19 March 2012

Is the U.S. population being over medicated on purpose?

Before we moved to Costa Rica, we stock piled several of our daily medications knowing it would be months before we would be eligible to obtain prescription drugs from the CAJA (the "Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social" is Costa Rica's socialized medical system.) All foreigners are required to join the CAJA to obtain legal residency. It costs about $49 per month for a couple over 55 to have complete medical coverage. Not all medications are available through the CAJA, so there are a few things we have to purchase from independent pharmacies. One of these just happens to be for acid reflux disease, and John and I both take the same medication. Both of our U.S. doctors had prescribed each of us a dosage of 40 milligram capsules, once a day. Last month we depleted our stash of this particular medication and we discovered this is not a drug available to us at the CAJA.

So, off we went to the local independent pharmacy to buy the medication and discovered 40 milligram capsules are not sold in Costa Rica. The same pharmaceutical company that sells this drug in the U.S., sells to Costa Rica, but only in a 20 milligram dosage. I asked the pharmacist if they could order it in a 40 mg. capsule and she said no, only 20 mg. because that is the normal recommended dosage.

Hummm.... Well, this got us to thinking, why not try just 20 mg. a day and see what happens? We have now been on this lower dosage for 2 weeks. Guess what? Neither one of us has experienced any acid reflux. So, what does this tell us. I think the pharmaceutical companies are pushing doctors to write prescriptions for high dosages of medicines just to increase their profits. How can the normal dosage in the U.S. be 40 mg. and the normal dosage for Costa Rica be only 20 mg? That just doesn't make sense. I think the U.S. population is being over medicated on purpose, for the benefit of the pharmaceutical companies, without regard to the long term side effects of taking a "larger than needed" dose of medication. What do you think?

Read the whole story...

16 March 2012

Casa Construction Report - Roofs, Floors, Lights, Etc.

Click to enlarge
On March 12th, we celebrated 8 months since we retired and moved to Costa Rica. We have settled into a daily routine and we're really enjoying our laid back lifestyle. Everyday, the construction team shows up about 6:45 AM, so we get up early, fix coffee and breakfast and move to the Rancho to oversee the construction. The Rancho has become our outside dining room, office and sort of an internet cafe. Being outside most of the day, we frequently enjoy visits from the local wild life. Yesterday we had this little visitor land in one of our hanging baskets, about 15 feet from me. She immediately began flirting and shaking her tail feathers at all the males flying nearby. Unfortunately for her, they all ignored her and she flew away without a mate.

It's been a busy couple of weeks around here and the progress on the construction is very evident. Last week we applied to the national water company, the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados for an additional water meter. This way the Casa water supply will be separate from the little Casita. Since AyA is a Government office, we knew we had to provide them with lots of paperwork, but this time I was well prepared with every possible document I thought they might need. The clerk that waited on us pulled out a sheet of paper listing all the requirements and started to go over them with me. It was kinda comical, because as he named a required document, I just pulled it out of my file and handed it to him. He had to accept the fact he was not going to be able to put me off until mañana while I gathered documents, he had to start filling out the paperwork right then and there. In the end he told me he would call the next day with the total amount we had to pay. Well that was on Thursday, March 8th, and you guessed it, he never called. Wednesday we went back to check on things and he told us to come back before 3 PM Thursday, March 15. Being good gringos, we got there early at 1 PM, and no, the paperwork wasn't quite ready. He did finish it up in a few minutes and gave me a bill for about $135 USD. This would cover the cost of ripping up the asphalt street, connecting a new meter, and re-paving the street. Just one problem, like all Government Offices, nobody is allowed to handle money. There are two choices when it comes to paying the bill he had just handed us. Go make a deposit to their account at a national bank, or go online and pay it as an electronic payment from our account to their account. Can you guess which option I chose? Internet banking, of course!

Even though we have water service from AyA, it sucks! The water pressure is so low, that if you wait to take a shower later in the day, you run the risk that the water won't reach the shower head, In addition to this, there are frequent interruptions in service, without any warning. Take for example today, while we were shopping for light fixtures for the casa, AyA came and installed our new meter. Needless to say we were shocked that it only took 24 hours to get a meter after making the payment online. It had to be a shock to our neighbors too, because they had no water service while we were being connected to the water main. So, to resolve the water pressure problem, we contracted last week to have a 2500 liter tank connected to a water pump with a 60 gallon pressurized tank. This will eliminate our water shortage problems for the foreseeable future.

The terraza roof and front and back porch roofs are now in place. We've had to make a slight change to their design so all the clay tiles will not be in place until some time next week.

The past two days the team has worked very hard pouring the concrete floors in all the rooms. It's amazing to watch them lugging these 50 KG (110 lbs.) bags of cement to the small cement mixer, then shovel in the rock and sand, load it into small wheelbarrows and haul it into the house and pour it into each of the rooms. Then the foreman smooths it out and levels the concrete to the preset marks on the floor. Tomorrow they will be here to float the floor with the finishing surface that goes below the ceramic tile. The tile flooring will be installed sometime next week.

We wrapped up the week with a shopping trip to find some of the finishing touches we will need for the casa. We didn't have much success this trip, but we did find this chandelier for the dining room. After we bought it, we noticed that it is from the "Charley Collection" and as many of you know, it is most appropriate.

Read the whole story...

10 March 2012

L'ime not giving up..

Click on photo to enlarge
... or, the little lime tree that refused to die!

Two years ago we planted all sorts of fruit trees in the hopes having fresh fruit available to us when we retired. Little did we know that the construction of the Rancho, the Bodega, and later the Casa, would require us to move so many of the trees. This one little creole lime had to be transplanted THREE times, because it was always in the way of some construction effort. Then, to add insult to injury, our adopted dog, Gustavo, has managed to dig down to the lime's roots more times than we can count.

Every time we transplanted the tree, she dropped all her leaves and we figured she was a goner. Then a week or two after a transplant, we'd start to see new life in the form of bright green leaves. This last time we must have found her sweet spot in the garden! Not only did our little lime drop all her leaves, she turned right around and sprouted new leaves with hundreds of blooms. These blooms have since produced an unbelievable harvest of some of the best creole limes we ever tasted. They may even be better than the Key limes of Florida.

John has since placed landscaping rocks around the base of the tree to prevent Gus from attacking the roots again and I'm collecting limes that have fallen to the ground to make a Creole Lime Pie and enjoy a cold Lime & Coke.

¡Pura Vida!

Read the whole story...

06 March 2012

Quite a busy week here.  The roofers finished the main roof today. It was amazing to watch this crew.  Each day, they arrived on the bus, from San Jose, at the downtown Atenas bus terminal.  Then they walked out to our site.  That's a good kilometer of some serious up and down hill walking.  From our materials yard, they lugged stacks of tile, on their backs, up the mirador stairway and placed little stacks of 8 or 10 tiles at strategic spots all over the rooftop.  They worked like mules, all day, in the sun and then walked away at 5pm to go catch their bus for an hour trip home.  We're guessing that they're probably not each making $20 a day for this.  One of the bigger boys was able to lift a stack of 4 tiles and accurately throw it from the ground up to this guy in the picture.  I watched him do this at least 10 throws in a row -- one right after the other.  Never missed.  Never cracked a tile.
The general contractor showed up with our water storage tank.  This monster is needed because our barrio is only fed by a single 1/2" water "main."  Perhaps you can guess what happens when the dozen or so houses along this road all wake up in the morning and flush.  At times, the water pressure is so low that it barely drips from a faucet.  It can take an hour for the washing machine to fill with water.  The solution is to have a personal water storage tank large enough to hold a day's worth of water.  We're also going to add an electric pump because we don't want this lovely piece of bright blue "artwork" gracing our personal skyline, up on a high pedestal, as is done by many of the locals.  They let gravity give them pressure.  I'm more inclined to give nature a little boost.

The electricians finished pulling the last of the general service wiring, plus the alarm wiring and now they're laying in the breaker panels and the generator power switching panel.

The drywall contractor is gone, having created a virtual mountain of white dust. Fortunately this was one of the highest wind days of the Summer (yes, I know it's Winter -- they're a little seasonally confused down here) and there is just a light film of white remaining, everywhere.

Our resident carpenter is busy working the tenons for the deck rafters to their precision size.  These are socketed into steel "mortises" that I designed after we discovered that the architect's original plans didn't allow enough clearance or strength for old fashioned clay tiles. [His design called for us to have icky thin plastic sheeting for all of the patio roofing.  Eeyoooo.]   There are still a few kinks to work out with these seat-of-the-pants roofing designs but it looks like it's going to work. Anyhow, the rafters are going up and the furring strips will tie across them.

The roofing woods we're using are the most amazing woods I've ever handled.  The main rafter beams are a tropical wood called "areno. This species is so dense that the 2 x 6's, only 4 meters long, are almost too heavy for two men to lift. As it is, there will be a bunch of bruised shoulders when everyone is finished carrying these beasts.

Even the 2 x 2's used for the cross furring are almost comically heavy.  They're supposed to be a "lesser" wood species but they're each quite a chunk of tree. I'm hoping for a couple of 3-foot pieces to be left over so that I can turn them into some scarey-heavy cave man clubs.

So, that's the start of a busy week and it ain't half over yet! Stay tuned. Film at 11.

Read the whole story...

01 March 2012

233: Construction changes and decisions

Last week was a week of many changes and decisions on the Casa construction and some of the design and materials being used.

The first surprise was the ceiling in the great room and kitchen. The crew was busy framing out for fur-downs because our civil engineer had included them in the plans. I guess we missed that when we reviewed the specs. I’ve always thought fur-downs, or dropped ceilings around the perimeter of a room, make the room look smaller. That is the last thing we want to do with the great room.

In 2008, we remodeled our kitchen and ripped out the fur-downs so we could extend the kitchen cabinets all the way to ceiling. We sure don't want any fur-downs in this house. Fortunately for us, the construction team had only started on the first fur-down in the living room when we caught it and asked them what they were doing. We immediately called a halt to the dropped ceiling look.

The next surprise was the roofing material specified for the Terraza and the entryways for the front and back doors. This was supposed to some sort of polycarbonate material that would allow light through and block the ultra-violet rays.

The plan was to place this material on a metal structure. We had never seen this stuff installed, so we arranged for an agent of a company that sells the polycarbonate sheets to come with color sample and then we went to see it installed at a home near us.

This plastic stuff is not at all the look we are going for with our Spanish Colonial Casa and its clay tile roof. Aside from not being the look we are going for, the polycarbonate sheets are expensive and have a short life expectancy. Needless to say, we squashed this design idea immediately. Rodolfo, one of the construction bosses, informed us we needed to settle on “Plan B” as soon as possible, because the crew would not have enough work to keep them all busy until they could start on the interior spaces, like floors and tile work.

John and I talked about what our options were and how we could keep the Spanish Colonial look. We decided to go with wood beams, instead of steel, and clay barrel tiles that will have the underside of the tile exposed. Thursday, our other construction boss, Eliécer, decided we really need to make a shopping trip to look at the types of woods that are available. He took us to an incredible lumber mill about 30 minutes from our house, in Alajuela. The fellow that waited on us started working at the mill when he was only 12 years old and has been working there for 38 years! This guy really knows his woods and he showed us some amazing stuff. We brought back a number of samples to consider over the weekend.

On Friday, John put together a new design for the Terraza and entry ways that will consist of heavy 2”x6” hardwood beams made of Areno and 2”x2” furring strips of a lighter wood called Melina. The beams will be mounted to the house with steel brackets. Rodolfo liked the re-design we came up with, so Monday we went back to the lumber mill to order all the wood.

Yesterday, the electricians were here to pull cable. Today, the workers are busy floating the walls of the interior of the Casa, so they’ll have a smooth texture, and the rest of them are helping Rodolfo with the structures needed to support the wood beams and barrel tile roofs of the Terraza & entryways.

The roofing company just called and they will be here shortly to begin laying the clay tile on the Casa. We also expect the lumber mill will deliver all the wood we ordered sometime today. The rest of the clay tile needed for the Terraza and entry ways will be delivered and installed next week.

Lots of activity and things are really starting to look good. The next update will have photos of the clay roof and some of the other features of the Casa that are close to being completed.

Read the whole story...