Drinking Deep

When it comes to coffee drinking, I’m a lightweight.  Between a temperamental stomach and nerves that kickback 12 hours post-sip, it’s better that coffee and I enjoy each other in small installments.  Costa Rica produces some of the best liquid caffeine in the world, though.  So I feel obligated do my part and drink in the delicious culture.

At the local Chinese import store, I found some sweet little cups that are a great fit for my dainty joe capacity.  But filled with compassion for friends who come over for cafecito, I also bought an extra-grande mug—the kind you instinctively hold with two hands.

Seeing them hang side by side like David and Goliath makes me smile.  And gets me thinking.  For some things, small cups can be a blessing.  It’s good to have limits on what can turn from a blessing into a curse if taken in the wrong quantities.  Cheetos, for example.  Or television.  Perhaps shopping purchases.  Fill in your own blank.  Small cups can help us keep things in perspective.

But what size cup do I have offered up to the Lord?  I confess that sometimes in this busy season I feel full with a shot of devotion reading before classes, a squirt of bible time during lunch, and a measure of family prayers at bedtime.  Or maybe it’s just my day that feels full.  My heart definitely isn’t.  The schedule holds out a dainty espresso cup while my spirit sighs over the slosh in the bottom of the empty decanter.

And I’m reminded again that if I get everything done, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Flawless Spanish + Balanced Checkbook + Clean House – Love = 0.  I don’t know how to walk this out perfectly, but I’m going to keep trying.  I’m going to pay attention to my empty places and invite the Lord in to fill them.  I’m going to make space to be with Him and trust for His grace over the rest of the To Do List.

I stand before you, busted by my own sentences.  One of the fullest weeks yet has just drawn to a close.  We did all kinds of assignments, spent half a day in the bureaucratic jungle to get our Costa Rican driver’s licenses, and shared a bible story (with a minimum of 23 required grammar elements) in 20 minutes of Spanish for a language exam.  Lots of boxes successfully checked.  But even as I chatted about idiomatic phrases with the friendly faces on my language route, I knew I was running on empty.

2014-02-07 cups 004Thank goodness for the new mercy of this morning.  Praise God that He is a well that never runs dry.  I hold up my cup again, and He is ready to fill it.  When it comes to relationship with Jesus, I want the extra-grande.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.”  Isaiah 30: 15a

3 Month Recap

The clock has spun away 3 1/2 months since our family touched down in Costa Rica.  Over Thanksgiving we were grateful for these highlights:

Our house in Nebraska sold in October.  Hallelujah and Amen.  Huge thanks go out to the crew of folks who made that process such a blessing to our family.

I learned that laundry washes up much faster when the anemic water line to the machine is fortified with basins-full of water from the nearby sink.  The kids and I keep the faster faucet running full speed and make it a water-and-bowl game of leapfrog.

A full pound of yeast went into our first two months of homemade bread and rolls.  We go through about 6 loaves a week.  Low-carb and gluten-free we are not.  Bread is sold here, but the limited whole grain options are expensive and not as tasty as what I make.  Baking is a labor of love that saves us dinero.

We celebrated our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  Our unofficial date was a fun trip to the local mall for a bite to eat and a salad spinner.  Our official date took us up into the mountains for a romantic meal.  That night went down in the “forever” storybook of our family because the speedy/winding cab ride made Kris so carsick she was trembling, the shrimp special was terrible, and the cheesecake we ordered to make up for it was even worse.  Our naive belief that cream cheese makes everything good has been lost forever.  But now we have something to laugh about for the next 15 years, and we are extra grateful for the salad spinner.

Wisdom gained: Homesickness and an extra-large bag of Riesens cannot coexist for long.

At the end of our first 90 days, we had to make a visa-renewal trip to Nicaragua.  Motion sickness meds and toilet paper are required packing for the 6-8 hour bus ride.  And give each person a Ziploc just in case.  Trust us on this, we learned the hard way.  In spite of the rough passage, the required 72 hours out of Costa Rica were glorious.  See the pictures below.

Our residency application process is coming along nicely.  All of our documents are filed with the government, and we got our fingers inky at the police station.  Answering questions and joking with the officers in Spanish was good language practice.  We hope all of our visits to government agencies here in the future will go just as smoothly.

Less than 2 weeks remain of our first trimester of language school.  Brains are bogged down with grammar rules and verb conjugations.  Our first family-wide Christmas break will be a huge treat, topped off with a visit from Matt’s parents.  They fly in on Christmas Day.  Like Santa Claus, but with a frozen ham instead of reindeer.

While there is a lot of hard work for us in this season, there is also a great deal of joy. We get to do life and share history with the incredible missionaries learning alongside us.  We can crack chistes (jokes) with our teachers in two languages as we study our way from knowledge to fluency.  And we can see the doorways opening into cross-cultural relationships and opportunities to expand the kingdom.

We are beyond thankful for this season of language learning and the way that the Lord is using it to grow us up into His calling for our family.  The rains may come from time to time, but the view from here can be breathtaking.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20

The Fun Stuff

It’s no secret that we are all working hard right now.  The kids are busy with school.  Eliana is enjoying the challenge of 6th grade, but isn’t crazy about the official feel of tests and report cards.  Elijah was promoted to 4th because he had already mastered the material scheduled for the 3rd grade (his age appropriate class).  He loves it, and never missed a beat academically.  Matt just spent the evening working on a science project with him, and I spent the day untangling dollars and colones in our Quicken records.  Before the bell rings for class in the morning, we have a date with the Spanish indicative past tense verb conjugations–the three regular varieties and the 7 categories of irregulars.  Every week we learn more about how to navigate the culture, the language, and the city of San Jose.  All of this is building our family’s ability to do life here well and serve at the Home of Life come June.

But in the midst of the effort, we have been having some fun, too.  Our sloped driveway has proven to be a huge blessing for the E’s to romp in and chase balls around.  Sometimes we even borrow the neighbor’s beagle.  Matt recently got some new rope to rehang a hammock-swing that was left here by a previous family.  The kids delight in being pendulums.  I am thankful for the ample space to dry clothes and my game of racing-the-weather—I play hard to win that one, but it’s nice to have a dryer on my defensive line.  We have taken some walks around the neighborhood to enjoy the little front gardens and the feel of the tight-packed houses.  I’ve laughed my way through three Junie B. Jones books in Spanish and am going to try La Telaraña de Carlota (Charlotte’s Web) next.  Our Dominion cards are back into circulation and we even got in a round of Settlers of Catan this weekend at a language student family game night.  Balancing the work with some play is necessary to avoid burn out.  There is never a shortage of things needing our attention, but we can tackle them better with some joy tucked in between the layers.

A while back we were able to visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, the Costa Rican equivalent of the Henry Doorly Zoo.  While the animals on display were significantly fewer, the rain forest exhibit was out of this world.  We thought after hearing about many of the challenges involved in living abroad, you might like to see some of the fun things, too.

Learning Curve

This is a season of learning for our family, and not just because we are all enrolled in school.  We have a whole new country and culture outside of our door (inside, too, quite often) and we are getting acclimated with how to do life in it.  Last week this hit home.  For about 24 hours it looked like we needed to submit revised Power of Attorney forms for our house sale.  Sounds easy enough.  In the states you would hit print, drive to your bank, show off your John Hancock and driver’s licence to the notary public, then drop it in the mail.  All you pay is postage.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Here in Costa Rica, we can hit print, but the easy-peasy stops there.  We searched “how to find a U.S. notary public”, and went online to make appointments with one at the U.S. Embassy.  It would have to be during our language classes on Thursday.  The fee is $50 per seal, and only three seals can be given in a 15 minute appointment.  Then we tried to strategize how best to get to the Embassy.  Taxi or bus?  The bus is usually cheaper, but we don’t know the lines/routes that well yet.  Missing the appointment would be a disaster.  How long might it take to get there?  Some classmates said it took about 1.5 hours by buses and walking, asking for directions along the way.  We were working with the window between school bells, and needed to be back in time for Ezekiel’s lunchtime dismissal.  Or should we contact one of the private drivers that works with the language school?  That could be less expensive than using taxis, and help us through the different stops we’d need to make.

Oh, and where might a FedEx office be?  Addresses here are relative to other points on the map.  Want to get to the language school?  It’s down Calle Bosque, say 100 meters south of the laundromat.  Sometimes the point of reference doesn’t exist anymore, like the giant tree that was cut down some years back.  Street signs went up this year in our neighborhood, but people aren’t used to using them yet.  Houses are referred to by color or notable feature.  Without numerical addresses, Mapquest is a lot less capable of directing you from Point A to Point B.

Thankfully, we were given grace.  The forms we already had on file were accepted and our Embassy exploration trip was sidelined.  We were never so thankful to have just a normal day of language classes.  But we understood a little better the scope of how much there is to learn outside of the classroom to do life here well.

We have already checked off some essentials. Utility bills are hand delivered to a little box in your front gate, but keep a reminder on your calendar for when it’s due.  The little papers get into the wrong box fairly often.  Take a bill (current or previous) to the grocery story.  They will look up your account number and receive your balance due.  While you’re there, recharge your cell phone plan, too.  Selection is best in the wee hours of the weekly farmer’s market, but prices drop beautifully in the last hour before close.  And let’s just confess right now that we got our PriceSmart (think Sam’s Club) membership the very first week.  Buying in bulk saves on walking trips to the store later.  Then of course, there’s the difference between understanding language and speaking it.  I’m still praying over the log jam of verb conjugations and grammar rules that happens in my head when I want to speak with the tongue of men and angels.

Unknown FruitThere is a whole country full of things to master as we walk out the Lord’s plan for our family here in Costa Rica.  What a blessing to have the Wonderful Counselor with us as we tackle the learning curve.

Teach me your ways, O Lord,
    that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
    so that I may honor you. Psalm 86:11

Lessons Learned on Vacation

A few weeks ago my in-laws asked to have our children for the week.  Their church was geared up for VBS, and they wanted some hang time with the 3-E’s.  Matt and I booked a camping spot in Rocky Mountain National Park faster than you can say “mommy-daddy-time.”  He proposed to me up there, and it’s been our getaway of choice over the years since then.  We love trekking the mountain trails, listening to the breeze whisper through the trees, and enjoying the views so different from life here on the prairie (and mostly within a city on that prairie).  Then there’s just the break from home routine and glorious mountain quiet (absence of all kid-generated requests).  Thinking back, we realized there have been a lot of changes in the way we do vacation over the years.  Here are some of the fun points of evolution.

  • Sunset RoadFork over the gas money and drive on.   We used to tent camp, stuffing the car until our gear sometimes obstructed the view out of the rear window.  We loved it.  Mountain nights can be chilly, though.  I learned to change inside a sleeping bag and to wear a stocking cap to bed when necessary.  A few years back, Matt’s parents offered to lend us the RV they had scored off of Craigslist.  At 8 miles to the gallon, it was a splurge.  But rainy weather can take the fun out of a tenting trip, so we gave it a go.  Best decision ever.  Bathroom, refrigerator, and microwave less than 10 feet away made for a happy 10 hour drive each way.  Pulling into our camping spot meant we could hit the sack without maneuvering tent poles, air pumps, or flashlights.  And when the raindrops danced our way, we could go on enjoying the day inside.  I like the simple, inexpensive way we do vacation, but a little bit of luxury has made the time away an even bigger blessing.
  • Mountain ManSimplify.  Once upon a time we brought fresh potatoes, raw bacon, peeler, knife, and cutting board when we wanted to make a potato skillet on vacation.  We ate off of real dishes, too, and spent way too much time scrubbing and drying at the camp sink.  Now we cook ingredients or even whole entrees ahead of time and eat off of disposables.  We can be green and cook from scratch when we’re at home, but we can’t make the gorgeous ascent to Sky Pond.  We’ve learned to use our time away for the important things.  Naps, for example.
  • Let Matt buy the provisions.  This year I was swamped and Matt took care of almost everything needed to get us on the road.  Beef jerky, trail mix, string cheese, Stax, supplies for mini bagel/cream cheese/salami sandwiches, Starburst, Riesens, all our usual bases well-covered.   He upped the ante with a carton each of raspberries and bing cherries.   When I saw the 15-count box of Häagen-Dazs bars, I remembered all the reasons that I fell in love with him in the first place.  And the working freezer compartment in the RV meant that we didn’t have to eat them all the first day.  Which was probably for the best.
  • Mallard NappingSlow down.  Our first trips to the Rockies were races to see if we could total more miles of trail and feet of elevation gain than the last visit.  We still like to be off the mountain before the afternoon rain clouds approach, but we’ve done a better job lately of simply enjoying the land we pass through.    Learning to take macro photos of wildflowers probably started it.  Now each hike is a treasure hunt for new blossoms.  Upgrading from a point and shoot to a dslr camera  has definitely increased the effect.  Poor Matt has his stride interrupted regularly with “Oooh, I have to shoot this.”  He’s a good man, y’all.

In honor of our time away, I have updated the “Latest News and Views” slideshow on our homepage.  Please stop by, or click <here> to see some of the other sights we saw.