Amigas

I am beyond excited today. I feel like it’s Christmas morning and I’m eagerly waiting to open my presents. I’ll only be getting one present today (that I know of, I mean if you wanted to surprise me with more presents I wouldn’t complain), but it’s a great one:

Ashley (Apparently a model = isn’t this an awesome photo?)

It has been 9 months and 22 days since I have seen any one of my girl friends from home (amigas, not novias), and I miss them all so much, all the time. I am very lucky to have Ross and Mango and our host family and a great community here in Costa Rica, but there is nothing that can ever replace your friends.

Since I have no recent photos of us together, all these are from anywhere from 1-6 years ago.

There will be plenty more bikinis, and bars, in Manual Antonio!

Ross and I have made some wonderful friends via the WorldTeach program this year. It’s amazing how traveling with people and sharing a life experience such as this can bring you so close so quickly. We spent a month together in Orosi and get to see each other sporadically during the year. Although they are hours and hours away, just knowing those amazing people are in the same country as me really helps me, and the fun times we do get to spend together relaxing on tropical beaches and scaling mountain tops make all the hard times worth it.

We have also slowly but surely made some great Tico friends. It’s amazing that despite cultural differences and language barriers you can still really bond with people. One of the hardest thing about Tico friends is going out with them. They aren’t content just going out for dinner and drinks, they always have to dance. The kind of dancing that would blow away the judges on Dancing with the Stars. Once they see us struggling and embarrassing ourselves on the dance floor, they usually try to help, which just ends in their feet getting stomped on by our feet and their noses getting crushed with our foreheads.

Why can’t Gringos dance? Or why can ALL Ticos dance? I guess if you don’t have a military to deal with it leaves a lot more time and resources for other endeavors, like dancing. That’s the very essence of Pura Vida.

I’m going to get back to counting down the minutes until Ashley’s plane gets here…

For all you other friends out there:

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A Smile and a Nod

My Spanish has DEFINITELY improved over the past several months of living in Costa Rica, but it is no where near perfect. I can get by with most things: Emergency situations, cab directions and ordering food (this was my first priority, obviously).

When it comes to understanding my students though, that is a totally different story. Kids speak fast and have soft little voices, and let’s face it, they get a kick out of it when “teacher no entiende nada, jajajaja”

To take the easy way out (and discourage ridicule from 3rd graders) I find myself all too often just smiling and nodding at whatever my students have to say. This usually makes them happy and keeps them quiet, but lord only knows what I am silently agreeing to.

“Teacher, teacher, can I go smoke crack in the bathroom?!”

Mmmhmmm *Smile*. Be quick!

I have to go back to my roots and start enforcing more English in the classroom, outside of the structured lesson plan. I tried starting out as an English Only classroom, much much easier said (in English) than done (in English).

Solo Ingles en este clase, Mae!

Boo!

October is my favorite month in New England. I just love the crisp fall air, the colorful leaves blowing in the wind and the fact that you can wear your leather knee high boots and pretty scarves, but you don’t quite need the Northface down jacket yet. You can let your dog run free on the beach, go apple picking and carve pumpkins, all while drinking a delicious pumpkin beer.

Here are some of my favorite things that I’m really missing this month:

Hot (and Cold, and Sparkling and Hard) Apple Cider

Apple picking, Cider Donuts, Apple pie

All things Halloween. Costa Rica doesn’t celebrate Halloween (as a Catholic country they’re really not too keen on the Paganism)

Another one of my favorite Spanish words is the word for witch, Bruja. I just can’t imagine a childhood without Halloween. Luckly, my niece Halle won’t have too. She’s all ready!

Pumpkin Everything (pies, BEER, pancakes, granola, muffins, bread, coffee, ice cream, candles) I’m a sucker for pumpkin. Last year I added canned pumpkin (along with pumpkin pie spice) into the blender with my protein powder to make pumpkin smoothies topped off with some Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Granola. I definitely recommend this!

Fireplaces. Sitting in front of them or even just enjoying the smell of other peoples’ wafting from their chimneys. There are a few restaurants and bars in Boston that have fireplaces if you’re looking to heat up your next date night out: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/display/Fireplaces/

Fall back: gaining an extra hour in the day, thank you very much Day Light Savings!

The downside of Fall:

Looking like part of the Twilight cast. How come it takes 3 months to build up a solid tan and only 2 weeks for it to fade completely?

I’m spending my birthday next week tanning on the beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park. I might not be able to get a pumpkin this year, but I can be the color of one.

Bare Trees. Gotta admit, it’s a little depressing once all those beautiful colors fade away and DIE.

Moldy Jack-o-lanterns. Pumpkins gone bad.

Pumpkin beer hangovers- I hear those are the worst.

Spending roughly a million dollars on Starbucks Pumpkin Spice lattes with giant Pumpkin Cream Cheese muffins on the side.

Treat

Trick

No more bikinis or sundresses to fit into, plus Pumpkin Spice lattes, Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins AND Halloween candy. Fall makes you fat.

Okay, I’m being kind of a Bruja here. Don’t mind me, I’m just insanely jealous. I miss you Fall, but I’ll see you next year!

Ain’t Life Sweet…

I was having a Facebook conversation with my sister last night about her upcoming wedding (right now I’m an international Maid of Honor) and she told me she is not planning on having a wedding cake, but rather having cupcakes. She is a genius.

(The genius herself, with Halle last Halloween. I can’t wait to see the costume this year!)

This conversation instantly instilled in me an insatiable craving for cupcakes. She went on to talk about bridesmaids dresses or something, but my brain was stuck on thoughts of frosting and chocolate.

While I’ve had more sugary carbs than I can count here, and have enjoyed even more than a few birthday cakes, I have not had a cupcake for almost a year. This is sad, because nothing is better than a really great cupcake.

It also brought back memories of one of the best parts of working in Boston, that you can order amazing cupcakes to be delivered to your office (or home or wherever) from Kickass Cupcakes http://www.kickasscupcakes.com.

I personally love the Mojito ones (which is also one of the Gluten Free options) but they have sooo many flavors, and you can even create your own.

If you are working in the Boston area, this is definitely the perfect mid workday pick-me-up or surprise for a co-worker. It’s also a great incentive for your boss to give you that promotion you’ve been dying for (kill em with kindness kickass cupcakes.

I’m off to the gym now, but I’m going to be fantasizing about cupcakes the entire time and might even try to concoct my own Costa Rican style ones tonight. If so, I promise to post a picture update of that disaster.

Happy Friday, celebrate with cupcakes 🙂

Right Here, Right Now.

This past weekend was a good reminder to me that yoga is more than just an exercise and a physical practice, but also a state of mind. You can touch your toes, stand on your head and become a pretzel on the mat, but none of that matters if your not in tune with what’s going on INSIDE that pretzel.

I’ve been really upset that there isn’t yoga available in La Fortuna, and that I’ve only had the chance to take classes a handful of times since coming to Costa Rica. Before Ross and I left last January, we were doing Yoga almost every day and I’d found some places I really loved in Boston:

Cambridge Athletic Club : Yoga was INCLUDED with a membership here, one of the only full gyms I know of that actually has a yoga studio and not just yoga mats in a group exercise room.
Exhale: Expensive, but worth it. The place is pure luxury and there is a tea relaxation room for before and after class, locker rooms with steam rooms and bathrobes.
North End Yoga: I lived in the North End and loved that I could walk here in minutes. I loved the early morning classes.
Prana Power Yoga: Hot Yoga, but much more relaxed than Bikram. You sweat like crazy and get a great workout, and feel complete zen after.

Since coming here, I’ve been trying to keep up the practice on my own like on the front porch:

And on the beach:

Lately it’s been more difficult for me to get in a good practice without an instructor to guide me. I thought this was because I was out of practice physically, but this weekend I found that it’s more mentally that I’ve lost it.

I haven’t been great at focusing on my breathing and just living in the present moment. Instead I’ve been worrying about the things I haven’t done perfectly here and anxiously planning ahead for what is going to happen when we get back to the USA.

Worrying about the past or the present doesn’t make anything better, but being focused and enjoying the present moment makes everything better. My goal for the rest of this time here is to do more yoga, not just on the mat but to try to keep that yoga state of mind and bring that with me in everything else I do. Blogging included.

So forget the fancy yoga studios for now and in this moment, literally as you read this, lower your shoulders away from your ears (I know you’re probably hunched over your computer/laptop/iPad) and feel your shoulder blades run down your back. Stick out your chest out slightly and take a long, deep breath in. Then exhale slowly through your nose, listening to your breath the whole way through. Repeat the breathe 3 times.

The present moment feels pretty good, right? That’s why we should live HERE and not in that conference call from yesterday or that dentist appointment we have tomorrow.

Namaste!

Rancho Margot: A Birthday Story

What a great weekend! Rancho Margot was even more wonderful than we had anticipated. The only downside was that we only had 2 1/2 days there, I think you might need at least a month to fully appreciate and experience everything the place has to offer. I have too much to write about this weekend, so I’ll start with some brief descriptions and include some pictures of all my favorite things (which was everything).

The Purpose: To help promote awareness and generally make the world a better place. If you visit here you’ll feel the impact they’ve already made in a very short period of time. While they are not currently 100% sustainable, that is the goal (right now they are up to 80%). They make their own soap from leftover oils in the kitchen and flowers from the many gardens, they have their own dairy, chicken coop and wood shop where they make all their own furniture. They have their own hydroelectric dam for electricity and burn the compost from the kitchen and the animals to get hot water. It’s pretty cool.

The Food:
Amazing, all-organic, most everything straight from the garden and the animals in the farm. I have never had such incredible, fresh salads before. The homemade bread, cheeses and brick-oven veggie pizzas were almost too addicting. The fruit was perfect. We ate waaay too much, but at least we now have enough vitamins and minerals saved up to last until we get back to the States. The animals are treated great too and get to live stress-free on a beautiful farm. Did you ever saw the documentary Food, inc. ? It’s nothing like that here.

The Yoga:
2 classes daily at 7AM and 4PM, both are 1.5-2 hours long. We took 4 classes over the past few days and loved every one. The studio is a giant open tree house standing in the woods over a river. All you can hear is the river flowing and rainforest wildlife in the background, it’s like a nature CD you might here in a yoga studio but it’s all real. During the early morning classes you get to see the sun rise up over the tree tops, and in the evening we got great sunsets and then tons of fireflies in the darkness. Their yoga instructor is one of the best I have ever had, and also one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

The Bungalows:
So private and adorable. One of the nicest, most tranquil places I have stayed in Costa Rica yet. I probably would have been happy just getting to sleep on the hammock on the deck here.

The Horseback Riding:
We got to go up a mountain, down a mountain and through a river in the rainforest. The views were spectacular, and the whole experience was worth walking funny for a few days afterwards.

The Pools:
The cold water pools were almost a little too cold for us, but that just made the hot stuff even better.

The People:
By far the best part. We spent time with everyone from the volunteers to the reception staff to the owner. It’s the kind of place where you feel like everyone is family by the second day. They even made a cake for Ross’ birthday and threw together an impromptu dance party in the bar for him. It was a great night 🙂

A Birthday Surprise…No Longer a Surprise, But Still a Birthday!

I am TERRIBLE with surprises. The worst. It’s especially difficult for me to keep a surprise from the only other person I can speak (English) with here. Unfortunately that person is also the birthday boy and the intended surprise recipient.

So the birthday surprise is no longer, BUT I still have some awesome birthday plans for Ross.

Tomorrow morning we are headed to Rancho Margot in El Castillo. It’s a self-sustaining organic farm/yoga center/relaxation retreat all in one. We will be staying in one of their Bungalows for 2 nights.

Every time we have visited organic farms and met the people who work so hard to make the world a better place, I have always left feeling so inspired. In a world that often seems so overwhelmingly complex, places like this seem to break it down and make it all so simple. What’s really important in life? Taking care of your body by eating healthy, real foods and being active. Taking care of, and giving back to the environment instead of just using and abusing it for it’s resources, because while you can live without that gas guzzeling SUV, you probably can’t live without an Ozone layer or clean air.

What else we are looking forward to:

2 daily YOGA classes
3 organic meals a day
Hot showers
Hot AND cold outdoor pools
Horseback riding, Kayaking, Fishing
Making homemade soap and cheese
Getting to milk a cow. Again.

There is Wi-Fi in the bar and restaurant there, so make sure to drop by this Sunday, October 16th, and wish Mr. Donovan a Happy Birthday 🙂

Fresh Fruit 411

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but here goes: I had to YouTube how to cut up a fresh pineapple when we first moved here. I have always loved pineapple, but had never actually purchased a whole one at home. I’ve stupidly paid extra for the pre-sliced fresh ones and had plenty from the can.

Pineapples are awkward to carry, they are big and sharp and will rip right through your plastic grocery bag, yet another reason to go-green and bring one of your own re-usable bags to the market with you. If you can find some fresh quality pineapples, it’s worth the extra weight.

So, just in case anyone else is as clueless as i was about pineapple deconstruction, here is what I have learned over the past 9 months of living amongst tropical fruits aplenty:

1. Pick out a good one. It should be golden (too brown means too ripe) and have a subtle sweet aroma to it. Since they are prickly and awkward to hold, the squeezing test can be difficult for these babies, go for the look and smell of it.

2. Chop off the top and the bottom. You can use the top for a decorative table setting if you’re so inclined (or if you’re Martha Stewart)

Once the bottom is chopped off flat it’s easier to stand upright.

3. Shave off the edges until your pineapple is completely naked. (If you want pineapple rings you can lay down the pineapple on it’s side and slice away)

3. Keeping your naked pineapple in the upright position cut it into 4 quarters. This allows you to easily trim off the hard core in the center. (why does this sound like fruit porn?)

4.Discard the center and chop up the rest of the quarters into chunks. Voila, delicious pineapple treat.

5. Wait! You’re not done yet! Before you can enjoy that tropical snack you have to clean up that sticky pineapple mess. We put all our extra compost in a compost pile in our backyard. You can learn a bit about composting HERE.

4. Now you can enjoy 🙂

We just finished teaching our classes for the week and now we have a long weekend (off Friday-Monday). I have some big plans for Ross’ birthday on Sunday… stay tuned!

Born in the U.S.A

Today was such a great day at school with all the cultural events. I’m always impressed by how all-out some of the students, parents and teachers go for these holidays, despite the lack of resources (and funds) readily available. Schools in the U.S could probably learn a thing a two. Here was our U.S.A classroom:

The Indigenous crew

A little Caribbean flavor:

One thing that gets me is the tolerance for weapons, real or fake, in school. From what I’ve seen, school violence just isn’t an issue here, there isn’t even really any bullying and they’ve probably never even heard of Columbine. I guess I”m just coming from a place where shooting someone with a water gun could earn you a few years in juvie.

In true Gringo fashion, we under dressed dressed down for the event in jeans. Ross wore a BC shirt and Mango wore a blue bandana:

I represented Beantown with a Red Sox shirt

NOT that the Red Sox deserve it after this season 😦 Not gonna lie, if I had a Patriots or Bruins shirt I probably would have worn that instead.

La Liberté éclairant le monde

Tomorrow we will celebrate the Day of Cultures here (formerly the Day of the Races, but I guess culture is more PC). We didn’t get Monday off, but we do get fun activities all day tomorrow for this holiday which is “viewed by some in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans to the Americas and of the native races and cultures.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbus_Day.

There will be different kinds of food, music, dance, and costumes. I really can’t wait to see what the school comes up with.

Ross and I are part of the ‘North American’ group, I bet you didn’t see that one coming. Typical North American food? Hot dogs, hamburgers, coca-cola, rice krispy treats. Really? There has to be something better than that than we’re known for. What about Apple Pie? I mean, that totally has fruit in it.

Ross and I weren’t put in charge of food, our main job has been to be our Gringo selves and also draw a poster board with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it. We finished this tonight working on our living room floor. Believe it or not, this is the typical night of an elementary school teacher:

The finished product!

Happy Day of the Cultures tomorrow! Treat yourself to some fantastic ethnic food, dance some flamenco or wear those harem pants you bought in India that you thought would only work as a Halloween costume.