Pineapple-Red Pepper Margarita

What to do with an over-ripe pineapple? Muddle it in to a margarita. In theory, anyway. In reality, it’s very hard to strain the drink with all that pineapple pulp plugging up the shaker holes. But no matter — it’s worth the effort.

The pineapple adds a touch of tropical sweetness, while the red pepper gives this twist on a margarita a savoury kick. It’s a nice mash-up of one of my favourite cocktails. Cheers!

It's sweet and spicy with a kick. You'll love this twist on a margarita.

It’s sweet and spicy with a kick. You’ll love this twist on a margarita.

Pineapple-Red Pepper Margarita

  • 4 pineapple chunks
  • 4 pieces red pepper
  • 2 oz tequila
  • .5 oz Cointreau
  • 1 barspoon agave syrup
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • Salted rim
  • Garnish: pineapple chunk and red pepper crescent

Method: Rim a margarita glass with salt, then fill with crushed ice. Muddle pineapple and red pepper in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add tequila, Cointreau, agave syrup and lime juice plus ice and shake. Strain into the margarita glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge and red pepper crescent.

Dear Diary…

I picked up a pen on October 7, 1984,and wrote the words “Dear Diary.” I didn’t stop writing about life’s highs and lows, friendship triumphs and betrayals, love found and lost and found again — all penned in looping teenage girl cursive — until sometime in my late 20s.

My diary, circa 1990.

My diary, circa 1990.


Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!  P.S. That relationship didn't last another month!

Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!

By then, with a husband and a house and a blossoming writing career, life became predictable enough that I no longer needed to use blank lined pages as a sounding board for my deepest thoughts and dreams. I put down that pen and the privacy of a diary, and took to a keyboard, typing stories of my trips and travails for the general public as a journalist.

And then, after I left the Calgary Herald in 2011, I started this blog as a way to record bits of the next chapter of my life: the one about raising kids. Blogging is easier than writing — my hand never cramps — and I can add pictures too! It’s like a scrapbook journal. I like to think that Avery and Bennett will read these posts and remember their milestones and laugh at all the crazy things they did.

The modern journal.

The modern journal.

But it’s not always light and cheery. Parenting has its dark moments, especially when raising a child with special needs. I’ve “put it all out there” a couple times in parenting posts and stories about my son and our family’s struggles with his genetic condition and autism. I know this open talk of our sadness, and subsequent coming to terms with our new normal, can seem foreign to people. Sometimes they use words like “brave” or “honest” to describe my words.

The words are honest in the same way my teenage rants were honest in the late 80s. They are brave only in the sense I am writing them knowing that thousands of people will find my “modern journal” and read it cover to cover. I have another word for it, one that’s now backed by research: therapy.

It turns out a Clarkson University professor has written a paper on how mothers raising a child with autism can manage stress through emotional disclosure in journal writing. The article appears in the December 2014 issue of the Journal for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“If people can really comprehend what’s happening to them, if they find meaning in it and find tools for managing it, they are healthy and resilient,” said author Rondalyn V. Whitney, the director and founding chair of Clarkson’s occupational therapy program, in a news release about the paper. “Journal writing is one of their tools in their toolkit, and it helps them find meaningful coping strategies.”

I’m not sure that writing about Bennett helps me find coping strategies, but it does put our challenges into perspective and help me see them in a new light. I also think it’s important to share our struggles, so that others can come one step closer to understanding what we’re going through. I’m not one to beat the disability drum, but I think we can learn valuable lessons from children and adults with differences. As I wrote in a Today’s Parent story this month:

“I wonder at times if I’ve become a better person because of his autism, and I think I have—I’m more patient than I ever thought possible and I’m continually amazed by my perseverance and my ability to adapt to a new normal every few months as behaviours come and go.”

Maybe everyone should have a little Bennett in their lives, I think. And so I write. Because life is no longer as stable and predictable as it was when I was 28, and my keyboard and a blank screen — and you, my readers — have become my new sounding board.

Drink of the Week: Pina Colada

I’m still on tropics time and wanted to reintroduce your taste buds to a smooth and creamy classic: the Pina Colada. Banish from your memory the frozen Bacardi pre-mixed Pina Colada canisters popular in the ’80s. Those blended abominations were too sweet and tasted of artificial coconut.

The real deal, however, made with coconut cream, pineapple juice and rum, is delightful, especially if you’re enjoying it al fresco in Costa Rica. Oh, and the climate there is perfect for a blended, boozy coconut-flavoured slushie. We enjoyed this drink on the patio at Gingerbread restaurant in Nuevo Arenal. I didn’t get their recipe, but I searched up a great one, below.

Yes, I like Pina Coladas. Getting caught in the rain, not so much...

Yes, I like Pina Coladas. Getting caught in the rain? Not so much…

Pina Colada

  • 1-1/2 oz coconut cream
  • 1-1/2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz aged rum
  • 1 oz coconut rum
  • Splash coconut milk (optional)
  • Garnish: Pineapple wedge

Method: Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a blender. Add 1 cup of ice and blend until smooth. Pour contents into a hurricane glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge.

— Recipe courtesy Epicurious

5 things Costa Rica taught me about parenting

We’re back from Costa Rica and I hope the pura vida philosophy will stay with us at least until the leaves come out and Calgary begins to resemble a habitable city instead of a brown and barren wasteland. The shock of re-entry is hard, but we bring with us precious memories of time spent exploring the jungle and jumping waves at the beach.

Another beautiful Costa Rica sunset.

Another beautiful Costa Rica sunset.

This was the first off-resort holiday we’ve done to a developing country with kids in tow, and I’m still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I suppose I thought there would be more fighting, tantrums, ethnic food aversion, resistance to planned activities or utterances of “I’m bored.” Instead I can honestly say it was the best family vacation so far. It also taught me some things about the kids and our relationship; nuggets I’ll try and hold onto as the sounds of the jungle fade.

1. “Sometimes it’s better to be in the moment than to take a picture.”

Avery said this to me one night at Playa Grande after we’d watched the setting sun bleed the sky ridiculous shades of orange, pink and purple. She’d struck up a conversation with an American photographer (who also surfed, natch) currently living in Barcelona, who comes to Costa Rica every year. As we all took endless pictures of the glorious sunset, Avery asked him why he didn’t have his camera. His response obviously resonated with her, and it’s so true. Sometimes you just need to be present with kids and family, instead of recording life on an iPhone.

2. Your kids are more capable than you think

After Avery caught her seventh gecko all I could think was, “Where on earth did she learn to do that?” Goodness knows I have never caught a lizard (nor been inclined to even try). Ditto for fishing. Blake gave her a quick lesson in casting, they found bait the bass liked (bread), and then it was off to the races. Out to the pond Avery tromped every morning, reeling in fish all by herself.

And then there was Bennett, who constantly asks for my help with his shoes in Calgary. Suddenly in Costa Rica, when there were peacocks and chickens to chase around the yard, he became adept at putting on his own shoes in under 20 seconds. And when it came to the waves at the beach, he soon proved he could stand his ground and “body surf” with the rest of us rather than being carried off to sea.

3. “The fine details of nature are everywhere, you just have to notice them,” said Avery.

Or, have a child with you to point them out. I might not have noticed the fire flies that first night if Bennett hadn’t pointed into the night and said, “What’s that?” I squinted into the inky darkness. “What’s what?” I asked. “What’s that glowing, Mommy?” And then I saw the fire flies, the same way I saw a trail created by leaf cutter ants that Avery pointed out, and a tiny red blue jean frog she spotted hopping through the leaf litter. Children are like fairies that way. It’s as though they still believe in magic and notice the wonders that old eyes takes for granted.

Avery even noticed things about the butterflies I would have overlooked.

Avery even noticed things about the butterflies I would have overlooked.

4. The kids will be alright

Not an hour after we’d arrived at Villa Encantada, Bennett promptly stepped backwards off a ledge at the pool and completely scraped up both arms. A few days later he rammed into Avery on the waterslide and she bonked her head on the concrete. In both instances I immediately envisioned broken bones and concussions, when in reality they were the small scrapes and goose eggs of childhood.

One evening we ventured out for an adult dinner and left the oldest child, our friends’ son (age 13) in charge as a babysitter. I fretted a bit on the drive to the restaurant — What if there was a fire? What if an escaped lunatic descended on the villa while we were gone? What if they all got abducted like that British girl vacationing in Portugal? We returned to a quiet house where the only mishap had been Avery scraping her heel on the staircase. Note to this mommy: breathe, stop worrying and enjoy your night out. If they can fly solo in Costa Rica, the kids should be alright everywhere else.

5. Enjoy your littles. They’re going to be big soon.

How many more years will Avery beg us to go tide pool exploring with her, or come running to us to show us every caught frog and gecko? And how much longer will Bennett seek my reassurance about night sounds, or crawl into bed with me to cuddle as dawn breaks? They will always be precious, but there’s something so sweet and endearing about them right now. At age nine and seven. And I vow to soak it all up.

Love. These. Two.

Love. These. Two.

Drink of the Week: Pura Vida

Not only is “pura vida” (pure life) a greeting and way of life in Costa Rica, it’s also a fruity tropical cocktail. My friend spotted it on the menu at RipJack restaurant on Playa Grande, and he couldn’t resist ordering a Pura Vida to complete his holiday experience.

The Pura Vida cocktail is fruity and made with Cacique Guaro, which is a local spirit made from distilled sugar cane.

The Pura Vida cocktail is fruity and includes Cacique Guaro, which is a local spirit made from distilled sugar cane.

We all liked the drink’s presentation and agreed that the mason jar made it look less girly (it’s pink in hue and has a star fruit garnish). That certainly didn’t stop my friend from guzzling it down after everyone enjoyed a sip.

You can’t really taste the main spirit, Cacique Guaro (a local rum-like liquor made from distilled sugar cane), but in a smokin’ hot climate that’s not the point. You just want icy, fizzy refreshment — and perhaps a happy hour buzz — and the chilled orange and mixed fruit juice delivers. As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida!”

Pura Vida

  • 1-1/2 oz Cacique Guaro
  • Splash grenadine
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz mixed fruit juice (such as Dos Pinos brand)
  • Top Sprite
  • Garnish: star fruit and lime wedge

Method: Into a mason jar add Cacique Guaro and grenadine. Fill glass with ice and add juices and Sprite. Stir, and garnish with star fruit and lime wedge.

— Recipe courtesy RipJack

Attempting to surf in Costa Rica

Surfing is big in Costa Rica. Everywhere you look tanned and toned locals, travellers and ex-pats are ripping it up and making it look easy. And though it’s never been an activity on my bucket list, when the opportunity to participate in a family surf lesson with Frijoles Locos surf shop in Playa Grande came up, I couldn’t spoil the fun for the rest of the clan.

Which is how I found myself standing on the beach at 7 a.m., giant longboard at my feet, with tanned and freckled Rob-the-surf-instructor telling us about the number one danger out there: All. The. Sharks!

“Really?” Avery asked, without a trace of fear. “No I’m teasing,” said Rob. “What you have to be careful about is your board.” He went on to explain board safety, and the many ways the surf board could turn into a violent head bonking, nose cracking smack-down device that was unfortunately chained to my ankle (he failed to mention its knee-twisting capabilities).

Then Rob showed us how to “pop up.” This is where you draw on your past life of high school varsity sports training — where the coach made you do push-ups and burpees until you threw up — and channel those adolescent skills into a graceful pop up movement that lands you in surfing stance from your stomach in under one second. They key, said Rob, is confidence. You have to look at the shore and act like it’s no big deal. “Got it?”

Rob pushes Avery out into the surf.

Rob pushes Avery out into the surf.

We headed out into the rising tide, white frothy waves crashing all around us, with Avery leading the way. Before I’d even waded past the little breakers Avery was standing on her board like a natural (Rob steadied the board for her and pushed it ahead of the swell to help her out). I was next, and promptly lost my nerve, looked at my feet (a big no-no) and did a header into the surf. Blake has surfed a couple times before and fared much better, standing up on his first try.

Avery is all confidence on her surf board, mugging for the camera.

Avery is all confidence on her surfboard, mugging for the camera.

And so it went for the next hour. Blake caught his own waves, Avery stood up every time and even jumped back and forth into switch, while I careened off my board and was churned through the water like dirty clothes in a washing machine filled with sand.

Me bailing. Again.

Me bailing. Again.


“You’re too far back,” coached Rob. “Arch your back and paddle,” he suggested. “Don’t look at your feet!” So I looked up — just in time to see my daughter riding her surfboard while doing a handstand — and was then unceremoniously claimed by the sea yet again. The next time I looked up Blake and Avery were riding a wave side by side, the surfing equivalent of carving powder-eights. I longed for solid water under my feet, to feel graceful atop snow instead of clumsy under water.

Avery and Blake enjoy a side-by-side ride.

Avery and Blake enjoy a side-by-side ride.

And then, finally, I surfed. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t last long, but at least I can say I rode one wave in Costa Rica.

Woohoo! I surfed!

Woohoo! I surfed!

Driving la carreteras locas

Crazy roads. That’s what they’ve built in Costa Rica, so that’s what we drive on. Narrow paved roads with no shoulders and lots of hairpin turns. Narrow gravel roads with potholes and washboard ruts and more curves than a coiled fer de lance.

Narrow and winding is how they build roads in Costa Rica.

Narrow and winding is how they build roads in Costa Rica.

I asked the owner of Villa Encantada why they haven’t paved the road to Monteverde cloud forest, one of the country’s top tourist attractions. “The government has more pressing concerns,” he told me. As we bounced along the dirt road for over an hour, driving playground-zone speed, my teeth loosening from my gums and the persistent squeak from our rental Toyota growing ever louder, I had to wonder if the country’s dentists and car mechanics were somehow in on the non-paving plan. It took us two hours to drive 70 kilometres.

Many smaller roads aren't paved and travel is sloooow.

Many smaller roads aren’t paved and travel is sloooow and dusty.

After dark, with no street lights to illuminate the way, the roads become ever more perilous, as we’ve found out on two occasions while racing the sunset home. And somehow, both Avery and Bennett are able to fall asleep in spite of (or perhaps because of) the drunken swaying of the car — it becomes rather like a giant bouncy chair, the kind that used to vibrate them to sleep as babies.

Costa Ricas answer to Canada's roadside mountain sheep: coatimundis, which are racoon-like scavengers.

Costa Rica’s answer to Canada’s roadside mountain sheep: coatimundis, which are racoon-like scavengers.


On those occasions when the drive is going smoothly, bands of roving coatimundis wander across the pavement midday to keep me on my toes (read: my foot hovering over the brake pad). Yes, we’re surviving las carreteras locas, and they’ve prepared us for the ocean, where we face las olas locas = crazy waves.