Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's 11:07 p.m. on Tuesday night and I'm sitting in my parents' friend's apartment (the friend is in Costa Rica!), right above their apartment, looking out the window at downtown Providence. It's oldcay as uckfay outside and little clouds of smoke are blowing away from the chimney in the house below this one, making me wish we had a fireplace...

I just got off the phone with Joedy. Tomorrow he's leaving Corpus Christi to go to Austin, where he'll stay until January 9th with a friend, then he'll fly to Costa Rica to get our sweet dogs. Phew! Phew, phew, phew. Phuck! We're so glad to phinally be getting our poor canine phriends back! I'm going to spoil them rotten for, like, six months when I see them again. Hopefully I never get annoyed at them again. It will be hard when I catch Diablo licking Astrid's ass, but heck! They deserve some serious spoiling after being separated from their family for so long. Even if they got to bark at monkeys all day and night.

Joedy's applied for a few jobs in Austin and he'll start looking for a place for us to live starting tomorrow, hopefully, so that the kids and I can come join him by the end of the month and we can finally settle into a state other than Limbo, which has been driving not only us but everyone else crazy! Joedy sounded upbeat and happy on the phone and I can tell he's as thrilled as I am that we're moving on. The last month and a half, since we arrived in Texas from Costa Rica, has been filled with so much uncertainty that it's really been hard at times.

I'm looking forward to being able to sit down and think about everything that happened since this summer. I feel like we've been go-go-going nonstop and once we're in our own place we'll be able to look at the Costa Rica adventure with the right perspective. I've kind of not let myself think about Costa Rica since we came back because I thought it would make me sad, and in fact yesterday when I read some entries I wrote there it did make me sad. I haven't talked about it much with anyone but there's lots sort of simmering and sifting inside me--we weren't there for that long, relatively, but it was a period packed with all kinds of stuff and I think I just haven't digested everything yet...

There's a bone-chilling draft coming in from the window and I'm starting to cough and get a headache so I'm going to stop writing now, guzzle some medicine, and hit the ole' hay. In just a couple days 2009 will be over--how weird! What an interesting year it's been: a baby! France! Costa Rica! Limbo! Blogging! Boogers!

Nonsensity is a-settin' in. I did this drawing right before leaving Costa Rica. I thought while we were in Texas I'd use it and some other drawings to make some cards, which I'd try to sell once we returned to Samara. For that and other reasons it means quite a bit to me.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

When Joedy and I talked today, I asked him if he had "anything to tell me." I was thinking along the lines of a plane ticket to go get the dogs, a job or a place to live in Austin, or--heck--the title of the book he was reading this morning on the commode. When he replied that he did have something to tell me, I shushed Lula and pressed the phone closer to my ear: he knows I've always wanted a horse, and Christmas is right around the corner--could it BE???

"What's the date today?" he asked, and I was vaguely annoyed. Could we get to the heart of the matter, please? Was the horse coming via Fedex or parcel post? "Um, I think it's the 19th," I said, not really caring. "Actually, it's the 20th," he said.

Then why did you ask me? Do I need to buy a saddle, or is this a package deal? I hope you got me a pretty one!

"Happy anniversary," he said.

Oh. Oh right--that. "Happy anniversary to you too!" I said, glad it was he who remembered and me who forgot, because if it was the other way around, I'd think he didn't love me anymore.

"How many years is it now?" I asked. "Six, seven, something like that?"

"Nine. We've been married nine years."

"Holy shit! Really?! That's long!"

It's true, it is long, and lots of stuff happened in that time: we had kids, moved, got pets, changed jobs, changed hairstyles, changed in general. There's been a lot of change, in fact, but one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that often, I can look at Joedy and tell what he's thinking. That's a fun and practical trick, especially when I want junk food but don't want to be the instigator.

"Hey," I say, "you look like you want a triple jalapeno bacon cheeseburger, chili cheese con carne fries, and a chocolate shake!"

He looks at me sheepishly. "How'd you guess?"

"I can read your mind, Joedy--don't you know that yet?"

It's true, a lot of the time I can, just like he can read mine. Sometimes the things he guesses right about me are embarrassing, but after all this time together that doesn't matter much. In the end, it's most comforting just to be known--to be known and to be loved, despite my childish horse dreams, my sneaky junk food tactics, and the fact that, well, I don't always thank him for being the sweet, loving husband he is.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

As opposed to, you know, Black Norwegians!

Seriously: just had three of them. And it's SNOWING!!! In fact, it's BLIZZARDING!!!

Woooah, boy. Hello! She is a leetle beet hyper. Could eet bee thee alcohol? Yes, it could. Also, could bee thee company shee keeeps. As in, BenjaminnMika (and Little No Name). And the fact that she KICKED SOME SERIOUS DART BUTT TONIGHT!! Well, not really, but she likes to think she did, kind of.

Seriously. Hello, Providence!! WE are HERE! Please NOTE EMphatiC use OF capS!!! A PLAY ON various bloggING STYLES! NONE OF WHICH I REALLY CARE FOR, BUT WHAT THE.

Ok, made little sense there. Must be serious now.

We (Lula, Malko, and I) arrived Wednesday evening after a right good jolly time aboard our dear friend US Airways, who did NOT charge us $280 fuckimg (note: disguise of certain "swear" "words" might be "apparent" through"out" th"i"s entry")"dollars just for our fuckink luggage. Like, hello--who in their goddam hell right mind charges people for luggage, anyway! I know, but I'm not gonna say! Except that I already did.

So. We got here the other day, and my parents, aka Nanou et Richard, aka CKMOMF, immediately plied us with food. Did I say "plied"? I meant SUPplied! As in, food=love=parents (or it should, anyway). Tonight was fish en papillottes (no, it wasn't wearing underwear), rice, and salad. And it worked: I want to stay another 8 months. Although I have to say, the blizzard had been hugely transcendental in that respect. As in, can you imagine a very depressing landscape, all browns, rusts, and greys, cold and bitter and dull, frankly DEPRESSING, turning, exactly at 9 o'clock pm, when BenjaminnMika (and Little you-know-who, not yet there yet, but kind of) pick you up in their pickup truck, into MAGIC??? I repeat: turning into MAGIC?

White flying flakes, falling fast on the river?

A blizzard. Magic. The Puritans, stuck in the middle of nowhere in all that scratchy clothing, make a little more sense, for some reason.

Anyway. The other night, I had a bad case of insomnia, and lay awake thinking "I'm the Ambassador from the Land of Fuckup," knowing very well it sounded pathos-y and frankly funny, but it wasn't good, I mean, I felt like shit, very horrific terrible fugking shit, like all the decisions I've made in the past 18 years have been bad and dumb and not the decisions I should have made, and if I could have beaten myself with a strop (preferably faux) I would have, but I didn't have one and anyway it would have woken everyone up, so...

Where was I going with that? What I meant to say is that I'm three White Russians deep, a blizzard's falling outside, and Providence is darn delightful. We put up an Xmas (not actually a denigrating term, as Uncle E can tell you) tree yesterday and although the smell made me want to smoke it, I didn't, YAY ME (golly, how obnoxious!), and gosh! There might even be presents under that tree on Xmas day.

Not all is well: I miss Joedy. We all miss Diablo and Astrid. We don't know where we're going to settle. But who, for fock's sake, doesn't have problems? We all do. It's just good, I guess, to look out the window now and then and see snow flakes swirling, to see all the browns and greys covered up. Tomorrow we'll go sledding, and I'll probably concoct a drink involving snow. I wish, I really really wish, all the people I love were here to drink it with me...


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Having just eaten the 28 storm windows and deflated inflatable Santa of the resident gingerbread house, I'm feeling a little topsy-turvy now, and also definitely under the effects of the pressure to not allow motherfruitcaking US Airways to charge me $280 just for my motherfruitcaking luggage. How am I avoiding that? By unpacking all the shit I stress-packed this time last week, sending half that shit back to Corpus, and traveling light, for once, like a normal person.

So, I decided to take with me to Providence:

-metal dog tag collection
-8 (small) spools of wire
-large computer

lots of other shit! Mental faculties suffering breakdown temporarily there, upon finding creation of "entertaining list" too challenging. Am blaming it on the "mud" I ate earlier (see storm window reference). Finding Lula too loud right now. Am thinking about suitcases--they will undoubtedly be over 50 fucking pounds! Fuck!

Dogs staying on in Samara until the beginning of January due to ticket high-ness and Aero Mexicana blackout silliness. Blackout dates are for sissies! Seriously, not happy about the dog situation. Not happy at all. Although our friend, Hilary, who we unintentionally left them with longer than we wanted, has been very unannoyed in her emails, saying they'll be ok with her friend Jonny until Joedy gets there, and they'll stay at the mountain house, where all they're doing wrong is upsetting monkeys, and all will be well...

My god! She's being dangerously unrealistic again! Must monitor intake of deflated Santas in future! All systems aflame and agog!

I'm sorry to be leaving Mormor and Uncle E, whose real name is in fact "Eamon," but who this whole time I thought my mom was calling "E man!" I actually thought it was cute, kind of Rastafarian-sounding, but when I saw his name written somewhere I was like, OH! Anyway, I'm sad to be leaving them, and have been thinking I want to mention that this whole moving-to-Costa-Rica thing has been turning out to be great, family-wise. Would we have spent the night at Joedy's grandmother's house if we hadn't moved to (and away from) Costa Rica? Would we have spent a whole month with his parents? No, definitely not! Nor would we have spent a week here with Mormor and Uncle E, nor would we have spent two weeks at Robert's house pre-Costa Rica, or seen Robert at Thanksgiving...anyhoo, what I mean is, it hasn't been so bad, this whole thing. It's even been pretty motherfruitcaking good!

Tomorrow I depart into Traveling World with Lula and Malko, where after 12 weird and wondrous hours we'll be surrounded by more loved ones. CKMOMF! BenjaminnMika! Bashi Bazouk! Little no-name! CASSIE!!! As Jesse from Toy Story would say: YEEEEEEEEE-HAAAAAAAAW!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heavenly horsebrains, it's been a week since I last wrote! Time does fly when you're having fun, which proves a point I've been wanting to make--Limbo does NOT suck, actually! When people take you out to dinner and generally make you feel like you're on vacation after you've been at their house for a whole month, you're experiencing a particularly un-sucky version of Limbo. There's been a lot of uncertainty, some regret, and a little sadness about the Costa Rica denouement, but all in all life is still great--we're healthy, we have loved ones everywhere, and the adventure is still happening! Yippee!

I got into Arizona with Lula and Malko yesterday, after a few hours on a plane run by Ghetto Airways, aka US Airways, which actually had tape holding the toilet down, ridiculously hard small seats, and a disgusting policy of charging small fortunes for overweight checked luggage (this is all I'm going to say, but you can imagine me wanting to kill myself at the ticket counter). Malko charmed all the old ladies sitting around us who were coming back from a Lone Star State tour and that was good, because they offered to hold him while I used the bathroom, which was good, because that way I didn't drop him in the taped-down toilet or expose him to the freakishly strong smell of pee in there. Gross, totally gross! Way to go, US Airways!

Mormor, aka M, aka my mother, picked us up and inoculated us with chocolate as soon as we got into her car. I was feeling a little sad about being away from Joedy and the prospect of not seeing him till the end of January (probably), and I was also weirded out about being one step further away from Samara and all that, but once we got home and saw E (M's boyfriend) everything got cheery and we ate chicken with pot stickers and watched the Jungle Book and all was well again. Today we lingered until 2ish and then we went out to run some errands and I got to go to Trader Joe's! I've missed good ole' TJ--so many of my happy California memories are tied to it.

It's getting late here and I still haven't sampled the Venezuelan chocolate so I'm going to do that now. Not a lot of deep thoughts coming from me, but I'm happy to be here in Scottsdale with M and E, excited about going to Rhode Island next week, and overall not too discontent about the way things are going...I can't complain, really, and so you know what? I'm not!

Coming soon: will Joedy have left for Costa Rica to get the dogs? Will I survive the flight to Providence with Malko on my lap? We can only wait and see!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Things couldn't get much more bedlam-ish than they are now, with the dogs still in Samara, our financial situation not good, thirty boxes of belongings in California, no home and not much in the way of work (Joedy's still freelancing), and above all the undeniable fact that we failed in our attempt at moving to Costa Rica.

We're still at Joedy's parents' house in Corpus, having decided, at their urging, to stay longer to save the money we'd inevitably have spent in Austin (where, apparently, it is cold enough to wear long socks, with or without high heels), and although we felt like gigantic schmucks coming back, after the night at his grandmother's house, it was also a relief, because it's so comfortable and homey here. On Wednesday I'll fly with the kids to Pheonix, to stay with my mom (M) and her boyfriend, and the following Tuesday we'll fly to Providence, to stay with my other mom (Nanou) and dad. Joedy, meanwhile, will go to Costa Rica to get the dogs, his surfboards, our bikes, and the four suitcases we left behind, flying back into LA, where he'll have some work appointments and get our stuff out of storage. Hopefully, he'll be able to collect the $2400 the new owners of the Volvo and the Toyota still owe us (the Volvo guy hasn't paid a cent, and doesn't answer our calls), but who knows--I certainly don't have my hopes up.

At this point it's clear we need jobs, badly, so I'm going to start looking on Craigslist, focusing on Providence, although I'll also check Austin. Joedy could probably find work in Southern California, and that would be great, of course, but the idea of moving back there doesn't rock our worlds, seeing as we just left, and we'd probably have to pay insanely high rent again, and blah blah blah...

It's hard not seeing the past few months as a phenomenal failure, and already I can tell my memories of Samara are being clouded with bitterness and regret. I'm trying to remember everything will be ok--we'll get jobs, we'll get back on our feet, we'll pay back our parents, who lent us money and bought us plane tickets to Arizona and Rhode Island, and make it up to Nuria and Oliver, who bought tickets to come see us in Samara for New Year's--but I'm ashamed and mad at myself for the way things turned out, and the positive outlook I'm trying to take feels forced and frankly pointless.

I don't have much else to say now, but I do want to officially thank our parents, who've helped us so much: we've added more worries to your plate than we should at our age, and you've been unfailingly supportive and loving. Thanks, guys...


Friday, November 27, 2009

At the risk of sounding depressing I'm going to write about depressing things, because what's the point of faking happiness? It just ain't happening now in massive quantities...
I miss Diablo and Astrid. I really, really miss them. There's nothing else to say about it. I want to be with them so badly.

As previously mentioned in previous blog entries, we might not be going back to Costa Rica. Financially, it was harder than we thought it'd be, and we can't go back scraping bottom. Not with two little kids. The thought of not going back makes us very, very sad. Despite all the hardship we had the last few months--there was definitely a lot of hardship at times--we have officially been infected with the Costa Rica bug. What will I miss the most? Our friends, all our new friends, the drop-dead physical beauty, the horses in the big field, Lula's teachers and classmates, pollo frito con pappas, learning Spanish,
***After writing the above, having a good cry, then looking at the sunset with husband, writer put on long socks (one striped grey and teal, one solid aqua) and realized she might like to wear high-heeled shoes with them. As in, wear clothes one does not usually wear in Costa Rica. As in, is not so opposed to living elsewhere? Perhaps in Zimbabwe or Finland? ***

It's true--the reality of not going back to Costa Rica and Samara, in particular, is not cheery. But I've been realizing lots of things in the last two weeks:

I really, truly, madly love June and James, Jesse and Melissa, Robert, Venenzia, Victoria, Noah, Earie, and all of Joedy's relatives, there being 6389 in Corpus alone. I'm not kidding! I'm not kidding about thinking they're cool, either--when your mother-in-law demands a Texas hoedown after Thanksgiving dinner, with table-top dancing provided by her, you know what you already knew: she's a keeper. Your father-in-law, who has a fine appreciation for local agriculture, is a keeper too, not even saying "Are you freaking kidding me??" when you showed up at the airport with your cat. Lula and Malko have been made much of by their grandparents and family in general, and it's been...what can I say? It's been great, as great as having my family--especially Robert, my stepfather, who drove here from Santa Barbara--closer the last couple weeks. We might still be a plane ride away, but we're (most of us are, anyway) in the same country, at least!

There are more places in the world we want to see. Zimbabwe and Finland, definitely. And I think if we want to, Joedy and I can go back to Costa Rica sometime, some way, though we might be using walkers by then. Costa Rica will be there, and--at the huge risk of sounding cheesy--Costa Rica will always be in our hearts. There. That WAS horribly cheesy. But fun!

While thinking about the pros and cons of Costa Rica, Austin, Providence, and Santa Barbara, I realized there'll be beautiful things AND hardship everywhere, and that I'll miss some people no matter where I am. At the even huger risk of sounding even cheesier and, for extra effect, overly self-concerned, I'm going to say that I'll miss the person I was in Costa Rica. I don't feel comfortable wearing a lion's-tooth necklace in Corpus, and that's annoying. Also: sarongs! Seriously: I miss Rojo, my bike. Riding it around potholes on the way to Lula's school, feeling freer than I have in recent and not-too-recent memory. Being freakishly happy at times, despite the difficulties. It was really fun, being there!

In a couple days we're going to Joedy's cousin Katherine's house in Austin. I'm looking forward to checking out Austin. I hope it'll be cold enough there to wear these socks, with or without heels.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Your life as a what?

A turkey, you know--a big fowl. Gobble gobble?

Oh yes! Right. I see the resemblance.

Thanks. I'll look even more like one tomorrow, when I have stuffing stuck to my face. Right now it's more metaphorical, I guess.

Oh? You feel like a metaphorical turkey?


Um, I think you have your birds mixed up.

At this point it doesn't matter. It's all about the pea-sized brain, really. Ok, and the ruffled pinions.

Why are your pinions ruffled? I thought things were going swimmingly, despite the "unusual circumstances"!

As swimmingly as swimming through a boatload of gravy. Last night it hit me that I'd been carrying my will around in my back pocket for the last few days. What the?

You've really been identifying with that turkey, I guess! Did the will mention what you'd like done with your gizzard?

No, it just talked about Lula and Malko.

I see. As in, what should happen to the little chicks if...?


Ok. Ok. Listen, you big dumb fowl. YOU ARE NOT DYING. No one is going to eat you for Thanksgiving! You're in perfect health, and even if you were on the menu you'd make for a disappointing meal. Kind of stringy, you know? Probably bony, too.

Thanks. This is comforting.

You're welcome. Frankly, I don't know why you thought anyone would find you appetizing. Those knees! Ha ha!

Right, I get it. So, if I wouldn't taste like a turkey, why do I feel like one?

Hm...maybe because you begged all these people to come visit you in Costa Rica for New Year's, and now it turns out you might not be there yourself? Maybe, especially, because your sister Nuria and her boyfriend Oliver went ahead and bought plane tickets? And you had to tell her you might not be there after all? Given those things, I can definitely understand why you feel like a turkey.

Yeah, even though Nuria was more than gracious and understanding, it's a crappy situation at best. Actually wishing someone would just throw me in a baking dish and get it over with.

Some people might find that statement alarming. I think you're just being dramatic, and in a few hours you're going to be all "oh, everything's fine!" again. might as well just can it.

Canned turkey? Sounds great! I'll get started as soon as I finish plucking these feathers off my knees...


Thursday, November 19, 2009

So, Isabel, here yar in Texas--what's next for you guys? When you going back to Costa Rica?

I don't know!

Really? You don't know?

Yep, really--I don't know!

Why don't you know?

Oh, I don't know...

Well, how can you not know?

I don't know.

Ok---what are you going to do about Lapis, then?

We're not sure.

Well, for god's sake, are you bringing him back to Costa Rica with you?

We don't know.

How about the dogs? How much longer are they going to stay with your friends in Costa Rica?

I wish I knew...

Ok. Do you think you might be staying in Texas, then? Or moving to Rhode Island?

You know, I really don't know...

So, basically, you don't know anything about anything. This is VERY ANNOYING!!!

I know. Believe me, I know.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Here we yar in Texas. We got in the day before yesterday, with a surprise for Joedy's parents, June and James: our cat! As I told James, they don't need to worry, we're not trying to pawn Lapis off on them, but I must say he does look very cute on their dryer!

The trip here was long but actually pretty fun, if you like getting in a loud verbal altercation with your husband in the airport, at your gate in front of your fellow passengers. An altercation about, essentially, a certain gourmet airport quesadilla someone #1 wanted to have but that someone #2 didn't walk quickly enough to allow someone #1 to get. Someone #1 was of course extra displeased with this outcome because she had been thwarted out of her first attempt at that quesadilla on the way to Costa Rica! Because, among other things, she'd had a baby strapped to her in the airport and in her lap on the plane! Which was obviously very stressful, and which she kept reminding someone #2 of during their peaceful, harmonious exchange at the gate.

We got to San Antonio in one piece and it was, ok, a huge relief when we saw June and James, who'd already found the eight large and five small suitcases that had come on the earlier flight, the one we missed, and which were waiting there off to the side of baggage claim, Lapis in his crate a few feet away.

Did I mention that June noticed Lapis recognized her when she looked in his crate? That he and she almost seemed to share a special bond (not her words exactly, but it was clear...)? That she fed him salmon as a mid-morning snack today? A few words to all new cat owners: when your cat is being fed salmon by an outside source (though June isn't actually an outside source), you may as well consider yourself a one-time cat owner, as in, the cat is now hanging out with the salmon-provider.

We're staying at June and James's house in Corpus Christi, which I visited this time of year exactly twelve years ago for the first time, when Joedy and I had been together just a few months. Here we are, back with our two kids. And our cat! Did I mention we brought our cat, who looks very cute on their dryer?

We got here with colds, and in addition to a variety of Costa Rican and American cold medicines, we've been fighting them with alcohol-soaked herb poultices, so I'm not feeling quite myself right now. But Lula just called from Jesse and Melissa's (Joedy's brother and sister-in-law) to say she'll be spending the night, and she sounded really happy, as happy as we all are, I think, about--heck--everything, but especially about a couple "things"* happening this spring!

Tomorrow we're going to visit Joedy's grandmother, Earie. I last saw her eight years ago, in 2001, and it goes without saying that I can't wait to see her again. We'll be able to see her and the rest of Joedy's family quite a bit this trip, since we're staying a few weeks, and already it's been great hanging out and reconnecting. I'm looking forward to going back to Costa Rica, it's true, but it's also really nice to be here in Texas, eating Whataburgers and laughing with family...

*secrecy enforced by parents-to-be of said things


Monday, November 9, 2009

Welp! Looks like we found a house, beach, the, on! Although it's, for, just, December. But, deal, no, big! Because very, cool, is, it. And so will be the party, in, it! That YOU still have to sign up for!

After riding our bikes to see that house we rode down the beach towards another one and got caught in a major rain storm. We got home drenched and the rain continued all afternoon and evening, giving us a taste of the real Costa Rican "winter," complete with power outage. Luckily, we had candles and a flashlight, and it was kind of nice to sit in the semi-darkness listening to the rain and watching the lightning flashes. When the lights came back on we returned to our packing/cleaning, and managed to get a lot more done, but part of me wished we'd been forced to sit quietly on the bed together for the rest of the evening--it was so cozy and peaceful.

I'm excited about going to Texas on Thursday. I haven't been there in nine years, so I have a lot of catching up to do with Joedy's relatives. Joedy's excited too--he's been, like, singing a lot lately--and when I asked him what he wants to do there he said "spend time with family," which is a relief, because I thought he might say "drink beer and eat charred meat," which is SO not what I want to do! Heck, no!

By Wednesday morning we should be (well, we have to be) out of Casa Bambula, this little house we've lived in since September, and then part two of our Costa Rican adventure will officially begin. Of course, we'll be in Texas for a few weeks, but the dogs will still be here, and so will that sweet, on, beach, the, house. It will be here, waiting for us--and YOU--to fill it up, try out the hammocks, and start working on that special New Year's Eve rum-and-guayabana elixir, which I think will go very nicely with the stuffed iguanas.

See? Cultural delights! Naps! Drunken bathing! What more could you ask for from a little New Year's getaway?

Reserve your spot before it's TOO LATE!*

*it will never be too late

Addendum: Out of fear of finger-biting, I didn't actually hand-feed the monkeys (see last post) my peanut butter sandwich--I just put it on a ledge near them and then worried they'd jump on my head, which luckily they didn't do. For various reasons I decided not to give monkeys food again!


Friday, November 6, 2009

The countdown to homerentership is on, with three intriguing houses in the lineup: they're all more or less on the beach, we haven't seen any of them on the inside, and we don't know how much any of them rent for. So it's a little up in the air, and probably will be until the day we leave, when we're stressed beyond belief about all the things we still need to do that we should have done earlier but didn't, like find a house to live so we don't have to sleep in a vacant lot with the boa constrictor when we get back from Texas.

Did you notice that I said "the boa constrictor," as in, a particular boa constrictor that was seen yesterday in Samara, on the road to Lula's school? Yes, that's the one I was talking about. The 10-foot-long one. The one they just prodded with a stick until it slithered into the bushes, the bushes that are about 500 yards away from our house, with a nice vacant lot in between. Last night when Lapis and Diablo wanted to go outside I stepped out with them at first--I thought I should watch over them--but then I was like, forget it, you guys are on your own. I ran back inside and watched out the window to see if a long dark shape was moving along the top of the fence towards my furry babies, but nope! Everyone peed without mishap and got home safely.

Later, while I was wiping the kitchen counter, Lula picked up the broom and told me she was going to help clean up. I thanked her and as she swept behind me she said matter-of-factly, "I'm cleaning all the shit Astrid left here." All the what? The shit? Do you mean, like, literal shit, or figurative shit? And you're familiar with that word've heard it before? From your mother? When she' Ok--makes perfect sense! It took me a minute to realize she meant "shed," like, all this hair, this goddamn hair, Astrid sheds. All this hair she sheds all day long. All this shitty dog hair this damn dog sheds!

This weekend we're going to deep-clean the house, which is still somewhat disgusting from an unintentionally big barbecue that happened here Wednesday night, a barbecue that was very fun, for the most part, and exciting in that one person got a cut on her forehead, one person got bit by a spider, one person fell off the bed, one person peed in his pants, and many other people kept walking into our kitchen looking for beer. We met a bunch of our landlord Pierre's friends, many of whom are long-time Samarans, and generally ate a copious amount of delicious charred food. It was good practice for the New Year's Eve party we're having, the one YOU still have to reserve your spot for!

We had some non-human visitors yesterday. They were making noise in the trees outside the house, and when we went out to look two of them, a mother and a baby, acted very interested in my peanut butter-on-cinnamon-bread sandwich. It makes me vaguely sick now to think I encouraged them to climb around on those wires (I put my sandwich on that ledge they're sitting on), but luckily the photo shoot did NOT go in the direction of "Why monkeys and wires don't mix"--THAT would have been horrific. Anyway, some are a little blurry, but you can still see the peanut butter on the baby's knuckles and in their chin hairs.

And I thought I was the only monkey with peanut butter in her chin hairs!


Monday, November 2, 2009

This is the drawing I did last night after writing a post about how I was deleting Sitemeter, the application I use to track readers, from my blog. After uploading the drawing I went to Word to copy the post, but about half of it had disappeared. I sat in front of the computer trying to recreate what I'd written but the words didn't come, and it was just as well, because I actually don't want to delete Sitemeter.

I won't go into a long explanation about why I did want to delete it--it just had to do with obsessing about numbers of people and feeling hypocritical for caring so much. This morning I realized it's stupid to care so much in general and furthermore, it would really be hypocritical to pretend I don't want more readers! Of course I do. I humongous do, as Lula would say.

On another, much more interesting, note, we're making some headway with the going-to-Texas/looking for a house stuff. It looks like our friend Hilary might pet-sit for us (she has a "mountain house" where the dogs and Lapis can play with boa constrictors to their hearts' content), and we're going to ask someone else to keep our few suitcases, the ones we won't be bringing to Texas to fill with loot. We'll be officially out of this house next Wednesday (we fly Thursday), and when we get back there's a chance we'll stay at Hilary's, since she'll be going back to the States, or that we'll move into a house right on the beach.

Ok, the house-on-the-beach part is very wishful thinking, since we know the owner is unwilling to rent the house as is--apparently, it needs to be painted--but Joedy and I thought we'd offer to paint it ourselves, and if they want to drop the rent a little in exchange, great! I don't even know what rent would be, but I'm having a hard time not getting excited and envisioning the place all cute and wonderful because it looked like it had some serious potential. The yard is pretty big, with some really lovely trees, it's all gated, there's a built-in barbecue and outside shower, a big terrace, and it's right on the beach, as in, right on the beach. Did I say it's right on the beach? It is, in fact, right on the beach.

If we get that house, we're going to need some people to come celebrate New Year's with us. Did you hear what I just said?


If you need a little motivation, think of these words (not necessarily in this order): the, right, beach, on.

See you soon!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hector and Juanita were on the patio ceiling, near the bare bulb that attracted the slowest, dumbest bugs. They'd been there all evening and had eaten so many mosquitoes they were full and lethargic, barely even trying, now, to catch the occasional ant that wandered past.

Beyond the patio, the rain fell softly and cicadas sang, lulling the two geckos into a quiet, pensive mood. They'd known each other since college and felt comfortable together, often sharing childhood memories and their thoughts on politics and celebrity gossip. While Hector tended to be easygoing and sentimental, Juanita wasted no time saying exactly how so-and-so failed to measure up to her high standards, standards she applied with Puritanical fervor to her own life. Although she was too well-mannered to tout herself as an example of perfection, Hector suspected she was deeply self-satisfied. He was surprised, then, when she cleared her throat and said the following:

"God, I feel like such a loser."


"A loser. I feel like a loser."

Hector thought for a second. Was she joking? Was she testing him--trying to see if he'd react in a way that was "too nice"? Oh well, he thought, he couldn't help it: "You're not a loser! What are you saying?"

"I told you, Hector--I. Feel. Like. A. Loser."

"Aw, Juanita, you're not a loser! Come here," he said, lifting a clammy arm.

Juanita stiffened. He should have known better. When she spoke, her words came out in a growl. "I don't need a hug, Hector. I just feel like a loser. Ok? That's all. I don't need a hug, I don't need anything, I just"--her voice cracked--"I just...I...I'm such a loser, Hector!" She began to cry, and Hector listened, aghast. "Juanita," he said softly, "what's this about? You, of all people, a loser? Come on."

"I know," she said, sniffling, "it's not like me to feel this way. That makes it worse, actually." She was quiet, and he waited for her to continue. "You know how I play the saxophone?" Hector nodded. "Well, it's embarrassing to admit, because, I don't know, it sounds so dumb, but Hector, it's all I think about." She paused. "It's all I want to do."

"I know, Juanita, you told me! And you played that song for me the other day--it was great! You're so talented!" Hector believed that, and he was glad to tell her, but doing so didn't seem to help: the corners of her mouth still trembled and her eyes were still wet with tears.

She sighed. "Thanks, Hector. It's just that sometimes it seems so pointless. I love playing the saxophone--I really, really love it--but I can't do only that for the rest of my life, can I? I spend so much time practicing. What for? I can't make a living playing the saxophone, I can't even take my student loan payments over from my parents. I'm thirty-five, Hector, and all I do is play the saxophone." She shook her head, disgusted. "Do you realize how much time and energy I've put into it by now? Playing the saxophone while lying on your stomach isn't exactly easy. And getting my lips around the mouthpiece--my god! I don't even want to think about it."

Hector's answer was ready: "Juanita, every time you play the saxophone you're adding to the beauty in the world. When you played for me the other day, my skin got all dry--I'm not kidding, that's how much it moved me. You're a good saxophonist, Juanita, and you need to keep playing. Do it for me at least!" Hector's voice cracked--he, too, was close to tears.

Juanita turned to look at him. "It's nice of you, Hector, but what you're saying doesn't help much. 'Adding to the beauty in the world'? Please. What I need to do is add money to my bank account. The fact is, if I'd put the same amount of effort into, say, freelance mosquito-baiting, just think where I could be now! I could have my own business. I could have an income and, instead of relying on other people, I could be helping them..."

They were both quiet. The rain had stopped, stars were peeking out from behind the clouds, and the air was fresh and cool. An enchanting smell--mosquito larvae?--drifted by on the breeze, and something stirred deep down in Hector. A strange feeling began to grow inside him. What was it? He wasn't sure, but he thought--no, he was certain--it was good. The feeling continued to grow, getting bigger and stronger every second, and as it did he thought about all the times he'd been understanding, sympathetic, conciliatory. His whole life, he'd been nice. Why? What good had it really done him or anyone else? The feeling was spreading to his fingertips and toes now, threatening to burst through his gray translucent skin, and when he turned to speak to Juanita he knew things would never be the same.

"You're right, Juanita, you've been acting like a loser. You want to keep playing the saxophone? Fine, go ahead--just don't complain that it's the only thing you do. It's time to get your head out of your butt and start doing something else--doing something productive, for god's sake. You know it, so do it! Stop moping--it's annoying." Juanita's eyes widened, and it looked like she might cry again. This time, though, Hector wasn't worried: he was tough now, and he would push her. With his help, he knew she'd be ok.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Coming back from a bike ride this afternoon, we passed by a tree that was nondescript except for all these sounds, these parakeet sounds, emanating from it. I called to Joedy and Lula and after looking up into the branches for a minute, wondering where the hell the birds were, we saw them! Little green parrots EVERYWHERE! They had short tails that were bluish at the end and pale yellow beaks, and they were so cute--oh my god, they were so cute!--I just wanted to eat them.

They were the same kind of parrot an old friend of ours had in Santa Barbara, a little guy named Tabu (the parrot, not the friend) who died after catching a cold. Thinking about that little parrot, and a certain parakeet named Kiki from my own illustrious pet-owning past, I couldn't help feeling terrible that they'd had to sit in cages so far away from their real homes. The parrots in the tree squawked and pecked at each other, fighting over those strange green fruits they were eating, but they seemed happy, really, and I vowed never to keep a pet bird in a cage again--next time, I'll just tie its little leg to a piece of furniture, or maybe a brick.

Speaking of tying creatures to furniture, Malko has officially reached the Dangerously Mobile stage, zooming around the house in his walker like a pygmy on speed, uncannily honing in on the interesting stuff--electrical outlets, plastic bags, knives--with an obvious lust for adventure, making his parents resort to increasingly desperate safety tactics. For a while, my favorite tactic was looping a dog leash around the couch/bed/table leg and then attaching the walker to it, but the occupant of the walker quickly understood he was being confined and retaliated with a scream that was not cute in any conceivable way. Since tying him up is no longer an option and we don't yet have any of those electrical outlet covers, we've been finding ways to cover up the exposed outlets, leaving nearby drawers wide open and arranging suitcases just so.

Although we'll continue Malko-proofing the house as best as we can, in two weeks we're going to Texas to visit Joedy's family and to renew our Costa Rican tourist visas, and when we come back we'll be moving into a new house, one that's not as expensive (hopefully) during the tourist season. Our bike ride this afternoon was to look at a house I'd noticed for rent--it was bigger and more secure-looking than the last one I found, which we decided not to take--but unfortunately it'd already been rented. We'll have to look hard these next two weeks to find a place, since the pets and all our stuff will need to stay there while we're gone, and though I'm excited about the next house, about starting a new chapter in our Costa Rica story, I know I'll miss this house--it's been a wonderful little home, and we'll have lots of good memories of it.

I'm really looking forward to going to Texas, but I'm pretty sure every day I'll be thinking about Samara, wondering what our new friends here are up to, wondering if it's hot or rainy, wondering if the cute brown horse in the field near Lula's school has had her foal. Will the green parrots still be squabbling over fruit in that tree? I already can't wait to find out.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Last night we walked to the little grocery store down the street. It was dark out (the sun sets at 5:30 year-round here) and there was a storm way off in the distance--we could see flashes of lightning, but it was too far away to hear the thunder.

The lightning was almost constant, literally happening at least every few seconds during the whole walk/shopping event, and it continued after we got home and then later. We heard thunder close to midnight, but the storm never got very close. I was kind of glad, because the intensity of the lightning (it lit up the whole sky) made it clear it was a big storm, and the last thing I wanted was to start worrying about the roof blowing off or someone getting struck by lightning.

It's actually been a very mild "winter" for this part of Costa Rica, apparently. October is usually a month-long deluge, but we've had moderate rain even by my standards, and I'm coming from Southern California. It sounds like it's global-warming induced--who'd have guessed?--and that it means a probable drought during the dry season (January-April). We've been advised to find a house with a well so when the water gets cut off we won't have to drink from malaria-infested puddles! Yay, adventure--it's SO much FUN!

I have to admit to a little giddiness happening right now. I don't really know why it's happening, except that I did sample some more of the local dried herbs (they were sprinkled on my pizza) and they were WONderful! Also, I just went for a walk in the rain. And, I don't know, we discovered the bakery truck! Which has donuts AND German rye bread! And is driven by a German baker from Liberia, which is almost two hours away! We also "do" the fruit and vegetable truck, and there's something unbelievably fun about climbing into the back of a truck to choose carrots that have just been picked. Plucked?

Another thing--the most important thing--that's making me happy right now is the Costa Ricans. They really do seem unusually happy, peaceful, and relaxed. The word "benign" keeps coming to mind--I keep thinking how nonthreatening people seem, in the best possible sense. One thing Joedy and I've noticed--we're maybe biased because we live next to a forest--is that there's less yelling here than we're used to. We haven't heard many (if any) parents yelling at their kids, or at one another--arguments are whispered, I guess. The other morning I woke up on the wrong side of bed (the smooshed cockroach side) and got very annoyed with Lula and almost followed through on my threats to spank her. Later I realized that this time last year I was giving a lot of spankings*, and it was not great. I realize I don't have a job to get up and go to, and that means I'm a lot less stressed about time, but I can't help thinking there's something else to it too--maybe it's all the greenery and high-grade oxygen?

Maybe it's that, or maybe it's that the Costa Ricans don't have an army. Whatever it is, I think--I hope!--it's had an effect on me too, and that I'll be mellow from now on instead of passive-aggressive**. That would be good for my surrounding environment, and would mean, I think, I'm headed in the right direction.

*my informant says I didn't give that many spankings

**and that I'm not actually passive-aggressive


Friday, October 16, 2009

Last Saturday I spent the whole day convinced I was dying. Since I'm superstitious I'm not going to say what I thought I was dying of, but I will say that there were two ailments involved and that my supposed imminent death revealed what I thought to be the meaning of my life.

By afternoon I was so freaked out I went to the pharmacy to, hopefully, buy some Xanax. Some Vicodin or Percocet, or heck, even Valium, would have been fine too--I just wanted something to quiet, for a little while, the voice of doom that loudly confirmed everything I saw, heard, and thought as a sign my end was near. The "mortality worries" had been going full-force since Joedy left for California, and it was getting out of control: I was getting out of control. On some weirdly rational level I knew my worrying had to do with Joedy's being gone, and although I was convinced my remaining days were few I was also aware that all was not quite right "up there": I knew my worrying had become obsessive, and I was starting to worry about it.

I'd been to the pharmacy before, and I recognized the young woman behind the counter. Although I'd heard painkillers could be bought without a prescription in Costa Rica, I didn't know about anti-anxiety medicine. The pharmacist, who'd discreetly sold me something for an embarrassing problem a few weeks ago, smiled gently. She seemed trustworthy. "Hola," I said, "tienes qualcosa...para el anxioso? La panica? Como...Xanax?"

"Para usted?" she asked, looking at me carefully. I could tell she was wondering what was wrong with me, and although I hadn't yet told anyone that I was dying and it made me a little bit jittery, I knew I needed to give her a reason. "Si, para mi. Soy anxioso por que soy possible...inferma."

Spoken aloud, the words sounded so dumb and melodramatic I could hardly keep my own eyes from rolling, and when she came back with three tan pills in a purple and silver package decorated with flowers I felt both sheepish and disappointed. Just voicing my fears made them seem less serious, and anyway I wanted a bottleful of pills, thank you very much, not just three. These pills looked so...healthy. Like vitamins. Nothing so benign-looking was going to work the right magic on my frayed and frazzled nerves--nothing without a good kick was going to set me in the right direction--so when it turned out the pills weren't breastfeeding-friendly I was kind of relieved.

Leaving the pharmacy--Malko wobbling around in his seat behind me and Lula talking nonstop on her bike beside me--I thought how crazy I must have seemed to the pharmacist. Tan, slinging a baby around on one hip, I'm sure I didn't look sick--I probably looked pretty fucking healthy. Riding up the hill towards home, soothed by the kindness in the pharmacist's manner and by the fact that, well, she'd taken me seriously, I started to see the humor in the situation: I was sick, all right, in the head. I felt silly, and that was a relief: my problems weren't so big after all. When I spoke to my best friend later and learned she had both viral laryngitis and pneumonia and was going to the hospital, for god's sake, I felt even sillier...

Joedy came home the next day, and the morbid dreams I'd been having stopped. I stopped examining my skin for strange bumps and analyzing the tingling sensation in my hands when I put them over my head. I stopped thinking about death, my death, and started housecleaning. In twenty-four hours I de-stained, washed, and folded three loads of laundry, scrubbed both bathrooms, color-coded the contents of the fridge, and put a plate of strawberries out in the sun to ripen. I wasn't really worried about my health anymore, and life overall seemed manageable and good, even wonderful.

We saw the ants the next morning--big and black, with spidery legs and a stinging bite, they swarmed all over the back yard in lines three inches deep. Although they looked scary and their bite hurt, they were described by our neighbors as a natural cleansing phenomenon that eliminated rot and decay, a sort of physical purging of the environment. It was best to leave them alone while they "cleaned up," but for all their skittery creepiness--there were so many of them!--they were harmless.

It was easy leaving the ants alone when they were outside, but when they started wandering into the house, threatening a mass invasion and maybe a little too much help with the housecleaning, we bought some ant poison. Joedy sprayed it carefully--we didn't want them to go berserk--and in a few hours it seemed like they'd left. There were no more in the back yard or on the patio. They weren't climbing on the trash can or creating a pretty black ring around the pool. We praised the can of ant poison, and then we saw them on our bedroom window.

Luckily, we have screens, so the hundreds--thousands--of ants that ran past our windows couldn't get in, but we moved Malko's play pen to the other side of the room anyway, and we've been shaking clothes out, and swatting ourselves, compulsively since. After purging our windows of rot and decay the ants tackled the empty upstairs apartment, climbing the outside wall in a dark upwards-moving river. Watching them gave me the shivers, but there was something in their purposefulness that was comforting, too, and when they finally left I kind of missed them. Sorting laundry outside by the washing machine, I thought about the ants and how important it is to purge and clean, to let go of the old, the sick, and the dead--to clear out all the junk and move on.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Recently I was asked what it is I like about Costa Rica. I was stumped. I wanted to say, "that I can wear flip-flops all the time," but that seemed lame, unthought-out, and underappreciative. I knew I should be saying more--something about the seven ecosystems or the charming bakeries--but I didn't care. I didn't care enough to put the mental energy into it.

A few hours earlier I'd been woken from a nap by someone telling me they had "to go caca." I wasn't actually asleep yet, just hovering in that delicious pre-sleep floating place, that blissful, overly-tired zone that's only accessible when one's esposo goes to another country, leaving one solo with a teething baby, a five-year-old, a cat who will not ever fucking stop asking for fucking food, a dog who emits clouds of fur when she blinks, and another dog whose breath smells exactly like the other dog's ass (I know, because I saw it happen). Only after living alone with those five entities can one reach the level of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that permits one to...

lie down, head on the wrinkled sheet. grasp baby's foot with one hand (even though baby is asleep). note presence of other child on its bed, reading. close eyes. briefly think about the fact that esposo missed his flight and will not be coming home for a whole other day, but then...drift.

I drifted for a few minutes, I think, and it was wonderful. When I felt the finger tapping on my forehead, a few too many times than was absolutely necessary, I didn't even mind it too much. But when I became totally awake, when I saw the hot tropical sun shining on the curtains and realized I'd been woken from a nap--goddammit!--only to be told that someone had to go caca it seemed so un...something. Unacceptable. Unright. Unfair--very, very unfair.

So when later I was asked what I like about Costa Rica, what I really wanted to talk about was naps. How much I like them. How much I just wanted one of them right now. I knew, though, it was pointless: I wasn't going to rest until mi esposo came home. A day later than planned. Good god.

When he did come home the next afternoon I didn't slash his rental car's tires--I went for a bike ride. The air was cooler than usual, the sun going in and out behind the clouds. I rode past Lula's school and saw a bunch of beautiful white birds sitting in a tree in the middle of a marsh. I bought a bottle of water at a pulperia I'd never been to before, almost speaking in coherent Spanish with the cashier, and rode to the spot where we saw monkeys. On the way there, an old man wearing an elegant shirt smiled at me, and I saw a particularly cute horse in the big field by the school. Near the monkey spot, I noticed a house for rent. I met the owner and saw the inside of the house. It was charming, with big windows, high ceilings, and a bunk bed in the kids' room. I rode home, totally excited to tell mi esposo, and when I saw how tired he was I took the insane moving baby from him and didn't feel resentful about the whole extra day of solo parenting.

Today we looked at the house together, and then we drove to Nosara, a town thirty kilometers away. The drive was beautiful, all fields, trees, and hills, and although I had a beer in my hand and it made me happy it was also the thought of the little house's big windows, the cute horse in the field, and the smiling old man that made me happy. It was the fact that the color green weaves in and out of everything here in Costa Rica, that there are no strip malls, and that people greet each other with words about life. More than anything it was the fact that I'm here--that I'm able to be here--experiencing all this.

It was those things, I realized, that make me happy, those things I like about Costa Rica, but taking a sip of my Imperial I realized there was one more thing: being able to wear flip-flops. My feet have been living pura vida since we got here.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Joedy left Tuesday to go to Santa Barbara, and I have to say it's been a little difficult being here without him. I was really, really nervous before he left, imagining Lula or Malko getting hurt, imagining a tsunami, a fire, boa constrictors, etc., but more than any precise worry it was the idea of him being so many miles away. If something did happen here, he couldn't exactly hop over, and what if something happened to him? How would I know?

Although apparently there really are boas lurking in the bushes in this part of Costa Rica, it's Malko who wins the prize for being Most Difficult Thing To Deal With since Joedy's been gone. Except for when he's asleep, all twenty pounds of Malko's Sumo-wrestler body are constantly wiggling, grabbing, sliding, and flailing--just holding him requires one's full attention and the dexterity of a gymnast. Recently he discovered a new pastime: night crawling. After waking me up for the eighth time to "nurse" (more like "bite" and "chew"), he'll decide to practice horizontal movement. Usually I'm half asleep by then, clinging to one of his chubby feet to keep him on the bed, and the banging sound I'll hear is his head against the wooden headboard. It wouldn't be nice to say I've wished he'd just knock himself out, but night after night of crappy sleep has made some odd thoughts cross my mind. Although I'm the one who breastfeeds Malko, the lifting of the fat heavy child from his crib, the positioning, the restraining, and the muttered swearing are done equally by Joedy, and at the very least I've missed him these last few days for the bleary looks we give each other while the coffee drips and while Malko, finally tired, sleeps in the middle of our bed.

Tuesday afternoon I squeezed Malko into his bike chair and gave Lula a push on her own little blue bike, and we rode from the carneceria, to the store that has Danish butter, to the store that has diapers, to the store that has cat food. By the time we'd gotten everything, my bike had a bag in the basket and two more dangling from the handlebars, and pedaling all that weight while monitoring Lula ("Stay on the side on the road, Lula. The side! Stop talking! Watch where you're--oh my god--going!") and while reaching back to keep Malko's head from wobbling was hard enough. When we saw the tiny kitten curled up by the side of the road, its eyes closed shut with crust and goo, my mothering instincts should have said "Enough!" But the kitten looked abandoned, just a lump of bones and fur next to a pile of trash, and when I picked it up and heard its pathetic meow I thought maybe, maybe we could save it.

I wrapped the kitten in Malko's burp cloth and put it in my basket. Although it wasn't far to the pet store, where we got advice, and the pharmacy, where we got eye drops, riding my bike was made more challenging by the fact that the kitten kept trying to climb out. I'd glance back at Malko to make sure his head was okay, and then I'd hear Lula scream, and then I'd see the small furry body dangling from the rim of the basket, and then--jesus!--I'd reach forward to save the cat, running through a deep muddy puddle and looking, I'm sure, totally ridiculous. Needless to say, it was a relief to get home.

I fed the kitten some milk with an eye dropper and cleaned its eyes, and was encouraged to see it walk around a little. It kept coming up to me and nestling between my body and the couch, and when Diablo licked its ears it raised its head, wondering maybe if this fuzzy animal with terrible breath was its mother. The kitten slept in the bathroom that night, beneath a shelf that created a cozy dark space, and it looked cute in there, curled up next to Lula's stuffed tiger. In the morning I cleaned its eyes and fed it again, and though its eyes were open now they still looked strange--bulbous, and a matte grey-blue color that made me wonder if it was blind. It seemed like it could hear and smell, but I couldn't tell if it could see. By the end of the day its eyes were still swollen and watery, and although it had drunk some milk it was still so weak and small, so sick and obviously in need of its mother, that I started seriously wondering how long it would live.

This morning, Lula asked if she could go look at the kitten in the bathroom, and when I heard her say "Maman, the little cat's not moving," my heart sank. When I saw it, I could tell it was dead--its body was stretched out, its mouth open--so I closed the bathroom door and prepared myself for Lula's reaction. When I told her it had died, she first protested and then began to cry, saying how much she loved it and how much she wanted it to be alive. It was sad seeing her so upset, and while I hugged her I decided I'm going to have to be a little more thick-skinned in Costa Rica: we'll probably see many, many more animals in need of a home, but we won't be able to take them all...

Lula stayed home from school and we spent the day drawing and watching a movie about a fox. She was fine by this afternoon, but she mentioned a few times that she couldn't wait for Joedy to come home. Grabbing pencils out of Malko's mouth, sweeping up dog hair, and thinking about the little cat who'd briefly been part of our family, I couldn't wait for Joedy to come home too.


Friday, October 2, 2009

It's probably a bad idea, seeing as I just sampled some of the local dried herbs, but I thought I'd write a little so my reader, that unidentified person in Kingsfolksshire, wouldn't worry the cocodrilos finally got me.

This is the end of Lula's third week at the Samara Pacific School. The school was begun two years ago by a Costa Rican/German woman named Nicole, and although it's a small school (twelve students), it truly seems quality: the kids do "work" (letter and number practice, mostly) every day and there's art everywhere--a stained glass window, a mural, ceramic bugs the students shaped and painted, and color, color, color. Lula goes in the morning from 7:30 to 11:30 and then in the afternoon from 2 to 4, and already she's fallen in love with her teachers (Hillary, Nicole's assistant, is from Maine) and her classmates. Instruction is in Spanish and English, and when Lula comes home she "speaks" in Spanish incessantly. It's clear she's happy and excited about learning another language, and it's amazing to see how quickly she's taking to it.

The other day something cool happened: I got a bike. It's an "altered" (it can't have bicyclebabies) beach cruiser, blood red, with a basket and child seat. The basket and child seat diminish the bike's overall toughocity a little, but when I ride it I remind myself that I have a five-inch, two-time scar to dispell any (self-inflicted) accusations of fragile femininity. The bike--I call it Rojo--is actually pretty groovy, and thanks to the added gears and hand brakes I've been enjoying riding around town, picking up Lula and getting groceries. Yesterday Joedy, Malko, and I went for a morning ride on one of the many country roads around here, and I think it will go down as one of the best bike rides of my life. I feel like a 5-year-old saying this, but there's something about a winding dirt road and a bike! A beautiful red bike! that's just, like, pure heaven. Pedaling along, the sun flickering through the trees and the warm smell of greenery all around you, you're so happy you can't stop taking pictures of everything: your husband in front of you, that yellow bridge, that blue house.

You want your reader in Kingsporknham to know it's not all bad here--it's actually kind of nice--and if he/she is still thinking about visiting then he/she should hurry up and look at tickets. Costa Rica's country roads are beautiful, it's true, and you want to share them, but rattling along on Rojo you realized that part of their appeal is their uncertainty: you don't know where they lead to, you don't know when you'll find out. The grass is green here, greener than lots of places, but grass, after all, isn't everything.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monday night, flames searing my body from the previous day's attempt at riding Roja (no es un caballo--es una muchacha), I filled Malko's yellow plastic tub with hot water and climbed in. When I leaned back the water rose to my neck, and I felt the soreness beginning to fade. I had a nice, long soak--I even did a little snorkeling--and when I finally got out I was refreshed and revivified. My bruised and battered limbs didn't hurt anymore, and as I dried off I sang a song, in fluent Spanish, about the transcendental powers of yellow plastic bathtubs.

Or that's what I imagined myself doing, anyway, as I stood in the cold shower, post-bath. In reality, only about 6% of my body fit in the small contoured space at a time, and after submerging different areas--my legs, my torso, my head--in a futile effort to re-create a "normal bathing experience," the water, which had only been warm to start with, became tepid and then cold. Eventually I gave up the ridiculous contortions and just sat there, hugging my knees, feeling disgusted with Costa Rica's insistence on (cold) showers and feeling sorry for myself. All I wanted was a hot bath--was that too much to ask for? I didn't need one often. Not every day, not even every week: just now and then, after Roja kicked my ass or when I was depressed.

The day had been unusually upsetting. When I woke up I was literally unable to move, I was so sore, and although a handful of aspirin eased the pain I still felt exhausted. My throat hurt, and I wondered if the body aches were partly due to the flu--the swine flu, that is, which I was obviously coming down with, along with malaria, dengue fever, and rickets. I was sick, and I was going to die. In Costa Rica, far from home. I'd be taken to a hospital and, since I don't speak Spanish, I wouldn't be able to ask for the menu. I'd have to eat whatever they served me--beans and rice, probably, maybe with fried chicken. Which actually didn't sound too bad. But still--how would I ask them to turn off the TV? Those Latin American music videos were so weird. So melodramatic and dumb. And all in Spanish, of course.

Spanish. I didn't care about learning it anymore. Nor, for that matter, did I want to have anything more to do with Costa Rica: I didn't want to eat the overpriced peanut butter or the bland, watery avocados, the disturbingly yellow butter, or the overly salty (and freakishly large-curd) cottage cheese. I didn't want to live with toilets you can't put toilet paper in, start sweating the minute I walked away from a fan, or swim in water of questionable safety (cleanliness, current, crocodiles). I didn't want to share my home with ants and geckos, obsess about the distance to a decent hospital, or make new friends. I didn't want to learn to love this country, its ways, and its people; I didn't need a new world, a new reality, or a new life. "Adventure" and "new experiences" suddenly just looked like a lot of hardship and uncertainty: at thirty-five, with a husband and two kids, what need did I have for those things? I'd already been through a lot, lived a lot. And normal daily life, with the ups and downs of marriage, childraising, and work, was turbulent enough. It was hard enough, it was scary enough. Who in their right mind would willingly take on more craziness? Only a fool. Only an crazy person.

The day dragged on--Joedy picked Lula up from school, I tried to lift Malko (my pathetic arms couldn't handle the weight), I fell back into bed, Joedy made dinner, I took more aspirin--and I decided to take a bath. It seemed like a good idea, but I wasn't thinking straight, obviously. In the end it just made me feel more like a loser. Sitting in the cold water, the words "reckless," "folly," and "unfit parent" running through my mind, it hit me that in the month since we'd been in Costa Rica things hadn't felt quite right. A feeling of dissatisfaction had been lurking on the edge of my consciousness, and though I tried to ignore it, to pass it off as temporary, I knew it wouldn't go away. As much as I might enjoy myself here--and I'd enjoyed myself a lot already, it was true--the thought of forcing a happy situation from one that didn't feel natural and right seemed pointless at best. If being surrounded by strangeness made us crave familiarity--Trader Joe's, 24-hour drugstores, streets with clearly marked names, friends, and family--what sense did it make to stay?

I stood up and turned on the shower. The sound of the running water was good because it disguised another sound--one triggered by my sadness and my relief, my huge relief, that someday soon I might take a real bath again.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today Malko turned six months old. He began celebrating early, well before dawn, with his favorite drink: milk, straight up. While he drank, his eyes rolled back in his head and the milk dribbled down his chin. When he was done, he burped and smiled.

His mother fell back asleep and after sucking on her ear for a while he practiced crawling. His sister, who was supposed to be watching him, was distracted by breakfast, so he crawled unobserved to the edge of the bed and right off it, landing on the tile floor. He cried a little, but stopped as soon as his father picked him up, and when he was placed in his walker the celebrating began again.

"A-da a-da a-da," he said, "a-ya a-ya a-ya!" He threw his arms up over his head and brought them down, hard, on the tambourine his sister had put on the walker's plastic tray. The tambourine jangled loudly and his sister laughed. The noise woke his mother, and she stumbled from the bedroom, one arm outstretched for a cup of coffee. She joined his father at the kitchen table and they watched him, careening around the room in a diaper and knee-high socks.

Mid-morning, Malko went to the beach. After sampling both wet and dry sand and his hat, he rubbed his eyes, yawned, and passed out on a towel. He slept there in the shade of the palm trees while people around him cracked open coconuts. He slept through the horses that went trotting by and the sound of the incoming tide, and when he started to stir his mother lifted him up. Still half asleep, he blinked, stretched his legs, and stuck out his tongue. He looked creamy and delicious, like a little suckling pig.

The party picked up back at the house. He went skinny-dipping and did some Extreme Splashing in the pool, and then he sidled up to the wet bar and guzzled to his heart's content. When he was done, he looked at things--at the green leaves and red flowers, the blue water, his sister's shiny black shorts--and he listened to things--his father yelling at the dogs, a truck rolling by, his mother humming Happy Birthday. He swung in the hammock and was offered a taste of watermelon and then white chocolate. When his grandparents called, Malko was at the very top of a wave of happiness; when the wave began to crumble, a warm bath was waiting.

He wasn't done celebrating: he reached out his hand to touch the running water and pulled himself up on the side of the bathtub. When he slipped and fell, landing on his back in the water, his mother took advantage of it and washed his hair. She washed the creases behind his knees and between his tiny toes, and then she wrapped him up in a towel and carried him to the bed. She managed to dry him and put his diaper on, but his sister came and lay down beside him. Malko felt the warmth of her body and closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep.


Monday, September 14, 2009

A few days ago we went to the beach early, before the clouds came in from the mountains. It was a hot and windless day, and although it was low tide we decided to sit high up on the beach beneath the palm trees, where it was shady and our skin wouldn't burn to a crisp. We had Astrid and Diablo with us, and Joedy and I took turns hanging out with Lula, who was splashing down in the shallow water, and Malko, who was sitting on a towel and doing his damnedest to put fistfuls of sand in his mouth.

There was a bar about twenty feet away, and we decided to get pina coladas. I walked up to the bar, ordered the drinks, and sat on a wooden stool to wait, gazing at the water and palm fronds in the distance.

"I'm in heaven," I thought, but things became even more divine when the pina coladas were in front of me: the glasses were tall, frosty, and had big pieces of pineapple on them; I closed my eyes when I tasted the rum, and kept them closed a while longer.

I paid and walked back to where Joedy, Lula, and Malko were sitting. There weren't many other people on the beach, and we watched a group of horses being led through the warm tide pools the waves had left behind. Astrid ambled down to the water, no doubt plotting to ambush the four-legged creatures whose poop she devours enthusiastically. When I heard her barking, I looked in the direction of the horses, but they were unperturbed. It took me a second to find my bouncing, barking dog and another second to see the reason for her barking: a black lumpy object washing in on the waves.

From where we sat it looked medium-sized, bigger than Diablo but smaller than Astrid, and it looked, well, hairy. Its copious dark fur lifted and fell with the movement of the water, long thick strands extending and retreating strangely, and it wasn't till Joedy got closer and mouthed the word "monkey" that I understood that the long strands of fur were actually arms, legs, and a tail. "I can't see the head," Joedy yelled to me, and in between thoughts of contaminated water and disease I wondered what had happened to the monkey's head. Had someone shot it? Had something eaten it? It was disturbing to think that body was missing such an important, defining piece, and the sight of the monkey, now just a soggy, limp mass half-dragging against the grey sand, turned my thoughts to other things--things I try hard not to think about.

The sky was darkening, the afternoon thunderclouds suddenly thick and gloomy above the palm trees, and I stood up, waving to Joedy. The buzz from the pina colada had faded as quickly as it had come on, and the dead monkey and the flashes of lightning in the distance made me want to leave the beach immediately. Rain would be falling soon, and although the walk home wasn't long I didn't want Malko or Lula getting wet and catching cold; listening to Malko cough the last few days had been worrisome enough. I lifted a towel to shake it out, and saw the first set of black wings stretched out against the cloudy sky: gliding effortlessly, its small head bent to peer at the monkey corpse now lying flat and vulnerable on the beach, the buzzard banked, swooped closer, and landed in a graceful slow-motion arc. Hopping closer to the body, it leaned forward and began to peck at it, and suddenly there were buzzards everywhere. 

They had materialized, it seemed, from the sand, from the water, from the air, and from the trees; they huddled around the monkey in a shifting black group, all stiff shoulders and gleaming eyes, and still more--tens, hundreds, thousands, I thought--circled above our heads, craning for a better look at what lay on the beach. With the shadowy presence of the flesh-eating birds and the storm clouds that hung down heavy and low, the scene on the beach had become as funereal and grim as it had, seconds before, been carefree and light. Eerily silent and uncannily swift (how had they known?), the buzzards continued to fly in from nowhere. Their long black shapes hovered ominously overhead, and the hungry group around the carcass hunkered and jostled, vying for a chance at the small furry body.

Maybe it was the buzzards' silence, maybe it was their size and number, or maybe it was the thought of the monkey's body, not long ago warm and full of life, that scared me--I don't know. I just wanted to be home and safe. I took Lula's hand and pressed Malko's little body against mine; walking home, Joedy and the dogs a few steps behind us, I thought about all those things I try hard not to think about: illness, accidents, earthquakes, tsunamis. I couldn't not think about them, because they were everywhere, and for a long time--until the rain stopped and the clouds lifted--it stayed that way.

The long dark wings stretched out and glided, banked and swooped. The buzzards, I'm afraid, will never be far away.


Monday, September 7, 2009

After all these years, I still don't know what it is about horses I love so much. Of course, they're animals, and I love animals, but there's something else about them, something that makes me catch my breath and sends little sparkles into my veins, something that pulls at me in a deep, instinctual way that's tempting to interpret as having to do with past lives or totem animals or higher meaning.

When I was young, I half-believed I was a modern reincarnation of Joan of Arc. We share the same birthday, and her strength, bravery, and non-girliness appealed to me, a scruffy tomboy with dreams of grandiosity and a distinct inclination (I thought) towards martyrdom. Joan of Arc was a soldier with an army of devoted followers, and after beating the bad guys she met a dramatic end that not only failed to snuff out her light but contributed to the staying power of her memory and to her ultimate canonization. Long after the flames died out, she continued to shine; in the minds of so many, she was a true hero and saint.

I became infected with the horse bug before I'd heard about Joan of Arc, but knowledge of her and the parallels, in my mind, of her story with mine (the main points being our shared birthday and the fact that we were both martyrs) cemented my love for the fast, strong creatures she rode into battle and that I dreamed of one day owning. Horses symbolized independence and power and a link to a wildness that couldn't be tamed, and I loved them for those reasons. But I loved them--and still love them--just as much for seemingly less important reasons: because of the way their raggedy forelocks fall down over their flat broad foreheads, because they smell at once warm and sour and sweet, because of the sound their hooves make, and because they have big dark eyes and soft noses. I've thought about it so many times--I've analyzed it inside out and up and down and around and around--but, even with all these reasons, I still don't really understand why I love horses so much. It doesn't make sense, it's not explainable: I just love them.

Before coming to Costa Rica, I'd read that the horses here are smaller than their US cousins. I was nonetheless surprised when I saw some wandering around Samara for the first time. Clustered in driveways to pull at particularly gourmet clumps of grass and sauntering in front of moving cars like they knew perfectly well who owned the place, their look--petite, thin, and a little moth-eaten--and their manner--totally comfortable, but skittish anyway--made me think more of emaciated deer and fleas than proud knights and battlefields. These weren't regal steeds, they were oversized dogs! They looked as close, I thought, to a world of romance and magic as a Barbie Princess sleeping bag. My heart didn't skip a beat when I saw these horses, and none of my childhood horse fantasies (all involving stealing, riding away, and being revered by serfs) cranked up. I was disappointed, to say the least--I thought I'd lost the horse bug because of my ripe old age, because I've "matured" and am no longer susceptible to fantasy, to the whims of the imagination. It was unsettling: who would I be now, if I wasn't partly defined by an obsession with everything equine? Was that it--poof, you turn 35, and you're all of a sudden sensible, unmovable, un-carry-awayable? It sounds silly, but the future really did look a little bleaker, a little greyer. I was definitely perturbed.

On Sunday morning, I walked down to the beach, thinking I'd scope out the horse rental scene even though I was still uninspired. I felt a little sheepish imagining myself climbing on the back of an animal whose legs weren't much longer than mine, but I'd seen some saddled horses tied to palm trees and some much-too-big tourists riding along the water's edge, and I thought, what the hell--I might as well give it a shot.

I found the group of waiting horses and waved to their owner, a boy who looked about fifteen. "Euh...un caballo para rentar, por favor? Si? Para una ora? Great!"

The boy looked around at the horses, gesturing for me to pick one. "Tienes un caballo mas rapido?" I asked. I didn't want to go for a boring stroll, after all--if I was going to ride, I was going to ride!

The boy pointed towards a brown horse, and I walked over to it, stretching out a hand to pet its little nose. I felt like I was petting a rabbit. This horse, fast? Are you kidding me? Oh well, I thought, sighing inside, and placed my foot in the stirrup, lurched into the saddle, and clucked for "Rojo" to head down the beach.

It immediately became clear that I'd worn the wrong bra. Although it's been five months since Malko's birth and since the development of my boobs into industrial-sized lactation devices, I still forget, from time to time, that physical activity beyond lying flat and still requires special garments involving ratcheting and materials designed for space travel. Sports bras like the (threadbare) one I'd put on that morning do as much good, from a containment perspective, as a spider web would do with a bowling ball. As Rojo trotted towards the water, I knew there wouldn't be any "mas rapido'ing" happening on this ride; my bosoms flopped up and down, making my entire shirt lift and fall like that of a grossly over-endowed cartoon character. It was ridiculous, and it was painful. Not to be crass, but my boobs? They were fucked. And Rojo? Rojo wanted to RUN!

Yep, it's true--that pint-sized horse ("just a pony," I'd snobbishly thought a few moments before) was all torque and verve beneath his scrawny coat; he pumped his head in the air and pranced sideways, eliciting a few alarmed "whoah's" from me and making me look, I'm sure, like a very terrible rider. Which was one thing I was sure I wasn't: I took dressage lessons when I was young, and went trail-riding whenever I could, and I've always prided myself on feeling confident and natural on a horse. Here I was, though, bouncing painfully in the saddle, pulling hard on the reins, and, in order to minimize chest-flopping, hunching like a geriatric over the horse's neck. I'd thought Rojo would be an easy horse to ride, but just ten minutes into it and my legs were burning, I was gasping for breath, and I had cramps in three different places. A fast horse? Please--what I needed was a wheelchair.

At one point, I actually got off Rojo ("Hang on, Rojo. Whoah! Wait. WAIT!") and walked with him slowly, calmy, along the shoreline. I put my arm around his short neck and talked to him. He seemed happy, and I thought we were bonding. I stopped and looked into his dark eyes and held his nose in my hands, remembering how much I wanted to do just this--walk alone on a beach with a horse--for my entire youth and my entire life. When I clambered back on, I decided to let Rojo run a little; forcing thoughts of neck injuries and paralysis out of my mind, I tapped his sides with my heels and loosened the reins. He ran! For a few seconds, until I got scared again. Then we slowed down and walked some more.

We walked all the way back (I had to pull on the reins even harder on the way home), and when we got to where the other horses were tied beneath the palm trees I slid off Rojo's back and handed the reins to the boy I'd spoken to earlier. He asked if the ride had gone well, and knowing that he was probably wondering why I hadn't let Rojo run more I answered "si, pero..." and pointed to my back, making a cringing face. I didn't know the word for bra in Spanish, and I thought pointing at my boobs and jumping up and down might send the wrong message.

Leaving the beach, I looked for a place to sit and catch my breath: I was absolutely, pathetically worked from the hour ride. There was a low stone wall close by, so I staggered over to it and sat there, panting and feeling like an idiot. The Costa Rican horses clearly weren't as wimpy as they looked, and I clearly was much less in shape than I'd thought. Holy jesus, I thought, the midday sun beating down on my head, how did Joan of Arc do it without a decent bra?

I limped back up the street towards home, and despite the soreness starting to set in I felt relaxed and happy. More than anything, though, I felt relieved: horses were still there. They were on the beach and in the street, and they were on my mind and in my heart. It had been made clear that I'll never ride like Joan of Arc, but that doesn't matter to me, because the horses are faster and stronger than ever.