Monday, June 18, 2012

Shopping Frustration

Many of you know my love for online shopping. I love to buy and I love to sell. It has been so hard for me to not be able to do that anymore! I feel like one of my jobs as a stay-at-home mom is to help my family save money, and I have felt pretty helpless in this endeavor here in Costa Rica. There are no off-brands to buy or coupons to clip so our grocery bill is about 3 times more than it was in the States. And that pretty much just covers food. And by the way, America still has the cheapest gas in the world. Well, my kids started to need some clothes replaced...what to do?!?!

Will had gone out of town for his pastors conference in April so I went by myself to pick up Emma from school one day. This is a huge progressive step for me to drive across town by myself! I decided to forget my desire to shop online and attempt buying the kids some clothes in a store that I know. So I found a Walmart in the GPS close to Emma's school and decided to give it a try.

Looks like a pretty normal Walmart right?

A little busy, a little crazy, but do-able...or so I think

I just wanted to buy a few simple things for the kids in a store that I know. Little did I know how frustrating, difficult and overwhelming this situation would be for me. I wrote a friend from home about this situation and wanted to share it on my blog. Always remember that every prayer, every note, every encouragement, every visit, and every care package is so appreciated and could be a complete answer to prayer for someone else. I was truly humbled by God's love for me through this experience:

"The day before Melissa got here I had to run some errands. This has been a difficult task for me because of all the traffic all the time and the lack of street signs for directions. I just still don't like shopping. But both of the kids needed some stuff so I had to do it. Will was gone on his conference and since it was Wednesday I had to pick Emma up from school across town. We headed over to the closest Walmart to try to buy a few things. It ended up being a horrible experience for me. Everything was disorganized and I couldn't find the right sizes or the right styles or the correct price I wanted and I was completely overwhelmed and frustrated. Both the kids were mad and confused and I finally just said we had to leave. I was used to shopping online for their stuff at home or just heading to one place and getting everything I needed in an organized fashion (Target, Old Navy, etc.). Anyway, I was upset, gave up, and we went home. I cried realizing that I didn't know how I was going to easily get the kids stuff they need.

The next day Melissa arrived and said that you sent some stuff for us. I couldn't believe what I saw. Just one day before at the crazy Walmart I was needing to buy the kids pajamas, shorts, flip flops and sunscreen. And on top of that, Jack is obsessed with sports right now and Emma LOVES Barbies all of a sudden (I got rid of all of hers at home because she never played with them then). I couldn't believe it when I opened the bag and saw those exact items I was needing and a few more that the kids wanted. And so I cried again knowing that we have special friends at home who are thinking of us and remembering us. And thankful that we have a God who knows our needs, our wants and our frustrations and is our constant provider. Thank you for allowing the Lord to use you in my life that day. I will never forget it. Thank you thank you thank you."

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Second Trimester of Language School

Our second trimester of Spanish classes was from January until the end of April with very few days off in between. It was a long 4 months where we really began applying everything we're learning. We had two hours of Language class in the morning, an hour break, and two hours of Grammar class after. In the beginning I just wasn't sure how we were going to be able to do it!

Our language classes pushed us and we were both making 30 minute presentations in Spanish in just a few weeks time. I think I would spend about 5 hours on my homework each time we had a presentation (and I had about 3 a week!). We had to talk about everything from our testimony, to favorite past-times, to holidays, differences in culture, childhood memories, our home church and former work, our future plans, people we identified with in the Bible, on and on. It was very hard, but the hard work paid off.

In Grammar class, here is what we covered in second trimester:
- past imperfect tense ("I spoke" many times/description)
-past perfect tense ("I spoke" one time in the past)
- future tense ("I will speak")
-conditional tense ("I would speak")
-PPC (perfecto compuesto) tense ("I have spoken" many times)
- future perfecto ("I will have spoken")
- plusc perfecto ("I had spoken" recently)
-conditional perfecto ("I would have spoken")
- commands ("Speak")

We also learned the differences in using "por and para"
-both mean "for" more or less
-there are certain cases to use each just all depends

We learned the uses of participles and how to conjugate them in the infinitive, regular and irregular participio

And finally, we started the use of SUBJUNCTIVE. In our book, subjunctive is divided up into 15 rules and they are all taught separately with their own distinct differences. This can get really jumbled up in your mind. We really learned all the subjunctive tenses first and then third trimester we are learning all the rules specifically one by one.

At one point, Will had to stay home from school and write all the rules and tenses on our dry erase board in the kitchen and just review and review all day long. It was like we had hit our lid and nothing else was going in! The picture above is his creation from that day.

School is so difficult, but I constantly remind myself to be thankful for it. When I hear myself speaking Spanish, I almost can't believe it. I took a nap today and the entire thing was in Spanish. I remember waking up and telling Will some stuff in Spanish right away because I was used to saying it in my dream. So weird. I still get nervous all the time, but I am able to push through it. Talking to strangers is the worst, but sitting down with people one on one isn't bad at all. Costa Ricans are very nice and patient people and they appreciate your effort.

We're now almost halfway through with our third trimester! Yay! Not too much longer! Once I graduate I will be completely fluent in Spanish right? Hahaha.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Melissa Trip and More Visitors

Our second trimester of language school ended at the end of April, and our friend Melissa came in town for a week to visit. In the fall we had Molly Pearce come visit in September and Josh and Mandi Warren come see us over Thanksgiving. Will's parents came in March, and my parents came at the beginning of April. We have been so thankful to have so many people travel so far to see us and our life here in Costa Rica.

Since we would be out of school for a week between trimesters, Melissa wanted us to travel with her throughout Costa Rica and pretty much see everything. Which we did! All in about a week's time! It was so fun and we saw so many cool things and places we've never been before. It was quite a whirlwind trip, but well worth it.

First we went to Manuel Antonio State Park with beaches, hiking trails, monkeys and beautiful scenery.


The kids exploring with Melissa

That boy loves the beach

And of course she's happy with anything. See her ears? The tattoo shop did a nice job huh? 

Monkeys outside of our room
Red snapper for good!

The kids winding down after dinner

Costa awesome place to stay!

More beautiful scenery in Manuel Antonio

We stayed in Manuel Antonio for one night, then drove to Arenal Volcano in the town of La Fortuna. Until a few months ago, this volcano would regularly spew rocks and lava all day and night. For some reason it stopped about a year ago and the locals are kind of concerned about it. It still smokes sometimes, but they're not sure why it's not spewing lava anymore. An active volcano regularly releases pressure, so when it suddenly goes dormant that can be concerning.

It was absolutely breathtaking though! We stayed at a resort called Los Lagos that is right at the base of the volcano. It was such a cool place and Melissa and Will were able to go canyoning (rappelling down waterfalls). The kids and I stayed by the swimming pools and slides most of the time. They had 2 cold water pools and many little hot water pools heated by the volcano.
Melissa and me in front of Arenal Volcano

buffet breakfasts are always the best

baby pineapple growing

leaf-cutter ants working hard

crocodile exhibit at the resort

More of Arenal Volcano. We stayed at this resort for 2 nights.

The twisty slide was a hit. They don't have regulations on water slides here, so this is seriously the fastest slide I've ever seen

They went on this slide over and over and over again. It was a nice time for mommy to relax on a chair under a palm tree. At one point, Jack was taken out by a guy on the slide when Jack stopped and tried to climb out halfway through. The guy didn't know Jack was still in the slide and flew right into him ('s really really fast). He was a little spooked for a while, but then went right back for more. 

Family picture by Lake Arenal

And our final stop for the week was in the cloud forest of Monteverde. It's so beautiful up there and pretty chilly. We stayed at a neat European-looking hotel where Emma and I explored a lot and Jack, Will and Melissa went zip lining. I couldn't believe how brave Jack was! What a big boy.

All smiles...and he always went first in the group

Zip lining with the guide because he doesn't weigh enough to get across by himself

Will had a great time too

We stayed in Monteverde for one night before driving back to San Jose. All in all a great time but definitely a quick trip! The kids loved it but kept asking why we couldn't stay in one place for more than a day. I'm glad Melissa was able to see so much of Costa Rica and we were able to see three places we haven't been to before. Thanks Melissa! It was a week we'll never forget.

After Melissa left at the end of April, our friend Caitlin San Roman came to visit us for 10 days at the beginning of May. She studied here for a semester last year so she has seen most of the sites of Costa Rica before and she knows Spanish. We enjoyed hanging out with her at the house a lot and really just showing her our normal life here. We did a few fun things, but with us in school it was too hard for us to try to get away.

Jason Elliott is now here with us and will be staying for a month. He is a student at UT Knoxville and is studying an intensive Spanish course at a University close to our home. He's already studying a lot just like we are and we're having fun just adjusting him to life in Costa Rica and showing him everything. His school is taking out-tings on the weekends, so he's also able to see the fun touristy things as well. I'm so glad he is able to stay with us and see how we live as he's studying some Spanish as well.

Lots of visitors...and lots of fun!

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Nicaragua Visa Renewal Trip

We moved to Costa Rica in August and are considered "long-term tourists" for right now. And by long-term, that means we "visit" for 3 months at a time and are not allowed to "work" here. Costa Rica has a law that says every tourist cannot stay in the country for longer than 90 days at a time or you will be fined. And when we leave, we have to be gone for a full 72 hours (or for 3 nights in our mind). Also, as of this year, Costa Rica says you cannot go to the same border twice in a row. So when you come to Costa Rica, they will ask you at immigration for your proof that you are leaving. We will begin working on our residency soon (which is a mountain of paperwork and money), but for now we leave the country every 90 days. You would think this would be fun and easy.

We moved here in August, traveled to Honduras in October and the States in December. So our first real "visa renewal" trip was at the end of March. There was a quaint little hotel in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua that offers specials for people in Costa Rica needing to renew their visas. And they would pick you up at the border for free and shuttle you to the hotel, stopping along the way at a grocery store if you wish. So, we just needed to get to the border (about a 6 hour drive) and it's not safe to leave our car at the border. The only option? Take a bus.

We bought tickets for $40 each through a bus company called "Tica Bus". We called a taxi from our home and arrived at the bus station in plenty of time. Our bus left on time at 7am and it was a really nice bus! We took a deep breath, settled into an air-conditioned bus with coushiony seats and thought "this is oddly easy". No worries...right?

The adventure begins....

We ran into an unbelievable amount of traffic leaving the city at 7am. Not a good idea to leave at that time. It probably took us 2 hours to get out of the area around San Jose. We were finally on the road and traveling at a normal speed when we had to go through a small town. There was a tight turn and a railroad track that led up a hill. I don't know if this is a new route or a new bus driver, but all of a sudden we bottomed out as we crossed the railroad track and headed up the hill on the other side. It probably would have been a good idea to take this track at an angle, but we hit it straight on. He kept gunning the engine which just made it worse.

We were completely stuck.

See the back end of the bus? Eventually we all got out thinking that maybe less weight in the bus would help, but no. Then the drivers and men from the town starting coming out with suggestions, ideas, planks of wood and several car jacks. It was a sight to see. 

Cars began backing up behind us and honking like crazy. There was a tiny spot to squeeze through on the other side and every car attempted it. Even this truck who took out the railroad/stop sign (see it above the truck?).

After about an hour, the planks of wood and car jacks worked and we were on our way. We sat in the back of the bus and we began to hear a strange sound. Apparently the muffler had been destroyed in our "choque". So we stopped on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere at a service station to get this replaced. I doubt they have bus-sized mufflers lying around, so they put a car one on the bus. Didn't work so well. We stayed at this service station for another hour or so and had to eat lunch at this little "soda" on the side of the road. We literally ate a bowl of chicken. And I think we took out a piece of their roof as we backed into the mechanic area.

By the time we reached the border of Nicaragua, we were about 3-4 hours behind schedule. And I was still in my first trimester of pregnancy and completely starving. The kids were awesome and just ate snacks, listened to music and played their DS the entire time. They both are probably the best travelers I know.

We had heard about the horrors of border crossing, but we were hoping those were just rumors. It's not easy and it's not pleasant. Costa Rica and Nicaragua DO NOT have a good relationship and they don't like each other. So of course neither side is going to make it easy for the other. 

Since we were on a bus, we were able to skip the huge line of trucks and get to the front of the line. The first border stop is where everyone gets off the bus to get their passports stamped, and then everyone gets back on the bus. Simple right? Well, there are men everywhere trying to exchange money for you and they have incorrect exchange rates they're throwing at you and it gets confusing thinking between the dollar, the colon (Costa Rica) and the cordoba (Nicaragua). They totally take advantage of this and they have rigged calculators. We exchanged some money and were taken for about $20. That kind of stuff makes me so mad! Live and learn. The next stop is where you have to pay the entrance fee for Nicaragua which is only about $6 per person. The bus company is helpful gathering this and our passports, but we still have to line up outside the bus and put all our suitcases on a table for men to inspect. I have no idea what they're looking for...probably nothing...probably just because they like to give Costa Rica a hard time.

The above picture is us at the second stop where we were supposed to meet our shuttle for our hotel. Well, we were 4 hours late and our Costa Rica cell phone won't call Nicaragua. So we were depending on our friends to keep calling the hotel for us and updating them on when we would be there. So we waited...and waited. And finally found a man in a Jeep looking for us. We were just so thankful he was actually there!

I don't think we realized it would be another hour until we reached our hotel though. Ugh. And our nice driver wanted to give us the scenic tour of Nicaragua, which was nice and thoughtful, but just not the time ya know?

Beautiful volcano on Lake Nicaragua

Beach in San Juan Del Sur with lots of fishing boats

We stopped at a small grocery store on the way and got a few essentials and finally arrived at our hotel at about 7 and were able to eat dinner at around 8 (they take their time when bringing your food). I seriously thought I was going to die from hunger, but I didn't. What a long, exhausting, tiring, indescribable day. And remember my comment from that morning about it all seeming so easy? Haha.

View from our hotel the next morning. Our room and the resort was so nice and for such a great price! Nicaragua is so much cheaper than Costa Rica and many people are choosing to vacation and buy property there instead of Costa Rica. We saw much more extreme poverty in Nicaragua which made the people be VERY pushy selling their stuff to the white people. We were like targets everywhere we went.

The beach in San Juan Del Sur. Was beautiful to look at, but the sand was very very hot! We tried walking around and looking at the houses up and down the beach, but in one spot we were all screaming and our feet never burned so badly.

The wind was really strong blowing the sand everywhere and there was no escaping it. It was really painful! So much different than the white soft sandy beaches of Florida.  

That boy doesn't go swimming without his water gun

Downtown San Juan Del Sur

Finally returned to the pool at the hotel and stayed there the rest of the time. Kids always love the pool more anyway right? It was an awesome pool and practically empty during the day. There were other young families there too which was fun for the kids. 

Beautiful sunset view from the pool! Have I mentioned I loved this hotel? Too bad it's so hard for us to get to.

And the next day we just stayed at the hotel and swam in the pool the whole day. The kids loved it and so did we. Will was even able to share the gospel with two men sitting around the pool that day. The three of them literally talked about the gospel the entire day. It was so cool hearing Will in his element sharing his heart and passion for the Lord. One was a business man from Chicago and the other was a Navy Seal with PTSD. Both were vacationing there for the week. What a neat opportunity the Lord gave Will.

 We felt so rested and relaxed after our two days in Nicaragua (after our crazy day getting there).

Then came Sunday...the day to return home.

Sorry this entry is long, but this whole story has to be told!

We were told that Tica Bus would be waiting for us at the border at noon, so we needed to check out at 11 and the shuttle/taxi/car/motorcycle/donkey/whatever would take us back to the border. No problem. We got up in plenty of time, at breakfast, went to the pool for a bit, cleaned up and even watched a little tv. It was about 10 and Will said we should go ahead and check out and make sure everything is still good to go. We go to the registration desk and the kids and me wait by the road with our stuff while Will goes inside to check us out.

After a few minutes, Will comes running out with a driver from the hotel and they're both scrambling to get us and our things inside a van. Will tells me that Tica Bus always gets to the border at 9am and you never know how long it will take them to get through the border crossing. WHO IN THE WORLD TOLD US NOON? Remember, our hotel is about an hour away from the border. This man starts driving 100 miles an hour trying to get us there before Tica Bus left...and they might already be gone...but we didn't know. I remember my thoughts turning from "wow this is crazy driving", to "we're going to hit a cow", to "are we even wearing seatbelts", to "does it even matter", to "are we really going to die in Nicaragua", to "what do we do if this bus is gone"? Craziness I tell you.

We arrived at the border in one piece in record time and our driver threw out some urgent Spanish to the guard at the gate who was nice enough to let us through quickly. We then pulled up to the first border check station where we have to pay another $6 a person to leave the country. We threw the money at our driver and he ran off to handle it for us (I was so thankful for this guy!). He jumped back in the van and drove us as close to the other border check point that he could. He parked, jumped out of the car, we grabbed all our stuff and he told us to run.

I wish I wish I wish I had a picture of that moment. This gringo family of 4 with two little kids running down a hot dusty road dragging suitcases behind us. And our kids never complained one time. We ran and up ahead we saw two Tica Buses parked at the final border check station on the Costa Rica side where they stamp your passport. The question was, is this our bus? Our driver ran up and talked to the 4 drivers standing there. Yes, one of them was our bus. These guys looked pretty sketchy and not at all willing to help us out much. And this bus looked pretty different from our bus on the way there and not in a good way. Our Nicaraguan-driver-friend told Will he needed to quickly run into that little building and get our passports stamped. Tica Bus was willing to wait, but not for long. The kids and I got on the completely full bus and finally found our tiny seats smashed in the middle of the hot bus....and waited. I honestly felt very helpless and scared at this point. Where was Will? The driver walked up and down the aisle a few times counting everyone and I heard the other driver say it was time to go. I stood up and yelled, "NO! Mi esposo esta en el edificio NO!" I was freaking out that we were going to start moving. Finally, after what seemed like hours (but was probably only a few more minutes), Will gets on the bus. I'm relieved, and he looks mad.

Here's what just happened to him:

He goes in the passport stamping building with Nicaragua friend and he helps Will push to the front of the line. There is a man behind the glass who takes all of our passports, stamps them, then looks up at Will and stops. This really should be big deal, Costa Rica stamps the passports and lets us back in. The man looks at Will and says it will be $40 per passport to get them back. WHAT?!?! We had heard about corruption at the border, but on the Nicaragua side, not the Costa Rica side. Will says no just give me my passports back. The man knew we were late for our bus, the Tica Bus driver kept running in the building yelling at Will to hurry and he knew we were in a spot. Nicaragua friend starts saying that this is wrong and he's mad too. Will gets even louder about it and saying in Spanish "No, this is wrong, you say you are a christian and you are lying and stealing, you are a sinner, don't talk to me in English, I know Spanish." He quickly became the crazy white man at the border and he was actually beginning to wonder if a border cop was about to hit him over the head with a club. The mean man behind the glass starts looking uncomfortable and finally says "it's a special it's only $10 per passport." Will is absolutely furious but realized the situation was hopeless. That man was going to get some money from him...period. And Tica Bus was about to leave with his family on it. Will throws two $20 bills behind the glass, the man pockets one bill and hands the other bill to his friend, then slides the passports back under the glass. Will thanks his Nicaragua-driver-friend and storms back to the bus where his freaking-out wife is waiting on him.

The bus ride home was okay but really hot, played bootlegged movies (like a person with a video camera sitting in a theater) and never stopped once. It had a bathroom in the back with a sign that said "para orinar solamente" (for peeing only) but I am thankful that the kids and me never had to go once. And people did not just pee in there so the bus had a terrible smell. Will went once and said it was literally an outhouse hole.He told me later that at one point the bus hit a bump and some liquid splashed out of it by his feet. I would have died. I did cry at one point while I was eating my sandwich and praying I would not vomit on this bus (remember that pregnancy emotions are crazy). We arrived in San Jose in a decent amount of time and were sitting in traffic when Jack said he was going to throw up. We got out a ziplock bag and Jack quietly threw up in it then went back to listening to his music. We still never heard one complaint from our hot, dirty, starving, haven't used the bathroom, car sick children. Thank you Lord for giving us those kids.

All in all, we got out of the country for our required amount of time. I still regularly get emails from that hotel with different specials they are advertising. It's so tempting, but I can't ever imagine attempting that trip again. We all go back to the States in a few weeks for our next visa renewal trip so that covers us for June. Hopefully when September rolls around I can get a doctor's note or something that says I shouldn't be traveling, Will is my caretaker, and we have two dependent children. We'll see if that works.

I'll let you know.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Semana Santa

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the biggest week of the year here in Costa Rica. Everything is closed for the week and most families head to the beach. The weather is beautiful then and it's a big time for families to just be together and eat traditional food. The Catholic Church is the biggest influence here and this is their week of celebration, fireworks, parties and parades. It was interesting to see the focus on the death of Christ, not his resurrection. We saw several different parades and all of them looked very similiar with statues of Jesus, Mary, and whoever that city's saint is (in Coronado, the Catholic Church is named after Saint Isidro so there was a statue of him in this parade). There is one Catholic Church located in every city and they all face the same direction (west) with a community park in front.

All stores are closed on Good Friday only during Holy Week, not Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday service is carried out just like every other Sunday. There are absolutely no Easter bunnies, eggs or candy given out. Random fact...did you know that marriages are only legal if done by a Catholic priest?

It would be very difficult for a Costa Rican to leave their family's/country's culture and join the evangelical church. My teacher at school said that when she was a child, most girls in her class were not allowed to play with her because she was not a Catholic. I heard that evangelicals do not even want to be seen at the parades or parties for fear that someone they know would see them and wonder why they were at a Catholic event. It's such a difficult struggle. I was very happy that our church we've been going to really did make a big deal out of the resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.

Prayer, the gospel, and missionaries are still desperately needed here. Not religion. Our hope lies in the fact that Jesus is God and he defeated death once and for all on the cross to be raised from the dead 3 days later. To only focus on his death is missing the whole point of Christianity. I'm so excited about the work ahead of us here in Costa Rica. Our language school time is nearing an end and we are ready to plunge into this work full-time. Gracias a Dios por todo en mi vida!

Dad and me in front of the Catholic Church in Coronado

Inside this beautiful church

Watching break dancers in the park

Selling goodies for the kids

Here comes the parade

Altar boys with their smoke lanterns


Statue of Jesus

Carrying the cross

Statue of Mary with San Isidro behind her

Mary crying

Jesus on the cross in front of the church with Mary beside him

More statue carrying

Death march being played by a band in front of the church

Easter Sunday family picture in our front yard

We celebrated Easter lunch with some friends and my parents. It was such a fun afternoon celebrating together with the Graham's and the Marten's.

Claudia is Italian/Canadian, so it was a sort of Italian Easter celebration

With Italian Easter bread? They died Easter eggs and put them in the center of bread and then poured icing on the top and baked it. Interesting.

When we got home we saw these guys on the power line next to our balcony. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to just seeing parrots hanging out by my window!
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