Coffee & Costa Rica

This past weekend, despite multiple almost-changes to travel plans and the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named, I got to join the husband and a friend for a weekend in gorgeous Costa Rica.

I have majorly fond feelings toward Costa Rica, since the surf trip I took there in 2014 with my brother Hunter and our dad remains one of my all-time-favorite vacations. And I’ve seen quite a few cool spots during my years as a Foreign Service spouse.

2014 Trip: Please note that not one of we three amigos escaped sunburn; that’s what 2x daily surf sessions near the equator will get you.

Sadly, there wasn’t time to sprint off to the beach this trip. But an afternoon foray to Doka Estate–a coffee plantation–offered a fun substitute.

I’m not sure what I expected a coffee plantation to look like. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the mini-Eden we discovered after a 45-minute (and unsettlingly twisty) drive into the hills. As a gal from South Texas, I have a sharp awareness of landscapes that get plenty of water (having grown up in a place that didn’t). Evidence of tJuhat rain-fed lushness was EVERYWHERE, from hydrangea blossoms the size of basketballs to the flowering vines climbing over everything.

And the serenity of the estate, tucked into the mountain-scape…. It provided a vivid, lovely contrast to the close-quarter hustle of San Jose’s downtown. With glittering sunshine, cool breezes, and clear, flower-scented air, the landscape practically begged me to curl up in the grass with a book for long, lazy hours.

Continue reading “Coffee & Costa Rica”

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Things She’s Seen”

Given my tendency to write long, winding novels that later have to be hacked back like overgrown rosebushes, I’ve come to really respect those writers who’ve mastered the art of trim fiction.

The Things She’s Seen, the work of brother/sister duo Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, is a prime example. At just 193 pages–half of which are in verse, making them even less text-intensive–this young adult novel nevertheless tackles heavy themes with succinct, heart-pricking grace.

Set in small-town Australia, Things is told in two voices. 15-year-old Beth Teller, recently dead, has lingered as a ghost only her detective father can see. When he’s dispatched to investigate a suspicious death, she accompanies him, desperate to help him survive his grief. Isobel Catching, found wandering near the murder site, is the sole witness of the crime… but will only tell her story in poetic riddles.

Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Things She’s Seen””

Holi Phagwa 2018: Revenge of the Colors

It’s hard to believe it, but the husband and I are already 17 months into our two-year tour in Suriname. That’s a fair chunk of time, but for all we’ve experienced here, one activity still stands out as the clear winner: Holi Phagwa.

As I wrote in my first post on Phagwa, this festival is an important Hindu holiday marking the defeat of evil and the triumph of light. Celebrations are held annually in the Palm Garden park, with musical groups playing, food and beer for purchase, and a tiny train for the wee ones to ride.

My favorite part, however, is the excuse the holiday presents for chunking things (i.e., brilliantly-hued powder) at colleagues, family, and friends. I mean, as adults, how many of these chances do we get (at least without being carted off by the Five-0)? Continue reading “Holi Phagwa 2018: Revenge of the Colors”

I Found Santa’s Workshop!

There’s nothing like living overseas for a year-plus to make you appreciate being home for the holidays. This past month has been a whirlwind of visiting American friends and family as the husband and I have ranged from down south in Texas, all the way up to (what this Texas gal considers) the Far White North of Indiana. Although both of our overseas posts–China and Suriname–celebrated Christmas to some degree, the American Christmas experience is truly unique. In no other place that I’ve lived has the holiday been as sugary, extravagant, bustling, or glistening as I’ve found it to be in the States. Traveling home to share in all that chaotic cheer gives me an effervescent kind of happiness.

One of the moments on this trip that quintessentially captured American Christmas was a stop at Albanese candy store, AKA Santa’s Workshop. Some of our dear, Indiana-based friends took us to this massive–and I do mean massive–sweet shop in western Indiana. The instant we crossed the threshold, we ran into an almost palpable wall of warm, sugary scent. The sights were equally dazzling, with banks of home-made chocolates (maple truffles, malted milk balls, chocolate-covered animal crackers, turtles, haystacks, etc.) and endless bins of rainbow-colored gummy candies (did I mention that their gummy bears are home-made?! From scratch?!) Vintage-style candies lined the back of the store, and an extra wing of the shop boasted a glorious array of glittering Christmas baskets and speciality items. And as if that weren’t enough, a gigantic column coated with flowing molten chocolate stood sway in the midst of all the Christmas sparkle.

Considering all the temptation around, I was pretty proud of the fact that we walked away with only two packs of bubble gum cigarettes (a nostalgic favorite of my husband’s) and 1.5 pounds of chocolate candy (peanut butter meltaways, chocolate-covered cookie dough, and chocolate almond toffee). I’m also grateful that the Suriname to Indiana commute is long enough to prevent our being regulars at Albanese. Because my waist-line cannot take that abuse on a regular basis!

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Breakin’ in 2017, Suriname-Style

Happy 2017!

As those following this blog may have deduced, I’m not exactly a party animal. I like the occasional night out, dinner with friends, etc. But a lot of my free time is spent doing quiet, pajamas-are-appropriate-attire kinds of pursuits: reading, writing, painting.

But if anybody knows how to party, it’s the Surinamese. At no time is this more evident than around the New Year. Tradition here has it that the lighting of firecrackers (particularly long–and I do mean loooong–strings of crackers called pagara) will scare off evil spirits. Practicing this tactic at the turn of the year allows for the new calendar to begin on a zen-like note.

For us, this has meant a week of our neighbors firing off firecrackers at all hours of the night and day, in literal rain and shine alike. Ex-pats’ dogs, unused to the auditory barrage, are losing their minds. The percussion of these blasts is forceful enough to set off security alarms. And there’s always this thought: was that more fireworks? Or a gunshot? Continue reading “Breakin’ in 2017, Suriname-Style”

Relaxing with River Dolphins

So on Friday, we finally did it–my husband and I got out there and did something Surinamesey. (Yes, I’m aware that “Surinamesey” is not technically a word. But I hereby nominate it for official recognition by Misters Merriam and Webster.)

Truthfully, I’m a bit embarrassed that it has taken us so long to get out there and be adventuresome. After all, we’ve been living in Suriname for about six weeks now. We’ve even gotten most of our boxes unpacked and put away around the house. (Though I’m still eagerly awaiting the additional 4 boxes of books headed our way from our D.C. storage unit. To say I’m a little excited for their arrival would be a fine example of litotes.) But with both of us working full-time at the Embassy, and large chunks of my weekend absorbed by writing time, it’s been tricky to carve out time and energy to take the advantage we should of this place we currently call home.

But thanks to some colleagues who are far more organized than I, we finally found ourselves on the sunset Paramaribo River cruise, dolphin watching. Continue reading “Relaxing with River Dolphins”

Settling Down… in Suriname

For some of my readers, this will come as no surprise. But for those of you who’ve been wondering just where in South America we’ve moved, here’s the reveal:

We now call Paramaribo, Suriname home.

If you’re like most folks, this “answer” just prompts more questions. Perhaps something along the lines of: Huh? OWhere again? Or even Suriname? Isn’t that in Africa? 

If so, you’re in good company. When I first heard this country referenced, I assumed its locale was somewhere in South-East Asia. You’ve got your Vietnam, then you’ve got your Suriname…. Continue reading “Settling Down… in Suriname”