Thursday, March 26, 2015

Golden foxxier - Weston, MA

The extremely rare golden foxxier
So you've heard all about Coal, my rescue dog, in at least two prior posts (here and here).  He certainly lights up my life if not that of Haifa, my 12-year old deaf, half-blind and very confused purebred labrador. The kids love him.

When I got Coal from Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, he was described as a 2-3 year old lab-husky mix. The local vet already discounted the 2-3 year part--he is at most 18 months old now (likely only a year when I got him). Then I heard about canine breed DNA testing, and I decided to see what really went on in his past. I was pretty confident of the labrador diagnosis, but the husky seemed a bit far-fetched--yes, he has a curly tail, but after that, not much husky.

Three weeks ago, I sent away two cheek swabs and $75 to test Coal. Yesterday I got the 11 page report by email. I have a dog with a mix of golden retriever, American foxhound and Parson Russell terrier, also known as a Jack Russell. And a whole lot of other mix in there too.  So mixed that the DNA tester obviously gave up and started chucking wacky possibilities like dogo argentino and another fox terrier breed at me. They showed five other possible breed matches--none of them labrador or husky. Note that the DNA testing is only capable of looking up to great-grandparents. 

Wisdom Panel for Coal

The bottom line is I don't really care what he is. Perhaps the foxhound explains the tracking he does in the woods (NINE deer in my yard this morning), the curvy tail and the baying-bark he does. Perhaps the Jack Russell explains the two-paw pouncing and digging at disgusting stuff in the woods. And the eating of dead rodents. The golden can only be seen in the shape of his head and snout; certainly not in his shiny black coat and short fur. He is extremely affectionate and great with kids but personally I don't think that has anything to do with breed. He is, and I mean this in the greatest, most complimentary way possible, a mutt. A Tennessee mountain mutt.

I started calling him a golden foxterrier which a friend shortened to a golden foxxier, which should be pronounced like the French do: "Fox-ee-ay". After all, we do not want to be left out of all the goldendoodle, cockapoo, whoodle, labradoodle fun. If those folks have purebred dogs, so do I. A purebred golden foxxier. Limited (as in neutered) edition. 

Now to petition the AKC...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Native Tongue - Lincoln, MA

Nico adds Spanish to his book of tricks

This morning I was out in the woods with my favorite sidekick named Coal. We ran into an older Asian man with his little fluffy dog, which was off-leash like my dog. I said "good morning" and he mumbled back. The two dogs ran and chased each other and played for a couple of minutes and I tried several times to converse with the owner. Finally it dawned on me that the man spoke no English.  After our dogs tired a bit, I waved at the man and we kept on our way.

My walks in the woods are when I most like to think about "stuff." Stuff like which summer camp my kids should do, whether or not there will be snow at the ski mountain this weekend and if we need milk. Important stuff. Also I wonder about which dead animal Coal is digging up and eating. Okay, other stuff too like what is happening with ISIS, the impeachable president of Brazil, will we ever sell our house there, etc.

This morning I thought about language and how it makes many Americans completely crazy. I can almost see the posts about how someone walked into the restaurant and didn't speak any English!! Can you believe it? Or asked for directions in a foreign language... or answered in an accent that was not understandable. I too am guilty of the occasional facebook post about Southampton soccer coaches whom I can't understand.

Here's the reality. We all need to get out of our country. Not as tourists. To live. I lived in Brazil for nine years. For the first six months of that tour of duty, I spoke no Portuguese. I tried and failed, and then asked the person if they spoke English. Most of the time, they did not. But never once did I get someone saying: "She can't speak Portuguese!! Can you believe it? She comes to our country to live and does not speak Portuguese!"  And I even had a major cheat sheet in BH, who was then BB (Brazilian boyfriend).

Within the first year I could speak passable Portuguese; now I am fluent. Unless the person is from the state of Ceará, and then I have no idea what they are saying to me. Much like how I feel when speaking to Brits and they say stuff like "poncy" and I say "hunh?" Fiona, I mean you. Also native  Bostonians: what are they saying anyway?

The truth of the matter is that I went home and cried every single night that I did not understand Portuguese or speak it. But no one gave me a hard time. When my stepson Pedro came to live with us in Miami at age 14 for one year, his English was terrible. And the kids made fun of his accent (teenagers are notoriously mean anyway, but still). I never saw him cry but he was hurt for sure.

My kids, age 8, have Brazilian accents. I only notice it when I talk with them on the phone. Their English is fine. And they are bilingual, so they have that going for them. Well, except for the fact that they have an American accent in Portuguese. If you make fun of them, you will have to deal with mama bear. That is me. I am frequently crabby.

So although you will find me making fun of Brits at regular intervals because seriously, how can you resist laughing when someone smells "pongy"? But I can guarantee you that I will not be giving anyone who does not speak English here a hard time. Chances are they are trying. Chances are they go home at night and cry because they are isolated.  Maybe they don't. But do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

You are only allowed to disagree with me if you have lived in a foreign country that does not speak your native tongue for a period of one year or more.  Bring it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Brush with Fame...and Hypothermia - Boston, MA

Famous actor lady. Credit: Boston Herald

On Saturday I was wasting the usual amount of time on facebook and noted a friend in Texas posting that she was heading off for some dim sum. And I was consumed with envy and a will to do something about it. Off I went to find an appropriate place to eat some dim sum the very next day--I polled my friends on facebook, checked Trip Advisor and then I sent a note to my brother: he was only last gasp because I knew he was on winter break someplace warm and unlikely to answer.

Answer he did, though, and quickly...he responded with an "is that an invitation?" as they were back in town later that night. Of course it was!! We don't see enough of my brother, sister-in-law and their 6-year old daughter in spite of them living about 15 miles away in Boston. I admit there is a suburbs/urban invisible wall--or rather a large snowy one at the moment. We in the suburbs were under the impression that snow was up to the top of the Pru Center there in town, and I'm guessing that the townfolk were thinking the same about Weston (up to the top of our trees at least). We haven't see the family since January. 

Sunday was a wicked cold day, even for Bostonians. Windchill was about 15 degrees, and I swear I heard Mother Nature giggling about it being two days after the start of spring. BH was on a mission to walk around Chinatown and head to the shoreline to look at shivering birds with their heads in their tail feathers which we did until the twins had a short and memorable meltdown. I admit I bought Pringles for one right before lunch because I simply could not handle the crab factor. 

I think I'd better jump ahead. We met up with my brother's family at the restaurant which is upstairs in an old beautiful theatre. We got heavily dim-summed. We came, we ate, we rubbed our tummies. The suburbanites had about an hour before having to get back for skating lessons and we tried to come up with what we could do with the kids in the less-than-balmy temperatures. We discarded the Children's Museum for too short a visit, the Aquarium for distance away (it really wasn't that far) and finally decided to coffee up and head over to the large park. I am not going to name the park. I will tell you why later.  The kids needed to run.

After running up and down the hill then belly-flopping on the snow (Lalo), then gathering garbage to make "art" (Nico) and dipping sneakered feet into freezey water (my niece), we decided that we would try out the playground. Nico calls this particular playground "Danger Playground" as he slipped and fell once while trying to hang onto the metal bars. Oh okay, he fell on his head and another mother ran and found me where I was talking to Lalo and implied that I was a bad mom for not watching my kid. I have two kids. They are seldom endangering themselves at the same time in the same place.

Anyway, a blonde woman held open the gate for us as she walked in with her daughter. I noted her Harvard baseball cap for being completely weather-inappropriate, and her daughter's extremely warm and fun winter hat that had a horse on it. The blonde went one direction, her kid went to the jungle gym and my sister in law (henceforward "SIL") and I went to try to find a wind-blocked area. It was cold. It was really really cold. We eventually just hid behind my brother and BH, one of whom was a good windblocker (huge backpack) and one who was not. Just not made for success here in winter, that BH.

The kids started playing hide and seek and after a few minutes, the blonde woman came over, introduced herself (she shook our hands! she had no gloves on! Criminally insane! And extremely polite! How do I stop with the exclamation points?!?) and asked if her daughter could play with our kids. I have never been asked that in my entire life. Ever. Kids just play together. Or not. I was impressed. And I suspected she was not from here. 

So the five of us start to chat about the kids' ages and the weather, and it turns out that the blonde is from LA but in Boston for a short-term project. And SIL asks "what's your line of work?" and the blonde says "I'm an actor." And it turns out she is here for a movie project. And this is where I would like to point out, no, preface the next part by saying that I am very cool. I am extremely cool, and I didn't even know it. But first I have to preface the preface.

Preface Preface: I can identify no actors. Okay, I know a few more than BH who once stood next to Ana Hickman (she is massively tall, oh and a Brazilian actor/model/whatever so don't worry, gringos, if you don't know who I am talking about) and had no clue who she was. Ditto with many more Brazilian stars.  He did identify Gisele Bundchen while standing behind her in a customs line in New York, but that was more because he was amused by her forgetting that she had to show her passport -- in spite of being famous, you still do have to show your passport.

I admit that if Johnny Depp or Hugh Jackman stood next to me, I could identify them right before losing my power of speech.  But I watch no TV series, could not tell one Kardashian from another (though I do know the name so I'm not completely without taint) and have seen one movie in a theatre in the last year and that was Spongebob Squarepants. Haven't run into him yet.  So there, this is the part where it seems I am not cool. 

Preface: getting cooler. When I first got Coal (subject of last blog), my friebor (friend-neighbor) who loves being an extra in movies suggested I sign up for Boston Casting which was looking for a family who had recently adopted a dog. For a commercial. So I did, because I didn't have anything better to do. So they called me and asked me a few questions and I failed. I failed because I admitted I did not clean my own house on a daily basis. True story. 

But I still get the Boston Casting weekly calls for extras or commercials or whatever. I never respond but I have looked at some of the projects. The one that comes up most often looking for extras is "Kay's Baptism". All this extra work means long days in far-away places (okay farther than 15 miles; if I can't get to Boston to meet my bro, I am hardly driving to Rhode Island for $15/day as an extra. Hello.) Also I can't act. Not even as background. Also, I don't care. 

So anyway, the point of the preface is that I had heard of Kay's Baptism. This is the only movie thing I know about so when the nice blonde woman said she was here on a movie project, I said "oh, Kay's Baptism?" and my brother and SIL looked at me like "hunh?" and BH looked at me like "I really have to be in town more often; she has cracked." And the nice blonde woman said yes, that's it. Apparently that is only the working title as my friebor pointed out later but what the heck? I'm cool.

Then my awesome SIL starts asking more questions. I am too shy for such things. I would not know what to ask. So nice blonde woman who introduced herself at the beginning as "Elisabeth" turns out to be a rather well-known tv actress by the name of Elisabeth Rohm with those little umlautie things over the "o" and was in the cast of Law & Order for five years as the Assistant District Attorney and also starred in the movie American Hustle (sorry, don't know it, never heard of it) as well as some other work. And then it occurs to me that I know exactly who she is from watching three straight days of Law & Order re-runs while my husband was in the hospital three years ago. What can I say? Brazilian game shows and soap operas were not my cup of tea.

Assistant District Attorney someone or other.

And here is what I have to say about famous blonde actor lady. She is really nice. She asked as many questions of us as we did of her. My SIL told her about her work. One of the actor's best friends went to my alma mater maaaaaannnny years after I did (oh, all right, 7 years younger than me) and we talked about women's schools and kids and life. And in twenty minutes, she did more for my respect for people who act as a full time job than any other person ever except perhaps my elementary school friend Henny (name changed now) who is a theatre actor in New York. 

And then it was time to go to skating classes (the twins). And swimming at the Intercontinental (bro and SIL and niece). And to get coffee and head back to her temporary apartment (famous actor). And that is my Boston brush with fame. And hypothermia. No selfie.

* park unnamed in case famous actor lady goes a lot with her daughter and doesn't want anyone to know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Graduation Day - West Concord, MA

Exhausted from the exciting event

In September of 2014, we adopted a Big Fluffy Dog -- my blog from then explains a bit about how he got here and the merits of rescuing dogs rather than buying them from breeders. No, I am not judging those who buy--I bought 3 of my 5 dogs from breeders during my lifetime. I wish all dogs could have a happy home, one way or another.

There have been ups and downs in our relationship (me and Coal) which you might equate to terrible toddler twos, pre-adolescence and adolescence. Today, however, was graduation from middle school and I am pretty proud of this 55-pound lab-husky-who-knows-what (but I've sent in his cheek swab to find out) mix. 

The downs of Coal: he swallowed almost whole a one-pound piece of cheese imported from Brazil by leaping up on the counter when we weren't looking. He ate a favorite scarf of mine given to me by a dear friend. He swallowed several soft toys whole--one flat squirrel had to be assisted out the other end--don't think about it--I try not to. Yesterday he finished off a Michael Vick edition football which is more than appropriate for that dog-fighting criminal.

Bye bye Michael Vick

In the early days Coal twice growled at one of my sons who wanted to hug him when he had a treat. At the dog sitters' house, he bit a dog who wanted his treat. He also bit Finley the wonder dog, my neighbor's dog, when he tried to get a rawhide bone. He is, as I found out the words from the trainer, treat-aggressive.

As our wonderful trainer has told me, it is hardly surprising that a rescue dog is somewhat aggressive when he perceives something that is his is at risk. He probably had to fight for food wherever he came from. Fortunately we have now figured this out and we "set him up for success" as my positive trainer says--no treats with other dogs. He has not growled again at my son, even when Lalo launches himself on top of his furry back. Coal is not food aggressive, by the way--any dog can steal food from his dish and he doesn't care. I don't take chances though and he eats in the laundry room alone. 

Happy snow adventures...

Coal was in six weeks of puppy class, one-on-one with the trainer who came to our house. He learned to sit, down, stay, leave it, heel, etc. He is marginal still on some of these commands. He does not like to "wait" or "stay" and "come" is also a depends-on-what's-in-it-for-him moment. He loves to eat other dogs' poop (sorry, were you having lunch?) so "leave it" is also marginal. I try not to watch as he snacks it up. Fortunately he is not a big licker of my face so we go home to a dental chew and call it a day.

Yep, he also eats firewood

For the last few weeks, he has been in Graduate Puppy. It is like the master's degree of doggiedom. With several other dogs, he learns to not be distracted, to heel even when being chased by a 3 month old golden retriever puppy and to "leave it" (he's pretty good at it when the leave-it object is cotton balls. I still wouldn't trust him on the poopsicles). Today was his last class and there were three new puppies--a golden, a goldendoodle, a terrier of some sort and his friend Libby, a 5 month old black lab who has been there the last couple of weeks.
Coal was the biggest and the oldest. He reminds me of a continuing-education student at a college--older, wiser, but still enjoys the kids around him. He sat, he downed, he heeled and I was proud of him. We did tennis ball agility, hula hoop traverses, and he was fabulous, though not without mistakes. And now he has his master's degree, and that makes me think he is set up for success.

While our start was rough, I will say that I can't imagine life without him now. Just like Caju was, and Haifa is for me. Except here is the dog who has gotten me through some lonely days here in Weston. We go into the woods each and every morning-- minus 10 degrees or snowstorm or whatever. Into the woods. He goes off-leash, races down deer paths, bounds up to any other dogs, and then he comes back to me. And at the end of the walk, he sits, I click him into his harness, and we walk back up the street. His favorite place is not the woods: it is home. Our home. 

Happy Graduation, Coal. 

One happy dog in the woods

Sunrise on the trails

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Start Your Engines Part 2 - Weston, MA

Okay, so when we left our Cub Scouts yesterday, they had arrived at St. Julia's Church in "downtown" (LOL, never fails to crack me up this teeny town) Weston with their two pinewood derby cars clutched in their hands. They promptly ran into two friends who were carrying their cars in specially built carrying cases. We had an inkling then what we were getting into.

I cannot even tell you the thrill and chill that went through me when I first saw the enormous aluminum track. It took the whole of the room, six lanes and a digital finish line that showed the place of each car as it crossed the finish line. At three computers, scout leaders and dads were working on the software that would show the various race heats, the winners and the times. It was, in an overused word, awesome.

Weigh-in. One kid has his car carrier (all kids faces blurred, okay?)

But first it was time to check in. As I mentioned yesterday, derby cars cannot weigh more than five ounces. Digital scales were available to check your cars. BH brought the two cars over to the pit stop and they came in under four ounces each. One of the fathers there said "hey, you're going to add more weight right?" and BH said no, the cars were good to go. We had already taped on quarters and prettied the cars up with colorful duct tape. We were done. We watched as other kids (and mostly dads) adjusted wheels, added weight, polished wheels. Some of the cars had built-in small weight carriers; most were amazing engineering models.

One of my kids' friends rushed over and said he hadn't lost a single heat on the test track. This same kid had won the derby last year at the den, and was sure of his repeat win. And so we opened the back doors and sure enough, there was last year's derby track, all wood, much smaller. You see, our den had scrimped and saved from popcorn sales from the last three years to buy the new track. We tested the cars on the wood track--they neither won nor lost, they just played the game. Ran the race, as it were. 

Check-in took almost an hour as each car from the Tiger (1st grade), Wolf (2nd), Bear (3rd), and Webelo (4th and 5th) was carefully weighed by older boy scouts and carried to another table to await their heat. My kids said goodbye to Gronk and Dragon Master as they were placed with the others.

Our Boy Scout pack leader. Nuts. Like all of them.

Then the Boy Scout troop leader came up, with his bandanna around his head and started cracking jokes and getting people worked up for the race. We sang the pinewood derby song to the tune of "Take me out to the ball game." We cheered, we stretched, we did whatever he asked. At one point he put on his racecar helmet and the crowd went wild. He was wonderful at getting the kids to cheer for each of the more than 40 heats that were in the Derby.

Take me out to the Derby

The track was tested with a Go Pro dummy car (we got to watch a pinewood derby eye's view of the aluminum track) and then the races were off. The kids cheered for every single race. They cheered their friends. They made faces of despair and joy (none of which are shown here due to privacy) and had a great time. A kid brother of my son's best friend got 2nd place in Tiger--he'll go on to District finals at the end of March.

The amazing software (minus names...yep, privacy)
So how did Gronk and Dragon Master do? Well, they did fine. They did the best I could have hoped for--they each won one heat and never did worse than fourth place out of the six cars running. One mix-up with lanes had BH protesting (nicely) so that heat was re-run. No one got upset. The MC loved to say the Gronk car--I think probably it won the popularity-with-the-MC prize. We find it likely that the kids ended up in fourth and fifth place in the wolf den--they only announce first through third. As a mom of twins, I am thankful neither of my sons got podium without the other, and also that I do not have to go to district finals at the end of March (I prefer to go skiing, thanks). 

That's Gronk  in 3rd for the heat, and Dragon Master in second

What an amazing event! My sons' friend who was confident about his win? He won for the Wolf Den. He had a very cool flat car at the very limit of weight class. We know more for next year--if the kids do Cub Scouts again next year. All kids got participant ribbons and a special award for their car--one was "best wedge"(turned into "best wedgie" instantly by his brother) and the other "most sporty"(Gronk). I think they were reaching on those awards, but it doesn't matter.

We came, we raced, we had tons of fun. Thanks Cub Scouts!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Start Your Engines part 1 - Weston, MA

The spirit of volunteering must be one of the greatest cultural strengths of the United States. I challenge you to find one single friend or neighbor or acquaintance who does not donate his or her time or money in some way to the greater good of the school, the town, the environment, the arts, animal charities or whatever. I'm sure there is a hermit somewhere who doesn't but you're going to have to scratch the surface pretty hard.

Just in my neighborhood, people go in once a year to help at a school event, or they go every week or go every day. They donate books to the local library, pick up trash from the street, teach English as a second language, coach sports teams, foster decrepit dogs back to happiness and health and on and on and on. It is as American as apple pie, but most folks do it without thinking much about it.

Today I want to talk specifically about one volunteer organization--to me, perhaps the mother ship of all volunteer organizations. I am talking about the Scouts.

The Boy Scouts, per Wikipedia:

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States with 2.7 million youth members and over 1 million adult volunteers. Since its founding in 1910 as part of the international Scout Movement, more than 110 million Americans have been members of the BSA.

The BSA's goal is to train youth in responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities, educational programs, and, at older age levels, career-oriented programs in partnership with community organizations.
I had been impressed with Boy Scout Troop 157 (Weston, MA) since before we moved here. When I contacted them in June 2014, one of the leaders emailed back and told me all about the fall activities and invited my kids to check it out when things started up in September. And so we did, and built paper towel roll stomp rockets. Camped out at the lodge in the rain (oh wait, that was BH), learned the Cub Scout sign, and for my once-Brazilian kids, learned the pledge of allegiance.  Still on the calendar for the year is an overnight on a battleship (that is for BH to do), camping, hiking, etc. And hopefully shooting marshmallows out of rifles. Yes, I am anti-gun. I make one exception: marshmallow rifles.

Paper towel roll rockets at the Scout Lodge

From the get-go what strikes you about the boy scouts is how many people help out. Boy scouts building the fires at the camp out and with the fathers (and mothers!) with uniforms or those less official set up, took down, managed popcorn orders, meetings and more. Our Cub Scout leader is fantastic--funny, engaging, and energetic. He is also possibly a polar bear: he wears cargo shorts in February. I could go on and on about the Cub Scout spirit of volunteerism, but my point somewhere in all of this is the Pinewood Derby, one of the biggest events in the Cub Scout calendar, run since 1953.

With apologies, I will again turn it over to Wikipedia to explain the Pinewood Derby:

The Scout is given a block of wood made of pine four plastic wheels and four nails. The finished car must use all nine pieces, must not exceed a certain weight (usually five ounces (150 grams)),must not exceed a certain width (usually 2-3/4 inches (7 cm))and length (usually 7 inches (17.8 cm)) and must fit on the track used by that particular scout pack.

Blocks can be whittled with a hand knife or a bandsaw or a Dremel carving tool for major shaping. Decals can be bought at scout shops or hobby shops. The original style is based on open-wheel cars; however, fender or body kits are available, or wheels can simply be placed outboard of the body.
Other than the previous basic design rules, the Cub Scout is able to carve and decorate the car as he chooses. Many Cub Scouts also add weights to the final design to bring the car to the maximum allowable weight; coins, glue-in lead pieces, and melted lead are common ways to add weight. Cars typically vary from unfinished blocks to whimsical objects, to accurate replicas of actual cars. Graphite is usually the only lubricant allowed, and it often helps to polish the provided nails.
Pinewood Derby kit (image credit: wikipedia)

Now, as you may or may not know, BH travels a lot. And you guessed it: the pinewood cars are theoretically supposed to be built by the kids, but in actuality, the fathers (occasionally mothers or others) are the major construction workers. So we were working from behind (and when I say "we", I mean "not me.") since the cars were handed out only in December--undoubtedly so some folks did not work on them a year in advance.

We were casual about the cars. We were going to participate, have fun, have pretty painted cars and hope for the best. BH watched videos on youtube on how to best build a car with proper weighting, polishing etc but we were anything but crazy about getting things just perfect. In general, though, to say that there is a HUGE to-do around this would be an understatement. There is another way of saying it: people are nuts. But that will probably be tomorrow's blog. Titled: "People, and especially Cub Scout dads, are nuts. Except BH."

"Gronk" car
The kids designed the shapes of their cars: BH carved them. The kids painted their cars: BH put on the wheels and measured the weight on the kitchen food scale. The kids named their cars "Gronk" for a beloved New England Patriots football player, and "Dragon Master" for the painted Chinese dragons on the other. 
Dragon Master car

 Due to a tremendously busy schedule and the fact that Brazilians have a different concept of time and its passage, the cars were wheel-less, weight-less and basically carved painted pieces of wood as of 6 am on race day (races started at 9 am, with check-in at 8:30). 

And this is where I will say that I am impressed with the Brazilian. BH. The Brazilian husband. The one who had never heard of a pinewood derby until January. Or done the scouts. Or let's face it, carved a piece of wood (yes, he is a mechanical engineer. I don't know what that means). 

Between 6 am and 8 am, the cars got their wheels, had their graphite applied, were weighed and adjusted and finished with all of us in the car at 8:15 am on our way to the church where the race would be held. The kids were happy and excited and nervous...but none of us had any idea what awaited us. An event so extraordinary that I will have to do a part 2 on this tomorrow. It would take me too long. What an incredible event, all brought to the Weston cub scouts by the volunteer leaders and builders and track monitors of the day. 

Now you have to idle your engines til tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pura Vida - Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

So my last blog was about our mad escape from Boston during a snowstorm. I think any New Englander will understand that I HAD to get away from the snow even if it meant a 10 hour drive with the kids. Even if it meant chewing my fingernails while waiting for the DC-Costa Rica plane to take off through 50 mph wind gusts. And five hours of flying with two not-very-patient-anymore kids. We were going to Costa Rica!!

Costa Rica has been on my visit list for a long time. Not at the top, but always present. And when flights to Miami for winter vacation cost $800 and San Jose, Costa Rica $450, it was pretty obvious. Plus we had the added bonus that Carol, my husband's 20 year old daughter, and her boyfriend Luis could meet us there (it's about an even-duration trip from Boston and from São Paulo--not counting the DC-drive). Not only could they meet us there but their flight arrived 20 minutes before ours, and left an hour ahead of ours on the back end. Perfect.

We rented a house through It was perfect. Two bedrooms in the main house, and then a separate apartment for Carol and Luis downstairs. It was walking distance (straight uphill, no sidewalks, crazy drivers) from the main strip of Manuel Antonio,  and also from the main beach (straight downhill, no cars, cool howler monkeys, a bitch to climb at the end of the day). 

The beach at the bottom of the hill: Playitas
But I'm jumping ahead. Let's arrive at the airport first. I will say that immigration was terrible at San Jose. Huge line, huge wait. Please make sure you have a yellow fever vaccine if you are coming from Brazil.  Be patient. Smile. You are in paradise.

After meeting up with Carol and Luis outside customs, we were picked up by van from the airport. It would take 2 1/2 hours to get to Manuel Antonio but we had not been willing to rent a car--for six people, that would have cost a bit and road signs are few and far between at the coast. 

The kids were as good as they could be, especially after stopping for some delicious fresh fruit smoothies and to view a river filled with the largest crocodiles I have seen in my entire life. And I've lived in Florida. Holy cow. Later in the trip one of our guides told us a story about a drunk Nicaraguan who attempted to swim across the river and they only found little bits and pieces after that. Hard to tell if that one was true, seems a bit like a joke a Brazilian would tell about an Argentinian. 

View from the pool deck.
 We arrived at sunset (Costa Rica served up non-stop gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific) after stopping at the grocery store for the basics of dinner and breakfast. I was completely exhausted but wonderful BH cooked up some tuna and risotto and we enjoyed being in our own place and not having even a glimmer of white cold stuff to shovel away from the door. We had plans for the next three days, and then plans to do nothing for two days after that. 
Surf lessons from San Diegans
Resident squirrel monkeys (with baby on board)
Our house pool
I won't give you the details of my family vacation though if anyone wants detailed recommendations, send me a note and I'll give you some restaurant, places, guides and other info. Most folks in Manuel Antonio speak at least some English--did you know that Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America? Yes, somewhere around 95%. And they have figured out tourism and the importance of English--unlike many places in Brazil (to say that Brazil is missing the ecotourism boat would be a nice way of putting it). 

On Monday, the kids (all four) took surf lessons with a long-haired "dude" from Costa Rica and a bald "dude" with a massive tattoo on his back from San Diego. Two hours of surf time, so much fun for me to watch and them to do. Highly recommend. 

 Lalo loved it so much he rented a board on a subsequent day and tried again the last day (the boards were all out). Lots of folks take the lessons. You cannot ask for a better beach to learn.

On Tuesday, we went for a guided tour of the national park. Our guide Jason was excellent at spotting birds, tiny frogs, a crab, the Jesus lizard, etc etc. Also two and three toed sloths. It was a wonderful two-hour tour and even the kids were entertained. I will comment that if anyone who is reading this wants to do that tour, you should go before it opens and get in before the heat of the day. Costa Rica does not fool around on humidity and heat. We were sweat balls by the end of the tour, which wound up at a small and gorgeous beach where our guide had just finished saying how sneaky the capuchin monkeys were when one ran up, reached his tiny hand into the garbage bag behind the guide, snatched a pineapple slice and took off. Another swim in the ocean. Paradise.

On Wednesday, we took a 40-minute drive (van) to go ziplining and "repelling". Yes, they said repelling in the guide, and I mentioned that it might be rappelling.  One of my kids is afraid of heights--he screamed as he was clicked into the first zipline and we ended up having to leave him at the base lodge. This worked out great for him as he got to hang out in the butterfly garden and feed a caiman and watch the resident Jesus lizard. He never would have made it. Ziplining is not for the afraid-of-heights. But I had Not as much fun as Lalo who went upside down on two lines, and wanted to go free fall down the rappelling cord. Next time I must bring more Zanax. For me. 

Thursday we spent at the local beach and at our house's pool. On Friday we explored a hidden beach called Biesanz and the kids collected rocks and shells, then we went back to the big beach. It is rare that I let myself relax as much as I did on this vacation--as one of my friends would put it, I only had about two browser windows open rather than the usual 2,700. I read a Tami Hoag novel. I bird-watched from our deck. I wrote bad poetry. No, not really, it just sounded good there.

Biesanz Beach - deserted at 8 am.

And what about this "pura vida"? Well, the Ticos (people from Costa Rica) use that phrase "pure life" as a greeting, as a goodbye as a "tudo bom" (all is okay) of Brazil. You would greet a friend with "pura vida", talk about whatever was going on in life and then say "pura vida." It's all good. And it is, as far as I can tell in Costa Rica, all good.

Pura vida.