21 December 2011

162: Fire in the hole!

Our wood fired pizza/bread is done! John did an amazing job on it. The core is refractory stone mounted on a two-inch refractory fiber board set on top of a four-inch concrete block base. The core was then wrapped in a three-inch ceramic fiber blanket with a wire mesh casing to hold it in place. John then encased everything with a one-inch layer of refractory concrete. The idea behind this is to get the oven to hold extreme temperatures inside, yet be cool to the touch on the outside. Success!

Yesterday morning we fired the oven up and let it go all day while we went to the beach. When we got back, some 6½ hours later, the inside temperature was over 350°F. and the outside wall was cool to the touch.

John stoked the fire up again in the evening and bought it all the way up to 510°Celsius, or 950°Farenheit!!! The outside temperature was 100°F or less. You can definitely lay you hand on the side of the oven and not worry about getting burned.

Today, just in time for my birthday, we are going to give it the real test and actually bake pizza. This will require a wood fire be brought up to temperature in the oven to heat it up. Then the coals will be pushed to one side, or removed for baking.

Time to go make the pizza dough and sauce. Yum!!

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08 December 2011

149: We've got fire!!

John finished the brickwork on the pizza/bread oven and it was time to light a fire. The oven has to have time to cure so we will keep a fire going in it for few days to drive out any moisture in the ceramic. The next step will be the installation of a ceramic fiber blanket over the igloo, which will then be encased in refractory cement.

If all goes well, we'll be baking our first pizza in the oven this time next week.
We covered all the metal support poles in the Rancho this week with bamboo and hemp rope to give it a more rustic look. John is in the process of putting several layers of marine grade varnish on them in the hopes they will hold up for years to come.

When John was in Houston this past September, he picked up a faucet for the Rancho's kitchen sink. Wouldn't you know it, it arrived with a broken aerator.

We've been working with the vendor in the U.S. and the part was finally shipped to us from China in November. There was a notice at the Post Office yesterday that a package had arrived, but it had to be picked up at the Postal Customs office in the capitol, about an hour from where we live. I just love a road trip!

So, off to San Jose we go this morning, to find a likely government building with the official address given only as "200 meters south of the church of Zapote." (You may recall from a previous blog entry that Costa Rica does not use standardized addresses like the rest of the world.) Trusting in our GPS, we punched in the church in Zapote and we found it! It took about an hour to pick up a small package and pay about $2 USD in duty and storage for what amounted to a 50¢ part.

While we were off in San Jose, the construction crew made significant progress on the house. They went through about 100 sacks of cement pouring the concrete footings. It looks like a re-bar jungle in the yard.

¡Pura Vida!

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01 December 2011

142: Dirt and Ditches

The construction crew has been busy all week digging ditches. Each one of the ditches represents the location of one of the walls of the house. We had been a little worried about how they were going to level the lot and had envisioned truckloads of dirt being hauled in to fill the slope at the edge of the property. Obviously, with the amount of dirt you see here, that will not be an issue.

The base for our Pizza/Bread Oven is finished and John started assembling the actual oven yesterday. It's a slow process with lots of components that have to cure properly before he can move on to the next step. He has promised the oven will be finished and ready for baking before Christmas, in fact it should be ready by my birthday.

We found a local cabinet maker and from the photos of some of his work, he might be the solution to all the cabinetry we're going to need in the new casa. We went ahead and contracted with him to make us some cedar cabinets to go under the counters in the rancho. If we like his workmanship, then we can get him to bid on the cabinets for the house.

We've been enjoying our days outside in the rancho. Today we had a rare treat when this White Hawk perched in this tree for awhile hunting prey. Hopefully, he caught that neighborhood rooster that wakes us up crowing every morning around 2:30 AM.

This week we hung bamboo curtains around the perimeter of the rancho to give us some flexibility for sun shade as needed. The weather has been spectacular this week, mid 60's at night and low 80's during the day. I think it's safe to say the rainy season is behind us. We should have dry weather for the next 5 months, or so.

Time for a nap in the swing...

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26 November 2011

137: Rancho Party, Casa Construction & Pizza!

Last weekend we threw a fiesta to inaugurate the Rancho. We had about 50 people, mostly Ticos (Costa Ricans) and a few Gringos thrown in for good measure. Nephew Scott is here visiting with his fianceé Stacy. John smoked some Texas barbeque and grilled some Tico style chorizo. I had meant to take lots of photos, but once the party started I totally forgot. We had a great time and I think everyone had fun. With so many people, we just didn't get enough time to sit and visit with everyone.

Scott and Stacy left Sunday for the beach at Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Park. We haven't heard a word since. If they still plan to fly back home on Monday, I suspect they may find their way back to our place sometime today.

The construction started on the casa this week, so we've been busy getting bids on materials, looking at tile and flooring options, etc. Our work crew started early Monday and they've spent lots of time bending steel re-bar for the the re-enforced concrete columns. We've decided we are going to go with a colonial style roof, made out of clay tile. This will give us great insulation and with a radiant barrier beneath it, the house will always be cool and comfortable.

While we where shopping for construction material, John found the outdoor Pizza/Bread Oven he'd been wanting to get to put next to the rancho. It was delivered it on Tuesday and by Wednesday we had to halt some of the progress on the house so a couple of guys from the construction crew could build a concrete base to set the oven on. Do we have our priorities in order, or what?

Thursday, John scoured the neighborhood for the kindling and logs the power company left behind when they cut trees down last month to put in new concrete power poles. He chopped some of the wood and we now have a nice stack of firewood for the oven. He didn't really have the right tools for chopping wood, so we picked up a big axe at the local hardware store. The hardware store didn't have the maul and wedge he really needs to do the job right. So, we'll keep looking until we find one.

Once the oven construction is done, we'll plan a Christmas luncheon for the crew and they can make their own individual pizzas.

I roasted a couple of Thanksgivings Day Chickens this year, instead of spending $40-$60 USD for a 15-18 lb. turkey. It was great with just garlic mashed potatoes and a salad.

Yesterday, we finished the paperwork and the final step required to apply for our building permit from the city. I turned in all the papers, insurance and plans to the city clerk and she said to allow 30 days processing time before they issue the permit. I won't repeat what John said when I told him 30 days, let's just say it was colorful! Our contractor called his buddy that just so happens to work for the city, in the building permits department. How handy is that?? The buddy said, "No way will it take 30 days, it's more like a week to 10 days." Whew, this means the workers can continue prepping the lot and assembling material. They just can't start to erect the house's structure until the permit is in hand.

Hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.

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15 November 2011

126: La Casa, La Bodega, Paperwork & Red Tape

What a week! The construction crew finished a nice little bodega for us last week that will give us a place to store tools and materials during the construction of the casa.
They even installed an outdoor sink we can use in the future for cleaning garden tools. It's just a basic area for general outdoor clean-up.
A couple of weeks ago, we started the process of gathering all the documents required to get our building permit. It appears this is going to be a never ending list of documents and red tape.

Yesterday we picked up the final set of plans for the house from our civil engineer along with a list of the materials we will need to get started.
Just to give you an idea of how complicated it is to get a building permit from the city, here is a list of everything we have to get and the complex process of pulling it all together.
  1. Plano Catastro (Cadastral Plan): This is a comprehensive survey of the metes-and-bounds of the real property, certified by the National Registry. It requires a trip lasting several hours to obtain the document from the National Registry office for our Province.
  2. Visado por la Municipalidad of Atenas (Visa from the Municipality): This is an official authorization to apply for a building permit and it requires all of the following documents:
    1. Certification Registral de la Propiedad (Certified Registration of the Property): This document shows who owns the property and it is also issued by the National Registry. Fortunately, it can be combined with the same trip to get the Plano Catastro.
    2. Personeria Juridica (Legal Entity Status): This document defines who has the rights to act as legal representative for the Sociedad Anonima. In our case, our property is owned by our S.A., and in actuality this is the same as a corporation in the States. (We did this for liability reasons and to make future inheritance easier.) Fortunately, getting this document can also be combined with the trip to get the Plano Catastro.
      1. Since we used a Personeria Juridica, we will also need copies of our passports to show the same identification as listed on the Personeria Juridica document.
      2. In addition to the original Personeria Juridica, we will also need a photocopy for their files
  3. Sellado por la Oficina de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA) (Office of Water and Sewer): Official seal on the Plano Catastro indicating water can be made available to the property. Oh and, of course an extra photocopy of this document with the Office of Water and Sewer's seal.
  4. Certification de la Contaduria Municipal (Certification from the Municipal Accountant's Office): This document certifies all of our property taxes are paid up to date.
  5. Constancia de Póliza de Riesgos del Trabajo (Proof of Labor Risk Insurance): This is an insurance policy issued by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros similar to workman's comp.
  6. Constancia de la Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (Certification from the CR Social Security Office): This document certifies we are up to date on all social security obligations.
  7. Planos de Construcción (Construction Plans): The plans must be presented with the signature of the professional responsible for the work and it must have the approval from the Federal Chamber of Engineers and Architects of Costa Rica.
  8. Contrato de Servicios Professionales (Professional Services Contract): A copy of this document must be signed by the owner and labor professional.
  9. Visado por el Ministerio de Salud (Visa from the Ministry of Health): This is an official approval of the construction plans by the Ministry of Health.
As you can imagine, the process is very complicated, requiring multiple visit to all of the entities mentioned above. It took us more than 5 days just to get the water company to come out to our place and verify water could be provided to a piece of property that has had a water meter installed now for several years. Go figure.

Naturally each one of these entities requires multiple photocopies of various document, and no, they can't use their photocopier to make the copies. You have to go to a little gift store that makes their living charging to make photocopies for you so you can take them to all the entities around town.

Today, we submitted the documents to the city for their Visado (number 2 above) and they told us it would take about 10 days. Once we have this, we can submit the rest of the documents and wait several more days for the actual Building Permit.

We met with our builder this afternoon and gave him his set of plans and the initial list of building material. Tomorrow morning we meet with both the builder and our civil engineer to go review the plans, timeline and expectations. It is very important to make sure we are all on the same page.

The dry season is just about to start and we can expect almost no rain for the next 6 months. With a little luck, our building contractor expects the casa can be finished in 4, or 5, months time. Then we can move all the furniture and boxes we brought from the State into the new house and finally unpack, once and for all.

All I can say is you must keep your sense of humor through all of this. The red tape is so complicated it’s funny. So far, we've managed to be patient and keep everything in perspective. I know there is light at the end of this tunnel, just so long as it isn't the headlamp of the train.

¡Pura Vida!

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08 November 2011

119: Texas BBQ Sauce in Costa Rica... Wow!!

We are planning a fiesta to celebrate our new Rancho and we've been trying to plan our menu. One of the things we have both been craving is good old Texas barbecue with some of John famous Texas BBQ Sauce. We talked about trying to make it with some of the local ingredients, but decided it will be next to impossible to replicate the taste with what's available.

So, the other day we needed to go to the local membership warehouse called PriceSmart (think Sam's Club or Costco) to pick up some bulk items and low and behold, if John didn't spot Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce (the actual base for his Texas BBQ Sauce) sitting on a shelf. Of course we grabbed two extra large bottles, thinking we just might be able to do this if we can fine a few other ingredients.

Today, we needed to get our old 1994 Isuzu Rodeo's (Suzie) annual vehicle inspection. While we were out, we decided to pick up a few essentials for the fiesta next week. So, on the off chance we could actually find Colgin's Liquid Hickory Smoke, another key ingredient for the BBQ sauce, we went to the AutoMercado in Alajuela. The AutoMercado is a high-end grocery store that stocks lots of imported goodies. Unbelievably, there, camping out on one of the shelves, sat both Colgin's Liquid Hickory Smoke and Mesquite Smoke. We were really amazed at the price. In the states Colgin's sells for $1.80 and the AutoMercado carries it for only $2.65. Considering that a batch of John's famous Texas BBQ sauce will last us months, this is really a bargain and we don't mind paying the extra for the imported goods.

If you'd like the recipe for John's Texas BBQ Sauce click on the link.

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26 October 2011

106: El Rancho is finished! Now we start on the casa..

If you've been following our progress, you know we had a major set back on the construction of our Rancho due to a tropical depression that locked in on us for 14 days. Even the locals were complaining they hadn't seen a storm last this long in something like 15 or 20 years. It was definitely one for the record books. Last week we watched all the freshly applied concrete block sealer and paint wash away with the rain. We finally pulled the plug and told the construction crew to go find some indoor work while our place dried out. This week we've had several days of dry, summer like, weather and the team came back to finish the rancho.

Everything had to be re-sealed and re-painted. Yesterday, we were finally able to finish grouting the tile floor. Today, we installed bathroom accessories; mirror, towel bar, tissue holder and shower caddy. The only thing remaining is a good floor mopping and we're ready to move the patio furniture in so we can enjoy our outdoor living space.

Thanks to the poor job our packers did when they loaded the sea container, most of our wrought iron patio furniture managed to get nicks in the paint surface when it was shipped from Houston. John borrowed an air compressor from our contractors today and he is in the process of re-painting everything with an anti-corrosive paint in a nice hunter green. We will be planning the fiesta to inaugurate to the Rancho very soon.

Last week we received approval from the Chamber of Civil Engineers on the architectural plans for our new casa. Now the plans will be submitted to the local municipality for our building permit. In the meantime, our construction team is ready to start preparing the lot for the new house. Since they finished the rancho, the team started putting up temporary fencing today that will section off the area of the lot where the house will be built. This will make the dogs so happy! Throughout most of the rancho's construction, the pups had to be chained to a post to prevent them from biting the workers, or wandering off down the street. This fence will give Randy and Gus plenty of room to play and chase, but they won't be able to get out of the yard and, even better, they won't be able to bite any of the workers.

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14 October 2011

94: Rain, rain, go away, we need to finish the Rancho!

So much for finishing the construction work on the Rancho this week. We've had 5 days of almost non-stop rain. This always happens in October and we should have know there was no way to finish. The crew has been here religiously, every day at 7 AM, but most days they've only been able to work about 4 hours. The rain will stop sometimes for a few minutes and then it starts all over again. It has been impossible to finish the grout work on the ceramic floor, but they did manage to get a lot of the finishing touches completed.

The bathroom is finished and as soon has the door is hung, you can actually have some privacy to take care of business. This is probably the smallest bathroom ever, except maybe for those tiny ones they put on cruise ships.

No shower curtain, so you can SIT, shower and shave all at the same time. Very efficient.

All of the floor and counter tile is installed and we just need to finish the grout where it's raining. The walls got painted today and we are now going to start enjoying this wonderful outdoor space, in spite of the rain Mother Nature has dumped on us.

The weather forecast says this "Temporal" (seasonal storm) will be over and gone in the next day or two.

The crew knocked off about noon, promising to be back on Monday to finish. Of course, that means we have to have some sunshine to dry things out for a few hours.

In the meantime this nursery rhyme keeps going through my head....

Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day
Pat and John want to play...

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06 October 2011

86: El Rancho construction is nearing completion!

El rancho (sometimes referred to as John's Cathedral) is looking great. All of the electrical is finished, light fixtures have been hung and we have running water in both the bathroom shower and the outdoor shower.

Today, the team started laying the ceramic floors in the rancho and baño.

The glass block window in the bathroom looks great.  As soon as the bathroom tile is in, they will install the bathroom sink and toilet.

After they finish with the ceramic floor in the rancho, they will tile the rancho counters and paint the walls. We expect everything should be finished sometime next week.

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01 October 2011

81: El Rancho has Lights

John returned yesterday from his whirlwind trip to Texas to gather his documents for his residency application. He was able to get everything he needed pulled together and mailed off to our agent that is handling the residency application. It is so nice to have him home again.

We had very little rain this week so the construction crew made some serious progress in the Rancho.

They finished "mudding" the concrete block walls. This is sort of a concrete grout that gives the walls a smooth finish. We also have lights now! This makes a huge difference. Monday, they start on the bathroom and sometime this coming week, the ceramic floor and counter tiles will be installed. Here are some pictures of what we've selected for the finishing touches.

This is the ceramic tile for the floor. The casita wall in the background is the same color we will use on the walls of the Rancho.

This cream colored tile will be laid in a diagonal herringbone pattern on the counter tops. We haven't decided what pattern we'll use for counter sides and back-splash. The trim is multi-colored earth tones that almost looks like bamboo. This will used as the edging on the counters and back-splash.

It will be another week, or so, before everything is finished and we are ready to have our first friends and family get-together celebrating the completion of our Rancho.

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26 September 2011

Day 77: El Rancho has a roof, water and counters!

We got lucky today... no rain all day! The crew finished painting all the support beams and almost finished with the roof. We now have an L-shaped counter poured in concrete that you see on the back wall to the right. We plan to have stools on both sides of the counter.

The guys also finished installing the water lines. We now have water in the bathroom, kitchen sink and outdoor shower. Tomorrow they will pour the other two counter tops along the back walls where the sink and outdoor stove will be located. All of the counter tops and back splash areas will then be tiled.

Over the weekend we went on a shopping spree and bought the counter tile, lighting and bathroom fixtures. We are really getting excited about how everything is finally coming together. Here is a photo of the view you can expect to see from the Rancho.

John left this morning for a quick trip to Texas to pick up some of the certified and notarized documents he will need for his residency application. So, here I am, missing my guy, surfing on the internet and blogging for all our followers. He will be back in 4 days and in the meantime I'm left supervising the construction crew.

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22 September 2011

Day 72: Rancho Progress, Credit & Official Residency

The crew has made lots of progress on the Rancho this week, in spite of the rain. The structure to support the roof is now finished and the concrete base for the tile floor was poured today. Tomorrow, all of the structure will be painted and they will begin to lay the roof. The guys will be so glad to have a roof over their heads to give them a break from the sun in the morning and the rain in the afternoon. Now they won't have to call it a day when the afternoon storms roll in across the mountains.

We have been buying building materials as needed from the local hardware store and this involves several trips during the week. Sometimes we have made 2 or 3 trips in the same day because we forgot, or ran out, of something. The hardware store offers substantial discounts for cash; anywhere from 3% to 15%, depending on the type of material. Cash is not a check or a debit card. Cash is the printed paper and coin that comes from the Banco Central de Costa Rica. Needless to say, this means multiple trips per week to the bank's ATM or lobby to get CASH. I hate walking around with large amount of cash!

Our contractor recommended we talk to the hardware store about opening a credit account because they will give the same discounts if you setup an agreement to pay weekly or bi-weekly. This would be really convenient later on, when we start to build the house. I'm thinking to myself (having been a banker in my previous life) why would they extend credit to a couple of foreigners, foreigners who are relatively new residents in town that they don't know from Adam?!?!?! Where is the guarantee that we even have the means to pay? Yeah sure, they're gonna do that just on our good looks. The banker in me is screaming, "No Way José, estas loco?"

So, wouldn't you know it, we had to make the second run of the day to the hardware store this afternoon to buy about $600 worth of electrical goodies, plumbing supplies and other miscellaneous stuff. What the heck, I'll ask for credit and if they say "No," no harm done. Wow, not only did they say "YES," but they will give us the same discount, as if we paid cash, if we pay the bill once a week. They extended credit to us without asking us to producing any type of credit reference. Not only that, but they will invoice us by email and accept payment directly into their account through online banking.

I LOVE THIS COUNTRY! I grew up in a small town like Atenas. My dad owned the local hardware store, so I really appreciated the courtesy and credit they have extended to us. Couple this with the high tech convenience of on-line bill paying and they've got themselves a new loyal customer for the foreseeable future.

In other news, we made the trip into San Jose Monday for a final meeting with Migración for my residency. Once again, I was reminded senior citizens over 65, the handicapped, pregnant women and parents carrying an infant, always get to go to the head of the line for preferential treatment, EVERYWHERE in this country. It's the LAW. If you fall into any of these categories, you will be given your cedula (National ID carnet) on the spot, instead of having it mailed to your local post office, or having to come back to the Migración Office in 10 days to pick up the cedula in person. Guess what? I don't fit into any of these categories.

When it was finally my turn, I provided them with proof I had made all the bank deposits to cover the cost of my cedula and another $300 deposit to cover the cost of my deportation if my residency is ever revoked for some reason. They took my photo for the cedula, verified all my personal profile data and asked if I wanted to be an organ donor.

The official, who was entering all of the data into the computer was a young lady, struggling to learn to speak English. She was so relieved to find out I speak Spanish. She said she always has a problem with the residency applicants that only speak English, because she doesn't know how to ask them if they want to be organ donors. She asked me to teach her how to ask this question in English and I taught her a couple of ways to say it. We practiced for a few minutes until she had it written down and memorized.

When she was comfortable with the phrase, she thanked me for the lesson. I told her she was very welcome and if she wanted to "pay" for the lesson, how about giving me my cedula on the spot so I could avoid the return trip to their office, or the post office trip a week later. To my surprise, she said, "Con mucho gusto. Seria un placer." She said I would have to wait about an hour, but she would go ahead and push it through for me.

I have been granted "Permanent Residency, Without any Restrictions" since my sons are Costa Rica citizens. With my cedula in hand, this put us in a position to apply for John's residency. We immediately started the ball rolling. Wednesday we went back to San Jose to get John photographed and fingerprinted for his application.

It took forever for John to get called into the fingerprinting office. He kept getting bumped back in line because of those entitled to preferential treatment. He got bumped by two parents accompanied by their infant son, a man over 65, a woman over 65, and a man with a cane + his wife. Next time we have to do something like this, I'm think I'm going to borrow somebody's baby! Finally, after about 2 hours, John was called in to be fingerprinted. The government will automatically run a check through Interpol to make sure he's not a bad guy. After we finished this lengthy ordeal, we headed over to the lawyer's office to sign some additional documents for his application.

On Monday, John is heading back to the States on a 4-day trip to gather all of his certified documents; birth certificate, marriage certificate and local police record. Once he has these documents notarized they will be shipped to the agent that is assisting us with the residency process. With any luck, John will have his residency application approved within the next 6 months.

!Pura Vida!

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12 September 2011

Day 62: Errands and Paperwork

What a day...
  • 30 minutes buying roofing material for the rancho,
  • 1½ hours at the bank paying all the government fees for my residency
  • 3 hours in the capitol of San Jose (and stops at 3 offices) to get signed up for CAJA (Costa Rica's socialized medicine)
  • 1 hour driving back home, and finally
  • 1 hour in line to get the actual Social Security Carnet at the local clinic.
I haven't had a day like this since I had a full time job. All the paperwork is now ready and I meet with Migración next week to get my Permanent Residency and Cedula (National Identity Card).
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10 September 2011

Day 60: The Rancho Construction and Residency

The rancho construction is coming along nicely. After a long hard week, the construction crew took the day off today. Monday, they will be back to tie the lines into the septic tank. Now that all the support beams and headers have been poured, they are ready to start on the roof and floor. We've already picked out the tile for the floor in the rancho and in the bathroom.

They installed decorative cement block vents along the top edge of the bathroom walls and this week the glass blocks you see here will be installed. The glass block window will measure about 3'x3'. Since the windows faces to the east, it should provide a substantial amount of light in the bathroom.

The crew staked out the shape of the rancho's floor and removed all of the sod. Now we can really get an idea of it's size and this rancho is going to be much bigger than we had originally envisioned. What a great place this will be to socialize with family and friends. I can't wait to host a party!

On another topic, I received some great news this past Thursday. The Republic of Costa Rica has made a final resolution in my residency case and I have been approved for permanent residency based on family linkage: A 1st degree relative of a Costa Rica citizen (my adult children.) For those of you in the United States, this is the equivalent of being granted a Green Card. In the next few days, I will need to pays some fees to Migracíon and join CAJA (Costa Rica's socialized medical program). Then they will give me an appointment to get my Cedula (national identity carnet)

Now that I've been approved, the next step is to apply for John's residency. He will be traveling back to the U.S. in a couple of weeks to gather all the certified documents he needs to submit his application.

It is so nice to no longer be considered a tourist in Costa Rica!

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06 September 2011

Day 56: Another milestone - Subie is free at last!

Our Subaru Forester has finally been given a clean bill of health by the Costa Rica Government and it will be delivered to us this evening. It has been inspected, import duty has been paid, it's been registered in our C.R. corporation and it has brand new C.R. license plates. The old Texas license plates, "Blade" will just become a souvenir to hang on the wall of the rancho.
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31 August 2011

Day 51: Major milestone.. we're cooking with gas!

If you've been following our posts for the past 7 weeks, you'll remember we've had to become very creative with a microwave oven, a 2-burner hotplate and an electric skillet, doing double duty as an oven. All this changed this evening.

Our sea container arrived about 10 days ago with the new gas range we purchased several months ago from Lowes. Since Costa Rica does not have natural gas, they gave us the kit to convert the burners to LP (liquid propane). Last week we found the local LP distributor and bought our gas cylinder and John started the task to change out all the natural gas orifices to LP orifices. He quickly discovered the kit we had been given did not have a single one of the ones we needed. So he call Frigidaire in the States and they confirmed we had been given the wrong convesion kit. They told him the sizes he would need and recommended we call their distributor in San Jose to come do the work for us.

We setup an appointment for Monday and when we called to confirm, the distributor informed us it would be Wednesday instead. In the meantime, we contacted a local guy to come run a gas line from our new propane tank, located outside, through the back wall into our kitchen/living room. He came around lunchtime on Tuesday, figured out what kind of connection we needed and then came back in the evening to get us hooked up.

Now all we needed was to get the actual burners converted to LP. The Frigidaire rep finally got here around 5:15 PM this evening and in 30 minutes we were cooking with gas!

I immediately moved the 2-burner hotplate and electric skillet off the counter and into the storage closet. Now, we have just about doubled our counter space and I'm ready to get back into some serious home cooking. One of the first things I want to do is re-activate my sourdough starter so we can have some really good homemade bread in a week, or so. Tomorrow, I'm going to start a big pot of spaghetti sauce and stock the freezer with quick meals.

Love my creature comforts.... Life is Good!

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Life With Suzie

Hey ... it's the old man here, not the nice sweet Tita. Here's the skinny. Some of you know that we have a 1994 Isuzu Rodeo. Some of you may even know the name by which I call said vehicle. It's not Suzie. If you don’t remember the name, perhaps a refresher is in order: http://gooblegobbus.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html

Tuesday night, after winding down a day of construction workers running all over, dogs acting like maniacs, a smoker billowing apple wood smoke all over the place and finally trying to once again stuff everything back into the garage so that the door could be shut for the night, we retired to our bedroom for a little TV and reading.

After very little of these diversions, we decided to kill the lights and call it a day.

Some time towards midnight, Pat woke up, then woke me up. “The lights are on inside the car.” [This is one of the advantages of living in a shotgun shack. We can see our entire world, out the front window, while lying in bed.]

“{Expletive deleted},” I said, and climbed groggily out of bed. I knew that The {Expletive deleted} Car had been acting up lately, electrically. And one of “her” most annoying traits has become the inside courtesy lights staying on unless all of the doors and the hatch are very tightly closed (i.e., slammed.)

Fumble fumble fumble in the dark, looking for the keys. I unlocked the front door and padded out into the driveway. {Expletive deleted}!! Now I was hopping around with sopping wet socks having forgotten that, duh, in the rain forest, it rains … and the concrete is wet with COLD rain. [Yes, I sometimes wear socks to bed … get over it.]

Got the front passenger side door opened and slammed it. The light went out. Well, that was easy.

Locked up, stripped out of the wet socks and crawled back into bed. I was almost instantly asleep.

“Hey,” Pat said poking me, “the car lights are still on.”

“Urhuuu?” I sat up and looked. Sure enough. The {Expletive deleted} Car’s interior lights were on?!?

No fumbling this time. I knew exactly where I had thrown the {expletive deleted} keys. Pad pad pad, out into the driveway in my bare feet. {Expletive deleted}!! I’d forgotten that the construction workers had been dribbling concrete, sand, rock and all descriptions of sharp-ish things on the driveway throughout the course of their work, earlier in the day. Some of those little sharps kind of weld themselves into the bottoms of your bare feet so no matter how much hopping around you do, there’s just no shaking them. Ow! I leaned up against the car and brushed the offending daggers from my feet.

Well, the second most likely culprit of not being slammed hard enough to ensure that the interior lights go off would be the back hatch glass. Blick! Slam! The lights go out. [Come on … the sound the latch on the glass makes when you push the button is “blick”? Didn’t you know that?]

Anyway, success. Lights out. Back inside … lock ‘er up … crawl into bed. Ahhh. Peaceful sleep.



“Look.” In the darkness I could see her pointing out to the front. The {expletive deleted} interior lights were on again in that {Expletive deleted} Car.

“Arrrrrrrrgh!” I stomped outside. Now I was afraid that all of these episodes might have pulled the old battery down far enough that the car wouldn’t start in the morning. I got in, put the key in the ignition, cursed the FSM and turned it. Well, well. The {expletive deleted} engine started instantly. I ran the rpm up a bit and sat there letting the battery charge back up, shut ‘er down, got out … SLAM!

The lights went out.

“Nooohohohoho you don’t you {Expletive deleted}{expletive deleted}{expletive deleted}{expletive deleted} Car! I know your tricks you piece of {expletive deleted}. So, I waited for the lights to come back on. And waited. I hit the windows with my fist to try to jar it into the state of electrical Botherationus lightus. Nada. I bashed fenders with my ample butt. I rocked it on its springs. Nuttin.

“All right, ya {expletive deleted} … good night.”

I laid down in bed but couldn’t take my eyes off of The {Expletive deleted} Car, outside our window. It just couldn’t keep doing that. I had by now opened and closed every opening of that old heap at least twice. Next thing you know the slamming would have been waking up the kids down the street!

I think that I drifted off a little. You know that in-between state of mind when you’re not quite sure if you’re awake or dreaming or what? I was there. Are those really lights?

Now it was my turn for the jab. “Pat!”


“Are those lights on in the car?”


That ripped it.

Not that the new, calm, Pura Vida serene me would ever fly off the handle and get violent or anything. Perish the thought. But I was headed for The {Expletive deleted} Car with blood in my eye. I threw the driver’s side door open – flipped the hood release – jerked the hood latch free – lifted the hood with more than a little force … and then stood there, in the dark, holding up that hood, with the hood support rod in my other hand, wondering where the {expletive deleted} is that {expletive deleted} little hole where the hood rod goes so that this {expletive deleted} heavy son of a hood doesn’t fall on me and kill me.

Yeah, I know … plan ahead.

Finally, the hood rod slipped onto some hole or another and it seemed sturdy.

With both hands I reached down to the battery wiring and with the strength of a really {expletive deleted} off maniac, jerked the wires off of the battery terminal.

[Had ya going there, didn’t I. Haha. I knew that the terminal clamp was loose because I had installed it without a wrench the other day. But it made good reading, didn’t it.]

Victory! No more lights.

I staggered back to bed. The neighboring farmer’s rooster crowed. And again. And again.

Oh … don’t do this to me. That means that it’s a quarter to 5 and the freakin sun will be up in 45 minutes. Then the dogs will be up and jumping all over to be let out. Then I’ll give up and stay up.

And that’s what happened last night.

So if this episode sounds a little cranky, it’s because, well, I’m cranky today!

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25 August 2011

Day 44: Found my cooking tools & the Rancho construction is well underway.

We have finally finished going through all the boxes on the porch. We pulled the stuff out we have to have now and re-consolidated the boxes for storage until the house is built. I know, don't say it, we should have done a better job of packing so we had all the "must have now" stuff boxed together. Easy for you to say, but you had to have been there when we were packing. It was a zoo, and at the end things were just being thrown into a box, any box. I was so happy to finally see some of my favorite kitchen tools find their way out of a box today and into the casita's tiny kitchen.

John found my pressure cooker! So, I just made a pot of fresh black beans for dinner tonight, without soaking them, in less than an hour.
I also made one of our favorite rice dishes using one of the several cans of "Ro~Tel" John slipped into boxes as packing filler. Way to go John! I Love You!!!

Tomorrow, for breakfast, we can have fresh fruit smoothies with my favorite blender. Yea, life is good and we are starting to organized.

I found the place to get propane for my new gas range yesterday. So, today we took the empty propane cylinder for the grill into town to have it filled and ordered a larger tank for the stove. It is a two-day turnaround to fill a tank. Tropigas first picks up the cylinder from the local agent and takes it to their main filling station. The next day it's filled and re-loaded back onto the truck. Then, sometime the following day, Tropigas returns the full cylinder to the agent and we go back to town to pick it up.

The construction crew showed up for work this morning, in the rain, at 6:45 AM. They have been hard at it all day, excavating for the foundation footings. They work, rain or shine, and only knock off if there is thunder and lightening, or the rain is so heavy they have zero visibility. It's now 5:30 PM, and the crew just finished today's work. Long day!

We have some of the building material stored in the driveway and more will be delivered as needed. Last week we put down a deposit on some really beautiful ceramic floor tile we found right here in Atenas. We still need to do some more shopping to pick out sinks, plumbing fixtures and tile for the counters and bathroom. Oooh.... shopping trip, one of my favorite things!

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24 August 2011

Day 43: Construction on the rancho is starting today!

The crew arrived early this morning to start the construction of our rancho. We are going to build the rancho in a corner area between the casita and where the main house will be located.

This will be our outdoor living area with a covered patio, kitchen and small bathroom. There will plenty of room for the barbeque grill and the stone pizza/bread oven we plan to build later.

Depending on the weather, the construction could take from 4 to 6 weeks. It won't be long before you'll find us spending our days in our outdoor living room, grilling and enjoying time with family and friends.

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19 August 2011

Day 38: Tico street addresses and our missing stuff.

Costa Rica street addresses are almost non-existent. The Tico version of a street address goes something like this: “100 meters north of Juan’s Pharmacy and 200 meters west of the where the big mango tree used to be." What, you don't know where that is? Everyone in town knows that tree was cut down more than 20 years ago. Just ask someone and they point you in the right direction.

The government says they will give all of the streets in Costa Rica a name over the next few years, so everyone will eventually get a “house number on a street,” address instead of the physical description based on landmarks, as they have used for centuries. Until that happens (if ever) we will continue to identify our house as 100 meters from the local elementary school, on the west side of the soccer field. And just to make it a little more obvious, a local guy made us this sign to put on our gate.

Now there are no excuses for not being able to identify our residence and deliver all of our worldly possessions!
We shipped everything in a sea container back on July 6th. Our shipping agent confirmed it arrived in Costa Rica on August 4th and it would be delivered in a week or so. Well "the week or so" has now stretched to more than two weeks. Last week we were told, "Way before Christmas, maybe next Tuesday." On Wednesday we were told, "Tuesday came and went but Christmas isn't here yet. Your container is due at my warehouse tomorrow at 2PM. It will be loaded in a truck and brought to you at 7AM on Friday." Guess what? Late last night, we received another notice, "The container did not show up yet but will early tomorrow."

So here we are, sitting around, waiting for our STUFF. I expect the next message will go something like this, "Well, you see today is Friday and we only work 1/2 day on Friday, and nobody works on the weekend. Maybe we will finish loading your stuff onto our trucks next Monday. Can we reschedule your delivery for Tuesday?"

Do I sound a little frustrated? Ya think? Perhaps the new sign will help and at least they can't say they couldn't find the house.

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13 August 2011

Day 32: Fun day at the beach with the furry kids.

This morning we drove down to Playa Doña Ana, just past the port of Caldera on the Pacific coast. We took our furry kids, Randy and Gus to see what they would think of a Costa Rican beach.

What a beautifully maintained park! We were greeted by one of the park employees offering to trade his baby, iridescent green iguana for one of our dogs. Needless to day, no deal. We chatted with him for a few minutes before walking through the jungle canopy to to beach.

The beach is set up with lots of picnic tables and barbeque pits for grilling. This is a great place for a family outing and it's only about 45 minutes from the house.

Randy was tolerant of the beach, but Gus was terrified of the waves. I guess it will take a few more beach trips for them to get used to the wave action. Maybe they'll learn romp in the waves like the other dogs.

On our way out we managed to get a photo of one of the capuchin monkeys in a tree. Cute little guy.

After the beach, we stopped for a wonderful fresh seafood lunch at El Restaurante Los Lagos. Randy and Gus sat at our feet while we ate and we tossed them a few french fries to reward them for their good behavior.

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