Reflections Four Years In

It almost seems hard to believe that we’ve been back in the U.S. for four years now. (Four years and four days, if anyone’s actually counting.) In some ways our Costa Rica time seems distant, like a dream you sort-of remember but that’s a bit fuzzy at the same time. In other ways it seems impossible that it was almost ten years ago that we moved down there and we’re now in our 5th year back, it all still feels so “recent.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, any deep thoughts now that we’ve been back for a while?

One, just to be clear right off the bat, we are 100% glad that we moved to Costa Rica. We had wonderful experiences and truly not many bad ones. We made many friends, we did interesting things, we got up every day and marveled at the beautiful place we lived.


Orion the therapy dog visiting David in the hospital

So, why are we also 100% (maybe 110%) glad to be back in the States? Most of the reasons, even now — or perhaps especially now, after four years back — can be ticked off on the plus column for things here rather than the negative column for things there. That is, family and medical care count enormously.

David has now had several cutting edge heart procedures here that have vastly improved his quality of life, probably his longevity, and certainly his ability to enjoy those darling grandchildren! The care he’s gotten has truly been top notch and at a level so far above what would have been possible in Costa Rica, it sometimes takes our breath away.

Those grandchildren, of course, are the biggest reason we love being back. (I always feel a bit bad when I rave about how wonderful the grandkids are, as though Jennifer and Larry might be in the background saying, “What are we, chopped liver?!?” So let me also say what a delight it’s been to see the big-kids regularly too! And even Collin and Katy, albeit cross-country, seem closer than when we were in Costa Rica.)

GrandmaAndHenryI knew women who just couldn’t wait to be grandmas, but it really had simply never been on my radar screen. No “negative” attached to it, just not much thought about it at all. But this grandma sure does enjoy her time with those two darlings and what’s been almost better to see is how David (now mostly just referred to as Poppy) has blossomed into his role as grandfather. And he’s really great at it, too, other than the a-bit-too-frequent expletives that seem to fall out of his mouth. (Not at the kids, of course, but around them causing Avila to spout a little trial cussing of her own recently!)

Ironically, we’re all too aware that one of the completely un-imagined benefits of our having moved to Costa Rica is that we DO live here now. We’ve realized that had we never moved to Costa Rica, we probably would not have felt able to move here — probably would never have even considered it.

While the move to CR didn’t give me the actual “early retirement” we’d imagined (since, as we’ve noted many times before it is not as cheap to live there as we’d believed), it did give me a work freedom that I’d never had before. I’m now a published author with two books out and another to be finished soon. I work from home, giving me the geographical freedom to live here and the work-hour flexibility to be able to take care of the grandkids half of the week. If I were still just slogging along in a traditional job in Maine (had we not made the CR move) none of that would have likely been true.

Beyond those two major reasons to love being here, there continue to be “appreciations” that I just don’t think we would have had if we hadn’t had that 5+ years in Costa Rica. Even now, even as we enter our fifth year back, I still convert almost every grocery bill to colones and marvel at the variety and quality of food I got for such a good price. (Now, of course, there is also very expensive food available here, but the good news is there’s such a huge range of options that with some smart shopping, you can get great quality food for good prices.)

We continue to be amazed at the sheer “ease” of living here. The swift, efficient manner in which almost anything gets done. Less than an hour (including driving time) to register your car vs. many hours, possibly multiple days in Costa Rica. Same with getting/renewing your driver’s license, buying insurance, getting a doctor’s appointment, having some kind of repair work done at your home, doing almost anything.

Interestingly, we didn’t really mind how long all that stuff took in CR — at least for a few years. But it eventually becomes wearing which is evident by the fact that we continue to genuinely appreciate the ease here even after several years.

And that leads me to my final “reflection” — watching our own process, as well as those who returned before and the many who have returned since — I have come to believe that most folks simply are not wanting to be expatriates forever. For some years, as a great life experience, absolutely yes. Forever and ever, probably not.

Of course some will and that’s great. It’s not a contest. But we continue to see people who — like us — assumed and even staunchly defended the notion that they would be the ones to stay forever make the decision to move back to the States (or Canada or England or wherever their “home country” was). I don’t think that indicates there’s something wrong with living in Costa Rica but rather something “wrong” with the idea that most people want to live out their days in what will forever be an unfamiliar and different place.

I also don’t think it indicates something that is unique to Costa Rica. While I just don’t have the same first-hand knowledge of expats in other countries, I absolutely believe that the same situation exists with expats everywhere. Some will stay in their new country, many will return home, and hopefully most — like us — will have felt that the years abroad were worthwhile even if, perhaps, in the end — just as Dorothy proclaimed — there’s no place like home.

Remember to comment. I *heart* comments! And if you’re an ex-expat too, how do you feel about being back? If you’re an ex-pat on your way to becoming an ex-expat, are there things you’re looking forward to when you get back? (And if you just want to say “hi” that’s totally allowed too, appreciated even!!)

And, just for fun, we’ll close with some pictures of things we love about living here!

Henry does love to eat!

Henry does love to eat!

Avila so proudly learning to sew and mend the stuffed animals (wearing her "Doc Avila" lab coat!)

Avila so proudly learning to sew and mend the stuffed animals (wearing her “Doc Avila” lab coat!)


It's a beautiful state. Incredible sights on a fall drive around the Nebo Loop

Incredible sights on a fall drive around the Nebo Loop


And more beauty on Nebo Loop

And more beauty on Nebo Loop

This entry was posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Health and Medical, Life in the U.S., Moving back to the U.S.. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Reflections Four Years In

  1. Martha B. Higgins says:

    Always great to hear from you and about your family and adventures, Arden. Sunny and cold here today, as was yesterday, temps 0 on Sunday and 15 today, supposed to be in the 40s this week. It’s certainly been a weird and easy winter so far.
    Glad to hear your husband has had good care and great to see your grandchildren.

    • arden says:

      Hi, Martha — Glad that your winter hasn’t been too bad — when I was reading the long-range forecast this fall, it had looked like New England might really get hit again, like last year, so I’ve been very glad for my Maine friends that that hasn’t been the case. We, too, have had a pretty easy one. Still snow on the ground in most places, but hitting the low 60s tomorrow, so a little hint of spring to come!

      We are having such a blast with the littles — perhaps especially so since we’d really never given much thought to being grandparents and even moving back here to be hear them didn’t really prepare us for just how much fun they would be. (A lot of work, too, but in a good way!)

      So nice to “see” you here. Thanks for commenting — I really do love to hear from folks! Feels like I’m not just blasting stuff out into the great void. ;-)

  2. Rosi Matheson says:

    Hola Arden – we are happy for you and David that things have worked out so well back home and we are glad that David received such great care and visits from Orion.
    As for us, we love it here in Perez Zeledon and the place feels more and more like home. We are still working on our Spanish, but are getting along wonderfully talking “Spanglish”, using our hands a lot, and at times playing charades! Can you believe that it will be three years in June that we made the move? Unlike yourselves, we have no children and, therefore, no grandchildren; however, we have adopted (or have THEY adopted us?) a warm and loving Tico family with children and grandchildren, so we kind of know the “grandparents” role a bit.
    One thing we really do NOT miss is the cold and the snow. It’s nice to look at but we wouldn’t want to live in it again. We like our weather in the 80’s year round, with a gentle breeze……..
    Looking forward to your next post.
    Rosi and “Tomas” Matheson

    • arden says:

      Hi, Rosi — I’m so glad you guys are still loving it there! (Just to be clear, we did too, really right up until we decided to leave!) It actually does seem hard to believe it’s nearly three years. You know, since I’m continuing to do my Ship Costa Rica work, my Spanish has actually continued to “improve” over these years I’ve been back, isn’t that funny. Spanglish works great and they say that learning another language is great for keeping the mind young and active, so another bonus! ;-)

      Yeah, we were SO grateful to be out of Maine’s winters. We find them so much less dreary here — it’s usually dry and sunny so it feels much less cold than Maine did, and we’re rewarded with a spectacular spring that Maine just didn’t have. But I also do think that part of what makes the winter here “manageable” for us is simply those 6 winters that we “missed” by being in Costa Rica — enjoying that year-round mild temperature. Somewhat unexpectedly it’s as though it let us push the “reset” button and now we’re not minding the winter. Funny, huh?

      Glad to hear, too, about your “adoptive” family, complete with grandchildren. Fun! Stay in touch — I love to hear how things are going for you.

  3. Deborah says:

    I remember the last time I came back into the country from CR. The customs agent said, “Welcome home” and I burst into tears of shear joy! There truly is NO place like home!

    I’ve been back a mere month longer than you have been but, as you know, things have been more than a little rocky for me and my family. I am grateful that I came home when I did since mom was then able to get the medical care she needed, enabling her to probably live an additional four or so years over what probably would have been in CR.

    I certainly know what you mean about how much easier things feel being back in the States. I remember marveling how I had water and electricity here 24/7 as opposed to the very spotty service I had in CR. But, like you, I’m glad that I did it since it gave me an experience I never would have had otherwise. And, like you, I never would’ve ended up where I am today if I hadn’t gone to CR. Loving the North Carolina mountains!

    Love the photos of the grands as well as all those lovely places you get to visit. Keep it up for your adoring public!

    • arden says:

      Hi, Deborah — Yes, it’s odd, I don’t think we had all that much sense of “leaving” the U.S. when we moved to CR (more of a focus on moving “to” Costa Rica, if that makes sense) and we had no complaints about the States (other than the long dreary winters in Maine). BUT, that said, we sure see everything now though eyes of appreciation!

      I’m so glad you’re still loving your North Carolina mountains. The pictures out your windows of your surroundings right there at home are really just lovely. I can only imagine that spring will be spectacular! We’ve still got snow on much of the ground, and will likely still have more snow to come, but it’s supposed to go into the 60s tomorrow, so will get a little hint of springtime to come. ;-)

      Always fun to hear from yoU!

  4. Kathy Bell says:

    Thanks for the update, Arden! We too are grateful for Phase I of our retirement for five years in Costa Rica as well as our four years of city living in Charlotte, NC, for Phase II. Now we are off in a different direction and have moved to Tucson, AZ, just this week. Isn’t life great? We would never have been this free to move about if we hadn’t downsized to move to CR and downsized again when we came back to th U.S. Glad to hear you are all doing well and enjoying yourselves.

    Kathy, Alan, Skippy, and Petey

    • arden says:

      WOW, Tucson!! Gee, you’re now out in our neck of the woods, more or less. Hopefully this increases our chances of actually SEEING you. :-) Yes, isn’t it true that the “big move” to Costa Rica really opened us all up to further moves. Hugs to all!

  5. Jane Daugherty Karker says:

    Thanks Arden. Love your blog. Jane

    • arden says:

      Hi, Jane — really nice to see you here. As I mentioned over on Facebook, I’ve enjoyed “reconnecting” even just the little bit through watching your FB posts, so it’s fun to have you get a little glimpse into our lives, too. (Gee, seems hard to think that those Centenary days were actually 40 years ago, huh?)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Greg says:

    I enjoy reading your blog Arden. It is refreshing to get a different perspective. We are coming up on year three in CR and amongst our friends and acquaintances here it is tough to find a balanced view of living in the country – typically one of two extremes – either all rainbows and monkeys or can’t wait to get the hell out of here.

    Thanks for a great read.

    • arden says:

      Hi, Greg — Thanks for stopping in and reading. Yes, I found, too, that it was always very hard to find any balanced perspective. Just as you say, either in a blissful, ignore-any-signs-of-problems honeymoon phase (despite their resentment of that phrase) or angry, disillusioned, and bitter. We feel that even when we were there we were neither and now that we’re back like to think that we continue to offer a more realistic and balanced view. We really did love it there and are glad we went, but we are really glad to be back. ;-)

  7. Loved this post, so interesting. I can totally sympathize with almost EVERYTHING you say (well, except the grandchildren)… And though we have not had any issues that require medical attention in CR, we know it would BE an issue if we did (caja is not all it was cracked up to be). Thanks for sharing Arden, and when is that 3rd book coming out??????? Cheers! (PS – I’m in Wisconsin right now visiting my Momma, so totally enjoying all the conveniences and eating lots of good cheese!

    • arden says:

      Hi, Jen — Yes, eat up LOTS of that good cheese. Definitely something we missed in CR and, in fact, something our dear friends would usually mule in to us when they visited! I think the CAJA is one of the most unfortunate “everything is roses” illusions that you find when most folks talk about (i.e. sell the idea of) moving to Costa Rica. It can be, in fact, very useful in an emergency, and we know there are folks (the Yeatmans come first to mind) who have used it very successfully. BUT, it simply can’t be denied that it’s a vastly overwhelmed system and it’s actually really scary to us to think about what sorts of medical care David’s heart issues (along with some other health things) would have had there. We also just love the sheer convenience (like with almost everything!) of the medical care here. We have a clinic associated with the University about 3 minutes from our house with top-notch care, and the University itself with world-class cutting edge care (and a multitude of other doctors and hospitals around in the exceedingly unlikely case that you needed something else) and it’s all just so easy to access.

      Thanks for the gentle kick in the rear about the book. I’ve gotten side-tracked working to ramp up a couple of other blogs I have ( and ) and I REALLY do need to just buckle down and finish it! I’ll make sure to write some on it today, just to help get back into the groove. ;-)

      Enjoy visiting your family and all the “ease” around you!! And thanks for stopping in.

      • Awesome! Glad I could help gently kick you into gear. I have a new book I’m working on, being edited now – so exciting! You can do it!! Let me know if I can help in any way. :)

        • arden says:

          That reminds me that I’d said I’d write on it today, so by golly I’m going to go do that! Enjoy your trip and I’m excited to know more about your next book!

  8. Laurie says:

    Great to hear from you and get your thoughts on your CR experience from today’s perspective.
    I went to language school in Panama for a few months, and spent almost a month at a farm in Costa Rica, and read a lot, including your writings, and while it was all fascinating, and a great experience, I changed my mind about spending any more time there. The ease and, well, comparatively it seems like luxury, of the US is hard to walk away from. Plus, and no one talks about this much at all, but I find property cheaper here- a lot cheaper. I have a great condo here in Florida with every amenity you could name for well under $100,000, and I never see anything like that in Latin America.
    Your grandchildren are beautiful, and I’m so glad to hear that David is doing so well.

    • arden says:

      Hi, Laurie — Thanks for stopping by! Yes, when we moved to Costa Rica we (perhaps oddly enough) didn’t really feel so much that we were “leaving” the U.S., but rather we were “going to” Costa Rica and for most of our years there we really did genuinely enjoy our life there. In fact, when we first even raised the question to ourselves about coming back so that we could see our granddaughter more, we still felt like we were leaving a place we loved and planned to return as often as possible. Interestingly, once we got settled in back here, that desire to return just drained away. It was a great experience and one we’re glad we had, but no interest in repeating it. And, as I noted, one of the “odd” benefits of having made the move is that it freed us up to move here and be with the kids so much, which I just don’t think would have happened had we still been slogging along in our “regular” life in Maine. So we’re grateful, at many levels.

      But it is SO true that life is SO easy and comfortable here. I think it was really worthwhile to get out of that for a while and experience something different, but I sure feel no need to apologize for enjoying that ease. ;-) We are enormously blessed, here and yes, we find life less expensive here in almost every way (with a couple of exceptions).

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

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