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A “Pop” By Any Other Name…

This here, ladies and gentlemen, is my Pop:

His name is James Dudley Valentine (seriously, how cool do you have to be to have the middle name Valentine?), but pretty much everyone who knows him calls him “Pop”.

I would tell you his last name but I don’t want to run the risk of you maybe deciding you want him to be your Pop, too.  And you might be younger and cuter and a better grandchild than I am and I wouldn’t be able to compete.  And then I’d have to make you mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night.

Beware, I am a possessive granddaughter.

Besides, Pop doesn’t need any more admirers.  He has a big enough fanbase as it is.

Everyone who meets him seems to fall in love with him.  Maybe it’s his charm.  Maybe it’s his years and years of experience as an accomplished salesman.  Maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a cross between Ernest Hemingway, a salty sea captain and Santa Claus.

Am I right??

Whatever it is, the man has what can only be described as charisma, which explains how he managed to woo my bombshell of a grandmother.

He is 91 years young and, at the rate he’s going, 20 years from now he’ll still be mowing the lawn and shoveling through five feet of Wisconsin snow while the rest of us shuffle around in orthopedic shoes and complain about draughts.

He attributes his longevity to the fact that he drinks Scotch on the rocks pretty much all day long.

(Did I mention we’ve got a lot of Irish in our family?)

My Pop is the kind of guy who jokes after a meal, “Your food has ruined my appetite.”

My Pop is the kind of guy who quips, “Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you.”

My Pop is the kind of guy who mentions that the last truly good movie he saw was Stalag 17 (which, for the record, came out in 1953) every single time I see him.

My Pop is the kind of guy who challenges us grandkids to a one-yard foot race.

My Pop is the kind of guy who doesn’t get mad when I barf up Cap’n Crunch all over the backseat of his Jaguar.

To be fair, I was only six at the time.  But still, classy guy, no?

Perhaps one of the best qualities about my Pop is that he has a joke or a song for every single conceivable situation.   You could be shipwrecked on a deserted island with Alec Baldwin and 200 shipments of Crest toothpaste and he would have the perfect song to commemorate the occasion. It’s a talent, pure and simple.

It doesn’t hurt that he has a lovely singing voice, and he sings his brooding Irish ballads in a smooth and resonant tenor.  My Dad inherited his pipes, but somehow that gene skipped me, laughing and pointing as it passed by.  Dang.

With all of these traits, it’s no wonder he’s quite the stud.

Young or old, the ladies just can’t resist his charm.

Here we are on my wedding day…

…where he pretty much stole the show.  But I’m OK with that.

‘Cause he deserves it.

Love you bunches, Pop.

Cemented In Time

I hate to admit it, but I have a routine.

I hate to admit it because part of the reason I came to this place was to get away from a routine and live a little.

But as much as I wanted to get away from regime, there are two things here I cannot not do every morning.

One is something I did before:

katie's sugar

Except now it looks like this:

But the other is something new.

I wake up almost every day at 5:30 a.m. here.  I’m not sure why – I think Erin is to blame.  But the first time I did it, I went straight to the window to make sure we were really… you know… here.

And this is the sight that greeted me:

View out window

Not too shabby, huh?

It’s no wonder I now routinely find myself walking to the window and peering through the curtains every. single. morning.

We’re not exactly roughing it here.

Take a closer look:

Notice anything unusual about the cement around the pool?

We discovered shortly after arriving that Gifford and Judy have a very unique way of remembering their house guests and interns.

The entire patio is surrounded by these.

Cement Signatures
Cement Designs and Hand Prints

They’ve been doing this since the early 90’s.

And for some reason, when the sun decided to show itself last Friday, they decided to include us!

Donovan was in charge of adding the date for our group of interns.  Turns out this was a lot of pressure.

Contemplating Cement Design

The rest of us dug on in…

And Donovan got started eventually…

I think we all felt pretty good about being commemorated pool-side when we were done, and we learned a little bit more about each other in the process.

Like Erin enjoys symmetry:

And I apparently lack spatial recognition skills:

And Matteo has gigantic feet:

And Robert has really nice handwriting:

And Donovan?  Well Donovan takes a really, really long time to draw in cement.

Maybe someday I will be able to come back for a visit and still see our legacy by the pool.

But even if I don’t, I’ll know it’s there.

And maybe routines aren’t so bad, after all.

What starts as routine can inspire traditions that reach back generations.

And, perhaps even more impressive, my new routine imbues in me the desire to greet each day with a touch more enthusiasm…

a bit more inspiration…

and yes, just a pinch of caffeine.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

As you might recall, Katie and I horned in on the guys’ plans to spend Saturday afternoon watching football at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Tilaran.

Sometime during the six hours they spent watching back-to-back football games, Katie and I got a little antsy and decided to go out and explore.

The guys enthusiastically approved our decision, almost as if they didn’t enjoy our constant chatter while football was on. Strange.

Fortunately, the 5 Corners Grill sits on a hill overlooking majestic Lake Arenal so we decided to find a closer vantage point to take some photos for the blog.  How we suffer for you finicky people.

Like Lewis & Clark.  Except, c’mon, totally cuter, right?

From our spot at the top of the hill, we spotted a nice grassy knoll a half-mile below us with an unobstructed view of the lake, so we commenced hoofing it down the steep, curving road, all the while narrowly trying to avoid an untimely death under the fenders of speeding mopeds and pick-up trucks whose drivers leaned out to wave enthusiastically and shout “grrrIIINNNGaaas!” as they passed.

This place does wonders for a girl’s self-esteem.

Only after we arrived, sweaty and winded, at the unpaved road that would lead us to our photo-op site did we notice the barbed-wire gate and “Private Property” sign.  The nerve.

After considering our options, which were: (a) Turn around and walk back up the hill, photo-less but otherwise unscathed, or (b) Go for it and risk the possibility of being bitten in the nether regions by an angry Rottweiler, we did the sensible thing.

Well, sensible for us, anyway.

We shimmied around the gate and sneakily (or as sneakily as two giggling girls who may have had a few beers can) hightailed it down the road and up the hill.

And we were richly rewarded for our loose morals:

And we didn’t run into a vicious Rottweiler, although we did encounter a different kind of beast…

While we were enjoying the view, this curious little guy (Or maybe gal?  We didn’t bother checking under the hood.) trotted up to check us out.

And if it had any qualms about us being there, it did not make them known.

It didn’t seem to have any qualms about sharing personal space, either.

The view was breathtaking and our new friend was accommodating, but we decided we’d better get back before it started getting dark.  So we made it back to the road, congratulated ourselves on pulling off a successful caper and that was the end of our little adventure.

Oh, except Katie slipped while scrambling down the muddy hill and had to trek all the way back to the restaurant with a foot that resembled the Swamp Thing.

So I guess the lesson here is:  Crime doesn’t pay.  But only if you’re Katie’s flip-flop.

Costa Rica Critter #1

We have seen all kinds of cool critters here in Costa Rica.  And we’ve even managed to get pictures of a few of ’em.

You’ve most likely already seen the kind I’m showing you today – I know I have.  But the thing that makes these different here is that there are swarms of them.  They’re everywhere.  All I had to do was hold still long enough in one spot and wait for one to land.


I love dragonflies.  I think they’re absolutely beautiful.  And this one was no exception.  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that they eat mosquitoes, which practically makes them my best friends.

As promised, Erin will share the rest of our weekend adventures later today.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

After over a week and a half of nonstop Noah’s Ark-style rain, the sun finally came out to play over the weekend, and Katie and I were hellbent on soaking up every single second of it.

Our original gameplan was to take off to the beach since we hadn’t yet been despite the fact that we’ve lived here for over a month.  (And, yes, we’re well aware of how pathetic that is.  Thank you.)  However, our ride fell through at the last minute leaving us high and dry without anything to do on a beautiful Saturday, so, naturally, we decided to horn in on the guys’ plans.

Remember these knuckleheads?

Homesick for some authentic American grub, Aaron, JJ and Matt had done some internet sleuthing and found a Tex-Mex restaurant located a few towns over.  Their plan was to spend the afternoon there watching college football, talking smack, giving each other noogies and whatever else guys do when chicks aren’t around.

Fortunately, they let us tag along and after an easy 45-minute drive through scenic countryside to the town of Tilaran, we found ourselves at 5 Corners Grill, a beachy little gem of a restaurant situated on a hill overlooking sprawling Lake Arenal.  Once there, we proceeded to spend the next six hours gorging ourselves on burgers and beer and hanging out with Jason and Cindy, the amazingly cool Austin, TX, couple who owns the joint.

A candid shot of Jason.  Cindy was wily enough to dodge me.

Despite having been open for less than a year, 5 Corners has a comfortable, well-established quality and loyal following of friendly regulars, many of whom are ex-pats themselves.  From the open-air patio bar with live trees growing right through the floor…

…to the Chicken Shit Bingo (which is exactly what you’re imagining it is) board and live scorpion on display in the breezeway…

I assume they put this down your pants and make you dance around for 10 minutes if you try to leave without paying.

…to the small garden and chicken coop located out back and assortment of squirmy, wiggly, disgustingly cute puppies of varying sizes and shapes milling about the premises, there is no shortage of interests to hold your attention.

Don’t get us wrong–Katie and I have been thoroughly enjoying the Costa Rican experience, but we had to admit that the smattering of Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys paraphernalia decorating the windows and good ol’ fashioned burger and fries were a pleasantly familiar taste of home sweet home.

This burger made my toes curl.  Don’t even ask what the bananas foster for dessert did to me.

By the end of the day, we were a few colones lighter, a few pounds heavier, and a few anecdotes richer (stay tuned, more on that tomorrow).

For anyone who happens to be passing through Tilaran or visiting the Lake Arenal area, I highly–highly–recommend this place.  No need to even thank me.

Just ship me a burger.

California, Here We Come

Before you get too excited, no, we are not going to California.

We are in Costa Rica right now, people.  Why would we go to California??

The title of this post will make more sense later.  Moving on.

Recently I’ve realized that aside from this:

And these:

Running Dogs

One of the things I’ve absolutely missed the most while living in Costa Rica is cooking.  And I’m not even that good at it.  It was just fun to do.  Therapeutic, even.  Man, I feel sorry for anyone who has to live with me when I don’t have my cooking outlet *cough*Erin*cough*.

Even though Judy has graciously offered us the use of her gorgeous kitchen (which I hope to show you at some point), the budget constraints that Erin and I have placed on ourselves have limited our main course dinners to primarily beans, rice, potatoes, or some combination thereof.*  We’re not missing out on our starches here, folks.

So in my nostalgia, I’ve found myself perusing recipes online and making lists of things I want to try concocting when I get home.  I’ve also been looking through the recipes I’ve already posted on this site.  I constantly crave things like that Shrimp, Asparagus and Sundried Tomato Pasta I showed you once, or those Spinach Salmon Bundle things that kicked off the whole food portion of this site in the first place.  Oh, and this Steak Sandwich.  I could definitely use a steak sandwich right about now.

Spinach Salmon Bundles, Cube Steak Sandwich, Shrimp Asparagus & Sundried Tomato Pasta

Crap I just drooled down my shirt.

Anyway.  I was going through my hard drive and found some photos of recipes I haven’t yet posted. Whoah.  I had forgotten all about them.  And they instilled feelings in me – feelings I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

So I’m going to share one with you today.  This is one of my all-time favorite summer/fall recipes.  And even though it’s meatless, it’s completely appropriate for company.  Even big, burly man-type company has always devoured this dish.  I don’t know why, and I don’t question it.  It’s simple and delicious.

The original recipe makes actual sandwiches, but I prefer to serve these open-faced.  You can find the original here.

California Grilled Veggie Sandwich

To make these (the way I make ’em), you will need:

  • Olive oil or balsamic vinegar (If I grill the veggies, I use olive oil.  If I sauté ’em, I use balsamic vinegar.)
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1-2 small yellow squash, sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced (sometimes I leave this off – it looks pretty, but there are already more than enough veggie toppings without them)
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Thickly sliced sourdough bread
Zucchini, Squash and Red Onion

Once you have your ingredients together, it’s time to get messy:

1.  Slice up all your veggies.

Sliced Veggies

2.  I often use an indoor grill to cook my veggies.  I grease the grates with olive oil and preheat it around medium-high.  For a less-tedious method, I sometimes saute the veggies with a little bit of balsamic vinegar.  Really, you can cook them any old way you want.  Just get them cooking!

Oil Grill Grates
Grill Veggies

3.  While the veggies are cooking, mix together your mayo, garlic and lemon juice and spread evenly onto 2 large pieces of the sourdough bread.  Then sprinkle on some feta cheese.

Sourdough Slices

4.  If you’re grilling your vegetables, check to see if the first side is done.  If it is, flip ’em on over.

Flip veggies
Grilled Veggies

4.  You can wait until your veggies are done cooking and re-use the indoor grill, or if you’re impatient like me, go ahead and get your grill pan oiled heating on the stove over medium heat.  Place your slices of sourdough bread on the grill pan, then cover it with some type of lid.  The goal is to get the feta cheese nice and melty.  (It’s not going to actually melt into a goo – but it should get nice and soft.)  This will also toast the bread.

Toast bread and melt cheese

5.  If your veggies get done cooking a little early, just set them aside in a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Bowl of veggies

6.  Once the bread is toasty and the cheese is melty, top the slices with your grilled veggies and enjoy!

California Grilled Veggie Sandwich
California Grilled Veggie Sandwich

I know they don’t look like much, but there’s something about this mixture of toppings that makes these taste phenomenal.  Even Erin, who purportedly “hates” mayo, will gobble up these sandwiches.  If you try them, let me know what you think!

*Correction:  We usually do eat some combination of beans and/or rice for dinner.  However, sometimes our completely awesome boss makes a kickass meal and generously shares it with us.  He is a fantastic cook and we are ALWAYS grateful when he shares his masterpieces with us.

Here Comes the Sun (Doo Do Doo Dooo)

So far, the rainy season in Costa Rica has been, uh, rainy. Really rainy.

In fact, with a recent line of tropical storms stopping by to dump inches of the stuff on us every day for the past week, the locals are calling this one of the worst rainy seasons they’ve seen in while.

And while Costa Rica’s storms are beautiful in their own way, the constant, monotonous downpour has left everyone in the office feeling a little waterlogged.

So it was a truly joyous occasion when an unexpected visitor showed up to join us on our walk to work this morning.

Sun!  Glorious sun!

It broke through the low ceiling of clouds and a chorus of angels began singing.

Okay, actually it was us singing–and badly–but still.

We shamelessly belted out our anthems of appreciation:

Blue skiiiies smiling at meeee.

I’m walking on sunshiiiiine!

Here comes the sun, doo do doo dooo.

As we walked, we turned up our faces, spread our arms wide and basked in it like little flowers.

Even our shadows came out to see what all the commotion was about.

They were pretty happy, too.

And sweat ‘staches be damned, the hot rays felt oh so nice on our pasty skin.

We were, quite literally, walking on sunshine.

And yes, Katrina and the Waves, it did feel good.