Big-Kid Decisions

22 09 2011

It has been a whirlwind these past few months. When Miguel and I returned to Costa Rica after our amazing summer, we knew our lives would soon become a little more complicated. I had no idea that we could shake things up quite so much in just a couple short months.

The day that we flew in to Costa Rica from Denver, we were exhausted. The flight was a red-eye and we didn’t sleep. We shivered and tossed in our seats the entire night. So, when we finally made it back to our house just after 6 in the morning, we double checked that, “Yep, there’s absolutely no food in the fridge.” and we slept. We slept past noon, and about an hour after waking up, we made the decision to buy tickets to return for our friends’ Katie and Marcus’ wedding. How could we not? It was so hard leaving all of our friends for the second time in a year, and we knew it was a great opportunity for us all to be together again. That afternoon, the tickets were purchased. We went to the US on September 8th for a super short visit. Great times were had, and we both left wishing we had more time to visit.

We started school at the beginning of August, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by my 8th graders. They have been really impressive. They do the typical stuff that is abnormal for the US, like saying thank you at the end of class. But, they also are so complimentary and sweet. I am so excited to be working with them. I also started my movie elective this quarter. The class is now open to all of the 7th graders (the kids I taught last year) and it is almost completely full of 7th grade boys… Wonder what that’s about. They are loving the class, and I am having a blast with them.

School is off and running, and about 3 weeks ago, I started a “Critical Thinking” course. I asked for Country Day to pay for the course for professional development, and I was a little worried they wouldn’t help out with it because of the cost, but there really was no hesitation on their part. The course is a huge deal and will be incredibly helpful in making me a better/more relevant teacher. It is a lot of work, but I think it’s paying off big time. I feel like I am becoming a better teacher every week.

In other new-stuff news, Miguel and I have purchased a car! We debated and debated over the decision, but our quality of life has improved quite a bit, and we are both so happy to have a little more autonomy in our lives. YAY! We haven’t named the car yet, but we are open to suggestions. It most definitely is a boy-car, though.

The '96 Volkswagon Golf... He's been good to us so far.

The rims are a little conspicuous, and we have decided to trade them out

We have taken a couple trips to the beach so far. Only to the Caribbean though. Something about that place is just so great, that when we have to decide where to get away, we unanimously vote for it.

The only down-side is how far it is. It takes us about 4 hours to get there. But, we have found a great breakfast place called “Bread and Chocolate” and it is fantastic.

Home made bagel, melty cheese, perfectly cooked egg... yummm

Personal Frech Presses


I’m not sure if the Caribbean is the place to take visitors though. Something about the rugged-Rastafarian vibe, might no go over too well with some of our visitors.

Anyway, life is busy, lots has changes, but we are super happy to be where we are and doing what we do! I will do my best to keep the blog going… Love you all!

-Vanessa





Not just a teacher…but now a student!

21 08 2011

So…

The Pennsylvania State University.

Finally.  I am doing it.

Another life goal…in progress.

I have always known that I wanted to continue my education, but either through fear, avoidance and sometimes pure procrastination, I have put it off.  Really though, I am glad.  I have had countless conversations with Vanessa about what I wanted to go back to school for; I have laid out my dreams for her a number of times and in a number of ways.  Being the supportive wife she is, she always encouraged me to go for it…but I always stalled.  I talked a big game but I didn’t really know what I wanted.

But here is the truth.  I have always known that WAY down the road I would like to work in Higher Education.  I just have been unsure of the path to get there…and really I guess I still am uneasy about it, but I have come to the realization that I need to take a step in my education to eventually get myself there.  I did an amazing amount of self evaluation and reflection, thinking not only about my interests and desires but what is reasonable f0r me and V and what I can use to help along our path in life.  The reflection lead me to what may be obvious, I needed to pursue a Masters that has something to do with Education…I am already into my career as an Educator, I enjoy education and there are opportunities to do unique, innovative and fun things within the field.

With that decision being made I sat down with Greg MacGilpin, he is the director of the school and is someone who I have come to respect a great deal.  He helped me talk out and really think through the types of programs that I could pursue.  The number one priority for me was not to go to a program that really just proved to be a pay bump, I have seen far too many teachers go back and get a Masters for no reason but the small increase in pay.  That isn’t me.  I want a program that is going to challenge me, make me think and I am going to walk away being a better person and educator.  During my conversation with Greg he kept mentioning very prestigious programs, such as Harvard, Columbia, among others.  In my head I just laughed but his confidence in me opened my mind to the possibility of applying to schools I would normally write off.

That afternoon I sat in our living room, made a list of attributes I wanted in a program- with the most important being that I could complete it while living abroad- and started searching.  I would get really excited about a program that I would find and tell Vanessa all about it, but something always drove me to continue my search, none of the programs where exactly what I wanted.  Then my conversation with Greg crept back into my mind and I found myself perusing through Harvards website but quickly realized they don’t have a on-line program.  This lead me to use USNews to simply search for the top Educational Leadership (Administration & Supervision) Graduate Schools in the country and I started working from the top down looking to see if the University’s had on-line programs.  The search only lasted until #6 on the list- The Pennsylvania State University, the highest ranked program that has distance education program.

Penn State. The program fit so many of my key characteristics of a program.  I figured I would give it a shot.  Greg seemed to believe I could get in a school of this caliber and Vanessa was behind me 100%.  So I started the process.  Once I did I was like a machine.  I did everything I could, as quickly as I could.  I made Vanessa stay up late into the night working on essays with me…reading, re-reading, proofreading…I got the application in quickly and then I just had to wait.

I applied to other programs too.  The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs was a nice alternative to Penn State but I knew where I wanted to get in.  I really felt like I was putting myself out there by applying for Penn State.  I just barely fit the requirements to even apply and from everything that I read on their website it appears they are very, very selective with the program; allowing in under 30 applicants!

But I did it! I got in!  I am really excited.  Classes start on September 7.  Now, I don’t know what is going to happen as I go through the program or where life is actually going to lead me but what I do know is that I shot for a goal that, well…I thought I couldn’t reach, and got in.  I am super thankful for Greg, Vanessa, Sandy (my former Principal), both my Mom and Dad and everyone that heard my blather on about what I might want to do…because really, I guess, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up…but this is a HUGE step in the right direction.

-M





The Corn Islands…they were delicious

15 08 2011

Man oh man are we behind!

I think all of us were more than happy to leave Ometepe.  I am sure the place is wonderful, as I have heard many, many people rave about it but for me…not so much.  I was more than ready to go somewhere new.  That new place was the Corn Islands.  The Corn Islands are really just two islands, Big Corn and Little Corn; they are just of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

Before our trip I had done a lot of research about all of our destinations…except Litte Corn.  Brian and Pam said that they really wanted to go there and had read that it was amazing, I guess that was enough for me.  I kind of left it up to everyone else to figure out the details and went along for the ride.

We flew from Managua to Big Corn, it only took about 2 hours.  Directly from the airport we caught a 2 minute taxi to the dock and from there took a terrifyingly wet and heart pumping boat ride to Little Corn.  I was impressed with the island.  Upon disembarking form the boat, which was packed with people, bags, chickens and everything else, I promptly noticed that there were a number of men awaiting our boat with wheel barrows…This struck me as odd, until I glanced around further and realized…this was their taxi/transportation system.  There are no roads on the entire island, just a simply footpath system to take you from one side of the island to the other.

We made our way to our hotel (Derrick’s Place).  It was nice enough.  The bungalows themselves were pretty sweet; thatch roof, nice porches, hammocks, chairs…but the downfall was there was not a running shower.  It was the old bucket and bowl system, which was pretty much the last thing any of us wanted at our final destination of the trip.  We made due and enjoyed our time on the island.

Highlights include: 1) Snorkeling and seeing sharks.  They were just nurse sharks and harmless but still super cool.  2)Eating fresh caught lobster.  The tail sitting on my plate as about the size of my forearm…and I have pretty large forearms.  3)Having some drunk guy continually yell “It’s Hammer Time” over and over because he wanted our snorkel boat to go look for Hammer Head sharks…but there was a huge storm coming and any intelligent person could tell that we needed to get off the water with a hurry.

That about wraps up our summer adventure…finally!  I am ready to blog about other things! -M

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Let’s Play Catch Up: Ometepe

8 08 2011

So, after a month or so break from blogging, I think it’s best to pick right back up where we left off.  The last actual post (I’m not counting Miguel’s strange clip-art bear post) we were headed for the Ometepe Island in Nicaragua.  We spent three days there, and let me tell you, it was an interesting visit.

Ometepe Island

Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  It has two volcanoes on it and it is quite a site to see.  Part of what made our Ometepe trip so adventurous was getting there.  We had to take (in order) a taxi, a bus, another taxi, a ferry, and then another taxi to our hotel.  The travel time was a good half day, and we were worried about making it at all.

When we left Granada, we knew that the Ometepe bus left only twice a day,  once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.  Essentially if we missed the morning bus, we were kind of screwed.  So, we woke up early and even opted to take a taxi to the bus stop, so we wouldn’t be late.  After running a few minutes behind (story of my life), we were driving through a crowded street in a taxi looking for our bus that wasn’t there.  Then, in true “Nica”style our taxi driver rolled down his window and yelled at a kid in the street and asked where the bus was.  The kid told us to follow him, and then immediately started running down the street.  A minute or two later, we turned on a busy highway.  We spotted the bus up ahead making a stop.  The kid was gaining on it, but the taxi driver took charge.  He drove right along the side of the bus honking and yelling all the while, and when the bus driver didn’t respond, he simply turned the taxi in front of the bus so it had no choice but to stop.  I paid the man, grabbed my bag, and ran to the back of the bus.  The kid running took my bag from me, threw it in the back of the bus and we took our seats.  Not without a few shocked stares from the locals on the bus.

We were the minorities on the bus, for sure

Ready for the ferry

Once we finally made it to our hotel, it was clear… we were not prepared for the heat or the amount of bugs on Ometepe.  We had also chosen to stay at a place called Finca Magdalena, which is a local co-operative farm that has been in business for many many years.  It’s a farm… so, we weren’t going to have A/C, room-service, or even a choice for dinner really.  To get out and see the town was quite a fiasco… both expensive and far.  We were in over our heads.

Finca Magdalena had quite a nice view

Hot and thirsty!

On the second day we tied up our mosquito nets, packed up all of our things… just in case,  and we trekked out of our hotel to find a bicycle rental shop.  We were going to look for the beach, and maybe a new place to stay.  The place we found that rented bicycles, wasn’t quite what we all had in mind for “bike rental shop”.  The woman had a few bikes, a few pieces of bikes, a few pigs, a loud television, a baby without clothes, bare feet and an exposed belly.  Again, you might wonder, “What the hell were you thinking?” and again, I might add, we were definitely in over our heads.  But, we had to get out and see the beach.  Without some kind of water activity and beer, we were going to roast.

I think we all kind of forgot how far the beach was from our hotel, but it became pretty apparent that it was a million miles away when we started riding our bikes on the most hilly, mud-puddle-boulder-filled road I have ever been on.  On top of all of this, there were pigs, chickens, young children, and old men all over the place and all equally ambivalent to our newly formed bicycle gang.  AND! Yes, there is more… Our bikes (don’t act surprised) were the worst bikes in history.  Miguel’s was missing a pedal.  Pam couldn’t reach her seat and her handle bars did some serious damage to  her hands.  My front tire was wobbly and my breaks didn’t work.  Miguel’s breaks didn’t really work either.  So.  You take all of that, add a million miles of hot-buggy, pedestrian/animal/boulder/hill-climbing and falling, and you have probably a really funny picture of all four of us, but we were miserable.

After making it to the beach, we cursed ourselves for paying money for those damn bikes, and seriously considered throwing them in Lake Nicaragua.  Needless to say, we were all a little crabby, and were quite happy to stay in the water and enjoy being lazy.  We had earned it after all.  We found a local place for lunch with fresh fish, cold beer, and free wi-fi, and we immediately began searching for a new place to stay.  One preferably right next to the water and with A/C.  We found one… we were actually right next to one.  The problem was that we had to get our things and come back, and it was getting late.  Our plan was to take a bus back to our hotel and a bus back.  Things fell apart quickly.  The busses weren’t interested in picking us up (our bikes were a big deterrent) and they didn’t run directly to our part of the island, so no matter what, we were going to be walking/riding/dangerously careening part of the way… we might as well ride back the whole way for free.  We were all miserable when we finally made it, but looking back, I know it must have been hilarious to see me riding down a rocky-ass hill with a piece of shit bike screaming at chickens and children the like to get the hell out of my way or I would loose it, for sure.  How ridiculous!

Damn bikes

That night, we ate dinner and scheduled a taxi ride in the morning to our new hotel.  We would go on to have one more night in Ometepe with A/C and an early wake up call.  We had a flight to catch to the Corn Islands.

Our "Taxi" ride into town

Our improved digs

-V





Our most heartfelt apologies, but we needed a break…

2 08 2011

V and I are finally back in Costa Rica!  I truly apologize for the abrupt stop in posts, followed by…nothing.  However, after posting at least once a week for the past 7/8 monts, we needed a little bit of a break.  This summer provided just that, and because it was so busy I would have driven myself insane trying to find the time to write, and write well.

Anyway, we are back “home” and ready for the start of our second year here in Costa Rica.  There is a lot of exciting things happening around here and a lot of fun things to commemorate on the blog in the coming weeks.  





Holy Granada!

29 06 2011

Granada, Nicaragua is a place that we heard was cool with a great colonial vibe but we weren’t quite sure what to expect when we left the Tica Bus station with a vague idea of a hotel we might stay at, in an area we knew too little about.  

Some things that became immediately clear to all of us were: one, Nicaragua was much more flat and warm than Guatemala. It was a stark difference from the mountains and sweaters we were growing so fond of.  And it seemed that there was no pattern to the rain, as it rained on and off at random times.  

Our second collective observation was that Nicaraguans are some of the most friendly and helpful people we have ever encountered. This realization didn’t come until our taxi entered the Granada city limits. 

None of us had any idea where our “prospective” hotel was and neither did the driver. He immediately pulled into the first stop he could find, at which point, 4 other locals rushed the car to give directions and help him locate our hotel.  

He was still a little turned around when we got closer to the city so he pulled over and asked a man walking on the street. The man gave directions, and at the same time, another taxi pulled over and offered to drive in the direction of the hotel…after he quickly dropped off a fare a block away. Meanwhile, the man walking who helped us earlier, ran to catch up to us and, once again, showed us where to go. Moments like these were more common than not in Granada. 

People have been so helpful that I have at times felt defensive and worried that they want something from me, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nicaraguans are just kind individuals. 

While in Granada we took our time to settle in to a completely different climate than Guatemala and we took advantage of our slower schedule. We scheduled 2 full days in Granada to explore and enjoy each others company. 

On day one we walked around the town and got some good use out of our umbrellas. We toured the main drag and stopped into an internet cafe to quickly write a post and upload photos. Afterward, we ate a late lunch and decided to pick up the national Nicaraguan rum, Flor de Cana and Coke, of course. Then, we headed back to our hotel lounge to hang out, drink, and wait out the rain.  Once we finished the bottle, we headed out.  It should go without saying that the night was quite a bit crazier than the day and we gave Granada a good run. 

The next day we weren’t in much shape for doing anything and all the same, it was raining harder than we have seen the entire trip. Our minds were made up and after a late breakfast, we went back to the hotel to sleep off the hangover and the rain.

Our next stop would be the island of Ometepe, consisting of coffee farms, warm waters of lake Nicaragua, and 2 volcanoes! 

-V





Nica via Tica

29 06 2011

We have arrived in Nicaragua, known as “Nica” to the locals.  We came by way of the international bus company, Tica Bus.  It was so hard leaving Lake Atitlan after what seemed like the most relaxing, and amazing time we have had yet.  It was even harder knowing that we would have two full days of travel to get to Nicaragua.  Even harder knowing that we would make our journey without a shuttle to the bus station, a ticket for the bus, or a place to stay.  I think the combination of being physically exhausted after our trek, and staying in the most relaxing and decadent places kept us from doing any work on  the next leg of our trip.
After the trek we had a place lined up in the small village of Jabalito de La Lago.  It was close to the main village on Lake Atitlan, and we chose it because we heard it was amazing, and we knew we wanted something nice after 3 days of hell.  Casa del Mundo didn’t disappoint.

On the last day of the trek, we said goodbye to our group and group leaders, bought t-shirts, and took a boat across the lake to the little town.  Casa del Mundo has its own private dock, and we unloaded our bags and stared dejectedly at the 3 flights of achingly steep stairs leading to the front office.  I remember thinking, “I just hiked 30 miles with this god damn pack, I hope I can make it to the front desk.”  We collectively struggled all the way, and after checking in, the hostess told us very encouragingly that we only had 15 more steps until we reached our room.  We huffed and lugged our bags over our shoulders, and we climbed to our wonderful room to settle in.

the room was instantly messy as we unloaded our things

The first thing on all of our minds after taking our bags off, was a shower… a scalding hot shower.  After we all bathed for an obscene amount of time, we piled up all of our dirty clothes, hung up all of our gear to air out, and began relaxing.

laying things out to dry in the Lake Atitlan breeze

Casa del Mundo offered a 4 course dinner that evening for 12 dollars, and we achingly walked down stairs for another carb-loaded meal that we were all thrilled to devour.  We went to bed before 9 and we were all quite delirious at the idea of being in such an amazing place and at the realization that we didn’t have to walk ANYWHERE for the next day.
The next day, we woke at sunrise (after all we were getting quite used to waking at that time) to see the sunrise one more time over Lake Atitlan.

Lago de Atitlan in the morning *from our room*

We layed around in bed for an hour or so, and then made a lazy decent to bottomless cups of coffee and the most delicious breakfast we have had in all of Guatemala for just under $5.  We quickly decided we weren’t doing any walking or work for the day, and changed into our bathing suits and sat on the sunny deck of Casa del Mundo.  While we sunned on the deck, we dropped off our filthy-stinking trek clothes to be cleaned.
At lunch, we ate sandwiches and smoothies all for around $5-6 dollars.  And we toyed with the idea of ordering beers and taking them up to our rooms.  Instead, we took naps.  You would have done the same thing!

Miguel and Brian jumping off of the balcony at Casa del Mundo

JUMP!

Around 5 that evening, I think it hit us that we needed to decide if we were going to stay at Casa del Mundo for another day or if we were going to stick to schedule and catch a Tica Bus to Nicaragua tomorrow.  The vote was unanimous to stay another day, but as we looked at the schedule and the various options of travel to Nicaragua (other than Tica Bus) it seemed like the only reasonable decision to make was to get up at 5 the next morning and make our way down to Nicaragua.  Pam seemed close to crying at the thought of leaving, and I think we all felt a little depressed at the idea, but we couldn’t justify cutting a day out of Nicaragua because we wanted to be lazy.

uncoordinated jumping

The next morning, the front desk had yogurt, fruit, granola, and honey waiting for us for breakfast.  We ate, grabbed our things and made our way to the dock.  As soon as we landed in the main town Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, we were offered a shuttle ride to Guatemala City (where the Tica Bus station is).  We bargained, paid, and ordered some coffee at a local restaurant and began day one of a 2 day travel journey.
Once we made it to Tica Bus, we snagged the last seats on the direct bus to Nicaragua.  In total, we would be traveling for around 25 hours in 2 days.  The bus ride was split into two legs.  Leg one was from Guatemala to El Salvador.  The ride wasn’t to terrible and the bus driver showed some fine quality Jackie Chan films on the way (dubbed in Spanish of course). We arrived in Granada after two long days of travel and we were ready to give Nicaragua all we’ve got!

Exploring Granada and getting our feet back under us








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