Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rum and coke

Dear Mark

You may recall that I've been attempting to "master" a new drink/cocktail each month. January was the Sidecar. I am hoping to be able to serve a drink to guests that doesn't have tequila in it. Partly to hoard the good stuff to myself and also I make my margaritas a bit strong.

February was dedicated to the gin and tonic. A classic drink that is quick and easy. The challenge was in the gin selection. I sampled Tanguray, Bombay Saphire and Hendricks. The Hendricks was too good to really mix actually. I've settled for having Bombay on hand as my choice.

In March, while in Panama, I turned my attention to the rum and coke. I've never been a huge fan, mostly because there were other options. However, Panama does make rum locally and I thought I'd give it a try. After sampling a few Panamanian Rums I've settled on "Abuelo" as my choice.

I find that a 50/50 mix over ice is mighty fine. A drink to be consumed when you want to slow it down and when it's hot.

I'd admit that this was an easy one to work on, but one of my rules was to have easy ingredients on hand. I mean rum and coke, pretty easy. I cannot tell you how often not having a fresh lime on hand has nixed a good margarita idea.

Well, I'm off to enjoy another. In April I'm going to tackle the Vesper. It will be 007 tribute. This will prove to be difficult because Lillet is hard to come by so I'll report on the poor man's Vesper too.

Cheers (literally)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mom & the Dictionary

Dear Mark

I saw this today in the news and I figured I should tell you I'm worried about how Mom will take the news.
"Internet slang like LOL and OMG are commonplace on sites like Twitter and Facebook or in GChat and AIM, but do they belong in the dictionary? The Oxford English Dictionary says yes; LOL, OMG, and FYI were added to the March 2011 release of the OED Online dictionary."
Now remember, Mom is still the card carrying member of the "Save the Hyphen" club so I think that this might upset her. I mean Oxford Dictionary is taking a chance here for sure. Adding abbreviations spawn from lazy teenage thumb typists is not a good trend.

What is next? IKR? BTWN? Yes, I think Mom will be quite upset over the abuse of her native tongue. Although she might be happy to know that the French will likely take a stand against it, but that only helps her when she's having cocktails.

While this may be bad news for Mom, it likely will help us in our Scrabble game. I always struggle with finding good words with "y" so FYI is a perfect high scorer.


Panama - Chorerra Track by cyclojeff at Garmin Connect - Details

Dear Mark

Here's a little proof that I did run while I was in Panama. I used my Garmin 410 which has GPS. I like running with it because it helps me track my pace and distance.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Panama - Carnival

Dear Mark

During our stay in Chica Carnival was occurring in Panama. Carnival is a big deal. It comes down to about 4 days of celebration culminating on Fat Tuesday. I found a web site that tries to sum up the reasons why and what occurs. Here is what they say:
"Although most people identify Panama with the canal, it is the colorful interior of the country that defines Panamanian roots and where people return in droves to celebrate Carnival. In the daytime tanker-sized trucks spray the screaming crowds in the equatorial heat. In the evenings there are fireworks, parades, and outdoor dance clubs."
Wikipedia tells me that it is the second largest carnival celebration in the world. Pretty impressive.
"The Panamanian Carnival is the second biggest festival in the world. Traditionally beginning on Friday and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, "los carnavales", as Panamanians refer to the days of carnival, are celebrated in almost the whole country. Carnival Week in Panama is specially popular because of the luxury and magnitude of the Las Tablas Carnival as well as the carnival celebrations in Panama City and almost all of the Azuero Peninsula. The Panamanian Carnival is also popular because of the great number of concerts by national and international artists held on different stages in the most visited areas of the country."
I've never been in Panama during Carnival. It was fun to experience. Being in Chica let me do this on a small scale.

The first night the Carnival Queen from the previous year comes into the center of town and then the new Queen is presented. There is loud music and a band is playing as well. There are several other activities too. It was very fun to watch with Lavinia. The next couple of days there was a parade each day in the town with the Carnival Queen from the town. The parade in Chica was small but it was nice to be part of. Yes, that's right we joined the parade. Here is a picture of Jack & Mama joining in at the back of the parade.

Each day at the center of town is a water tank truck that is spraying down the partying people. There is dance music and just a lot of fun times. I'm sure not so fun for those that live near by, but overall a lot of fun. In the slide show below Lavi took some shots of her family (cousins) enjoying themselves.

On the third night Panama's version of Pearl Jam came to Chica, Samy y Sandra were performing. Now, to put this in perspective let me put it this way. Samy y Sandra playing in Chica is like Pearl Jam playing in the backyard of a house in Startup, WA. It is huge and a very big deal. Now Samy y Sandra always play in small towns, but the point is that they are immensely popular in Panama. Again, wikipedia to the rescue to explain them better than I could:
"Samy y Sandra Sandoval are a brother and sister musical duo, who are performers of típica or pindin (traditional music from Panama) and cumbia style music Music of Panama. They are also known as "Patrones de la Cumbia" (Masters of the Cumbia).[1] and are immensely popular in Panamanian pop culture."
Lavi and I were not planning on going to the show. I was tired from relaxing all day. We decided to go and visit her Tia Tina (aunt) and Tio Danielo (uncle) because we thought that they would be alone while everyone else was at the show. Jack was asleep and we walked up to their house. As we approached it looked like a party was going on outside. As we got closer we saw that several of Lavi's aunts, uncles and cousins from neighboring towns had come to Chica for the show. In fact, Tio Danielo had been going to pick up people all day. It was a wonderful surprise. We were able to hang out with the family for a few hours.

Now, I'll admit that by 10pm my brain was tired. Trying to understand Spanish all day just does me in. So we walked back to Lavi's Mom's house and I was going to bed. Nilsa decided that Lavi had not traveled 3,000 miles to Chica to miss Samy y Sandra. So those two got dressed up and went to the show. It sounded like a great time.

Thankfully I was able to find some posted video of the show in Chica.

Here is a video of them from another concert in the country this year. You can see they are a big deal!

On the last day of Carnival the Queen comes out and is presented to the town again. She rides a float and then dances in the center of town. Now this year's queen is actually related to me. I know, we have royalty (of the Carnival) in the family. Turns out that this year's Queen is Lavi's cousin's wife's sister. Because of this we got a call as the Queen was preparing to ride the float. We raced down with our camera and took a lot of shots. The Queen and Princess were getting on the float we took some really good shots.

Funny story about this though. Lavi was wearing her Mom's house keys on a strap around her neck. That and the camera with the big lens must have made her look like a Journalist. Several individuals thought she was from the paper.

Here is a photo of the Queen, Lavi and her two cousins Diane and Alexis.

And here is a photo of me and the Queen. The Queen's mother insisted that I get a photo with my cousin since we are family. Got to love that.

Here is a slide show of the pictures we took. There are a lot here, and many with family members. There are shots of the water tank, the Queen, the town parade and such in here.

Overall, Carnival in Panama was a lot of fun. A great time to get together with friends and family and really celebrate Panama's culture.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Panama - The stay in Chica

Dear Mark

We've been in Chica now for about 4 days and we plan to be here another 4. I like being here quite a bit. Now this will not come as a surprise to anybody who knows me, but I just don't hold still very well. Yeah, I know. Shocking surprise alert! Not! I think that is why I like Chica. There really is not a lot to do here. You can't go shopping, there are no museums or historic sites or what-not. It is simply about visiting family, of which Lavi has much of here, and it is about relaxing. It's really forced relaxation because as I mentioned, there ain't much to do.

Now there are individuals that will debate the "nothing to do" aspect of my statement. Individuals will say, "Jeff, you could go for a hike or take a walk" or "Jeff you drive some where close and explore." Others would even say "Jeff, you could at least work out."

Let me refute those points to prove my own though. First, yes I could go for a hike. In fact I do every time we visit the family. The reason why is because this town is as hilly as a stage of the Tour de France (which secretly endears the town to me more just making that comparison). So when ever we go anywhere we go for a hike. In fact we do it in heat that would make a native Seattlite cry in his/her latte like a little girl. So consider this one checked.

Second, we could drive some where close and explore. Let me just say that the first time I drove to Chica we drove on a road that would scare novice mountain bikers into hitting the brakes and slowing down. Things have gotten better and the roads are paved. This town is not really close to much, it's a mountain town. I could make comparisons to Chica being near a town to explore, like Granite Falls is to a metropolis. Anyway, you can nix this idea. I will conceded that with a little bit more time you can get out to explore some neat things, which we've done and I'll write about. But near the town, no, not much.

Last, working out. Let me just pick this one apart in many ways. First, I'm on vacation. I plan to run quickly only to nap and if some one yells "It's Cerveza Time!" Second, the fore mentioned hilly and lack of bicycle rules out a lot. Unless you want to do hill sprints. I also mentioned the heat. Now this final point could be disputed by working out in the morning or night, but I loop back to "I'm on vacation."

Now all that said, I did run when we were in La Chorrera. I did this before the sun came up and ran around a track near one of the schools. Running on the streets down here is not wise. In the states cars will go around you and just give you the bird. In Panama there is just an expectation you will move. I don't want to lose that confrontation. Also, you have to run early. Back in 2002 I ran the same track with Jason, Char, Jackie and Lavi at 11am. I think Jason managed like 5 laps, which was the most, before we all waved the white flag.

Now, with that out of the way, back to my point. Staying here in Chica I'm forced to slow down. I read a lot, watch videos, play with Jack (today we made a train with chairs, it was cool) and talk with family. In the past I've resisted this and been the one arguing the points above against me. But this trip I really tried to slow it down. I think I've had more naps than beer this week (definitely not meeting one goal, but just nailing my other goal). It's been hard at times though. My need to putter and do things is hard to keep in check. Still, I've managed to finish 2 books. I watched a DVD tv series (The Middle. Not bad. I love the Janitor from Scrubs so I was in).

Jack has had a great time. We bought a little kiddie pool which he has spent oodles of time in this week. We also picked up a little scooter for him, which he does laps around the house in. Jack has been fascinated with putting water in a bucket and emptying it into a bigger bucket. He spends a good hour doing this daily. He's quite adamant about it. He also follows Coco (Lavi's Dad, coco is Jack's name for him) around working on "job sites" with Coco. Coco will admit that this is probably only teaching Jack bad habits, but you can tell they both love it.

Here is a collection of photos on the Zenfolio site from our stay in Chica.

Lavi has had a lot of time to visit family. Carnival is going on in Panama. Much of her family has come to town to visit and see the festivities. I'll write about that later.

That's all for now. I suggest you take a day this weekend to slow down and relax. You'll enjoy it. Unless of course Siobhan has a list of work for you to do, in which case I back her up (grin).


Panama - The Smell of Salt

Dear Mark

A quick post here about something I think you will find interesting. LaLa (Jack's abuela) was cooking Soupa de Pollo after we arrived in Chica today. I was thinking of you and Mom because the smell of this soup you would love. The reason is that the soup smelled of salt, in a good way. Knowing that you are both addicted to this element of the periodic table I just know you would have loved this soup.

Soupa de pollo is a pretty common dish, especially in the interior. Soup is a midday meal. It usually has a little protein and a lot of starchy vegetables. Some will debate that only certain vegetables can be used, but I've had it with a variety so I'm not going to be picky or elitist.

Here is a picture of LaLa cooking the soup.

Let me just say, it was delicious.


Panama - Arriving in Chica

Dear Mark

After a few days we left La Chorrera and headed to LaLa's second home in Chica. Chica is just less than a one hour drive up in the mountains. Locals would say the town is in the "interior" of the country. Chica is where LaLa was born and raised and Lavi still has a lot of family here, including one of our favorite aunts, Tia Tina. The first time I visited Chica the road was not paved. It was like driving in a dried out creek bed. The trip from the highway is only 15km, but with lots of curves and bends. It used to take an hour and half, but they paved the road about 10 years ago and the drive from the highway takes 20 minutes.

I enjoy coming to Chica. The air is cooler and breezy. The nights are cooler as a result. The town life is slower. There are lots of farms in Chica and many individuals make a living from farming. Tio Danielo and Tia Tina recently use to farm the land. As they have aged they have opened a Tienda (small shop) to make a living. Lavi's Abuelo (grandpa) Mariano (LaLa's Dad) still lives in town. He's 92 years old but could probably still out arm wrestle me.

I mentioned Tia Tina. She is married to LaLa's brother, Danielo. Tina is very special to me because, well she just out right spoils me and I love it. She is a sweet heart. She always makes me special treats like empanadas and fresh squeezed orange juice. Back in the 90's Hilary Clinton visited Chica and had lunch with Tia Tina. Tina had worked with a local women's group in town. We have the newspaper article in the house. I'll have to scan it some time to show you all.

One thing about Chica that I've mentioned already is that life is just a bit slower. It's pretty amazing to say that. Panama in general is pretty slow. It's because of the heat of course. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to move fast when it is so hot out. You see lots of people standing in the shade, or walking with umbrellas when it is hot out. The town life here slows even more. I find as a result I slow down too. I think I really begin to relax when I'm here. Honestly there is not a lot to go do that I have already done in this town. So we talk and read books, enjoy the breeze and have the freshest food I have ever had. Soups made from vegetables from LaLa's garden. Yummy!

Over the years during my visits I've learned to "go native." That will illicit jokes about banana hammocks from Jason, but that is not what I mean. I have learned to slow down the pace in the heat. One sure fire way to be uncomfortable is to move quickly and do a lot in the heat, especially at midday. No, I've learned to go "Panama speed" over the years. My biggest evidence of this is that we were late to dinner the other night by 45 minutes and it didn't bother me at all .

I've got a little slide show of pictures of the house below for you to see. It's an open house that LaLa has continually improved over the years. The best part is the bohio that is on the upper part of the property.


Panama - Backyard Jungle (La Chorrera)

Dear Mark

Lavi's Mom's house in La Chorrera has a modest sized garden in her backyard. You and I would call it a borderline jungle zoo exhibit, seeing that is the only way you and I have ever seen such fauna. I can hear the birds chirping away from there in the morning and throughout the day. The first day here I ate 2 bananas from her tree. They were delicious. Fresh beyond anything we get in the states.

Jack spent time in the backyard juggle with LaLa this morning (Jack calls Lavi's Mom "LaLa" which is short for "Abuela"). He feed bananas to the birds by laying them out and open for them to snack on later. He then picked beautiful pink flowers call Veranera for his Mama. He found a young palm frond which he used as his sword and ant killer. He then picked mint from the garden, which he then instructed me to make tea from later. He made me promise. He then played a rousing game of hide n' seek with LaLa. He mostly used the banana tree and leaves to hide behind. They had to leave when LaLa noticed that the birds were waiting for them to leave so they could eat. Coincidentally this was about the time that LaLa was getting tired. It was a 2-for-1 reason.

I've mentioned that Jack watches a lot of Dinosaur Train. Dr. Scott the Paleontologist talks to the children about "getting out into nature and making your own discoveries." I think Jack did that quite well today. I'm just waiting for him to ask for a banana tree in our backyard and then me having to explain what a temperate zone 4 climate can grow in the way of fruit. I'm sure Lavi will cry during the conversation.

LaLa's backyard is pretty cool. I took some pictures to show you below.

Look at how lush it is even during Dry season. By the by, did you know Panama only has two seasons; Wet and Dry? Sounds like a martini order, but it is for the seasons. It is Dry season now. This means it is much hotter, but the humidity is not as high. So it's a mixed blessing. LaLa's backyard has Banana, Papaya and Noni, orange, lemon and lime fruit. She has mint and palm trees. She has hot peppers and she has orchids. I've seen beautiful birds with dark red feathers and hummingbirds. The backyard is probably only 40 feet by 30 feet but it is more tropical then what we ever saw growing up in Seattle.

Jack is in for a treat though. If he likes the backyard jungle at the La Chorrera house he is going to geek out at the house at Chica. The garden in Chica is like comparing our Connie and Roy's garden to the Kingdom. Seriously it's off the hook.

More later,


Panama - The change in my wife

Dear Mark

I failed to write about one thing that always happens as we travel to Panama. It's a change in Lavi that I notice over and over. I think I've finally nailed down what happens and what the triggers are.

In the past, we would get to Panama and Lavi would just relax in a way I had never seen before. I just figured it was her being home that did it. It is kind of what you are like when you hold an Alaskan Amber Ale in your hand and are talking Larry. There is a just point of relaxation that home brings you. I know it when I see a bit of light rain. It may not be the same for everyone. So when I would see Lavi sort of "act" differently it was cute and fun. But other things started to occur that I could not explain, and they did not all happen in Panama. Some events began as soon as we purchased tickets. Most would occur days before and during travel.

On the way to Panama Lavi would ask me questions that were out of character. Here are some examples.
1. At the beginning of the day of travel she is adamant about being on time, but as we get closer to Panamanian soil I can't light the fire of "hurry" under her.
2. I talk to her quickly in English about something technical and she just sort of glosses over me with a cute "uh-huh, okay" even when I'm not asking a question.
3. The question "is my hair responding to the humidity yet?" comes up about 3-5 times as we begin our descent into Panama (which is sort of a trick question, because she wants it to but it also means the volume of her hair has tripled)

It came to me all of sudden. The questions she asked and the situations reminded me of another thing she does that is equally as cute and adorable. I've often said that you can tell when Lavi is thinking in Spanish vs. English. It use to be the way her English would come out. There were times when it would just sound, different. Not bad or wrong, mind you. Just a different rhythm if you know what I mean. I observe this when she is cooking, and especially when her brother Ben is helping her. Another time this comes out is when she is hanging out with her friend Julie. The half Spanish half English they chatter in is adorable. I think there are certain things that Lavi does that trigger which language she is thinking in.

Thus, I have a hypothesis: Lavi beings to think pre-dominantly in "Panamanian" as we approach the country.

Basically what I see happening is that Lavi switches from thinking in English to thinking in Spanish, and dare I say thinking in "Panamanian." It's beyond cute to see the physical affect that being home has on her. It makes me wonder what affect being in Seattle has on you. Perhaps this phenomenon can help Siobhan explain some of your peculiar traits. Like how you like to listen to bands that no one but us listens to (Yes, I'm speaking of Goodness Mark, face facts. I had to face it with Flake. Only Rod and I listen to them, and of course Lavi and Lisa by osmosis).

My wife is already quite cute to me. When she is at home in Panama she is truly who she is. I'm quite glad that she shares this with me. I sort of wish all our friends could see her at home. She's not different really in the strict sense of the word, but she is a wonder to watch. I'm a lucky one.


Panama - The Flight

Dear Mark

I've been going on and on about how much I was looking forward to our Panama trip. I really needed the sun and relaxation. I have a few reports that I want to give you. So I'll break them into a series of posts for you to read.

The flight to Panama is always one that I sort of dread. We seem to always settle on the early bird, which means an even earlier wake up time. I mean at 3:30am you can still taste the toothpaste from the night before, right? The day of travel is just long enough of a day to really tire you out. The flight is just under 4 hours to Houston and then just under 4 to Panama City. Usually we have about a 2.5 hour lay over. It is a long enough time to get something to eat, use the lavatory and get tired of waiting for a plane again. It's bumpy going into Houston and wah wah wah, a long day of travel basically sums it up.

Traveling with Lavi is like working on a detailed project with an overly stimulated OCD co-worker. She's in the zone and knows the routine. There are times that I think if I laid in bed and just waited in the morning that she'd wash and dress me out of sheer desire to get to Panama. I joke at her expense but I do seriously mean that she knows what needs to get done.

Last time I went to Panama Jack was 14 months old. We had a stroller and an toddler car seat to carry. and at times a toddler to carry. This time around we took no stroller and Jack carried his own backpack (full of cars, coloring book, sticker book, some back up underwear, his airplane pillow and Perry Panda Bear). Things have changed a bit, for sure.

On the way to Houston smart money would have been that Jack would fall asleep. After waking at 3:15am you'd be sure he'd be tired. But you would be wrong. He monopolized my iPad on the way to Houston watching Dinosaur Train episodes that I had brilliantly transferred over. This was actually a big plus. On our trip to Hawaii last year Jack refused to wear headphones. So while he watched Cars the movie he was easily distracted by things. This time with the headphones on we just had to make sure he kept his voice down. He did really well on the way to Houston. We arrived in Houston and he walked to get some lunch and we were ready to board the next plane on time.

The flight to Panama is always better than the flight to Houston. It might be that it is an international flight. It might be that they actually feed you, for free. It might be that I start hearing spanish and seeing Panamanian people. Whatever the reason things go a little better. Jack managed to fall asleep for about 1.5 hours of the flight. Not a very comfortable way for a little boy to sleep, but he managed. After he woke up he read a book with Mama, had some snacks and played quietly with his cars (after needing the restroom like 3x).

Here's how good Jack was. When we landed, a couple behind us said we had a "wonderful little boy" and were so impressed with how good he was. Now, you have to understand that a 2 year old was near by us in the airplane and he managed to scream for about 60% of the flight. He was not a happy camper. So in comparison Jack was a gifted Angel. Still, it was very sweet and sincere and made my day. I was very proud of Jack.

Now after two 4 hour flights, a 2.5 hour layover and an early rise you'd hope we be done, but no. When you arrive in Panama you have to go through immigration. I will give Tocumen airport some credit in making this better. It use to take literally 45 minutes to get through that line. Now it is much quicker. Ben calls it the "Slam Slam Booth" because that is the sound you hear as you approach, the sound of the immigration officer stamping the stamp pad (Slam) and then your passport (Slam) (while sitting in a booth, just to finish that description). After the Slam Slam Booth you get luggage, go through another inspection and finally out to meet Lavi's family.

Now seeing Lavi's Dad is nice and all. He's a sweet guy for picking us up. But what I look forward to more than anything is the wave of heat that hits me. It is this hot slap of weather that lets me know that I'm in Panama. The heat is what I had been craving and it did not disappoint. Ahhhh.

The day is not done. It's still about 45 minutes to their home in La Chorrera, but that goes quick enough. I feel the heat the whole way to the house. Feel it again as I step out of the car and I feel it again as I relax outside on the patio with a cold drink of water watching Jack run off the last of his energy for the day.

The next 2.5 weeks are going to be hot and fun. I'll let you know about them soon.