The Road Home and Stuff

I can’t believe the first stage of our new adventure is already coming to an end so soon. A short 10 months after we left Seattle for Costa Rica we will be leaving and on to our next, shorter, adventure. We are already actively planning and packing even while we continue our adventure here. The return trip is much easier in many respects, but harder in some.

I noted that it was only the end of stage 1. As I mentioned earlier, we decided to leave early since we are heading into (technically we are already in) low and rainy season. It’s low, but not rainy. Still, many places are starting to close and many friends are moving back to their home countries until November. So, we are switching operations to Europe. We are “trading” our last two months in Costa Rica for about 5 weeks in Spain, France and Italy.

In stage 2, I return to California and my parents’ house for a visit for two weeks while Deb stays in Costa Rica with the dogs. The dogs have to wait until Sept. 15th to travel due to the heat. Deb returns on the 17th and we head to Spain on the 21st, starting our final stage, stage 3.

Deb is hard at work developing a loose itinerary for us all. We know we land in Barcelona, Spain and leave from Florence, Italy. Everything else is pretty open. We know we want to hit a few small towns in France on the way to Italy. We plan to visit Cordoba in Spain for the castles and Orvieto in Italy for the incredible church there that hosts the works of Luca Signorelli (an incredibly talented Renaissance painter, like Michelangelo, but with a penchant for depicting the apocalypse and scenes from hell). The Catholic Church relegated him to this church on a large butte. We will also definitely visit Rome; Deb and I are going to Gladiator Camp. We did invite the young adults, but sadly, no takers there. Deb will certainly be “badass!”

As Deb does the planning, I’ve been doing the packing and finishing up my class(es). We have also both been studying and working towards our Advanced Diving Certification. Never a dull moment.

On the class front, I got asked to add another class on Prototyping to my schedule. It is a two day workshop over two weeks of elapsed time. It’s been a lot of fun to put together but it’s also been a ton of work in the middle of everything. Fortunately, it works with my current schedule in San Jose – I teach Information Visualization Thursday evening and Saturday morning and then Prototyping Friday evening. I and my class usually head out for food and drinks after one or both classes so it’s been a lot of fun.

Just to brag about my students a bit, they just turned in an assignment to create an information visualization on some aspect of the World Cup and I was blown away by the quality of the thinking and the execution. These folks all have day jobs, mostly in high-tech, and then they take night classes several days a week. In just about a week they created some visualizations that in many cases are on par with work I’ve seen on the NY Times.com site (they are well known for their excellence in information visualization). More importantly, they have focused on some really interesting stories and insights from the Cup, such as why Brazil lost so badly(!), why Costa Rica did so well despite the fact that their FIFA statistics are not stellar and how Costa Rica used passing as a super power. I’m super proud and excited to see what they’ve done so far. Here’s a quick example:

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Costa Rica’s Secret Combinations, Mauricio Varela

In between trips to San Jose, I have been starting to pack. Fortunately, and here I reveal my inner geek, I created a big spreadsheet when we first came down itemizing everything in our 6 carry-on bags and 6 stowed bags to facilitate staging and packing. That makes it very easy to do everything in reverse. Mostly.

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Re-Staging

In our two trips back, we returned here with some additional things. We added some “stuff” while we were here, most of which we won’t be bringing back, and of course some things didn’t last through our adventure. We mostly leave with the same number of bags and items. It’s interesting to see what made it and what didn’t.

First off, we have to account for additional things we brought back from the US. This includes paints, paintbrushes, and other material to paint Deb’s painting. I brought back additional technology, mostly for the young adults to make videos which they never did. Deb has all the material she got for her home made lip balms, deodorants, etc. – something she will continue to do when we return, so those all go back.

In the spirit of reducing “stuff”, we actually did not get much down here and what we did get will likely stay – being given away or sold. We will sell Fanta (our truck), our bikes, TV and a few other things. We will find good homes for the blender, crock pot, boogie board, hammock, yoga mats, printer, and sand-castle-making supplies. We used all of those things regularly but won’t need them or can’t get them home.

Very few things that we got here make the return cut list. Deb got a few hand-made bikinis. Those are coming back. They were also excellent purchases. I’ll leave them to your imagination. We’ll take our diving instruction materials back, along with Deb’s painting (which will likely be an adventure on its own). And of course, our newest family member “M and M”. That’s about it. It’s nice to maintain our low volume of stuff.

What is fascinating to me is what won’t make it back and what didn’t get used. We’ve been here almost a year and we really brought minimal supplies. Looking at where we are now, it is really clear to me what we truly need and what we don’t

The young adults have grown, especially Aidan. We are throwing away or giving away almost all of his clothes and shoes. The poor guy has no shoes that still fit – not that he needed them here! Likewise, Nev has a bunch of stuff that doesn’t fit. They, along with all of us, are getting rid of a number of clothes that we have simply worn through wearing them so much over the course of the last year. These include most of our swim suits, flip flops and t-shirts.

Then there is the technology. It’s been a hard year on our tech. Fortunately, I made sure we had redundancy in key areas. We’ve gone through four computer mice(!), three headsets/headphones, two digital pens, one Bluetooth music player, one keyboard, one tablet and a large number of recharging cables. Deb’s Mac and my parts of my tablet are on their way out as well. Kudos to all the smart phones, (Nokia, Apple, Samsung), Kindles, Xbox, and the Dell laptop which, despite heavy use all are no worse for wear.

In terms of what didn’t get used, there are many things. It’s good food for thought for others doing this (and we now know several!). We brought too many clothes and shoes. I brought several nice clothes anticipating that I might have to return to do some consulting. That was fortunate because I use them when I teach class, but I still brought too many short sleeve collared shirts. I found that black Armani t-shirts are versatile and great for going out here. I’d say that I could have cut my clothing by 2/3 and not noticed. In fairness, though, some of these things we didn’t use in Costa Rica we will use in Europe.

We didn’t use our nice Sony camera as much as we should have; it was just too big to easily take everywhere despite the nice pictures it takes. We are getting a smaller one for Europe so we actually use it. Likewise, we just started using the GoPro for diving but before that had not used it much. We didn’t watch any of the movies I brought on DVD and didn’t play most of the Xbox games we brought. And sadly, I never got a chance to use my volleyball.

Up until when I was asked to do a class on prototyping I would have added all of the backup drives I brought to this list. I had brought them more for safety but had not used them until I needed some key material for the class and then they became invaluable.

Almost everything else was used and used frequently, particularly cooking items, the very few board games and the large monitor (which was truly indispensible for my classes).

Of course, we didn’t come here to get “stuff” to bring back. Rather, we came for experiences and adventure, and we certainly got a lot – almost everything we hoped for. We all (mostly) learned a new language. We learned yoga and surfing. I got to play soccer in another country. We learned to dive. We got to explore the rain forest, the volcanoes, the jungle, and the beaches. We got to see (and in some cases live with) wildlife that we had never seen before. We got to have sunrise meditations and sunset cruises. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to teach in an exciting new University program. Deb got a chance to give back and work for a kids’ organization and help organize a fundraiser. We got to appreciate another culture and make lots of new friends, some of whom have become as close as family. We got to help our young adults unschool and learned a lot about ourselves in that process. We got to spend lots of time together as a family. That’s the “stuff” life is made of.

And that’s just stage 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned for more. Pura Vida.

PS: At least one of us (Nev) got to really appreciate Seattle’s cold weather!

Girls Gone Beaching

I recently returned from a girls’ 4-day weekend in the Nicoya Peninsula. Specifically, we spent time in Montezuma, Santa Teresa, and Malpaís. There were 4 ladies on this trip. Our primary purpose: investigate/evaluate 2 yoga instructor training courses (not for me obviously – one of the other ladies on the trip). I was particularly excited to go because this area of Costa Rica was on my short list for where we might live during our year here.

 

Montezuma

If you do a tiny bit of internet searching on Montezuma you generally find some description like – a quiet, eclectic, remote hippy town that has grown up in recent years to include some tasty restaurants run by expats and a local organic farmers market. Sounds like just the place you might expect us to land right? I ended up not choosing Montezuma because of the distance from the airport, hospital, and because of reports of very strong rip currents. I was excited to see first-hand the path not taken.

The beach here turned out to be beautiful, but with a lot of lava rock.

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Montezuma beach across from Montezuma Yoga studio

 

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Katie and a fabulous piece of driftwood

 

Ultimately, I’m pleased with my decision not to live here, though it was certainly worth the visit. We did manage to find one pretty good restaurant with a nice location on the beach. But for the most part the restaurants, bars, markets, buildings, and street vendors were pretty uninspiring. Everything was easily walkable. We all agreed that we enjoyed the people and the town more during the day than the evening. It’s a little rougher crowd in the evening.  The town does have a couple of very beautiful yoga studios. One is the Montezuma Yoga studio. It was here that I met my first white-faced/capuchin monkeys. I learned that they like to throw mangos at people. Charming.

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Montezuma does have some impressive waterfalls.  There are 3 along the same river and range in hiking distance from about 30 minutes to about 2 hours. We chose the 30-minute trip to the first falls. This decision was based primarily on the fact that we each only had one pair of shoes and these were, of course, flip flops. The hike is up a rocky riverbed, which meant that we actually hiked it barefoot. It was a fun hike. However, much to my disappointment the pool at the bottom of the waterfall was quite brown and murky. It is typically clear but as this is just the beginning of rainy season (re-named by the tourist industry marketers to Green Season) the dirt was just getting stirred up and not yet cleared out by enough rain.

 

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Santa Teresa and Malpaís

Post waterfall adventure, we drove off on a bumpy jungle road to Malpaís and Santa Teresa.  These two towns are very close together, as in you can’t actually tell where one stops and the other starts. First stop after a hike is always food. Fortunately, Katie knew about one restaurant The Bakery.  This place was awesome! We ended up eating there 4 times. It’s not just pastries of course.

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Santa Teresa was also on my short list for places to live. It is a surfing town. Apparently for a long time it was a “secret surfer paradise.” I ended up not choosing this town and am a little bit sad about this one. It turns out that the Santa Teresa information found during my research phase was at least 2 years old. I read a number of articles that described the area as over-run with tourists to the detriment of the locals and un-walkable because the main road created so much dust that everyone had to wear dust masks just to walk down the street or get to the beach. The truth is that the road is paved and has been for roughly 2 years. There are definitely some tourists, but it’s also clearly a town of residents from a variety of countries. We even saw a guy with the word “local” tattooed on his arm (sorry no photo). We of course debated about whether he was really trying to identify as a local resident or if possibly he was just that into local food/farming. We ended up staying an extra day because we loved our lodging and its easy walk to the beach – Casas Villas Soleil.  I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. We didn’t eat every meal at The Bakery. We also had incredible butterflied, grilled Red Snapper at a restaurant called…The Red Snapper.  This town seems very livable. It is quite a drive to an airport or a hospital though – roughly 5 hours to those services. We were also warned not to go on the beach after dark. Not really sure how seriously to take that.

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As we lounged and chatted about Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Malpaís and other Costa Rican beach towns with which we are familiar, we designed our perfect Costa Rican beach town. Our mythical town has a host of features like The Bakery, a weekly organic farmer’s market, a good grocery market, a few good restaurants and bars of course, with live music, just the right amount of rain, a main paved road, safe bridges across the rivers, tourists but not too many, and other things I’m forgetting right now. I’m sure you can imagine your own list. In the end we came to realize that retail offerings serve to make a richer experience, but it really is the community/the people that define a small town. You need diversity of experience, skill, opinion, background, etc, and of course not everyone will get along with everyone all of the time, but the secret ingredient to these small towns is people who want to work together to create a thriving community. Our little town of Potrero may be odd in its layout and sadly lacking in quality French pastries, but the community does work together to help each other, to solve local infrastructure challenges, to welcome new people, and to build relationships. For that, (and the paved road) I am happy.

 

Yoga Gamification

One of the great things I have discovered on our new adventureis yoga. Yoga is an intensely personal endeavor and I probably approach it very differently than most. Strangely enough, for me it ties in well with gamification– a subject I’ve written about a few times before in the context of some of the ways we are unschoolingVie and Aidan. Here’s how I think about connecting yoga with it.

I had tried yoga before Costa Rica, sort of. Deb and I used to do it as one of the modules of P90X. We did yoga moves, and many were hard, but they were the same every time. When we came to Costa Rica, we started taking classes from Sattva Yoga and experienced a much deeper and genuine yoga experience. That’s where my yoga quest began – and I use that word intentionally.

For some context, I have traditionally been more of a team sports person for the most part all my life. I tend to get bored with repetitive individual sports like running, bicycling, swimming, etc. The individual sports I like tend to have some challenges to occupy my brain as well as my body, like snowboarding. I know many folks who tell me about the zen qualities of long distance running, or the peace of swimming but that’s not how I enjoy sports. I also tended to try many sports rather than fully dedicate myself to one and be the best at it. Aidan approaches sports that way too. Just one was hard to hold my interest.

Yoga does a great job occupying my mind as well as my body when I do it. It was the larger landscape of yoga that really hooked me, however.

Here is where I apologize to all my yogi friends. What I will share will probably not feel like the “essence” of yoga to many yogis or even most people who know much about it. However, in yoga, it is always about you and what you can do – not what everyone else is doing. So, for me, yoga shares many aspects of games. In my view, it is highly gamified and that is what draws me in.

Once again the definition of gamification I like comes from Gabe Zicherman:

“Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.” (gamification.co)

As I started yoga here, I learned a number of new moves, or asanas (poses). Then, Deb saw a poster of 900 asanas and told me about it. I had no idea there were so many. So, I started doing some research to understand all of the moves. That’s when I created my somewhat geeky spreadsheet of yoga positions. I keep track of the Sanskrit and English names of the poses, a picture of each pose, and additional data such as type of pose, etc. I also track when I completed a pose.

You might think there was one site on the web with a full list of all of these asanas. There are several. None are complete. In fact, I keep finding new ones. My spreadsheet now has 1113 poses, of which I’ve completed about a third so far. My original goal was to complete them all this year. Of course, that seems unrealistic, I know, even though we practice yoga 5-6 times a week now. There are some incredibly insane poses and people spend lifetimes mastering a few. Still, I like big goals.

That’s where gamification comes in. The thing that motivates me is the exploration. I want to explore and complete every one of those moves. If you play video games in particular, it’s a lot like wanting to visit every place, every challenge, and try every move or skill. Master Yogis may spend years perfecting one asana. For me, I want to complete the asana well, but it doesn’t have to be perfect; I’d rather move on to try others. My spreadsheet is essentially my map of this journey.

So how do I connect yoga with gamification? Yoga, for me, meets many of the core criteria for gamification. It also is strangely similar to how role-playing games (RPGs) evolve. These are games like World of Warcraft and Halo (campaign, or “story”, mode). The one caveat is that most game mechanics* and game dynamics* involve games embedded in a social setting. I turn all of these inward in how I look at gamifying yoga.

Let’s start with game mechanics*. First off, for me, the range of asanas present clear goals and many paths to get there. It is not just about the outcome of attaining the goal, it’s also about how you get there. Many asanas require a lot of prep work and conditioning before you can even attempt the pose and there are usually particular ways of getting into the poses that enable more success.

The asanas present a series of progressively harder challenges. Each basic move has a relatively simple version. Tree pose (Vrksasana), for example, is pretty straightforward to start. Flip it upside down and you have Adho Mukha Vṛksasana, or a handstand. Add the lotus position to get Urdhva Padmasana in Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Now, make it one-handed and you get Eka Hasta Padma Adho Mukha Vrkshasana. You get the picture. There’s plenty to keep me busy for years. Heck, even some of the basic moves are hard, like Bakasana:

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Bakasana

Levels are a another common game mechanic. Yoga has no belt system like martial arts which could indicate one’s “level” or proficiency. However, I definitely feel a progression from simpler asanas to “higher level” ones. Things that were once very difficult are now easy. There is just no outward manifestation of your “level.” It is an internal feeling for me, and that ties well with the “spirit” of yoga.

Likewise, there are no points per se as a game mechanic. However, every time I complete a new asana, I log it in my spreadsheet. Only I see it. But, I know I got a “point” for that particular asana. It essentially becomes my own leaderboard.

Now we get to the softer game dynamics*, such as reward, achievement, status, competition, and even self-expression. They are all there, but as inward manifestations. If I accomplish a difficult asana, for example, I get the same dopamine hit gamers get when they accomplish a challenge. It’s an internal reward.

What excites me is trying, and accomplishing, new asanas. I don’t need an achievement badge on Xbox to feel the same result as getting an achievement. My spreadsheet shows me the ones I have and the many, many more I have yet to earn.

Self-expression comes with the territory in yoga. We are all built differently and are differently-abled. The way I complete a pose or even try to get into it (often awkwardly) is different than others. What I lack in grace, I have in tenacity, and that fuels most of the things I accomplish.

Competition is a tricky one. I am competitive. Very competitive Debbie would argue. However, yoga is not a competition for me with others. In fact we all love seeing someone accomplish a tough move that they hadn’t before. Rather, the competition, if anything, is internal. I push myself to do more and do it better. But, doing it better takes a big second seat to trying something new. I play RPGs the same way.

There are a few final ways that yoga is “gamified” for me. These come more from the world of RPGs than more basic “gamification” concepts.

Take skill trees, for example. If you look at a map of asanas, they look like skill trees in many RPGs. In RPGs, as you advance and get more experienced in the game, you “unlock” new skills that you can now use, such as new spell if you are a spellcaster. There are often different “trees” of skills for each type of character, such as fire spells or cold spells. Likewise, you can see “trees” of asanas. There are standing asanas, seated asanas, arm balance asanas (Bakasana is one), etc. Like RPGs, some skills may come more easily than others and they get more difficult the further you go (in “level”). As with RPGs, to get all the skills, you need to do it a long time.

For me, there’s even the concept of “quests.” I am currently on one of my own to achieve the Lotus position (or Padmasana). Once I do, I can “unlock” a number of variations that I have yet to try (that’s the quest reward). My ankles are pretty tight from soccer and don’t seem to bend the way most people’s do, so I have to work on trying to open my hips more. It will be quite an achievement for me when I get there.

Finally, there are “bosses” – those super-difficult opponents in games that you need to face, and defeat, before you can continue. Some asanas, like Lotus, are tough for me now, but I know I can work through them, like an easier boss, and get through to the other side (all those poses that become “unlocked.”). Then, there are a few asanas that seem so crazy difficult, like Eka Hasta Padma Adho Mukha Vrkshasana, that I’m not sure yet how I’ll get there. I tend to approach those sorts of challenges in steps and work methodically toward them. Eventually they yield. Just like a hard boss.

I’m sure I’ve managed to unsettle my yogi friends by bringing gaming into the picture. To a greater degree, I probably also unsettled my gamer friends by, gulp, bringing yoga into the picture. Unsettling is good though. It’s an attribute of change. And here in the land of pura vida I think I’ve found that elusive “sport” that I care about dedicating some serious time to, which is a big change for me.

A big thanks goes out to all my yogi friends and teachers for making this an incredible journey. Namaste. And pura vida!

 

* There are several good sources on game mechanics and game dynamics. I tend to like. Bunchball’s simple and accessible Gamification 101 white paper.

The Elusive Motmot and the Noni Fruit

After 5 months now in Costa Rica on our new adventurewe have seen many things that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Some are amazing. Some are strange. Some are mysterious. Some are, well, hard to describe. I thought I’d share the good, the odd, and the silly.

In fairness, these things may exist outside of Costa Rica. Indeed, several do. In all my travels though, I haven’t seen these before…so take them for what they are.

Of course, I could start here with some of the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer that many people know already, such as the incredible surfing, particularly in Tamarindo. The coffee here is obviously wonderful – and we are from Seattle, so we can appreciate it. We hear the diving here is also incredible. One of our plans is the get certified when most of the tourists leave. We also heard that the rain forests are amazing. That’s another upcoming trip. And there is yoga here almost everywhere, at least where we are. We love it and spend a lot of time with Sattva Yoga by the beach. My “yoga spreadsheet” tells me I’ve done about 337 poses out of the 1051 I’ve collected so far. I need to pick up my pace!

The following are things that you may have not heard about. By the end of this maybe you will be afraid you have J

The Elusive Motmot

The motmot is a bird that Deb discovered. This bird is found throughout the forests of Central America but are evidently very hard to find. We won’t tell the pretty poison dart frogs here that motmots eats them. Of course, the poison dart frogs also seem to be elusive.

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The elusive Motmot outside our window

The Noni Fruit

The noni fruit, or Morinda citrifolia, is not unique to Costa Rica. You can find it in other places such as Australia and Southeast Asia. It seems to favor tropical places like where we are. The noni fruit tree is in the coffee family, but you’d never know it. The fruit neither looks like, nor tastes like, coffee. It does provide a range of health benefits. Evidently, its juice runs $50-100 in parts of the US. We have a tree next to our new (rental) house that sits all alone in an empty lot next to our wall. I tried it. The fruit is bitter and the smell is, well, there is a reason that it is also known as the “vomit fruit” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). The smell is associated with the fruit ripening. I guess I haven’t found a ripe one. Despite the smell, the fruit is rather cute and we would never have learned about it if we hadn’t come here.

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The noni fruit

Bag Driers

I hadn’t seen nor heard of bag driers before coming here. Our friend Sherry makes these and they are not only beautiful, but useful. You basically use them to dry out your Zip-Loc (or other) bags. We try to be green, but we never reused Zip-Loc bags in Seattle – though we did reuse grocery bags as “poop” bags J Here, gallon Zip-Loc bags tend to be harder to find and more expensive when you do find them. Many plastic things here are expensive. We started reusing them before we knew about bag driers. We learned about them at yoga and they’ve now made our list of different things you find here. In writing this, I did see that you can find these on Etsy.

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A bag drier by Sheri Creamer

Motorcycle “Vests”

Here’s one of the stranger things we’ve seen here. There are a lot of motorcycles in Costa Rica. It’s not surprising given the price of cars. Now, you can evidently ride your motorcycle without a helmet. At least, the vast majority of riders do and seem to get away with it. It is pretty hot here. We’ve also seen 2, 3, even 4 people – whole families – on a single motorcycle. None were wearing helmets. But, every rider I’ve seen wears an “X” shaped reflective harness. Every one. I wonder what the fine is for not wearing one.

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The motorcycle reflective harness

Evidently, ATV and scooter riders don’t have to wear the reflective thingy. Maybe it’s because they are not as cool 🙂

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Look, mom, no harness

Strange Tubes on SUVs

Many SUVs here have these long tubes tied to their top racks. We haven’t seen any on cars. We don’t know what’s in them. They have curved ends so they don’t carry long poles. We are thinking that they are for the rain. You see, when it rains here in the “green season”, it really rains. A lot. There are major ponds and rivers to drive through we hear. We’ve seen a number of newer SUVs with those exhaust pipes that stick up like snorkels. Given those and the rain, we think these strange tubes may be retrofit or home-made versions of the snorkels – to deploy when you hit those deep rivers. Of course, they could just be decorations.

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Update! I got a photo of one.

Side Slung Fanny Packs

Most of us know that fanny packs are now uncool. If you didn’t, pretend you did; it’s not worth the embarrassment. For the record, I don’t have a fanny pack. I have a waterproof wallet with a belt strap for surfing so I can carry money, ID, keys, etc. This allows me to wear it as a belt (hidden in my trunks). It’s not a fanny pack.

However, we’ve seen many men here wear what you would call a “fanny” pack across their shoulder, with the pack sitting in the middle of their back. It’s pretty fashionable and doesn’t look at all like a fanny pack strapped around your shoulder. They make a nice addition when worn with the Motorcycle straps. I might be wrong though; they could be “shoulder belt packs” and not actual “fanny” packs.

I would have tried to get a photograph of this, but, well, how do you walk up to a large, tough-looking dude and ask if you can grab a picture of him with his “not-a-fanny-pack”?

Leatherback Sea Turtles Laying Eggs

One of the more amazing things we’ve seen here already is leatherback sea turtles nesting. Leatherback turtles are the largest of turtles and are endangered. 5 of the 7 worldwide species of these noble creatures choose to lay their eggs along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica. They must like it here. Marine turtles have been doing it for more than 100 million years.

We had the chance to check this out during their nesting season – roughly November-February across the many species. We all went to Playa Minas late at night during a full moon at high tide with our friends Eri and Adam. It’s when you have the best chance to spot them. There was one tour and a number of other folks there. You can’t bring white flashlights; it confuses them since they think it’s the moon and get disoriented. Most of us had red lights – well, except the idiot who set his car alarm, which of course went off and started making horrible noises and started blinking its bright white high-beams.

We had the great opportunity to see one come in from the surf and “hoof it” up past where the water line was. We couldn’t see much and we didn’t take photos. About 10 minutes later, we saw it crawling back to the sea, and at a much faster clip than you would imagine a turtle is capable of. This one was fairly small; typically they are bigger than people.

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CC-BYLeatherback Sea Turtle Hiding its Eggs captured by RustinPC

Volcanoes

We’re from Seattle and so we like volcanoes as our natural-disaster-inducing-entity-of-choice. I came from California and gave up earthquakes and Deb came from Kansas, famous for their tornadoes. Volcanoes clearly are not unique to Costa Rica. However, Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes. With only about 50,000 square km (that’s 20,000 square miles for our US friends), this has to be a pretty unique spot in terms of volcanoes per square kilometer.

One of the prettiest is Volcán Arenal. Folks thought it was just a mountain until it erupted in 1968 and it’s been very active since then. It sits next to a lake and has been a pretty big attraction here, complete with hot springs, rain forest and caves – all of which we will be visiting next week. Stay tuned for some (hopefully) amazing photos.

Stone Spheres

This one has intrigued me since we arrived and it is definitely unique in the world to Costa Rica. To this day it remains a mystery of antiquity.

While Cost Rica does not have the incredible Incan, Mayan, and Aztec ruins other Central American countries have, we have stone balls, known as Las Bolas locally. They are basically large spheres made of granite or basalt that measure from a few hundred centimeters to 2 meters (6.6 feet). You find them only in the Diquis Delta area, near Golfito in southern Costa Rica. They are all man-made.

They range from 600 to 1600 years old in most reports and tend to be associated with the Diquis culture. Reports vary pretty widely but most folks agree that there are about 200-300 of them. Some reports say that they are within a few millimeters of roundness. Most have been moved from their original location and many have been damaged by machinery, treasure hunters or others. It’s hard to say what their original characteristics truly were. Nonetheless, they are pretty amazing feats of craftsmanship. And no one knows what their purpose was.

Some experts have noted that the few spheres that remain in their original positions resemble constellations. The Finca 6 site in Corcovado National Park has many spheres in their original spots, or rough diagrams of where they were. Many have a north-south orientation. I don’t provide any links here. It seems there are as many people out debunk the mystery as there are claiming everything from associations with Atlantis, extraterrestrials, etc. I, for one, love it that there is still an unexplained mystery that truly has no good hypotheses. We will definitely be going there to see them ourselves.

stone spheres

CC-BYStone Spheres from the National Museum Inner Garden by Mario André Cordero

Video Jugadores

Continuing with the theme of mysteries, here is one:

video jugadores

What do you notice? Of course, it is three boys playing a video game. What struck me was that it isn’t just three boys playing. One, JJ, the son of our landlord is 6. Aidan, our son, is 11. And Jairo, our caretaker’s son, is 17. JJ and Jairo live next door. When was the last time you saw three boys, unrelated, with this span of ages playing together and having fun in the US? It’s not just video games. They have a great time every day.

Things may be different in the schools here. They may have all of the problems with clics, bullies, getting along, etc. that we have in the US. I’ve just never seen that diversity of ages in “dudes having fun” in the US. Call me odd, but perhaps even the kids young adults here practice pura vida.

Pura Vida

I’ll end with the 11th – because we all know “11 is better than 10.” I’d put pura vida on the list here. I know I’ve written about it before, and referenced it several times. It remains something purely Costa Rican. Bing tells me it originated in interactions between surfers and the local Ticos in the 1950s.

In doing some research for this blog, I found another fairly unique thing about Costa Rica that’s related. The people here, particularly in the coastal region where we live, are among the most long-lived people in the world. In fact, the area around us has been declared one of the few “blue zones” in the world, which according to Wikipedia is “…a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives, as described in Dan Buettner’s book, ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from people who lived the longest.’”

Why? In addition to diet, water, and physical activity, the ideal lifestyle characteristics cited by the Blue Zone research included close inter-generational relationships. Hmmm. I think we saw an example of that in #10. The thing is that things like this happen pretty easily, pretty genuinely, and pretty quickly here. Maybe pura vida has been here all along, but the surfers and Ticos gave it a name.

Bertrand Russel said “To understand a name you must be acquainted with the particular of which it is a name.

If you truly want to understand what pura vida means, you’ll just have to come and experience it. We have a guest room now. Pura vida.

New, New, New

It’s been a busy two weeks here on our new adventure and we have several new things to share. One of the interesting things the changes have shown us is that Karma seems to be working for us.

The easiest addition was Vie’s new Kitty. Meet “MnM”!

MnM

MnM

But wait, how did we come to get a cat? After all, we are dog people and Deb is allergic to them? Well, a week ago we volunteered to help round up cats and dogs in Playa Potrero that needed to be spayed or neutered. It’s a huge problem here with the street dogs. Our friend Dawn has helped 11,000 cats and dogs over the last decade or so getting “fixed”, recovering from disease and injury, getting adopted and more. I was going to blog about our adventure last week, but the vet ended up getting sick right after we started so we had to delay a month.

On our first run, though, we went to pick up a mama cat and her litter of kittens. Vie really bonded to one and held it most of the time. Later that day Deb and I chatted and told Vie that we (Vie) could get a kitten. Of course, a ton of excitement followed along with preparations to get the kitty. We picked up MnM this morning and have been getting her settled in…along with the rest of us.

You see, the biggest addition was a new place to live! Take a look at Casa Mariposa Amarilla.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 1

Casa Mariposa Amarilla

Casa Dutry, our previous place, was ok but it had some challenges. First of all, it was really dark. There wasn’t enough light anywhere, which made it feel like living in a cave. It had a really small kitchen, which was difficult to work in, particularly with Aidan’s unschooling cooking projects. It also didn’t have a ton of living space. We are pretty much together all of the time, so that made it a bit difficult. There were other inconveniences, like the dust, but none of these were horrible.

Casa Dutry

Casa Dutry

What we realized though, was that we were only going to be here a little while longer. We either wanted to be on the beach or have a view. It really came down to the opportunity cost of not enjoying where we lived. Living on the beach has other challenges (flooding, sand fleas, etc.) and Deb has a real soft spot for sunset views.

We (well, Deb) had been looking for a few months now. I mentioned that we found an amazing place and got a good deal, only to find that the owner’s email had been hijacked and we were in the middle of a developing scam. We avoided the scam and helped the owner, but were sad about losing the place. We knew it wasn’t meant to be and so we kept looking.

Deb had been using online tools to find places. We are both pretty independent and figured that we could do anything we needed to if we worked hard enough. What we learned here is that the people network really helps immensely. We heard of a cool place in Flamingo from Colleen, our friend and yoga instructor. It was Casa Mariposa Amarilla (“yellow butterfly house”), and we fell in love with it.

Silvia, the owner, is an amazing woman. Unfortunately, she had some really bad trouble with previous renters and was very worried about who to rent to, even though she really needed to rent it and get back to New Hampshire. Here’s where the social network – and I don’t mean Facebook – came to our aid. We know a lot of folks here now and tend to like meeting, talking with, and helping folks. Colleen put in a good word of course. Then Silvia was at her chiropractor and mentioned she was on her way to show the house to us. Her chiropractor happens knows us from yoga and social connections and also put in a good word. Things just started opening up then. Within a few short days we got the house and despite what you see in the pictures, it was not a lot more than our combined costs at Casa Dutry. Silvia seems to be pretty excited and relieved as well.

Casa Mariposa Amarilla is incredible. I never actually expected we’d be living someplace like this.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 3

It sits on the hillside above Flamingo beach at the end of its street. The view is simply incredible, especially from the fourth floor!

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 4

It is known locally as the “birthday cake house” because it is bright yellow and has these tall white lamps that look like candles.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 2

It has 3 floors and a roof deck. It’s a four bedroom house and we have an office! I was excited about that in particular because when we have to do work, we don’t have to cart everything out to the kitchen table. The master bedroom is on floor two along with Jack and Jill young adult rooms, now occupied by Aidan and Vie. Surprisingly, neither opted for the bedroom on floor 3 all by itself with two decks. And of course, it has the fourth floor roof deck where sunsets are truly amazing.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 8

Casa Mariposa Amarillo Deb

Roof Deck at Sunset with Deb and Champagne

The house also has a palapa (roofed building with no walls) out in the back and an amazing infinity pool, complete with, of course, a mariposa amarilla.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 5

The Infinity Pool

Everywhere you look, and I mean everywhere – the metalwork on all of the railings, the pool, the carvings on the doors, the tiled welcome mat, the address tile, the stained glass lamp on the stairway post, and more – there are mariposas amarillas.

Lucy and mariposa

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 7

Muchas Mariposas Amarillas

The structure to the left of the house isn’t part of what we rented. It has one floor for Silvia and her family when they come down. The bottom floor of that structure is where our caretakers, Sandra and William, live with their family.

You can probably tell we are excited. We can’t wait to finally have some dinner parties and other events here. Our old place was just too small and dark. Aidan has already made friends with JJ, Silvia’s son, and Hairo, William’s son. We expect his Spanish to take a dramatic upturn shortly! J

The final addition was the hardest. While we love Moose, Deb was not so comfortable with his reliability. Now that the tourist “high season” is pretty much over, we want to start travelling and see more of Costa Rica. Moose is great for local runs but we didn’t relish the thought of being stranded hours out of the nearest big town with a dead car.

moose

Moose

Our friend, Dusty, happened to be leaving for Argentina to work for an NGO there and he was selling his SUV. It’s 1986 Toyota 4Runner. While it is older than Moose, it is in better condition because it has spent 99.8% of its “life” in San Jose rather than out here on the beach and dirt roads. Dusty has successfully taking this vehicle on numerous trips to San Jose and around the country. He’s done all the road testing for us and we know from our new mechanic that it is in great shape. So, welcome “Fanta.” Aidan named it J

Fanta

Fanta

Fanta was only a little more than Moose, but now we don’t have to rent a car to travel long distances. He has his own quirks, but he will serve us well. And who could beat an orange car! We’ll find a good home for Moose as soon as all the paperwork is done. Anyone need a car with tons of personality?

It didn’t really surprise us that we found a kitten who needed a home, an amazing place, or a more reliable car. Things like that happen down here far more than you might expect. Our yogi friends tell us it’s the power of meditation and positive thoughts and we are inclined to believe them.

We are not very religious people at all, in fact, quite the opposite. We are somewhat spiritual in a really open-minded way. We do believe in Karma.

Karma means action, work or deed; it also refers to the principle of causality where intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual. Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. (Wikipedia)

You might look at it as another form of “do unto others…” or “what goes around comes around.” It is very people-focused, like us. We’ve always enjoyed helping people throughout our lives. And that seems to come back to us at times. This is likely one of them.

Of course, it might also just be pura vida. That might be stretching things, but who’s to say? After a few weeks, it does tend to take hold. It’s even great for detoxifying type-A habits. Any way you look at it, we have some new things to keep us busy in new ways now. Speaking of which, we still have unpacking to do! Pura vida!

More Updates

It’s been a little while since I posted some general updates about our life on our our new adventure. A lot has actually been going on despite the fact that we now don’t have jobs (mostly) and we live in a tropical paradise. We are definitely acclimating to tropical life, the slower pace, and pura vida. At the same time, we are who we are(!) and we are not sitting still much. We are finding lots of things to keep us busy.

I mentioned a few things in recent posts:  Deb finished working remotely for her job in Seattle at the beginning of February. She went back to Seattle to complete everything and brought us back more supplies. Around that that time she also took over a lot of the unschooling, giving me a little break.

Deb has added back more structure in Vie and Aidan’s unschooling and despite a little resistance, that seems to have helped a lot. She’s also brought in more structured/planned physical activity – “PE” if you will – so the young adults are getting out more and using technology less. We are also planning, with them, some excursions around Costa Rica now that the “high season” of tourists is winding down. One fun event we are working on this week is doing paintball. There is a course by Liberia airport and so we’ll all go out and try a “real-world” video game.

Another brilliant addition is structured time for “unstructured” discussion; i.e., just talking with Aidan and Vie. We have already had several great discussions including microeconomics, although that’s not how Deb introduced it. It was about simple basics like supply and demand, cost of items, etc. Then that led to microeconomics videos on Khan Academy, write up of understandings and questions, followed by more discussion. These are all things we experience daily and yet we rarely look at them as learning opportunities. So far, the young adults have been really engaged in these discussions.

Deb is also working on developing some possibilities for a business in real estate. She has always been interested and took a class while she was in Seattle. Her instincts are incredible and, not surprisingly, she has some creative and innovative ideas for rental properties here or in Seattle. Right now we are looking at interesting properties here as she finds them. We’re taking it slowly as she does her research. It’s one of several things we have going on here on the “side burner.” She loves the idea of having rental properties and I am fully on-board – at least as long as she deals with the people aspects, which she loves. I am happy being the “numbers” guy behind the scenes. Besides, wouldn’t you want to buy or rent from Deb? J

Aidan’s new activity is swim team. There is a local school here – Country Day – that allows non-students to participate in sports and other activities. They have a great pool and great coaches who are friends of ours from Spanish classes (everything here is really two degrees of separation from everything else). He is an awesome natural swimmer and has Deb’s talent. Now he’s starting to discover a bit of a competitive streak! Doesn’t he look like a young Michael Phelps?

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Aidan is also still cooking and loving it, of course. He started positing his recipes up on Food.com. He has his famous steak recipe I’ve mentioned before as well as a host of new ones. You can find them all under “enderSpartan828 the chef”). You have to read a few of his descriptions. He has a fun, and goofy, sense of humor. You’ll definitely get that as you read his recipes. Here’s his latest creation: KFC Copycat Chicken. I think it tastes far better and is far less greasy than KFC.

SONY DSC

As an aside and for those of you who did not instantly get Aidan’s alias, it is not, as you might think, tied to Ender’s Game or the Spartans from antiquity. It’s a combination of an “enderman” from Minecraft and the modern version of Spartans from the Halo video game franchise.

Vie has been doing some pretty incredible digital Anime artwork using a tablet. It’s pretty amazing what you can do now on these. They really feel like you are drawing on paper with all of the subtly of hand drawing, plus digital capabilities that make it richer in many ways. Vie is way better than me on the tablet. I wish I could show some examples, but, well, Vie has an artist’s temperament and isn’t satisfied with anything enough to share it. Yet. News flash: Vie just sent me this and said I could show it!

friends forever

Vie is now starting to take the digital art the next step and work on animation. Vie is going down that long path of learning Adobe Flash. The first few weeks will likely be frustrating but it’s a tool that can take you from animation through coding to video game development. I’m still working on getting Vie to do a video game with me J .

Both Aidan and Vie have really taken to DIY.org, one of many cool resources on the web we use in unschooling (see our Resources page for others). It combines gamification with topics from DNA to crafts to game development to coding and lets learners earn achievements for various accomplishments. I’ll be talking more about this later in an upcoming post on gamifying unschooling. And for grammar geeks, I did just use gerunds in a row.

Deb and I added additional Spanish learning through duolingo now, at the invitation of some good friends who will be coming to visit in May. It is also a “gamified” learning site. Look for us there as “delyca” and me as the very unoriginal “andycargile.” The young adults are also extending their Spanish through StudyStack, another great online resource.

I’ve had a few interesting activities myself. I just returned from a trip to San Jose to give a colloquium to the brand new interaction design program at University Veritas. The Directora of the program, Ana Domb Krauskopf, has put together a wonderful and new curriculum and assembled a very talented set of students. This is the inaugural year. From everything I’ve seen, this looks to be a world class program and an excellent place to recruit interaction designers in the future.

I have to thank Mariana Lopez, one of the instructors at the University, for this serendipitous opportunity. She recently graduated from CMU’s program and happened to spot me on LinkedIn “on a family adventure in Costa Rica”. She invited me to lunch and we chatted about interaction design. She connected me to Ana and then things progressed from there. It’s pretty amazing how things just come together sometimes.

I had barely put away my heavy tech gear (big monitor, keyboard, etc.) that I used to work on my colloquium deck when I got a ping from Mylene Yao, the CEO of a startup in Silicon Valley who asked if I was interested in helping them with an Angel pitch deck. This turned into a really interesting and fast little creative project. Univfy is a remarkable startup that uses some hardcore predictive analytics to help women on their journey of in vitro fertilization make better decisions by giving them far more accurate assessments of their chances to conceive.

It was an interesting transition from my “normal” routine here to a fast-paced, focused project. It’s been awhile since I had the luxury of working on a creative project for 7-8 hours straight a day. I mean that in the best sense. Even before coming to Costa Rica, it was rare in my last few positions that I had even a few hours outside my days of mostly meetings to really focus on something creative. I either had to spread projects out over time or do them “after hours.”

This was refreshing. It was invigorating. It also made my brain hurt in a good way! Most importantly, this project went very smoothly even though I was completely remote. In fact, it was ahead of schedule. I’ve done a lot of decks like this working with execs and the remote nature didn’t create challenges at all. I firmly believe, contrary to conventional wisdom, that creative work, at least like this, can be done remotely without the work suffering. It’s happening more and more globally (see oDesk and Elance as growing examples). For me, it gives me the ability to balance everything better. I’m hoping more opportunities like this come up.

On the “home front”, we are still searching for a new place. Our current rental house isn’t terrible, but it’s a bit dark and the kitchen is small, especially when several of us are working on a project. We are also hoping that if we can find something closer to the beach that the young adults will be able to get to the beach more often on their own. Our search for a new place actually led us to a bit of an unlikely adventure.

Deb found an incredible place on the hill overlooking Playa Penca, a nearby beach. While we were willing to spend a bit more to get closer to the beach, this was out of our range. Deb, wanting to practice her negotiation skills offered a deal where we’d rent it for 8 months (through the low season) but for less than half the asking price. Surprisingly, they said yes! We went and looked at the place and fell in love. It was on 6 lots, had three large bedrooms and a lot more space. It had an outside palapa and a huge kitchen, along with a handyman who lived on site in a separate house. That’s when the adventure part kicked in.

The owner wanted us to pay for the whole rental up front, which was a lot of money, and sign a contract in 3 days. That wasn’t too odd for rentals here, but asking us to wire the money to London was. As Deb investigated this erratically-communicative owner, she learned that in fact this wasn’t the owner. The actual owner, who was quite nice, never got our emails; they were intercepted from the VRBO site. It seems someone hijacked his email and was looking to scam him, and us. Even follow up emails about this never made it to him. Sadly, he never got our proposal nor agreed to our negotiated price.

We had aspirations of tracking down the culprit, especially since we had his bank and routing information. I really wanted to set up a sting. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t seem to be terribly interested, so we dropped it, along with our hopes for renting that house.

Fortunately, we did not wire a lot of money to a scam artist.  Deb’s diligence and “spider sense”, along with good karma and pura vida, combined to keep us from that fate. We have one back-up plan but are still looking. We know something will come through. It always does when you least expect it. At least, it has consistently come through here for us.sche It might be a little metaphysical, but we really do think that if you contribute to the system of good karma it comes back at some point.  It probably sounds far more off the beaten path in Seattle than it does down here with all of the yoga, surfing and pura vida, but that’s okay. We are, after all, intentionally off path. 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.

weather

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!