Happy Costa Rica Birthday

Sometimes the mysterious workings of the universe are perfectly aligned in your favor. Like that time I got to spend my birthday in Costa Rica. Sure, I was attending a workshop rather than on vacation, and I missed being with my family, but I suppose if had been able to choose anywhere to go on a birthday getaway, San Jose would have been high on the list.

We stayed at a hotel tucked away in the suburbs of the city, with large gardens and a great view of the mountains from my window. In a fit of birthday wellness (which has since passed, don’t worry), I spent most mornings at the gym or playing tennis with colleagues in the gorgeous morning sun.

During the week, we took a field trip to an agropastoralism pilot site. I brought along a film crew, hoping to capture some great footage of how farmers are helping regrow forests on their fields.

Ah, naïveté. As it turns out, agropastoralism, at least according to that site’s manager, really just involves a lot of cow poop. So we got a lot of great footage of excrement treatment pools, bio-gas collectors, and plain old manure. Many a #ShitPile #OscarSelfie was taken that day!

We also enjoyed a few nights out on the town. One began in a hard metal bar named ‘Steppenwolf’, or rather, whatever ‘Steppenwolf’ is in Spanish, which I can’t remember anymore, and ended in a beer hall where the servers kept trying to give the 1L beers I was ordering to the men at the table instead of me. I was offended. Also, I drank all those dudes under the table.

Another evening involved a team dinner at a poor, unsuspecting local establishment. They might have had an inkling when we booked a table for 25, but I don’t think they were expecting us to discover these crazy ‘Beergaritas’ on the menu and proceed to order about 20 of them. What’s a beergarita? Well, it’s a fluorescent blue alcohol slushie with an open Corona bottle somehow added to the liquid upside down and then garnished with a stick or two of fruity decorations. It sounds better than it is. Actually, it doesn’t even sound very good. But we ordered a bunch of them.

The chartered bus on the way home turned into a drunken karaoke singalong to such classics as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’, and we spent the rest of the evening drinking a few clandestine bottles of rum out in the parking lot. I don’t think we can ever go back to that hotel.

When the hard week of work was over, I had a single day to try and pack in some sightseeing outside the city. There are a number of beautiful places around San Jose, and if you have enough time, you could visit national parks, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife reserves, and more. Some lovely work friends agreed to take me on a trip to one of the nearest volcano parks, to see some craters and lagoons up on the summit.

The drive was about an hour, passing through coffee plantations and fields of berries and bananas as we spiraled toward the top of the volcano. We looked down and saw the city stretching out below, ringed by distant mountains, imagining the way down to the ocean over the other side.

The crater park was extraordinary. As we walked toward the peak, the ground opened up into a huge pool that was changing color from blue to opaque white with the passing clouds overhead. The rocks told a story of violent geology, streaked with red and brown, covered with dark, ashy soil climbing up the sides. The forest around the crater’s edge was dark and moist, swallowing us from above like a knitted roof.

And it was windy. And cold. We could barely hold onto our coats and bags as the wind and fog whipped past us. But we watched the morning mist roll through at an accelerated speed, like the world was on fast forward.

There was no way to cap off such an amazing place. So we drove away, and I hopped onto a plane and flew off into the night. Happy birthday to me! I’m now accepting suggestions for next year.

Strasbourg snow & Swiss cheese

While my parents were here, we decided to do a little tour. Last year we went to Italy, so I figured we should do something in the other direction – and since we had such a lovely time in Strasbourg last time, I thought it would be nice to go there with them. Unfortunately, it was a bit chilly and snowy! Somehow we managed to arrive over the few days that it wasn’t sunny. But that didn’t stop us, we still enjoyed a fantastic few days.

The main sight is of course the cathedral, which was just as beautiful as the first time we saw it. We also took the same little train trip, as well as a boat tour around the canals. It snowed while we were on the boat, and then something happened to the motor so they had to take us back early. We went to re-book the trip, but it was taking such a long time that we got reimbursed instead. Free boat trip! I also dragged my dad to my favorite game store, where I bought a discounted game that was some kind of unholy union between steampunk and Risk  – it was too complicated for us to figure out (in French)!

That day was also my mom’s birthday, so we booked a nice dinner at the Kammerzell House restaurant. You think sometimes these kinds of famous places are charging for more of a touristy experience, but actually the food was very good, with a great wine list, and the servers were really attentive. It was lovely.

On our second day, we toured the zoological museum, which was small but really interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many weird taxidermied animals in one place. There were probably a thousand birds, many of them misshapen and hilarious. Easily a highlight of the trip!

On the drive home, we followed the Alsatian wine route part of the way, stopping in the medieval village Riquewihr for lunch. This was probably the most adorable little place I’ve ever seen, with ancient cobblestone streets winding around rows of colorful sloping houses. We had lunch, ironically, at a Swiss-style restaurant. But it was nice.

Back at home, I took my mom and the kids to the Cailler chocolate factory. They had been asking for weeks to visit, and the week after Easter seemed like a good time (and there were plenty of chocolate sales to be had). We also stuffed ourselves with cheese in nearby Gruyères, where my mom had raclette for the first time – even though I had made her a homemade cheese fondue the night before and we had sworn off cheese for eternity.

Too soon it was time for my parents to head home. I’m sure they’ll be back again soon!

Eight already!

I still remember when J was just a little baby. And today she is eight!

We had a fun party last weekend at a climbing gym in the neighbourhood. It was quite early on Sunday morning, which turned out to be a mistake for BigB who partied a bit too hard at a another friend’s 30th party the night before – remember, friends, shots are a young man’s game.

But we made it on time and enjoyed the casual place all to ourselves for the morning. Nine kids and two instructors, and they had the run of the place – playing games, racing to the tops of the walls, obstacle courses, and just general silliness. Of course we also had snacks and cake. I stayed up late the night before baking cupcakes and a cake, managing to whip some heavy cream straight into butter – luckily I was able to turn that butter into buttercream icing. No regrets!

Today, on her actual birthday, we got free tickets to a kids’ expo at the convention center in Geneva. There were tons of fun stands, including great sports and science booths. We played laser tag and bubble football, rode drift trikes and electric scooters, flew drones, made our own balloon animals and panned for gold. And we capped off the evening with a skype-cake and presents with the grandparents. A week of birthday was almost too long, but well worth it. Happy eighth, little sugarplum!

Christmas 2016 (a.k.a. Christ-sick-mas)

Oh man, this past Christmas was such a bust for us. It just seemed like everything conspired to keep us at home, miserable, sick, and tired.

The season was so bad for colds & flu. It started with J getting a bad fever at the beginning of December, developing a lingering red rash all over. It was bad enough that we took her to the hospital and they IMMEDIATELY panicked and asked if she was up to date on her vaccinations – she is – because they were worried about measles. Luckily it was not (vaccinate your kids, people). It seemed to be a bad heat rash or maybe a roseola virus, neither of which needed medicine. So we just waited out. It went away in another few days, but not before I came home from a work trip with a little cough/cold, which I promptly spread around next.

BigB caught it the worst, and by the time Christmas itself rolled around, his cough was so bad that we had to take him to the hospital next. (FYI if you would like to send us a belated Christmas gift, some kind of hospital gift cards or hard cash to pay off our medical bills would be welcome!) He got redirected to a clinic because emergency was packed – he managed to see someone at a local clinic and they diagnosed him with “the worst virus they’d seen all year”, prescribed him some cough syrup and a steroid inhaler and sent him home.

He spent the next few days sleeping all the time and seemingly getting worse by the day. He was so lethargic, I honestly thought he was on his way into a bronchitis-induced coma. As I was preparing for the worst, we had the brilliant idea of googling the medicine he was on. We should have done that first… As it turned out, the “cough syrup” was not what we thought, it had no active medication for coughing but was instead an extremely strong sedative that is only available in this region of Europe, being banned in the rest of the world. It was mild relief to find out he was not experiencing a systemic failure but only drugging himself into a stupor.

He stopped that medicine and perked up after a few days – just in time to go through with our New Year’s plans to visit Paris & Amsterdam with some friends. Except he had a terrible relapse while were on the road and spent the whole vacation lying on the couch of our b&b. So the kids and I had a nice time in the Netherlands… that post coming soon.

Meanwhile, we did make the best of the Christmas season as much as possible, and we felt the love from our family & friends shining all the way through our quarantined misery.

Here we are in happier times, getting ready for the holidays:

Christmas is also when we celebrate LittleB’s birthday, so we managed our best to have a nice family birthday party for him. He basically got 100 lbs of lego and we had an epic lego city set up in the living room and, well, everywhere.

Christmas day rolled around and we had a quiet morning, followed by an excellent dinner with our good friends. B barely made it through the evening, but he put on a brave face.

Hopefully next year will be a bit more exciting! Merry (belated) Christmas!

J turns 5!

Dear Sweetie,

I can’t believe you’re already 5 years old! I realize that’s not very old in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the perfect number of years for so many things – a university degree, a healthy run on Broadway, establishing a successful small business, a tasty block of cheddar.

Over the past five years, you’ve put up with daddy’s ceaseless teasing; joined in our overbearing weekend pillow fights and wrestling; sat through endless re-watchings of Ghostbusters and The Three Amigos; laughed at every silly story we’ve told that ends with someone being poked in the eyeball and dies; and managed to choke down your vegetables when we fight with you to eat them at dinner.

And we’ve tried to be patient as we’ve watched you spill every single drink, ever; sat through endless re-watchings of Tinkerbell, Tangled and (most recently) Frozen; as you’ve whined or cried across at least 8 different countries; as you’ve fallen asleep in so many awkward places and we’ve had to carry your dead weight up and down stairs, on and off airplanes and buses, trains, cars, sketchy tuktuks; and we’ve put band-aids on you at least once a week for the past 5 years as you’ve fallen on literally every possible surface in the world.

In your five years, we’ve seen you grow from an adorable little baby into a beautiful young girl. You’ve shared our strange adventures with joy and laughter, and you have lit up our days since the very first moment. It’s both exciting and frightening to see you growing so fast. Soon you’ll be doing things on your own and we’ll be sad to lose our baby, but even prouder of you than we are now.

Happy birthday!

Love Mommy & Daddy

Birthday celebrations spanned a few days, from birthday morning presents to a nice family dinner, to a full blow-out party with all the neighborhood friends. It was a fun time, but I’m not sorry we won’t have to do it again for (almost) another year!

Aussie Adventure Part 1 – Blue Mountain Christmas

Our first day in Australia, we woke to a grey Christmas Eve morning, but excited to pack up the van and drive a few hours west into the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are not exactly mountains, rather a higher-elevation chain of sandstone foothills just outside of Sydney. Indeed, I was expecting something a bit more… mountainous… but actually the region is almost tropical. I guess having driven through the Canadian Rockies many times makes other mountains just look like adorable little hills. The Blue Mountains are still beautiful, though!

The drive up was rather uneventful. The day stayed rainy and misty, so we didn’t manage to do any kind of sightseeing along the way, even though the route we took was apparently teeming with “breathtaking views” of valleys, forests and cliffs. Mostly we just saw fog, clouds and mist. But before long, we made it to the cottage and settled ourselves in for a cozy few days.

We rented a lovely little cottage in Katoomba. It was a large enough town to have decent shopping and restaurants, but small enough that we had a nice break from big city life. The cottage itself was just the right size – room for six to sleep, a modern kitchen, woodstove in the sitting room, and an updated bathroom complete with a claw-foot tub. Perfect for a Christmas getaway!

Even though we had celebrated an early Christmas before the trip, we still had another Christmas Eve birthday cake for LittleB and little visit from Santa the next morning. I guess he figured out that we were travelling… Us parents and grandparents celebrated Christmas Eve festivities with a fridge full of wine and beer, a BBQ full of steaks and an all-night game of Hearts.

The gloomy weather stuck around into the afternoon of Christmas Day, but we decided to try a bit of local sightseeing. Our cottage was situated directly on a tour route with many lookouts and famous sites – like the Three Sisters. The first stop we made was at the Cliff View lookout, so we were, understandably, excited for some cliff views. Not so much.

Next, we drove down to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters. But we could barely see the parking lot. We didn’t even bother stopping. Instead, we headed back to the cottage for an afternoon beside the fire!

Fortunately, the next day, the weather cooperated and we managed to do several hours of touring and exploring within Katoomba and beyond. First we revisited the Cliff View lookout and saw many lovely cliffs. We also ran into some bush firefighters on patrol, and they told us a cool story about the Dog Face rock. Then we took a peek at the Three Sisters, along with several bus loads of tourists.

That afternoon, we drove further west to check out the Blackheath area and beyond, seeing many more cliffs and some fire-ravaged hillsides. Most memorable, we took a tour off the beaten path to visit “One Tree Hill” – the highest point of the area, and we were looking forward to a view from the top. Well, it turned out to be a water tower and some scraggly trees, without any view at all! We also checked out an area that had suffered from wild fires in November – the burned trees and colours looked almost like Autumn. Only, you know, burned up.

On our last day, we packed up and shipped out, stopping at two more lookouts on the way. At the last site, we spent nearly an hour watching the morning mist burn off as the sun heated up the valley below. It was magical.

At the end of the road, we passed back down the mountain and into Sydney for a week of sightseeing.

J turns 4

Happy Birthday Sweetie!

We had a fun neighbourhood party on the weekend where we bbq’d too much meat, drank too much beer and ate too many cupcakes. It was great.

Then today we had a little family party and opened the family gifts I’ve been hoarding since Grandma’s visit and my trip to NY. I also cooked a Hello Kitty cake that apparently did not solidify all the way through, but it was ok with lots of icing! That’s all she eats of the cake anyway.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Sri Lanka posts in a couple of days. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures while I go sleep off my sugar coma.