Hummers and Hail

We’ve been having a great spring for the past many weeks and David and I have been saying we needed to put out our hummingbird feeder. (Even though the offical “last frost” date is not until mid-May, any sort of hard freeze has seemed unlikely for the past month or two, so we felt pretty safe.) But, being the busy procrastinators that we are, we hadn’t done it yet.

HummingbirdUntil yesterday, when we were sitting at the dining table, eating breakfast. A lone hummingbird came right up to the slider and hovered there, right where the feeder should have been, and stared in at us. There was zero question in our minds that he was inquiring — and was a bit put out to have to be asking! — where his food was. We promptly mixed up some nectar and put the feeder out. There are now two, the early scouts we presume. By summer there will be as many as seven or eight. They’ll eat a vast quantity of sugar over the next five months, but I can’t bring myself to cut it out of the budget. They’re just too special and — clearly! — they’ve come to count on the Brink Restaurant. We keep a dining bar right next to them on the deck where we usually eat breakfast and lunch all summer long and they’re not shy of us at all — in fact they’ll whiz so close to your face you can feel their wings. It’s pretty amazing, and all for the price of a little (well, a lot) of sugar!

After another very easy winter (okay, partially made easy by the generous and repeated loan from our neighbors of their snow blower), we’ve had a spectacular spring. There’s been a good bit more rain than usual, but living in the desert, we won’t complain. Especially since this year we haven’t opened up our sprinkler system, hoping for a new one this season. So every day of rain is several more days we can go without having to turn on the auxiliary water and break out the hoses and sprinklers.

We’ve also had a number of hail storms, including one just the other day that covered the deck with thumbnail-sized balls of hail. One storm came down so fast and furiously that it completely whitened the front yard, just as though it had snowed. Grateful that that’s about the worst of our bad weather here — very little to fear from tornado action, wildfires are a risk but we’ve been lucky (a fact we’re especially grateful for as we watch the devastation in Alberta, Canada going on right now), and only very mild earthquake action. We get some wind now and then which the locals complain about, but having experienced six “windy seasons” in Costa Rica, we hardly even notice.  ;-)


Our sleeping tent, complete with full height queen sized mattress inside. Luxurious!

Spring also brings our now “regular” (having done it two years in a row) spring camping trip with the kids, last year to Moab, this year to Goblin Valley area. We’ve developed quite the tent complex, with a large “instant” tent for sleeping, another off to the side for a potty, and still another large screen house for kitchen/dining. It was great fun to watch the kids all play together — delighted to be scrabbling around in the sand, climbing the nearby rocks, hiking, and just being outdoors. We old folks took it pretty easy, although we were able to take advantage of now having a 4-wheel-drive SUV and could participate in a great off-road drive in convoy with the others to see some wild and fascinating terrain.

PrancingPonyBWBackgroundSpring also brings Avila’s ballet recital. The ballet this year was “Americana” and she was a prancing pony. It was great fun, as always, and the show was impressive, as always. Avila’s other grandma (Nana) Kate is co-owner of the ballet studio and they do an amazing job with several hundred children each year. At only 5, this is Avila’s third year on-stage, and she clearly loves it. We saw a lot of improvement in her skill-level this year, too. Of course, the dances that always bring down the house are the youngest kids — the class she was in two years ago. They’re all fun to watch!

Henry was here!

Henry was here!

At seventeen months, Henry continues to grow and change. He’s gone from walking to running and it looks like he may follow in Avila’s footsteps and run everywhere. New words are starting to pop up regularly and he’s developing a rather definite mind of his own. He adores his Poppy (as does Avila) which is a great help on the days we take care of the kids — I often can get in some good work time while they play with Poppy. The biggest downside of this is the sheer havoc they wreak on the house. Avila is better (with some guidance) about picking up after herself, but Henry’s still in the destruction phase. Ah well, if that’s the worst life is throwing at us, then we’re pretty blessed!

We did have one bit of sadness this spring, as many of you know, when we finally lost GrisGris. He was a fiercely loyal dog and is deeply missed.  Avila helped Poppy mark his grave, and still offers up a toast to him every so often with her milk glass at lunch. For her first real introduction to death, she got a real dose of it since her Nana lost her beloved dog Riley as well, right around the same time. But Nana has a new puppy, Molly, just this past week, and we’ll be adding a couple of kittens to our household during this next month, so the circle of life goes on.

What’s going on in your world this spring?




Posted in Life in the U.S. | 8 Comments

Reflections Four Years In

It almost seems hard to believe that we’ve been back in the U.S. for four years now. (Four years and four days, if anyone’s actually counting.) In some ways our Costa Rica time seems distant, like a dream you sort-of remember but that’s a bit fuzzy at the same time. In other ways it seems impossible that it was almost ten years ago that we moved down there and we’re now in our 5th year back, it all still feels so “recent.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, any deep thoughts now that we’ve been back for a while?

One, just to be clear right off the bat, we are 100% glad that we moved to Costa Rica. We had wonderful experiences and truly not many bad ones. We made many friends, we did interesting things, we got up every day and marveled at the beautiful place we lived.


Orion the therapy dog visiting David in the hospital

So, why are we also 100% (maybe 110%) glad to be back in the States? Most of the reasons, even now — or perhaps especially now, after four years back — can be ticked off on the plus column for things here rather than the negative column for things there. That is, family and medical care count enormously.

David has now had several cutting edge heart procedures here that have vastly improved his quality of life, probably his longevity, and certainly his ability to enjoy those darling grandchildren! The care he’s gotten has truly been top notch and at a level so far above what would have been possible in Costa Rica, it sometimes takes our breath away.

Those grandchildren, of course, are the biggest reason we love being back. (I always feel a bit bad when I rave about how wonderful the grandkids are, as though Jennifer and Larry might be in the background saying, “What are we, chopped liver?!?” So let me also say what a delight it’s been to see the big-kids regularly too! And even Collin and Katy, albeit cross-country, seem closer than when we were in Costa Rica.)

GrandmaAndHenryI knew women who just couldn’t wait to be grandmas, but it really had simply never been on my radar screen. No “negative” attached to it, just not much thought about it at all. But this grandma sure does enjoy her time with those two darlings and what’s been almost better to see is how David (now mostly just referred to as Poppy) has blossomed into his role as grandfather. And he’s really great at it, too, other than the a-bit-too-frequent expletives that seem to fall out of his mouth. (Not at the kids, of course, but around them causing Avila to spout a little trial cussing of her own recently!)

Ironically, we’re all too aware that one of the completely un-imagined benefits of our having moved to Costa Rica is that we DO live here now. We’ve realized that had we never moved to Costa Rica, we probably would not have felt able to move here — probably would never have even considered it.

While the move to CR didn’t give me the actual “early retirement” we’d imagined (since, as we’ve noted many times before it is not as cheap to live there as we’d believed), it did give me a work freedom that I’d never had before. I’m now a published author with two books out and another to be finished soon. I work from home, giving me the geographical freedom to live here and the work-hour flexibility to be able to take care of the grandkids half of the week. If I were still just slogging along in a traditional job in Maine (had we not made the CR move) none of that would have likely been true.

Beyond those two major reasons to love being here, there continue to be “appreciations” that I just don’t think we would have had if we hadn’t had that 5+ years in Costa Rica. Even now, even as we enter our fifth year back, I still convert almost every grocery bill to colones and marvel at the variety and quality of food I got for such a good price. (Now, of course, there is also very expensive food available here, but the good news is there’s such a huge range of options that with some smart shopping, you can get great quality food for good prices.)

We continue to be amazed at the sheer “ease” of living here. The swift, efficient manner in which almost anything gets done. Less than an hour (including driving time) to register your car vs. many hours, possibly multiple days in Costa Rica. Same with getting/renewing your driver’s license, buying insurance, getting a doctor’s appointment, having some kind of repair work done at your home, doing almost anything.

Interestingly, we didn’t really mind how long all that stuff took in CR — at least for a few years. But it eventually becomes wearing which is evident by the fact that we continue to genuinely appreciate the ease here even after several years.

And that leads me to my final “reflection” — watching our own process, as well as those who returned before and the many who have returned since — I have come to believe that most folks simply are not wanting to be expatriates forever. For some years, as a great life experience, absolutely yes. Forever and ever, probably not.

Of course some will and that’s great. It’s not a contest. But we continue to see people who — like us — assumed and even staunchly defended the notion that they would be the ones to stay forever make the decision to move back to the States (or Canada or England or wherever their “home country” was). I don’t think that indicates there’s something wrong with living in Costa Rica but rather something “wrong” with the idea that most people want to live out their days in what will forever be an unfamiliar and different place.

I also don’t think it indicates something that is unique to Costa Rica. While I just don’t have the same first-hand knowledge of expats in other countries, I absolutely believe that the same situation exists with expats everywhere. Some will stay in their new country, many will return home, and hopefully most — like us — will have felt that the years abroad were worthwhile even if, perhaps, in the end — just as Dorothy proclaimed — there’s no place like home.

Remember to comment. I *heart* comments! And if you’re an ex-expat too, how do you feel about being back? If you’re an ex-pat on your way to becoming an ex-expat, are there things you’re looking forward to when you get back? (And if you just want to say “hi” that’s totally allowed too, appreciated even!!)

And, just for fun, we’ll close with some pictures of things we love about living here!

Henry does love to eat!

Henry does love to eat!

Avila so proudly learning to sew and mend the stuffed animals (wearing her "Doc Avila" lab coat!)

Avila so proudly learning to sew and mend the stuffed animals (wearing her “Doc Avila” lab coat!)


It's a beautiful state. Incredible sights on a fall drive around the Nebo Loop

Incredible sights on a fall drive around the Nebo Loop


And more beauty on Nebo Loop

And more beauty on Nebo Loop

Posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Health and Medical, Life in the U.S., Moving back to the U.S. | 18 Comments

Start ‘em young

Says Avila (as her mom arrives to take the kids home at the end of the day), “Do we have to leave now? Can’t I stay and shovel some more?”


The kid is just too much.

(And, seriously, she’s a good shoveler. When I went out in the late afternoon to clear away the snow-hump at the driveway, where the snow-plow had gone past and shoved the snow into a mound at the entrance to the drive, she shoveled a path from the house, out across the front walk, down the driveway, to where I was, “so we’d have a way to get back to the house” as she explained. )


Posted in Life in the U.S. | 4 Comments

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

(Does anyone read that line without hearing it in their head as the song?! Now that I’ve written it down it’ll be playing over and over in my head for the rest of the day, I’m sure!)

We had a long, warm fall, and only a couple of minimal dustings of snow, so we don’t really feel like winter has settled in yet. But that seems about to change overnight, with the potential of waking up to 5 or 6 inches of snow. We’re ready — we want a white Christmas and last year cut it a bit close with the snow only arriving on Christmas eve!

ChristmasTreeBut, snow or not, we’ve got our tree up — sparkling with colored lights this year rather than white for the first time in probably thirty years! — and more lights tracing the deck rail all around the house, so we’re feeling Christmas-y finally.

Chris and Louise brought a gingerbread village kit for Avila right at the beginning of the month, so we gals had a great time building and decorating multiple buildings. We had some technical challenges and I don’t think we met building code, but it was fun!

Last year we had trouble keeping GrisGris from jumping up, trying to get at the gingerbread house, but his age has caught up with him and he’s moving pretty slowly these days. One of the few benefits of that is that the village is now safe on the piano where we get to enjoy it!

We’ve collectively agreed to keep the Christmas shopping substantially reined in this year, but it’s still fun to find the few gifts we are giving and this week will hopefully see it all wrapped up — figuratively and literally! — and we’re anticipating having a low-key, delightful holiday.

BrideAndGroomCollin and new wife Katy will be here, so we’re looking forward to that. Hurricane Joaquin arrived the same weekend in October as their Bald Head Island (North Carolina) wedding, putting a kibosh on the planned beach ceremony. But it worked out beautifully, the bride took the change in plans with grace and good humor, and a wonderful time was had by all. The rain let up in time for some beach wedding pictures which I think helped offset any disappointment and it was truly all so lovely, I can’t see that the adjustment of the venue harmed the event in the least.

Although no one, of course, is supposed to “show up” the star of the show — the bride! — Avila came close in her spectacular flower girl dress and poised processional, carefully tossing her rose petals — first to the left, then to the right, then down the middle, just as she’d practiced.

FlowerGirlThe only unexpected challenge came as a result of that venue change — the “aisle” as planned on the beach would have been a straight shot, so that’s what she’d practiced. The new location meant people entered from the back, but off to the side, so it required walking a bit and then making a 90-degree turn to go down the actual aisle. Since no one thought to explain that to Avila, she just kept walking, right across the back of the seated assembly.

Luckily someone re-directed her and she completed her task charmingly. Nana (Larry’s mom) made the absolutely gorgeous dress and aside from looking adorable, she had a wonderful time at the wedding. You should have seen her flouncing around on the dance floor to the 70s and 80s pop music! More wedding pix down below. ;-)

HenryFirstHenry turned one on the 7th and was appropriately underwhelmed by his party! Everyone else thought the party was lovely — Jen put on a great hot cocoa bar, several of us brought food so there was lots of yummy stuff to eat but not too much work for any one person, and just a nice crowd of folks.

Henry is such a total munch-mouth, eating pretty much any food item that crosses his path, Jen was hoping he might be more interested in his birthday cake than Avila had been, but no, not the case. Oh well. Hard, really, to complain that the kids aren’t that crazy about cake!

Seems like there’s other miscellaneous “news” to report, but actually none is coming to mind and this is plenty long already. So I’ll sign off with a bunch more photos and simply send the wish and hope that you all will experience a joyous holiday season, spending time with loved ones, appreciating all the gifts in our life (and I don’t mean those presents under the tree!), and PLEASE comment! I love comments!!  ;-)

Mr. Henry was looking pretty dapper at the wedding, along with his parents.

Mr. Henry was looking pretty dapper at the wedding, along with his parents.


Two lovelies — the bride, Katy, and the flower girl, Avila


Jen set out a pretty spectacular hot cocoa bar for Henry’s party!


Breakfast with Santa at Jen’s office!


Our Christmas angel

Our Christmas angel

And her baby brother, looking slightly devilish here!

And her baby brother, looking slightly devilish here!


Our Christmas Cuties

Our Christmas Cuties


Parents of the groom!


Posted in Family, Life in the U.S. | 11 Comments

Why yes, that IS a tent in our dining room!

I do recognize that it’s not all that common to have a full-size camping tent set up in your dining room, but that’s exactly what we do have and, oddly enough, we’re rather enjoying it.

TentIt started a week ago when Jen came over to help us “try out” our Christmas tent. We’d planned on taking advantage of a warm day and set it up out on the driveway, but we’d recently done a bit of measuring and realized that with minimal rearranging, we would have sufficient space in our dining room.

This tent is amazing! For once something truly did live up to its advertising promise to set up in minutes. Like, two minutes, maybe less. Of course, we didn’t stake it down in the dining room, nor lay out a groundcloth, so both of those “real-life” additions will stretch the time out a bit, but it’s sure a different world than the big tent my family used to camp with some 45 years ago. That’s a portrait of Daddy showing in the upper-right of the picture above, and I could just feel him shaking his head in disbelief as he watched this tent literally pop up in minutes.

Jen had gifted us with a wonderful airbed that sits up high off the ground — this grandma is not a fan of having to plop down to ground level to sleep, so a normal-height bed made up with normal bed linens is my kind of camping!

We’d figured as long as it was all set up, we might as well sleep on it and try it out, which worked great. Then we figured as long as we could sleep on it we should go ahead and finish up some work we’ve been trying to do in the bedroom so the whole thing has become a bit more of a “fixture” in the dining room than first planned.

Our primary problem is that since we hadn’t expected to leave it up so long, our “rearranging” of the room did not include bringing most of the dining chairs down to the end that now holds the table. But we’ve scrounged around and found alternate chairs enough to use the table, so all is well.

And news on other fronts (what, you don’t think having a tent in the dining room is really news?!?) — well, spring seems to be here in full force, although after the winter-that-wasn’t it seems a trifle redundant to announce the arrival of spring. We did actually get snow earlier in the month, around 6″ or so, but the roads were clear and dry by the day’s end and the snow was gone everywhere but in the shadiest spots within a few days, so it now feels like only a distant memory.

The crocuses and daffodils are out, the apricot trees are in bloom, and the 10-day forecast has no “highs” that are not at least in the 60s, with the next four days predicted to get up into the 70s. Still no guarantees, of course, that we won’t get clobbered by a late storm, but even that wouldn’t seem so bad after all this gorgeous weather.



The littles are wonderful, as always. Despite our lack of snow here in the “lowlands” (we live around 4500′ elevation), the ski resorts higher up have had enough, so Avila has been skiing several times with her dad. She loves it, and what a great time to learn when a fall is no big deal — unlike when I learned, at 16 years old and 5’10” tall, when a fall was quite a bit bigger of a deal all around!

Jen is back at work and enjoying it overall. Having decided to bite the bullet and get up earlier in the morning has paid big dividends in making those morning go more smoothly, now with the two little ones to get into the car along with herself.

ExerSaucer    HappyHenry

Henry was three months old almost a week ago and is definitely beginning to show a lot more personality.  Those oh-so-cute smiles are now clearly in response to interaction with him (as distinct from their frequent but rather random appearance just a few weeks ago) so I know we’ve got lots of fun time ahead watching him grow and change.

So…what’s going on in your world? Let me know in the comments — I love to hear from you!

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S., Moving back to the U.S., Weather | 4 Comments

The winter that wasn’t

Oh, I know, even just typing that headline makes me feel like I’m probably calling forth the wrath of the weather gods and we’ll be buried under snow by morning. But, I’ll take my chances since even that wouldn’t seem so bad given the winter we’ve had so far. We did have a very brief spell of single digit temps at some point during this winter (although so long ago I can’t even remember when it was) but other than that it’s been very mild, bordering on the freakishly warm since Christmas—like, highs in the mid 60s, lows only down in the 50s!!


Snow last year, kinda like the Christmas snow this year.

We’d worried, in fact, that we wouldn’t even have a white Christmas, but that was one time the weather gods truly smiled on us, and we had a perfect snowfall overnight on Christmas Eve, giving us the picture-perfect Christmas morning! Snowed again a couple of days later, and then a couple of days after that we had this crazy high wind that literally blew all the snow away. ;-)  Had bare ground so far all except those few days.

Christmas was lovely—although little Henry didn’t seem all that enthralled with the festivities he tolerated them without complaint! Avila had a wonderful time, as really did we all, our holidays rounded out by Collin and Katy coming to visit from New York so we were all together. [Epic photo fail — literally not a SINGLE picture from Christmas. No excuses, no explanations, just reality. Sorry.]

Spiral Jetty UtahYesterday we decided to drive up around the north side of the lake to see the famed “Spiral Jetty.” This renowned work by artist Robert Smithson is considered to be an iconic piece in the world of “Land Art.”  He built it in 1970 and only two years later it was submerged beneath the lake’s surface where it stayed mostly buried for thirty years!!

Around 2002 the lake levels dropped again where the 1500′ long spiral could be seen, and we’d double-checked our levels before we headed out to be sure we were still in the “visible” range.

What we didn’t expect, was that it was not just “5 ft. above lake level” as our research had revealed, but that that was about 2 feet above the silt level of the lake. In other words, the spiral jetty is not just out of the water, it’s not even surrounded by water. Ruh-Roh.

It was still pretty spectacular to see, and it was a lovely day to be out-and-about, so no complaints at all!

HappyBathTime2moThe littles continue to be amazing. Little Henry has learned to like his bath finally (at 2 months old) and Avila continues to just grow and grow. Her biggest triumph recently was to graduate to a “booster seat” in the car vs. a regular little-kid car seat, and that was a special prize since our previous research was 4 years *and* 40 pounds. Well, she’ll be 4 in a few months, but 40 pounds could be years away!!

We discovered it varies by seat, and found the one that requires 38″ tall (she’s 38-1/2″), 30 pounds (yep, exactly, at least on a heavy day), and her shoulders had to reach some certain place on the seat, which they did. Yay us!

Yay for the booster!

Yay for the booster!

I’d been a fan of the “what’s the rush?!” approach until our booster seat was in and we fully appreciated “what the rush” was. No more wrestling to get the harness straps looser when the kid’s in a bulky winter coat. No more wrestling to tighten things up when suddenly a warm spell hits and the kid is no longer in that bulky winter coat. No big deal to move the seat out of the way should, god forbid, you want an adult to sit in that seat.

Woo hoo. Lots to appreciate and she is SO excited. “It’s like I’m 4 years old!!!” she declares victoriously! “I’m big enough for a booster!” is another victory cry.

SO, that’s where things stand here in Utah. Christmas was great. Winter has been non-existent. Kids are amazing. Life is good.  ;-)

Jen’s magical 3 months of maternity leave (that she only checked on about 20 times before Henry was born) turned out, per her suspicions, to only be 8 weeks. Which, due to their dicking around with it, ended up being 9 weeks. And she added a week of vacation on to that. But, that deadline is up, and next Monday she’ll go back to work.

Which means we get to ramp up our Henry time from occasional short visits or stays to real time — about half the week. Can’t wait!!

If you’re NOT having the “winter that wasn’t” than at least may your spring come early! (And don’t hate us — we may still get ours!) And wherever you are, may you savor your times with your family, big and small, and appreciate every moment you’re given to share with them!


Posted in Family, Life in the U.S., Weather | 8 Comments

Tis the season for magic

…which includes new babies, the joy of the holidays seen through the eyes of a 3-1/2 year old, special friends, and Christmas shopping that got done shockingly early! (I’m usually only beginning my shopping by this time, NEVER have I been essentially finished at this point!!)


One week old and a little Utes fan already!

One week old and a little Utes fan already!

But first things first — we have a new grandson! And after calling him Scoopie all this time, it’s taking everyone a while to make the switch to his real name, but we’re trying. Henry Lawrence Ostroski entered the world just past noon, one week ago (7 Dec) at 6 lbs 8 oz, right around 19″ long.  Mama is doing well after the surgery and the family came home from the hospital on Wednesday. Avila is thrilled with her little brother, although I think is just a hair disappointed to fully realize (not that we haven’t been trying to forewarn her!) that he can’t really “play” much yet!  ;-)

In sticker-heaven, making Christmas placemats

In sticker-heaven, making Christmas placemats

It’s been fun to watch each of the past Christmas seasons as Avila got older and more “into” it, and surely at 3-1/2 this year is the best yet. It’s all magical to her and her enthusiasm is infectious. Chris and Louise arrived on December 1st with her first gift, a gingerbread house kit to put together and decorate. We all had fun with that, followed a day or two later by a bag full of the makings for Christmas placemats. Avila (like most kids her age) LOVES stickers, so she was in her element and her family is getting to enjoy eating on their holiday placemats at home.

AvilaBallet2It’s a busy season for her with a holiday ballet performance last week, holiday gymnastics performance next week along with holiday school performance, and then a break from formal activities for a couple of weeks. On Saturday, just before Scoopie, I mean Henry’s arrival on Sunday, Jen and Avila got to have a Mommy-Daughtie day, including Breakfast with Santa at Jen’s office, followed by meeting up with us to get our Christmas tree and a small one for Avila. It was a fun day for everyone. (More pictures down below, and remember you can always click on a pic and see a larger version.)

ChristmasTreeandSkirtSpeaking of trees, we’re very happy with ours this year, and even more so now that it’s properly dressed! Chris and Louise stopped over briefly today bearing the first of our gifts—a wonderful tree-skirt hand-made by Louise’s mom (who has since passed) ten years ago. It’s the perfect size for our tree and room and is an especially dear gift from very dear friends. We’ve left it “bare” for a little while (although amazingly enough I not only have my shopping done but most of the wrapping done!) just to enjoy it, but it will soon fill with gifts. After our years in Costa Rica where we did almost no gift-giving, we still keep it comparatively simple, but even at “simple” there will be plenty under the tree it seems. (David and I have a tendency to take whatever we would have needed to buy for ourselves during these final couple of months of the year and wrap them for under the tree, so that skews the gift volume a little bit!)

Hope that the holiday season is bringing everything wonderful and magical to your family. We appreciate the gift of being able to experience it through the eyes of a child and through the miracle of new birth.  May yours be as special too, in its own way.

Closing with a few random pictures. Enjoy!

Now if it would only SNOW!

Now if it would only SNOW!

Making cookies

Making cookies









She loves face painting!

She loves face painting!

Decorating cookies at the Breakfast with Santa

Decorating cookies at the Breakfast with Santa









Poppy and newborn Henry

Poppy and newborn Henry

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S. | 9 Comments

Rainy season

Recent double-rainbow

Oh, all right, maybe calling it the “rainy season” is a bit of a stretch, but we have actually had rain at some point on each of the past five days, which here in the high desert might well earn the moniker. But we can—luckily!—feel pretty certain that we won’t ever have 7″ of rain in one day as they reported from our old neighborhood of Magallanes in Costa Rica last week!!

The good news is that we recently had some car repair work done which included fixing our windshield wipers which had taken to running erratically. For quite a while (months, if truth be told) we didn’t bother too much about getting them fixed since in our previous 2+ years here, we’d truly hardly ever seen it rain. But now with our “rainy season” upon us, we’re sure glad they’re working consistently again!

This morning's harvest

A plethora of 'maters

The other good news is that the rain has given me a break from the daily tomato watering which I’m, admittedly, very bad about remembering to do.  But I must have managed “enough” water because we’re getting LOTS of tomatoes! Next year I’ve got to come up with a better staking method since as it is I spend lots of time crawling around on the ground trying to unearth and pick the ripe tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes ready for slow roasting. Yum!

We still have a TON of green tomatoes, so we should continue to have a generous harvest for the next month or so. We’ll have to remember, too, that the Lemon Boys (the bright yellow ones, not surprisingly, in the picture above) were especially good, as were the Pineapple Tomatoes (none in the picture since I’d put them in a pot, which makes them especially vulnerable to my watering vagaries which, in turn, has limited their output), and the Sweet 100s are always a favorite. The Black Krim made an unusual looking and very tasty tomato, but the plant just up-and-died on me a few weeks ago. Weirdest thing.  And, frankly, now that I’m writing it, they ALL taste delicious, so singling out any one type is a little unfair to the others. (And far be it from me to hurt my tomatoes’ feelings!)

Becoming apple crisp

Fruit Crisp for Breakfast

Along with the tomatoes, the apples continue in full force.  We started picking but have a long ways to go. Without an orchard ladder, the apples up high will just be left to drop on their own, and lots fall anyway, but that still leaves us more to pick than we can possibly deal with. But meanwhile we’re enjoying lots of apple (and other fruit) crisps, for both breakfast and the occasional dessert, and apple slices are one of Avila’s favorite snacks, so no complaints. I think I’ll set up the crockpot soon for applesauce. Any other good suggestions for what I should make?

Enough produce already? How about a whole bunch o’ Avila pix? Yeah? Okay. I aim to please.

Ready for school

Check out the hair!

Avila continues to enjoy pre-school and got a chance to “strut her stuff” — her authentic Chinese stuff, that is — last week when they had Chinese “show and tell” day. She’s lucky enough to have an uncle who spent a couple of years recently in China and a little best pal, Charlotte, who lives in Dallas now but started her life in China, so between them both she had several authentic items to show, including her amazing little dress and hairdo (thanks to Nana and Grandma Sandra, Charlotte’s grandma).

Last swim of the season

Last chance at "playing baby"

Although we’re supposed to get down into the 40s tonight (for the first time in months), Avila was in the pool less than a week ago. Last swim of the season, we knew, and today she and Poppy put all the pool and sand-turtle toys away. Right along with getting more and more “grown-up” she’s also taking her last shot at being “the baby” before Scoopie comes and she’s decided that the middle shelf on our “dinner cart” is just the right baby bed.

Princess party

VERY long braid

She attended a “princess party” last weekend for one of her little school pal’s and she was oh-so-happy to go as Rapunzul (or TanglyHead as she’s known in Avila’s home). The combination of princess dress and VERY long braid made it near-perfection in Avila’s world and she somehow managed to keep her braid attached for the entire party!

We’ll close with two last shots — one I captured of Avila just sitting happily, sporting what looks like a green headband, but is actually a dog leash wrapped around her head so that it would trail down her back to be “Rapunzel’s braid.” The other is just a snap of a very wind-blown Louise and me at Yellowstone. Just so I’m not hiding completely behind words alone!

Anything fun going on in your neck of the woods?  Got suggestions for tomato staking or what to do with too many apples? I love to hear from you!

Posted in Life in the U.S. | 5 Comments

Food Glorious Food AKA Yellowstone Part 2

Eye-catching fireweed going to seed...bizarre and somewhat "Dr. Seuss" looking! Click the pic for a larger view -- it's worth checking out.

As you saw in yesterday’s post, we recently had a great few days at Yellowstone National Park, where we spent our days watching the wild animals, admiring the incredible landscape, oohing and ahhing over the geysers, mudpots, and thermal pools … and eating.

Ah yes, the eating.  Now, let’s just be clear — generally speaking, people do not go to National Parks to eat. Food service throughout the park is run by a concessionaire who does a perfectly adequate job (note my smoked trout eggs benedict from yesterday’s post!) but adequate will often be the best that can be said.  This isn’t like going to France or Tuscany where food can actually be a primary attraction.  ;-)  But we ate well and with only one exception actually had excellent meals.  We don’t eat out very often as part of our “normal” life, so for us it added a distinct quality of “vacation” to our vacation!

Surrounded by beautiful terrain

Since we’d done our research ahead of time (thank goodness for TripAdvisor, Yelp, and UrbanSpoon) we were armed with a list of possible places to eat, most notably in nearby Gardiner, Montana, which is only about a 10 minute drive from Mammoth.  Of course, while I’d had the considerable foresight to print out my notes to take with us, anticipating limited internet access while there, it hadn’t actually occurred to me that complete addresses and/or directions would be equally useful.  So we did our share of bumbling around, looking for places, but all-in-all we were remarkably successful.

Bison don't pay much attention to the cars!

On our first full day there, after our previously reported very successful breakfast at the Mammoth Dining Room, we hit the road, intending to head over to the Lamar Valley in search of wolves, bear, and moose.  (And, yes, we do realize that sunrise and dusk are the best time to look for such critters, but you know … it was vacation, after all, so we worked with what we had.) A slight navigational error on our part actually sent us down into the heart of the park rather than over to the Valley which worked out fine — lots of great stuff to look at and, after all, we were there to see the park! Who cared what order we did it in. We eventually reversed our path for a bit and then headed to the Valley. The wolves, bear, and moose continued to elude us, but our up-close-and-personal bison sightings continued, and we saw enough spectacular scenery to inspire lots of oohs and ahhs, so no complaints at all.

The Bistro, Cooke City, MT

Coming to the northeastern edge of the park, we realized it was lunchtime so did the only reasonable thing which was to drive on out a bit further to Cooke City, Montana and see what caught our eye. Cooke City was a classic “western motif” tiny tourist town and since we knew nothing of the options there (hadn’t known to check that out) we just stopped at the first one that looked interesting. While the online reviews for The Bistro (we looked after the fact, once we were back home) were mixed, we enjoyed eating fireside, air scented with wood smoke, and had great burgers with hand-cut fries. So far food was off to a good start!

Crab cakes...yum!

The previous evening, when we were still thinking we’d just stick close to the hotel to avoid more driving, we’d phoned ahead to make reservations for the following night at TripAdvisor’s top rated restaurant in Gardiner, The Lighthouse. It was actually about 8 miles north of Gardiner in Corwin Springs, MT, and sported an entirely out-of-character nautical theme which seemed a little less odd when you read the story in the menu about the chef’s father and his nautical collection. The guy was just paying homage to his dad and hadn’t really taken leave of his senses. The menu continued the slightly split-personality character, though, with a number of classic maritime items such as clam chowder and crab cakes combined with an array of Thai and other Asian dishes, along with a pastas, burgers, and a rather spectacular grass-fed Montana raised steak.

David enjoyed every bite of his steak

Chris' fettucini and Osaka roll







I put together an excellent dinner from three appetizers — the crab cakes, a side salad, and bacon cheddar mashed potatoes. David’s steak and Chris’ fettucini and Osaka roll all met with rave reviews and Louise had a simple linguini with marinara that she reported was very good, too.  Oh, and we’d read in one of the reviews that if you paid with cash and your total bill was over $30, you could choose a complimentary dessert. We zeroed right in on the fudge-y chocolate cake and were glad we were sharing — it would have been a killer to try to eat an entire piece by yourself! The four of us could barely finish it.

Fudge-y goodness at The LIghthouse

Tasty fresh spinach and feta omelet

Saturday morning found us back in Gardiner at the Yellowstone Grill, famed for its cinnamon rolls, which — wouldn’t you know! — they were out of.  I went for the Mediterranean omelet with spinach and feta, the fellows settled on the house-made corned beef hash and eggs, while Louise stuck with her sweet tooth and had the cinnamon roll french toast.  We all left happy and headed down into the park for some geyser watching.

Looks like a soothing hot tub!

Since we’d all visited the park in our pasts (although in some cases as much as 40 and 50 years ago) we’d somewhat “pooh-poohed” any desires to seek out Old Faithful and like.  But we all thoroughly enjoyed our Saturday of wandering around, watching nature’s amazing hot water displays — and, yes, we even got to see Old Faithful erupt. This serene pool pictured here looks like the perfect place to dangle tired legs or have a soothing soak, unless you know that the water temperature is just under boiling — well over 100-degrees HOTTER than the hottest safe water temperature for a hot-tub!  (The park does a very assertive job of making it clear that NONE of the water features are safe to touch, nor is it safe to walk on the crusty ground which can crack under a person’s weight and drop you down into the molten depths. Around twenty people have died over the years by falling into the boiling waters and scores more injured.)  We were very content to stay on the boardwalks as advised!

Old Faithful "doing its thing"

Lunchtime found us deep into the park with the most likely food options to be found at the bustling cluster of facilities near Old Faithful.  The Snow Lodge sounded good, but turned out to only serve dinner and after some consultation with the helpful desk staff there, we settled on the cafeteria at the Old Faithful Lodge.  This turned out to be the least successful of our meals since they’d run out of many items (including silverware for Chris and Louise who were trailing just slightly behind us in line) but in the end everyone got enough food to rejuvenate them for the afternoon. I actually had bison meatloaf which was quite good and David was perfectly happy with his roast turkey and cranberry sauce, so all was not lost.  And, as promised, the dining room at the cafeteria is the only restaurant in the park with a view of the famous geyser and it helped make up for the mediocre lunch by erupting while we were there!

Back in the car, renewed after a bite (uninspired though it might have been), we finished off our touring of the park and headed back to Mammoth for a bit of rest before dinner. This was the evening of the bull elk spectacle (including ramming the RV), after which we took the back road out of town — just doing our part to stay out of his way! — and headed one last time out of Wyoming and into Montana to try out a new Mexican place in Gardiner.  We’d looked for it unsuccessfully on our various trips into town so called ahead to find out exactly where they were.  This proved to be a worthwhile phone call since the building actually has another restaurant’s name on it and we probably never would have found it just following our usual bumbling around approach.

Yes, HUGE plates of food!

My yummy "not-flautas"

Enormous plates of food were our reward for locating them and the verdict was that all the food was good.  I had flautas, my standard at Mexican restaurants, and they were the first I’ve ever had that weren’t actually “crispy” so one could potentially call that a fail.  They were so tasty, though, as were the rice and beans (often just a “throw-away” item) that I just pretended they were called something different and went with it.

All in all, a delightful vacation — compatible traveling partners, excellent driving by Chris, good research and travel arrangements by Louise, great meals, entertaining animals, spectacular views of nature… what’s not to like.

David's final lunch

Oh, and you were wondering about that lunch I mentioned where David ate nothing but pie?!?  Well, we’d already found out that 511 Main in Ashton, Idaho, would not be open on Sunday for our return trip, so we ended up in Pocatello looking for lunch and decided just to keep it simple and do something right off the highway.  That led us to a Perkins where they offered a lunch where you got to pick three items from four various categories — soups, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. David asked the waitress if he could just have his three items from the dessert category and she, thinking he was joking, said sure.  So, that’s what he had for lunch. Pumpkin pie, followed by “wild-berry” pie, finished off with chocolate silk pie.  Oh, and capped off by a bite each of Louise’s lemon meringue and Chris’ apple. Makes me a little nauseated just thinking about it, but he was delighted. It seemed like the perfect finish for him to a great vacation.  Me, I was happy with my cajun fish.

I’ll close with a few random shots that didn’t fit in anywhere else, plus a requisite Avila picture or two, just in case you were afraid you’d wandered onto somebody else’s blog. Thanks for stopping by!

Surrounded by beauty!

Elk grazing in front of the hotel

Looking down on the hotel from the limestone hot springs

Steam rising just a few feet from where we were sitting

Her choice to wear her bike helmet "just in case I get bonked by an apple"

Posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Life in the U.S. | 2 Comments

Antelope, Bison, and Elk, Oh My!

Bison Butting Heads

—Photo by Chris Roe

After many months of looking forward to it, our Yellowstone trip finally arrived and ten days ago we piled into Chris and Louise’s roomy Dodge Durango and headed north.  We did, indeed, see ample antelope, bison, and elk.  Well, mostly bison and elk and even though we’d thought we were pretty jaded to bison, seeing them somewhat regularly as we do over on Antelope Island (where we traditionally see far more bison than antelope!), we actually saw so many more of them on this trip—and often quite close-up!—it was still exciting.

Elk Grazing At Hotel

Grazing Elk —Photo by David Brink

And the elk were positively amazing, thanks to our skillful travel planner, Louise, having booked us into the classic old Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel at the northern end of the iconic national park. Mammoth is known — rightfully so, as it turns out! — for the elk grazing right on the hotel grounds and they accommodated us with regular appearances every day we were there.

Bull Elk

The bull elk, keeping order —Photo by Chris Roe

While we were never certain whether we were seeing the same herd day after day, or perhaps the hotel grounds were a favorite of many herds passing through, it was a fascinating look at the elk society. The bull (or buck as we persisted in calling him) keeps a careful watch over his gals and gets downright testy when things don’t seem to be going to his liking. The park rangers’ primary job at this particular location, it seems, is trying to keep hotel guests from getting too close to the elk (and bison) and provide as safe an environment as possible for the elk to be elk.

Standing Guard

On our final evening there, while we were enjoying a couple of card games at the hotel before going out to eat, there was considerable excitement as the bull faced a bit of herd mutiny. Part of the herd decided to cross the main road and graze across the way, while another part was quite content to laze about where they were. Clearly the bull’s work in guarding his herd was made more difficult by their determination to be in two locations, so he began the task of trying to consolidate them by goading the malingerers to get up and cross over to join the others.

The ultimate excitement in this process came as he became more agitated with passing vehicles who, certainly in his view, were making his job harder and were much closer than he wanted them to be. (Bear in mind that the elk are smack dab in the middle of this tiny community so the vehicles aren’t doing anything “untoward” but just trying to get to where they’re going.)  Mr. Bull decided one RV that had stopped right in front of him was simply too impertinent and he charged, ramming the RV’s side with his massive rack.  The RV wasted no time in rounding the corner and I’m sure its inhabitants breathed a sigh of relief as they rolled away. We figure those folks have gotten a lot of good story-telling mileage out of that particular vacation experience!

Morning Bison

— Phote by Chris Roe

Although the elk offered the most entertainment, the sight of bison grazing right on the front lawn of the hotel was not to be dismissed and we discovered that our timing had been impeccable. As we headed out for breakfast our first morning there, we commented on the bison and were told that, yes, it was the first time they’d been seen at the hotel in over three months!

Yellowstone has the distinction of being the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. According to the National Park Service, “they are pure descendants of the vast herds that once roamed the grasslands of the United States. The largest bison population in the country on public land resides in Yellowstone. It is one of the few herds free of cattle genes.”

An Otherworldy Scene — Photo by David Brink

So what did we do for entertainment beyond bison and elk watching? Although animals had been our collective primary interest (all four of us having been to the park at some point in our pasts and seen “the basics”), we decided to spend our last full day there driving down to Old Faithful and taking in the natural sights along the way.

— Phote by Chris Roe

With my grumpy old hip, we didn’t try any adventurous hiking (although let it be known that I’d encouraged the others to do whatever they wanted, I was content to chill out and read, and they consistently declined anything more vigorous than what we did!) but the park is so well laid out that you can get close enough to see a genuinely dazzling array of natural wonders without undue physical strain. (It actually appears that much of the park’s sights are even wheelchair accessible, although we did see warnings on one smooth pathway that the grade was steep enough that power chairs might not have enough ooomph to make it back up on the return trip!)

Lingering dusting of snow

— Photo by David Brink

The varied terrain as you move about the park is amazing, from being in dense forest, to sweeping valley views, striking waterfalls, and otherworldly landscapes in areas full of steam and bubbling pools. Even the weather cooperated fully, with the area having gotten a dusting of snow during our day of travel followed by each day there being crisp, clear, sunny, and mild.  We’d come armed with cold-weather gear, “just in case” but no one needed anything beyond a simple fleece, and usually not even that by afternoon. Admittedly mornings were chilly and I think Chris was glad he had brought his gloves as he tackled the cold steering wheel each morning!

Five11 Main, Ashton, ID —Photo by Chris Roe

Okay, so we’ve covered wild animals, natural wonders, what else did we do? Why, EAT of course! We started weeks prior to the trip, researching online starting with lunch on the drive up to the park and by-and-large our research paid off.  We took a slight detour on the drive there, both to bypass some road construction and see the Mesa Falls, near Ashton, Idaho. That led us to Five11 Main where we had an enormously successful meal of sandwiches, pizza, root beer floats for the guys, and ice cream samples for some.   This old fashioned soda fountain is housed in a century old building and the Big Bad Wolf pizza lived up to its well-deserved reputation. All the food was great, but we forgot to take pictures of any of it, so you’ll just have to check it out yourself on your next trip through Ashton, ID (population 1,091).

Since Chris had spent the whole day driving, we thought for our first night there we might just stick close to home and eat at the hotel, but when we sauntered over there around 7, we learned the anticipated wait time was close to an hour and suddenly driving a few miles to the nearby town of Gardiner, Montana, didn’t seem so bad.   The Antler Pub and Grill hit the spot with bison skewers and elk burgers.

Local Smoked Trout Eggs Benedict

And this was the short stack! — Photo by Louise Wittman

The following morning we tackled the hotel dining room again, this time with great success. After lengthy consultation with our waiter (who in turn consulted with the kitchen) I ordered the smoked trout eggs benedict which were totally delish. (The “issue”—and factor that normally keeps me from even trying to eat eggs benedict anywhere other than at home—is that I’m one of the few humans on the planet that will only eat eggs with fully cooked yolks.  This request simply stymies most restaurants, but they totally rallied to the cause in this case and they were perfectly cooked.  They were so good I closed out our trip a couple of days later with another order, just before we hit the road for home.)  David, Chris, and Louise all had the multigrain pancakes—blueberry, or pecan in Chris’ case—and the only complaint was that even the recommended “short stack” was just too big. I figure if that’s the primary complaint of the day, then life is pretty damn good. (Although my raving about the wonderful eggs benedict led both David and Chris to try them on that last morning, but seemingly the cook was challenged this time in making their eggs the normal runny way and mine hard-cooked, so theirs ended up being over-done.  Life is hard, you know.)  ;-)

Speaking of being hard, it’s hard to end this post since I have other great pictures both of nature and more yummy food—like the lunch David ate that consisted solely of pie. Three different kinds of pie. But I’m thinking that this has gone on long enough, so I think I’ll close here for now and save the rest for another day. (Who knows, maybe even tomorrow which would give me a clear new record for frequency of posts!)

Do you have any Yellowstone memories? Or have you done any recent traveling? Eaten any great food? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments!  (And remember, you can click on any of the pictures above to see them larger.)

Posted in Cost of Living, Food, Life in the U.S., Weather | 7 Comments