Deby and her husband fell in love with Costa Rica on a surf trip. When they retired there, Deby needed something to occupy her time; she started blogging about her adventures with cooking and baking in the jungle.
Tell us a little about your background…
Before our next act, my husband Chuck and I were responsible parents living in Los Angeles, California, raising two sons. I mention responsible because now we can be less responsible—and we are loving it.
I grew up in Norwalk, California with my parents and sister, one dog and a cat. We had a neighborhood full of kids running around, playing outside until the streetlights came on. It was the ‘50s. We walked everywhere around our little town and in the evenings, when it was time to come home for dinner, our mother would clap her hands and whistle and call my sister and me by name. She was a stay-at-home mom for the most part, but always involved in politics—that’s a whole different story. My father worked at a glass plant and then at Metal Toys for many years. Yes, my kids did get some very cool toys!
I met my husband in my senior year of high school. We went all through high school together and never knew each other until our senior year, in 1970. We both had gym class at the same time and we had to pass each other in the hall. I guess it was the eye contact. We were married in 1972 in the rose garden of the University of Southern California (USC). Hippy-ish? You bet. Chuck’s father worked at USC at the time and it seemed like a beautiful place to marry and have 300 of our friends and family with us. I know, crazy.
Four years later, we started our family in Norwalk, California, down the street from Chuck’s grandmother Marie. This is the woman who taught me how to cook; we became very good friends. I would walk down to Marie’s house and she would be cooking something… Spaghetti sauce—I still make it her way today. Polenta with that wonderful sauce, all kinds of cookies, her Mac and Cheese, oh the bread. And sometimes it was just popcorn and we would sit and talk and eat popcorn. She was wonderful. Each time I cook, there is a bit of Marie in it—even when I crack an egg. She made the biggest impression in my life for the love of food.
Chuck and I stayed in that Norwalk house for 15 years, then moved to Redlands, California, and we still own that home. We have two sons, now almost 40 and 32. The oldest is an Art Director and the younger one is a Video Editor. We are very proud parents.
I was, for the most part, a stay at home Mom, but always on the go. As the kids got older, I needed something to do, so we started a Tree Farm and Nursery on our property and sold trees and plants. I would go and buy large trees and plants from wholesale nurseries and sell them at my nursery, Plant-It-Earth Farm. It was fun for about six years. Chuck worked full time as a Union Carpenter and on the week ends I would have him go to customer homes and deliver and plant large trees for them. One day, he said, “Deby, I am going surfing on the weekend” and I said, “I want to go too.” So we started to close the Nursery so we could go and have fun. We slowly sold off the trees and plants and I moved on to my next job. I went to college just long enough to to get the credits to work at a child care facility; it ended up being a Montessori school and I loved it.
When did you start to think about making a change?
Chuck and I took a surf trip to Costa Rica in 2005, when we were both 53. After landing in the capital, San Jose, with my sister and her husband, we drove first to the beach town of Tamarindo, and then a couple of hours farther south to Nosara. There we found surf, beautiful beaches, and great restaurants.
We were already starting to think about retirement. At the time, I was still working at the Montessori school and Chuck had been working for 30 years now. As he used to say, “I am beat up from the feet up.” It was a natural time in our lives to retire and make some more memories.
To live at the beach in California was very expensive, so we thought we could live close to the beach, without it costing a fortune, in Costa Rica. And we did just that. Today we live about a seven-minute walk to the ocean, a walk that takes us past beautiful green jungle. Nosara is a small town on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, surrounded by green hills and three beautiful beaches just outside of town. We have everything we need here. There’s a great market, hardware store, post office and small airport. We love our life in Nosara. it’s vibrant and healthy.
What is your next act?
In July 2015, I started my blog, Cooking in the Jungle, about the cooking and baking I do in the Costa Rica jungle, and our life in this beautiful place. I write about the things I bake or cook in my outside kitchen on the patio, or the rancho, as it’s called here. Chuck built me an outside kitchen with an oven, sink, and counter, and our dining table is out there too. I also write about the paths and potholes and my beautiful beach walk and, of course, collecting sea glass.
I am always looking up new recipes online. Chuck always says, “now that’s an expensive recipe book Deby, please don’t get food on it.” He is talking about the computer. I find two or three recipes and sometimes combine them to fit my needs. I always give credit to the author of the recipe I use, if it’s not mine. Sometimes a recipe will just pop into my head and I have to find a way to make it, if I haven’t made it before. I have been making popsicles lately. It’s so hot here in the jungle, a refreshing popsicle comes in handy. Check out my recipes for Cantaloupe and Vanilla Ice Cream Pops and Sunset Popsicles.
I love to bake and this cake was a fun one to make: My take on the Ding Dong Cake.
This one was a challenge and yet rewarding. It’s a delicious bread called Fougasse.
My blogging sure has been fun and rewarding. My husband always says, Deby, just leave me out of it.” I don’t. I even blog for him, on Chuck’s blog. Strange, I know; it’s really me writing about my crazy self, through him. Some people think it’s funny—really funny, if you know Chuck, because Chuck would never in a million years blog, but he sure is a good sport. And “he” can say things about me on “his” blog, which I find myself laughing at.
Sometimes I hold a small class on the rancho and a few of us women here will make bread or something sweet. It’s a treat for me to get together with these young women; we have a great time.
How did you decide to start a cooking blog?
Really I just needed something else to do with my spare time. I have always loved to cook, and now I have more time to do it. I love to bake and my neighbors have been great at giving me feedback about my baking. Chuck and I can’t eat all the desserts I make, so I give most of them away. One day, my young neighbor, Heidi Blackman, said, “Deby why don’t you blog about your baking?” So I thought about that for a year. One day, I asked Heidi if she would help me get started. She did and now it’s been almost eight months, and I can’t stop. I have never written in my life. I guess you could say I have been saving up.
What challenges do you encounter with your blog and your cooking?
Blogging is not an easy thing for someone in her 60s. Many of us in middle age have a hard time with new technology if we don’t have a young person sitting next to us at the computer helping us out. I just learned to copy and paste. I had, and continue to have, lots of questions.
Another challenge was learning to take good food pictures. Oh no! Something else to learn. I bought a new camera—foodie people call it a starter camera—so I can improve the quality of the photos on my blog. I also joined a food styling Facebook group, Food Styling Critique by Jennifer Janz. Most of the time, my pictures don’t make the grade—I admit I have a long way to go with my food styling. It’s funny but at this age you really don’t care as much as you used to about this kind of stuff. So I keep plugging along.
Sometimes I can’t find the right ingredients in Costa Rica. But even that is changing here at our market. The owner is so open to getting or trying to import what we expats need or want. But there is a price you will have to pay for that brown sugar or the good vanilla. Or really good chocolate, that will melt before you get it home in this heat. The humidity plays a role here as well. I have tried to make meringues and what a mess—can’t be made in this high humidity.
I’ve had challenges with my oven too. This little oven has seen a lot of life go by, here in the jungle under our Rancho. It’s electric, I had never used an electric oven before, had to get used to that, and I did. It’s outside in the elements, a little rusty now after eight years. A raccoon got the oven door open while we were on vacation and tore the rubber gasket on the inside. It still works. A pizote (like a raccoon but bigger with a long nose) got on top of the stove and pulled back the coils and almost broke them off. Chuck cut a piece of wood for me and we put a piece of oilcloth on top so it looked nice and would stay clean. And as you can see in the pictures, my cats love laying on the top of the wood while I am not cooking. Seems everything loves this oven as much as I do.
Like so many things here in the Jungle, you get used to it or you don’t. You adapt or you don’t. Yes, it’s different here, and for me that is the draw.
What challenges have you faced moving to Costa Rica?
We have encountered many challenges here in Costa Rica. Banking is not easy; we usually wait 45-60 minutes just to take out money from the ATM inside our bank. Chuck has a pension, and now we both get social security. This is what we live on. Chuck does ding repairs on surfboards—he calls it his beer money.
Construction was very difficult for my husband, but we did build our own home. We hired five men to help us build our home. None of them spoke English and our Spanish was not good. Getting building materials was always a long wait at the very small hardware store. It’s a lot better now. These five men, some not yet 18, were as great and patient with Chuck as he was with them. They became our good friends. Still are. They say Chuck taught them so many things about construction. They called him teacher.
Another challenge was dealing with residency. Getting and keeping your residency is a problem sometimes. Laws change here rather quickly. And if you want to keep your residency, you have to go along with the change. We now have to buy into the healthcare system. That was tacked onto our residency. Weather you use it or not, Costa Rica is now saying if you want to renew your residency, we will need new marriage certificates. I guess Chuck and I will have to get remarried here in Costa Rica! I’m wearing white.
But with all the challenges—and really, there are many—I just love it here. So far in this life I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll take the bad with the good. Am I an optimist? For sure. And I want to enjoy the time we have here. It’s been 8 1/2 years so far and I never tire of the beauty of this place and of all the fun people we have met here.
My day starts with, of course, a cup of Costa Rica coffee out on the rancho, in my favorite chair. Listening to the monkeys and birds. Then I begin to water my plants and clean my yard. Things grow here like they are on steroids—fast. Some days, I rake up leaves and Chuck will pick up my pile of leaves. Other days, I walk on the beach, my favorite thing to do. I have been wearing a FitBit now for a year, so I got to get the steps in, right?
I will bake or cook something most days. But not every day, I can be lazy too. And that’s ok. Many nights, Chuck and I walk down to the beach to see the sunset. I have never seen a bad sunset—always spectacular, even if you don’t see the sun because of the clouds. Friday nights we head down to our hangout, Bar Olga’s on the beach, a local restaurant and bar, where lots of expats and locals hang out on the beach for a cold beer and the sunset. We all must love it; we meet every Friday evening and then some of us, usually six or more, will go to a local restaurant for dinner. Sometimes we go listen to the local bands that play in one or another of the restaurants here. In Nosara, there are many restaurants to choose from. Still, it’s a small town; we always see someone we know. This is one of things I love about this place. The people.
At least twice a year someone, friend or family, will come for a visit. We always seem to get into the tourist frame of mind. And that’s fun for us to show our family and friends around.
Now that we have a grandson, he has presented us our biggest challenge. We are definitely being pulled by the family string that binds us. We go back to California more often now; we miss him so much. We love Face Time—not sure how we would do it otherwise.
Were your friends and families supportive of your move?
Our families have become supportive. At first I think they (our mothers and our sons) thought we wouldn’t stay this long. But after they visit us they understand why we stay. Our sons are so proud of us. We are doing something many people do not do. I guess we are adventurers at heart. Now my husband can surf whenever he likes and I think that makes our sons so happy for their hard-working father. They love to see pictures of us doing fun things. But of course our family misses us and we miss them. This is the life we chose, for now.
What have you learned from your Costa Rica adventure?
I have learned so much! First off, I never gave a thought about spending all, or almost all, my time with Chuck, the two of us. When he retired, I didn’t think, “Wow we are going to be together all day.” Lucky for us, it has worked out just fine.
I have learned patience and to slow down. I have always stopped to smell the roses, now I breathe in a little longer and walk a little slower. I have found out I can get used to just about anything, from giant bugs to no water during the day and electricity going off and on.
I have learned that retirement is for us to savor and enjoy. I want to use the time we have left for fun. Whose life is it anyway? Come on, I’m blogging in my 60s! I would never have thought this of myself. Write? I can’t even spell. Love spell check. (Although it can’t spell sometimes too). I now know I can do most things if I just try.
What advice would you give to women in midlife, or someone thinking of retiring to Costa Rica?
Don’t always sweat the small stuff. There will be big things that come along in life that we can worry about. Let life live in you. We all deserve a life lived well. You make it happen for yourself, when you think you can’t, you really can. For me cooking and baking and living in a far away country has opened my eyes to different ways to live and cook.
The cool thing about this age is not being so worried about rejection. Huffpost/50 accepted my story about being long distance grandparents (mine is the one titled Ethan And I post sometimes in the Wall Street Journal Expat Facebook group about my life here in Costa Rica. And I also did a small story for International Magazine’s Postcards online. So you see I just put it out there; the worst that can happen is, they say no.
I love the Wall Street Journal Expat site. People from all over the world tell their stories of living abroad. And these guys, who call themselves the Gypsynesters, just look like they are having a blast. For cooking inspiration, here are my favorite blogs: Joy of Baking and Joy the Baker.
If you are thinking of retirement in Costa Rica, I say go for it. If you are going to try and make a living here, think about that one—it’s not easy. We see more people fail than succeed. When someone starts a new thing here, too many other people try it also and then there are too many of the same kind of business, and not enough tourists to support these new businesses.
What’s next for you?
There are times when Chuck and I think about moving back to California, I wouldn’t call this giving up, that’s for sure. I would call it making a change. I am always up for a change. But if and when we do move back, it would be so we could spend more time with our grandson and families. And then take off again, who knows where. I think Chuck and I have maybe two more next acts left in us. Stay tuned.
Contact Deby Hogue at email@example.com