21 November 2014

My hero fixed my microwave!

I have this wonderful combination convection/microwave oven from Sharp that John gave me a couple of years before we moved to Costa Rica. We use it all the time, for everything from dehydrating fruit to cooking bacon. So yesterday, I went to use the microwave to warm up some leftovers and sparks started flying, and it was making a weird noise. I turned it off as fast as I could, but you could already smell what appeared to be burnt electronics.

My hero John, came running to the kitchen to scope out the problem and found there is a mica plate mounted to the roof of the microwave and it had caught fire. He immediately started to Google microwave parts and found this is mica plate frequently needs to be replaced. Who knew?

The best price he could find for a replacement part was available at Sears for $63 USD. We have a great little domestic appliance repair shop here in Atenas, so I suggested we check with them to see if they carry mica plates. Sure enough, they carry generic mica plates that can be cut to size. Total cost ¢1500 (less than $3 USD.)

Today, John went to cut the new plate, and as luck would have it, he didn't have the right kind of saw to do the job. Off we went to the local hardware store to buy a coping saw for ¢2000 (less than $4 USD.) He was able to use the old plate as a template to cut a new one, and just like that, we are back in business with a working microwave oven.

This repair, would have cost us $63 USD, plus shipping, and my hero fixed it for well under $10. What a country!!!

Read the whole story...

26 October 2014

Grounding Gus, the escape artist.

A little over a year ago we installed 2 chain link side gates on both sides of the casa. This gave us the ability to keep the dogs on one side of the yard when we have guests staying in the casita. This past month, Gus (pronounced Goose) has been showing off his leadership skills to his new little sister, Yoli (the newly rescued street dog we adopted.) Gus finally perfected his climbing technique and has managed to escape from the confines of the back yard at will. It appears Gus would take a running leap at the side of the house and then vault over the 1.25 meter gate. Rather clever actually.

Yoli is actually a little taller than Gus, and she has already managed to steal food off the kitchen counter. So, before Gus could teach her how to vault over the gate, we decided to intervene and put up some barriers. First, John installed wires above the gate with iron bar extensions added for strength. This did nothing to discourage him, and now we were concerned he would hang himself on the wires if his vaulting attempt failed. Next, John tied some floppy orange plastic safety fencing to the top of the gate, and this did the trick. No more attempts at escape, but it was a really ugly temporary solution.

So, earlier this week, we contacted our handyman Luis. Luis built the original gates, so he came over Tuesday to discussed a permanent solution. We decided the easiest fix would be to extend the height of the gates from the original 1.25 meters to a full 2 meters high. We ordered all the materials from the local hardware store, and they delivered everything Thursday. This morning, John picked Luis up at his house, with all his tools, and a helper. Four hours later the problem is solved, and Gus' wings have been clipped. Yoli will never learn to fly.
Geeze, Mom, how am I gonna jump that?!?
Yoli and Gus, with Randy in the background looking puzzled at the gate.
Notice the row of brick pavers at the bottom of the fence on the grass? That was to stop Yoli's attempts of going under the fence.

Read the whole story...

29 September 2014

Meet Yoli, our newest addition to the family.

Meet the newest addition to the Wegner pack. This is a sad story with a happy ending.

We have a wonderful foundation here in Atenas called “Animales Atenas.” They work tirelessly to stop the suffering of street dogs and cats in our area, by organizing spay/neuter clinics, providing education and hosting adoption fairs. You can read all about it on their website

Lately, I've become more involved, helping the foundation with fundraisers, and I just recently agreed to take on the maintenance of their website.

Earlier this week, John was scrolling through his Facebook news feed when he came across the little face below. I could tell he was smitten. We've talked about adopting another dog before, but we’ve always been concerned with the old man of the pack, Randy, and how he would react to another creature entering his kingdom. Randy is our 14 year old Jack Russell Terrorist. His younger brother, Gustavo, is a mixed breed Zaguate (street dog) we rescued 3 years ago in the neighboring town of Grecia (Greece.) Goose is now about 4 years old and he has kept Randy young. They chase and romp all over the Villa Wegner compound, all day, every day, until they drop from exhaustion. They are both extremely healthy and happy boys. 

The caption reads… “I’ve been dump and I’m living in a construction site. I am small and quiet, looking for someone to love me.”

The “Animales Atenas” posting on Facebook reads, “Guizi (GISI) urgently needs a home, a quiet family who loves her. She is a shy dog it will take her a while to trust again. She is of petite stature and looks like a puppy even though the vet thinks she's already more than one year old. She was recently spayed but for lack of space she has to be returned to the street, a construction lot where some heartless brats dumped her. Who can give her a hand - perhaps
for a short time until she finds the optimal place for a wonderful life???”

We went to meet this little girl yesterday and found she is indeed a very calm dog, and extremely skittish. This is probably because she has been so mistreated all of her life. She is living in what appears to be an abandoned house construction. A neighbor lady, Brenda, and a friend of Animales Atenas, has been making sure she has water, and has been feeding her 3 times a day. The dog now trusts Brenda, but she was definitely afraid of us.

John sat down in the middle of the street of this quiet neighborhood, and kept talking to her in a very calm voice. Eventually, she sniffed his hand and decided he was OK, but she wasn’t about to get too close. I walked with Brenda in the street and we kept calling this pretty little girl over. She finally came close enough for me to pet her head, but she didn’t stick around for long. She ran back to her “home” and cautiously observed us for a bit. She became curious when a car parked down the street and had to venture out to check out the Jehovah Witnesses that had arrived to begin their Sunday work of soliciting new congregates in the neighborhood.

So, we went home and talked about it. The reality is, I think we both knew, we could offer her great life and more love than she could ever imagine. Besides, da boyz, Randy & Gus, need a little sister, especially if she can be a calming influence for these two high strung brats.

Now, the name given her by Animales Atenas, Guizi, ( geesi, where the “G” sounds like the “G” in geek) just won’t do. You see our Gustavo, is called Goose, or Goosie, for short. The two names are too similar for a dog to distinguish them as different sounding syllables.

Thus, I came up with the name “Yolanda,” or “Yoli” for short. A little research found this is the perfect name for her. The word Yolanda comes from the Greek word for “Violet Flower.” Our little girl was found abandoned in our town of Atenas, which mean “Athens,” the capitol of Greece.

We went to rescue her from the construction site today, and she is has now found her forever home. This week we will have her checked out by our vet and get her vaccinated. Now starts the process of helping her adjust to her new surroundings and her new family. Right now, she is hiding under our bed. Wish Yoli, and us, luck!

Read the whole story...

06 July 2014

A vacation from our permanent vacation

So, after 3 years without a visit to the U.S, we are going back for a family wedding. This will give us a couple of weeks to catch up with those that are so dear to us. So much has happened in just 3 short years. We can't believe how fast our grandchildren are growing up, babies are now youngsters, some are even teenagers, some are newly licensed drivers, and the oldest has graduated from college, and will tie the knot later this year.

Family and friends are making plans for get-togethers and asking what we foods we miss most. There really isn't anything we miss that much, but there are a few cravings that would be nice to enjoy for a change. I've compiled a very short list. We have more great foods here than you can imagine, but there are a few things we truly miss, and simply can't get here.

Here is our list:
  • Sweet & TENDER Corn on the Cob,
  • a really great RUSSET Potato, baked with all the trimmings, 
  • a wedge of ICEBERG Lettuce with Blue Cheese crumbles and Diced Tomatoes, 
  • a great Caesar Salad with real ROMAINE Lettuce. 

We would also love a chance to go to some of our favorite haunts in Houston for a Santa Fe Chicken Wrap from Hungry's, a great Tex-Mex dinner, and last but not least, a visit to the Lasagna House to share a meal.

Costa Rica has become our home now and we can't imagine ever living in the U.S. again. Here, we don't have to face the daily pressures of life in the big city and all the stress that goes along with it. We've put all that behind us for good. We love the quirkiness that is Costa Rica. Our lives are very complete here. We will always miss family and friends, and this brief vacation from our permanent vacation in paradise, will give us a chance to spend some quality time with our loved ones, reconnecting.

See you all very soon!

Read the whole story...

01 July 2014

Veranillo de San Juan and the exciting World Cup

Costa Rica's "Little Dry Season" is about a week late this year. It usually shows up around the 24th of June. This is an annual phenomenon when the ITCZ actually moves north of Costa Rica, giving us a mini-summer for a couple of weeks. The ITCZ, or Intertropical Convergence Zone, known also as the doldrums, is the main focal point for showers and thunderstorms in the tropics. You can "google" it if you want more information, but suffice to say the school kids are happy "el Veranillo de San Juan" (Little Summer of Saint John) was late enough to coincide with their 2-week semester vacation and the World Cup.
World Cup Tortillas for the Ticos!
This is the time of year many families take vacation at the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica. But this year finds a lot of these families glued to their flat panel TV's watching World Cup Fútbol matches.

The World Cup is played every 4 years and it has been 24 years since Costa Rica even qualified past the group matches. In 2006, Costa Rica participated in Group A, but Germany won the group competition over Ecuador, Poland and Costa Rica. This time, the "Selección," "Sele" for short, is on fire! The excitement in the country is actually palpable, and even if you've never watched a soccer match before, you'd certainly get caught up in the emotion of it all here.

Costa Rica was in Group D, referred to as the "group of death." The Ticos showed the world that they could not be eliminated in this group and blew past Uruguay and Italy to earn their place in the "Round of 16." Yes, that's right, the top 16 teams in the World.

So, Sunday found us at a neighborhood cantina packed with Ticos and Gringos in the country's red, white and blue, watching a heart-pounding game against Greece. The Ticos scored an early goal, but lost a player to a red card in the second half. This gave the Greeks the chance they needed to score a goal near the end of regulation time. In playoffs like this, overtime is allowed and they added two 15-minute periods. Neither team managed to score during this time, so we had to go to a "kick-off," which is 5-penalty kicks per side.

There isn't much a goalie can do to defend against penalty kicks, but try and outguess which way the ball will go. I had said all along if the game ever got as far as penalty kicks, Costa Rica would win because of our amazing goalkeeper, Keylor Navas. The teams remained tied, matching goal for goal, until the third penalty kicker from Greece came up to kick his penalty shot. I noted he was one of the older team mates, and I told John that this guy was just too tired and he was going to miss. I could see it in his eyes. Sure enough, Navas guessed which direction the ball would go and had time to stop it! Then the Ticos got their opening and Michael Umaña nailed the final penalty shot for Costa Rica, winning the game with a score of 5-3.

Here is a link to a local television station and the game announcers in the moment that Michael Umaña kicked the winning goal. Think he is a bit emotional? You don't even have to understand Spanish to capture the emotion. Así se celebra COSTA RICA EN CUARTOS DE FINAL 2014

This places Costa Rice in the top 8 teams in the World. Needless to say, pandemonium broke out in our little cantina and here is just a glimpse of our excited crowd.

video

So, this Saturday, you'll find us back with our amigos in the cantina, watching the Quarter Finals, yelling "ooeoeooeoe Ticos Ticos" with the rest of the fans.

Read the whole story...

11 June 2014

The story behind "... en la Cocina" (in the Kitchen) blog

Those of you that know me, know that I can find my way around the kitchen, and that I'm not a half bad as cook, baker, and general foodie. I do enjoy preparing meals for others, but I do not enjoy doing it just for myself, and I hate the cleanup duties.

More than 7 years ago I started a spin-off blog called "...en la Cocina" to document all the recipes I've gathered and created through the years. Some of the gathered recipes come from recipes given to me by family and friends dating back to when I first started to cook as a little kid.


My dad was a great cook and I think I must have inherited this gene. It certainly didn't come from my mother. All her recipes were well done, overcooked, or over boiled mush, typical of the mid-west farmers back in the day. Corn on the cob had to boil forever (15 minutes +) for her to consider it "done." It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered how wonderful corn on the cob can be if it is done right. I like mine a little crisp, and I particularly like the grassy taste you get when it's cooked with the husk on. Today, I use the microwave, I peel back the first layer of corn husk, remove all the other leaves and all the silk, pull the first layer back up, put it in a covered microwave safe dish with ¼ cup of water and nuke it on high for 4 minutes, adding extra time for additional ears of corn.

Wow, did I get off on a tangent there, or what? Sorry, back to "... en la Cocina," and my dad.


Dad's ship was sunk in the South Pacific during WWII, and he lost his job as a radio operator. The survivors were sent back to San Diego, and reassigned to other ships. Some were assigned new duties. Dad became a Navy Cook. He told me he learned to cook "on the job" and experimented with different ingredients. He admits, sometimes the food was barely edible, but over time he figured out how to combine flavors to get the best results. Growing up I remember more than one meal he had prepared getting dumped in the garbage. If he didn't like it, he didn't serve it. He was the master of experimentation in the kitchen, and I don't think my mother ever knew how many failed meal attempts went into the trash. But, I can assure you, his successes far outnumber the failures. I've always thought his simple scrambled eggs were the best I have ever eaten. His recipe for sourdough garlic cheese toast is second to none. Just give me this toast, with a small side of spaghetti, and I'm a happy camper. Thank you Dad, for teaching me to not be afraid of complicated recipes and strange new ingredients. Because of him, I am a decent cook today, and I think my family appreciates my culinary heritage.

My recipe blog has become an easy place for me to store our favorite recipes. I frequently look up a recipe in the blog and then setup my laptop, or iPhone, in the kitchen, to have access to the ingredients and directions. I used to print the recipes out, but that was such a waste of paper and obviously not very "green."

With all the social media out there, I've started sharing my recipes on Pinterest and on my Facebook page. It has been fun to watch the tracking tools to see where all the visitors to "... en la Cocina" are coming from. I've come to the conclusion there are a lot of home sick Ticos (Costa Ricans) around the world and they are all looking for the comfort foods from their homeland. Many of these visitors find me through search engines, like Google, and they come from all around the globe: U.S.A., Canada, England, Ireland, Gemany, China, Japan, Africa, and on and on. They are usually searching for the recipes for "Olla de Carne" (Costa Rican beef stew), "Bizcocho" (toasted cornmeal rings that taste similar to Fritos), and "Platano" (plantains) fixed anyway you can imagine. I also get a number of visitors looking for ways to make something from scratch. They usually can't find something that comes prepackaged in the States. For instance, this week I had a visitor from Costa Rica looking for a Graham Cracker Pie Crust. Another person from Malaysia found me by looking for Red Enchilada Sauce. At other times, I've had folks looking for Bisquick Mix, Miracle Whip, and even Lawry's Seasoned Salt.

Every time we get a craving for something from our homeland, I search for mock recipes to make it from scratch and then figure out what I can use for a substitute when a key ingredient can't be found here in Costa Rica. To date, I have 172 recipes posted in my blog, and the number will continue to continue to grow as I discover new and interesting recipes. Maybe you'll find a new favorite recipe "... en la Cocina."

!Buen Provecho!

Read the whole story...

05 April 2014

High Cost of Living in Costa Rica

We've had two sudden expenses here that dramatically showed a different side of living in Costa Rica. First we had the air conditioner in our poor old Subaru crash and burn. And then I got a flat tire. We really could live without a car air conditioner here but in the rainy season and on the really hottest days -- it's nice to have.

One day we were driving around with nice cold air blowing out of the vents on our luxury 2003 Subaru Forester. Suddenly, it went warm -- then hot.

Oy. Several days later, we finally drove over to the next big town, Grecia, to have our problem analyzed by Frio Grecia, the local automobile A/C experts.

They hooked up equipment and pronounced our coolant (freon) level to be zero. Then they started taking apart all kinds of piping under the hood. After a couple of hours, I noticed that the shop's "guy that can manufacture parts" was hovering between our car and his blacksmith shop. I asked about that and was told that he was manufacturing a special tool to bolt onto our car's system so that they could isolate the cabin portion of the system from the under-the-hood portion of the system. Cool ... I guess.

After another hour, they announced that the new tool and subsequent testing proved beyond any doubt that there was a major leak inside the passenger compartment of the car -- "probably a total failure of the evaporator." Sounds bad.

But ... they can sure fix it and can sure order the parts and all we have to do is leave the car there for two days.

Yeah, right.

We asked if we could prepay for parts and then bring the car back when the necessary repair stuff arrived.

No. They would order the parts and give us a call when they were ready to do the repair.

Then the really impressive stuff happened. The A/C technician walked out of the office with a fiber optic, real time, video "bore scope" tool, allowing them to snake a little "stick" up inside the dashboard of the Subaru and view/record the part number of the suspect "evaporator" thing-a-ma-jig that was causing the problem. Wow. (This was a full 1/2 day labor and attention to our problem, involving 3 techs and the manufacture of a special testing tool.)

They ordered the part from some Subaru warehouse in Minnesota, USA, and it took a couple of weeks for it to make its way to Costa Rica. (Shipping from MN to some USA port. Shipping from the port to another port in CR. A trip through the CR Customs Agency. Shipping from the tax office to Grecia.) But, it finally made the trip.

Once notified that the parts were in-hand, we dropped off the car for the repair and hunkered down for the expected long wait.

Nope.

Two days later, they told us the car was fixed.

We journeyed to their shop and found our car all fixed. New evaporator. New internal air filter. Fully charged and tested A/C system.

Guess how much for all of this. Oh ... come on ... guess. $800? A $grand? More?

Wrong. This entire odyssey was out the door for $220.

Really?

Yes. And, it is working like a champ, now, weeks later.

Expensive -- not.

Next up was the always aggravating flat tire.

Last week we were about to take a trip into Alajuela when I noticed that a tire on the Subaru was looking a little "poochie". As I watched, it got flatter and flatter. I hooked up our little 12V air compressor and watched as it pumped its little heart out and the tire continued to flatten. Oh well.

I've become really good at this flat tire thing in Costa Rica so the dead tire was replaced by the spare in just a few minutes and we were on our way.

The next day (amazingly quickly for me) we dropped the damaged tire off at the Atenas Coope TBA (tires, batteries, accessories) shop. It looked like the tire repair would take more than a couple of minutes so we left to do some shopping. A half hour later, we returned to find our tire repaired and leak tested, ready for installation on the car. The tech jacked up our car, removed the spare and installed the repaired tire (fancy wheel) back on the car.

O.K., here's your chance. Service that required "drop everything because the gringo wants something done "right now". Take a blown tire, repair it, test it for leaks in the tank, take the spare off of the "victim's" car and install the repaired tire/wheel, put the spare back into the customer's car.

How much?

Oh. $3

Pura Vida, y'all. (I. Am. Amazed.)



.

Read the whole story...