Wednesday, October 23, 2013


A diffuse light teases the sheer bedroom curtains. Rooster greets the dawn. Charlie’s wet nose nuzzles my ear. After three weeks here I no longer need to look at my watch to know it is 5:10 a.m. The day has started. A little too early for Paul, but when he hears me rustling in the kitchen, making our coffee, he’ll be up too.

I make the coffee with the Melita – a plastic cone that fits a filter and makes one mug at a time. While the water heats on the stove, I set the Melita on my travel mug. Whenever possible, I’ll use my travel mug; it makes drinking my coffee a leisurely activity – no matter how long it takes me, the coffee will still be piping hot.

Now that we’ve unpacked, though, Paul prefers what he calls his “Cindy mug.” Years ago my sister Cindy gave Paul a handmade mug for Christmas. It’s square on the bottom and round on top decorated with a moon and stars. He wrapped it carefully in bubble wrap and was delighted when it emerged unscathed from one of the “miscellaneous kitchen” boxes.

Paul wanders into the kitchen, drawn by the smell of fresh coffee. As we embrace, we murmur “I’m so happy here.” “Me too.” The dogs will have none of it, and fuss at our ankles, anxious to check out, with the 5 million scent cells in their noses, what enemy dog might have dared enter our property while they slept.

Until yesterday, we had to drag two dining room chairs out onto the patio every morning and drag them back in at night. But now, Jenny and Tim have given us two white plastic deck chairs – Christmas in October. Sitting outside each morning at six we marvel at the scene unfolded below us. Each day dawns slightly differently but we always look out on lush green fields and rows of coffee plants. Here and there a blanket of black shade cloth protects what will become the fabulous Costa Rican brew. Red-roofed houses dot the landscape. In the distance we can see our town, Grecia, the prominent steeples of the church looking expectantly to the west, as is every church steeple on every town square in the country. 

As the dogs romp on the front lawn or sun themselves on the patio, we breathe deeply. Each breath of clean mountain air feels healing, cleansing, life-giving. Some mornings, before my second mug of coffee, I need to stop my reverie to hang out the laundry that I’ve washed the night before. It’s important to get it on the line as early as possible, ever hopeful that morning sun will win out over driving afternoon rains and I’ll be able to pluck dry laundry off the line on the same day I’ve hung it out.

This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I miscalculate the speed of the clouds filling in the valley below or hiding behind the eastern hills. Then the rains come, and my laundry gets a second rainwater rinse, and I wait another day to let it dry. It was frustrating that for the eight years I lived in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix), I never hung out any laundry except for our bathing suits and towels. Probably my job and volunteer work and hobbies got in the way, but also, there was the ever-present dust. So I used the clothes dryer, just like about 90 percent of the other desert dwellers.

Here, I have no choice. There is only a washing machine in the laundry room. Paul has offered to help me hang the laundry, but I’m a little obsessive about the how of it, so I decline his assistance. Going back to my childhood days on Augustine Street, I had to hang the laundry in very specific order. Never would a facecloth be hung amongst the underpants. And if you were a t-shirt – you would get hung in a neat row with the rest of the t-shirts – in color-coded order, from the hem, all facing the same direction.

And so the sunny morning goes. After laundry and a second cup of coffee, there’s maybe some writing or art, sometimes a Spanish lesson, but first the daily sweeping and mopping. Again, I am loathe to share these chores with my more-than-willing spouse. He is master of the dish washing, and that is fine by me.

I might add flour to my sourdough starter or start a soup for the evening’s meal. I have time now to indulge all my joys of cooking. But mornings are also the time to do anything related to the internet. As we’ve learned firsthand, when the rains come, often with them comes lightning, and all of our technical equipment has to get unplugged. Just the other morning, Paul was screwing in a light bulb when lightning struck – fiercely. It burned his finger and, possibly unrelatedly, caused Lily to throw up. The sound was something like a Mac truck crashing into a moving freight train, if you were in between the truck and the train – only louder.

So even though all of the outlets look like they’re grounded, they’re probably not, and we have no internet now to prove the point even further.

Once the rains come – and this could be anywhere as early as noon or as late as 6 p.m. – the mood changes. Grey skies darken all of our large windows and the sound is deafening. I might need to throw on a sweatshirt and some socks. It’s in this damp chill that I remember why I’d decided to make soup for supper. The afternoon darkness is the perfect excuse for a nap, and the dogs have usually beat us to the bed.

When I awaken, there might be a break in the rain and I let the dogs back out to run off steam, chasing each other. Charlie patrols the perimeter of the property, re-marking all the bushes that the rain may have rinsed clean of his earlier manifestations. Sacha pops out from the little house we’ve made for her on the porch and politely requests “up” into my lap. As I nuzzle her, she makes tiny little growling noises – if dogs purred, this would be purring.

 Lily lets me know it’s “ball time” and I retrieve her big orange ball from its hiding place in the laundry room. She had gotten fat and lazy in Phoenix, where it was too hot to go for proper walks. Outside for her meant finding a good sleeping spot, so she could continue the nap that she’d started inside. Now, she’ll run up and down the hill playing catch for as long as we’ll play with her. All of this exercise is trimming her up, but sadly, there’s probably nothing that can be done with the excess skin that now flaps from her belly. I don’t think they make Spanx® for dogs.

Before the next rain, Paul gets out the binoculars and we watch the buzzards on their daily mouse hunt. They glide gracefully over the valley, swooping and soaring. With their long necks tucked in, they resemble hawks. It’s not until they rest high in the dead tree at the edge of our property that their ugly heads emerge. It’s as if the tree and the buzzards are one, waiting for Edgar Allen Poe to wax poetic about them.

When the rains come again, I go into the kitchen to finish making supper. Now that all of my kitchen equipment and supplies have arrived safely, I feel I can be my creative best. I’d packed all of my spices in a shipping box and they are now safely stored in a kitchen cabinet. I don’t know if it was legal to do that or not, but I was bereft without them in the two weeks before the boxes arrived.

We eat supper in the glow of one of the three lamps we shipped. All the Gringos we met or read warned that lamps are in short supply in Costa Rica. One of the three didn’t have a good ocean crossing – it broke in several places. Rather than toss it, Paul is rebuilding it. It’s one of my treasures from my Crafts Report days, so I’m glad it will live to see a new day.

After supper, we either download a Netflix movie or play a game. We shipped Scrabble and Power Yahtzee, which are good for the times when the internet is down and we can’t get to Netflix. On clear nights, we can see the lights of Grecia from our windows. We haven’t seen many stars yet – or the moon for that matter – they will have to wait, I guess, for the dry season that starts at the end of November.

In this time of no furniture, of 85 boxes in various stages of unpacking, projects yet to be done, we are healing. We are healing from the stress of the last year of working – for me it was largely physically challenging; for Paul, more emotionally draining. We are healing from planning the move, packing and, finally, moving – an overwhelming experience which I’ll write about eventually – there are many lessons-learned in our process.

After the evening’s entertainment, we have reached maybe 7:30 or 8 p.m. I turn in to the bedroom to read – we only have two options for sitting right now – the bed or the dining room chairs (oh, I forgot that we now have the plastic patio chairs). Paul has constructed both a desk and a keyboard stand from shipping boxes – his office now looks like a giant Lego-land site. He’ll either write at his computer, play his keyboard or, if the internet is working – watch old comedy shows. My favorite way of drifting off to sleep is listening to Paul play the piano. He always played when we had the piano in Wilmington, and now that his keyboard is in the room next to the bedroom, I love having him play me to sleep. When I was a little girl, my dad played the piano every night after the news and I have that same warm, safe feeling now.

So are our daily rhythms, with minor changes from day to day, as we settle in to our new life here on our mountain. As we begin unpacking our art supplies, as Paul moves his workshop to the Tico house (behind our house) and I plant my garden, get chickens and a horse and maybe goats, these rhythms will change. We may find opportunities to volunteer in the barrio of El Cajon where we live; we may want to connect regularly with expats nearby. But that’s still in front of us. For now, these are our days, and we are happy.