28 July 2011

Retirement - Day 16: Mayan Banana Bread

We went to the feria (farmers' market) last weekend and bought more bananas than we could possibly consume in a week. What can you do with 7 overripe bananas and no oven?

All our stuff, including my combo microwave/convection oven and the gas range are in the sea container we expect to be delivered around August 12th.

This doesn't help with the ripe banana situation today! So, I decided to try making banana bread in my electric skillet. I used my Mayan Banana Bread recipe and instead of using a loaf pan, I just poured the batter in the preheated skillet and baked it for 50 minutes @ 275° F. As expected, it did not brown on top, but the sides and bottom came out nicely toasted. The bread is perfectly moist and delicious.

I think I'll serve it with some fresh natilla (sour cream) and French pressed coffee this afternoon.

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20 July 2011

Retirement - Days 7 & 8: The first harvest from our Mango tree

A little over a year ago, we planted lots of fruit trees and here is the first harvest from our Mango tree. It is amazing how fast everything grows here in the tropics.

The boys have settled into life in the tropics, as you can see in this photo of John and his pack. Randy is just a little jealous, but he will always be top dog. Gus is doing well, we just need to get him to stop chewing everything in sight.

Yesterday, I got a little creative and cooked a meatloaf in the electric skillet. It actually came out pretty amazing and much better than I expected. It takes longer and you have to turn it over about half way through the cooking time to brown it on both sides. Since meatloaf always needs a tomato sauce topping, I decided to experiment and try my hand at some homemade tomato ketchup. I used some fresh limes from a friend's tree, garlic, wine vinegar, tomato paste and splenda. I think I like it better than any store bought brand I've had. Heinz, better watch out, you may have to make room for some new competition.

Last nights dinner with meatloaf, rice and a salad was delicious. Today we need to pick up some bread at the bakery so we can enjoy some leftover meatloaf sandwiches for lunch.

Cooking in the little casita has certainly been challenge with the lack of space and tools. I have to use all my inventive skills to create interesting meals. I can't wait for our 40' container to arrive next month. Then I'll have a real gas range with a real oven. I'm more than ready to activate my sourdough starter and get back to bread baking.

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17 July 2011

Retirement +5 days: Enjoying ourselves and expanding the family

It's been 5 days since we arrived and we have been on the go since we got here. We finally got to meet some new friends we have been exchanging emails with for months. They are from Kentucky and retired to Atenas a couple of week before we did. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together and finally put some faces with the names. We hope to get together frequently.

This past week, we've had lots of miscellaneous business matters to take care of; paying for trash pickup, paying our annual property taxes (they were due back in January,) and getting a new P.O. Box (the physical address is a little complicated.)

We also expanded our little family by adopting a little brother for Randy.
We've named him Gus. He is a mini-pin/terrier mix, about 9 or 10 months old. He was rescued from the highway 10 weeks ago. Ever since we brought him home, he and Randy have been romping through the yard and the casita, barking at anyone, or anything that moves.

We heard from our shipping company and our 40' sea container should be here by August 12th. Now we have to put some flooring in the attic of the casita so we will have enough room to store all our stuff until the we build the house. We met with friends today that will be here tomorrow morning to help us build out the attic.

Before we build the house, we want to build a "ranchito" so we will have a large area for socializing with an outdoor kitchen and barbeque. John started working on the drawings for it today and hopefully we can get started on it very soon.

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13 July 2011

Retirement +1: Toad Licking

Toads in Costa Rica are known to be dangerous but little did I know ... Before moving to CR, we had made contact with a Costa Rican dog rescue center because they had a cute 2 year old fox terrier which we thought would be a great companion for our 8 year old Jack Russell terrier, Randy. Alas, the night of July 11, the little fox terrier tried to eat a CR cane toad and died shortly thereafter. Having been out of contact because of the move, I didn't read the news of the little guy's demise until today, July 13. Coincidentally, our friends who picked us up at the San Jose airport on the 12th also warned us to watch Randy to make sure he didn't try to eat a toad.

That was enough for me. In my usual calmly freaked out way, I began a frenzied search of the Internet for information about the local toads and post-exposure countermeasures in case (when) Randy ran into one.

I was sitting out on the front porch, reading, getting more and more cranked up about the damn toads when a neighbor walked up. She wanted to show us how she thought that our back yard level was causing her (lower leveled) house to leak water through the walls. Standing there in the lawn, I remembered seeing a huge toad back there about a year ago. I was "on alert."

Suddenly, there was movement across the yard. Randy and I saw it at about the same instant. He took off running and barking; I took off running and yelling for him to stop [Note to self: When are you ever going to learn that once a Jack Russell's brain locks onto whatever it is chasing, yelling is pointless? Atomic bomb blasts would be pointless. Remember, there's no stopping a Jack on a roll.]

However, all of the yelling, combined with Randy's being a little off his game due to all of the events of the past few days, caused the boy to falter in the deep lawn and we arrived at the toad simultaneously. I managed to hook my toes under his chin and spun him sideways. Almost in control. Pat got to the spot just a couple of seconds later and grabbed our nitwit up off the ground.

And there I was ... face to face with a 6-inch freakin' classic example of what a Costa Rican poison toad looks like. Only 1 knife.

ONLY ONE KNIFE!! There. I've admitted it to the world. I was caught in a strange country, fresh from an airplane trip and had yet to properly re-equip myself, even though almost 24 hours had passed. The shame.

The one knife was a Byrd standard Rescue sheepsfoot serrated blade. That means no point on the blade, folks. Just super-sharp serrations.

Here comes the lesson ...

"No matter what a great and grand Blade Master you are, NEVER, EVER, hit a poison toad with a full swing slashing blow. Too much blood spatter, and, er, poison spatter."

The toad was thusly dispatched and carefully loaded into a plastic bag using the "picking up doggie poop" method.

But the knife was a mess. The yard was a murder scene. And unbeknownst to Mr. Blade Master, a bit of the gore had found a home at a tiny spot on my lip.

I cleaned the knife very thoroughly in running hot water and soap, then oiled it down. I also re-washed my hands and went back to the front porch to finish my poison toad research.

My lip tingled a little. A few minutes later, it was more than a tingle. It was very much like a shot of dental Novocain in the lip. I almost instantly figured this one out.

A quick dash to the bathroom and a hard scrub down with baby wipes, followed by soap and water, followed by about a 5 minute full-on blasting with city water. Then I looked in the mirror. Leapin' liz ... er, toads!

"Mah lip was all blowed up." Cripes. Yipes.

Pat really let me know that she did not enjoy seeing this. Silly girl. She wondered if the next moment would bring convulsions and cardio-pulmonary arrest. I assured her that my research verified that no such arresting had ever happened (I lied.) But I did know that just from a little brush with "toad licking," there wasn't much possibility of any serious affect.

So, we ate lunch: me trying not to bite my own fat lip; Pat watching for me to keel over. A good half hour into it, Pat took the photo. An hour after that, and I'm able to write this. No biggie.

I'll let you know if my face falls off.

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12 July 2011

Countdown to Moving Day: Days 8,7,6,5 & 4! The 40' sea container is ready to be packed

We are backdating this blog post by a few days to keep things in chronological order. We have been meaning to blog about our actual moving experience, but we haven't had time until now (7/18/2011.)

In the early Spring, we began boxing up things which we didn't use often or probably could have done without: books; VHS tapes; odd tools; some collectable items, etc. Eventually between stacks of packaging materials and packed boxes, the garage was a shambles.

But the inside of the house was beautifully staged and the house was sold in 30 days.  Once the buyer was reasonably certain, packing began in earnest.  Boxes began to be stacked to the ceiling in several rooms.  Work, work, work.  Tired, tired, tired.  Guess what.  We're not 20 years old anymore.

We hired our housekeeper, Maria, for a couple of extra days so at least there were three of us working.  Pack, pack, pack.  Hardly a dent.

We were both packing as hard as we could, all through June, with the exception of a motor trip to see the Grand Canyon.  Back to Houston and pack, pack, pack.  Quick, 24 hour trip to Thibodaux, LA., for a last pre-move visit with that part of the family and back to Houston.  Pack, pack, pack.

By the 4th of July holiday, there was sheer desperation in our hearts.  The container was coming on the 6th, in the morning and we were only allowed 3 hours to put everything into it.  Still all of the big heavy stuff was unpackaged and unprotected for moving.  We weren't going to make it.

After a horrid experience with 2-Men Movers telling us they could help but then backing out, on the 5th, we hired some "professional" movers to help us get the last of our stuff packed to be ready (allegedly) to load into the container on the 6th.  To be certain that the new team wouldn't back out, I sent their office a highly detailed inventory of the big things they'd have to pack, "Plus the typical number of boxes one would expect from a 2000 square foot, 3-bedroom house and 2-car garage."

"Well, in that case," the office said, "we'll have to probably send 3 guys instead of the usual two." Four guys showed up quite late on the 5th, packed and wrapped like dervishes, but quit about 5 P.M., promising to be back, "Oh, not later than 8am ... probably earlier."  We still had to number and inventory all of the day's work and we kept at it until after midnight.

THE BIG DAY:  The movers dragged their sorry butts back to "the scene" after 8:30 that morning, then stood around sizing things up and chatting for another 10 minutes.  There was still a lot of stuff to be wrapped in mover's blankets and nothing had been moved out to stage it in the driveway.  Of course, the 40' sea container arrived at exactly 9 A.M.  Expecting difficulties, Pat had enlisted the help of our friend, Harvey Foster, to act as a monitor and third set of watchful eyes.

Then it began.

As you can see from the adjacent photo, their "professional" means of getting everything from ground level up into the container was via strong backs or the S-L-O-W lift gate on the back of their rented Enterprise box truck.  Immediately, someone on the crew mumbled, "We can't do this in 3 hours -- more like all day." Uh-oh.

Then came the first extortion.

"Well that $2400 'not to exceed' quote was only for labor and yesterday we used quite a few of our boxes and rolls of tape and bubble wrap and shrink wrap and blankets." So, (Implication: if you want us to keep loading your crap) you'll have to sign on this document that the price is now $3600.  Quite a situation.  What can ya do except sign (and they already had our credit card number.) [NOTE: They left a garage full of my already paid-for boxes and plenty of all of the above accessories.  For some reason, their stuff was the only stuff they could use.  Ours must not have been "professional grade."]

So, along they diddled.  We were supposed to have everything loaded by 12 Noon and this included our Subaru Forester.  Fortunately, or depending on how you look at it, unfortunately, the crew's head packer kept loading and unloading boxes until he was happy that each one would be secure for the sea voyage.  It would eventually take them a full 9 hours to load everything.  [We're still holding our breath for the overtime charges coming from our broker for the container driver's standby time.]

Based on what several professionals had told us and just on the visual of the sheer mass of stuff we were going to try to put into the container, we knew that it would be hard to fit everything into that container, especially with a car taking up a lot of space.

Because the Subaru was also going into the container, I reasoned that all of the air space above that squatty little car would be wasted.  So, I designed and prefabricated the supports and cross-decking pieces of platform onto which we could get back a good 200 cubic feet to fill with junk.  But, the loader didn't
 want to use it, shaking his head that it would be a waste of time.  Great.  $200 of lumber and 4 hours working in the sun to prefabricate it and he was going to blow it off.

Some time around 3pm, Mr. Genius, the loader, realized that he really wasn't going to fit everything in.  Almost like the thought he could sneak my deck into the container without admitting he was wrong, he sent his two laborers to get the support pre-fabs without a word.  Then he realized that they didn't have the screws or tools to put the decking in place.  But first, (in Spanish and with much hand waving) "Have them put the car in first."  What?!?

We had arranged for a tilt-bed wrecker truck be on standby to lift and raise the Subaru up into the container's deck height.  On standby.  "Give us a half hour's notice."  Mr. Genius, I guess, thought that we were going to levitate the car up into the container.  Where's Harry Potter when you need him?

Called the wrecker dispatcher, expecting to get a refusal for such instant service but he gave me the first good news of the day, "I'll have him on his way right away."  Super.  Their dispatch yard was less than a mile away.

Just then, there was a clap of thunder.  Ominous clouds were racing in overhead.  Everyone scrambled to get things up inside the Enterprise box truck and out of the exposed driveway.  Just as the wrecker arrived, the sky opened up with all the rain we had been waiting for since this past February.  All of it.  At once.

The driver jumped out, got the low down, and told me to bring the car into line with his bed.  Hook, snap, buzz and I'm sitting in Subie, 4 feet up in the air, completely blinded by torrential rain.  Everyone ran for cover.  As the rain let up a little, I could see a concerned little confab going on among the movers.  Rolled down the window, a little, "What's wrong?"

"The wrecker's bed is about a foot lower than the container's."  Crap.

Now, I'd been assured by this wrecker company's office that, "Oh, yeah, we do these vehicle loading-into-a-container jobs all the time.  Don't worry.  Nothing to it."  What now?

Then, I noticed my 3/4" thick plywood hurricane board-up "shutters" sitting up by the garage.  Four of them.  I reasoned that creating a ramp by stacking two sheets behind each wheel -- 1.5" of plywood -- would certainly support a little Subaru.  I shouted this out to Patricia, The Translator, and Da Boyz jumped to the task.  As soon as the lumber was in place, bridging a 1-foot height difference and about a foot of distance between the two vehicles (an abyss into which I could fall if something went wrong,) everyone but the wrecker driver ran for cover from the rain.

The wrecker driver motioned for me to back into the container.  I didn't want to spin the wheels and shoot plywood down the street so I began to move gingerly.  As I got to a point which I guessed to be directly over the abyss, the driver's eyes popped out of his head, communicating a need for urgent action.  I floored it.

And slammed on the brakes.  Plain and fancy driving if I do say so myself.  Perfectly centered and only about an inch or so out of linear position.  I'm told that my plywood sheets had bowed under the weight of the car and then emitted cracking sounds.  Glad I couldn't see it or we'd have spent another hour cleaning up the driver's seat.

Quickly, with me supervising from within the container, the pre-fab decking was muscled up into place and my screw shooter was used to hold everything down in place.  Loading resumed.

Gosh. Now they had PLENTY of room to finish the load out.  Judging from the body language and the grins, the "pros" were congratulating themselves for being so clever as to use my decking.  Cripes.

Just then Susan Gallivan showed up with a huge bag-o-burgers-n-fries to save our day.  We hadn't eaten since about 6am and were a bit more than famished.  THANK YOU SUSAN!

The rain quit.  The loading was completed.  Container papers signed.  Ready to roll ... not.

"Where's your container lock?" says the loader.

"No lock ... we're using a customs seal ... this is an international ocean shipment."

"You gotta have a lock.  Company policy."

"If we lock it then Customs won't be able to get in and survey the load; and, anyway, all of my locks are packed.  They're inside there (motioning to the container) somewhere."

"Gotta have a lock."

Just about now the container rig driver stepped into the fray telling the mover's loader that, no, we don't lock these shipments.

"Gotta have a lock."

The truck driver looked at me ... I looked at him and jerked my head, as in, "Go ... now."

So as our worldly possessions rolled off out of sight, the loader was on his cell phone chattering excitedly to his office.  What was he going to do chase after the truck?  He hung up.

Nah.  He was going to come at me with yet another demand for more money.

"Ya know, we only allowed 4 hours for this job so you're going to have to sign for 5 more."

And I'd just given away all of my guns.

Patricia to the rescue.  Ever seen her REALLY mad?  In Spanish?  I didn't know what she was saying to this guy but she was scaring me as well as everyone around us.

That was the end of it.  The movers picked up their junk and slunk off to who knows where.  Probably to some other stupid victim's house to extort double the quoted price from them.

I sure wish I could do this moving thing at least once a year.  I just don't get enough stress anymore.

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