Dawn: A Free Chapter from An Acre in Paradise


Costa Rica Costa of Living Update: Loaf of Multigrain Bread— Two dollars and fifty cents

I believe the very first moments after waking up will define the rest of my day. Uneventful actions like planting my feet on the ground and shuffling like a zombie to the coffee machine, or kissing my husband on the cheek before walking outside and listening to the daily parrot brigade, are more than just ordinary habits. I’m trying to bedazzle the day. And the first rhinestone always starts at dawn.

For those of you that don’t remember the BeDazzler, it was a staple gun that shot tiny beads into your clothing and in some cases, your little brother. I don’t know how this product worked because my mother had an aversion to anything that dropped tiny pieces of anything into our shag carpeting. I wish we could all go on an archeological dig into the vacuums of our childhood. I can tell you what would not be found in mine… BeDazzler rhinestones or Lite-Brite pieces. Both products were banned in my house due to the high probability of being sucked into the dark abyss of our carpet, already home to Barbie shoes, tiny Monopoly houses, and Legos.

I tend to think a lot about mornings, especially dawn. I find it’s the happiest time of the day, maybe because I’m still in a little dreamy state. But lately, I’ve been discovering that dawn is a time that connects me to my past. It’s a small window through which I see not only what’s behind me but also what’s lying ahead.

I hope you enjoy this free chapter from Happier Than A Billionaire: An Acre in Paradise. May it bring back happy memories of your own.





The touristy beaches in Costa Rica have hotels positioned just steps from the shore offering jet ski rides, massages, fishing trips, and snorkeling tours. While relaxing on the sand, vendors offer refreshing cold coconuts and small bags of cashews.

Women walk past selling jewelry; beautiful handmade necklaces made out of shells and sea glass. A popular bracelet has “Pura Vida” woven into it. A simple message to stay happier, keep laughing, and that life is best lived when each day counts. It’s a reminder that you once sat on a beach in Costa Rica and tossed your worries out to sea. The bracelet is less of a souvenir, and more of a shield providing protection from this busy world. It’s a cheerful coat of arms.

Some days I enjoy watching the tourists. It’s fun living in a place with happy people frolicking about. But most times I head to more secluded beaches, and one of my favorites is Playa Penca, a gem tucked away in the tiny town of Potrero. It’s a forgotten, left turn that people don’t notice. But it’s those forgotten left turns that always lead you to the best places.

I’m here at dawn and sit in the middle of the beach. It’s a selfish position where I get a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree view of my surroundings. It’s in this spot that I feel the thunder of the waves rumble beneath me. I pretend I’m big here. I pretend I’m the captain of this ship.

I dig my hands into the beach and pull up two handfuls of sand, still cool from the night before. I squeeze as the grains spill between my fingers, tiny pieces of sea life that have eroded over many years, unrecognizable exoskeletons from another time. I’m resting on sandcastles from the past.

The sun creeps up behind me, casting a honey web of light across the white caps. I like this time of day: the in-between time, a short moment when night recoils and sunshine breaks out like a cat in a paper bag.

A breeze brushes sand across my face, surprising me with the same sensation I had as a child playing on the Jersey shore with my sister. We dug until sand became marooned inside our ears, under our nails, and made us as dirty as coal miners. I can still hear my mother calling for us to get out of the cold Atlantic Ocean. But we never would. We would wade in those waves until my lips turned blue.

Some memories are so strong and happy that I wish I could capture the scent in a flower. Rob could fill the garden with them. I’d arrange bouquets throughout my house so that every room would smell of happy memories.

I stare out at the horizon and feel as if I can see the entire world. But in actuality, the distance is only 2.7 miles. I could walk straight out to this curve of the earth and never reach it. It’s an illusion. The horizon will always move further away. If I climbed the tallest peak, I could see farther, but the higher I climb, the less oxygen is available. I’ll see more, but I’ll also struggle to breathe. The summit may not always be the safest place for me.

I’m obsessed with these magical 2.7 miles. It’s here that I think of my family. It’s in this distance I remember funny college stories and the first time I kissed my husband. The memories are not floating miles in the air, but are hovering feet above the ocean’s surface.

I imagine a bridge stretching this expanse. It wouldn’t be constructed with metal beams and suspension cables. It’s a simple boardwalk built from wood hardened by sun and salt air. The railings made from rope. I could walk across and watch my memories pass me like an old flickering filmstrip, the projector feeding my life story with frames as weathered as the boardwalk.

On this bridge, I could even see my dreams at eye level, some of which have been in storage for so long I’ll need to dust them off and reintroduce myself. It’s amazing how these aspirations don’t disappear. They stick around hoping you’ll unpack them and try them on for size, trusting that this time they will fit.

While I stare out across the ocean, I realize why it’s so magnetic. I’m lying on the past while simultaneously piecing together a future. The clear horizon provides me an unobstructed view. It helps me garner the courage and start believing in things long forgotten. It’s so easy to do here, at dawn, during this in-between time.

I begin to feel the sun rise higher behind me, pitching its warmth against my back. It shrinks me back down to size. I am not big any longer; I am not the captain of this ship. I glance to my right and see someone on their morning walk. They found this forgotten left turn, and I can no longer have this beach all to myself. The sand will soon heat up, and by midday people will make a mad dash to the water, jumping across the grains like chickens on hot coals.

This in-between time is over, but I’ll stay in the middle of the beach for a few minutes longer. It’ll stare out at that horizon and imagine walking the 2.7 miles. I’ll then go home, but not before inhaling more salty air.

I’m still at sea level sitting on sandcastles, and it’s the easiest place for me to breathe.

**If you would like to continue reading my latest in the Happier series, please click this link: An Acre in Paradise

By | February 18th, 2018|Categories: An Acre in Paradise|2 Comments

Stranded in Costa Rica, Waterfalls & a Funny Mother-in-Law


Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: Car towed on flatbed to garage— Thirty Dollars

My mother-in-law, Joanna, is visiting and she’s having a blast. At nearly seventy years old she refuses to be sidelined.  Every morning my husband asks, “Do you want to—?”

Before he can even finish his sentence, she always answers, “Yes! I don’t care what it is.” Now I know where Rob gets it from. Joanna wants to have a good time, so we’ve been busy taking her around to our favorite hot-spots. Every day here has been a perfect one.

The other morning we took her boogie boarding at Sugar Beach. My husband positioned her on the board, pushed her into the waves, and simultaneously drowned himself in the process. I watched this sequence of maneuvers repeated again and again for over an hour. Joanna left the ocean laughing and exhilarated. Rob emerged from the bottom of the sea like Sigmund the Sea Monster. (Wait for the laugh in the video, it’s contagious…)

It was also a challenging week since Rob took our best camera into the ocean, and to his surprise, it got wet. I told him not to, but like all Busted Camerahusbands who suffer from hearing loss when their wives speak, he did it anyway, and now it looks like this…

Being the frugal and savvy people we think we are, we attempted to fix it ourselves. And we got pretty close. At the very end of the reassembly process, we broke something completely unrelated to the original problem. My husband’s solution? Stick a piece of aluminum foil in there.

“This should have it working in no time!” he said. But it didn’t, so now I’m sending the camera to a Canon repair facility where the technician will wonder what fool stuck aluminum foil inside our camera. I plan to say the camera came that way. No need to incriminate oneself.

We also had a short in our laptop’s magnetic DC connector. I asked Rob not to use it until I can replace the broken piece. But he didn’t listen and consequently shorted out the logic board. That’s really bad guys… like bring in the bugle and play Taps bad. But since I’m the IT person around here and have the same temperament as every office IT guy, I angrily removed the logic board and cooked it in the oven at 375 degrees for seven minutes in a half-baked attempt to resolder its connections. People who do not live near a Genius Bar do these kinds of things, folks. And this genius idea resulted in a logic board with nice crispy edges that will never do anything logical again.

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

To cheer ourselves up, we all piled into the car and headed out to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. Joanna quickly jumped in and swam straight to the edge of the pounding water. She then rolled over and floated like an otter for over an hour while staring up at the clouds. She acts like a kid in any body of water. I love showing people the beauty of Costa Rica. Every time we think we’ve found the best spot, we find another that’s even more spectacular.

We were once again having a perfect day, and I said precisely that on the ride back when suddenly our car lost its power steering, brakes, and smoke began billowing from the engine. Luckily, we made it to a gas station where a large, circular metal wheel that turns the fan and belts fell off the car and into a puddle of anti-freeze. I’m not even sure what to call this part, but I’m guessing it’s a flywheel since it flew right off our car.

What sound did it make, you ask? The sound of defeat. I could once again hear Taps being played in the background while I stood up and saluted. It was the respectful thing to do for a vehicle that has been a loyal soldier for many years.

I write a lot about this car. It has made its way into all of my books: Happier Than A Billionaire, The Sequel, The Costa Rica Escape Manual, and my latest and best work, An Acre in Paradise. We should have retired her years ago but Rob keeps saying, “We’ll get one more year out of it.” And remarkably, he’s been right. But to have a large metal piece fall from your engine seems like a call for mercy, and this might be the end of the road.

The gas station attendant looked underneath, as well as a taxi driver, and a few other people who all shook their heads and said, “Grave.” Which means serious in Spanish, but let’s just use the English version of the word and all agree that this car should be buried six feet underground.

Just then a mechanic named Jeff showed up and explained to Rob that we had options. This intrigued my husband, and he listened as Jeff said we could buy a new part for over seven hundred dollars.

“Absolutely not,” Rob said. “What else you got?”

Jeff then described how he could solder the piece with a stick of gum and a bag of squirrels.

“Yes. That’s the plan,” Rob exclaimed with arms raised like we had just won the car repair lottery.

So we left our car with a guy named Jeff who swiftly towed it to his garage/house. We have no idea where his shop is located, which left me with a logical question for my husband: “What if we never see this guy again?”

“If he’s desperate enough to steal a car like that, he can have it.” Rob said. “It might actually be the best result we can hope for.”

So our waterfall day ended up with a taxi ride back from Liberia, in a car that was in worse shape than the one we left behind, hoping we will/or will not see Jeff ever again. From my experience, we will because we’ve witnessed incredible acts of kindness many times before in Costa Rica.

The day ended up exactly how it was meant to. We met friendly new people, got home safe, and laughed it all off while reminiscing about swimming under an incredible waterfall with Rob’s hilarious mother.

Perfect days come in many different forms. Sometimes they end with boogie boarding at the beach and other times you break down on the side of the road. But I’ll take them all. Because even though our car fell apart, earlier that day I swam under a waterfall with people that I love.

And that’s pretty perfect to me.

By | January 27th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|7 Comments

Breadcrumbs for Readers

Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: A funny book on building a home in Costa Rica— four dollars and ninety-nine cents

While back in New Jersey over the Christmas holiday, I went to a Barnes and Noble and meandered down every aisle. I lingered in the smell of new books, touched their spines, and wondered what adventures they’d take me on next. I’m in search of a new series I can dive into, and eager to meet new characters that will carry me off to a different world.

I love the feel of a book in my hand, even as it smacks me in the face while I’m falling asleep. If you haven’t been hit in the forehead by the book you are reading, you’re either not reading enough, or you might be reading the wrong material.

Now with the popularity of e-readers, I must ask: have you ever been hit in the face by your Kindle? I have to say; it’s quite the experience. And it hurts! In fact, if a miscreant ever breaks into my house, I plan to whip my Kindle straight at his nose.

One night as I was dozing off, my Kindle fell onto my front tooth. For a minute, I thought it had broken. The front tooth that is, not the Kindle. Luckily, my teeth are just as misshapen as they were before the incident. You see, I have these funny bunny teeth: my front two are longer than the rest. I’ve always wondered if I should have them fixed, but I fear I’ll end up looking like Matt Dillon in Something about Mary. I love Chicklets, but I do not want to wear them as teeth.

So if I’m going to risk life and limb for the love of a new series, I’ll have to find a good one. I’m thinking about diving back into Outlander. I read the first but never bought another. Or I could read about a dystopian society since that seems to be what every teenager is enjoying these days, including my niece. Creepy grey worlds where heroes die fighting for freedom in very tight clothing. After listening to her hard sell on one series in which cute boys combat mythical creatures, I told her to go home and watch Clockwork Orange. That movie freaked out generations of happy people who live in very non-dystopian societies. I’m still waiting for the phone call, and reprimand, from my sister for that movie suggestion.

That’s the problem when you love to read: there is so much out there to choose from. And it’s why I’m grateful so many of you are reading my funny series on our adventures in Costa Rica. Simple books about my husband driving me nuts in a foreign land. There are no sexy werewolves or imaginary societies, but for sure Rob is like the Ralph Kramden of this beautiful country. By the way, he didn’t even know the first book was all about him until CNN called and did a piece on us. It was after that he learned I wrote a chapter called “My Husband Is an Idiot.” It’s hard to put a spin on that one guys.

I love writing the Happier Than A Billionaire series, largely because of the bond I now share with my readers. I leave a trail of breadcrumbs within every chapter. Those who have followed my journey will recognize them. I feel like we’ve been through this journey together, and at this point, you know these characters as well as I do. It’s a giant inside joke I share with all of you. I was not the most popular girl in high school, never became the homecoming queen, but today I have thousands of friends and feel surrounded by love each and every day.

As I scroll through my comments on Facebook, respond to emails, answer private messages, and entertain guests this becomes even more clear. We have a strong connection I will never take for granted.

While reading my books, I imagine you thinking, “Wow, Rob fell off his scooter again? Some things never change. Heavens, he jerry-rigged a septic system with duct tape? I don’t want to be around when that plan goes south!”

You’ll find my latest in the series is no different. I left lots of scrumptious breadcrumbs in Happier Than A Billionaire: An Acre in Paradise. And since we are on the subject, did Rob fall off his rickety, old scooter again? Bet your-husband-is-an-idiot he did. And that would be one of the more tame things that happened while writing this crazy love/adventure story. While it most certainly can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story, it will be even more special for those of you who have been following along from the beginning.

I hope you’ll read my latest and let me know if you’re enjoying a new series I should jump into. I’m waiting to get lost in my imagination. I’m prepared to get hit in the face by a book again. I’m ready to start following new breadcrumbs.

By | January 13th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |14 Comments

A New Book and a New Adventure

Happier House Backyard

Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: Building a home in Costa Rica—Results may vary.

It’s a New Year, and I just released a new book!

I’m excited to share it with all of you: new readers and those who have followed our journey since the beginning. And what a winding road it has been. This is a stand-alone book and you don’t need to read my entire series to enjoy it, but in the first Happier Than A Billionaire book I write about my husband hiding a gun in a fireplace and later setting it on fire. This is what I’m working with guys, and that ridiculous story alone makes reading the first installment a worthwhile endeavor.

If I were a savvy critic and reviewed Happier Than A Billionaire: An Acre in Paradise, it would sound like this:

A rip-roaring comedy about a couple who decides to build a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica.  If you liked Under the Tuscan Sun, you’d love the adventures of this dynamic duo.

If Rob were to review the book, it would read:

A clever husband makes dreams come true after driving his wife crazy in Costa Rica.

If my dad were to review it, he might say:

Nadine, why isn’t my iPad charging?

This book chronicles the year Rob and I spent building The Happier House. I wish I could say it all went as planned, and we sailed through it without one stormy night. But I can’t. There were storms, guys. Some were nor’easters, like when Rob needed to superglue his hand back together after falling off his scooter… for a second time. Others were full-blown hurricanes, like when we thought we might run out of money before finishing the project. Fulfilling this dream has been a bigger challenge than we ever expected. That turns out to be a good thing when you’re writing a book, and if we were aware of every bump in the road ahead of us, we would all take the safer route. Risk can be rewarding, and bumpy roads always lead to bigger adventures.

I want to thank all of you for sticking with me and giving me this career as a writer. When I work, I’m always thinking of your many faces. I imagine the woman who only has ten minutes to read at night after putting her kids to bed. She’s exhausted and wants a brief mental vacation from her responsibilities. I imagine the man in the back of a boring work seminar, sneaking in a chapter of my book while dreaming of hammocks and palm trees; a life that seems ever more possible with each turning page.

You’re the friendly faces I see as I put these crazy stories to paper. These spirits are always in the room while I fill blank pages with tales of this unconventional life. I’m both humbled and grateful that so many of you take my voice into your home, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

I hope you enjoy this next installment in the series. I truly feel it’s the best one yet.

Have a wonderful new year and may it be filled with dreams, blue skies, and howler monkeys.

With Affection,

By | January 6th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |14 Comments


Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: 12 oz bag of Britt Coffee: Eleven Dollars

What happens when a choreographer stays at The Happier House? We put on a show!

I always knew musical theater and dancing were in my blood, especially when the dancing never actually involves my feet. I’m what you call an arm dancer, so my guest choreographed a routine perfectly suited to my abilities.

“What? More elbow? Got it,” I said while counting out loud to the beat. I was about to sing “I Hope I Get It” from The Chorus Line but was quickly handed a coffee cup and told to practice more. And I practiced folks. I practiced my little coffee mugged arms out.

My guests were a blast and besides dancing in my kitchen, enjoyed many of the spots they found in The Costa Rica Escape Manual. I love when people visit and feel the same magic I do in Costa Rica. And as with all of you who have stayed at The Happier House, I’m happier now for having made new friends.

I hope they come back because I have another idea. One singular sensation. A thrilling combination. One that may involve blenders. I’m already practicing.

And a five… six… seven… eight.

By | November 30th, 2017|Categories: Cooking Show, Recipes|Tags: , , , |7 Comments