27 December 2010

Our Tropical Christmas - 2010

We just spent a wonderful Christmas vacation in Costa Rica where we ate more than our fair share of Christmas Tamales.

The garden is looking fabulous. Mario, our gardener, is doing a wonderful job. All of the trees we planted in May have doubled or tripled in size and the lawn is now well established. We didn't have a Christmas tree this year, but we did manage to string up lights on the casita.

Here is John standing next to our Cashew tree.

Mario has managed to bring this little Mango tree back to life. Jenny planted it about 3 years ago and it had been struggling.

The Almond tree is really starting to grow and should provide good shade on this side of the casita.

Our Valencia Orange has tripled in size and is already producing fruit.

We attended many holiday parties and dinners and made lots of new friends this trip. Our neighbor Max threw a party for his employees and clients. We met a couple, close to our age, and had such a good time with them, we arranged to met for lunch a few days later. We went to the Machu Picchu restaurant in San Jose. The food there is outstanding and you should try to go there if you get the chance.

One evening Mario and Dinia invited us over for homemade Chicharrones. Mario and Dinia are really great folks. They embody everything we love about the Ticos. The friendship they have extended to us is just wonderful. They provided us with transportation to and from airport. Shortly after they dropped us off at our casita, they came over with a huge basket of fresh fruit and a week later they showed up with more. They went out of their way to help us with a number of things we needed to get fixed around the casita. We are so grateful to count them among our friends.

We celebrated Maritza's and my birthday one evening with her, Vinicio and the rest of her family. It was great to see all of our extended family. Like all kids, their grandkids are growing up just too fast.
One of the best parties we went to was hosted by our friend, Eliercer, near Grecia. This is CR at its best! He and his church members put on a Christmas Fiesta for the area poor. Well over 100 kids, babies to pre-teens, waited for hours to get into the Fiesta. Once inside, they were entertained with games, a clown, "dreamsicles" hot dogs with slaw & all the dressings, ice cream, soda, piñatas full of candy. Finally, each child received a nice toy present and a bag filled with apples and grapes.

After the kids party we had "Olla de Carne" for lunch with Eliercer and his family. Then we went to see friends in Alajuela for afternoon coffee and more food.

We spent Christmas Eve with my Tico "son" and his family where we enjoyed a roasted pork leg with all the traditional trimmings. We watched the little ones pass out presents to everyone to open and then it was time to tuck them in bed so they could wait for the Niño Jesus to arrive with their "special" presents.

We had a wonderful time and we were so sad to see our vacation come to an end. We were in the midst of packing on Christmas Day for our trip home on the 26th, when Eliercer and his family surprised us. They showed up in the late afternoon with Christmas Tamales. We brewed some coffee in the chorreador and I made up a platter of cheeses and crackers. We sat outside on the casita's porch to enjoy the impromptu fest with good friends in perfect weather. ¡Pura Vida!

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20 November 2010

It's a jungle out there!

This past February I spent 6 weeks in Atenas getting work done around our casita. We built a perimeter concrete wall with chain link fencing, put in a sprinkler system, poured a driveway and added an electric gate. Then I came back with John in May, at the start of the rainy season, to plant the grass, trees and shrubs. We were really hoping to plant some sort of fast growing, climbing vine on the side of the house that bakes in the sun all day. We decided to plant Jalapa.

What a great choice! This is a photo in June, just after John planted the Jalapa. He built a framework of nylon string for the vines to attach themselves and start the climb to the top of the fence.

Here you can see how well it had grown by the end of August. Notice, you can still see through the fence.

And this is the amazing growth as of yesterday. Yea, we have shade and privacy, what more could we ask for in just 5 months.

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31 October 2010

Homemade Sausage - Part 2

The Chorizo sausage we made earlier this month turned out so good, we decided to try Italian sausage this morning. In keeping with our healthy diet objective, we made Italian Turkey sausage.

We ground about 2 parts of turkey breast meat with 1 part of pork. Then we added the spices and fried up a bit to make sure the seasonings was just right before we packed it into the casings.

Tonight we plan to cook some for dinner on the barbecue grill.

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02 October 2010

Social Security, Pension and Costa Rican Residency

It's official, I've applied for my Social Security benefits and should receive my first check beginning in 2011. As part of the process, Social Security Administration found an old pension I forgot I had.

Years ago, I worked for a division of ADP that was sold off to some investors and several years after that, it was bought by the company that eventually laid me off. It turns out I had worked at ADP long enough to qualify for a pension, albeit a small pension, it is guaranteed income for life. When I talked to the HR rep at ADP, she said they tried to contact me at the old address they had on record. I have moved 4 times since I worked for ADP, and changed my last name too. Anyway, ADP is sending me a packet of information to apply for the pension. I thank Social Security for checking their records and finding this for me.

Two years ago my half Tico (Costa Rican) son, Donald, went with me to Costa Rica to get his "Cedula", the Costa Rican national identity card. Now that he has this, I can apply for unrestricted residency as the mother of a Costa Rican citizen.

After much research, and many recommendation from other expats, we have decided to use the consulting company called "Residency in Costa Rica" (RCR) to handle our residency applications and all the supporting documentation required by the Costa Rican Government. This week I mailed RCR all of the initial documentation to get the process started. This included my birth certificate and a letter of good conduct from the local police department. All of the documents have to be authenticated by the various States where they were issued, then the Costa Rica Consulate has to authenticate the States' signatures. After that the Consulates signatures get authenticated by the officials in Costa Rica. Then, all of the documents have to be officially translated into Spanish before the application is finally submitted.

When we go back to Costa Rica later this year, I will be fingerprinted and photographed. Then RCR will be ready to submit the residency application to Immigration for approval. RCR anticipates it will take from 4 to 6 months for my residency to be approved and the government to issue me my cedula (the equivalent of a "Green Card" issued to legal immigrants to the U.S). Once I'm approved, we will start the application process for John. He will be entitled to residency as my spouse.

We'll keep you posted on the process.

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Homemade Sausage

One of the things we may miss after we move to Costa Rica will be great sausage at the local supermarket. I bought a great book on sausage making and find there is no reason we can't make our own. This book has recipes from bratwurst to chorizo and everything in between.

Today, we gave it a try using the grinder attachment on my Viking mixer.

We made about 10 pounds of Chorizo and now it is hanging in our electric cooler to dry for about 24 hours.

We made some fresh pan sausage with this recipe for breakfast this morning and it was outstanding. After the stuffed sausage links have a chance to dry, we grill some tomorrow for dinner and we'll post the results.

3-Oct-10 Update: We had the chorizo with dinner tonight and it was terrific. We vacuum sealed the rest and froze it for later. Now we have to plan the recipe for our next experiment. I'm leaning toward something with gound turkey. Click on Chorizo to see our recipe.

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29 July 2010

Household Inventory

We now have less than a year to get ready to relocate to Costa Rica. So, we have finally started taking an inventory of everything we own to decide what we will take with us when we move to Costa Rica.

John found a great set of database programs which will help us compile lists of everything and determine the values for Costa Rica's custom officials. So far, I have used the Book Organizer, Music Organizer and Movie Organizer to download info on our collections. The program lets you enter the UPC barcode and then it retrieves all the information, including titles, authors, artists, actors, release dates, value, etc. It has already saved me hours of data input.

All electronics and appliances have to be listed with the brand model and serial number. This way Customs knows when they were manufactured and if they are used or fairly new. Anything less than 6 months old will be considered new and taxed accordingly. The average tax rate on new appliances and electronics is somewhere around 50%. We will probably go ahead and replace a number of our old electronics and appliances in the next few months, so we can take them into Costa Rica as "used" goods, and hopefully we will be taxed at a lower rate.

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09 May 2010

Spring Cleaning.... DONE!!

During the past year we have been gradually setting aside the clothes that no longer fit us. We have now lost well over 150 pounds between us, and the result have become very noticeable in our closet space. John had been storing all the "big man" clothes in the guest room, and I kept rearranging my closet space until it became obvious the "big gal" clothes far out numbered anything else.

Today we gathered up all the clothes and took them over to a donation site for a local charity. It feels good to give to the less fortunate and gain about 75% more closet space at the same time. As soon as we get to our ideal weight, we can so on a shopping spree to re-fill our closets. It feels even better to be getting thin and healthy

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25 April 2010

Camping in North Central Texas

Early last week we checked the weather report and it looked like we would have a great weekend so we booked a campsite in Liberty Hill Park on Navarro Mills Lake, in North Central Texas. John managed to leave work early Friday afternoon and after a 3 hour drive, we were able setup the campsite long before dark. We had chicken fajitas for dinner and enjoyed a quiet evening with an audio book on the Kindle. This was just the calm before the storm...

Sometime around midnight, the storm rolled in and our little tent was rocking and rolling in the wind. If it hadn't been anchored to the vehicle, it would have blown across the field of Bluebonnets and Indian Paint Brushes, with us in it. The rain was blowing horizontally with such a force that the tent's rainfly/canopy was of little use and the rain water started coming in on us. Our dog, Randy, was NOT a happy camper!

The howl of the wind felt like a tornado so we decided we would be safer in our little Ford Escape. Going outside in the rain was not an option because it would have been impossible to unzip the tent, or open a car door, with the force of the wind. Fortunately for us, the tent is designed to attach to the back of the SUV and gives us full access to the cargo area. Can you picture us crawling into the Escape, over all of our gear and climbing into the front seats? It's a good thing we've now lost about 160 pounds between us, or we would have been calling the fire department with their "jaws of life" to pull us out.

The storm was over by about 3 AM. We were soggy, but OK. We went back to the tent and found a couple of inches of water on the floor and some wet bedding. The temperature was in the mid 50's and it was almost impossible to get warm again until sun up. We had several campers that were staying in motor-homes stop by to check on us Saturday morning. One of them told us she had heard on the news that the winds topped 75 mph!

We strung up some clothes line and hung up all the wet clothes and bedding to dry out. It was a gorgeous morning on the lake and after lunch we went geocaching with our geopup Randy. These are just a few of the
hidden caches we found. As usual there are no pictures of me, because I'm usually the photographer.

Here's a picture of Randy, exhausted after geocaching. --->

After we got back from geocaching we made a nice salad and heated up some taco soup and tortillas for supper.

John went to put some of our gear back in the SUV and discovered we had a dead battery. Yours truly had managed to leave the key in the ignition, in the ON position, to charge the Blackberry batteries we had drained while geocaching. There really wasn't any way we could get a neighboring camper to jump start us. They were all anchored down in their motor-homes. We placed a call to AAA and they managed to send a rescue truck to us within the hour.

After our lack of sleep Friday evening, we turned in early Saturday for a great night's sleep. Sunday morning, after breakfast we saw a Bald Eagle floating on the thermals just overhead. That's the first time either one of us has seen a Bald Eagle outside of the Pacific Northwest. What a nice treat for us just before we packed up and took a leisurely drive back home.

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14 April 2010

My Kindle

Once upon a time I was an avid reader. I was always in the middle of a book and usually read for an hour, or two, before bed. When I met John my interests changed and I put the books on the shelf for a few years. I was too busy working, keeping house, cooking and spending time with John, to find time to sit down with a good read. I didn't realize how much I enjoyed reading until John gave me a Kindle for Christmas with a note telling me to think of him reading to me every time I pick it up.

When we were in Costa Rica last December, John spent many evenings reading to me from stories he had downloaded to his laptop. After that trip, we decided it was time for me to go back to Costa Rica for a few weeks to supervise the construction of our perimeter wall, gate, etc. I made my plans to travel this past February and I started downloading books from Amazon to help make the time in Costa Rica go faster.

What was supposed to be a 3 week trip, turned into a 6 week trip and my Kindle became my constant companion. Two weeks into my stay, I discovered I had read everything I had downloaded from Amazon's wireless Whispernet service. This service allows you to download a book directly to the Kindle in less than 60 seconds, but it is not available in Costa Rica. I decided to see if it would be possible to download books from Amazon through my SLOW dial-up internet connection to my laptop and then upload them to the Kindle via a USB cable. It worked far better than I expected and I was able to download novels in just a little over 60 seconds.

During the 6 weeks I was in exile (away from John) in Costa Rica. I managed to read 17 books. Just to name a few, I read several novels written by Clive Cussler, Nicholas Sparks, David Baldacci, John Sanford, Michael Crichton and Paulo Coelho. I am so grateful to John for giving me my little Kindle and bringing me back to the joy of reading. Needless to say, I would rather spend my time in his company, but now that I'm retired, my Kindle keeps me entertained while John is working. Now, when John retires, I'll have to give him his own Kindle or we'll be fighting over mine.

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Casita Wegner Update - March 2010

We had a few setbacks building the perimeter wall around our property and I had to extend my trip from 3 to 6 weeks. I took advantage of the extra time and managed to get a few extra projects completed. I had forgotten how things get done in Costa Rica and it was fascinating to watch the construction process. In the U.S. we have automated so many processes, and put so many regulations in place to protect workers, that we tend to forget things are done differently in other parts of the world. I'm not saying our way is better, because they are just as competent when it comes to getting the job done.

Our perimeter wall is constructed of precast concrete panels measuring 1 x .5 meters each. These panels are designed to slip into steel reinforced concrete posts. Multiple panels can then be stacked, one on top of the next, like you see in this picture.

Here in the States, the panels are usually moved into position by crane. John had asked me what type of equipment is used in Costa Rica to accomplish this and I replied with this photo.

Once the concrete panels were in place, they welded steel reinforcing beams along the top edge and filled all the concrete seams.

The final step was an application of pre-colored stucco to give us a maintenance free finish. The construction crew usually worked from 7 AM until 5 PM, with the government mandated breaks. Thirty minutes for the morning and afternoon coffee breaks and an hour for lunch. The team also worked from 7 AM until 12 noon on Saturdays.

They did an excelled job and the finished results give us a beautiful perimeter wall, a new automatic sprinkler system, a concrete driveway and a electric gate.

We have already made our travel arrangements for our next trip during the upcoming rainy season. This time we will plant grass, fruit trees, shrubs and flowering vines on our new fence.

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22 February 2010

January - February, 2010 Update

We have fallen behind on our blog posting, so I am going to bring it up to date and try to be more diligent going forward.

John and I are both doing great. He has lost about 90 pounds in the past year just following our new style of eating. I, on the other hand, continue to lag behind, in spite of all my bicycle riding. I’ve only lost 58 pounds. Nevertheless, I think we will both reach our goal in another year. Then we will move into our maintenance phase. Since this isn’t really a diet anymore, we both feel our life style changes will make maintaining our weight easy in the future.

After our December trip, we decided it was time to go ahead and set the boundaries around our property in Atenas. We decided to build a 2 meter, concrete wall between us and our neighbors on the west side and a 1 meter, concrete wall on the other 3 sides. We will still have a great view, because we are installing 1 meter of fence on top of the low walls. In the future, we will probably replace this fencing with decorative wrought iron.

We got a couple of proposals and it turned out cheaper to have the same guy that built our casita, build the wall too. He is a Civil Engineer and it’s great to work with him. He won’t let his crews take any shortcuts and when he is done it’s a quality job.

In January, we went to California to meet the latest addition to the clan, little Charlotte. Talk about a cutie! She is such a good baby too. While we were there, we managed to squeeze in a mini family reunion with my sisters and their families, Aimee, Keith and their kiddos, and of course, Chris, Jen and baby Charlie. It was so good to see everyone.

I spent January and early February cooking lunches and dinners for John. I vacuumed sealed meals and froze them so it would be easy for him to continue to eat right while I came to Costa Rica to oversee the construction.

I arrived in Costa Rica a week ago and the wall construction is now well under way. Once we have the wall in place, we plan to install an automatic watering system and a lawn. Right now, the property is barren and it will be nice to see a lush lawn and plants the next time we come down here.

Once of nicer things about Costa Rica is the cost of medical and dental care, coupled with the outstanding quality. While I’m here, I’m getting some dental work done that I’ve been putting off. I can have the same work done here for 1/3 of what is would cost in the States.

The downside of being is Costa Rica…… I really miss John and I can’t wait to be home with him soon.

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