Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Day

It's been snowing like crazy since late this morning. No one's moving, unless they have can see the weather in Colorado via this live cam, located just down the hill from my house.
    Daughter #1 called; her dog Jack has been feeling peaked since Christmas. Finally, she took him to the vet today. Diagnosis:  pancreaitis (and a $400 bill). Would we come get him, so she could continue to work double shifts at the restaurant? (She's off school until mid-January.)
    I looked outside at the blowing, shifting snow. Would I? Might as well fly there. We were just getting ready to get on the long underwear, and try anyways, when Daughter called again...a friend watched the dog while she went to work. And wouldn't you know it -- she got cut.The restaurant was deserted. (Go figure.)
    All the same, though, we'll go get him when the snow lets up some. In the meantime, we started wading through the pile of gift DVDs, ate cheese enchiladas, and I worked on binding and finishing up a quilt for Road to California.   (Some of my classes/lecture are full -- but there are still openings! I'd love to come have you join me.)
    The dogs have spent the day snuggled by the fire, or on our feet. Don't blame them.

Donna Freedman's home again. I especially enjoyed her description of getting a meal around, after having been gone for some weeks. 
   I'm just glad we didn't have to go anywhere special today. And grateful that Jack the dog is doing better.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

$5 AmazonOn Demand Credit

...Can be used for renting online movies. And wouldn't you like a new movie to watch during that fast-moving-in stormy winter night!

    You'll need a Twitter account, but it only takes a minute after that. Go here. (Many thanks for the tip, One Frugal Girl.)

Five Things That Cost More...But Are Worth It

Before I get started, have you seen this great video -- making stylish designer bags from newsprint!
   Restless winds, the temp is steadily dropping. The sun may be shining now, but the wispy clouds and darkening sky tell the real story: we're due for a huge drop in temps plus snow for the next few days. Ok with me; it will make staying inside that much more cozy. 
   Husband is hanging a heavy cowboy sunset print for me, banging away at the wall (his stud finder isn't working because the 9-volt battery is dead) and muttering. I'd complain, but have been asking him to do this for months -- it will be great to have it up for our New Year's dinner guests! 
   Here goes on the list:

*Spray whipped cream (the real stuff, not the oily fake). Tastes great, adds a professional, decorative look to desserts. Sure, Cool Whip costs less, but once you open the tub, you need to use it within a week or so, or it gets nasty. We've had cans of the spray stuff keep up to six months in the refrigerator. Provided, that is, Daughter #2 isn't spraying it in her mouth when she thinks no one is looking...

*Real wool sweaters. Your acrylic sweater looks good this season. But what about next -- and the year after? Choose wool in a classic design, and it will continue to be part of your wardrobe for practically forever. (Hint: thrift shops ALWAYS have the 'good stuff' -- you just have to be patient, and keep looking.)

*Real gold. It lasts -- and lasts. Husband bought twisted gold hoop earrings for my 25th anniversary. They go with everything, and continue to look just as nice as they did nearly five years ago. You can afford the good stuff, if you stop buying costume jewelry and save your money up. Even a small piece makes a difference.

*Apples, Tangerines and other fruit -- certain kinds. Red Delicious apples are beautiful...and taste like sawdust. Honeygolds, Granny Smiths and Macintoshes, though, are delicious. Experiment until you find your favorites, then watch for them on sale.

*The right tools. Certain brands invariably cost more -- but they can be used for decades! One of our best shovels was purchased by my father-in-law at least four decades ago, and is still going strong. Do your research, read the buyer comments, and buy the best quality you can afford. You won't regret it. Don't take my word -- ask Husband, who is now staring proudly at his finished, hanging frame!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Post-Christmas Ennui

The packages are unwrapped, anniversary celebrated (Dec. 26 -- Philly cheesesteaks and a Denver Nuggets game with friends), and Daughters have both gone home. Bones from the turkey served at Christmas dinner have been simmering all night, and the broth is ready is use. Charley is sacked out underneath the dining room table, exhausted from a few days' prance with Jack, Daughter #1's dog. Piles of stuff are everywhere, waiting to be put away or thrown away. We had a smaller Christmas this year, which made for considerably less mess. (Yay!) Husband has all this week off -- no pay for most of the days, true, but the pleasure of his company makes up for it.

I'm fine, just wishing I could laze away all day. But who will burn the wrapping paper, then, or check on Wal-Mart's half-priced stuff?

Here's hoping you've had a chance to relax and enjoy this holiday time.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Track Santa The Easy Way

NORAD normally tracks drug dealers and such. But one night a year, it focuses on the other major intruder in airspace: Santa. Track him and the reindeer here -- has he found your home yet?

My Very Best Wishes for...

A happy and peaceful Christmas, with time to enjoy and reflect. 

I'm so grateful for a Savior born on earth for us!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spontaneous Meeting Combustion...

'Flashmobs' have been one of the newest developments -- a whole bunch of people who get together in a preplanned place and DO SOMETHING.

Like the Hallelujah Chorus...

Or rocking out to Christmas music!

(Many thanks to friend Marcie for passing this on.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Funny Christmas Stuff!

Take a break and a chuckle with these holiday goodies:

*The cats who inhaled!

*Some very silly jokes

*Links to a whole treeful of stuff...

*and a rather odorous joke!

And one of the very best holiday stories, one I read every year --
     Truman Capote's Christmas Memory

The Sweet Smell of...

Are you partial to how things smell?
    When I was little, I realized that people (and their homes) had a distinctive scent. I could even tell, head down, when a certain aunt, or my grandma, entered the room, based on the smell that preceded them. (My grandma smelled like hermit spice cookies!)
     Even now, I tend to rely on how things smell -- I rarely turn on a timer when cookies are baking, for example. Instead, I wait until they have a 'just-baked-but-not-burning' waft. Rice smells a little like mothballs when it's done. And brownies don't start scenting the air until 'just' before they're finished.
     Husband thinks this is funny, but generally is ok with it. The one bad part -- if you get involved somewhere else in the house, and forget to check! (A glance at the clock now and then helps.)
     This blogger got me started on the power of smell. The interesting part about this -- you can actually BUY smells like 'baby powder' and 'bonfire,' thanks to Demeter Fragrances. (They've got stuff on sale, plus shipping discounts.)

    My top ten favorites: lavender, soap (especially Dial), cinnamon, coffee, bacon, lilacs in spring (or the scent of freshly-dug earth), freshly-ironed linen (or sheets off the clothesline), tangerines, cedar...and the scent of Husband and Daughters when I snuggle into their arms.
    What are yours?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More on the Fish Dishes...

Gee, I didn't know others enjoyed this tradition as much as our family does! But there's actually a blog dedicated to the annual feast, and it has some great recipes. Visit it here.

(And for more good stuff on wrapping presents, check out Homebody Holly's take on the subject. Including potato chip bags! )

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seven Fish Dishes for Christmas

I just found Grocery Cart Challenge's list of 101 stocking stuffers...more good ideas here! One is beloved by Daughters, who are always visitiing the laundromat -- a roll of quarters.
    Also, Jenn at Frugal Upstate, bless her heart, has 68 ideas for stuffing guys' stockings -- Hooray! Husband tends to be quiet to start with, and is not exactly forthcoming about what he'd like in this department. (I can't get the ATV-for-hunting he'd really like, to fit in the sock.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    A reader asked about the Seven Fish Dishes. Having seven fish dishes (or nine, or as many as thirteen, according to this Wikipedia entry, "The Feast of the Seven Fishes") is an old Italian-American custom for Christmas Eve. The fish (a popular way to stay 'meatless') represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic church.

     I can hear your next question -- are we Italian? Naahh...though we LOVE their food, and Husband spent some time in Naples, Rome and elsewhere during his Navy years. (P.S. We don't go to a Catholic church, either.)
     When the girlies were little, and I was often housebound with them, I started trying to celebrate a different country's customs every year at Christmas time. The Italian version -- the seven fish dishes -- was such a hit that I've repeated it every year, and it has now become a Brick tradition.
     The dishes change, depending on available seafood, what I can find on sale...and our budget. Certain elements remain, though; we always have at least one soup, one whole baked fish, some kind of shrimp. And ALWAYS Angels on Horseback. (The girlies inhale any leftovers while we're washing dishes afterward.) Here's this year's menu:

1.  Clam Chowder (New England style with cream, onion and potatoes -- no tomatoes for us)
2.  Angels on Horseback (oysters wrapped with bacon, skewered with toothpicks, and baked about 20 min. at 400 degrees until crunchy. YUM. Don't knock these until you've tried them!)
Devils on Horseback (chicken livers wrapped with bacon, ditto. I know -- these aren't seafood, but they're a nice complement to the Angels. Don't count them.)
3.  Salmon Creole (salmon filets with a spicy coating)
4.  Shrimp Ajillo (the garlicky Panamanian version of Shrimp Scampi)
5.  Crab Legs 
6.  Tuna with Homemade Noodles (I'll give the recipe for this later)
7.  Rocky Mountain Trout (Daughter #2's contribution; she caught them herself. Baked with mushroom stuffing.)

Plus some kind of greenery in the vegetable department, hot rolls or biscuits and a refresher course of sorbet or sherbet. (All that seafood taste really adds up.) Friend Constance is bringing dessert, and I'll add a platter of chocolates and cookies for after-meal nibbling.
    We dress up in our best...and take our time, with a glass of wine and much talk. Each dish is counted as it appears, and small amounts are the rule, for obvious reasons. Little sighs of pleasure appear for someone's favorite, or a groan from the person who partook too much of another specialty.
      It's a wonderful time.

Wrapping Up Christmas

Normally I spend a big chunk of late Christmas Eve wrapping presents. This is not fun, and I've been trying to fix things, with little success. Last year, I started early...but forgot to put notes on the presents. (And ended up getting duplicates on some stuff! Stupid, stupid, stupid...)
    This year, I smartened up. Got out the presents, plus wrapping paper, stickers, tape and scissors -- plopped them all down by the couch and started wrapping, in front of Husband, who was peacefully lounging. A movie was on...I casually said, "Can you help me?" And that sweet guy (and I) got nearly everything wrapped in one evening! Just a few (including his) to go.
     Thanks to Michaels' early sales (plus the dollar store), I'd stocked up on paper at a reasonable price. (The Simple Dollar uses a standard approach to wrapping presents I'm thinking about using for next year...don't miss the reader comments, too.) Husband loves having a 'station' with the paper, plus accessories, close at hand -- otherwise, he has trouble finding everything and stomps about, muttering.

     Since we didn't even get home from Panama until late Monday night, I've had no time to do much of anything. Got the wreath up on the front door, the mantel decorated, and Saturday night, we finally got a Christmas tree. (Note to self: consider doing this again -- the tree, along with anything Christmas-related, was 40% off at Lowe's this past weekend!) It will get decorated this afternoon, before one of my students arrives for her last piano lesson of 2010.
    Our part of Colorado is dry as a bone, and swept by warm blowsy winds. The mountains are being nailed with snow and ice; there's a wall of gray cloud hemming them in behind the Front Range. But we're getting none of that. Looks like another tan Christmas.

Stocking stuffers are on the checklist to finish up. I've been stashing samples all year, plus little goodies...can't say much yet, because certain nosy people (Note, Daughter #1!) read this blog now and then. But there are some standards that always appear, like a chocolate Santa. (Daughters snort at it, and rarely eat it...for fun, I sometimes recycle the previous year's Santa, to see if they'll notice!) I also always include a toothbrush, imported chocolate and cookies, and a can of black olives. (The latter is perfect for munching while reading the latest Christmas book.) An orange is always in the toe -- memories of growing up on a Michigan farm, where even in my childhood, oranges were an exotic thing. (Tangerines were even more desirable.)

One Frugal Girl's got some good stocking stuffer ideas here (plus easier ways to pay for them). Here's a better, more comprehensive list from the Frugal Yankee that will be of help, too.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Baking

Hmmm...shouldn't I be whipping up sugar cookies or something?
    Maybe take a page from the Swedish Chef, and do up some popcorn shrimp...or doughnuts.

We always have seven fish dishes on Christmas Eve -- have been working up that list. And starting to plan for Christmas dinner, as well.
   Or maybe I should go haul the boxes of decorations up from the basement.

Maybe I'm starting to get into the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back Home - Yay!

...late last night.
    Then today, we learned that one of the two bridges going over the Panama Canal has collapsed, due to excessive rain. (The bridge was anchored in a hillside that's been collapsing, due to the land sliding.) We drove over the other bridge, not this one -- but still, it's a shock.
     On the flight home to Denver last night, I sat next to a lady who had been on a Panama Canal cruise -- sort of. The ship went into the 'holding' lake, but couldn't keep going through the locks, due to torrential rains.
    This was on Thursday. We visited the Canal on Saturday, when it was raining...but working. If we'd taken a cruise, instead of the land trip (we thought about it), we wouldn't have seen much of anything.
    Thankfully, no one has been injured or killed.
    Just amazing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A bunch of work to start in on...but it's wonderful to sleep in our own bed again!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gift Card Specials

Nearly all of our family lives several states away -- which makes sending Christmas presents to them a hassle, let alone the danger that the package will get lost or broken in transit.
    That's what makes gift cards so good -- they're easy to send, and much appreciated. Even better, many companies are now offering bonus offers when gift cards are purchased. For example, Red Robin gives you a $5 bonus card for every $25 card you purchase. (Brickworks employees have gotten this, or gift cards from Qdoba for years -- and have loved it.)
    Here's a fairly comprehensive list -- enjoy. Bear in mind, though, that some of these specials peter out early in December. You may not want to wait too long before acting on them. These make great gifts -- even if they're just for yourself!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lighting Up Your Holiday

One of the necessary items on our Christmas tree every year are strings of bubble lights. These glowing little guys were being manufactured in England as early in the 1940s; they graced my grandma's Christmas tree, my parents' tree, and have been on the Brick family tree ever since our first year. (We were married the day after Christmas 1981, so had to wait a whole year before our own festivities.)

For a general look at bubble lights, visit here. They're a little difficult to find, but worth it. Sitting by the Christmas tree, watching the lights glowing against the iced window...there's nothing more cheerful on a snowy night.

(ill. courtesy of Wikipedia)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back in Panama...City, That Is

And feeling very crabby about it all.

This morning, we had breakfast on the beach at Las Lajas. Then we spent the rest of the day (well, most of it) driving, driving and more driving, Husband cheerfully waving to the cop in Divisa who nearly gave him a ticket (the cop was STILL out there, this time yelling at another tourist) and the umpteey-eleven chickens and dogs who came out to say goodbye.
    After a quick stop in Sora, another mountain town, we ended up at the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, just in time to watch a cruiser and a cargo ship go through, veiled in rain and wisps of cloud. (You can see it too, thanks to this live cam.) I have wanted to see this since I was a kid, but found myself thinking just as much of the Soo Locks we used to watch at Michigan's Upper Peninsula. That one came first in my memory.  (Although these were great -- and the rain and fog made them even more interesting.)

Then we got lost. BOY, did we get lost. It was raining...and somehow Husband turned off on a highway we couldn't get off...I couldn't figure out where the heck we were on the map...and to make things double-extra stressful, we were running low on gas. A huge fight ensued. We were both tired, and hungry, and sick of driving. Even after we finally packed up our emotions and made a pact to start working together again, we were STILL lost. Though headed in the right direction.

    Then we hit the traffic heading to Panama City.
    It took us nearly THREE HOURS to drive 60-some kilometers. Yep, you read that right. We had people sliding into our lane, cutting us off, nearly rear-ending us, and so on -- busses, taxis, and just for fun, regular cars. I was a basket case by the time we got to the hotel. Husband, who views this all as sort of a game, albeit a serious one, was reasonably fresh. He got to watch me burst into tears and swear I would never go to Panama City again. (Poor guy.)

Oh, and they don't believe too much in street signs. Why in the world would you need street signs, Senor? You should know where you are going!

So...a great vacation, with a hellish last night. These people may be some of the nicest, most polite, kindest individuals I've met -- but they are HOMICIDAL MANIACS on the road. MANIACS!!!

Anyhow, I took a long, hot brooding shower, and am going to rest up for the ordeal tomorrow, when we attempt to return the rental car. That is, without smashing into, scratching up or otherwise damaging ourselves, the car or half the population of Panama City. With beeping. Lots of beeping.

Serve a Log for Christmas Dinner

...a creamy chocolate log, that is! If you've ever made a jelly roll, a Christmas Log won't be that hard for you. It's a French tradition that Julia Child made especially popular, with the 'log' decorated in meringue mushrooms and clouded with a 'veil' of caramel. (Yum -- just writing about this is arguing for setting aside our more usual Sachertorte, and whipping up this instead!)
      Here's the recipe:
  • 1/3 cup cake flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tarter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • Confectioners sugar
  • Filling:
  • 14.5 oz can pitted cherries
  • 2 cups whipped topping
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup coffee flavored liqueur
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 15 X 10 jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour paper then tap off excess.
     In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder and salt, then mix well. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy. In a separate bowl, using clean beaters, beat egg whites on high until foamy. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and cream of tarter, beating until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. Fold 1/3 of beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Alternate folding in egg whites and flour mixture.
     Pour batter in pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle a clean towel with powered sugar. Immediately loosen cake from edges of pan and turn upside down onto towel, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Carefully remove paper. Trim off stiff edges of cake, if necessary. While hot, carefully roll cake and towel from narrow end. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes.
     Combine cherries, powered sugar and liqueur is a small bowl. Let stand at least 5 minutes then drain liquid and spoon over cooled cake. Add whipped topping to cherries. Spread cherry mixture over center of cake and roll cake into a log. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more, even overnight. Garnish with whipped topping or chocolate syrup.
    (Thanks to MDWanda at Better for sharing this)

More Christmas cakes are at Better ...take a look!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Santa Claus Revealed

How much do you know about the Jolly Old Elf who swings by good little children's homes at Christmas time? This history of Santa Claus gets you started, beginning with Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (Izmir, now in Turkey).
     According to tradition, Nicholas heard about three unmarried sisters who couldn't get married, because they didn't have a dowry. The older sisters had even talked about going into prostitution, in order to get the funds to give their youngest sister a better chance.
     Nicholas heard about this, and one night, he crept quietly up to the girls' home and dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. It landed in a stocking drying by the hearth. Nicholas then repeated his action twice more. The girls were saved, Nick's kindness found out -- and the legend of Santa Claus began.
     Nicholas lived in the 4th century A.D., but our 'typical' mental picture of Santa Claus didn't arrive until Thomas Nast's drawings in the 1860s. His round-bellied Santa, dressed in fur and tights, looks nothing like the tall robed clergyman that is more typical of Santa Claus figures around the world. Nonetheless, it was Nast's Santa that became the prototype of today's Santa Claus.
     Be sure to take a longer look at The North -- there are recipes, games and lots of fun worth trying this month.

Christmas Repurposed

Simple, graceful ideas for gift wrapping...

New things you can do with holiday items...

all sorts of Christmas crafts to start now...and finish!

Maybe it's a response to all that cynical humor of Scrooged (yes, I watched it on AMC recently), but I feel determined to actually enjoy preparing for Christmas this year -- even if it means I put a wreath on the door, make just one or two kinds of cookies...and call it good.
    Not having to kill myself preparing for the festivities would truly make it a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Coffee in Boquete

Elizabeth Edwards, estranged wife of one-time political candidate John Edwards, died yesterday of the cancer she has fought for years. She did it, to the end, with her usual grace and dignity. What a woman...her children can be proud they're hers.
* * * * * * * * *
We're now snug up in the Panama highlands, at the Panamonte Inn, a country inn with a bit of a snooty viewpoint. Poquete ("po-quet-tay"), the town we're staying in, is tucked into a very tree-and-greenery valley that is part of an old volcano. Everywhere you look, it's crammed with green...oh yes, and people. People wandering around the streets -- and stepping out whenever they feel like it, whether a car's coming or not. People drinking beer outside the liquor store -- or older Americans having loud discussions about weird health problems. (I now know more about when you use socks on disgusting feet problems than I ever cared to.) This place is JAMMED with people, bumping into each other, or just wandering the streets. Reminds me, in some ways, of Aspen, with its pile of houses bumping into each other -- especially big houses.
   There are some intriguing people...Indians here to pick coffee, we're told. The women are very short -- less than 5 ft tall, I'd guess -- and wear bright-colored ankle-length dresses that remind me some of Hawaiian muumuus...but in solids, with what looks like rickrack for trim. (The best photo I could find of them is here...we took a few, but were trying not to rubberneck.) They live four hours or more drive away, but take the bus here and stay for some months, picking coffee. I tried sooo hard not to stare, but was intrigued...
    It's been far chillier here than anywhere else in Panama. Last night, we came into town at the start of a rain-and-windstorm. Lots of mist today, with rain off and on. We spent the afternoon on a coffee tour to the La Miligrosa plantation, hosted by "Mr. Tito." (You can find out more about him and his work here.) The guide went through the whole process, from coffee bush/tree to picking, fermenting, drying and roasting the beans.
    They not only roasted some in front of us, but encouraged us to taste them, both the bean and the ground version, made into coffee. (Tasting it in solution is called "cupping.") Before this, I would have sworn that the dark roast was the most flavorful...but according to Mr. Tito and company, dark roasting is generally what's done with a lesser-quality bean, to mask its lesser flavor. (They also say that the 'export brand' is generally the lesser-quality beans; the good stuff is sold in bulk to a buyer -- often Japanese -- or kept in the country!) What I discovered was that the light was good, but the medium roast really brought out the bean's flavor. And the dark roast? You could just taste 'burn,' not the various nuances. ("Smell the citrus?" the guide said, when we sniffed the light roast. And we could. Fruit trees are grown around the coffee bushes, to protect them and give animals another food source. Some believe that these trees actually lend their essences to the coffee, as well.)
    Mr. Tito (full name: Tito Vargas) built his coffee plantation up from some acres of replanted cow pasture. He grew 9 kinds of coffee beans, and processed them with machinery he cobbled together from junk autos -- even a computer fan! And this iconoclast began to win prizes for his coffee. This year, he took second place in the annual Best of Panama coffee contest -- against very heavy competition. (You'll find it listed as 'Panacoffee.') An amazing guy -- and terrific-tasting coffee.

An Irish Look at the Twelve Days of Christmas

Here it is...and don't be forgettin' I'm Irish, too!

Save Bucks on Your Heating This Winter

Get Rich Slowly, a font of wisdom on all things financial (and practical), has a great post on lowering heating costs this season. 
      Clever Dude also has some good ideas; many are similar to GRS, but there's some new stuff here, too.

      At a time when saving extra money really comes in handy, this subject can be of enormous help.
      We keep our bills below $100 -- even in the deepest winter months! -- by following a few basics:
                  *Heaters are turned off in rooms that don't get regular use
                  *The thermostat is kept at 66 degrees (62 degrees at night)
                  *A space heater and fireplace keep things comfortable in the space we spend the most time in --
                          the living room

      Also, we keep a towel or blanket tightly rolled against the front door. (You can literally feel the cold by standing in front of it. I only wish we could do that with the kitchen cupboards, which are against the north wall. The cold is evident when you open a door, and the dishes stay permanently chilled.)
      Next on the list: thick, heavy curtains against the door that leads out to the deck. I'm thinking maybe red corduroy or velvet; Sylvia Plath sewed curtains like that for her living room, and said seeing them drawn was like being inside a valentine. Warmth and beauty -- a nice combination.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Charley Le Chien

A back post, while I'm still in Panama...

    You may have been wondering how Charley, our new ball 'o fire, is doing.

According to him...or us?

Actually, on most counts, he's been wonderful -- friendly and loving. He loves to doze off snuggled against Husband's chair, paw outstretched against his leg in a sort-of "hey, how's it rolling" gesture.

     Buck, our Weimie boss-in-residence, tolerates and even occasionally welcomes his presence. (Especially when it's cold.) For his part, Charley waits to let Buck go first, and obviously enjoys his company on jaunts outside.

    I'm writing all this to remind myself that, by and large, Charley's been a wonderful dog. It's a help, considering he just pulled a whole batch of freshly-watched clothes off the line, and gleefully trampled all over them.
   "HEY, MOM!!! Thanks for the new toys...and they smell like you and Dad!"
    I'll give him a chance to mend his ways. After, that is, I clean up the bits of paper, plus the latest mangled pen, from his chewing episode this morning. He especially loves pens.

 Charley in front, ready for mayhem -- and Buck, zonked out, snoozing in back

Life on the Beach

Still in in Pedasi. (pronounced 'pe-dah-si') We're at the very bottom tip of the country, through cattle pastures and gently rolling hills -- now into a more sandy area. Palms and greenery are everywhere; we had morning coffee and pancakes under an arbor full of vines, swaying in the (brisk) wind.
    It's definitely warmer in here than in El Vallee ('el vah-yay'), the more mountainous area we spent a few days in. (And loved -- it was a lot like Colorado.) Last night, the air was close and thick. Today, though, it's warm, but the wind keeps it light. Our room overlooks Main St. -- not much happening, except for the occasional dog and man wandering down the thoroughfare. Nice.
    Last night, we had ceviche ('se-vee-chay'), a mixed cocktail of shrimp, fish and octopus, chunks marinated with lime, garlic and onion -- ooh, good. And shrimp in a very garlicky sauce, along with "patt-cone," plaintains (a kind of less-sweet banana) smashed flat and fried crispy. Husband had a $1 Atlas beer. Seafood heaven.
    We're headed out to the beach, but I thought I'd report in first...tomorrow, we're on the way to Boquete ('bo-quet-tay'), which is cooler, back up in the mountains -- and is filled with coffee plantations. We're big coffee drinkers, and are hoping to bring a bunch back to the States...the coffee here is said to be the best in the world.
     We'll be in Panama all week...hey, someone's got to do it!!!  :)

A few things I've already learned about this fascinating country:
    *If you're thinking it's like Mexico, don't -- it's not. The language may be the same (sort of), but the houses are arranged differently, the people dress much more conservatively, and the food is definitely different. For example:
    *'Tortillas' here do NOT mean the Mexican kind. Instead, they're round cornmush-type disks...kind of like polenta. And you have them for breakfast with a slice of cheese on top.
   *Milk and eggs are in short supply. Especially milk. A fair amount of cattle, but they seem to be raised for meat. Brahmans, which are NOT known for their milking capacity.
    We've seen a fair amount of chickens, but the price of eggs in the 'mercados' are in the $1.75 range for a dozen. The chickens like to hang out by the road, and make sudden darts at rushing across. Very freaky, if you're the one driving. After the hundredth chicken acted like he was going to make a break for it, Husband took to sticking his head out and "bawking" at them. (At least it made him feel better about it!) Score, so far: Chickens -- 100, Husband 0.
   *The people are very kind here...but don't know that much English. (We'd read that a lot knew it. Right.) Before you give me the 'ugly American' speech, realize that we're willing, and have been limping along in our bad Spanish. The people are very patient with us, and generally we manage to communicate what's needed. (The one exception was the cop, who saw Husband making a left turn and decided he was really going for a U-turn, which 99.9% of the time, is illegal here. Husband kept saying "lo siento, no comprende," Spanish for 'I'm sorry, I don't understand.' Eventually the cop threw up his hands and let us go. Whoo hoo!)
    *Don't expect spicy food. It's pretty bland, even by American tastes. (Although it's generally been good.)
    *See the earlier comment about the kindness and good manners of the people? Take it back, if you're driving. They rush in front of each other. Stop in the middle of the road, if they see a friend. Drive like banshees -- then slow down to impossible speeds. Swerve in front of you, if you're in the lane they want. Stoplights are generally obeyed; stop signs, however, seem to be 'suggested only.' Panama City was a nightmare of clogged streets and people acting like idiots. Out here in the country, it's easier only because there are fewer cars. Way fewer cars.

    The weather has been overcast some, and rainy some, but very pleasant. The scenery: wonderful -- green, rich and tropical. Fruit trees everywhere. Some flowers. (It's right at the end of rainy season -- winter -- and beginning of dry season -- summer -- kind of the in-between season for them.)The fruit and 'licuados' (juices) are FRESH, somehow richer and sweeter than what we've come to expect. The fish is terrific, too -- but the beef, a little stringy. (Chicken's ok. Bean dishes have uniformly been wonderful.)
    We went to a weekend market in El Vallee, and again in Penanome ('pen-a-nome-ay') yesterday. Piles of veggies, beautifully fresh -- and in El Vallee, lots of painted wood (garish) and weird earrings (ditto). And piles of the most beautiful, glowing molas I have ever seen, with the women who made them sitting nearby. (More on this later. I bought five.)
    In Penanome, a much larger city, more trashy merchandise, including nighties and many piles of bras. On the sidewalk. What are you supposed to do, try one on right there???
    Fireworks are going off -- just the sound, no flashy colors. Husband is waiting, so we can leave for the beach. Hope you're doing well.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Panama City...and It's Raining

But beautiful! We're just at the start of the rainy season here, and the green just glows against the soft gray skies.

We flew into Panama City yesterday. The hotel, though small, is quite comfortable and has a lovely view of a palm-filled backyard out our window. The bed (and armoire) nearly fill the room -- only a few steps to the wall in three directions! But everything is very clean and comfortable.
    I woke up this morning with my back in a twist -- all that riding in airplanes and staying in one position a lot. But it's better now...after a breakfast of cold cuts (is that what Panamanians have...or is this for the Europeans who come here?), fruit (watermelon and mango) and cereal. We'll head out shortly for the countryside, and stay out there. We especially plan to go to Boquete, which is heavy in strawberry and coffee 'plantations.'

Hope your week is going well.