Nineteen is pretty old for a cat!

Years ago my business partner thought we should get Domino on the David Letterman show.  I didn’t watch Letterman, but his “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment sounded pretty self-explanatory and I agreed that Domino qualified.  She had suddenly developed this habit of sitting on the desk — doing her Egyptian cat statue imitation — and when you would put the corner of a piece of paper in her mouth, she would chomp down on it in one fast motion “stapling” it, so to speak.

She would pretty much do it indefinitely once she started (yes, obviously when we should have been attending to our business, not playing with the cat!) but she wouldn’t always do it. Some days she just looked at the proffered paper and looked at you with “are you crazy?!?” coming through loud and clear.  So we decided we probably shouldn’t pursue Letterman since we couldn’t rely on her willingness to perform on demand.  ;-)

Cat at work

Despite her lack of Letterman fame, she lived a pretty exciting life, for a cat.  She first came into our life with the intention of being the new “office cat” (our previous office cat having gone to the great kitty box in the sky) but the first day I took her in to work, she was SO tiny and helpless looking, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave her there alone overnight, so I took her back out to the car and she rode back home with me.  Thus began her two years of daily commuting.

She’s one of the only cats I’ve ever known who liked riding in the car.  She was never in a carrier, just rode in my lap or on my shoulders and then would sit on my shoulders as we walked up the three flights of stairs to the office, me holding on to her tail to help her balance (and provide a bit of “safety net” just in case it occurred to her to try to jump off my shoulder).  She apparently did feel unsteady up there one day and solved the problem by digging her claws into my shoulder for a better grip.  After that she traveled between car and office in a canvas shopping bag.

Cat in the InBox

Cat in the Scanner

She always loved office equipment — perhaps it was all those hours spent in the office during her formative years.  Many times she was to be found sitting in the printer, on the copier, nestled in my “In Box” trays, and in the pre-laptop days, on top of my computer monitor. (Actually she was perfectly happy to sit on my laptop as well, but I tried to discourage that particular habit.)  Although she seemed quite content with commuting, she seemed even happier all the years when I had my office at home since then she had all that wonderful equipment available to her around the clock.

Retired Domino, asleep in the window

But she wasn’t always an office cat.  Like me, she took early retirement and moved to Costa Rica in 2006. (Although I had to go “back to work” she continued to enjoy her retirement all these years.)  Like all cats, she enjoyed sleeping and spent her days finding odd places to nap.  She was also a great mouser, a quality we valued, living in the country as we did (both in Maine and Costa Rica) although we would have valued it more if she had left her prey outside rather than bringing them into the house.  Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose — we certainly preferred her mousing over any traps or poisons.

Where's Domino? Hint, look UP.

She only fell down on the job once, in Costa Rica, when our “skinny-tailed chipmunk” population exploded. She valiantly caught a couple of them, but the fact that they largely stayed in the space between our walls and roof (which in a large A-frame house like ours is practically the entire thing!) seemed to inure her to them eventually and we had to resort finally to a Rat-Zapper.  But everyone’s entitled to one failure during their career, right?

Domino enjoyed Costa Rica, although the “wildlife” in the area gave us concern, especially as she grew older (and older), and we worked hard to be sure she was safely in at night.  We were happy once we got to Utah to let her spend her final time primarily as an indoor cat, which seemed to suit her fine.  (She actually did go outside a few times, but seemed quite content to come back in pretty quickly and never strayed far from the house.)  She did develop one odd habit upon our return to the states — perhaps not all that odd in-and-of-itself, but odd to develop it suddenly at 17-1/2 years of age.

Cozy kitty

She started sleeping on my head.  Not just on my pillow, but literally draped over my head — a cat-hat, as it were.  It wasn’t too much of a problem, although when I would get up at night, the sudden absence of my head to mold herself around seemed to cause her to lose her structural integrity and “ooze” so that by the time I got back to bed — just a few moments later! — she pretty much filled up my entire pillow which is a pretty good feat for a 6 pound cat.  There’s something surprisingly comforting about a cat draped over your head.

Cat in the box

Don't tape this box up yet!

She loved sitting in boxes, baskets, bowls — most anything like that.  The box habit always made it challenging to pack whenever we were moving.  Many a time we went to put things into the box, only to discover it was already inhabited by a cat.  And should you go back later on to seal up the box, well, you’d better be sure you checked it well before taping it closed.

Any open vessel was fair game

As you might have guessed — perhaps cleverly noting my use of past tense verbs — Domino decided that being 19 was quite old enough, thank you very much.  We had thought that perhaps she was trying to match the 20-year lifespan of her predecessor, the original gray tabby “Domino” that I had grown up with, but either she can’t count as well as one might like, or she just decided that was a foolish competition.

We will miss her terribly, but are also grateful that she never seemed to be ill, didn’t suffer, but rather simply chose to celebrate her 19th birthday by rejoining the rest of our departed 2- and 4-legged family on the other side.

(Okay, a small disclaimer, we don’t really know the exact date of her birth, so I’ve taken a little poetic license, but if it wasn’t literally on her birthday, it was damn close, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Nineteen is pretty old for a cat, and we were blessed to have that long with her.

I miss my cat-hat, though.

And it just goes to prove that you’re never too old to cry yourself to sleep.

Domino and the Nutcracker. Notice the crown molding — she's nearly up at ceiling level!

Hot-headed cat!

Former enemies, now friends

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S. | 12 Comments

If it’s Friday, this must be Paris

Or was that Tuesday and Belgium?  In any case, we did, indeed, find ourselves in Paris Friday, but just as you might be thinking, it was not the Paris.  (Although I suppose to the folks that live there, it probably is.)

Fall LeavesYup, we were in Paris, Idaho yesterday.  Just passing through, really, on our way from Bear Lake to Montpelier.  And what would take us to any of those places, you ask? Well, if you’re a diligent reader of this blog (and you are, are you not?) you no doubt remember our forays into the mountains last year in search of fall leaves.  We had great success when we headed somewhat east and south, but not so much when we ventured north to Bear Lake.  We made that trek in very early October and discovered we had already missed the leaves, so we were determined to time it better this year.

Oops, okay, this year the leaves are late and there was only the barest hint on them on our drive yesterday. (I cheated, the spectacular picture here is from last year!)

Sparkling turquoise waters of Bear Lake

Notwithstanding the lack of leaves, however, we still thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Caribbean of the Rockies, otherwise known as Bear Lake. Another “down side” to our trip there last year had been the weather.  It was overcast and gray, with a blustery wind which not only made our stop at the scenic overlook and interpretive center bitterly cold, but also kept us from experiencing the turquoise color of the lake.  This year was much better and the lake did its sparkly best imitation of the Caribbean.

Lunch overlooking Bear Lake

Lunch overlooking Bear Lake

Although it took us some backtracking (guess it would have been clever if I’d actually gotten directions) we finally found Cooper’s Restaurant with its glass enclosed dining room overlooking the lake in Fish Haven, Idaho. We had excellent seafood lunches all around for surprisingly reasonable prices. (I had 8 very large Cajun grilled shrimp over a bed of rice pilaf with a baked potato — I know, the starches! — and a large, very tasty salad for $10.) And you couldn’t beat the view!

Paris Tabernacle

Historic Paris Tabernacle

We then took our stuffed little selves back out to Chris and Louise’s car and continued northward around the lake to Montpelier where we were looking forward to the Oregon Trail Museum. Along the way we discovered we were in Paris! (Admit it, you were wondering when I was going to get back around to Paris, weren’t you.)

Friday in Paris, that had a nice ring to it.  Of course, it didn’t occur to me to take any pictures, but my ever accommodating friends were wiling to drive the few miles out of the way on our return (we were taking a different route home or we, obviously, would have simply been passing through again!) so I could grab a snap of the historic Paris Tabernacle. Built in 1889, this red sandstone building is on the National Register and truly is lovely.

Historic mercantile re-creation at the Oregon Trail Museum

Historic mercantile re-creation at the Oregon Trail Museum

Before our return trip to Paris, though, we reached our “destination” of the day, Montpelier, Idaho, home to the National Oregon/California Trail Center. Ironically, on our trip last year to Bear Lake, Chris and Louise had noticed the existence of this place in the literature and had raved about what a good museum it was, having been there many years ago.  In the last day before we set out for the museum, they realized through their research that the Oregon Trail Museum they had been to was a different one.  ;-)  Given that the Oregon Trail was 2,000 miles long, it’s not surprising that there’s more than one museum.  This one, they reported, was quite different from the other one they had visited, but very good in its own right.

They did a fun job of historical re-enactment here, with a thirty-minute program led first by your “Wagon Master” (fully in character) through the logistics of the trail, costs of the trip (that “free” land the government was offering took a might expensive trip to claim, as it turned out), provisioning, and life on the trail.  They had a great “simulated” wagon ride where you bumped and rocked your way along for a time, exiting the wagon into an well-done re-creation of a pioneer wagon encampment.  Rounded out with a funky but fun train museum on the lower level and a very nice gift shop (we we tried hard just to stay out of), it was a worthwhile stop in a very pleasant day.

Now if we could just find some fall leaves!

Posted in Cost of Living, Food, Life in the U.S., Weather | 4 Comments

Quasi-camping and hints of fall

With our new-found “freedom” after no longer being 24/7 caregivers for Mom, you’d think we’d be all over the place traveling and doing exotic things, but between my working, taking care of that wonderful little granddaughter several days a week, and David’s (and Chris and Louise’s) various medical issues… well, heck, we haven’t gone anywhere! Until last week that is, when we traveled an entire hour and fifteen minutes north of here to the Hyrum State Park.

Hyrum Lake

Hyrum Lake

As a bit of back-story, ever since we’ve been back in the states we’ve been talking with Chris and Louise about camping.  I grew up tent-camping and have fond memories. (Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not to be confused with “back-packing” and camping in itty-bitty tents eating dehydrated food. But I enjoy the challenge of cooking on a camp stove or other minimal equipment, and I like the “fresh air” and “back-to-nature” aspect of camping — as long as I can have some kind of potty for middle-of-the-night peeing, of course.  Let’s get real.)

Despite my enthusiasm, Chris and Louise have been a little bit on the “not so much” side of things, but Louise gave herself away when she would report an occasional DI (Deseret Industries, much like “Goodwill” elsewhere) find that she thought would be very appropriate for camping.  Camping, really?!?  So, we figured it was still an open subject.

Chris caught a nice pic in the morning light of our cabin

By pure happenstance we found the perfect “quasi-camping” option — just a bit northward of here is the Hyrum Reservoir and associated state park.  In addition to the normal campground, they’d recently built two lovely little cabins.  All-right!  Electricity, real beds (two queen-size bunk-beds, in fact), a microwave and mini-fridge. What more could one want?!?

I immediately went online and bought a “bedside commode” to use for midnight potty-ing (just email me if you want to hear the low-down about using kitty litter to make this a really excellent option!) and we set about planning out meals.  Chris, our resident grill-master, took on the task of grilling steaks our first night there, I made up some curried chicken and rice for our second night, and I made a breakfast casserole for one morning and stuffed french toast (easily cooked up in the cabin on the electric skillet I brought) another morning — along with the requisite bacon, of course!  During the days we wandered out and went birding, checked out some hot springs with the highest mineral content of any hot springs practically in the whole world, did a bit of “antiquing” (kinda scary when antique stores are filled with items familiar from your own youth!), enjoyed lunches out, and just had a wonderful time.

We’d wondered if we’d see any signs of leaf-turning and actually found that we did spot the occasional red/orange leaf. We’re plotting a true leaf-peeping excursion in another week or so, hoping to catch the peak up higher in the mountains.  After our spectacular trip in September last fall, we’d headed just a couple of weeks later back to the same area where we just “camped” and went to the famous Bear Lake, but discovered we were too late for the leaves.  So we’ll try to hit that sweet spot a couple of weeks earlier this year.  We enjoy the long sunny days of summer, but are all excited about the hints of fall.  Cooler nights — even just ten degrees make a huge difference! — that indescribable “something” that foretells of fall around the corner.

Goin' shopping!

Oh, and you’re wondering about Avila? Gee, we thought you’d never ask!  She continues to amaze us — the language explosion just kept going.  She talks pretty much constantly with such complexity that we are *constantly* remarking “how can she know that?!?” so she’s just a world of fun to be around. As she approaches two-and-a-half, we certainly see the *occasional* flare of the infamous “terrible twos” but we feel incredibly blessed that those flares truly are occasional and short-lived.  She really is just cheerful and happy most of the time.

Having fun on the pony!

And, given the language, are we really surprised when she *is* having challenges now and then, that she says things like “I’m a little bit sad!” or “I really, REALLY need [fill in the blank]??  Not to say that she *never* has melt-downs, but they are luckily not too often.  And just today when she was deciding (at a not-altogether-convenient time) that she wanted to change clothes, and when I first expressed some resistance, she started to cry.  I pointed out that she did NOT get what she wanted by crying for it, and she paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, “I’m okay!” and she was, indeed.  (And yes, she was allowed to change clothes after she stopped crying for it!)

Enough out of me!  Let me hear from YOU — comments are always appreciated and enjoyed.  And I hope that wherever you are YOU are experiencing that “indescribable something” that marks fall, whether fall is literally falling where you live or not.  There’s an “energy” to fall that can be captured no matter where you are, and we wish that for you!

Our love to all!!




Posted in Cost of Living, Family, Life in the U.S., Weather | 4 Comments

Beginnings and Endings

These past few weeks have brought us a pretty large dose of both.  Beginnings are cheerful, let’s start there.

David had his aortic valve in his heart replaced yesterday, in a remarkable process where they literally thread the new valve, safely tucked away in a catheter, up through the femoral artery from his groin to his heart, then “pop” that baby into place, pushing out the old malfunctioning valve, and poof — renewed heart.   ;-)

We take this stuff so “for-granted” these days, but when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing.  This particular form of valve replacement has been done in Europe for quite a while, here in the states for some 5 or 6 years [edit–for about 2 years, only 1 year at the University hospital here], and slightly oddly is still considered to be the “less optimal” option by Medicare, notwithstanding less risk, HUGELY less recovery time for the patient, and a whole host of other attractive features.  Go figure.

David didn’t initially “qualify” and we thought we were in for open-heart surgery.  The first surgeon who reported this to us was so matter-of-fact about it that we both just nodded and went “okay.”



Not okay.

It took a week or two of our various research and reading and basically “processing” the realities of open-heart surgery for us both to come up — independently and pretty simultaneously — with the decision we needed to re-open this conversation and convince them that he needed this less-invasive procedure.

We succeeded and have been anticipating this procedure ever since.  He was originally “scheduled” (using the term loosely) for the *first* of May, and it was only shortly before that when they broke the news to us that the necessary anesthesiologist wasn’t available then, so it would have to be pushed to the 29th. (There are multiple anesthesiologists involved in this complex procedure, but one that is particularly unique and, as it turned, out, unavailable.  Such is life.)

Part of the complication here is that most “catheter” procedures like angiograms and the like are done in a specially prepared “cath lab” but for for this more elaborate procedure, they actually have to convert an operating room into both O.R. *and* cath lab — “just in case” you know.  If things go wrong, they need to be able to crack you open. And they only do this elaborate conversion twice a month.

So, finally his date came but when we went for pre-op tests the day before surgery, there were some potential problems.  A plan was put in place to do all we could to still *potentially* go through with the surgery, but then would you believe it, the magical “live x-ray” machine that lets them see inside your body from the outside BROKE.

Yep, broke.  Nothing but static.  Luckily it broke BEFORE they’d actually embarked on any surgery, so it was an inconvenience, not a tragedy.

For the initial potential problem we’d been told he’d be in line for just the following week, but now with the broken machine, the other procedure they would have done that day got “his” slot and he was pushed back for three more weeks.

Can you say “frustrating”?  To his credit, he took it well.  And, as life sometimes has a way of doing, things worked out because in the intervening weeks, we were faced with endings.

Avila feeding her GaGa

A week before his scheduled date of the 29th, we’d enrolled Mom in hospice.  At the time it wasn’t so much that we really thought her end was that nearly upon us, but rather that she finally “qualified” and there are some wonderful services that go along with hospice (including the most amazing harpist — yes! — who comes to your house and plays the harp.)  Although our initial intake nurse had her own beliefs that Mom wouldn’t be with us long, we were still hopeful and, in fact, in a couple of days after antibiotics for some lung gunk, she really did seem to be a good bit better.

That turned out to be a final and somewhat false “rally” and right after that she was clearly in a decline that one had to think was probably her final one.  It seemed clear that her body was getting ready to release her, that her time in physical form was coming to an end.

Ironically, a full week before the actual final event, I woke in the early morning hours to realize I hadn’t heard a single peep out of her through the monitor.  The next couple of hours passed, and as I dozed in the pre-dawn I came to grips with the “fact” that she had passed on during the night.  It all fit, and I felt ready to deal with it.  (No, I didn’t leap up out of bed at 4:45 am to check.  If she really was gone she would still be gone at 7 am.)

But wait, around 6:45 when I was getting ready to get up, I heard her cough.  Okay.  Not quite gone yet.

But for me that couple of hours of “processing” proved to be key to the next week.  I had faced it. Now when it finally did come, I’d be ready.

Butterfly princess at rest

She never got out of bed after that, and was luckily pretty doze-y and didn’t seem to be suffering.  The wondrous granddaughter Avila came in once and waved her magic butterfly-princess wand over her to help her tummy feel better, and in fact that part of her DID feel much better over the next day, so we’re all for butterfly-princess-power.  Of course, the larger picture was likely somewhat beyond the power of those wings or wand.   It’s a tough one, with one so young who in the long-term won’t remember this, but in the short term is clearly keenly aware of her GaGa — how (and even *what*) do you explain.  We’re still working on that one.

Hospice was wonderful and we benefited, I know, by our acceptance over the past months that “Mom” was basically already gone.  It definitely made it easier to let go of her physical body.

And so, in the early morning of Sunday, 2 June, her body did, indeed, finally release her from this physical form.  I am comforted to know that her spirit — which has been so confused in these past months as she lost any knowing of who we were, or even finally who she was — has reunited with Daddy, with my baby brother David, her sister Dinny, her own parents, and certainly many others waiting to greet her on the other side.

I’ve often said over the past year or two that I was “half-prepared” on any given morning to go in to get her up and find that she’d slipped away during the night.  I did discover that there’s a lot to that “other half” — lt was still gut-wrenching in some ways. And I know for my brother, too, where distance can keep alive the feeling that things will “continue on” for a while longer.  Sometimes almost harder, I think, for those loved ones further away.  At least here, when you’re right in the thick of it, the course of nature seems more, well, natural.

But so it goes, right?  The circle of life continues, and my mom’s life had become a very small circle indeed.  I have to believe that her essential essence, her spirit, is far happier to be released from the prison of the damage to her brain, and be back with others who have gone before.

There are some weird “side-effects” of all this. Although there were clearly expenses associated with our taking care of Mom, some didn’t “disappear” with her passing — the house we’d rented in order to accommodate all of us, for instance, is still here.  So I’ve got some scrambling to do to replace a net loss of household income.  But, we’ve always managed before; I’m absolutely certain we’ll manage now.  (Hey, if you know someone who needs a writer/website designer/blogger — speak up!!)

As we know… life goes on.  In our case, a particularly poignant reminder with both a renewed life and a departing one.  It reminds us to always keep our loved ones in our hearts, say “I love you” often, live each day as though it might be your last…. we send to you all our loving wishes for your great happiness, in whatever circumstances life gives you.


Posted in Family, Health and Medical, Life in the U.S. | 16 Comments

Costa Rican Weather

Yep.  That’s what we’ve got at the moment in Utah.  Around 65 when we get up in the morning, around 85 mid-afternoon.  Clear blue skies all day, gentle breeze.  Of course, that all makes sense given that Costa Rica’s central valley is often referred to as having “year round spring” weather and it is, in fact, spring here now!  ;-)

And a beautiful spring it’s been, too.  Like many things in Costa Rica, we chose not to “miss” the changing of the seasons and, in fact, appreciated what change there was — that is, from dry season to wet (as is happening around now) and then back to dry again in November.  And the end of the “windy season” was always welcome.  But, truthfully, now that we’re back into a true four-season location, we really are enjoying those changes.

(And, yes, of course there is likely to come some time in the future when the arrival of winter, for instance, might seem less enthralling and maybe then we’ll be attracted to CR’s eternal spring again, or maybe we’ll find some other exotic place to visit for a while.  But for now, we’re still enjoying all four seasons.)

Sunset cocktails for the hummingbirds

We luckily missed out on those last couple of late-season snowstorms that hit the midwest, so we’re deeply into green grass, leafy trees, and flowers with those wonderful temperatures that require neither heat nor cooling.  It’s been fun watching our hummingbirds again along with an explosion of other returning migratees. (Hmmm, spell-check says there’s not such a word?  You know what I mean, though, right?)  Since neither of us had ever lived out west before, we’re still learning our local birds, although some like the plentiful bald eagles that are here year ’round are pretty easy to recognize!

Spring will also finally bring a new aortic valve to David’s heart, two weeks from now in fact.  We’re delighted that he’s qualified for the trans-catheter procedure which is SO much less invasive (and WAY less recovery time and problems) than open-heart which they’d first scheduled him for.

Avila reading to Poppy

There are likely to still be other visits to the cath-lab over the summer depending on what specific benefits (or not) he gets solely from the new valve, but by the time we change seasons again to fall, he should really be in tip-top shape which will be great for everyone.  Avila loves to spend time with her Poppy, so for him to get a good all-over “tune-up” now so that he can keep up with her in years to come… well, let’s just say we’re grateful that we’re back in the land of Medicare and a first-class hospital associated with the University of Utah.

Speaking of Avila, she celebrated her second birthday a few weeks ago and while she’s still a little peanut physically, she’s becoming such a “big girl” right before our very eyes.  The talking explosion has continued and we are steadily amazed at the stuff that comes out of her mouth.  She is always watching, always noticing, and remembering everything it seems.  I see a fun summer ahead of us.

Okay, I’m getting the timing between posts down (three months before my last previous post and only two months this time!) so I’ll keep shooting for a bit more frequency.  And, please, leave COMMENTS!  Even if it’s just to say hi.  I love comments!  ;-)


Posted in Family, Health and Medical, Life in the U.S., Weather | 4 Comments

Winter came, winter went

I know… more than three months without a post — what’s up with that?!?  ;-)  Sorry, I continue to “experience” much of our lives with the thought, “that would make an interesting blog post” but somehow a significant gap has developed between that thought and the act of putting fingers to keyboard.

No one much has complained, so maybe interest has waned on even reading about our little adventures here, but on the other hand, maybe everyone else is just as busy as we’ve been and they just haven’t noticed the rather alarming lack of posting.  (And thanks to Kathy Bell for giving me a little kick in the butt to actually DO IT.)

Sledding with LuLu

Sledding with LuLu

Getting started on the shoveling

Quite simply, since the last time I wrote, winter has come, and winter has gone. Or, at least, we’re all thinking that it’s MOSTLY gone now that we can see our yards again for the first time in almost 4 months.  I’m still thinking we’ll get another little snow or two, but probably no more “big ones” and that’s just fine.

According to long-time residents, along with the “official” report, this has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory.  We’ve joked with Chris and Louise that it’s actually good to have such a “hard” winter for our first full winter here when it’s all still somewhat of a novelty.   ;-)  Truly, none of us have minded it, although it’s equally true that we’re excited by the impending arrival of spring. (That is, after all, the beauty of 4 seasons, right?)

I’m not going to try to really report on the past months — I’m already prone to long posts, that would jump us right up into genuine epic-length material — so let’s hit the high points.

Avila loved the packages!

Christmas was delightful.  Avila enjoyed it even more than I would have expected at her age, so we just had a blast. After our Costa Rica years of almost completely ignoring the whole gift-giving “thing” we were in a good position to appreciate having the luxury of doing some fun shopping while also staying pretty conservative with expenditures and the simple quantity of gifts. So we hit a really nice balance between Maine’s excesses and Costa Rica’s austerity and it was lovely.

Snow removal elves

The winter has flown by. We’ve all done our share of snow-shoveling and we had more than one experience of our warm “local community” — one time, after a particularly deep snowfall, we’d been plugging away on the shoveling but still had a good bit to do when a truck pulled up and out jumped a pile of elves.  Okay, not elves, but the bishop and his family, and they popped out with a snow blower and shovels and a bunch of folks and finished us off in short order.  A day or so later another neighbor knocked at the door to say that he’d be up with his snow blower the next day to clear out the required area in front of our mailbox. And you wonder why we love it here!

But, while the snow was fine, we’re delighted to see bare ground again, and start gardening.  We’re pruning fruit trees, roses, clearing beds, and getting ready to plant cool-weather crops. We’ve discovered a somewhat bizarre but potentially really interesting process for “bagging” our apples (literally putting each little dime-sized apple in a bag to protect from the all-pervasive coddling moth) so we’ll keep you posted on that in the months to come. (I’ll bet you can hardly wait! But I’m ridiculously excited, seriously.)

Although the arrival of spring is welcome, it has brought some unwelcome health challenges.  First Chris took a seemingly simple slip on their back steps and in an admittedly fluke-y outcome, burst a subcutaneous cyst in his back and ended up in the hospital a week later with a raging infection.  There’s ongoing work treating both the original wound and now resulting blood clots, but all looks pretty promising and the medical care he’s gotten at our local hospital has been great.

David, too, has found spring to bring some medical “stuff” which seems likely to result in open-heart surgery sometime in the fairly near future.  He’d had rheumatic fever when he was a child and we knew there was valve damage that would catch up with him someday.  The cardiologist in Costa Rica had been pretty blithe that it might be many more years before the damage “mattered” but seems like that might have been a bit optimistic.  A valve replacement seems assured, so now we’re just looking into the details, how to make him the strongest he can be for the surgery, when is the best time to do it, etc. etc.

Our expectation is that the end result will be well worth it, but since he’s the world’s worst “surgical candidate” (based on our past experiences which are in the “world-class-horrible” category) we’ve got some work to do between now and then to make this a manageable process for everyone!  ;-)  We’re finding out some VERY interesting things about magnesium oil (and magnesium deficiency) and other general “immune system boosters” that we’ll plan to put into effect before surgery, just to tilt the scales in our favor!

But aside from these momentary challenges, we continue to love it here.  The little miss is approaching her 2nd birthday in April and has suddenly exploded with her talking. Seriously, after an initially “early” set of words, she sort-of settled into some months of no-particular-growth in the language department.  She ended that this past month with a non-stop talking streak where she has words for everything, including sentences and words for things you wouldn’t have even thought she’s ever been exposed to.  It’s been fun!  (Although sure as hell makes you watch out for your cussing!)

Before this truly does become an epic, I’ll close now and hope that anyone who’s reading this is enjoying their own “spring” — whether that’s literally in the weather, or perhaps just in the springing forth of new energies, new growth, and new light.  Our love to you all.





Posted in Family, Health and Medical, Life in the U.S., Weather | 9 Comments

Giving Thanks

Okay, yes, I know that Thanksgiving was a week ago.  No one can ever accuse me of being overly prompt with my postings!  But despite being a week late, I didn’t want to let the occasion go by without at least a brief noting.

Turning our CR house into a restaurant for Turkey Day

Although Thanksgiving is not a Costa Rican holiday, you can see the presence of the gringos in the fact that even in our comparatively small town of San Ramon, American turkeys appeared at the supermarket in early November (for around $3 a pound), along with wildly expensive cranberry sauce, cream of mushroom soup and french friend onions (for the requisite green bean casserole), canned sweet potatoes, and the ingredients for stuffing.  (Many of these were not, in fact, available locally and usually required at least one trip to AutoMercado and PriceSmart.)

Grand turkey carving in CR

Nonetheless, we enjoyed six wonderful Thanksgivings in Costa Rica, four with BIG parties at our house (the largest being 54 people for formal Thanksgiving dinner) and the last with a small dinner at our friends Tom and Susan’s house.  They were all great and we loved them all.

This year, though, we were able to give thanks for being back with our family!  We had a lovely Turkey Day dinner at our house here, with various elements contributed by all and it was a delight.  Small by our Costa Rican standards, but wonderful by all accounts.  We roasted up a 25 pound bird and made mashed potatoes plus a last minute inspiration for a spinach and artichoke heart souffle-ish casserole.

Turkey carving

Gathering at the table

Jen and Larry made their famous all-homemade green been casserole, Grand Marnier sweet potatoes in orange cups, and mushroom/pancetta dressing. (Not to mention the spectacular shrimp cocktail!) Kate brought her famous stuffing and wine, and Megan brought pies, including a yummy homemade apple pie, plus gorgeous homemade rolls.  (She’s apparently been working on the rolls for previous occasions, without the success she’d hoped for, but she hit a home run with these!)  Chris and Louise brought lovely wine (as did Collin) and a good time was had by all!

It was a cool but sunny day, as most are here, and we enjoyed the sheer luxury of being back in the land where Thanksgiving is the order of the day, rather than an odd aberration of a tiny minority of residents.  ;-)

Of course, also back in the “land of Thanksgiving” is the land of “Christmas Season starts the next day”… (not that Costa Rica skips this — since they don’t have Thanksgiving to officially mark the beginning of the Christmas Season, they basically start now in late September!)  Thanksgiving was SO early this year, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it (although most everyone we know did) and we’ll probably buy a Christmas tree this weekend.

We enjoyed that 12′ artificial tree the past few years in Costa Rica, but by contrast we’re also really looking forward to buying a real tree this year. So stay tuned for those updates!


Posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Life in the U.S., Weather | 4 Comments

Fall fell into winter

I’d closed my post the other day mentioning that it had snowed and we had about 4 inches.  A nice little layer to give a hint of winter to come and we expected it would be gone the next day, the way our previous little “hint” of winter had done a couple of weeks before.

Yes, a bit more than 4 inches of snow

Turns out I was a little ahead of myself in the presumption of a quick disappearance to the snow.  When we got up the next morning, as daylight arrived through our big glass slider, I happened to be curled up in bed facing the other way.  So when David said, “Did you see the snow?” I rolled over and deliberately looked out at the deck railing — the most obvious “measurement” of snow depth.  Yikes! That 4 inches from the previous day now looked to be closer to a foot.

(I actually measured just a bit later in the morning and it was — at that time — just under 10 inches.  And THEN it proceeded to snow for the rest of that day and night, and all the next day.)

Although it snowed nearly constantly for the rest of the weekend, it was mostly light, with small flakes, so it didn’t add up to as much as it could have, and it was hard to get a final depth since our reliable railing measurement system became less reliable as snow got blown off, brushed off, squished down by its own weight, and so on.  If I had to guess, I’d say we got around 18″ total.

Luckily we had snow shoveling assistance

It was very handy that my dear old friend, Ursula, was visiting since she pitched right in — really above and beyond the call of duty! — and helped out with the shoveling.  Given the extended “range” of the snowfall, we had to shovel the driveway several times, but the good news I guess is that meant we never were shoveling off the full 18 inches at one time!  ;-)


Our snowy house

The sun conveniently came out for a while on Sunday morning, so I was able to get some pretty shots before it clouded up and started snowing again.  Just as we’d experienced when we first arrived here last February, they get the roads cleared very quickly.  So for much of the weekend, driving was actually no problem and the snow didn’t affect either Ursula’s arrival Friday night or departure Sunday afternoon.

A winter wonderland, for sure!


The next ten days are predicted to be sunny, snow-free, and I suspect my original expectation that the snow all disappears will prove correct, even though my timetable was obviously a bit off.  And we’re the first to acknowledge there may certainly come a time when the arrival of 18 inches of snow in early November will be viewed with dread rather than joy, but for now we’re just enjoying the beauty, appreciating the dry roads and sunny days, and having a blast with this early taste of winter.  More pictures below — hope you enjoy them!

Looking out our backyard

Admire that snow-free driveway

Looking up to the left in front of our house

Across the street

The snowy town below

A day and a half later, snow's half gone

Throwing snowballs at her daddy. Jen says her aim was great, but not so much on distance!




Posted in Life in the U.S., Weather | 10 Comments

Fall is Falling

I can hardly believe it’s been nearly seven weeks since my last post, when we’d first gone in search of fall leaves.  As the weeks since then have passed, we’d been waiting for our own “local” leaves to start turning, but that’s only happened recently.  We’ve had a delightful fall, with most days in the 70s, nights cool but not cold, although we did have our first snow a couple of weeks ago!

That was gone within the day, though, and Halloween was 70 degrees and perfect for kids in their costumes.  We still open our bedroom slider every night, although we did break down and put the “winter comforter” on the other day. (We have yet to actually *use* it, though, largely shoving it to the middle of the bed where GrisGris just considers it extra padding to sleep on!)

We found our local leaves weren’t quite as spectacular as those we’d seen on our leaf-peeping trip up the mountain, but pretty nonetheless.  Just a little “quieter” overall.

Leaves at Mom's day care center

Although, these trees at the entrance to Mom’s day care center were showing off their stuff in recent days!  And the poplars in our back yard are pretty, too, starting to turn bright yellow from the top down, as though yellow paint had been applied from the top and took a while to work its way down the entire tall tree.

Our poplars turning yellow


And the tree across the street gave us a pretty view out our living room slider, along with some recent sunsets that were pretty show-stopping.

View out the slider






Fall sunset over the wetlands and the lake






Picking grapes

But, of course, fall isn’t entirely about the leaves. (Well, mostly, sure….) It also proved to be grape-picking time.  Unfortunately, on day one of grape picking we only got about half of them, and when David went out a week or so later, the remaining grapes had vanished. Completely. No sign of them.  Odd.  Deer? Birds? Neighbors?  They are the “grape-est” tasting grapes I’ve ever eaten, but with the seeds in them, kind-of a pain-in-the-you-know-what to eat, so I got out the ol’ juicer and juiced ‘em all up the other day.  Now I’ve got a liter of this intense grape juice in the fridge.  Now what?  Drink it?  Make grape jelly? Dye something purple? You got any ideas?


I mentioned Halloween earlier, but how could any

Halloween cowgirl

discussion of Halloween be complete without showing the little cowgirl?  (The cowgirl shares part of most days with her cowdogs, too, who all had their own costumes as well, but sadly my photos of them are less than ideal.  But just picture a couple of boy dogs in cowboy vests and hats, and their lady-friend Roxie in a tutu, and you’ve got the picture.  They seem bizarrely content to be dressed up, and Halloween does come but once a year….)   We knew those red cowboy boots she acquired for a pony party back in the summer would come in handy!  We enjoyed having trick-or-treaters again — or, actually, practically for the first time since in Maine we always lived so “rural” that trick-or-treaters were few and far between.  Even now, we’re at the “top of the hill” and as one of our neighbors described, the kids from below us don’t want to climb the hill!  But we still had a number of them, all decked out, polite as could be, and we only indulged in the leftover candy for one week before taking the rest of it to Mom’s day care center for them to enjoy!  ;-)

I’ve had this post “in mind” for several days now, but life’s been busy so it took a while to go from mind to computer.  Perhaps, as a result, I should’ve called it “Fall Has Fallen” since we woke up today to falling snow, and it snowed all day.  Just a light snow, probably not more than 4 inches total, and it’ll probably be gone again within a day or two, so it’s not really like winter has arrived.  But it did seem appropriate as punctuation to our imploding pumpkin that the layer of snow was enough weight to transform our slightly-floppy and leaning pumpkin to a pumpkin pancake only about 3 inches high!  The seasons do change, and we’re enjoying the process.


Posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Life in the U.S., Weather | 8 Comments

The leaves, they are a changin’

It is well documented in my book (Unraveling the Mysteries of Moving to Costa Rica) that I had decided I’d seen enough change of seasons, that I wasn’t missing it at all in Costa Rica.  And that was absolutely true when I wrote it.

BUT, a couple more years have passed since then and, in fact, I did miss it, although certainly that alone wouldn’t have been reason enough to come back.  ;-)

So, here we are, back in the land of four-true-seasons, so a couple of days ago, we set out with Chris and Louise to see ourselves some leaves!

And, indeed, we did exactly that. Some gorgeous leaves, to be more precise.  We dropped Mom at the Day Center around 9 (a little earlier than usual) and consolidated ourselves into Chris and Louise’s Durango.  We headed out the highway, briefly, before turning off onto roads less traveled.

With much ooh-ing and ahhh-ing, we wound our way up to Midway, in the

The mix of greens, yellows, and red was part of the beauty

Heber Valley up beyond the well-known ski area of Park City.  (You can get to Park City — or Midway, for that matter — by a much more direct highway route, but we weren’t after speed and efficiency, we were after LEAVES!)

Midway was the site of Swiss Days, where I’d gone a few weeks ago with Jen, Kate, and Megan, and we’d planned on going back there with Chris and Louise one of these days just to poke around, sans festival.  So we found a great antique shop — quite large with some very handsome pieces — and all amused ourselves wandering around a bit, feeling like tourists.

We then asked for directions to the key place that *I* wanted to go, a nearby dairy that sold raw milk and artisan cheeses.  As it turned out, the antique shop owner knew exactly the place, and the landmark in the directions (turn left at Tarahumara) turned out to also be her recommendation for lunch. (“The best Mexican food, it’s the BOMB!” she said.)

What is there to say? Gorgeous!

So, two half-gallons of raw milk, several chunks of yummy cheese, an absolutely delicious lunch with the most spectacular salsa bar I’ve ever seen, followed by a stop at their bakery for (of all things) amazing Tiramisu and chocolate eclairs (go figure) to go… and we were back on the road in search of more leaves.

We headed back around through the Uintas National Forest (adjacent to our own Wasatch National Forest), past the Timpanogos Cave National Monument, along about 15 miles of narrow, very twisty-turn-y, but beautifully paved road, past more spectacular fall leaves.

I’m sure that there will be cold, blustery days in the winter(s) to come when we’ll remember Costa Rica’s “year ’round spring” with longing, but for now, it was wonderful to again see the splendor of the changing leaves.

And along with fall leaves comes fall apple picking, and we spent the day canning apples!  So stay tuned for a new post soon with our excellent adventures in the kitchen!

The most recent harvest

And now that we folks in the U.S. and Canada are *officially* into fall, Happy Fall everyone!


Posted in Life in the U.S., Moving back to the U.S., Weather | 7 Comments