Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Costa Rica 7

July 28, 2012

We were up early this morning, the first time waking to an alarm since we have been here. Everything was pretty much done last night to prepare for leaving, so there was just the last minute packing to do. Funny thing, Sarah was looking around for things we might be forgetting and she found the missing hard drive among the boxes of energy bars we had stacked in the kitchen. We thought it had been stolen from Connie's luggage! Ruth was relieved to have it!

Ruth had left her car with us last night so we could haul our luggage to the river. The plan was that Carlos would take us to Puerta Viejo by boat (a 2 hour trip). Ruth would deliver Sarah to La Gata and then meet us in Puerta Viejo where she would leave her car for repairs. She would then board a van with a driver, along with Connie, Kerry, Jerry and I to head to San Jose (another couple of hours). Well, that WAS the plan!

When we arrived at Ruth's this morning, the river was way up! It had been high the other day when we took our trip to the farm, but the water was now covering at least twenty more steps on the landing! Ruth was concerned that she would be unable to make it from La Gata to Puerta Viejo, so she sent Sarah on her own with the car and rode along with us on the boat. We loaded all of the luggage on board and set out on a very fast river! Last time we were going down river, but this time we were headed against the current.

There were downed trees and all sorts of debris in the water. The strength of the river was amazing. If the engine stopped, we were immediately pulled in the opposite direction and it took the full strength of the motor and several seconds before we could regain our direction. Several times Carlos stopped because of the debris, but several other times it was for something more exciting! Twice we saw monkeys and once we stopped to look at a tree with several iguanas in it! Carlos is amazing! He was maneuvering this 30 foot boat through a very fast, high, dirty river and somehow he still managed to find monkeys and iguanas in the jungle along the river. Then he held the boat still (in rushing water) so we could take pictures!

Because of the height of the river, we were able to see sights along the river bank that we would not normally see. There were many people out on the banks watching the water rise. They must keep a constant watch so they can untie their boats, move their livestock, or worse.

We finally reached Puerta Viejo and our driver was there waiting for us. We said goodbye to Carlos, who would wait there for Ruth, and headed towards the airport. We saw a couple of mudslides on the mountain, but thankfully it was passable! We stopped at the airport to pick up Josue, a student that Ruth tutors. He is receiving a laptop from the next group coming in. Our driver was taking us to Xandari where Jerry and I will stay for the next couple of days, but she wanted us to meet Josue. He is a very nice young man, we were surprised at how well he spoke English!

We said our goodbyes and they returned to the airport for Connie and Kerry to fly out and to pick up the next group. It was sad to leave them and the luxury of Xandari was making me uncomfortable after the ruggedness we just left. I am grateful that Ruth encouraged us to enjoy ourselves!

We were checked in early and shown to our villa in no time. I immediately took a long, hot shower! It was wonderful! The shower is open and separated from the walled garden only by a piece of glass. All of the tile work is beautiful and there are tropical plants everywhere. The resort is owned by a couple of artists and everything is colorful and well designed. There is original art everywhere you look!

Lunch at Xandari is quite different from our home cooked meals at Ruth's. It was yummy, but I think I prefer Concepcion's cooking! We started off with nachos, and Jerry had ham and vegetable pizza with fresh tomatoes, onions, zucchini, mushrooms. I ate a portabello mushroom sandwich with pesto and feta cheese on pesto bread with a side salad. It was all delicious, but more than we could eat! We took boxes boxes back to the room to finish for lunch tomorrow. We are pleasantly surprised by the meal prices and the view from the balcony in the dining room is stunning. We sit outdoors overlooking the lush landscape of the mountainside and the city of San Jose.

After lunch we took a nap, walked around the property, and sat in the jacuzzi for awhile. We met a young couple from Canada and chatted a bit. We spent some time in the lounge watching TV and checking the Internet. It was nice not to be on a concrete slab at the school, and I definitely did not miss the fire ants! Overall, we are very pleased with Xandari! I still miss Arbolitos, but it is very nice to be able to flush the toilet paper!

Dinner tonight was just as good. Jerry had Salmon Fettucini and I had a Pasta Primavera. We ate and caught up reading Sarah's blog, http://sarahlapallo.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/several-posts-at-once/ while we enjoyed the night lights of San Jose.

We are turning in early tonight. The rain I have come to love is tapping on the roof and it promises to be a good night of sleep!

July 29, 2012
8:00 pm

What a different day! We started off by sleeping until 9:00! After waking from an incredible night of sleep, we went breakfast where we had delicious, homemade whole wheat toast with local fruit jams and slices of Costa Rican cheeses. It was raining, but the view was still incredible!

After breakfast we relaxed a little in our rooms until the rain ended and then we set out to hike the nature trails on the property. There are 5 waterfalls that were discovered when the owners were having trails cleared through the jungle along the river. The fourth fall is 70 feet high and quite breathtaking! The entire hike was breathtaking in more ways than one! I thought it was just because I was out of shape, but I was relieved when Chris and Robin, the younger couple we met here from Canada, admitted that it was a tough hike for them as well! In all, it took us about 2 hours to get back, but I enjoyed it greatly. It wasn't quite the same as our 15 minutes in the jungle with Carlos, but it was still the jungle. The fact that there were manmade steps and cleared areas to walk didn't take away from the incredible plants, trees, butterflies, etc that we saw.

I think the one thing that will never translate through my pictures is the scale of the jungle. There is every size imaginable represented, from tiny little frogs and miniature plants, to giant butterflies and leaves big enough to be an umbrella or even a roof for a small hut. There are things to look at under every small stone and trees so tall that they seem to reach the sky! Everything is alive and there is life springing up from everywhere. Plants grow on other plants and even on the rocks. Trees don't seem to mind whether their roots are in the ground or hanging off the side of a cliff. The air is so moist that everything simply lives!

This property is a beautiful mix of vibrant nature, exotic plants, and manmade artistic touches. The attention to detail is extravagant and I have so enjoyed the color and pattern everywhere I look! The people here are also wonderfully friendly and there are few guests, so the resort almost feels private!

After our hike, Jerry and I took a dip in the pool and then sat in the jacuzzi for awhile. We chatted about our trip and our dreams of returning to Costa Rica. We will be spending a lot of time in prayer, listening to what God has in mind for us and this country! We finished our lunch from yesterday in our room and then headed to the main building for a little TV and Internet time. We also took a tour of the largest villa in case we return with the kids one day.

Jerry and I had massages scheduled for this afternoon before dinner. It was Jerry's first massage ever and we had them done side by side. It was so relaxing and well worth the extra cost, but quite a splurge for us!

Dinner was yummy tonight, but I can definitely tell that my appetite has decreased! I had tomato corn chowder and a salad, but I probably would have been fine with the soup. Jerry reminds me that I had a Funky Monkey (expresso, ice cream, bananas, and whipped cream!!!) this afternoon, and that may have filled me up a little! Jerry had nachos again and the pasta dish that I enjoyed yesterday.

We are packed up tonight as our 4:30am wake up call will come early. The kitchen has packed us a breakfast of muffins, fruit, and yogurt, and they will drive us to the airport. We are in for a long day tomorrow with a four hour layover in Newark, though Connie has warned us that customs is a long nightmare!

I hear the rain that has begun to fall. It is just in time to sing me to sleep! Goodnight Costa Rica and so long!

July 30, 2010
10:30 pm

We are home! The dogs were so excited to see us! It felt really good to walk through our yard and check everything out (in the dark!). We are so tired and it is not raining, but the crickets and the frogs are singing to me so I suppose I will sleep well! I am going to miss Costa Rica! I am already thinking of how I when I can return.

Mom and Dad picked us up from the Richmond airport. We had a short flight there from Newark after a very long layover! The flight from Costa Rica was very long (5 hours)! All were uneventful including the customs and security.

We woke up today at 4:30am Costa Rica time and this is the latest we have been up in weeks! I will write more tomorrow!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Costa Rica 6

July 27, 2012

It is hard to believe that this was the last day in Arbolitos! I am sad because I don't know if I will ever return, but I am really looking forward to getting home! I feel like we accomplished what we came to do (Jerry did more than expected!).

Jerry and Carlos finished hanging the ceiling this morning. They reminded us of monkeys swinging from the rafters. I had prayed for their safety today and all went well except Jerry fell off the ladder once. Thankfully he was fine except for a scrape on his arm!

We packed bags of candy for treats for the children and helped Sarah prepare for her class. Connie did a lot of book recording for the Rama. We all cleaned the guest house to prepare for the next group. It is amazing how different the house looks after all the work we did this week!

Lunch today was a great time of chatting and enjoying each others company. We had ground meat with summer squash, rice and beans, plantains, pineapple, and breadfruit. Concepcion showed me how to make the corn tortas I have enjoyed so much! She had me grind the fresh corn before lunch, and after we ate, she showed me how she fries the corn mixture on a banana leaf! Her recipe is freshly ground corn, ground farmers cheese, 3 tablespoons sugar, a dash of salt and a teaspoon of baking powder. It is so yummy!

After lunch, we finished our cleaning, took showers, and rested for the afternoon. It was really nice to have the afternoon to relax. Jerry and I walked up to the school a little before dinner to check the Internet. I was so excited to have an email from Tracy with pictures of my animals! We have newly hatched chicks and the puppies are so cute! It really made my day!

Jerry was also able to fix Sarah's camera this afternoon. I had been praying for her to be able to use it since she is staying another week. It turned out to be a little piece of plastic stuck in the SD card slot. What a blessing! Ruth shared at dinner that Franklin was able to get a lot to build a house on near Puerta Viejo. Another blessing!

Dinner was bittersweet. I always enjoy the meal, but it was a little sad to know that it was our last together as a group. Carlos was unable to join us since he was at a meeting about milking cows. We had many of the same things tonight, including those yummy corn tortas!

We are all turning in early tonight since we have to be on the boat by 6:30 in the morning! Goodnight Arbolitos!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Costa Rica

July 24, 2012

We have just spent the last hour getting to know Sarah's Mom, Connie. All of that talk is front in my mind so I hope I can recall the day! Ruth was gone all day in order to get Connie and Kerry, Sarah's sister, from the airport, so we have been mostly on our own!

This morning, I got up early to get my shower in anticipation of Carlos coming to work with Jerry on the ceiling. Carlos did come around 8, and he and Jerry climbed around like monkeys on top of the walls hanging the ceiling. I could tell that Jerry was frustrated this morning because of the slowness of the job. They were using a dull knife, a corded drill, and no ladder. They were able to get half of the ceiling hung though, and Jerry got a lot of the painting finished.

Once, when Jerry went out to the porch to grab some pieces of ceiling, he spotted a snake. He called Carlos out to identify it and, of course, Jerry had to pick it up! Fortunately, they determined that the snake was not poisonous, but Sarah was not thrilled about the whole experience!

Sarah and I spent most of the morning preparing for the class we will teach for the women of Arbolitos tomorrow. We will be teaching them to paint picture frames and to make knotted bracelets. We will have activities for the children as well. Both Sarah and I have experience in teaching art classes, but not in Spanish! We also spent time cleaning up the room to make it ready. Marianna spent a lot of time with us again today.

We ate lunch early today because Carlos was hungry. We had rice and beans, tortillas, plantains, cheese, and jello. We also had really yummy corn tortillas. We talked with Carlos quite a bit since Ruth was not there. He was telling us about the tigers (jaguars) in the jungle. When we asked him if he had seen tigers in the jungle, he said, "yes" but he was not afraid because he had his gun and machete with him! We will be going to the jungle tomorrow, I hope we do not see any tigers!!!

After lunch, we came back to the house and headed out again to deliver invitations to the women on o street. We followed Ruth's directions and were able to hand out each invitation. As we were coming down a steep, muddy driveway at the last house, I slipped and fell right on my bottom! What a muddy mess! It was raining when we returned and I decided to just stand out in the rain to wash off my clothes. It turned into a very refreshing shower! Sarah joined me and we just got completely soaking wet! It was great!

After drying off, we spent a little time finishing up the preparations for our class. Just as we finished, it was almost time for dinner, so,we took a walk down the road to find the puperia (store). Jerry picked up a few sodas, but he was disappointed that they had no chocolate candy! We walked to the school(right across from Ruth's house) in order to check our Internet connection. It turned out to be like an Internet cafe, with several local people and us sitting on the concrete porch with our computers! I was so excited to get some great professional news!

Supper tonight consisted of pork, rice and beans, tomato, cheese, bread, and jello. It was just Jerry, Sarah, Ruth's mother in law, and I. We ate quickly and then returned to finish our online work. We walked back in the dark and got to the house just before the rain. Shortly after being back, Ruth arrived with Kerry and Connie. It has been a full day, but also a fulfilling one!

July 25, 2012
7:00 am

Happy Birthday Alden! We are hoping to be able to call our boy today, since he is turning 10, but there is no telling whether or not we will be able to find a signal with Ruth's cell phone. I feel sure there will not be Internet since we had a huge storm last night. The lightening and thunder were big and it rained hard all night. The power went out sometime in the middle of the night, but it is back on this morning.

I am surprised to hear everyone up this morning since we stayed up to chat so long last night. We are all looking forward to going to the farm with Ruth and Carlos. It will be the first time in the boat and on the river for all of us except Jerry.

It sounds like Sarah is making breakfast. Time to get the day started!

July 25, 2012

It was a hard day today. It was also a good day. I miss my kids and my home more than ever. I miss being clean! I think I am going to go to Mike and Debbie's when I get home and soak in their pool in the chlorine for a whole day! The only time I have felt like this before was when we went backpacking for four days and didn't bathe the whole time. I took three showers today: one this morning to start the day, one when we got back from the jungle, and one at the end of the day. I feel relatively clean after a shower, but with everything I do here, I either get hot and sweaty or really dirty! Today was the first day it really bothered me. Now that I have my complaining out of the way, I'll write about what made it a really good day!

Sarah made eggs and coffee for breakfast today. We were expected at Ruth's house by 8:00 to get on the boat to go to their farm. Ruth and Carlos bought land across the Sarapique River for a farm and Pastor Retreat Center. There is a real need for pastors and their families to have a place to go where they can rest and learn. We had to go down steep wooden stairs to the river, where we climbed into their covered boat. I was surprised at how long and narrow the boat was. It reminded me of a really long canoe with a motor and a roof. Ruth's dog, Sargento, went with us. He doesn't seem to care much for the boat ride, but he loves being at the farm!

Carlos goes to farm on a regular basis. He goes across the river and then walks about 20 minutes through the jungle to get there. We went all the way by river; down the Sarapique and then up the Toro River. The rivers are amazing. We didn't see gators or anything in the water, but it was enough to know that they were there! The trees and vegetation are beautiful. We saw banana and plantain trees, sugar cane, and so much more. The property line is where the Toro River and Rio Negro (Black River) meet. Jerry says it reminds him of pouring milk into coffee because the light and dark waters meet and swirl together.

When we arrived at the farm, we climbed up a steep, muddy bank. There is an old house there with wooden rocking chairs, made by Carlos, on the porch. An old cabinet, also on the porch is full of tiny honey bees. We walked around looking at Carlos' cows, the hill Ruth dreams of building on, trees with macaw nests hanging from them, a cacao tree (chocolate bean), and many coconut trees. We also saw where Carlos cuts trees to make planks and posts.

Carlos took us on a short hike through the jungle. I couldn't believe we were actually in the rainforest! One of the first things I noticed was how dark it was. Carlos warned us to look carefully before touching anything! The trees are enormous! I particularly loved the trees with their roots growing out of the ground. We saw tiny little orange frogs and many plants that are house plants at home! The ground was muddy and wet (go figure!) and it was steep in most places. I took another slide down a hill on my rear which seems to be a daily occurrence recently! When we came out of the jungle, we were wet and tired and it was only a fifteen minute walk!

When we returned to the little farm house, Carlos knocked a coconut down for each of us. He used his machete to cut it open and we drank the coconut milk. It was sweet and clear. It is a little messy to drink from a coconut, but we just came out of jungle so who cares! Carlos made a spoon from the top of his coconut and used it to cut the coconut meat from the middle for us to eat. I couldn't finish all of mine, it was too filling!

After our tropical treat, we got back on the boat, (which I managed to do without falling again!) and went back to Arbolitos. It was a great adventure! It seemed like enough for the day, we were all so tired, but it was only lunchtime and we still had a class to teach later in the day! For lunch, we had spaghetti, green beans, rice and beans, peyibaye, pineapple, plantains, tortillas, and cheese.

After lunch, I went to the edge of the yard, near the school, to check my email. Since I had been wearing boots all morning on our adventure and my feet were hot, I thought the wet grass might feel good on my bear feet. I was reading an email from Renee when I noticed the fire ants on my feet, but I really wanted to respond to her! After several minutes of shifting from one foot to the other, my feet were on fire! I ran back to the outdoor sink to wash my feet but it didn't help! I stepped into a mud puddle and scrubbed mud on my feet until the burning subsided! When I finally washed the mud off, I had red whelps all over my feet!

We had a few moments after lunch before people arrived for our class, so we decided to download my pictures onto Sarah's laptop. We enjoyed glancing through the photos from the last seven days and sharing stories with Sarah's mom and sister. I was pouring paint when Sarah handed the SD card back and I accidentally dropped it into the paint. I thought I would cry! There are over over 2200 pictures so far on that card! I quickly washed it off and it turned out to be fine! Thank goodness they were at least on Sarah's computer!

We taught a painting class at the library this afternoon for the women of Arbolitos. Sarah and I (through the translation of Ruth) taught the ladies basic color mixing and painting skills. We had them paint picture frames with acrylic paint. It is really hard to teach people who don't speak the same language! I really wanted to be able to communicate with them. We had 14 women, and about 7 children came to do activities with Connie and Kerry. The women did a great job on their frames and they seemed to have fun. One lady told Ruth that she could tell that I was a teacher because I was bossy. I told her that that it wasn't because I was a teacher, it was because I was a woman! She got a kick out of that!

Jerry and Carlos finished hanging half of the ceiling in the guesthouse today. Jerry also got a good start on the wiring in the house Ruth is using for the used clothing store. He is hoping to finish that tomorrow. We are all impressed and appreciative of Jerry's hard work, so we decided to reward him with Tootsie Rolls!

We were all dragging on the way to dinner tonight! As usual though, the food was excellent! I will have a hard time adjusting to cooking again! Tonight we ate a dish called "Colorful Rooster" which is rice and beans mixed together. We also had an egg and cheese mixture and breadfruit, which tastes like sweet French fries. There was cheese, pineapple, leftover spaghetti, and tortillas. I certainly never leave hungry!

We used Ruth's cell phone tonight to call Alden for his birthday. We had to stand upstairs in the corner of Ruth's house. We used the speaker phone so we wouldn't have to move the phone and risk losing the signal! It was great to hear his voice! He said he sort of missed us! I'm really glad they are having fun on their trip! So far, we have gotten emails from Carter, Trevor, and Renee, and we got to speak to Alden. I suppose that will sustain me for the next couple of days!

It has not rained since this morning. We haven't lost power (except for Jerry tripping the breaker while he was installing a light fixture!) or Internet today! I wonder if it will storm tonight! Only two more nights for us in Arbolitos!

July 26, 2012

I slept really well last night until something started biting my feet. At first, I thought it was the whelps from the fire ants itching me again, but when I got up and looked, I realized that I had new bug bites all over my feet! It was driving me crazy! I have been here for 8 days without any real problem and suddenly, it is like the word got out that I am sweet to munch on! I tried the bite remedy that Kim gave me, and that provided some temporary relief. I sprayed bug spray on my feet and legs, but they kept biting! I thought I was going to climb the walls! Finally, in desperation, I begged God to take them away. I asked Him to protect me from new bites and stop the itching. Miraculously, He did it! The itching stopped and I slept once again! Unfortunately, it came back now that I am awake!

It is a beautiful morning! The sky is blue. Maybe it is a good day to wash clothes so they will dry!

July 26, 2012

I am so tired! We just returned from a church service in Las Marias, a town about an hour away (10 miles). I rode in the back of Ruth's SUV so that we could all go. The roads are dirt and rock with massive potholes, so it was quite a bumpy ride. We stopped in La Gata on the way to deliver the gift we painted for Salvador and Ana. While we were there, Ana served us some Nance fruit. She had soaked it in sugar water, so it was sweet and yummy.

We also had time to play UNO with Milena and Michael, and David. It was fun, but playing with Salvador and Ana's children makes me really miss mine. I have really enjoyed visiting with them though! I love sitting in their kitchen and having everyone gather around to talk -it reminds me of my home! If I ever moved to Costa Rica, I would want to live in La Gata! I even have a house picked out that I would want live in! Don't worry though, I don't think it is for sale!

When we arrived in Las Marias, I was surprised in the difference between this village and the others we have visited. Las Marias is a town full of "free" houses. They are small houses that the government provides. They are on tiny lots, packed in close together. There is one huge, sprawling, stucco mansion right before you get into town. It is the only house I have seen like it here and it seems grossly out of place!

I decided to write about our experience at church last night while we were there:

We are sitting in an open air church in Las Marias, Costa Rica. It is in various stages of being built. The front wall of the sanctuary is the back wall of Pastor Franklin's house, where he lives with his family. His house is basically enclosed with a piece of plastic. There is a wall to my right and a partially built wall on the left. The ceiling is tin and the windows and doors are simply openings. You can see between the planks that make up the walls. It is dark now, but earlier when it was just reaching dusk, a bat was flying around. Right now, I am wishing he was here because he would be eating the bugs that are eating me!

I am so hot and sweaty! We are sitting on crudely made wooden benches and the floor is packed mud. It is not comfortable here. It occurs to me that these people did not come here to be comfortable, they came to worship God! What devotion they demonstrate! This Pastor is preaching to the people. I can't understand what he is saying, but I can tell that he is passionate about what he is saying and the people are intent and involved in what he is saying! These people are not distracted by the building materials stacked up against the wall or the heat or even the bugs, they are focused on the Word of the Lord!

Besides us, there are 12 people here along with some children. They take turns leading the music and reading Scripture. The Pastor's son, Wesley, who is four took up the offering. Afterward, a woman came up to pray and give thanks to God and Pastor Franklin and Wesley knelt before the alter together. Pastor Franklin seems to be a very humble man!

Both of our church experiences have been life changing. As I told Ruth, understanding the words the Pastor is speaking is not the only way to hear God speaking in church!

Flashing back to the rest of the day, we spent a lot of time in the morning getting Sarah ready for her class in La Gata on Saturday. I worked on writing/drawing directions for pop tab bracelets for Ruth to teach to the Rama women. Connie recorded the reading of English books for the Rama. Kerry organized some other supplies in the library. Connie had packed a hard drive in her suitcase for Ruth but unfortunately, it is missing.

Jerry spent the whole morning working on the electricity in the used clothing store. Ruth will go from having no electricity to having outlets and lights! It is obviously a much needed ministry in Arbolitos and it will provide her with a small income as well.

We all walked over to Ruth's for lunch around noon. We had our usual meal of beans and rice, tortillas, chicken and potatoes, and today we had papaya. By the end of lunch, my feet were itching so badly and Sarah's were bothering her too! I think I was having an allergic reaction to the fire ant bites from the day before.

We walked back to the house, and heated water to fill a plastic tub. Sarah and I soaked our feet and ankles to try to draw out the itch and soothe the discomfort. Kerry joined us just to try to clean her feet! The warm water felt so good even though we were hot and sweaty! After a bit, my feet began to swell and tingle. After a cold shower, some Ibuprofin, and a little rest, I felt like I might survive!

I walked to the pulperia to buy Jerry a Coke while he took a shower and put on his new shirt that I bought him at the used clothing sale in La Gata. A large Coca Cola is 500 colones here. That works out to about one dollar. On my way, I saw Mariana and her mom, Mirya, picking manzanas de agua (water apples). She gave me three and I brought them back to the house to try. Connie sliced them and we all tasted them. I did not like them at all!

After church, we ate the dinner that Concepcion had packed us. We ended up waiting until we got back to house to eat. I had tuna salad on a tortilla. We were so tired we just went to bed!

We are definitely winding down here. Jerry and Carlos are planning to finish the ceiling today. (this post is a combination of last night and this morning, July 27, 2012, 7:30am). As I am lying in my bed writing this, a board appears over the top of wall. Carlos has hauled it down to serve as scaffolding. Jerry also wants to finish the electricity. I expect to use my day to pack and clean the house to prepare for the next group from Franklin Baptist. Sarah will be staying for another week, but Jerry and I are heading to San Jose for a couple of days alone before we go home. Connie and Kerry will head home tomorrow. We will need to be on the boat by 6:30 tomorrow morning!

It rained hard sometime during the night, but it is not raining now. It is hot and humid, but very cloudy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Costa Rica 4

July 23, 2012

Well, I officially hit the threshold today. I miss my kids! The first day I was here, my thoughts were about home. After that, my thoughts were here. Now, my thoughts are beginning to turn towards home again!

Today, Sarah and I were able to use the entire day to work in the Biblioteca (library). The library is two rooms. One room houses the actual library/classroom/computer lab. The other room is a workshop/meeting room. We have mostly been working in the workshop/ meeting area. Sarah did wander over to the library today to play the electronic piano, and I found some time to read to Marianna, the little girl from the neighborhood that helps Ruth.

Marianna hung around a lot today! After we finally finished organizing the beading supplies, Sarah and I worked on some painting projects and Marianna was eager to paint! At first we told her no, but she was patiently persistent. Finally, we gave in and she was delighted! I painted a picture of Salvador and Anna's birds on a slice of tree to give them as a gift from us. Salvador had given the slices to Ruth as a gift and she wanted to use one to give back. Sarah worked with me on a tic tac toe set. Instead of Xs and Os, we painted frogs and chameleons on wooden blocks. Sarah made a sack with the tic tac toe board painted on it. Marianna painted on paper plates.

I mixed up some sidewalk paint from cornstarch, water, and food coloring. I showed Marianna how to use it, and it worked great! I wish that I would have had that recipe for my second graders last year! Marianna painted some beautiful things, but she didn't stay outside long because she really wanted to be inside with us!

After lunch today, Sarah and I finished our projects and then worked on a rug for the house. Jerry worked on painting concrete sealer on the block today. Tomorrow, he and Carlos will hang the ceiling.

Lunch and dinner today were similar. We ate rice and beans, tortillas, spaghetti, broccoli, and tomato salad. We also had plantains and cheese for lunch. Other than the leftovers from lunch, we had a different type of cheese that was a gift from Greiven. We also had shrimp legs! These shrimp legs were the size of small crab legs!

Sarah and I were delighted to learn that there was an Internet connection in Arbolitos today! The Internet has been out here since we arrived and we have only been able to access the Internet in La Gata.

As Jerry and I lay here in bed, inhaling the concrete sealer fumes and listening to the awesome Costa Rica thunder, Jerry is admiring Carlos' rafters on the roof. He uses mahogany which he hand cuts in the jungle with his chain saw. He then carries it on his back through the jungle, puts it on his boat, and brings it home. You must also understand that Carlos is maybe 130 pounds soaking wet, which he probably is most of the time! The wood must dry for four months before using, and he hand planes it. Jerry also notes that every board in this house is hand cut by chainsaw! Everything here is like that. It has been hard to come by and is used frugally!

Tomorrow, Ruth will go to San Jose to pick up Sarah's mom and sister. She has left us instructions to deliver invitations to some local ladies for the art class we will do on Wednesday. We are to walk up to their door and say, "Upe," and wait for someone to come out. We are not to knock on the door! Other than the invites, we will use our time to prepare for the class and get the house ready for our new housemates.

I hope it rains tonight! I love sleeping to the sound of the thunder and rain!

July 24, 2012
6:30 am

I actually slept like normal last night. I had regular dreams and slept all night. It is raining this morning, but it is a soft, gentle rain. I have become so used to the sound of the rain that I almost didn't notice it. Even as I typed that sentence, the rain became intense! Yesterday, it didn't rain at all after the morning. It was a hot, sticky day. Sarah and I remarked about how quickly things dry here when the sun is out! And now, as quickly as it began, the rain is back to a gentle shower!

Today will be another work day for us. We will prepare for our class and clean up. I am hoping to take more pictures while we deliver invitations. I would also like to cross some other things off of the board. Jerry and Carlos will finish their work in the guest house.

I can feel the time winding down. Today is day 7 and we only have 10 here. Tomorrow we will visit Carlos and Ruth's farm and hen hold the class for the Arbolitos women. Thursday, we are hoping to visit a school. Friday we will prepare to leave and then we are gone! It is hard to believe!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Costa Rica 3

July 21, 2012

I experienced so much today that I don't know where to begin. My mind has been flipping back and forth between trying to understand and speak Spanish with the people of La Gata, and speaking English. By the end of the day, Jerry would ask me a question and I would try to answer him in Spanish! It completely blew my mind!

We woke early today, ate a breakfast of eggs and a banana, and packed the car to return to La Gata. They were having a town meeting today so families came from the far reaches of the town. Many walked from the home, a few came on motorcycle, even fewer cars. Most people here do not own cars, though we have seen several Land Rovers which really excites Jerry! Because of the meeting, Ruth's friend, Salvador, thought it would be good to have the clothing sale. We planned children's activities and crafts for the day. We were looking forward to seeing the kids from the day before.

Several kids came as soon as we arrived this morning. I was glad Jerry came with us so he could meet them too! Jeremy, 8, my little photographer, Danny, a gentleman, 13, Wilmer, and the other Wilmer, 14, his girlfriend, Casey, 9, Stephanie, Melvin, Leo, and many others! Some of these from yesterday, some just came today. We began, like yesterday, by playing a game of UNO. Jerry tried to understand their rules, but I think they were making them up as they went along!

After a while, we decided to play some games with the kids. We had made sponge balls by tying strips of sponge together and we used those to play toss in the bucket and some other relay games. We made yarn crosses by wrapping yarn around Popsicle sticks. The kids were increasing in numbers as we got close to the time for the meeting at two, and though we stopped to eat lunch, they wanted to play all day long! Some kids did not stop to eat lunch, get a drink, or rest! It was a nice, sunny day with very little rain after the morning.

After our games, the kids wanted to play hide and seek. I attempted to count to 50 in Spanish while they hid. They had fun since I was not fast enough to catch them before they could reach home base! They all pitched in to find Wilmer and Melvin who hid behind the school. Once we found them, I spotted the rodeo corral and convinced the kids to take me there to take pictures. We climbed up onto the platform where we found a huge beetle which they called a cornisuala ! The boys went down into the corral where they played El Torro (bull in the ring)!

The kids led us to the Rio Susio (Dirty River). A couple of iguana jumped in as we approached, but I missed that! The children climbed a tree to get a fruit for us to try and then found another that had brown liquid coming out. The first, guayaba, you eat like an apple and tastes similar to a pear. The second, miel de coco, you bite the skin off and suck on the nut with brown liquid. It tastes something like molasses but not as sweet. We played keep away soccer and Melvin and Wilmer were really good!

When we returned from the river, we added water to the sponge balls and played water games. Sarah got really wet!!! After a while, Casey and little Wilmer took over and started creating and organizing games. The kids were great at communicating with us and they taught us quite a bit of Spanish. We taught them a little English. We did another craft, salvation bracelets with colored beads. We said the colors in Spanish, they said them in English! One little girl, Stephanie, knew lots of English words!

By the end of the day, we were exhausted! We played with all of those kids from 9 am until about 6 pm! Poor Jeremy was falling asleep in Sarah's arms by the end of the day! The people fed us twice today. Anna, Salvador's wife, cooked pasta and chicken. We were served pork and rice and beans for supper. When we got home, Ruth's mother in law had another dinner prepared! More pork, rice and beans, cheese, tomato salad, and tortillas.

There was a couple from Canada waiting for us when we returned. They were previously here, but have served as missionaries several places, including Haiti. Ruth had a lot to discuss with them.

There were three older children/adults in La Gata today that have special needs. At least two of them have Down Syndrome. They interacted in most things we did and I was impressed by the support and love they have in their community! I really did fall in love with the children in La Gata. I hope I will return one day!

July 22, 2012

We slept late today. It is Sunday and we will be going to church this afternoon in another town. Sarah and I are hoping to use the morning to organize the library and finish some of our projects.

Last night while we were getting showers, the water stopped. Ruth has a pump that leads to a tank up on a platform and that gravity feeds to the house. Sarah had a full shower, I had a drip, and Jerry washed his feet off from a pan of water we were able to squeeze out of the sink. We let the pump run for 10 minutes and there still was no water so we went to bed and Jerry will look at it today. I do hope we will be able to get showers!

It is raining steadily as it has every morning we have been here! I look forward to seeing what the day brings!

July 22, 2012
9:00 pm

Jerry made breakfast for us today. We ate it in the library while we worked on sorting craft supplies. None of us had showers before breakfast since our well pump wasn't working, but Carlos came by to fix it in time for us to shower before we left for the day. Maryanna, a little girl from the neighborhood, came by to help in the library.

While we were in the library today, Jerry spotted a beautiful frog out on the sidewalk. It turned out to be a poisonous dart frog, so I am glad we didn't try to catch it. There is not much of a barrier between the inside and outside, so it wasn't long before he came in!

Ruth invited us to come to the house before lunch to pray with Joel and Carol, the couple from Canada, before they left for the day. After our prayer time, Jerry rode on the boat with Carlos to deliver Joel and Carol to their place for the day. We had lunch when Carlos and Jerry returned. Today, it was leftover pork, rice and beans, fresh pineapple, cheese, peyibaye, and a sweet bread with sugar inside. The cheese is a homemade white cheese made by local farmers. Every meal has been excellent!

We left Arbolitos around 2:00 today to go to Jerusalem for church. As we traveled through La Gata, we stopped by Salvador and Anna's home to follow up from the clothing sale. Ruth stepped inside to speak with Salvador and Jerry, Sarah, and I stayed out to play with the birds. Salvador asked why we didn't come in and we explained that Ruth had taught us that you do not go in until invited! They laughed and said we were always welcome! As usual, Anna made coffee and served a snack. Today it was circular crispy treats made of corn. Sarah and I discovered that they were good dipped in our coffee! Anna's coffee is always excellent and I was fascinated watching her make it today. She has a stand that holds a mesh bag or sock. The ground coffee goes in the sock and a metal pitcher is placed under the sock. Anna poured boing water into the sock while stirring and mashing the grounds. Everything here is like this. Everything requires effort, nothing is mindless. Maybe that is why the pace of life seems slower.

We enjoyed the visit with Salvador, Anna, and their daughter, Melina. She is 16, and hoping to correspond with Carter through Facebook. She is very interested in practicing her English. Melina was hoping to play UNO with us today, but we needed to leave for church. Ruth reminded her that Sarah would return Saturday. We helped to load the car with the clothes from the community center down the street. They were unloaded at Salvador's house where he will try to sell them. I will probably not be back in La Gata this trip. I will miss it!

We arrived at the small, outdoor church in Jerusalem in time to greet everyone before the service. Ruth had explained that we would be expected to share and lead a song, so we practiced in the car. I suggested "Father, I adore you" since it is simple and repetitive. Those that know me well would not believe that I sang out loud on the stage!
The service was unusual to us in many ways. There were as many animals at church as people! Many dogs lay in the aisles and under the pews. Chickens walked around the yard and perched in the trees! Of course the entire service was in Spanish. Most people walked to church and children's church was at a house down the street. Some people stood in the road and listened. The preacher is illiterate, so he had another man read the Scripture and then he preached on that verse.

Some things about the service were familiar. There was a lot of singing, reading of Scripture, prayer, and preaching. They took up an offering. The children stayed for the singing and then went to children's church. Everyone greeted each other.

When the service was just about over, the children were not back yet, so one of the men threw a rock at the metal siding on the house to let them know it was time to return! When the children came back, they presented their lesson.

I worked hard to try to understand the preaching. I was able to follow along in my Bible with the Scripture reading and I understood a little, but it was hard! Everyone was very gracious! We gave a woman and her son a ride home so that they wouldn't have to walk, and then we picked up her daughter and grandchildren to do the same. On our way out of town, we saw the preacher walking with his groceries. It was after dark and he had a long way to go so we offered him a ride as well. He let us take him as far as the intersection out of town.

It was 7:00 when we made it home for supper. Joel and Carol were there, and we enjoyed egg and rice tortas, rice and beans, peyibaye, and tortillas. We talked about family, ministry, the mission field, education and more. The fellowship was sweet and we remarked about coming from so far away and meeting people we would have never had a chance to meet otherwise.

Ruth gave us a ride home since we forgot our flashlight again! We made up beds and prepared a place for Joel and Carol since previous accommodations had not worked out for tonight. We are sleeping in a full house tonight!

July 23, 2012
8:15 am

There seemed to be a lot of rain and the thunder I love last night. I heard Joel and
Carol leave very early this morning. As I lay here trying to wake up this morning, my thoughts go quickly to the people we have met in La Gata. Will I see them again? I wonder, what can I do for them, what do they need?

I asked Ruth last night about the average salary of a person working in rural Costa Rica. For someone who works in agriculture, as most of them do, $400 a month is average. She and Carlos are living off of less. The cost of living may be somewhat lower, but food is more expensive and taxes are high. Gas costs $6.00 a gallon, but most people do not have cars. Much of the clothing for these people is second hand. Houses are hand built. Luxuries are few, but people are generally happy.

It will be shocking, and I am guessing a bit repulsive at first, to go back to our way of life. It definitely causes me to want to simplify and prioritize!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Costa Rica 2

July 20, 2012
Today, Sarah made us a breakfast of scrambled eggs. I also had coffee and a banana. The local grown bananas are very small but yummy. We were supposed to walk over to Ruth's house around 8, but since it was raining so hard, she came to pick us up at the house. While we were waiting, Jerry climbed up the walls to work on some more wiring.

Sarah, Ruth, and I rode to another town nearby, La Gata, with the car loaded with clothes for a used clothing sale. We had packed clothing in feed sacks and the whole back of her SUV, the back seat, and the roof was full! There was barely room for me in the back seat! I took some pictures along the way when I could, but I missed a picture that I really wanted! We passed a house with two roosters perched on the fence in front of it. I am really hoping to get another chance at that shot!

Once we arrived in La Gata, the man who had set up the sale said that it was raining too much to hold the sale. The river was up and the high school was not in session, so many customers would not come. He (Salvador) invited us into his home to wait for the rain to stop. Salvador's wife made coffee and served us a pastry. Salvador's 16 year old daughter brought out her pet bird and I got to hold it! It bit my finger but it didn't hurt. They also brought out their pet parrot and took a picture with it on my shoulder!

Ruth is teaching English to Salvador's nephew, Graven, who lives across the street. He is doing well with His English and she brought some tapes for him to listen to. After a while, it stopped raining and Salvador and Graven helped us unload the clothes. It was just like setting up for the free swap and uniform swap we do at home. We folded clothes and laid them in piles on desks and chairs. At the bottom of one of the sacks I found a lizard! It made me squeal and hen giggle! The men tied up some rebar to make a place to hang clothes. I was impressed when someone thought to tie up a makeshift curtain for a dressing room with trash bags and rope! There were not a lot of people, but some clothes were sold and we will go back tomorrow to complete the sale.

Salvador's wife prepared a delicious lunch of pollo (chicken), rice and beans, platano (fried plantains), peyibaye (an orange fruit that tastes something like a sweet potato), and orange soda. I am missing water, but it does not seem to be a common choice of drink, though the water here is relatively safe for drinking.

Sarah and I were able to sit outside the school across the street and connect to the Internet, much to our delight! While we were working on posting our blogs and checking email, a few children, Danny, Wilmer, and Jeremy, came to sit by us. They were watching us, so I begin to show them some pictures on my IPad. They loved the pictures of my cabralitos (baby goats)! The kids had fun laughing at me because I called Jerry my "Esposa" (wife) instead of "Esposo" (husband)! They kept pointing to his picture and asking who he was to get me to do it again so they could laugh at me!

Before we knew it, some of them produced an UNO game and soon we were all playing! We discovered that it was only half a deck, amarillo y rojo (yellow and red), and that they played by their own rules, but we had fun! One of the kids, 8 year old Jeremy, loved my camera. I showed him how to take a picture and soon we were going all over taking pictures! When we told the kids,that we would be back tomorrow with activities and games, one boy said he would be waiting for us at 5am!

Later that day, we were invited to the house of the kindergarten teacher for coffee. She made a wonderful dish with plantains, butter, cinnamon, and cheese. We talked (with Ruth's help) about the differences in education between Costa Rica and the U.S. I was surprised to learn that she is not allowed to teach kindergarten children to read! She was surprised to learn how large our class sizes are!

When we returned to the sale, some older kids were waiting for us to play UNO! This time there was a full UNO deck and we played by the correct rules. I was surprised how easy it was to laugh and play together without knowing each other's language!

We were sorry when it was time to go, but when we returned to Arbolitos, supper was ready. Sarah and I walked to the house to get Jerry, who had spent the day alone working on the house. He has mostly finished what was planned for him so Ruth will have to think of more projects! He will come with us tomorrow and we will do some activities with the kids. I can't wait for him to meet them!

Dinner tonight was chicken, cheese Ruth bought from a lady in La Gata, rice, beans, avocado, homemade tortillas, and WATER! I was so happy! Our conversation at dinner was mostly about the false prophets and bad doctrine taught to the people here. Because of their lack of good education and confidence, they easily fall for false truths. Ruth's mission is to help raise up Pastors that will study and discern the truth so they can teach it to their people!

Jerry, Sarah, and I talked about our day on the walk home while we tried to avoid stepping on the fairy tale sized toads all along the road. We stopped in the library to make some sponge balls for games to play with the kids tomorrow. After quick showers we are in bed hoping to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the rain we have so quickly become accustomed to! So far though I only hear the frogs. We are, however, all enjoying the fans that Jerry hooked up in our rooms today!

July 21, 2012
5:30 am

It is light and raining, but I have been awake for a while now. It didn't rain much last night and I don't think I slept as soundly. I am not sure it was the lack of rain as much as my fullness of thought that kept me awake. I am in love with this place and I am wondering if I will ever be back. I am not sure if it is a selfish thought or a calling, but when I go home, I am sure I will long to return. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about the place, but I love the simplicity of life, the ingenuity of the people who have so little, and the hospitality I have been shown. I am drawn to their language, their rustic living conditions, the climate, the landscape, and even the color of their skin.

I haven't figured out why I am here. We will return to La Gata today, and I am hoping for clarity. We will be playing games with the children we met yesterday and many more, depending on the weather. Sarah and I have two craft projects planned that we will do with the children also. Both projects present the opportunity to share God's love and the salvation message, but I wonder if we can communicate well enough to make that clear. These people are not ignorant of the gospel, but I don't feel that they really know God on a personal level. I get the sense that this trip is more about building relationships and planting seeds.

Sarah will get the opportunity to visit La Gata two more times after today! She will return next Saturday on her own while we are on our way back to San Jose. She will also go the following Wednesday with the next group that comes to help Ruth. I am so excited to hear what God is up to with her! Sarah's mom, Connie, who came here seven years ago, will be here with Sarah's sister on Tuesday. Sarah has been trying to get here since her Mom came last!

I have been fascinated with all of critters here. I guess my life back home has prepared me for this part, since I am not bothered by the bugs and animals! There are dogs everywhere! It is not unusual to see several dogs wandering down the road. There is a three-legged dog that I have seen on this road several times! The toads and frogs (huge ones) are plentiful at night. The houses are not sealed, so birds and bats are not uncommon. A bat came into the library while we were working the other evening. On the plus side, the bats eat the bugs! The bugs are not as bad as I thought they would be. I have a few mosquito bites, but no more than I get at home! I did get bit by some fire ants the other day but, though they sting the fire out of you, the sting goes away quickly!

I have become accustomed to,walking everywhere in my muck boots. The volume of rain here keeps the ground wet and muddy. It's funny though, the rain isn't depressing, it's refreshing. People don't really stay in because of the rain, maybe because it's warm, life goes on! Right now, they are between the dry season and the wet season. I think the people here would agree with Carter when he said that dry is relative! Carlos told us that the rain that we have seen is nothing compared to what they have during the rainy season! This is the rainforest after all!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Costa Rica

July 18, 2012
6:30 am

Well, we are on our way. Since we begin to plan this trip it has seemed so far in the future. It came up suddenly and I can hardly believe we are really going to to Costa Rica. Jerry and I were looking at some of Ruth's pictures on facebook and it gave me a little perspective. I wonder if it will be anything like I expect!

I barely slept last night and my stomach feels funny today. I guess I must have a little case of nerves. I don't feel excited, but I am certainly not dreading the trip. I just really didn't want to leave home. It seems like we are leaving so much behind. I think it is really the first time that I haven't wanted to leave the kids. I am always glad to spend time with Jerry, but this is going to be longest I have been away from them! We will see how I feel by 7 days!

I don't really want to leave the animals. Ranger knew we were leaving and he started to act funny. Jessie just had her pups and I am concerned about them, especially in the heat we are expecting today. I have really grown fond of the goats. We just put fish in the pond! It occurs to me that I really love my home! I keep feeling like I forgot something, but I think it must be because so much of what is important to me is still at home.

I really felt like God was calling us to this mission trip. I hope that I can let go and experience what he has for me there. I can't help but hope there is a child involved, though that feels silly to me since my life is so very full. I have hopes in my heart for a job when I return, and if not, then the desire to start the studio. I am praying that God will speak to my heart about it all while we are away.

I am looking down at the clouds. I am glad I am not nervous about flying. It was fun to watch the two little boys across the aisle experiencing their first flight! Carter was about their age when we first flew with him!

July 18

The day was definitely not what I expected, though I was never sure what to expect! After a long flight to Costa Rica, we waited with Ruth a long time while Sarah's plane circled overhead due to a storm. Once she arrived we made the long drive to the town of Puerta Viejo, where We met Ruth's husband, Carlos. He had ridden in on a pickup truck with 12 guys for a soccer meeting. We waited for several hours until he was finished. We walked around the town and had an ice cream.

It was dark when we started the drive to Arbolitos. We passed through banana plantations and farms for an hour and a half (18 miles) on mostly unpaved roads. It was bumpy to say the least! We passed by houses with no doors and windows. The poverty is astonishing! The bridges are treacherous - one had a hole bigger than the tire on the car that went all the way through to the river.

Once we arrived, we put our suitcases in the guesthouse and had dinner at Ruth's house. Ruth's mother in law had prepared rice, beans, chicken, and potatoes. It was all tasty! We ate in chairs in their open air dining/living room. Jerry asked about the hammock hanging from the ceiling to which Ruth explained was their sofa!

We are sleeping under a tin roof and the rain sounds wonderful! It has been a very long day!

July 19
7:00 am

It rained off and on all night. The rain comes down harder than I have ever heard rain! The thunder is louder and deeper than any thunder I have ever heard. Ruth is right, it reminds one of Jurassic Park! It literally rolls! It was a pleasant night of sleep for me, since I love sleeping with the sounds of a thunderstorm. With each batch of rain, comes a refreshing breeze. We have an large "window", simply an opening covered with screen, right over our bed and there is a nice overhang of the roof, so it is like sleeping outdoors! No one here wakes to an alarm clock. Instead, they go to bed shortly after it gets dark and wake with the light.

I was the first to wake this morning. We are all so tired from the long day yesterday. We stayed up late the night before preparing for the trip and got up at 3 am to get the airport on time. We went to bed around 9 last night, but it was 11 at home. At least I don't really need to worry about waking anyone. No matter how much noise I make, they couldn't hear me over the sound of the rain and thunder!

I decided to get a shower when I woke up. The shower consists of a single stream of cold water. We were warned that someone may have to start the well pump to refill the tank! It may have been more effective to stand outside to shower! I am clean though, and ready to start the day!

Yesterday I was grateful that we don't have air conditioning at home. The humidity was similar to what I have become accustomed to!

We will brainstorm some craft ideas today and Jerry will begin to work on some projects in the guest house. I already have some ideas for him. The one outlet and one light could be increased, and the bathroom needs a hook on the wall!

July 19, 2012
8:30 pm

Today was a day of figuring things out. Sarah, Ruth, and I spent some time mapping out a plan for the next several days. We used a white board in the library to write out ideas for craft projects to do with the women and children. Sarah and I spent most of the morning sorting craft supplies. As we went through the boxes of donated items, we came up with other ideas. I am most excited about the bags of wooden blocks that Ruth found in her stash.

Meanwhile, Jerry and Carlos worked in the guest house. They hooked up lights throughout the house and on the porch, as well as outlets. Tomorrow they plan to finish the lights and outlets and hook up fans. Jerry only cut himself once, using a big knife to cut insulation off of wire. Carlos told Jerry that the knife came from Vietnam.

After a great lunch of pork, rice and beans, a tomato salad, fresh avocado, homemade tortillas, and fruit juice, we went back to work. While Ruth prepared for a used clothing sale, Sarah and I planned and prepared two craft projects that we will do with children who come to the sale with their parents. We cut yarn to make wrapped crosses from popsicle sticks. We found out that super glue and silicone glue work really well here. We also cut cord and sorted beads to make salvation bracelets.

After finishing our craft kits, Sarah and I walked down to the little house on the corner of the property where Ruth has begun a used clothing store. A little girl, Maryanna, was heading there to help Ruth, and I carried her across a very large puddle! Even though it stopped raining after lunch today, everything is still very wet! I am so glad I brought my muck boots!

We walked to Ruth's house for dinner tonight. Along the way, I took a picture of the fence posts that grow into trees, a group of people walking and riding a horse, and a sign that says "Welcome to Arbolitos, a place to remember" in Spanish of course! Earlier today, I took a picture of a man riding a bike and carrying a Weedeater! I can't wait to show that one to Carter! Dinner tonight consisted of fried plantains, rice and beans, avocado, tomato salad, boiled eggs, and fruit juice.

It just started raining again and it is so loud that I couldn't hear Jerry if he said something! It should be good sleeping tonight!

July 20, 2012
6:30 am

It was a good night of sleep. It seemed to rain off and on and there was one huge thunder boomer that startled me out of my sleep. I love the deep rolling sound of the thunder here and I am afraid I will never hear it like that again!

There are already things I know I will miss here, like the thunder and the sound of the rain coming down with the force of a water over a dam. I will miss walking down the dirt and stone paths and the tree fences. I will miss chatting with Sarah and the timelessness of the days. I will definitely miss the simplicity of life!

I miss certain luxuries of our life though. I miss the warmth of a full, hot shower and the ability to flush the toilet paper! I miss my family and my animals. I miss the connection of Internet and the phone, though I have not seen a single person using a cell phone since I have been in Arbolitos and that is refreshing!

My perspective has already begun to change! I thought it would, but I assumed it would take longer. I love simplicity of life! I love the slow pace here! I love that they go to bed early because it gets dark around 6:00 and they wake early because it gets light around 5:00. They make do with so little here and they seem satisfied with what they have.

Much is the same though. Family dynamics are a struggle. Children eat candy whenever possible. People get jealous of other's successes. Men shake their heads at their wives! We are all people!

I look forward to what the day brings!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In the Way

By Wendy Custer

I came upon a man stocking shelves at the grocery store today and, as I passed him in the aisle, I said, "Excuse me!"

I was simply being polite, but when I rolled by, the man murmured, "I'm sorry, I am in the way. I started to refute his statement, but he just kept talking. "I'm always in the way," he mumbled to himself. I even feel like I am in the way when I am sleeping."

Wondering what could have made this gentleman feel so bad about himself, I simply commented, "Well, I appreciate you being here. If you weren't, our shelves would be empty."

The man responded with a surprised laugh and I continued my shopping. After I rounded the next corner, he came around the aisle and exclaimed, "Since you said you appreciated me, I'll tell you Happy Valentine's Day!"

That man stayed in my mind all day! Having just participated in the "Love and Respect" conference, God's command for women to respect their husbands was ringing in my ears. I don't know if this man was married, but he certainly was not feeling respected! I found myself praying for his wife to appreciate him when he got home.

As I contemplated what to do for my husband this Valentine's Day, I thought a lot about what would make him feel appreciated and respected. I realize that I need to think about that every day and not just special occasions. I pray that, on those days that I make my husband feel like he is in the way, God will bring the man from the grocery store back into my mind. I hope that I will remember how easy it was to make him feel appreciated and what a delighted response I received from that small act of kindness. I hope that I can stop and express the kind of appreciation for my own husband that I was able to give a complete stranger.

It is my goal to show my husband, not only that he is not in my way, but that I actually like having him around - when he is awake and while he is sleeping!

The wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:33

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peace In the Midst of Chaos

By Wendy Custer

After a tragedy in our neighborhood, our neighbor, Agnes, called to say that she would like to come over. Jerry walked over to escort her through the yard while I bustled about trying to create some order to the house. We made a place for Agnes to sit on the sofa, between my oldest son and myself, and continued to talk about the events of the evening. The TV was playing in the background, puppies were whining from the studio, dogs were lying at our feet, and the kids were rotating in and out of the shower. It was our typical pre-bedtime routine and the house was in its usual state of disorder, so Agnes really took me by surprise with her announcement.

"I always find such peace at your house," she stated as she held my hand. I looked around at the laundry baskets of unfolded clothes and various other neglected chores, and I couldn't imagine how someone else could find my chaos peaceful!

I was sharing Agnes' statement with my sister-in-law, Shannon, and I fully expected her to share my surprise. Instead, she laughed and reminded me that I had found that same kind of peace at her home during one of my difficult times. I thought back on that experience and realized that I had found peace in the midst of many other people's chaos as well. It really didn't matter what was going on in their homes as long as they welcomed me in and offered company when I was alone, or afraid, or sad. The chaos, as they saw it, was simply home and family happening around me. The fact that someone would let me into the midst of their everyday life meant that I was loved and welcomed. If anything, the chaos was a welcome distraction and a reminder that life was going on.

I have fresh eyes for my own chaos now. Of course, I would prefer to have a clean, beautifully decorated house for my guests, but now I see that it is not my house or the decorations that draw them to my home. Instead, it is the warmth of the love that we offer, the vibrancy of life that we demonstrate, and the promise of a welcoming smile no matter what else may be going on.

I am so thankful for all of my friends that have opened their lives to me in times of need. I am just as grateful, though, that God gives me the opportunities to share my home as well. After Agnes' reminder, I am also feeling blessed to have what I call "chaos" in my home. As odd as that may seem, it is the children, the animals, and yes, even the chores that come with them, that make our life so rich and full! After a look around my home through the eyes of my neighbor, I realize that I too can find peace in the midst of my chaos!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Power of Patience

By Wendy Custer

Shortly after Jessie and her puppies arrived, a family, who had recently lost their elderly beagle, discovered that we were looking for homes for the pups. We invited them to come by to pick out a puppy, and Austin and his parents wasted no time in choosing Lightning for the new addition to their family. Knowing that their puppy was not even close to leaving his mother, we encouraged Austin's family to visit Lightning often as he continued to grow. Every week since then,, they have come to play with Lightning and his brothers and sisters.

The puppies are five weeks old now, and Austin and his mom and dad made their weekly visit today. They are amazed at how much the puppies have grown each week. As he played with his new friend, Austin expressed his impatience at having to wait for three more weeks to take Lightning home with him. "Austin is not used to having to wait for anything." his mom explained, "But he knows that it is what is best for Lightning."

We studied patience in Sunday School earlier today, and I was amazed at how swiftly God was giving me an example in living color. I felt Him giving me a clear picture of what patience really meant this morning. In my Sunday School book I had written in the margin, "Patience is letting go of something I want for the benefit of someone else." Apparently, God wanted to impress this lesson on my heart today!

Austin really wanted to take his puppy home today! He was having fun playing with him and it was getting harder and harder to leave him behind each week. If he took him home, however, it would actually be harmful for Lightning. Austin was learning to give up something he wanted for the benefit of someone else!

God has given us the most beautiful example of this very lesson! In 2 Peter 3:9, God shows us what patience really looks like. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Though He is our maker, and He has chosen us for His very own, God waits for us until we are ready. He certainly has the power to make us His at any time, but He knows that it will be better if the time is right.

If the Lord can wait patiently for His children to choose Him, how much more should we patiently await the salvation of others. This does not not mean that we should just sit idly by, waiting for the eyes of the unbelievers to be opened. Instead, we should follow the example of Austin. We should continually spend time with those who have yet to enter the family of God. We should love on them, be kind to them, and work to build a relationship with them. When we join God in this patient process, we will encourage others to want to join us in His family.

Often, being patient will require me to let go of something I want for the benefit of the person who has not yet chosen God. I must decide - what is more important than the salvation of one of God's children? Is getting my way, no matter how significant it may seem, worth risking an opportunity for someone to see God's grace?

Every time Austin leaves my house without his puppy, it gets harder and harder. But each time he visits, Lightning is closer to finding his permanent home. Austin may be learning a tough lesson now, but in reality, he is building a relationship that is changing a life!

Romans 12:10 says, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." What better way to honor another, than to give up your own desires for the sake of their very life? Only God can give us the ability to do this, but it is His desire that we join Him in actively waiting for the repentance of all!

Austin was sad when he left my house today, but under his sadness was the excitement of anticipation. He knows what God knows - love is worth the wait!

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
2 Peter 3:8

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Practicing Hospitality

By Wendy Custer

Several weeks before Christmas, a stray hound dog had eight puppies in the mulch under my parents' bedroom window. In the cold of the night, she was unable to keep all of the puppies warm and, when my parents discovered them the next morning, one of them had already died. Not in a position to take in a single, homeless mother and her seven babies, my parents called animal control, only to be told that they were off for the weekend! Without a collar or tag to identify the dog's owner, Mom and Dad were unsure who else to call; so they called us. We headed to their house to try to assess the situation.

After she gobbled down several bowls of dog food and quenched her thirst with clean water, we were able to get close enough to touch the mother and her babies. She was pitifully thin and her pups were quickly growing cold. Without hesitation, Jerry, the kids, and I decided to take her to our house. We loaded the pups into a carrier and carried the mother to our car for the short trip up the road. I am not sure if she was too weak to resist or if she simply trusted us, but we were able to move her with little effort.

It didn't take long before the kids had named the mama dog "Jessie" and each of the puppies earned a fast title as well. Knowing that the puppies would be with us for the next eight weeks, until they could be weaned and find homes, we settled the little family into our living room.

Jessie is an excellent mother, so caring for the puppies has been no trouble at all. I can't exactly say the same for her though. Jessie is an extremely protective mother, and though she graciously lets us handle her puppies frequently, she will not let our other dogs or cats anywhere near the room. She fiercely guards each entrance to the room and our other pets quietly sneak by the door so as not to receive the wrath of Jessie!

Jessie has obviously never lived in a house before. She eats and drinks whenever she wants, and invariably, her bowls become empty in the middle of the night. Though she doesn't bark, Jessie whines until I respond to her needs, and often that is several times a night. I don't do well with a lack of sleep, and after being woken several times a night for the last couple of weeks, I actually began to resent her being here.

After a couple of nights of grumbling, God reminded me that I was to practice hospitality. After all, Jessie never asked to come to my house, I brought her here! She was incapable of taking care of her own needs, but I had volunteered to serve her. It was with eagerness that I had brought her into my home, but once the newness wore off, I was quickly wearied by her meager needs.

God reminded me that He looks for us to serve Him by serving the needs of those who cannot. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks to us about caring for "the least of these." Though we know that he is certainly talking about people, God has used this little dog to speak to me about hospitality and compassion. We should be willing to open our hearts and our homes to those who are in need, but we must also be willing to continuously minister to them even when it becomes laborious or inconvenient.

Though it is not the original meaning, I believe we have come to view hospitality as entertaining or having a party. We don't mind having people over, but we hope they don't stay too long. We usually prefer to wait until it is convenient to us to invite others in, as opposed to welcoming those who are needy and unable to wait for our busy schedules to clear.

I have received so many blessings from having Jessie and her puppies in my house. They have brought joy to my family and all who visit our home. They have brought us new friends, as people come by to pick out their new puppy. They have given us the incomparable experience of watching a new mom care for her young. But, most importantly, by simply giving me the opportunity to serve someone who is unable to give anything in return, Jessie and her puppies have taught me the value of hospitality and patience in caring for others.

God is so creative in the way He instructs me! I can't wait to see who, or what, he brings into my life next!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:9-10

Share with Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Romans 12:13

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Seeds of Encouragement By Wendy Custer

I recently discovered that a dear woman that I knew briefly had passed away. She entered my life in 1999 when she and her husband called me to paint a mural in their home. As usual, when I am preparing to work for someone, I had several days to get to know them before I spent time in their home. I discovered that Nancy hosted a prayer group, and I had the privilege of listening to her, and the ladies in that group, faithfully lift up every prayer request in their church while I worked one day. It was like painting in the throne room of God!

My oldest son was two years old at the time, and I remember being a bit sleep deprived during those days. I showed up at Nancy's house one of the mornings during her job with tears in my eyes. Immediately concerned about my distress, she welcomed me in ready to listen and, when she heard my young mother's guilt from fussing at my little boy, she smiled knowingly. Nancy offered no advice, but gave me the best encouragement a person can offer; she sent me to the feet of the Lord. Providing me with a Bible, a notepad, a pen, and a cup of tea, Nancy sent me to her back porch, a place of tranquility, to pray. I don't remember what I read or wrote that day, but I do remember that I was encouraged, and I remember that I found peace!

Nancy and her husband, Gary, had a beautiful home and lovely landscaping. As a want-to-be gardener, I am always admiring plants. On my last day, as Nancy walked me out to my car, I asked about the name of some of her flowers. Instead of just telling me about them, she put some of the seeds from the purple Columbine into a bag for me to take home and plant. It was just like Nancy to give me something real that could grow and flourish instead of a short answer that would fade quickly!

I pray that I can be the kind of encourager that God created in my special friend. It was many years after I met Nancy that God placed on my heart the calling to be an encourager, but He certainly used her life to plant the seeds. It is a joy to know that she is now resting in His eternal peace! I am quite confident that she has heard the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. . . For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building.
1 Corinthians 3: 6,9