Sunday, August 31, 2008

On the mooooove

Today after church we went to eat at a restaurant called Spoon—a great spot for lunch because it offers a bit of everything, including some good sandwiches and fruity drinks.

The restaurant is in Centro Comercial Momentum, an upscale shopping center that sits just off Via Lindora, by far one of the most congested streets in Santa Ana. Traffic on this road is always heavy and seemingly getting worse by the day.

As we were finishing our lunch, Erin—who faced the window looking out onto the parking area and Via Lindora—exclaimed animatedly, “A loose cow!”

I spun around and didn’t see anything, and as I returned to face Erin she again urged us to look. I did, and there it was. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw the skinny, Brahma cow making its way alone down this busy commercial road.

Now it’s not unusual for us to see dogs, chickens, horses, cows, and oxen around here, sometimes even on the streets. I see them quite often on the mountain road to the girls’ school, and a few months ago my friend and I saw a cow grazing at the bank on a very busy corner in Escazú. But to see this cow hurrying down Lindora was definitely not the norm and caught everyone’s attention. “Se escapó” (he escaped), noted our waitress, grinning, as all of us in the restaurant laughed at the poor cow.

And yet, not a minute later, came a couple more cows, soon followed by more cows—some of them literally running down the side of this road, cars and trucks passing them on the left. There was no farmer in sight.

Dan ran out to take a picture and then, after our bill was paid, we ventured around the corner to find the cows wandering into a lot across the street. They gathered there briefly, as if they were discussing where to go next, and then the leader headed off down a gravel road and the others followed. There were 14 cows in all.

I’m so glad I had my little camera in my bag so we could capture this moment. These are the unusual yet somehow typically Costa Rican-type things that make daily living here so memorable.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fud for thought

My all-time favorite Far Side cartoon is the one in which a dog is trying to lure a cat into a clothes dryer by enticing him with paw-lettered signs and arrows leading to "cat fud." The desperate dog is silently pleading for the cat to fall prey to his wily plan.

I've loved this particular cartoon for years. Whenever I see a commercial for cat food I am really thinking "cat fud" instead. It's just funny.

Now you can imagine that I have to suppress a laugh whenever I walk past the cold cuts at the supermarket and see this brand of turkey breast:

In Spanish, "fud" is pronounced—yes, you've guessed it—"food." It seems like a large-scale typo right there for everyone to see. It's as though someone thought "food" would be a good name for lunchmeat and then spelled it wrong, and nobody called him or her on it.

In addition to the laugh I get when I read the Fud labels, I have this mental image of the Far Side dog sitting behind the CEO desk of his own Fud company, concocting new ways to unleash evil on unsuspecting cats everywhere.

Incidentally, Fud also makes flaming pink snack sausages that look completely unappetizing to me. Maybe the Far Side dog likes them. Ack!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A change in calling Costa Rica

When we first moved here we had a seven-digit phone number. We learned that all phone numbers beginning with three, eight, or nine were cell phone numbers; anything else was a landline.

A few months ago, ICE (the government-owned phone company that has yet to install a landline in our house) announced that there was an insufficient number of phone lines to accommodate the country’s population of about 4.5 million people, and that instead of adding additional area codes (there is only one serving the nation), all phone numbers would go to eight digits. Rumor has it that this change will increase Costa Rica’s phone number capacity to 20 million phone lines, so the change oughta last a while.

To call a cell phone, one must now dial an eight first; all landline numbers are preceded by a two.

I had to edit all the numbers stored in my cell phone, which really wasn't that big of a deal, especially compared what those with commercial numbers likely had to change. I’ve seen instances where companies have squeezed in that eighth number on business cards, stationery, billboards, and signs. It’s kinda funny seeing it painted, penciled, and pasted in front of the other seven numbers.

The conversion seemed rather smooth. Now if I could just get my landline, I’d be happy to share my new eight-digit number with everyone!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Only 132 shopping days until Christmas

Last September I mentioned how we saw Christmas candy on store shelves—and how this surprised us, seeing as it was only, well, September.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that our family went to Pricesmart last Saturday, August 16, and couldn't believe our eyes when we saw prominent displays of holiday decorations. Christmas trees in mid-August (and who knows how long they've been up)! I smiled and rolled my eyes as I passed the trees and continued down an aisle, but Erin followed me laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes, and Dan was amused too. Rumor has it that as they walked by these tall trees adorned with sparkling lights and gaudy ornaments, a young boy happily passed them singing Jingle Bells.

Pass the egg nog!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Our first year

Today marks a milestone for our family: it was a year ago that we left Ohio for more tropical spaces. It's almost hard to believe an entire year has passed since that day.

To celebrate, we went to Pane e Vino—a favorite Italian place and the first restaurant we ate at as a family here in Costa Rica. As we devoured our pizza, we reminisced about our first day here: how excited, nervous, happy, exhausted, and hungry we were in those first hours. (And perhaps even just a bit overwhelmed with it all!)

Dan and I have also been talking about how much pressure we feel to keep traveling now that our time here is getting shorter. We've already done and seen so much—much more than appears in my blog—but there is plenty left that we want to do and see. We have learned a lot about ourselves and the world during these first twelve months. I look forward to seeing what the coming year has in store for our family.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I want my NBC

One of my favorite slang terms in Spanish is "estamos fritos," which means—literally—we're fried. The translated saying means we're out of luck. We're hosed.

So here we are in Costa Rica, greatly anticipating two weeks of glorious Olympics watching. Swimming! Gymnastics! Track and field! But when we turned on the TV to begin days of sports viewing we got a polite little note from our Costa Rican cable company that our NBC feed out of Denver was being blacked out. For two weeks. No games. ¡Estamos fritos!

I know you're wondering about Costa Rican TV. I mean, we can watch in Spanish, right?

You'll have to take my word for it when I tell you that Olympic coverage in this country is spotty and at times nearly non-existent. It is enough to make a girl cry.

Dan immediately began scrambling around with the computer, desperate to find some way for us to get video. Through a convoluted series of riggings made more difficult by our being in Costa Rica, he has finagled a connection from his laptop to our projector TV, and at night we are watching bits and pieces of the games on the wall in our office. I've been lying on the floor atop a sleeping bag and pillows, and Dan sits on the office chair to watch. Sometimes the girls come in with beanbags or pillows and join us.

We can't watch any video until NBC posts it (and of course that is delayed until the footage has aired on the network), and even then it's not the best quality and certainly not even close to HD. It's really sad.

Many of you know we’re huge swimming fans, and it's hard for us to wait until tonight to watch the men's 4x100 relay, which looks to be one of the greatest moments in US Olympic history. NBC is pulling its broadcasts off youtube, so this morning Dan and I—in sheer desperation after hearing about the mind-blowing anchor swim by Lezak—watched a video on youtube of the relay from a television station in Brazil. We can understand just enough Portuguese to get the idea of what the announcers are saying—and they were actually very animated—and in between Portuguese we kept hearing "Michael Phelps!" I got my first goose bumps of the games watching Lezak’s thrilling comeback. Now I'm aching to see it in English and am hoping for post-relay interviews and (dare I wish it?!) a medal ceremony.

I miss Bob Costas and his end-of-the-day synopses. I miss the tear-jerking and sometimes cheesy stories about athletes who have experienced the hard knocks of life. I miss the segments about China and how it prepared for the games, the Olympic theme, the medal ceremonies, hearing my national anthem, the interviews with athletes. I might even miss the commercials. I want my Olympics!

We waited four years for this? Estamos fritos, indeed.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Goodbye, Wisconsin

Five weeks in Wisconsin. Wow, what an amazing vacation!

There are so many memories already flooding my mind as I realize how much I didn't blog about: my 20-year high school class reunion (fantastic!), our picnic at the park to see the American Queen riverboat with stacks so tall they lower them to travel under the Mississippi's bridges, the girls' sleepover at their aunt and uncle's house, family cribbage tournaments, numerous trips to the library (books in English!), an adults-only dinner at a great little Italian restaurant with my brother and sister-in-law, more shopping than I dare to admit, golf cart rides, early night drives through the beautiful bluffs in the convertible, watching deer run and leap back in the coulee, swimming at the local pool, eating homemade ice cream at Ranison's ... what a time!

Yet nothing could be more special than spending this extended vacation with my mom and dad, and for the girls to fully experience a Wisconsin summer. It's hard to convey the joy it brings me that my daughters know and love the state that is always home for Dan and me, and that it is truly another home for them, too. Saying goodbye on Wednesday at the Milwaukee airport was really difficult for us all. I am so grateful knowing we had this unique opportunity, yet sad that it has ended and will likely never come again. What a great bunch of memories we all made!

Thanks again to Mom, Dad, John and Shannon for letting us share your lives and homes for the past five weeks. It was an experience we truly cherish.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

An underground adventure

There isn't much that could get my family to don jeans and sweatshirts on the first day of August in the Midwest, yet we did on a trip to Harmony, Minnesota, where we explored Niagara Cave. Whether the temps are sweltering or freezing, this cave is a constant 48 degrees all year—a nice change in the summer!

My parents, the girls, and I traveled to this sprawling, natural limestone cave—rated one of the top ten in the country—and took an interesting one-hour tour. The girls led the group with the guide (Lauren was nearly holding his hand) as we navigated hundreds of stairs into the cave's depths and saw a stalactite room, calcite flowstone, an echo chamber (very cool!), and ancient fossils. There was an active stream in the cave and a 130-foot rock-vaulted dome with a 60-foot waterfall that we saw from a bridge high above the floor of the cave. (Admittedly I did not last long on this bridge; my fear of heights is alive and well.)

After our tour of the cave we drove across the Minnesota/Iowa border for a quick peek at cornfields (and to add a state to the girls' list) and then headed back into Harmony. Traveling in this part of southeast Minnesota is a bit like stepping back in time; we saw pretty little towns and farms amidst green, rolling hills. The charming downtowns sport bed-and-breakfasts, unique gift shops, and cafes that tout hearty dishes and homemade pies (we had a delicious lunch—pie included—in Harmony). Additionally, the county is home to the state's largest Amish population. We saw several Old Order Amish families traveling by horse-drawn buggies and a few Amish people in town as well.

We drove through the Root River Valley on the way home and saw plenty of people tubing through the water that cuts through the bluffs. Oh, and I can't forget to mention that we stopped at the Aroma Pie Shop in tiny Whalan, Minnesota (population 64) to pick up a homemade caramel apple pie we took back to Wisconsin. Yum!