Monday, March 24, 2014

Sweet Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen years ago today, I became a mother.  Apparently that’s a big milestone, which I didn’t realize until I glanced at Pinterest for some cake ideas and saw photo after photo of extravagant ballroom parties, eight-foot-high cakes, and dresses that are fancier than many wedding gowns.  I panicked for a few minutes until I told myself those kind of parties only happen in extremely high society and THANK GOODNESS we are not high society because there is no way I could ever compete with that.
 
But my sweet 16-year-old is pretty fantastic (maybe I’m biased, but I’d say she is much more fantastic than the spoiled society princesses), so we did our best to make it a special occasion.
 
 
Yesterday Chloe, Neve and I had a lovely brunch at Buccacinos with Janet, Bailey and Tia. After we ate our fill (and then some), we had fun browsing in Osborne Village for a while before Chloe and I headed over to the spa at the Forks. We warmed up in the steam room, lounged in the relaxation room, and then had massages in awesome heated massage beds. We finished off with another round in the steam room and a rain-shower. We both felt so relaxed and refreshed; it was amazing.
 
Then we headed home, right on schedule, and when Chloe stepped in the door, a big group of family and friends shouted “SURPRISE!”  I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to pull it off, but she insisted she didn’t have a clue. It was a great evening with lots of food and cake and candy and family and friends and presents and lots of love.  We feel so lucky to have Chloe, and on top of that, such an awesome group of family and friends who love and support her too.  Sorry, I know this is a sappy post, but I really do feel so fortunate in so many ways.  I’m sure I’ll get back to the sarcasm and cynicism in no time.
 
 
 


We had a little photo booth set up, so the kids had fun with that.  I haven't even had a chance to go through the hundreds of pictures Neve and Anna took; these are just a sample.











The cake looked better in my head, but the chocolate covered strawberries added some class.


Notice the cupcakes in the shape of "16" in the background
 




A couple of Chloe's favourite people in the world

Admiring a gift from another one of Chloe's favourite people


Chloe’s main gift from us was a limo ride to school this morning. I was concerned that it would look like a spoiled rich-kid thing to do, but I justified it by the fact I could have spent the same amount on a sweatshirt that she’d forget about in a year or two.  I feel pretty confident we made the right decision, because it was a big hit. I’m usually adamant about only giving gifts on the actual birthday, but we had to tell Chloe about it yesterday so she could make arrangements with her friends.  So this morning, the limo arrived at 8:00 a.m. One of Chloe’s friends came to our house, and then they picked up a couple more friends, went to Starbucks in Osborne Village for drinks, and then got dropped off at school. I’m guessing they caused quite a scene wherever they went, especially because one of Chloe’s friends had “Baby Think It Over” with her – the same baby simulator that Chloe had in fall (the friend posted a picture on Twitter of the baby in the limo with the caption “Baby’s first limo ride”).







Neve was thrilled to sit in the limo for a few seconds. She's not going to let us forget this when her 16th birthday draws near.



The celebrations continued tonight with sushi for dinner, cupcakes to take to cheer practice, presents, and popcorn while watching The Amazing Race.  It was a good, busy, fun day that will be remembered for a long time.  Happy Birthday, Chloe!  I love you like crazy.
 
 
I included this picture to show all the snow.  Some years, there is no snow on the ground on Chloe's birthday. I hope with all my heart that next year we will be shocked and horrified by this picture, as we wear shorts and eat birthday cake on the deck.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The van lives on



You may remember we had some van repair issues two years ago just before our trip to the East Coast.  Never mind, you probably don’t remember. Nor should you.  The condensed version is that we took our van to the shop for some minor tune-up work shortly before leaving on a three-week driving trip.  It ended up costing us $2000, which was about $1900 more than our van was worth at the time.  But the trip was coming up, we had no time or money to shop for a new van, so we got it all fixed up and off we went.  Besides some issues with the air conditioning on that trip (which the garage corrected upon our return), since that time we have had to put almost no money into repairs. So in hindsight, it was worth spending the money to have two more years of trouble-free van ownership.

Fast forward to this week.  We suddenly have power steering issues, which apparently has been a common problem here lately.  Oh Winter, haven’t you tormented us enough? We take the van to the shop and end up with an estimate of $1800 to fix the power steering as well as other critical (in their opinion) problems.  We have the same problem as we did two years ago: we’re leaving on a trip soon and we have no time or money to buy a new van. We know it’s nonsensical to throw more money at an old van that wouldn’t pass safety but we do anyway because we’re under pressure to make a decision. I fear we’ve made the wrong decision, but if our van lasts another nine months or so, it the expense of the repairs will be worth it and we’ll be happy.  Because around Christmas time, we’re magically going to have an abundance of time and money to buy a new van.

So that’s our unpleasant van situation. Oh well, we like the guys at our mechanic shop and they are always happy to see us and our credit card. It will be sad when we finally get a new vehicle and our relationship with them will weaken and fade away.  We probably won’t even be invited to their children’s birthday parties anymore.

Since they had to order a part, they kept the van overnight which meant I had to take the bus to work this morning. I very rarely take the bus, but it stops right at the corner of our street and gets me to work quite quickly. I checked the bus schedule and left the house with plenty of time to spare. But I always get paranoid that I will JUST miss the bus, so I ran in my high heeled boots all the way to the bus stop. That was a good thing, because when I got to the stop, the bus was already at our back lane. I hopped on, paid my fare and settled into a seat. Two stops later, I suddenly realize I forgot my laptop at home.  So I get out the back door of the bus, walk home, get my laptop, and catch the next bus 20 minutes later.  That was annoying.

Tonight when I told the kids about my little bus drama, Chloe asked if I had gotten a transfer from the bus driver so I wouldn’t have to pay bus fare again. 

I said, “No, I didn’t want to walk up to the front of the bus and draw attention to myself and have all the other passengers wonder why I was getting off right after I had gotten on. Sneaking out the back door and saving my dignity was worth paying another $2.55.”

Spencer exclaimed, “They make you pay if you go out the back door?!”

I should be getting them to take the bus more often.  Chloe’s been hesitant about taking the bus ever since she meant to go to Polo Park but ended up on North Main, but she faced her fears and took the bus downtown to the career fair (and back) on Tuesday.

We should probably just get rid of the van and take the bus everywhere instead. It's all good until you forget your laptop.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cost Rica - Part 2


Okay, here’s part two of our Costa Rica report for those of you who are interested. To the rest of you, this post should wrap up the vacation update so it should be safe to come back here later this week.



Excursion

The four of us went on an all-day excursion with a guy we met on the beach. We arranged to meet him the next morning, but a different guy showed up. We weren’t sure whether he was affiliated with the first guy since he didn’t even know where we were going and we only understood about 75% of what he said, but somehow it all worked out okay.  We went to a waterfall where we could swim and go behind the falls, then we went ziplining.  We were skeptical when our guide drove us to someone’s house with no other people around, and in the yard was an empty swimming pool and a zipline not much bigger than the one my dad built. After about 15 minutes, some people came swinging down the zipline, finishing up their tour.  Then the guides led us up the hill and we were relieved to find out there were fourteen different platforms we would be zipping between, rather than just the one we’d seen from the yard.  The guides were great; they even took our cameras for the whole time and took lots of pictures of us swinging through the forest. It was a lot of fun and the whole experience proved once again that low expectations hardly ever result in disappointment.





After lunch, we walked around a volcano and played in the mud. We all had the feeling that the locals/employees were laughing at us for being stupid enough to follow the guide’s instructions when he told us to coat ourselves in mud. But we did it anyway because we’ll never see them again.  After we scrubbed it all off, we did a sauna and hot springs, and then went on the most awesome waterslide ever.  By “awesome,” I mean primitive, unsafe, bizarre, but hilarious. We raised our eyebrows when we saw the old slide and a little frightened when we learned we were required to wear helmets and inner tubes to protect our body from being bashed against the cement sides, it was so much fun and I’ve never laughed that much on a waterslide before. We’re lucky to have avoided any permanent injuries.  We also had the option to go horseback riding to see another waterfall.  Someone had told us the horses were so decrepit that they felt bad riding them, so we opted out of that.

I wasn't going to post this for all to see, but this picture makes me laugh every single time I look at it.




On the way back to the resort, there was a festival in one of the towns we drove through on our way home, so the guide suddenly stopped the van and said to meet him in an hour.  I’m not sure if he had some business to attend to or if he thought we’d like to watch the parade that was about to start. Either way, it was cool to see a bit of local culture. I don’t know what the occasion was but it involved cute little children riding on ponies. I don’t think we celebrate that holiday in Canada.



Food

I ate a lot. Maybe not as much as Jim and Sabrina, but I got my money’s worth. The buffet was good and had lots of options.  There was usually a delicious lunch at the outdoor grill by the pool, but the a la carte restaurants we went to in the evenings were just okay. We ate tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and pico de gallo at pretty much every meal, as well as lots of fresh fruit.  The pineapple and watermelon were especially sweet and fresh and yummy. The buffet had a small section of traditional Costa Rica food, which I regret not trying more of. We did eat a traditional rice and beans and fish meal on our excursion, which was really good but the restaurant was totally geared towards tourists so it’s hard to know how authentic it was.  At the resort, we tried to be thorough with the drink sampling - strawberry daiquiris, rum punch, Dirty Monkeys, and yummy drinks served in coconuts.  It's very important to stay hydrated when it's so hot.  



In the horrifying food category, here's a dead pig.  Even worse was the half eaten carcass of a second pig that's too disturbing to post.



Animals

Went we went ziplining, we saw white-faced monkeys, coatis (which are like raccoons), and an agouti (big rat with long skinny legs). At the resort, we saw howler monkeys a couple of times, as well as iguanas and lizards. Jim and Sabrina also saw crocodiles and more monkeys on a river boat excursion they did. I was sorry we didn’t see any tree frogs, giant sea turtles or snakes, but on the positive side, we also saw very few birds.  The only time the birds affected me was at breakfast when they came way too close for comfort. So unfortunately Dale and I had to eat breakfast inside every day, but at least then we were closer to the fresh fruit.



Besides the birds at breakfasts, the only other thing I could have done without were the fires burning in the hills near our resort. We were in a part of Costa Rica that was less rain-forest and more arid and dry. The trees on the hills around our resort were brown and dormant, and apparently every year at this time, there are fires. We were told there was nothing to worry about but with the language barrier, we weren’t totally convinced. The smoke smell was quite strong sometimes and on the last day, there were ashes floating into the pool. It wasn’t a big deal for us, but if you had asthma or allergies, it would have been less pleasant.

Looks like the resort is on fire.  It's not quite as close as it looks, but almost.


Home stretch

On the way home, we had an overnight stop in Chicago. It was a good transition because knowing we still had another 24 hours of holidays lessened the sadness of leaving Costa Rica. And since Chicago was freezing cold, we were already used to the cold weather by the time we arrived in Winnipeg.  In Chicago, we stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel just off Magnificent Mile – the décor was very modern and artsy and it had the most comfortable bed ever. Our time was short and sweet, but we had awesome burgers at Grand Lux Café for dinner (which is affiliated with the Cheesecake Factory), walked along Michigan Ave. (stopping to buy hats and mitts along the way), saw the bean at Millenium Park, went to a really cute café for breakfast, and went to a few shops.





And then suddenly we were back home. We had a happy reunion with the kids and then after about half an hour, it was, “Mom, you have to help me with my New Zealand project” and “Mom, I need help with my science fair project” and “Mom, I got a concussion while you were away.” Actually Chloe texted us about her concussion while we were still in Costa Rica. By the time she told us, she had already been to the doctor and things were under control. She fell during Cheer practice and hit her head. The doctor gave her strict instructions not to go to school for two days and to do no homework, no physical activity or tests until she was 100% better. She’s much better now, although she’s still taking it easy with physical activity.


That’s more detail than I thought I would go into, but right now there’s a blizzard raging outside so I’d much rather think and write about Costa Rica. Anthony and Doug & Lorie and their kids are off to Mexico tomorrow … I wish we were going too.  The last (and only other) time we were at an all-inclusive resort holiday was with them. Even though we were at a different resort in a different country this time, so many things reminded me of our holiday with them. I thought of Teresa a thousand times – so many good memories, but sadness that there won’t ever be another trip with her to make more memories.

Before Jim and Sabrina start to get hurt feelings, let me say that they were also awesome to vacation with. Dale and I like to sit and read and nap, but Jim and Sabrina liked to take part in every activity the resort offered.  They were on a first-name basis with all of the recreation staff – playing beach volleyball, ping pong, aerobics in the pool, pilates on the beach, dancing on stage in the evening show, or just starting conversations at the swim-up bar - you name it, they were in. If they weren’t there, we may have spent the entire week in our lounge chairs, so it was good that they got us doing stuff too. We had tons of fun with them, laughed a lot, and made many happy memories. The whole trip exceeded all of my expectations and I would go back in a second.  Especially this blustery second.





Okay, now I’m done. 

Photo bomb by the crazy Monkey Man who choked Sabrina and bit Dale

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Costa Rica Report - Part 1





I’ve been working on this Costa Rica post in bits and pieces all week.  I've decided to post it in segments because it's getting way too long and overwhelming.  I apologize already - I know reading about other people's vacations is not everyone's idea of fun. I was trying to tread that fine line between writing enough about our vacation so that I can look back in a few years and be reminded of the happy memories, but not enough to bore you silly. I have definitely erred on the boring side, so please feel free to skip any or all of it.There will probably not be a quiz but I’m not promising anything.  I've written it like a school report with paragraph headings - for some reason, that helped corral my disorganized thoughts.


Getting there
Since it’s our 25th anniversary this year (I know - we’re still so young! Don’t do the math.), we wanted to go somewhere a little out of the ordinary. We chose Costa Rica partly because I loved the pictures that Stephen and Sheri-Lee posted after their trip last year and partly because the price of the other place we were considering (St. Lucia) suddenly sky-rocketed. I knew very little about the area in Costa Rica where we were going; I meant to do more research before we left, but I ran out of time. Jim and Sabrina came with us (our efforts to shake them off were unsuccessful) and none of us knew exactly what to expect.



Getting there took a full day – we left Winnipeg at 7:45 a.m. and arrived at our resort around 10:00 p.m. We had to take three flights and I was worried that a delay on the first or second flight would mess things up, but it all went smoothly. After a half hour cab ride along dark narrow roads, swerving around oncoming traffic and hard-to-see cyclists, we were pretty happy to arrive at our little slice of paradise


The resort and beach
The resort was beautiful. The rooms were great - a nice size with high ceilings and a large balcony. The pool area was lush and tropical and amazing.  The beach was just down the path from the pool area, but we spent most of the time at the pool.  The sand on the beach was crazy hot and the ocean wasn’t crystal clear like the Caribbean. But it was gorgeous - a more rugged kind of beauty. I went for a run or walk on the beach almost every morning. We were always up early because after 7:30 a.m. or so, it was too hot to run.   One day we made our way across the rocks at the far end of the beach to a little deserted white sand beach where the water was clearer. Dale and I went on a little snorkelling excursion one morning; the boat took us around into another cove where the water was super clear and we saw tons of fish, including a very cool spotted eagle ray (like a manta ray). It would have been nice to have an underwater camera but I doubt I’m skilled enough to manage a camera and a snorkel at the same time. Another day, we tried snorkelling by our resort, but we only saw one angel fish. Dale bumped into a dead bloated sea gull that was bobbing around, so it wasn’t a total waste.



The weather
The first day there were a few puffy clouds in the sky, but after that we didn’t see a cloud until we flew through them on the way home. And it was hot.  So hot. Every single day.  Fry-an-egg-on-the-cement hot.  The pool deck got so hot that it was impossible to walk on without flip flops. The sand was even hotter.  The beach volleyball court was half in the shade and half in the sun, and if you didn’t get the shade side, you had to wear shoes or the bottom of your feet would be scalded.  Not sure if I said this already, but it was incredibly hot.  Normally the only time I wear sunscreen is the first beach day of summer, but here we reapplied #30 SPF many times each day, stayed in the shade almost all the time and we still got dark. That sun is intense. I loved every second of it.

The people
Costa Rica is a much more developed country than some other winter touristy destinations. It has its problems, but we always felt safe and the people were friendly. Spanish is the language; most people involved in the tourist industry spoke English reasonably well, however, there were many times we still couldn’t understand everything.  Luckily Sabrina also knows Spanish which was a huge help, but there were still some language barriers.  We would just nod and smile and say “si” and hope it wasn’t anything important like “EVACUATE THE BUILDING!”  We used a signal amongst ourselves when we had no idea what someone was saying.  It caused us all to start laughing each and every time, which surely tore down any confidence the ESL speaker may have built up.  Next time we’ll think up a more discreet signal than a loud, sharp, tongue-rolling BRRRT-BRRRT. 

The other resort guests were friendly too and there was always someone to start a conversation with if you wanted to (I usually didn’t). We met lots of people from all over the US and Canada (not one from Manitoba though) including a lady Sabrina pretty much saved from drowning, a couple Dale counselled on dietary issues, and a bunch of people Jim beat in ping pong.
To be continued!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Costa Rica



We got home yesterday from an amazing week in Costa Rica.  Here are a few pictures for now; I can't wait to write a complete trip summary, but it probably won't happen until the weekend.  It was a fantastic, dream vacation that I didn't want to ever end.  We were tempted to send for the children and begin a new life.


our view most days


Behind a waterfall


Oh look, Jim & Sabrina were there too!


our beach