Monday, June 30, 2008

So long, farewell …

These past few weeks, our family has been living a series of goodbyes. The farewells began on the last day of school—a trying time because many kids won’t be returning next year, and so some of the goodbyes were forever. I picked the girls up from their final classes and saw a friend (now living in Mexico) walk by with tears in her eyes as she helped her kids leave their school of the last three years. I know I’ll be the same when we leave CDS.

The next day, friends of ours flew to Spain for the entire summer, soon followed by many other families that we have come to care about. This is a difficult aspect of living abroad: there is a cycle of comings and goings, reminiscent for Dan and me of his years spent in the Navy.

We attended a great farewell bash for three families whose company we enjoy tremendously. There were plenty of stories, lots of food, tears over videos made for each family, and loads of laughter and joy (particularly when the mariachi band came to play). Now they’re off to other adventures—new homes, travels, and more memories to make.

Meanwhile, it’s normal for many expat families to leave the country for the rainy season, and our friends who are traveling out of Costa Rica for the summer are now gone. We are among the last to remain, until tomorrow morning when the girls and I hop a plane to Wisconsin.

While the separating can be heartbreaking, I know I am blessed for having met these amazing people and sharing our Costa Rican experience with them; and I’m fortunate to know that in August, a lot of our friends will return to this beautiful country, and we’ll have fun telling each other tales about our time away.

Until then, we’re loading the suitcases and excited to go on one of our favorite vacations: a summer in Wisconsin. We’ll check back in from our home away from home.

Now … back to packing!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Where no badger has gone before …

Costa Rica holds a lot of surprises for our family, but today's was truly unexpected. I went to look out the window after hearing a massive boom of thunder and saw a big, white truck with the Badger Popcorn logo on the side. I started yelling for Dan to run to the window, and soon we were all hooting and hollering as the Bucky truck drove by. It was bizarre seeing the World's Best Badger so out of context!

Bucky in Costa Rica! Yeeehaa! (If only he'd brought us some cheese!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blasts from the past

You know what’s utterly groovy and totally awesome for this music-loving American who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s? Only two of my favorite radio stations ever—Radio Dos and Best FM—found on the airwaves of beautiful Costa Rica!

Sprinkled with bits of news—sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English—these two gems are all about the songs of Generation X. What most interests me is that the people who choose the play lists for these stations definitely have favorites, and sometimes they are obscure or just unusual choices to air repeatedly. Months ago I started listing tunes that I hear a lot—many of which I hadn’t heard for years previously.

This list is by no means inclusive, but here are the songs that have stuck in my mind long enough and often enough to make it from brain to blog. And note that I hear a real variety of Heart, Duran Duran, and Survivor—the tunes listed are just those I hear most often.

  • Alan Parsons Project: Time
  • Andy Gibb: Shadow Dancing
  • Bee Gees: Night Fever
  • The Carpenters: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (how weird is this song, anyway?)
  • Duran Duran: Ordinary World
  • George Michael: Monkey
  • Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
  • Glen Campbell: Rhinestone Cowboy (always wish I could call Dad on the cell when I hear this in the car)
  • Golden Earring: Twilight Zone
  • Heart: Alone
  • Lionel Richie: All Night Long
  • Martika: Toy Soldiers
  • Musical Youth: Pass the Dutchie (on the left-hand side)
  • Paper Lace: The Night Chicago Died and Billy Don’t Be a Hero (I had to mention both)
  • Pet Shop Boys: West End Girls (Erin loves this song!)
  • Sniff’n the Tears: Driver’s Seat (I love this song!)
  • Survivor: Burning Heart

... and deserving their own mention:

  • Terry Jacks: Seasons in the Sun: I’ve heard this a dozen times here in CR; before this, I'd probably not heard it since 1978. Erin says "Mom, it's so sad!” and I must admit, I still find it’s as tear-jerking as it was when I listened to it on my friend Lori’s record player back in third grade.

  • Culture Club: I’m sure I’ve heard every Culture Club song ever made popular in the US and then some while here in Costa Rica. I'm still trying to figure out the deal with Ticos and Boy George. I’ve heard The Crying Game too, more times than I can recall (including just a couple of hours ago on the way home from the grocery store). Oh, and I once saw a CC video/movie on TV here. It’s weird.

  • The good news is that in addition to these curious choices for repeated play, I still get plenty of pop rock: U2, Foreigner, Van Halen, the Stones, Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard (love them!), Scorpions, Poison ... it's not all Carpenters, thank goodness!

    Wanna listen to these totally terrific tunes for yourself? You can get live, streaming audio for 99.5 Radio Dos and 103.5 Best FM online by clicking the links. Which really makes me happy, because I like knowing I can enjoy these cool stations even when I’m back in the Queen City.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    P is for chicken

    Yesterday was a good day and a busy day: laundry, gym, going to the pool which doubled as a study session (my neighbor is learning Spanish and had a big test yesterday so I quizzed her), lunch at our friends' house, etc.

    Lauren and I got home at 2:00, and around 3:00—sometime between washing beach towels and checking email—I realized I hadn't put the chicken for dinner in the oven to roast. I ran to the kitchen, pulled the chicken from the fridge, and turned on the oven.

    Not sure exactly how much time I needed to roast a 2 kilo chicken (hey, at least I didn't have to look up the conversion to pounds—just over 4, by the way—so hurray for me!), I whipped out my old Betty Crocker cookbook and quickly flipped to the index. To the P section. You know, where words start with the letter P.

    I was in a hurry. I was scanning at top speed. P, p, p ... c'mon, where are the entries for chicken?! I wasn't looking up poultry here, I was looking for chicken. Chicken!

    Because chicken starts with a P, you know. As in pollo. As in Spanish for chicken.

    Some days, the languages just get all mixed up in my brain and I’ve gotta laugh.

    ¡Pura pollo!

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    The Rain Forest Café

    Parents of CDS second graders need look no further than their child’s classroom for a unique, memorable, and really fun dining experience. The Rain Forest Café, a yearly tradition for seven- and eight-year-olds, is a favorite activity of CDS families and certainly not your typical school lunch. Lucky us that we have a second grader!

    The kids prepared for the café for several weeks. Lauren’s classroom was decorated like a lush, tropical rain forest, complete with a waterfall, twisting vines and branches hanging from the ceiling, plenty of colorful animals and insects, and beautiful leaves and flowers. We even saw a few iridescent hummingbirds outside the window which often enjoy the bougainvillea on the fence bordering the school.

    As part of the preparations, each student studied a particular rain forest animal and wrote a detailed report about it, including illustrations and interesting facts. Lauren chose the squirrel monkey—my very favorite creature here in Costa Rica and, I think, a suitable choice for Lauren.

    After the kids had been working on this project for nearly a month, Dan and I received a lovely invitation printed on homemade paper to come to the school for a special brunch served at the café. And special it was!

    When we arrived, the kids were dressed as little waiters and waitresses, decked out in green aprons embroidered with “rain forest café” (what great keepsakes). Our personal waitress (guess who!) gave us $10 in rain forest money, led us to a table in the corner, and offered us a beautiful, hand-drawn menu.

    The menu of 19 items included a variety of beverages, breads and muffins, fruit, main dishes, and sweets, all at reasonable prices, of course. An example of the offerings:

    Rain forest mud (coffee)
    Margay spot muffins
    Morpho bread (banana bread)
    Flying mangoes
    Red eye tree frog sushi
    Ocelots’ dinner (rice with palmito)
    Scarlet macaw sandwiches
    Piranha brownies
    Jaguar spots (cookies)

    Dan and I placed our order with our sweet server and she scribbled everything down on her tablet. Before she left to total our order, we had a chance to ask her questions about squirrel monkeys—because the tag on her shirt said she is an expert! Did you know that the squirrel monkeys' tails are the longest of all the monkeys’ tails? Or that squirrel monkeys give birth during the rainy season? Our server did (and now we do too)!

    Our food was truly a meal's worth (especially the howler monkey pizza). Of course we asked to see the manager (Lauren’s friend Isabel—the capuchin monkey expert—who just happened to be turning eight that day) to give her our compliments. We learned she was made manager because she had the highest score on the math test and was best at helping her classmates make change with the rain forest money.

    We made sure to ask plenty of questions of the girls about the rain forest, including whether the girls had their monkey tails hidden in their pants because we’re certain that secretly they are monkeys themselves. That sufficiently embarrassed them, making Dan and me feel pretty good about our parenting skills.

    At the end of our meal, we tipped (with real colones this time!) our server and the café manager, and they gleefully wandered off, giggling about their tip and our teasing.

    Finally we left this special café, so tickled with it all. The best part is that all Lauren has learned about the rain forest is applicable to her life here—and she has experienced it for herself. This tiny Central American country is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, a home for some 10,000 species of plants and trees. We have seen and heard the squirrel, capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys in their natural habitats. The three-toed and two-toed sloths are not strangers to us. Agoutis, coatis, bats, scarlet macaws, morpho butterflies, crocodiles, the rare silky anteater, and a plethora of lizards, birds, and bugs—we’ve seen these rain forest creatures (and more!) living in the wild. It’s an opportunity hard to match and a learning experience that extends far beyond the classroom. We are living an amazing adventure!

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Tag … I’m it!

    I blog to journal our experiences in Costa Rica and so family and friends can see what we’re up to. (Admittedly it’s easier than sending individual emails to everyone who’s interested in our adventures; I hope nobody minds!) While I haven’t ventured far into the blogosphere—no aspirations of winning bloggy awards!—today my journal was recognized by a friend with a “tag.” I’m it!

    So part of the game is to answer five questions and then link to someone else’s blog. In a detour from my typical tico-related entries, I’m playing tag today. Here goes:

    1. What was I doing 10 years ago?
    I was anticipating the first birthday of my first baby and spending time with Dan, Erin, and our friends in Washington—enjoying the sun which was finally making regular appearances after a long winter and spring of rain. I suppose we were also getting ready for our move from the beautiful Evergreen State back to the Midwest.

    2. What 5 things are on my to-do list?

  • Bake 30 muffins for the girls’ last day of school.
  • Finish creating scrapbook entries for three friends leaving CR soon. (Sob!)
  • Start my packing list for our summer vacation.
  • Laundry (I think this is on just about every list I’ve seen thus far).
  • Organize my desk.

  • 3. What snacks do I enjoy?
    Just about anything with cheese, chocolate chip cookies, veggies and dip, lime 'n chili almonds (Dan brings these back from the US for me and I'm addicted!), popcorn … I'm not too picky!

    4. What things would I do if I were a millionaire?
    Assuming this is a tax-free million to play with ... Invest, pay off our mortgage (if we had one—we don’t at the moment), drop a bundle into the girls’ college funds, donate, buy a few frivolous things, and travel, travel, travel!! And then travel! Think I can do all that for a million?

    5. Where have I lived? (OK, here goes!)

  • San Jose, California
  • La Crosse, Wisconsin
  • Onalaska, Wisconsin
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Guadalajara, Mexico (studied there one summer—does that count?)
  • Athens, Georgia
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Mayport, Florida
  • Everett, Washington
  • Loveland, Ohio
  • Liberty Township, Ohio
  • Santa Ana, Costa Rica

  • Now I have to tag someone, so I’m going to choose my new-to-blogging friend Lori. This will give her an easy entry to write! Have fun!

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    She’ll get you—and your little dog, too!

    Who’s lean and mean and green all over? That’s Erin, our resident actress and Country Day’s answer to the Wicked Witch of the West in the elementary school play, The Wizard of Oz.

    Erin joined drama club at the start of the year and fell in love with acting. Led by Mr. Large—the best principal ever—the club learned a lot about the theater and being on stage. For months they’ve been rehearsing the Wiz of Oz for their late May performance.

    We recently went to the show, just over an hour long, and it was good entertainment. Erin was a very animated witch, and everyone in the auditorium got a kick out of her evil laugh. (Admittedly, she has practiced this at home for years—I always thought it was a bit “mad scientist-like” but it worked great for this role too.)

    Our favorite scene is when Dorothy and her friends throw water on the witch and she “melts” into a puddle. I think our drama queen really rose to the occasion: “What a world, what a world!” Enjoy the video of her demise. I think you’ll agree Erin must be one Oz’s tallest witches ever! (By the way, if you listen carefully, you can hear Lauren ask at the very end of the clip—a bit gleefully—“Did she die?!”)

    After the play and much well-deserved applause, the kids streamed off the stage for the cast party (aka wild food fest). At one point I saw floppy Scarecrow’s plate held several cookies, a massive brownie, and one lonely cucumber; gotta wonder the fate of that little cuke slice.

    ¡Pura teatro!

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    That flu-like feeling

    Today I'm offering a shout out to P&G for NyQuil. Thank you, Vicks people, for this wonderful concoction.

    For years our family has had a running joke that when Dan travels internationally, somebody gets sick. He left for Cincinnati on Monday, and by Monday night I was feeling completely miserable with the flu. Ugh! It's unfortunate for it to be this week because my schedule has been cram-packed with end-of-the-school-year stuff. Yesterday I felt lousy enough that I missed Lauren's assembly and dropped Erin off at the fourth grade state fair last night only to leave minutes later. Really a bummer because the state fair is great—with a play, music, food, and interesting booths—and I wound up in bed with a fever, chills … you know the drill.

    Truth be told, our family has been very healthy here in comparison to in the United States. Erin, who normally misses at least a few days of school a year due to colds and sore throats, has (knock on wood!) a perfect attendance record this school year with only five days remaining. The only cold she had last winter developed on the plane to the US in December.

    Lauren has had one ear infection and missed an additional day of school when we thought she might have the chicken pox and I had to take her to the doctor. (She didn't—it was some unspecified allergic reaction that looked like pox but disappeared with allergy meds. My friend calls these unidentifiable rashes “jungle rot.”) Oh, and my Spanish-speaking friends are trying to understand what the “chicken” has to do with the “pox.” Lots of fun explaining that one.

    Dan and I have done really well.* This is the first flu to hit any of us here, I think.

    My theory as to why we have been so much healthier in Costa Rica is that we are not breathing re-circulated air each day. The air isn't hot and dry as it is in Ohio during winter. We don't have everything shut tightly with the AC running in the summer. Everything here is open to the outside—our house, the schools, shops, the gym, restaurants—there is always fresh air flowing throughout buildings.

    The best news is that Dan escaped the tornadoes in Cincinnati (I hope all of you there are safe and healthy!) and called me from Atlanta about an hour ago. He’s on his way home and will be here by mid-afternoon. Ah … it’s never easy being sick as a mom, but it’s a lot easier when my honey is here to help take care of me and bring me tea.

    Now back to bed!

    *Dan just read the blog and reminded me that he had a terrible case of the flu in early February. I told him I would amend the blog but that I plead illness and fatigue as reasons why I didn't recall this during the original posting of this entry.

    Additionally, Dan would like me to let everyone know that the reason we get sick when he leaves is because he is the glue that holds this family together. His words, not mine. Maybe someday Dan will post a blog of his own! (Is everyone holding their breath???)

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    First communion and the fantastic fiesta

    Yesterday was one of the most wonderful, memorable, and fun days we’ve spent here in the valley in our time of living in Costa Rica.

    What an honor and blessing that we were invited to a first communion for Lauren’s best friend, Isabel—and the party that followed was incredible!

    At 10:30 the communion service began at the Parroquia Inmaculada Concepción de Pozos, Santa Ana—the large orange and yellow church just a mile or so from our house. The weather was gorgeous (no rain, thankfully!) and a gentle breeze blew through the wide sanctuary with high ceilings and huge, gorgeous sprays of fresh, fragrant flowers. (I will miss the flowers from Costa Rica when we leave here!)

    The church was filled with proud family members and friends, dressed in their finest for such a special day. There were five kids from Lauren’s class celebrating first communion. The boys dressed in navy suits with white communion bows on their sleeves, but the girls, outfitted in beautiful white gowns with lace and ribbons, looked like tiny brides and clearly outshone everyone in the church.

    Erin and Lauren didn’t understand much of the service, though Dan and I quietly explained to them what was happening. Erin said she could pick out bits and pieces of Spanish from things familiar to her in English, such as the Lord’s Prayer and when the priest blessed the bread and wine.

    It was really special for our family to participate in this meaningful cultural experience that was so important to our friends.

    After church, around noon, we went to a celebration at Isabel’s house. This was hands-down one of the best parties we’ve ever been to. Our friends really know how to throw an incredible fiesta!
    As soon as we walked in, Isabel (the parent—she and her daughter share a first name) let us know we’d have plenty of opportunity to practice our Spanish: there was one couple from Chile and everyone else was from Spain. Although the conversation often became so animated and lively that Dan and I had a hard time following, it didn’t matter. We had each other and enjoyed observing and being a part of the day.

    At the start of the party, Isabel and Álvaro asked us—in all seriousness—“ You didn’t eat breakfast, did you?” Apparently it is expected that nobody eats before these parties. Dan and I just looked at each other, realizing this was going to be a real food-affair. I would be remiss in not describing the feast, because the food was incredible and just kept coming and coming.

    There was tasty, grilled chorizo (sausages a bit smaller than brats) and choripán (a sausage in a small, sliced loaf of bread), mussels, Spanish olives, and nuts. After the chorizo was served we enjoyed wedges of grilled and seasoned provolone on small pieces of bread.

    For the main course: grilled chicken, steak, chimichurri (a favorite condiment of mine), pickled onions, salad, and baked potatoes.

    Later came paper-thin crepes with strawberries, peaches, and caramel—and three sweet sauces to drizzle on top.

    We didn’t imagine there could be more food, but later in the day we were served chocolate-covered strawberries, a tortilla de patatas—a very traditional Spanish dish made of potatoes, onion, egg, and olive oil—and then the best gazpacho I could ever imagine. My friend promised me she’d teach me how to make these. She is an awesome cook!

    In addition to the conversation and eating (and eating!), the kids played hide-and-seek, went swimming, ate ice cream and popcorn, and took funny pictures with Isabel’s new camera. Dan and I loved the music which ranged from '70s disco to '80s pop to salsa and merengue.

    We danced and sang (including a rendition of a Grease music mix that thoroughly embarrassed Erin—isn’t that a hallmark of good parenting?), and at one point Dan and I watched as four Spaniards twirled, clapped, and stamped to flamenco music—and we clapped too, in appreciation.

    Shortly after 7pm we said our goodbyes, reluctant to leave but needing to get our exhausted kids to bed. Admittedly we didn’t stay up much later than the girls, having had such an amazing day. We will reminisce about yesterday many times in our lives, I am sure. We are so grateful to have met this wonderful Spanish family whose company we enjoy so much.