27 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving Day is almost here, and this is the perfect time to remind our family and friends, both near and far, that we love each and every one of you. We are so very thankful you are a part of our lives. For those of you back in the old country, we miss you very much and wish we could be with you to celebrate. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Today we are smoking a freshly brined ham to share at a Thanksgiving feast hosted by friends tomorrow afternoon. They expect 70 guests will partake in the celebration and folks will be bringing all sorts of yummy goodness, including several turkeys and all the trimmings. This is the 5th year our friends have hosted the annual Thanksgiving celebration and we are very grateful to have been included.

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Update on the new license plates

Success! After 4 failed attempts, we were finally able to place the order for the new license plates for the Subaru at our local Post Office yesterday. We made our first attempt on November 4th, and you can read the humorous tale here: Why are retired folks so darn busy?

After the ticket fine had been paid, we made three more attempts to order the plates; on the 5th, the 12th and finally on the 14th. I think the clerk at the Post Office was finally as frustrated as we were, because he said he would contact someone he knew at the Civil Registry to get to the bottom of it. The clerk said he would call us when the problem was resolved. So, we let the matter drop and waited for a phone call that never came.

Yesterday, we dropped by the Post Office to pick up our mail and check on the status of the license plate order. Low and behold, the red flag saying we had unpaid tickets no longer appeared onscreen and we were actually able to order our new plates. We paid the equivalent of $41.50 USD and walked out with a receipt. The clerk said he would call us next week when our plates arrive. Just in case he forgets to call, I think we will stop by at the end of next week, and trade out the old plates for the new ones.

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06 November 2013

Why are retired folks so darn busy? This is why!

Let’s start with Halloween, 2013. I suggested we drive to the town of San Ramon, about 45 minutes from us, to try and find the COSEVI office, and renew our Costa Rica Drivers Licenses.

A little background info: COSEVI is the Council on Road Safety, a division of MOPT (The Minsitry of Public Works and Transportation. We initially got our drivers licenses at the COSEVI office in San José, back in 2010, when we were visiting on a tourist visas. The licenses were issued with our U.S. Passport numbers as our drivers license numbers. When the law changed in 2011, a tourist could no longer obtain a Costa Rica drivers license. Now, tourists can only drive here if they have a valid drivers license from their home country, and their Costa Rica tourist visa is still valid, usually 90 days. The new law states only Costa Rica citizens and legal residents may obtain drivers licenses and the drivers license number is now the same as the citizen’s, or resident’s cédula number. (A cédula is a national identity card.)

Our licenses were due to expire in early December, but you can renew up to 3 months before expiration. So, off we went to see our local Doctora, to get a current "Dictamen Medico" (physical exam) to indicate we are both healthy enough to drive. She went online and filed the "Dictamen Medico" report electronically. Then the Doctora gave us our receipt numbers on a little slip of paper, and we were off to San Ramon.

No sooner had we reached the center of town, when we were pulled over by a Transito for a missing inspection sticker on the windshield. All vehicles must be inspected once a year and the month the vehicle is due for inspection corresponds to the last digit of the license plate. In our case, our Subaru was due for inspection back in February, 2013. It is normally my job to stay on top of these things and make sure everything gets done on time. Somehow I dropped the ball, and el Transito issued us a ticket, or Boleta, with a fine attached to it of $94 USD. El Transito explained we would be eligible for a 15% discount if we pay the fine within 10 days.

With ticket in hand, we continued on to find the COSEVI office were we had been told it was fast and easy to renew a license. We followed the instructions from a gas station attendant and pulled up at this derelict building in need of some serious TLC, but there was no one around. A couple of doors further down the street, we spotted some guys loitering around, and they assured us we were at the right place. They told us to first go to the house across the street from the COSEVI office to pay for the renewal. (Costa Rica government offices do not handle any monies. All payments for government services are handled as a deposit at the national banks into government accounts.) So we walked into this guy’s carport and found he has setup a little portable computer workstation with a printer. He is logged into the Banco Naciónal and he charges a $2 USD commission to process the renewal fees. After a payment of $24 USD, we have 2 receipts to present to COSEVI.

When we walked across the street to COSEVI, there was a gate barring our entrance, a guard came out and let us in. Next, a clerk reviewed our old licenses, cédulas and payment receipts. He explained that only el jefe (the boss) could change the drivers license number in the computer system, and el jefe was out to lunch with his boss, la jefa, from San José. It was just a few minutes after 11:00 AM and the clerk had no idea when they would return. He asked us to take a seat while he tried to call el jefe on his cell. It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes when the clerk reported el jefe and la jefa were both back and they could attend us now.

The process was pretty painless, we signed lots of documents and they made copies of our cédulas and licenses. Then we had new photos taken, had our index fingers scanned, we electronically signed the licenses, and 30 seconds later we had our new licenses in hand. Mission accomplished!

Monday, November 4th, I went to our bank account online to see if I could pay the ticket we had received on Halloween, but it wasn’t in the system yet. Yesterday, I tried again, and it still wasn’t in the system. Very strange, especially since we only have 10 days to pay with the 15% discount.

Not wanting to get another ticket for driving without our vehicle inspection, I made the appointment at the nearest inspection station to get the Subaru inspected yesterday morning. We made the 30 minute trip to the inspection station early and Subie passed with flying colors. We had the new inspection sticker attached to the windshield before we even pulled out of the inspection station’s parking lot. On our way back home we decided to take the time to get a few more things done in town.

We went in person to the bank to try and pay the traffic fine from Halloween and the teller couldn’t find it in the system. From there we hit the hardware store to pick up a couple of things we needed. Then it was off to the local post office to order license plates.

November has arrived, and with it we are due to replace our license plates on the Subaru. The government has redesigned the plates to make them much more difficult to forge and have now included a bar code on the plates with a windshield sticker. The month you can order your new plates is based on the last digit of the vehicles current license plate. Our last digit is a 2, so we have from November 1st until January 31st to get the new plates. Since everyone with a vehicle has to do this, the government has tried to make it easy, and set it up so that the new plates can be ordered at the national banks and the local post office.

Armed with Subie’s paperwork we went to the local post office, where the lines are always shorter, and filled out the forms to order the new plates. The postal clerk keyed in all our data into the system and bingo! Red Flag! The owner of this vehicle has unpaid traffic tickets… sorry can’t get new plates until all the traffic fines are paid.

Now what? John noticed that the computer screen the post office clerk was rendered from the other national bank in town, so we thought maybe the ticket is in their system, and we had just gone to the wrong bank. So, we walked over to the other bank and sat in line for a teller.

Banking is so different here…. There are rows of chairs and a set order that everyone lines up. As the person at the first chair is called to a teller window, everyone gets up and shifts over one chair. This is repeated until you get to the head of the line and it is finally your turn. Sometimes there will be as many as 40 people in line, so you get to sit in 40 different chairs. We had about 20 bank customers ahead of us, so the musical chair exercise didn’t last too long this time.

When it was our turn, the teller keyed in the ticket information and found it wasn’t in their system either. “Now what”, I asked. How does one get the ticket into the system? The teller thought it might be a good idea to go to COSEVI and see if they could help. John and I looked at each other and knew the folks in San Ramon certainly wouldn’t be setup to help with this, and the next COSEVI office was in Alajuela, a 40 minute drive back in the direction of the vehicle inspection station.

We left the bank and were headed back to our parked car, when we ran into some good friends. They invited us to join them for lunch at a local restaurant and that sounded like just the break we needed. After lunch we took off in search of the COSEVI office in Alajuela. I knew the general area of town where COSEVI is located, so it just took us a few minutes to find it.

We were sent to 3 different buildings until we finally found the folks that could assist. We were in the Transito Delegación office and this is the place where all the traffic cops report into work. The supervisor in charge called the San Ramon office and confirmed our traffic cop had actually uploaded all his tickets from Halloween. The supervisor said we would need to wait until the office staff returned from lunch, because they are the only ones that can access the ticket information in the system.

We waited about an hour and finally the woman that knows how to run the computer returned from lunch. She confirmed the ticket hadn’t been released to the banking systems and got on the phone to San José. She conferred with her colleague in San José for a few minutes and he finally asked to speak to me. He verified all the data on the ticket; John’s full name, license number, vehicle license plate, etc. Then he told me he would have everything fixed shortly. He said we could go to the bank and pay the ticket in about 5 minutes.

We decided our day had been long enough and it was time to just go home. On our way back home we stopped at a roadside vendor and bought 5 pints of strawberries for $2 USD, and I fixed us some strawberries with whipped cream for dinner. I went back online with our bank and true to the COSEVI agent’s word, I was able to pay the ticket with the 15% discount.

I’m tired and I’m going to take a nap…

How was your day??

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09 September 2013

Social Networking in Atenas

When we moved to Atenas, I found our little town lacked an interactive resource for sharing community information. There is a monthly newsletter published in English, and a telephone directory (yellow and white pages) that is sent out by email to most of the Expats in the area. But what was really needed was a place for folks to share information about the Atenas area.

Those of you that know me, know I’ve always been into data processing in some form or another, so it was a natural step for me to try and find a solution. Since we have been using Facebook for a few years to keeps tabs on everyone, and stay in touch with what’s happening in the lives of our family and friends, I thought Facebook could be a workable solution for Atenas residents.

So, about a year ago, I created a Facebook group called Atenas Costa Rica Info and it took off like wildfire. We now have 235 members and folks are sharing everything from the latest lost puppy to where to buy the best seafood. Let me tell you, social networking is very much alive and well here in Costa Rica! I love the info that is being shared. Some folks post links to personal blog posts, while others share nature photos and videos. There are constant discussions on the things like the best place for a pizza, or a hamburger, or where to get a small engine repaired.

A natural spin off to this group was the second Facebook group I created called Atenas Costa Rica Classifieds. This group is a place to list items for sale, in search of items, garage/contents sales, apartment/condo/house rentals, real estate, businesses, restaurants, products and services, job postings, etc. So far, this group has 129 members, with more joining all the time.

As time has passed, I found Facebook is extremely limited because it is not a searchable database. It is designed for social networking. This past June, I created a new forum for the Atenas community to provide the features lacking in Facebook. The forums give us a place to discuss organized topics. It supports multiple categories, polling on topics, private messaging, and many more features. It is searchable, so folks can always go back and find old topics. This doesn’t replace the Facebook group, it just supplements it. Here is a link to the forums at Atenas Costa Rica Info Forums

It has been fun for me to manage the Facebook groups and the forums. They don’t take a lot of time. They pretty much take care of themselves and I’ve only had to ban a couple of spammers. The positive feedback from the Atenas community has been overwhelming. It’s nice to have my efforts appreciated, and I’m happy to be involved like this in our community.

If you are interested in the Atenas Costa Rica Community, join our groups.

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Residency Renewal

The first of this month my Costa Rica Cédula was scheduled to expire, so I went ahead and applied for a renewal back in August. I found the process to be pretty straight forward. Once the renewal is approved, the Ministry of Migration issues a new cédula (government issued identity card) and sends it to the local Post Office for pickup. It was supposed to take a month to get the new one, but in my case, it only took 15 days. This time I was again granted permanent residency for two years. If anyone is about to go through the renewal process, I have documented all the requirements at this link: How to renew your residency

I sat down a couple of months ago to review all of the documents showing my original residency in Costa Rica from way back in the 60s and 70s. I also reviewed all my passports showing entries and exits from Costa Rica for the past 40+ years. It turns out that I now have accumulated well over the 7 years required to apply for citizenship in Costa Rica. I am seriously considering this next step, and I have started to gather all the information needed to apply. I’ll keep you posted on my decision.

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01 August 2013

I fried our dehydrator!

Before we moved to Costa Rica, family gave us a very practical dehydrator for Christmas. We used it a few times in the States for "sun-dried" tomatoes and then packed it away for the move to Costa Rica. I just knew we would get lots of use out of it here in Costa Rica with our abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.

I used it several times last year when the price on tomatoes dropped to a $1 U.S. for 5 pounds. I probably put up close to 15 pounds of dried tomatoes and a fair amount of dried fruit. The tomatoes were wonderful in pasta dishes, so I put up some more a couple of weeks ago.

This year, our friends, Mike & Joni, had a bumper crop of Mangoes like never before. They have been giving them to everyone that will take them.... the guy that makes the local designer ice cream, friends, neighbors, and fruit sellers. Every time it rains, or we get a little wind, down come more mangoes all over their property.

We picked up several bags of mangoes with the intention of dehydrating them. Once the slices are dehydrated, the flavor intensifies and it's like candy. Yum.

The first batch this week came out perfect, but half way through the second batch the dehydrator overheated and melted the fan. What a disappointment!!

Needless to say, my hero John wrote a scathing review you can read on this product for Amazon.com and hopefully no other consumer will buy this product and run the risk of a fire.

In the meantime, I did a little research to see what heat settings are used for most fruits, veggies and jerky and found my conventional oven won't go low enough.


I got to noodling the problem and suddenly my light bulb turn on. I remembered that the wonderful microwave oven John gave me a few years ago, is also a convection oven!


I checked, and this little baby has the low settings required for dehydrating. Not only that, but all the trays from the burnt out dehydrator fit on the turntable in the convection oven just like they were made for it.

Hooray, we are back in the dehydrating business and the convection oven will probably work much better with it's powerful fans.

In the meantime, if you know any one with a Nesco dehydrator, warn them of the fire hazard.

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12 July 2013

Today we are celebrating our 2nd anniversary living the good life in Costa Rica

Two years ago today, we said our goodbyes to loved ones and flew from Houston, Texas, to start our new life in Atenas, Costa Rica. What a wonderful time we have are having. Everyday we have to pinch ourselves and ask, "are we really here... are we really living this dream?"

Everyday we wake early up to the sounds of birds singing in the trees. Some mornings you can hear the howler monkeys down by the river below our property. At certain times of the year we get large flocks of parrots in trees picking the seeds mother nature has provided. They cause quite a ruckus with all their squawking.

Upon our arrival in 2011, we moved into our little 300 square foot Casita and immediately started the process of building our Rancho to give us some outdoor living space. This was completed in November, and then it was time to start construction on our new home. The Casa took about 6 months to complete. In June of 2012, we moved all our furniture and personal belongings from the Casita's garage to the Casa Grande.

We are loving our new home and this wonderful town of Atenas. We have made many new friends and I think we have more of a social life here than we ever did back in the States. The culture just lends it's self to socializing. So unlike the big city we came from. There everyone is always in a rush and has no time to stop and just enjoy life. Just today, we went to the local farmers' market to pick up the week's fruits and vegetables, and I thought we'd never finish with the shopping. We kept running into both old and new friends at the different vendor stalls, and of course we had to stop and chat with everyone for a few minutes.

A few months ago we decided it was time to turn our little Casita into a vacation rental. This has worked out very well. We have met some great folks and picked up enough extra income to cover the expenses of maintaining the Casita and the main Casa.

Do we have any regrets about moving to Costa Rica?

Absolutely none!

Do we miss family and friends from back in the old country?

You betcha!!! No one can ever replace them and we miss them everyday. We just hope they will come visit us soon and see this wonderful place we now call home.

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05 July 2013

What's an "emergency" in an Emergency Room?

It's 10pm on the Turd of July.

"There's an elephant sitting on my chest," she said. Her blood pressure had spiked to over 160; she was pale and clammy; her demeanor was noticeably languorous. My EMT "load and go" brain kicked in. We loaded. We went. But we probably went to the wrong place.

"Shouldn't we call Cruz Roja (the Red Cross ambulance)? You're in no condition to drive." she said.

The girl has obviously never seen me totally in The Zone. One might be "impaired" by too much scotch but when it's time to fight and the explosion of adrenaline kicks in, you fight like a maniac -- a very cold, calculating, sober maniac.

(On top of being aware of my above "skills," I was determined to take matters into my own hands because I had visions of the Cruz Roja responding at about the same speed and enthusiasm as the Fuerza Publica, i.e., "whenever".)

I decided that we were going to the Caja Hospital de Alajuela. Patricia had received excellent treatment there one night for a bout of pneumonia and my treatment at the Atenas branch for 2nd degree burns had been exemplary. How bad could it be? He said.

During the drive, there were a couple of times she touched my leg as a signal to be careful when I achieved the terrifying speed of 100 kph out on the autopista (63 mph ... pfttt!). Other than that, for your reference, it is exactly a 30 minute drive with the new Coyol connector road between Hwy 27 and Hwy 1. Other than the patient's angst, the trip was uneventful.

So, I wheel up to the ambulance dock at the back emergency entrance of the sparkling new Alajuela hospital and ... nobody there but a sleepy old guard. Oh well.

I help her out of the car and we walk the few steps to the ER reception desk.

"Corazon!" I exclaim, thumping my chest and pointing to her (wishing I had paid closer attention in my Spanish For First Responders class in California.)

The dude says something that doesn't process in my brain but he's pointing to the line standing in front of a door marked "Triage." Noooooo!

But, as part of my extensive Pura Vida training and two years of practice to NOT grabbing clowns by the shirt front and jerking them up over their desk for "attitude training" I simply nodded and we went to the line. Wow!

The Triage office is a very tiny room with one guy in it. It has two doors. One faces the general ER area (a HUGE waiting room) and one faces the ambulance back entrance area, where we were. The line at the general door was long. Our line only had two parties in front of us. Luckily, it seems that the policy is to clear the line on our side while the "walk ins" on the other side have to wait. And, the Triage guy was attentive, if not a little non-chalant about a cardiac emergency. He sauntered out of his office, sat her down and took her blood pressure while asking a couple of questions. He then executed a computer printed form (the ONLY computer or computer form we were to see during this odyssey) and he put a red tag onto the form. Oh boy! A red tag. Now shit's going to start happinin'.

He pointed us to a semi-open doorway, indicating we should "cross over". I say "semi-open" because it was hung with opaque 4" wide, vertical plastic strips, such that you could move them apart and enter but that the people outside couldn't see in.

For good reason.

I said "cross over" because on the other side of the plastic strips we entered a 25 meter hallway that would be a perfect setting for a Stephen King horror movie. Both sides of the hall were lined with gurneys holding the sick and dying off casts. Almost all of them looked terminal to me and all of them were just "parked." Several of them had IV pouches hung above them but all of the pouches were empty. Great way to enter The System.

Undeterred, we pushed through the stygian gauntlet and made it up to the real nurses station. "Now that red tag is going to get me somewhere."


With a big yawn (10:30 PM) the clerk/nurse/whatever (everyone is wearing scrubs and "corporate" namebadges too small to read) looks at the paperwork, tosses it into a basket on the top of the counter and points us to a line of 8 metal chairs. I think about doing the chest thump and "corazon" pantomime thing again but figure that this is just the Pura Vida system. Let it go. If my darling collapses or suddenly arrests, there's still plenty of time to grab some shirt fronts and drag them out to where she's lying on the floor, I figure.

The line of 8 metal chairs once had 1" thick plastic-covered pads on them. The pads had been upholstered onto a plywood base. But all that's left now are raggedy bits of plastic with a sporadic showing of loose fiber to tease one into imagining how comfortable these chairs must have been ... 30 years ago. There were already 6 folks on the 8 chairs with one end of the line empty -- almost. At the far end of the chairs was a woman in a wheelchair, all bundled up, asleep, with a heavily bandaged foot resting on the edge of the last chair. We made ourselves as small as possible and sat, taking care not to push that blood-seeping foot off the edge.

Presently, a 12 year old kid walked up to the counter and took our file out of the basket. Well, he looked 12 to us.

He read and read. It was a single page. And he read some more. Then he called Pat's name kind of "out there" into the general time-space continuum, as if he didn't know where the line of chairs was. We waved our hands and he turned to look at us, then motioned toward a nearby door. Holy reflex hammer, Batman, this guy's wearing a stethiscope around his kneck and he has a ballpoint pen in his pocket. This must be a real doctor!

Since Pat and I are joined at the hip, we both stood and headed for the door together, whereupon the kid (we promptly began referring to him as Doogie Howser) waved me away and mumbled something.

"He says you can't come in," Pat said. Ahhh. Yet another test to see if my self control system against choking little shits is sufficiently strong to overcome my emotions.

So, they go alone into the sanctum sanctorum room and I'm left outside trying to decipher doubly unintelligible mumbles issuing through the door. Nada.

Pat comes out and states that she's headed (on foot ... no wheelchairs if you're only suspect of being about to die) to the EKG room and I cannot come with.

I am shooed back to the little chairs. Like a dog. I obey like a little dog. Oh, woe unto them if I were still a Real Man. Sigh.

But, hey! An EKG! This should change their attitudes and get some action around here!

In no time at all, Pat was back.

"The EKG is negative. He says they have to do a blood test and a chest x-ray"

Well, O.K. Some high blood pressure congestive episodes won't show up on an EKG, I guess. Goodie, let's wait over on the swell chairs. I wonder where you get to the point of getting one of the ER beds and a little medication, etc. Crazy thought.

'Bout an hour later, amidst the chaos of employees stampeding past us to get to the employee break room across the hall from our chairs, an unidentified scrub-clad woman walks up to us with a handful of pills, still in their individual Costa Rican foil wrappers, and dumps the mess into Pat's hand and hands me a plastic shot glass, generously filled with water. "Take these," she says to Pat in Spanish.

I'm starting to think about bolting from Hades and heading to the private CIMA Hospital over in Gringolandia, even if it does cost your life savings to barge through their ER doors.

Pat doesn't think this is a good idea (yet) and I hunker down.

Actually, I stand up because my nether regions have gone fast asleep sitting on the hard plywood-seated wonder chairs.

First thing I do is walk back towards the nurses station to get a peek around the wall beyond which a lot of moaning and stuff is issuing. Holy Crapola! This is a Wednesday night. What happens here on Friday or Saturday nights?

There are 8 open-fronted examination chambers, each with three gurneys, all full; and, there are 3 rows of better looking chairs and wheel chairs, all full. And it seems every single patient has an IV packet -- almost all collapsed and empty -- with a tube running to their arm or hand. Must be the standard treatment around here. "Dehydrated? Plug 'em into a half liter on fast drip." "Broken foot? Plug 'em into a half liter on fast drip." "Influenza? Plug 'em into a half liter on fast drip."

"Heart attack? Nah. They don't need no stinking IV. Stick 'em over in dem freakin ol' chairs we moved over from the old hospital. Maybe they'll croak and that'll rid us of one so we can free up a chair."

With everything full, I count like 50 souls needing attention in the ol' ER on this "quiet" hump night. Maybe a word about the staff is in order at this point.

There's Doogie, of course, and maybe (we're never sure of this) one other guy who might have been a doctor because he periodically pulled patient files from the counter-top basket and read them and read them and read them.

Then there were 6 ladies, all in scrubs, messing with papers, going to the employee break room and occasionally delivering pills with dem little bitty cups of water.

There was Working Man, who must have been a boss nurse or something because as often as he messed with paper, he would also get up and go do something with a patient. He's the only one that I saw change anybody's IV bag. One other of the women inserted an IV needle, that I saw.

Speaking of needles, there was Blood Girl. She came with her little cart full of vials of blood and alcohol wipes and needles. I loved her modern asceptic technique. She walked up to the girl next to us on the chairs, (who spent almost the entire night passed out on her mother's shoulder,) and slipped the surgical tubing "tourniquet" around her arm to pop out a vein. Then, with an alcohol swab, she wipe and wiped a spot on the girl's arm. Then she switched to a clean wipe -- just to be sure -- and wiped some more. Then she dropped both wipes into a bio-haz bag ... and wiped her own nose with the back of her index finger ... then picked up the blood-draw needle between that index finger and thumb and shoved it home. Do you think my eyes betrayed me when my eyelids flopped back over the top of my head upon observing this textbook example of medical safety and sterility? I tried to be good. Minded my own damn Pura Vida business.

Then there was the "escort boy." His job seemed to be going to and from the break room more than anybody else; and, then he was the one who motioned us to follow him (again, on foot -- no wheelchair) across the hospital to the x-ray department. He was a little put out though, that us damn old people couldn't walk as fast as he, because, hey, he had to get back for, um, break time.

The radiology dude was a really funny guy, I guess, because he kept escort boy in stitches the whole time we were down there, regaling him with ... I don't know ... stories or something. Anyhow, it must have been mighty funny material.

Last, but certainly not least, is the cleaning lady. We were there from 10:30pm on the 3rd until 7:30am on the 4th, and she never stopped moving. She'd sweep and then mop. She'd empty waste baskets then clean the employee break room. Never. Stopped. Working. And she was probably getting paid $10 per day.

So, back to the story. We're both pretty sore from the chairs and Pat is freezing. I guess they keep it cold in there to hold down the germs or something because no normal organism could live in there for long without a lot of protective clothing. We noticed that many of the patients were obviously experienced with The System because they had brought their own blankets and extra clothing. Not us. We're stupid gringos.

At some point Pat's blood work came back from the lab and they were mystified. Nothing.

Time for another EKG. Pat came back from that little trip and said that they had decided to run a different type of blood test on her. Ya know, they didn't want to waste a whole extra blood test strip on her the first time around because, well, not every cardiac patient presenting with an elephant on her chest develops the proteins or antibodies or hooper-gloopers or whatever they were not going to test for the first time around. Much better and more efficient to run Blood Girl down for yet another draw, send it back upstairs for processing, checking off another box on another form, running it back to the ER and .... oh, hell. Then they told us it would be at least another 3 hours to get those results. It's 3am.

My butt is killing me and I've got a plan.

"Hey, since it's going to be "forever" to get the results back on this test, why don't I run back to Atenas and get you some warm clothes?"

"But it's so far."

"Oh ... but I want to," I'm saying, thinking of the rather plush-ish drivers seat in our Subaru and the hour away from hell that such a trip would entail.

So she assented; and, I went.

Now, I need to do a quick little back story here to put the following into perspective. We had just paid to have two little gated fences built on either side of our main house so that we could confine our dogs to the back yard/side yard areas, keeping them away from visiting guests of our casita and away from any gates to the outdoors. You see, they love to jump up on strangers and they love to get out of our compound and run around the neighborhood. When we left for the initial hospital run, we had put the dogs out behind the new fences. (Plenty of dry shelter areas, water and doggie beds but no way to run off and no way to irritate anybody.

So I pull off our neighborhood street and into our long driveway (3:30am) and waaaaay of up the drive way I see two glowing eyes. Then the eyes are bounding down the lane in big gazelle-like leaps of joy. In the fog of my brain and darkness something is circling the car like a ... well ... crazy dog. It's our mini-pin, Goose. Happy as a pig in poop and you can just about see the laughing smile on his face saying, "Haha. You can't keep me penned up." We still haven't figured this one out. He has never figured out how to get out of the back yard before. He had to either climb the 2 meter back yard fence or he had to climb the new 1 meter gate and then the front 2 meter fence. Baffling.

Anyhow, I grabbed clothes, snacks & drink and ran back to Alajuela.

Back with Pat it's back to sitting. And sitting.

Then, 6am. It's obviously shift change as new faces roll in and old faces start to gather up their personal stuff to go home. Damn. This is certain to add an hour or more to the stay because the newbies won't be up to speed and won't know Pat's history and ....


The pneumatic tube drops into the nurses station a package full of test results. Oh, could we be so lucky?

Working Man retrieves the tube and starts leafing through the reports. He looks over and gives us "the look" meaning that our results are in. He staples them to our now-considerably-thick pile of papers and STICKS THEM INTO THE "TO DO" BASKET!!! Hot damn! We're either out of here or Pat gets a bed and some action.

Shift change here entails lot's of laughing; chatter; hugs; leering male something-or-others-in-scrubs checking out the butts of the newbie female something-or-others-in-scrubs; and ... one 20-something is braiding the hair of one 50-something as several others observe. This just ain't the time for reading charts, yo.

But then Doogie comes back. We thought he'd gone home. He grabbed the pile from the To Do basket and he read and read and made notes and read and read and made notes and read and read. Then he called out the name ... of someone else. That patient and he left the area together. Pat had heard the intake of that patient during my 3am absence as someone also having chest pain issues.
"But he was way behind us in line!" I say, beginning to think that maybe we're in the gringo line and that guy was in the tico line. Plus, that guy looked to be about 30. Where's the fabled "taking care of seniors first" treatment?

They come back. Doogie disappears. Now it's pushing 7am.

Doogie reappears and picks up the files and reads and reads ... well, you get it. Then HE CALLS PATRICIA'S NAME!" Then he takes her away because he wants to do another EKG. (Somebody's cousin must own the EKG-paper vending company that supplies this hospital. Is this the 3rd or 4th one?)

I'm shaking my head, muttering and generally looking like a genuine curmudgeon when a really tico-looking man about my age squeezes into the chair beside me.

Just then, a guy and girl, in scrubs, come walking up with the apparent intention of moving down the line of chairs taking everyone's blood pressure. As they get to me, they ask indecipherable stuff and I can only say, "Mi esposa," and point toward the EKG door. Then the guy next to me says something to them in Spanish and they move along. I'm a little confused by this until he leans over and whispers conspiratorially into my ear, in perfect unaccented English, "If you think this is bad, you should see the Caja hospitals in Guanacaste and Limon. They really are nightmares compared to this."

My head could have exploded. Worse than this? And who is this "masked man" who came at just the right time to save me with his perfect Spanish and perfect English? Turns out he is a dual national with 18 years of residency in the U.S. and the rest of his 60-something years in Costa Rica. Then he gave me a little taste of how "good" things could have been for us during out fun vacation to the hospital.

"I've been peeing blood for 3 days. Yesterday I started sitting here at 6am, having nothing to eat or drink since midnight the day before yesterday because they needed my system totally empty to do a kidney ultrasound. Then, they delayed the ultrasound until late yesterday afternoon. It was so late that the only doctor who could read the results had already gone home. So they told me to go home and come back today for the results. I figure that I'll be here all day today before I learn anything."

Oh, good, now I'm ready for all kinds of good things to happen.

Pat returns.

"Well, Doggie did 3 EKG runs and then 3 blood pressure tests. My blood pressure is back up a little but the EKG is negative." she says, mournfully. "Oh ... and the new blood test is negative so he's just going to prescribe a different type of blood pressure medicine and aspirin."

And here I'm thinking of that ancient old joke punchline of a doctor saying, "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning." Maybe I should give him a "punchline" of my own.

Ah, no. Pura Vida.

So Doogie writes and writes and writes into Pat's chart. Then he chats with some of the newbies for awhile. Then he writes some more. Now it really is 7am. Finally he fans out a handful of prescription scrip and waves Pat over to his throne desk.

We're free! We can leave. Or not. It seems that the scrip written at this caja location is no good in any other pharmacy other than theirs, which is over on the other side of the hospital and generally good for another hour of "waiting to be served".

But finally, the gods are smiling on us and there are fewer than a handful of peeps ahead of us at the Ye Olde Dope Spot and we're out o' there in less than 20 minutes. Record time for once.

Drove home wide awake. Rustled around with Pat and made breakfast of some sort. Sat down and jotted a little stuff on the computer ... and then ... the big crash. Not the computer ... my brain and body. Pat's too.

With only a few minor interruptions of phones and people at the door, we both slept the 4th of July away. Hope we didn't miss much. Hope we don't EVER need an ER again. If we ever do, I'm thinking of heading straight to CIMA. What the heck. A little bankruptcy never hurt anybody.

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17 June 2013

A Birthday Party and Fathers Day Celebration

It has been 11 years since John's Birthday happened to sync up with Fathers Day, the 3rd Sunday of June. Yesterday was the day, so we decided we needed to celebrate Texas style and invite some expat friends to join us for barbequed brisket, celebrate all the dads in the group and wish John a "Happy Birthday".

We found we couldn't just go down to the local Carneceria Macho (butcher) and buy a brisket. Macho didn't have a clue where the brisket cut comes from, so I found a beef chart on the internet with a layout of all the U.S. beef cuts. It has diagrams and arrows pointing to the section of the steer's body from which the cut is taken. Macho placed our order last weekend and called us on Friday to come up to the carneceria and show them how we needed the brisket trimmed. We bought two full size briskets and John when about the task of smoking them.

Each brisket takes about 24 hours at 190°F to be properly smoked and cooked. John managed to pack some Mesquite wood chips into our shipping container when we moved here in 2011. This was just what we needed to give the brisket that special Texas flavor. He started one brisket on Friday and then cooked the second one Saturday. By around 10 AM yesterday, the briskets were both fork tender perfection.

Earlier in the week, I experimented with pinto beans, trying to come up with the perfect Ranch style bean recipe. We used to buy the beans in a can back in Texas, but I managed to successfully create a delicious recipe. Let me tell you, these beans were even better than what we used buy in a can.

We always have large quantities of John's Texas BBQ Sauce on hand, so it was just a question of pulling together a few extra ingredients to make this party happen. I sliced up some onions and Jalapeño peppers for garnishing, then made two batches of Corny Jalapeño Skillet Corn Bread.

For dessert, I made a carrot cake and we bought some designer ice cream from "La Cosa Rica" that is just around the corner from our house.

Party time was set for 3 PM in our Rancho. Friends brought a few extra goodies to add to the meal and a great time was had by all.

For many of us, it had been a long time since we had indulged on a barbecue feast like this and as one of our party goers said, "Brisket was fabulous! For a moment, I almost missed Texas." Now that Macho has a copy of the beef chart, we won't wait so long to try doing this again.


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06 June 2013

Cane Toad or Bufo Poisoning

What a scare Randy, our Jack Russell Terrorist, gave us last night. We knew it was just a matter of time before he would have an encounter with the deadly Cane Toad, or Bufo.

We had gone into town to meet friends for dinner and left da boyz, Randy and Goose, in the house for a change. Now that Costa Rica is in the green season, the rains come almost every afternoon, or evening. This is the optimum time for the poisonous Bufo to come into the garden looking for bugs. These toads are deadly poisonous to dogs and we don't want our boyz outside when there is even a remote possibility a Bufo could be in the yard.

We came home around 8:30 PM and John immediately started to do his nightly Bufo patrol. I opened the kitchen door and Randy and Goose darted around me to get outside. Too late... there was no stopping Randy. He spotted a Bufo before John could get to it and his little Jack Russell brain locked into the hunt. It didn't matter how John yelled at him to stop. Randy was on a mission.

John scooped Randy up, with Goose tagging along like a good boy behind, and rushed him to the sink in the utility room to start rinsing Randy's mouth before he could ingest the poison.

The cane the toad produces venom from two venom glands which appear as two oval enlargements behind the eyes on the head.

The glands hold a milky substances that is a neurotoxin. When ingested, it causes foaming of the mouth, paralysis, convulsions and finally cardiac arrest. This is so terrifying because all of this happens rapidly from the first onset of symptoms.

We discussed the possibility of Bufo poisoning with our vet a couple of years ago and she recommend keeping Club Soda and blood pressure meds on hand in case of an emergency.

I grabbed a bottle of club soda so John could start rinsing Randy's mouth and then shaved off the recommended minute amount of BP medication. By this time, Randy was shaking and his breathing was a little raspy. John had to pry Randy's mouth open so he could thoroughly rinse and towel dry the inside of his mouth and cheeks.

We weren't sure if the crisis was behind us, and with no emergency vet in our little town, I called a good friend of ours that runs an animal rescue shelter to see if she could give us some advice. Frances recommended we give Randy some milk with an egg and some lemon juice and told us to bring Randy to her if he got worse. Randy lapped up most of the concoction and the shaking stopped. We are so grateful for Frances and her sage advice. We stayed up late last night, watching him until we were sure the worst of it was over.

John patrolled the yard again last night for more Bufos and sent a few on a one-way, non-stop flight over our property wall. (It's important to note our neighbor property is vacant and there are no animals living there that could be hurt by a Bufo.) John found the toad Randy had bit and we were really lucky his hunting skills are not as good as they were when he was a young pup. This time Randy bit the hind quarter, avoiding the deadly poison sacs. I know John didn't get much sleep last night, he was vigilant all night, making sure Randy was on the mend.

We still have several months of rainy season left this year and as soon as the sun sets we will be on Bufo Patrol everytime da boyz want to go outside and water a tree.

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08 May 2013

Road trip to Playa Jaco the long way... via Puriscal

This morning I told John it was time for a "day off" from the daily grind of retirement and we needed to go on a road trip to somewhere we had never been. So I suggested we take a drive up to Santiago de Puriscal, to the South of us, in the mountains at about 3500 feet in altitude. From there we continued south, on the old road, Highway 239, all the way down to the Pacific coast, somewhere between Playa Jaco and Parrita.

Today was a good day for a road trip, the weather was clear and beautiful, and the rainy season is just now starting, so everything is vibrant green again.

It's only about 35 kilometers from Puriscal to the Pacific on this road, but only the first half is paved. We continued to climb up the mountain to around 4200 feet and the temperature was so pleasant we opened the window and turned off the A/C. As we came around a curve, we found this big guy parked in front of someone's house. 

We looked up to the left to see where it came from and this is where it rolled down. Can you imagine the racket it made as is came to it's resting place. The folks living in that house sure were lucky this bolder ran out of steam when it did, or they'd have been like the Wicked Witch of OZ.

There were some beautiful vistas on this road and this photo doesn't begin to do them justice.

It wasn't too long after the bolder that we came across this sight. You've heard of a "vehicle in tow", but I'll bet you've never seen a "horse in tow" without a trailer.

The driver was just coasting and the horse was just walking along behind, like a dog out for a walk on leash.

The road was pretty good for a dirt road until we came to this very narrow iron bridge. Then the road was nothing but a dirt track, about 17 kilometers of BAD road.

When we dropped down out of the mountains, we saw the remains of someone's pipe dream of a "gated community". What on earth were they thinking? Who, in their right mind, would invest in property at least 10 kilometers from a decent highway, and probably 25 to 30 kilometers to any sort of amenities, like a grocery store, pharmacy, gas station, medical care, you know what I mean, the basic stuff you just gotta have. Sheesh, no wonder it's abandoned.

So here is one finished house with an empty pool and the steel framing for two more houses. Lots of money down the drain on this venture.

It took us about 2½ hours to drive from Puriscal to Jaco Beach, and since it was already lunchtime, we stopped for some Arroz con Camerones (Shrimp and Rice) at a local seafood restaurant before heading home on the Autopista del Sol, Costa Rica's version of a super highway. The final leg of the journey only took an hour, but that 17 kilometers of BAD road took it's toll on my chauffeur.

I thinks it's going to be a "kick back" sort of evening with maybe popcorn, or cheese 'n crackers, for dinner.

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Where are our lost friends???

We seem to have misplaced a couple of good friends. The last time we saw them was when we went to have lunch with them at the beautiful home they were renting in Punta Leona on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. That was way back in October, 2012.

I received an email in December, 2012, from my friend saying her yahoo email account had been compromised. She said she was going to close the yahoo account and open a gmail account. That was the last time we heard from M and T.

I've tried to find M and T on Facebook, but no luck. I know at one point M used to follow our blog and frequently sent me comments about our posts. So, on the off chance that M or T happens to see this post, please send us a note to let us know where you are and how you are. We miss you guys.

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29 April 2013

Water water, everywhere (again)

Hooray!  The city water supply, AyA, is back up and running.  No more operating toilets with jugs of bottled water.  We can shower!  We can go down to the bodega and turn on the pump again.

Oh ... the bodega has water running out from under the door.

Oh, the water is pouring out of the top of the pump, all over my tools and equipment that never made it out of the boxes yet.  Oh, hell.

This all started two days ago.  We didn't know that it had even started at all until early Sunday morning.  Pat awakened me with, "John ... somethings wrong ... (adrenaline level spikes) ... there's no water and I think the pump has been running all night!

"Yikes.  I'm thinking that I'll find the pump running inside the bodega, emitting smoke because of running dry for hours.

I grabbed the keys and ran out the back door and down to the bodega. Threw open the door.  No smoke.  Phew!  I just shut off the breaker to the pump and closed the door.  Mistake.
It took awhile to check the water tank (empty) and the various water feeds (dry) and to verify that the water meters hadn't been stolen or removed by the water company in yet another "miscommunication" at the water company's offices.

On the second trip to the street, in an attempt to find out if anybody else had water, a neighbor mentioned that she hadn't had water for two days.  Nobody in the hood had water for two days because the AyA contractor, MECA, cut the main waterline and decided it was perfectly acceptable to knock off work at noon on Saturday, without fixing it.  We'd been running off of our big tank, blissfully unaware of the situation, and then the automatic nighttime water sprinklers came on and drained 'er dry.  Great.

Even with bathrooms all over the place, it only takes a short time for a long term lack of water to get to a crisis stage.  So, off we went to the grocery store to grab some 5 gallon water cooler jugs and a bunch of more user-friendly 6 liter babies.  Since it was Sunday -- meaning that there wasn't an icicles prayer of seeing a repair happen before Monday, if then -- we really loaded up on bottles.  We also alerted friends in other water jurisdictions that we might be over Monday on a water raid, filling up newly emptied jugs.

However, Monday dawned with the sweet sound of toilet tanks filling.


How are the toilet tanks filling if the pump is turned off?  Oh, yeah, there must be a backfeed somehow through the old casita feed and we're seeing city water main pressure.  I wonder how that works?  I thought ....

Down I tramped to the bodega.  There to my wondering eyes is a cascade of water pouring out of the top of the pump.

It happens that my failure to actually get down on the dark grubby floor and inspect the pump's plumbing after the all night run of Saturday/Sunday has lead to the current flood.  It seems that Mr. Pump had generated so much heat, while running dry, that he had melted the plastic pipe fittings coming off of his high pressure side.  Now those melted fittings were leaking at several joints, due to the mystery cross connection with city water pressure.  And running all over the floor and out the door.

Need to shut off the water and get busy.  That valve and that valve and that valve.  There.  Off ... not.  Well, maybe that valve.  Nope.  O.K., back out to the street and shut off the city's valves to both water meters.

Even with this there was an AMAZING amount of water pressure trapped in the web of stretched plastic pipe all over this stinking compound.  And, of course, the pump is the low point in all of this circuitry so when I finally broke the pipe unions at the pump, I felt like I was bailing the engine room of the Titanic.

A quick trip to the hardware store for replacement fittings; back to the bodega; grab some dripping wrenches; get to work.

Unions broken and ... wait ... what?  The undamaged pipe joints are loose at the backflow preventer valve.  Both ends.

Yep.  In an apparent attempt to save themselves a penny or two on each backflow valve, the fine engineers over in China had shortened the threaded ends of their valve so that the threads were way too short for a standard threaded plastic fitting to  engage completely and seal.  Soooooo ...

The pump "expert" who we hired for the original install of our pressure system had wacked off the ends of the plastic male pipe threads (with a machete, from the looks of things) and then wrapped those threads with a half mile of teflon tape.  It worked fine, for a year, until it all got a little over-heated.

Hey, I can play that game too.  Today, I shortened my new fittings, a bit more carefully, with a saw and file, taped the crap out of them and jammed to pump piping back together.

It might last for another year.

If the pump isn't damaged beyond use.

If there isn't an earthquake.

If there isn't some other source of heat or shaking or if Murphy doesn't show up.

Maybe I need to install a flood alarm.  And a low water level alarm.  And an automatic power cutoff for the pump if there's a flow interruption.

This could get expensive.  Heck with it.  I'm taking a nap.

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27 April 2013

The "Yigüirro", the National Bird of Costa Rica

We have an Yigüirro (ee-gear-row) that has fallen in love with it's reflection in our dining room window. It flits between the mango tree, at our neighbors, and our window, where it will perch and tap on the glass for a good part of the day.
This clay-colored robin, or thrush, is the national bird of Costa Rica. In spite of all the beautiful exotic birds found in Costa Rica, the Yigüirro was chosen in 1977 for several reasons. Due to its wide range and tendency to live close to humans, it is well known and therefore mentioned in many of Costa Rica’s folk songs, short stories and novels.

The males are also cherished for their exquisite song; during mating season, they serenade potential mates with an unmistakable tune. Click here to listen to their beautiful song.

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20 April 2013

We are finally on the Google map!

If you've ever wondered what our place is like, you can finally see our hogar (home) in Google Earth. For years we've been looking at blurry satellite images of the Atenas area and our place was just a dark smudge on the map. Last month Google obtained new images and you can clearly see our property and all of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Click to enlarge

This image was updated in March, just after our annual neighborhood fiesta and rodeo. You can still see the bull ring and the flat bed trailers where they had setup chairs for the spectators. It's too bad the image was taken at the end of the dry season... the recent rain has already started to turn the sports field green again.

So now when you think of us, you'll be able to picture us living here in our tropical paradise.

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16 February 2013

Culinary delights from our stone oven

What a treat we been enjoying this week. John brined a fresh ham and cooked it in our wood fired stone oven. The ham is just delicious and we've been fixing it every way you can think of... sliced hot, cold, in sandwiches, fried, etc. If you want the recipe and the full story click on this link:

How to brine and cook a fresh ham...
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25 January 2013

Español and things that irk me...

The native language in Costa Rica is Spanish, or español. It is one of several of the romance languages and it's alphabet, unlike English, officially contains 27 letters: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, and z.

When I learned to speak, read and write Spanish, some 40+ years ago, the alphabet consisted of 30 "letters", 3 of which were letter combinations that have since been eliminated by the Real Academia Española (the ultimate authority on the Spanish language. The other 3 letters where ch, ll and rr.

Spanish was not easy to learn, but certainly it is much easier to master in your 20's than in your 60's. Now that I have turned into "that crabby old lady" (John's words, not mine) I get irked when people try to write in Spanish without taking the time to spell the words correctly. I see it all the time in the online forums and blogs of English speakers. Most of these folks depend on a spell checker to make sure their English is spelled correctly, but they don't bother to ensure their Spanish is spelled correctly.

At times, these misspellings can be rather comical, but occasionally they can be down right insulting. One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is spelling words with the letter ñ, or Ñ. Yes, this is a unique letter, not the letter N with an accent mark. The letter N is pronounced "ene" and the letter Ñ is pronounced "enyea".

I'm sure you've all heard the Christmas song by José Feliciano, that goes like this...

Feliz Navidad
Feliz Navidad
Feliz Navidad
Prospero Año y Felicidad.

Well, the word Año is one of my major pet peeves.... it is spelled "año" not "ano" and it is the difference between wishing someone a prosperous year, or a prosperous "asshole", or "anus" if you want to be anatomically correct.

Here are a couple of other examples the irk me...

cumpleaños (birthday)
Cumple, comes from the verb "cumplir", or to comply, so you can probably guess what it would mean if written as "cumple anos"

sueño (dream/ or sleepy.."tengo sueño")
But when written as "sueno" it means sounded, as in the past tense of the verb "sonar", or to sound.

Doña (title of respect as in lady, mistress or madam)
The word written as "dona" comes from the verb "donar", or donate. It is also a misspelling of the English word "donut". So if this is placed in front of a woman's name, it could mean "Donate Patricia", or maybe even Patricia Donut.

uña (nail---as in finger nail)
If written as "una" it means one, or the article an.

cañón (canyon)
When written as "canon" it means canon, dogma, or doctrine.

We have a local restaurant in Atenas called "Antaños", or "Yesteryears" in English. After this brief lesson, I'll bet you can noodle out the definition if it were written as "Antanos". I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard expats mispronounce this word. They probably get tired of me trying to correct them, but they need to suck it up. I'm just trying to help and pay it forward.

When I was learning Spanish, my best friend Maritza, a Tica, spent more time correcting me than she did talking to me. Here it is, some 40+ years later, and she still giggles when I mispronounce something in her native language. My Spanish will never be perfect, and everyday I learn something new. She continues to teach me and I continue to improve.

If you are learning español, you need to bookmark the Real Academia Española as your "go to" site when you need to know the correct spelling of a Spanish word. There is no better source. Another excellent resource is the Spanish Language Lab at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne

I'll get off my soapbox for now, but only until this old curmudgeon finds something else worth sharing.

Hasta luego señores...

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