Wednesday, November 30, 2011

beach days ahead

My kids finish school for the year next week. Here's hoping we get lots of nice beach days.

Monday, November 28, 2011

another November holiday (the last one)

The beach was cloudy and rainy. We didn't get a full day. But the sky was spectacular.

November is winding down. Today is the last patriotic holiday of the month of November. Today Panamanians celebrate their independence from Spain (1819). They also celebrate the formation of the first fire department. This morning while I was running, the cacophony of fire trucks parading down Via Brasil drowned out the music on my ipod. The sound of the sirens alarmed me for second, but then I remembered the date, and there was really no mistaking that noise as anything but joyful.

We had a late brunch and spent the afternoon studying and cleaning the turtle tank among other chores. Later we'll brave the crowds and go see a movie. Happy Feet 2 with one daughter and Breaking Dawn with the other. Although I'm not a huge fan of the Twilight franchise, I am grateful my husband is taking the dubbed penguin movie. It's been a perfect holiday Monday, leisurely but not entirely unproductive.

Friday, November 25, 2011

5 observations and banana almond swirl ice cream

  1. Clean water is such a gift. Yesterday morning it was announced that the water here in the city was finally safe to drink. In the afternoon, when I went to fill a pitcher for the fridge, the water that came out of the tap was basically mud. The water seems fine this morning, but yeah, we'll put in a filtration system when we do our kitchen reno. 
  2. The seasonal goodies are out in supermarket. Because of my Argentine husband, we love panettone and always start buying it at the end of November. If you don't know, it's a sweet bread with dried fruit (which doesn't sound that great, but trust me it is). Sweet baked stuff makes me feel yucky and is definitely a migraine trigger for me. But I'm having a very hard time resisting the panettone and I dread all the other yummy things that are coming. We'll see if I'm able to break my Christmas day migraine tradition!
  3. I learned something new in Spanish. I had heard the expression ni un real, which I would have translated as something like, "not one dime." But, I discovered yesterday that a real is a nickel! I always got that reales referred to small coins, but I never clued in to the fact that it was a specific coin.
  4. The last holiday in the month of November is on Monday. We should, and hopefully will, get to the beach this holiday weekend.
  5. This video makes me very happy:

My favourite running fuel is a banana smeared with almond butter and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. This does not upset my stomach and keeps me energized for a long run. The salt is because I sweat a disgusting amount and I love the crunch of sea salt on anything. When I learned that you can make decent ice cream out of frozen bananas I thought of my salty almond butter running treat.

You can make a pretty nice ice cream with just bananas. You slice three or four ripe bananas and freeze them for a couple of hours. Then you you process them in a food processor. The result is creamy and delicious. To this you can a bit of honey (but not at all necessary) and some vanilla. You don't even need an ice cream freezer for this. The consistency is very nice, seriously you'll be surprised.

So to this base of banana ice cream I added a swirl of salty almond butter. I folded a couple of pinches of sea salt into 1/4 of almond butter and swirled it into the bananas.
So simple and so good!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Water, water, every where...

Well we have water now. It's just not fit for consumption. The water coming out of the tap is brown, and yesterday the Ministry of health recommended boiling and straining it.

Panama went through a similar water crisis last year and at the time, the government made a big show of taking measures to solve the problem. Positions were created and a lot of money was thrown around. So it's frustrating to be in the same situation this year.

Because of the canal, Panama has a lot of money. The city's skyline is impressive and the president likes to tell foreign dignitaries that Panama is the Dubai of Latin America. But the ineptitude of the public officials in charge of critical services like health, education and water is astonishing.

I am a believer in tap water. I was so happy four years ago when we arrived in Panama, and I learned that the tap water was safe, and that bottled water wasn't even that common. I've argued with my husband about getting a home filtration system. My feeling has been that if everyone drinks tap water, the quality will have to be maintained. It is our civic duty to insist on quality water for everyone. But I am wavering. This latest crisis, and the fact that the government is looking to loosen regulation on groundwater contamination, have me less certain. I have misgivings, but maybe it is time we get a filtration system.

Monday, November 21, 2011

out of water

Luckily, we didn't have to resort to the water in the turtle tank.
On Saturday morning, enjoying my coffee in bed and (luckily) reading the local paper, I discovered that the water was being shut off for work on the metro. I dashed down to fill some buckets (the thought of unflushed toilets in tropical heat got me moving fairly quickly) and pots in the kitchen. The pressure was already low and it was so lucky that I realized when I did. Shortly after I filled the buckets, the water went off completely. The paper said 14-16 hours. I was not worried; I had filled enough containers. I even went for a run Saturday night expecting that the water would be back on by eleven.

The water was not back at eleven or twelve. I had a sponge bath and thought about how excellent my shower would be in the morning. There was no water in the morning. There was no water at noon. By about two there was a trickle of water downstairs. My buckets were empty, the bathrooms were stinky and everyone in my house was getting grumpy (showering and good humour are definitely connected in this climate). We refilled the buckets from the trickle and resigned ourselves to the situation.  Finally, there was enough water to shower at four. There are some areas that got water even later and the pressure is quite low even today. 

Because of these water problems the Education minister cancelled classes today. So my girls are home enjoying a unexpected day off (the most delicious kind). The water authority announced this morning that the continuing shortage was due to an increase in consumption as people filled their reserve tanks. This is not a very satisfactory explanation and the comments in the paper were good. Oh I see, it's our fault there's no water... what do you think we are stupid?! 

The water pressure is low and it's even lower than it was this morning. There seems to be some problems at the water treatment plant. Last year the city had water shortages in December and January because of a problem at the treatment plant. I hope we are not headed back into a situation like that. I also hope that there's school tomorrow because I love my kids, but by tomorrow they will be bored and bickering. And that is possibly even worse than a smelly toilet.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

5 observations and pictures of my lovely girl (you probably don't need a recipe for soggy nachos)

  1. I was actually really excited to watch a program of folk dancing. The kids put on an amazing show on Thursday night. Any time I see a folklore presentation here I always think, wow, I need to learn more about this. The dancing and all the different devils, and la reina... it is a fantastic spectacle. And my girl looked great on the stage.
  2. I am slowing down. I had a very hard time keeping up to this week. I am dragging my feet because there are only three weeks of school left. The mad rush of December is just around the corner and I can't get out of bed.
  3. I enjoy playing office. I am teaching some corporate classes and I like putting on my slacks and writing grammar structures on the whiteboard in the conference room. But I'm also glad I'm not an accountant, because I would be terrible at that.
  4. Panama is looking a little yucky this week. I don't know what's going on with garbage collection other than that it's not happening. All the trash and the rain are pretty much making Panama's streets unwalkable these days.
  5. It has definitely been an Aimee Mann kind of week.

I have no recipe this week. In fact it's kind of a miracle that I have a blog post at all.
Here's hoping I'm a little less lame next week.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the skirt

When we first moved to Panama I became aware of la pollera sitting in a photo studio with my family waiting to have our pictures taken for immigration documents. I thought it rather curious that teenage girls and newlyweds would have their portraits taken in traditional costumes. I said to my daughter, "it must be a thing here." I had no idea. A couple of weeks later, when I was looking at the list of school supplies, there between the crayons and rulers was pollera (for girls and straw hat for boys).

The Panamanian elementary curriculum includes a weekly folklore class. In the lower grades they learn the dances and in the higher grades they study the stories and costumes as well as dance. By now we've been through a couple of sizes of pollera and I've had the opportunity, in the last four years, to familiarize myself with the local traditions. But I am far from an expert, and when my daughter joined the folklore ensemble at school I was a little intimidated. And when I saw the list for her costume I was frankly terrified.

Tonight's the big, anual performance and we (miraculously) have everything on the list. We also have a friend from my husband's office coming to help me dress her (it's complicated--especially the hair). My daughter will be wearing la pollera montuna ocueña. And I'm pretty sure I couldn't be prouder.

For more information about Panama's traditional pollera check out this site:
The Pollera of Panama

Monday, November 14, 2011

feel better

So, a few months ago I changed my diet to manage my migraines. And it worked remarkably well and I've been running a lot and generally feeling better than I have in ages. I'd been migraine free since the middle of May (I'd been having them weekly before that). Like a fool, because I've been feeling so amazingly good, I started sliding off my wagon. A little cookie here, a piece of pizza there. I'd feel a bit yucky, but no migraine. Then last week I over did it completely starting with a bag of fancy Italian cookies and culminating in pizza and beer on Friday night. I didn't feel well when I woke up on Saturday but I chalked it up to dehydration and went for my run. Within a couple of hours I was in a full aura, roiling stomach, major migraine event. I spent the day in darkened-room misery listening to Andre Agassi's biography. It was very bad (not the book, it's pretty good actually) and I'm still feeling the migraine hangover today.

The weekend would have been a complete bust (of the mommy's got a headache variety) except Jane Goodall was in Panama.
I took my older daughter to see her last night. It was wonderful. What a lovely, inspiring human being. I am so grateful that we got to see her. She is a so full of optimism and energy. She was just back from spending a couple of days in an Indigenous community in the Darien. She mostly spoke about her Roots and Shoots program and the importance of children and youth doing community work. My daughter and I were both enchanted and inspired. My head still hurts but my heart is full.

Friday, November 11, 2011

5 observations and reese's pieces cookies

  1. Kids are amazing storytellers. The above picture is of the epic my daughter and her best friend are working on. It's Shakespeare. There are fart jokes, and references to characters from video games and there are characters from Hindu, Egyptian and Greek mythology. They are totally blowing my mind.
  2. I get a little too caught up in local politics and I drive my husband crazy by talking about it all the time. With all the corruption and intrigue it's like a novel. I am riveted and usually a little indignant.
  3. Our home is beginning to look to look a little like a farm (or zoo). The guy who cuts my grass offered to sell me a couple of ñeques (agoutis). Of course I told him no, as there really are enough animals in my house, and also I'm pretty sure it's illegal to have ñeques as pets.
  4. Look up. For the past couple of weeks the skies have been full of birds. The raptors are migrating South and it's been an awesome sight to see them.
  5. Not surprisingly, this is good:

Yesterday was a national holiday (Nov. 10 marks the date of the first cry of independence--from Spain) so we had a house full of girls. My two favourite eight-year-olds made these cookies:
They used this recipe:
Reese’s Pieces Chocolate Cookies

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

oh the beach

We went to the beach on Saturday and it was spectacular. The weather was amazing. We breakfasted on empanadas in Capira and ate them greasy and warm out of a brown paper bag. The tide was rising and the water was glittering and warm. A friend, entering the Pacific Ocean for the first time said, "It really is pacific isn't it?" We had sandwiches and cold beer. There were people all around us enjoying the day. Sometimes crowds at the beach can be annoying, but the people around us on Saturday were so joyful--they only added to the pleasure of the day. We stopped for pizza on our way home and we didn't get hung up in traffic (it was heavy but fluid).  Perfection.

Friday, November 4, 2011

5 observations and mummy meatloaf

  1. Rabbits don't seem to mind the rain as much as I thought they would. There's really nothing more pathetically cute than a wet bunny.
  2. The city is empty which is always nice. I wish we were at the beach (although the weather hasn't been great). But an empty city has its own rewards. 
  3. I am regretting my decision to have a second cup of coffee this morning. The heartburn and coffee jitters are making me feel horrible. I love coffee but I'm such a lightweight.
  4. It's November. What happened to this year? The Christmas merchandise is out in full force at the stores. People here really love Christmas and in a week or two some people will even be putting up their Christmas trees. The thought fills me with dread--I haven't finished everything on my 2011 to-do list.
  5. This song is playing in my house right now. I am fond of '80s-era Bowie.

I made a mummy meatloaf for kids on Monday. I used this recipe: Halloween Mummy Meatloaf. It tasted fine but I didn't fuss with the noodles very much (I tried but I don't have tons of patience for that kind of thing). Mine looked more like a meatloaf monster:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fiestas Patrias

The patriotic holidays start today here in Panama. My girls are home from school until next Monday. Tomorrow we will go to the school bright and early to salute the flag. My daughter will dress in the typical costume and sing patriotic songs with her classmates on the stage. This kind of patriotism is very foreign to me. I love my country (Canada) but I did not grow up with obligatory public acts of patriotism. I find these ceremonies moving and fascinating.

On November 3rd Panamanians celebrate their independence from Colombia and on November 28th their independence from Spain. The whole month of November is designated as patriotic (mes de la patria). People attach flags to their cars and decorate their houses. There are five days off in the month of November. Many people take advantage of all these holidays and go to the beach. I'm hoping we'll get out to the beach ourselves this long weekend.

Happy Birthday Panama!