Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Costa Rica 2019: What We Did (Zip!)

The path to the zipline included a suspension bridge
There is a common denominator in the two trips during which Husband and I were in the company of our offspring on our trips to Costa Rica: In both instances the tipping point of deciding on this destination was the availability of ziplines.

In 2001, when the Boys were 15-, 13-, 11-, 9-year-olds, they did not want to go to my second favorite place on earth. Not at all, not for any reason. They didn't speak the language, they didn't know what kind of food to expect, they would be missing a big chunk of summer vacation time, and (because this blog is all about Truth) they had spent 15/13/11/9 years listening to their mother talk about the enormous cockroaches and dusty bus rides of her Peace Corps years.

So, actually, kind of my own fault. But it would be fun! And they would see where I had lived! (And if that isn't the way to get a kid to enthusiastically jump on the vacation destination bandwagon, I don't know what is.)  Still they sulked.

Finally, as a good parent does, I resorted to bribery.

"We'll be able to go ziplining!"

These words were the bibbity-bobbity-boo of my sons' age group. Suddenly we had a group of more-or-less enthusiastic travelers and the resulting zipline experience remains in my top family memory bank.

Ziplining, for those who have never had this experience, is the closest thing I can imagine to flying. Steel cables are strung between landing points throughout the mountain, and with some kind of metal do-hickey clipped between that line and an industrial-strength harness that manages to harass all of the personal and private areas of the body, even an unathletic land slug such as myself is able to fly over waterfalls and peer down on volcanoes. It just takes the confidence in the equipment to sit down into thin air, and the rest is all wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

It is, as we kids say, awesome.

Lovely Girl#2 had zipped in Hawaii during years past, and I'm pretty sure the prospect of returning to the lines was the reason she agreed to celebrate the first anniversary of membership in our family in Costa Rica. (Doesn't everyone take their in-laws on a romantic get-away?) I have imagined that conversation several times:

Boy#2: Hey, how about we take my folks along on our anniversary trip? And maybe a brother?


Boy#2: We can zipline!

LG#2: Out of my way--I'm packing the sunscreen!

The 2019 Day of the Zip dawned sunny, which is a lovely gift during Costa Rica's rainy season.

The company we chose promised 12 lines to zip, including one that is a kilometer long and the second longest in Costa Rica. (One of the lines was being repaired so we actually only zipped 11 times, but we did not complain about this. Much like being on a plane that is delayed for mechanical reasons, you do not want to the operators to say "Oh, you're inconvenienced? Then let's just take off." No, thank you. Plus they gave us lunch in the canteen in lieu of the 12th zip, so, win!)

I had talked to the company rep in advance and explained that while 80% of the party ranged in athleticism from fit to quite fit (did I mention that Boy#4 had run a half-marathon the previous weekend?) the remaining 20% (moi) could best be described as creaky. "But I can walk really well!" I oversold my fitness. The rep assured me I'd be fine--it's a short walk to the first take-off spot, she said.

So we strapped into our harnesses and blue helmets that the operators admitted would be useless if we actually fell from the zipline but promised would be dandy to protect from errant branches and in giving us all a distinctively Lego-headed vibe.

A tractor-pulled trailer took us the first leg up the mountain, but then we all piled out and began the mile-long trek to the lines.

My friends, I would never lie to you (literary exaggerations aside): This initial trek was on the upper edge of my bell curve of personal comfort. We followed a path of stone steps, several hundred of them, and the steps were not of equal height, and there was no handrail (In the mountain! Can you imagine that?) and I may have oversold my physical fitness to the firm rep because I was pretty gassed by the time we reached the first zip.

But then they hooked me onto the first line and I sat into the void. All my inner whining and outer puffing and panting were forgotten and I remembered that you cannot do this activity without grinning.

I am not a beautiful zipliner. Look at this picture of LG#2 on the line:

Gorgeous, isn't she, with her daintily crossed ankles? And watch her coming in for a landing:

She steps onto that platform with the grace and confidence of the trained dancer she is.

I would show you a picture of me in the same pose except, well, I believe this was the line in which I failed to make it to the platform and was stuck far enough out on the line that the overall-clad zipguide had to come out and rescue me by wrapping his legs around mine and hand-over-hand hauling us both to the end of the line. It was every bit as ungainly and mortifying as it sounds.

But guess what? I didn't even care, except to realize that the guide deserved a hefty tip. Look at this face:

Sweaty, slightly sunburned, wearing a truly dorky helmet that was sliding backward, and still as happy as a human being can get.

It's the magic of the zipline.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Costa Rica 2019: We Are Family

Lovely Girl #2 took this selfie of us with my Costa Rican family of the heart--Rosa-Emilia, Chena, Vital, and Jose-Antonio.

Before we start this post, a few numbers:
  • Year I swore into the Peace Corps: 1979
  • Ages of the parents in the family I lived with during this experience: 48 (the dad) and 44 (the mom)
  • Year I finished my service: 1982
  • Year I had intended to return to Costa Rica: 1983, or 1984, or maybe 1985
  • Year  I actually returned to Costa Rica: 2001
  • Change in family size in the intervening years: +1 husband, +4 sons
  • Number of times I swore I would return following the 2001 trip: Every year. I promise.
  • Number of times I actually returned following the 2001 trip: Once, a long weekend 50th birthday celebration organized by a Husband who knew how much I wanted it. 
  • Current ages of the parents in the family where I lived during my Peace Corps experience: 88 (the dad) and 84 (the mom)
Those numbers are the closest I can come to explaining the urgency I felt to get back to Costa Rica.  For years I've put my second heart home on the table as a possible vacation destination, but it was never quite the right time. Time, or finances, or other priorities simply made this trip a luxury, and frankly, when four kids are growing up and getting through college and setting out on their own, luxury isn't an option. 

This year, though, the trip suddenly flipped from luxury to necessity in my heart of hearts. 

During the years I lived in Tilaran, a beautiful city in the low mountains of Guanacaste, I roomed with a family that adopted me as their big, bumbling, blonde galoot of a daughter. Chronologically I fell between Vital and Chena's two daughters, just a couple of years older than the two boys who rounded out the family. They became my family of the heart. 

 And because Chena was (like most of her contemporaries) a housewife, she became the most delightful surrogate mother in  a two-continent region. She was the one who showed me the societally-accepted ropes of being a Tica, taught  me how to brew a perfect cup of cafe chorreado, and laughed with me at the absurdities of life. She was the one who nursed me when (at age 25) I caught a horrendous case of the measles and was desperately ill, and when I managed to crash my motorcycle into a pasture and the resulting bruised (broken?) ribs kept me from being able to dress myself. She was the one who slogged through calf-deep mud with me to go to a dance in a nearby town, both of us squealing with disgust. 

I was 24, and she was the mother of grown children, so I thought of her as the most fun-loving, full-of-beans elderly person I knew (ah, the arrogance of youth). Years later I still laughed thinking of the afternoons we spent drinking coffee and discussing the neighbors' foibles. 

We've kept up through Facebook, and with occasional video chats, but this year my simmering need to be in the same room with my Tico family boiled over. 

Here's the thing about family of the heart: Whether you have been away from  them for 40 hours or 40 days or 40 years, that time compresses into a tiny, manageable thing that can be slipped into a pocket when you're together again, and it's as if you've never been apart. 

I walked onto the porch of the concrete house where I'd shared a room with Rosa-Emilia, my Tica sister, and called into the open front door. Within moments I was hugging Chena, then Vital. They are older and less healthy than they were during our hugs two decades ago. Vital, who's now 88, sleeps much of the day. At 84 Chena walks with a cane and pain in her right hand (arthritis? carpal tunnel?) has made it impossible to do the regular housework so a lovely neighbor takes care of them. 

Within minutes, though, we were laughing again, and that lovely laugh hasn't changed at all. 

We spent much of two days with the family--Chena and Vital, of course, and their daughter whose room I invaded for more than two years, and their son Jose-Antonio who lives just down the street and took us on a photographic excursion high above the city. (Another daughter splits her time between a home in the United States and trips back to Costa Rica, and the youngest son lies in the capital city.)

We reminisced, and caught up on neighbors and families, and shook our heads sadly at the state of politics in the world, and everyone laughed at the size differential between my boys and my tiny Tica mama:

They're standing on the same step
By the time Boy#2 and Lovely Girl#2 arrived to continue our vacation further inland, we had exhausted our hosts and my non-Spanish-speaking family was ready to understand more conversation than they had for the past hours. We took a final round of pictures and prepared to get on the road. Chena pulled me close, and traced a cross on my forehead with her thumb. "Dios me la bendiga," she whispered a blessing.

I waved once more to Chena, who was standing in the  door of the house, then we drove away. I only cried for a few minutes.

The Ticos have a phrase they use whenever they talk about an event in the future: Si Dios quiere. It means "If God wills it," and is almost as pervasive as "puravida." Are you going to the market today? Si Dios quiere. Will we win the soccer game? Si Dios quiere. Will the present arrive in time for Christmas? Si Dios quiere. 

Will I see this family of my heart again in this lifetime? Si Dios quiere.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Costa Rica 2019: Zipping Into a Deep Dive

As of today, we have been back from the Puravida Adventure* for a full week. So why have I not been filling your feeds with pictures of intrepid zipliners who (Oh, gosh!) just happen to be posing in front of a volcano?

So many reasons, but perhaps chief among them is the sentiment I posted on Facebook just before we boarded the plane that began the return trip from Costa Rica to Kansas: "I'm ready to be home, but I'm not ready to not be here." Because, oh, people, this was the trip you dream of when you dream big.

It was big in an actual, measurable way. Check out the picture above. You will note that I, a tall woman who has been in the back row of pictures since second grade, am the shortest in our traveling party. Lovely Girl#2 looks down on me from a couple of inches, Husband hovers around 6' even, and Boys#2 and #4 each claim 6'4" or so, so we may  have been the most vertically-gifted traveling party in the nation during those 10 days.

But it was also big in the sense that every single variable that could have gone our way actually went our way. In the next few days I'm going to be pulling out some specific topics to oooh and aaaaah about, but for today, let me just say that if we would have had Boys#1 and #3 and Lovely Girl#1 with us, this would have been the most perfect trip in the history of vacations. (Those three are adults, with actual paying jobs, and I am thrilled about that, but sad that those same work schedules didn't lend themselves to October vacations.)

Here's one example of how the vacation gods cared for us: We went to Costa Rica during the rainy season (optimistically christened "Green Season" by the local travel board). Because I lived there during my 3-plus years in the Peace Corps, I knew rainy season is not a myth but is often manageable. Husband did not know this, and for the month before we left my beloved insisted on pulling out his weather app every single day to show me: "Look! It's going to be raining in Guanacaste every day." And  I would patiently remind him, "Yes, it's the rainy season. It will rain every day. But there's a good chance we'll get at least some sunshine every day, even if your app isn't showing that."

Finally, with two weeks to trip time (at the point that all of our reservations were non-refundable), I stopped him as he pulled out his phone.

"I know rain  is forecast for Guanacaste. I know that. You  have told me that several times, and if you tell me again I will be forced to grab that phone out of your hand, throw it on the floor, and stomp on it 800 times. I cannot control the weather, and even if all we do is sit in our AirBnB and read books and watch our luggage mold, WE WILL HAVE A GREAT TIME."


I was a little stressed at that point, is what I'm saying, with the eight gajillion things I could not control. But do you know what?

The weather was gorgeous. We ziplined in full sun, with the clouds blowing away from the top of Volcano Arena to give a perfectly unimpeded view of the jagged peak. We walked around the town where I had lived and popped into the bakery without carrying our umbrellas, and although we did go to the beach on the one full-on-rainy day, we knew a warm tropical rain is perfectly fine when you're going to be getting wet anyway.

And Husband, who is sensitive and reasonable, had not mentioned the forecast again so he wasn't forced to scramble to get a new phone.

So today's post is just to let you know that we've gone and are home, and our Costa Rica trip was, well, WE HAD A GREAT TIME.

*Puravida is the all-purpose Costa Rican word that means Great! Super! All Good! Hello! Good-bye! Literally it means "pure life," but who remembers that?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Hey! Look at Us!

I'm not the kind of person who likes to be in wacky photos. If you see me in a picture where all around me attention-grabbing poses are being struck, you can immediately pick me out as the one who is standing stock-still, mortified and motionless.

But look! That's me up there on the escalator, third up on the left side, waving so extravagantly that my right hand is a Bionic Woman-ish blur. Also, I'm wearing an enormous fabric sunflower and a shirt with a design that includes embroidered ruby slippers. Now I'm not a shrinking violet, but this kind of exuberant extroversion is not usually in my roundhouse.

Apparently it takes being with 6,000 of my closest friends to put me in that kind of mood.

For the past five days I've been at the international convention of P.E.O., a philanthropic organization that supports educational opportunities for women of all ages. We raise and give away (or loan) money to women who are new high school graduates, women who need more education to reach their career goals, women who are earning advanced graduate degrees, and women from other countries who are studying for doctoral degrees in the United States. And if that isn't enough, we also own a women's college that attracts great undergraduates from all over the world.

P.E.O. has distributed more than $344 million worth of educational assistance to over 109,000 women, and last week I attended its 150th birthday party.

Now it may have been just the sugar rush from all the desserts they were feeding us (Birthday cake for thousands! Yes, please!) but I'm convinced my uncharacteristic joie de vivre was generated by the knowledge that this group does such great things. You can't help but be impressed by one of our assisted students who has used a P.E.O. scholarship as a springboard to attend medical school and plans to go back to her poverty-stricken hometown to practice. Or a doctoral student from a England who points to a personal tragedy as the impetus for her study of women's issues.

This group is a sisterhood, and I'm not going to deny that there are occasional sibling squabbles (although, oddly, the fact that the entire Kansas delegation dressed alike one day didn't provoke any "you're always wearing my clothes" outbursts). But I feel completely confident in saying that we left the convention feeling upbeat about the work we're doing, and determined to do more.

Beyonce may claim that girls run the world, but they are going to need education to do it right. And  having just watched that video for the first time I would also say that they're going to need more a more thoughtfully selected wardrobe. Obviously she should be wearing a black knit jumpsuit as she rides that rearing steed; white is completely impractical in this situation. Of course, that is  coming from someone who just showed the internet a picture of herself wearing a ruby-slipper-encrusted shirt.

Okay, ignore the fashion advice. Just watch me waving wildly and appreciate the organization that prompted that enthusiasm.

Women deserve no less.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Pura Vida

Volcano Arenal in 1979.
I almost didn't see this.

Back in 1978, I was a young college graduate. I loved the small town where for two years I had been a cub reporter on the county-wide newspaper. I loved my job, which was entirely made up of talking to interesting people and writing stories about those interesting people. I loved my friends and my church and my Army-green Ford Maverick. I was renting a cute house and had my own piano and furniture. If I'd been married, or even had a dog, I probably would have stayed there forever. 

I was 24 years old, though, and something inside me wanted an adventure. One day I was agonizing over this dilemma to a friend who was married (with kids, and a dog).

"So let me get this straight," she said to me. "You're going to live your life, and get to be old, and you're going to tell your grandkids 'I really wanted to do something cool, but I had a house full of second-hand furniture'?"

Within a few weeks I had quit my job and stored the few pieces of furniture I wanted to keep in the back of my grandmother's garage.  A couple of months later I was a Peace Corps volunteer living in Costa Rica at the base of the volcano you see above.

That sounds much more primitive than it actually was: I was renting a room with a family in a medium-sized town, and that family took me in as if I was one of their own four kids. I was the same age as the oldest daughter, and although I could not have been more different from them in looks (I was taller, wider, and blonder than any of them) I felt like one of the family.

It was the perfect adventure for someone of my timid nature and fear of creepy-crawlies, and I fell in love with that family and that country and that time of life.

Costa Ricans have a phrase they use at any opportunity: Pura vida. It means "pure life," and can be used to respond to almost any question, as long as the answer gives you pleasure.

How are you today? Pura vida. How was that fresh pineapple? Pura vida. What's the outlook for the future? Pura vida.

My Peace Corps experience was pure life, with the usual ups and downs of life accentuated in an unfamiliar environment that soon became home. I loved the musical accents of Tico Spanish as much as I loved the beaches and friendly Ticos and fresh fruit and well, so many things I can't list them.

When I left Costa Rica in 1982 I assumed I'd be back yearly for the rest of my life. Instead I've been back only twice--once with the whole family in 2001, and again with Husband for a long weekend in 2004. That second visit was so brief that I couldn't even visit "my" family.

Then a few weeks ago Boy#2 and his Lovely Girl decided to celebrate their first anniversary with a trip, and invited us to celebrate along with them. Their destination? Costa Rica. I managed to keep from shrieking out loud at the invitation.

Husband and I will spend a few days with my other family there, then join Two, LG#2, and Boy#4 for several more days in the country I adopted decades ago.

Next month we'll be at the foot of the volcano again.

Pura vida.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

We Were in the Room Where It Happened

Boy#4, MQB, Boy #3. And some unnamed statue.

In the 48 hours since I posted this photo on my Facebook page, I've been asked perhaps two dozen times what I thought of Hamilton, and I've replied with perhaps two dozen different answers.


Rave, rave, rave, rave, rave.

Best money I've ever spent.

And while that last review was a bit of an exaggeration (there's a lot of competition for that title) I can say without hesitation that I do not regret a penny of the not-insignificant expense or a minute of the five hours we drove to the venue.

For years I had listened first to the buzz, then to the soundtrack, then to the friends who had seen a live performance of Hamilton. So when the traveling production came to Boy#4's city and he and Boy#3 invited Husband and me to join them for a Sunday matinee, I didn't hesitate. Yes, I wanted to go. Husband, who prefers a good TCM festival to rapped history, decided on a trip to Lowe's instead.

From the moment the first note was sung I felt my face split into a grin that was almost painfully large. During the next three hours I was amazed, thrilled, irritated (high school girls who love soundtracks should be segregated in a soundproof booth rather than seated behind crabby old me who doesn't want to hear them sing along), and was reminded that live theatre is a special kind of magic.

What kind of mind can conceive of and complete this opera, where every word of dialogue is rapped? What kind of artist devises the choreography that supports the music so seamlessly that it feels like part of your own imagination? How can this be so intricate but seem so effortless?

The night before I had been at the keyboard when the our community theatre presented its final performance of Shrek. Community theatre is filled with people I know and love, and the production has been so much fun. When it comes to artistic or technical brilliance, though, it is not on the same level as what is perhaps the greatest musical ever written.

But at the end of Shrek the cast, made up of my friends and the neighbors' kids and the lady who makes the doughnuts, spilled out into the audience and sang the final song. As they filled the little theatre with the joy of "I'm a Believer" I looked past the keyboard to see a couple of teenagers dancing with an abandon my muscles immediately remembered from half a century ago.

It's the same way I know I'll never forget my sudden tears when Lafayette and Hamilton sang "Immigrants! They get the job done!" and the Hamilton audience broke into applause.

Live theatre does that. The history, the love stories, the conflict and resolution--it's the emotional muscle memory of our lives, and we're in the room when it happens.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Did You Pronounce This Pot-Purry?

The taste of summer
Believe it or not, we are in a brief moment of my life when I have not much to overshare on the internet. (Hello, July!) I am happy, age-appropriately healthy, and my children are not doing much to inspire me to violate their privacy in a way that would attract the attention of Cambridge Analytica*. My time is being occupied by (badly) accompanying the local community theatre's latest production, and by (badly) sewing up some curtains for the spare bedroom's facelift. Neither of these is going well enough for me to blog, which is amazing since I blogged my heart attack so apparently that was going well.

But when I have a dearth of recent observations, I tend to turn for inspiration to whatever is on my phone's photo file. They could be filed in the category I pronounced as Pot-Purry before I started watching Jeopardy and became educated.

Here, in no particular order, are the things that have caused me to pull out my trusty iCamera:

1. Caprese salad, which is seen above. Oh, my, heavens. I do not even calculate the WW (the lifesaving organization formerly known as Weight Watcher) points for this magical melding of mozzarella, farmer's market tomatoes, and local basil. It is the taste of summer, and even Weight Watchers WW cannot deny me summer.

Adorable August
2. Every year my Much Older Sister's Christmas gift to her siblings is a calendar that features vintage and current pictures of our extended family. I love this gift more than you can imagine but as I turned the page to August this week I was struck by three features of this picture taken in front of the family home when we were 13, 12, 8, 4, and 2 years old respectively. First, I was quite sure in that moment in my life that I was destined to be the Fat Lady In The Circus. My self-image was that I was grossly obese, even though looking at this picture I realize I was a perfectly average size. Hmmm. Booo, Teen magazine. Second, just how stylin' were my younger brothers? Hubba-hubba bubbas, for sure. That spiffy plaid jacket was especially fetchin'. Finally, the cute centerpiece of this is now the the world's most beautiful grandmother. How did we ever get to be old enough for me to make that statement?

3. Finally, since I'm now retired I'm kinda-sorta looking for ways to earn yarn money, which is the money I would spend on yarn if it did not seem such a frivolous use of retirement funds. This job search isn't serious, but I did take an online aptitude test to see if maybe I'm overlooking potential opportunities. And because the internet does not lie, I now know that the way I will be earning my yarn money is as a (drumroll, please) SINGER. Yes. The internet does not lie, but it apparently is tone deaf, because no. And if I move to my second choice of new careers, that would be as an athletic agent. Hahahahaha! Internet, you stupid.

Okay, off to practice musical accompaniment and sew some curtains. I may do those badly, but not nearly as badly as I would do the next eight things the internet thinks I should do.

*Side note: If you have not yet watched The Great Hack on Netflix, close this browser and open your Netflix account in order to be transfixed and frightened.