Adventures with Our First Visitors!

I am so excited to present this post to you.  It has taken me at least 30 hours to complete the pictures for this post and 4 days to get it up for you.  I pray the pictures will smoothly download for me, what a pain if they don’t! (thankfully, they did!)  I am also SO VERY grateful for the floor breaking, so that I have this opportunity to dedicate so much time to this post.  I must admit, my neck is sore from all of the photo editing (bending over a small iphone creates terrible posture!) but I am hopeful all the hard work will be worth it!  Without further ado . . .  Our First Visitors to Costa Rica!

We all anticipated this visit and knew about it even before we moved here.  We were surprised that Paul’s parents would plan a trip to visit us so soon after we would move from Utah.  Thankfully, hindsight is 20/20 and Paul’s parents KNEW what we were up against, especially since we had no clue!  Paul’s parents have been a HUMUNGOUS support to Paul and I.  I truly feel blessed to have them as my in-laws.  I have come so much closer to them through this experience, which has made all the hard work, trials and at times, heartache, all worth it!  From here on out, I will refer to Paul’s parents as G&G, for that is how we feel about them – Grateful & Giving!

G&G arrived late Monday night, March 23rd, 2015.  K was SO EXCITED to have them come that she BEGGED if she could stay up and go pick them up from the airport.  I knew that K needed some respite, so I gave Paul “the look” (not a negative look but a look I give to him when we need to bend because of “Higher” reasons) and he agreed immediately.  I put the other kiddos and myself to bed, while Paul and K had a wonderful reunion!  (I wish I had a picture of K seeing her grandparents for the first time since Utah!)

Tuesday, March 24th, G&G delivered a much anticipated duffle bag FULL of precious “creature comforts”, to quote Paul (I wish I had a picture of it as well), it was AMAZING and it truly felt better than adding Christmas and all of our birthdays up for a year.  I  was excited to hear that I had received a special surprise in the shipment. . . my dear friend Sheri, and member of a card group I belonged to in Utah, sent me a package FULL of card making supplies.  I had planned to attend a scrapbook expo in March with her and another member of our card group, but due to the move, I missed out.  She instead sent me some of her own supplies to “cheer” me up!  What a tender mercy friendship can be!

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Look at all of those supplies!  I have at least a year’s worth of goodies to work with.  But best of all, I got 3 new cards!  I miss making cards with my sweet friends. It brought me joy, creativity, service & friendship.  I guess I need to join a new group?  After L got home from school, I took a moment to open up my package.  L was so cute and honestly shared her feelings with me, as she watched me open each new surprise. “I wish I hadn’t see you open all this stuff!  . . . because now I AM JEALOUS!”  I had to chuckle!  She is so honest and truthful.  What was a mom to do but of course SHARE!  I let her choose a few things that I felt she would respect and be responsible with, and let her go to town!  She had a blast making G&G each a welcome to Costa Rica card covered with LOVE!

G&G spent the morning in downtown San Jose.  I was grateful they had plans because I had my first invitation for brunch with a fellow mother from school.  That morning felt like a spring of love: creature comforts, surprises from friends, familiar & loving faces, and hopefully a new friend – all in one day!

After school, G&G met us at our home to say hello to the kids and surprise them with a dip in our pool.  The kids LOVED the idea and were shocked that Paul and I would join too; it was almost too much for them to process.

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After a dip and a quick shower, we headed out for our FIRST MEAL as a family to a restaurant.  Crazy all the “firsts” we would experience this week.  It was a delicious meal of PIZZA, G’s favorite as well as our family’s.  We enjoyed the meal and headed home for a great night’s rest.

Wednesday, March 25th – G&G and myself started our day with a wonderful session at the temple.  After a bite of lunch we headed off to the kids school to pick up L and give the older 3 a special surprise.  We pulled them out of school early so they could take G&G to the Children’s Museum.  The WHOLE SCHOOL (I’m not kidding) was abuzz to the news that the Whitchurch’s grandparents were coming (I had forewarned the school).  Knowing me, I worried that we were distracting the entire school but the staff didn’t seem to mind the fuss.  Both the Principal and Director came out to introduce themselves to G&G.  I was so blown away!  The staff LOVED that G&G spoke Spanish, to which a “loving” look was given in my direction that they wished I spoke Spanish too.  If only they knew that I pray for that gift too!

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                    G & L being silly at the dinosaur exhibit! 

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The kids were also surprised that their Dad could join them at the museum.  He had been downtown all day “purchasing” our new car!  (check out my FB page to see pictures)  The kids LOVED seeing it in the parking lot – I’m sure they will remember that moment each time we visit the museum.  We had a wonderful time and saw things at the museum we had never seen before!

After a surprisingly FAST drive home from downtown San Jose, we treated G&G to dinner at our house, having Wendy’s Copycat Chili over salted baked potatoes – DELISH!  Paul had a meeting to be to that night, which gave me some one on one time with G&G.  They gave me sage wisdom and advice, which I appreciate and have been trying to practice every day since.  I realized, in that moment, that it was going to be hard to let them go back to Utah if I didn’t start preparing myself right then for them to leave.

Thursday, March 26th G&G ventured on their own again, this time on a tour of the Rain Forest.  They had a splendid time and that made us all very happy!  That night we all enjoyed a much needed rest, as the days that lay head would be FILLED with many Firsts!

Friday, March 27th we kept the kids home from school and headed out on our VERY FIRST trip to the beach in ONE CAR!!  Seriously!  We have NEVER been to any previous destination without having had two cars to take us there, other than a taxi ride to the airport or to school.  It was quite exciting for us all!

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We chose to take G&G to the “monkey beach” @ Playa Dona Ana.  A beach is a beach is a beach, right?  But have you ever been to a beach that has monkeys crawling in the trees above your head or iguana’s just walking around?

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G was SUPER brave and with some help fed the monkeys a banana.  K discovered this little “friend” on the beach.  I’m grateful I missed it.  EECK!  Paul’s mom enjoyed herself by resting in the shade and reading a book, and at times snapping a few pictures.  The rest of us went for a wonderful swim in the WARM ocean water.  We spent at least 6 hours at the beach that day.  It was splendid!

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After a LONG DRIVE HOME (1 hour in gridlock traffic to go about 3 miles – YUCK!!  Mostly due to Semana Sainta and the fact it was a Friday) we went home for a quick shower and left the kiddos in E’s care with a dinner of Mac & Cheese and cheese filled sausage, so we could have our birthday dinners with G&G.  G&G chose a beautiful restaurant, Tiquicia, that was on top of a high mountain, that overlooked San Jose.  The drive was insane but worth the view.  Unfortunately it gets dark so late in Costa Rica that we didn’t stand a chance to see the view during day light.  That’s okay, dinner by candlelight made up for what the view couldn’t offer.  This was our FIRST DINNER DATE since we moved to Costa Rica.  What a fun memory we will have!

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Saturday, March 28th –  We slept in, oh glorious SLEEP!  That was a FIRST since the start of school. I had to stay home from today’s adventure due to a meeting I had that afternoon to help the Primary.  I thought I would have the morning to just kick back and enjoy some much needed R&R but instead I spent it working on what would become the Primary’s Easter Sharing Time for the next day.  The Primary president initially had asked me for some ideas for an Easter gift to give to the children.  I knew from my past experiences that whatever I chose to give would set a precedent with the ward, so I had to be wise in what I decided to do.  After much prayer, and many helpful suggestions, I was prompted to look in a holiday box I had brought with me from Utah.

Inside I found just what the Primary Children NEEDED – “Easter in a Basket.”  I don’t know how many of you know about this fun activity, but it is a basket filled with 12 plastic eggs, each filled with a scripture, and a prop, that helps us learn about the Savior’s last week before His resurrection. Only problem with this “ready to go” sharing time was that it needed to be translated into Spanish. So while my family enjoyed a trip to one of my favorite volcanoes, Volcan Irazu, (Paul’s FIRST time there!), I stayed home and worked my brain out! (My FIRST time translating English to Spanish for church)  At least I had yummy leftovers from last night’s dinner.

IMG_7470Here is the document I had to translate into Spanish and my lunch of Costa Rican fare, Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican version of dirty rice & beans), fried cheese with sausage & leftover steak pizza from Tuesday night. The above “sweetness” are ice cream cone cupcakes.  The Primary president asked that we make cupcakes for the kids as their treat.  I wanted to do something different, personally not my best decision, but they turned out okay in the end.  LONG STORY!!

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Isn’t this incredible?  The kids got to be ABOVE the clouds!  What an incredible view!  I truly wish I had been there . . . I LOVE CLOUDS!

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While leaving the volcano, Paul decided to take a “faster” route that lead them down a bumpy, dirt road and eventually onto private property.  They had to ask the farmer of the property to let them continue on the road by unlocking a gate for them.  But that wasn’t the biggest surprise of their trip, they also got to see, up close and personal, 2 oxen at work, pulling a Costa Rican Ox-cart.  So exciting!

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A nice break from a long day at a yummy restaurant with G&G 

Sunday, March 29th – The next day we had our usual Sunday chaos.  I awoke thinking I could actually sleep in, since Paul had his own car to drive himself to his assigned ward.  I completely forgot I promised to make 35 ice cream cone cupcakes BEFORE 9 am church.  So I got to work.  It was a disaster.  I had to make the cupcakes the DAY OF because the cones get soggy if they are not eaten day of.  Only problem, I don’t know how to bake desserts in Costa Rica yet.  Our altitude is 3,700 feet, which is still high here and the moisture in the air is new to me. Sadly, the cupcakes would not cook through.  Then the frosting. . .  don’t get me started.  My FIRST FAIL at baking!  3 batches of frosting later, and a trip home after sacrament meeting to recook each cupcake and make more frosting since the frosting MELTED at church, I delivered the adorable cupcakes and PRAYED they wouldn’t melt or get eaten by a stray dog until the Primary President needed them. (I had to leave them outside in a cool, shady spot because the church doesn’t own a fridge – hence the melted frosting.)

But during all the chaos of the morning (in my book Sunday should NOT = Chaos) I had the strangest experience.  As I was coming into the kitchen I heard the loudest popping sound.  It literally sounded like the kids were THROWING rock magnets or marbles down the tile staircase.  I was about to yell up the stairs, “WHAT IS GOING ON!!???” when I thought, “My children would never do something like that.”  So I walked off and let the sound go . . . until I saw a tile on my kitchen floor start to blow up like a balloon.  I honestly thought, “This isn’t tile, it’s linoleum.  Tile could never bend like a balloon.”  Well, I was wrong!

Thankfully, due to the chaos, I didn’t have the time or energy to worry about it.  I didn’t know what the sound and the tile had in common, but I would find out after church.  I thought about calling Paul and letting him know what was happening, but why bother him?  There is nothing he or I could do about it, it would just have to wait.  I wondered what Paul would say when he saw the tile broken.  Would he be surprised?  No . . . I would be!  He beat me home and when I walked through the door, this is what I found! Our FIRST home repair in Costa Rica!

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Paul said that as he stepped through the entry way, the tiles started to create a wave affect and began exploding all over the dining room floor.  I was amazed but didn’t know if what he was describing was the same experience I had had that morning?  Until a row of tiles started to blow up along the kitchen bar, under my feet.  It was so crazy to watch and feel.  What was going on?  It was exactly what had happened, earlier that morning.

All I could think of was our sweet landlady!!  It was Easter Sunday and she had many church services she had been asked to sing at, and giving her the news upset her greatly.  We had the builder and our landlady’s mother-in-law come out to see the damage that afternoon (thank heaven for 9 o’clock church) and we decided that we would wait for a week to begin to fix the floor.  I wanted to wait because the kids JUST got out of school for Semana Santa (Holy Week) and we were looking forward to a week of rest and relaxation.  Looking back, I am SO GRATEFUL I made that decision.  This week has been so confining and noisy and would have been NO FUN for 4 kids home during a well deserved break.  Good decision!

That night I was exhausted from all the chaos but we still pulled it together to have G&G over for dinner.  I hope I wasn’t grumpy.  We made a Swensen Family Favorite – Company Chicken with mashed potatoes, country gravy, veggies and fruit.  We then had mint chocolate chip milk shakes with cookies for dessert.  We all enjoyed our visit with G&G and the kids didn’t want them to leave – mainly because they didn’t want to go to bed.  But we had a BIG DAY planned and they NEEDED their sleep.  We were going to FINALLY visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens as a family for the First Time!  (I don’t know if any of you recall the last time we “tried” to go to La Paz?  Long story short, one of our rental cars slid into a muddy ditch and it took a tractor and a backhoe to pull it out.)

Monday, March 30, 2015 – Our last day with G&G, sad but true!  We woke early to get to La Paz.  The family rode together in the Pathfinder, while G&G enjoyed their zippy, red, hybrid rental car.  (I wish I had a picture of it.  It was so cute and sporty!) La Paz is expensive but it is a one-stop experience if you want to SEE Costa Rica without going to a dozen different places to experience it all.  This place has: Waterfalls, frogs, a butterfly habitat, jaguars, birds that you can place on your shoulder, fishing (if you want to catch a rainbow trout), monkeys, a replica of a 100 year old Costa Rican home, oxen pulling a traditional ox cart (like the one the kids saw on the road home from the volcano) and flora and fauna beyond what the eye can see.  Oh, and a natural rain forest mist to keep you cool along your journey. La Paz is truly AMAZING and worth the money you spend . . . at least that is my opinon!  Here are some of our highlights, in order of experience:

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Our first stop was to see the waterfalls . . . in the bathroom of course.  First things first, RIGHT?! 

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We let the kids decide what to see first.  They chose the Butterfly Habitat.  The kids ABSOLUTELY LOVED it here.  I remember when the Hogle Zoo had one. We actually visited the butterflies twice that day, once to start our visit and once to say good-bye.  They loved it here THAT MUCH!  Aren’t these butterflies incredible?  They are HUGE and flutter all about the habitat.  So peaceful.  So enjoyable.

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K was the first to “catch” a butterfly

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Next was G Man! 

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Patience is a virtue, not easily acquired, but worth the wait!

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Success!  All 4 kids were adorned with beautiful butterflies.  

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After the butterflies, we moved over to one of my favorite things to do at La Paz, hold a macaw on your arm, shoulder or in the past, our heads!  We LOVED doing this 3 years ago and loved doing it again this time.  I can’t believe how much these kids have grown since the last time we visited La Paz! 

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Blast from the past – November 2011.  

L – (almost 3) , G –  (4 1/2), K – (7 1/2), and E – (11).  They have changed so much! (especially G and E!) Three years ago we only dreamed we could fulfill the desire in our hearts and move here.  It is surreal to think that it actually happened, our desires have been granted.  

Pure patience was needed to make it happen but now we see that in time, with a positive and hopeful attitude, all good things do come.

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E found some awesome birds in the bird habitat and then a really cool snake in the reptile habitat.  The snake looked like a long stick.  Super cool but super creepy if you are running around the rain forest and think there is nothing in the trees . . . you are wrong! 

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Next stop, the frogs.  We actually walked right by them, thinking it was just a green house.  But a guide stopped us and had us look a little closer.  WHOA!  I totally missed them.  It was so cool to actually SEE a frog just hanging out, and not in a glass cage! Also super grateful it wasn’t a snake or massive spider.  EEECK!

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Next stop was another one of my personal favorites at La Paz, the replica of a 100 year old Costa Rican home.  They said the home was made with the exact same tools they would have used back then.  I hope Paul is open to the design because I LOVE this house and truly would like to have one like it for our family cabin one day!  Love, love, love that house!!

Although we were hungry, we decided it would be best to see the waterfalls before we ate.  The main reason was due to the fact that at the end of the waterfall trail there is a shuttle that will take you back up to where the restaurants are found.  Might as well take hungry kids, they will stay focused and move, since they are hungry.

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Just a few waterfalls along the path – 4 waterfalls in all!  

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Family pic on a bridge over the waterfall’s river.  (Thanks Mom!  Great pic!)

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Although our plan to take the shuttle to eat worked, we still had to walk back past the butterfly habitat to get lunch beside a beautiful trout lake that guests were invited to not only fish in but swim in.  It was absolutely beautiful there – thank heavens, the food took FOREVER to get to us.  Hunger is not a kind friend.

Lunch FINALLY came and we all enjoyed it very much, especially the fresh fruit smoothies.  While Paul and his parents waited for the bill, I let the kids go see their favorite exhibit one last time . . . of course, the butterfly habitat.  But this time the kids knew what to do and where to go to catch the butterflies.  Then they went around to the unknowing tourists and started to pass them out.  It was such a joy to see them serve their fellow tourists and bring joy to them by teaching them out to do it too.  Isn’t that the way life should be?  Teaching each other HOW to fish so we call ALL be self reliant and enjoy our lives together?

After our visit to La Paz was through, we went our separate ways and headed back home.  Paul took a rather adventurous route home (I think he is making up for the many months he didn’t get to drive in Costa Rica, by taking risky “short cut” routes), dropped us off to rest and met his parents so they could return their rental car.  They decided to stay at the hotel that night for dinner.  We were sad to have their stay come to an end, but we felt SO GRATEFUL they came in the first place and SO SOON after our move only 9 weeks previously.

One last photo collage!  My mother-in-law is so sweet, she shared many of her photos with us so we could remember what we did with them.  I am so grateful to her and I love her very much.  I know she loves us too!  Just look at the photos she took of the family while at lunch after their trip to Volcan Irazu . . .

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I hope you have enjoyed seeing our 1st visitors to Costa Rica and we hope it might inspire you to come visit us one day.  I wonder?  Who will be our 2nd visitor?

Before I go, here are this post’s Ups and Downs.

Up:  Having people come visit us is EXCITING.  Costa Rica is an AWESOME place to visit as a tourist.  Ticos (what you call a Costa Rican) are so welcoming, so open, so proud of their beautiful country and they want to share it with you.

Down: Once you live here, you are not really “welcomed” with open arms anymore. Your are no longer a tourist needing help but a “local” who needs to get their whits about them and become self reliant.  It is very different from being a tourist.  In truth, it really is just like any other move one would make: it takes time to know your neighbors, time to get settled into a new school, time to figure out the “culture” of your new area, and time to see where you fit in.  I guess I didn’t think about the shock moving brings to someone on top of moving to a foreign country to live.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

Honestly, this move has been really difficult.  At times I have wondered if I could really make this work?  But amazingly, I have been able to, but not because of my own strength.  A wise, young sister missionary said it best to me a few Sundays ago (actually, the Sunday before she was transferred), “Wendi, you are not going to be able to “do this” move on your own.  You can’t count on anyone, no friends, no family, not even your husband.  They ONLY person who CAN help you is Jesus.”  As she said those words, and even now, my heart burned.  I could FEEL the truth of her words, though painfully honest, and I knew it was correct.  So right then and there I have turned completely to my Savior and have gone to Him for EVERYTHING.  He has helped me through some pretty BIG downs but He has also been there with me to celebrate the ups.  I am SO GRATEFUL for this moment in my life and I am grateful to say that I am learning to be a pretty strong mountain climber.  Remember that song I suggested in the previous post?  Go check it out if you haven’t yet, it’s awesome!

Mountains to climb – video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdN8rfwW3SI

Mountains to climb – song (directions to find this song, until I can figure out how to make a playlist on my blog!)  Go to this link. https://www.lds.org/youth/music?lang=eng Go to the right and scroll until you find the “narrow by” column.  Only highlight the box called “2013 Strength of Youth album”.  A new list will appear.  Scroll towards the bottom of the list and you will find “Mountains to Climb” by Erin Thomas.  Enjoy! 

All my love and the blessing of a good day for you ~

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