31 December 2008

Final 2008 Update

It has been awhile since we last updated the blog, so i thought I'd play catch up with a recap the last quarter of 2008.

2008 managed to get one last blow in before year end. The Saturday before Thanksgiving Greta, our 12 1/2 year old Boston Terrier, gave up her fight against Cushing's desease.

This was really hard on us, coming only 4 months after her mother, Holly died. I think she really missed her. Greta was Holly's constant companion from the day she was born. I know pets only come into our lives for a short time, but they brought us such joy, we will always miss them.

We finally finished the remodeling of the kitchen and the replacement of the hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms so we had a nice Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends.

I went down to Costa Rica with our eldest, Donald, the week after Thanksgiving to take care of some things at the casita in Atenas. It was a nice break and it gave me a chance to recharge the batteries. It would have been even better if John had been able to get away from the work grind too.

I continued to look for work, but so far I haven't found the right opportunity.

Christmas was low-keyed this year, we didn't even decorate the house. The house had been torn up for months with the remodeling so we decided to just enjoy having everything in it's place again.

We drove over to Louisiana on Christmas Eve to spend it with Nick, Mary and the grandkids. Donald and Wendy also drove over to Louisiana from Alabama and we all had a great time together.

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03 October 2008

2008, the year we hate!!!

It's been awhile since we've posted anything here on the blog. It has been a stressful year, wrought with challenges, to say the least, and our mantra has now become,

2008, the year we hate!!!

Here is our list, so far, of all the reasons we hate 2008 and it's only October:

  • February - Our eldest daughter has a heart attack and needs a stent put in her heart.
  • April - I develop tendonitis in my right forearm and elbow from moving furniture to prepare for new flooring and required physical therapy. The arm is gradually getting better, but it's still a little painful to type and use the computer's mouse.
  • May 1 - John's heart arrhythmia acts up and we spend a day in the emergency room.
  • July 2 - Our 16 year old Boston Terrier dies in my arms
  • July 14 - John get second degree burns all over the tops of both legs when a glass coffee carafe full of boiling water breaks in our new apartment in Costa Rica
  • July 28 - The water line under the kitchen sink (in Houston) breaks during the night and completely floods the kitchen, brand new bamboo floor (April 2008) in living room and dining room. Flood ruined lower kitchen cabinets, carpet in guest bath, kitchen tile, bamboo floor and entry way tile.
  • August - Our 3-legged, 12 year old Boston Terrier is diagnosed with incurable Cushing's disease and we are still looking at treatment options
  • August - Our other daughter evacuated from southern Louisiana with her husband, twin 2 year olds and an infant to avoid Hurricane Gustav. They lost part of their roof and incurred thousands of dollars in damages. (In spite of the circumstances, it really was fun for us to be able to spend time with them here. The kids are just growing up too fast.)
  • September 11-19 - We had to take our daughter and grandkids back to Louisiana to escape Hurricane Ike as it was barreling down on us in Houston. We were without power for 4 days, minor flooding in house, lots of broken tree limbs (none hit the house fortunately). We had a generator for emergency power, but did without the Internet for a few days.
  • September 22 - Construction crew shows up to rip out kitchen and repair all the damage from the July flood and tell us to plan on eating out for the next 3 weeks.
  • September 25 - I get laid off from from my company after 22½ years.
Well, enough of our tale of "woe is me". It's done now and we'll just have to put all this this behind us and move on. In the meantime, I've polished up my resume while listening to the construction crew tear up the damaged floors and cabinets. Monday I'll file for my unemployment insurance and start the process of finding another career. I've been down before and somehow I've always managed to get back up. I am so grateful for my rock, John. He is so wonderful and I know we'll work through this trying time together.

I sure hope our mantra for 2009 will go like this....

2009, all is fine and we're having a grand time!!!

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03 August 2008

The Great Flood - Chapter 2

If you haven't read about the "great flood" yet, go to Chapter 1 here: Go 'way Noah don't live here no '-mo

Well, after the magic 24 hours had passed, I got a call from the insurance company's adjuster. Seems that he wanted to come out, and he would have, but, well, he had a bad back, so he was turning our case over to the "Blah Blah" Company and we'd "be hearing from them sometime within the next 24 hours ... maybe even sooner." Sounding a little too familiar.

The next day, an operator from Blah Blah called, "We've assigned Mr. Hoopty Doopty to your claim and he'll ..." (guess how this sentence was finished.)

But, 24 hours passed and no call came. The next day, I called him.

"Oh, yeah, let's see ... I have your file here somewhere ... uh, broken pipe ... uh, I'm planning on making calls after 4:30 for setting up appointments. I'll call you a little later." Click.

No call.

Pat and I talked about what we could do and the answer was ... nothing.

The call came the next morning, at 7 ... A.M. ... Aaaay Emmmm!!!! Do people actually call other people at 7am, at home, to make business appointments?

Apparently, they do.

Friday morning, eight-thirty (A.M.) and the appraiser is on-site and doing his survey. Unfortunately for him and the insurance company, they had given me time to learn a lot about building flood remediation, typical damage and what can and can't be done.

The appraiser had read the dry-out contractor's report stating that they had finished their work and he simply assumed that all was well and there was no remaining moisture to grow mold.

First, I pointed out entrapment areas under kitchen cabinets and walls. He was obviously intrigued that a stupid citizen could understand such nuances of "water incursions." Then I mentioned that the dry-out contractor's people had used only un-insulated-pin moisture meters. At that point he knew he had his hands full with a crazy stupid citizen. He went to get his own meter.

I pointed out that his pins were also not insulated and so he could not simply touch the wall and tell if there was moisture on the inside. He agreed but squatted down to show me how he could poke his pins deeply into the joint seam of some remaining baseboard.

He almost fell backwards off his heels as his meter's alarm screamed out that it had just struck water. He wasn't expecting that. (tee hee) Now we had his attention.

Next thing you know, he was on the phone with the dry-out contractor. The contractor arranged to be there first thing Saturday to fix their oversights.

The contractor boss himself showed up, drilled holes and set up dry-out machinery (again!) Fortunately, this time he set up only one dehumidifier and one blast fan. We probably only have to live with this over one more weekend.

What I'm dreading is living with the destruction and rebuild. Can we take this, while living here, or should we move out? The kitchen floor AND cabinets AND counter tops, including the kitchen range's island; plus, the dining room and living room floor; plus, the bathroom flooring are all going to be ripped out and under construction at once. Stay tuned.

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28 July 2008

Go 'way – Noah don't live here no mo'

bweeep -- bweeep -- bweeep, thunk! Darn snarg alarm dadd burn flack shimpus (scratch scratch) umpf! argh! coffee. smell that coffee. need it!

pad-pad-pad-pad-pad-squish-splish … splash

Splash? Oooooo. Aaah! SPLASH!


“Huh? Wha? DAMN!!”


“Where’s it coming from?!?”

“Under the sink. I think it’s coming from under the sink. Yes. Yes. It’s spraying out of the water filter tank. There … I got the valve off.”

I got my first deep breath and let it out with a rattly whistle as my brain adjusted to my feet being submerged in an inch of water, in our kitchen; and, the image of my heroic Patricia on her hands and knees in the swirling flood. She’d found the valve under the sink and closed it. Emergency over. I figured this was as bad as it was going to get. All we needed to do was mop up a little. Splash-splash. Well, maybe a little more than a mop. Maybe a lot more than “a little.”

I collected myself and hot footed it into the garage to dig the antique Craftsman Wet ‘n Dry shop-vac out from its parking spot, all the way in the back of the garage, under several thrown down camping trip piles and just about anything else we could have thrown around and on top of it over the years. Not too much call for a shop-vac when you don’t do any shop stuff anymore.

In minutes I had it inside, plugged in and sucking water.

“Ohhhhhhh, noooooo, it’s on my new floor,” cried Pat as she surveyed the rivulets and joint discoloration already showing up between every board of the new bamboo floor. As soon as I had the water level down to something like a 1/16th of an inch in the kitchen, I moved onto the hardwood. What can you do? The water is underneath and between the boards. I guess just suck on them anyway.

“Ohhhhhh, noooooo, it’s all into the bathroom. The carpet is ruined!” Geez, this was turning out to be a little bigger splish-splash than I’d first thought. “And it’s running off of the entry-way tile and into the living room!”

I need a bigger shop-vac.

But “The Little Vac That Could” just kept howling along, pulling water from under the baseboards, from under the floor boards, from cracks in the tile, never quitting. I was amazed. Good ol’ Craftsman. I dumped it out twice and more kept coming up.

“Look at this,” called out my bride, from the kitchen. I put down the vac hose and looked around the corner into the kitchen. There was Pat, jabbing her toe into one of the floor tiles. Every time she jabbed, a little water spout squirted out from between the grout. Oh, great.

“Maybe we better call the insurance company,” she tendered.

I agreed, “Yeah, because I could suck on this floor with this thing for a week and it wouldn't all come up.”

On the phone, the insurance company was a well oiled machine of efficiency, getting all of the pertinent information, telling us how sorry they were for our “water incursion” and assuring us that everything would be all right. They asked if we would like them to put us in touch with a company that specialized in “water incursion remediation.”

“No,” I said, “I just want somebody who can suck up all this effin water.”

“Huh?” said the insurance hot line helper.

“He means, yes, he’d be happy for you to help us out and put us through to a flood damage contractor,” said Pat, giving me one of THOSE looks.

Hey, what’s wrong with a little levity in the midst of The Great Flood?

Several arrangement phone calls and about 2 hours was all it took for The A-Team to arrive at our door. Three guys and a girl and a big truck full of big machines. This looked like the reasonable way to take care of a flood, if you ask me. I was tired of ol’ Mr. Craftsman screaming in my ears.

As the Team fanned out through the house, probing floors, walls, and probably a dog or two with funny looking beeping instruments, “Col. Hannibal” the Team Leader started the paperwork with me. Pages and pages of that paper stuff. More places to initial than a Hertz rental form when you decline all the coverages. But I was pretty sure that these folks had done this before. Man, they had the Tools and the Machines, whoo whoo!

Yet, there was one kind of ominous note to all of the recitation of form clauses and legalese spewed by the Colonel – he said, “It will be kind of loud and uncomfortable for three days or so.”

Pah! Who does this kid think he is? He doesn't know from noise and discomfort. Why, when I was in Kuwait with the CIA, right when all the oil wells were going off …

The first “turbo fan” was cranked up by one of the Team minions. Wow, that little ol’ thing can move some air! And, DAMN that little ol’ thing can make some noise!!

Whoa! The Team was coming through the front door with many “turbo fans” and other machines that looked like sawed off refrigerators. I'd only figured they’d be showing me a really professional performance -- not setting up an Incursion Remediator’s Trade Show. Where do they think they’re going to come up with a nuclear power station to run all this stuff?

One by one, the mighty machines wound themselves up in rpm’s and gave their full voice to the ever increasing cacophony.

“What?” I asked without turning my head. Surely anyone talking that loudly must be trying to get my attention. Nope. With all of the machines running, each and every member of The Team switched to “I can’t hear you” mode and they shouted everything – mostly to each other. Imagine the noise level, in your house, so loud that people are shouting directly into each other’s faces, just to be heard and understood. Pretty loud.

But, didn’t the Colonel say something about “uncomfortable?” Whatever did that mean?

I knew the answer about 20 minutes after the industrial-sized dehumidifiers all cranked up (those “sawed off refrigerators.”) I suspect that these big dehumidifiers work the same as the little ones made for homes. The home units actually are “little refrigerators” that make metal coils very cold so that air moisture condenses onto them and then drips down into collection pans. Except these beasts that the Team was using weren’t little by anybody’s standard. Physics lesson: To make something cold, you have to remove heat from it. Once you remove the heat, it has to go somewhere. In the case at hand, the monster machines were spewing all of that heat out into the rooms. A little cool on one side … blazing hot on the other. Meh. Loud and hot. I hate loud and hot. Why did they have to make it loud and hot?

“Hannibal” told us that “sometimes insurance companies will pay to put you up in a hotel while all this is going on … I’m not saying yours will, I’m just saying that some do … but wait for your insurance adjuster to call you and you’ll have to work it out with him.” Yeah, right.

Hours later, I got a phone call at work, telling me that an adjuster had been assigned to our claim and that, “you should be hearing from him sometime within the next 24 hours … maybe even sooner.” Yeah, right. When pigs fly and when I start liking pea soup.

So, here I sit. The machines are still making NOISE (Huh? Whad ya say?), the air is dryer than a popcorn fart and the bamboo floor looks like good surfing waters do when viewed from about 5,000 feet up in the air. Waves, man. Lots of waves.

Maybe this calls for a little adult beverage. I’ll get back to you.

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27 July 2008

July 7-9: I can be such a sap

We were in Alajuela trying to get the necessary paperwork for arranging utilities and other “official” stuff when I spotted a hardware store. I’d already had no luck at the Atenas hardware stores finding a special anti-corrosion paint that I wanted and I figured that this might be a source (here in the “big city”.) Pat probably rolled her eyes as she heard me say, “Oooo. Hardware store!” At least, she should have.

No, they didn’t have the paint either but there were a number of little things that we needed so I stood by while Pat took care of ordering them in Spanish.

ASIDE: Anyone know where, in CR, to buy zinc-rich primers, also known as cold-galvanizing coatings, such as Z.R.C., or, Sherwin-Williams Zinc Clad, or, ICI-Devoe Catha-coat, or, PPG Dimetcote? Everybody I ask, in Costa Rica looks at me like I’m from Mars. I should think that with the humidity and salt air of CR that these coatings would be all the rage.

A young worker-looking lad standing next to me suddenly turned and said, in clear English, “Hey, if you ever need any iron work or welding, that’s what I do,” as he pressed his business card into my hand.

Wow! What a coincidence! We needed somebody to produce both a trash stand (for our garbage pickup) and to create a rather special burglar bar assembly that I wanted. “What the heck,” I thought, “this kid looks clean-cut and honest … and getting him going today, here in the hardware store, would be really hassle free.”

So, I told him what we wanted and he seemed to immediately know exactly what was needed. He instantly launched into an animated, detailed discussion with the hardware store clerk about the steel and consumables he’d need for the job. The next thing we knew, we’d purchased $200.00 of steel and our “soldador” was scheduled to be at our casita at 8am the next morning.

Pat discussed directions to our place from downtown Atenas and everything sounded good.

“I’m sure the taxi will know how to find you,” the eager lad said.

(Taxi? I’m not too good at understanding Spanish yet. Did I miss something?)

On the way back to the house, Pat explained that the welder-lad lived in Alajuela and he’d be taking a taxi from there to Atenas and out to our property. I felt so confused. I thought iron-work welders had big trucks with big welding machines and tools and a torch set and, well, lots of stuff.

O.K. – Pura Vida. I’ve learned to assume that the Ticos can do just about anything with just about nothing to work with.

The steel was delivered that afternoon and everything was set up for some get down burnin’ and weldin’. Except, wasn’t that awfully puny steel bar that had been delivered? (1/2” square bar and 1” angle iron) I figured that I just needed to learn to trust. Have faith.

The next day, at 9am, I was starting to wonder about our welder-lad. No sign of him. We called his cell phone number listed on his business card. “Well, no, the bus was running a little late, but he’d be there real soon.”

(Bus? Now what did I miss?)

At around 10am, a red Corolla taxi came bouncing down our road and turned up our little “servidumbre” (service road.) The grinning welder-lad jumped out of the taxi, opened the trunk and eagerly began unloading tools; and, then, the littlest, itty-bitty buzz-box welder that I ever saw.

But he had great enthusiasm!

Wanting to spare you details, I’ll just bullet the highlights of our DAYS together:

  • No torch or chop saw, so every cut was with a right-angle hand grinder and a little abrasive cut-off blade.
  • Wow, 1/2” square bar and 1” angle-iron sure does make flimsy looking stuff.
  • Welder-lad brushing black oil-base paint onto bare steel, in the rain, with a partially dried out brush doesn’t get a good rust-resistant coating of paint onto new weldments.
  • We needed more steel. The hardware store clerk made a mistake. (Certainly NOT the welder.)
  • We needed another cut-off blade.
  • The hardware store sent the wrong kind of pipe for a post for our trash stand. The welder would come up with a novel design that used 4 legs of angle iron.
  • We ran out of angle iron for the burglar bars.
  • I decided to add a security cage around the air-conditioner compressor. We needed more steel.
  • Pounding the trash stand into the ground with a hand hammer is almost impossible, even for a determined welder-lad.
  • Pounding on the flimsy trash stand with an 8 pound hammer for a half hour made one side-bar fall out and two other welds break, but, “That’s O.K., Meester John, because that will make it easier for the trash collectors to reach through the side of the stand – they will be very happy because they don’t have to lift it over the top.” Yeah, right.
  • The burglar bar frame and the burglar bar insert warped out of shape when they were welded together, but, “That’s O.K., Meester John, because that way the bar will pop way open when you release the emergency exit latch.” (I don’t want the bars to pop open.)
  • "Meester, John, I don't have enough steel for the last leg of the air-conditioner cage."

Nah. At this point I just had to step in and take over the design and utilization of steel for the welder-lad. Within 2 minutes, we had the air-conditioner cage redesigned and we’d have steel to spare.

We convinced the welder to wrap it up and took him to the bus stop in Atenas.

The next day I repainted the trash stand, burglar bar assembly and the air conditioner cage. Except I didn’t do it in the rain and I used a good paint brush. I drilled the holes and hammered the cage down into its anchor holes. A load of epoxy finished off that task. Finally, I bent and warped and tugged on the burglar bars until they sat somewhat straight within their frame and didn’t have any propensity to explode off the wall of the house when simply unlatched.

I never knew hiring a contractor could end up being so much work.

Next time I’m checking references and credentials.

Sometimes I’m such a sap.

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Early 7/14/08: Yeeeow!

Whilst using the microwave to boil water for coffee, in the casita of Atenas, I decided to test the structural integrity of a certain polymer-to-glass joint which was keeping the coffee pot handle attached to the coffee pot. Several things were learned during this investigation.

  • Coffee carafes that are filled to the brim with water are heavy.
  • Coffee carafes that are filled with boiling water are hot.
  • Heat softens polymers and the glues that bind them to glass – especially low-bidder polymers & glues, made in China.
  • Softened polymer and glue joints will not sustain the load imposed on them by coffee carafes filled to the brim with boiling water.
  • When held at an elevation of 16-inches above a stone countertop, glass coffee carafes are not strong enough to withstand a drop to said countertop when, due to heat-weakened polymer and glue, the handle departs from the Made-In-China carafe’s side.
  • Boiling water refuses to hold the shape of a coffee carafe when the carafe is suddenly, explosively, removed from around the water upon striking a stone countertop.
  • Even a possibly former CIA agent with the reflexes of a pissed off Jedi cobra cannot remove his 300lbs of lard from the suddenly expanding frontal area of boiling water, once said water is free to assume whatever shape and form gravity deems fit to impose upon it.
  • Two quarts of boiling water, engaged in near-supersonic flight through the air, are able to saturate the front of “Outer Limits” jammie pants at an alarmingly rapid rate.
  • Even former possibly world-famous CIA assassins don’t still have the strength to rip open BOTH jammie legs at once – only one; therefore, leaving one saturated jammie leg still attached around the world-famous possible killer’s left leg.
  • Even former possibly international men of mystery and superheros cannot do the hippity hop dance into the shower fast enough to turn on the cold water quickly enough to chill-flood the affected left leg and avoid all injury.
  • That much boiling water is able to convey a great deal of thermal energy into the leg of even the most possibly formerly hardened, evil, black hearted pirate, thus doing serious localized damage.
  • Pat, with her fluency in español and her calm demeanor, is a great one to have around in an emergency to help you navigate the system at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and obtain excellent emergency medical care.
All in all, the second degree burns only covered the top of the left quad area about the size of my hand with spread fingers, plus a dinky area about the size of a credit card, below the knee. Uhhhhhglee! The right leg only had a big ol’ sunburn (1st degree) of about the same size.

I tell you what. This here burn stuff … it’s really fun. You get all kinds of cool goop to smear all over everywhere, and shots, and pills, and really really good drugs, man. Doesn’t hurt a bit when the drugs are good enough!

Maybe from now on, I’ll be avoiding the ol’ Hecho en China label whenever possible. Ya think?

Followup: Due to the excellent care of the CAJA clinic in Atenas and intense followup with creams, etc., by the end of July, the burns are down to looking like sunburn with no sign of scarring or stiffness. Oddly, the 1st degree burn area peeled and looked horrid, compared to the 2nd degree area, which doesn't look like it will ever go through a peeling stage. Maybe this is because all the surface skin that could have peeled away was burned away the first day? (The blisters washed away in the shower from about day 3 to day 6.)

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26 July 2008

7/14/08: I Was Right All Along

I just knew that our old truck, Suzie Isuzu and I would get crosswise sooner than later.

O.K. Yeah, I’m spoiled. I’ve driven new cars for decades. After I’ve driven them awhile, they start to break, and I go get a new one. So, shoot me.

Regardless, there didn’t seem to be any sense in getting a new or near-new car for Costa Rica, driving it for a couple of weeks, then parking it in the garage for months, until our next trip to CR. Logically, we bought a 1994 ol’ beater. Dependable enough, but not breaking the bank. And NO PAYMENTS.

But then I started driving her and my love affair with Suzie started to sour:
  • She burns oil.
  • The rear doors are sticky and won’t always unlatch, without a jiggling and banging session. (And if somebody KEEPS slamming her seatbelt buckle in the door, they’re really hard to open.)
  • The outside spare tire rack rattles and squeaks.
  • The driver’s window sometimes won’t go all the way up, leaving a tiny crack that whistles air and dribbles rain.
  • Radio? There’s a radio?
  • The front windshield washer doesn’t work.
  • She stalls a lot when she’s cold.
  • She burns a lot of that $6.00 per gallon gas.
  • The hatch window lift gas struts are worn out. They won’t lift all the way by themselves and they leak down, slowly letting the window close on your noggin while you’re loading groceries.
  • She smells like an old truck that has been used to haul everything except (maybe) dead bodies.

Then I remembered, “No whiners allowed in CR.” So I sucked it up and we started to get along.

Things were going pretty well one Monday, considering that I’d received 2nd degree burns across the top of my left leg that morning.

That afternoon, Pat, Jenny and I had driven to Alajuela to see our friends, Maritza and Venicio.

Time kind of slipped away during our visit and before you know it we were saying our goodbyes in the dusk. A short stop at a roadside restaurant put us out on the road home even later -- well into the darkness.

THUNK! Clang-ity-clang-cling-dinkle-dinkle-dinkle.

“What was that? Did you see anything in the road? We hit something,” I said to co-pilot, Pat.

“Didn’t see a thing, but yeah, I think we must have hit something,” she responded.

We drove for about 10 more minutes, putting us well up into the mountains, on the winding stretch with no shoulder and no pull-offs.

PHWUMP PHWUMP PHWUMP. I knew the sound and feel of a flat tire.

Absolutely no place to pull off. No way to stop on these blind curves … in the dark … with the pavement wet from the evening rains. Cripes.

Then a couple of those Pura Vida drivers started flashing their lights and honking their horns because: a)., I had a flat and was driving on it (duh); and, b)., I’d slowed down to below the speed of sound on these curves because, I brilliantly reasoned, a flat tire probably doesn’t get as much traction on wet pavement curves as does a fully functioning tire.

Tensions went up inside the cockpit as the girls tersely informed me that I shouldn’t be driving on a flat tire and that I needed to … well … uh … do something! Okey dokey.

It was probably at least a half mile before there was even the hint of a semi-flat spot along the shoulder of the road. I started in towards one and then saw that it was probably soft mud. Bailing back out onto the road irritated yet another Tico and earned me his ire, manifest by a little ol’ blast on his horn.

Thankfully somebody lives somewhere back in them thar hills as a driveway entrance suddenly loomed in the headlights. Driveway = flat (ish) and driveway probably = gravel. I pulled right in.

We’re parked at the top of a hill, at the end of a blind curve, about a foot off the road’s pavement. I hit the 4-way flashers. Yee-hah, they work. Score 1 for the home team!

O.K., we might as well get on with it. I knew the location of the jack due to an accidental discovery of its little hiding cubby while poking around inside one afternoon. That much we had going for us. And, oh yeah, we knew where the spare tire was … right there on the back hatch, always in the way. Two things going for us!

In very short order, the jack was out of its storage, and yippee, the lug wrench was in there too. Three things to the plus column!

You just know there are going to be some inhabitants of the minus column, don’t you. Bingo. You’re right.

First, pop that spare tire/wheel off the carrier on the back hatch. Slip the lug wrench onto the first bolt … skreeeek … it squeals loose and backs out; do the second one … ooof! … tighter but out it came … the third one should be easy because it’s on the bottom and I can put all 300 pounds down onto it. Nope.

By the time I was finished jumping up and down (painfully) on the lug wrench, the head of the bolt was starting to round off and there hadn’t been so much as a little “click” of promise out of the stubborn fastener. A couple of times I just let my arms drop to my sides, figuring that the game was over. That 3rd bolt was not coming out.

We momentarily discussed locking up the mess, calling a taxi and getting a wrecker to take care of the problem in the morning. That didn’t sound fun. One last go at it. The hell with how my leg was feeling, lean into the bolt head with everything I’ve got and then kind of fall down against the lug wrench. It squeaked a little! Re-purchase the bite on the bolt head … and pound down on it once again and it turned. That pig was completely cross-threaded – who knows how many years ago – and was probably hammered home with an impact wrench. It ground out of its hole by hand, but not willingly.

Pat started to cram the jack under the side of the car. But I knew that there must be some exact spot for this jack to go and that just anywhere wouldn’t work. What I didn’t know was that the inscrutable engineers at Isuzu had thought long and hard about how to set up their jack/vehicle “exact spot” in a location most likely to cause pain, anguish and suffering for any stupid old gringo loony enough to get a flat tire in the dark and then park over sloshy-wet mud/gravel. Oh, yeah. Let me.

I found the old owner’s manual in the glove box (amazing!) and dug into the “Changing A Tire” page. Oh, lord. The jack must be positioned directly under the rear axle, immediately next to the inside of the leaf spring bracket. In other words, WAAAAY the hell up under the stinking car.

Great. I’m dressed in cut-off jeans – cut off so that my bandaged leg didn’t have the pain of anything pressing against the burns – a brand new shirt and Crocs. Pura Vida. No whining.

Under the truck you go, boy. Not that hard. Just skud the jack through the mud and feel around in the dark (I had brilliantly taken our flashlight out of the truck the day before and forgotten to put it back.) The jack nested right up under the axle tube. The jack actuator wheel turned easily as the jack rose up and made contact. The actuator wheel stopped turning. That thing was going no further without a serious handle.

“Anybody see a jack handle?” No answer.

Dragged my bod up off the mud pan and started through every nook and cranny of that *&%$ truck. Nothing. Yikes.

Oooo. Oooo. The owner’s manual.

Remember those inscrutable Isuzu engineers that designed the lift point for the jack in an impossible place? Well, the same guys were on the team to find a place to put the jack handle. Without the owner’s manual, nobody would ever find it. Ever.

Here’s the trick. The rear seat and seat back fold down to give extra load space. While folding the seat forward, the very underside of the seat becomes visible. It is completely covered with the same carpet/fabric as are the floors. That (I guess) is supposed to be a clue. “Why would anybody upholster the underside of the seat?” you’re supposed to ask yourself. As you may have guessed, with a clever array of Velcro closures, the underside upholstery peels away. And, there, amid the springs and foam rubber, are little clips holding the two long jack handle pieces.

Oh, uh, but they are just straight bars. No handle off to one side so that you can crank the durn things.

Owner’s manual is no help on this one.

Search, search, search. The girls looked everywhere while I lay on my back underneath Suzie trying as best I could to turn the jack’s wheel with no crank.

“Are you SURE that there isn’t a handle under the seat somewhere?”

Jenny is standing near my feet, holding the lug wrench. “What does this little slot do?” She asked, examining the lug wrench handle.

Sure enough, punched through the middle of the lug wrench handle was a little slot that I guess we were supposed to simply know was the exact size of the flats machined on the end of the jack handle. What a leap of logic.

O.K., now I bet you’re thinking that all I had to do was to just slide that handle in place and spin the jack up.

Nah. Isuzu has engineers.

Some little geek in god-knows-where, Japan, designed this jack’s gearing so that the jack handle, which is already too long to rotate a reasonable arc beneath the truck, can’t possibly exert enough force to lift the truck smoothly, given the normal strength of a regular person. You get to lay on your back, way under the truck, let out a karate shout, while simultaneously pushing with all your might on the jack handle. It moves a quarter turn and then clangs into the truck’s undercarriage. (If you pull on the handle, you just lift yourself up out of the mud.) Re-set the handle for another push and repeat.

So with way more effort than I EVER expected to put forth while on vacation, I grunted and groaned the damn truck up a good two inches.

I was resetting the wrench/handle when I perceived the truck moving. I shouted something to the girls and did a twisting roll out from under the truck as it slid in the mud and fell off the jack.

Hey, this is getting fun. Now the gauze on my legs is fully saturated with mud – it feels really good – and we get to start all over again.

The girls went on a rock hunt and somehow came back with several stones big enough to wedge under the tires, ensuring that Suzie wouldn’t take any more unplanned strolls.

I went back at it and finally got the beast up high enough to remove the flat.

But not high enough get the new tire onto the lug studs.

Crank; clang. Crank; clang. Crank; clang. And then the engineers struck one final time. Ya see … they didn’t want to waste all of that money designing and building those fine jacks with ¼” of extra, useless lift capability … so they didn’t. The ol’ jack ran out of travel and quit with, oh, maybe 1/16 of an inch of clearance under the spare as it finally slid onto the studs.

But it went on and the girls took over the final installation and tightening of the lug nuts. And the jack cranked right down, with ease, so long as the weight of a whole damn truck was pressing it down.

Within 15 minutes we were home, covered in mud and grit (all 3 of us). Those on-demand water heaters proved to be up to the task because we all wanted and took some really long showers.

I love this car.

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22 July 2008

Goodbye My Faithful Friend...

On Monday, June 30th, my little Boston Terrier, Holly, suffered a seizure during the night. She had been refusing to eat for the previous 2 days and I think she knew we were leaving on a trip. She became weaker and weaker, taking only water. On Tuesday, John and I made the difficult decision to let her go. Wednesday my dear friend, Nancy (Holly’s "other mother"), came over to spend time with us. I held Holly cradled in my arm for a good part of the day. Her breathing was very labored and she keep looking at me with these sad eyes that broke my heart. I told her "thanks" for all the wonderful years we had shared and told her that if she needed to go, it was okay, I would always miss her, but I would always hold her memory in my heart. I was waiting for John to pick us up and take up to the vet at 3:15 PM on Wednesday, July 2nd, when Holly took her last breath and died in my arms.

Holly was with me for almost 16 years. She was my best friend and we went through a lot of tough times and blissfully happy times together. She saw me through a divorce and the empty nest syndrome when my boys left home and married. She tolerated all the grandkids pulling at her when they were babies.

She fell in love with my John at the same time I did. I think she knew we had found true happiness when I met and later married John.

It is still too painful to talk or write about Holly's passing and I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to come back from our trip this past week and not have her at the door to greet me.

Greta and Randy seemed a little down when we got back. I think they miss Holly too. Holly never let Randy usurp her position as the alpha of the pack and she was still putting Randy in his place up until two days before she died. Greta never spent a day apart from Holly from the time she was born.

We are all having to adjust to not having her in our lives. I am going to start another blog about Holly, our life together and how much I loved her. The first post will be what you see below, "An Ode to Faithful Companions".

A Dog's Plea (An Ode to Faithful Companions)
by Beth Norman Harris

Treat me kindly, my beloved friend, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.

Do not break my spirit with a stick, for although I should lick your hand between blows, your patience and understanding will quickly teach me the things you would have me learn.

Speak to me often, for your voice is the world's sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footsteps falls upon my waiting ear.

Please take me inside when it is cold and wet, for I am a domesticated animal, no longer accustomed to bitter elements. I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth. Keep my pan filled with fresh water, for I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst.

Feed me clean food that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by your side and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life, should your life be in danger.

And, my friend, when I am very old, and I no longer enjoy good health, hearing and sight, do not make heroic efforts to keep me going. I am not having any fun. Please see that my trusting life is taken gently. I shall leave this earth knowing with the last breath I draw that my fate was always safest in your hands.

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20 July 2008

It's Suzi Isuzu or the !@#$%^& Car

The votes have been tallied and there was a 3-way tie. Pat's vote for "Suzi" breaks the tie, but we all know John will always call her the "you-know-what" car. Especially after the blowout we had, in the pitch dark, just outside of Atenas last week.

Name ....... # Votes ... %
Sparky............ 4 ... 20%
Suzi................ 4 ... 20%
Tex................. 4 ... 20%
Other............. 3 ... 15%
Roadie........... 3 ... 15%
Joe or Joey.... 2 ... 10%
Total Votes 20

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17 July 2008

We are back from our trip to Costa Rica

We just got back from almost two weeks in Costa Rica where we spent most of our time making our new apartment and garage livable. It is now comfortably furnished and we are looking forward to using the "casita" as our vacation home until we retire. Then we will live there while the "bigger" house is built. We have some very funny and a couple of scary stories to share with you. We will post them later when we've had a chance to write them all down.

Jenny came down from California to spend some time with us while we were there and she intends to stay for awhile to take more Spanish classes.

We still have some finishing touches we plan to address on our next trip. But, all in all, it's already pretty comfy. We already have a cell phone and land line. The land line was installed 4 days after we paid our deposit. We understand this is some sort of record for I.C.E., but we're not complaining.

We need to do some landscaping, build a proper fence, plant fruit trees and get an internet connection. We will probably get a television too, but this is not a place where we plan to spend much time watching TV.

More later...

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18 June 2008

Help us name our ride...

Thanks to Vinicio, we are now the proud owners of a 1994 Isuzu Rodeo. His mechanic checked it out and thinks this will be reliable transportation for us. There are no guarantees, of course, but everything we have researched on the web indicates this is a well made vehicle and it should meet our needs just fine. This picture is not actually "our" Rodeo, but you get the idea. We don't even know what color it is yet. I think we need to come up with a name for it/her/him. What do you think?

John has some "other" suggestions for a name, but I haven't included them in the poll. You'll have to see what he came up with on his blog.
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07 June 2008

Well, we don't have wheels yet....

Vincio's mechanic did some thorough checking on that Jeep Cherokee and it turned out to have a transmission problem, so he passed on it. He has now found a 1994 Isuzu Rodeo that might just work out for us. The mechanic will check it out this week and if it's in good shape, Vinicio will make an offer to buy it.
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01 June 2008

Star Gazing

We are taking a break for a week and going to the Annual Texas Star Party in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, just north of Big Bend. This will be our 3rd year to join with hundreds of other amatur astronomers to do a little star gazing in North America's darkest skies.

We'll be pitching our tent under our favorite tree and camping for the week. The ranch where we stay has a huge ranch house where they serve "all you can eat" lunches and dinners for a very reasonable price. We usually fix a light breakfast and make coffee Tico style with our Costa Rican Chorreador de Cafe in the mornings. Afternoons are spent relaxing with a good book and taking long naps. This year's party is in June so it may be warmer than we're used to. The last two trips have been in early May and even though the daytime temperatures get pretty hot, the nighttime temperatures are usually cool enough for a light jacket.

The TSP now sets up a wireless network which provides internet access all over the ranch, so we'll try and post some photos later during the week. Cell phone service is another matter. There are a couple of spots on the ranch where you can actually pick up cell phone reception if you stand real still. It's really funny to watch folks walking around pointing their cell phones at nothing, looking for signal bars. We're just going to take our Vonage V-Phone (small USB device that plugs in to laptop and gives us full access to our home phone) with us for regular telephone reception.

We've all become slaves to technology in one way or another.

¡Pura Vida!

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29 May 2008

We've got wheels!

We received an email from Maritza yesterday morning with great news telling us Vinicio located a vehicle for us. He found a recently imported 1997 Jeep Cherokee in the Aduana (Customs) in Puerto Limon. The owner that brought it to Costa Rica couldn't afford the import taxes so he needed to sell it. If he had done a little investigating beforehand, he would have known the taxes can run anywhere from 40% to 70% of the value of the vehicle. This value is set and published by the Costa Rican Ministerio de Hacienda.

Vinicio had a mechanic check it out from top to bottom and they determined it's in very good condition. We gave him the "go ahead" to buy it for us this week and get it registered in the name of our S.A. (corporation).

So, the second item on the agenda, after we get their in July, will be to get car insurance. Of course the first item is to get insurance on the house. (It's covered under the builder's insurance policy until we take possession.)

It will be so nice to have our own transportation when we are in CR from now on. Rental cars were costing us anywhere from $450 to $700 per trip.

We don't have to have our Costa Rican residency to get a driver's license. If you already have a valid U.S. driver's license from any State, you don't even have to take a test. You just need a cursory medical exam for $20 USD, pay the license fees, get your picture taken and they issue the license on the spot. I hear it takes about 2 hours, start to finish, if you speak the language and can work your way through the paperwork.

That's all for now...

¡Pura Vida!

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26 May 2008

Construction Progress Report #7

We just received another update from Minor on the construction progress. There are just a few final touches to take care of in the coming days.

This past Saturday the cabinets were installed in the kitchen and bathroom. They also installed the baseboards. The exterior is now painted and the all the interior rooms have been painted as well.

Here is a picture of the front of the house. Vinicio is standing on the right, next to the roll-down security door which will cover the front door and side windows when we're not there. On the left side you can see the garage door. We elected to install a solid door instead of the more common wrought iron gates found on most Costa Rican garages. This offers a little more security for our extended absences.

Here is a picture of the rear of the house. You can see the two bedroom windows in this view.

They still need to install the interior doors, all the electrical fixtures, toilet, bathroom sink, closets and A/C. They also have some site prep work to do which will include the property access and fence.

We are still on track to be there on July 4th and we are so excited that our daughter Jenny will join us there on July 10th. She is planning on staying in Costa Rica for an undetermined period of time to study more Spanish and if she has the opportunity, she would like to do some volunteer work. This will be a wonderful opportunity for her.

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19 May 2008

Did you know this?

Yesterday a close friend of mine forwarded an email to me about those rolls of food wrapping product we all use and I just had to share this with all of my readers.

"I've been using aluminum foil for more years than I care to remember. Great stuff, but sometimes it can be a pain. You know, like when you are in the middle of doing something and you try to pull some foil out and the roll comes out of the box. Then you have to put the roll back in the box and start over. The darn roll always comes out at the wrong time.

Well, I would like to share this with you. Yesterday I went to throw out an empty Reynolds foil box and for some reason I turned it and looked at the end of the box. And written on the end it said, "Press here to lock end". Right there on the end of the box is a tab to lock the roll in place. How long has this little locking tab been there? I then looked at a generic brand of aluminum foil and it had one, too. I then looked at a box of Saran wrap and it had one too! I can't count the number of times the Saran warp roll has jumped out when I was trying to cover something up.

I'm sharing this with my friends that did not know this. If you all ready know this, delete this message and don't e-mail me and make me feel dumber than I already feel. If you didn't know this, e-mail me and let me know so I won't feel so dumb.

I hope I'm not the only person that didn't know about this."

Here is my response to my friend:

"Okay, I have to admit I didn't know this either! I went to the pantry after supper this evening to get foil to wrap up the leftovers and sure enough, the Glad Wrap, Saran Wrap, Reynolds Aluminum, Waxed Paper and some off brand foil all have the tabs to lock the roll. I showed the roll to John and asked him if he knew this and he didn't either. We both feel so dumb, right along with you. How did we get to be almost 60 years old and not know this?

Wait until I share this with my family. Let's see how many of them already knew this. I'll let you know."

Within 5 minutes of sending this to the family, 2 of the adult children admitted they didn't know this either. I think this must be some sort of conspiracy to make the general public feel ignorant. How long has the packaging industry been doing this? Did it just start this year, have they been secretly putting these tabs on boxes for years? I wonder.....

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27 April 2008

Construction Progress Report #6

We spoke with Maritza this afternoon and she and Vinicio drove over to Atenas yesterday to check on the casita's construction progress. She says it looks like it will be finished within the next two or three weeks. The bathroom tile is in and it looks beautiful. They are now working on the floor tile for the rest of the house. The garage floor is already finished too.

Vinicio will talk to the fellow that built all the cabinetry in their house and see if he can work up a proposal for our kitchen and bathroom cabinets. He is also going to see if we can get a phone line and high speed internet installed before we get there.

We are so grateful Vinicio and Maritza have been able to help us with this project. Without them, it would have been a difficult task to coordinate everything from Houston.

Wish we had pictures....
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11 April 2008

Construction Progress Report #5 - Colors

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

John and I sat down last weekend and played around on the Sherwin-Williams web site to pick out paint colors for the casita. What fun we had using their virtual tools to visualize what the colors would actually look like.

The roof will be the color of red tile. The material is a composite made to look like tile.

The interior ceiling will be wood from the Laurel tree and it will look something like this...

The floor throughout the living room, kitchen and bedroom will be 12" tile squares and it should look something like this...

In the bathroom, we will have pale blue tile with a gray sink and toilet, so we have added accenting tile trim pieces in silver, blue and gray.

With these colors for our starting point, we ultimately decided on the colors in this swatch for the exterior and interior walls...

We can't wait to see how it looks when all the painting is done.

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30 March 2008

Construction Progress Report #4

Here are a few photos of our casita. On the left side you can see the garage opening. To the right is the covered porch with the opening for the front door. There will be two windows on either side of the door. On the right wall, toward the back, you can see the bedroom window that faces the soccer field.

This picture is looking from the kitchen to the bedroom in the back. You can see part of the kitchen counter on the right and the bathroom wall on the left. We are installing an "on-demand" hot water tank so will have hot water for the bathroom sink, shower, kitchen and washing machine. Most typical Costa Rican homes only have hot water in the bathroom for the Suicide Shower (read this post from November '07 for more info)

This is the view inside the garage. Here you can see the crew floating the garage floor. On the right side you can see the doorway into the living room. There will be a double utility sink next to the door with room for a washer and dryer.

We will have A/C in the bedroom and ceiling fans in the bedroom and living room. We are installing tile floors throughout so it will be easy to keep clean.

We are not going to put a stove in the apartment since this will eventually be the guest quarters. We will have a full kitchen in the big house when we build it. We have planned for plenty of electrical outlets with the appropriate amperage to power a microwave, electric skillet and two burner hot plate. One of the goals for the July trip will include the purchase a small refrigerator and some furniture.

We have already started to accumulate a lot of stuff (towels, sheets, kitchen wares, etc.) which we will be taking down with us in July. We also hope we can pick up a used washer & dryer for a reasonable price.

More later...

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27 March 2008

Construction Progress Report #3

We just received an update from Minor on the Apartment construction. The walls and roof were completed about 10 days ago.

They are working on the plumbing and electrical now. The order has been placed for the Laurel that we will be using for our wood ceiling. They should be starting on it soon.

We have made our flight reservation to fly into San Jose on July 4th for a couple of weeks and Minor feels comfortable everything will be finished by the time we get there. He will be sending more photos in the next couple of days and we'll post them here for all to see.

We are also in the middle of our Spanish II course, so John should be much more conversant in español on our next trip.

Hasta pronto...

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22 March 2008

Baby Christopher

Photos of the new grandson have arrived! (Thanks to Christoper the Elder.)

Hey ... this kid looks like a baby. How can I send him a sharp object if he's too small to get a good grip on it? Oh well. I'll figure something out.

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21 March 2008

A New Grandson!

Hardly any details yet, but new grandson, Christopher Coleman, arrived yesterday, March 20th, and the parents (Aimee & Keith Coleman) are probably almost as thrilled as we are. Everyone is fine and we're anxiously awaiting photos from their home in CA. Film at 11?
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08 March 2008

Construction progress report #2

Our first structure is really going up! Here are some photos.

This is a view of our footing excavations and rebar up against a retaining wall. This retaining wall was required of our new neighbor because they are constructing a building (house?) down in an excavation, substantially lower than our natural land contour. When they dug out their lot, they exposed our planned back bedroom wall to undermining if the land ever got washed away from our property, down into their "basement" level.

Below is a typical footing pier with the wall post bolted into place, on top of it. Notice on the nearest post, there is a slot facing the lower right corner of the photo, but no slot facing the lower left corner. Therefore, this is a corner post where a wall is coming across from the distant post and then turning to mate up with the not-yet-existing post to the right.

This is the steel cap running along the top of two wall panels, bolted into one of the posts. The house is all steel and concrete. No wood for the termites! (Except for the internal ceilings and some minor indoor features.) You can see our little farm road / driveway. This view is looking south, from north of Atenas. That is the town hidden in the trees in the distant hills. To the left is our neighboring soccer pitch. That giant tree behind the truck is a mango tree. Yum.

This view is as if you're standing on a step ladder in the kitchen, looking over the wall into the bedroom. Notice the mountain view out the bedroom window. I don't know if I'll be able to stand it.

Even the roof trusses are steel.

That's all we have for now. Stop back soon. We'll be posting more.

And, don't forget to get in your time share reservations to visit [grin].

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24 February 2008

Construction progress report #1

Minor notified us the municipality finally approved our building permit on Monday, February 18th. The next day he had his construction crew start clearing the lot and by Saturday, they had completed the excavatation for the septic system and the foundation. Most of the building material is now in place, so the construction should go up pretty fast. As soon as we have something to show, we'll post some pictures.
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28 January 2008

Construction is about to start...

Minor sent us the final set of construction plans for our apartment in Atenas yesterday. Everything looks great and Minor even remember to include a few of the amenities we forgot to ask for.

All of the permits should be signed off on this week and construction will be starting any day now. Minor estimates it will take about 3 months to complete the construction.

Once it's finished, we will schedule a trip to furnish the apartment and make it livable. I've started to compile a list of everything we think we will need to make this a comfortable place to stay whenever we are there on vacation. I've already started to set aside all the extra linens, towels and kitchen paraphernalia that will be useful.

Our dream of having a place of our own in Costa Rica is gradually becoming a reality!

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Update on Greta, our 3-legged wonder dog!

Some of our readers have asked for an update on Greta since her leg was amputated six months ago. Like any dog mom, I'm always happy to brag about one of the pups...

Greta is doing fantastic! She's not as active as she once was, but I have to remind myself that she will be 12 years old tomorrow. Her right foreleg was removed in July of '07 due to a rapid growing malignant tumor. Since this time she has adapted well to getting around on 3 legs. She still jumps up on the sofa and bed whenever she wants too but I have noticed she takes her time getting down. It's as if she is making sure she has a clear landing zone before she propel herself down to land and balance on just the one front leg.

She doesn't like to walk for any extended periods of time and I this is partly our fault for not making her exercise more. Greta has put on some additional weight since surgery and we have cut back on the amount we are feeding her.

She still runs to the door every time the doorbell rings and she will actually jump up on her hind legs when she wants me to pick her up.

Greta is an amazing little dog and it's just a joy to have around. I am so glad we gave her a second chance and elected to amputate her leg. Her quality of life has not been diminished in the least. If you are ever faced with making this agonizing decision, you need to know that dogs are very resilient. Work with your vet and always get a second opinion. You just might be able to enjoy many additional years with a happy healthy 3-legged friend.

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11 January 2008

More family recipes to share

Once again, I've been busy gathering recipes from family and friends. I've posted several new recipes you need to try. Just click on the "Recipes" link above to go to Mi Chunche en la Cocina

If you've got some favorites you want posted, send them to me.
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07 January 2008

Nicholas V's Christening

Folks from Alabama, California and Texas gathered with family in Louisiana to celebrate little Nicholas' Baptism this past weekend. Those that couldn't be there were with us in spirit. Here are a few photos you might enjoy.

Double click on any photo to zoom in on full slideshow in Picasa Webs Album.
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