Monday, April 30, 2018

It's a Ringer

You may remember the story, or maybe not... as time has passed, I imagine I tell it less frequently.  However, the topic did come up just recently, while on vacation in Costa Rica.  An acquaintance was sitting in the hot tub, trying to piece together his moments from the previous evening and figure out what went wrong, causing him to misplace his wedding ring.  I said, "Oh, don't worry-- I lost my wedding ring four or five years ago, and I'm still married."

It was a hot, summer day and all of Krinkeland was working in the yard.  I was up to my elbows in dirt.  I took off my engagement ring and wedding band set but didn't have anywhere to put them.  I handed the rings to Todd and asked him to put them in his pocket.  He said, "OK, but this is a bad idea."  I said, "I know it is, but I'm too lazy to go in the house.  Between the two of us, one of us will remember the rings in your pocket."  Three days later, I was putting Madeline to bed when I stepped on something sharp in her bedroom rug.  It was my diamond solitaire.  I picked it up and scolded, "What are you doing with my ring in your room?  This is not a toy!"  Little One was still sputtering, "Mommy, I didn't..." when I remembered.

Todd and I scoured the room, emptied pants pockets, shook out the laundry, combed the yard, and looked absolutely everywhere else we thought the ring could have gone.  No luck.  I prayed and prayed for St. Anthony's help and implored the children to do the same.  We enlisted the help of my almost-psychic mother, who believed the ring would eventually be found in the washing machine.  No dice.  At some point, I gave up.  I apologized profusely, and even tried out a couple new rings.  I took one home and wore it for a week, but it went back because it wasn't quite right.  It wasn't my ring.

I had just recently entertained the idea of looking for a new wedding ring.  I've become friendly with an area jeweler who has an interesting collection, and I thought I might go see her just to get some ideas, but that's as far as I got.  This weekend, I had a big plan to clean-- really clean-- the bathrooms.  I have new rugs and towels to move around, but I wasn't going to freshen up things until everything was scrubbed.  I was washing the floor and wiping down the woodwork in the kids' bathroom when I announced, "You know what?  We're going to clean out the cupboards in here, too."  Cue the moans and groans.  It's a small bathroom.  The drawers and shelves contain only bathroom-type stuff.  How much could there be?  A LOT.

Elisabeth and Madeline mostly took to the task of sorting each kid's possessions into bins.  I emptied out all the shelves and refolded the towels.  There were four drawers, each randomly filled with old bath toys, partial tubes of toothpaste and so many hair accessories.  Libby was sorting hair ties by color when she sweetly called to me, "Um, Mom? Do you know whose ring this is?"  I turned, expecting to see a mood ring with dolphin cutouts, but the girl knew exactly what she had.

In the bottom of a bathroom drawer, under a tangle of hair binders, was my ring.  Now, it's back on my old-lady hand where it belongs.  I still kind of cannot believe it, but I am so, so thankful.

Costa Rica Travelogue Day 7

This was our last full day in Costa Rica.  Our agenda included only soaking in everything.  So, that is what we did.  We had extra doses of dirty monkeys.  We waited for monkeys that did not come.  We suncreened ourselves and we baked our selves.  We ate and ate some more.  Quite regularly, someone whined, "I don't want to go home, tomorrow!"

This is one of the palapa beds on the "preferred" area of the beach.  It's also smack-dab in the middle of the monkey hangout area.  So, my monkeys hung out there instead.

The girls took turns making themselves into tacos with the pool floats.  I could write a book on how much fun it is to be on vacation with siblings who decide they actually enjoy one another's company.  They should-- each one is weirder than the next!

Ben, pouting. Or melting.  Or both.

My people decided tonight was the night for night swimming.  All the pools were lit from underwater (but it was very dark around the pool decks) and open until 9 p.m.  They all played football, Krinkeland-style.  I was already showered and dressed, so I watched.

I also had to watch these rascals.  There were creepy racoons everywhere, but this thug and his buddies took the cake.  Actually, they took the bananas.  Elisabeth had a small knapsack with some bananas that she was saving for the monkeys.  She set the bag on the chair next to mine when she went swimming.  This dude crawled right up and took it!  His gang made off with the whole bag!  I threw my flip flops at them to get them to drop the bag.  Then, we took out the bananas and threw those just to keep them away from us.  Not a fan of rodents.

Last night dinner at Portofino, might as well order dessert.  This is all the chocolate stuff.

Instead of a show for entertainment in the evening, the crew set up a huge movie screen and reclining lawn chairs for an outdoor viewing of "Coco."  Everyone had Dia de los Muertos face paint and there was popcorn!  We went to bed knowing one thing for sure: Returning to regular life was going to be a real drag.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

St. Margaret Mary

This weekend, our firstborn Amanda Noel was confirmed into the Catholic faith!  What a much-anticipated and joyous occasion it was!  The mass took place at the Basilica of St. Mary's in Minneapolis, on the first day that actually felt like spring.  All her grandparents, as well as her godparents, were in attendance, and we just enjoyed the day, filled with the Holy Spirit and excited to see what Amanda will do with her great, great love.

Amanda chose St. Margaret Mary as her confirmation saint.  I did not know her story and was impressed to learn it.  As time goes on, we keep making more and more connections... It certainly wasn't a random choice!

This is Amanda with her confirmation sponsor, Nancy Markwardt.  Mrs. Markwardt was Amanda's middle school English teacher and is also clearly a guiding force in her growing relationship with Christ and the Church.  She said, "I just think the world of Amanda," and the feeling is clearly mutual.  I am forever grateful for all of the adults who help guide our children.  Todd and I know we could never do it alone!

Amanda's godparents Uncle Terry and Aunt Ellen were there, naturally with Baby Tad in tow.  (Elisabeth was probably snuggling him somewhere.)  See how everyone was just beaming?

Benjamin had the opportunity to be one of the altar servers at the Confirmation mass.  His main job was to keep track of the bishop's crosier.  Ben was pretty proud to serve in the big, beautiful basilica, and everyone was impressed by the job he did.

Thrown in for fun in our "spare" time this weekend, Amanda played a role in her high school's spring play.  Truth be told, she got a very, very small part and was kind of licking her wounds upon casting.  But, as this child as a special talent to do, she made the most of the situation, deciding to work on throwing discus and shot put for the track team on days she was not called to play rehearsal.  When it came down to dress rehearsals, some of the other actors fell ill, and, on opening night, she actually went on for another actor who was too sick to take the stage.  The director pulled me aside and commended Amanda on her attitude, skill, willingness and readiness.

Amanda shows me each day how to be a better person.  I am learning so much from decisions she makes or does not make, as well as how she treats others.  Her enthusiasm for, well, everything is contagious!  I'm so happy God gave us you, Amanda!

How Can She Be Nine?

Today, Earth Day, is also the anniversary of one of my greatest contributions to this Earth: Today is Madeline Kate's birthday!  Our baby is NINE YEARS OLD!  It doesn't seem possible, and, yet, it entirely is!  It was a beautiful day to celebrate Madeline and everything about this world of ours.  Her wish came true, with a birthday gift of a teal bike!  She'll need a little time to grow into it... But we're enjoying her enjoying it, just the same.  Happy, happy birthday, Madeline Kate!  You are the true gift.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Costa Rica Travelogue Day 6

We never take enough photos of all of us together... but we did try to get a few!

We did it!  We left the resort!  Today was the day we ventured off grounds on a (little) adventure.

Excursions were a bit of a contentious topic amongst the members of Krinkeland, with basically two equally split sides.  The three girls wanted to go, go, go and see and experience as much of the country as possible.  Dad, Ben and I were very content to stay put at the lovely resort.  Very content.  Todd and I have had some nightmare experiences with excursions gone long and wrong.  Benjamin is just a rather cautious human.  Overall, Dreams Las Mareas was such a beautiful property that also happened to be located sooo faaar from everything else. we just didn't know if it would be worth the risk.

As must happen all the time for survival in Krinkeland, we compromised.  We all decided to go on one excursion together, one activity, for one half-day.  Todd did the research and booked through the company directly, rather than through the resort concierge, so that we would have more options for times and features and such.  We chose zip lining, through Spider Monkey Canopy Tour, and it was AMAZING!

Our guide, Jose, picked us up at the resort, along with three other people, a couple from Canada and an English man.  Jose later pulled me aside and said, "You know, my boss called me yesterday and said he just got a reservation from a family with FOUR KIDS, so I had to come into work this morning and see for myself.  I called in extra help."  His English was excellent, and I chuckled, but I figured one of us must be missing something.  "What do you mean?" I asked.  "Surely, you've guided families with four children before."  Jose said, "No," and just kept shaking his head.

I later had a similar conversation (but this time in my broken Spanish) with our transfer van driver.  Gabriel was young, maybe 25, and friendly, with a wealth of knowledge about his country.  But, he, too, counted heads and said, "Four kids."  I said, "That's right."  He smiled and shook his head.  I told him I was confused.  "Come on, this is Central America... doesn't everyone around here have a lot of kids?!"  He smiled again, "Oh, yes, many children.  My wife and I are expecting our fourth.  Everyone has a lot of kids-- but WE DON'T GO ON VACATION!"

Therein was the rub.  I got it.  I felt so fortunate, and I reminded the kids they are, too.

When we arrived at the place of our expedition, we were given the choice to ride in the van up into the hills to the start of the zip line course, or we could hike, Jose said a mile-and-a-half through the forest, and see if we could spot any wildlife.  Our group voted to hike.  I told them right away that probably would not have been my choice, but I was so glad we did.

One problem: IT WAS HOT.  It was 8:30 in the morning, we were shaded under the canopy, we were wearing very little clothing, but IT WAS HOT.  I had a bag with bottles of water and extra sunscreen and all kinds of mom stuff, but Jose told me to leave in the van, so I did.  I regretted at least not grabbing the water bottles when Ben came to me in tears about a third of the way in.  He really does not handle heat well-- reminds me of my brother as a kid-- and I knew this, I just didn't realize what a problem it would be.  Thankfully, Jose recognized the problem right off and stepped in with water and tips and cooler routes along the riverbed.

This is Jose showing us a termite nest in the tree.  We saw them everywhere and they were all enormous!

This is a howler monkey.  We saw countless howler monkeys and spider monkeys in the trees.

It's hard to tell, but in the middle of this photo is a sloth.  We saw three sloths on this hike, including one baby which Jose said was rare to see.  This variety is the two-toed sloth, identifiable by its coloring and not because we could get close enough to count toes.

At the top of the hill, near where the zip line course began, was this view!  There was also an open-air restaurant.  we enjoyed cold water and a lovely breeze, along with some amazing pictures and entertainment by iguanas.

Benjamin was the first to get suited up to zip line.  While he was apprehensive about the trip, he never wavered in his dedication to take the leap!  Dad and I were both so proud of him!

These two just got cuter and cuter as the weeks progressed.  They took bazillions of photos together and of each other.  You've probably seem them all on Amanda's Instagram.

And Baby here, well, she just ran with the adventure.  She was the first one off the platform every single time.  She never even looked back or said, "Bye, Mom!"  Madeline just got hooked, jumped, and giggled all the way down.

One of the other guests who was on the tour with us made this video with a GoPro camera strapped to his helmet:  What a wonderful visual to have of this fun time!  (He was staying at the same resort with his family, but no one else was brave enough to try the zip line, so he came alone.)

Back at Dreams for lunch, Todd ordered me una bebida del dia (drink of the day.)  We still don't know what this one was, but it was refreshing and delicious!

At night, after another relaxing afternoon by the pool and beautiful view of the sunset, we cleaned up and cooled off and headed back to The Seaside Grill for another round of steak dinners.  Beautiful memories made and another glorious day!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Costa Rica Travelogue Day 5

This is a day we had been anticipating!  The weather was, once again, beautiful, and the monkeys were, once again, visiting.  The other guests from our hometown were going home.  Not that we didn't enjoy seeing friendly faces, but we were excited about being on our "own" for at least some of this vacation.  We were all especially thrilled that it was not yet time for us to think about packing up!

Even more exciting, we knew when we woke up this morning which restaurant we would be visiting for dinner that night.  There were many options around this all-inclusive resort, and we had PLENTY of food throughout our stay, but everyone raved about Himitsu.  We had been looking forward to visiting the Japanese restaurant for hibachi, but, with only two teppanyaki grills and chefs in the whole place, reservations were hard to come by.  Todd and I waited for the concierge to open up on more than one occasion before we secured a slot.

Elisabeth (center in aqua skirt) gave zumba a try!

Who knew Krinkeland liked volleyball so much?

We spent the day relaxing in the sun, and returned to our rooms in the late afternoon to rest up for dinner and the show.  This was the only day Benjamin and Madeline actually slept, and it was in both cases under duress, but I think it made for a much more pleasant evening for all.  We arrived at our reservation time and were seated with another (small) family around the big grill.  I tried to give the kids an overview of what would happen, as only some had previously been to a teppanyaki place.

The hostess informed us all that the teppanyaki reservation came with a set menu, and we would all get four kinds of sushi, followed by miso soup, and then fried rice and hibachi chicken, beef, shrimp and vegetables.  I was like, "Bring it on!"  Not everyone was enthusiastic about sushi, but Amanda, Elisabeth and Benjamin all tried it.

Our chef Javier was amazing!  He put on quite a show, but was also friendly and patient with the kids.  We all laughed a lot and were wowed by his talent.  And dinner was delicious!

We skipped dessert-- who wants to follow hibachi with flan?!-- and headed to the main commons for the nightly show.  We didn't sit in the audience for these shows often, because we were exhausted at the end of each day, and, because, if we were interested, we had an excellent view of the action from our balconies.  But, when the kids saw flame throwers, we took seats and watched!

Once again, the day ended with gelato.  Yum!  Little One, following in her father's footsteps, asked to sample at least six flavors and then ordered what she did every other time-- Oreo.  The flavors changed daily but included: marzipan, red berry, nutella, mint chocolate chip, mango, and pina colada (which contained alcohol!)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Costa Rica Travelogue Day 4

We could get used to this...

I neglected to mention something funny from the previous day.  The children returned to their room in the evening to this!  There was a banner on the door that read "Happy Anniversary" and the sheets and towels had been artistically arranged, with flower petals on the bed.  There was a knock at the door, where a room service attendant stood with a platter of cakes and a bottle of wine.  We're still not sure what happened...  We did get reassigned rooms a couple times upon check-in, so we assume that's where the confusion was generated... Amanda told the butler that it was not her anniversary and she and her sisters were not old enough to drink wine.  In broken English, he asked, "Oh, do you still want it?"  So, she accepted and delivered it to Dad and me and we all had a good laugh.

By the fourth day, everyone was feeling pretty comfortable in their surroundings and our new (temporary) lifestyle of leisure.  We went to bed early-- because we were all somehow EXHAUSTED from doing NOTHING-- and awoke fairly early (well, Ben and Maddy were always up early)... we ate a lot... we sunscreened up and lounged in the sun... we hopped in the pool when the sun got too hot... we dedicated ourselves to snorkeling and water aerobics and pool volleyball and beach volleyball... we fed monkeys... we napped... and we made plenty of trips for snacks; the daily-made gelato and soft pretzels in the Coco Cafe were family favorites!

The resort's favorite guest was also well established by this day: Madeline.  Our little love really made her mark on Dreams Las Mareas.  Her independent streak had her lining up for a Dirty Monkey (chocolate-banana milkshake) every morning at 10:00 when the pool bar opened.  Maddy has this great smile and a loud, infectious laugh; plus, she is always up for adventure.  Madeline wanted to try all the activities the kids' Adventure Club offered.  And, she chose these neon-bright bathing suits, so she was usually pretty easy to spot.

It seems everyone got to know Madeline.    Resort staff-- the entertainment committee-- would approach the older siblings and ask, "Where Maddy?  Time to play in the pool!"  She would tease and splash and mess around until they playfully scolded, "Maddy! Why you do that?"  She made new friends of strangers from Florida and London.  She became the mascot of the older kids who were also from our hometown.  There was a large convention of underwriters and property title experts staying at the resort, and they enjoyed observing Madeline, too.  "You're Little One's mommy!" strangers would call to me poolside, and then share a story of her cantaloupe overdose at breakfast or the sneaky way she outsmarted her brother while playing pickle in the middle.

This day, there was fried chicken on the buffet, when Madeline and I went there for lunch to get out of the midday sun.  Maddy, not much of an eater up until this point (never much of an eater unless you count ketchup) ate FIVE chicken legs for lunch.  Good for the rest of the week, I'm sure.

Later in the evening, we chose to check out the Mexican restaurant for dinner.  It was fine.  Dinner at these all-inclusive resorts is typically a long, drawn-out, relaxed affair (translation: someone is probably going to get your order wrong... you might never get some things you wanted... there will still be more food that you could possibly consume... you will still always order dessert... and no one really cares because you're on vacation!)  Madeline was not ever a treat a dinner.  Though we made reservations and went early, she was typically the one taking off her shoes and curling up in her arm chair.  We love her, anyway, even more than everyone else.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Spring Blizzard

My Costa Rica travelogue posts have been interrupted by a blizzard. This weekend we've been experiencing an actual, meets-meteorological-standards blizzard-- cold, strong winds, and more than a foot of snow. It's crazy! Lots of activities have been cancelled, and school starts late again tomorrow. This has been an insane winter/spring.
Ben and Oliver scaled a drift in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Costa Rica Travelogue Day 3

This was a day of many firsts.  Highlights included: some of the children getting more adventurous in trying new foods and we all met the monkeys!

Before departing for Costa Rica, our kids talked at length about food.  How many restaurants would there be at the resort?  Would the food be native Costa Rican cuisine or dishes with which we were familiar?  Will there really be more fresh fruit than we could imagine?  What about the seafood-- would we have to eat things that came right out of the ocean?!  Could we always have dessert?!  Can we drink the water?  Tell us about the mini bar!

The food we had everywhere, all week was really very good.  The kids who like to try new things did some experimenting, and those who are more comfortable with the tried-and-true just ordered more ketchup.  It was fun watching each of them take in the all-inclusive experience, trying things just because they could, ordering their own drinks at the bar, letting us know when it was time to eat again!

At breakfast, which we routinely had in shifts at the buffet restaurant World Cafe, we all loved the expansive fruit layout and separate juice bar.  (I had beet juice!  I don't recommend it.)  This morning, I challenged Amanda to take one piece of each fruit she had never tried or did not recognize.  Then, I recorded her reviews:

In between meals, we began to learn the importance of two routine-setting practices: regular sunscreen applications and afternoon breaks from the outdoors.  None of us had ever visited so close to the equator.  It was HOT and it was sunny.  All the time.  I am not complaining... never would... I LOVE the heat and love to soak up the sun... But it was a lot to manage.  It was warm enough at 6 a.m. that Ben and Maddy and I could stroll the paths in just our bathing suits and cover-ups and soon feel ready to take a dip. 

We started with sunscreen first thing in the morning, like, right after breakfast, and reapplied it every 90 minutes to two hours.  We had to.  Even with those rules in place, everyone in Krinkeland earned some degree of sunburn-- except for Todd.  Todd applied sunscreen thickly and religiously and enlisted all of us to also apply sunscreen to his body.  He also almost never got wet.  His habits were annoying, but wise, and he's the one who should be leading the charge, oh, husband of mine who is already a basal cell carcinoma survivor.

For this weeklong trip for the six of us, I packed:

  • 4 spray cans of 50 SPF
  • 4 bottles of 30 SPF lotion
  • 4 bottles of 15 SPF lotion
  • 2 other random sunscreens
  • 2 60 SPF zinc face sticks

We came home with most of one bottle of 15.

Also sun-related, we discovered it was a good idea (Mom's not so dumb after all) to take a little break from the afternoon sun.  It coincided well with the hourlong rest the waterslide lifeguards took.  We just headed back to our rooms to relax in the cool air conditioning, maybe soak in a tepid tub on the terrace.  (Did I mention we had soaking tubs on our terraces?  I know you think it's weird, but it's the best thing.)  There was only maybe one day when I got the younger kids to actually settle themselves enough to nap, but dinner was so much more pleasant on that night.

We also had to time our breaks from the sun around the monkey visits.  This is the first day we all saw and fed the monkeys!  We had heard that our resort locale was known for having monkeys hanging around, and we had already spied all kinds of wildlife.  This day, we followed the resort gossip chain to the beach at the appointed afternoon hour, and, sure enough, the capuchins (or white-faced monkeys) came!

As an aside, all the beaches in Costa Rica are state property and are, therefore, public.  There were a few craftsmen and tour leaders roaming the beach, but no one presented a problem.  The resort was so remote, it's not the kind of place where people really could or would just drive for the day, either.  But, each day, a flock of monkeys came down the hills for visits and snacks.  There were signs up warning against feeding the monkeys and other wildlife, but everyone fed the monkeys, because WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GET ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO FEED MONKEYS?!  We were told they liked bananas, grapes and pineapple, so we kept a bit extra from our breakfast or lunch meals.  You would look up in the trees and they'd be there like squirrels.  And, then, you would hold up a chunk of banana and a monkey would creep down the tree branch and gently take it from your hand.  That's it.


Did I mention we fed monkeys?