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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26 March 2015

I feel like Ralph Kramden's sidekick Ed Norton

I just love doing home maintenance -- NOT!  I get a really special "attitude" toward home ownership when the maintenance involves plumbing problems on the, ummm, odiferous side of the system.  Thus was my situation this week.

We have had a somewhat slow drain in the kitchen sink, forever, and just figured it was some of that there Pura Vida plumbing.  The other day, it got snail-slow and even backed up.  Couldn't figure out the problem.  Tried the nasty acid drain opener chemical.  Nope.  Opened the outside grease trap and cleaned that out (quite full after 4 years.)  Nope.  (Ack!! What a disgusting job.)

Day two.

O.K. -- this is getting to be a headache.  Got a plumber's snake.  Went in from the sink-side and figured that I had hit a 90-bend at about 6-feet in.  (Yes, they put 90's in drain and sewer piping here.  "Those pesky wye's are just too hard to figure out.")

Went outside to the grease-trap side.  Went in with the snake ... waaay in ... hit a kind of soft spot but after spinning the "roto rooter" head of the snake a bit figured it was the same 90.  Still not very good flow.

Using several small batches, I got a whole can of drain opener and boiling water into the pipe.  Over time and with a little addition of hot water, lots of little chunks kept coming down the line and falling into the trap.  Still not much flow.

Filled the sink half way with hot water and let it rip down the pipe.  Better.  More chunks.  Still crappy (pun!) flow.

Three more sink dumps ... and then there was a burping noise, the flow stopped dead and then s-l-o-w-l-y a long brown "something" oozed out of the pipe, dropped into the grease trap sump and disappeared.  Instantly we had full flow.  I put on my long rubber glove and went fishing.  Got it.

The long brown thing was ...

-- wait for it --

... a large wadded up piece of portland cement paper sack (with the cement company logo still intact.)


How?   How did the drain system EVER work with that blockage in there?

My guess that it has been there since the early stages of the house construction, when they put in the drain stubs before pouring the floor.  Normally, those stubs are stuffed with a rag or something to keep animals and concrete splatters out of the piping.  Somebody missed removing one when they did the final hookups.

So the mystery of a slow drain and blockage is solved, only to generate another mystery as to how in the world that drain ever worked.  Wow.

I hope they didn't miss removing another paper pipe plug somewhere else in the "castle."

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07 March 2015

My handcrafted sisal rope bowl

A few months ago I jumped in to participate in a "Pay it Forward" initiative on Facebook. I posted the information about the initiative on my Facebook status, and the first five people who commented were promised a surprise from me during the year.  The whole purpose of the surprise is just to make someone happy and they, in turn, must "Pay it Forward" to five other people, and so on, and so on, forming a web connection of kindness! My dilemma, what could I give as a surprise.

I tossed around a few ideas in my head, did some searching on Pinterest, and finally decided to try my hand at making sisal rope bowls for everyone. Most of the handcraft sites on the web recommended using hot glue guns, but I decided to use nothing but plain old Elmers glue, you know, the stuff we all used in school for all those projects. I bought 50 meters of ¼" sisal rope at the local hardware store and loaded up with lots of glue. After a few trials and errors, I finally mastered a technique that worked very well for me. Here are the materials you need for one bowl:

  • 10 meters, or 11 yard of ¼" sisal rope
  • 8-10 ounces of non-toxic white glue (Elmers or equivalent)
  • box of straight pins
  • scissors
  • needle nose pliers
  • medium sized bowl to use for a mold
  • 2 pieces of ribbon to help release the sisal from the bowl
  • 1" wide paint brush

The first thing you need to do is trim up the starting end of the rope, so that you can start to roll a disk for the bottom of the bowl. The easiest way is to fold the end of the rope back on itself and use straight pins to hold the rope in place. Keep rolling the rope into a flat disk until it is about 2" in diameter. Use the straight pins as needed to prevent any gaps. Then spread a layer of glue on just one side of the disk. Allow it to dry for about 45 minutes.

While the bottom disk it drying, tape a ribbon to the bottom of the bowl you are using as your mold. The ribbon needs to be long enough to reach all the way to the top of both sides of the bowl with about 3" excess on each side. Now, tape the second ribbon on the bottom of the bowl so that it forms a cross with the other ribbon and again make sure it is long enough to reach to top of both sides of the bowl with 3" to spare.

When the disk is dry, use the pliers to remove the straight pins. Turn the bowl upside down and lay the dry side of the disk centered on the bottom of the bowl. Now start to wrap and coil the rope using the bowl as your guide. I found it worked best when I only did 3 wraps (just an inch) at a time, using the straight pins to prevent any gaps. Once I had completed the 3 wraps, I would coat them on the outside with glue, using my fingers to make sure it was well spread. You need to be careful not to get glue on the bowl, or the rope will stick. Let the section dry and the glue will turn clear when it's dry so you'll know when you can continue.

Pull out all of the straight pins with the pliers, and start coiling and pinning the next section. Apply the glue. Let it dry, and remove the pins. Continue this process until you reach the top of the bowl. When you get to the top of the bowl, leave a tail end of rope about 6" long.

Remove any remaining straight pins from the rope. Remove your sisal bowl from the bowl you used as your mold using the ribbons to pull it free. Flip the sisal bowl right side up and generously coat the inside of the bowl with glue. Use the paint brush to evenly spread the glue and let the bowl thoroughly dry.

Now decide how you want to finish off the end piece. I decided to make a loop so that the bowl can actually be hung on a hook. I folded the end piece back on itself, trimmed the frayed end and tucked it under the last wrap. I used lots of glue and pins to lock it place. When the bowl was completely dry, I looked for any sharp strings poking out and trimmed them off with the scissors.

The last part of my "Pay It Forward" initiative was to put something in the bowl, so I made some Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies this morning. One of my Canadian friends received her bowl in January without the cookies, but I'll make it up to her when she returns to Costa Rica. This afternoon John and I went calling to drop off the remaining 4 baskets and put smiles on faces.

If you are looking for a fun family project for a rainy day, or a snow day, this just might be it.

Important Note: The sisal rope bowls are NOT waterproof!

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31 January 2015

Friday afternoons in the barrio

A Friday ritual is becoming very popular with the local expat crowd here in Atenas. It started out with just two or three folks meeting at a local neighborhood bar on Friday afternoons to grab a couple of cold drinks, chat for a bit, and then head home before dark. The place is called German's Bar, and it is located in Barrio Mercedes, just at the Y intersection where you turn off to San Isidro and Morazan.

This is a family run business and German (pronounced "Herman") is a friendly fellow in his 60's. He always makes it a point to stop at every table and greet his patrons. This bar is the same place we went to watch, and cheer on, our amazing Costa Rican fútbol team at the World Cup last year.

Some friends of ours, that live just up the road from German's, love to dance. So, they downloaded all the best dance music you can think of from the 1960's up to the 2010's, onto an iPod. This eclectic mix of music includes selections from Santana, Grateful Dead, Shakira, Michael Jackson, Adele, Eagles, etc. They spoke with German and he agreed to let them plug their iPod into the bar's sound system. This gave our friends a great place to dance and enticed German's other patrons to get up and DANCE with them.

Word started to spread amongst the expat community and this Friday afternoon ritual went from just a few folks unwinding on a Friday afternoon, to a full blown party every week. Yesterday there were almost 40 people in attendance. We've been going there regularly for a couple of months, and it's lots of fun to catch up with everyone. The weekly get togethers somehow got named, "FUF," and we'll just leave it to your imagination to figure out what that means.

One of the regular attendees of our Friday get togethers is German's dad, Don Carlos. Don Carlos is now in his 90's 99 years young, and he loves to get out on the dance floor with the "younger" crowd.

I thought about taking pictures of the packed house yesterday, but decided it might be best to just say, "What happens at German's, stays at German's."

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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!!!

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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.

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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!

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