25 February 2011

shocking when wet

Here is a photo of a new "appliance" I've become very familiar with since moving to Costa Rica. Can you tell what it is?

50 points for you if you guessed that it's a shower head with an electric water heater attached to it.

50 bonus points if you read that sentence and thought, "Hmmm...water and electricity...I thought those things weren't supposed to mix."

You may be wondering what this potentially lethal combo is doing in my bathroom. Warm running water is very rare in Costa Rica (I've actually never encountered it, but I suspect it may exist in some places, or there wouldn't be so many people moving here), so these babies are attached to the shower heads to make showers more pleasant.

It's a little tricky to work at first--you have to turn the water knob just so to get it to kick on, and I took many a cold shower before figuring out how to do so--but once it's on, it does a great job of heating the water, and it even helps save a lot of money on utility bills.

But a word to the wise: DO NOT touch it while the water is running!

I mean, not that I've ever done that myself, of course, I've just heard that it can be kinda electrifying...

18 February 2011

good vibrations

It's Friday! Even better than that, it's a three day weekend! As much as I love hanging out with my kiddie-bs at school everyday, I must say, I'm pretty pumped for this mini-break. In honor of this holiday, my students and I jammed out to "Good Vibrations" this morning. Not the Beach Boys version, although that one's great too. But for this occasion, we took it to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

Good times! I really love using music in the classroom. I like to make up songs to help students remember concepts (especially those tricky science ones...) and we always have quiet music playing in the background during independent work time. Usually I play classical music, as it's supposed to help you retain information you've learned, but every morning we dance around to something a little louder before school starts. Lately we've been enjoying my Pure Disco cd, which I re-discovered while visiting my parents over winter break (thank goodness, right?! I thought I lost that disc back in the '80s!) My students clearly have excellent musical taste, as they always request the disco hits.

These dance parties have brought back some musical memories for me. My third year teaching, I had this student who I just couldn't figure out how to motivate. Let's call him Benny. Benny was really smart, but he was failing my class and I didn't know how to get him excited about learning and doing well in school. He followed my directions grudgingly, if at all, and would often fall asleep while working on assignments. I just could not figure out how to reach him. Because he wasn't doing too hot in school, Benny always had to stay after for tutorials, and would eat snack in my room before the extra sessions began. One day while the kids were eating snack, I was playing a mixed cd a friend had given me. (Remember those?...'cuz my current students have never heard of them. Scary.) Suddenly, the jam "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" came on (actually, it wasn't that sudden, but I couldn't think of how else to say it). Benny got so excited and began talking about how much he loved the song because he and his cousins always sang karaoke to it. I was pretty surprised, but asked if he wanted to "karaoke" before tutorials (a.k.a. sing along to the song while reading the lyrics off my computer screen). He really wanted to, and thus began our daily tradition of karaoke-ing to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." I thought he might want to sing some other songs after the 86th time we sang GJWHF, but no, he always wanted to sing that one. Even though we never really talked about it, I noticed a big change in his attitude toward me and in my class from that point on. And in true after-school special fashion, he turned his grades around and missed only one question to get "commended" on his state science test later that year. Tear! But seriously, it just reminded me that even that student who doesn't seem to care does have something that motivates her. It might seem weird, and it might not turn up at a time when you're specifically trying to reach her, but if we can take the time to find that thing that gets her excited, it can make a HUGE difference.

Anyway, enough rambling. I've got a beach to hit up!

Have a great weekend, everyone! I know what will be going through my mind: "It's such a good vibration/It's such a sweet sensation..."

Image found here.

13 February 2011

i saw the sign

Have I mentioned how much I love my apartment complex? It's really safe, but in a beautiful way, not a you're-safe-only-because-you're-locked-behind-heavy-bars way. The units are really light and airy and are surrounded by beautiful garden areas.

Another thing I like is the signs my landlord puts up all over, just because they're so funny:
The bottom one of these two is my favorite because of the addition of the sound effects and pictures. I also like that it invokes neighborly goodwill, which is always nice.

This sign discussion brings us to a situation I'm trying to deal with right now. Enter THE sign:

Those of you who know me well know that I love to decorate my apartment. I have creatively covered up some completely atrocious objects in my time. But I mean, this sign... I really can't cover it up, because people need to get the message (the plumbing here can't accommodate paper, and flushing it would lead to a much worse sitch than the one I'm currently facing), but it's just.so.bad. Are you with me in thinking there's really no way to make it classy?

If you have any ideas (real or just humorous), leave them in the comments! There might be a prize involved for the best suggestion...

10 February 2011

rancho mastatal

After my grand U.S. tour, I had another week back in Costa Rica before I had to return to work. I spent a few days at Rancho Mastatal, a great sustainable living ranch about three hours from San Jose. Getting there was a little tricky: I got a bit of a late start heading out there, so I wasn't sure I was going to make it there on the day I had planned originally (you have to coordinate the bus schedules just so), but I ran and just made it onto the last chicken bus from Puriscal to Mastatal. The road to Mastatal is in pretty poor condition (some parts were almost completely washed away in Hurricane Tomas and haven't been repaired yet), so that last bus ride was quite an adventure! I'm pretty sure we almost slid off the road into a ravine more than once.

Someone at work asked me how I heard about Rancho Mastatal, and it's kind of a funny story: when I was planning my trip to Costa Rica in 2008, I got an e-mail from an organization I was in during college, talking about some things other alumni have been up to. One of the featured alumni was Tim O'Hara, one of the owners of Rancho Mastatal. I decided it was fate and made plans to visit them during that trip. It was really neat to go back and see all the new things they have going on!

Very free range chickens wandering in and out of the bath house:

Interesting details everywhere:

These mosaics are made out of broken dishes...what a great way to reuse materials!

This relief is one of my favorite pieces at the ranch:

The beautiful surroundings are some of the greatest attractions. On my last day there, some other volunteers and I hiked to hidden waterfall.

These girls are so fun! TH lives in Alaska, and JF is from Quebec City.

The cicadas were out in full force...never heard such loud insects before!

Nice sign, good message.

Beautiful sunset. Of course it was better in person, but what can you do?

I can't wait to go back!!

07 February 2011

have tickets, will travel

Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a great start. If you're traveling soon and in the market for plane tickets, head over to CheapOair for Cheap Airfares, where I'm being featured today. I'm sharing some great places to visit in Costa Rica. Thanks for having me, CheapOair!

05 February 2011

u.s. winter tour

Even though Costa Rica is in the northern hemisphere and technically has the same seasons as the United States, December falls during the dry season, so the December-January break is often referred to as "summer vacation." To allow students and their families to take advantage of the nice weather, most schools have long breaks at this time. I spent most of the 5-week vacation visiting friends and family in the U.S.

I started in North Carolina, where I spent time with my grandfather and extended family. While I was staying with my grandfather, I was organizing old family photos and putting them in albums and interviewing him to get the stories behind them. I found a bunch of old photos from when my grandmother lived in Costa Rica, many of places I now recognize, which was really cool! One of my aunts took a bunch of the cousins to see a play by a theater company that performed a play about my grandfather in June. I was not able to attend the play about my grandfather, so it was really neat to see the theater where it was performed.

From North Carolina, I road-tripped north with my sister to Ithaca to visit our parents. While there, I enjoyed some QT with my sis,

got to see lots of friends, including KE, my middle school BFF,

threw a bridal shower for my cute friend SR, who's getting married in May,

admired the frozen waterfalls and rock sculptures around town,

and en route to visit friends in Texas, made an unexpected detour to Detroit after the plane experienced some "technical difficulties," a.k.a. engine failure.
(But luckily, the hotel where the airline put me up was home to Michigan's longest continuous hallway. Allll riiiight! Look at it...it was so long I couldn't even see the end of it!)

Texas was great! It was so great to see so many good friends again!

Hanging out with my friend's adorable son

Isn't seeing family and friends the best?!

02 February 2011

more fun with cousins

It's February 2...do you know what that means? That's right, it's Groundhog Day! It's also my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom! Hope you're having a great day!!

I mentioned in my last post that my cousins came to visit me in December. On their last day in Costa Rica, my cousins and I went on a coffee tour at Cafe Britt, a gourmet coffee roaster. Even though Costa Rica is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world, prior to Cafe Britt's founding in 1985, it was very hard to find any of that good coffee within the country, because most of it was being exported. Cafe Britt was created to educate visitors on the origins and sustainable production of gourmet Costa Rican coffee.

Coffee berries. The red ones are ready to be harvested.

Some of our tour guides. These guys were hilarious!

Inside the packaging facility

Beautiful flowers were blooming everywhere we walked during our tour.

Part of the tour was a dramatic interpretation of the history of coffee...pretty random, but funny. My cousin K (on the right) got recruited to be the bride's maid of honor during the skit I'm not exactly sure how the wedding was connected to the history of coffee, but oh well!

After the skit, K got some free coffee and a traditional coffee-harvesting hat for being a good sport!

After the tour, we went over to a neighborhood called Barrio Maynard. I may not have mentioned it before, but my maternal grandmother's family used to live in Costa Rica, which was one reason I was so interested in living here when I was looking into different countries I could teach in. Barrio Maynard in the neighborhood where my grandmother and her family lived for many years. Here's the sign for the street they lived on. Isn't it pretty?

Pretty houses

The cab driver didn't know where we needed to go (the neighborhood is pretty small...really just one street long), so we got completely lost for a while. A long while. Luckily, my cousin V had visited the street with her family about four years earlier, so she was able to help us find the way.

Once we were in the neighborhood, it took us a while to find the actual house they lived in, but we finally did! We weren't really sure what it looked like, and the house numbers and colors and everything else have changed a lot since then, but we figured this might be it since it was one of the older-looking houses on the street. I e-mailed this picture to my great-uncle (my grandmother's youngest brother), who confirmed that this was their house. Apparently, Benito Mussolini's grandson also lived there at one time.

I had been wanting to find her house ever since I moved here, and I'm so glad I got to see it with my cousins! My mom and sister will be visiting sometime in the spring, so I definitely want to take them to see it. My great-uncle suggested that we knock on the door and ask to look around to see what it's like now, but maybe that's too weird. What do you think?