Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 1: Arrival in an Unfamiliar Place

"The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbor." -- Unknown
I'm currently sitting here in my pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. I haven't been like this all day of course, went out earlier in the day to a movie (saw "One Day," another great Anne Hathaway film!) and got frozen yogurt. A lovely day :) Anyway, a sweatshirt is a must-have right now because it is quite chilly... Oh, summer in the PNW is an interesting one, though I think now seasons are beginning to change...

Before time gets along, I want to write about what happened each day in Costa Rica. I am not quite sure how to do this but I guess I will highlight what we did each day and go from there...
With that said, let me take you to San Jose, Costa Rica... On August 10th, Mom, Leonor and I left PDX, changed planes in Denver and arrived in Costa Rica about 5AM. The flights to CR were uneventful, thankfully, and enjoyable. Two of my favorite parts of that journey: seeing Mt. Hood in such great detail and then seeing lightning storms on and off (more on the 2nd flight, the one to CR). I never knew lightning could be so many colors- I saw very yellow kinds, blue and white. It is amazing how something that can be potentially destructive can be so gorgeous from a different perspective...

When we arrived in CR, it was the start of a very long and fairly emotional day. As we waited at the aeropuerte for the taxi to pick us up, we stood outside for a few minutes. I watched the sky light up as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I also was quite intrigued with the different sounding birds that were all over the place. They made loud squawky noises, a reminder that I was somewhere totally new and unfamiliar.

When the taxi driver picked us up, we headed south to Cartago, where Leonor lives. The first thing I noticed was the strong smell of pollution as we drove through the city. As we drove through the main part of San Jose, I saw many buses, lots of people waiting for buses, and walking to various places. Most people I saw were dressed nicely since they were going to work. After all, we were going through the city early Thursday morning. Something else that fascinated me was how many people were out exercising. We drove past a big park area and I saw lots of runners. While we drove to Cartago I continued to see many people out running. As I learned later on and as I experienced, Costa Ricans make the most of the daylight. The sun rises around 5:30 and sets close to that time everyday. Thus, people have to take advantage of the light and that means rising and shining early.

We arrived at her house around  6:30AM and were greeted so warmly by Leonor's mother, Daisy. She said the sweetest things to us in Spanish (I understood a few words) and gave us big hugs. I was so touched from her kindness. We were then escorted through the front door, which isn't used that often (like us, they use an alternate door for daily business). Once we crossed the threshold, we also entered a whole new culture. And that began the process of immersion and and culture shock.

Mom, Leonor and I put our bags in our room and then sat down at the table for a breakfast specially prepared for us. One of Leonor's sisters and her mother got up very early to prepare a typical Costa Rican breakfast.

On the plate you see gallo pinto (beans and rice), scrambled huevos (eggs), fried plantain/platano (banana) and fried  queso (cheese). In addition to those foods we had papaya and fresh squeezed orange juice. What a feast! I was so overwhelmed just from the journey that it was quite the adjustment to have to eat new foods with people watching me. Thankfully I enjoyed everything but at that point was feeling so emotional (felt like crying all day - kind of like little kids when they get up from a nap and cry for no reason) and wacked out that it was difficult for me to finish everything. Oh well. They were incredibly gracious and loving. They just appreciated us trying their foods and were happy that we liked most of it. I loved gallo pinto!

After breakfast, I think we took showers and then went to the shopping center near Leonor's house. Mom wanted a calling card and we needed to get CR currency. We also went to the grocery store with Leonor, which was a fun cultural experience. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the different labels in Spanish, different products, saw several items that we have in the U.S., and seeing items labeled with the price (in colones).

Here you see Different: Liter bottles, Labeling: Colones price & Familiar: COKE! It is everywhere in Costa Rica.
We returned back to Leonor's home after the shopping adventure and rested for a little bit. Not long though! Oh what a day! This day seemed never-ending. I got increasingly more "zombie like" but managed to function-- that's just what you do; go, go, go!

In the afternoon, Leonor took us to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit. Crazy enough, this exhibit had been at OMSI over two years ago and I did see it briefly. At the time I was on a field trip with 5th graders and they busted through the exhibit in minutes. I always wanted to see it again but it didn't happen. So funny enough, I get to see this great exhibit again but everything is in Spanish. So both times I wasn't able to get much out of it BUT I was able to see everything again and thoroughly. I enjoyed it!! da Vinci is such an interesting individual.

Finally, the main event in the evening was that I got to meet Leonor's niece (my age) who I have communicated with off and on over the years. When we were younger we wrote letters to each other. At the time she was learning English so Leonor wanted her to practice. Anyway, I got to meet her and her two younger brothers (one is closer in age and the other is a little younger). At first I was overwhelmed in meeting them but then it got better. Eugenia and her brothers took me sightseeing around town. I got to see amazing buildings that are lit up at night- the best was Basicalica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles (will be pictured below). Funny thing, I was a bit nervous going with them because of my limited Spanish but we had a great time. Eugenia is great with her English... And as soon as we got in the car, the brother closest to our age (Ale) started speaking a mile a minute in English! I thought, "What?! You speak English?!" haha Sadly, I couldn't communicate with the youngest but I think he comprehends English, just doesn't speak it. 

Picadillo - fine cut meat & vegetables  

After touring around town we came back and had a delicious meal... And eventually, I did make it to bed.

What a day and what a night! The day that never seemed to end. Whew. A great first day though! I feel so blessed for meeting the people I did- they have touched my life forever.

More to come on this journey.... Stay tuned! 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back in the USA

"Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration" -- Charles Dickens

We have actually been back for a week now. I can't believe how fast time has flown by since we got home!

Yes, Mom and I returned from our amazing Costa Rican adventure on the 21st. From the 10th to the 21st of August, we experienced all sorts of new things-- we were immersed in the culture, struggled with the language barrier, saw beautiful creations in nature, sweated in the high high humidity, saw a big green sea turtle lay eggs, danced, ate at a gorgeous restaurant overlooking San Jose, driven on rumbly bumpy roads, swam in the Caribe (Caribbean- I like saying that Spanish style now), saw two volcanoes, a waterfall, a new starry sky, lots of lightning, sunshine, rainstorms, made mistakes when speaking Spanish, laughed a bunch, dealt with some interpersonal issues, and so much more.... What an adventure and boy was it exhausting.

Seriously, the first two days back home, I was so tired by the afternoon! It has taken quite a few days to get me feeling back to my usual energy level. Not only that but it is a process assimilating from one culture to another. After 10 intense days of being in Costa Rica and having limited communication with friends & family, it took a few days to feel acclimated. While it was a great experience in Costa Rica, I do have to say: there is nothing like coming HOME.

As I have gotten older, the word, home has taken on many new meanings. Home has been many places with different people. In college, home was the dorm that I shared with my friend Jennifer... Over the four years, our home varied a bit, as we moved around, but basically, that little town we lived in was home to me. It was home because it was familiar, whenever I passed the WOU entrance signs- it was like those bricked walls hugged me in... When I went to Arizona two different summers (2008 & 2009), though I was only there for 2 weeks at a time, my home was my friend's apartment or his parent's house- though new at first, it became comfortable and I grew quite fond of both places... AZ also felt like home because I fell deeply in love with the open dry desert and big blue sky - home felt free to me and endless... And on the happy occasion we make it to the beach house on the Oregon Coast, I feel home there too... I love our family beach house- with its nifty old furniture (sometimes rather funky, being it is a 'dumping ground' for various family items), its beachy smell and big windows overlooking the small city; the sound of the waves and smell of fresh air... yes that is a home too. And then there's my home, here in the metro area, the home I have lived in for 24.5 years. I have the same room with changes of course from the years, and my wonderful bed...

Also, I have a greater appreciation for the area that I live in, the wonderful Pacific Northwest. Truthfully, I have struggled with liking it in the past few years. I have felt restless and frustrated with living here. A big part of it is the rain. Though I am a native and am used to it, I loathe the rain. We have had so much rain and clouds this year, I have almost gone into a permanent state of S.A.D. But while all this yucky weather drives me nuts, I am very fortunate to live here. Though there is the threat of earthquakes, they have been quite minimal in my lifetime (though I am sure it will change). In the PNW we don't have too much to fear really, as compared to those in the East Coast. It has been sad watching those dealing with Hurricane Irene. What a nightmare.

Home can be in so many places. And in a broader sense, one's country is one's home. Some may not feel this way or have differing opinions... but I have to say, I have a greater appreciation for my nation. While it is not perfect, nor have I seen everything, to me, this is home. I love my country for its imperfections, its struggles, and its triumphs. There is much to be grateful for and I am so glad I live here.

To throw you for a spin- while this is home to me... and there are so many feelings that come with it, I will always have my Costa Rican home in my heart. I was incredibly blessed with the people I met, the friends I made, and the beautiful house I stayed in while I was there. After 10 days, it didn't seem as new to me, and it became a home in its own way.

We always take a little bit of what we experience with us :)

More to come on my trip later!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I love the synonyms for the word grow: develop, multiply, swell, enlarge, expand, extend, raise, cultivate, produce....

This word describes what has been happening within me over the recent months. I have grown in several ways and am feeling a sense of clarity in the process. I'm starting to feel a little more settled into myself, which feels so good and I hope to continue this way. 

As I don't have much time to write (as we are packing and leaving for Costa Rica tonight!), I will list out some of these great changes and experiences:

Growth in Appreciation: On July 31st, we had a big family party for Granny turning 100 years old. I feel so incredibly blessed to have this lady in my life- she is a role model, and as everyone says an inspiration (almost every card she got said that word). At the party, it was wonderful to be with family members near and far and to be with family friends, and others who knew Granny from some social group or another. I enjoyed talking with friends of Granny because they often said how she influenced them or touched their lives; really makes me appreciate this stunning lady. This party reminded me of how important it is to extend oneself to others. Granny is always about others first, something I want to be better at. After the big party, there was a fun family picnic that allowed us all to relax, play games, and enjoy each other's company. 

On August 1st, 2011, Granny officially turned 100. So amazing :) I think I found out one of Granny's "secrets to longevity" this past weekend... My cousin had some questions from her students to ask Granny and one of them was about stress management. Granny had this to say, "I think I've had an easy life compared to people who live [location where she does]...I've had food, clothes etc..." Then she proceeded to say, "No sense in worrying because things will happen the way they should!" and "Do the best you can, hope for the best." Now, those are words of wisdom.

Growth in Commitment: Yes, that is the big 'C' word! haha This is something that I have fought with for a long, long, long time until recently. I won't give many details, but I will say that I am dating someone and have been for a good part of this year. He came into my life unexpectedly, somewhat ironically, and yet all at the right time. Sometimes life doesn't give you what you want, but exactly what you NEED. It took quite a few conversations with my cousins and a close friend to get me to see that blessing. I feel grateful for their perspectives and not allowing me to run away. This is a very good change and I feel whole. That's the best way to put it... And best of all, my heart feels at home.

Growth in Education: This summer I took 3 courses and finished them within a month and a half (yes, that is why I was absent in blogging for most of July...not that anyone notices... haha). I took two online classes for my ESOL endorsement- policy and literacy. The other class was a general educational technology course. Anyway, I actually felt challenged in my thinking about ESL education, in the policy course. We had to read a few chapters per discussion question out of this book called, Advocating for English Learners: Selected Essays (2008) by James Crawford (yes and I actually had to read- could not get by with scanning!). The book strongly advocates for bilingual education and English Plus. English Plus promotes proficiency in English and opportunities for everyone to learn other languages. Until reading this book, I hadn't given much thought to the type of education that ELLs receive and even how they are treated in our country. I mean, I've had some knowledge but not really thought about it. I've had many of my misconceptions cleared up and am now more understanding of these learners. Think this line sums it up, "While language learned in the classroom is valued in this country, a language learned learned by growing up in a minority community is likely to be considered a liability, not an asset" (p. 122).

Growth in Traveling Experiences: I could put 'growth in understanding cultures' too. This is very much connected with my ESOL courses... As I have mentioned a few times, Mom and I traveling to Costa Rica with our family friend. We are so excited to visit her country! I am a little nervous as my Spanish is horrendous, I have lost so much vocabulary since high school. However, I am sure it will be okay. I will know how it feels for my future ELL students, which will be incredibly valuable. I am excited too, to see the culture of Costa Rica. Since we will be traveling with our friend we will be very much immersed in it. I have a greater sense of what culture is - there is so much depth, way beyond the usual: clothing, holiday celebrations etc... 

Well, that is all I have time to write about now, but I think this describes some good things going on in my life. I probably will not be able to write on here until I return. So I will be taking notes of things to share! 

Hasta luego!