an online site like Food.com. This is a big project that will require several big steps and a lot of learning about foods and cooking. His first step in this project is to get to know all about herbs and spices. As part of this, he is creating 20 flash cards that each describe one herb or spice. Here’s an example.

spice flash card

He’s nearly finished laying out all of the flash cards in Publisher and is working on tying them to the cuisines that they are used inn (the flags on the cards). Deb wants to get them printed and see if Aidan can sell them!

In the process of doing these flash cards, I gave Aidan a side “quest” of writing a description of the difference between herbs and spices such that it would definitively categorize something into one or the other (or not applicable). In other words, nothing would end up being both or somewhere in the middle. I can’t immediately do this, mind you. Aidan is working on it, but he started off with “something off the top of his head” he says: “hydration”. It was pretty brilliant. I’ve been throwing different spices and herbs at that one word and so far it is working pretty well to distinguish the two (notwithstanding the fact that one “could” dry herbs).

Step 2 in Aidan’s first project is to start cooking and getting to know some basic techniques and recipes. Clearly, this is a lifelong project, but we’ll just start cooking a variety of things in Aidan’s “test kitchen” so that he can begin to try some of his own creations.

As his final step, he’ll create and write up 10 recipes. He’ll need to perfect them in order to actually write up the recipe so this will get him very familiar with prototyping and iteration – part of a good design thinking process. We’re hoping that he can write up one of the recipes in Spanish to help compliment his learning of the language. Look forward to some updates, and fun stories, around “Chef Aidan’s” recipe project. I understand he wants to create “sour gummies” as one recipe. That will of course involve chemistry!

Aidan’s second project, which he wants to start after his first one is complete, is very cool. It is a baking card game. It is similar to some of the more popular thematic card games like Munchkin. He’s thought a bit about the game mechanics and play as part of his prep work. It will not only help teach players baking concepts, including chemistry, but it will also be a lot of fun to play. More importantly, combining a constructivist (i.e., “making”) approach to learning with gamification principles, we expect that Aidan will learn a ton about how to learn in general.

If Aidan is our chef, Vie is our artist. Vie already has quite a following on Deviant Art. It was natural that one of the projects would involve digital art, and so it does. Vie is already very proficient with indirect digital drawing tools such as Wacom tablets, where you look at the screen while drawing on a small pad with a digital pen. Vie is now mastering direct digital drawing – drawing directly on the screen (of a tablet, for example).

Vie’s first project is to learn 3 different programs for digital drawing and then compare the three of them, possibly in a video format. Vie is already very gifted at drawing and is a master at SAI, a digital paint tool used in a lot of fan-based anime art. For some reason that “product loyalty” means that learning Adobe Photoshop is out. However, Adobe Illustrator is one of the chosen ones. Illustrator is a vector based (drawing) product vs. a raster based (painting) tool so that should provide some new skills and learnings. It may be useful in the second project as well. Vie is still working out what the other two tools will be. One might be a 3D tool such as Maya, which is a high-end tool for creating 3D animated characters. You’ve likely seen its results in most recent animated films.

These are all professional art and design tools, and they all have “professional” price tags. Vie is using the one month free trial period most have for this project and to see if they might be of future interest. Meanwhile, I’m trying to see how an “unschooler” can qualify for an educational discount given all of the institutional verification forms. Who said it would be easy J ?

Vie’s final result (“deliverable”) for this project will be the same character image drawn, painted, or rendered in 3 different programs, highlighting the strengths, weaknesses and differences of each tool. It should be pretty awesome to see and we are hoping that vie does a simultaneous “speed painting” video of the three for YouTube. We haven’t seen that sort of comparison before.

This brings us to Vie’s second project. It is still getting defined but Vie is trying to bring together several interests, both near term and long term (i.e., career). Vie is very interested in being a professional game videographer, game tester or game designer. A “game videographer” (my term) is someone that creates videos showing how to play aspects of a particular game and then puts them on YouTube to make money. (It was a new one for me too.)

There are really 3-4 projects wrapped up here and we are working to separate them a bit so we can have a clear, focused project with some sort of deliverable. Vie is leaning toward learning how to make a video, in this case of someone showing how to play a sequence in a game. Vie is already working on learning video screen capture tools (TinyTake or Camtasia), audio tools for voice-overs (Audacity), and video editing tools. For now we are using Microsoft Movie Maker but if this interest grows, as I suspect it will, then we will move to Adobe Premiere – and that is a serious professional tool that will be great to learn early.

There is a lot of tool learning, and consequent frustration, going on right now. That is expected. Most of us who use these tools have gone through it too. I expect that this project will be more about learning the tools. I hope that Vie can then develop some deeper learning about the gaming industry in the next several projects. Those projects will likely involve things like gamification, coding, testing, designing, interviewing gaming professionals, and project management. An exciting possibility is that there are now online certifications you can get in gamification and Vie may pursue one. More on that soon.

On top of these projects, I am still sending Aidan and Vie links to TED talks, articles and resources that are relevant to what they are doing in order to get their juices flowing more. One which I’ll talk about more in a future post is the first 18 minutes of a Harvard Law School course on philosophy. It is surprisingly accessible and makes you think.

While I am still trying to figure out how to bring math more into the mix, these projects all involve reading, research, writing, problem solving, critical thinking, project management, and design skills above and beyond the specific subject matter knowledge and tool skills inherent in each project. Vie and Aidan are getting very digitally literate. Most importantly, they seem to be enjoying their projects and learning in general so far. And for us that is a key metric of success for this first “period” of unschooling.