October 15, 2018

Confession & A Book Review: September 2018

I seriously considered skipping this month altogether, but then decided to hold myself accountable whilst making a confession. It has been a slow reading season the past few months because I've been busy. Busy falling in love. Aww It has been an intoxicating, surprising and mind-boggling experience. I never thought I would enjoy sharing my literal and figurative space with another person again, let alone find someone with whom I feel so compatible. We're still in the "honeymoon phase" of the relationship of course where the thrill of discovery is forefront, but this feels very right. Falling in love in middle age without the "start up" pressures of establishing careers, questionable finances and raising children is nice, but what's been especially refreshing is how secure I am in myself ... my needs, my values, my acceptance of my body and limits. It's wonderful to be with someone who is not only okay with all of that, but appreciative of your cultivating it. We know who we are and aren't afraid to express ourselves with a knowing that being right or righteous isn't required for such expression that only maturity can bring. I'm feeling really lucky and don't want to take anything for granted, while keeping my eyes and mind open (because one should be willing to see and address red flags if any arise). So it's been delightful, but my reading time and social life have taken a serious hit. I'm working on fixing that.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott - This felt like a Girl on The Train knockoff - memory lapses, questionable choices, wondering if you really know those closest to you. It was good, solid B, just too long. 

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah - Two sisters completely different from one another try to relate to their cold, distant mother. I could see where things were going early on and it took FOREVER for the author to get there. I almost gave up half way through, but glad I didn't as it was a poignant story with a good ending. I'd give this a B as well.

Rant: perhaps I'm becoming cynical in my old age, but most books I are 20-50% TOO DAMN LONG!!!

Next up:
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

September 5, 2018

Monthly Book Review: August 2018

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner - set around WWI and the spanish flu epidemic, this lovely story is narrated by the four Bright women -  Pauline and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa. Unfortunately death is inevitable, but things always have a way of working out they way they are supposed to be.

The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett - history, mystery and romance are a winning combo in this Fresh take on an old story.

Next up:
The French Girl by Lexie Elliott
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

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