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Candidly Yours

Zest Up your Cauliflower Rice!

August 24, 2019

I’m never in the mood to give up rice, but if I”m going to get my blood sugar in place and lose about 15 pounds, the rice has got to go. I confess, I’m on an unhappy mission to exchange rice for vegetables and if I am going to be successful, I will have to come up with a satisfying alternative.

As a teen, I spent eight months in the Philippines where rice is eaten as an absolute staple. I got a kick out of being able to eat rice — at the table — by hand using thumb, pointer and middle fingers!  More acceptable, and a habit that stuck with me, is eating rice with other ingredients using together a large spoon and  fork.

My love of rice continued when, a decade later, I spent a few years in Mexico and then,a few decades later, nearly eight years in Panama.  It’s a hardship for me,  this idea of relinquishing my comforting, gluten-free, beloved rice. But I was feeling committed so here is what I came up with.

By now it’s common to use “riced” or finely processed cauliflower in place of real rice dishes.  “Ricing” cauliflower is easy. You can purchase it in the store pre-ground, but it’s costly. I buy a head of white cauliflower, break it apart, pulverize it in a processor to about the consistency of rice.  I store this in an air tight bag in the freezer or fridge.  But cauliflower has to be jazzed up to be satisfying and I have found that Lemon or Lime Zest is a terrific addition that brightens up many dishes.

Below is how I prepared this zesty, and surprisingly satisfying “rice alternative” dish. Vegans will want to replace my use of parmesan cheese with a vegan alternative. But other than that … have at it! It’s fast and easy. Use it alone, as a side dish, play with it by adding meats or even a gravy.


  1. Into a hot, large-bottom pan with good surface area, and using no oil or water so it won’t get mushy, stir 2 Cups “Riced” cauliflower on high heat until most of the moisture vaporizes, about 4 minutes. You will be able to watch the steam rise up and away.
  2. Turn off the heat and then add:

    1 tsp lemon juice or about the juice of half a lemon.
    1/8 to 1/4 grated lemon or lime rind (I used lime rind). This adds so much brightness!
    Salt to taste
    1/4 cup flaked or grated parmesan cheese (vegans use a substitute)
    8 – 10 Loosely chopped, fresh basil leaves.

  3. Mix all this together, add a little Earth Balance vegan butter (or the real thing) and eat it up!

TIPS:  For kids, try adding mild cheddar and Half & Half to give it a Mac ‘n Cheese feel. Mix in grill chicken bits. Play with it. It’s versatile!

Candidly Yours

God Whispers & the Cost of Kindness

February 26, 2019

One of my favorite, cut-to-the-quick sayings is: “There’s something about that person I don’t like about myself!”

Whenever I catch myself judging, criticizing or feeling squirmy about another person’s public behavior, (and I truly hate to confess how often this happens), I receive what some call insight, but what I have come to refer to as a “God Whisper.” A whisper might sound soft, but this one comes with a harsh slap of reality!: ”Elizabeth, there is something about this person you don’t like about yourself!”

Today, after work, I caught  a talk show episode concerning a mother with two severely mentally ill children. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that instantly, this woman was intolerably unlikeable:  She was intense, overbearing, over-talking, interrupting, interjecting, occasionally arrogant and it was clear that the host, every invited professional, as well as the entire audience were crawling out of their seats with dislike for her and her grating, annoying way of interacting.

Well, who could blame them? She was simply unbearable. The entire, collective  virtual “we” who were watching all wanted to smack her upside the head and shout “JUST STOP!  JUST STOP! PLEASE … JUST …  STOP!”

And as I barked at the television over her cringeworthy unbearable-ness, I got ‘the whisper:’  “Elizabeth. There is something about this woman you don’t like about yourself!”

And with that eye-opening, I began to look at her differently.

I wondered if anyone in the audience noticed that her exasperating, frenetic yammering came from her fear of not being heard, for years, and the utter exhaustion of having been in the trenches, advocating daily for her children — however ineffectively and probably to the point of maximum frustration — 24/7, for close to two decades, without a break, had made her lose all self-awareness.

Beneath her exhaustive, irritating manner was an even more exhausted mother who had lost her balance, lost her perspective, probably lost most of her friends, and was utterly desperate.

I recalled a time in my life, when I had become stretched beyond reason, while opening a restaurant overseas with my then husband, working often 20 hours a day, literally 20 hours a day, whilst also raising and fretting over our twelve year old whom I had never previously left alone, whom I had never been late to pick up.

Additionally, I was marketing the business, training staff and so much more while maintaining a home, plus school and social schedules, cooking, and managing some astonishingly ugly, local expat gossip in a small tourist retirement town. All that with a smile on my face and coupled with a complete unawareness that I was maxed out beyond sanity. 

I had little awareness of how overworked I was or of how I appeared to the world at large at any given moment. There were few or no resources left to manage emotions, crises, day-to-day pressures, so much so that once, while standing at a neighbor’s gate, waiting to purchase some fresh eggs, I fell asleep, on foot, at her gate. I literally fell asleep standing up.

I had arrived at a point where I couldn’t maintain calm or have any sense of self-presence. I had become the woman I watched on television today.  I remember being judged harshly, unfairly, even with cruelty, and that was painful and difficult to manage.

Still, and  in defense of those who were unkind, I understand that high levels of apparent stress do not attract kindness from the casual observer just expecting a nice meal at your restaurant or understanding from  your son’s seventh grade teacher expecting a normal, parent-teacher review.


There were some who judged me so harshly, even tried to destroy our livilihood,  but who never guessed that on top of all the above, I was in a constant state of worry over my husband’s life- threatening illness, and illness we lived with, quietly, for twenty years.

Today, that time in my life is a memory I can hold without bitterness. It is also a good “note to  self” to take time out to consider the circumstances of the other, sometimes a very grating “other,”  and to put kindness before judgment, to look beyond the tantrum, the rant, the rudeness, or the ugly, and to consider the pain or stress, the frustration and perhaps the need that might lie beneath.

Of course, I can’t expect strangers to pause in the name of compassion, but  I can require it of myself. And when I fall short in this area, I am reminded by the “God Whisper,” reminded to stop and ask: What ails you? Can I help?

We can run around on a high and mighty and happy plain, often, and that is to be celebrated. But what goes up, eventually falls down and we all know, or will know, that pain and stress are great equalizers. It is my belief that real life catches up with even the luckiest of us, eventually. We are all standing in the same leaky boat, just not always at the same time.  I am reminded of another saying:  It costs nothing to be kind.


Candidly Yours

Heavenly No Crust “Cheese Dreams”

August 12, 2018

My good friend, Helen, is on a Ketogenic diet, so no gluten flour for her!
She is also a wonderful hostess and the last time I popped over, she set out the most delicious, gooey, cheesy “non-pizza”  snack!  It was a bit like a pizza, a bit like a quiche, but no crust at all,… i.e., gluten- and mostly carb-free!.  What it reminded me of most was an extra yummy mozerella stick.

I wanted to make something like it as soon as I got home, but alas… I didn’t have all her ingredients.  I did however have sausage and some different cheeses. What emerged from my oven was equally tasty and I’m calling it Sausage Cheese Dreams. Below is my recipe

This dish is  ideal as an h’ordeuvres, a snack,  or even in a larger piece for breakfast. It’s also Keto- and Paleo- diet friendly.

You can certainly  make a vegetarian version by simply omitting the meat!

(Vegetarian Option Included!)

1.   Heat oven to 3752.
2.  Line a cake pan or similar shallow pan with butter, parchment paper, then more butterIn a medium bowl, beat 2 pasture raised eggs and to this, add:

  • 1 cup of riced cauliflower (you can purchase this already riced in the frozen section of your super market, or you can process it yourself.
  • 3/4 cup of grated gooey cheese. I used a 4-cheese Mexican mix but Monterrey Jack, Colby, or Mozerella will all do.
  • Add 3/4 cup grated or shaved parmesan cheese
  • Add 3/4 cup crumbled breakfast sausage meat, sautéd until just cooked, (Be sure it is cooled eoght before adding it to the egg mixture.)NOTE to Vegetarians: Omit the meat and replace with sautéd mushrooms.
    If your mix is too liquid, add 2 – 3 tbsp of gluten-free flour.
  • 15 freshly chopped basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • TIP! If your batter seems too liquid, add two tbsp. of gluten-free flour, or just enough to bind and absorb the liquid. 

3.  Once all your ingredients are incorporated, pour all of the mixture into the prepared pan. You do     not want the uncooked batter to cover more than 1/4 of an inch. It will expand as it cooks, but you are not making a quiche!

4  Sprinkle more cheese and a bit of basil on top and bake about 20 minutes, or until you see the top bubbling and the edges turning brown.

Batter, before the oven

Top is bubbling, edges are brown.

5.  Cool about 5 minutes. Then turn it out by pulling up the parchment paper and cut into desired bites or slices



TIP! : Try using different cheeses & experiment with different herbs. Add mushrooms & sautéd onions.
If you’re daring, toss in a pinch of cayenne pepper for a kick, or use Pepper Jack cheese.

Candidly Yours


March 31, 2018

Secretly, I thought I might be crawling toward death and I wasn’t at all sure why. I had been so depleted, for months, and I was quietly frightened enough that I began writing the names of my loved ones on the backs of treasured  heirlooms in case I kicked the bucket in the night.

Looking back, so much was going on but I never strung the issues together. It just felt like my body and my mind were going down like a slowly but inevitably sinking ship.

I’ve always had insomnia, even as a small child, but for months, I had been almost unable to sleep at all and, if sleep came in spurts, it was never for more than 90 minutes, a couple of times in one night.  Yes, I had been living and working on about 3 hours of sleep for over a year.

Even sexier,  I had developed creepy, wrestlers legs. And to add to the fun, my muscles started going into painful spasms, my  eyes felt like they had grains of sand in them but a trip to the eye doctor and liquid tears did nothing.  The heart was palpitating, I was dizzy, my hair was falling out and my joints hurt so much that I could hardly walk in the mornings. Beyond dragging my sad self to work, I couldn’t get out of bed or get enthusiastic to do anything at all. Not even dance, my favorite activity, ever. Ugh. This is not the stuff for an alluring dating profile page!

Those who know me, know I generally a happy chick,  high-strung for sure, even hyper, but still a happy lady and this helped me be able to  ignore for too long, or hide all the above from anyone around me. Then, on Christmas Day, my stress level and my ability to cope with the regular bustle of guests was so overwhelming I felt embarrassed. I was a freak!

Blessedly, a few weeks into the New Year, a shocking blood pressure attack forced a reluctant visit to the doctor where it was suggested I have my vitamin B12 level checked.

B12 is an essential vitamin. Without it, one can develop pernicious anemia, neurological issues, even Alzheimers. It is detrimental to go without B12 yet oddly, it is not part of a routine blood panel. Still, it is easily fixed if caught in time.

In countries that follow a mostly vegetarian diet, such as India, B12 deficiency and it’s consequences, is common. Vegetarians and vegans are told they must  take a B12 supplement or consume foods fortified with the vitamin if they are to maintain  healthy levels. A close friend of mine became vegan when in her 20s. After a time, she began passing out. It was discovered she was B12 deficient and today, decades later, has a permanent loss of feeling on one of her little toes!

Since today, B12 is easily obtained in supplements and  fortified foods such as cereals, vegetarians can make a good case for giving up meat altogether.  Still, doctors tell me that it is best to obtain essential vitamins through diet over supplements, if possible, and B12 is naturally provided only in meats, eggs and dairy.  Okay … well … Ahem! I eat meat, eggs and dairy. So why, then  did I become dangerously deficient? And could this be happening to you? Well, if you suffer from acid reflux, it just might!

What many don’t know, and what no doctor told me 12 years ago when I began taking acid reducing meds daily,  is that people who suffer from acid reflux and related issues, and who are on a prolonged regimen of proton pump inhibitors such as Nexus or Prylosec, can develop a B12 deficiency because the stomach is not producing enough acid for absorbtion. This is likely how I became deficient. If you are taking reflux meds, think about having your B12 checked with your next blood panel.

I am happy always to cater to my vegan and vegetarian friends. But whenever I have tried to go without meat, it just does not feel right for me. I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I am conscious about where my meat is produced, how it is fed and slaughtered. Ditto for eggs. But I just don’t feel well when I remove it from my diet completely. And it begs, for me, the question that follows…

If Vitamin B12 is not readily available in plants, were we ever intended to be 100% vegetarian, as some claim?  If our creator had wanted us to abstain from meat altogether, would he not have provided B12 in plant foods?”  

I started taking high doses of B12 daily, without fail. You can get your B12 in a regular vitamin but for me, a sublingual or liquid delivery is more efficient because of  malabsorption in the stomach.  After just a few days, I began to sleep! Within 2 weeks, or even sooner, every one of the symptoms described above had begun markedly to disappear. Within 4 weeks, I was out dancing again! And my stress level is noticeably down and manageable.

Today, I take a medium dose of B12 daily. About once a month, I add liver to my mostly Paleo diet.To make liver taste almost like a good filet mignon, I soak it for about an hour in milk which helps remove that metallic after-taste.  I lightly dredge the meat in Quinoa flour, then I simply sauté in butter with a little salt and pepper. I top it off with caramelized onions. Delicious.



Candidly Yours

How to cook (Yuck!) Liver

January 12, 2018

“Mom, is this filet? It’s delicious!” my son asked as he bit into a tender, juicy piece of … wait for it…liver.

I do realize this is not going to be my most popular post but I encourage you to read on…

When I was growing up, if one friend asked another for dinner, the usual reply — or rather the hesitant reply before the reply — was “What are you having?” and if the answer was “Liver,” the RSVP was a speedy and resounding “No!”

The liver my son had that day was during our years in Panama. It was fresh and grass fed, and it was indeed tender and resembled a filet mignon.

People don’t generally like liver because it has a strong, distinctive metallic taste that so many find off-putting. So…why eat liver? Because liver is chock full of nutrients like iron, vitamins A and B12 and so much more!

Like many people, I discovered that I have a serious B12 deficiency due to long-term, over-use of proton pump inhibitors from a reflux disorder. The overuse of PPIs had the eventual  effect of hindering absorption of B12 and make no mistake;  a B12 deficiency is serious business. So,  in addition to supplements, I am eating liver once a week.


  1. Purchase good quality beef liver, sliced very thinly, about 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Before cooking it, soak it in some milk. This seems to remove the metallic taste that is so off-putting to so many.
  3. Dredge it in a little flour seasoned with your favorite salt and some pepper.
  4. Melt some good quality butter in a skillet and sauté your sliced onions until soft, translucent and beginning to caramelize.
  5. Put the onions to the side (or on a separate plate), add butter, and sauté your liver, turning only once.  The liver will cook in just  few minutes. Some people like it a little pink in the middle. I’m good with pinkish or done through and through.
  6. If you like, deglaze the pan with a little water, add flour and make a quick gravy to drizzle over your dish.


Candidly Yours

Remembering Frank Bravo, El Salsero

October 2, 2017

Remembering Frank Bravo

There was a rare and lucky era when I found my life suddenly unfolding in the middle of an extended, and completely magical moment in time, a moment that, because of my youth, I mistakenly assumed would last forever. I didn’t know then what I know now: That is, of course, that nothing stays the same.

In late February of 1984, I stepped off the rickety bus from Mexico City and into the richly beautiful pink city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Now this was San Miguel before even the notion of a thing called “Starbucks” had been conceived, when only a handful of people had television sets, and absolutely no one had a cell phone.

I was initially there to learn Spanish and I was making friends — but not just any friends  — not your run-of-the-mill twenty somethings. The people I was meeting were bursting with talent, young talent infused with passion and comprised of artistic, poetic, painterly, powerful, musical, idealistic and creative energy. Life suddenly blossomed into an enchanted, mini-magical epoch. At the center of this was, of course, music, and at the center of the music was Frank Bravo and his band, La Propia Salsa.

Growing up in suburban Connecticut on classical music and show tunes, my scholarly mother didn’t allow any television except Ed Sullivan, on Sundays,. Absolutely no cartoons, and positively no Dr. Seus! By the time I was 18 I had never,  ever heard country music so you can be sure that, upon arriving in Mexico, the steamy rhythms of Salsa music were a far cry from anything on my radar. But the first time I soaked in that beat, the clanging cowbell and those super-hot rhythms that just move, I was hooked for life. This music that ignited me came out in the rich and gritty voice of the one and only Frank Bravo, a real talent from Venezuela.

In my opinion, Frank was one of the greatest salsa singers I have ever heard. Because of Frank and his love for classic salsa, I’ve heard the greats and Frank was, for me, one of the very best. It wasn’t just his voice, never off key, never bored or boring. Frank was the whole package. He simply had that ‘thing’, that star quality that comes from more than the having developed a craft or an art. It comes from love, and not just the love of the genre he clearly so appreciated and honored. With Frank, you could literally feel and see his deep affection, amusement and delight in his audience. He was clearly energized by not only the music but the audience he was entertaining.

Frank would watch his the people dancing with a delighted twinkle in his eye. No matter how many thousands of times he sang the same classic songs, they slid off his tongue as fresh as if he were just discovering them for the first time. Never once did I seem him tire of a song or of the people he was entertaining.

Frankie wasn’t doing any of this alone. In the early 1980s, San Miguel was bursting with young talents, both in Frank’s band and working independently. Willie Royal, a young soloist, steamed up the restaurant bar at Mama Mia restaurant, as he practically danced with electric violin. Wolfgang Fink performed in the main dining room, a really good flamenco soloist whose girlfriend, Diana, would sit by him and clap the “palmadas.” Both Willie and Wolf were later paired by Francesca Fisher, of Fisher & Paykel heritage, for a movie she produced, giving birth to the duo Willie & Lobo who enjoyed moderate international success. Also part of the band was Jose Luis Chagoyan, aka Hopalong, who still enjoys his long career in music. There were also Solomon, a jazz musician at heart but then part of Frank’s band, and a firecracker named Mauricio who was the hottest thing on cow bells, ever. There were others whose names escape me.

Frank was the center of the action and we were the ripples around him and his music. Not all were musicians. There were accomplished artists, Keith Keller and Dan Ruffert. Francesca produced the town’s first ever music video. And Frank’s talented wife, Victoria Robbins was at that time earning her masters in global education and would later go on to launch what remains today the very successful Victoria Robbins School.

I think Frank had an intrinsic grasp of the gestalt that is created between the stage and audience. The word “gestalt” is generally misunderstood to be something better than the sum of all its parts but this is inaccurate. A gestalt is something different that the sum of all the parts, and it can be different every time those parts come together. Frank not only understood this, he delighted in the possibility of what could be created freshly with each new gig.

I remember Frank as having a puckish, boyish grin, almost happily devilish at times, a bona fide sparkle in his eye, and a completely genuine love for people and for music. Never once did Frank make me, or I think anyone, feel bad. But his real true love, besides music, was Victoria.

The life of a musician is a noble one but it has its dangers. A musician’s routine isn’t routine at all; it comes with odd, late-night hours, emotional highs before and during performances that can be followed by sudden, echoing silences when the venues shut down. A musician’s schedule not generally ticking on the average 9 to five run and these pitfalls can take their toll. It is a life better held together when the singer has something solid to anchor and support it. And for Frank Bravo, that anchor was Victoria’s steadfast, forever love.

Frank’s gift to us came as much from God as it did from Victoria. She was there through it all and for decades, for the successes, failures, and ultimately illness. Victoria was Frank’s everything. I don’t think he would have flourished as the musician he was or have had the career he did without her. I’m certain of it and I feel certain so was he. Not only did Frank know this, he appreciated it when he was alive. He adored her and he would have been lost without her.

After only a few short years in San Miguel de Allende, I reluctantly moved away, visiting only twice, and I missed Frank and Victoria actively over all those decades. We all have people in our life whom we know will accept us back into their fold as if no time has passed, and Frank and Victoria were two of those rare people for me.

I can both see and hear Frank in my mind and have done so over all the years I missed him. In my memory, he is on a local stage, he’s wearing a fine white outfit, maybe holding a cowbell or some other hand instrument. He’s singing and stamping out those bad-ass salsa steps, vibrating his shoulders, a knowing and slightly devilish glint in his eye, the gritty voice, the joy, Victoria at times in the wings. This is how I will remember Frank Bravo.

I can’t find my old tapes of La Propia Salsa and the Propia Salas. I can no longer find on the net his wonderful voice but I found one link here. It doesn’t do him justice. I miss you, Frankie.

Candidly Yours

The Value of a Vote

November 8, 2016

It was as a very young woman, living without family and under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, when I became a patriot.
That experience changed my world view and my life, forever.

There, in Davao city, I learned the value and privilege of voting by secret ballot. (There was no free vote, press, or speech under martial law.)

I have lived, collectively, over 10 years outside the USA and while I miss it, and often prefer life overseas, I remain a patriot.

(Even today, I become emotional when I stand alone, pencil in hand, to cast my ballot.)

This means that no matter who is elected today, the next president will be MY president and I will hope and pray that she or he will be the best president for us all.

So vote thoughtfully.
Vote with pride.
And for those of you who have never truly understood that voting is a right and a privilege not enjoyed by all, vote with gratitude.
But by all means, vote.

Candidly Yours

A Good Saloon

May 13, 2015

In memory of my father, William Lee Ballard, 1926 – 2007

One of the things my dad passed on to me was an appreciation for bars and bar life in general.  I’m not referring to loud, hot nightclubs, but to a good neighborhood bar, the type of place dad referred to as a “good saloon.”

Back in the 1960s, when the business of advertising was still fun, Billy Ballard was a bit of a legend.  Those were the days when four-martini lunches and after hours cocktails were part and parcel of the job. Dad had an extraordinary wit; he was notorious for his colorful tongue and outrageous irreverence, as well as his thoughtful generosity and unpretentious ways.  He was also a resolutely unapologetic drinking man.

Over the years, during our many father-daughter lunches and dinners, I learned that a good saloon can take on an element of sanctuary. It is at once a meeting place, a book swap, a podium for debaters, and a message hub where you could also pick up sound advice.  It was where you caught up on the latest news or local gossip, or where you could ask about a reliable plumber or a good stockbroker.

A good saloon was usually an establishment frequented by locals who expected or demanded the trusted absence of change. It was a place with a rhythm all its own, its dependable beat tapped out daily by the steady coming and going of its patrons.  You could tell the time of day by who walked in the door, who was already settled into their regular spot, or by the absence of a particular patron.

And, for the last ten years of Dad’s life, that particularly good saloon was The Gator Club, in Sarasota, Florida.

Part of Sarasota’s early history, The Gator Club is a pinkish brick building on the corner of Main and Lemon and has served, over time, as Sarasota’s first grocery store, a brothel, a dive and a package store, and an upscale gentleman’s cigar and scotch bar.  And for a good stint, the Gator Club served as what my dad referred to as his “office.”

Rose, the day bartender, said she knew it was opening time when dad’s face appeared at the side entrance, his wicker and Styrofoam ice bucket in tow, filled with his own ice cubes made in those aluminum, pull-handle trays. “Rose, don’t give me any of your half-assed ice cubes!” dad would protest.  He also carried with him his own mixers in small bottles, feeling strongly that “the stuff that shoots out of that bar gun is shit, Rose.  I’ve strongly recommended to Ernie (the owner)  that he change to bottles, but Baby, I’m fighting an losing battle.”  And of course dad always had with him his signature Tervis Tumbler he’d been carrying everywhere and at all time since the early 1960s, when they were hard to find.

Dad would take his seat at his table, the central-most round, marble high-top set on a heavy, filigreed iron pedestal, and directly beneath the line of wicker fans that swayed gently to and fro under the tinned ceiling.  From about 11:00 a.m. until around 1:00, the place really belonged to dad. He even had a telephone installed at the back bar (which remained closed until the Gator transformed into a nightclub after dark) to use for personal calls with some degree of privacy.


Entering in dribs and drabs as lunch hour neared, the group would gather and the conversation took on a momentum that reflected whoever was present.  There was quick-witted banter and serious, heated debating, or, more often, bawdy, ribald and racy exchanges.

At first glance into any local pub, and taking in each character one-by-one, they look like a pretty squirrelly bunch; a mix of kooks and misfits.  But taken together, they made up a collective ethic you could trust, even to look after a lost kid until a parent or the police were contacted.  And as far as characters went, The Gator certainly had its share.

At the next table was the unstoppable and loquacious, fidgety telemarketer, “Talking George,”  whose left hand was limp from a war injury and who went in and out of jail.  If the television channel was set to the stock quotes,  “Flaherty,” a stockbroker whose eyes never strayed from the ticker running across the bottom of the screen, was in the house, sipping a vodka on the rocks.  For a time there was “Alabama Rick,” an outrageously funny, loud and commanding gay dope dealer missing three bottom teeth. Alabama Rick held court at the table next to dad’s as his buyers came and went, until one day he was hauled off to prison.

One of the most colorful characters was a tall, albino diabetic, a double-amputee who managed to also be a gay veteran with no less that four angry ex wives.   Dubbed “Peg Leg Charlie,” he once strode into the Gator on a new set of prosthetic legs and proudly  announced  that he was now a full two inches taller.  And at the helm was Billy, my dad, the guy who set the rhythm going every day, the one everyone gathered around, asked about, checked in to see.  The one they all went to for advice, for an occasional loan, and of course, for a drink.

Once, during dad’s Gator Club tenure, I overheard him on the phone in his kitchen as he gently directed the rescheduling of a planned, outpatient eye surgery so that the operation would end in time to allow for his usual Gator Club stop.  He was polite and soft spoken with the receptionist as he gently explained his predicament. “Darling. You have them operating on me at noon. By then I’ll have had nothing to eat or drink starting the night before.  That’s a full seventeen hours, dear.  Now I’m a serious drinking man.  I’m what you might call an accomplished alcoholic.  And I’d like to have my driver pick me up from the surgery by one o’clock, at the latest.”  (I was his so-called driver.)

Eventually the days of dad and his Gator group fizzled out. Talking George changed companies and had to switch bars.  Peg Leg Charlie drowned in his tub after an evening of too much wine.  Flaherty fell out with the group and stopped showing up.  Others moved away. Alabama Rick went to prison.

But for a good while The Gator Club was a fundamental and integral part of dad’s and our daily rhythm.  It was when and where he started his day, where plans were made, books and opinions exchanged, news and gossip shared.  For a long time it was his compass.

And for a long time, he was mine.

Lucky me

Candidly Yours

Why Raise Kids in Rural Panama?

April 20, 2015

“You’re making a big mistake, Elizabeth. Your son is only nine, he’s just started third grade and he’s still learning to read in English. If you move to rural Panama, you could really mess up his entire educational future. Think twice, girl.

I thought more than twice about this big step. And I knew my friend Valerie’s concerns were valid. After all, she was a veteran mother of four terrific boys; she was also a specialist at the master’s level, teaching reading to young children. I had to ask myself: Did I want to jeopardize my kid’s formative learning years in exchange for a life that I hoped would be freer—a lifestyle less available to a society that was becoming increasingly dictated by technology? Was trading in a good education, in his native English, for the possibility of a richer cultural education a fair swap?

In 2006, when my family was still in Florida and my son was eight, I had begun to feel I was fighting an uphill battle against forces that weren’t evil, but that were intruding from all sides on my vision of how I wanted to bring up my child. My stepson, a terrific kid,  was eight years older an college bound. I had my youngest all the time, and I didn’t want to screw motherhood up.

Our society seemed to be changing at a pace I couldn’t manage. The increasingly ubiquitous electronics devices, (remember, this is 2006), seemed to be overtaking the social interactive development of our children. And I consider social development equally important to academics..  Kids would sit next to each other, each with his or her own Gameboy in hand, sometimes paying separate games, sometimes together. They were mesmerized and hardly able to pull themselves away from the rapid and seductive images  before their eyes.  I wan’t sure what was going on, but I knew one thing: I wanted my boy outside, playing, wondering, letting the world happen, awaiting the next surprise adventure.

Then there were the loving and very well-meaning parents anxiously imposing over-managed, highly structured schedules that kept their kids running all day from one organized activity to the next. The children were distracted from dawn to dusk, leaving little time for relaxing into a natural rhythm of play. Often the parents themselves were tethered to the cell phone as they walked their grade-schoolers, hand-in-hand to class, yet oddly detatched from the present moment.

I was hardly without guilt! I had been increasingly sucked into the need to stay connected by cellphone to my job, at all times. My son felt frustrated by his inability to either get my attention or by the constant interruptions. “I hate that cell phone, Mom!”  So, one day, I went “cold-turkey” on the thing. I turned it off when we were together or work hours were through. I figured the world would indeed turn without me.

I imposed other rules: only enroll my son in one extra-curricular activity at a time; leave my brief case locked in the car after work; allow no incoming phone calls at story/bed time. I was no longer tied to the outer world but connected to what was directly around me. But it felt like I needed more.

Most weekends I was hoping to arrange a simple“free-play” play-date for my son, and this I was  finding increasingly difficult to attain.By this, I am thinking of the summers of my own youth spent languishing with my best friend in the woods on moss-covered rocks, climbing trees, building forts, swimming in the pool until we our little bodies were wracked with shivers, running through a sprinkler, swinging on swings, and coming away only when our mothers hollered for us.

Meanwhile, my husband was beginning to tire from decades of managing night shifts at a busy tourist restaurant. Having spent a good amount of time in Costa Rica, in his twenties, he had long harbored a dream to live once again in a Latin country. We enjoyed our life in Florida, and we happily managed the usual responsibilities of adulthood. But life ticks on, one day runs into the next, years pass and dreams become an occasional whisper in the back of your mind “one day, one day soon.”

We were an extremely hard-working couple and our collective jobs supported a decent—but less than extravagant—lifestyle. We had a mortgage we could afford; we didn’t own a big screen television; we drove small, used cars. We belonged to no clubs and had no expensive hobbies. We paid our bills on time and only twice in ten years of marriage, did we take a family vacation lasting more than a few days. Together, we earned over six figures, yet as is true for many couples, there was little left over at the end of the month for little luxuries.

Still, it wasn’t my husband’s dream alone that propeled us toward the move abroad. I had traveled in my youth, once as an exchange student to the Southern Philippines during high school and later to Mexico. I had come to see travel as one of the best teachers and I wanted our son to have a broader world view. I also wanted him to speak another language.

In 2005, we took a rare family vacation and visited some neighbors who had moved house with their young daughter to Boquete, a town in rural Panama and currently high on the list of “hot picks” for retirement relocation. We stayed nine days, impulsively purchasing a small but lovely lot near town.

Boquete’s is known for its lush beauty. Peppered with gated neighborhoods, Boquete is nevertheless a farming town. It is nestled in the mountains of the highlands, and in what is often referred to as “the valley of the eternal rainbow: or “the eternal spring.”  Even the heart of downtown is rich with flowers, rivers, little farms, and livestock.

Life appeared simpler. There were uniformed children walking hand-in-hand to school; a farmer chasing after a small herd of stray cows in the heart of town; chickens and goats and dogs and children were everywhere. And, as with most small towns, everyone knew everyone, which felt safer.

Oh, I thought, as we signed on the property, only two days before returning to Florida, This is where I want to raise my son!

Over the next two-plus years, and largely from a distance, my husband oversaw the construction of what was to be a dream home. I stayed somewhat removed from the project, involved with mothering, work, caring for my beloved dad (who had become ill), and feeling torn about leaving. I wanted something different, but it is not always easy to give up a settled life.

My breaking point came one day after school. My son was now beginning third grade in Florida, a confident and happy little kid just getting a grip on reading. One afternoon, he stepped down off the bus looking all long in the face. “Mom. So-and-so said he’s in the ‘gifted reading program’ and he said that I’m dumb because I’m not in the gifted reading program.”

My heart sank. “Hey, buddy. You can be in the gifted reading program, if you want to. But they give way more homework and I just didn’t think you wanted extra homework.” He perked up. “Oh! Okay, Mom. Want to go skating?” And as soon as we were in the door, we snapped on our skates and glided

Three months later, (by this time, my father had passed away), we were on a plane to Panama, just two suitcases each, one of mine packed with clothing and the other stuffed with a purchased distance learning curriculum. Larry was in luck. Despite being a nester at heart, I am highly adaptable, which means I can make my nest just about anywhere.

My son, then nine, spent mornings working an accredited distance learning program with his dad, and three hours in a local parochial school, just a kilometer from our house.  He played with the neighbor kids, all local, and on weekends he saw children from the handful of expat families around us.  After ten months in Panama, we distanced him completely from expats so that he could blend even more, and the Spanish really kicked in.

Guari and Dance 020Life was indeed simpler. Most of my son’s friends lived nearby and played outdoors every day after school.  All the children wore uniforms to school, the boys sported the requisite buzz-cut hair, and these were great equalizers, eliminating any battles about what to wear or whom to keep up with.  If neighbor kids had electronic games and such, they were usually broken or quickly lost or stolen. Skating rinks and skate parks were missed, but these were exchanged for soccer and basketball.

Birthday parties were a welcome family affair, and not only for younger kids, but also for the famed “quinceañera” or “sweet fifteen” birthday parties attended by peers and parents alike. Sundays were also family days.  All this family time and the fact that children are not permitted to drive until age eighteen, rendering parents the chauffeurs, seemed to keep family ties strong.

There were little things that made life simpler, such as being able to make and take baked goods to school my son’s classmates, or to any school event, without issues. (This was not the case back home, where the school board had ruled that parents could not take home-made treats to school. All treats had to be store-bought and presented in their original wrapping.)

When my son was eleven, we moved to the center of town and I broke down and purchased a cell phone for him, as this was the best way to locate a kid running free with his posse of friends as they gathered up empty soda cans and bottles to trade in at the local store for treats. Sometimes they spent hours playing soccer, or rummaging the nearby river for errant golf balls for resale.

When he turned fourteen, I buckled and gave a green light for my son to get his first “Play Station.” (I regret this decision to this day!) And, despite my earlier vow to wait until he was sixteen, I gave the “okay on a Smartphone. Like nearly all kids and grown-ups today, this device has become my son’s lifeline to his inner and outer circle: as with most teens, he’s never without it.

Still, I had him close for a long time, longer than I suspect I would have if we had remained in Florida. He is completely fluent in Spanish and moves easily between the two cultures he embodies.  He wants to return now to the United States for his last two years of schooling and also to reconnect with his cousins, and just be a regular American high school kid.

I doubt my son will be quite the regular “American” kid he thinks he is simply because he now and forever, bicultural. Will he need to catch up, academically? Time will tell. He son has navigated some tough waters in order to blend in, make friends, and learn a language. I trust he has the skills to face whatever comes next and certainly, we will be there to guide him, whether it be here in Panama, where we remain until the summer months, or back in the United States.

So, by leaving, did we do ourselves a disservice, or did we enrich our lives? This is something we will find out in time. I think that if you want to move forward, or find out what stuff you’re made are made of, sometimes you might want to step away from the herd. And that is just what we did.

You can read the first few chapters of  “Helping Expat Kids survive Thrive: Advice on schooling, on Kindle,  Free, by clicking HERE.

Candidly Yours

Interview with Jackie Lange

April 20, 2015

An interview with Jackie Lange, owner Panama Relocation Tours, January 29, 2015

I met Elizabeth Ballard the first time I went to Big Daddy’s in Boquete.  They have the best fish tacos and margaritas!

Elizabeth moved to Panama about 7 years ago with her husband and 9 year old son.   As a Mom, one of her biggest concerns was how to get a good education for her son and how to help him thrive in a foreign country where, initially, he did not even speak Spanish.  With Elizabeth’s help her son William made a smooth transition, is fully bi-lingual, and has both expat and Panamanian friends.

We have monthly internet marketing meeting in Boquete and I made a presentation about writing books for Kindle to make extra money.  I encouraged Elizabeth to write a book about how to move overseas with kids and how to get a good education. gets emails often from people who are considering moving overseas with kids so I knew there would be a big demand for the book.

Elizabeth’s book Kids Helping Expat Kids survive Thrive is NOW available at Amazon Kindle.    Click on the link for instant access to order.   If you don’t have a Kindle.. no problem… because Amazon has free software you can download to your computer to read the book.  The book tells the story of how one Mom helped her son not just survive but Thrive in overseas.

Even if you don’t have kids, it is a good book to read about expat life in Panama.

Here is one of the reviews:  “Wow, I am so incredibly thrilled I came across this book. As a mom who is considering an extended stay in Latin America, I really needed the guidance and assurance that I wasn’t making a terrible decision for my kids. I had been going back and forth wondering if our family was making the right choice, and after reading this book, we are going to do it! Elizabeth Ballard’s book provided me with invaluable advice that put me at ease.  Her family survived, no THRIVED and ours will too! THANK YOU for this terrific book!”

See the Elizabeth’s interview below.
I’m encouraging her to write her next book about starting and selling a business in Panama.

When did you move to Panama?

I moved to Panama in February, 2008, so I’m coming up on seven years

Where did you move from?

We moved from Sarasota, Florida.

Where do you live in Panama and why did you pick that area?

I live in Boquete, a small but thriving town in the Chiriqui Highlands. I moved here in 2008 with my husband and our youngest son, who was nine.

I think sometime in 2005 we had taken a family trip to Boquete, visiting some neighbors who had already moved there with their daughter. And we were charmed. So before we left, we purchased a lot and over the next few years, built a house on it, from afar.

Tell us about your business and how you got started.

Well, initially my husband moved to retire from the restaurant business. I retained a part-time job online, with an insurance agency. But that year the housing market in the USA crashed and then the stock market took that terrible dive.  So all our plans went down the tubes, along with that sweet part-time job.

We ended up selling our dream home in exchange for a modest, Panamanian fixer-upper.  After about a year, we realized we needed to start funding our life. And since we really understood the restaurant business, we thought that is what we would do.

Also, my husband had been paying attention to the food industry here and noticed that fish was an item not easily acquired in our mountain village.  We started a restaurant that specialized in the freshest fish. (Big Daddy’s)

Was it difficult to set up your business in Panama?

Well, “tricky” is the better word. First, we were not fluent in Spanish and also we were not well-versed in the laws around the restaurant industry. So it was important to have good, solid legal advice and also a good, local accountant.

We took our time and proceeded at the pace dictated by the paperwork. This could be frustrating because there were times when we had all our ducks in a row, but were stalled, awaiting a certain official to give us the required stamp of approval.

Do you have a web site or blog?

Well, that is no longer relevant as we sold the restaurant recently, in August, 2014. However, rather than maintain a blog, I primarily marketed our business via word-of-mouth, which today translates to Online.  (the older blog is active:

I was very active on Facebook, regularly, keeping copy and specials fresh, photos, etc. I was also active on Trip Advisor, which is an important site for helping to put your business on the map. A lot of business are frustrated with this site, but I got to know it and made it my business to monitor and reply to comments. I think this really gave us a great presence. Also, it was one way to note suggestions and take feedback into account.

If you could relocate to Panama all over again, what things would you do differently?

Knowing what I know now about how the restaurant industry works here, I would probably open a food business that was geared more toward take-away items and also required fewer employees.

But I wouldn’t trade in what we did or what I learned for all the tea in China.

What are your favorite things about living in Panama?

If you see beyond the gated communities, Boquete remains a small town, a farming town. I love that. I love raising our son in that environment. It feels like the 60s to me in many ways. And I love the climate we have here in the mountains, the extreme beauty,

What do you like least about living in Panama?

As a mom of a school-age kid, and I tend to view life through that lens. I definitely feel the absence of organized sports programs, a skate park, a teen center, and activities for kids in the summer. And better, much better schools.  Also, I dislike the public littering, the garbage.

As an adult, I miss being able to visit museums or go to really good theater. Panama has all this, but in the larger cities. So those things have to be planned for.

Do you have any tips for someone considering relocating to Panama?

Yes, of course. Come visit and rent. Don’t rush into purchasing property until you have had a real taste of all Panama has to offers. In our town alone, there are so many micro-climates, depending on your neighborhood. I’ve seen people come here, spend big bucks on a home, and then come to the conclusion they can’t stand the rainy season.  There are so many wonderful towns, villages, beach towns, mountain areas, and there is Panama City. I think it is definitely best to rent and travel before you buy.

In conclusion:

When we first arrived, I thought we’d stay about a year. Now, I can’t imagine living elsewhere and I don’t want to go back, except to visit family. I love my Panama life. I’m presently finishing up a book for parents who are considering moving overseas with kids. You can keep up with my progress by googling