July 26, 2018

Monthly Book Review: July 2018

All Clear by Connie Willis - I bit the bullet and started the 23.5 hour sequel to Blackout. However, I cheated - stopped 17 hours in and read the summary on a fan site. It was good, just too damn detailed and long.

Next up:
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

July 24, 2018

Konnichiwa 2020!

Two years from today is the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo!

Good read here.

July 23, 2018

Pura Vida

Sassy and I went to Costa Rica in March!!!
Let me rewind. We were all supposed to go to Phoenix just before Christmas, but I cancelled due to urethra surgery (one of the best decisions I ever made!). I promised the kids we’d go somewhere else for spring break. Then Chunky said he didn't want to go anywhere - I asked several times - so I started planing a girls trip. Sassy wanted to go to Vegas so I booked a flight and figured we’d gamble, see a show, etc. About 6 weeks before we were to go I started having second thoughts. Telling Sassy that I thought it better if she went to Vegas with her girlfriends vs her 50 year old mother, I researched somewhere new and exciting that wouldn’t break the bank. London, Dublin and Barcelona were possibilities though I wasn’t super excited about jet lag - like childbirth, you need some time in between to forget the pain (ha!). Then I clicked on the deal of the day on a a travel site and up popped Costa Rica. I found the airline where we had credits flies there and it was a done deal. Imagine Sassy’s surprise!

With a little inspiration from the travel site and a ton of Pinterest research I decided we’d stay in three areas on the west side: Arenal (rainforest), Monteverde (cloud forest) and the Gulf of Papagayo (beach/tropical dry forest). We arrived in Liberia, the largest airport on the west coast (Pacific side).

From Liberia it was a 3.5 hour drive east to our resort outside of La Fortuna. Though many sites touted how safe it was to drive in CR, I am glad I purchased transportation as many of the roads were precarious (a little to one way was a steep drop and a little to the other was the side of a hill/mountain). We drove a short way on the Intercontinental highway, then off onto moderately paved roads the rest of the way - all along the the north and east sides of lake Arenal. There are probably 100 resorts ranging from budget to absolute luxury. This pic is at the west end of Arena Lake - our resort and the volano were on the other end.
It took me awhile to wrap my head around the fact that we were in the rainforest. The resort I initially selected was full and the travel company offered a replacement at the same rating and price (moderate). We were really happy with Arenal Paraiso as we just needed a place to keep our stuff, sleep and clean up. We had our own cabin with a great view, good daily breakfast buffet and natural hot springs (though lukewarm). The grounds were beautiful - every inch had a phenomenal view of the volcano and the only things that weren't green were vibrant flowers in textures I'd never seen before.

I only booked one excursion ahead of our trip - hanging bridges/waterfall/lunch for our first full day. We had an amazing guide who spotted spider monkeys, howler monkeys, bats, snakes (no thank you), and gave all sorts of information on the forest. This place is so green and lush, it’s almost unbelievable. Aside from visual beauty, the rainforest had an amazing effect on my skin - it drank up all the moisture in the air and practically glowed. After visiting the waterfall - 500 steps down and 500 back up - we enjoyed lunch cooked by a local family at an outdoor space across from their home. The food was delicious and our guide had one last surprise for us - a sleeping sloth in a tree directly above.


That evening we took a short taxi ride to the closes town, La Fortuna, where we walked around and picked up a few souvenirs. We didn't have anything planned the next day so decided to book horseback riding and hot springs at another resort (Los Lagos). Another winner! We rode for hours in areas that seemed like no one had ever been before. It was drizzling rain for the first hour and clouds hanging in the air that added gave it a mystical quality.
 

The natural hot springs at Los Lago were way better than those at our resort, presumably because they are closer to the volcano. There were several springs ranging from 90+ degrees down to 60. We liked the covered thermal pools for two, especially when raining. After a cocktail we decided to take the shuttle back to our resort to get ready for Monteverde the next day.

Our transfer to Monteverde is also considered an excursion - some folks stay in Arenal and do day trips from there - so we were with a lot more people. We took a van from the resort to catch a boat to the southwest end of Lake Arenal. From there we loaded back into vans to drive into the mountains. It was comedic that we literally landed on a beach and had to haul our bags up the dunes to the road with waiting vans. There were A LOT of bumps and dips - driver joked about getting a "Costa Rica massage"! The scenery was breathtaking - such diversity from the rainforest - still lush and green but VERY different.

I loved the cloud forest region - mountainous, breezy and cooler. I booked two nights at an eco boutique hotel, Poco a Poco. No TP allowed in the commode and minimal towels but I'd definitely return as it had a great location, nice room and small pool to relax in. After we settled into our room we walked around town and decided to purchase a jungle walk tour for that evening.  A lot of animals are noctural so this was an opportunity to see more than we might during the daytime. The walk was another highlight of the trip! The guide was informative and entertaining. My favorite was the walking stick - can you see it on the branch? Sassy's favorite was likely a snake (no thank you).


The next day we took the local bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. This was something I was really looking forward to - hoping to see the continental divide as well as the elusive resplendant quetzal. We didn't see as many animals as in Arenal or on the night walk, but the native plant life (flora) was spectacular - almost otherworldly. The quetzal is the teal dot in the middle right of last pic. Sassy joked that I was as happy as a kid on Christmas morning :)
 

 

The continintal divide is a hydrological divide where rivers west of it flow to the Pacific and east flow to the Atlantic. Here is Sassy enjoying the mystical view -

Finally, we at dinner at our hotel that night and got ready for the coast/beach for our last two days.

We transferred to Playa Hermosa on the Gulf of Papagayo via private car. We were pleasantly surprised by an upgrade to our room at the Bosque Del Mar. I should have taken pictures as it was a two-room suite with two queen beds, super high ceilings, balcony and gorgeous bathroom with enormous walkin shower. The grounds were beautiful and the location couldn't have been any better - set back from the street, right on the beach. It is HOT, and I do mean HOT on the coast. You knew you were close the equator. The area had a beautiful beach and views. The sunsets were a highlight.


 
  

Sassy begged me to book a snorkeling excursion for our only full day and though I'm not much for being in the water I thought YOLO. We saw a dolphin on the way and anchored in a lovely protected cove for the actual snorkeling. LOTS of colorful fish and coral formations. They served a delicious lunch and drinks (I'm looking at you rum punch!) on the boat, and we traded Pura Vida highlights with fellow passengers.

We had dinner at Ginger, a tapas bar with rave reviews. I thought the food was only ok, but it was a nice way to spend our last evening.
 
Our plane didn't depart until late afternoon so we soaked up as much sun as we could before we left.

I highly recommend Costa Rica! Pura Vida (pu-da vi-da) is a way of life here - it literally means "pure life". The country and its people are beautiful, relaxed and unassuming. A trip to Arenal is a must - you can get there easily from either Liberia or San Jose. I would say Monteverde is a close second. I hear Manuel Antonio (beaches) and Tortuguero (turtles) National Parks are specatacular.

Hasta la próxima vez!

July 2, 2018

Monthly Book Review: June 2018

I am enjoying summer so no shame in only having read one book this month.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine - This was a fun read - karma, plot twist and jet setting lifestyle. “Amber” has her sights set on Mr Parrish so befriends his wife to get to him. However, things aren’t always what they seem. I was a little disappointed at the end - note to editors everywhere, please ensure solid endings when your author has spent 9+ hours building a plot and characters. We want development through the bitter end, not just a quick wrap up.

June 3, 2018

Monthly Book Review: May 2018

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover - a touching story about recognizing the signs and breaking the cycle of domestic abuse. Very real and relatable (with the exception of references to extreme wealth and genetically blessed appearances).

City of Thieves by David Benioff -  a tale of brotherhood, bravery and first love set in Russia during WWII.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate - the daughter of a political figure finds that her family's background isn't what she thought it was. A touching, based-on-a-true story about children stolen from impoverished birth families and adopted out to people of means. 

Next up:
The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
The Map of Heaven by Eben Alexander
All Clear by Connie Willis

May 10, 2018

Summer Reading List

I’ve added 7 of these to my reading queue.

May 7, 2018

5 Things You Might Not Know About "The Sound of Music"

1. Julie Andrews kept falling over during that iconic opening scene. The down draft from the helicopter shooting the mountaintop sequence knocked Andrews over every time it circled around her. "It was fine for a couple of takes, but after that you begin to get just a little bit angry," she said. "And I really tried. I mean, I braced myself, I thought, 'It's not going to get me this time.' And every single time, I bit the dust."

2. The Sound of Music was the last Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
The legendary partnership between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II produced classic musical theatre hits like Oklahoma! and The King and I. The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in 1959 (six years before the Hollywood version appeared on the big screen). In 1960, Hammerstein died from stomach cancer. The last song he wrote was "Edelweiss."

3. The movie could have starred Audrey Hepburn and Bing Crosby.
Other potential Marias included Doris Day, Leslie Caron, Anne Bancroft and Shirley Jones. Captain von Trapp was also almost Sean Connery or Yul Brynner. And some well-known names auditioned for the von Trapp children, including Mia Farrow and Richard Dreyfuss.

4. Julie Andrews yodeled with the real Maria von Trapp.
In a 1973 episode of the variety TV show The Julie Andrews Hour, von Trapp told Andrews that the actress was "absolutely wonderful" in the film, but her yodeling was not quite up to par—leading to this duet.

5. The Sound of Music is #4 on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals of All-Time list.
The film also won five Oscars® in 1966, including Best Picture and Best Director. And adjusted for ticket price inflation, The Sound of Music is the third highest-grossing film of all time (behind only Gone with the Wind and Star Wars).