Tuesday, February 28, 2012

back to school

Summer vacation is over.

My daughters bubbled with optimism as they prepared their school bags on Sunday night. I will be more organized. I won't lose all my pencils in the first week. I will keep my sweater clean. New teachers, new friends--all that possibility. I love the first day of school.

But I was really sad to see the vacation end. We had become obscenely lazy and so comfortable in our pajamas--records may have been set. Yes I miss them--my companions in summer sloth.

The power went out right after they left on Monday. The silence underlined their absence and made me a little maudlin. Time is passing too fast and my babies are growing up... Not that I miss Selena Gomez, or LMFAO, or their bickering. Oh the bickering; it was becoming excruciating. I had to explain the meaning of the expression familiarity breeds contempt the other day. I used their escalation from sly pinching and poking in the car, to the steady squeal of teasing and taunting that their father and I have had to endure. School, at least, gives me a break from that.

I love the first day of school.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guna Yala

So we finally went to Guna Yala. It has been on my to-do list for a couple of years. And when I realized another vacation was almost over (school starts next week) I set a plan in motion.

This is the Carnaval long weekend. So all the beaches are pretty busy, and the islands in Guna Yala were no exception. When turned onto the Cartí road, we were a little surprised to see we were  in a line of SUVs going over the mountain. The asphalt is completely washed out in several places but the road is good--it would not be fun to drive at night. When we got to Cartí there were a lot of cars and people (it was a little daunting). But fortunately, it was all pretty organized. We arrived without a specific island in mind, and without having made any previous arrangements. So I was kind of impressed that we were on a boat to Isla Perro within forty-five minutes of arriving in Cartí.

We went to Isla Perro because I had asked for an island with good snorkeling. We were not disappointed. The water was clear and there were tons of little fish in the reef. There's also a sunken boat, overgrown with coral and full of fish, just a short swim from the shore. It was really fantastic. My kids hardly took their snorkels off.

We've been to some pretty nice places but this was something else. We were very sad to leave and we are already plotting a camping trip.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How not to be a sweaty mess (from someone who's totally been there)

hot in the city

Of course a tank top and shorts are perfect for this climate, unfortunately they are not proper for all situations. For example, my kids' school has a sign at the entrance reminding parents to dress appropriately (no gym clothes etc..) when entering. I wouldn't say Panama is particularly conservative in dress, but there are definitely expectations and people notice. People here look well turned out: shirts pressed, shoes polished. I have found this equally charming and intimidating. As a foreigner there's a certain amount of leeway(people will kind of expect you to be a slob) but it's never fun to feel underdressed or worse, like a sweaty mess.

Being a teacher, and having to attend functions as a parent I've figured a few things out. I know I will never be as elegant and fabulous as Panamanian woman and I'm totally okay with that--frankly, it looks like way too much work. It's possible that this list will seem really obvious. But honestly, having grown up in Canada, I didn't know. Also, I suspect I'm sweatier than normal people. So keeping that in mind, here are a few things I've learned about dressing in the heat:

  • a sundress with a light short sleeved cardigan is a great combination for any event. You can take the cardigan off if you need to walk somewhere or if you're outside. It will give you some protection from frigid air conditioning. You can put it on if you don't want to show too much skin. Also, the cardigan will cover any pit stains. 
  • Chinos are more comfortable than jeans. I find they need to be pressed, but it's worth it because they are light and they look good.
  • Get a pedicure. It's cheap here. And you won't look like a total slob in your flip flops at the school open-house (where all the other mothers will be in heels).
  • If you have to walk even just a block, you will arrive sweaty. There's a small window of opportunity before the sweat transfers from your body to your shirt--my strategy is to duck into the bathroom and take my shirt off and blot myself dry and put the shirt back on. It sounds like a long procedure, but it only takes a couple of minutes and it really helps. 
  • Light cotton with a print is your friend. It dries quickly and the print won't show sweat.
  • Tissue tees and silk seem like a good idea because they are so light, but they never work for me. The slightest dampness shows and if you're really sweaty it will be horrifying.
  • Carry a shawl in your handbag. The air conditioning in some places can be brutal. Movie theatre are particularly bad (you might even want a sweater for going to the movies).

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's always a good idea to check the traffic before you leave...

Yesterday I had big plans. We were going to get up early and hike Campana. I got up at 6:30 and made sandwiches and packed the cooler. I got everything else ready and somehow we were out the door and on our way at reasonably early hour to get some hiking in before it got too hot (under normal driving circumstances Campana is about an hour from Panama). My kids weren't very into it, but I was mostly ignoring them and hoping for the best.

The first clue that things weren't going to go as planned came when we found out the bridge (Puente de las Américas) was closed for the Ironman race. No problem, we would cross at the other bridge. Now I knew the Ironman was happening, and I knew that they were crossing that bridge, but I hadn't realized that the highway was completely closed all the way to Chorrera. This meant that once we crossed the canal, we were stuck in traffic for almost two hours as police directed cars onto a narrow, winding detour. It was 11:30 when we approached Campana--way too late (hot) for hiking.

We didn't go up the mountain. We drove straight to the beach. I was disappointed because when we hiked Campana last year, we didn't make it to the summit because we took the wrong trail. We'll just have to try again another day. We were rewarded at the beach though. There was almost no one there and the weather was spectacular. We had a great day and frankly, my kids were relieved that they didn't have to hike.

Friday, February 10, 2012

5 observations and kale smoothies

  1. We watched the coverage of the police breaking up the roadblocks on Sunday with dismay. While the road is open, the issue is far from resolved. Through all of this unrest, the general chief of the Ngabe Bugle has stood out like a beacon of dignity and calm. Silvia Carrera is definitely my new hero; she stood firm in the face of violence, lies and sweaty bungling by the government. It's not hard to see why her people chose her.
  2. I've watched more local news on TV in the last week than I normally do in a year. Despite my urges, I did not turn on the TV this morning. I am going back to the internet for my news, it does not suck me in the way the TV does.
  3. We received our copy of Hades: Lord of the Dead this week. We are huge fans of this series. My girls particularly liked Persephone in this retelling. And I have to agree that the Demeter and Persephone story-line is good. I'm not sure about Hades though, I've always thought of him as more treacherous and complex--he's sort of misunderstood-emo-brother to Zeus in this retelling and I'm not sure I like it.
  4. It's dry and windy and yet my house is full of mosquitos. I wish I knew where they were coming from. They don't fumigate at this time of year so the mosquitos seem worse now than they did in the rainy season.
  5. I like this:

In an effort to cure myself, I have been having daily kale smoothies. I don't have a very fancy blender, so I think any blender powerful enough to crush ice will work.

When we go to Pricesmart (which is not very often) we buy the big bags of frozen strawberries and blueberries as a treat. So we've had frozen strawberries and blueberries this past week, but usually we stick to bananas and orange juice.

Kale Smoothie
3-4 normal bananas 6-8 small bananas
fresh squeezed orange juice
bunch of kale
whatever other fruit you like--fresh or frozen
If you are using no, or only a little, frozen fruit add some ice cubes.

Wash and chop the Kale fine. Add the kale and orange juice to the blender first and then put the fruit on top. The juice should cover the kale completely.
Blend, and enjoy.
If you want it to be green, don't use blueberries!

Oh, and you might not think it would be, but it's delicious!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Yes! we have bananas

our bananas are ready--which is cheering

I don't know why I'm so run down. I seem to go from stomach bug to sinus infection to cold... I don't usually get sick and I really hate it. I'm one of those people who secretly views illness in others as weakness, and I don't go any easier on myself. With my kids and husband, I can usually (for a day or two anyway) mask my exasperation; but I can't really hide it from myself. And I have really lost all patience with myself. This morning I woke up and began cataloguing all my failings... seriously, I am mean to me. When I finished making a list of every job I ever applied for and didn't get, I realized I had to get up and do something else. All this is to explain my light posting here. I'm sick and grumpy and terrible company.

I'm feeling better today than I did yesterday and I'm planning to be back in full force on Friday.

Friday, February 3, 2012

5 observations and thick tomato sauce

  1. I haven't been blogging. I have been feeling kind of blah and then I was felled by a stomach bug. There was a moment, lying with my face pressed against the cool tile of the bathroom floor, when I seriously wondered if I was going to survive. This morning I woke up feeling much better. I even went for a little recuperation run.
  2. As I have been a little under the weather, I am off my training schedule. It is frustrating. I'm not one for pushing myself to injury or illness and I stop when I don't feel good. But it's so easy to get discouraged and even though I did run this morning, I can't help feeling bad that it was 5K instead the 8 I have written on my calendar.
  3. Have you seen the news here in Panama? It's alarming. The Pan-American highway has been closed by the Ngöbe-Buglé people to protest recent mining legislation. It's becoming more serious by the minute as food spoils, gas stations run out of gas,  and people just become angry. It looks like the government will send in the police at some point today to force them to open the road. It appears to me, that the government hopes that public opinion will be on their side, as the roadblock creates tremendous inconvenience to thousands of people. The thing is, all the images of young indigenous men wielding rocks that they can come up with, will be nothing beside the images of the riot squad confronting protesting women and children. I think they are missing a great opportunity to take the high road and resolve this peacefully. The whole thing just makes me sad.
  4. I know this list isn't very cheering, but it matches my mood. I'm fighting discouragement on all fronts lately. It's so easy sometimes to  to see the worst. Thankfully I have wonderful students to cheer me, and my kids, well they are hilarious. And I get a double dose of both today, as camp is over and I have two classes this afternoon.
  5. I like this song a lot and I chose this performance over the official video because I love watching Annie play: 

Today's recipe is ridiculously easy and versatile. It may seem overly simple but it's so good. I use this sauce for pizza and it's also good as a pasta sauce. Yesterday I browned some spare ribs before I added the tomatoes and it was delicious. 

Simple thick tomato sauce for pizza or pasta

2-3 tablespoons olive 
3-4 cloves of garlic chopped
a pinch of chilli flakes (or more)
1 big can of tomatoes (28 oz)

The main trick with this is to not burn or brown the garlic (you've been warned). 

In a medium sized saucepan, Heat the oil over a low flame. To the hot (but not too hot) oil, add the chili flakes and garlic. Let it sizzle in the oil for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as you add them. Stir everything and turn the heat up to medium and bring the sauce to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then partially cover, turn the heat down to minimun and let it simmer slowly for an hour or more if you have time.

The sauce will be thick and delicious.