Wednesday, March 26, 2014


We went to our first Tope last December. These horse parades are held in just about every town and city in Costa Rica.
Click on the link below to watch the video:

Grecia Tope

Saturday, March 15, 2014

MY COSTA RICAN GARDEN JOURNAL: Note to Self: Find Blight-Resistant Tomatoes by Marilyn

Me in my garden with my first carrots and daily lettuce.
In my last entry, I was mourning the upcoming loss of my squash plants to cucumber beetles. Although I planted five varieties of squash (3 summer, 2 winter), the only ones that made it through were the zucchini. They prospered despite the proliferation of beetles. Probably because they were the fastest growing they could push past the attack. The other squashes, and the cucumber and cantaloupe plants, were DOA. I will try floating row covers next time. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the total devastation of that part of the garden.
In the other part of the garden, the spinach continues to produce and we have enough lettuce to eat salads daily. One day I found a recipe for lettuce braised in butter and garlic – two big bunches became my lunch – a nice diversion from raw salads. The carrot tops were getting huge, so I did a test harvest of two of them – the carrots are getting enormous! You can see in the picture that they have a way to go, but I won’t have to be getting carrots at the feria for a while. I googled carrot-top recipes because they are so beautiful, they look so healthy and smell wonderful. I’ll be making this one from Vegetarian Times soon:  
I will be eating the carrots AND the tops.
Warm Chickpea and Carrot-top Salad
Serves 4
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 medium onion, minced
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained
1 cup finely chopped carrot greens,
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt, to taste

Heat oil over medium heat. Add cumin, and sauté 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add onion and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Add chickpeas and sauté until heated through and any liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.Remove pan from heat and add carrot greens. Toss, then transfer to a serving bowl and season with lemon juice and salt before serving.

And with all my carrot greens, I was happy to find the article, 5 Ways to Eat Carrot Tops.
from a great foodie website called TheKitchn.

The cornstalks “look” lovely and healthy. But I’m not holding my breath for that first corn-on-the-cob feast after talking to some folks who’ve tried growing corn here. It has to do with the light. Here in Costa Rica, we get 12 hours of sun every day (well, not in the rainy season – I’ll have to research growing corn then). Apparently, to bring the sugars up to the kernels, corn needs more dark and less daylight. One friend told me that his corn grew to about 4 feet and then – nothing. My cornstalks are now about 3 feet high and I’m seeing some tasseling – I will make a full report in my next garden entry. An aside – when we were here in June-July, Paul and I bought what looked like delicious, wonderful sweet corn from a guy on the side of the road. He had huge piles of it. Well, we got home, steamed the corn, got out the butter and salt and … blech! What were we eating, feed corn? Turns out we were eating the kind of corn used to make tamales. Live and learn.

Early blight - so sad.
So, now for the sadness that was my gorgeous, full-of-blossoms tomato plants. One day they looked great. I thought I was doing everything right – I garlic-sprayed the white flies within seconds of discovering them, never got the leaves wet when watering, fed them yummy chicken poop mulch. But it was not enough. Early blight took over the crop, seemingly overnight. The plants are still blooming and fruiting, but, as you can see in the photo, every fruit looks like it was punched in the eye (if tomatoes had eyes). I googled “can you eat blighted tomatoes?” and some folks say “yes, just cut off the blight” but I went to the feria instead and bought a kilo (2.2 lbs.) for $2. I still want to grow my own – I just need to find blight resistant varieties here in Costa Rica. Since many coffee farmers have now turned to growing tomatoes instead, I should be able to find better seeds at a nearby agricultural store.
So many tomatoes, so much blight :(
Eggplant blossoms - I can't wait!!!
These pepper plants were totally destroyed by the dog
 knocking them down the hill. So happy they've come back.
First pepper blossom
The peppers and eggplant that I’ve also planted on the patio seem to be flourishing. They’re starting to blossom and so far nothing is eating them (knock wood). Eggplant has got to be my absolute favorite veggie (not counting tomatoes which are officially fruits) and I’ve noticed it’s hard to find eggplant at the Farmer’s Market, so I can’t wait to begin harvesting them.
Basil doing fine!
Two tiny chive plants - c'mon guys,
you can do it!
In our little backyard, I had turned over some soil, added compost and planted several varieties of herbs. So far, the only herbs that seem to have made it are basil, one tiny cilantro plant and two even-tinier chive plants. Once the rainy season starts I will stick in some rosemary sprigs from my neighbor’s giant plant. I would love to be able to grow oregano, thyme, and parsley. Maybe I need a greenhouse.
Mmmmm ... snow peas in paradise
One little cilantro
I did plant some snow peas against the fence, despite the fact that the clue in their name should have discouraged me from trying to grow a cold crop in the tropics. So far, I’ve harvested enough for a nice lunch – raw snow peas, minutes from the garden, dipped in homemade honey mustard yogurt dressing. That was heavenly. They are still blossoming, so maybe I’ll get one more lunch out of them.

I do love getting lost in gardening, so I’m not giving up, even though my first attempts in Costa Rica have only been about 50 percent (maybe 40 percent) successful. I welcome insights and guidance from anyone who’s happily gardening in Costa Rica (especially in my micro-climate – 4,500 ft. in the Central Valley).

Lots of lovely lettuce

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Baby Two-Toed Sloth

B&B Cottage on the Grounds
 We recently spent a wonderful afternoon at the Toucan Rescue Ranch with our friends Mark and Georgi.

Directors Leslie Howle and Jorge Murillo have created a peaceful sanctuary for injured birds and animals from around Costa Rica. While the goal is rehabilitation and release back into the wild, sometimes that is not possible, and the creatures become permanent residents at the Ranch.

I'll let Paul's video speak for itself about the tour -- but I do want to mention that if you're visiting Costa Rica's Central Valley you might want to consider booking a night or two at the Ranch's adorable B&B. It's a great opportunity to be introduced to an amazing array of Costa Rican wildlife by some terrific folks who've dedicated their lives to these fascinating creatures.

Here's the link to the video: Visit to Toucan Rescue Ranch - February 2014

From the Toucan Rescue Ranch website:


  •     • To establish a captive breeding program for all 6 species of Costa Rican toucans.
  •     • To accept, evaluate and treat rescued and decommissioned toucans, sloths, owls
    and other birds and animals in need.
  •     • To rehabilitate and release when possible any injured bird or animal back to its’ natural environment.
  •     • Provide educational programs, research sites and facilities as well as volunteer opportunities for local, national and international community members.

Grounds of Toucan Rescue Ranch

Wednesday, March 5, 2014



February 2014 TOTAL

We exceeded our $2,000/month goal by almost $250 in February. Looking at the categories, two stand out. The first is “groceries/household.” We expected to spend about $100/week for this category – and this month it’s more than $140/week. I thought that by baking my own bread, making my own yogurt and salad dressings, growing some of our food (at this point it’s mostly lettuce and spinach), and buying our meats and produce at the feria (farmer’s market), we’d actually spend less than $100/week.
Apparently though, I’m genetically programmed to hoard household items. Price Smart (the COSTCO of Costa Rica) is my Achilles heel. This month we went to Price Smart to get dog food, and left with a groaning grocery cart $230 later. Of course, we now have enough toilet paper and paper towels to last into the next decade, but we also bought some items considered “luxury” in Costa Rica – a block of feta cheese imported from Wisconsin, wine in a bottle instead of a box, and giant quantities of chocolate chips, pecans, dried cranberries and pasta.
I also visited AutoMercado, which is a Gringo-style, upscale grocery store. I needed cheese cloth for my yogurt (I’ve been using and rinsing out the same tattered piece since we moved here in October) and parchment paper for baking. I’d read on one of the expat Facebook pages that AutoMercado carried these two items, so on the way home from our February Blooms meeting, my friends Irina and Kathy and I stopped in to find these items. The parchment was easy to find (but expensive -- $8.63!) but there was nothing resembling cheese cloth. I approached a gentleman who looked managerial and asked if he had “fabrica de queso” when I should have asked for “la estopilla.” Unlike my husband, who is really good at looking up what he needs to say in Google Translate before he goes to the store, I just pulled some Spanish-sounding words out of the air.
Señor AutoMercado Manager scratched his head as he watched my wild gyrations. I was trying to mime putting yogurt into cheese cloth and squeezing out the liquid, but it probably looked more like I was milking a cow. So he said something to one of the clerks, who came back with a jar of Cheese Wiz. Meanwhile, Irina found two women shoppers and tried to communicate my cheese cloth needs to them. They said something to Señor Manager and he motioned us to follow him through the store. We got to the housewares aisle where he handed me a package containing a microfiber bag for storing lettuce. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that’s not what I wanted, so I bought it ($16.42). I’ve tested it to see if it will drain the whey from my yogurt – water does come out of it, so it may work. And it looks sturdy enough to last forever.
I’m hoping that we can avoid Price Smart in March so I won’t be tempted. We’ve only gone through about half of the giant bag of dog food, so we may be able to hold out until April. Our pantry is nice and full so it could be that we’ll even be under the $100/week for March.
The other budget-breaker in February was the doctor/medicine category. Paul had a chiropractic treatment, but everything else was me. I had to have a lot of lab work ($180) and my regular medicines are pretty pricey. They’ll continue to be until we get our residency and can use the CAJA (Costa Rica’s required medical insurance that is based on one’s monthly income.) We’ll be depositing my Social security check into a Costa Rican bank and that will determine what we’ll pay for the CAJA. It appears that for the two of us it should come to about $150/month. Once we get on the CAJA, I won’t have to pay anything for doctor visits, lab work or most of my meds.
This is the third month that we’ve published our budget. In March we’ll be going to Nicaragua for our 90-day border run – something we will have to do until we’re in the process of obtaining our pensionado (our category of residency). Many folks do a quick run across and back – but since we’ve never been to Nicaragua, we plan to spend several days visiting Grenada and doing some other touristy activities. So even if we sidestep the lure of Price Smart, we will have some trip expenses to account for. It will be interesting to see how close we can stay to $2,000 in March.
I love doing this monthly report and I hope that it will help folks who want to know what it’s really like to live in Costa Rica. Everyone’s experience is going to be different:  some folks may have much lower housing expenses because they’re perfectly happy in a one-bedroom apartment; others may spend much more because they choose to live in a fancy Escazú condo and spend every weekend at a beach resort. As I’ve written before, we were initially inspired by Paul & GloriaYeatman, who’ve been publishing their monthly budget for several years. It really helped us before we moved here to determine that we really could retire and live for less in Costa Rica.