24 December 2012

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!


'T was the night before Christmas, and all through la casa,
Not a creature was stirring: ¡Caramba! ¿Qué pasa?
Los niños were all tucked away in their camas,
Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.
While Mama worked late in her little cocina,
El viejo was down at the corner cantina.
The stockings were hanging con mucho cuidado,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would feel obligado,
To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,
A nice batch of dulces and other regalos.

Out in the yard there arose such a grito,
That I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I went to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world do you think quien era ?
Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero,
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero !
And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,
Were eight little burros approaching volados.
I watched as they came and this little hombre,
was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre:
Ay Pancho ! Ay Pepe ! Ay Cuca ! Ay Beto !
Ay Chato ! Ay Chopo ! Maruca y Nieto !

Then, standing erect with his hand on his pecho,
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.
Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,
With sooth smeared all over his vestido de gala,
He filled the stockings with lovely regalos,
For none of the children had been very malos.
Then chuckling aloud and seeming contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.
And I heard him exclaim, and this is verdad,
Merry Christmas to all, and Feliz Navidad.

Originally posted in the Yahoo Group, Costa Rica Living by: "A & A" fraluchi, December, 2012

Read the whole story...

16 December 2012

Ban Guns? No, eliminate the causes

In the wake of the horrific mass murder in CT, it amazes me how many people are again singing the "ban assault weapons" song. That's just plain ignorant. And I'm still amazed that NONE of the Sunday morning Talking Heads of the news/talk shows still can't step away from, "People don't need assault weapons to hunt." It ain't hunting, people. The Second Amendment is about giving the citizenry the means to fight off (defend themselves) from despots and groups of nuts who have designs on the country's freedoms -- and deer rifles are not at issue because you ain't going to fight off a rogue general, with a battalion of military grade weapons. You better have as many assault weapons as you can muster.

I know that I've written this so many times that it makes some of your heads hurt, but I think the Congress needs as many public reminders as possible.  For the security of a homeland, to the general population, a mess of excellent weapons, scattered all over a country, means more for that homeland's security, than any number of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Predator Drones in the hands of an organized army.

Again, (you knew this was coming, didn't you) a history lesson.

Hitler did not invade Switzerland because he knew every single damn house in the country had a male head of household with the latest military grade rifle then in existence and knew how to use it.

Many of Japan's military leaders were similarly reluctant to entertain attacking the USA mainland because they knew that the citizens would fight them from every doorway and rooftop and that the weapons were not only "out there" but a big chunk of the population (WWI vets and rural hunters) knew how to use them.  Yamamoto even wrote a letter cautioning:
Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. [emphasis added]

He had studied at Harvard for over two years and had done two Naval Attaché hitches in Washington, DC.   The reader may think that a country full of serious war weapons is a danger to them when in reality, it might be the reason they aren't speaking Japanese or German today.

Ban assault weapons?  Nah.

Every time government tries to legislate a problem from the back end, the problem gets worse or the "cure" goes out of control. 

Stop the drunkards:  The 18th Amendment -
"The manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."
 What did that get us?  Highly enriched organized crime; blind and dead people from drinking bad liquor; and, maybe the worst effect, a general public disregard for a constitutional law.

The war on marijuana:  Millions of dollars spent against the horrors of our children becoming crazed zombies under the psycho effects of the devil weed, positively leading to addiction to opium, heroin and, oh, yeah, "sex, love, & rock and roll."  Tens of thousands of law enforcement, judicial & penal assets pissed away, resulting in a massive population of citizens with arrest records and subsequent meaningless incarcerations.

What did that get us?  Same thing as the first example.  Highly enriched organized crime and a lot of citizens "wounded" by the stigma of being criminals and (now) at least two generations of the general public with a disregard for a national law. (And, oh, yeah, probably 0.0000001% of the users ever graduated to heroin.)  [I just made that number up.  Go ahead and get me the citations to prove it wrong.  I'd appreciate your efforts.  Thanks.]

And, how's that knee-jerk Homeland Security thing working out for you?  Do you feel more secure now or are you amazed at how your freedoms have been impacted?  Have you traveled lately?  Tried to directly ship something by air lately, via air freight?  Visited a sea port lately?

So, should you stick your head in the sand ... business as usual?

Hell no.  Attack the problem.

Is the problem pervasive gun ownership?  While I'd say, "clearly not," if you want to legislate away assault weapons, and large magazines (they're not "clips" newsboy!) and anything else, please see above.

How about you get to know your neighbors so that you know if the young man down the street with the mom railing against the local school administration is bordering on being unstable?

How about if you speak up when you see or hear something disturbing developing?

How about if you raise your kids off of and away from the X-Box and absolutely know what they're doing for how many hours on the Internet?

And, even, how about if you quit being so damned "enlightened" about mental health because you saw the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and bring back mental institutions?  There has to be a place to put the wackos because you can't fix wacked with medications and/or touchy-feely halfway houses all of the time or nearly fast enough.  [Plus I might need a nice warm place to stay after the family reads this.]

How about if you all shun violent movies and video games?  They ARE an effing problem, whether you like to think so or not.  Just ask yourself, would you take your 5 year old or your 80 year old mother to the latest splatter movie?  Exactly why not?  Yeah.  Those are the reasons that you shouldn't be taking/letting anyone do that.  Free speech?  Let 'em speak all they want.  Just don't buy into it, thereby enriching the speaker and encouraging further such behavior.

That's enough hammering for now.  I hope you see my position.  

Good luck with this.  I'm down here in the Wild West watching.  .

Read the whole story...

10 December 2012

Bang! Motherf***er

Gun ownership in Costa Rica is pretty difficult for immigrants. I've begun the process and will see it through to completion over a period of about 60 days.
Day 1: First 6 shots. I think he's hurt.

Some people are appalled by guns. I see them as a tool. But I also take a lesson from history.

In Switzerland, every able-bodied male must serve in the military -- and then everyone who has served takes their service weapon home, permanently. After WWII, it was revealed that Hitler had designs on taking over Switzerland but was dissuaded from that course because his generals knew that there would be a rifle barrel greeting them from every window sill and mountain side. (It didn't hurt that the Swiss had built a network of fortresses into every mountain pass accessing the country.)
Behind a "wall" leaning out just enough to hit targets.

So, first, it's a tool of equalization for this old man, to protect us. Any time you swim in the ocean, there's a tiny chance that you'll be the target of a shark. Similarly, every day, while we're swimming in this ocean of humanity, there's a tiny chance of encountering a bad guy. Being gringos and grey-haired also ups the chances of an encounter.

Then, second, you're never safe and secure from hostile government takeover, no matter what you may want to believe. There are endless historical cases of unarmed sheeple going to the slaughter. I'm not crazy enough to think an old man could stand up to an air strike or even a Stryker squad; but, it's the factor of "how badly do they really want a country and how much are they willing to sacrifice to get it?" Germany decided against Switzerland and apparently, Japan's war plans steered away from a West Coast invasion of the U.S. for similar reasons.

Enough rant.

Here's what happens in Costa Rica, to gain the right of gun ownership.

First, you must be a Permanent Resident. Not a Pensionado, Rentista, Investor or Representante. Permanent Residency is granted after 3 years in one of these categories, or immediately through family linkage with a Costa Rican citizen (my situation).

Second, you're well advised to get on the inside of the gun crowd here because anything bureaucratic is incredibly complex and we all need any help we can get. So I found a gringo with connections to a local gun range and club. He offers an "urban handgunning" course and the implicit back-story is that by taking the course, there would be plenty of help through the bureaucracy.

I'm a decent shot with a good handgun understanding, as well as being pretty safety conscious. And, after spending the past several years in the Wild West post-Katrina Houston I had "situational awareness" well drilled into my psyche.  All of this was discussed in the handgun course.

Another topic of discussion was "the switch."  They didn't call it this but psychologists call it the "fight or flight" response.  When surprised with a threat, there is an adrenaline burst so that you can attack (fight) or run (flight).  Having volunteered in EMS services, firefighting, and wilderness rangering, I had experienced plenty of moments with "the switch."  The difference now is instead of switching into The Zone of under-stress performance, one has to understand that the performance is now going to be Bang! Motherf***er.  Controlled anger, aggression, performance ... immediately.

Day 2: On the attack after bailing out of the car.
The question everyone has to ask is, "Can I, without a second of hesitation, shoot another person?"

Are they threatening me or Pat with grave bodily harm? Oh? Well ... yes I can ... without a blink.

That's pretty much the totality of the course, other than firing off (200) 9mm rounds on a range, from behind "walls," on the move, retreating, advancing, dropping magazines and reloading from cover, getting out of and behind a vehicle while firing and a host of other life-threat situations.

Then the gubmint stuff starts.

First there is a written test, in Spanish. I'm allowed to have an approved interpreter (thank the FSM). It's kind of remedial but you have to pass it or you ain't owning a gun here.

Next there is a hands-on shooting qualification out on the range. Unlike Texas, where you are timed and placed under stress, shooting from various distances and situations, the Costa Rica test is just 10 rounds of .22 ammunition, shot at a static A4 target, set out at maybe 10 feet. You can take all the time you want and only 7 of 10 rounds have to hit anywhere on the target. Thanks. I think I got this one.

And then (!!) there's a psych evaluation by a nationally certified head doctor. Oh, cripes. This could be the deal breaker. I wonder if they'll let me have my "emotional support animal," Randall J. Russell The Superdog with me? I'll keep you posted.

Then you go get fingerprinted at some location. (This will be the third time in this country. Doesn't anybody share with anybody else?)

Finally, with 3 passport-size photos, my cedula (resident identity card), documentation of all of the above and a fistful of money I get to go stand in line all day at the Ministerio de Armas y Explosivos to fill out more forms and do the formal application.

Ta-chukata-chukata-chukata ... the wheels of bureaucracy shall churn and maybe they will grant me the right to acquire, keep and bear arms.

In the mean time, if things should get out of hand, I'll just have to cut 'em.

Read the whole story...

21 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

This year about 50 citizens of the good old U.S.A. are gathering at the home of friends here in Atenas to celebrate Thanksgiving. Everyone is chipping in to bring a favorite dish from the old country. We have volunteered to bring dinner rolls, so John will be busy baking his award winning Blue Ribbon Zephyr Buns early tomorrow morning.

Earlier this week, I took a look at the incredible list of food everyone is bringing to this feast, and much to my dismay, I didn't see any cranberry sauce or relish on the list. Now, I'm sorry, but I just can't call it "Thanksgiving Dinner" without the cranberries. I've been stewing over this for a few days, and knowing we wouldn't be going into San Jose (where we just might find some cranberries), I decided to invent a solution.

We just happened to have a large bag of Ocean Spray Crasins in the pantry. I combined the Crasins, with some other key ingredients, and I came up with some of the best Cranberry Relish I've had in years. I'll never go back to the canned stuff again. You can see the recipe at this link: Crasins Cranberry Relish.

This year will mark our second Thanksgiving holiday without you, our beloved family and friends back in the old country. We want you to know how grateful we are to have you in our lives and wish we could set a place for you here at our table. We are also thankful for our wonderful new life in Costa Rica and we are especially grateful for all the amazing new friendships we have found in this place we now call home.

We wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends.

Love,
Pat & John

Read the whole story...

29 October 2012

Catching Up

Where to begin?  So much going on during retirement.

Visitors
 On the forums, there was a couple talking about being interested in checking out Costa Rica as a place of residence.  Next thing you know, they mention that they're interested in knives and guns.  That works for me!  We invited them to visit us in Atenas. 

Eventually several communications led to them coming to Atenas and staying in our Casita for a few days.  We had them legally "mule" in a few things we needed, which they kindly did, and we developed a friendship.  There is a high probability that they will be leaving the USA and coming back to this area to live.  They were very impressed with Costa Rica.  Although it was a LOT of work for Pat, I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all.

Zoo Ave [ah' vay]
There's a zoo on the old highway from Alajuela to Atenas which always struck me as a typical tourist trap -- big gaudy signs; high entrance fee; fences to keep anyone from seeing what's inside, etc.  So, I've never been there before.  Since one of our visitors is a nature photographer, we thought that the Zoo Ave might be a good bet for them ... and us.  Wow!  Did I misunderstand that place.  Zoo Ave is the most natural wildlife sanctuary that I've ever seen.  They shouldn't call it a "zoo" because North Americans and Europeans will envision a plethora of cages filled with scroungy looking critters.  This is the polar opposite.  First, they've recreated the rainforest, right there in the bustling city of Alajuela.  Then, it is a shock that many of the critters are just loose, flying and running around in their natural environment.  Only the raptors, rare or delicate birds and the dangerous things like crocodiles are confined -- but even these confinements are very cleverly constructed so that there is little sense of "a cage."  On top of that, the Zoo Ave is a major player in breeding and reintroducing endangered birds into the wild.  Additionally, they are a rescue organization for exotic rainforest fauna that have suffered through being "pets" and are abused or abandoned.  Wow.  Totally and highly recommended.  This place is now on our list of "must sees" for all visitors.

El Toledo Tour
The local organic coffee plantation is called El Toledo.  Organic.  There's so much horse crap in the market about organic this and organic that.  It is typically a turn-off for me because it is so often a B.S. way of getting the sheeple to pay extra for crappy-quality food.  It's a big scam.  So I was NOT very interested in El Toledo.  Yeah, their coffee, which we sampled once, was pretty tasty but it was significantly more expensive than the yummy stuff we regularly buy from our Atenas Co-op. 

We thought that Tracy Gano might get some good rainforest photos and they wanted to see a coffee plantation.  Seemed like a good idea for a morning tour before the afternoon rains.

Another "wow."

Coffee beans are stripped of fruit and cleaned automatically.
El Toledo is the tiny plantation of a 3rd generation family who had an "a-ha!" moment almost a decade ago.  They were growing coffee like many of the other 1200 small producers in the Atenas area.  State-of-the-art farming methods and liberal employment of the latest high tech chemistry to maximize production and minimize weed and bug losses. Just like everyone else.

The problem was that "Dad," the family patriarch, was suffering all kinds of strange weaknesses and sicknesses.  Could it be all of the chemicals being poured into the plantation to keep up to the industry standards?

Dad and his two sons decided to try a strange new plantation regimen called sustainable organic farming.

That involves restoring the soil to its rich, natural state by not clearing away the dead-fall and the natural weeds; creating catchments so that the topsoil and rains are held and allowed to percolate naturally down into the water table; terracing the coffee trees so that they gain a secure footing in the forest; using only natural mammalian fertilizers (manure) added to the soil; and, nurturing nitrogen-fixing legume vegetation throughout the plantation so that there is a natural shade combined with symbiotic soil enrichment.

You can SMELL the difference in the soil and forest as you walk the plantation trails.  We have regular coffee plantings all around us in Atenas and they are not the same as El Toledo.

These people are onto something.  The regular coffee operations spend 80% of their costs on chemicals and additives.  The El Toledo folks spend 20% for chicken and cow poop.  That's all.  Their crop yield is only 50% of the big commercial operations but the coffee buyers (and now we) are willing to pay a premium for the super flavor and chemical-free product.

Have we slipped over into the wack-o sustainable organic tribe?  Maybe.  Tour El Toledo and see if you can resist the spiel.

Visiting Tim 'n Meg
Our friends Tim and Meg live here and have made it their life-mission to live "better than well" here in Paradise, on a budget.  They are (obviously) experts at finding astoundingly fabulous living quarters in Costa Rica, at unbelievably low prices.  These people are funny, interesting, enjoyable and certainly "smarter than the average bears."

When we first met these two "magicians," they were living in a luxury condo, at the most exclusive resort on the Costa Rican Pacific Coast.  Absolutely a ga-ga lifestyle.  Price?  Less than a nice apartment in San Jose or any other decent CR city.

That was nothing compared to their present digs.  The new place is on the Pacific Ocean, but with views also backward into the rainforest.  Secluded and private.  (We had to traverse almost 10km of forest roadway and pass through 3 different guard gates before we even got into the vicinity of their house.)  An ultra-modern glass, wood and steel architectural wonder built into a jungle clearing, overlooking the ocean.  Multiple bedrooms and bathrooms.  Solar power generation array. Infinity pool.  Jacuzzi pool.  Gym.  Entertainment deck.  Gardens. Wild birds and critters the likes of which you'll only see on a National Geographic special.  You name it -- this place has it.  And, oh yeah, they've rented it for another price that would only get you a tiny apartment in Escazu.  How do they do this?

And yet ... there aren't two people we'd enjoy being with more than these two.  Great folks.

Roberto
Aw, geez.  Another pet.  A local sharecropper farmer lady came by a couple days ago carrying a good sized turtle.  She said that she needed to find him a home because the local dogs kill turtles and this one was obviously a stray, out of his element.

What to do?  Find him a natural forest home beside some river or stream or bring him into our walled compound where he can live a safe life only harassed by Randy and Gus?  Obviously the correct choice would be to find a beautiful little stream in the forest for "Bob."  Oh.  Did I forget?  This guy was immediately named Bob after my last dear departed turtle pet, lost to some Houston vandals many years ago.

Anyway, Bob took up residence in the back yard, along the wall covered with vetiver.  I dug in a small wading pool for him and stuck some barrier boards into the sod at both sides of the house.  Bob's new "cage" is a couple hundred square meters of lawn and garden.  Bob has already proven that he can climb over just about any barriers we create so it is probably a matter of time before he beats feet back into the jungle.

Update #1 - 29Oct2012:  Bob vanished from the backyard Sunday, 28 Oct.  He either managed to climb his 8" tall board barrier or someone decided to "borrow" him for awhile.  I hope it was the former and he is safely back down to the river hunting.

Update #2 - 31Oct2012: Bob didn't really vanish from the backyard. We found him hiding out in the tall Vetiver grass along our property wall on Monday afternoon. He's been out an about hunting bugs (we suspect) and the dogs, Randy & Gus, are starting to ignore him. Randy always runs out to check on him first thing in the morning, but we don't think he will hurt him now.

Earthquake
The big earthquake a few weeks ago really was a significant seismic even.  Nothing in my California days came even close, and a couple of those (Whittier, Landers, Northridge) were major shakers.  Having been quite close to the epicenter of the Landers twin quakes, when our CR big one started I said to Pat, right away, "This is big!"

Fortunately, we came through that with only a little broken art glass.

Then, 23 October, a smaller quake did some rocking and rolling here.  Although it was a lot smaller than the "Big One," the world news services must have been having a slow news day because they headlined the reports with things like, "Major quake strikes Costa Rica."  Friends and family were immediately online asking if we were O.K.  It's amazing what the news people can do with a word choice like "strikes."  Bottom line is that it was nothing.   Zero fatalities and no reported damage of import anywhere in the country.

Tropical Storm
Good ol' tropical storm / hurricane Sandy brought us bands of rain for several days.  Costa Rica has never been directly hit by a hurricane but when the storms are huge, like this one, we can see lots and lots of rain.  (Uh, it's the rainforest, baby.)  This one has given us squalls of rain bands through the night (rare) and afternoon (common.)  Not a big deal but it is welcome during this rainy season since we've not had as much rain as we wanted.

Hiking back to fitness
Yeah, I'm a little freaked out about controlling my weight here, in the land of abundance.  I've been working up to aerobic level almost every day, doing chores, for the year, plus, that we've been here.  I don't think I've ever been in better overall shape (and my tan is to die for.)  But, the few off-days and the limitless yummy stuff to eat is not good for anybody's girlish figure.  So, now that the heavy physical projects of house construction are winding down, we've started scheduled walking workouts.  Soon, we'll start bicycle workouts.  Maybe we can find an equilibrium point to balance the eats with the exercise.

Saint Ralph
The past week featured the feast of the patron saint of the City of Atenas, San Rafael.  The locals go all out for this fiesta.  At 0500 hours every morning the fireworks mortars fire off to announce the start.  There were several Catholic masses and many of the public and private businesses shut down.  Even in the rain of Hurricane Sandy (see above) the food booths and the arts n' crafts show were in full swing.  This went on all week.

Church pews were moved out into the street to give the community plenty of seating around the impressed Bingo tables for enjoying the good eats sold by an array of town clubs and restaurants.

Auctioneer closes the bidding on a fine steer.
Over in the church yard, cattle were being auctioned for Catholic charities around the permanent (!) pens and loading ramps situated inside the parish properties.  I could get into big-time trouble in an auction like this since the only Spanish I understood from the auctioneer's mouth was, "I've got (a bid of xxxx colones)," and then a blather of numbers, which could have been 50 cents or 50 million dollars.  He was talking too fast for me.  No problem.  I didn't bid on anything.  Then the rains started again.

So ... hey ... that's about it from down here in Central America.  What's happening in your neck of the woods?


Read the whole story...

30 September 2012

Pie Under Attack & Can't Get No Sleep

My personal favorite fruit tree here on the property is a little limón crillo, known in the States as the key lime. This tree pumps out a constant supply of juicy fruit. Its juice is super-yummy in Coke drinks and, if I'm extra nice, Pat will turn a handful of them into Key Lime Pie. {Everybody sing: "Heaven ... I'm in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak!"}

Yet, (horrors!) something has been attacking my little tree's leaves.

We had the gardener look over the victim and he immediately pronounced, "Ants."


"Where?" sez I.

"No, no, señor, they come only at night. You'll never see them," he said. {Yeah, right, another old wives tale.}

"Put poison all around the base of the tree and you will have no more problems," he said with authority. {Yeah, right, it will last about two hours of DAYLIGHT time until the afternoon rains come and wash it all away.}

Oh, well. We said thank you very much and sent him on his way. I haven't worked my way down the task list yet to the "Put poison on lime tree" entry. Maybe tomorrow.

I'm too tired right now. I need a nap. Here's why:

We have wireless motion detector sensors hidden all over the property. They feed their signals into a receiver in the bedroom where a recorded voice will announce which sensor has signaled, e.g., "Rancho uno!" or "Bodega!" etc.

At about the start of the rainy season, in the middle of the night, "Rancho uno!" would go off, thereby jerking my eyelids open with a bang. The first few times I'd fire out of bed, turn off the burglar alarm so I could open the doors, flip on the lights, grab my flashlight and my weapon de jour, rouse the dogs and race for the Rancho to do battle with the thieves, who were obviously raiding the Rancho refrigerator and stealing all of my beer (or something less important.)

Nothing.

Every time ... nothing.

We came up with all kinds of theories. Cats? Bats? Birds? (At 3am?) Lizards? Urk, snakes! Who knows, but I could never catch the culprit, no matter how fast I got out the door. We decided that there must be something wrong with the sensor and even discussed ordering a replacement for a friend to mule down from the States next month.

Pretty soon, "Rancho uno!" got ignored unless it went off more than once ... or more than 3 times ... or more than ...

Last night, it started going off. And again. "I'm not getting up. The hell with it." Just get to drifting off to sleep ... "Rancho uno!" And again. And again, damn it.

"THAT'S IT!" I got up, with a vengance. The full regalia. I went out armed to kill me some wildlife.

Pat was trailing along saying, "Just take the battery out and come to bed." I wanted me some blood but the battery idea sure sounded like a faster way to get back to bed.

Pat handed me a step stool and I pried open the sensor's cover -- tool in one hand, flashight under my chin. Reached in for the battery and just got a grip ...

"ANTS!!!" Little bitty bastards. Way tinier than the head of a pin. And, FAST! They were all over my hand and everywhere quicker than I could drop the cover and get off the step stool. "Damn ... Ants!"

What was really there.
What I'm imagining was there.
While I'm doing a really creative dance around the Rancho floor, Pat handed me a can of Raid, whereupon I blasted their microscopic li'l souls to the netherworld.

Turns out, they were nesting in the bottom of the housing of the sensor. AND, they only came out at night!

[See where I'm going with this? Tying this all back together? Bet you weren't expecting that!]

Once in awhile, some wandering soldier ant would head north, up the sensor wall and crawl across the receiver glass (about half the size of your little finger nail.) Bingo. Off goes the transmitter.

And, last night must have been Ant Night At The Rancho so they were all up and excited, running all over the inside of the sensor. Sheesh.

But now, I've keeeeled them all and maybe that was the nest that was attacking my beautiful little lime tree.

And maybe I can sleep tonight.

In the mean time, is it time for a nap yet?

P.S. from Pat: And after all that excitement, the sprinkler system started up at 1:30 AM, when it wasn't supposed to, so we were up again! I had to wait 15 minutes, until it finished watering the first zone. Then I made a mad dash run across the wet lawn to the controller box and shut it off. In the meantime, the wireless motion sensor is frantically announcing, "Bodega! Bodega! Bodega" and all the motion sensor lights around the house are turning on. It must have been quite a sight to see the crazy gringa lady running in flip flops and a nightgown across the yard!

Finally, we could settle down to some well deserved rest... but no, the neighbors new rooster woke up at 3:30 AM, which in turn woke up Calvin (see earlier post). In spite of all the interruptions, we did manage to get in a couple of hours of shut-eye, but it will be an early night tonight.

Read the whole story...

24 September 2012

A ham that is better than sex?

Oh, now of course, that’s a silly thing to say.  One has nothing to do with the other.

However ...

Sunday, we were the guests at a friend’s home for an afternoon of tapas and conversation.  The invitation was for us to arrive between 1 and 2 pm and we expected to get to hear about their recent vacation trip to Spain and other parts of Europe.

Turns out that they brought back some rare cheeses and what looked like a withered up leg-o-ham from Spain.

On a previous visit to their home, we had sampled a rare and special ham called Jamón ibérico which our host noted was very special and very expensive.  Uh ... understatement!

That ham came pre-sliced in a vacuum-packed little sleeve, slightly smaller than a sheet of paper.  This new ham was a major portion of the pig, bones, skin and all.

Take a look at Jamon Ibérico in Wikipedia for all of the skinny on this delicacy.

You can also see on Wikipedia that whereas some “lesser” Ibérico hams are sold with as little as 1 year of curing, most are cured for 2 years.  And if you’re really crazy for orgasmic eating, they actually sell one that is cured for 4 years.  The one we were now looking at was 4 years old. We were told that this ham started out at 30 kilos but after 4 years of curing it was down to - wait for it - only 8 kg!

Here’s how it goes down:  The ham leg, black hoof and all, is held by the “jamonera,” which is a special cutting board & clamp affair, made just to do this job right.  The chef uses a special trimming knife to remove any hardened skin and just enough fat so that sliced portions are principally lean.  Then he takes up another special knife with a very slender and thin blade, cutting paper-thin little bites from ½ to 1” wide x 1 to 1-½” long.  These are painstakingly arranged in a sunburst pattern onto the service platter.

Not sure what the eating etiquette is for something like this but it tastes purdy good just grabbin one of them little bitty patts and popping it into my mouth {snort!}.

Is it better than ... ?  Hey, remember that scene from When Harry Met Sally?  Yeah, that one; and when the older woman at the other table says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”?  I think if Sally's little "display" could be caused by food, she must have been having Jamón ibérico.

Burp.

Read the whole story...

14 September 2012

Better and cheaper than the Maytag Man

We may not have the Maytag repair guy, but we've got the next best thing. My 15 year old washing machine has had a very bad vibration since she was off loaded from the sea container. Sometimes she actually walked across the utility room during the spin cycle. Then last week, she started filling, and filling, and filling, and wouldn't ever stop to wash a load of clothes. Not good!

Here the "Maytag Man" doesn't come to you. You have to load up you appliance and take it in for repairs. Lucky for us Rodolfo was here fixing and changing a couple of things for us around the Casa, so he was able to load the washer into his pickup and take it into Taller Los Angeles, here in Atenas (that not TALLER as in a tall person, it's tie-yair as in a shop). The guys at Taller Los Angeles can fix just about any household appliance, or small motor, you can think of. Everything from toasters and blenders, to refrigerators and washing machines. We have used them on multiple occasions and quality of their work is second to none.

I explained the problems with the washer. They said they would check it out and it should be ready in a few days. I called the Taller today and they said the patient was ready to be picked up and she is working fine again. So, this afternoon we went to the Taller to pay for the repairs and bring her home. The technician that worked on her said he fixed the overfilling problem and tested all the fill levels to make sure it's filling properly and going through the complete wash cycles. He also found the problem with the vibration, greased the tub springs and adjust the leveling feet. One foot had striped out, so he re-threaded it. Total cost ¢20,000, or $40 USD.

Now our only problem was how to get the washer back home again. Here we have whats known as a Cargo Taxi. It's actually a taxi pickup truck. I gave them a call and 5 minutes later the washer was loaded into the bed of the pickup and headed home. The fare for the Cargo Taxi, which included loading and unloading, was ¢2,000, or $4 USD.

We reconnected everything and just finished washing a test load of towels. This baby didn't sound this good when she was new. The vibration during the spin cycle is totally gone, and Ms. Maytag will probably last me several more years.

¡Pura Vida!

Read the whole story...

07 September 2012

Day-to-day living in the land of Pura Vida!

I came up with a new saying recently that sort of sums up our day-to-day life:  "Retirado es la belleza de hacer lo que quieras, o nada en absoluto!" For our non-Spanish speaking family and friends, it translates to:  "Retired is the beauty of doing whatever you want, or nothing at all!"

I thought it might be fun to tell you a little about our daily life around here. So here goes...

We share Casa Wegner with our two boyz, Randy the Jack Russell Terrorist and Gustavo (The Gooooose for short) the rescued street dog. Gooooose holds no pedigree that we know of, but our best guess is a Miniature Pinscher with some Terrier thrown in for good measure. Da boyz, as they are affectionately referred to, let us live here in exchange for their daily rations, treats, and, or course, the daily belly rub and ear scratching.

Da boyz, get to do exactly as they please, whether it's running across the roof top of the casa, or fighting each other over a stick. 



Chasing black stripped iguanas is a favorite pastime and once they spot one in a wood pile, they will be entertained for hours, and sometimes days, long after the iguana has made it's escape over the wall.  Randy now has 2 kills to his name.  We always try to rescue the iguana and remove him from the property, but we are not always successful.  Here is one of Randy's victims.

Our days start early around here.  The birds start singing around 4:30 AM, but we have an obnoxious rooster in the neighborhood that is known to start his cock-a-doodle-do as early as 3 AM.  If we ever find out exactly where he lives we might have us some nice chicken and dumplings one of these days.

We also have a neighborhood boy we have dubbed, "Calvin", that loves to get up with the birds.  Calvin is an annoying child that whines about everything and he is incapable of speaking unless it is in an ear-piercing shriek.  He screams at his mom, she screams back, et cetera.... you get the picture.

Generally, we love waking up to the birds, but then there is the local coo coo bird with a two note song.  This little guy is out to make me crazy and now John has taken to imitating him for fun.  Ha ha, I've got a nightstand full of a lifetime supply of excellent ear plugs in defense of Calvin and coo coo bird.

About 5:30 AM, the Goooose wakes up and jumps on the bed ready to play with Randy.  Randy will growl at him until he settles back down and then we all try to get another hour of sleep.  When we are ready to face another day in paradise, John makes the coffee, while I whip up something yummy for breakfast.  We almost always enjoy breakfast on the Terraza, looking out over the valley below and mountain range in the distance.  There is this one mountain formation call the "Sleeping Woman".  She can be seen from all over the central valley on a clear day.  From where we sit, it is easy to visualize her hair, eyelids & lashes, neck, breasts and belly.

After breakfast, it's time to catch up with what is going on in the rest of the world, so we log on to the laptops to read the news, answer email and catch up with family and friends on Facebook.  Later on, John will water the potted plants on the Terraza and in the Rancho and let the daily afternoon rains take care of the rest of the trees, bushes and lawn.  Right now, in the middle of the rainy season, everything is a luscious green.

Around 10 AM, I start planning something for our main meal for lunchtime.  We eat very light in the evening, maybe some fruit & cheese, or a lighter portion of lunch leftovers.

Friday mornings we try to make it to the local Feria del Agricultor (Farmers' Market) in the park in front of the local high school.  They start selling fresh fruits and veggies around 7 AM and start taking down the stalls around noon.  You can find all sort of goodies here, including fresh meat, poultry, eggs and cheese.  We even have a couple of expats selling baked goods, like sweet rolls, coffee cakes, and breads.  We usually spend between $25 - $30 U.S. for a week worth of fruit and veggies.  We buy our meats at a local meat market or at the super market, Coopeatenas, and we make all of our baked goods at home.

About once a month we make a morning trip into the big city to stock up on staples and bulk food items at PriceSmart, Costa Rica's version of Costco or Sam's Club.

We eat out at a restaurant at least once a week and frequently meet with friends to share a meal. Lately we've started playing a fun card game with two other couples that are also retired expats from the States.

We continue to work around the house, doing some landscaping, unpacking, and still re-arranging things. This is an ongoing process and we are in no hurry to finish. After all, we are retired.

Lazy afternoons may find us in a hammock reading our Kindles, or snoozing, with the ever persistent coo coo singing, and Calvin's whining adding to our background noise.

We have a plaza in front of our place where soccer games are played regularly. There are community teams playing excellent soccer on Sundays, and then there are pick-up games all during the week in the late afternoons. Some of these Ticos are very talented. I really love it when the dads are out there kicking the ball around with their little kids. It is so much better than having the kids parked in front of the universal babysitter; a TV or PC.

Compared to the geocaching we did when we were in the old country, we've done very little of this fun outdoor activity since we've been here. Now, with the construction of the new casa finished, we will be able to get out and about a lot more. There is still much of this country I want to show John, so I expect we will be taking more and more day trips with a little geocaching thrown in for good measure.

Life is good, and we are so glad we made the move to Costa Rica

¡Pura Vida!

Read the whole story...

05 September 2012

The Big One

5 September 2012 ... 8:42 am local time ... Atenas, Costa Rica, Central America:
Epicenter, left; us, right; 70 miles apart



Newtonian and The Squeeze were having a leisurely second cup of joe on the breeze-brushed terraza of our bucolic abode when ... ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE ... .

Pat was actually standing next to her chair. I was sitting down checking the early email and Facebook. The first banging shake of the earthquake got our attention but wasn't strong enough to elicit fear. We're experts (don't try this at home). We've lived in California and Costa Rica before. Ain't afraid o' no quakes!

Then it ramped up ... and up ... and up. Uh, "This is bigger than a 7!" I shouted, grabbing my sloshing mug of coffee off the table. Pat plunked down into her chair and we both stared in amazement as the strong, straight steel beams supporting the terraza roof took on a wave form and bent back and forth where they connected to the main horizontal roof beam.

Pat's coffee mug was doing the St. Vitus Dance across the table top with coffee sailing off into space -- it was all I could do to use my arm as a shock absorber to keep most of the coffee inside my mug and off my shirt. Several rapid fire crashes told us glass inside our house was falling to a fateful meeting with our tile floors and Mother Nature was releasing a mean growl into Her aethers.

"Day-um! How long is this going to go on?!?" I thought, "So this is what The Big One is like. I wonder if all of that concrete beside me is going to be held together by all of that steel we embedded in it?"

But then just as suddenly as it began, the shaking lightened and just quit. All of this was maybe 20 to 30 seconds.

"HEY! You stupid dogs! Don't you think you're supposed to act weird for awhile before one of those to warn us? Don't you think you're supposed to bark and run around like crazy and run into things?" Randy (our Jack Russell Terrorist) lifted his head off his paws and languidly looked my way. I swear, he telepathically said, "Hey yourself ... I'm basking in the sun here."

After a couple of deep breaths we got up and went inside to survey the damage. Unfortunately, we kept all of Pat's fancy cut glass, service sets and our much loved Riedel Swan wine decanter on display on a shelving unit in the dining room -- which was not bolted to the wall. Big mistake. The hutch had disgorged its contents and they were now just a big pile of shards on the floor.

But, here's a bit of trivia to enrich your understanding of physics: When enough glass falls to the floor and breaks, and more glass falls on top of those shards and breaks, etc., etc., eventually the pile of shards gets deep enough and "soft" enough so that the last piece to fall gets cushioned by the pile and it doesn't break! Yep, one small Venician cup was still intact. You're welcome.

We quickly got the dogs blocked out of the house and went back outside for the major structural damage inspection. But first, since we still had power and an Internet connection ... on to the news. First reports coming in called the quake a 7.9 (Wowzer!). But within a half hour that was corrected to 7.6 with an epicenter about 70 miles due west of us. Seventy miles! Right about then, we were wondering if anybody could survive what it must have been like directly on top of the epicenter.

Yes -- they can.

In a testament to Costa Rican preparedness and building regulations, somehow an awful lot of buildings and an awful lot of people came through this thing virtually unscathed. Hard for us to believe. Really hard. Unfortunately, there are reports of fatalities coming in and as with any stupendously large natural disaster there will undoubtedly be more. We're just really thankful for our good luck being as far away as we were and for having all steel-reinforced concrete structures here.

As far as real structural damages to our property, I cannot find any. We have a 2,500 liter drinking water tank sitting on a steel platform, 2 meters off the ground, hidden out behind our storage building. It's full of water. That means that sucker weighs around 6,000 pounds, counting the tank and piping. Mr. Earthquake took that tank and danced it more than an inch across the platform, smashing it into the roofline of the storage building. I'm glad I wasn't back there to see that or I'd have been changing my undershorts.

All told, we're fine, the house is fine, the dogs are fine (we're sure you were worried about them) and we can now say, "Oh, yeah, we went through The Big One of 2012. Let me tell you about it." .

Read the whole story...

02 September 2012

From kitchen disaster to chef's masterpiece

We have a wonderful sweet pepper sold here in the farmers markets (ferias) of Costa Rica. At the moment there is an abundant harvest going on and the price has dropped to less than a dollar a pound.  Depending on size, that could be anywhere from 12 to 20 peppers. They are similar to a bell pepper, 4 or 5 inches long, and they taper down to a point from the stem. They are sold green, red & green, and red (when fully ripe). I love to use them in many of my recipes.

Yesterday found me with way too many peppers to consume in a week so I roasted a bunch, de-seeded and peeled them to pack in olive oil. Peppers packed in oil will keep for weeks in the fridge and their roasted sweetness makes the ideal substitute for pimentos and canned diced green chilies.

Since I had all these roasted peppers ready to store, I came up with the "brilliant" idea to make pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch. I can't remember the last time we had that for lunch. Anyway, I digress...

Searching the fridge for cheese I found we had some cheeses from the ECAG (the UTC (national technical university) has a local college campus for The Central American School for Animal Husbandry). We like most of their cheeses and try to buy local whenever we can. This time I found we had some of their wonderful Gouda and a finely grated salty cheese that looked to be cheddar and whatever else they decided to throw in the mix that day. I also found we had some grated cheese from the national dairy that is sold for pizza topping, containing a mix of mild cheddar, mozzarella and another white cheese similar to a Monterrey Jack.

I'm no slouch around the kitchen and that looked like a pretty good start to a pimento cheese spread if you ask me. I started with about a cup of the ECAG grated cheese, then I added the other two cheeses in equal amounts, half a tub of cream cheese, half a cup of mayonnaise, a little grated onion and garlic, a half cup of diced roasted red peppers and lots of fresh ground black pepper. Sounds yummy, right?  IT WAS AWFUL!!! It was so salty from the ECAG grated cheese, it was unpalatable. I started adding more and more of the other cheese I had on hand and it improved just enough to be able to choke down a sandwich.

After lunch I stored the disaster (now a large bowl full) in the fridge, wondering if anything at all could be done to salvage it. You know, kinda along the lines of making lemonade out of lemons.

Fast forward to today.... "John, what do you want for lunch?"

"Oh, I don't know.... got any of that cheese spread left?"

"Yes, but it's way too salty to do anything with it."

"Why don't you boil some pasta and then mix the spread into it?  It might be O.K. that way, just don't salt the pasta when you cook it."

What a genius! So glad I married the smart guy. This got the wheels turning and I came up with way to salvage what would have found it's way to the garbage.

I cooked some Penne pasta until just slightly al dente, then I folded in my salty pimento cheese spread and add some freshly chopped basil leaves. I buttered a casserole dish, layered in my new version of a "mac 'n cheese", poured about a half a cup of milk over it, topped it with some grated mozzarella and baked it for 30 minutes. Wow! It is now an over-the-top, grown-up "mac 'n cheese" masterpiece.  I am so saving this recipe!

Guess what's for dinner!

Read the whole story...

19 August 2012

Landscaping around the Casa

We found a great little nursery this past week called "Vivero Morazan", and you guessed it, it located in Barrio Morazan of Atenas. They have a great selection of trees, ornamental shrubs and herbs, with better prices than we have found elsewhere.

Since we are still in the rainy season, we decided to go ahead do some landscaping this weekend and take advantage of the nursery's great prices. John did all the hard work (thanks my love), while I just pointed to where to plant things. If everything he planted takes off like we expect it to, this place will be a showplace in no time.

We bought about 10 Bougainvillea bushes, in multiple colors, to plant along our property wall, several small shrubs and decorative grasses for our entryway, and lemon grass (citronella) for the border around our Terraza (Here's hoping we can keep the insects at bay). We also bought a beautiful 5' palm tree, a mandarin lime tree, an oregano bush and a limonella tea bush. We spent less than $60 U.S. for all of it and I'm ready to go back for more.

Bougainvillea (photo from Wikipedia)
When the Bougainvillea takes hold, we should have gorgeous cascading blooms of color all along our wall and the thorny nature will act as a deterrent to the kids that like to climb the trees on our parkway.

Limón Mandarina (photo from Wikipedia)
The mandarin lime, or Limón Mandaring, is a hybrid cross between a tangarine and a lemon. It is absolutely the best juice you can use in Ceviche and on meats. It is also commonly used to make a lemonade with a slight orangy taste. Very yummy.

One of these days I'll get around to taking photos of the Casa and our landscaping.  In the meantime, all the best to family, friends and followers.

Read the whole story...

11 August 2012

Shopping trip to Golfito

Wow, I can't believe it's been over a month since we've blogged about anything! I apologize to our faithful followers and I have been duly chastised by more than one of you. It's not that we don't have anything to share, we've just been busy! I've been purposely holding off, because I've been trying to get the house in shape to take some photos of our beautiful place and share them with you. We have been taking our time (after all we are retired) and trying to find a space for everything has presented some challenges.

This week we had an opportunity to go with our good friends, Maritza and Vinicio, to Golfito and check out the Duty Free Zone. This is where the old United Fruit Company's headquarters used to be. When they pulled out of Costa Rica, it practically shut down the town, and the local economy was collapsing. The government saved the town, by declaring it a duty free port with shopping restrictions. Golfito is a great place to buy small and large appliances, tires, tools, clothes, cosmetics, housewares, etc.

Instead of just helping the merchants selling the merchandise, the government setup a clever way to help hotel and restaurant owners too. If you want to shop in Golfito, you have to present yourself, with your cédula (national identity card,) or passport, to the office of Ministry of the Hacienda (Treasury) ONE DAY BEFORE you want to shop. The Treasury representative will enter your information into their system and give you a TAC (Tarjeta de Autorización de Compras (Authorization to Purchase.)) This is actually a sheet of paper that looks like a ledger. It lists your name, cedula (or passport,) and the amount you are allowed to buy for the current semester.

Today, residents are allowed to buy up to $1000 of imported merchandise, duty free, once a semester, January 1st to June 30th and July 1st to December 31st. In our particular case, we didn't take advantage of our $1000 allowance during the first semester, so it automatically rolled over to the second semester and each of us were given a TAC with an allowance of $2000. The allowance expires at the end of the year, but come January the allowance of $1000 for the first semester will become available again.

We decided we needed to take 2 vehicles so we would have enough storage space for our purchases. So, this past Wednesday, we followed Maritza and Vinicio on a long 5 hour drive, all the way down the Pacific coast, close to Panama. The drive is beautiful, with ocean views through the tropical jungle. Maritza, had made hotel reservations for us at a nice little place on the gulf that they have been going to for 15 years. The hotel is called Mar y Luna and it will become our hotel of choice the next time we make this trip

We checked into the hotel, then we drove over to the Duty Free Zone to get our TAC's and check prices on some of the things we wanted to buy. It reminded me of some the of the outlet malls in the States, but all of the stores were crowded with shoppers and very narrow aisles. We found a small LCD TV for our bedroom and a new gas dryer to replace the one we brought down with us from the States. The old dryer is giving us some problems with the igniter, in spite of John's best efforts to get it working right. The dryer is about 14 years old, so we've gotten our money's worth out of it and it's time to replace it.

After price shopping, we went back to the hotel for some dinner and then I got online to look at product ratings. I also compared the Golfito prices to U.S. prices. It turns out the prices are better than the U.S. on some things. The LCD TV was $20 less and the dryer was $150 less. Keep in mind that in addition to the items being duty free, they are also exempt from any sales tax. The TV and dryer we priced are also name brands, Sony and G.E, and they both have great product reviews.

Thursday, after breakfast, we went back to do our actual shopping. It's a very interesting process. As you go from store to store buying, they take your TAC and record the invoice number and amount spent. You can take your purchases with you, or you can leave them for pick up after you've finished with all your shopping. There are porters with dollies available for hire to help you get all the stuff to check out. The porters charge $2 to take something directly from one store to check out, or you can hire a porter for 3½ hours and he will follow you from store to store for $5. Not a bad deal.

When we were ready to check out, we hired a porter and he took everything to a check out lane that looks something like a TSA line at the airport. We loaded all our stuff (yes, we did buy a bunch of other goodies) onto the belt rollers and when it was our turn, we gave our TAC to the agent with all of our receipts. He validated everything and verified we had not exceeded our allowance. When he gave us the green light and we hired another porter to take everything (except the dryer) to our car for another $3. The dryer was delivered to a cargo company to be transported to us here in Atenas. They charge 3% of the purchase price, plus $32, as delivery fee. The dryer is supposed to be delivered to us sometime this afternoon.

We didn't even come close to using ONE of our TAC allowances. Unfortunately, you only get one shot at the check out line and you have to turn in your TAC. I thought of somethings we should have bought after we loaded the car, but now we have to wait a minimum of 22 days before we can have another TAC issued. I don't think we will be going back anytime soon, but it is nice to know what is available in Golfito.

Friday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel again, then we started the long drive back to Atenas. We got home around 1 P.M. yesterday, to find a couple of very happy dogs. This was the first trip we've taken away from home in over a year. We had a friend stay here while we were gone. He looked after "da boyz" and took care of things while we were gone. It was fun to get away for a few days.


Read the whole story...

30 June 2012

Turning Right

Recent articles in U.S. media have featured the archaic yet (sometimes) amusing Costa Rican method of identifying locations.  No, they don’t use firstame, lastname, number, streetname, city, state, zip, country.  They use, for instance, “250 meters south of the Zapote Church”.  This is the actual address used by the main offices of the national postal service, Correos, and the offices of the postal customs tax collector. In rural areas, it gets even worse. An approximation of an example given in one of the U.S. publications was to “proceed 2 kilometers out of town and turn east at the yellow bus.”  Turns out the yellow bus was a derelict which had been broken down and left there for more than a decade.  Kind of hard to map out and kind of hard to find in the dark, in an emergency.

This mess is hard to deal with, even with a modern GPS in your car and is probably why there is little or no parcel service outside of the biggest cities and deliveries of any type are spotty.

When this topic comes up on forums, locals and long term ex-pats frequently jump in with comments about “it has worked for years – leave it alone,” or, “it was like this in the USA years ago,” or, “don’t try to come here and change things.” 

Well, it has worked here, sort of, and people are only satisfied with it because they have no experience with an industrial age addressing system or they wouldn’t put up with this kludge; and, yes it worked for years in the RURAL U.S. but it didn’t work once the country grew and modernized; and, I’ve never been afraid to stir the pot when I thought things needed fixing or tweaking, have I friends.

For several years, the country has had an initiative to name streets, put up street signs and create a numbering system – all with very limited success and acceptance. It is bogged down with no sign of life.

Therefore, at the urging of our good friend and fellow blogger Mark, at GoingLike60.com, we make the following proposal to solve the problem:

Virtually every map of Costa Rica is very “wanting” with no numbering system, no street names (and the ones which have been named often have conflicting names/numbers.) However, there is a map which is based on many different current GPS tracks plus comparisons to the best of the commercial Internet mapping companies.  It is available for plotting locations. (See www.openstreetmap.org)

This Plan is to have every building and residence identified on a subset of the Open Street Map, using GPS latitude/longitude numbers.  For instance, the Correos (post office building) of the little town we live in, instead of:

50 meters west of the south side of the church of Atenas, Atenas, Atenas, Alajuela, 20500, Costa Rica

it would be:

9.97772, -84.38090.

Shorter, exact, easy to write or type.  Anybody with a gps device can key this in and be directed, well, directly to the location.

There are many ways this could be set up.  People interested in being found and having an address can go to a post office, point out their location on the map and the post office could lock in the coordinates for their database while providing them to the customer.  Incentive?  Simple marketing can drive home the point that using such a system will result in far less delayed, misdirected or lost mail.  The biggie for the thinking portion of the public is stuff like emergency services being able to quickly find them, because of having a “real” address, instead of searching around a neighborhood for crucial minutes, hoping they’ve got the correct church or bus landmark.

Also, Correos personnel can “mark” a location every time they find one based on the old method and upload it into the database.  Notification could then be mailed to that location giving them a deadline to begin using the new address.

Readily available free services like the website www.goQR.me can take this lat/long number and turn it into one of the new QR barcodes (the square thingies) which can be read by smart phones and plotted directly onto the smartphone’s mapping/gps system.  No “keying in” so less chance of error.  Much more easily machine readable than written out lat/long numbers.

Apart from saving untold gobs of money by not having to run all over the country trying to find somebody, Correos could sell QR address labels, just like stamps.  Since there are probably far less than 10 million mapable locations in the entire country the Correo could also data base all of the QR barcodes into the Cloud, hyperlinked with a TinyURL, and this opens up an online revenue stream as consumers can access and download “their” address or pay to receive labels, rubber stamp, etc.

ICE, the national phone company, should be thrilled because this gives them the potential of placing a smartphone into the vehicle/hands of every Correo, taxi, first responder, delivery person, utility service person and repairman or contractor in the country.

Is the non-technical person (no smartphone, no computer and no desire) out of luck?  Heck no.  They can just keep using the old system.  It works – sort of.  However, their incentive to “come on board” would be intense because they would become more and more marginalized staying with the old.  It would be a benefit for them and the country as they were eventually coerced into participation.

Some tweaks to the idea include things like a distributed network of smart pay phones or, probably more appropriately, pay-to-play kiosks in convenience marts where the public can drop a coin, key in a lat/lon or scan a QR to see a map. For an additional coin, the machine could spit out a paper map.

All businesses with websites can be legislated into mandatorily having a QR of their address prominently on their website.

That's about it y'all. Comments? Improvements?

Best Regards and Good Luck, Costa Rica,

9.98797, -84.37881




Read the whole story...

27 June 2012

Health Warning! What happens to household goods in storage for a year!

A week ago I felt what I thought was the onset of a cold. I started taking the usual OTC meds, but this nasty bug immediately settled in my lungs. I had to sleep upright in a recliner just to breathe. By Saturday, John insisted I go to a doctor to get this checked out, and the search for cause and cure began.

When we first moved to Atenas, we were not yet covered under Costa Rica's national health care system, Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS or CAJA). So we affiliated with a a local health care provider called "Linea Vital." They offers private English-speaking medical care for the Atenas community. Clinic staff provide home visits, emergency care and general medical services.

Saturday, I saw Doctora Candy and when she listened to my lungs she said, "Muchos Gatos" (or many cats)! She put me on 4 nebulizer treatments, gave me an injection for inflammation and sent me home with antibiotics, inhalers, and a bunch of other meds to try to assault whatever was attacking my lungs. She told me to come back on Monday and meet with Doctora Hernández, who would be filling in for here for a few days. By Monday, I was still the same, or maybe a little worse. Doctora Hernández gave me 3 more nebulizer treatments, another injection and changed the antibiotic to something stronger. She suspected pneumonia of some type had set in. Since we are now members of the national health care system all of our medical is covered, so she sent me off to the local CAJA clinic for blood work and x-rays. I was handed the results for the blood work in 30 minutes, but it would take two days to get results for x-rays. Yesterday, We opted to go to a private facility in Alajuela (about 30 minutes from us) and get the x-ray done and receive the results the same day. It took us about 3 hours and we were back to see Doctora Hernández with all the results. She diagnosed bacterial pneumonia due to the raised white blood cell count and some cloudiness she saw on the x-rays. So, she sent me back to the local CAJA clinic with an emergency referral for treatment.

At the clinic they took me right to the head of the line where I met with the intake nurse and doctor to assess the treatment so far. This doctor started thinking Asthma and put me on a course of 4 rounds of nebulizer treatments, i.v. drip and more injections. He called in another doctor to consult and they decided I still needed 3 more nebulizer treatments and another i.v. injection. Now, let me tell you during all of the this treatment, they have my blood pressure all over the map, the highest I have ever seen it in my life and I've got the shakes due to the drug induced tachycardia. My pulse rate was over 115. By 4 p.m., the local clinic was getting ready to close for the day, so the attending doctor check my status a determined there was still no improvement so they needed to transport me to the big hospital in Alajuela for treatment and off I go...

John went back to the house to take care of the dogs, pick up some stuff for me that I might need and arrange for someone to guard the house. During the trip to the hospital, I called my dear friend Maritza, an R.N. that recently retired from this same hospital. She wasn't home, so I explained what was going on to her husband, Vinicio. He said he would update her as soon as he could.

We arrived at the hospital emergency room around 5 p.m. and they immediately took me to the head of the line to see the intake nurse and attending physician. The doctor, reviewed all the the previous results, checked me out and decided I needed more nebulizer treatments, blood pressure meds, more blood work and antibiotics.

So, off I go to the "Sala de Asma" for nebulizer treatments, etc. I sent John a text message telling him where he could find me when he arrived at the hospital. As soon as he got to the hospital, they sent him right in to see me.

I met with another doctor in the Sala de Asma and it turns out he lives in my neighborhood of Atenas and knew me as the neighbor that had provided all the electricity and water for a recent fiesta in the plaza across from our house where they held bull racing, horse racing, dances, etc. He was bragging to all the rest of the patients about what a good neighbor I am. Small world.

About this time, Maritza called and said she was coming directly to the hospital. Maritza is one of those "take charge" kind of people, that instills the belief that everything will be fine. She holds several advanced degrees in nursing and retired at the pinnacle of career in health care. She has seen it all. I have known and loved this woman for longer than I have known and loved my children. She was born 3 days before I was and I consider her the twin sister I never had.

In walks Maritza, and of course all the staff members are delighted to see her, hugs and kisses for everyone. She talks to me, takes my blood pressure and then talks with my doctor. Suddenly she turns around to me and says she knows exactly what has caused this pulmonary episode. She said she was sure it was a combination of dust, mold, mildew and bacteria.

Maritza reminded me that we had just started to unpack all of our household goods that have been in storage for a year. In spite of all the care we took with everything, our stuff arrived in a sea container last August, in the middle of the rainy season and immediately went into a garage and attic for long term storage. We had to store everything while the new Casa was under construction. We finally moved in a couple of weeks ago and we have gradually been moving the stored furniture and boxes into the new casa before opening them. Bad move! All we did was release all the mold spores and bacteria into the new house.

Well the doctor pretty much concurred with Maritza's medial assessment and decided the nebulizer treatments weren't going to cure this, but he wanted to see the blood work first to see if the antibiotics where improving anything. The results came back and the white blood cell count was down somewhat. They finally cut me loose from the hospital with more meds and instruction to see my local CAJA doctor in a week, or sooner if I get worse.

Last night, instead of trying to sleep in what is probably a mold infested recliner, I opted for our bed with a large stack of super clean pillows, and I finally got some rest after a sleep deprived week.

So, the bottom line... I think I may be on the road to recovery. As a word of warning... don't ever think you can put all of your belongings in an storage facility where the environment is exposed to the elements of nature. Especially here in Costa Rica's tropical climate. The jungle will always try to take over and claim your stuff as it's own.

Read the whole story...

04 June 2012

We have a new address!

Front door - Inside
We have a new address! It's about 40 meters (131 feet) South of where we had been living for almost a year. Yes, it's official, we moved out of the casita, and into the new Casa last week. There are still lots of things that are not done, but we just couldn't live in our 300 square foot (28 square meters) casita any longer. We had the single car garage packed from floor to ceiling. Last August we stuffed as many boxes into the small attic as we could and when we ran out of space there, we crammed everything else into every nook and cranny we could find in the casita. The only space left was a pathway from the front door to the bed, the bathroom and a tiny workspace in the kitchenette. I'm amazed we were able to live like this for the past year.

Our new Dutch door
Even though we are lacking a number of amenities in the Casa, we decided it is workable "as is" and we will live without until the finishing touches are completed. Here is a short list of the things we still need:
  • Kitchen Cabinets
  • Kitchen Counter tops
  • Kitchen Sink
  • Master Bathroom Cabinets
  • Master Bathroom Counter tops
  • Master Bathroom Sink
  • Master Bathroom Towel Bars
  • Guest Bathroom Cabinets
  • Guest Bathroom Counter tops 
  • Guest Bathroom Sink
  • Guest Bathroom Towel Bars
  • Interior Doors (9 of them)
  • Replacement of defective water heater
  • Pantry shelves (almost done)
  • Laundry room shelves
  • Internet service

The Terraza
In the interim, we are using the laundry room sink for everything from preparing meals and washing dishes to brushing teeth. It's a little awkward to use a bathroom toilet and then go to the laundry room to wash hands, but it's workable.

My gas range is installed in the kitchen, along with our new side-by-side refrigerator. Wow, is it nice to have lots of freezer and refrigerator space. When we sold our home in Houston, the new buyer talked us into selling him our "almost new" side-by-side refrigerator. We waited until now to buy a replacement. I've have really missed not having the ice maker and water dispenser in the door for the past year. Our new Samsung refrigerator has all that and I think it even works better than the one we left behind. At least it doesn't shoot ice out all over the place like our old LG. The LG had a hard time dispensing ice into a glass... we considered ourselves lucky if only half of the ice cubes landed on the floor. We've setup a couple of folding tables for workspace and stainless steel wire shelving (on wheels) for temporary cabinet space, so I guess you could say I've got a workable kitchen.

Decorative Wrought Iron Windows
Our king size bed is where it belongs, along with our armoires (wardrobe cabinets). John finished the build out our closet with shelves and clothes rods, so we have plenty of space for hanging clothes and storing shoes.

The living room sofa and our Lazy Boy recliners have been unwrapped and moved into the new living room. John hung the big LCD TV last week and Saturday, CableTica showed up in the rain to hook up cable TV. They said they would be back this week to hook up the modem for internet service. Eliécer, one of our builders, stored our living room coffee and end tables in his workshop last year. He said he would bring them back to us one day this week.

Alexander, the security guy, came and installed a state-of-the-art alarm system for us. This system arms 19 windows, 4 doors and 3 motion sensors. It has a voice dialer feature that is really slick because we can program up to 5 phone numbers that are called in sequence when there is a security breach. We can also call the home phone and arm the system from the road if we forget to set the alarm. The system lets you arm the doors and windows when you are home so the motion sensors don't set it off, and when we go to bed, we set it to "night time" so the motion sensor in our bedroom won't trigger the alarm we get up to go to the bathroom, but it will set off a siren if John raids the refrigerator.

We've programmed our voice dialer to call our cell phones for now, because calling the "policia" here is a joke. We are usually in the neighborhood and could get here pretty quick if there is a security breach. We have friends that live close by and we will use them as a backup whenever we can't get here quick enough.

Gustavo, the gate guy, came and installed an electric motor on our beautiful wrought iron gate. It comes with two remote controls and there is a switch in the Casa that we can also use to open and close the gate. It work really great, as our dog, Gus (pronounced "goose" in Spanish) can attest to.

Today, I was trying to label all the switch plates in the Casa, so I would know what switch powers what light fixture, fan, etc. Xiomara, the woman that helps me with the house work, was helping me and she pressed the switch for the gate. Immediately, it started to open and Gus made a run for freedom on the streets. John yelled, "Close the gate" and she pressed it again, causing it to close and catch Gus on his way out. Gus yelped in pain with his shoulder pinned between the gate and the support post. I pressed the switch again and it opened releasing the poor little guy. Needless to say, we were all worried Gus had sustained significant injuries, so John and I rushed off with him to see the vet. Our vet wasn't open yet, so we found another vet that was. John stayed in the car with Gus, while I went in to see if the doctor could check him out. As soon as John opened the car door, Gus bolted and ran down the streets of Atenas, with the two of us chasing after him. Obviously, the injury wasn't much if Gus could run like that. Finally, instead of running after Gus (he thought we were playing a game) John just sat down in the street near the central market. Immediately, Gus ran to John to see why he wasn't playing anymore. John scooped him up in his arms and we walked back to the vet's office. The doctor said Gus has some swelling on his right front shoulder, but it was mild. He checked Gus out and said to keep an eye on him for the next couple of days, but he thinks our little rescued street dog will be just fine.

Rodolfo, one of our builders, is here today with a helper, re-installing the sprinkler system they had to remove when they started construction on the Casa. Once the sprinkler system is up and running again, we'll have Mario, our gardener, bring in a truck load of top soil and new grass sod. I can't wait until we have grass growing again. You just wouldn't believe how much mud two little dogs can track into the Casa in a day. I'm also looking forward to planting shrubs and flowers in the garden and along the walkway.

We haven't started unpacking yet, because we really don't have anywhere to store the stuff until all the cabinets and shelves are in place. In the meantime, we have stack of boxes in the dining room and spare bedroom. The great thing about being retired is there is NO deadline to meet... there is no reason we can't take our time unpacking. We can unpack at our leisure, if that means we live with stacks of boxes everywhere, so be it. The first priority will be the boxes in the dining room so we can have friends over for dinner. The rest of the stuff can live in the spare bedroom until we are ready to deal with it. Finally, we have all the room we need.

In other great news, John's "Residencia Permanente" was approved last week by the Ministerio de Migración. One of the requirements for residency is participation in CAJA, or Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. This is the national medical care system. We applied for John's CAJA carnet last week and we just picked it up this afternoon. Now all we need to do is schedule the appointment with "Migración" for later this week and they will give him is Cedúla, the national identity card. With his cédula, he will have all the rights of a Costa Rica citizen with with exception of voting. This is the equivalent of a foreigner in the United States that has a Green Card, granting them legal status.

Well folks, that's all the news for now.

Read the whole story...

19 May 2012

Farewell Ye Noble Sheets

Some boards get cut up and made into things ... and that’s the end of that.  Other boards do a job, such as being a form for concrete work ... and then they go to the burn pile.  But we know of some special boards that performed many jobs in two countries and across the high seas, yet may now have found their final place in the world ... and they may be doing that final job for a long time.
Mezzanine goes into the sea container.

Back in Houston, about a year ago, I realized that we were pushing the limit of what a 40-foot sea container could hold, due to the volume of “stuff” we were taking to Costa Rica, along with the space to be taken up by our Subaru Forester.  So, I designed a “mezzanine” decking to be assembled around and over the Subaru which would create quite a bit of useable space above the car – space which would normally be “dead air” where nothing could go.  As a plus, this wooden cage would protect Subie from shifting cartons or falling stuff while out on the heaving ocean.

I went to Lowes and bought three ¾” plywood sheets and a bunch of 2x4’s for the mezzanine’s support structure.  I pre-cut and pre-drilled everything so that it could be slapped together in minutes, once the car was up inside the sea container.  [We had been told by the shipping company that we were only allowed 3 hours to load the container, so there wouldn’t be time to diddle around cutting lumber and figuring things out on Load Day.]

The plywood sheets were a good grade and based on earlier purchases in Costa Rica, I knew that good wood like this was very expensive in CR.  Not wanting the mezzanine structure or plywood to be, umm, “borrowed” on the dock when the container was unloaded, we marked all of the boards with shipper’s inventory numbers and declared them on the manifest as “property to be delivered.”

Well, they did the mezzanine job just fine, crossed the ocean, got removed from the container and showed up in Atenas, CR, with all of our junk.   Really.  Used lumber.   Oh, well, it made the trip so I leaned it up against the tapia (our property perimeter wall).
THERE! Hiding behind the blue tarp.
We had no more than begun breaking ground for construction of our “Rancho” (party-patio) when our contractor came up and asked if they could use the plywood and 2x4’s, temporarily. Why not?

They put everything back together almost exactly like the sea container mezzanine and this became protection for the guys and for building materials from the sun and rain.  Those sheets of plywood took a direct beating from the elements for months and they took on a kind of dirty grey-brown look.  But they held together just fine.
Kind of small and rickety but Da Boyz loved it.
Before starting on the main house, the contractor built our “Bodega” (storage building) so there was no need for the poor old plywood mini-bodega up at the Rancho.  They took it apart and leaned the boards back against the tapia.

No sooner had they scratched the earth for the house foundation when it became obvious that we needed to break the tapia open so that the large volume of construction materials could be unloaded and brought in from the road “down there” at the house site, rather than hiked all the way from the driveway, up at the Casita.  Trouble was, we didn’t want the big gap in the wall to be left open at night.  Hey ... plywood!

The guys started out the “closure” of the tapia opening by just leaning two of the plywood sheets against the edges of the gap.  Pretty soon though, the dry season winds came and the plywood would get blown down almost as fast as they could pick it up and put it back.  But, the guys didn’t “get it” since "quitting time" was the only time when they would stand up the plywood, close the gap, jump in the crew truck and be gone --  before the wind could blow the sheets down (some times.)  So, the solution was up to me.  I built a giant bolted-on tongue and groove assembly which locked the two sheets together in the middle while a rope (eventually a chain) across the downwind side of the closure would keep this wooden wall from collapsing.   This worked for many more months, as the plywood sheets became sadder and sadder looking.

One sheet down ... one sheet up. The Closure.
{The observant reader might well wonder what happened to the third sheet of plywood.  Well, um, can you say “outhouse” kids?  Yes, sadly, Da Boyz required some means of protecting their modesty whilst watering the plants in the back 40 and they absconded with poor old Sheet Three.  Don’t know if you’ve had much experience with outhouses and messy boys but, (urk) Sheet Three was not suitable for future usage after this job.  So sad.}
 As the rainy season came back and construction started into the home stretch, our wrought iron gate was installed across the opening in the tapia (site of the new driveway) and the Big Bad Boards went – guess where – back to leaning against the tapia.
 
But are The Little Plywood Sheets That Could down for the count?  Nah.

As told in an earlier post, the Brave, Courageous and Bold guardian of the Kingdom, Don Newt, had been sleeping on an air mattress inside the casa for several weeks protecting our new stuff from thievery and thuggary during the hours of darkness.  But it came to pass that I COULDN’T STAND IT NO MO, so we gagged and choked up the two bucks an hour and hired Jesus, er, I mean Jesús to patrol the grounds and sleep with the bugs every night.  And a darn good job he does, too.

The other morning, Jesús spake (sorry ... da devil made me do that) and asked if we had any plans for the two sheets of plywood leaning against la tapia.  Seems his mattress at home was sagging badly and he figured ¾”plywood sheets would be just the ticket to bolster up the bow in the bedding. 

Holy crow – an opportunity to get those nasty looking things out of my everyday sight, after 10 months!

So, today, those two sheets, which started life protecting Subie and giving us room, were hauled by Subie and taken to the room of Jesús, where they may rest, quietly retired, beneath his mattress, doing a job where appearance means nothing and their proven strength is everything. 

Farewell ye noble sheets.



Read the whole story...