Minimizing

Rock Stack at Sunset

I have never considered myself a minimalist. I’m not a big fan of clutter, but I have owned my share of “stuff” in my lifetime. Books, mostly.  I used to also buy food staples in bulk (rice, beans, dried legumes…) before I started eating all raw, when bulk buying became impractical. And while I didn’t have a walk-in closet full of clothes, I see now that I always had well more than my share of decent things to wear.

Now that we’re here in Costa Rica, I can’t seem to give things away fast enough. Most people we’ve talked to here feel the same way. Part of it’s practical: things mold here. More stuff means more things to wipe off, more things to wash, and it means buying (and trying to find) more “stuff” to prevent the stuff we have from molding.

There are ingenious ways people have dealt with this without purging. My favorite is the beautiful curved shelving unit some friends of ours designed to keep air circulating around their books constantly. It works. Most people have at least one small space heater (often in a closet or pantry) meant for use on boats that uses minimal electricity but gives off enough dry heat to prevent mold. And then there’s always the single air conditioning unit idea, put in the window of a room containing books or linens.

But when our things were beset by mold in the first rental house we lived in here, we were simply disgusted, and so we started purging. Now, we cannot stop, even though we’ve pared down sufficiently to avoid mold. Perhaps one reason is our new designation as “empty nesters.” I know I felt that I needed a lot of books, art materials, picnic items, party favors, cookie cutters, and on and on to feel like a competent mother. (The funny thing about that is our son is a true minimalist, wanting to own no more than he can fit into a small backpack.) I do see, of course, that those assumptions stemmed from my own insecurities, rather than from necessity. You don’t need cookie cutters to be a good mother. And maybe that’s what feels so good about this new trend of ours. With our letting go of “stuff,” we’re beginning to let go of the idea that we need improvement.  Or at least that we can be improved by something outside ourselves.

Reduce

One thing we have yet to do here, and we’ve been in the new house almost three months, is to buy mirrors. We have none in the house at all. I might occasionally catch my reflection in the big windows, but I can’t see details. On the rare occasions I put on make-up, I use the car’s side mirror.

Seriously, this is a big change! I can’t believe how much more relaxed I am in general because I don’t see myself every time I enter a bathroom. I’m far less body-conscious, and I’m becoming more comfortable with my naked face.  I wonder how accurate the mirror really is, and what part the mirror plays in our tendency to disparage or at least worry about our looks.  My favorite reflecting medium has become water.

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Related to this lack of mirrors, perhaps, was my purge of books. My fiction collection fit half a shelf in Wisconsin, and now it fits half a smaller shelf. It’s not fiction I buy compulsively, but information – and mostly information on how to be a better… whatever. I still have a relatively small shelf of spiritually oriented “how-to-be-your-best-self” type of books, and another about how to be a better writer, but compared to enormous bookcases full of these books at our old home, the cull is pretty impressive. And with it went a lot of my insecurities about how to “be.”   I did keep most of the poetry, which is probably the best advice on being there is.

Clothes. So funny, now that I’m in a position to reflect, how much time I used to spend thinking about clothes.

Muy extraño, I think now.

Though after a seven-week cycling tour of France, I vowed never to wear shorts again, I now have a wardrobe consisting of two pairs of shorts, two pairs of jeans, four pairs of knee-length pants (those aren’t called “capris,” right?), a small stack of short-sleeved shirts, four or five sleeveless tops, two dresses, and three skirts. This seems like a lot, as I write it, but I have given away at least three garbage bags full of clothing since I arrived.  Before I came, I had given away at least twice that much, plus shoes. I’m sure I will get rid of more soon, because some I don’t like so much, and I really have too many clothes if I’m not wearing each thing at least once every few weeks. Specific clothes are not needed for any function here: the basic female couture is a t-shirt and those knee-length pants I mentioned. No one ever need wear heels (though I sometimes wish I’d kept a pair for the rare occasions I find myself in San Jose).

We purged a bunch of kitchen items this week, including cutlery (who needs twelve forks when our dining table seats four?) and our Kitchen Aid stand mixer. No necesitamos ahora. The portable massage table may be the next thing to go, as we use it only on occasion, and the bed is a pretty decent substitute. Maybe a Tica could use it to begin a new career.

So many people have written about the joys of clearing clutter, the freedom inherent in fewer possessions. I suppose I just had to experience it for myself to believe it.

Feather on Sand

*As an addendum, some people have asked what items we really do value and are glad we have here. This is my list:

Vita-Mix blender (for smoothies, frozen banana “ice cream,” juicing, etc.)

Roomba vacuum cleaner (because we keep the doors and windows open all the time and we have pets and would have to vacuum at least once a day if the robot didn’t do it for us – a luxury, but one I’m glad we have, even if it means we can’t really be put in the “minimalist” camp)

Make-it-yourself items (by which I mean things that make it easy to create my own concoctions, like soap, oils, health care preparations, etc. – bottles, jars, essential oils, a food processor and grinder)

Meditation cushions (the three zabutons and two zafus have been invaluable in creating comfortable and ergonomically superior seating, even though they feel like luxury items)

Essential oil diffuser (because I really appreciate and believe in this tool for physical and emotional support and get a lot of pleasure from it)

Pottery bowls and the few art pieces we kept (because we kept only those that give us a wave of gratitude every time we look at them)

Stainless steel pots and pans (the heavy versions are difficult to find here, and I have confidence that they’re a healthy cooking medium)

Good knives (there’s just something about a good chef’s knife)

I checked with Steve, and he has nothing to add to the list. I suspect he could do without the essential oil diffuser, but otherwise, his list would look like mine. Okay, sure, we could live without these things, and it doesn’t give us the freedom of stuffing everything into a backpack and taking off, but it is a huge change from where we were. And where we were was pretty minimal already, compared to most Americans.

So, from 1800 square feet (plus a basement) to 1100 square feet (and no basement) is perhaps only the beginning for us. We’ll see whether the list above dwindles with time, and if we can manage to get rid of all the things we still have that are not on that list!

Being Goo

I was “person soup.” That’s my explanation for why it’s been so long since I’ve written or published anything here, lo these many months. I borrow the term from Martha Beck and her article, Growing Wings: The Power of Change.  She explains so well everything I’ve been feeling, and it’s entirely relevant to our subject here: transformation.

Chrysalis and Caterpillar

I’ve always known that moving was stressful, and I was okay with giving myself a bit of space and some slack, but it’s not easy for me to be so reclusive and inactive.  The only thing that’s kept me from getting out there, volunteering, making tons of friends, and generally being the “me” I’m used to being has been this: It’s been impossible.  My body simply has not let me do it, and my emotions have been an early warning sign that I risk crashing if I push myself.  I’ve felt guilty for this, sliding into the realm of shame, even, when I’ve declined invitations to dine with new friends or to attend meetings.  I’ve wanted to integrate into this very friendly community, but I’ve run into limitations I’ve never experienced before.

What I realized reading the Martha Beck article was how just how much transition we’d taken on.  It really is something to move to another country, but that was only part of our picture.  First, let me say that I have no regrets whatsoever, and I would make the same choice again in a heartbeat.  But there may be some useful lessons in our experience for those considering such a move, so I’ll share all the ways we seem to have made it hard on ourselves.

First, we combined this transition with a major life shift.  It seemed like a good idea at the time!  Our nest had just emptied, and we were feeling that change, so why not make another?  This is a pattern of mine, by the way: piling on the stress and moving through it all at once, like a plow horse.  What I didn’t consider was that I was also giving up a business that I loved in a community where I’d made heartfelt connections.  So there was a whole lot of loss going on at once.  As someone who’s always been pretty flexible, I underestimated the impact that this cumulative loss could have on me.  Not that it’s bad to move on, of course, but spreading out “loss” when possible seems, in hindsight, advisable, especially when combined with several other factors.

Second, we moved without knowing any Spanish.  Again, on its own, not a bad thing.  In fact, immersion is the best way to learn a language, no doubt.  But, again, combined with the other things we were trying to do right away, it would have been less stressful if we’d had the equivalent of maybe two years of high school español.  Steve and I both took French in high school.  C’est dommage!

Third, we built a house immediately.  No regrets now that we’re here, as the house is exactly what we wanted — even better, actually.  But we had to communicate with our very patient builder speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y with poor syntax and, finally, impromptu sign language (which, admittedly, worked pretty well for almost everything).  And we had to obtain things we needed for the house not knowing where to find them.  We figured it all out, but this added to our stress level.  And another problem with building right away was that we didn’t always know what the right decision or the right item was for this climate.  Fortunately, our builder guided us in this realm, but until we moved in, there was some nail-biting.

Fourth, we invited lots of guests before we were ready to be good hosts.  We loved everyone who visited and enjoyed our time with each and every one, but it probably would have been wise to wait to host friends until we’d gotten a hold on the language, and especially until we’d finished with the house, as we often felt torn between being available to our builder and spending time with these people we love, not to mention feeling bad for the piles of boxes in their quarters.

Combined, these factors resulted in adrenal fatigue for me, a heart-related scare for Steve, and some serious desire on both our parts to withdraw from the world.

I should mention that we are meditators and we do yoga (though we were challenged to keep up the latter at certain points).  We’ve usually dealt pretty successfully with stress.  Apparently, we have more work to do.

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Finished house, from one of the vegetable gardens

I’m no longer goo now.  I’m getting back on my feet, feeling grateful for all of it.  We’re coming up on the year anniversary of the move, and here we are in our sweet, small, easy-to-clean house with its beautiful land and soothing views, speaking Spanish with new friends, chatting once in a while with our son and U.S. friends on Skype.  We’re back to daily meditation and yoga on the deck and walking every day.  Steve’s stress test cleared his heart for whatever challenges he feels like pursuing next, and my adrenals seem to be giving me the thumbs-up too.

All’s well that ends well, perhaps.  As Jane Kenyon reminds us, “It could have been otherwise.”

When we’re asked “Would you do it again?” our answer would still be an enthusiastic, “Absolutely.”  But if that person’s asking for advice on how to do it wisely, we will add, “There are some things you might want to think about first…”

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Steve in his new, far-from-stressful home office.

An Immigrant’s Plea

The Costa Ricans we’ve met have been unbelievably supportive of both Steve and me as we learn Spanish. They’re kind, patient, willing to play charades as necessary (always with a grin), and generously speak slowly as needed. But we still feel stressed sometimes, and it made us think about what it might be like for other language learners around the world.

As a recent immigrant to another country, learning a new language, I have some requests for those of you who are living in your home country, speaking the language of your birth, knowing where to find everything you might need. Before you pass judgment on a foreigner struggling with basic living, please take time to consider the following:

ConfusedIf I am looking at you strangely – whether my expression is quizzical or pained or overly alert – before letting your lips slide into a sneer or pressing the alarm button under the counter, please consider that behind that expression is a brain working hard to figure out what I need to say to you to get what I need. I’m unfamiliar with the language, the customs, and the availability here of things I’m familiar with, so all that processing is happening in what seems like slow motion as I hold this painfully slow conversation with you. I feel your pain, and I wish it were otherwise, but this is just how it is for me right now.

Brain Maze

If I am deliberate in my speech or if I ask you to repeat things, it doesn’t mean I’m “slow,” or that I’m not willing to learn the language of my new country – your language. It may be that I haven’t been here very long. Perhaps I know six other languages and my brain is still sorting them out.  Or it could be that I’m in the stage of language-learning in which I understand a lot but cannot yet formulate my own speech very well.  There’s also the possibility that I’m feeling intimidated in my new surroundings, which makes me nervous and therefore less articulate.

Greek to Me

As a native speaker of your language, you may not realize how difficult it is for an outsider to learn. Perhaps the characters are different, or the rules of spelling or pronunciation. Perhaps inflection makes a difference, or maybe a given word has more than one meaning. I am (usually) more than happy to be corrected if I’m using a word incorrectly, as I earnestly desire to communicate with the natives of this country. I’ll be so grateful for your patience and especially for your assistance. No need to correct me on every little thing, but if I’m committing a faux pas, a smile along with an explanation in slowly spoken words I can understand will help enormously.

Paperwork Overload

As a native to this country, you also may not know all that is involved in getting permission to be here as an immigrant. So, while I am learning your language, I am also making trips to government offices trying to meet requirements I may or may not understand. Some of my language lessons may be spent interpreting documents, when I’d much rather be learning how to have conversations.

Friends at Dinner

Learning a new language can be exhausting. While I enjoy the challenge, I hope you’ll understand that it can be taxing for my brain to continually try to come up with the right words and to fully understand what others are trying to tell me. And so I might need regular “down time” with others who speak my native language. There is, admittedly, some comfort and ease there that I cannot yet find with native speakers. So if we are gathered somewhere laughing amongst ourselves and chatting in our own language, please don’t be concerned that we harbor ill will toward the native speakers, that we’re cliquish, or that we’re not trying to fit into our new culture. We often are doing our best to integrate, but it is a gradual process.

 

Mostly, I request that you assume the best of me. If I shake your hand and ask, “How is your dead aunt?” please let your better nature convince you that I meant something else and was not intentionally offensive or ridiculous. Maybe I learned the words “dead” and “sweet” in the same lesson and just have them mixed up!  If I look harried, remember that I, too, would prefer to be smiling. When I’m met by native speakers with joviality and empathy, I’ll be able to relax and let my true personality shine through. And that’s how friendships are born.

Assuming the Best

All in Good Time, My Pretty, All in Good Time

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help. –May Sarton

Hanging Bridge

 I’m considering having May Sarton’s words tattooed on my forearm.

One of the things that at least this area of rural Costa Rica encourages – through her culture, her topography, and her sheer beauty – is slowness. It’s one of the things that drew me here. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to slow down, though. I grew up in the United States, so I have the customary “hurried” feeling imbedded deep in my nervous system.

Slowness, contrary to what many assume, doesn’t equate to laziness. Actually, I’m beginning to think the opposite may be true. Every Monday morning by 6am, the hammering begins on the houses under construction in the neighborhood we’re living in. They take an hour for lunch and leave between 5 and 6pm. This happens every day except Wednesdays, when the day tends to start a bit later (though not always). When we go to our own home under construction on Saturdays, workers are often there. What’s more, Tico houses are swept and mopped every single day, showers are taken every morning (and evening if they day’s work made them sucio).  That’s far more work than this gringo undertakes on any given day. It feels rather ridiculous to us when we hear people say that Ticos don’t like to work hard. It’s simply not true.

Mopping the Porch

What is true is that they take the time to enjoy what they’re doing. Of course, I’m speaking in generalities, but what I’ve noticed is that the emphasis is on doing the job thoroughly and with good humor. In line at the farmacia, I’ll wait as the pharmacist asks questions of the customer to make sure the product will meet his specific needs; no hurrying a customer along because someone happens to be waiting.  She knows I’ll wait, and I know she’ll give me the same kind attention.

Cows in the RoadSimilarly, there is no rush to get to appointments exactly on time. We often see people arrive within five to ten minutes of the appointed hour, because they don’t panic if they are delayed by a cow in the road or a child asking for a ride home. There is less desperation and frenzied activity.  And, consequently, less yelling and honking!

Of course, it would be difficult in a country with so many mountains to try to get anywhere fast. The roads curve, dip, and climb so much, it can easily take twenty minutes to go ten kilometers. What’s more, with cars and gas being muy caro, many people don’t even have the luxury of four-wheeled transportation and must walk, bike, or take public transportation. In the States, it was easy for me to forget to factor in transportation time, if I were going just ten miles away, but here, that’s not an option if I want to be on time, more or less.

The norm of taking things slowly is part of the culture. No worries about being a little late. Everyone understands. And if you want to make a change, it’s no problem. We’ve got plenty of time. No winter to get ready for. No wolf at the door. Just take it easy.

I’m planning a raw food workshop for some new friends, on request, and I’ve been working on it as if I were hosting it at my retreat center in the States: in a word, “over-planning.” I’m watching myself do this with a smile on my face, knowing that my anxiety is completely unnecessary, and that it will all work out even if I forget a detail or two.

howler monkey

 

Last Sunday on our land, Steve spotted a troupe of howler monkeys, and I plopped myself under the trees and watched them for about an hour. Of course, there were many things I could have (my mind says “should” have) been doing instead, but it felt uncommonly wonderful to lie on the bare ground under the trees and simply observe the action twenty feet above my head.

 

It took a while to shake the feeling of being entranced. Not that I wanted to shake it. It felt similar to falling in love, and I think Leaf Heartsthat’s exactly what I’m doing.  That’s one thing around here that happens muy rapido.

Electricidad: What to Do?

IMG_5810We had a meeting with our builder, Calin, a few days ago. He advised us at that meeting to begin the process of bringing electricidad to our house now, so it would be able to be hooked up by our move-in date. “Solar?” I questioned, hopefully. “Si, solar es bueno,” he said enthusiastically, “si ustedes tienen un sistema de baterías y un generador.” This is rain forest country, and while we get a great amount of sunshine, we also get our fair share of rain. So yes, solar is a great idea, but without a grid inter-tie, it won’t be cheap!

It’s also not cheap to have the electric lines brought to our house, as the closest line is a quarter mile away. We are building in a what may one day be a “development,” as we own two lots out of dozens available, but we are only the second or third to buy here, and the first to build. And the first to build bears the cost of extending the line.  (This is something to think about when buying land here.  If you want to share the cost with the seller, it should be in the contract.)

So either option will cost us, but the solar option will still be significantly more.

On the same day we met with Calin, we got a delivery of forwarded mail, and in the box were two issues of The Sun magazine, the one subscription I couldn’t bring myself to cancel. I opened the August issue this morning, as Steve was talking on the phone to a representative from the solar company, Purasol, and turned to an interview with Jack Turner, an advocate for connecting with “wildness.” His interviewer, Leath Tonino, quotes Lao Tzu:

The world is sacred

It can’t be improved.

If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.

If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

Turner responds, “There are many ways to act as nature’s helpful partner. One option is to start very close, with your own surroundings – right here, right now –- with your life and your community.”

Steve got off the phone with David from Purasol, and we talked about going solar. More expensive? Yes, very likely. But it’s one of the “somethings” we can do to partner with nature. Already, we are creating a footprint by putting a house where there once was grazing land, and where before that was a macadamia farm, and before that, rainforest. We will populate it with fruit trees and native plants, and we will care for it and allow what’s standing to remain. We will not poison the soil with pesticides or the ground water with sodium laurel sulfate and the like. But we are still encroaching. We will still want to use a refrigerator and take showers and write blog posts and take up space.

And although Costa Rica uses alternative energy sources for 90% of its power, the higher the demand goes, the less likely it is that will continue. Though Presidente Solis has extended the moratorium on oil drilling, there is growing opposition to this policy.

Psychologically speaking, using alternative energy will require a more intimate relationship with our environment. We had a 10-kilowatt, grid inter-tie solar system for our two homes in Wisconsin, and that meant we didn’t have to think much about our consumption. A four-kilowatt battery system would require us to pay attention to how much we’re on the computer, how often we open the refrigerator, how much battery power our cell phone is using, etc..

Turner says, “There are some researchers in the field of neurophysiology who think consciousness is actually just attention.” When we pay more attention to how we allocate our resources, we are constantly reminded that every choice matters. It’s harder to get lost in Facebook gossip when you know that an hour more on the computer means you won’t be able to wash your clothes later. And that choice means spending that hour differently: sitting on the deck with the binoculars or walking down to the stream.

Go outside!

Go outside!

That’s what we want to be about here: making wiser choices about how we spend our moments.

So, solar it is.

Homemade Everything

My last post was about minimizing. I have. Significantly. But then there’s comfort and habit, and I’ll admit I’m not free of either of those aspects of life.

After two months in a furnished rental house, we began anticipating the arrival of our 20-foot container full of our “stuff” like six-year-olds the week before Christmas. And when it arrived, it was no less magical. More, perhaps, because every item in those boxes was selected because it was useful or beautiful or, ideally, both.

We brought only a small couch and two upholstered chairs, a bed with new bedding (a quilt made of old saris!), our round dining room table and chairs, our Clavinova piano, Steve’s guitar, our desktop computer (our laptops came with us on the plane), our massage table, some toiletries, and clothes. Oh, and books. Way too many books. We are building a tiny house, and there’s no way that many books will fit, but I stubbornly clung to the vision of lying in a hammock reading all day.

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I’m discovering that’s not the plan for my life here.

 

imagesAs raw food eaters, we’re used to making our own food. We’ve been eating this way for eight plus years (the past few years off and on raw but still vegan), and we’ve got it down pretty well. We know we can’t eat out easily, so we’re used to preparing foods in advance, which with raw food can take days due to the soaking and/or dehydrating processes.

 

 

 

14-04-18-pic21Now that we’re here, we’re finding that we need to apply these preparation skills more widely, if we want to stick with our comforts and habits. For example, we’ve been unable to find liquid castille soaps, or shampoos without fragrances or SLS (sodium laurel sulfate) or other ingredients we haven’t been using for decades. So, we’re learning how to make soap. That means collecting the ingredients, the equipment, and the knowledge to do so. Fine! It’s fun! And we can customize it the way we like it. That is, as soon as we turn out a successful batch.  (Humblebee and Me has been my favorite consultant on this project.)

 

No unfiltered apple cider vinegar in any of the stores we’ve been in, so I’m making my own. No almond butter or tahini, so I’m using my food processor (one of the wonderful presents in our box!) to make both of those from regular almonds and sesame seeds, now that we’ve found good sources for those.

But again, that’s part of the process: making friends, asking people where to find things, checking out new areas of the country, learning the Spanish, or sometimes the specifically Costa Rican word for something. (Google Translate told me that sesame seeds were “semillas de sesamo,” but here they are called “ajonjoli.”)

The homemade idea isn’t ours alone, of course. In a country where until recently people were quite isolated from one another due to a lack of infrastructure, Ticos and Ticas have learned to create and recreate what they need from the materials at hand.  Things aren’t done by the book because there is no book.  Mecanicos can fix any car using their wits and whatever is around.

Necessity is the mother of invention, I suppose. And the innovation is, perhaps, a source of the happiness that’s so famous here.

UnknownWe find ourselves creating a lot more in our new country, whether it’s rigging up a barbed wire fence to keep the cows away from our newly planted banana trees or finding new ways to crack open a coconut.  It’s interesting to notice the impact of this do-it-yourself lifestyle on our emotional state.  Without exception, when we come up with a new way to do something or finish a project that solves a problem, we feel invigorated, satisfied, happy, and ready for more.  Right now, in fact, I’m ready to make my ground almond and flax crust for my next raw pizza, and Steve is wanting to plant some more bananos.

Sometimes, “pura vida” means “Do it yourself!”

My Minimizing Mindset

[This post was written June 16, 2014 but I waited to post it until I was sure I wanted to write a blog!]

I am sitting here in our rental house after having unpacked all our suitcases, staring at the piles before me, dumbfounded.   Two days ago, I was in collection mode, making sure we were prepared for every eventuality. Today, I cannot believe how much “stuff” I thought I needed.

Clothes Pile

I’m trying to understand this sudden shift in attitude. To be clear, it’s not an intellectual shift; I’ve always had the idea that we should walk lightly on the planet by consuming as little as possible. But two days ago in Wisconsin, it felt to me like these things were important, even necessary, for me to live my life. Today, I am astounded that I ever felt that way.

It occurs to me now that all of these things were a way of shoring up against some unknown danger lurking ahead. These stacks of dried herbs and bottles of tinctures, kitchen appliances, various types of clothing, even all the books still in boxes look to me now like so many turrets on a castle wall.

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My minimalist friend and walking partner used to tease me: “If one is good, three must be great.” Honestly, though, my consumerism wasn’t off the charts by American standards. My husband and I shared a small closet, not a walk-in. Our home was sparsely furnished. The kitchen was well-stocked, but as raw vegans there were whole categories of items that we didn’t need. The house was 1800 square feet, not mansion-sized.

And yet, two days after leaving, the excess astounds me.

Perhaps some of this shift has to do with weather. Maybe just knowing that there will be zero days in my new home where I can contract frostbite is loosening my grip on “necessities.” I do remember my sister telling me, when I moved North for the first time, “Cold weather is no problem; you just have to be prepared for it.” So perhaps all my long-sleeved clothing and herbal teas can be chalked up to this notion of preparation for adverse conditions. But I don’t think it’s the whole story, because the piles of clothes on the bed in front of me now are all short-sleeved, except for a few sweaters.

The weather may be part of the larger climate here, which has been summarized by the cliché, “Pura vida!” Living among people who are happy in tiny houses made of sheet metal in various shades of rust; who are friendly to strangers, and who laugh so easily is, perhaps, turning my head.

There are other parts of my life that feel different already, too. One is an ease replacing the strong need for social contact I felt when moving to Wisconsin. I feel more casual about connecting here. That may be precisely because I had such a loving and supportive community there, I feel “full” now and ready to focus more fully on my own projects. It could also be my stage of life.  That said, I am also very happy to make connections where that happens naturally. I just don’t need to focus on it as a goal.

Still another difference I noticed today has to do with food and where it comes from. I’m picky. Raw vegans often are. But today, I have eaten food from many sources, and I feel good. Some was cooked, a lot was raw, some was organic, some was, perhaps, not. The one thing I decided I did not want to do again was spend $20 on lunch. Great food is so inexpensive here when you buy it fresh and make it at home, it feels wrong to me now to pay that much more just so someone else can prepare it. The restaurant we went to today caters to gringos, and their prices are 4 times higher than the “sodas” (family-owned restaurants, generally small) that the locals frequent. We’d been to this restaurant each time we’d visited and enjoyed their vegan wrap. But today it felt excessive. We have a kitchen in our rental house, we have plenty of time to make the food, and we have the raw materials just down the road, or even in our yard. It feels more satisfying to do it ourselves and save the money.

Tropical Fruits

I don’t know where all this is coming from, exactly, but it feels good. My minimalist son will be thrilled, as will my frugal mother. The princess gene that seems to skip a generation may be switching off on me. I’ll keep you posted.

Anticipating Being an Ex-Pat

The word “expatriate” seems so final; so, well, disloyal.  It’s from the Latin, of course, “ex” meaning “out of” and “patria,” which, strangely, is the feminine form of “father,” thus translating to “fatherland.”  I can admittedly find a clue in there for my mixed emotions about leaving the U.S..

The “paternal” aspects of our country are getting to me just now.  I am appreciative of the masculine aspects of society, don’t get me wrong.  When a man holds a door open for a woman, it still makes me smile, and when our government acts as a guiding light for those who need it, I feel grateful.  It’s the more invasive aspects of paternal patterns that give me pause.  The spying on citizens, naturally, and the worldwide strong-arming, both in the name of “protecting democracy” smacks of the overprotective dad whose teenaged kids start to look at him askance.  “Um, Dad is having ‘issues’ and ramping up in our name, when all we want is to live our own lives.”

mad dad

I watched Makers not too long ago: a PBS series on the women’s movement in the U.S..  The series did a good job describing the movement’s rise and fall, and it showed some of the places where the movement fell short of offering modern women real choices.  What it merely grazed, though, was the failure of our society to really embrace femininity in both males and females.  In other words, we made great strides in giving women more opportunities in a “man’s world,” but we did little to infuse an appreciation of the feminine into that wWomen's Rights Stamporld.  That, it seemed to me, was what the next generation of feminists, featured in the series’ end, were noticing.  Full-time mothering is still seen as the weaker choice for women wanting a career, for example, rather than an empowered and empowering choice both for the woman and the next generation.  Traditionally female-dominated professions are still paid far less than the traditionally male-dominated professions, and the latter still get more respect (whether men or women are actually doing the job).  The earth itself, often called Mother Earth, or Mother Nature, is getting so little respect it feels criminal, though, of course, she will always have the last word.  The lack of attention currently being given to the feminine qualities of nurturing, accepting, embracing, holding, and forgiving have enormous consequences.

I shudder when I think of how people in the midst of periods of suffering — prisoners, mental health patients, the unemployed, the handicapped, the poor, the dying, the traumatized, the institutionalized — might be feeling neglected and forgotten or, worse, irrevocably condemned by our society.  How have we forgotten that showing people real love and significant support actually helps them move through their suffering into functionality again?

Statue of Child Receiving Gruel

I’ll take a minute here, in case it’s not obvious, to assert my belief that masculine and feminine qualities are available to both men and women.  I’m not saying that women need to take over the world.  Men and women are both capable of expressing the feminine, and I increasingly see this happening.  I’m merely suggesting that on a societal level, our habit of “doing” needs to be balanced with “being.”  I’d like to see the “tough” stance balanced with open-hearted love and real efforts at understanding.

Open-Hearted Man

So, yes, I am feeling some difference of opinion with what seems to be the majority of the citizens of my home country (judging by what’s happening at the governmental level).  But I also don’t believe in denying one’s family or friends when there is a difference of opinion, and if my “fatherland” is acting out, I want to stick by it and remain engaged.  As an expatriate, I will still care about the U.S.; still work toward its health and wholeness in ways that I can, which, in the age of internet access, ain’t nothin’.

Perhaps I can liken expatriation to choosing a mate.  When we do so, we remain connected to our families of origin.  Our roots will always be important to us, and we will always be fond of them and support them, even if from afar.  We know that they are who we come from, and we can never really completely separate ourselves from them (nor, hopefully, would we want to).  And yet, our mate is the one we have selected from our adult perspective: one who will help us grow, show us ways of being we may not be familiar with, and see us for who we are, rather than who we have been.

Our new country, Costa Rica, is one we’ve chosen, first from the passion of love.  Moving was first and foremost an intuitive decision, and only later justified logically.  Our “new” country does seem to have more respect for the Feminine in general, at this point in history: energy policies and practices respectful of the earth, for example, and a deliberate shifting of economic resources from the military to education and social programs.  Life is also easier in some specific ways that matter to us at this stage of our lives.  It has never snowed in Costa Rica.  Daily existence costs less there.  Our specific region is temperate enough that we need no heat or air conditioning.  Solar PV panels are easy to install and cost less.  Solar hot water is a very simple affair.  This is not to say that it will all be easy.  As with any new mate, there will be transition issues: the language learning curve, cultural misunderstandings, finding friends we can feel at home with, navigating the new government regulations and all the forms we’ll need to learn to file.  But if it’s true love, these challenges will seem negligible, or will even be cause for deeper appreciation.

So, are we being disloyal?  I think I’ve managed to convince myself that we are merely choosing to love both where we’ve come from and where we best fit now.  They’re not mutually exclusive, nor incompatible, even if their natures are dissimilar.  Our loyalties aren’t divided.  We are leaving a nest that has become a bit uncomfortable, as nests are known to do, and testing our wings.  We’ll maintain a harmonious and caring relationship with our “patria” while we let ourselves fall truly, madly, deeply, for this wild new face of Mother Nature.

Catarata La Paz