Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas tamales

Here in Costa Rica, no Christmas celebration is complete without the requisite Christmas tamales. If you've had tamales, but not Costa Rican ones, they're definitely...different! Having spent many, many years in California, I personally prefer the Mexican version, but Costa Ricans (obviously) think theirs are better. In lieu of corn husks, Costa Ricans use plantain or banana leaves to wrap them, and they are not as dry as the Mexican ones, either. A little on the squishy side. Here, also, they pretty much always come in a pair, or piña.

The first time I had one was at my mother-in-law's house, way back in the days before she was my mother-in-law. I thought it was the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted! They sort of grew on me, I guess, because now I have to have at least one for Christmas. And, now that my palate is a bit more refined in the Costa Rican tamale arena, I can admit that my MIL's tamales are a lot better than others I've had. Usually, she makes dozens upon dozens of them, and we have tamales well into (our) winter (which hits around May-June). This year, though, the corn for the masa was not to be found in large quantity, so I ate the last tamale today. And it's not even January first. That is sort of strange.

Here is esposo's "New Costa Rican Cuisine" tamale recipe. I don't think he would mind. If he does, oh well, he's up on a mountain and can't really complain, can he?

Cassava and veggie tamales
Serving suggestion is two tamales with coleslaw and fried plantains.

  • 2 lbs fresh raw cassava root (yucca, tapioca) peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup corn flour
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 12 plantain or banana leaves pieces, tender, and about 8’ wide
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • salt to taste
  • 2 avocados
Veggie Medley:
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small size carrot, cubed
  • 1 ear of sweet corn on the cob, grated
  • 100 g fresh heart of palm, chopped
  • 100 g butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 cup quality stock or broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large pot bring 1 quart of water and the cassava to a boil; then simmer until the root is spongy but not too soft. Drain and cool.
2. Grate it coarsely and combine with the flour, cheese, water, and salt. Reserve.
3. For the picadillo, start by sautéing onion and garlic in olive oil at medium heat for 3 minutes.
4. Add the vegetables, curry, and stock and sauté until fork tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.
5. Cut the banana leaves in 8" pieces and clean them with a wet towel. Lightly “toast” them over the flame until soft.
6. Form ten pieces shaped like balls with the dough and set on top of each banana leave.
7. Top with the vegetable medley and wrap carefully lengthwise then folding over the other two sides and laying it with the flat part facing up. Let rest for at least 15 minutes.
8. When finished tie them up together in pairs using twine.
9. Cook by steaming them for at least 10 minutes over water and let the remaining ones lay on a counter at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate after that up to a week or freeze up to three months.
10. Serve by removing from the banana leaf or cutting open in half or diagonally and topped by the fanned avocado and the coleslaw and fried plantain on the side.

Makes 12 tamales

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Before and After



The super glue has been found.

In other news, because we still are waiting for esposo to get home (maybe January 5th?), we have not officially celebrated Christmas yet. So we went to the after-Christmas sale at Cemaco yesterday and bought a tree's worth of half-price ornaments. No lights left, though.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pre-Christmas parking a-holes

I took these photos with my cell phone a few days before Christmas at the AutoMercado in Santa Ana. This parking lot is a magnet for people who 1) drive SUVs that never see mud and 2) don't have a clue how to park them. For instance, in this first shot, you can see that the car on the left was parked in asshole fashion over the white line, and then two more cars pulled in next to it, figuring, I guess, that they didn't need to park properly, either. Because, it being the week before Christmas, there really wasn't anyone shopping for groceries that week...

Then, I came back out to find the first asshole parker still there, but the other two cars had gone, and two more asshole parkers had come in their place!

Really, every single time I go here it is a parking nightmare. But they have good food. And I like Giacomin on the corner. So I keep going back. Don't forget to visit your friendly neighborhood "You Park Like an Asshole" group on Flickr or website for more great photos! Upload your own! Out the bad parkers! Hand out tickets! They deserve it!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A belated pre-Christmas laugh

So I got esposo an ipod for Christmas, because he has this new job as a head chef, wherein he is currently working 20-hour days for many days at a time, and only comes home to see us every three or four or five days, and then is back to work within 48 hours. It sucks, big time, right now. If he can ever find a decent sous, the hours/days will get better. But I digress... When I was wrapping the ipod, I showed it to our son, and he asked what it was. I told him it was an ipod, so daddy could listen to music and watch movies at work. But to keep it a secret, because we didn't want daddy to know what it was until Christmas day (which, goodness knows, may arrive at our house sometime after the new year).

Anyway, esposo actually happened to be home last Friday night for our Christmas party, and during the day our son said something like, "Daddy! We got you a...present! But it's a secret! Mommy says I can't tell you what it is, but you can use it at work to watch movies and listen to music!"

Ha ha, nice one, kiddo! Thanks a lot!

Car troubles

I have been attempting to buy a new-ish car (this car pictured below, a 2006 RAV-4) for about a month and a half now.
It's the silver one, the one with the "Sold by Juan Jose" sign on the front window. The really great car that I have been wanting for oh so long. The one I test drove around the lot and said, "We'll take it!" Yet, there it sits, sadly, in the lot, still waiting for me. Why?, you may ask. Of course you know I am going to tell you.

If you work for yourself, as I do, and are not a Costa Rican, as I am not, it is a major pain in the ass to get a car loan here, whether you have the money for the down payment or not (which I do, but which doesn't seem to make a big difference to the bank). First, they said all I needed was my last six months' worth of bank statements, showing that I had deposits of a certain amount (and I actually had much more than they required). This not being enough, then they wanted copies of contracts I had had over the past year. Supplied. Still not enough, however, they then asked me for letters of reference from some of my clients and contractors. Done. For some reason, though, that is still not enough. I don't know what it takes. The one bank has agreed to finance 60% of the car (instead of 75% as they had originally agreed), which is fine, or would be, if I could come up with $8,000 by the middle of January. I actually don't mind that too much, because the car payments would be smaller. However, our very dedicated car salesman (who has only been doing his job for about two months) thinks this particular bank is really pushing it, and is trying to get us a loan with another bank. We'll see after the first how this all turns out.

In the meantime, I am still driving the Haunted Hyundai. In the words of Luke Skywalker, "What a piece of junk!" And it will not make .5 past light speed, believe you me. Where to start, where to start... Here is the short list of things that do not work on the HH: the horn. the air conditioning. the heater. the blowers. the power steering. It has half a dash, from that one time our car was broken into and the stereo ripped out, taking the dash along with it; wiper blades that leave streaks, and a door that does not open. A back seat belt that does not work. The brakes are starting to squeal, and the two front tires have slow leaks. To get it to go in reverse, you have to first put the car halfway in gear while giving it a little gas and easing up on the clutch, then fully put it into reverse and ease up on the clutch a bit more while giving it more gas. To say that I hate this car is not an understatement. I loathe this car. I despise it. So much so that I almost cried when I was forced by esposo to finally put a muffler on it for $50 because the smell was giving me headaches. (I cried because I had to spend $50 on the car, not because I was getting headaches, just to clarify.) It has no marchamo (that's the Costa Rican yearly registration sticker), and has not passed Riteve for this year (the mechanical check, which, for you Californians, is so much more ridiculous and stringent that it makes your smog test look like kid stuff -- if you do not pass go, you should not be driving your car until you do. And if you do, like me, drive your car anyway, you are in danger of being pulled over and having your car towed away by the highway patrol). I am not about to pay the $200-something for a stupid marchamo (did I mention it expires on the 31st?) for this stupid car, and no way in hell will it ever pass Riteve, not in my wildest, bribe-everyone-at-the-shop-to-pass-my-shitty-car dreams. Plus, I do not think you can get a marchamo without the Riteve, though I could be wrong about that. Either way, it ain't gonna happen.

So please, everyone out there, send good "you will get that damn car loan" thoughts my way, because after the first, I'm really going to need them. Juan Jose (God bless him!) may have jumped the gun a little on that sign, though come hell or high water (as my Grandma used to say), that car is going to be mine one way or another.

Feliz Navidad!

Yep, I'm a day late. Blame it on the stomach flu. Merry Christmas!

A Very Bookie Christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kiki the Terrible

And her no-good, awful mood swings. She has taken to beating the crap out of poor Phoebe, my little rescued feral kitten. Phoebe, I think, isn't yet big enough to do Kiki much damage, but Phoebe did get her cornea scratched by Kiki last week, necessitating a trip to the vet and wrestling with Phoebe twice a day to apply eye drops. So I've gone back to Phoebe being in her own room (my bedroom, as it turns out), with her food and water and litter box in my bathroom to keep her separate from Kiki. Kiki has not been like this with the other cats; certainly not Olivia, who arrived as a kitten about the same age as Phoebe. Maybe Kiki is just through putting up with kittens and their nonsense. I don't know. I've about had it with Kiki though. Most of the day, she hides in the "tower" (a weird cubbyhole in the house that only she and Olivia can access), and otherwise just comes out to eat or torture Phoebe. Argh. Phoebe remains sweet as can be through all of this, surprisingly. I am almost ready to put Kiki on kitty Prozac.

More things that make me laugh

  1. Best of Craigslist. Recently, specifically these here two posts. Girlfriends out there looking for a man, you'll want to check out that first post for some tips.
  2. Passive Aggressive I think the title speaks for itself.
  3. Found Magazine. Notes and stuff that people find. The really good stuff is in the comments.
  4. TV in Japan. I'm sorry, I totally was suckered in by the fat cat video. Because it's (and I only say "it's" because I don't know if said cat is a he or a she) even bigger than Boris the Grande. Plus, my friend Sylli used to live in Japan for many years and would send us tapes of Japanese television, which I can assure you is like nothing you've ever seen, unless, of course, you've already seen Japanese television. And then you'd have seen stuff like this. Scary, isn't it?

I'm dreaming of a white (elephant) Christmas

Last night was our Christmas shindig, and I spent the greater part of the morning fighting off a migraine and waiting for esposo to get home and help me clean up the house. He finally got here around 11:00, we had lunch, and then went to get our Christmas tree around 2:00. I had seen a sign around the corner from our house for a tree farm, where you pick your own and they cut it for you, so esposo called the number and got directions to the place. Supposedly it was "just outside" Grecia, but we spent a good 45 minutes being lost, driving back down the road(s) from whence we came, and asking for directions. We finally spotted another sign for a different tree farm, and said, screw it, let's try that one, and I'm so glad we did. Most of the large trees were gone, but there was one tree they were holding for someone who had never come back to get it (kind of like my hopefully-new car? that story later), so we took a look at it, and yes, it was the perfect tree. $16 and some rope later, the tree was tied to the top of my little Haunted Hyundai and we were headed back home.

Once we got the tree in a pot (I have not been able to find our tree stand since we moved house about two houses ago; perhaps I should just break down and buy a new one?), it was my job to decorate it while esposo cleaned up and started putting out plates of food. Oh, did I mention we finally got home around 3:00? And the first guests were going to show up around 5:00? Yeah. Anyway, I got out the strings of lights and realized that out of four strings only one worked. Argh! So I took some other decorative lights (snowmen and candies) and threw them on the tree, along with a string of lights that looks like roses. It's weird. I admit it. But the tree was so big, I could neither get behind it nor all the way to the top of it. (It touches the ceilings, and I think we have 10-foot ceilings in this house. In fact, it is the biggest tree I've ever had, including when I was growing up. As we were wedging it in the front door, the thought did cross my mind that perhaps we had made a mistake in picking out this particular tree. But the show must go on.) So then I wrapped the tree in ribbon, and put on our few ornaments (which looked like so many on a smaller tree, but sort of got lost on this one), and that was that. The big problem was how to get the angel on top of the tree, because we don't have a ladder (never had a need for one), and a chair was not going to even come close to doing it. So I put her above the curtains over the sliding doors, which looked nice, but not as nice as on top of the tree. D. and M. arrived later (they are both extremely tall people, my guess is that D. is 6'2" or 3" at least), and D. offered to put the angel up there. M. was not optimistic this would end well. D. tried standing on a chair, using a broom handle, breaking off the top branch to make a stable holding place, but still the angel would not go. At one point, an ornament fell off and M. wondered aloud if it was the angel's head. It wasn't, but then not 2 minutes later, the angel fell and head was severed. Her head in one piece and body in another, all I really need is to find the super glue that I bought the other day, but of course has now gone into hiding, until I buy another tube, at which point it will miraculously emerge. So for the meantime, the angel is sitting here on my desk holding her own head in her hands.

One of the things we always have fun doing is a white elephant gift exchange. We used to have them for Christmas parties at the big huge publishing company I used to work for, and in fact the first one was my idea. After I went back to school and became a temp there, all of the "regular" employees got to have a Christmas party and play the game, but us "temps" were excluded from the fun. The irony was not lost on me. Anyway, the gist is that you bring something you no longer want, wrap it up without your name on the package, and stick it under the tree. Later we draw numbers, and the first person picks a present. The second person can pick a present from under the tree or steal the first person's present, and so on. Last night was definitely book and candleholder night! I think out of eight people, there were at least four candleholders. I gave away a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (because I'd picked up a second, brand-new hardback copy at a garage sale for $1), and esposo gave away two CDs that I can't stand, Alice in Chains and Sepultura. Bleh. M.'s mother (or was it her mother-in-law? I can't recall) ended up with H.P., and K. got esposo's crappy CDs (though he stole them from someone else, so I guess he really wanted them!). C. (whose first language is Spanish but is learning English) kept picking books in English, and then having them stolen. In fact, I think everything he picked was eventually stolen, at least once, including esposo's crappy CDs. I ended up with three books, Memoirs of a Geisha (which I've already read, but never mind), 101 Ways to Avoid Reincarnation (which looks like a silly, quick read), and Natasha and Other Stories. I'm always up for a good read, so I was happy. At least I didn't get a candleholder! Esposo got a piece of Guatemalan artwork that is a weaving (we have one like it already, so they will look nice next to each other), and another piece done by a Costa Rican artists that needs to be framed. Everyone else went home with candleholders. Ha ha...

All in all, it was a very nice night, and a great way to start off the season. The kids had a good time (even E., who was fighting off a virus and vomited all over the floor. Twice.), and of course we have a ton of food and drink left over. I wish you could have been here. Maybe next year...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Slavery is alive and well

The world over, for sure, but also in the good old U.S. of A. Read this article:

Three Florida fruit-pickers, held captive and brutalised by their employer for more than a year, finally broke free of their bonds by punching their way through the ventilator hatch of the van in which they were imprisoned. Once outside, they dashed for freedom. Read more...

Then, boycott Burger King and Whole Foods for refusing to pay a penny more per pound of slave-picked tomatoes. And let them know why. You can contact Whole Foods via web form, but for Burger King you'll need to write or call the old fashioned way. Then, just for fun, why not contact Lou Dobbs, who has made himself famous for his anti-immigration views, and ask him why he's not covering this story? And if you're really ambitious, contact your representatives and demand that they stand up for the rights of those who have none.

Looks like they made it

The packages arrived after all. Hooray! I swear, though, the post office in Ciudad Colon would probably function better and more efficiently if run by a pack of monkeys. There have been times when I've gone in there, and the woman in charge is attempting to run the fax machine, or putting 10,000 stamps on someone else's pile of mailings, and she doesn't even bother to acknowledge your presence. A "Hi, I'll be with you in a minute" goes a long way. Another time the dumb-as-a-tack guy who works there tried to charge me over 5,000 colones for sending a paperback book to the U.S., when I know for a fact they go for around 1,200. I questioned him about the charge, he was adamant about how much I owed, even showing me the receipt -- when lo and behold there was a charge on there for a package that wasn't mine, for about 3,800. Duh.

So anyway, I had called on Monday to see if the packages had arrived, and d-a-a-t guy said there were two notices in the box, but they were for certified letters. "Certified letters? Are you sure? Because I'm expecting a box, but I don't think anyone is sending me letters." "No, these are definitely for letters, not boxes." So then I got to wondering where the hell my boxes were, because of that "Attempted delivery" message on the USPS tracking number. Finally, esposo called yesterday to the post office in Colon, got the woman, and of course they were boxes, the boxes I've been waiting for and freaking out about, not certified letters. I wish I could Donald Trump that guy's ass ("You're fired!"), but like government jobs all over the world, he'll probably be promoted to supervisor and given a big fat raise. Argh.

At least the boxes are here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Postal concerns and a good laugh

Mom sent a box of Christmas stuff, including an iPod I bought for esposo, a couple of weeks ago via international flat rate priority mail from the U.S. I've been tracking it, and today I see the following message on the Track and Confirm page: "Attempted Delivery Abroad, December 13, 2007, 10:30 am, COSTA RICA." It's now the 18th, and there is nothing at my p.o. box in Ciudad Colon. I'm freaking out a little bit. It's been five days, and granted two of them were over a weekend and it is the holiday season, but still. Anyone out there able to elucidate the meaning of that "attempted delivery" message? Does that mean they couldn't deliver it and they sent it back? I don't get what's going on here.

On a lighter note, I often read The "Blog" of "Unnecessary Quotation Marks, because it's just freakin' hilarious. Today there was a photo having to do with flushing toilets in a high school. And if you don't click on that link, it's your loss, seriously! (Nothing too gross, there Mom, I swear. Click the link, you know you want to.)

P.S. Oh, and I made a purse this weekend.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Things just are not going right this week

Remember Bug-alike, aka Harvey? I asked the woman at the shelter to give him a feline leukemia test on Friday, and today she called saying he was positive. Obviously with the other cats, we couldn't bring him home after all, since they might get infected. So they had to put him to sleep. Another sad day.

I said I was gonna do it

Asshole parking, all right. I'm sorry (well, no, I'm not really sorry, it's a figure of speech), but if you're going to drive a car that could house a small family, at least learn to park it correctly. This was taken outside of PriceSmart in Escazu one night last week, thus the poor lighting and cellphone-quality photo.

Ooh, nice! Take up two spaces, park right on the white line, while there are obviously several spaces available! Or were! Asshole!

You can find more bad parking pics on this here Flickr group. On a side note, why is it that most of the time you see the license plate number erased on photos of cars you see online? Is this a legal thing? I figure if you can't figure out how to park your behemoth, you deserve to be outed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Everyone wants their Christmas bonus

Today we were over in San Jose picking up mail at Interlink, and then I decided to go over to San Pedro for some fabric shopping at my favorite store, KG Quilts. More on that at my quilty blog later. Since it takes a good 45 minutes to an hour to get to San Jose from our house, we decided to have lunch at esposo's old cafe in San Pedro before heading home. If you park around the University, you have to buy parking tickets, otherwise you will end up with a big fat parking ticket. So these unofficial parking attendant guys, known here as the "guachimans" (say it like, "gwatchy-mans," because they gwatches your car for you, you know), sell parking tickets at double their actual cost. Or more. I think probably more. Because you're paying for their "service" of watching your car while you eat lunch or shop or whatever. I got a one-hour ticket, because you never know how long you'll actually be somewhere, and better to put more money in the meter than have it run out two minutes before you got that $10 ticket, right? After we finished our yum-yummy lunch, I went to pay the guachi and he was nowhere to be found. Got son in the car, got ready to go, and finally he appeared, mumbling something about a little extra for his aguinaldo, or Christmas bonus. I was like, are you kidding? I'm supposed to give the guachi a Christmas bonus? I figured what the hell, and dropped him a few more coins. So there you go. Everyone wants their little extra action this time of year, I guess.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The dumb thing I did yesterday

I write about my big mistake in the hopes that you will not have need to repeat it. I sent out a book-swap book and a box of a few little goodies yesterday. The book was more than I thought it would be (almost $5 plus $1 for a tracking number -- ouch!), but the little box was really expensive. Normally throwing a few things in a box costs no more than $10-12; this one was a whopping $28. I almost had a heart attack. WTF? I questioned the guy at the post office, and he assured me it was the right price for that weight. All right. But damn, it didn't weigh that much. 2.1 kilos, as I recall... Esposo was at the bank around the corner, and I went over there and told him of my post office experience. He said no way in heck should that tiny little package have cost so much, so we went back to the post office afterwards to figure out what went on. The woman there weighed the package again, and yep, right price. The problem? It was that one-tenth of a kilo OVER 2 kilos, so that meant it went certified airmail instead of regular mail (which also goes by air, but never mind...). Which also meant it cost twice as much as a package weighing only 2 kilos. So I paid $14 to send .1 kilo to the U.S. I could have taken out one of the plastic bags I used as stuffing and dropped the weight down to 2 kilos. Ugh. Anyway, I told the woman that the man who waited on me (who spoke perfect English, by the way, so he must have figured I am made of money) should have let me know that if I repacked it to get the weight down by one-tenth of a kilo it would have cost half as much. She apologized, but unfortunately, they had already put the stamps all over the package and she couldn't take them off at that point. Lesson well learned. Always weigh packages at home first.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You gotta eat here.

I recently heard about a new restaurant over in Heredia from one of the Yahoo groups I belong to. It's called Ganesha, and was purported to have Indian, Middle Eastern, and other yummy food, heavy on the vegetarian stuff, menu-wise. Of course we had to go.

But let me back up just a little.

Today started out kinda sucky. We had to take Boo's remains (that's an odd word for "dead body," isn't it?) over to the animal shelter in Heredia for cremation. Wherever we end up, I eventually want to take his, his brother's, and Lucy's ashes back to California and scatter them on the beach at Asilomar. So, anyway, if you need to take your pet for cremation here, AHPPA is the only place in the country that does animals (as of this writing). The cost varies; for us, since we are frequent fliers, we get the multiple-cremation unofficial household discount. The thing is that cremation, or burial, whichever you choose, is so final. Not that death itself isn't, but there is something about the last step, that it is the point I really lost it. I think I am okay now. Or getting okay. I'm not sure.

Son was asleep when we got there, so esposo took the Boo into the shelter, along with our urn of choice, a tin tea box. I stayed in the car and cried. Son eventually woke up, and I realized esposo had been in there an awfully long time, so I asked son if he wanted to go in and see some animals. Of course he did. Turned out one of esposo's ex-co-workers is now a veterinarian there, so they were catching up after lo this many years. Son and I then went over to see the dogs (not as many as I'd have thought), and kittens (way to precious for words, including a pair that looked exactly like Bug and Boo when I first brought them home 19-odd years ago), and puppies (I was tempted by the puppy fruit, I really was, but with nine dogs now, it just didn't seem realistic to bring another puppy home), and finally the adult cats. One of the adult cats was a grey tabby with a little brown on his face, I swear he looked just like Bug. And he was as sweet as could be. I petted him, and he purred... After we left, both esposo and I realized how much we both liked the Bug-alike, and decided, YES! surprise, surprise, we would adopt him when we went to pick up Boo's ashes. He's wonderful. And it was a completely mutual decision. I had decided before we went in that I would not suggest adopting any animals to esposo, because I know he believes we are up to our eyeballs in animals over here. But I'm really, really happy about this decision.

Backing up some more: Phoebe was attacked by Kiki and Bookie last night, I believe partially because Bookie is now the only male cat in the house and they wanted to show who was in charge now. So I'm thinking we need another male cat here to even things out. Even if he is a sweetheart pushover. We shall see.

We finally were able to pull ourselves away from cuteness parade and headed downtown Heredia for some lunch (at this point, though, it was close to 2:00). I had heard about Ganesha and figured it was right up our alley, so we sought it out. Not hard to find, actually, it's on Central Avenue between 5th and 7th streets downtown. (And when driving around Heredia, don't forget the saying: "Heredia por media calle / Heredia in the middle of the street," meaning everyone walks right in the middle of the streets there like they don't have the good sense they were born with.) It's a cute little converted house run by a couple from the Punjabi region of India; he also lived in Florida for a while and speaks perfect English. We started with the veggie pakoras (oh so delish); I had iced tea while the boys had a mango fusion lassi and watermelon lassi. Then we had a swarma (at least I think that is how it's spelled!) with soy "meat"; it was so good I almost ate the whole thing and forgot I was supposed to be sharing it with esposo. Next up was the vegetarian thali, a big ol' platter with yellow dahl, curried veggies, palak paneer, raita, homemade breads, and basmati rice. I have never had such good paneer. I don't even eat cheese, but the spinach sauce was so freakin' good! A hint of anise, a little sweetness... definitely different than any paneer I've ever had. They also brought us some spicy eggplant dish that I could eat until I explode. I was stuffed. Esposo was just getting warmed up. He ordered the chickpea-tamarind thing, and more rice, and several desserts to go. Oh. My. God. I can't believe how much I ate. But it was so good. The only thing I could have passed on were the slightly overcooked veggies in the curry, but the curry sauce was so good the veggies were really beside the point anyway.

So if you are in Costa Rica and need a new idea for dinner, you must go here. You must. Because we want them to stay and be successful. For a long time. Try it and let me know what you think.

And I'll let you know about the Bug-alike.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

TIME needs a grammar lesson

Lesson #1: "Your" is a pronoun, used to show that something belongs to you (e.g., "Your cat is eating my cereal."). "You're" is a contraction of "you are" (e.g., "You're really going to let that cat eat my cereal?). The two are not interchangeable.

Pop quiz: True or False: The bold word is used correctly in the following sentence:

"We recognize that the amount of time you spend in Washington means nothing unless your accountable for the judgments you made at the time you had them.

(Answer: False. Maybe Time needs a proofreader.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

More Grecia "Delicias"

There is a little cafe here in Grecia where all the Gringos hang out called Cafe Delicias. I mean, every time you go by it is full of people, at least half of them Gringos. Son and I were downtown doing some errands today, so I thought we'd stop in and see what they had for lunch. He saw they had milkshakes, and even though he's somewhat lactose-intolerant, like me, he insisted on having one, so okay, I gave in. I had a big frozen mocha that was like half whipped cream, and not all that much cafe mocha. Ugh. From the menu, they truly had not one vegan thing to order. Since son was really hungry, and I was too, we got a salad (hold the ham!), a croissant (hold the ham!), a mini pizza (hold the ham!), and a cinnamon bun (no ham!). Even the salad was loaded with cheese, but that I could pick off. The croissant, not so much. It was okay, but I felt awful about eating all that cheese in the first place, mainly because 1) I'm committed to being a vegan, 2) I don't like cheese, and 3) it made me feel like crap afterwards. In fact, we took most of the salad and the whole cinnamon bun (loaded with a sugary, buttery "topping") to go. The only high point of the lunch was a nice woman named Linda who came over and introduced herself to us; I thought that was extremely nice and something Ticos just would never, ever do. Walk up to a complete stranger and make them feel welcome? No. Highly unlikely.

I think it goes without saying we won't be going back there any time soon. Not when there is the awesome and cheap Chinese vegetarian lunch counter in the central market and true delicias to be found at La Casa de Miguel down the street. (Side note: We went to Miguel's House for lunch with a friend and her son yesterday, and they totally loved it.)

After lunch, we went over to the church of metal (no, there is no Whitesnake worshipping going on there, it's just a church made out of metal, though I do like to say "church of metal" in that gravelly voice metal singers have after years of smoking and drinking and singing like they do, and also you need to make the devil sign and stick out your tongue to create the whole "church of metal" effect). They have a nice little fish pond in the back that son likes, and I was surprised, actually, to see how much garbage was strewn in and around the pond. Isn't Grecia supposed to be one of the cleanest cities in Central America or something? Maybe that's Atenas... Anyway, a lot of Catholic churches have these racks where you can light a candle for someone you love for a small donation. Even though I am neither Catholic nor religious, I do consider myself a spiritual person and I like paying homage to someone I care about in that way. I always light candles for my grandparents, Lucy, May-May, Buggie, Venus, a guy named Jason, my friend's mother, cats and dogs I had growing up, and basically everyone else I've lost in my life and never want to forget, and I can fill up a whole rack of candles all on my own. So I wanted to light a candle for Boo, but the church of metal didn't have the candles, sad to say. Instead, I said a little prayer for Boo and asked God to take care of him until I get there.

P.S. I don't know if this happens to you, but sometimes when I lose someone I worry that I will forget all of the little things that made them special. Tonight I made corn on the cob with our dinner, and after I finished I remembered that Boo was one of those cats who loved to eat corn on the cob. It was weird to throw away the corn cob when normally I would let Boo munch on it. Those are the things you miss, you know? Even when you know it was their time -- and surely it was Boo's time, no doubt about it -- their absence always leaves a hole.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Goodbye, sweet prince

May 1, 1988 - December 6, 2007

Recently I wrote about my kitties. Today has been one of those difficult days all pet owners must eventually go through, because my oldest, Boo Boo Man, passed away last night. When we got home from the quilt group's Christmas party on Tuesday evening, he wasn't looking good at all, and having a hard time walking. But then on Wednesday, he seemed to perk up, ate two cans of his favorite food (Tiki Cat) and some yogurt, and laid in the sun on the back patio. At that point, I wondered if he had just gotten into something odd, or been bitten by a tarantula or something. But then at night again, he started to fail. I gave him my big old comforter, made him a nice bed next to ours, and said my goodbyes, letting him know it was okay to go back "home" and that I loved him very much and would miss him. I checked on him a couple of times during the night, and he was pretty unresponsive, just barely hanging on. By the time I got up around 5:30 this morning, he had passed on.

I want to scan in an old photo I have of Boo and his brother, Bug, when they were just kittens. It is one of my favorite photos of them. That is the way I want to remember him -- lively, loving, always bugging me for dairy products that he somehow knew were in my shopping bags through a closed door. His rubbing his head on my hand when he wanted something I was eating; his incredible ability to trip me by walking right under my feet. I knew Boo for the entirety of my adult life -- he would have been 20 years old next May 1. He and Bug, and later my dog Lucy, were my constant companions, always there during the ups and downs of life. They were my family. He was such a big part of my family. I will miss him terribly.

Say hello to Bug and Lucy and May-May for me, Boo. I know we'll meet again one day on the other side.

My three boys: (from left) Bookie, Bug and Boo-Boo Man

Bookie and Boo

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An update

If you were wondering, the boing-boing has been spotted. Bits and pieces of it, nearly three weeks later, but it has finally "emerged." Hooray! No, there are no photographs. Lucky you.

What's in a name?

I was thinking about my animal friends, and how I usually try to give them middle names as well as first names. Also, I am happy to say, I've never named a pet something like Blackie or Spots, the closest to that being a gray striped cat I named Tiger, but I was in third grade at the time, so I can excuse myself on that one. Anyway, I like to give animals real names since they're going to be part of the family. That's my reasoning. So this morning I thought about giving Phoebe a middle name, which is now Sophia. I think Phoebe Sophia has a nice ring to it. (And can I just say I love the name my friend L.'s kids gave to their new kitten Harriet Monkey!? Is that too cute?)

My oldest cat is named Sebastian Armand, though we call him Boo-Boo Man or just Boo. His brother (from the same litter) was Morrissey James, and we called him Bug. Boo and Bug, my two guys for many, many years before esposo and son came along. At 19 years old, Boo is still with us, though his brother crossed over the rainbow bridge a few years ago.

Sebastian Armand, aka Boo

The next-oldest is Bookie (that's a long o as in Boo-kie, not Book-y). His real name is Boris Orangello, and he checks in at 7 years old and 22 pounds. Most people who see him are amazed by his girth. Most people have never seen a cat as large as Bookie. Bookie is the kind of cat you really don't want jumping on you from the top of the closet in the middle of the night. Bookie gets his name from a Cat Chow commercial that played on t.v. here years ago (about 7 years ago, I guess!), where the guy always sounded like he was saying Boris instead of Morris to the big orange cat (Portate bien, Boris!). Orangello comes from that urban legend about the woman who named her kids after the jello on the hostpital menu. His nickname, Bookie, comes from the new version of Star Wars where Jabba is in the Moss Isley hangar talking to Han, and says, "Han, ma bookie..." Since Boris was about the size of Jabba, we thought that was the perfect nickname for him.

Boris Orangello, aka Bookie

After Bookie, we didn't get any more cats for a while, because Bug and Venus (esposo's much-loved Maine coon named after the great tennis player Venus Williams who happened to be winning Wimbledon at the time the cat showed up) were living, and four cats was really enough. Then we had a little cafe in Ciudad Colon, and our first cafe cat got stolen, so the guys decided to get another cat. I saw the cutest little baby tortie at the agro next door, and they give cats away for free, so I picked her out. Then I fell in love with her and refused to take her back to the cafe, so she stayed. Her name is Katrina (after the hurricane that hit that year), and while I think she does have a middle name, I can't remember what it is. Maybe we'll have to rename her. We call her Kiki.

Hurricane Katrina, aka Kiki

As we were moving out of that house, a little white kitten showed up and didn't want to leave. After a while, we realized she was completely deaf and was not going to make it running the streets as she was. So we took her to the new house with us. Venus and Bug had both crossed over the rainbow bridge by that time, so white kitten made four cats total. I decided to name her every girl name that I really loved but were shot down by esposo when I was pregnant and we were thinking of names for the baby (lucky for esposo, we had a boy). So white kitten became Olivia Finnoula Siobahn, though my son called her Kitters and that sort of stuck. Sometimes he calls her Livvers.

Olivia Finnoula Siobahn, aka Kitters

Lastly, of course, was the kitten we didn't intend to keep, Phoebe Sophia. She hasn't been here long enough to acquire a real nickname, though we call her Phoeebs or or Phoebe Kitten. Son was calling her New Kitters for a while.

Phoebe Sophia

Some other day, I'll write about the dogs. There are nine of them, so it will take me a little longer.

P.S. I remembered Kiki's middle name. It's Anya.
P.P.S. Be sure to click on that link to the Orangello urban legend and read the comments. Some of the names were so funny that I laughed until my eyes were watering! (The racist crap on there is totally uncalled for, however.) Reminded me about a guy I went to high school with named Sterling Silver. He was so cute...

A tasty Grecian surprise

Last night we had dinner for the second time at La Casa de Miguel in downtown Grecia. From the name, you might think that the food is typical Costa Rican (read: boring) "cuisine." It's anything but. They serve a surprising variety of Asian food, focusing on Thai specialties. I know! Thai food in Grecia! It's kind of unbelievable. So far, we seem to prefer the appetizers (which, strangely enough, esposo says Costa Ricans do not typically order at meals. They are missing out). Last night it was Thai rice noodle salad (ala ya wun sen), vegetarian sushi (do you know any other three-year-olds who like sushi? Who are not actually Japanese? I'm starting to think my son is a weirdo. In a good way!), sambal eggplant (sooooo delicious!), summer rolls sans salmon (they're okay; esposo's are better, really), and then a vegetarian sizzling rice platter that we all shared as an entree. Add in a few drinks and the total was around $36. Not bad at all, methinks. In the city, it would probably be closer to $50, maybe more. They've only been open a few months, and the service still needs a lot of work, but the chef is lovely and came out and talked to the other chef (esposo) at length about the food. I'd recommend it, just don't go if you're starving, because you might be waiting a while.

Friday, November 30, 2007

थिस इस कूल

दीद यू क्नो यू कोउल्ड ट्रांस्लितेराते यौर टेक्स्ट इन्तो हिन्दी? इ सुप्पोसे आईटी वोर्क्स बेस्ट इफ यू अच्तुअल्ली राइट इन हिन्दी. इ'म अफ्रैद तो से, अस मच अस इ लोवे मी सोम बोल्ल्य्वूद, इ कान्नोत अच्तुअल्ली राइट इन हिन्दी. तेरे यू गो.

And baby makes 14

This comes as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me, but it did come as a surprise to me. A while back, we took a feral kitten in, had her spayed, and took care of her for a friend who was supposed to pick her up. That was two months ago. I guess it goes without saying we are keeping her. Without further ado, meet Phoebe:

She looks like a cross between Kiki, our tortie, and Olivia Finnoula Siobahn P.G., aka Kitters. If anyone is thinking about adopting a feral kitten, know that it can take a LONG long time for them to come around. These are not kittens that pounce and purr as soon as you bring them home; rather, they run and hide every time you enter the room and look for the easiest way out of your home. However, every day that Phoebe gets a little closer, rubs on my legs (marking me as her own); every little step is a huge milestone. This morning she let me pet her on the head and tail. That is big!

My mother, who used to head up a cat shelter, was concerned about this kitten when I first mentioned we'd be adopting her out. Since she was slightly older (about two months), she was really past the point of what cat specialists usually think of as the time frame for socializing a feral kitten. However, I knew that life for a cat on the streets of Costa Rica is not good (many are poisoned, shot, etc., or run over by cars, and otherwise have to hack it out on their own), so I was determined not to give up on her. And this morning I was rewarded by being able to pet her head. Only briefly, of course, and after months of much patience and kindness. Even our three-year-old son knows that he must be extremely gentle and quiet around her if he wants to win her over. I think he will. It's just a matter of time.

So if you're wondering about the title, that is 9 dogs and 5 cats. I never thought I'd have double digit animals, though I have always loved having animals in my life. Living in California, you have to basically fill out an affidavit sworn in by an attorney and two witnesses certifying that you will hand over your firstborn should any damage ever be done by a kitten you might want to adopt, when renting from a landlord who left the same carpet on the floor for the last 20 years, because he really cares that much about his house. Bah. When I was going to school at UCSC, I was advised by someone at the housing department to "leave my precious pets with my parents," never mind that I was a "returning" student (aka, all grown up with no place to go) and my singular parent lived 3,000 miles away. That really made me laugh. I thanked her for her help and sought a place on my own. The only place that would take me, esposo (then-novio), two cats and two Chihuahuas was a guy who rented a trailer in the Watsonville sticks. And I was more than willing to take it, when the guy renting an ex-crack house right near downtown Santa Cruz said we could move in the former garage if we wanted to. (Of course, we took the "apartment." It didn't get much better than that; how could we refuse? The other people who lived there made it the most wonderful place to live, actually, with the exception of Crazy Chris and her boyfriend and their crazy dog.)

We have a big, beautiful new home here just outside of Grecia now, and the landlord had not a single problem with us having 9 dogs and (at that point) 4 cats. He even said we could convert the dog pen in the back into a chicken coop (though I don't think I will after all -- keeping chickens can be heartbreaking if you really love them as pets). Can't complain. Life is good.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I really hope they weren't waiting for Marianela

Sometimes you get random, odd text messages on your cell phone down here. The other day, I got this one:
Mae llevamos a Marianela ala boda loquiyo

(Spelling is theirs, not mine. I'm just the messenger.) Which roughly translates to, "Dude, we're taking Marianela to the wedding, you crazy guy." I hope they all had a good time. Sounds like they were in for one helluva party. And I hope no one else was waiting to pick up Marianela. And esposo wonders why I don't answer my phone when I don't recognize the number. Ha. I get more wrong calls than I do right ones!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And just in case you were wondering...

Yesterday's ami du jour was a salamander.

My new blog

I started up a new blog today, Costa Rica Photo of the Day. You know how I love to take pictures of everything under the sun? I thought this would be an interesting way to have an online photo journal. Hope you like it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Big Lizards in My Backyard

(Thanks to the Dead Milkmen for that title. I'm showing my age.) Today esposo managed to get a shot of one of the iguanas that inhabits the area in, around, and on top of our house:

It was hanging out on the roof, making the dogs go crazy. When I saw it, I thought, huh, that's not nearly as big as I thought it was. So esposo took some pictures, it took off, and I went back to work.

Then I heard The Littles going nuts again, and looked out of my office window. What I thought was a giant shadow on the back wall was actually a much bigger iguana, crawling about halfway up the stone wall, sort of staring at the dogs and not really in any hurry to go anywhere. As compared to the first one, it was HUGE and almost completely black, with nice cream-colored spikes on its back. It's beautiful. We chased the dogs away, esposo went to get the camera again, but then the iguana thought better of hanging out on a wall all day and took off down the drain hole. So, since I don't have a good photo of him yet, here's one I borrowed from Wikipedia, only our iguana is a lot darker.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Residency, Scorpions and Boing-Boings

On any given Monday, all kinds of weird and random things can happen. For example:

Residency: I have a resident I.D., known in Costa Rica as a cedula. It expired on December 16 two years ago, but due to a backlog of cedulas that needed to be processed in immigration, combined with the fact that their whole computing system broke down and then needed to be overhauled, a one-year amnesty was put in place. Then another one-year amnesty when that one expired. So, thinking that my cedula would finally expire for real this year, I went down to ARCR in San Jose yesterday to see about getting them to help me with the renewal process. (If you are a member, they charge you something like $100 to do all the running around for you, and if you like to wait in lines all day with a three-year-old, you can save the $100, but if not, you may think it is well worth it. I do. I think it is worth even more, to be perfectly honest!) The extremely nice woman there informed me that 1) I should be carrying a copy of the decree around with me at all times, just in case; 2) I should also be carrying a copy of my entire passport to show that I have been in Costa Rica for at least 3 days during the time my cedula was supposed to have expired; and 3) they are likely to pass another amnesty again (any day, in fact), because the backlog still has not subsided. So, no new cedula for me any day soon. The reason I wanted to get it taken care of was so that I could leave the country and not be hassled when coming back in, and also so that I could apply for a loan at the bank for my new car. Neither of which should be a problem. Hooray!

Scorpions: Mondays are our mini-play days at Gymbo Fiestas in Santa Ana (in case anyone out there with young kids wants to join us!). For once, we were set to be on time, which was unusual, given that we are never on time and also that we now live about 45 minutes from Santa Ana. On the way out of the door, though, yet another house guest was sitting in the door jamb, waiting to strike one of the dogs on the nose. You guessed it: a scorpion. I think now that we have encountered one house guest per day since moving in here. As I was screaming for esposo to "squash it, squash it!" son was going, "Mommy, let me see it!" It was a big one, too, usually we get the little ones, but this was a good 4-5 inches long. Esposo was afraid that if he stepped on it, the goo would get on his nice shoes and also that it would jump up and bite him (though I don't think scorpions can jump). A phone book was finally settled on, and I can assure you that dropping a phone book and then stomping upon said phone book will surely squash a scorpion as flat as a pancake.
Edited to add: As soon as I finished writing this post, what I do see but Boris cat not three feet away from me playing with a half-dead scorpion! Ugh! They flush well, too. Scorpions, I mean, not cats.

Boing-Boings: They sell all manner of things in the intersections of city streets here. Everything from newspapers to stickers to cell phone accessories to car floor mats, you name it. Toys are especially popular, particularly around Christmas (and we all know it comes earlier every year, Costa Rica being no exception). Last week, while driving home from San Jose, we saw a guy selling what son calls "boing-boings," for lack of a better word. They're these rubbery ball-koosh-things on the end of a rubbery tether that are sort of like a modern-day ball attached to a paddle toy, and the ball part blinks when you hit it against something. Son was sleeping in the car and had had a terrible day, so I knew it would be something fun for him. Of course, the little blinky thing inside broke about an hour after we got home. And then the boing-boing ball went flat. So it sat on a bench, looking very sad. Yesterday, when we got home, esposo let the dogs in the house (as we usually do) so that I could pull the car in the driveway. As soon as I did and he'd let the dogs back out, I noticed Numi-monster had something in her mouth. It was the boing-boing. She was chewing it, and by the time I got to her, yelling, Numi, No, Give that back! Stop it! the whole while, she had swallowed it. Entirely. I mean, the thing is like the size of a fist, and the rubbery tether is another good six inches long. We called our vet back in Ciudad Colon immediately, and he said actually not to worry, it's amazing what big dogs can swallow and "pass" (a good word for "crap out later"). Basically to give her olive oil four times a day for the next couple of days until we either see it, ahem, pass, or she starts vomiting and getting lethargic (meaning that it's stuck in there somewhere and she will need surgery to remove it). Let's all hope for the passing of the boing-boing, shall we?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Okra and Friends

I found okra at AutoMercado the other day. Real, fresh okra. I had to tell Amy, who I know loves okra, probably even more than I do. I made vegan gumbo with it, and it was sooooo freakin' good, I ate way more gumbo than I should have! If you want the recipe, let me know. It's actually really easy to make. In Spanish, okra is called quingombo (yeah, I probably spelled that wrong!), which sounds a lot like King Gumbo. If you think okra is slimy and disgusting, you've probably never had the fresh stuff or you've overcooked it.

Fresh okra makes a mighty fine King Gumbo!

In other news, here are a couple more pictures of our never-ending trail of house guests.

This little big gecko was in son's bathroom, probably hiding from Kiki the Terrible.

Here's a little possum that was probably trying to get to his house in the big fig tree behind our house, when the dogs ambushed him into the razor wire on top of the fence. He was fine, though, didn't get cut or anything, and was gone as soon as I turned off the porch lights.

Social event of the year?

Yesterday we went to the yearly Women's Club Bazaar. You might be surprised to see me say that it's the social event of the year. (And you'd probably also be surprised to know I was once a member of the Women's Club! And probably the youngest one at that! Ha ha ha!) But there are people that I haven't seen for about a year, and pretty much every Gringo in Costa Rica shows up at the Bazaar. It's usually a great place to get used books in English, though not so much for me this year (though I did pick up an Isabel Allende that I haven't read, plus a very old tome by Arthur C. Clarke). This was the son's year, as I got 16 books for him. It looked like someone had just donated all of their son's books that he'd outgrown (think snakes, lizards, bugs, etc.), so I bought pretty much all of them. Plus an extremely cool pop-up book about Egypt, and a giant volume of classic poetry for children. And Where the Wild Things Are (though last year I got most of the books Dr. Seuss had ever written). All for $14. Not bad.

The problem is that everyone else comes for the books, too. So as soon as the doors open, a mad rush of people (think Macy's on Black Friday) swarm straight to the book section, packing in between boxes of books like sardines. It's insane. And I got there just a few minutes after the doors opened, and already most of the books had been picked over. My friend D. was there with son E. on his back, and I noticed he also had a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, and I was thinking to myself, Damn, he got a good one! Then I saw there was another copy -- hooray! So I snagged it. The line to pay for books was ridiculous, and as I was trying to get my bag o'books from where I'd stashed them, a woman in line started bitching at me, thinking I was cutting her place. I wanted to slap her, but space wouldn't permit it, so I said instead, I'm just getting my books, lady, settle down. Grrr... Sometimes I really can't stand people.

Well anyway, Lord knows I don't need anything else to read! I have books to last me until retirement. Happy for me, son has my love of books, and was over-the-moon ecstatic when I showed him the big bag of books I'd procured. (On a totally side note, I was once talking to a friend about the only Waldorf school here in Costa Rica, and we got to discussing their policy on reading. It seems that they actively keep kids from reading until they reach a certain age [7 or 8, I'm not sure]. My friend thought it was fine, because kids shouldn't be pushed into reading before they're ready, but I thought it was a crap pants idea, because kids should be allowed to read when they seem ready. Two sides of the same coin, I guess. That one thing decided for me that I would not send son to Waldorf, and we'd keep with the homeschool agenda, because he loves his books and he's already started asking me what certain letters spell. I can't see the logic in telling him, Well, kid, you're not 7 yet, so I can't tell you! That seems absurd.)

So I saw about a bazillion people I had not seen in ages, and quite a few I'd seen only a few days ago! As I was waiting in (yet another) line for coffee, I saw a woman who's been in France for an age (lucky dog, you!), and she was mentioning something about having this luscious-looking carrot-coconut cake. I said I had to pass, I'm on a diet. And then she said something that really made me laugh: Why? You're not fat! Yes, I am fat! I'm awful! I said. No, you're solid! Ha ha ha, S., that's a good one! Now there's a euphemism for fat -- solid!

Besides books, we bought munchies at the international food court, son got a handmade kid's guitar, and we also picked up quite a few herbs for the new garden from the Ark Herb Farm. And it was again cold as could be (the little weather thing down there says 68F, but I don't believe it for a minute!), so I bought a used sweater. Another friend was a coffee volunteer, and she has the car we're thinking about getting, so I asked her about it, and of course she loves it. She said to check it out in the parking lot (or car park, probably, since she's a Brit), and I did, hoping the while that no one would think I was going to break into it. All in all, a fun day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Freezing my butt off in Costa Rica

Ok, it's final: I do not think esposo or I will be able to tolerate the Canadian winters (sorry, Mom). Yesterday a cold snap blew through the Central Valley here from Nicaragua. That's right, Nicaragua. I always have imagined that Nicaragua must be one of the hottest climates on Earth, because when Nicaraguans first arrive in Costa Rica, they stick out like a sore thumb, bundled up as though they've just landed in Alaska, while the rest of us are in t-shirts. Don't tell me global warming is a big myth. The weather has not been right here for at least the past year. Something is going on.

Anyway, we froze. I think the papers said it got down to 17C in the city (which I think is in the 50sF for you Norte Americanos). Brrrrr.... If it was that cold there, it had to have been twice as cold up at El Silencio Lodge where esposo is the new head chef. We went up yesterday to drop him off, purportedly for a several-day stay to start training staff, etc., and it turned out the building was still behind schedule, so we just had a look around and came back home.

Going up into the cloud forests is always colder than one might imagine. I had on a jacket and seriously wished I had gloves (speaking of which, Mom -- can you send a pair of Isotoner driving gloves?). Esposo says they call the rain "horizontal," because the wind makes it blow nearly sideways. My feet were freezing (silly me actually thought about wearing flip-flops because I usually do, and my hiking boots have been destroyed; thank goodness esposo talked me into borrowing a pair of his shoes!), and at the end of the day, killing me from wearing shoes several sizes too big.

However, the place is beautiful. I mean, beyond words beautiful. The photos on their website do not do the lodge justice. The website pictures of the guest cottages look like shacks, but in reality they are just gorgeous. Everywhere we walked, we spotted amazing plants, like wild orchids just growing out of the side of a hill, and wild raspberries that are surprisingly sweet, akin to alpine strawberries. There was a plant that produced a berry of the brightest blue, a blue very rare in nature. The wildlife up there is also supposed to be amazing, but of course yesterday was too rainy and cold to see much of anything. The river was raging, though. Esposo says the water has been lab tested and is purer than any in the country.

We stopped in to see esposo's new kitchen, and it's just amazing! The dining room tables are made by artisans in Sarchi, and I want one for our next dining room table. They are inlaid with handmade mosaics created from photos of flowers taken at the lodge site. Very nice. Before we left, we stopped at the little commissary where a couple of local ladies make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the whole construction crew every day, and had gallo pinto and hot black coffee (son had two big slices of locally-made cheese and orange "drink" instead). (A side note: If you use dry beans down here, you must always make sure to wash them and pick through them for rocks. For some reason, if there is one tiny rock to be found in ten pounds of beans, I will chomp down on it, as I did yesterday, and I'm pretty sure I cracked my tooth. Agh. I usually only buy canned beans for this reason, although the best thing to do is to buy organic dry beans and cook them yourself. That's because commercial growers use a big cake of some type of aluminum phosphine to kill bugs that infest the beans. Aluminum is one of those things often connected to Alzheimer's disease, and personally, I do not want to get Alzheimer's if I can avoid it. So always eat organic beans. And don't eat anything cooked in traditional Costa Rican aluminum pots -- very dangerous. And I should start taking my own advice. Getting off soapbox.)

As we were heading back home on a very narrow, windy and winding mountain road in the clouds and rain, we noticed that traffic was stopped. Esposo got out of the car to see what was up, and I insisted that he take the camera (remember when I said take your camera everywhere? You never know!). He walked up ahead, where a truck was in danger of sliding off the road and down a steep cliff. Fortunately, a couple of other truckers had winched the sliding truck and were in the process of pulling it back up on the road. In fact, they were short a few winches, but the guys in the pickup ahead of us (construction workers from the lodge, in fact) had some in their car and went down to lend a hand. It took about 45 minutes of sitting in a cold car in the rain (did I ever mention the Haunted Hyundai has no heater? or air conditioning?), but they finally did get the truck back safely on the road, and we were on our way.

Traffic backs up on a windy (and winding) mountain road.

The blue Isuzu truck is in danger of sliding down a perilous cliff.

Have no fear, though, other truckers lend a hand!

The view out of my car window as we sat waiting for the truck to be pulled back on the road. The beauty of the cloud forest!

Later that day, we went in search of a vegetarian Asian soda in Grecia's central market that esposo had heard about years ago, and actually were able to find it! In the words of RR, delish. I had a fried rice and salad combo, with egg rolls on the side, and esposo had noodles with egg rolls. We shared everything with son, of course, who seemed to like the noodles best. The people that run the place are quite nice, and esposo really hit it off with them, talking about being a vegetarian chef in Costa Rica, and giving some random customer advice about the various ways in which one can cook tofu. That is one of the things I do like best, when random people can share ideas and discuss things that interest them. It's something I thought was wonderful about Portland, Oregon, where honestly, I have never met more friendly people in my life. Anyway, if you're a vegetarian in Grecia, stop by this place, it was quite good and inexpensive (all that food with drinks was about $8).

And I have to say, it was a good day. I didn't even have to use my A.K.

More house guests

Here's another fella who really seems to like our house. I put it outside of the fence twice, but it kept making its way back to the patio furniture. So I left it there. I figure it'll leave when it leaves.

I've also seen the dogs chasing a BIG iguana, who runs the length of the back fence and into a drainage hole in the yard. My guess is that he's about 18 inches or so long (tail included, of course). And he's fast. So I haven't been able to get a picture of him. But neither have the dogs been able to catch him. We still can't figure out where he's coming from or why he runs inside the yard, when there is nothing but coffee fields just outside the fence. Maybe he's playing with the dogs.

Speaking of coffee fields, here is the view from our backyard. You can see all the way to the mountains where we used to live on the other side of the valley. Right now, the only things back there are sugar cane and coffee fields, with some banana and other trees scattered around. But it looks like a new development is happening on the right side, about a mile or so from here. I don't know if you can see it in this picture.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Family portraits

In case you've ever wondered what we (esposo, son and I) look like, here are a few family portraits son and I created, thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society and NY Zoos.

This one is me, the Ibex-ho-octo-flam-tiger.

Here is esposo, who turns out to be an Ibex-ele-fro-at-rattlesnake. (And, dear? Our son gave you those ears, not me!)

And last but certainly not least, here is our son, the Pea-ele-conda-cra-fly-crocodile.

Genetically speaking, if esposo and I both have Ibex horns, son probably should have them also, but those peacock feathers must be a recessive gene. Like his blonde hair, I suppose.

Beware: Gas station scam

Watch out for this one: You pull into a station, tell the guy to put 10,000 (or whatever amount) in the tank, assume he's done what you asked for, give him the 10,000, and take off. Only you later realize he hasn't put barely anything in (because your tank is still just off empty), or you take a quick peek at the pump and it only reads 8,000 (which is what happened to us in Grecia a couple of days ago -- I'll get the name of the station and post it later). Luckily, esposo saw that he'd shorted us a couple of thousand and told him so, so he had to fill it up, being Costa Rican, as he was, making excuses the whole time. "Oh, gee, I didn't notice, sorry about that..." Yeah, right. Sorry you didn't get to pocket the extra $4. So check that the pump is on 0 when you go to get your gas (another scam is that they use a pump that already has a few thousand on it, don't zero it out, and you get shorted that way -- the Shell station in Escazu that got blown up was famous for that), and make sure they put in the amount you asked for. And then get your gas at a station that's reputable, especially near where you live. After all, gas costs the same in this country no matter where you buy it, so make sure you're getting what you pay for.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The new house

We've moved in, mostly. Boxes are yet to be unpacked (but getting there); the piles of clothes that need washing seem endless. But I like this house. I like the quiet (except for that asinine dog o'mine, Cheska, who barks at anything and everything the first week or so in a new house). I like the room. Even the lack of closets doesn't seem as big a deal as I thought it would be.

We actually had someone already living in the house when we moved in. A little bat of a species I haven't been able to identify was flying all over the place. We think it must have gotten in one day when they were airing out the house, and then couldn't find a way out. While esposo and I were trying to figure out a way to humanely catch the bat and release it outside, Kiki caught it and esposo had to get the tiny thing out of her clutches. We put the bat in a cat carrier with a baby blanket last night, and left the door open, and when it had flown out and roosted in a rafter, we thought it was going to be okay. But then this morning I noticed it was barely hanging on to life; its wing was damaged and it could only hold on by one foot. I put it back in the baby blanket and covered it up, and a few hours later it had crossed over the rainbow bridge. Poor baby. It was really a sweet little thing. I feel so sad. I wish we could have done something for it, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.

Ripe with photo ops

San Jose is just ripe with photo opportunities. The following, for instance, taken yesterday as we drove around doing errands. Ok, yes, some people may think you're crazy for taking pictures of them pushing their broken down mobile, but I say, who cares? Take your camera everywhere, you never know what you might find.

Here's a gigantic hole that covers most of the width of the street just down from Interlink, where we get our U.S. mail. Nice, huh? You could lose a small car in there. Definitely a bicycle or a young child.

Here's a fella in nothing but shorts and sunglasses being taken from the paddy wagon to the police station that's just kitty-corner to the Interlink office. Esposo says the guy was probably drunk.

Heading out of beautiful Cinco Esquinas and into La Uruca to get back on the highway toward Alajuela, we saw these poor guys pushing their brokedown ride during work traffic in the rain. That had to suck. (And do my eyes deceive me, or is that another Haunted Hyundai?!?)

When I worked as a schmuck on the morning news, we always ended the newscast with an upbeat story so that people could try to forget we'd fed them a load of shit for the previous 29 minutes. Here is that upbeat photo, then: my cat Boris, who finally came out of hiding and is now enjoying the new palace.

I'm back!

Didya miss me? Yeah, yeah, you probably didn't even realize I'd dropped out of cyberspace for a few days. We've moved into the new house, and Amnet came and hooked up the digital cable and cable modem. Since three other families were stealing sharing our cable at the last house, we weren't able to get digital there, and I missed it, even though I don't watch t.v. all that much. Ok, I admit it: I like the Christmas music on DMX! There, are you happy?

I am happy. The cable modem is three times faster than the ADSL provided by the ICE, so if you're considering whether to get one over the other, I'd go with cable. Although I had nothing but trouble from the Cable Tica service, honestly. I'd go with AMNET cable if there is a choice. One thing I'm not too happy about is that they insisted we get a "new" modem (rent it monthly, of course) because it was upgraded and blah blah blah... well it turns out it's the exact same cable modem I already bought from Ament a few years ago. I'm gonna have to fuss about that on Monday. Or esposo will. Probably the latter.

I have other things to tell you, but I'll post them separately. In the meantime, here's some good news: my rangers in Virunga National Park over in the DNC are going to be on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper! Woo-hoo! Hopefully that will get them the financial and political support they need to save these last remaining mountain gorillas. (And I did write Mr. Cooper suggesting he do a story on the rangers, though I'm sure a lot of others did, too.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

My new car

I'm gonna get me one of these. Ya like it? Yes, I'll be paying for it forever, but I want a new car. And, in its favor, it does have all kinds of great safety features a mom wants, and gets good gas mileage, and is a Consumer Guide "Best Buy" car for 2008. But it doesn't come in green. I do promise not to park like an asshole with it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

As moving day approaches

I've been sitting on the porch out back, enjoying the last hours of our time in this house. It's a beautiful, though HOT, day, and that means the birds and butterflies are out in force. One of the plants that esposo stuck in the ground when we first moved in here in February is now a huge flowering bush that the hummers and butterflies just go crazy over. I will miss them. And my other feathered friends -- my many, many swallows that live in the little nooks and crannies around the house, my great kiskadee and his new girlfriend, who both come to the porch now to steal dog food. I'll miss them, too. Not to mention my human friends who live in town, Amy, J. always riding her bike around town, E. and M. and the chickens, who we never get to see enough of, even los viejitos, among many others... it is a really, really small town (a lot like living in Pacific Grove, CA, once upon a time), where you see someone you know every time you go out of your house. (Which, really, can be claustrophobic after a while, and I think esposo is not going to miss living here as much as I will.) Today, I would like to walk a few blocks to the farmacia, pick up more Benadryl (thanks, Amy, for the tip!), stop off at the ice cream place for the last time. These are things I probably won't be able to do in our new town, which doesn't even have a supermarket within walking distance (currently, we can walk two blocks to Super Mora).

It is a time for a change. I'm actually looking quite forward to the move, the new house, the new life, lest you think I'm not. I still have so much packing to do, and I'm battling a chest cold that has pretty much knocked me out for the past few days. Esposo is so much better at packing. Most of the rest of the house is packed, save for my sewing room and my office (which is TONS of stuff, actually). Since there are no closets in the new house, we've been purging quite a bit, donating three big bags full of clothes and another big box of kitchen stuff to the Red Cross, who will see that it goes to those who have lost everything in the recent floods. We have so much "stuff," it's ridiculous. Feels good to purge. How we are ever going to leave this country, I have no idea...

Ok, back to packing.