Friday, December 25, 2015

Feliz Navidad from Costa Rica

We joined a group of Ticos and Gringos to distribute Christmas gifts to Nicaraguan kids who come to Costa Rica with their families to work in the coffee harvest.  Harvesters tie baskets around their waists. Full baskets bring about $2.00 — a little more for all-red (ripest) berries. The best harvesters can do up to 20 baskets a day — but the average is closer to six or seven.  (Paul and I tried this a while back — it took us about 45 minutes to fill one layer in the bottom of a basket!) The blond woman in red above is Debbie Rudd, who together with the polka-dotted “Minny Mouse” on the right, organized this event. “Minny Mouse” is Mary Ulate Cardenal, who is the amazing and loving teacher of these children.  As we went from house to house (some were tin sheds or crumbling wooden structures overflowing with families; there were a few government-built “apartments” about the size of small motel rooms), the children began clapping and jumping up and down with pure joy on their little faces. As I was distributing gifts, one barefooted man came up to me and asked if we were giving away “zapatos” — shoes. I had to say “no” but he still gave me a big grin.
Santa Claus is not a big deal in Costa Rica — you’ll see some images around, but Costa Rican kids are told that the Christ Child brings their gifts. Rather than dress up like Baby Jesus, we went the clown route.
Paul and I were both feeling a little homesick for family, friends and a White Christmas … but the gift we were given to participate in this wonderful activity helped us get over that … and reminded us how very blessed and fortunate we are.

 Author Author!!!
We belong to a great writers’ group, Salon Caj√≥n. This talented group of writers and poets encouraged us to complete and publish our first books in 2015 (available in paperback and e-books on—hint, hint). We’re both working on 2nd books that should be published in 2016.

Our Salon Cajon writers’ group (with our mascot Capo,
who doesn’t write, just begs for cheese and sausage).

Mucho Mascotas  (Spanish for “pets”)
Charlie was not quite sure what to make of his new “little brother.”
For the first time in nine years we have kitties One evening we were discussing the possibility of getting a cat again when we heard mewing outside. In the bushes was a tiny kitten who promptly adopted us. My students named him Umberto, but he’s Bert to us. When my friend Mary found out, she asked us to take one of the kitties she’d recently rescued from a washing machine (!!). So we took Bert down to meet the “girls” and he selected the grey tiger who we named Ernestina (Ernie).
Bert & Ernie
It took a while for the dogs, Lily and Charlie, to get used to the cats, including a scary moment when Lily thought Bert was a chew toy (3 nights at the vet and a month-long recovery!), but now it’s pretty much the Peaceable Kingdom, which also includes our filly Julia.
Lily bossing Julia

My friend and I had been caring for Julia and her mom and a gelding named Geronimo. I’d even started training Geronimo to be a therapy horse, but when the finca (farm) where they lived went up for sale, we could only bring Julia home to us.
I have been working with Julia since she was one day old and she’s becoming quite the young lady! Lily has taken on some of the “exercising” portion of the training, running Julia back and forth along the length of the paddock

Julia cruising her “trail” on our back ridge.

New Digs   In April we became caretakers of a small house on 2-1/2 acres at the end of a farm lane. Our closest neighbors are cows and coffee. It’s a great place for the dogs to get to be as “doggy” as they need to be — which includes barking from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. each morning at the “invading” birds — why we can never get good bird pictures here.
View to the next ridge looking at our
neighbor’s new house (with rainbow).

Kitchen with our “portable” cabinets

A few downsides of the property are that it’s too far from civilization to get a landline phone and our cellphones don’t work here — fortunately we have good internet, so we can use Skype for calling. Also, the property is for sale, which means we’d have to move with 60 days’ notice. When we moved in, the property had been vacant for 15 months. It was the end of the dry season so everything was brown and overgrown. Inside there were no appliances, no kitchen cabinets and no closets. 
We bought used appliances and Paul built totally portable cabinets that can move with us to our next house. We’ve spent the whole rainy season (May-November) planting and landscaping.

Our little finca’s “address” 400 meters south of the Matapalo Bridge,
 Calle Parrita, El Cajon de Grecia (nobody can find us)
We really love it here … sitting out on the porch with our morning coffee looking out into the forest, listening to cows lowing, roosters crowing and horses whinnying … watching hummingbirds and butterflies … Paul says he’d always considered himself an “urban kind of guy” but being retired right here is really pretty wonderful.

 Paul’s great workshop — another benefit of living here.

Here we are on the day we received our Cedulas (the magic residency cards).
We’re standing in our friends’ future backyard.
Behind us you can see the red roof of our house across the valley.
Pensionados !!!!  On September 9 we became official residents (pensionados) of Costa Rica. What that means is … we don’t have to leave the country ever 90 days to renew our Visa, we now have Costa Rica drivers’ licenses, we get all kinds of “resident discounts” at parks, museums and other attractions and we belong to the CAJA — Costa Rica’s socialized medical system (I’ve already taken advantage of several of the services available to us … lab work, EKG, medicines).

 In Other News …
So many other wonderful events …here are some highlights:
  • Paul and I are both volunteering as English teachers — he does a Saturday conversation class and I do tutoring every Wednesday. 

My students surprised me with cake 
and gifts for my birthday!
(with co-teacher Cheryle Pederson)
  • In October, we visited family and friends in Delaware and North Carolina. It was a blessing to see so many folks in two different states over a nine-day span … even though it felt too short. Highlights included going to Marilyn’s 50th 8th Grade Reunion (!!!) — what a treat; celebrating our grandson Matt’s 16th (!!!) birthday; shopping and jamming with granddaughter Kaylee; spending time with Marilyn’s sister, nieces and best friends; hanging with ALL of Paul’s sibs at his sister Deb’s house (and a really cool animal sanctuary)
  • Beatles’ medley with Kaylee and her Dzadzi (grandfather)

Hastings sibs: Phil, Bets, Don  (outlaw), Wendy, Paul, Marilyn (outlaw),
missing  Tom (outlaw) and Ingrid (outlaw and photographer)

Smile Matt! You just turned 16!!

    Phil and Paul, Ingrid and Marilyn
  • In November Paul’s brother Phil and wife Ingrid went on a nine-day tour of Costa Rica, culminating in a three-day visit with us. 

  • In addition to writing, when we’re not just enjoying our life here, Paul is working on his music, playing keyboard and guitar (including two winning gigs with our friend Irina at fundraisers for animal welfare), and Marilyn is working on art projects, mostly glass and ceramic mosaics.

Mariposa glass mosiac

Paul and Larry back up our friend Irina singing "Hallelujah"

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