Archive for February, 2009

Old habits die hard

I need an intervention. Maybe even rehab. I’ve fallen off the wagon, and in a big way.

The boots called out from the window of the store, begging me to try them on and taste again the sweet but fleeting feeling of wearing something sexy and new.

I’ve written multiple times about the importance of the concept that less is more and changed my ways by reducing waste, becoming eco-conscious and bidding goodbye to the consumer culture that enslaves us all.  And then I threw it all out the window.

The same three pairs of shorts and handful of drab tank-tops and T-shirts have rotated countessly through my wardrobe for almost seven months and it’s never bothered me. We’ve strolled through even the fanciest malls and though I’ve on occasion spied something cute in a window I’ve never felt compelled to actually try something on, let alone buy it.

In fact, I can honestly say that I’ve made just one clothing purchase in our time here — a $10 beach wrap to hide the paunch that has grown an alarming rate during the same period. I haven’t even succumbed to the purchase of a cute pair of sandals for my little girl, previously known as the Imelda Marcos of preschoolers.

The only reason we’d gone to the mall, which is an hour’s drive away, was to hit the bank and a major grocery store for a few provisions that we can’t get at the small one in our town.

But the boots. They spoke to me when I passed the window where they proudly stood. And before I knew it, I was slapping down the credit card and crafting justifications in my mind as to why I want, no NEED, these beautiful, black, hand-crafted leather specimens.

1. Every woman MUST HAVE a pair of black leather boots in her closet, especially those who live in places where the ground is covered in snow more than half the year. Mine are now at least 10 years old, have gone through one zipper, one pair of soles and so far gone the leather is starting to rip. Not to mention the square toe and chunky heel is so over.

2. The price tag for a similar quality pair back home would be at least triple the price.

3. I’m supporting the local economy by buying a product hand-made in Costa Rica by a local, family owned company.

4. I’ve been back to the gym every day for the past two weeks after months of being lazy and deserve a treat for all my hard work.

Ok. I just wanted the damn boots. So shoot me.

I can’t even wear the things because, well, they would look a bit silly with my shorts and tank top.

I could, however, parade around in them naked. These boots are sooooo sexy that my husband wouldn’t even notice the paunch, which, I’m proud to say has shrunk a fraction since I started working out again and laid off the cervesas.

On a deeper level, the guilt is nagging at me. The cost of my new boots amounts to about half a month’s salary of an unskilled worker, like a maid.

I feel like such a hypocrite and disappointed that I’ve slipped back into old habits, which seems to be happening more and more now since the initial shock and awe of being here wore off.

Somewhere along the way all my internal angst faded away and my insight along with it. Change and growth is easy to talk about but incredibly hard to make permanent.

So, really, the boot purchase is a good thing. It’s brought me back to where I began, prompting me to get back to work and remember to continually be present, aware and take time for introspection.

And I’ll be reminded of that with every step.

Kick me, I'm shallow

Kick me, I'm shallow


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Welcome to dysfunction junction, where the abnormal and the aberrant meet.

It’s also known as beach life, where motivation goes to die and inspiration is sparked with a spliff.

On the continuum of Costa Rican weirdness, the beach is at one extreme. And I’ve learned that I’m not, at the extreme of weirdness, I mean. Just resting comfortably somewhere between unique and different.

After months of living in an urban prison we moved to the beach, thinking the sand and surf was paradise waiting, the place we ought to be for our remaining six months in this tropical Third World.

At first I thought it was simply a move from crazy town to lazy town. But it turned out to be both.

Vacationing at the beach and actually living there are two very different experiences.

Everyone who’s made the move permanently has an unusual story of how they arrived, often one that involves some sort of calamity. I’m talking about expats, because that’s mostly who we became acquainted with when we moved to the beach, a complete reversal of our previous situation of living amongst the locals.

Blending in with the natives at the beach is simply not a good idea, or at least it wasn’t for us with two little kids. It’s fine for the young surfer dudes who need nothing more than a place to party and crash and who have virtually nothing to steal except for their board because theft is a serious issue at the beach. Drugs and violent crime are also problems in many of Costa Rica’s bigger beach towns; two expat business owners were executed within the past two weeks alone in places about an hour apart along the Central Pacific coast.

So, we chose a small gated and guarded development that was in the middle of nowhere and away from the drugs and debauchery of Jaco, a bustling tourist spot known for its fierce waves.

At least that’s what we thought. Turned out our neighbour in the development, the actual builder of the lovely little complex, is into cocaine and guns. Sometimes both at the same time.

On Christmas Eve, after our kids were tucked into their beds under the air conditioner, the neighbour, an American, and his Tica wife became embroiled in a nasty dust-up. They were scrapping so loud we heard their shouting through concrete walls, followed by two distinct bangs that were unmistakably gunshots.

Earlier that day, the neighbour had for some odd reason told me that his father had shot himself to death, which immediately sprang to mind when the shots rang out. Given that we had no phone, and the police at the beaches generally don’t come when their called (or so we were told) we opted to wait until the next morning to look for bodies. It was a relief when both emerged from the home the next morning unscathed.

The incident was all the talk of the neighbourhood (which consists of about 30 homes) for the next few days because like in any small community, there are no secrets amongst the expats who’ve made their home by the beach.

Shortly after our move there, I became the new best friend and confidant of a woman from the States who moved to this Central American country along with her husband more than three years ago. She poured out her marital woes over a couple of glasses of wine, claiming that talking to a complete stranger was safer than sharing with friends who might make her situation fodder for the gossip mill.

She’s a beautiful girl, both inside and out, but has bigger troubles than just her marriage. She confessed that she used to be bulimic but I’m not convinced the eating disorder — which supposedly resulted when she lost her sense of taste and smell after being hit by a car and comatosed — is a past-tense problem given her skeletal appearance.

Then there was a young couple with a baby who’d been living in the complex and renovating a property there for the past seven months, leaving for long stretches at a time on “vacations” to areas far flung like Indonesia. Their source of income was on ongoing mystery as their stories about their respective pasts and present circumstances changed with every person they met.

There were other strange ducks but after a while I stopped listening to their stories. Actually, I pretty much stopped doing everything, save for going to and from the beach every day. The heat was insufferable and sucked the life out of all of us and we eventually moved back to the mountains, where it’s pleasantly warm during the day, cool at night and the people are only slightly off-kilter.

We struck a deal with the owner of the beach house and have spent this past month enjoying weekend at the beach, catching up and experiencing more of the craziness at the complex.

The trigger-happy neighbour was at it again, this time at 1 a.m. and during a blackout. The new best friend is down to 108 pounds after being stricken with dengue fever and is on the verge of leaving her constant marijuana-smoking husband, who doesn’t actually believe she’s suffering from the potentially deadly mosquito-borne disease.

It’s all just a typical day at the beach. A great place to visit but wouldn’t want to live there.

There’s nothing like getting a glimpse into someone else’s craziness to help you realize that’s yours is really not all that bad.

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More than 10 million cases of Imperial beer are sold annually in Costa Rica for domestic consumption. I’m not sure how that stacks up against other countries but it sure seems like there’s a lot of suds sucked down in a country that boasts a population of about five million.

Ticos like a good party. The more frequent, the better.

The fiestas begin in January and last for months, each town or community holding its own version.

The biggest is Palmares, where hundreds of thousands of Ticos line the streets for the annual tope (horse parade) that kicks off 10 days of drinking, dancing and general debauchery. 

Atenas, the town where we live, held its fiesta this past weekend.

Since we missed the big parade in Palmares, we decided to take the kids down to the parque central and catch the tope in Atenas. Of course in true Tico fashion it started three hours late.

It wasn’t a showy parade with bands and floats, like we have back home in Calgary with the famous Stampede, but a  bunch of cowboys, Imperial cans in hand, riding through the streets showing off their beautiful horses to an appreciative crowd that waved and clapped for their favourites.

It was simple, laid back and disorganized.

And I loved it.

I have come to embrace the delays, disorder and dysfunction that pervade almost every aspect of life here. What comes with it is freedom from arbitrary rules and, incongruously, a feeling of control.

People here seem more focused on their own lives than that of their neighbour, unlike home, where everyone is too busy minding someone else’s business to worry about their own.

The rules of life, both written and tacit, were suffocating.

When we moved to the suburbs about five years ago from an inner-city community, the welcome was a complaint from a neighbour over a newly constructed fence that was built too high. Then it was overgrown weeds in the alley. And after that, it was my roaming and unlicenced cat.

Not once did anyone knock on the door and inform me of their opposition to my fence, weeds or cat, or explain what it was about them that was so upsetting.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, a person who challenges authority and shirks the mainstream. As a result, I’ve spent most of my life feeling like an outcast even though I’ve always outwardly done all the things society would expect of me.

It wasn’t until I moved to Costa Rica that I felt like I was normal. That’s because here, the only normal is the abnormal. It fits.

How all of this relates to beer sales in Costa Rica, I’m not sure.  Following this stream of consciousness, maybe it’s that if I’m going to go back to that life in suburban Calgary where a municipal bylaw dictates how long the front lawn can be grown, I’m going to have to start drinking a lot more booze.


Here’s some pics of the tope . . .



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What makes poop and pee so funny?

Pooping, peeing, burping and farting.

These are my children’s latest obsessions. The sounds that escape both ends, sometimes self-generated, send my almost six and four year olds into fits of laughter. Even the words whispered into each other’s ears generates giggles which seem to grow exponentially with their repetition.

I don’t get it. Really, what is so funny? More importantly, how do I make them stop?

The saying of the words, save for the actual moments they’re meant to be used, as in, I have to go, has been banned from the house.

It’s clearly not working.

On my son’s second day in an all Spanish Costa Rican school, he came home beaming about making a new friend. The pair, whose native languages are different, apparently bonded over burps into each other’s ears.

My daughter on the other hand, doesn’t play with any of the kids “because they’re all poopy.”

Ahhh. The joys of motherhood.

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All right…

I have heard enough times in the past few weeks “I love reading the blog…but there hasn’t been anything for a while…” that it has given me some spark to sit down and rattle off some clever and insightful words.

This might be easier said than done, as the “I” in this edition isn’t the regular writer of this blog. It is the regular writer’s so-far-silent husband.

To say “mi esposa” has been uninspired to write is a bit of an understatement: there hasn’t been much more than everyday life to act as a muse. But perhaps her incredibly talented and intelligent husband put it best – “It doesn’t need to be inspired, just write SOMETHING.”

That job was left to me. So it seems that the best way to start is to get back to basics, because clever and insightful isn’t really my style. I am working on my Masters in Educational Leadership…all my writing these days is very clinical.

“Well my friend, what’s new?”

As previously mentioned, we moved into our new home in Atenas, a small farm town about 45 minutes west of San Jose. We are perched atop of hill where we have felt the wrath of the winds that have been pounding the country for the last few weeks. It has knocked down trees and wreaked havoc on the power lines. It has also kept things rather cool.

My in-laws left last week after a month long visit that could have been longer….the kids missed their Papa and Didi and were happy to see some familiar faces from back home. It helped that they brought a few gifts that Santa had supposedly “mis-delivered” to their house instead of dropping them here. Or perhaps Santa didn’t want to pay for the ridiculously over-taxed electronics they sell here in Costa Rica. We dragged them around the country for a few days, to the beach and to Arenal volcano, which is still active and spewing lava down its side. Unfortunately, it rained the whole time we were there and only actually saw the top of it briefly. We did see a few red lava rocks tumbling down the side on one of the evenings, but that was about it. It is on our list of places to revisit before we head home. But we did get to experience the sound of one incredibly loud eruption that froze all of us in our tracks as we were getting ready to head out for dinner. Believe me, it was loud enough for me to think that we were goners. Later, I am sure there will be more about Arenal later as it is a pretty interesting story…

After the parents left we headed back to the beach for five days to escape the cool winds. And escape we did…it reminded me why I don’t want to live at the beach. It was sweltering hot and we actually spent two whole days just lazing inside the air-conditioned house.  The beach is it a bit of an enigma…it is a great place to visit but living there would be too much. Even the kids grew weary of our beach after two days. If anything…it did encourage us to head out one day to Manuel Antonio Park, which is one of the gems of Costa Rica. You could see why, as the beach was stunning, with the green water and the white sand, enclosed in a little cove that soothed the waves to a trickle which the kids enjoyed. It was definitely a tourist haven, but a great break from the usual none the less.

The craziest story from those few days came in the dead of night, during a power outage, when our neighbour decided to fire off his shotgun at “ladrones” during a drunken (or drugged up) party of two with one of his friends. As far as we can figure from the mumble of voices after the robbers were shadows, and at one point may have been squirrel. Regardless, it scared the hell out of us, woke up our boy, who freaked out not because of the gun shots (don’t think he realized what the bangs were) but because the house was pitch-black dark. I was waiting for one more bang, and then I was genuinely going to do something about it. It never came, which is just as well, because I wasn’t too keen on getting into anything with a couple of nuts with a shotgun.

Anyway, we are back home now, our boy, almost six, started school yesterday and seems to be enjoying it. We haven’t had to drag him out the door yet which is a promising sign. Our almost-four-year-old girl starts tomorrow, and has been at home by herself for the last two days without her big brother.  Oddly enough, they miss the hell out each other even though they have been stuck together for the last six months. They are definitely thick as thieves.

Well, that gets you up to date. Not really inspired; I am sure you can see why I am not the one bringing home the bread with my words. But at least those who read will be assuaged until my wife gets back on her proverbial literary feet again. For me, it is back to longitudinal studies and research methods in education.

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