Showing posts with label Christmas in Grecia CR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas in Grecia CR. Show all posts

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 Cajón. 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"

Friday, January 10, 2014


Creche, Grecia Town Square
This year brought many firsts:  first time retired, first time living in CR, first time learning Spanish, first time not spending Christmas with family and friends. Also, when we moved here in October,  we brought none of our Christmas decorations. No ornaments, no tree, no lights … and without TV, we’re not bombarded with tons of ads for the latest and greatest must-haves.
No Christmas shopping – our gift to ourselves and our family is our trip to Delaware on December 28. I feel none of the stress of worrying:  Did I get good enough gifts? Will they like them? What if they don’t? Maybe I should go out one more time; look online again in case I missed something. In the past, from Thanksgiving until December 24th, I was pretty much consumed with buying the perfect presents, cooking the perfect food, making the house sparkle in and out.
I was always involved with whatever church we belonged to. One year that meant finding swathes of fabric from the attic and quickly fashioning it into 24 costumes in 24 hours for the children’s pageant. There were always meals to serve to the homeless and Angel Tree gifts to buy. These anchors kept me focused on the being of Christmas and I could never give them up, even when I was teaching and the week before Christmas also meant final exams and grades. But they often morphed into doing, and doing sometimes got pretty overwhelming.
One year, on Christmas Eve, after the stores had closed and I couldn’t shop any more, I baked and roasted, sautéed and simmered. In between, I painted the extensive wood moldings in the dining room. We’d recently redone the room, but my choice of color of the baseboards and wainscoting didn’t seem quite right. And heaven forbid that our house full of company would think I had bad taste. So I stayed up all night painting three coats of soft yellow over the olive green mistake. It was no wonder I usually ended up with the flu or bronchitis every year by New Years’ Day. I had accepted this as a consequence of burning out with all the doing I was doing.
Instead, this year in Costa Rica we relish the peacefulness of being. Here on our mountain, as Christmas approaches, I take pleasure in my daily routines of writing, gardening, baking/cooking. And after Paul’s morning writing stint, he heads up to the workshop, losing all sense of time as he works on another sculpture.
Polish Raisin Bread - A Tradition Passed Down from My Dad Who Got It from His Mom
Grecia Metal Church
How is this being, not doing? The only way I can articulate it is that, to me, doing always has a “should,” “must” or “have to” attached to it. Being, on the other hand, emerges from one’s inner spirit. I bake bread, not because I am supposed to bake bread as part of an action plan, but because the entire process of baking bread is joyful for me. In contrast, I painted my wainscoting because I had to have a perfect house for my Christmas guests.
Altar, Christmas Eve, Grecia Metal Church
Mini-Santa, Grecia Town Square on Christmas Eve
It’s not until Christmas Eve, however, when we drive down the mountain to Mass at the Metal Church in Grecia, that the being of Christmas this year envelops me. We get to Grecia early and stroll around the town square. The town crèche is still missing the Infant who will be placed in the manger at midnight. It’s balmy; people stroll or sit on the cement benches. Several pose in front of the crèche for photos. We sit too, people-watching before entering the church at about 7:30 to get a good seat.
Red velvet drapery swags tied up with gold bows greet us as we enter the church. Red and gold is the theme of the festively decorated pillars; the altar is banked with dozens of red poinsettias. A crèche just a little smaller than the one outside on the town square waits for its Infant. A blue curtain behind the crèche hides the glass coffin where the crucified Christ lies in repose. No sense worrying Mary about the future on this eve of her baby’s birth.
More people-watching. Folks enter the church, bless themselves and find family members. There are hugs, kisses. Many of the women hold what at first appear to be baby dolls. Then I realize that they are tenderly cradling the infants from their home crèches. A distant memory tugs at a corner of my mind: I know that I’ve seen this before, maybe at St. Anthony’s, the Italian-American church I attended in high school. These infants will be blessed at the end of Mass before being taken home and carefully placed in the family’s manger scene.
In a corner of the altar, behind the blue curtain, choir members and musicians tune up and check their mics. A man who looks like he knows what he’s doing adjusts chairs, lecterns. He hurries to the back of the church and I see that he’s entered a tiny room with ropes hanging down. He begins ringing the church bells. A deep bong, bong, bong … I have an overwhelming urge to join him, hanging on to one of the bell ropes, feeling the weight, the heavy brass bell pulling me up into the bell tower.
The first hymn signals the procession of gold-robed priests preceded by a deacon enthusiastically swinging a censer. The smell and smoke of incense soon permeates the church. The final priest holds high the Infant who later will be nestled into the manger. Mass has begun. The Pascal candle is lit from the four Advent candles – three purple and one pink.
Mass in Spanish reminds me of my childhood when Mass was in Latin. Now, as then, the mystery of the words is balanced by the familiarity of the rituals. I am well-practiced in sit-stand-kneel. At the Peace, Paul and I hug and he whispers, “What do we say?” “How about Feliz Navidad?” I whisper in reply. We turn to the nuns in the pew behind us and grasp their hands. “Feliz Navidad,” we say. The nuns look confused. It occurs to me that because the Infant has not yet technically been born, e.g. placed in the manger, it’s not time to say “Feliz Navidad” yet. Oh well. Gringo mistake.
Getting Ready to Place the Infant in the Manger
In Front of the Grecia Town Square Creche
At the end of Mass, the women around me take out their infant statues and the priest blesses them. One woman kneeling nearby clutches her baby Jesus and sobs. Others hold theirs with their husbands or children, a family tradition. The choir begins “Little Drummer Boy” and the procession to bring the infant to the crèche begins. After Jesus is placed in the manger, the church bells ring out and people begin filing out. Now is the time for “Feliz Navidad.” People greet each other jubilantly. They will go home and gently place their Infants into the mangers. Jesus, not Santa, will bring gifts to the children.
Paul Videotapes Worshippers Leaving Mass
We head down the church steps to see if Jesus has shown up in the town crèche. Not yet. People are posing for pictures and we do too. I haven’t discovered how and when Jesus gets into the town crèche. Is there another procession at midnight on the dot? Is he snuck in by one of the town maintenance workers? I just know that in the morning, when families come to stroll the town square, Jesus will be there. Being, not doing.

Our Patio, Where We Watch the Stars
Paul and I return home and have eggnog and homemade Polish raisin bread (from the one precious loaf we’re not giving away) on our patio. The sky is inky black; sparkling with millions of stars. A bright planet glistens above the town square now distant in the valley. Waiting for Jesus.