Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Parties

Me, eating

When I decided to stay put for Christmas this year, I wondered what the season would be like. Would I feel all alone? Would I be invited to parties? Having been sick with one thing or another for two months, I didn't feel like throwing a party of my own.

My first three Christmases living in Costa Rica, I went back to Florida and spent them with Jim. Then last year he came here. So this is my first year in five that I am spending Christmas in my home.

Well, I needn't have worried about feeling all alone. There are so many parties to go to that I have to say no sometimes, and just stay home to recuperate. I feel blessed to be included in so many festivities.

I kicked off the party season on December 11 by going to Ellen's Chanukah party. That brought back memories as we sang the blessings and lit the menorah. The next day was the PC Club party way up in the mountains of Heredia. Everyone brought delicious food (everyone always brings delicious food to every party I attend), and I led a Yankee Swap of nicely-wrapped white elephant items.

That's me leading the Yankee Swap

The day after that (it was a full weekend) was the CostaRicaLiving (Yahoo group) party in Grecia at La Galeria restaurant, followed by a chocolate fondue party at Debora Shapiro's house. I made new Grecia friends at both parties. The night after that, I was invited to dinner at Barb & Richie's house. The night after that I was happy to stay home and rest my stomach.

Then the following weekend circuit started on Friday with a potluck turkey-dinner meal with my Brujas group (aka my Thursday lunch ladies). Carol Marianne entertained us with pictures of her trip to Nepal and Bhutan, and handed out gifts to us all.

The Brujas

That night I went to Joy's party in Cariari where about 25 of us played games. Saturday I stayed home all day and night, and worked in the kitchen. I made turkey soup (I got to take home the carcass from Friday's meal), and baked cookies and banana/chocolate bread. Sunday I went to Sima's house, where we played charades and laughed til we cried. Then I went to Coco's here in Santa Ana, where I hadn't been for weeks, and watched a tope (horse parade).

Yesterday, a Tuesday, was the office party for two small companies I've done some work for the last few months, then seven of us headed over to Abi's house for her Tamalada, a party where people eat the hundreds of tamales that were made over a two- or three-day period. Abi had a DJ and a dance floor, and we danced and had a great time. Tonight I'm going to another party. Tomorrow night, Christmas Eve, I'll be at Laurie's party in Cariari, and Christmas day I'm going to yet another party. And I think that's it until the New Year's Eve party and then the Hair of the Dog party on New Year's Day.

A pot of tamales, tied up in little packages

Geez, what a life I lead here. One party after another. And, of course, every party features food, desserts and alcohol. I've gotten some great recipes, and I am becoming somewhat of a baker.

It's comforting and fun to spend time with friends, together in a foreign country where most of us don't have family here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Aruba 2009

For the last 20 years I've been visiting Aruba, give or take a year. It's a lovely vacation paradise with steady trade winds that keep temps around 82 degrees. Aruba is part of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) that are located north of Venezuela.

When Jim and I were married, we owned two weeks of timeshare at La Cabana on Eagle Beach in Aruba. Over the years of staying there, we became friends with Tom and Peggy from Racine, Wisconsin, who owned a timeshare the same time we did. We sold our timeshare when we got divorced, but because Jim and I have remained good friends with each other and with Tom and Peggy, Tom and Peggy have invited us to vacation with them and to stay on their pullout sofabed. This was the third year (I think) since our divorce that we joined Tom and Peggy.

On Thanksgiving day, we were all supposed to fly into Miami first. Tom and Peggy's flights were delayed, and Jim and I were worried that our friends wouldn't make it on time, but they arrived at the gate, breathless, just as our Aruba-bound plane was boarding. We got into Aruba around midnight, tired from a long day of traveling, but not too tired to walk around the resort and breathe in the humid air.

As one of my Costa Rican friends said, I was going from one paradise to another. It's true. I live in the mountains of Costa Rica, almost 3000 up, where the air is relatively dry except for the rainy season. Still, it was a nice and relaxing change, having a gorgeous beach with sparkling turquoise water just steps away.

Most days we went to the beach and sat under thatched cabanas, reading, napping, going into the water, reading, napping, etc. This would be the last hurrah for my Wisconsin friends who would have to return to a cold and snowy winter.

The second day we were there, we went to one of the pools instead of the beach, the pool where we met years ago. I was seated on the side of my chaise lounge, talking to Jim on his chaise lounge about a foot away from mine, when a maid came up behind me, pushing her cart, not watching where she was going. She rammed her cart into my chaise, which jammed my right foot into Jim's chaise, breaking one of my toes. I know from past experience that there's not much to do for a broken toe. This was my 7th broken toe. It's not that I'm a klutz, I don't think. I have been known to have poor depth perception, but this broken toe was not my fault. Jim and Tom immediately got me ice, which helped keep the swelling down. The toe and foot turned a lovely shades of purple over the next few days. I found a way to walk on the foot by not putting any pressure on my toe. But today, after 2.5 weeks, the toe hurts even more. My friend and chiropractor told me to tape a small cotton ball under the break to relieve the pressure, and that is helping. Not only can't I go salsa dancing for another 3-4 weeks, I can't even wear my dancing shoes.

The highlight of every day in Aruba is always Happy Hour. This year we had a guest join us most days at 4:30. A sweet, friendly tuxedo cat came by, and all of us being cat lovers, we fed her tuna salad from the delicatessen and water. She let us pet her, and when she was ready, she sauntered off. The four of us also had fun playing Pass the Pigs and answering soul-searching questions from a conversation book that I always bring. Jim made incredibly strong rum-and-Cokes for Tom, Jim mostly drank Balashi beer, Peggy and I favored vodka - hers mostly with tonic, and mine mostly with bloody mary mix and a Claussen dill pickle. Yummy! And of course snacks!

Going out to dinner each night was sort of unnecessary because we filled up with snacks at Happy Hour, but we didn't want to miss out on some great meals. Our favorite restaurant this trip was Passions, next door at the Amsterdam Manor. The food and service (that's our waitress Diana in the picture above) were so good, I wrote a glowing review on TripAdvisor. My favorite meal was roast lamb, but the grouper, snapper and steaks were also delicious. Bingo was also a serious contender for best restaurant.

The ten days came to a quick end. We all flew back to Miami, then went our separate ways.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2 BR Condo for Rent - RENTED!

View from my balcony

Live in luxury for a pittance! My tenant of two years moved out and I need to find a new one. Here's the description:

Modern 6th floor condo with 2 BR, 2 bath, TV room, living/dining room, kitchen, laundry room, balcony, 3 ceiling fans, 2 parking spaces. Pretty view of Alajuela mountains and Volcan Poas. Big swimming pools, BBQ area, tennis, 24/7 security. Located in Concasa Condominiums in San Rafael de Alajuela, only 15 minutes to Forum, 20 minutes to the airport, 4 kms from Panasonic in Belen (next to Santa Ana). There will soon be an entrance here to San Jose-Caldera autopista (only a half-hour drive to the beach). Only $495/month, unfurnished. Call me at 2282-5557 or email

The locks have been changed, some work has been done, and the place will be painted soon.

I bought this condo during preconstruction, two years ago. It's a lovely place to live, but I like where I am in Santa Ana, which is why I want to find a tenant to live there. If you know of anyone...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wonton Day

I am blessed to be good friends with two Susans, one in Massachusetts and one here in Costa Rica. Both are very good cooks. Which is a good thing, because I never really learned to cook, but I sure do like to eat.

My local friend Susan, a dietician in her former Canadian life, who lives here in Santa Ana and works on my street, has been wanting to go to Super Sony, the oriental food store in San Jose. Last week we planned our menu so we'd know which ingredients to buy. We were going to make wontons for Susan's favorite wonton soup, plus fried wontons, and spring rolls, fresh and fried, which are my favorites from Vietnamese cuisine.

This past Sunday was Wonton Day. I picked Susan up around 1:00pm. We stopped at PriceSmart, the big box store to stock up on food and stuff, before we headed into the city. On Sundays I can park on the street right in front of the little supermarket instead of parking in the paid lot a block away.

We took our time going up and down the aisles. There was food there I had never seen before and didn't know what to do with. Susan knew just what we needed to get, and an hour later we left. We had to stop at a regular supermarket to pick up ground chicken and fresh bean sprouts, and while we were there, we realized we hadn't eaten lunch, so we got some good junk food to tide us over - cookies, chips, all good stuff.

About 4pm we got back to my place and dug in. I had no idea what to do, so I was Susan's eager assistant. She had me chop vegetables for the spring rolls, while she did, um, I don't know what she did. I was busy putting on music, pouring us drinks, and blowing a whistle into the phone when Jose called.

He called four times and I decided I had had it. I called the police and they came within five minutes. I showed them the restraining order and the phone log I've been keeping, and begged them to make him stop calling me. I played the saved messages so they could hear how he was harassing me. But they said they couldn't do anything about his phone calls. If he got within 500 meters, about 1/3 mile, of me, I could call the police and they would pick him up. So the police left, and Susan and I got back to work in the kitchen. She has been very supportive of me during this difficult period. Jose has been bothering her, too. We both just wish he would go away.

Next up was making wontons. We laid out the wrappers and put a little of the chicken mixture in them, then rolled them halfway, turned them around and brought their little arms together.

Then we fried them.

Then we ate them, but there's no picture of that. The next day Susan came over for lunch and we made wonton soup and ate more fried wontons and spring rolls and more fresh spring rolls. Mmm mmm good!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Volcan Arenal

Soobs and the Dancing Queen

My friends have been coming to my rescue as the stalking experience continues. Fred and George offered me their guest room in Puriscal, about 45 minutes from where I live. Patricia and Gloria did, closer by, did too. Hugo,Laurie, Kim and Susan in MA offered sympathetic ears. Laura made suggestions about how to avoid Jose. Lisa gave me her whistle in case I have to call for help. And my Canadian friend, Susan, got us a free room for two and some free tours in the resort area of Volcan Arenal.

So off we went Saturday morning, Soobs (Susan) and me (the Dancing Queen), leaving Santa Ana and Jose behind. We packed up my car, and I am happy to say that it was a fun and uneventful road trip. I think the town of La Fortuna, where the volcano is located, is supposed to be about a 3.5-hour drive, but we took our time, stopped along the way, and enjoyed the scenery. This was my first trip to Arenal.

I highly recommend the San Bosco Hotel for staying in town, as opposed to staying closer to the volcano. It's a clean, comfortable hotel with a delicious breakfast included, and a lovely pool. Shops and restaurants were just a block or two away, yet our place was very quiet.

Saturday afternoon we got picked up by Desafio Tours for a nature hike. We saw and heard howler monkeys and birds. My calves felt a little strained from walking up and down the hills. As the sun started to set and clouds and rain settled in, we stopped at a clearing where we could look up toward the volcano and see fiery red/orange lava. The entire volcano was socked in with clouds, but that lava stuck out. Our gracious tour host provided us with a timely cocktail: fruit juice and guaro. Guaro is like a legal moonshine here in Costa Rica. It's made from sugar cane and creates a wicked hangover when a lot is consumed. We didn't imbibe that much, just enough to feel happy.

Our next stop was Baldi Hot Springs, a popular tourist place with many pools fed by thermal springs. Ooh, did it feel great soaking in those hot spring pools. It didn't matter that it was raining. We were comfy and already wet. We had a $9 buffet dinner before going back to our hotel.

At 7:30 the next morning, Lavamar, another tour company, picked us up and took us to the Hanging Bridges. It was another nature walk, but we had to cross 15 narrow bridges that were suspended in the rainforest over chasms of up to 250 feet. Susan wore a poncho, but I thought my rainjacket with a hood would keep the rain from soaking through me. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. After the first half hour of misery, I accepted the fact that I was just going to be drenched through and through, and I started to enjoy being outdoors. This really is a beautiful country, with vast amounts of primary forest, wildlife and flowers.

Our next tour was a hike down to the bottom of the Arenal waterfall. If it hadn't been pouring rain and so chilly, we would have gone swimming in the pool that the waterfall makes. So we just walked down the well-paved steps to the bottom. OMG - there were hundreds of steps, and with each one, my already-aching calves screamed in agony. As we walked down, we saw sorry souls walking up. They looked hangdog, and I kept wanting to turn around and beat feet it to the top before seeing the waterfall up close. But I felt obligated to complete the (free) tour, and I kept at it. Sure enough, going up was excruciating. Not only did my calves burn, but my lungs did too. Finally we reached the top and we piled into the van, thanking our lucky stars that we didn't have to ride away on horseback like the other tourists who made it out before us. The last stop was at a restaurant where I had a pretty good steak.

Back at the hotel, Susan and vegged. I read by the pool and stretched my calves in the water. I got three little stings by a red ant. And then I took a 2.5-hour nap. Ooh, did that feel good.

We walked around town, or rather I hobbled and Susan walked, and we bought some earrings at a little store. Susan bought earrings to match her hair, which seemed funny at the time, and another pair to match a bracelet. I bought a black and silver pair for myself and a pair of witches on broomsticks as a gift. Then we went to Don Rufino's for dinner. Mm mm mm, what good food! Susan had a delicious rib eye steak and I had a tropical chicken dish with cashews. My calves were so painful that I couldn't go to the dance place that was only around the corner from our hotel. I hadn't realized that salsa dancing uses calf muscles, but it does, and I didn't have any in working condition.

Monday morning we lazed around the pool, then headed out. We stopped before San Ramon to buy queso palmito, a round ball of cheese that peels like spaghetti. I bought an extra one for my landlords, and Susan bought some for her coworkers. We laughed a lot on the way home, as she felt compelled to read road signs aloud, which is one of the things that drove me crazy about a guy who visited me 2.5 years ago. He had to read every sign out loud.

We stopped at AutoMercado to do a little food shopping before having a Welcome Home drink at Coyunda's. At least for three days I was able to feel safe from the ongoing haunting by Jose.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Object of His Obsession

I would like to say that Jose is history, but he is still part of my daily life. And not in a good way.

After four weeks of "having a boyfriend", which was a new and happy occurrence for me in Costa Rica, I broke up with Jose. I realized that he is an alcoholic who cannot control his drinking, and he is not a pleasant drunk. I learned too late that he has an obsessive personality. I became the object of his obsession, and now I cannot extricate myself from him.

As of today, September 3, it has been 12 days since I told him "no more." Every day since then, he has called me from 5-20 times a day, usually starting around 6:00am, and ending sometimes as late as 2:00am. I do not answer the phone when he calls unless he calls from a number I don't recognize, and then I hang up as soon as I recognize his voice. Sometimes he calls and hangs up; sometimes he leaves a message. When he is drunk, he leaves a loud, angry message that is undecipherable.

One Friday he was waiting for me after my exercise class. I had walked away from the building with a friend and we parted at the end of the street. At the next corner, Jose stepped out from behind a wall and scared the shit out of me. We talked for 10 minutes. He kept saying, I love you, why did you break up with me? After telling him why again and repeating myself many times, I just walked away from him, uphill toward my street. He must have taken a taxi to get ahead of me, because as I approached my street, he popped out again from behind another wall. This really freaked me out. I just kept walking, ignoring him.

Two days later on a Sunday morning as I was driving back home from the feria, I saw him walking away from my street, and he saw me. He would have had no reason to be in that neighborhood other than to look for me. When I got home, I put the letter to him that I had written the day before into an envelope and waited for him to come to my gate. Sure enough, he arrived, and I handed him the letter through the wrought iron gate. He read it. In the letter I told him again why I broke up with him, I asked him to stop calling me and to stop looking for me, and that if he continued, I would get a restraining order against him. I asked if he understood the letter, and he said yes. Then he said, I love you, why did you break up with me? I walked back to my apartment.

His calls have continued. During one particularly nasty call, he said "Voy a matarla" or "Voy a matarlo" meaning I am going to kill you or I am going to kill him. I wasn't sure which it was. He seems to think I broke up with him not because of his drinking, which he cannot take responsibility for, but because there is another man. There is no other man.

A friend of mine from my dance and exercises classes offered to be my witness to get a restraining order, so Wednesday morning Olga and I went down to the mayor's office and filed a formal complaint against Jose. I like to believe that people are basically good, that we all want the same things - to be loved, to have our basic needs met, to be happy - but I realized I have been naive about Jose. Still, I didn't want to file a legal complaint against him, but I did. And I was glad I did. The clerk waiting on me said that Jose had been in the day before asking if I had filed a complaint against him. So he apparently took my threat in the letter seriously; I was just delayed by a day.

I received a Protective Order and was told that if Jose comes near me again to call the police. Jose would be arrested and put in jail for three months. Olga found out that Jose had already violated a Protective Order filed by another woman a while back and had spent three months in jail for that offense. Geez, I wish I had known that when I met him!

Sometime during Wednesday afternoon the police delivered a copy of the formal complaint to Jose. Sometime after that he got riproaring drunk and found a friend who could write a little English. About 5:30pm, Jose pulled up in a taxi to the front gate where I live, handed my landlady, Ana, an envelope with his copy of the complaint in it, and took off. Ana delivered it to me and said Jose was drunk. On the back of the complaint was some scribbled handwriting with seven lines. One said that I was a bitch. Another said I was a lesbian. Another said he didn't like my body. And I couldn't decipher the other four lines. He signed his name to it.

Then the phone calls started up again. The first was angry and unintelligible. The next ones were more conciliatory as he worked off his drunkenness. In all, there were five messages yesterday after he received the notice, and so far today there have been eight messages. It doesn't seem to matter to him that I don't pick up the phone.

At lunch today, a friend gave me her shiny metal whistle on a rope. It has become my new necklace that I will wear everywhere. I also have to carry my cell phone and the order with me everywhere I go, even when I just walk in the morning, so I can be prepared and call the police if Jose shows up.

Meanwhile, something happened on our property and my landlords and I are not sure if Jose is to blame or not. Sometime between Tuesday at 5:30pm and Wednesday at 5:30pm, someone came onto our private property, opened a cement box where the electrical and telephone cables connect to the apartment next door to mine (those folks are away), and cut the cables. The cut had to have been made by someone who knew what he was doing. Jose has worked in construction and knows the trades. He or he and a friend could have done this, but there is no proof. Maybe he thought the cables went to my apartment (they didn't) and he wanted to get back at me for filing the complaint. Maybe he did it so I would call him for help (no way in hell). Whoever did it and for whatever reason, my landlords are not happy, and I am afraid they will ask me to move out if this harassment continues. I love where I live and don't want to leave, but if I move out of Santa Ana, I am pretty sure Jose will not follow me. He doesn't drive and doesn't have a license, so his stalking activities would be put to a greater test.

At this point, I hope he does show up so I can call the police and they can drag him away to jail for three months. I would like some peace of mind.

Before this happened, I would read about stalkers, but I never understood close-up what the victims were going through. Now I do. I am jumpy, I always look around me, I am afraid to leave my apartment, I am afraid for my students who come here. Even after this stalking stops some day, will I be able to trust anybody again? Will I feel safe going out? And yet a part of me feels strong, almost invincible, thinking that I am not going to let him get me down. HE is the crazy person. I am the sane person. He wants what I have (sanity), but he doesn't know how to get it. I am sooooo sorry I ever fell for him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Watching Mud Races

Last Sunday Jose and I went to watch the races. I am not really into racing, but Jose likes all kinds of sports, and since there was nothing else to do, we went.

Jose is the man in my life, my novio, my boyfriend. He found me after a Saturday night of dancing, when Susan and I made our pilgrimage to El Coco at midnight for a last drink and ceviche. Jose positioned himself next to my chair, and asked me to dance. The dance floor at El Coco is tiny and the speakers are huge, so I am always hesitant to dance there, but here was a new, good-looking guy asking me to dance, so I said yes. That was almost four weeks ago, and we've been enjoying each other's company since then.

So last Sunday we headed out to Ciudad Colon to watch the races. There were hundreds of people there, mostly young guys and Red Cross workers, all watching the muddy racetrack. The first race was motocross - dirt bike racing over a dirt track and mud puddles. It wasn't too bad. I got into the swing of things. The sun was beating down and it was a nice day to be outside. The next race was for stock cars. Jose's cousin Ivan was racing #38, so that's who we rooted for. We walked around the track to get a better view, and ran into one of Jose's siblings (he has seven), Marielos and her husband Juan Carlos, who is a lawyer, and their kids. We stood with them while we cheered on Ivan.

Earlier that morning at the feria, Jose had bought a bag of mamon chinos, a small, red prickly nugget that you open to eat the lychee-nut-like fruit inside. They get to be sticky and messy. We brought the mamon chinos to the races, but after eating all we could eat, Jose wanted to get rid of them. There were still a lot left, so I went around to all the Red Cross workers and offered them mamon chinos until the fruit was all gone.

Then it started to drizzle, and Jose's family and we huddled together. When the heavens let loose, we ran for the exit and agreed to meet at Pizza Hut. This was the first time I had set foot in a Pizza Hut in Costa Rica. They are all over the place, but my favorite pizza is made in a little hole in the wall in Cariari.

At Pizza Hut I got to know Marielos and her husband, who offered to help me with my residency problem (too long and stressful to go into here). They are very nice people, and Marielos said I would see her again Tuesday night at Latin dance class.

Because we left the racetrack early, we never did see the second stock car race or the final highlight: the destruction of the race cars, which was just fine with me.

Jose and me

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tope, or Any Excuse to Party

Pizarro, on his horse, and me

Ticos love to party. Any reason will do. For example, this Wednesday night is a party to commemorate the third anniversary since my friend Lupe was crowned La Reina (Queen) of Santa Ana. Mind you, every year a new queen is crowned, which is in itself cause for celebration, but Lupe is such a wonderful, friendly, generous, outgoing person, that her past coronation is celebrated every year. Unfortunately, I have other plans for Wednesday night (a formal party at a financial institution) and can't attend Lupe's party.

The cause for celebration this past Sunday was a tope, or horse parade. The streets were roped off at 8:00 that morning, so unless you knew the back roads, you had to walk. Hundreds of men (and some women) spiff up their horses, or rent horses, and parade downtown with beer can in hand, to the applause of the onlookers. I don't quite understand the thrill of a tope - for the riders, for the onlookers, or especially for the horses who foam and sweat and have to walk slowly and stop on pavement - but it is party time nevertheless, with lots of booze.

People lined the streets in the morning, jockeying for good viewing spots. This not being my first tope (pronounced toe-pay), I didn't arrive until 2:00pm, which was when the officials began parading past the viewing site where my friends were set up.

There is a vivero, or plant nursery, on the main street where I have bought vegetable plants. It is owned by Carolina's family. Carolina and Hildreth show up at the same parties I do, and they were at the tope. In fact, Carolina's family had prepared food for sale inside the vivero, but I ate before I left the house. Susan, Yalile, some other acquaintances and I stood in front of the vivero, watching the parade of horses and riders.

What was different for me about this tope was that I knew about 12-15 of the riders. Thanks to Susan, and her friend (and now mine) Yalile, I have met many ticos in this city. I tried to take pictures of everyone I knew, but the horses didn't always cooperate.

After two and a half hours of standing and watching the horses and admiring the hot-looking guys, Susan and I walked down to one of our favorite haunts, El Coco, for a little refreshment. Then we drove up to Dos Oy, a big stable where the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) hosted a big party with food and music.

Oscar on his horse

Boys on Horseback

Susan, me, Yalile and Victor

Frank on his horse

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lisa's 50th Birthday Bash

Lisa, surprised at finding her friend Barbara from New York at her party

Lisa Defuso is one of the most beloved people I know in Costa Rica. Her personality is big, loving, friendly, compassionate, tell-it-like-it-is. An onstage and offstage talent, she's the current president of the Little Theatre Group. She knows how to throw great parties, and for her 50th birthday, her friends returned the favor.

I've known Lisa for a few years, but have been getting to know her better since February when I joined the Thursday Ladies Lunch group that Lisa started years ago. Most Thursdays we have lunch at Robin's Kitchen, but occasionally we dine at other restaurants or at each other's homes for special occasions.

This special occasion was coordinated by her close friend, Rosemary Rein. The party had a Moroccan theme, Lisa's Harem. We were all supposed to show up with veils and belly dancing clothes, and bring Moroccan food to share. I volunteered to make a special birthday scrapbook for Lisa, with pictures, stories and birthday wishes from her friends. And there was a very special surprise - actually three big surprises.

When we arrived, we were ushered into the rancho (covered patio) in the back yard, where we feasted on wine and delicious Moroccan hors d'oeuvres while waiting for the guest of honor. A friend of Lisa's, Sheila Robinson, had constructed and decorated three refrigerator-sized boxes to hide three very big surprises. Rosemary had flown in Lisa's mother, Rosalie, sister Lori, and good friend Barbara from New York for the party, and they were inside the boxes, waiting to be discovered by Lisa. When Lisa finally arrived, decked out in a beautiful blue belly dancing outfit, we all cheered. We had all been keeping the secret of her family's visit for a few weeks, and we could hardly wait for Lisa to open the boxes. When she did, it was a very moving experience for all of us.

Lisa's belly dancing instructor performed and led those who were willing through a belly dance. Then we went into the house to taste the delicious Moroccan fare. Rosemary's house has many rooms and patio spaces, and it was fun moving around and visiting with friends in different nooks and crannies. We even had a fortune teller give free tarot readings.

The spotlight then fell on Lisa as she opened her birthday presents. Some were silly, some were beautiful, all were meaningful. The last gift was the scrapbook that I had made, which expressed the love that so many of her friends have for her.

We adjourned to the dining room for desserts and birthday cake, and sang Happy Birthday to our very special friend.

I took many pictures. Click here to see them all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Beep Beep

On June 30 I posted a blog entry about my beeping horn. It would beeeeeeep, unprovoked, without my even being in the car, for five minutes, then beep itself to death. I had to buy a new horn and a new fuse, and then the cycle would start all over again. Four different mechanics could not fix the problem and I was told to go to the Nissan dealer, where I would be charged an arm and a leg and be without a car for two days.

So last week I drove to the Nissan dealer in San Jose, followed by my wonderful student, Santiago, who volunteered to drive me home from there (and drive me back the following day to pick up my car). The head of service gave me terrible news: they did not have the special tool required to open the steering column because the tooling changed in 2001, and I had a 1997 model. Plus, Nissan was not allowed to open the steering column because I had an airbag, and they couldn't tamper with an airbag. And even if they could fix my car, it would cost $2000.

I pleaded with the guy. I told him I didn't want an airbag anyway. I told him about the report that came out several years ago about short people being injured more by airbags than by collisions. He wouldn't budge. I felt like I was living in the Twilight Zone. I had a car without a horn, that needed to have a horn in order to pass the annual inspection, but the horn could not be fixed. I had a dead car. I could not sell the car because no one would want to buy it. He suggested that I find a mechanic who could rewire the horn to put a push button on the dashboard. It would be a functional horn that would pass inspection but that would look ridiculous and be awkward to use. Another suggestion was to find a used steering wheel without an airbag and have a mechanic switch out mine with the airbag for one without. That could work, but then the red light on the dashboard that says "Airbag" would always be lit.

So I went home and put on my thinking cap. The next day I again called the mechanic who specializes in electrical systems and told him what Nissan had told me. I must have sounded pathetic, because he took pity on me and said he would help me.

Two days later I brought my car to Mario Alfaro. Actually, I brought my car to a garage in Escazu, and Mario met me there. He is a visiting mechanic, like a surgeon with operating rights in different hospitals. He gets called in to work on the hard cases. As he was examining my car, I asked him how he learned to speak such good English. He said he taught himself. He also taught himself about electrical and electronic systems. Mario is a humble guy who is very smart and talented.

In less than one hour, Mario analyzed the faulty wiring, found the source of the problem (a short on the steering column caused by the cruise control system), located the elusive tool to open the steering column, and fixed the problem. He charged me only $26, and that included a new horn.

I am a happy driver once again, with a horn that works.
Beep beep

Gringo Bingo in Grecia

Chalk up another first for me. I played Bingo on Sunday, for money. Patty asked if I wanted to join her, Fermina, and a new friend who is moving to Costa Rica from Scotland, Annie, to play Gringo Bingo in Grecia. I don't remember ever paying to play Bingo before, and I wondered how I would be able to pay attention to several cards at once, but the event was a fundraiser for the innovative English Conversation Hour begun by my friend, Lair Davis, over in Grecia, so I said sure. The program provides an hour of English conversation each week for folks who are learning English.

Grecia (means Greece) is a lovely town northwest of and a little cooler than Santa Ana. Fermina drove and it took about an hour to get there, without much traffic to speak of.

About 65 of us plunked down $9 each to sit in a somewhat smoky room (ack) and wait expectantly for our numbers to be called. For each game, we had to match the called numbers to a different pattern on our Bingo cards. There were 11 games total, and each game came with a sizable prize, mostly donated by area businesses.

Our party of four sat at table with four other people. Of the 11 prizes, our table won six. Robert Lee, the guy sitting across from me, won three times and finally stopped playing for earnest because he would have been lynched if he had won again. Fermina won twice, including the final prize which was about $51, more than enough to pay for gas for the trip. And I won a dinner for two at La Galeria, an upscale steakhouse in Grecia that the locals were oohing and ahhing over, saying it was the best prize to win, and the fresh tuna was to die for. Patty told me to ask if it came with a date.

So at some point I will find someone to make the trek back to Grecia with me to dine at La Galeria. Driving there at night will take about an hour and a half each way, so I'm not as thrilled about winning the prize as a Grecian would have been. But any night that I don't have to cook means a good meal for me, so count me in.

From Grecia we drove further north to Sarchí, a town known for making furniture. Our quest was to find Annie's property that she had just purchased. From Sarchí, we took a road that brought us 4000 feet above sea level. The air became cooler and fresher as we drove up the mountain. Finally we came to two small A-frame houses and an acre of green land that extended steeply down the back toward a stream. This was going to be Annie's home when she made the move from Scotland, either later this year or sometime in 2010.

We celebrated the occasion with champagne, and I felt that I was making a new friend, although one I wouldn't see too often because of the distance (close to two hours from Santa Ana in normal traffic).

Fermina, Annie and Patty playing Bingo

My Bingo card

Annie and her new home

Toasting Annie's new venture

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Diane's Potluck and Natasha's 15th

Saturday night I got all gussied up in a new dress that I bought in Massachusetts to go to two parties. It may sound as though I go to a lot of parties, and I do go to more than I ever did while living in the US, but some weekends I stay home and don't do much. Really.

The first party was a potluck at Diane's. She and her friend Goose made barbecue ribs and chicken for the Fourth of July. I brought peppermint brownies made from scratch, which I didn't even eat because I was overdosing on Irene's delicious cherry cheesecake and someone else's cherry crumble. The ribs were so good that I didn't even get to taste the chicken. I got to see my Cariari friends, and that was a good thing.

Party number two was a major event. Yalile and Toro's daughter, Natasha, celebrated her 15th birthday with about 200 guests at Zamora Estate, the place in Santa Ana where I had the PC Club party a few weeks ago. I introduced Yalile to the folks who own Zamora Estate, and she and Natasha liked it enough to book their big party there.

A DJ played mostly techno pop with a heavy bass, but he squeezed in a little salsa for us older folks. Waiters roamed with trays of hors d'oeuvres, and there was an open bar. People wandered inside and out, sitting down by the pool where there were twinkly lights. Ana Brenes, a chef, cooking instructor and wife of the owner, was busy in the kitchen making delicious food for us. Roman Zamora, her husband, circulated to keep an eye on everything. He felt a little nervous about 85 of Natasha's schoolmates running around his property.

There were two spectacular events that happened later in the night. Hanging from from two limbs of a tall tree just off the porch were long, streaming ribbons. Spotlights lit up the ribbons to show us two acrobats, like from Cirque du Soleil, twisting and dancing their way up and down the ribbons. It was fascinating to watch close up. Then close to midnight, a comparsa group came in. About 15 members of this percussion group were dressed up in Carneval costumes and shaking their booty. It's not possible to stand still while a comparsa is playing. You have to shake and shimmy and move to the rhythm. It was noisy, but great fun. I helped hand out beads (think Mardi Gras in New Orleans), hats and noisemakers, and light sticks that glowed in the dark.

The birthday cake was adorable, and it was surrounded by dozens of wrapped gifts, but with all the music, dancing, and special effects, we forgot to light the candles and sing Happy Birthday to Natasha! Yalile yelled at Susan and me the next day, Why didn't you remember to sing Happy Birthday? As though it was our responsibility. Of course, she said it with love.

Margie, Patty and Ada at Diane's party

Natasha and Me

The birthday cake and presents

Front: Me, Carolina, Susan
Back: Someone hugging me, Hilberth


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Goodbye to Alejandro and Valeria (sniff sniff)

Alejandro was my English student for 2.5 years, and his wife, Valeria, for 2 years. And now they're leaving Costa Rica. I am sad to see them go, and fearful about their setting up a new life in Guatemala.

After a year of traipsing into San Jose at 6am and again at 6pm to teach English at language schools in San Jose, I decided to teach in my home. My first student was Alejandro Martinez, a tall, handsome, smart, funny, guy from Argentina, with a winning personality. Alejandro had been studying English for many years, but there was still room for improvement. Alejandro came to class twice a week at 7:30 in the morning with his friend, Andrés Serpa, who was also from Argentina. They were at about the same level of learning, so it made sense for them to study together and to reinforce each other's learning.

There was something magical about the three of us working together, even though they were in their mid-30s and I was, well, old enough to be their mother. We had so much fun together that it was almost sinful to take their money. For my other students, I provided only a glass of water. But for A&A, I made coffee, and made sure I had Splenda for Alejandro's coffee and honey and Lipton tea bags for Andrés. I also kept their favorite butter cookies on hand, although sometimes Andrés brought us croissants or other breakfast goodies.

We started with an intermediate level book, but we diverged from the book so often that after a year and a half we were still only halfway through the book. We joked that in ten years we would still be working with the same book. We talked about everything in English - cultural differences, travel, investments, life purpose, sex. I taught them swear words, and they returned the favor in Spanish.

Alejandro knows a lot of people because of his work as executive director of the Aden Business School. He was responsible for my entire student load for quite a while, sending me Argentinian friends and even his dentist, Tatiana Arias, who also became my dentist.

Ale's wife, Valeria, became my student, too. She is beautiful, smart and insightful. My students and I talked about much more than English and work issues. We became friends and confided in each other. In all that time of meeting with both Ale and Vale, I always kept their individual confidences. When I look at the two of them together, I think how perfectly suited for each other they are.

Valeria has not been happy living in Costa Rica, and Alejandro has gotten the most from his job at Aden. So they have been looking for a change. That change came in the form of a job offer for Alejandro to manage a cancer radiation clinic in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Last week they came over to tell me the news. He gave his notice and will start his new job July 15. They will make the move to Guatemala by October 1.

As I tearfully write this, I think of all the fun and serious talks we have had, and the barbecues they invited me to at their place. I went to their house this past Sunday, to enjoy probably their last grilled meat and wine party. I saw friends there, Olga and her mother Ana from Venezuela, whom I met through Ale and Vale, and now we'll have to get together on our own.

Guatemala is an unsafe Central American country with considerable poverty. The only relatively safe areas with extra security are in Guatemala City, Antigua City and Tikal, where tourists go. Alejandro and Valeria will be living in the Pink Zone of Guatemala City, which is supposed to have even more security. I hope they will be happy there. I hope they will be safe there.

Ana, Olga, Me, Alejandro, Valeria

More Karaoke, or Too Much of a Bad Thing

Friday nights I usually stay in and rest up for a late night Saturday at Coyunda's where they have a live band for dancing. That means I miss karaoke at Coyunda's, which is held Friday nights. I've always been fine with missing karaoke, which I've never been fond of. But since last Thursday when my ladies lunch group sang karaoke at Corinne's, and I sang into a mike for the first time among my friends who were kind and applauded despite my going off key and missing some of the words, my appetite for making a fool of myself in front of other people has been whetted.

So Friday night I went to Coyunda's with Susan. Several of our friends were there, including my old appliance buddy, Hugo, who has a very nice voice. He sang and a bunch of friends sang. The more people drank, the more they sang. All in Spanish, of course.

After a vodka and tonic or two, I went over to the control board and asked if there were any songs in English. There were, and I picked one. But then I got nervous, and asked around for anyone who would sing with me. Jefferson, who is gorgeous, early 30s, and a fantastic dancer, agreed.

So when I Can't Get No Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones came on, he and I started singing into the mike. Well, that song an international hit, and everyone in the room knew it. Everyone sang with us and we were all rockin' and smokin'! For the refrain (I can't get no satisfaction), I put the mike in front of different people and they belted out the words, too. It was a blast! And no one really noticed that I was off key.

Sundays I usually stay home, too, getting a late start, going to the feria, and mostly vegging/napping in the afternoon. But this past Sunday, after spending the afternoon at my friends' house, I joined a birthday party already in progress for Gerardo at Coyunda's. I selected some rock n roll songs, and a bunch of us got up and danced. Feeling very comfortable at Coyunda's, which is becoming my second home, I sang the words at the top of my lungs.

About 8pm, we moved the party to El Coco, where there was alternating one hour DJ music, and one hour karaoke. Still bitten by the karaoke bug, I picked a song, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, and Yalile and I sang it together. Then she sang a romantic Spanish ballad by herself.

Then we started dancing. OMG - we were like whirling dervishes! The DJ played rock n roll songs and I could not sit still. A bunch of us got up and started dancing, partners not needed. I must have lost a couple of pounds that night just from dancing.

Gerardo's Birthday Party at Coyunda's

Yalile and Me Singing

Yalile, Mayito and Me Dancing at El Coco


My horn goes off whenever it feels like it, and won't stop until it tires itself out after about five minutes. This has been going on now for about three weeks, since I had some air conditioning work done on the car.

The horn starts all by itself, whether I'm driving the car or the car is parked. The first time it happened, I was driving around Santa Ana. Everyone looked at me as I made my way to Chichi, my newest mechanic. Once there, Chichi took out the fuse to make the beeping stop. He looked at the wires and couldn't find anything out of place. He told me to bring the car back the next day, and he would give it to his cousin who does electrical work.

The next morning, I brought the car to Chichi's and walked home. The following day I picked up the car and paid about $15 for a new horn and a new fuse. I thought the problem was solved. That afternoon, while the car was parked in my garage, the horn started in again. Inside the confines of the garage, that horn just about burst my eardrums. I opened the hood, opened the fuse box, and yanked out the fuse the way I had seen Chichi do it. My body continued to vibrate after the beeping stopped.

Then I called my friend, Moe, a Canadian mechanic two towns over in Cariari. I made an appointment to bring him my car. He tried to open up the steering wheel, but he didn't have the special six-sided wrench with a pinhole in the middle. Meanwhile, I'm riding around in a time bomb, never knowing when the horn is going to go off again.

The car went over a week without beeping. I didn't know if it was done tooting at will or if it would happen some night at 3am, or toot when it was parked somewhere and I didn't hear it and it wore down my battery.

I found out last Sunday at the feria. I parked my car downtown, took my daily walk up and down the hilly streets, shopped at the farmers' market, and returned to my car. The watchee man (guard) who knows me said that my horn was honking for about five minutes then stopped. Arrgh. I got in the car and honked the horn, but it wouldn't honk. Now that was just plain mean. It had beeped itself out.

There's an expat resource I turn to when I need a question answered. It's Costa Rica Living, a Yahoo group. So I posted a query, looking for a car electrical mechanic. I got a response and called the guy on Sunday. He understood and problems and was willing to come to my house the next day. But that Monday morning when I called to confirm, he said he didn't have the tools necessary to work on my car. He recommended that I take it to the Nissan (expensive) dealer in San Jose.

Desperate at this point, I called the Nissan dealership and made an appointment for a week later. They said they would need my car two days, which is probably not true, but I will have to leave it there and take the bus home in the rain, and bus back the next day to pick it up.

In the meantime, I am driving around without a horn in a very horn-friendly city.

Beep beep

Friday, June 26, 2009

Indian Food and Karaoke

Most Thursdays I have lunch with a great group of expats at Robin's Kitchen, where Robin serves up a variety of lunch specials and the best desserts in Costa Rica. Until yesterday my favorite was mocha pie, but that rich and creamy delight has been bested by the tart and sweet key lime pie. Maybe next week I'll pick another favorite, like the orange cake.

I joined this group of brujas (female witches, affectionately named after the mascot of the city where we have lunch, Escazu) in February of this year. We talk about anything and everything, and it has been a lot of fun getting to know each woman.

One of the things I like best about this group is that we celebrate birthdays. In April I received many gifts, and for a single person without much family and certainly none in this foreign country, it is a blessing and a comfort to be shown such love and friendship on my special day.

Yesterday we celebrated Carina's 40th birthday. Carina is from Sweden and is a very good golfer (she broke 80, whatever that means). But instead of going to the restaurant, Corinne invited us to her house way up the mountain of San Antonio de Escazu. Finding Corinne's house was a trip, because we did not have clear directions and no one's cell phone had a good signal. But we finally found the house with all windows overlooking the Central Valley.

This is a wine-drinking group, so we started with reds and whites with our appetizers. Corinne, a Philippino, is married to an Indian and has learned to cook delicious Indian food. I also love that we are somewhat of an ethnically diverse group. Corinne prepared all the food with love and attention to detail. We ate on the semi-enclosed balcony and thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Jane brought her little angel, Alexis, who will turn one year old on Lisa's birthday in July. Alexis munched on Cheerios while we enjoyed chicken, rice and eggplant dishes and flatbread. I wish I could remember the names of everything.

While Robin wasn't there with us, two of her desserts were. The key lime pie and a chocolate cake. Corinne added a carrot pudding that was also very good. Of course, we sang happy birthday to Carina, and she opened our gifts.

Then we piled into the living room and turned on the karaoke. Oooooweeee! Did we have fun! We have two professional singers in our group, Barbara and Sally, the former and the current lead singers from Harmony Roads, a rock n roll, country, blues band (see my story, La Lunada). And the rest of us did the best we could. I had never sung karaoke before, and was a little hesitant to try, but I felt supported by the group, and after the first song, no one could shut me up. It's like singing hymns in church: it doesn't matter if you can carry a tune or not when you sing with passion and zeal.

Our lunches usually last 2 to 2.5 hours, but we stayed at Corinne's 4 hours. And then she sent us home with doggy bags of her yummy Indian food.

Barbara belting out a song with Alexis on her lap

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday at Mayito's, or How to Pour Tequila

Sunday afternoon Susan, Yalile, Toro and I went to Mayito's backyard BBQ hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Mayito only makes two dishes: roast chicken and chicharrones (fried pork). It had been a while since we had devoured Mayito's great chicken, and we missed it. We sat around, talking with folks at other tables, drinking beer, and feeding our faces.

We got there around 4pm and just stayed, passing the time. After the beers and the food were gone, the tequila showed up. First, Mayito brought a shot for Toro and himself. Then Yalile started in on the shots. Then Susan. I was still sucking ice cubes from my one and only watered-down beer.

Someone put on a CD of American oldies but goodies. I remember listening to Creedence Clearwater's Proud Mary while Susan translated the words for our tico friends. Yalile and Toro actually speak and understand English, although it's a fractured English, but I usually understand their meaning.

Yalile started singing another American song. Since she didn't know the words, she made them up. But her words didn't have anything to do with the song. She started singing about Susan and drinking. It was very funny to listen to her because she didn't even try to rhyme her lyrics; she just blurted out whatever came to her, and it wasn't exactly on key.

Around about that time, I decided to have a shot of tequila. I know I can't handle too much of that stuff, but I thought I would have one shot to see how smoothly it would go down. My attention was on picking up the bottle and tipping it over the shot glass so I wasn't listening to what Yalile was singing at that moment. I was looking at the bottle and shaking it, wondering why no tequila was pouring out, when I heard Yalile singing about me and how I didn't drink very much. Suddenly everyone was laughing and I realized that the cap to the tequila bottle was still on. It was one of those hysterically funny moments that couldn't have been planned. It was as though I drank so little that I didn't know how to open the bottle. We laughed until we cried.

I finally took the cap off and poured myself a shot.

At some point I got up and started dancing to the oldies. Toro and Yalile did, too. We made a train and danced around the tables on the dirt floor. Susan snapped some pictures.

We were there so long that it was time to eat again. Without us asking for it, Mayito brought us a plate of roasted garlic that was to die for, and a plate of chicharrones. Ooh, can he cook!

At 7:30pm we finally closed up the place.


Mayito and Toro

Yalile, Toro and Margie dancing

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Making Claussen Dill Pickles

For the past week I've been working on duplicating my favorite pickle, the Claussen Dill. This refrigerated brand isn't sold in Costa Rica, so I crave these pickles when I go back to the US.

Recently my friend and chiropractor, Dr. Jim McLellan, had me taste a pickle that he had made. He's always experimenting with something to do with food. In a very small backyard, he raises rabbits, tilapia fish, chickens for their eggs, and all sorts of vegetables and herbs.

My taste buds were shocked! The pickle he had me taste was a Claussen Dill. He said they were easy to make, and gave me the recipe. Here it is below:

1 1/2 quarts boiled water, cooled
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
8-10 pickling cucumbers, sliced into spears
6 long sprigs fresh dill
1 tbls coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup white vinegar

Put some dill and the garlic at the bottom of a big jar.
Add the cucumber spears. Put sprigs of dill in the center of the cucumbers.
Add salt and vinegar, then fill jar with cooled, boiled water.
Cover. Shake to dissolve salt.
Set upside down in cool, dark place.
Let sit 4-5 days, turning jar either upright or upside down each day.
Let sit upright 2 more days.
Good for about 6 months.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Susan's Epic Birthday

Susan turned 50 this week and it has been the endless birthday celebration. We started on Monday by having a free overnight at the Hampton Inn near the airport. Susan works in tourism and was able to finagle a free room, and she asked me to accompany her. It was a very nice hotel with a sparkling clean room, free full breakfast, and friendly service. The hotel honored her with a bottle of sparkling wine and a box of Ferrero Rocher candies. For dinner, we went next door to the Fiesta Casino and shared chicken wings and a Caesar salad. A friend of mine sent over drinks, and then it was Ladies' Night so we got more free drinks. The place started filling up with young ticas half our age. In fact, there were so many of them, they overflowed onto the dance floor and there was hardly any room to dance. It didn't matter to us, though, because none of the teenybopper guys wanted to dance with their grandmothers. So we called it a night and went back to the room.

Wednesday was Susan's actual birthday, and about 10 of us took her to lunch at TGIFriday's. I had brought a candle and stuck it in her bowl of ice cream. The staff sang the birthday song, in Spanish, of course, then we all sang in English, even though Susan and I were the only English-speaking ones in the group. A meal here doesn't last just an hour or hour and a half. Three or three and a half hours later, we finally left.

Margie, Lupe, Hazel, Yalile, Susan at TGIFriday's

Sue doing the hula while the TGIFriday's staff sang her happy birthday

Friday night was Susan's official birthday party. Yalile got to Coyunda's (the place where we go dancing Saturday nights) early and decorated the hall (with her two daughters) with balloons, streamers and funny eyeglasses, which we wore for a group photo.

Oscar, Margie, Patri, Anabel, Jenny, Jose and Michelangelo wearing our funny glasses

Yalile got folks to make yummy food - Mayito (he has a weekend restaurant where he makes chicharrones (fried pork) and roasted chicken) sent over chicharrones for about 20 of us, plus Yalile's neighbor made piccadillo (a mixture of finely chopped potatoes and some other ingredients I can never remember). I brought a chocolate cake from Robin's Kitchen (where I have lunch every Thursday with a different bunch of friends).

The Cake

The party was a fine tribute to a wonderful friend.

Susan with her birthday cake

Cinco de Mayo Fiesta at Patty's

Patty went all out for her Cinco de Mayo party. Since she lives on a narrow street with a treacherously steep dip, she asked us to park on the main drag, and her friend Wagner drove us to and from her house. About 40 of us celebrated the Mexican tradition of the fifth of May.

The food was delicious, of course, as were the margaritas. And who could resist the shots of tequila from the pretty bottle that Patty passed around?

Poet MariAmanda read a couple of her poems, although they were lost on me. It's hard enough for me to understand straight-talking Spanish, let alone metaphorical Spanish. But it sounded pretty and she read it with emotion.

Then the mariachis strummed and sang their way up the driveway to entertain us. I had brought my maracas, so I shook them in rhythm as though I knew what I was doing. A Latin friend of Patty's belted out a few songs with the band.

Patty and dog Lucky in front of the mariachis, with her friend in jeans also singing

Old friends Barb and Richie Highgate and me

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yalile's Birthday Party at Tex Mex

I have a lot of friends here with April and May birthdays. My April 13 birthday celebration has gone on and on, and I'm still waiting for Betty to take me out to lunch when she gets back from Florida.

Yesterday's celebration was for my new tica friend, Yalile. She turned 40-something. Yalile is a great person, is related to half of Santa Ana, and knows the other half. So at her party, which was held at the Tex Mex restaurant and bar, there were dozens of people in attendance.

Our mutual close friend, Susan, who is going to turn 50 next week, helped blow up balloons and set up the restaurant for the party. Marimba Los Arias, our local marimba band, played, and there was a lot of dancing. I don't know why I wore my white heels that are a little too loose and are not good for dancing, but I did, and hobbled around on the cobblestone dance floor.

I arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon and finally left at 8:00 in the evening. I'm told the party moved after that from Tex Mex to El Coco, one of our favorite hangouts owned by Yalile's cousin. And tonight a group is getting together at El Coco again for the hair of the dog. Without me, though. I'll be home getting my Dancing with the Stars fix.

Yalile (standing), the Birthday Girl

Margie and Susan

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happy 15

When a Latin girl turns 15, it's a big deal. Her family throws a big party for her and she receives many gifts. This is a coming-of-age event, similar to a Bat Mitzvah, but the religious overtones vary, depending on the country and the family.

I had the honor of being invited by the parents to their daughter's quince años (15 years) celebration. My Canadian friend, Susan, who has been coming to Santa Ana for eight years and has lived here for eight months, has generously introduced me to her very large circle of tico friends and acquaintances. It was through her that the parents invited me to attend the party.

Quinceañeras can range from rustic to lavish. The party we attended was definitely rustic. Held in the parking lot of a tractor truck terminal, we set up our beach chairs in the afternoon shade of a semi. As more guests arrived, they set up chairs with us or sat in the open-air back of a Jeep.

Under a canopied hut, the father, Parrita, tended to the fire and food. He grilled rubbed beef and he made chicharrones, which are deep fried pork pieces. If you can ignore the fat, the chicharrones are one of the best-tasting foods in all of Costa Rica. There were also big vats of cooked yucca and salad.

The birthday girl, Yoryita (pronounced Georgita), looked very pretty in a purple dress. She hung out with girls and boys her age, while family members and friends rounded out the 50 or 60 invitees.

Of course, at any tico party, the booze flows. People brought their own bottles of Johnny Walker Red, vodka, guaro (a hard liquor made from sugar cane) and beer. This was not a wine-drinking crowd. Music blared from a boombox. Everyone socialized with everyone. And all in Spanish.

I met some interesting new people, including Hernán, who studied agronomy in Russia for six years and who speaks a little English. He and his wife said they wanted to invited Susan and me to their house in San Jose for dinner sometime.


Parrita cooking

Susan and Yorya (Yoryita's mother)

Hernán and Margie