November 27,2016

Just some pictures to share. The Atelier, a big art school, was hosting a class on making advent calendars for the holidays. They were full last weekend but the lady offered to host another class this weekend, even though Jess and I were the only ones there. They were all really nice and we had a blast cutting and painting and hot-glueing. Our calendars turned out cute too!

When we got home I made a batch of homemade hot cocoa to drink while binge watching the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix. There better be a 5th episode forthcoming is all I can say. I had a bad reaction to the ending. There was some screaming. Think I scared Jess at first and she came running out of her room. Then she started laughing at me. It was an emotional evening.

Otherwise I had an extremely lazy Sunday. I did make a batch of apple butter though. Jess made some apple cider to take to a get-together and there were four quarts of mushy cooked apples left after she strained out the juice. So I decided to experiment with them. I always heard apple butter is a pain to make but now I think what people meant is that is extremely simple, but painful. Because basically all you do is let the apple boil for hours on end. The problem came when I tried to stir all the stuff sticking to the bottom of the pot and got splattered repeatedly with thousand-degree fruit pulp. I have a blister on my right hand that Jess compared to a small planet. (This in addition to my stab wound from slicing apples for pie on Thursday and the glue gun burns from yesterday. Not to mention the lingering cough from this week’s smog attack. I’m kind of a mess right now.) On the upside we now have four pints of delicious homemade apple butter and I have to say…it was worth the third degree burns, if I do say so myself. Especially since it’s one of the few things I have not been able to find anywhere in Beijing. Then Jess got the idea to start selling cider and apple butter on WeChat and put out an ad, so we’ll see how that goes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday.  I had to work all day but it was pretty relaxing. I don’t often let my kids just watch movies but this morning we finished watching the Thanksgiving cartoon from yesterday while they colored turkeys. Then we squeezed in some reading/sight word practice before baking a big apple pie, which was a really big, fun mess. I let them mix up the pie crust and roll it out, then they helped to peel the apples. It was a good thing I bought too many apples because these guys were swiping and eating apple slices as fast as I could chop them. Then we had lunch and some free quiet time, a little bit of math, and made thank you cards with the recycled paper we made yesterday. Then they got to eat their pie for snack time. That pie got demolished. We had leftover pie crust and apples so we had made half a dozen apple turnovers as well-all gone. That’s Zach with his head in the pie tin trying to scrape all the caramelized pie crust off the bottom. I think it’s safe to say apple pie-or pínguo pài– is a big hit.

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After snack we played outside for a while and then watched a Berenstein Bears Thanksgiving cartoon. (I introduced them to the Berenstein Bears a while ago and they love the books and TV shows. I’m excited because they were some of my favorite books as a kid.)

After work I met Jess at this upscale hotel-EAST-for dinner. One of their restaurants had a huge Thanksgiving buffet. And when I say huge I mean a counter about half the length of a football field filled with food. Tons of appetizers and salads, a bar full of different cheeses, pumpkin soup and seafood chowder, turkey, duck, ham, prime rib, tons of vegetables and sides, and drinks. Oh and desserts. It was delicious.

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So, in spite of not being home with my family, it was an awesome holiday!

Walking with Elephants-Check!

What an amazing week! After years of wanting to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand, I finally got to cross it off my list. First I have to say I loved the place I stayed-Enchanted Garden Bungalows. I found it on Airbnb.com and they were awesome. I had a little bamboo cabin all to myself, surrounded by the gardens. I got to do my homework on the wraparound porch outside and listen to the waterfall. And swim in the heated saltwater pool every day!

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cm3This place was set outside of Chiang Mai a bit so it was nice and quiet, and I enjoyed walking around the small village. Nearly all the houses I passed had small shrines set up, there were tiny open-air restaurants and markets, even cows wandering around.

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Love the bright colors of this school!
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Enjoyed this beautiful little coffee shop as well-

The number one thing on my list was to go see elephants so I did that first thing Tuesday. I went with a tour about 1.5 hours outside the city to a small elephant farm. I got a recommendation from the resort’s activities director, Janie, as to a good one, as many are too touristy or abusive. There was no riding elephants and they seem to only follow voice commands (or food bribes)-no hitting.

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The scenery up in the hills was beautiful!

cm2We got to prepare food-sugarcane, bananas, and pumpkins-to feed the animals and walked around visiting them for a while. It was a small farm-3 adults and 2 calves, Mina (3 years) and Milo (only 1 year). They eat so much! The adults can pick up half a pumpkin, rind and all, and toss it in their mouths.

Milo was too cute! He had fun splashing in the water and chasing people. (He has to wear a bell around his neck so people hear him coming.) He ran up to headbutt me when we walked in to the yard. The caretakers cautioned us not to push back and just sort of sidestep him so he doesn’t get to forceful. He was so playful and fun to watch though.

After we fed them we ate lunch, then walked the elephants down a steep path to the river for their bath. That was fun. Unfortunately I have no pictures since I was up to my neck in cold, muddy river water! I loved watching them though. We could barely stand up in the strong current but the babies were just rolling around splashing. It was such an amazing experience! (Yeah, you’re gonna get a lot of exclamation points this time. Too bad.

Next stop-The Little Kitchen Thai Cooking School. This was an awesome place. There were a lot of other cooking schools in Chiang Mai but I would absolutely recommend this one-and it was only a 2 minute walk from the resort. Each student gets to pick 5 dishes to make from their menu and they have most of the ingredients all prepped-I felt like I was on a cooking show! Delicious food, too.

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My favorite dish-pineapple fried rice!

I spent one day just walking around the downtown area and going through all the temples and shops. It was a beautiful day for it, too. The clouds almost look fake, but no editing, I swear! I walked all over the place, bought many, many (too many) things, then got a 60 minute foot massage for 200 baht (about $5.67!)

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Monks painting in front of one of the temples
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The iced coffee is some of the best I’ve had, and pad thai (noodles)=yum!

It was seriously hard to make myself come back to Beijing Friday but I managed. Sometimes I’m surprised at how far I’ve come. I had an overnight layover in Kunming, southern China, on the way back. I booked the cheapest hotel I could find close to the airport. I took the free shuttle, which was really a small van with a dozen people and suitcases piled on top of us. The hotel was in an area that might have horrified me a year ago but after all the traveling I’ve done I wasn’t even phased (and it was super comfortable, especially for US$45/night). I just threw my bags in the room and went out for a late 8 kuai dinner from a street vendor.

I can’t believe it’s almost mid-October now. Beijing got a bit chilly while I was gone; my toes have been freezing all day! But I love the crisp fall weather. And in just over 2 months I’ll be home for Christmas. This year is going even faster than the last one. I might have to stay a third…

Enough already, Beijing

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Freezing. I want to hide in my apartment until May please. I’ll just teach via Skype. Any objections? No? Okay then.

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But after trudging home in more snow flurries (which were not in the forecast!) I made some excellent (if I do say so myself) chicken and vegetable soup. And I got some fresh bread and my favorite wine and curled up with a blanket on the couch. So all in all, not too bad.

 

October 4, 2014

I really can’t believe it’s already October.  My first 2 classes are over with as of yesterday (straight A’s, thank you) and the other 2 start tomorrow.  Then I’m off to Belize!

This has been a slow week and I got some sort of bug and did not feel well at all so I haven’t been posting anything.  But the last few days have been better.  Mostly have been running errands. And the weather here has been strange.  Mary and I walked to Guadelupe Thursday so she could pay taxes and it was just gloomy with little rain showers, which is odd in the morning.  In Costa Rica, taxes are due the end of September instead of April.  It’s also the end of the fiscal year for most businesses so the stores have all kinds of sales, which is awesome.  And I took the bus into San Jose on Friday to walk around downtown and got absolutely soaked.  The 9am bus never came so there was a huge group standing around by the time the 9:30 bus came and it was packed.  It rained all morning again and of course I had no umbrella.  I did get some pictures of the street art wall in front of one of the elementary schools though:

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Let’s see…I have to say the high point of the week was when I managed to set up  a proxy IP address and hoodwink Google Chrome into thinking that I am currently located in London, so that I can watch the current season of Downton Abbey online and not have to wait for the US premiere in Jan 2015.  I was pretty proud of that, I must say.  It’s the little things.  And if you’re laughing at me, well, you’ve clearly never watched the show, because it is awesome.

Yesterday morning was beautiful and I went to the ferria, farmer’s market, with Thais and Carlitos. They have absolutely everything imaginable, and it’s crazy cheap: 4 mangos, a pineapple and half a dozen oranges for about $4.  The “orange guy” loves Thais and just beamed when he saw her and enthusiastically greeted us all.   I also tried some new dishes.  Mary made carne mechada yesterday, which translates as shredded beef.  It’s also called ropa viejo, (or old clothes) which I find hilarious, although it does kind of resemble a pot full of dirty laundry.  But it tastes delicious.  After the beef was simmered in the crockpot overnight and shredded, Mary added a hot (and I mean hot) pepper, onion, carrots, and tomatoes and it made this sort of stew/chili that she served over rice, with chayote. Chayote is a strange green vegetable/fruit that when boiled has the texture of a cooked pear and not much flavor but it tasted good with the stew.  Then I tried a recipe for patacones from my new Costa Rican cookbook.  Patacones are popular here: basically you take really green, unripe plantains, slice them, boil until they’re soft enough to smash with a glass, then fry them with salt and pepper.  I added some queso too and they were pretty good:

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September 5, 2014

Had a rather domestic day.  I was going to go to Arenal with Carlos but Thais’s car broke so he stayed home to take care of it.  We’re going to get up really early tomorrow instead and go.  So this morning I walked to the Plaza Lincoln mall and looked around.  It’s a lot like our malls; in fact the food court is entirely Americanized.  Recognize this?

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The mall was about a ten minute walk from here and there’s a grocery store inside so I picked up a few things and came home and cleaned my apartment and did some laundry in the crazy washing machine. All the labels were in Spanish so I just sort of winged it. Everything seems to have come out clean but the washer did walk halfway across the kitchen when I put everything in the spinner. Oh well.
This afternoon was an absolute downpour, even more than usual. There was flash flooding in San Jose, thunder and lightening everywhere. I just stayed in and watched TV. Mary and I watched her soap opera, or novella, La Gata while she made some squash soup. Crema de Apatito: cooked and blended up green squash, butter, onions, peppers, cilantro, and cream.

September 4, 2014

Busy, busy week, but I’m starting to get my bearings around here. Everything you could possibly need is walking distance from the house. The different neighborhoods are like individual towns: they all have their own centro (downtown), with a church and a park in the center. On Monday Mary and I walked to Moravia, maybe 1 1/2  miles from the house, and stopped by the Banco Nacional.  The lines were insane; apparently the first day of the month is the busiest.  Mary had some business to take care of so it took an hour and half, but I did get some colones from the cajero automatica, or ATM:

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 So much prettier than our money.  The banks that I’ve seen have much stronger security too.  To enter, you have to walk one by one into these security scanners, wait for the door to close, then the door on the other side will open to let you out.  Anything bigger than a purse has to be left in lockers on the outside:

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After the bank we walked around downtown Moravia, which is so quaint.  We stopped at the butcher shop and got some chicharrones, which are these little crispy fried pork bites-delicious!  They’re typically served on salad, which Mary made for dinner with awesome homemade pico de gallo on shredded cabbage with boiled yuca.

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Most salads seem to be made with cabbage instead of lettuce.  I actually found a recipe that looks exactly the same; I’m trying to keep track of things so I can cook them later: <http://lostandfoundfamily.com/making-costa-rican-chicharrones&gt; .

Tuesday we walked into Guadalupe, probably about a mile and a half in the opposite direction.  Stopped by the shoe repair shop, the post office-tiny-and a few other little shops.  The mornings are beautiful, sunny and warm but not too hot.  Perfect to walk around.  Then I usually stay in and do schoolwork in the afternoons.  So far the stuff we’re covering has been mostly review, but I’ve forgotten most of what I knew about Adobe Illustrator and they’ve made a lot of changes to their software in the last few years so it’s been good to practice.

This morning Carlos and I walked around Moravia some more.  A different direction this time; we saw the Justice Department a few blocks away, and some residential blocks, with a great view of the mountains.  I love how every single house is different, and beautiful:

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 The sidewalks are another matter however.  It’s as if they poured all the sidewalks in the city 50 years ago and then forgot about them.  No sign of maintenance, they’re cracked and completely dissolve into muddy gravel in some places, even in the really nice neighborhoods.  The tree roots grow underneath and tilt them so one side is always higher than the other. We saw everything from flowers to tomatoes to watermelon plants growing out of the cracks. Walking around the block is a constant balancing act trying not to twist an ankle or fall into an open pit (apparently people steal the grates over them to sell as scrap metal).

When we got home Mary showed me how to make picadillo de papas:

Fry about 1/2 lb of ground chorizo sausage, add about 1 lb of finely chopped potatoes, 1/2 onion, a red chile pepper, garlic, curry, cumin, and some other spice I haven’t seen before and apparently is only sold in Costa Rica.  Add a couple cups of water and let it boil down till everything’s soft.  Then roll everything up in corn tortillas.  Es muy rico!

This afternoon I went with Mary to her English class at her church in Moravia.  It’s a small group of 8  or so and they’re a lot of fun.  The teacher wanted me to read some of the exercises out loud so they could hear my accent and they asked me all kinds of questions and told me all the places I need to see in Costa Rica.