24 January 2012

Tico Ingenuity

It is absolutely fascinating watching our Ticos build the big casa. One of the construction company’s owners put their philosophy best: “In the campo, if you have no dogs to hunt, you use cats.”

Don’t have a construction laser to shoot the grades?

Use a 100-ft long piece of clear tubing, filled with water. Dump out a little water so that each end of the tube has about a foot of empty space. Once the water level on one end of the tube is “set” to grade, up or down, the water level at the other end of the tubing, around the corner, over the hump, out of sight and down the ditch will indicate the same set-point.

Don’t have a transit to shoot the corners, make the building square and keep each course of concrete block level and true? These guys just use sticks, a ball of string and simple geometry. Our inspection engineer came by a day after these guys did their string layout and checked everything. He pronounced the house dead nuts true and square.

No earthmoving machinery to level the lot and dig the foundation footer trenches? Six guys with shovels and determination can do the same tricks in a few days. What the heck ... we’ve got nothing but time and they don’t cost much. Besides, they bring their own fuel (lunch) and never break down or blow a hydraulic hose. Where does the dirt go? Not into expensive dump trucks for haulaway. The army of diggers filled wheelbarrows and they piled it near the rancho, building board ramps so that they could push and pile dirt higher and higher.

Did the architect specify a plethora of complex and differing steel reinforcement bends and intertwining for the concrete steel reinforcement? And you don’t have the computer-controlled bending machinery? No problem, build a levered out of an old ball bearing and some angle iron; drill pin holes into the work bench; mark out the lengths of rebar for each bend, then have at it. Watching these guys bend iron makes me wonder if the automated machines could keep up, given their long setup times.

No concrete redi-mix plant or cement mixer trucks? So, bring your little ½ yard, tilting drum mixer, with an army of wheelbarrows and wheelbarrow pushing workers and have at it. It’s fresher concrete this way anyhow!

Today, though, I saw the ultimate Tico Engineering job (so far.) They’ve been welding 4” and 3” square tubular steel together for the main roof joists and trusses ... in half sections. What were they doing? How the heck were they going to get those things from the ground, up 13 feet on top of the walls and standing, without a crane? How indeed.

They build the trusses in halves because experience has told them that the entire crew, working together can only push, pull, cajole and curse half of one truss up top, BY HAND(!).


First, you rassle a 1/2 ton truss piece, by hand, from around back, then "clean 'n jerk" the small end up onto the 2-meter wall.

Muscle the big side up until the wall is taking about half the load and then tilt the truss up and slide it to the guys up top.

Push and shove until the center of mass balances the whole mess up on the house wall.

Then stand the truss up so they have the narrow contact point to slide against.


How the heck are they going to take two halves, wobbling around in the wind and weld them together so that they make one STRAIGHT and square truss?

Well, remember the string tricks and laying out the house so that it’s square? So, these guys know that the house and its walls are square ... all the way to the top. So you lay a half truss on its side, up on top of the walls, and true it to them. The other half gets laid down across the house on the opposite walls and trued up to them.

Then the welder climbs up a rickety homemade wooden ladder and welds the two halves together. Duh.

Tip the whole mess up and, voila.

These guys are a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

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21 January 2012

193: Casa Construction Update

It's been almost 3 weeks since we posted an update on the Casa construction. John and I have both had colds recently, so consequently, we haven't been doing much. We spend most days relaxing in the Rancho, surfing the internet and napping. While we've been doing that, the progress on the Casa has been amazing. The builder says once the roof is on, we won't notice significant changes during the new few weeks, because now it's all in the details. Here are the most recent photos with comments.

Eliécer, our construction manager, is overseeing the boys mixing the concrete recipe.

On the right, you can see they have started to pour the concrete footings for the stairway to the Mirador. The stairs will lead up from the Rancho you see in the background. We are planning to have a large storage area in the stairwell. Between the stairway and the house on the left, there will be a covered carport with the Mirador above it. This will be an observatory deck where John can setup his telescope. You won't believe the clarity of the night sky here.

This is our front entryway and the window on the left is the spare bedroom.

This is the great room and kitchen as seen from the front door, with the nook on the right. The nook will have two side windows looking into the great room with French doors.

This is the view from the kitchen to the great room.

This is the master bedroom.

This is the view from the master bedroom looking toward Atenas.

This is the Terraza outside the master suite. Notice the stack of ceiling joists already welded. This will be the structure that will support our clay tile roof.

This is the view from the Terraza back toward Atenas. The storage shed you see in the background will be removed when the construction is finished.

Since we are in the dry season, the team has really been able to put in full days and their daily progress is very evident. The down side to all of this beautiful weather is the wind. It kicks up a tremendous amount of dust and dirt from all the excavation they did to level the ground and pour the concrete footings. I've just about given up on on trying to keep the Casita and Rancho clean. I'm fighting a losing battle until the construction is finished. We should be finished with all this by April, or May, when the rainy season starts. Then we can plant grass again and do some landscaping.

In other news, there will be Fiestas during the last weekend of February, sponsored by the local community, in the Sports Plaza next door to us. There have been workers in the Plaza these past two weekends, building a bull fighting ring and who knows what else. We met with them today and volunteered to provide them with electricity for their lights and sound system and we will also supply them with water for the animals. It should be lots of fun for the neighborhood. I'll be sure and post pictures after the event.

Well friends and family, that's all the news for now.

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07 January 2012

179: Baking bread in our stone oven

I finally got a sourdough starter I can work with, but the first loaf we baked in the range oven turned out way too dense for our liking. So, we let the starter mature for several days and today we decided the starter was ready for a real test.

John fired up the stone oven to well over 500°F. and we baked the first loaf you see here. This is a definite improvement and the flavor is right on the mark... San Francisco aroma and taste all the way! We've still need to get used to baking this way and find the optimum temperature for our stone oven to give us the very best baked bread results.

Now it's time to go slice some of this bread and load it up with the sliced brisket John grilled today. Needless to say, we'll be topping the sandwich with some of his wonderful Texas Barbeque Sauce, pickles, onions and jalapeño peppers. Yum!!
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04 January 2012

It's a small world....

Yes, this world of ours is very small, smaller than I ever imagined!

To begin this tale, I have to go back about 38 years ago, when I was working as the assistant station manager for an airline at the international airport serving San Jose, Costa Rica. I was checking in a northbound flight to Managua and San Salvador, when a young woman approached the counter to check-in and get her boarding pass. She was obviously very distraught, so I simply asked for her passport and proceeded to check her in and tag her baggage. When I verified her ticket matched her passport, I did a double take! She had the SAME last name as mine, Heger. I have never know anyone by this last name, spelled the same way, that wasn't somehow related.

I didn't say anything about it to her then, because she obviously had something else on her mind and I didn't want to pry. She was accompanied by a young man that appeared to be looking after her to make sure she was alright and able to make her flight. A few minutes later, I was working the boarding gate and I saw her board the flight. Shortly after take-off, I was back at the ticket counter (we wore many hats back in those days) and I saw her companion walking through the airport lobby, so I called out to him.

I excused myself for prying, but I wanted to know if he was related to the Señorita Heger that had just boarded our flight. He responded, "Yes, she is my sister." I asked, "Is you last name Heger?" and he said, "Yes, it is." So, I told him that my maiden name is also Heger and I showed him my I.D. His immediate reaction was the same as mine when I saw his sister's passport. He said all the folks he knows with the last name spelled "Heger" have always been related.

Thus began a search to see if he and his sister were somehow related to me. He knew that his grandfather came from Germany sometime around the early 1900's by boat to New York City and sometime after that he migrated to Costa Rica. I know my grandfather also came from Germany, around the same time, by boat to New York City. My grandfather subsequently migrated to California, where he met my grandmother and started a hardware store.

Señor Heger and I decided we would contact family members that had more of the genealogy to see if we could be cousins. Sr. Heger wrote to his cousin in Switzerland and I wrote to my cousin in California. A month, or so, later we got the results. It turns out Sr. Heger's grandfather and my grandfather were first cousins and they came to the United States on the same boat. My grandfather decided to go West and his grandfather stayed in NYC until he decided to try to Costa Rica.

Needless to say, shortly after this discovery we had a family reunion at his family's Quinta (small hacienda) in Santa Ana, Costa Rica. There I met the rest of this side of the family and they got to meet my two sons. I also had the opportunity to meet the Señorita Heger. Shortly after that, I moved back to the U.S. with my sons and I lost touch of the Heger family in Costa Rica.

Fast forward to today, 38 years later...

Since John and I retired here in Costa Rica last July, we've been talking about getting a "QuickPass" for our vehicle so we don't have to always have change for the new toll road between our town and the capitol, San Jose. We had to go to San Jose again today to try and get my broken Blackberry fixed. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to stop in at a local bank and sign-up for the "Quickpass". In order to setup the account, I needed my national I.D. and a utility bill proving my residence. I just happened to have a water bill with me, showing our address and the name of our Sociedad Anonima, so I gave this to the young man at the bank's new account desk. Our property is owned by our Sociedad Anonima (same as a corporation in the States) in the name of "Heger y Wegner, S. A."

The young man, Jonathan, took one look at it and says, "It's none of my business, but I'm curious why the name Heger is part of you S.A." I explained it is my maiden name. Jonathan pulled out his national identity card and shows me his mother's maiden name is also "Heger". (The latin culture always carries the father last's name and the mother's maiden name. Women do not change their last name when they marry. They retain their maiden name for life.)

I asked Jonathan a few questions and it turns out that his great uncle is the same distant cousin of mine that I met 38 years ago! His great aunt, the young woman I check in for that long ago flight at the airport, has just recently passed away.

Yes, it's a small world after all, smaller than I ever imagined!

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03 January 2012

176: Casa Construction Update

Happy New Year everyone! We wish you the very best of everything in 2012 and always. Christmas and New Years was very quiet for us this year. We had to stick close to home to oversee the construction material to make sure it didn't grow legs when no one was watching. We live in a quiet Tico neighborhood, but one never knows if stacks of our pre-paid concrete blocks and bags of cement would come in handy for someone else's construction project.

It has been over a month since we posted an update on the construction of our new Casa. The house has now gone from a jungle of re-bar and concrete footings to something that actually looks like a house. Quite a transformation in just a month!

I'm going to post a series of photos and try to describe the room and the view, so bear with me.

This is the front entryway.

This is a side view of the front entryway and spare bedroom window from the Northeast corner.

This is the kitchen door on the North side of the house.

This is the doorway to the master bedroom from the great room.

This is the hallway from the master bedroom to the master bath.

This is the nook/office as viewed from the great room. It will have French window pane doors.

Here is Mauricio standing in the window of the guest bathroom at the Northeast corner.

Another view of the Northeast corner of the house to give some perspective.

More steel for columns on the South side of the house, with the bodega in the background.

View of the Kitchen from the great room.

View looking South to Atenas from the master bedroom.

Rodolfo and Pato preparing steel for the support columns

The Southwest corner of the terraza outside the master bedroom.

A view from the Southeast corner of the terraza to the master bedroom.

The weather has been beautiful and this has helped the construction team stay on schedule. We anticipate the casa will be completed by May, and we'll finally be able to unpack all the stuff we have crammed in the garage and attic. You have no idea how cumbersome it has been living in our little 300 square foot space with no place to put anything. We are always in each others way for one reason or another. Just imagine 2 adults trying to make coffee and breakfast within 6 square feet of counter space. It can be very comical at times. We've got a pretty good rhythm going now, but it's a good thing we are so in love with each other.

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