Monday, July 29, 2013

These Shoes Were Made For Walking, or, Costa Rica Recap: Part II

After our super busy first full day in Costa Rica, we were happy to relax a little bit and slip back into some sort of schedule. (Interpretation: HOORAY FOR NAPTIME!) We decided not to river raft with a bunch of the family (Baggins can't wield a paddle quite yet) and instead spent the day lounging around and playing in the swimming pool while Daddy got some work done courtesy of the wifi in the lodge. The next day, we went on the 2 hour nature walk around the absolutely BEAUTIFUL grounds of the lodge.

Baggins and I took a short detour from the rest of the group while he finished screaming, but we were able to meet up with them again for the second half of the walk.

 Just, you know, a regular day.

We hiked down a million steps to this pretty waterfall while Daddy and Baggins stayed at the top. Let's not talk about whether I sort of fell down the stairs like an old person. (I am an old person.)

The whole hike was beautiful (and FREE!) but I have to admit we were pretty thrilled when a "Jungle Bus" (trailer behind a tractor in real life) picked us up at the end. It would've been a long walk home!

Baggins was so darn excited to be out of that hot baby sling he couldn't even stand it.

We wandered back up the hill to our villa and settled in for a quick nap. Here is where I brag a little more about my packing genius. I was pretty worried about what to do with Mister in terms of sleeping arrangements on the trip. Our kiddos have never slept with us, and I didn't think an international vacation was a good place to see if sleeping won out over the novelty of poking Mama and Daddy's faces all night. I knew he'd just hop out of a regular bed and wander around, and there was no way I was hauling my beloved (but bulky) pack and play all over Latin America.

The geniuses of the internet led me to this portable little tent. It folds up to about the size of a frisbee only a few inches thicker. AH-MAZ-ING. Worked like a champ, and kept the bugs out, to boot.

After nap time, the whole family went down to the hot tub to play around. It's much too long of a story to go into, but just know that at one point, Tommy had a life preserver around his waist tied to a rope anchored by Paddy as he leaned waaaaaay over into a potential snake bit to rescue a beach ball. I love my family and trust me, we are so funny you'd never believe it.

That night, we elected to eat at the lodge restaurant as it was our last day in the Arenal area. (Plus, Kari sprained her ankle at the pool and we didn't want to piggy back her all the way to the villa, her tiny frame notwithstanding.)

At dinner, Benner continued his love affair with ketchup (Uncle Ashton is so proud right now) and Bug continued her love affair of looking right past the camera.

That night, while Paddy and I packed up our things in preparation to leave the next morning, we saw (and he killed) this little piece of the underworld IN OUR BEDROOM:

Let's not talk any more about that.

The next day, it was off to the beach!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Brave Hair

A break from our sporatically scheduled Costa Rica recap posts to bring you: Brave Hair.

So here's the story. Wait, no. Let's back up. First, Bug's hair. She was born bald and stayed that way for a long time, but it must have been because she was getting those follicles all geared up for some real crowd-pleasing tresses. I am not exaggerating when I say that when we are out in public someone (usually an old lady) comments on Bug's hair probably, oh, 65-70% of the time. Sometimes I worry that Baggins, with his ashy nothing-fancy blondish-brown locks, is going to get a complex about the whole thing.

NOW the story. Yesterday, Bug put diaper cream in her hair. The parents out there will simply shake their heads in sympathy without trying to assign reason to the whole event, but for those of you who don't have experience with this sort of nonsense, I asked her why she'd do such a thing.

 "So it doesn't get all bunchy."

Sure. Obviously.

So anyway, bath time went from optional to must-do, which was ok because as you can tell from the pictures above, girl wasn't exactly a shining beacon of hygiene even before she slimed A&D ointment in her hair.

After bath time, I gave Bug two choices. We could brush and blow dry her hair out like usual, or she could sit very still and let me put in lots of braids so we could try to give her Brave Hair.

We're backing up again for a minute. Bug is in a real princess phase right now, and as you might imagine, she feels a special kinship with the two red-headed princesses out there. While she hasn't even seen The Little Mermaid, she adores Ariel, but let's face it. With her 1,500 individually sculpted curls, Merida from Pixar's Brave is the reigning queen of little red-headed girls the world over.

Anyway, the promise of avoiding the dreaded blowdryer made the decision a no-brainer. Also, I might have bribed her by letting her watch cartoons and eat a pack of Smarties while I braided.

Bug's hair is, for the most part, very fine and straight like mine. I french braid the front of Bug's hair fairly regularly to keep the wispy parts out of her face, and we've noticed that (unlike mine) her hair does tend to stay sort of crimped after we unwind the braid. A challenge was born.

The color dimension in Bug's hair is pretty unbelievable. In fact, a family friend recently asked if I color her hair to make it look like that. (Oh yeah. That's what I'm going to spend chunks of my hard-earned paycheck on. Coloring a three year old's hair.) Anyway, in the picture above, you can see some of the stark contrasts that girl boasts without even trying. Down the center of the braid is hair from the crown of her head, where it is the very reddest. Further down the back of her head, though, is a section of golden blonde strands that are barely warm-hued at all. It's pretty amazing, and I've been staring at it since it grew in.

After a good night's sleep, we unwound the braids to see if we were successful.

Sometimes when I look at her, really LOOK at her, the breath catches hard in my throat and I find myself rooted to the ground.

She is so beautiful.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fifty Shades of Green, or, Costa Rica Recap: Part I

After months of anticipation at lots and LOTS of research, we finally flew out for Costa Rica on Tuesday, June 25. The 3 flights it took to get us to San Jose, Costa Rica included an 8 hour overnight lay over in Houston. Not that anyone really needs to hear this, but for the record: AVOID 8 HOUR OVERNIGHT LAYOVERS. It was unpleasant.

Anyway, once we arrived in Costa Rica and flew through a busy customs line thanks to having very small children (sorry, rest of the family who had to wait!) we quickly encountered several points of anxiety for me right off the bat. First, meeting up with Kimmi and Ari, who had been backpacking though Costa Rica and Panama for 11 days or so. That one was a total non-issue; they were waiting right at the airport with spiky fruit for us to try!

Because I had done nearly all of the research and planning for the logistics of the trip, ensuring that all the details of the trip went off well caused me no small amount of stress. I was so grateful when the transportation van was there waiting for us that I somehow managed to not have a stroke over the fact that they forgot the (MUCH DISCUSSED) car seats. With nothing to do about it but shrug, we all piled in and headed for a couple hour drive to the interior of Costa Rica and a region called Arenal. Below is a photo of the villa we stayed at and the Arenal volcano immediately behind it. The picture just doesn't do it justice; the volcano was SO close and so dominating of the landscape when you are there in person. Just... wow. 

The next morning, we woke up and started off on the busiest day in terms of activities of the entire trip. We started off with a 3 hour nature hike that included suspended hanging bridges.

I know this is an idiotically obvious thing to say, but the rainforest is the most unbelievably green thing you can imagine. I often forget that I live in a desert, but boy, this certainly reminded me.

Baggins was less than thrilled about being strapped into a baby sling. It was HOT.

 Before long, I was wearing the sling just as a stylish accessory sans baby.

This amazing hidden waterfall was about 2 hours in, and poor Bug was at the end of her rope. It was lucky there were butterfly gardens at the end of the hike to serve as motivation.

The lens I was using on my camera on the trip does not have a zoom feature. So, yes, I was that close to the butterfly. Is that amazing?

On the same property as a the amazing nature hike (which I could go on and on boring you with details of but I won't) was our next activity: ziplines. We flew down almost 2 miles of zipline over 8 cables. IT. WAS. RAD.

Major props to MJ who volunteered to stay behind with the littles during the zipline portion of the day. Bug was thrilled to pieces that she got to use "princess cups" at the on-site restaurant, and Baggins discovered the wonder of ketchup. Everyone wins.

After the ziplines, we jumped back in a van and headed further down the hill to Baldi Hot Springs to enjoy the pools for a couple of hours. This resort has something like 25 pools at 12 different water temperatures. It was the perfect way to unwind after a busy morning and afternoon.

Our day passes included a buffet dinner that was pretty decent as buffets go. What was beyond decent was the absolutely divine pineapple drink they had at dinner. Ask me if those glasses all belong to me. Oh, wait. Don't. (They do. So there.)

Mister ate the roasted potatoes until I thought he'd pop. 

 The whole crew. You can't tell by our smiles, but we were actually standing in a cold pool right in the middle of a big warm one. Gluttons for punishment, I guess.

As you can see, our vacation got off to a big start in a big way. I can't say enough times how grateful we are to Nana and PopPop for making this happen. It was a trip we will never forget.

Stay tuned for more pictures and details to come!

Monday, July 8, 2013

That time we took two toddlers to Latin America.

You read that right. Two weeks ago, the Schmoopse and I loaded up a couple of duffle bags with diapers, onesies, swimsuits, and half of WinCo's snack section and headed to the airport. Armed with sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and a healthy dose of anxiety, we boarded the first of several planes that would eventually land our feet solidly on Costa Rican soil for a truly unforgettable vacation. The trip was a smashing success, and our little ones were very nearly perfect world travelers. Just in case you're lucky enough to be planning an international trip with babies in tow, here is how we did it.

Tip #1- Travel with a large and amazingly supportive extended family. Managing a trip this complicated on our own with the kiddos would probably have been possible, but not nearly as pleasant as it was with my fantastic family to help out every step of the way. PopPop and Nana dreamed up the idea of a family trip as our Christmas gift this last year, and without their generosity and thoughtfulness, a vacation of this scale would never have been a reality for our little family. As a person who did not leave the United States for the first time until I was 24 years old, it was hard for me to even believe that my two little ones would have an opportunity like this while they are so young.

On the airplane. You can thank the 8 hour overnight lay-over for our
disheveled appearance and Paddy's bloodshot eyes.
Our extended family members were incredibly helpful managing the logistics of two travelers with very short legs and even shorter attention spans. On the way there, my mom walked the airport for over an hour trying in vain to get Mister Baggins to fall asleep. (Don't blame her for being ultimately unsuccessful. Blame the Houston airport and it's ongoing construction in the one terminal that was accessible in the middle of the night.) MJ and Tia had left a few weeks earlier to backpack around Panama (where Tia served her mission) and Costa Rica, so they didn't travel down with us. Bug was OVER THE MOON to see her beloved Aunt Mim again, and Mim was kind enough to adhere to her pinky promise to sit next to her on the shuttle bus every time we moved, not to mention the countless hours she and the rest of my siblings spent entertaining her throughout the trip.

One of the three shuttle transfers we had during the trip.
Tip #2- Pack thoughtfully. Allow me a little bit of bragging room here: I am an excellent packer. Packing for four people traveling internationally over 10 days was the ultimate test of my skills, and (thankfully) I'd like to think I pulled through with flying colors. Here are a few tricks that served us well.
* Pack plenty of snacks. Particularly when the menu for meals is unpredictable, the kids were grateful for a familiar pack of fruit snacks or handful of goldfish crackers. I even packed a couple of packages of instant oatmeal, which both of my kids love. It was great to know that a filling meal was just a bottle of water and a microwave away if the Costa Rican cuisine got too exciting for the kids.
* If possible, buy diapers there. Luckily, MJ was able to do some recon work and assured me that legitimate looking diapers were easily available in Costa Rica. We packed plenty of diapers, including swim diapers, with us, but we were glad to not have to pack enough for the full ten days right off that bat. That's a lot of space!
* Pack complete outfits for the little ones in gallon-sized plastic baggies. Ok, go ahead and laugh a little at my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but when you're done, consider the brilliance of it. Each outfit for the kids was contained in one flat little bag. In Bug's case, that meant a shirt, undershirt/tank, shorts, and panties all in one baggie. Baggins had the same set up, only with a onesie, t-shirt, and shorts in each baggie. We packed about 5 outfits for each kiddo, and it could not have been easier to grab a baggie in the morning and know that everything was in it without digging around for clean panties or onesies. Which brings us to--
* Plan to do laundry on the trip. The baggie situation came in really handy here, too, because it was super easy to tell which clothes were clean and which had been worn. Also, every mom knows that a waterproof container like a baggie is pretty priceless when keeping clothes that have experienced, ahem, shall we say diaper failure contained (smells included.)

Tip #3- As much as possible, keep to the schedule. With the notable exception of the aforementioned overnight layover, we did our best to keep the kids on a fairly consistent routine. I did a lot of research on accommodations, and in both places we stayed we had a house-like arrangement versus the standard hotel room scenario. This meant that nap time and normal bedtimes were easy enough to manage without one parent being forced to sit mindlessly in the hotel room missing out on all the fun.

Tip #4- Remember that family is forever. This seems sort of obvious, I guess, but it helped me to consciously remember that these very small people I was hauling all over Central America are my BABIES. They are not little hassles impeding me from having the relaxing vacation of my dreams, they are my babies. My number one priority in every situation (home or Costa Rica) is to be their mommy. The goal of the trip was not to see the gorgeous scenery and relax on the beach without distraction, but to enjoy the trip as a family. Keeping the littles happy, healthy, and safe was as much a part of the trip as eating rice and beans, and I didn't want it any other way.

Arenal Volcano in central Costa Rica. Why yes, that is steam coming out of the top of it.
Come back soon to hear more about the trip and to suffer through picture overload!