Thursday, January 30, 2014

Costa Rica in Pictures

My last post about Costa Rica - I promise!

 It was difficult posting pictures during my visit because our cabin's internet service was slow and often dropped out completely. 

A few shots from my Costa Rican adventure -
Outdoor market in Domenical.
The beautiful blue Pacific Ocean
One of my new friends.
Monkeys spent their days outside our cabin, but can't say they are friends. They do not like humans bothering them  The  monkeys are known to pee on people if they get too close or bother them.
 In the center of this picture is a banana spider weaving his web.
The red in the center of this picture is the head of a woodpecker. He is hard at work extracting food from the tree. 
Note the taco in the macaw's left hand.
This peacock showed off just in time to take the picture!

My friend Jane. This is how we both felt after our  physical exertions.  She is wearing long pants because this was  taken when we were on our horseback riding trip.
Food and craft market in Quepos.
The 'Cheesecake' tasted pretty good. Main ingredient: cashews.
My trip is over and I am home once again, not exactly enjoying the snowy, frigid weather. 

Sunday is Groundhog Day. Think positive and hope spring is right around the corner!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ticos and Ex-Pats - The Diversity of Costa Rica

 Ticos are locals, born and raised in Costa Rica. Ex-pats, persons living in a country and culture different from their own, are numerous in the country. Visiting a foreign country the assumption is you will meet locals. That is not exactly what happened during my short visit to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is often found on lists of overseas retirement havens. Ex-pat communities catering to retirees are springing up around the country. Housing costs are reasonable, the cost of living affordable, the climate attractive, health care very good, and the democratic, popularly elected government stable.

Most ex-pats I met, however, are not retirees. They are young and middle-aged Americans working and living here.

The owner of a deli offering great sandwiches hails from Atlanta and has lived in the country four years. He spends days at his open-air cafe supervising a small kitchen staff and schmoozing with customers. Nights he housesits for migrators (a.k.a. snowbirds) while owners are out of the country. His cafe offers Wi-Fi, and while we enjoyed our sandwiches three middle-aged (ex-pat) men in shorts and T-shirts took advantage of the service. One was conducting a job interview, answering the interviewee's questions about life in Costa Rica.

The owner of another beachside cafe came from California and has lived in the country 22 years.

The owners of our cabin are also from California. The couple made Costa Rica their home 26 years ago.

The employee in the tour office grew up in Mississippi and has lived in the country about eight years.

Our kayaking guide is a native New Yorker.

A couple of realtors educating us about buying property in the area are ex-pats, one from California and the other a Florida native.

We met a woman originally from Hungary who recently moved to the area with her family. She is scouting locations for a business.

A five-hour horseback riding tour to Nauyaca Waterfalls included the ride, time to swim and enjoy the falls, lunch, and the opportunity to talk with others on our tour.

We met a Canadian couple that relocated to Costa Rica six years ago, following the man's sister and her husband who moved south a few years earlier.

Two thirty-something entrepreneurs were checking out the country as a base for their business, a technology company that creates aps for mobile devices.

Another California couple came for elective surgery. Costa Rica is becoming known for excellent health care facilities and reasonably priced procedures.
I have encountered ticos - they own establishments and work in the shops, restaurants, and other businesses, but I found the number of Americans surprising. Walk around a store, sit in a cafe, hang out at the beach, and it will not be long before American ex-pats wander by.

Gringos (people from non-Spanish-speaking countries) from nations besides the U.S. are discovering the region. Canadians, Europeans, and most recently Asians are making Costa Rica home, resulting in a growing, interesting and diverse population. 

On my way home now, back to the cold, ice, snow and more cold...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Sights and Sounds of Costa Rica

This is not a quiet place. Although we are in a rural setting, sounds reverberate throughout jungle.

This morning I woke up to what I thought were barking dogs. They were incessant and raucous, and I could not imagine what the uproar was all about. But they were not dogs.

They were monkeys. It is common for the head-honcho monkey to call his cohorts together each morning. They congregate in one area. Lucky me, this morning they got together behind the cabin.

Birds make various vocal noises all day long. There are a lot of them.

It is cicada season, a yearly phenomenon here. The creatures vocalize all day, the trilling a constant background cadence. Thankfully they are quiet once darkness descends.

Road racket pierces the jungle cacophony. Not constantly, but often. Trucks pass, cars drive by, occasionally a honking horn or loud motor blasts.

Plumbing and other household noises abound. The sinks and shower squeak, the toilet moans, the humidifier whirrs, the fan hums. Jungle debris falls on the tin roof with a thud and rain pings loudly on the roof.

On the other hand our cabin lacks TV or radio. We do not miss them.

The forest beckons, and today we peeked inside via a kayaking tour of the mangrove forests. We met in the town of Domenical and our guide Rachel asked if we wanted to follow her and drive to the launch site. We declined.

Smart move. Following a ten minute drive to the park, we drove another twenty minutes on a narrow, rutted dirt road to our destination. At one point we went over a rickety wood bridge maybe an inch wider than the car.

The first part of the trip we barely paddled, cruising with the current on serene waters. Rachel pointed out birds, lizards and other critters hidden in the dense vegetation. After a while we could no longer be lazy, the waterways requiring paddling as we glided along narrow estuaries.

A group of at least two dozen monkeys leaped from tree to tree above us, eventually crossing the water and continuing their journey to a hidden destination.

When the main road in this area was paved years ago, overhead lines covered with vegetation were created so the monkeys could travel around the forest unhindered. Tunnels constructed under the road serve a similar purpose for earth-bound creatures.

Returning to our starting point, a table full of fresh fruit awaited us - pineapples, bananas, papayas, mangoes, oranges. All fresh, sliced, and ready to eat. I am eating well and healthy without any effort or feelings of deprivation or denial.

Another day steeped in wonderful, tasty food, local lore, flora and fauna.

I am losing track of the days, and the time of day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Settling into La Pura Vida

Written Sunday and finally posted today.

Costa Rican lifestyle is laid-back, quite unlike the frenetic, go-go pace of life back home. It is refreshing not rushing to appointments or freaking out because the individual in front of you - whether at the grocery store, bank, Starbucks - is taking a very long time to move on.

it is easy to slow down in this warm climate. There is no rush to take an order, prepare and serve a drink or a meal. No one berates you because the table is not vacated promptly; on the contrary, customers are welcome to take their time and enjoy the moment. When ready to leave, it may take a while to locate your waiter or waitress and get a bill. Relax, you're on tico time. (tico - locals)

Some things do make Americans crazy. There are few street signs. Sometimes a small sign indicates the town you are looking for is down a dirt road. Directions go something like, "the cafe is next to the motorcycle repair shop on the road to the left immediately after the paved road turns into a dirt road."

We never found the place. But we had a scenic tour of the village.

I did not leave civilization totally behind, and finding workable Wi-Fi has been a challenge. My Wi-Fi is finally connected at the cabin following two frustrating days of trials and errors. There are still problems. The wi-fi continues to drop out too often and posting pictures presents problems. Pictures may have to wait until I am home.

We spent the morning strolling around the town of Domenical, a surfer's haven. Small cafes, bars and hostels line uneven, meandering, potholed, unpaved streets. Vendors selling jewelry, clothing and souvenirs line both sides of the street closest to the beach. The blue Pacific beckoned, but we did not wander in. Initially no one was in the pristine waters, but later in the day the surf kicked up and surfers suddenly appeared in the water as bystanders made themselves comfortable along the beach.

Some of the food and drink establishments went dark as the surf kicked up. Employees return to work when the best surf passes.

Using local currency makes one feel downright rich. There are (approximately) 500 colones to the dollar. Most places take dollars or colones.

Cafe cuisine tastes wonderful and is fresh, healthy, locally grown and very reasonable. We lingered most of the afternoon at an open air cafe enjoying a leisurely lunch and watching the Broncos/Patriots game, surrounded by American ex-pats and vacationers.

I am becoming adept at driving on narrow, windy, unpaved, potholed, rocky roads.

I paid for one meal - total 8,180 colones - with 80,000 colones. The English-speaking waitress kindly informed me of my error. I gave her a big tip. Will not make that mistake again.

I should have studied Spanish before boarding the plane. My high school Spanish is long-forgotten. Luckily most people speak some English.

I am settling into la pura vida in Costa Rica.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nuestra Casa en Costa Rica a.k.a. Our Rustic Rican Cabin

Accommodations in this beautiful land range from bare-bone hostels for backpackers and surfer-types to upscale hotels. I have not actually seen the inside of any upscale accommodations this trip, but people tell me they exist.

Our cabin is spartan by American standards.The two room, two floor cabin includes a bedroom with toilet and shower on the first floor, the toilet and shower separated from the rest of the room by shower curtains. The main room and living space is upstairs. The kitchen area includes a small stove, refrigerator, sink and cabinets. The rest of the room is furnished with a round table and two chairs, two bench-type couches, a small coffee table and end table. There is a large covered porch area.

The following pictures provide an inside and outside view of my home away from home this week.
The kitchen
 The upstairs front porch.
 The sink on the back porch, cold water only. Use the toilet, walk outside and wash your hands in this sink (no sink in bedroom/bathroom).
 The main living area - and my bedroom for the week - from the front door.
 The stairs to the main living room. The only way from the bedroom/bathroom to the main room is outside and up these stairs - and vice versa.
 Behind the shower curtain on the left is the toilet. Shower is behind shower curtains on the right. Bed can be seen in the right-hand lower corner of the picture. It is a small room!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Goodbye Florida Hola Costa Rica

We have friends seriously considering retiring to Costa Rica. They are spending three months living la pura vida before deciding whether to move south of the border. While Jim and my hub travel on business this week, I am enjoying a one week Central American adventure.

The flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to San Jose, Costa Rica was uneventful. As the trip began flight attendants recited the obligatory emergency procedures. Then an attendant announced the availability of food and drinks for sale. She emphasized the fact that there would be no free anything on this trip - not even water. "Everything is for sale," she said.

Spirit Air achieves a new level of customer no-service, no-frills flying.

A half hour after landing, I slid into the driver's seat of a manual transmission, four wheel drive Daihatsu - my friend Jane is not yet a proficient manual car driver - and we were off on the two hours plus drive to our temporary quarters.

Roads were well paved but windy, changing often from one lane to two, then merging back to one lane. A limited access highway covered part of the distance, but most of the trip we meandered through small towns and over mountains, the road populated by cars as well as cyclists, pedestrians, and motorbikes.

We stopped for lunch at a café along the road, feasting on a plate of chicken, rice, cooked vegetables, salad, black beans, and soft drinks. After eating we started to return our dishes to the front counter, but the waitress rushed over saying, "No, no, no." I felt we were insulting the employees. The staff cleared the tables.

The food was delicious. The bill was 8,000 colones - $16.

We stopped again to ogle crocodiles. Crocs find a specific spot on a river below a bridge along the road perfect for sunning, feeding, and simply hanging out. The place has become a tourist spot, lined with cars and souvenir vendors. But the crocs do not disappoint, spending hours every day unknowingly entertaining visitors and locals.

We finally reached our accommodations on the Pacific coast at sunset - 6:00 p.m. The area is famous for its surf, attracting vacationers from around the world.

Our cabin is rustic by American standards. But I cannot post pictures now and mere words do not do justice to the real thing. Description and pictures will follow, sometime. Now I am temporarily using my friend's computer.

I do not surf, but am looking forward to enjoying the warm weather, tropical landscape, flora and fauna, local foods, and exploring the area.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Grandma Had a Very Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Just like Alexander in the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. (I have been around the grandkids too long this trip...)

Terrible may be overstating things. It was one of those days when a series of situations piled on each other. The total was very trying, indeed.            

Grandpa and I are on babysitting duty. The day began when baby (a.k.a. Sydney) - 2 1/2 so technically no longer a baby  - awakened earlier than usual, thanks to an older cousin who could no longer wait to play.

There was breakfast, story time, and the main event of the day - a trip to the zoo, followed by lunch.

We decided on Mexican for lunch. Suddenly Sydney, sitting nicely in a booster seat eating her cheese quesadilla, swooped her hands around, providing visuals to something she was saying, knocking my glass, full of diet coke and ice, off the table. It shattered into several pieces, spreading ice and coke all over the floor.

The restaurant staff was gracious. The busboy carefully swept everything up immediately, and we finished lunch without further disruption.

Home again, Sydney takes a nap.

Meanwhile I transported the 3-1/2-year-old (a.k.a. Sami) to her swimming lesson. We needed to leave no later than 2:45.

I carefully watched the clock, preparing to leave. Unfortunately the little one is not so time-oriented. When nature calls, she must listen. This was not a mere pee interlude. I recently read an article that stated all mammals take an average 20 seconds to pee. That would have met our tight timeline.

This time poop was involved, and that is a much longer, more involved process.

She could not be rushed.

By the time we left we were running late. In the car and pulling out of the driveway, Sami insists she needs Booie, her favorite stuffed schmatta (rag blanket-animal). I grabbed my phone and called hub, who was inside the house.

Booie was in the washing machine, getting clean after the trip to the zoo. With a bit of coaxing Sami accepted a temporary proxy, and we were once again on our way.

I parked the car and we ran to the pool. Now it was time to put on Sami's bathing suit.


Grandma messed up, grabbing only the top part of a bathing suit - and not the bottoms.

What to do now?

After a crying deluge by Sami and a discussion with her swim instructor, the instructor came to our rescue with a (freshly laundered, ready-to-wear) borrowed bathing suit. It was big, but satisfied Sami.

Disaster averted. Once again, all was temporarily good.

About 45 minutes later, the lesson over, Sami got dressed and we headed home. About ten minutes later we were turning right from one Main Street onto another main boulevard, when suddenly - Bam!

I hit the car in front of me.

Sami was not hurt - my first concern. I was fine, just shaken. I followed the car in front of me to the side of the road.

I was driving a rental car.

The other driver was upset because the right rear bumper of his two-months-old Toyota Camry was damaged.

Before the important work of exchanging licenses and other information could occur, Sami decided she had to go potty (again). I abandoned the car, told the other driver I would be right back, and Sami and I ran to the nearest potty, which happened to be inside a Duffy's Sports Grill. (Does that make me a hit and run driver?)

Then it was back to the scene of the accident.

The Palm Beach County sheriff arrived. We drove to the nearest parking lot, off the main road, and began the slow process of filling out forms. I called hub, and he came to my assistance. Our insurance company was called while the police officer filled out an accident report. The other driver was on his cell the entire time lamenting his damaged new car to a series of unknown individuals.

The police officer assured him the broken piece was plastic and easily replaced.

The officer issued no citations. She said, "Simple fender bender, happens all the time..."

The other driver was not appeased. His son (or grandson, could not be sure) was in the car, and he told the officer he was going to take him to the emergency room. The officer asked, "Was he in his car seat?" "Yes," the driver said. "Then he is fine," she said.

If he was so concerned about the boy, he should have taken him to the ER before spending an hour on the phone lamenting his impaired car. Not once did I hear him voice concern about his son/grandson.

Damage, if any, to the rental car is minimal. I am sure the rental company will inspect it carefully when returned.

Finally getting back to the house in time for dinner, I was worn out.

It had been a no good day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Seductiveness of Florida-style Living

I have been immersed in the Florida lifestyle for over a week. Here are some observations from one not yet converted.  

The original Florida inhabitants, native Indians, roamed this land leaving few permanent structures. The first Europeans to explore and settle the area were the Spanish, but most of the state was ignored by people north of the state line for centuries - until the invention of air conditioning changed everything.

The uber-wealthy discovered south Florida around the turn of the twentieth century, building mansions and inhabiting offshore islands during the winter months. The trickle-down phenomenon (along with air conditioning) attracted vacationers around the middle of the century, and healthier, longer-living seniors began migrating south about the same time. By the end of the century active adult communities dotted the swampland.

Younger folk seeking employment followed, and schools, hospitals, malls and strip retail
centers provided visual stimulus to the otherwise stark landscape. Cars, more cars, and traffic jams - especially during the winter season - proliferated.

Lots of residents are snowbirds, wintering in the south and heading north during the summer, following the route migratory birds and native Indians have taken for eons.

Below is a list of some of the positive and less positive aspects of life in the sunshine state (the southeastern part of the state to be more precise) gleaned from my limited experience soaking up the sunny life.

+ The weather is usually a lot warmer than the northern states during the winter.
-  The weather is hot, humid, muggy and miserable most of the year.

+ The land is flat, making walking, cycling, and other physical activities doable and even enjoyable.
- The land is flat and boring. It is too hot and muggy to take advantage of the long, straight, flat paths and roads much of the year. The biggest hills are bridges over highways and waterways.

+ The climate is conducive to golf, tennis, and other outdoor sports.
- Sports enthusiasts must get out on the golf course or wherever very, very early so games can finish before the stifling heat makes playing not much fun.

+ There are a lot of beautiful ocean and intracoastal waterways, great for boating and swimming.
- Most of us cannot afford life on the ocean or intracoastal waterways and it is too hot several months of the year for boating or swimming outdoors for any length of time.

+ A lot of transplanted Floridians live in gated communities, providing a sense of safety, security, and exclusivity.
 - Visitors find gated entrances annoying. Bad things happen in gated communities, too.

+ Wide straight roads, often three or four lanes in each direction, make learning an area and driving around easy.
- Wide, straight roads have lights lasting several minutes. Rarely will a driver make a light unless hitting the accelerator to get through a yellow light.

+ There are numerous choices for retirees and baby boomers seeking a first or second home.
- Old people are everywhere. I, a 63-year-old, feel really young around the geezers. Some people might consider that a positive aspect of life in the Sunshine state.

+ Housing prices range from the amazingly cheap to the stunningly over-the-top expensive.
- Lured by low prices, especially since the Great Recession, buyers may be disappointed to find their dream home and community above their price range.

+ Restaurant lunch deals and early bird specials abound. (For the uninitiated, early bird specials are dinner deals offered between - times vary - 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.)
- Sometimes we want places other than ice cream establishments open late.

+ The climate allows for light and limited clothing.
- The lack of clothing allows for every body defect and aged skin to show in all its tanned glory.

+ Taxes are low.
No negatives to low taxes, as long as you are satisfied with sometimes limited public services and less-than-excellent schools.

+ A common topic of conversation is the awful weather up north.
-  A common topic of conversation is the awful weather up north.

+ Although the official unemployment rate may be high, for those seeking some kind of part-time employment choices are available.
- Patience is often required with the large number of seniors working in grocery stores, restaurants and other retail establishments. Patience is not a trait Northerners are known for. Extended stay vacationers and new residents should reduce their frenzied Northern lifestyle and enjoy the slower pace. Maybe this should be a positive aspect of living the Florida life.

+ Summarizing Florida - The sun shines a lot, there is no need for heavy clothing and boots unless an individual wants to be fashionably in season, there are young folks but seniors rock, traffic can be horrific during the in-season (otherwise known as winter), and sunscreen is a must.
- A lot of time is spent indoors in air conditioned shelters.

I forgot to mention critters besides the ones seen in zoos or sunning themselves in ponds (alligators find the way to these waters via underground pipes). Many of the ponds are water management pools otherwise called lakes by real estate companies.  Bugs, insects and other creatures are: rare, annoying, everywhere - choose one, but if you are here long enough all three circumstances will be encountered.

I leave the state Saturday.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Escaping Winter, Sort Of

Once again we - hub and I - are on the road. Our flight from the frigid north to the less-frigid south was on time, no delays or cancellations common in many northern airports the past few days. The uneventful but very tight flight - referencing the accommodations - on Spirit Air lasted, mercifully, a little over three hours. Flying time was about 2 hours 40 minutes, but time squished into seats must be counted. You get what you pay for, and we did not pay for much. Certainly not comfort.

We are once again with the grandkids.

There is an ancient, very relevant and truthful saying: Out of the mouth of babes...

My six-year-old granddaughter, a first-grader, is not exactly a babe, but she is innocence personified. She likes to write stories, and especially likes to write on my computer. Last night she was working on a story titled, "Grandma and Grandpa Visiting".

A good start. Here are the first two sentences:

Once upon a time Grandma and Grandpa came to visit. They came for two weeks. Once they were here for one day Mommy went to a hotel and Grandma and Grandpa watched me, my brother and my sister. 

She read us the above sentences before continuing. Hub and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Poor Hailey immediately began deleting the sentences.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked her.

"You are laughing at me. I guess it is no good."

I attempted to placate her, and felt bad we laughed at her. But it was funny - sort of. If anyone read those two lines and only those two lines, what would they think!? We may not win an award for best houseguests or in-laws ever, but (hopefully) we are not so bad that we would chase people away. And this is family.

Hailey continued her story with our support. Her next two sentences:

Mommy went to a Billy Joel concert. While I was at school Mommy came back and she came back in time to pick me up at school.

OK, the appearance of in-laws and quick disappearance of daughter-in-law explained. What a relief!

Meanwhile Dad was out of town on a business trip.

And another adventure with the grandkids begins...


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Weather, Weather Everywhere

We - almost all of us - have become weather junkies. With the assistance of the 24/7 weather channel, 24/7 news networks constantly looking for the next big story, or at least story fillers, and newspapers seeking attention-grabbing local headline news, we cannot escape weather hype.

There is nothing new about weather. One of the worst, if not the worst, weather event of all times occurred in the Bible when the world flooded and it rained for forty days and nights.

And I am sure there is nothing new about discussing the weather, forecasting the weather, tracking the weather, telling stories about the weather, and planning around the weather.

Yet I doubt there has ever been another culture as obsessed with the weather as ours. At the hint of snow everyone immediately jumps in their cars and heads for the nearest supermarket or convenience store on a bread and milk run.

We hear about possible hurricanes when they are still mini-storms somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. We discuss storm names, giving approval or disapproval as if they were the newest addition to our family.

News crews endanger themselves and their equipment reporting in the midst of weather rages, hoping to out-story other reporters.

I never remember one or two hour delays when I was a kid. School was either open or closed, and rarely closed due to inclement weather. Nowadays schools close or announce delays as soon as weather forecasters predict the possibility of snow.

I spoke to my aunt in Florida this morning. She told me, "It is cold for Florida. I have lived down here for 16 years and it has never been this cold." At 93 years old, I think it more likely she does not remember previous cold spells.

My three year old granddaughter was very confused. She and her family moved from Colorado to Florida this past summer. Everyone told her it is hot in Florida. She refused to wear socks or long pants or put on a jacket because, "It never gets cold in Florida." That is what she was told and she totally believes it!

Records may be broken and once-in-a-century occurrences occur more frequently, but we now hear about the possibility of extreme weather sometimes days, even weeks before they happen. We hear that this year will be a bad hurricane season and wait anxiously throughout the season for the coming deluge.

News people must think we want to know as much as possible abut the weather, the weatherman or woman providing a voluminous amount of numbers and terminology. But after listening I am still not sure if it will be sunny or if it will rain. That is all I want to know. Do I need a raincoat or sweater or boots today?

Barometric pressure...dewpoint...downburst...inversion...vorticity...vertical visibility...nautical mile...I have an idea what a mile is, and a vague idea of what a nautical mile is, but do not ask me to define the term. Or take my kayak out and measure one. And what does that have to do with whether or not it will rain on my barbecue this weekend?

Some terms become part of our vocabulary. I had never heard until recently El Derecho and El Niño and Chinook. On the other hand I think most of us can figure out pretty quickly that an Arctic air mass has something to do with cold temperatures. Then there are monsoons, typhoons, Nor'easters and most recently an Arctic polar vortex.

And do not get me started on daylight, or the lack of day light...

Or the seasons. Or the fact that winter in the North is summer in the South - south of the equator...

I think it is time to move beyond our - and specifically my - obsession with the weather. The problem is I will not be able to watch the weather channel, or log onto, or listen to the weather report on the local or national news, or carry on a conversation with anybody about the weather.

Which brings up another important topic. If I cannot talk to people I barely know about the weather, what other non-controversial topic can I discuss?

I might have to stick with the weather.

"Nice day today. Hear about the latest weather record broken in our area?"...

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Death of Our Microwave

We moved into our current home 3 ½ years ago. The older home underwent renovations, primarily in the kitchen, but we did not replace the refrigerator, dishwasher, or stove. They all worked and our budget was limited. New appliances would wait until some unspecified future time.

We purchased one new piece of equipment – a microwave convection oven. The oven was a bit of a splurge, but worth it. I use both the microwave and convention oven features frequently. I also use the fast bake option, defrost, the fan, timer, and clock.

The day after Christmas meatballs and rice temptingly simmered in the convection oven when suddenly the microwave stopped working. The machine went silent and totally black.

Hub immediately came to the rescue, but he could not fix it.

It was time to bring in the professionals. We called the local appliance store. Unfortunately no repairman could take a look at our dead appliance until the following Friday, the third day of the New Year.

Meanwhile I fumed.

This was an undesirable case of déjà vu.

A year and a half ago a storm called el Derecho pounded our area. An electrical shock killed our newest appliance purchase. Electronic parts in the microwave fried, requiring replacement.

The repairman made a house call, quickly looking over the machine and then sadly, slowly shaking his head. Replacement parts would cost hundreds of dollars – the cost of a new microwave. And there was no guarantee the microwave would work.

So we reluctantly bought our second new microwave. Same kind, same manufacturer.

Fast forward to the almost present, a week ago. There was no indication of any problems, electrical or otherwise, when carefully placing the casserole dish in the oven. The microwave heated to the required temperature and purred nicely for about 20 minutes. Then, suddenly, silence. The numbers on the digital screens disappeared. The microwave was noiseless and dark.

Meanwhile the old appliances continue humming along. They survived el Derecho and hurricane Sandy.

I would not mind buying a new refrigerator or dishwasher or stove, but I am not at all happy about the idea of buying another microwave.  

I fear two new appliances croaked in less than two years. I do not consider an eighteen-month old appliance obsolete. Replacing a microwave every 18 months is not in my budget.

I will not tell you the manufacturer of both of our short-lived appliances, but the very large U.S. corporation is known by two letters and makes lots of other stuff besides appliances. Think about it…gee, do you think you know the company?

Anyway, back to the sad saga of the demise of two microwaves by the same manufacturer in two years.

A dismal record. The appliance company made money on us, but we will not repeat the mistake a third time. We will not buy another ** appliance again.

For the past week I have used our regular oven, which uses more energy and therefore costs more to operate than the microwave. I cannot take food out of the freezer, quickly defrost and cook it. I must think about what I want to do in advance. I have to plan.

I miss the clock. Numerous times I glance at the microwave only to face blackness. No digital numbers greet me.

OK, I am spoiled. I admit it. I miss my microwave.

We awoke this morning in anticipation of greeting a repairman. But, alas, it is not happening.

The weather gods had other ideas. A storm sweeping through the Northeast left over six inches of snow in our area. The store called – no repairmen on the roads today.

And so the saga continues.

Will the fix be an easy, cheap one?

If needing replacement, what lucky manufacturer will be the recipient of our hard-earned dollars?

Should I replace with another microwave convection oven, or think bigger? Should we replace the stove with one offering a convection option and buy a microwave without a convection alternative? Our stove is operational, but the white enamel is beginning to peel and the self-cleaning mechanism does not work.

Stay tuned for the final chapter in the continuing saga of the death of our microwaves.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Singing in the New Year 2014

picture by J. Fava
The Family Stone
About five years ago we shared New Year’s Eve with friends at home, splurging on shrimp and other expensive and/or forbidden foods, drinking wine and enjoying each other’s company, eager to ring in the New Year together.

Except it did not end that way.

We all conked out before watching the Times Square ball slowly descend.

So after that failed attempt, we vowed to go out on New Year’s. We figured if we were out and about there was a much better chance of actually staying awake until midnight.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve numerous times years ago, actually decades ago, carousing into the early morning hours.

But things change, and today there are obstacles to repeating earlier escapades. Our bodies slowly begin curling into a comfortable sleeping position as darkness descends. Dinner is usually consumed closer to the early bird menu hour than late night special time. We cannot hold our alcohol as well as we could decades ago. Loud, boisterous crowds give us headaches. DJs and today’s bar scene is unfamiliar, even alien to us. There are more reasons, but I will not bore you…

The dilemma is expressed in the following algebraic equation:

Determining New Year’s Eve Bedtime = [(current age - current usual bedtime) / 12 (the midnight hour)] X 2.

The equation is based on the theory that the older we get the earlier we retire and the more difficult it becomes to stay awake until midnight.

It was my job to figure out this year’s New Year’s Eve activities. I procrastinated, something I am very good at, but finally got around to the task a couple of days before the event.

The evening began with a short walk and early dinner at a moderately priced Italian restaurant. Our municipality is dry and the restaurant BYOB. We brought along a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine and sat in the restaurant’s side area (usually the casual dining/pizza section), ordering from the regular menu. The formal side of the restaurant offered a special (read: more expensive) holiday menu.

After dinner we walked across the street and caught the bus for a short ride to the location of our evening’s entertainment. We opted for a seventy cent bus ride (senior citizen price!) because we were drinking, the parking garage would cost a lot of money, and it would take a long time exiting the garage after midnight.

An hour and a half concert by The Family Stone (previously Sly and the Family Stone, but Sly no longer fronts the band) highlighted our evening. The band’s hits include Higher!, Dance to the Music, and Everyday People.

I ordered the tickets online (ticketmaster), initially surprised tickets were still available two days before the event.

Printing the tickets at home, the four seats read orchestra row A. It seemed like the tickets would be front row, but I could not believe we would get such good seats two days before the event.

But we did. We were literally within spitting distance of the stage.

The funk rock band, with three original band members and four additional performers, dates from the 60s. The audience, admittedly on the mature side of life, knew the songs, sang along, and danced at every opportunity. We had no choice – we were in the front row. When the band sang Stand up! Stand up! how could we not set an example and jump up and dance!?

I have no idea how we managed such great seats. The only reason I could think of was immediately before ordering someone turned the four tickets in.

I want to thank Ticketmaster for four fab tickets. I realize it was fate – karma – just plain luck, but thank you anyway!

picture by J. Fava
The band, the stage, and me
We danced 2013 away and welcomed 2014,
a new year full of possibilities.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

May 2014 be a year of good health,
good times, happiness,
and only minor difficulties.