19 May 2012

Farewell Ye Noble Sheets

Some boards get cut up and made into things ... and that’s the end of that.  Other boards do a job, such as being a form for concrete work ... and then they go to the burn pile.  But we know of some special boards that performed many jobs in two countries and across the high seas, yet may now have found their final place in the world ... and they may be doing that final job for a long time.
Mezzanine goes into the sea container.

Back in Houston, about a year ago, I realized that we were pushing the limit of what a 40-foot sea container could hold, due to the volume of “stuff” we were taking to Costa Rica, along with the space to be taken up by our Subaru Forester.  So, I designed a “mezzanine” decking to be assembled around and over the Subaru which would create quite a bit of useable space above the car – space which would normally be “dead air” where nothing could go.  As a plus, this wooden cage would protect Subie from shifting cartons or falling stuff while out on the heaving ocean.

I went to Lowes and bought three ¾” plywood sheets and a bunch of 2x4’s for the mezzanine’s support structure.  I pre-cut and pre-drilled everything so that it could be slapped together in minutes, once the car was up inside the sea container.  [We had been told by the shipping company that we were only allowed 3 hours to load the container, so there wouldn’t be time to diddle around cutting lumber and figuring things out on Load Day.]

The plywood sheets were a good grade and based on earlier purchases in Costa Rica, I knew that good wood like this was very expensive in CR.  Not wanting the mezzanine structure or plywood to be, umm, “borrowed” on the dock when the container was unloaded, we marked all of the boards with shipper’s inventory numbers and declared them on the manifest as “property to be delivered.”

Well, they did the mezzanine job just fine, crossed the ocean, got removed from the container and showed up in Atenas, CR, with all of our junk.   Really.  Used lumber.   Oh, well, it made the trip so I leaned it up against the tapia (our property perimeter wall).
THERE! Hiding behind the blue tarp.
We had no more than begun breaking ground for construction of our “Rancho” (party-patio) when our contractor came up and asked if they could use the plywood and 2x4’s, temporarily. Why not?

They put everything back together almost exactly like the sea container mezzanine and this became protection for the guys and for building materials from the sun and rain.  Those sheets of plywood took a direct beating from the elements for months and they took on a kind of dirty grey-brown look.  But they held together just fine.
Kind of small and rickety but Da Boyz loved it.
Before starting on the main house, the contractor built our “Bodega” (storage building) so there was no need for the poor old plywood mini-bodega up at the Rancho.  They took it apart and leaned the boards back against the tapia.

No sooner had they scratched the earth for the house foundation when it became obvious that we needed to break the tapia open so that the large volume of construction materials could be unloaded and brought in from the road “down there” at the house site, rather than hiked all the way from the driveway, up at the Casita.  Trouble was, we didn’t want the big gap in the wall to be left open at night.  Hey ... plywood!

The guys started out the “closure” of the tapia opening by just leaning two of the plywood sheets against the edges of the gap.  Pretty soon though, the dry season winds came and the plywood would get blown down almost as fast as they could pick it up and put it back.  But, the guys didn’t “get it” since "quitting time" was the only time when they would stand up the plywood, close the gap, jump in the crew truck and be gone --  before the wind could blow the sheets down (some times.)  So, the solution was up to me.  I built a giant bolted-on tongue and groove assembly which locked the two sheets together in the middle while a rope (eventually a chain) across the downwind side of the closure would keep this wooden wall from collapsing.   This worked for many more months, as the plywood sheets became sadder and sadder looking.

One sheet down ... one sheet up. The Closure.
{The observant reader might well wonder what happened to the third sheet of plywood.  Well, um, can you say “outhouse” kids?  Yes, sadly, Da Boyz required some means of protecting their modesty whilst watering the plants in the back 40 and they absconded with poor old Sheet Three.  Don’t know if you’ve had much experience with outhouses and messy boys but, (urk) Sheet Three was not suitable for future usage after this job.  So sad.}
 As the rainy season came back and construction started into the home stretch, our wrought iron gate was installed across the opening in the tapia (site of the new driveway) and the Big Bad Boards went – guess where – back to leaning against the tapia.
But are The Little Plywood Sheets That Could down for the count?  Nah.

As told in an earlier post, the Brave, Courageous and Bold guardian of the Kingdom, Don Newt, had been sleeping on an air mattress inside the casa for several weeks protecting our new stuff from thievery and thuggary during the hours of darkness.  But it came to pass that I COULDN’T STAND IT NO MO, so we gagged and choked up the two bucks an hour and hired Jesus, er, I mean Jesús to patrol the grounds and sleep with the bugs every night.  And a darn good job he does, too.

The other morning, Jesús spake (sorry ... da devil made me do that) and asked if we had any plans for the two sheets of plywood leaning against la tapia.  Seems his mattress at home was sagging badly and he figured ¾”plywood sheets would be just the ticket to bolster up the bow in the bedding. 

Holy crow – an opportunity to get those nasty looking things out of my everyday sight, after 10 months!

So, today, those two sheets, which started life protecting Subie and giving us room, were hauled by Subie and taken to the room of Jesús, where they may rest, quietly retired, beneath his mattress, doing a job where appearance means nothing and their proven strength is everything. 

Farewell ye noble sheets.

18 May 2012

Construction Update: Where are the doors?!?!?

So close and yet so far… Here we sit, waiting on electricity, waiting on cabinets, and waiting on doors.

We won the standoff with I.C.E. (the national power monopoly) that I mentioned in an earlier post. Our little service road has now been declared a public rode and I.C.E. showed up last Saturday and actually ran power cables up to the pole in front of our Casa. First thing Monday morning, we went to our local I.C.E. office and requested new service with an electric meter to be mounted on the service pole a couple of meters from I.C.E’s new power pole. Cindy, the I.C.E. agent that waited on us, said the law states electricity must be hooked up within 10 business days of the request for service. At this time, she thinks it will be installed in 4-5 business days. Today was day 4, so I’m hoping, by this time Monday, we have power. Do you think we’re being too optimistic?


Where are the doors?!?!?!

We inked the deal for the 11 doors on the 10th of April. At that time, we were told it usually takes a month for an order, but they felt they could have them ready in about 2 weeks. Yeah, right. Two weeks have come and gone, a month has come and gone, and still no doors. We really need the 4 external doors, like right now. With doors, we can actually start moving our stuff out of the Casita’s garage and start unpacking things we haven’t seen in almost a year. We’ve had problems getting John (not my John, but John the door guy, whose name is also John, not Juan) to return phone calls or give us a straight answer. So our builder Rodolfo told us where the door workshop is in a neighboring town. This past Tuesday we took a drive and after a few stops for directions, we found the workshop. John wasn’t there, but his dad, Eduardo, was busy making doors and was well aware of our order. He said they could probably install the external doors on Thursday (yesterday) or Friday (today), and the internal doors can be installed Monday or Tuesday of next week, “si Dios quiere” (if God is willing.) Yeah, right. At 2 p.m. this afternoon, no external doors had been hung and I called John the door guy again. This time he told me they are just putting the finish on the doors and they can probably be hung tomorrow, “si Dios quiere.” Now I don’t know, but I really believe God wants us to have doors and He wanted us to have the doors about 3 weeks ago. I don’t think it’s a matter of “si Dios quiere.” I think it’s truly a matter of John the door guy “no quiere” and God doesn’t enter into this equation at all. What do you think?

I think the cabinets are supposed to be ready sometime next week too. William (not Guillermo) the cabinet maker is a pretty reliable guy. He worked in New Jersey for about 15 years as a cabinet maker when he was younger and he tells it like it is. So far, he has been great to work with and he has made some beautiful furniture for our friends, Maritza and Vinicio. I trust that when he says 2 to 3 weeks, he means 2 to 3 weeks. He doesn’t get caught up in the Tico way of telling you what he thinks you want to hear, he tells it like it is.

Other than these few finishing items, we are almost finished and we are extremely please. I know I’ve promised to post more photos, but I’m holding off until everything is done. I want you to enjoy the full effect.

¡Pura Vida!

05 May 2012

Our non-confrontational Tico neighbors

Today, I had the best laugh I've had in a long time! I still chuckle just thinking about our "non-confrontational" Tico neighbors. Costa Rica natives HATE to confront anyone with bad news, a gripe, or anything else that might make them feel uncomfortable.

A perfect example is the guy that made the windows for us. He was supposed to be here a week ago, on Saturday, to put the little plastic plug covers in the window frame drain holes. He didn't show up, so I called him yesterday and he said he meant this Saturday. My Spanish is very good and he really did say last Saturday, but whatever. It's now almost 3 PM and when he didn't show up again, I'll call him on Monday to see what happened. It would never occur to him to call us to tell us he can't make it.... that would make him uncomfortable, because he would have to deal with our disappointment once again.

Another example of this Tico personality trait is the situation with my neighbors that own the farm property adjoining our place. There are 4 brothers and sisters, one of which is the father-in-law of my cousin whose wife sold us our little piece of paradise. Every Sunday at least one of them comes to the farm around 4 PM. I have no clue what they do down there, but they'll stay for an hour, or two, then stop to chat with me on their way back home to Alajuela (a neighboring town).

This past Sunday they showed up after dark, stayed about 10 minutes and drove out again quickly, without even so much as a wave. Very strange! About an hour later John found they had stuck a letter in our gate, signed by all the family member and it included all of their national identity numbers. Most peculiar. I translated the letter and started seething. I couldn't understand why they just didn't stop and discuss their concerns with the house we have constructed. I forgot the Tico way of doing business. Here is the loosely translated letter they stuck in the gate:

Dear Señora
Receive a cordial greeting from us. At this time we solicit in the most respectful way possible to communicate that the water you have leaving your property is not positioned toward the right-of-way road. That is to say, the water is entering to the right, below the gate and we, the property owners are not in agreement with this.

Then they listed all of their names and identity numbers. Needless to say, we were clueless as to what they were talking about, so I stewed about it all night and gave the letter to our contractor, Rodolfo the next morning. He thought maybe they were complaining about the rain water run off, so he had one of the workers dig a trench and move a drain line so there is no way our run-off will flow on their property, instead it flows away from them, toward the right-of-way passage road.

Fast forward to today. One of the brothers and a sister showed up today to check on their farm. On their way out, the brother stopped to talk to me because he thought it would be better to discuss the situation face to face. Wow, a Tico that is actually willing to confront someone with a problem, I'm impressed. I told him I agreed, face to face is always better as it eliminates misunderstandings.

I told them what Rodolfo had done to correct the run-off and then the sister asked why the drain pipe was still positioned below the gate. I asked her to show me. The gate is not a gate, it is actually our property wall. When she showed me the pipe, I burst out laughing! This pipe is the remains of the improvised urinal the construction crew setup when they first started the construction on the Casa. They took a 5 gallon water bottle, cut the bottom out of it, turned it upside down, and attached a drain to the mouth of the bottle. This drain was then position so that their pee would run under the wall and down the field with the rest of the pee from the cows and horses. Needless to say, we all had a hearty laugh and I promised the drain pipe would be removed when the construction crew shows up on Monday.

My only regret is the sleepless night I had as the direct result of the non-confrontational Tico.

04 May 2012


It’s raining hard.  Not “hurricane-hard” but “Uh-oh ... there’s going to be street flooding-hard,” if this were in Houston.  This has been going on, steadily, for at least a half hour.
In the sky, there are tens of thousands of flying insects visible from the Rancho.  Their bodies are smaller than black flies but their wing span is greater.  That makes them easily visible to me out at least 20 meters – maybe more.  How are these little things staying in the air?  There can’t be that much space between raindrops.  They should be dropping out of the air like ... uh ... flies.

I’m going to revise the above estimate.  There are hundreds of thousands of them.  Where’d they all come from?
Now, in the rain, I see a few opportunist gnat catchers flying madly through The Feast.
Boink.  Rain quit.  Insects identified.  Termites!  And, that tells me where they came from.  There’s one big nest, larger than a basketball, affixed to the crotch of a stunted tree at the edge of the sports plaza, maybe 50 m from here.  I’ve found several other huge nests down in the lower tree lines.
They didn’t all survive the rain.  Hundreds are stuck to the stucco.  [Hey, is that were the name came from?!?]  Thousands of little bodies are floating in puddles – most of them with their wings knocked off.
And now the bug eatin’ birds are swarming!.  The sky is filled with them but alas for their tummies, most of the termites have gone to ground or back to their nests.  You’d think that the energy these birds are expending chasing “flying ants” is way more than they can gain from what they’re able to pluck out of the air.
O.K., scholars, here’s today’s challenge.  How many termites (average weight and height) does a gnat catcher have to catch and eat per minute to offset the energy expended by flight, plus having some reserves left over (to make it worth the effort)?  You may assume a relative humidity of 90% on an air temperature of 25C with calm winds, for your flight calculations.  The phone lines are open now for your answers.  The first correct answer wins all the termites off the side of the house and mirador.

03 May 2012

Casa Construction Update - New brick pavers

The construction team started laying our concrete brick pavers this week. The pavers are going all the way around the house, under the eaves, the carport, and our terraza. We are really pleased with the overall look and the upkeep will be a breeze. The splash over from this afternoon's rain is clearly visible on the bricks in this photo.

We drove into San José today to pick up a very nice humidifier we found on Craig's List. We plan to keep it in our new walk-in closet to reduce the possibility of mold and mildew in the rainy season.

Last week we started looking for a new refrigerator for the Casa, to replace the side-by-side we sold with the Houston house. We found a nice one at PriceSmart (Costa Rica's Costco), but before we dropped some major bucks on it, we wanted to check out Consumer Reports . It turns out it had a much lower rating than we had hoped. So, after lunch today, we went to a local appliance store here in Atenas. We lucked out! They had the much higher rated Samsung on sale at an even better price than the Frigidaire we saw at PriceSmart. We are now the proud owners of a 26 cubic foot side-by-side, with an ice maker and water dispenser in the freezer door. The refrigerator was delivered this afternoon and for now, we have parked it in the spare bedroom.

In other news, we are still waiting on electricity because the power cables haven't been strung on the new poles. That was supposed to happen last week. We are also still waiting on doors so we can secure the house. In the meantime, John is still sleeping with the dogs in the new Casa to deter any crimes of opportunity. The doors were supported to happen last week too. No word on the kitchen or bathroom cabinets yet.

The good news is that the toilets were installed today and only one of them leaks. We also discovered a hot water line was not installed for the twin sinks in the master bath. Rodolfo promised he would take care of it right away. Apparently we missed this error when we reviewed the plans prepared by our Civil Engineer. We can't install any of the sinks until the cabinets are installed, so we have time to fix this. At this rate, we may not make our target move in date of May 15th. :(