Type-A Detox

I learned something very valuable this week from my son Aidan here in Costa Rica on our new adventure. You might even call it “my second mistake.“ It was about unschooling, parenting, and patience. Mostly though, it was about myself. It was simple. I even knew it in my head logically – I just didn’t embrace it. I might not have even paid enough attention to learn something if I hadn’t had yoga and a quiet chance to reflect.

There are other paths to learning and to achievement than the “Type A” way (here is where you can say “duh”).

I’ve been pretty successful, and fortunate, in my education, my career and my life so far. For as long as I can remember I have driven myself to learn new things, to do more, to push myself to do things better, and to take on big challenges. I like it when things are hard. I like competing with, and working with, people who are better than me because I learn more. I like trying lots of new things. I get bored when there isn’t a lot going on. You might call me Type A (though by Seattle standards I am probably in the middle).

The places I’ve chosen to work, particularly startups and Microsoft, really reinforce this Type A approach to things. I found that working with others like me creates a great energy to push the envelope, It was well and good while I was in those environments, but it isn’t as helpful now as I work with Vie and Aidan in unschooling. They are not Type A.

Aidan also has a different way of learning than I do. I tend to just go try things. I learn by doing. Aidan likes to see how things are done first – for example, watching a YouTube video. Neither is better than the other. They are just different ways of learning.

I had the hubris though of thinking that making progress, accomplishing goals, and even learning was better in a Type A way. I hadn’t actually realized just how ingrained in me it was. One of the more insidious things about being successful as a Type A person is that it can blind you from other ways of being – ways that can be equally as effective. I was unconsciously expecting Aidan and Vie to do things like I do. Debbie had even been coaching me with gentle hints, though I didn’t really embrace them either. It’s time for me to detoxify myself from Microsoft and this Type A way of doing things. It’s not working and when something isn’t working, you need to change it.

How did I come to this rather obvious realization? It started with Aidan and his unschooling cooking project. In the last few weeks, it’s been a little difficult getting Aidan to be “diligent” about unschooling. He’s been watching videos of Master Chef and lots of YouTube videos of cooking different things. He had recipes he was working on and I didn’t see him working on those directly, either through cooking or writing up the recipes.

When I learned how much he was watching videos, I lectured him about watching too much “TV” and not “doing” enough on his recipes. I asked him to give me a breakdown of how he was going to spend his unschooling hours this week and that they couldn’t involve “TV.” Can you believe it? I was expecting him to be a Microsoft Project Manager.

I went to yoga afterward and in the part where you do a bit of meditation, I thought about all of this. I had the blindingly obvious insight that I was expecting Aidan to be me and not Aidan. He was learning his way, which was more about learning through study, and he was doing it in an exploratory path, not necessarily a goal-driven one.

When I came back we went out and had coffee by the pool and talked. He was indeed watching all of the videos so he could learn how to do the different techniques needed in cooking his 10 recipes. He also got “distracted” by other videos of interesting recipes and techniques. I’d now reframe “distracted” to mean that he was exploring the wide world of culinary arts his way – by sampling techniques, looking at different approaches, seeing interesting ways others put together recipes, etc.  In other words, he had a perfectly acceptable, but very different, way of learning compared to me. I told him that I was wrong and I didn’t appreciate his approach to things as much as I should have.

Compounding all of this, Aidan is also a very social learner. He loves working with others (I like that too, but I can just as easily focus intensely and work on my own). One downside of unschooling in another country is that he doesn’t (yet) have easy access to others he can work with.

So, after our coffee chat, I suggested that we cook together. He had been learning to pan fry steak so he could create one of 10 recipes for his project: bacon wrapped steak with pineapple chutney. Aidan had come up with this all on his own. What followed was pretty inspiring, confirming unequivocally that there are other effective ways.

Aidan had watched several videos on pan-frying techniques and had practiced that. Recently he had been watching a number of videos on the best way to cook bacon wrapped steaks. It involves searing the steak in a pan and finishing it in an oven.

When we started making steaks for all of us, I just helped him get organized and then acted as his sous chef. He did all of the actual cooking. He just did it. There was no hesitation. He had a plan. He was very thoughtful about differences in steak thickness and how to adjust cooking for them. He carefully monitored all of the steps. And the steaks came out perfectly. They were perfectly seared, moist and flavorful. The bacon too was cooked perfectly. They were the best steaks I’ve had here anywhere, including in restaurants. Vie raved about them. And Aidan did it in one try.

Aidan was indeed learning. I probably would have spent a lot more time cooking and “burned” through several steaks. I probably would not have benefitted from seeing multiple diverse approaches. I now appreciate his and other approaches far more – not because I saw the results, but because I was reminded of the process and understood it. The University Cooperative School Aidan attended had a great tag line that I love (and should have channeled more): “Childhood is a journey, not a destination.” The same holds true of learning. Intellectually, I knew this. Behaviorally, I didn’t embrace it. I still have much to learn myself, especially about unschooling.

I’ve talked about how change is difficult, particularly when there is complexity. Change is not safe. I was proud of what we are doing here because we are not playing it safe; we are changing everything. Or so I thought. Well, now it’s time for me to embrace more change as I help Vie and Aidan unschool their way and not mine. As a (hopefully former) Type A parent, maybe this is just another way of being “intentionally off path.”

Thanks, Aidan, for the very gracious lesson. Pura vida, bud.

Why We Decided to Unschool

The decision to home school or to unschool may be as unique as the families that do it. We actually made the decision to unschool a number of months before we committed to coming to Costa Rica for our new adventure. This is how we came to our decision.

Before jumping in, there is a big difference between home schooling and unschooling, or “hack schooling,” even though they share some similarities. Susan Wise Bauer, author of the Well-Trained Mind has a good description of home schooling that begins with:

Home schooling occurs when parents take charge of their children’s education — organizing subjects, teaching lessons or arranging for tutors, evaluating progress, and supervising social contacts.

Unschooling goes a bit further. There are several good descriptions of unschooling: Earl Stevens, John Holt, even Wikipedia. John Holt is one of the early pioneers of unschooling and we like his definition, which can be summarized crisply as:

This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum.

While one key difference between home schooling and unschooling is no fixed curriculum, the bigger difference for Debbie and I is that in unschooling, the students direct their own learning based on their individual interests. As Holt notes, unschooling is “…the natural way to learn.” It is “…the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work.”

Debbie and I are both human-centered designers. Human-centered design is basically a design process that emphasizes creation of artifacts based on the understanding the goals and needs of people (as opposed to making the user have to adapt to the product). For us, unschooling is the educational equivalent. We tailor learning to the interests of the learners.

We had three big reasons for why we favor the unschooling approach, but like many things, there was an initial “trigger.”

By the end of year 2 of middle school, Vie absolutely hated school. While it was the largest middle school in Seattle, it had many of the same challenges as other public, and many private, schools: large class sizes, emphasis on memorization and testing, little individual creativity, lots of effort spent on managing the class, and little actual time spent on learning.

I remember going to a science fair and seeing a number of signs in the classrooms about what the kids could not do, right next to equally large signs about what the consequences were if someone did them. I asked if they actually spent much time learning and Vie said “no”. Add to that all the mental bullying among pre-teens and Vie was ready to try unschooling.

In contrast, Aidan had a fabulous experience at University Cooperative School. We loved the place, the teachers, and the parents – and continue to be inspired by them – but he had graduated from 5th grade and was destined for a similar middle school experience.

We had planned to start unschooling this year in Seattle. As we first planned and then started making Costa Rica a reality, we saw our adventure as yet another way to enhance unschooling.

With that, here are the 3 big reasons why we decided to pursue this path of unschooling. Like most things, this is a change we are trying. We hope and expect it will bear great fruit. We don’t expect to get everything right but we all expect to work together to fix things when they aren’t working.

The Challenge – A Failing System Under Pressure

Our schools are under incredible pressure these days and are less and less capable of achieving the goals we all put on them. There are growing demands on what teachers have to cover in their curricula, producing more and more homework and focusing on memorization. Take a look at the incredible documentary Race to Nowhere for some sobering reality here. Add to this consistent budget cuts to education and the consequent growing class size, reduction in class diversity (especially the arts), and other downstream challenges. John Taylor Gatto talks about a lot of this in his “underground classic” Dumbing us Down and his other books.

Probably the most telling challenge to me is that so many bright and creative teachers – the ones who can bring change, the ones who are willing to take risks and try new things – are getting burned out or pushed out of the system.

That saddens me especially since, at least generally in our system, every student has to experience the same thing. An incredibly gifted teacher, and we’ve seen many, can make almost any subject interesting. But that places all of the weight on one part of the system and those teachers are getting to be few and far between.

The Opportunity – Learning to Love Learning

Lifelong learning is an important value for both Deb and I. We embrace it completely and continue to learn every day. We want to help our young adults embrace this value as well. That’s one reason why we left our high-tech jobs for a year – so that our young adults have an opportunity to experience another culture. However, to get our young adults to embrace lifelong learning, they have to love learning, which is difficult if they “hate school.”

We wanted to get Aidan and Vie back to the point where they loved learning as young kids. Letting them experience learning more naturally by what drives their interests harnesses their natural passion and curiosity. Basic skills like reading, writing and math can be learned in the context of something they care about in ways that help them understand why it is important to learn those skills.

A good example is what Vie and Aidan when they did their “paper quest.” Aidan generally didn’t like writing, even at UCoop. Vie was uninspired at best, except perhaps for creative writing. Both did have a good foundation of how to write a paper though. They just had assignments that didn’t engage their interests. It used to be like pulling teeth to get Aidan to write more than a few sentences, even though he loves speaking and has an incredible vocabulary.

Aidan and Vie’s “paper quest” was a “quest” to write a paper comparing two of their favorite video games. They were both excited to write about it. Their final paper was a 28 page multimedia paper. That’s more than I’ve seen either of them write before – or anyone in their schools for that matter. The incredible part is that we didn’t say anything about length; we just let them go. They wanted to write this much. This example just reinforces for me the benefit of harnessing their natural, and different, interests and using them to cover the more basic things.

An unschooling approach is really tailored to each of them naturally. We aren’t designing curricula around their interests. They are. We simply help them bring some structure, take responsibility, find resources, act as sounding boards, and yes, help motivate them – especially now in our early days of doing this. Logistically, this doesn’t fit the one-size-fits-all approach in schools; that’s not how they are structured. And unlike home schooling, it doesn’t rely on Deb, me, or anyone for that matter to find or create a curriculum to teach them. They learn naturally because they want to. Or at least, that is what we are hoping.

Almost by definition, an unschooling approach focuses on building confidence, interest and passion – more than mastery. It’s the fuel for mastery. There is a place for mastery, but I believe mastery is actually not possible without the former, otherwise it ends up being short term memorization to pass a test. I even saw this at Stanford, a school I love dearly. As a premed (who decided not to pursue medicine), I saw many people studying for science tests, writing memorized formulas and facts down on those tests to get “partial credit,” rather than actually trying to solve the problem. That approach may work well in the short term for tests, and perhaps for some schools, but not for creating mastery.

Creativity, along with mastery, allow people to do or solve things that they have never seen before. To get there, people need to be good at learning new things, applying knowledge in new ways, and fearlessly trying new things that might not work out. In other words, they need to know how to learn more than what to learn. With the latter, you can do what you know, if you manage to remember it. With the former, you can do anything. We need more of that in our world, especially now. And it won’t be on any test you can study for.

Learning is changing

There’s one more reason for why we are unschooling. It wasn’t on our radar as much before we started this journey. We are seeing learning itself changing, not through some plan, but rather organically, shaped by the economy, generational differences, technology, the internet, and Universities themselves.

According to IBM, “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” Much of it is available online now. If we want to learn about something, or try doing something, it’s likely that there is a YouTube video on it. [As a fun aside, Aidan wanted to make Deb and I Margaritas the other day. He looked up a video on YouTube, made the drink, and brought it to us, all without us knowing about it. He made a great Margarita to boot.] We are getting good at looking things up “just in time” when we need them. People are learning how to learn differently as part of the digital world most of us live in.

Now think about all of the incredible resources that are becoming available online. For younger folks there is Khan Academy of course. But college classes from some of the best instructors in the best Universities in the world are available through services such as Coursera, Udacity, and edX. They are available to the whole world, not just their “home” Universities.

I heard an amazing story at the IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference last year (thanks to Carl Bass). A few years ago, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig at Stanford put their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online for anyone to take for free. More than 160,000 students from around the world enrolled. Evidently, the top ranking Stanford student in that class of 160,000 was somewhere in the 300’s. The company Udacity was created out of this experience. Talk about levelling a playing field.

What happens when instead of paying a large sum of money to one University (even a top one), you can pick and choose the best of the best University classes from all of the top Universities for a fraction of the cost? This is reality today.

On top of this, we have a worldwide job market that is trending to care less about degrees and pedigrees and more about what you can do and what value you can bring. David Wong describes this well in his scathing Cracked post 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. Be sure to watch the video from Glengarry Glenn Ross (warning: it has NSFW (not safe for work) language).

Vie will be college age in perhaps 5 years and Aidan in 7 or maybe less. That’s a very long time in our digital world. Would they even want, or need, to go to a physical college? One thing is clear to me, however. Taking advantage of resources like this, creating your “own path” as a “major”, circumventing the institutional system entirely and yet learning what you want, will all take a honed ability to know how to learn as well as a curiosity and passion for learning itself.

On our unschooling road, we have really just started taking baby steps. We are working hard to create interest and passion. We can then can work toward confidence. There is still a lot of work to go on helping Aidan and Vie learn how to learn and at least for now it comes a little at the expense of learning some basic skills such as math and science. We’ll get there. That’s part of this journey we are on – one that itself will hopefully be a model for how to learn new things.

Differences (so far) – Part 1

Differences (so far) – Part 1

Day 50 of our new adventure in Costa Rica. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 50 days. In some ways, it feels like we have been here longer. In some ways, it still feels like a beginning, which it really is.

I’ve been writing down things over the last month or two that are different here compared at least to Seattle. Some are harder or more expensive. Some are easier, cheaper or better. I’m sure I will add more things as we go along but I thought it would be fun to share some of these, especially for those who are thinking about coming here for a trip or longer.

I’ll split the list in two and start with things that are better, easier, cheaper or just more exciting. A few caveats: these are coming from a former Seattleite, Chicagoan, and Californian who is living in a small town on the coast of Costa Rica, and not working. The comparison is clearly not “apples to apples”. And these are mine – I won’t speak here for Aidan, Vie or Debbie.

  • Sun
    I can’t even begin to say how energizing it is to see the sun and feel its warmth every day. Vitamin D is a wonderful thing too. I won’t belabor the point for our Seattle friends going through winter right now. 
  • Auto mechanics
    While cars and parts may be more expensive, auto mechanics are much cheaper. Tomás, our mechanic for Moose, is replacing shocks, engine valves, suspension struts, fixing all the electric windows, repairing the back door handle and adding new tires all for the price of about 3 hours (or less) labor in Seattle terms. It offsets the cost of owning a car a bit.
  • Produce (of the types that are available)
    On the up side, the types of produce you can find in Costa Rica are plentiful and cheap. We have a great local produce stand about 2 blocks away owned by Rafael. He’s such a nice guy and is always giving us a new interesting thing to try. One recent discovery – Peruvian cherries.
  • Futbol (soccer)
    Soccer on a grass field in the warm (OK, hot) sun at sunset playing with Ticos and learning their moves. In contrast, this last week it was 28 degrees at night when we would normally be playing soccer in Seattle. I don’t miss the rainy, cold, windy games (though I do miss our team immensely).
  • Medical professional access
    It is very easy to talk to your medical professionals here. We found great doctors. They gave us their email addresses so we can contact them through email if it was more convenient. What a concept! What is really surprising, though, is that they gave us their personal cell phone numbers as well.
  • No commute
    This one is low hanging fruit, I know, compared to Seattle and the Bay Area. While I loved my MINI Cooper Coupe, I don’t miss the quality time I spent with it every day in commute traffic in Seattle.
  • Beach volleyball
    I love beach volleyball. In Seattle, we had indoor volleyball, which was fun. We also had beach volley ball in a very cold indoor arena on imported sand. What can I say about getting back beach volleyball on a real beach in the sun. Like most activities here, though, you stop between 12 and 3 because the sand and the temperature are way too hot.
  • Speaking Spanish
    There is something very empowering about learning to speak another language. We are still working on fluency right now, but Deb and I have reasonable conversational skills. It’s been challenging at times, but very satisfying.
  • No American fast food
    The nearest American fast food chain is 90 minutes away in the closest big city, Liberia. No McDonalds, Burger King, Jack, KFC, etc. All the places here are local and we eat locally whenever we can. Of course, Vie does mourn the loss of access to Starbucks.
  • Soccer on TV
    It’s so great to see soccer on TV. Every night. And I don’t mean only during the World Cup on cable channels or the final World Cup matches on a major network. Almost every night we can choose from UEFA Champions or Europa league games, European premiere leagues, Mexican, South American, or Central American league games. The latter are usually live.
  • Not having to drive everywhere
    We only got a car to get to good surfing. Everything else – food, bars, grocery stores, the beach, yoga, soccer, haircuts, the doctor, etc. are all within walking or riding distance. We love not needing to burn gas every day.
  • Seeing Deb in her bikini every day
    This one is clearly personal, but I just had to list it. Life is good J
  • Surfing
    I never surfed in Washington. It was cold. More importantly, on northern Washington beaches you see trees thrown up on the shore from the surf, so that means as a surfer you’d be competing with trees! A more realistic comparison is snowboarding though. Surfing and snowboarding are nearly even. If I really had to pick one though, it would be surfing. Warm sun and warm ocean say it all. Oh yeah, and you can walk 10 feet to get a Margarita without having to take your equipment off compared to making it to a lodge on a ski slope.
  • Powdered Gatorade
    We do have powdered Gatorade in Seattle, but we had never tried it. We live by it here. Vie and I go through 6-7 bottles per day. Between the cost difference in powder vs. liquid and the fact that we grocery shop on bicycles, powdered Gatorade has become a necessity. One nice discovery is that you can make it a little sweeter. Sometime in the 2000’s I remember Gatorade tried out an “endurance” formula that was a bit sweeter and thicker. I loved it but they stopped producing it. I’m pretty sure was simply more concentrated and now we can make that ourselves.
  • Knowing a bunch of people in the area
    It is striking how quickly we have gotten to know a lot of people in our community. We walk down the street and see someone we know now and stop to chat. Whenever we go to one of our hangouts, like La Perla, The Shack, or Maxwell’s we know most of the folks there. It is a small community to be sure, but it is wonderful to have a community.
  • Pura Vida
    I’ll end with the most profound I think. Pura vida truly is a way of life here. It is one that we are loving every day. It’s difficult to describe just how completely different attitudes are here and how people approach life. Seattle and Silicon Valley, two places where I’ve lived a long time, tend to be very fast paced and intense. Yes, it can be exciting. It can also be complex, stressful, and overscheduled. I always felt behind no matter how much I got done. Time was a rare commodity and far too much of it seemed to be focused on work (including getting there and back). Going to and from places, we seemed to be focused on getting there; rarely saying “hi” to people and stopping to smell the roses. Even schooling is getting to be stressful and all-consuming.Here, everyone says “hi” to each other on the street (or “pura vida”). You get to know people quickly and easily. There is time to take time and smell the roses. One could argue that my comparison of my current and former lifestyle isn’t exactly fair, and it isn’t. But, I would argue that the “pura vida” attitude is that it is important to slow down and live life. It’s important to take the time. It’s important to enjoy doing things. It might be tough to make this work in a fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle, but I believe it is possible. I know “pura vida” is already having a welcome effect on me. And change is something to embrace.

Look for the List, part 2, coming soon.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

…can’t seem to be found in Costa Rica. At least, that’s what I am learning down here. So far, it is really the only thing that I can’t seem to find or for which I can’t seem to find a good alternative. It’s unexpected. I didn’t even think about it during our planning for our new adventure. I’m at a loss.

Why is it so important? Well, I’ve been buying them for a very long time.

When Deb and I met in grad school and fell in love, I knew immediately that I wanted to spend my life with her. I wanted to propose to her but I had so little money. I had already burned through savings and cash in the first year, adding a ton of debt on top of it. I had actually planned to leave grad school for a great job in Seattle…until I met Deb.

We became very close friends first. We spent all of our time working together on class projects (and we still work incredibly well together). Pretty soon we were deeply in love. After 7 weeks I really wanted to ask her to marry me.

I couldn’t really afford a ring. So, I proposed to her with a single red rose and a promise. A promise that I would always get her a rose, every week, for as long as we lived. I’ve kept that promise for 19 years now. Every week, I would buy her a single red rose and put it in a vase for her. Until now.

I knew all of the stores around us in Seattle. I knew where they sold red roses, but not single red roses. I knew which ones reliably carried single long-stemmed red roses. I knew where the nicest ones were. And occasionally when one of them wasn’t open or when I couldn’t make it there, I had backup stores I could go to where I’d have to settle or a shorter red rose. I took for granted the fact that I could find a single red rose almost anywhere in Seattle and beyond.

Several years ago, I even designed a tribal rose tattoo and the folks at Slave to the Needle kindly put it on my back. The top just hits the back of my neck so that it shows even if I wear a shirt and tie. I want people to see it.

So now, you see my dilemma. For now, I can resort to digital roses. They are really just a shadow of my intent. But, while I continue to look for options, they will have to suffice.

The word for “rose” exists in Spanish (“rosa”) so I hold out hope that in my exploration I will find one here someday. The journey should be half the adventure but this one gnaws at me. Like everything else we are doing, I’ll embrace change and adapt. At least, she has the opportunity out in the sun all day to see my rose tattoo 🙂

Vacation

We are now two weeks into our new adventure. A few days ago, one of our young adults said something about us still being on “vacation” – i.e., before we dig deep into unschooling. It was a really interesting comment in general about what we are doing and it made me think about what is “vacation” really.

Of course there is the dictionary definition, which leaves me a bit unsatisfied. We are indeed taking time away from home, school and business…but that’s only the tip of a very big iceberg. I know everyone has a different perspective on vacation, but for me, I’ve always thought about it not as what you are doing but rather what the outcome is. In my case, the outcome in vacationing I seek is rejuvenation, recharge, and perspective.

I’ve been on many trips, or “vacations”, to see relatives, to go to a wedding, etc. that were not any of those things. I’ve also been on business trips (usually overseas) in which I found all of the elements I look for. Even most date nights feel like a vacation to me in this sense. So then, am I on vacation now?

I find myself moving between vacation and non-vacation (“unvacation”) day to day, even though I’m in an incredible tropical vacation spot.

This last week has seen a lot of set up – things we needed to do both mundane and effort-intensive. We got all of our technology set up, including local cell phones and SIMs for everyone tied to their Windows IDs (at least in 3 cases), VPN service, and a new Android tablet for some freelance work Deb and I are doing. We also got our cooking staples and some other basic things before we gave up our rental car (and access to bigger super markets, or “super compros” – AKA “gringo stores”).

On the big effort front, we took a trip to San Jose, the capital, to go through the process of applying for our “rentista” residency visa. It was a long process involving first finding a place to keep the dogs (a wonderful place named Isabel’s Friends), a 5 hour drive to get there, getting photos and fingerprints for all of us and then spending some time with lawyers and forms. Fortunately, our lawyer made it as painless as possible. We ended it all with one of the most harrowing drives we’ve ever had on the way back at night with roadway construction, aggressive truck drivers, and a massive tropical downpour. Oh, and a little fog to boot.

Interspersed with all of the necessary activities on a daily basis are activities that are much more “vacation” for me. These are things like the incredibly fun karaoke Halloween we spent at our favorite place, Maxwell’s. It was very different than our typical Halloween where we prep our house for several months. We had to come up with some costumes, but Deb brilliantly came up with us going as Seattle Sounders.

halloween costa rica

Another great activity was boogie boarding at Playa Grande, one of the top surfing spots in Costa Rica – and the world for that matter. Vie and Aidan loved it. Aidan declares he’s ready for surfing now!

SONY DSC

After two weeks of settling in, it does feel a bit more like home. At the same time, we are clearly not “home.” We are starting to develop some routines and we hope to ramp this next week as we do a “warm up” with Vie and Aidan for unschooling. And with a freelance project, I’ll definitely dip back into my tech focus.

None of this detracts from the daily “vacation” activities. I personally feel rejuvenated almost every day. Every day especially brings rich opportunities for new perspectives. Stress is nearly non-existent where we are as near as we can tell, for example. Even simple activities like grocery shopping both make me appreciate what we had in Seattle and also how fun it is to be living somewhere new and different. I feel very creative and we haven’t even started unschooling yet. I even “just relax”, something that is (has been) pretty unusual for me.

This “between” state is a new experience for me. It certainly emphasizes “working to live” vs. “living to work” – something Deb and I very much believe in. I think it needs its own name. If I take a long view though, I’m sure I’ll find that the whole adventure gives me a “vacation” outcome. Getting there will be priceless in so many ways.

How We Got Here

Several folks have asked us “Why Costa Rica?” and “What sort of planning did it take?” I thought that while it’s fresh, I’d post the answer. Let me know if I missed any details you’d like.

Why Costa Rica? Well, our first choice, as I described in our new adventure was actually Brazil. Sadly though, the US has tight restrictions on Brazil and so Brazil has tight restrictions on Americans coming in. We wouldn’t be able to stay more than 30 days realistically – at least there was no guarantee. So Deb began a hunt of other locations that fit our criteria. Here’s our Top 10 reasons (in good ol’ David Letterman form) why we chose Costa Rica as the country, Playa Portrero as the city, and the specific place we live, Casa Dutry, in order of least to most important.

11.   The swimming pool at the house was a bonus!

10.   We had to have air conditioning (primarily for Vie, who thinks it is too hot when
it is 70 degrees).

9.     We didn’t want a place with dangerous rip currents so we could feel comfortable letting the kids go surf by themselves. The surf in Playa Potrero was perfect.

8,     Our new home had to allow dogs of course.

7.     The rent had to be pretty modest.

6.     The house needed to have three bedrooms. Two bedroom places are common and so are 4-5 bedroom places, but three bedrooms are hard to find.

5.     Costa Rica is the happiest country on the planet according to the Happy Planet Index (there is no military, and there is great education and health care).

4.     The place had to be warm and by a beach (hey, if you are going to move to another country, make it amazing) – and within walking distance to the beach.

3.     We needed to bring our dogs without them having to go through a quarantine process (which is common in Europe and many other countries).

2.     We needed to be able to stay at least six months and up to a year.

And the number one reason:

  1. We wanted a country where the kids could learn another language within another culture. Spanish worked particularly well as Deb studied it and I knew Portuguese and Italian.

What sort of planning did it take? The whole thing took a lot of planning over several months. It was really broken up into two parts: planning where we were going and planning to leave. Deb did a brilliant job on the former and I took care of most of the prep work to leave.

Deb started by looking for the right country. Some of the top contenders were Portugal, Ecuador, Uraguay, Belize, Panama, Chile, and Spain. There were others but based on our criteria she chose Costa Rica. We made a vacation trip the year or so before to nearby Tamarindo and loved it. Deb scouted some more details afterward.

We got more serious about moving about 10 months before we ended up leaving. At that point Deb started the 6 month search for a house to rent and that’s when we learned about and added many of the other criteria (such as no rip currents). It was a lot of emailing property owners and rental companies. She started with vrbo.com, airbnb.com, and various real estate and property management companies. Then went deeper searching for communities and local blogs where home owners post homes for rent with not a lot of responses. She finally found a small local agency, LEP, and then she narrowed down property choices. We got very lucky in finding what we did.

The next big planning hurdle that she took on was getting passage for the dogs. No quarantine I think translates to lots of paperwork. This included knowing all of the vaccinations and certificates they needed to enter the country, as well as finding the right airline to transport them. She researched how the airlines cared for pets and a lot more. As I mentioned in Roots, I ended having to drive to Tumwater, WA for final paperwork for the dogs (during the government shutdown).

Meanwhile, I was started by planning and prepping for the big estate sale to get rid of our stuff. I detailed a lot about in that post. That was a huge endeavor. Fortunately, I quit work a good 5 weeks before we left so I had a lot time to prep at home.

Another big task was renting our house. We initially expected to have to find a Property Management company (which we did), but good fortune struck and a good friend was looking for a place for her family to rent. They took a look and loved our place. That made the whole rental planning far easier. We still had a lot of work to do to set the house up for rental (adding CO monitors, deep cleaning, wall fixes and touchups). Of course we had to overdo it and paint two rooms and add a new floor before we left. That’s all less about move planning though.

There were a few other details that took planning and a bit more than we planned. One thing in this category was cell phones. We had to buy new, unlocked cell phones and then we had to work out that it was best to wait until we were in Costa Rica to get the SIM cards for them. That worked out pretty well.

Getting to the airport was more pain than I expected. We had to go to SEATAC airport in Seattle and rent a minivan with stow-and-go car seats so we could transport the dog crates (and luggage). We planned for a cab to take Deb and the kids, but when it didn’t show, we ended up all cramming in the same vehicle. The opposite was true in Costa Rica. One of the nice things about using a property management company is that they have a concierge. This meant that Deb was able to have them arrange transportation from Liberia airport 45 minutes away and it was there on time and ready to go, fitting all of us comfortably. The comfortably part took a little planning. Deb sent the 2 dog crate measurements (cm) to make sure that they would fit in the vehicle along with our large amount of luggage and 4 people.

Finally, there were things we planned but didn’t get right. For example, I was excited to learn that Amazon shipped to Costa Rica for $4.99. But, it doesn’t ship consumer electronics (eg., cables, cell phone covers, printer cartridges) and things from most non-Amazon sellers it seems. So far these are the things we’ve needed.

Likewise, I read that while some services such as Pandora and Netflix don’t work outside the US. But, Xbox Live did. Well, yes and no. Netflix did work in Costa Rica. Xbox Live did for gaming. Pandora didn’t. So, I subscribed to a VPN service (I used Unblockus.com) which helps media content get through. It does and we have Pandora now, however the fine print is that Xbox Live movie rental and downloads don’t work and can’t. I’m still working on a way where we can see new movies. Ironically, I thought we could at least go to the theater here, but there are none in the several towns around us. At least Unblockus helps in that web content, media, etc. is not defaulted to Spanish which helps the young adults until they learn Spanish (then we switch back J).

In all, the planning was an adventure in itself and definitely part of ours. Once we found the rental and started seriously planning, it took a lot of our spare time. It was worth it though – both the move and the fact that we did spend time planning. It means we can now focus on small missed details easily and not face a mass of unexpected details. Planning certainly takes the edge off of any change.

Arrival

We all arrived safely in Costa Rica, Thursday October 24 for our new adventure. We’ve gotten rid of our stuff, taking only the most important with us and successfully uprooted from our life in Seattle. The first few days have already been a big change – and not just geographically.

Our trip was pretty easy actually. After our challenging departure in one minivan because our cab was a no show(!), things got easier. We got to the airport 3 hours in advance and did all of the dog paperwork and prep. Lucy was very curious and Isis was a bit tentative, but they both went into their crates well. Security was easier than I expected with all the technology, but they did open up the bag with all the hard drives, modems, routers, etc. to take a look and then I got to put the puzzle back together. The 2 flights were uneventful and we all got a bit of sleep.

Arrival in Liberia was what we were most worried about and Lucy and Isis did fine. They were super excited to see us and get out, of course. Isis had a little accident but I had planned for that and brought disposable towels, etc. Customs went very smoothly; it seems the thing of most interest to the customs folks was our sewing machine!

We headed “home” in another large van for an hour ride from the airport to Surfside, our new community sandwiched between Playa Portrero and Playa Flamingo. Along the way we passed by the cool little town of Brasilito (“little Brasil”) and that made me smile (because I am still a carioca at heart). We stopped by a small Mercado and go some supplies then made it to our new home.

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It is a beautiful 3 bedroom house known as Casa Dutry. It has a wonderful little swimming pool, gated yard – great for dogs who aren’t familiar with the area or the critters, and just enough room.

Deb had brilliantly arranged for someone to bring us dinner that first night. Chef Miguel’s stew and fixings were amazing. We were all wiped out so it was a perfect end to our first night. And then we slept for many hours!

The next day two days involved a bit of rest, a bit of exploring and a lot of setting up. We didn’t have Internet initially  the modem in the house was missing. Our landlord got us one immediately but then we had to get the cable guy out because we weren’t getting service. Despite folks here saying things are slow here, the cable guy came out “within 24 hours” and earlier than I expected. Actually, it was just as fast as a similar call in Seattle. I just set up a new wireless router and now we are mostly digital again.  We still need SIM cards for our Costa Rica phones.

The kids are settling in. Things are different of course. The pool helps J. We’re starting off with a “vacation” attitude and letting them relax, rest and have fun. They are still a bit grumpy that everything wasn’t working immediately and things like our new dishwasher(s) is named “Aidan” and “Vie”, but they are starting to embrace the life change more each day. It really has only been two days; Deb and I haven’t gotten there either quite yet.

Coming back from getting groceries and looking for SIM cards, we had an unexpected world change moment. We turned on the radio and found a program that was evidently the surf program, “man.” It talked about the surf and the season and featured some really great personalities who lived the surfing life and played great tunes from the 80s. “Man”, what a cool welcome. Hunting for it on the web, I think it is the Evan Luck show.

We then had another great experience at dinner. We stopped at a local pub here called Maxwell’s. It instantly became our new favorite hangout, like the Hudson was in Seattle. You can bring your dogs, which was very cool (there’s probably a whole post coming on dogs here soon). The food and Margaritas were awesome. The real treat though was meeting the owner, Kelly who is truly larger than life. Vie was still a bit grumpy but Kelly managed to lighten Vie up and get a smile. She asked Vie to come help decorate for Halloween and now Vie has a new bud here.

Here in Costa Rica, people talk of the pura vida – the pure life. People are very happy, helpful and welcoming. They actually say “hi” (or “hola” on the street). It is a very different feel than Seattle – or any place I’ve ever lived. Like us, people seem to work to live, not live to work. It’s probably a bit early for us to really speak about pura vida with any sense of real understanding. But soon, I think we’ll find it.