Only The Dates Have Been Changed

Costa Rica, Year 3, Day 1: It’s like we never left, only more so.

I’ve been reading The Best American Travel Stories 2011, edited by one of my favorite authors, Sloane Crosley. In her introduction essay, she states that she never wants to go back to the same place twice because the world is so big and wonderful. I used to agree with her, and in many ways I still do. In a previous life (about 15 years ago, I suppose) I spent 10 days on the island of Mustique. Mystical, to be sure. Ah, Basil and his friends (rock stars, clothing designers, European royalty, entrepreneurs and trust fund babies). What’s not to like? The beaches, the views, the restaurants. Ok, there was only one restaurant, but it was fabulous—a lively lobster once scampered across the dining room floor trying to escape his devilishly hot fate—heaven on earth for us humans. And here is where Ms. Crosley’s point is valid: my return trip the following year had none of the awe and fascination. I went back hoping to repeat the wonderment. Alas, it was, “Oh, yeah, I remember this beach.”
But this spot in Costa Rica where we (my hubby and I) have found… We love it more each year. We’ve met people here, found the best places to eat and buy good meat (organic beef and pork from Nicaragua), my Spanish has greatly improved, and I am over the culture shock that overwhelmed me on my first visit. But I post this post as a marker, taking my emotional temperature, if you will, so I can compare how I feel about it at the end of our trip.
Here’s my Costa Rican recap:
First trip to CR: 1 Week in Tamarindo: Fabulous. Me, hubby, 4 sons. Great time, great food, great town, great house though it didn’t have an ocean view.
Second trip to CR: 1 month near Coco Beach: Not so fabulous. Hubby and I land after dark; by the time we got our rental car and found our house, I was depleted of all positive emotions. An afternoon wildfire had scorched the hilltop just below our house, but our host insisted they’d hosed everything down so we’d be fine. The house was in disrepair, though the ants and geckos didn’t seem to mind. The tarantulas loved our pool, but they can’t swim so it wasn’t that scary to scoop them out in the mornings. But by Week 3, when 5 (grown) kids arrived, I had adjusted and relearned to sleep at night out of pure exhaustion from all the local adventures we mastered. This is how I felt about it at the time!
Then we moved to another house for 1 month: Ah, much better. Clean, airtight, no bugs inside. Wonderful. Enjoyment! A writer’s dream. Lovely. Until our final night here. That night, sound asleep, pure bliss, and then BANG! Ouch! OMFingG! My husband was stung by a scorpion who had crawled into our bed! After we killed it, we wondered if it had a nest of friends nearby…
Year 2: Back to the Scorpion house. (yes, I agreed to this… hey, it wasn’t me who got stung!). (We did have 10 scorpions in the house during our stay, but no stings. They were mostly dead due to perimeter fumigation by the time they snuck into middle of the rooms.) This year, no kids, no adventures, only peace, quiet, calm, happiness, and writing: 45,000 words on my “third” novel, The King of Liars. I also did a lot of blogging about our time here (See January 2011 archives). Some of it’s worth reading. Most of the last 20 or so entries relay our adventures. (Note: This link is to my “old” blog via Apple. I have since moved my blog to where you are reading now.)
Year 3: Now here I sit, in the Scorpion house again, in my “writing studio over looking the Pacific Ocean.” I wonder what lies ahead for us over the next 11 weeks. We’ll have most of our kids visiting for parts of 3 separate weeks. With any luck, our children will outnumber the scorpions, although that still leaves room for too many scorpions! This year, I’m working on a new novel—my “breakout” novel? Yes, this is the one!—A Reasonable Price. I’m at 35,000 words now (125 pages), but no telling how many of those I’ll scrap in the next 11 weeks. My current friends—I mean, characters—have different names from last year, but my intensity persists.
So, friends, I hope to entertain and inform you in the coming months. I’d love questions or comments from you along the way so don’t be shy. Take care and I’ll write more soon! Hasta luega!

What’s A Normal Family?

Ah, families. So much love, so much happiness, so much dysfunction.

I just spent a week with my husband and his ex-wife. Well, it was their daughter’s wedding, so it wasn’t just the three of us. More like a hundred of us. And you know what? It was wonderful.

When I was a little girl, my mother answered an ad in our local newspaper. A pollster was looking for a “normal” family to interview. She of course thought we were as normal as anyone, but we didn’t qualify because she was a single mother raising three kids. They wanted a married couple with children. No way could they get away with that today.

And nuclear family? Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Get a group of only blood-relatives together, and it will explode like an atom bomb. Merry Christmas, loved ones.

I fully applaud and support gay marriage, and single men or women who want to raise kids on their own. And with the divorce rate what it is today, my husband and I realize that potentially 3 or 4 of our 7 kids might end up divorced. We hope not, we’re just being realistic. After all, if it weren’t for divorce, he and I wouldn’t be together—this is a second marriage for both of us. Divorce is a hell in which you either lose a lot of money or a lot of friends. And yet, sometimes, it’s still the best option.

So what is “normal” these days?

One of the reasons that people read books is to explore feelings they can relate to. When a writer can put into words exactly how YOU feel, and you can say “Yes, exactly!”, then, in one regard, the book is a success. But another reason people read is to explore worlds they are unfamiliar with—escapism, if you will. While mining ideas, emotions, scenarios and story lines, it’s important for us writers to remember that the definition of family is wide and varied, and to not stereotype or pigeonhole people. In fact, it’s a beautiful story when a “traditional” family evolves into a “modern” family—when people see love instead of prejudice. Yes, it’s been done (from Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner to The Kids Are All Right) because it works, and it’s beautiful.

With any luck, we writers can help erase the stereotypes and pigeonholes for the definition of family. Hello, Webster’s? Are you listening?