Boxed Wine and Plantain Chips

I arrived in Costa Rica Tuesday afternoon after a very uneventful flight through Houston from Portland. I chose an overnight flight so that I would arrive in the early afternoon, knowing that it would be a trek to my friend Darcie’s house outside San Marcos- high in the mountains of Central Costa Rica (HIGH, as in, my hosts were concerned I would get altitude sickness). I have been meaning to come down and visit Darcie for almost two years. I met her through her husband Ben, with whom I attended grad school, and she and I have always had a great time together. Darcie moved to Costa Rica two years ago to run their coffee business while Ben has been engaged with international relief work in Iraq. I finally found the opportunity and so here I am.

Luckily for me, Darcie ignored my insistence that I could find my way to San Marcos on my own and met me with a cab at the airport. I packed ridiculously light – one gym bag – so flew through immigration and customs. Within 30 min of landing I found myself in a cab with a glass of box wine and a bag of sun chips, trying to find a working seat belt before we hit the intercontinental highway. 90 min later, with a break for a pitstop at a roadside shop/restaurant for fried pork nuggets (there is no other description), we arrived at her home above San Marcos, I unpacked into her parent’s guest house (who live across the street from Darcie and the kids), and we enjoyed another glass (or two) of wine before the kids got home from school.

The south prepared me well for the bugs in Costa Rica (as I am typing this I am watching a spider run across my bedroom wall). I made it a habit to shake out my clothes, shoes, and towels before use- mostly for cockroaches but also for small lizards – while here I am looking for tarantulas and scorpions (Darcie probably could have done without telling me her family’s house sits on what used to be called “scorpion hill”). I was warned very sternly, by Darcie and also her oldest Claire (6), to wear my shoes at all times and check my bed before getting in. I also find the “white noise” of cicadas and frogs at night comforting – and I find chickens hilarious and charming so it doesn’t bother me that their rooster likes to wander around my house and crow at all hours of the night. It also helps that chickens eat scorpions, so if they want to hang out by me, they can make all the noise they want.

My time here looks to be extremely relaxing. I really had no set plans or expectations for my time. I do intend to hit the beach at some point, mostly because how could I not, I love the beach and both the Pacific and the Caribbean are only a few hours away. However a trip out will require some arrangements made on my behalf by Darcie for Jose or Carlos to drive me into San Jose, where I can then join a traditional tourist experience with a chartered bus to a hotel on a beach somewhere for some snorkeling and sunning. I suppose that I could attempt to take the local bus to the beach from San Jose, however my Spanish is terrible and I am always getting lost, so that might not be the best idea. Darcie’s youngest Henry (3) helped me with a little Spanish on my first night, however he is pretty obsessed with crocodiles and we spent a good part of the evening drawing them on the floor and then crashing his toy cars into them, and I don’t think the words for “truck” or “crocodile” will be all that useful to me. Henry is also adorable in that he switches easily between Spanish and English while talking to me – which is hard for me to follow so sometimes he repeats himself when it is obvious that I am not following the extremely important information he is imparting to me.

Today looks to be my first short run since my arrival. I was encouraged by my hosts to give myself a full day or two to acclimate, so yesterday I just lazed around. After breakfast with the kids and sending them off to school in a cab, Darcie and I watched some World Cup and then took a cab into town for some lunch and grocery shopping. It is such a tiny town that everyone knows who she is and stops to say hi (it did crack me up when she sent me her address before I left – which is The Gringos in San Marco– apparently that is all she needs- and if you want to come visit, now you have the address!). Today will likely be more of the same – coffee, hammock, run, hammock, read, wine…perhaps plan family vacation to the Pacific or figure out where we can get some sparklers for a little 4th of July dinner/party we are going to have for the kids.

Guest house where I am staying

View from my front door

An Ode to my Love of Spandex

I’m not shopping that much these days- in fact, I am not really dressing up that much anymore. My favorite gold pumps have been traded in for flip flops, my jewelry has been tucked away in my dresser, and my jeans have been replaced by spandex. Yep, you heard me. Every day is spandex day. Yesterday I completed all my errands (including shopping and a trip to the airport) and powered through two training runs – and was in spandex from the moment I woke up (actually, I also slept in spandex) until the time I went to bed. My grad school friends are pretty lucky I didn’t discover just how comfortable spandex is until recently because I likely would have attended class in it.

To clarify, I am not wearing indecent spandex. I don’t wear full body suits, tiny booty shorts, or (god forbid) padded bike shorts. Those are just gross. If you wear padded bike shorts, please do us all a favor and bring other shorts to wear over them when you stop to get coffee or go to the grocery store. I am purely a yoga pant kinda person who happens to also have a lycra long sleeve running shirt that is super comfy (but missing the rain shell…left that in New Orleans).

Today I went shopping for my trip to Costa Rica and for Ragnar. My purchases basically amounted to more spandex items. My favorite running/yoga/roll about town pants are Nike Perfect Fit capris (which have been discontinued) and I was interested in checking out the LuLuLemon Run:Empower Crop 2 capris – which were highlighted in Running World as the best running pant for women.  They are very cute and extremely comfortable, and not at all attractive on me. I was under the impression that I have large knees, but after trying on these pants, I can only say that my knees are not my biggest area of concern. These are definitely not the running pants for me, let alone “around town” pants. I would make the bike spandex people look positively attractive.

Happily, I discovered a new level of spandex – dress up spandex. While I have a few sundresses, none are really ideal for traveling. They are either too dressy, or they wrinkle easily, or they are jersey (which is not attractive if you sweat, which tends to happen when hanging out in tropical climates). So when I came across a spandex dress at Patagonia this afternoon, I had to get it. It packs well, is easy to wash, dries fast, and best of all, it is even more comfortable than my running clothes.

On a training note, I am catching up on my runs. As I mentioned previously, I completed a double run day yesterday. I probably shouldn’t have finished off an entire pizza at Ken’s the night before – but I have been craving pizza lately. I managed to finish off an entire pie when I closed down Delancey in Seattle last weekend (they were very nice, they also gave us left over deserts from the evening. How can you pass on free deserts?! Although I will say, I think the place is overhyped. It was started by the Orangette blogger and, while it is worth a visit, isn’t worth a long wait). No pizza today –  tomorrow I tackle hill repeats.

Ken's Pizza - Portland

Power Through

I adopted a new outlook on my “summer vacation” about a month ago. It’s hard to let go after years of overscheduled days – for a while I continued to make and complete lists of daily tasks. However, I have now fully embraced my relaxed lifestyle – perhaps a bit too much. As I am preparing to leave for Central America, I realize I need to power through some harder workouts, complete some work tasks, and put in some hours of planning and prep. And so I started today…well… I started this evening after a bit of inspiration.

This morning I rolled out of bed, got dressed, and headed to the bar to watch the World Cup. At 10:30AM. Yes, that is when I got out of bed. I also made the plans for the bar on Facebook. On my phone. While I was still in bed. In my defense, I was completely enthralled by Anderson Cooper’s recaps of the oil hearings  and managed to watch the entire 360 newscast twice, plus Katie Couric, and read every article in the nytimes. At 2AM.  When I arrived at the bar I encountered people who had been there for hours and who had also biked there. Even among people who are spending a Wednesday morning drinking I felt a little lazy. (I feel the need to clarify that I don’t normally sleep past 8AM…ok 9).

I had an awesome time. My friend Meg organized. For those of you who don’t know Meg, she is one of the most enthusiastic and passionate people I have ever met and is a ton of fun to hang out with. Meg has also found herself with some extra time and I am amazed by everything she has done – she is networking, learning how to upholster and last week she learned how to pickle.  I want to learn how to pickle!- but that is another story. Meg recommended some books that I might actually benefit from reading (as in, they are applicable to my work), gave me tips on great local runs, and also introduced me to Trish – who writes an AMAZING blog called Eating is Art. She then sent me a summary email a few hours later. You can see why I decided that I needed to increase my daily productivity level. Which reminded me, I have a blog that I don’t actually write in anymore….

As I have freely admitted, I am behind on my training. It is very, very humbling. When I started this blog I was tracking against the difficult training program for Ragnar. I am now behind the easy training. Ouch. I can blame New Orleans, vacation, or this absolutely horrible nagging cold I haven’t been able to shake (yes I have seen a doctor…it’s just a chest cold and it is slowly getting better). But the bottom line is I need to suck it up and get the training runs done. So that is what I did this evening. I skipped Ken’s Pizza (another great Meg rec, thanks Meg) and pushed myself through my longest run in two months. I recently read that positive thinking while you are running helps you push through the pain – I’m not sure if that was what helped or the fear that I am only five weeks away from Ragnar.  I can barely make it up the stairs but it felt good to finish.  And tomorrow morning when I am enjoying a beer with soccer, hopefully my sore legs will serve as a reminder that I need to pass on the second order of fries.

Summer in Seattle...finally

Team Nice Ass

With less than two months to go, I found myself in the Bay Area on a beautiful (if windy) day this week. After two weeks of absolutely no running, due to excessive nightlife (it was a wedding week after all) and a horrible head/chest cold, I laced up my sneakers, put on my earphones, and headed out along the Fisherman’s Terminal for a run. I was actually shocked at how great it felt to be running again. I took a loop out of my hotel, ran past the Bay Bridge and circled around AT&T park. The fact that some middle-aged guy decided to challenge my pace made it all the more interesting.

I am now entering a newly inspired, perhaps panic influenced, running mode. I have a little more than six weeks to prepare for my race. My sister has been reading my blog, or lack of one lately, and decided to give me an easy leg of the race based on my “training level” so I am not totally scared, but I know that there is work to be done. I purchased Running Magazine on the flight home – and found myself focussing more on the personal articles than the training tips. I am completely in awe of the Dipsea Run in Marin, a run that allows personal pleas for entry and allows for shortcuts to the finish.  Unfortunately for me, I am now back in the Pacific Northwest and it is POURING every day. I found a brief 30min of cloudbreak yesterday and took the opportunity to head down to the Portland waterfront for a jog. It’s Rose Festival season, so I was easily distracted/entertained by the  empty carnival rides operating along the path. While there are many paths to run in the PDX area, I enjoy zig zagging across the bridges, some of which have paths located under the car/trainways near the water.

We still need a team name – I think. I need to check in on this fact. New Orleans is hosting weekly races this summer with the local running teams, which was forwarded to me. Even more amusing than the fact that the races are sponsored by Miller is the list of team names. My personal favorite- see subject line. I wonder if Leah would be up for copying this name at Ragnar.

Southern Life

I love the South – it feels like another world down here. I love the people, the weather (I prefer to think of it as “balmy” vs humid), and the amazing music, food, and culture. It has been two weeks since I arrived in New Orleans and while I feel like I am at home most of the time, little things still remind me that I spent a lot of time living on the west coast.

1) Bugs. They are big and plentiful. I remember turning off the lights in my old house here in the city and hearing the occasional cockroach click across the floor or mosquito buzz around the room. I forgot to shake out my bath towel earlier this week and had a (small) cockroach skitter down my legs. And on Wednesday, the small lizard that I have been unsuccessful in catching, decided to sleep on me, so when I rolled out of bed it fell off my shirt and onto my foot. Lucy also managed to catch a dragonfly the size of a small bird that got into the house and before I could stop her, ate it (I gagged). However, I do love the hum in the air at night, even if it is the sound of cicadas in the trees.

2) Recycling. This one kills me. They don’t recycle in New Orleans. I admit that I am not the most avid recycler or composter in Seattle  (sorry mom) but it hurts my heart just a little to throw out aluminum cans, or bottles, and even paper. When was the last time you threw out a pop can or a beer bottle? In the trash?

3) Southern Gentlemen. Yes, they still exist. They open doors, call you darlin’, and always offer you their seat. The realization that I am entering a new culture always starts on the plane trip down. No matter what man is sitting next to me on the flight, they always buy the lady a drink. I don’t consider myself an old fashioned girl, but I do love a man that goes out of his way to be gentlemanly.

4) Take your time. I love and I hate this one. People are in no rush down here: to go somewhere, to say something, to check you out at the grocery store. They are on their own clocks. And you just have to go with it, nothing will make them move faster. I have never been in a slower line than the express checkout line at the Whole Foods in New Orleans. It’s like time is standing still.

5) Friendliness. Everyone talks to you. EVERYONE. Looking at a new dress at Walmart (yeah, I said it – there’s a piggly wiggly down here too) – someone will stop and tell you that either she or her friend own it and give you the scoop on how it fits. People ask for directions, by hanging out their windows, and then stop to chat about where they’re from and where they are going. You always look people in the eye when walking down the street, and are expected to give them a nod or hello (something I was told to stop doing when I moved to Seattle). And especially in a small town like New Orleans, everyone knows everyone else. There aren’t six degrees of separation down here, there are three.

6) 30 is the new 40 (instead of the other way around). The south is young. I was picking up some wrapping paper at Target this week for a gift I needed to wrap, and the woman in front of me looked barely over 24, yet she was buying clothes for her SEVEN year old. I was wished a Happy Mothers Day numerous times, because why wouldn’t I have kids by now? If you go out at night, and you are in your thirties, expect to be the oldest one at the bar who isn’t a tourist. The last time I lived here I was 24 and “old” to me was 28. The nightlife is a little different for me now.

7) Community. Perhaps I notice this more because my friends in the city are all in education, law, or community work – or maybe because it is New Orleans-  but there is a deep and genuine connection with their community. They know their neighbors. They have a neighborhood bar or restaurant that they hang out at and know the other people in their neighborhood who stop in. They know what is going on – in politics, in the schools, with the families – and they talk about their city all the time. It’s nice to listen to people who spend a significant amount of their time thinking about how to make their community and city better, and who are actively involved.

Home Sweet Home

As much as I love Seattle, and as hard as it is to leave when during the summer when it is beautiful, I needed to get out of town for a while. As luck would have it, a couple of friends in New Orleans were headed to China for a month and offered up their house, car, and dog – so here I am until June.

The house is beautiful. Located right off Magazine in Uptown, it is set back off the main street – you wouldn’t even know it was here if you happened to walk by. You walk in through a locked gate, circle around a building and enter into a small brick courtyard with what I can only imagine was once a double shotgun house but has been converted into one residence. The front courtyard doesn’t see much use because I prefer to hang out on the back porch, sitting in one of the chairs and relaxing with a book or attempting to teach Lucy (the aforementioned puppy/dog) how to play fetch. Its so warm that during the day I just leave the back door open and let Lucy run in and out of the house. We are right down the street from a church, so every morning and every evening at 6pm I hear the bells play.

My first week has been completely uneventful. I run down the St Charles streetcar line in the mornings, go for a walk with Lucy or run errands in the afternoons, and then perhaps meet up with a friend or watch a movie in the evening. I can’t remember when my life was this quiet – it’s nice but also a little hard to get used to. I made an attempt to volunteer for the gulf coast cleanup in some of my spare time, however they aren’t organized or ready to accept volunteers yet, so I am thinking about looking into other organizations.

This evening I am making strawberry shortcake and heading over to a house for Treme. I attempted to catch the one community garden/market basket in the city – but got the days mixed up. I am still stuck on my Ballard farmers market routine for Sundays and the Holygrove garden here in Nola is on Saturdays- so instead of fresh local strawberries, I had to settle for Whole Foods. I think it will be fine. This recipe I use is absolutely the easiest shortcake/tart to make and absolutely delicious – the key is the whipped cream. I put in 8oz of cream cheese, which makes it creamier and much richer- I included it below.

Seeing Stars

The NYC leg of my trip over, I arrived safely in New Orleans Thursday night – exactly one week ago. I need to get better about this blogging.

I was just in time to take in the last weekend of Jazzfest. I love, love, love Jazzfest and am so lucky that my friend Jim offered to put me up for the weekend so that I could attend – even though Jim was Jazzfested out (due to the arrival of nine of his former frat brothers the weekend before. The beer pong table was still set up when I arrived). It may not bring in the newest acts like Coachella or Bonnaroo, but it brings something that no other fest has – regional music. From the gospel tent, to the Fais Do-Do (zydeco and cajun) and Jazz stages, you get to see some legends in a range of music genres. It’s also usually sweltering hot- which makes it that much easier to not care about how dirty and gross you get (quickly). With inhibitions gone, you are free to dance the two-step to a zydeco band, enjoy all the crabcakes and crawfish pie you want, and have a couple of beers. And when the day winds down, there is always a classic rock band taking the main stage – from Van Morrison to Aretha Franklin to Pearl Jam (who I caught Sat night).

 However, this year my Jazzfest weekend was cut a bit short. I was exhausted Friday and all I could think about was unwinding – so I spent the day relaxing at the house, walking around Uptown (where Jim lives) and catching up on some work. I was determined to keep the chill atmosphere going through the evening as well, intending to only have one beer with my friend John who drove in from Tallahassee for the weekend and perhaps meeting up with my other friend Mike who flew in from Seattle. 1-2 drinks max…that was what I told myself. Instead, I ended up catching a cab home 7 hours later from Frenchman, at 3am – the first one to leave. John and Mike were abandoned!

In my defense, Frenchman during Mardi Gras and Jazzfest is insane! Located in the oldest part of the French Quarter, known as the Marigny, Frenchman street boasts a row of jazz and music bars and is a sea of tourists- listening to brass bands that play on corners, purchasing drinks from whatever bar has the shortest line, and basically attempting to get into as much trouble as they can in the shortest amount of time possible. I managed to get John out of Frenchman for a few short hours, dragging him to Mimi’s a few blocks away – which was substantially quieter and where we could grab a bite to eat and take in the Laker game. Despite being the first to leave Friday, I woke up with a tiny hangover and managed to get to Jazzfest around noon (the earliest of the bunch, however I was still late to meet my Nola friend Em).

This year the weather was threatening to rain all weekend. The weekend before it turned into a field of mud, littered with abandoned shoes. I packed extra shoes, poncho, jacket, and a chair (who wants to sit in mud?) all in prep – luckily none was needed. We started out in the children’s tent – checking out a TFA staffer who was double-dutching before a middle school team took the stage. Right before it began I remarked that I loved the woman’s dress two rows up…it was only later after recognizing Peter Sarsgaard in the tent that I realized that I had unknowingly complimented Maggie Gyllenhaal. Within the next 20 min it seemed like every time we turned around there was someone else – Nick Cage, Jason Lee, and athletes I would never recognize or be able to name. Apparently the kids tent is the place to be.

The rest of the day was just as I remembered Jazzfest, except a little more packed than it was a decade before, which is the last time I attended. Relaxing on the grass and taking in some good music, camping out for the main stage, eating way too  much delicious, cheesy, greasy food.

Unlike other music festivals, leaving is one of the best parts of the day. Walking the streets outside the festival while it is still light, checking out the crawfish boils and bbqs in the neighborhood, listening to the kids playing music in the street, and saying hi to all the families  hanging out on the front porches taking in the scene. We wound through MidCity into Bayou St John, finding our way to my friend Andreas house, where we reconvened for dinner and maybe another drink or two. We relived some of our favorite moments of Mardi Gras, only two months ago, when we wound through the same streets after the parades.

Hanging out with my old friends from Nola, running into other friends from the past decade, and taking in the sound and food of one of my favorite cities. It was a great way to kick of my one-month stint in New Orleans.

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