In May of 2019 we had just gotten back from a three month RV tour of the US and western Canada. I was 8 months pregnant with Edie and we were compelled to check out this incredible estate Steve stumbled upon weeks before while we were away. From our friends home in BC, he had found this property in Ontario that checked so many boxes we didn’t even know we had. I sort of laughed off the notion of seeing it at first. We loved real estate, we worked together on several flips, so it wasn’t uncommon that we’d check the MLS listings. We were finishing up our excursion and the plan was to go back to our small downtown Kingston house. But we also knew with baby #3 quickly coming that we would soon outgrow our home. So there we were, an unusually hot May day, all flowers brightly blooming in the sprawling acres of gardens at this majestic home. I won’t go into all the detail of the house (which could be a story in of itself, so grand and unique) but it was a huge property and we spent two hours with our agent and our kids looking it all over. I was aching by the end of traversing the house, the English gardens, the orangerie, the maze and so forth but I was alight with inspiration. We were in love with it all. In the days after, we revisited photos and videos and weighed out if putting an offer in was a good idea or not. On one hand, we didn’t have the asking price, but we felt certain we could find a way to finance it. The biggest clincher in the decision process eventually came to location. We loved how removed it was from town but it would mean a 35 min drive to the girls school each day. There and back and there and back again. Hmmmm. It just didn’t seem feasible we realized, we couldn’t picture spending that much time in our car each day.
Less than a year later the entire world was on pause and school was out, never (for us) to resume.
We made the decision from what we knew at the time, which is of course an entirely reasonable place to decide from. And yet it discounts all the unknowns and possibilities that could come. We made a decision thinking we’d be car-bound and miserable and yet we would have been joyfully tending to and meandering through our acres of gardens and ponds and forests instead of trapped in our small city house, the park across the street closed off with caution tape around it. Or at least so we think, what other factors could have crept in if the timeline changed? We just can’t know which is mind boggling and confirming all the same. There is nothing absolute.
We’re always just weighing the odds and sometimes we get it ‘right’ and sometimes…well I don’t often speak of regret but we do feel more than just nostalgic when we think of what we might have had in that property now.
This is the decision making process that landed us in Costa Rica. And hence landed us back in Canada. The dozens of confused text messages, bursting with curiosity on what we’re doing and WHY in the last few days. I want to answer that as best I can, but let’s back up a bit.
After we chose not to pursue the magical country estate in 2019 we settled back into our small family life in our tiny downtown home. New baby was now with us, and we were in a steady rhythm of family life. Steve had returned to house flipping and I was juggling my wellness business with my desire to branch more into writing and coaching. As winter closed around us in December of 2019 we both felt stretched in directions that felt like too much. We were busy busy trying to sustain ourselves and at the same time feeling like life wasn’t as exciting or joyful as it could be. We thought about our 3 months in the RV and how our hearts were singing with excitement as we adventured in new areas. We thought about all the many times we had spent in Costa Rica and decided that maybe it was time to explore a year away.
We put the plan in motion. We’d wait until Edie was a year old and give ourselves enough time to flip one more house, save up a big chunk so we could fund our travel. We looked into schools and rentals and by February 2020 had everything organized to arrive in Guanacaste in August of 2020.
And then March of 2020 came.
No need to tell you what happened, you were there! Everything went on hold and we were once again having to revise our plans. There’s an even longer back story about the house we were living in at that time, but the short version was that it had been sold and we were on a deadline. With the Costa Rican border closed and no way to know when it was open, we had to make a plan, we had to move somewhere.
I felt like I was in that familiar place of trying to decide what was best for my future self without truly knowing all the factors. How does one choose?? We spent the summer looking at properties with our beloved agent and felt confused by our desires. We reminisced about the big country estate we saw the year previously and it reminded us of how much we had always seen ourselves living that simple country life. Ultimately what we wanted was land, to get our hands in the earth and to build something we could live in and love forever. But we felt like everything was so tenuous, how could we know where that should be? And if this doom and gloom agenda fully took over the world, was it time to just go big and try living out some of our wanderlust dreams??
We compromised and did a half assed version of both.
If you were along for the ride with me in the summer of 2020 then you know how this part played out. I went totally cuckoo bananas for a time, racing around the countryside, trying to find a house that was both amazing and affordable. Nothing was fitting the bill and the clock was ticking, so we changed gears to look at renting. With the understanding that we would want to both explore more of the world once we could AND sort out our immediate living situation, renting seemed like the best option. But even that was so tricky. Nothing materialized until…17 days before we had to move. I had quite actually surrendered the notion of having any control over my circumstance and gone into a weird middle space where I knew no amount of obsessing could resolve the situation. I packed and floated through reality knowing that something would indeed materialize of its own accord.
By September that had all been resolved and many of our desires were answered as we moved out of the city to over 120 acres of forest and meadows. Our 200 year old limestone house was cozy and spacious and became the perfect space to unwind after a stressful transition. We settled into our daily life but all the while kept our travel dreams alive. Since we were in a rental we felt unable to completely settle in, which was helpful to propping up our wanderlust but opposed our ability to feel like we were really living. That odd middle space of limbo continued. We loved our life in the limestone house but made all of it feel temporary.
And a year later we had made up our minds and booked our travel to Costa Rica. Very different circumstance to what we originally planned – the school we had enrolled at hadn’t made it through the pandemic and the housing market had seemed to change drastically. Yet we felt sure we could just go and figure out all those pieces upon landing. How hard could it be?
Here’s where my valuable lessons about taking leaps begin in earnest. I truly had this sense that my role in all of this was to simply make the decision to go and get my family there and the universe would fill in the blanks. I thought back to how we didn’t choose that dreamy country estate in 2019 because I was so linear in my thought process, using my current factors as all of the factors. Which makes sense! Except it doesn’t take into account all the unknowns.
So we went to Costa Rica with all the unknowns and I felt certain that everything was just going to work out. And it kinda did.
Our first three months were so fun. We went to old and new places, met so many wonderful people and truly felt like pieces were falling into place. Truly everyone we met was a fast-friend, our worry of spending Christmas alone vanished as we had days of celebration with pockets of our new people. We moved around often in those first three months, trying to choose the right area – schools, housing, community – those were the prerequisites. We loved the schools in the north but the views and the people in the south were magnificent. So we kept trying different spots but felt pretty sure that Uvita was going to be our area.
In January of 2022 we had enrolled the girls at a new school in Uvita. Our adventurous feelings were starting to wan, we were getting weary. We hoped that if we just decided on one factor, schooling, even though it wasn’t quite perfect, that all the rest would start to materialize. The housing market had vastly changed since we looked in 2019, everything had moved from long term to short term holiday rentals and the prices were upwards of 4x what we expected to pay. Ditto for car rentals. Hmmm.
I woke up at 4am after paying the registration to the girls school and felt certain in my bones that we hadn’t made the right choice. I sat on the concrete floor of our rental house living room, the only cool option in this jungle mountain house without air conditioning, tears of frustration streaming down my face as I watched a thunderstorm roll out over the dark Pacific Ocean. I started to question if I was really making any of the right decisions, recognizing that actually though the first three months of our adventure had been fun, they had been depleting too. What was going on? Wasn’t this what we wanted?
We still didn’t feel like we were living. Everything felt like a great pause, the limbo space in perpetual motion. Yes each day was wonderful in itself but it was missing the weight of feeling purposeful, productive, sustaining. Not to mention packing and moving every few days to try to stay on top of the insane holiday rental market. I would skim Airbnb and message every property that seemed promising, asking if they’d consider a lower rental rate. I was usually successful but only to a certain degree. Sure we weren’t spending $400US a night but how long could we pay $250/night?? And no one would entertain a long term rental.
We pulled the girls from their new school before they even had their first day, feeling a sense of liberation and mania, and we went further up the mountains. We spent another month looking for long term options and hoping one of the other schools in that area that was more aligned with us would open registration. We were thoroughly loving the friendships we had made and traipsing from beach to waterfall each day. But the feeling of incongruence just loomed over us, something felt off about all of it. We renewed our 90 day visa in a convoluted border run to Nicaragua and I knew for certain I wouldn’t be doing it again.
It wasn’t about being right or wrong, it just was about trying different versions until it felt good-ish. But it all had a cost to it, and this one was getting pretty epic. Our money, our mental health, our nervous systems were all on their last legs. Maybe we weren’t as adventurous as we had thought. Maybe we were changing into people who actually craved stability, security and safety.
What had gone wrong? And more importantly, what do we do?
— TO BE CONTINUED —