Friday, April 22, 2011

Speaking of Eggs

We have a gull problem in Elmira.  If you don't know where Elmira is, it's smack in the middle of New York State right close to the Pennsylvania border and several hours from the beach I might add.   When we first moved here and saw all the gulls, they seemed oddly out of place.  Just showing my ignorance I guess because I thought they preferred the ocean.  These particular birds, however, are more than happy with the river that runs through the middle of our city, but the city is not particularly happy with them.  They're messy, noisy and extremely annoying and there's been a lot of complaining around here, especially by the business owners. So last year the city council invited the United States Deparment of Agriculture in to help curb the gull population.  The government people accepted the invite, showed up just in time for mating season and started stealing eggs out of those poor birds' nests.  They say if the eggs are removed for three years, the problem should be pretty much under control.  Hope so.  I'm not overly fond of those screeching, dirty birds.  But at the same time I have to feel a bit sorry for them.  After all, to them they're not just eggs.  They're children.

Speaking of eggs, there's been some news recently about an elementary school in Seattle that will no longer allow you to say Easter egg,  referring to it instead as a "spring sphere."  Now before you go on,  try saying that really fast four or five times in a row.  I'll bet you found that harder than repeating sea shells at the seashore didn't you?  Now imagine some little four or five-year-old kid saying, "Mama, look at all the spring spheres I found!"  Yeah, right.  There's also a rumor that the city's Parks Department has removed the word Easter from all its advertised egg hunts as well.  So I pulled up their website to check it out.  It's true, there are no Easter egg hunts being sponsored by the city.  Nope, they're having Spring Eggstravanzaaa.  Huh?  I had to look at that word several times and then sound it out to make sure I was saying it right. Still not sure if I did.  First I thought it was "eggstravaganza."  But a letter's missing so it can't be that.  Or maybe they meant to write that, but in making up the word simply forgot a letter.

No matter.  Wouldn't it have been easier just to call the event what it is,  like an Easter egg hunt maybe?  But no, heaven forbid that some atheist or hindu or buddhist or fill in the blank might want to take their child to the event but feels terribly uncomfortable because someone uses the word, get ready to gasp, Easter!  The funny thing about all this much ado about nothing is that the word Easter is actually pagan in origin anyways, it being the name for a spring goddess or something.  But I guess the powers to be haven't the time to check out the etymology of the word.  After all, they're too preoccupied with other matters.  You know,  like banning anything they deem offensive from the English language.

One Easter morning with our mother
One Easter morning when there were five of us
To be honest, I have always associated Easter with eggs.  I don't think my mom ever missed a sunrise service, yet she always managed to have the Easter eggs already hidden throughout the house before we woke up.  They'd be everywhere: in corners, on ledges, under furniture, in shoes.  I still see the five of us combing the house for hidden eggs and baskets, eager to show her what we'd found as she came through the door. 

Some of our Herrickville kids getting ready for the Easter egg hunt
The day would come when I would hide the eggs for my own children.  I loved our parsonage in Herrickville.  It was an old renovated farmhouse sitting on three and a half acres of land with a couple of outbuildings and a barn.  It was paradise, especially for those who love egg hunts.  And though Pennsylvania springs are never a guarantee of perfect weather, Easters were never disappointing,  An early March Easter pretty much guaranteed cold, sometimes icy weather, but we were a family and church full of children.  We'd always find a place and a way.
Easter eggs hunts usually meant warm coats in Pennsylvania!
Eventually we ended up in Central America.  Unlike the unpredictability of our Easter mornings in Pennsylvania, we always knew what to expect in Honduras.  It would be hot, very hot.  We had a close community of American friends in La Ceiba, primarily missionaries, but teachers and employees of Standard Fruit as well.  At Christmas we had a party, at Thanksgiving we had a feast, and at Easter we had an egg hunt.  The Standard Fruit Company has a wonderful school in La Ceiba that sits on several acres of lush, green land, the perfect setting for hiding things.  Several of us would boil and dye, then gather on Saturday to disperse our colored creations in that  lovely garden where the school just happens to sit.  The fathers would arrive a bit later with children in tow, their baskets clutched in excitement and anticipation.

Fawn hunting eggs at Mazapan
Some of the missionary kids after the egg hunt

 But the egg hunts weren't finished.  My children would insist that the eggs be hidden again on Easter day.  So that afternoon behind the mission house, among the coconut palms and banana plants I would hide the eggs they had gathered the day before.  Once found, they would pool them together and insist they be hidden again.  Then again.  And again.   And once their parents tired of the game it was their turn, each hiding them for their siblings until the eggs were hardly recognizable.  Obviously, we never had anything left for deviled eggs or sandwiches.  But that's alright.  Some eggs are just meant for other things.

Egg hunting in one of the fields by our place

Everyone loves to hunt for Easter eggs!

Hunting eggs in Prattville, Alabama

Three of our children were teenagers when we moved to Alabama, but the Easter egg hunts continued.   We had a lovely home on a cul-de-sac with lots of yard and fields on either side.  We seemed to again have the perfect spot, and year after year the children came to find what was now candy-filled plastic eggs. Eventually my own grandchildren joined the ranks of those who came with baskets in eager anticipation.  Because of the warm springs in Alabama, we didn't usually put chocolate into the oval-shaped containers.   But the children didn't care.  The joy is in the hunting and finding.  By the way,  I heard the church had their egg hunt last week.  I wrote someone asking where it was held.  "Your house,"  they wrote back.  Like I said, some places are just perfect.

Tyler with his Aunt Autumn at our house in Prattville   

Our granddaughter Hayley at her first egg hunt

We don't have a place for egg hunts right now.  Our parsonage has a small yard and the church sits by a busy road, hardly conducive for children's activities.   But there's a nice park not too far from the church with lots of grass and open spaces.  I've thought about calling city hall and seeing what we'd have to do to get permision to use it.  I'm hoping it won't be a problem.   I think it would be absolutely perfect.

Friday, April 15, 2011

And We Danced

The bride and groom

I talked to my son-in-law a few days ago.  He reminded me that it was five years ago this week he married my second youngest daughter.  It was an outdoor wedding in a Greek garden, there were hundreds of people there, and I didn't get to meet or visit with most of them.  That's because I was too busy dancing. 

Zac and Fawn had started taking each other pretty seriously when they were juniors in high school, and except for one breakup a piece during college, it looked like they might make this a permanent relationship.  It happened while Zac was in Baltimore, the Ravens needing a linebacker and all.  Fawn had flown up from Birmingham for a few days visit in mid December and it was cold, especially for a girl who'd spent most of her life in Alabama.  But Zac had a plan and nothing was going to deter him, not even the weather.   He took her to the newly unveiled World War II Memorial in honor of her grandfather, and  there in that solemn place, he knelt and asked for her hand.

The date was set for April which didn't give us much time to get a wedding ready.  Even for a simple affair, that's pushing it.  But my daughter doesn't know the meaning of the word simple. And as if I didn't have enough to do, she informed her father and me that we absolutely had to learn how to dance before the event.  After all, she insisted, this was the most important day of her life, she wanted lots of music and dancing, and she expected her parents to be a part of it.  Period.

Us?  On a dance floor? 

I'd never danced. My parents didn't dance so I didn't either.  They never told me I couldn't but somehow I always sensed they might disapprove.  I wouldn't have been very good at it anyways as I've never been especially coordinated. And as for Larry, he can barely clap to a drum beat.  No, this wasn't going to be easy for either of us.

Anyone can slow dance

Did I mention that my parents considered dancing a bit on the worldly side?  I don't know what they would have thought of the dance lessons Larry and I were having in the church basement where he pastored.   A young military couple had recently visited on a Sunday morning, and the wife was pretty accomplished in the ball room.  She offered to meet with us there,  hopefully enough to keep us from looking totally inept on the dance floor. Thankfully she kept to the basics, teaching us a simple three-step with an occasional spin.  After a few sessions, she told us that we were ready to be on our own, reminded us to practice and bid us adieu.

Larry dancing with his other girls

One of Larry's favorite pictures sits on my piano.  It was taken the night before the wedding at the rehearsal  dinner.  Our young granddaughter Hayley is dancing, her face filled with laughter and delight, holding hands and being twirled by her grandfather. It was simply a prelude of what was coming. 

Hayley dancing with her grandpa after the rehearsal dinner

I think it's a shame that our culture gets the wedding thing over in one day, especially after all that preparation.  I personally like the way the Jews did it back in Bible times  Those people knew how to celebrate with several days of feasting, music and of course lots of dancing.   I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jesus danced right along with everyone else at that wedding in Cana, you know, the one where the wine ran out before the celebrating was over.  I've read that those wedding feasts could last an entire week.  Imagine.

Anticipating the next dance!

Fawn would have liked that.  Because after all the necessary formalities were out of the way , the serious stuff was about to begin.  This was what she had looked forward to since she was young enough to dream of a prince who would hold and cherish her forever.  The music was queued up, the dancing was about to begin. She laughed out loud in expectancy and pure elation.  This was what she had been waiting for.  She turned and looked for us.  She was about to dance.  And we were going to be there with her.

Fawn with her dad

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Bird On The Ramp

Fawn's window killed a bird today.  She'd heard a bump and found the little creature with his broken neck lying on her front porch.  And being the tender creature she is, she grieved.  I'm sure most of us have a bird story or two, but nothing stands out in my mind quite like what I saw some years back while  living in Alabama.

I was sorting through music in a small office at the church one Friday afternoon when I was startled by a loud thump at the outside door directly behind me.  I peered through a pane of glass and saw a bird with a twisted neck lying on the metal ramp which ascended from the front lawn to the door where I was standing.  It wasn't hard to figure out what happened.  Poor bird, I thought. 

I remember once when I was a girl my dad threw a stone at a robin that was in his strawberry patch.  I'm sure he only intended to scare it away, but instead he hit it in the leg.  The bird slumped to the ground, the lower part of his leg dangling and useless.  My father got a pair of pliars and held the terrified creature in his one hand while trying to cut off the dangling appendage with his other.  The bird cried out once more and then went limp in his hand.  I had never seen anything die of fright before.  I was horrified  and began to sob, so heartbroken at what had happened.  I could tell that my dad felt as bad as I did.  I put it in a small box and he buried it for me under the pine tree at the corner of the rhubarb patch.   In his retirement years, he would devote a lot of time and money to taking care of the birds that visited his yard.

I knew I would have to do something with the bird on the ramp. After all,  I couldn't leave him out there in the hot Alabama sun.  I'd finish up my project and would later dispose of him.  It was about then I heard another noise directly outside the door, the sound of anxious birds.  I looked out again to see three or four of the same kind flying directly over the still form lying there, obviously very agitated.  Then suddenly one of them landed on the ramp next to his fallen comrade.  The others continued to fly and swoop and call out in their own peculiar tongue as the lone bird began little by little to roll the body of his dead companion down the ramp with his head.  I would later walk down to find him lying in the grass.  He had been pushed the entire way.  

That whole incident touched me deeply and I've thought about it several times over the years. In fact, when I heard about the bird hitting Fawn's window today,  I thought of it again.  It reminded me that Jesus was talking to a bunch of people one day and told them that a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground without the Father knowing about it.  And then he reminds them that if He cares that much about the birds, He must certainly care for us all the more.   I don't have any doubt about that at all.  I figure If He cared enough to use one common bird to get another one off a metal ramp, certainly He has his eyes on me.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Leaving Tortuguero: Day 2

When I recently asked Joel what he remembered about Tortuguero, he told me he remembered the two holes!  Let me remind you that he was in kindergarten at the time.  If you haven't read the first part of this story, "Trip Down Tortuguero," make sure you go back and read that first. See if you can figure out which two holes he's talking about.   This is the conclusion:

When we signed up for this trip, we were assured that we were going to be traveling to Tortuguero at one of the nicest times of the year.  We were in the dry season, a prerequisite to a trip like this.  I guess that was pretty obvious considering that we had so much trouble getting down the canal on the first day. Even if the boat hadn't been overloaded, the water seemed too shallow to get a boat our size down the waterway.  That's why the storm that hit us in the wee morning hours took us by surprise.  But hey, if you're going to have a storm, why not have a good old tropical one?  They say that area gets about 250 inches of rain a year.  It seemed like we were getting most of it in one night.

It was still drizzling when we got up for breakfast, rice and beans again with eggs, bread and coffee.  Sigh.  I was so ready for a bowl of cereal.  And where was all the fresh fruit they had promised?   As we left the gloomy little restaurant we noticed a group of our teachers at the dock loading their bags onto a sleek- looking craft, considerably smaller but much newer than the tub we'd ridden the day before. They'd obviously had enough of Tortuguero.  A few minutes later they were out of sight.  It wasn't going to take them long to get back down the canal at the speed they were traveling. Sigh again. 

Larry decided to go for a swim in spite of the damp, chilly weather.  The Ticos simply smiled at the gringo.  We knew what they were thinking.  The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and we were told to get on the boat, we were going for a ride.  The sun stayed out for a total of two hours, enough time to travel to the entrance of Tortuguero National Park where we visited the beach and then on to a deep lagoon where we jumped and dove off the boat.  Hey, maybe all was right with the world once again.  We got back to the hotel at 12:30 with thirty minutes to pack up everything and leave.  We were now two hours behind schedule and I don't remember getting any lunch.

The rain had started up again, and the long voyage back down the canal was anything but pleasant.   Well, at least Joel was happy.  Dr. Long, the director of the language institute, had found a couple of fishing poles and kept him occupied all the way down the river.  But I was exhausted, and the dreary day was making me all the more weary.  At least the day before had been somewhat interesting with the sandbars and the boat almost sinking.  I'd been able to watch for wildlife and had spied some three-toed sloths hanging from the trees along the bank.   But today it was just dismal and gray, nothing to do but get down the river. And I wasn't feeling all that well.

We had our best meal in two days that evening in Limon, and that's because we ordered off the menu and paid for it ourselves.  I didn't want to look at another bowl of beans and rice for a long time.  By the time we left the restaurant, we were probably running another hour behind.  It didn't look like we were going to make it by nine o'clock.

We hit fog not long into our ride home.   We seemed to be moving at a crawl, the driver barely able to see ahead.  I just hoped he knew this road well.  Mountain roads in Costa Rica are steep with lots of sharp drop-offs.  I could tell Larry was nervous. Suddenly without warning the bus stopped.  Everything was quiet, the diesel engine silent.  The other bus driver stopped and came to the door.  It didn't take long to realize what had happened, we were simply out of gas.  I was fuming!  We had been in that restaurant for almost two hours, and our driver had never bothered to fill up the tank!  We sat there as two gallons were siphoned from the one vehicle and put in the other.  But how far do you go on two gallons?  Not far.  A short distance later two more gallons were siphoned and off we went again.  And then once again.  Finally arriving at a station that sold diesel, our inept driver filled up and continued on towards San Jose.  Hopefully we were on the last leg of this very long, very bizarre adventure.  We pulled onto the Institute grounds at two in the morning, five hours later than our itinerary projected.

I think every dog in the neighborhood was barking as we unlocked and opened the door to our house.  Larry had the suitcase and camera bag while I carried in a very tired little boy.  We fell into bed knowing that it would be a short night with school for all of us the next day.  Larry called a cab for Maria and her daughter Anna as soon as he got up.  She'd stayed an extra night and needed to get home.

It took me two days to catch up on my rest.  Between naps and getting to bed early the next two nights, I was starting to feel human again.  Well, sorta.  You see,  I realized soon after that I had taken someone else on that trip down Tortuguero with me.  Eight months later, in a small clinic in La Ceiba, Honduras she would become an official member of our family, and we would name her Autumn.  

So perhaps it wasn't the best trip I ever took.  Maybe the food and the lodging and the mode of transporation were well, disappointing.  But that's life at times. We have our itineraries all planned out, anticipating how everything will fall into place.  But then we get stuck on a sandbar and our timetable gets thrown off.   Not a whole lot we can do at times like that.  But how we respond to those situations, that's another thing all together.  Those teachers that left early taking the easy way out,  I'm sure they got a good night's sleep.  But I saw the adventure through to the end.  And because of that I have a much better story to tell.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Trip Down Tortuguero

Tortuguero (Region of the Turtles) on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is a jewel.  Not only is it a nesting ground for four types of marine turtle, it is home to many animals of the rain forest including jaguars, ocelots, monkeys and three-toed sloths.  For the bird watcher, you might see the toucan, macaw or blue heron, just a few of the 375 species to be found there.  And there's always the hope that you'll spy the gentle manatee.  Who wouldn't want to visit if the opportunity should come along? Well, it came for us.  Read about our adventure on the Tortuguero Canal:

It sounded like a really good idea, this trip down the Tortuguero Canal.  One of the things we had especially enjoyed as a family since moving to Costa Rica were the monthly "paseos" for the students, allowing us to visit and experience firsthand some wonderful vistas in this beautiful country.  We never missed one, wanting to take advantage of every opportunity that came our way.  So when we heard about the two-day excursion down Tortuguero and back, we couldn't pass it up.  It had actually been arranged by the teachers at the language institute we were attending, but they had invited any students to go along that were interested.  Yes, we were definitely interested. 

The date was March 1, 1985.  Our maid Maria had agreed to stay at the house with our two girls, Angela and Fawn.  But we thought Joel, who was six at the time, would really enjoy the trip up the river.  We left the house at 2:30 that morning to catch the bus leaving for Limon.  We were to stop around 5:00 to have breakfast in Puerto Moin and then continue on to our destination.

The trip did not start out well.   We boarded one of the two microbuses waiting at the school and started out of the mountains. It didn't take long to realize that the first stretch of this trip was not going to be a good one thanks to a broken window directly in front of us.  For the next hour and a half I wrapped my arms as tightly as I could around my body trying to keep warm.  I was relieved when we arrived in Puerto Moin, anxious to get off the bus for awhile and get something to eat.  But as we entered the town, the bus suddenly pulled to the side of the road.  Turns out we had a flat, and since nothing ever gets done quickly in Central America,  I knew we'd be sitting there for awhile.

Perhaps breakfast at this particular restaurant would have been better if we'd actually arrived on time.  It was a major disappointment:  rice and beans that were barely edible, eggs, bread without butter, orange juice and very strong coffee, which I assumed had been sitting for a long, long time.  Limon couldn't come soon enough.   I was sure the boat ride down the canal would make getting up at an ungodly hour, the uncomfortable bus ride and the horrible breakfast all worth it.  The rest of the bus trip to Limon was pretty uneventful.  I was glad that Joel slept.  We arrived about an hour late.

Then I saw the boat.  It was made of wood, probably 10 to 12 feet wide and about 50 feet long.  It had a  "canopy" with benches underneath with about a two and a half foot wide walkway around it.  And it was obviously very old. On top of that, there were already approximately 35 to 40 people on board.  I remember thinking that this couldn't possibly be the right place or the right boat.  After all, this was supposed to be an exlusive tour for us and us alone.  But we were obviously the "first class" passengers, because those already on board left their benches for us as we walked up the gang plank and made our way to our seats.  I don't remember where all those people stood or sat, but I do know that some went down into the hold where curiously there was a large stack of  mattresses and pillows piled high.

The boat was full, really full.  There were probably about 80 of us now.  We would later find out, not surprisingly, that the boat was packed with a lot more than what was allowed.  There was supposed to be another boat, but since it was out of commision, they put everyone on ours.  I was not happy.

We finally set out.  About every 20 minutes or so, someone would throw just as many buckets of water off the side of the boat.  Hmmm.  That was about a bucket a minute I figured.  It seemed that we might be taking on some water from the heavy load.  Larry wanted some sun, so he and Joel climbed onto the roof.  Every once in awhile we'd have to stop and let people off,  not a bad thing except that it slowed the trip down considerably. The problems seemed to escalate as the boat suddenly refused to move any further.  About half the passengers got off and waited on shore while several of the guys, including Larry, spent an hour trying to get our craft off a sandbar. Finally it broke free, the passengers reloaded and we started back down the canal once again.  That is until we hit another sandbar, then another and another.  Each time Larry and several of the other guys got out and pushed.  Did I mention that I had seen crocodiles on this trip?

After the third or fourth sandbar Joel told me he had to go number two.   I thought I should probably help him being that the bathroom was a toilet seat with water swirling rapidly below, a bit disconcerting for a six-year old.  He had just finished up when I noticed a large tree branch hitting the bottom of the boat  I heard a loud scrape.  A few moments later people started shouting and running towards the back.  Some  were screaming and crying as we began tipping to the side.  We now had a hole at the front and were obviously in danger of sinking if we didn't do something quickly.  This time everyone unloaded onto the shore, and I had visions of camping that night in the jungle.  But much to my relief the hole was repaired fairly quickly.  Well, sort of.   A guy cut a piece of wood with a machete then plugged  it with gunnysacks, boards and nails while others began rapidly bailing out the water.  Amazingly, a half hour later we were once again aboard and on our way.  Of course everything in the hold was soaking wet by now.  I felt sorry for whoever was waiting on those mattresses.

We arrived at our hotel around 4:30 that afternoon.  Not only had we missed lunch by four hours, we had also missed our afternoon trip to the Tortuguero National Park. The crew immediately began to empty the boat of its extra cargo.  It was then I saw the wet mattresses and pillows being hauled out of the hold and carried into the hotel.  Our hotel.  It suddenly dawned on me.  They were intended for us!

We entered a big gloomy restaurant with a tiny kitchen, a bar and a juke box.  And the bathrooms were the pits, literally.  We ate around 5:00, a full 12 hours after breakfast.  That was lunch.  I don't know what ever happened to supper.

Larry and I lucked out after the meal.  We found the rooms and managed to obtain the only one with both a john and  cold-water shower.  Hey, they were in the same stall but what did that matter?  They both worked.  The others in our group were going to be sharing the other bathroom.  Yep, bathroom.  Singular.  One.

After settling in, we walked down to the beach for a swim. But by now the sun was sinking and I decided to head back to the room..  Larry and a couple other students stayed, determined to end the day on a positive note.   I arrived back at my room to find a couple of teacher friends there using our shower.  No problem except that I was so tired and more than anxious to crawl into bed.  Not only had I been up since 2 a.m., I was totally bummed about the trip so far.  It had been a huge disappointment up to this point, not only for me but for my Tico friends as well.  Tomorrow simply had to be better.  The bed felt so good.  We had hit the jackpot with a dry mattress, possibly the only one on the premises.  I was dozing off as Larry came into the room.  The walk back had been a bit precarious.  His flashlight had died.  Ah yes, tomorrow had to be better.  How could it possibly be any worse?