Monday, July 28, 2008

Move over, John Deere

Erin drove solo for the first time this weekend; she took Grandpa's riding mower for a few slow spins around the driveway by herself and did a great job. Only five more years 'til you get your license, Kid!

Lauren couldn't reach the pedals alone, so she had help—but make no mistake, she was extremely focused on the task at hand.

I'm pleased to report that everybody (and everything!) survived the test drives. Dan and I will have to pull these pictures out some summer day a few years from now when the grass is long ... "Sure you can mow the lawn, Erin. You used to think it was fun, remember?!"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A waterful day at Noah's Ark

With only sun in the forecast and temperatures at a comfortable 80 degrees, our family decided to take it outdoors to Noah's Ark—America's largest water park.

My dad, brother, Erin, Lauren, and I road tripped to the Wisconsin Dells (about 80 miles from here) yesterday morning and staked our claim on two lounge chairs that merely served to hold our towels and shade our bags. We didn't waste any time getting our feet wet on our first attraction—Black Anaconda, the biggest watercoaster I've ever seen. It was amazing!

We spent the next eight hours at this awesome park that boasts 49 waterslides, a 4D "dive-in" theater (featuring SpongeBob—who else?—and plenty of special effects), huge wave pools, big tube rides, and the list goes on. I wish I could have taken tons of pictures because we had such a terrific time, but who wants to carry a camera around a water park? That said, I did take one shot of the girls in front of one of the wave pools when we first arrived. See how dry they are?

My favorite ride was Time Warp, billed as the country's largest bowl ride. John, the girls, and I climbed into a four-person, clover-shaped tube and descended into a steep, black tunnel that took a great drop. Centrifugal force then took over as we swirled around the strobe light-filled bowl and finally slid into the pool below. Erin screamed through the whole thing ("Mom!!") and it was a great rush.

Another favorite was The Plunge: side by side vertical-drop slides that you fly down head first. John and I got a little air on these at one point, though the girls (who weigh so much less!) didn't go quite as far or as fast as we did.

When we really wanted to get wet, an activity area had an eight-foot bucket that spills 800 gallons of water at once and has a 25-foot splash zone. The huge spray soaked us and was great, yet paled in comparison to the drenching we received standing on the bridge over the Flash Flood—a giant boat holding 20 people that takes a 50-foot drop into a pool, creating a massive wall of water 40 feet high. Talk about wet!

We left in time for a late supper at Culver's and by the time we got home the kids were completely exhausted. They konked out almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, and Dad and I weren't far behind. All that sun and water really made for a memorable day and a highlight of our summer.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A country carnival

It's not often my girls get to stand on the steps of a giant tractor, but here they are doing just that at the Interstate Fair in West Salem, Wisconsin. It has occured to me during our vacation that Lauren would make an excellent farm kid; she loves animals, playing outside, and isn't averse to getting dirty!

The fair is just a few miles from my parents' house, and we headed over after supper when the temperatures had cooled. We began by traipsing through several barns filled with cows, pigs, horses, chickens, rabbits, and (yes, Lauren was in heaven!) ducks. Many of the animals were judged as 4-H exhibits and had ribbons attached to their stalls and pens. We saw a few spring calves born last March and a bevy of oinkers with names such as Porkchop, Hammy, and even Austin Powers. I love their curly tails, and they all looked so fat and happy.

Dad and I watched the girls whirl about on carnival rides and then we walked around and looked at everything all lit up while the kids indulged in sticky wads of pink and blue cotton candy. None of us had batter-fried cheese curds (though we've certainly had them since arriving in America's Dairyland), but they definitely did smell enticing when I walked by the cheese curd vendor. Mmmmmmm! A sure sign of an authentic Wisconsin country fair!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Big mall = big fun

What do eight hours at America's largest mall get our family (other than really tired!)? How about marathon shopping, plenty of eating, and a whole lot of twisting, turning and laughing at Nickelodeon Universe, the mall's indoor amusement park?

Yesterday morning, Erin, Lauren, my parents, and I traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota—home to the sprawling Mall of America. The girls knew this is the biggest mall in the nation, but they had no idea how big it really is! For the uninitiated, the Mall of America has more than 520 stores, 20 sit-down restaurants, 30 fast food restaurants, 14 movie screens, and 40 escalators. You could fit seven Yankee Stadiums inside the mall or 32 Boeing 747s. Whew! We didn't even come close to walking through the entire mall, instead opting to target select stores for items on our wish lists.

As much as we enjoyed browsing store aisles and finding bargains, the highlight of the day was undoubtedly Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor family theme park in the United States (seven acres with more than 30 rides and attractions—and not just wimpy stuff, but some wild rides for the daring, too). We didn't tell the girls about the park before we arrived, so they were completely shocked to see roller coaster tracks and a ferris wheel soaring to the high glass ceiling. They each got an unlimited ride wristband and we alternated between shopping and riding the entire day. Both agree that the best ride was the Orange Streak, a long coaster that traveled through the entire park.

It's about 2.5 hours of driving between the Mall of America and my parents' house in Wisconsin, and we got home just after 11:30 last night. Everybody slept in a bit this morning, and today—when temps are supposed to hit a sweltering 93 degrees—we girls are opting to stay home in the AC, do a little cooking and reading, and just chill out. A day at this mall requires recovery time, too!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Double unos for the birthday girl

Happy 11th birthday to Erin!

What girl wouldn't love two celebrations for her birthday? Since Dan couldn't be with us on July 5, we had Erin's "Costa Rica birthday" last week and her real party yesterday.

Erin has asked to have her ears pierced since she first stepped foot in Costa Rica. It's a cultural norm for Tica babies to have earrings since infancy, and Erin was the only girl in her class with naked ears (perhaps in the entire fourth grade!). We decided to surprise her on her CR birthday with earrings.

The only place we found to pierce ears is an upscale jewelry store at the large mall, Multiplaza. When we arrived at the mall, I pretended as though I wanted to look at something in the store for myself (don't I wish—they had Cartier, Tiffany... but I digress. Oh, and it's worth mentioning that high-end shops like this are not open to just walk in—one has to go through a door that is guarded like Ft. Knox.)

I had arranged the surprise with the sales staff the day before, so they had the starter earrings ready, and I waited a minute to give Erin the impression I was actually shopping. I returned to the mall and begged Dan to come see the earrings I liked. I asked Erin which color she thought I should buy and then if maybe she'd try them in her ears. She looked at me quizzically, not understanding, and when I suggested we have her ears pierced, her face turned bright red and her jaw dropped. It was a perfect surprise!

The piercing was uneventful, other than Lauren commenting, "They're going to shoot a hole in her ear with that gun?" and soon Erin was the owner of pretty new earrings. She wore them to dinner at La Fabbrica that night where she enjoyed her own caprese salad and a margherita pizza. It was a great birthday in Ticalandia!

Enter July 5, Erin's actual birthday. The house was decorated with streamers, balloons, and a big Happy Birthday sign. We went for a ride with Grandpa in the convertible, shopped at Barnes & Noble (all those books—in English!), and met up with Grandma for lunch at Panera.

Later, we had a party here at my parents' house. The girls rode up and down the golf course in a cart with Uncle John and Aunt Shannon, did sparklers in the yard and snaps in the driveway, and we all enjoyed grilled brats and cheeseburgers, with cake and ice cream for dessert.

The highlight of Erin's birthday bash was the huge mess of fireworks my brother shot off behind the house. No ordinary fireworks, these were purchased from a guy my dad knows who does fireworks shows. They are some big shots and, unlike one would do in Costa Rica, my dad had to get a permit from the sheriff to shoot them off. This is a family tradition—the third time we've watched our own wild fireworks display—and the best way to end a birthday with a bang!

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Kid!

Friday, July 04, 2008

This is my country

"My soul is rooted deeply in the soil on which I stand, for these are mine, my own United States!" — Don Raye

I might normally use this blog to detail our family's celebration of the 4th of July. To tell you about Riverfest, held in a spacious park along the muddy Mississippi. To mention noshing on a long-awaited supper of Taco John's soft shells and batter-fried cheese curds. To regale of the girls' flying through the air on bungee cords. And best of all, to note how much I loved spending the holiday with my daughters, parents, brother and sister-in-law (and how I missed my own husband, too!).

But plans changed after the evening's grand finale. As spectacular fireworks burst before my eyes, I found myself—a bit unexpectedly—brushing tears from my cheeks as my heart swelled with an uncontrollable pride for being here in the United States. And that's what I feel led to journal now.

Having lived away from my native land for many months, I can see with more clarity both America's faults and merits. Yet while patriotic music accompanied the thunderous explosions overhead, our nation's shortcomings were far from my mind—because I know without a doubt that America is a most amazing, beautiful, and blessed nation. How fortunate I am to spend July 4th in my lovely America. There is so much I adore about traveling abroad, so much to treasure about our adopted home of Costa Rica—but the United States? I cherish her, I love her, and I am so proud to be an American.

Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A berry good day

My dad has a reputation in our family for his sweet tooth, and no dessert makes him happier than my mom's homemade shortcake smothered in juicy strawberies fresh from a local farm here in Wisconsin. We all love it, truth be told, so this morning Mom, the girls and I went to pick some berries in anticipation of having shortcake after dinner.

The girls had never picked strawberries, so this was a new and fun experience for them. We went to Jolivette Family Farms, best known in the area for berries, sweet corn, and its pumpkin patch. The weather was gorgeous—sunny and 70 degrees with low humidity—which was perfect for being in the field.

I'm not sure how long we picked, but Mom and I appreciated the girls' help; I think it's a lot easier to pick for kids who are naturally closer to the ground! They really enjoyed finding the biggest berries and those that had grown into "triple berries." A nice lady a few rows over even found a "quintuple strawberry" whose five berry sections looked like flower petals, and she gave it to Erin and Lauren.

Once we'd each filled our flats about halfway we decided to head in. I think the girls would have picked longer, but they didn't have to clean all the berries! We rode back to the roadside stand on a big wagon behind a tractor. Then the girls helped Mom and I get our berries on the belt to be weighed; I don't know how many pounds we picked, but I do know that it took us a long time to clean them, and my nails are still a bit stained with berry juice.

We made shortcake after supper tonight and oh, was it good! There are lots of berries left (bunches of them in the freezer) and we'll have shortcake again tomorrow, too. Dad's not the only one happy about dessert!