Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Summit Municipal Park

Summit is a botanical garden and zoo. It's 20 km from Panama on the road to Gamboa. We usually go a couple of times a year and my kids always enjoy it. The grounds are beautiful and well kept. There are lots of picnic shelters and three playgrounds. There is a nice variety of trees and they are mostly all labeled. There's also an oropendola colony which is always cool to watch. But the big attraction is, of course the zoo.

The zoo has a decent selection of local animals including some big cats and a harpy eagle. There has been a real effort to modernize the zoo and the big cat enclosures are large and modern. It is difficult to see them in the heat of the day when they retreat to their dens. The harpy eagle is in a large enclosure, but it still makes me a little sad to see such a large raptor in a cage. There's an interpretive centre with some film footage of the harpy eagles in the wild. Harpy Eagles are threatened and i think it's worth the trip to Summit just to see the eagle. There is also a tapir. It is so beautiful, if you get to see it awake you will be rewarded with the biggest, soulful, brown eyes you've ever seen.  I would love to see one in the wild someday. The only exhibits I don't really like and can't reccomend, are the monkeys.

It's pretty easy to see monkeys in the wild around Panama. If you go to Parque Metropolitana early in the morning there's a good chance of seeing titi monkeys--which are actually tamarins and are sooo cute. We've seen howler monkeys and capuchins on the trails in Parque Soberania plenty of times. At Summit the monkeys are in older enclosures, and if you go on Sunday, you will probably see people feeding them chips beside the sign exhorting them to not feed the animals. Watching a monkey with orange cheeto dust on its face swing around its cage depresses me. I prefer to see monkeys in the wild.

So Summit is a nice, non-strenuous way to spend an afternoon, particularly with kids.

Monday, January 23, 2012

el charco

El Charco is a hiking trail and swimming hole in Soberanía National Park (25 km from the city).On Sunday we walked the short hiking trail and had a picnic. While we were eating we saw some capuchin monkeys. The trail is short, 15 minutes--I'm not sure what the exact distance is. It is a very easy hike but you have to cross a small creek in two places so be prepared to take off your shoes or wear something that can get wet.

The swimming hole is a pool where the creek has been damned. There's a picnic area with bathrooms and places to barbeque. On Sunday it was packed. But I imagine it's empty during the week, and I know it's less busy after summer vacation is over. We like it best during the rainy season when the pool is a little fuller and the waterfall a little bigger. But during the rainy season, the trail is muddier and the little creeks you have to cross are fuller.
March 2009, we had it all to ourselves
Our kids love this spot and I would really recommend it for families. Kids under twelve get in free and residents pay one dollar. I always forget to check the price foreigners, but I think it's three dollars.

Take a picnic and your bathing suit!

Friday, January 20, 2012

5 observations and cinnamon buns

Esterillos Oeste, Costa Rica

  1. I found myself looking at lunch boxes this morning. Summer holidays will be over before we know it. We are having so much fun--it makes me sad to think of it ending and of having to buy new lunch boxes.
  2. I practiced driving this week. I felt pretty good (my impression is I haven't forgotten--I'm just rusty) but also nervous. I never liked driving but now I really need to. It's kind of funny that I'm going to start driving again here in Panama, because the traffic is CRAZY. 
  3. I'm doing some volunteer teaching for a foundation. I really love it. I'm working with some amazing women and it takes me into Casco Viejo twice a week... it's perfect.
  4. My older daughter is swimming again. She was on a swim team a couple of years ago and kind of burned out. I had a hard time letting her quit at the time, but in the end I couldn't ignore her misery. She's ready to give it another try and I'm glad. 
  5. Etta James died today. My oldest was born at home with a midwife. I had a bunch of music that I'd chosen for the labour and birth and it included some Etta James. In fact the only music I remember from that labour and birth is Etta James. Rest in peace and thank you for helping me bring my daughter into the world:

This is my mom's recipe. I've actually cut her recipe in half because the original recipe was insane.
Cinnamon Buns
3 cups warm water
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
3 eggs beaten
1 tbsp yeast
10 cups all-purpose flour

for the cinnamon filling:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2-3 tbsp cinnamon
3/4 cup butter

Stir the yeast, water,  and half the flour together. If you have a mixer with a dough-hook mix it for five minutes. I use a stand mixer and just go do something else for a few minutes. If you don't have a dough hook you can do this with a wooden spoon. I would say 150 strokes (circular and folding if you know what I mean). The idea is to develop the gluten and add some air. Let this mixture rise for 20 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and knead together. Keep the dough as sticky as you can stand. Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes. Let the dough rise. I usually punch it down and let it rise twice, but one big rise would be fine.

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and butter.

Divide the dough in two. Roll one half into a rectangle and spread the sugar mixture as evenly as you can on the rectangle. Roll up the dough and cut into buns (around an inch thick). Put the buns on parchment-lined pan. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Let the buns rise for half an hour and bake in a preheated (400°C) oven for 20-25 minutes.

Let them cool upside down so the syrup doesn't all get stuck on the bottom.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

5 years

my babies five years ago exploring on the caribbean side

We've lived in Panama exactly five years. It's the longest we've lived anywhere.  And we are settled--house, work, pets, school--the full catastrophe. I think this is it, at least until the girls finish school. I never imagined Panama in my life, and now my children are growing up here. Does life ever work out the way you expect it too? 

Five years ago we arrived here hungry for some city life after a couple of years of small-town living in Costa Rica. My kids did dance classes, and art classes, and swimming lessons--it was a feast after a famine.  Beside the classes, I have very fond memories of exploring the city with my girls (then 3 and 7) in the weeks before school started. Every day was an adventure, from the supermarket to the Smithsonian marine exhibit. This is probably why I love this city as much as I do-- along with beauty, we encountered kindness and good humour every where we went.  Also, we spent every evening in a very pretty park, where the girls quickly made friends and played wild, convoluted games of tag that went on for hours. It was  as easy a transition to a new country as could be imagined or desred.

The first blush is off my initial infatuation with Panama. I've seen the grubby and mean side of it. But I still love it. And there are lots of places I haven't seen, and this city still holds surprises. I am pretty sure I can be happy here for years to come.

Friday, January 13, 2012

5 observations and cookies

  1. I am suffering from some terrible hay fever this week. All that runny-nosed, self-pity has kind of dulled my senses--forgive me, I haven't been very observant this week.
  2. I am tired of taxis. I flagged down six taxis yesterday before finding one that would take me home. Taxis here charge by zone, so it's much better for them to make lots of short trips in the same area. It is challenging to get a taxi to go across town at rush hour. I had to plead with the sixth taxi.  Please, my kids are waiting for me to get home. I felt pathetic but it was effective.
  3. My eight-year-old has discovered the telephone this vacation. She spends hours on the phone with one of her friends. It's cute (like when she tells her friend about the boys at camp), annoying (a discussion about the plot of Sponge Bob) and a little alarming (isn't this teenage behaviour?) all at the same time.
  4. I am tutoring an eight-year-old boy. The goal is conversational fluency, so we pretty much spend the hour playing board games and reading. It's fun.
  5. This helped me get through this itchy-nosed, watery-eyed week:

This is the recipe I regularly use for chocolate chip cookies(it's stuck to the side of my fridge). I usually use all whole-wheat flour:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

somebody who/that...

I'm the kind of person that takes too many pictures of her cat.

I've been teaching relative pronouns. I like guys that aren't too serious. I'm the kind of person who needs coffee in the morning. We use this structure to define and describe ourselves and others. It's intermediate grammar and my students always catch on fast. I think we come naturally to defining ourselves. I'm this, but certainly not that. I've been thinking a lot lately about this defining and describing. It comes up all the time with my kids and lately with myself.

Last night, I was leaving the house to go for a run when my neighbour called out to me. She said there was a toad in her house, and she needed help getting it out. I called my husband, I wanted to go for my run and figured he could deal with it. My husband went in, and then quickly came out and called me. It was upstairs, in the toilet. Well, this I had to see. It wasn't a toad, it was a frog. A big frog, like the kind they disect in biology class, swimming around the toilet bowl. Can't you just grab it? I asked my husband? He sheepishly, shook his head. With a plastic bag over my hand I grabbed the frog and took him out to the little creek than runs by our place. As I was going, my neighbour said, I knew she would do it, she loves animals. I was so surprised, I have never defined myself in this way. Because you know, my sister was the animal lover, I was the bookish one. Later, with my husband we laughed because, I had no problem grabbing the frog, but putting my hand in someone else's toilet (it was immaculate) totally grossed me out. For him, the toilet wasn't a problem, but he could not touch the frog.

I was telling my daughter this over breakfast. And I asked her, which kind of person are you: frog or toilet? She was frog of course. She's a lot like me in many ways. I'm making her go to sports camp but she hates it because, Mommy I'm not a sports person, I'm an arts person. I used to think exactly the same thing and I was totally wrong, and I wish I had figured it out sooner. I tell her, you can be both. Your brain will work better if you move your body. She doesn't believe me. She doesn't actually hate camp either; she hates the idea of it. She admits she has fun, but refuses to like it. I like to draw and tell stories, not do sports. I wish she wouldn't limit herself like that.

She'll probably figure it out though. One of these days someone (who's not her mom) will say, wow you're so strong. And she'll believe it and take it on, and define herself with it. Like me, the animal lover. I'm the kind of person who saves frogs from toilets. The perfect example sentence for my students tonight.

Monday, January 9, 2012

the beach and some rambling thoughts on the day

On Sunday we went to the beach. It was hot and sunny and perfect. The beach was predictably busy for a summer long weekend.  And traffic out of the city on Sunday morning was unpleasant and slow. But despite traffic, and crowds (and searching for parking in our usually quiet spot) it was lovely and relaxing the way the ocean always is. Toes buried in hot sand, watching my husband and kids goof around in the water is is pretty much the most soothing activity I can imagine. I didn't even read, I was mostly just still, half watching and half sleeping. It was hard to leave such perfect, drowsy, contentment and we dragged our feet (and the cooler) back up to the car.

The traffic was predictably bad on the way home. Thankfully we didn't see any accidents and it was slow but steady. We listened to the radio, to a program about January 9th. January 9th is Día de los Mártires (Martyrs' Day) in Panama. It commemorates the 1964 riot. Until I heard this radio program, I hadn't actually known it was a riot. I knew there had been an incident with the Panamanian flag in the Canal Zone and some students had been killed, but I'd never heard the details before. It was shocking frankly and it made for a very thoughtful ride home (here's a god summary of the events).

So while it was a slow drive home it was informative. It's certainly not the first time I contemplated Panama before 1999 (when the canal was reverted to Panama). But the image of students climbing a wall to plant their flag, and the chilly arrogance of the Americans in the Canal Zone (and yes I am aware that institutional racism and segregation were status quo in 1964) was compelling. I would love to see this story told from a few angles; including: the presidents (Chiari and Johnson), the diplomats and the American students and their families. Oh, and the military... Is there a movie? I don't think so. There should be a movie.

It would be interesting to see the American Colonial period in Latin America depicted in film. I used to think about this when we lived in Costa Rica. The dilapidated luxury of the Zona Americana (the former enclave of the United Fruit Company) in Quepos used to fascinate me (the country club splendor of the old tennis courts and swimming pool seemed so at odds with the grubby town at the foot of that hill).  Has anyone made a film about this, or set a novel in  a "zona Americana" of the 1950s and early 60s? I know that there are so many stories that don't get told but this seems like a gaping hole.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

5 observations and quinoa with spinach

  1. The weather is beautiful and I crave the beach. Sunday is sure to find ne somewhere hot and sandy.
  2. I love how many people are out exercising in the morning. It's like a party in the park! I know most of them won't keep it up past January, but all that motivation and optimism is cheering.
  3. At a New Years party a guy told me how he didn't make resolutions; that he preferred to go with the flow. I like the way that sounds, but it doesn't work for me. Going with the flow always seems to lead me back to my old ruts (the easy, worn path). I actually write an ambitious to-do list in January and refer back to it (like the driven person I am not). I didn't tell that to the guy at the party though... a to-do list doesn't sound nearly as cool as going with the flow--I felt really square.
  4. The new Muppet movie has finally come to Panama. If it's dubbed I'll be disappointed.
  5. This is pretty:

After all the ham and cinnamon buns and cookies that were Christmas I am more ready for something a little more nutrient-dense.

Spinach and Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
14 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
6 cups spinach, washed, trimmed of stems and cut into bite-sized pieces (2 bunches)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 or 3 lemons
feta cheese
3 or 4 chopped tomatoes
olive oil for drizzling and saute-ing
salt and pepper
Cook quinoa according to package instructions and set aside.
Saute the spinach in a little olive oil. Once the spinach is wilted add the garlic and garbanzos and heat through. Squeeze a lemon onto the mixture and sat and pepper to taste.
Stir the spinach mixture into the quinoa. Add lemon and salt and pepper to your taste.
Garnish the the quinoa with the tomato and feta. Drizzle with olive oil.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

here we go...

Christmas always kind of gets me down and this year was no exception. The holiday bustle of the city made me feel anxious. The traffic was horrid and the stores were full. Every person I encountered in the week before Christmas seemed fraught and ill-humoured. Every time I went out to do some kind of holiday errand I came back in the blackest, lowest mood. And I had no reason to feel anxious or stressed, we were planning the most low-key Christmas possible. It was just in the air, all that stress and expectation. We did, in the end, have a very mellow Christmas. Thankfully, Panama is back to her less-crazy self, and I made it through December.

We had a wonderful week in Costa Rica. It was exactly what we all needed. We spent time with old friends and visited some of our favourite spots. And I ran. I ran on the beach and it was good for my soul. My holiday blues were totally cured. 

My first night class of the year is tonight. 2012 here we go...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

After a beautiful relaxing week in Costa Rica we are on our way home. Holidays are over and it's time to  find our routines again. We all love Costa Rica but crossing back into Panama this evening felt like coming home. 
Rested and ready (and home) I will get back to regular blogging on Wednesday.