Friday, August 04, 2017

The Fournado is Real

About a month back I thought... Willa is vacillating between having an amazing time and struggling to adjust. It's hot, there are lots of bugs, and so much is different than she's used to. That said she's had huge breakthroughs in the pool in early July, and that is her happy place. We're getting fruit smoothies everywhere we go, and we're trying to be sure and address her needs constructively; although, sometimes we've just needed to put our foot down and tell her she's being a diva and suck it up. It's been a very interesting chapter in the process.

Today, along with a parent friend, I went to school and sunk some lemongrass plants in the play yard. There are tons of mosquitos, and Willa, nearly as much the target as I am, is still coming home with bites regularly. One potential remedy is to plant lemongrass, which mosquitos apparently don't like so much, and try to keep them at bay. 

Willa has been my planting helper all along back in Brooklyn and wherever the occasion arises. I'm at school and helping get this planting underway, and she has glommed onto my leg, and there is no letting go. We're moving from spot to spot, and Willa is constantly underfoot. "I want to help you with [this]... I want to help you with [that]" 

We sink one plant, and then we're working on the next plant, and I explain one of her classmates is to have a turn putting a plant in the ground, and at the risk of destroying the plant Willa will not let go of it. I do let go impressing a big mud stain across the front of her dress. It's hot, she's muddy, she's a crying mess, and I cannot get the plant out of her clutching hands. Prying the plant away from her we have to step aside to talk and calm down. Now we're both out of sorts, and I punish her by taking away pool time this afternoon. We have had to lose pool time or TV show time on a few occasions because of run-ins like these. 

Trying to leave school after the planting successfully completed she was a hot mess and would not let go. She explained she was tired and had to go home; well, this is an often refrain should either Marla or I see her at a school function anytime between drop off and pick up: "I'm tired", "I'm sick", "I don't want to be here." The teachers are super cool and helpful, and they often step in to lure Willa away bringing her attention elsewhere.

This is probably just four more than I am being a bad parent. I am not as quiet as feel like I should be. The heat doesn't help keep my temper down. My A-type and things needing to be repeated time and again and resulting in snotty bubbling emotional messes is not an easy place for either of us to end up. It's not nice once you arrive there; it's not easy to diffuse, and it's not so easy to just stand up and carry on. Willa's former teacher shared an excellent list of  32 Tantrum-Tamer Phrases to Use With 3 and 4 Year-Olds in Meltdown Mode. Marla and I talk about these situations when we've calmed toward the end of the day and gird ourselves for another eventful encounter in the near future. It's constant, and I want to help Willa grow, understand and appreciate along the way. She's teaching me when I see myself losing my cool (in more way than one), and that's forcing me to redouble my efforts to be my best self for both of us.

How do I know it's all going to turn out alright? I wasn't there, but the other day Marla and Willa are walking to school in the morning. Willa points out a bird to Marla and asks, "You know which one that is?" Marla says no and asks whether Willa does. Without skipping a beat Willa explains, "That's the Red Hawker-Nawker, and it's habitat is..." She apparently goes on for several extensive descriptive and imaginary educational vignettes about this fictitiously identified bird. Willa is smart, she's imaginative, and she's creative.

Some days Willa embodies the perfect pura vida, and other days she is mired in her fourness, and some days she rapidly vacillates. So she lost the pool today, and we'll spend some time talking about it while doing other things. Am I doing it right? I certainly hope so. The fournado is real, and she's the sweetest little monster I know. People say they miss this time -- I think they have memory loss. The Red Hawker-Nawker is a keeper for all times.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

An early take on pura vida

Pura vida has mostly been a call of pride and mutual agreement that things are pretty alright. Pura vida is the national expression of Costa Rica. It is a way of life. It is how one is doing when you ask, ¿Como esta (how are you)? It is an expression of agreement that life is pretty great here.

Take for instance after having worked with a real estate broker here for a long while to find a long term rental with a tight profile. He very vigorously identified properties fitting a our specifications, but they didn't quite suit us save one that was great, but it disappeared within a blink; friends of the owners would be taking the place before us. We canvased the area for all brokers working within this town of 1,500 residents, and we found exactly what we were looking for through another party, and it was tough for me to write the message explaining the situation. I felt bad to deliver it in an email, but I had an opportunity to connect with him in person shortly thereafter. Both his response to the email and seeing him in person the affect was the same. Pura Vida. He was glad our family has been able to find exactly the place we needed for the time we are here in Sámara. What a choice notion to affirm life exclaiming, "pura vida."

Unrelated to the apartment, during my recent mourning period a new friend explained that Costa Rica is a place where cell phones come to die. My language instructor affirmed this after a discussion in class this past week. So, a couple weeks I went out near shore fishing. Everything was spectacular about the entire trip from early rise right up until the final minute of the trip back to shore. We were successful out at sea bringing home some yellow fin tuna, and we split up the catch among the three different parties. When at nearly the last moment the boat to shore skiff came sliding in ashore, and the boat skids up on the rocks turning sideways. Everyone else successfully gets out of the skiff, and I put my leg over the side of the boat at which point it gets shoved broadside by a wave, and I was tossed face first into the shore. My hand and knee took a mild skinning and beating. Worse still my cell phone was in the cargo pocket of my bathing suit. Newly dunked I immediately sprang into action tossing the phone. My new buddy graciously and selflessly began hooving water off the device and wiping it down.

Time goes by and alas the phone is dead. Like dead dead. Like there's a single red light blink if you attempt to power up the device. I'm fairly sure I'm singlehandedly responsible for assassinating my phone with an electric surge before it was fully dry and ready for such an encounter. Well, much time gone by and energy spent a new phone will make it to me with about a month's long gap in between.

Back up a week or two before the phone's death, and I was shocked to find myself here and spending as much time as I did on the couch making sure I traversed every corner of my old internet stomping grounds. And, as it turns out that is a lot of information. My phone was also quite handy for walking around with as it has the local data plan making it easy to stay in touch for our family and explore new towns, etc. However, did we HAVE to have this up to the minute access? No. Pura vida. Could the death of my phone be cause for exclaiming, "pura vida"? Yes, in fact it is.

Without constantly reaching for my phone I have been reaching for my book. I finished a great one, Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. And, then I moved onto the next book in my pile.

Not to be outdone with the downside of pura vida I had to pause writing this story at home, which I'm doing because the internet has been down for four days (pura vida). I had to pause because Willa killed the iPad. She wanted to give me a hug while watching her show, and with the cord sufficiently wrapped around her waist she dragged the device off the coffee table and the screen cracked into a million shards making the iPad dangerously unusable. Pura vida.

Before we left Marla and I discussed what this year would be for us, what we wanted for Willa and overall how would this time would change our family. Well, the resiliency we discussed and agreed would be very beneficial for all of us is being served up daily. Things are different here in a great way, and we are beginning to embrace all the amazingness and all the challenges that pura vida has to offer.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

When it feels right

Back in January/February Marla and I sat and had lengthy deliberative discussions about what was next for us. We had settled on Toronto as a great place for our family to live. That would be at the start time for Willa heading into primary school, Fall 2018, and there was the matter of what should we do now, right now? What would be best for our family.

Sabbatical made a lot of sense to us as we're waiting for my permanent residency paperwork, which has a natural course of action. Costa Rica appealed to us for many reasons. We had previously travelled here and loved the whole experience. Ticos are wonderful, kind and easy going people; they embody their Pura Vida ethos. As two relatively wound up people that would do us good. Then there's the 77-87º F weather -- with a shower in the afternoon half the year -- every day. Add to that a tranquilo beach town with good beginner surfing, yoga on the beach and a great bi-lingual pre-school. It all was too hard to drown out the chorus of resounding "yes" or "claro que sí".

Fast forward through lots of planning, a little bit of preparatory shopping, and a lot of good-byes, a taxi, a flight, and another taxi, and we arrived last Wednesday. Key to comfort here are cross breezes through the house, and as such we had the front door open wide with the screen door offering fresh air. Shortly after dark a neighborhood cat sidled up to the screen door to see who had come into town. Willa being quite tired and road weary launches into sympathetic pleas of "But where is he gonna sleep?" & "He's so lonely." She repeated these alternating inquiries and pleas in the sweetest and most innocent way that only a four year old girl can.

I suspect the cat understood Willa because over the following few days we received multiple presents. Walking out the front door Marla shrieked. She had squished the first present not having noticed the cat had left us a dead something; we couldn't identify it after nearly all of Marla's foot had descended; although, I did see a tail and some guts still on the mat, and I had to scrape the bulk off the underside of her foot with a paper towel. We all get clean, I wash the welcome mat, and a day later we come back from an outing to see this lizard curled up in the mat. Dad is definitely getting the unceremonious responsibility of cat gift disposal. You know you're not in Brooklyn when...

We are still settling in, and we were keeping a close eye on Willa's reaction to our new world. It has been a flurry of new, different, and exciting. It has all been the adventure we anticipated, and it all feels right so far. Willa's school is on the same two week break as the rest of the nation, and it's giving us plenty of time to figure things out together.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

My first taste of the ocean

Over the past many months I have been settling up our affairs in New York. We made the decision to pack up and head to Costa Rica in February, and this past Wednesday we arrived. There were lots of ins and outs to the whole transition. We had a long arc of goodbyes to our family and friends and to our city of 20 years.

Most everything went off without a hitch, but of course I can be silly sometimes. I had to have one more urgent care visit before leaving. After having settled up in Brooklyn we headed to Scarsdale, NY to spend a week with family. We went to the local pool, and not 15 minutes in I attempted a few breast strokes with my eyes closed -- my new goggles were arriving the next day. Several strokes in I veered off course a bit, and I banged my head into a ladder. Reportedly, eight staples at urgent care sealed the cut, and worse it donned on me that I couldn't jump in the ocean immediately upon arriving in Costa Rica. Irritatingly, I continue to have my fair share of accidents, but I got my feet in on the first day nevertheless. Marla, importantly, took that first day Pacific plunge and came back glowing. We have made a great decision for our family. Willa is a whole other matter, and we're still inching her into the water; on Wednesday she would have none of it.

Needless to say there was a bunch of conversation about my staples before departing. Should they come out early before I leave? Would I be able to get them out in a small town? Sámara only has about 4,000 residents. Answer turns out to be yes, there's a clinic run by Dr. Freddy Soto, and he indeed has a staple remover. Cool, we're good to go staples and all. They didn't set off the metal detector at JFK, but I had the visit notes handy just in case.

Yesterday was to be staple removal day, and I couldn't wait. First though we joined Willa's new school, Sámara Pacific School, on their beach day. The trip celebrated the school year half way point. Costa Rica's school calendar runs year round with about 210 days in session. This was a great opportunity for Willa to begin her new school introduction, meeting the other students and playing at the beach. Of course the ocean was looming, and not even the enticement of a fellow girl who went dashing into ankle deep water was enough to get Willa there. She did stick her toes in, which was a marked improvement over the two prior days.

At the beach picnic Marla and I were introducing ourselves and meeting lots of parents. Many have been here for a while, some were here only weeks before us, and some were leaving the following day. As it happens, Brian and his family were departing the next day after a three and a half year stay. Brian had lots of great suggestions for settling in, turns out they had two bikes to sell, and to boot he's an ER doctor with a pair of staple removers back at his house. After the beach party we went back to their house where he deftly removed my staples, and moments later we bought they bikes. Nice how that turned out.

During the past week I had fretted quite a bit about the staple removal, and I had discussed at the urgent care getting a staple remover to bring with me, I had seen my internist before leaving and discussed it with her. Marla and I and many family members had all discussed it extensively. I had contemplated how the tools would need to be sterile, and what would I do if they weren't; would I say something? In the end I sat at new acquaintance's poolside table. He pulled a pair of staple removers from a bag with lots of other tools, and he proceeded to pull out seven staples. The urgent care doctor said there were eight, so Dr. Brian and two onlookers all combed through my head with beach hands and scanned for the never applied eighth staple. This is not how I imagined the scene was going to go down.

After all that I was walking the small lane between our house and the beach, and I saw an email from a friend. There was change back in New York, which related to everything that set our family's adventure in motion, and it brought a huge smile to my face. With that I dropped off Willa's beach toys, which I had been retrieving, took off my shirt, pitched my flip flops and walked into the ocean.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

Llegado a Sámara

We arrived in Sámara yesterday. Our family has committed to a significant shift for the next many years. First, we're planning about a year in Costa Rica then onto Toronto. We are seeking adventure, a deeper connection with nature and ourselves and helping our daughter build a lifetime of resiliency. One evening in so far the only falter on our trip was a failure to find Soda Ana, but that may be because I didn't hear correctly and we ended up eating at the correct place anyway, Soda El Mana. I found the casado con pescado that I had been salivating about for months.

Yesterday's drive from Liberia to Sámara was filled with lush greens, a spot of rain and a great conversation with our driver, Ellios to start our live understanding of what is here and happening. Countless hours of online research and digging into forums has given us a fair understanding of what to expect, but you always learn at lightening speed with feet on the ground. Time to explore.


Monday, December 10, 2012

The House I Live (since the drug war still exists)

Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In powerfully exposes disillusionment from the long waged war on drugs. What's more the exposure is from the story's everyday key actors: cops, judges, and prison guards. What's more the pain is not monopolized by the families and inmates, the key actors note the system's shortcomings. 40 years and a TRILLION (twelve zeros) dollars later, the US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated people. The are untenable realities.

I find it confounding, and perhaps it's because I've been studying the prison industrial complex as an activist that people can be unaware that there is still a war on drugs. Do yourself a favor and perform a quick google search on "war on drugs". There are links to US government site, headlines from CNN and Huffington Post decrying it's a failure, and so much more. You probably won't get into the parts about how the multitude of policing organizations get to keep the cash and goods from seizures or the part about systematic racism. For the details may want to look at Christian Parenti's Lockdown America or Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

All is not nigh, there is a change in the tides, and Americans are actively organizing to bring about systemic change in the war on drugs. The current battleground is marijuana legalization where not only are states expressing their right to self-govern such as in Colorado and Washington, but also nationally folks are also in favor the federal government not intervening in these practices. Time will tell whether the veneer of the war of drugs is fading and we witness a contraction in the abhorrent prison system.

Can you imagine a world where more money is spent on prisons than education? Look no further than California where state prison spending outstripped higher education. As someone that has worked on and advocated for educational access for the better part of a decade I am dumbstruck that we could let this happen anywhere in the world let alone in our country. Aren't we the land of the free? Home of the brave? Home of the free-market is where I am ashamed my Wells Fargo mortgage means that my banking is helping invest in the future of private prisons. How could it turn out that the American Dream I have ended up living can be no more easily disentangled than all the leverage that ultimately brought down Bear Stearns? Where do I begin to improve upon where I find the world today?

One way I have been helping make a difference is by volunteering with the Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO). We're advocating for educational access inside the prison system. That's where 2.3 Million people, who are by-in-large are undereducated and face serious challenges to re-enter society prepared to be contributing members. 

If you agree with these ideas, your help is needed. Take action through the following organizations, and spread the word:
Feel free to list out additional resources in the comments section; I will gladly update this post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Some thoughts on today's election...


I waited for three hours. When I got the front of the line, I told them who I was, cast my vote, and it was counted.

I am tired of this election. I am tired of the billions of wasted dollars trying to inform low information voters with sound bites. I want change. Not "change that I can believe in". I want M-F'ng change. I want an informed and involved populous.

I want people to be as educated as they care to be - for free (it's an investment with LOTS of dividends). I want people that are prepared for the workforce (there are 3M jobs waiting for the right people to fill them, TODAY!). I want people to have healthcare for an extremely high quality of life (it's not Obamacare -- it's healthcare and we're all better off with it).

I want to stop locking up our people at a despicable rate. I want soft drugs legalized. I want people that have problems with drugs to receive treatment, not incarceration.

I am working on all the above problems to make the world I want to live in. Help me make that a reality or do your best to convince me why I may be off base -- I don't have all the answers, but I'm not waiting for corporations or anyone else to tell me what I need.

I am proud to have the right to cast my vote. I don't have the money to pay for lobbyists and buy the policies I desire. I am reliant on democracy and the voice of my fellow citizens. I expect my representatives to represent everything I have stated above, and I will work to hold them accountable for my vote.