12 May 2016

Rancho Improvement Project - Update #2

The new ceiling in the Rancho is coming along nicely. I took this picture a few minutes ago and the guys are down to the last 3 pieces that need to be fitted into a small triangular space.

Once they finish the ceiling, they will re-hang the ceiling fan and finish up by installing fascia boards between the roof line and the new ceiling. This will prevent critters (bats, geckos, birds, and iguanas) from nesting in the small space between the two.

So far it looks beautiful and the temperature drop is incredible with the new radiant barrier. Best guess, it is now at least 10°F cooler than before. Here are a couple of photos I took this past Sunday showing the work in progress. Can't wait to enjoy our outdoor living room again!

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27 April 2016

Rancho Improvement Project

We enjoy our outdoor living space in the Rancho all year long, but there are days when our spacious Rancho can get pretty warm in the afternoons.

On hot days we turn up the fans, and John sprays the roof for several minutes with cold water from the garden hose. This technique drops the temperature for an hour or two.

The roof is constructed with steel beams and color-coated corrugated metal roofing sheets that are made to resemble clay tile. During a rainstorm it sounds just like rain on a tin roof, and when the storm is intense, it is almost impossible to hear a conversation at the dinner table.

We decided to insulate the Rancho's ceiling with an infrared barrier using reflective polyethylene insulation. This should reduce the temperature and the sound of the rain significantly. Once this is in place we will install the pvc laminated ceiling panels pictured here.

The work will begin tomorrow and the contractor expects the job will be finished in a week. We'll post an update with photos of the finished project soon.

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23 March 2016

Social Media and Politics

I find the current political scene on social media somewhat fascinating.

Sure, Facebook.com has been around for years now, but it wasn’t really available to the general public until 2006. Most folks were slow to embrace social media. The teen set and 20-somethings were already using MySpace.com from back in 2003, but with the introduction of Facebook in 2006, membership in MySpace started a gradual decline as everyone started moving over to Facebook.

At first, just the younger generations made the move, but I quickly saw how cell phones, text messaging, and social networking were going to become the primary means of communication. If I had any hope of staying up to date with the lives of my children and grandchildren I had to adapt. So, just to keep in touch, I joined Facebook in 2009. My hunch was right about keeping informed. Most folks now turn to Facebook or Text Messaging before they even think about making a personal phone call. It even happened to me once. I found out about a health issues one my grandkids was facing through a Facebook status update.

Excuse me as I digress…

Nowadays, everyone, at every age beyond 12, is on Facebook. Facebook did not have the political impact it had back in the 2008 campaign for President, because I don’t think a lot of campaign managers and candidates really understood the power or social networking. They did a much better job campaigning in social media by 2012, but this year it’s phenomenal. Between the Facebook users sharing videos, memes (yes kids and grandkids, I actually know what a meme is… this old lady still can learn a thing or two), Presidential campaigning, news coverage, and focus groups, it is hard now to not be informed.

I am fascinated to see some of my Facebook friends and acquaintances are actually obsessed with election campaign rhetoric, poll results and news snippets. Some folks are making it a career of re-posting and sharing every single meme and news media article they can find that helps them re-enforce their views on the issues. I wonder if these posts are meant to make them feel better about their choice of a candidate, or if they really believe they are influencing the decisions of their Facebook followers.

I admit, I am following the polls and the political news coverage, but it is not an obsession. I read some of the Facebook posts by friends I follow, and other posts in some Facebook groups. It’s all interesting, but these posts will not influence my vote one way, or another.

Twitter is also in the mix, and 3 of the candidates, Clinton, Sanders, and Trump are tearing it up with their 140 character tweets. Just how much platform information can a candidate present in a tweet? It makes me wonder. I’d rather listen to a debate than read tweets.

The bottom line folks… stay informed about all sides of the issues and the candidates. Carefully weigh the words of the candidates and see if you believe their promises are even a possibility in today’s world. Look at their experience in this political landscape, and do what you can to prevent history from repeating itself.

The world is watching.

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25 February 2016

Meet my beautiful Aguacate tree I grew from a seed

Almost 5 years ago, our gardener gave me a couple of avocados from an old tree in his yard. At the time he told me he feared it would be the last harvest from this old tree since the annual yield had been diminishing over the past few years. Lucky for me, John doesn't like avocado, so I didn't have to share these two delicious avocados with anyone. I decided to try my hand at raising a tree from seed.

I let the seed dry for a couple of weeks and then carefully removed the brown paper-like skin from the seed, inserted 4 toothpicks and propped in over a glass of water so the water covered about ½ the seed. I changed the water frequently and was finally rewarded with a thin stem poking it's head up from the top of the seed. I continued to nurse it until the roots were nice and long the and stem was about 6 inches high and had started to leaf out. We planted the seed in rich soil in a small pot. It wasn't long before it outgrew the pot and we moved it to a larger pot. When my baby tree was about a meter tall, we decided it was time to plant it in the ground.

We picked a sunny spot in the garden, directly across from our terraza and bedroom window, and planted my baby avocado tree where I could watch it grow. The December winds of 2011 almost ripped my tree out of the ground, so John had to rig up some rope anchors just to keep it vertical.

My beautiful avocado tree has been growing for several years. It must be close to 8 meters tall (25 feet) now, and so healthy it can withstands any wind mother nature wants to whip up. I wasn't sure it would ever produce any actual fruit, but I never gave up hope. This month I was rewarded with hundreds of blossoms. If we get some help from mother nature, these blossoms will get pollinated, and we just might have some avocado fruit to share in a few months.

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10 February 2016

The Great Atenas Wed-In

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever envision being the wedding planner for more than 70 couples!

This all started as a way to work around the discriminatory practices of CAJA (Costa Rica's socialized medical system) toward foreign residents. First of all, it important to state that all resident expats are required by law to belong to the CAJA and pay a monthly affiliation fee. Every time an expat couple has to renew their residency, they also have renew their affiliation with the CAJA, and the dependent spouse has to prove once again they are still married. The proof has to be in the form and a new certified copy of the original Marriage Certificate and this certificate has to be sent to the Secretary of State where they were married to obtain the Apostille guaranteeing it's authenticity. When the certificate is presented as proof, it can't be more than 30 days since it's certification. This is very difficult for U.S. Citizens to pull it off in a 30 day window, and it is almost impossible for many expats from other countries around the world. The cost of this document and courier fees could easily exceed $100 USD,

Citizens of Costa Rica, also have to prove to the CAJA that they are married and eligible for dependent benefits. The difference for a Costa Rican is that they can order a certified copy of their marriage certificate online, and then they can pick it up at a convenient government office for the cost of about $0.10 USD.

So, it was time to find a permanent solution to this problem. We contacted an attorney here that has always been an advocate for the expat community. He researched the problem and confirmed the discriminatory practices. He agreed to accept the case pro bono, and he will be filing law suits with the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court to get the CAJA policy changed for the expats' benefit.

But before we can get a ruling, we decided to go ahead and re-marry each other so we can get the marriage registered here in Costa Rica's national registry. We had no idea when we invited a few friends to join us in renewing our vows, that so many couples would jump on this bandwagon. We now have more than 70 couples registered to get re-married in our Central Park, this Sunday, St. Valentine's Day, February 14, 2016.

If you're not doing anything, come out to the park and watch. It promises to be an historic event with a party at our place afterward.

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22 October 2015

When you stop looking, you'll find it!

Yesterday, we were all set to to finish the Canadian Bacon we had put in a brine last Saturday. We just needed to smoke it for an hour, or two.

Guess what?

All 4 of the chrome plated grates for the smoker had disappeared, and I mean vanished...

No where to be found!

We both searched every cabinet, pantry, utility room, Rancho, bodega, inside and outside.

I called our housekeeper to see if she had a clue as to where they could be.... Nope, no, nada.

We are talking GONE!

The missing grates belong to this wonderful little electric smoker we've had for more years than I can remember. We use it all the time for smoking meat, drying chili peppers, making Canadian Bacon, etc. The small investment in this device has paid for itself many times over.

After we abandoned our exhaustive search for the grates, we discussed alternative options for making some 10.5" grates. Today, John remembered he had stored some leftover expanded metal mesh from another project in the garage, and he could probably cut it to size. So, off he went to gather the mesh and the cutting tools.

I went out to the Rancho to give him a hand. We got the mesh rolled out and John was just about ready to start measuring.

Suddenly, I looked up and what did I see.... 4 chrome plated grates, perched on the counter, just below the sign that reads, "A little bit crazys all right!"

Isn't that always the case? When you stop looking, you'll find it.

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30 July 2015

Don't chum the waters when swimming with sharks

Gringos -- Swallow your pride and make your cameras, smart phones, tablets and luggage gear look like crap if you want to radically lower the risk of having them stolen.  I might also observe that cargo pants, hiking boots, fishing vests, boonie hats and walking sticks scream RICH GRINGO TOURIST and enhance your likelihood of being a target.  I've learned from some of the best "guys on the street".

Many years ago, I was assistant art director on a very high end P.R. brochure being put together.  At the time, I had been a pretty fair news photographer but knew that the artsy qualities that I wanted for this brochure were beyond my skill set and the capabilities of my equipment.

I made inquiries and arranged for a shoot with a guy who was touted as the "best industrial photographer in Chicago".  His fee was almost as much per day as I made in a month.

On the intense day of the Big Shoot the photographer showed up and unloaded three of the most beat up, falling apart, cheap-ass gear cases that I'd ever seen.  I was thinking, "Uh-oh."

He opened the cases and inside were neatly arranged ranks of equipment that look suspiciously like junk; except, because I had held one every day in years past, I recognized several top of the line Nikon camera bodies by their shape -- but these looked like hell with scratches and worn spots and black electrical tape all over them.

I had to ask.  "What's with all of the tape and how'd those Nikons get so beat up?"  The photographer replied that one of them was brand new and none of the others were more than 2 years old.  "I used to lose a camera or lens about once a month back when everything looked nice.  Now I tape over all brand names and roughen everything so it looks like junk.  Haven't lost a thing since I started doing this."  I then realized that even the man himself was down-dressed.  Nothing about him or his "stuff" would attract anybody's attention.  He could work undisturbed all day and passersby would simply think, "Some guy taking snapshots."

I went home that night and did the same treatment to my equipment.  I now also make sure to always take my crappiest looking travel pack and bag if I'm ever going to have it out of my control or especially if I were traveling to the sketchier parts of the world.  Never lost a camera and only lost one bag -- probably an airline screw up.

Making your bags look like crap also is a big help on airport carousels.  Put tape on them so they look like they're falling apart.  I put dingy straps around mine so that they look like the closures don't work.  When the "all look alike" clean and new bags come rolling around the corner on the carousel it is really hard to tell your bag from any other.  Not my bag.  It's that piece of junk that nobody would steal on a bet.  Now ... that new Louis Vuitton bag over there ...

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30 April 2015

Our Thunbergia Blue and White Sky Vines

In 2008, we finished the construction on our little casita and this became our vacation home until we retired in 2011. For the first couple of years our property was protected from the neighborhood livestock by a barbed wire fence. I made a trip from Texas to Costa Rica to see about building a proper perimeter wall around our property, installing a lawn and sprinkler system, and doing a little landscaping. John joined me for the latter half of this trip and we finished the landscaping together.

While enjoying our frequent mini vacations here, we had noticed the inside of the casita would heat up considerably during the day simply because there was no protection from the sun on our east side.

Looking for a remedy, we went to one of the local nurseries to see what was available for a sun block. One of their employees recommended a fast growing vine with flowers. So we decided to buy 10 starter plants, 5 blue and 5 white. Without a clue as to what we had purchased, John set about planting the vines all along the east side of the casita. The young vines needed something to attach to, so John nailed horizontal strings to the property wall about 12” & 18” above the ground. This was all that was needed for the vines to grab a hold and take off.

Within 5 months the vines had completely taken over the fence, completely covering it with vibrant green leaves and beautiful blue and white flowers.

The best part of all is the temperature in the casita dropped at least 10° F. The fragile little tendrils we planted in 2010 have now grown into the size of tree stumps and the vines throw daily runners so fast you can almost see them growing.

Today we know these vines are actually Thunbergia Blue and White Sky Vines. We have been amazed at how hearty they have been, especially with the dry, windy season we just endured.  They never slowed growing, whereas all of the other plantings around the property went dormant or turned brown.

A couple of weeks ago our housekeeper discovered the ground along side of the casita was very damp and she suspected a leak – right in the middle of those green green vines. John confirmed there was indeed a leak, but he couldn’t get to the leaking spot because it was half buried in concrete. So, he called a local plumber. The plumber came out to determine the cause and find out what parts it would take to fix it. Two days later, the plumber resolved the leak and we expect our water bill will drop substantially.

No telling how long the pipe had been leaking. Clearly our vines certainly enjoyed all the extra moisture. They have been in full bloom throughout the dry season and they are gorgeous. Their extra “water supply” has been cut off now, but the rainy season is just starting, so they will continue to flourish.

Anybody need some cuttings from our Thunbergia Blue and White Sky Vines? They are yours for the taking.

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