Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The sounds of silence

Five O'Clock Frank has left the neighborhood. Yep, the large German shepherd with the big bark and skittish temperament no longer lives across the street from us. And we're elated!

Frank, so dubbed by our family because of the German heritage and a tendency to wake the neighbors at dawn, is actually a female dog named Xina that bellows at everything that comes near—kids, construction workers, other dogs, butterflies, leaves, wind .... nary a morning went by when we didn't wake up to Frank's ruckus. Not yipping, yapping, or woofing, but rather deep, boisterous barking. At one point I heard talk of throwing tainted sausages over Frank's fence (though I won't say who was saying such things!), it got that disruptive.

Last weekend, Frank and his family moved away. Each morning (OK, and afternoon and evening) since has been serene. Tranquil. Peaceful. Ah...now that's what I call a Guten Morgen. Auf Wiedersehen, Frank!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Taking its toll

We were cruising on the autopista on a day trip to Sarchí when we approached a toll booth, and traffic halted. A long stretch of cars and trucks was ahead of us, and we were certain we were in for an interminable wait. We watched street vendors weave between cars, hawking everything from mangoes and bottled water to cowboy hats, sunglasses, and car phone adapters. As we inched our way along, and I fumbled for the 75 colones (about 15 cents) to pay the toll, we wondered aloud how long we’d be caught waiting.

Suddenly, the cars in front of us began to fly ahead. Dan punched the gas, and soon we were sailing through the toll booth, 75 colones still in hand. The money collectors remained in their booths while a handful of policemen animatedly waved us through.

Wow! This was such an unexpected surprise—it was our lucky day! No more waiting, no paying the meager toll, no little slip of amber paper (to promptly shove in the ashtray) indicating we paid our dues—weren’t we special? We later learned that when the waiting traffic line reaches about a kilometer, the government forfeits the toll money and lets drivers pass.

Here in Costa Rica, we’re living on Tico time—the pace of life is slower. Waiting is not seen as an exercise in frustration; punctuality is completely unexpected. Nothing moves at a frenetic pace … except the traffic. Driving in Costa Rica is not for the fainthearted. In a surprising juxtaposition, soft-spoken, kind-hearted, slow-moving Ticos become hurried, maniacal fiends when they get behind the wheel. Perhaps it’s for this reason that they open the tolls when traffic is congested. Tico time does not apply on the pista.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Like a Tico Groundhog Day

Who needs meteorologists when one can rely on las pintas for the yearly forecast? Las pintas (pintar = to paint) refer to the first 12 days of the year in Costa Rica. Each day is said to predict the weather for its corresponding month; for example, yesterday—January 12—was warm and sunny, meaning that December (the twelfth month of the year) will be warm and sunny.

With this newfound knowledge, I—great soothsayer of weather—foresee that 2008 will be sunny, rainy, cloudy, cloudless, calm, and absolutely windy! But the best news? We should be experiencing ideal temperatures for the next twelve months.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Monkey business

A surfer friend of ours, Norbell, has a house on the coast in Guanacaste (in the northwestern part of the country). He recently returned from a stay there, and he and Dan decided to catch up over lunch. As the two walked to Norbell's truck, he pointed to the truck's bed and alerted Dan: "Watch out for the monkey poop."

Now that's something you don't hear everyday.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A beautiful promise

I have set my bow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Genesis 9:13

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Everyone knows it’s windy

Give a cheer! The rainy season has ended, and Costa Rica summer (the long-awaited dry season) has officially begun. The onset of more consistently beautiful blue and sun-filled skies also ushers in the windy season—aptly named, because we're experiencing some fierce currents in the valley.

So what’s happening here? The air blowing westward by trade winds loses its moisture as it crosses the mountains, bringing gusts that blow into the valley and dry everything out. We’ve been told that these winds are especially strong in December and January, and sure enough we’ve seen 30mph-plus gales daily since our return to Santa Ana.

Homes here are not built for wintery weather, so we don’t have insulation and storm windows to help shield us during the blustery days. If we keep the windows open, dust settles quickly in the house and things get blown around (yesterday one of our large paintings was tilted precariously on the wall after a particularly strong wind). Yet if we choose to keep the windows closed, we endure lusty whistling and wailing as air blasts through every crack in the house. It’s like living in a haunted house replete with ghostly howling and creaking doors.

Good thing it’s not raining—I’d be scared to open an umbrella out there. Mary Poppins would take off like an F-14!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Coming to America

Happy New Year! After a relatively computer-free two weeks, I’m ready to share the scoop on our first trip back to the United States after moving to Central America.

The flight up was, unfortunately, eventful. As we sat on the runway in San Jose and heard “Is there a doctor on the plane?” we knew the day would be long. The flight crew had to call the paramedics for a passenger in back which caused us to miss our connection in Atlanta. After being in the air from Atlanta for about 30 minutes, we turned around due to “minor electrical problems.” I’m relatively sure things weren’t as minor as they led us to believe, seeing that we circled Atlanta and then saw a plethora of fire engines and ambulances on the runway awaiting our descent.

Anyway, we finally caught yet another flight to Chicago and made it to our hotel (and my parents!) around 10:30. Almost immediately Dan and I headed to the Walgreens nearby to buy knit caps for the girls and plenty of snack food we’ve been missing.

The American Girl Place was a jam-packed three floors and incredible. The kids gleefully shopped for Christmas presents, and Lauren even got the new Julie doll from the 1970s. (It’s weird to be old enough to be a historical character!) The AGP café was beautifully decorated—a young girl’s dream restaurant. My dad was so happy to be surrounded by all his girls (and two dolls, too), and Erin and Lauren were in awe of the entire experience.

We did some more shopping, eating (and eating!), and relished walking around a festive Chicago, lit up with Christmas decorations at every turn. And snow! We woke up around six one morning (hard to break that Tico-time habit) and just lay in bed, watching big flakes fall outside our window amidst neighboring skyscrapers.

La Crosse
Speaking of snow…Wisconsin had the fourth highest December snowfall on record—we were thrilled! The girls loved sledding down the hill in my parents’ backyard, especially Lauren, who was out there nearly every day. It was about time my kids discovered what sledding really is about. Lauren set several distance records on the golf course hill and she really flew! She suffered a bad scrape/bruise with swelling on her face from crash in the snow, but she kept going. I went a few times and got some great laughs watching my dad, brother, and husband out there too. They even crossed the golf course at one point and went down the hill on the other side.

One afternoon we went to the Sweet Shop with my parents—an old-fashioned malt shop where everything is homemade. I remember going there as girl with my dad and getting giant caramel suckers and then going to the train station to watch the trains roll in and out. Anyway, the place has been open since 1921 and not much has changed. They sell chocolate-covered cinnamon sticks that are the best. Thankfully they had some in the case the day we went because they sell out very quickly around Christmas, and I had been craving this treat. The man we talked to (who has worked there for 30 years) said they had dipped 14,000 sticks since the beginning of November. You wouldn't believe it in this little bitty shop. So good!

Did I really just write a whole paragraph about the Sweet Shop? I shouldn’t be surprised—my cousin asked Dan and me what we miss most about the US and without hesitation we replied in unison: food.

In Dan’s hometown we spent some nice time with his family (unfortunately missing one of his brothers, but everyone else was there). There was a full house for the delicious Sunday dinner Dan’s mom made—lots of kids, too!

One afternoon we did a little shopping and rode around with Dan’s dad trying desperately to find a pink Favre jersey for me. (My brother-in-law and his girlfriend finally did get one that fits Erin—she loves it and wore it Christmas Day). I’m going to have to order the jersey, but I did get a pink Packers hat and T-shirt for Christmas. Yippee!

Of course we stopped at Taco John’s numerous times on our vacation in both Marshfield and Onalaska (is anyone shocked by this news?) and even brought some home for lunch for Dan’s mom one afternoon.

There was a fantastic snowfall the day after we arrived in Marshfield—a whopping amount, well over a foot. It was so beautiful (though it did knock out the TV reception and we missed watching the Packers game). I volunteered to go outside and dig out the animals in the manger scene on the lawn. It felt great to breathe the winter air and feel a little sting of snow on my legs and face. As much as I’m enjoying the current climate here, I know I’m a northern girl at heart. You can take the girl out of Wisconsin…

We were back in La Crosse for Christmas. It was a wonderful, memorable holiday—I saw a lot of family members and got to spend quite a bit of time with my brother and sister-in-law, which really made it even more special. The girls had a super sleepover with their aunt and uncle—pizza at Chuck E Cheese, shopping for a few cherished presents, and staying up too late watching movies.

There is so much else I could blog about our time in La Crosse, but these are probably things more special to me than interesting to anyone else: euchre craziness with Mom and Dad, working on a seemingly impossible puzzle with Dad and my cousin, watching football (and more football!), cooking with my mom, enjoying Friday Night Fish (great Wisconsin tradition), spending Christmas Eve church service with my whole family… it was a wonderful vacation.

Home again
Unfortunately, our flight home was eventful (sounds like the beginning of this blog). We spent eight hours in the Atlanta airport following yet another missed connection. The good news is that we all got first class seats for the four-hour trip back to Costa Rica—first class makes everything so much better, especially on New Year’s Eve. And Lauren got to sit in the cockpit and wear the pilot’s cap!

Finally, we saw lots of fuegos artificiales (fireworks) from the airplane as we descended into CR around 10pm. Dan and I stood in our open doorway on New Year’s Eve (perfect weather!) and saw fireworks in every direction, including directly in front of our house (literally a few feet from our front door). It was a big celebration that lasted for a couple of hours, and as we lay on our bed, exhausted, we enjoyed the soft breeze and listened to the music, parties, and kabooms—and it felt good to be home.