Monday, December 28, 2009

Inertia is my Enemy...

Inertia - arrrggg! I've been away from posting waaay too long - at first, I was away from Costa Rica, and I was working full-time, so I decided to take a break from posting. Then, we moved back to Costa Rica, and were busy. Finally, every time I thought "hey, that would make a good blog post!" I immediately thought "but I haven't posted in so long, I have to explain first!" - and so inertia won.

But no more! The next few posts will be chaotic, and this one has a bunch of snippets from emails and forums, but inertia will now work for *me!*

So, on to the snippets!

We went to California in March for a contract, and came back in August (more on that later). We had decided to make our longer-term home in San Pedro, on the East side of San Jose, near the main campus of the University of Costa Rica.

August 25
We made it!!!
We got in about 8:30 pm - got our bags right away, and were checked into our hostel in Los Yoses a bit after 9:30. Our 5 (FIVE) bins made it - none had been opened, although a couple lost some latches :(.
We're beat! And it is kinda warm and humid...
Tomorrow, we go to the bank (to fill out paperwork), to ARCR to get our permanent residency paperwork started, and then on to our storage locker (I need my shoes!).
Then we start looking for an apartment :D

August 31
We got an apartment!!!
It was our first choice, no fall-backs needed (and we had several, just in case) - whew!
It is a 2 br, 1 ba, new-ish one in a very nice neighborhood. It is quiet, and sunny, and right next to a small park by the river. We arranged to do the paperwork and $ transfer tomorrow, and we move in after the 15th of September. So, meanwhile.... :D
We're planning to go to the Caribbean for a bit - haven't been there yet, so looking forward to that. We'll hopefully visit some friends also.
We've been traipsing around the East side of San Jose for almost a week now, so we are ready for a vacation - LOL.

Sept 12
We're staying in Alajuela through Sunday, then back to San Jose to move into our new apartment.
Since our first day is the 15th, and that is also a national holiday - Independence Day!!! - we probably won't be able to actually move in that day (
We spent all of one night on the Caribbean - it was nice, and I'll go back - to a different hotel (especially if someone comes to visit and just *has* to see it). But, I don't recall a more miserable night - hot (it got down to 82 F by 4 am, and pretty much stayed at 75% humidity), and the mosquitoes would not leave me alone! We came, we swam, we conceded (temporary defeat). So, we stayed in Grecia with our friend for a bit longer than originally planned, and now we are in Alajuela.
Yesterday, we saw our first big "rainy season" storm - kept a constant mop on guard at the door (unusual wind direction), counted a couple of lightning strikes less than 2 seconds from the boom, and discovered that saying that I had to check on the laundry triggered another bout of heavy rain.

Sept 16
Rick got sick yesterday, so we will stay in the hostel in San Jose for at least another day, instead of moving to our apartment. We did get the keys yesterday.

Sept 24
We're getting settled, but **very** slowly! Still no fridge, washer, dryer, oven, couch... sigh. We do have our gas counter-top stove, so we get breakfast (eggs aren't normally refrigerated here). We also have our table, our bed, and one guest bed (important things first lol).

Oct 5
Long-haul - finally, we are settling for a long stay! It is subtly different; no more student-quality about our life here. We actually bought new appliances - went all out; did 4 loads of laundry right off the bat. Baked brownies, even. But, we still have almost no furniture. We have plans to look for a couch this week, but probably not today. We have a few leads on where to start, but I don't expect to find exactly what we want for a while. Still haven't found that dratted slow leak in the air bed...

We have found out about the bus (it passed us by twice now - we're hoping it is just because it was too full, and not because the driver has a thing against us - it's a microbus that goes all the way from UCR to the Fischel/BN on the pedestrian mall in downtown SJ). So, it's a nice way to get to the Alajuela bus terminal, about 3 blocks away.

I went to the Feria in Guadalupe Saturday - first time since returning. Now *that* was nice! I had a little inertia to get over, mainly due to (1) the first time since returning and (2) new route. But it was about a 35-40 minute walk each way, not too difficult to navigate, not too unpleasant (but not nearly as nice as last year, when I walked a good part of it through UCR - and took a bus to get to the Feria). My broccoli lady remembered me (although this time, no one really had good broccoli). Afterwards, I went to my butcher, and *he* remembered me :-D. Said was I in the states, 'cause he hadn't seen me in a while... Chatted w/ a nice lady in line - discussed chicken soup and leeks (I know know they're called cebollinos here). Wrapped my head around the numbers (Spanish) again - always difficult for me somehow. Started to get back into the swing of the Feria - negotiated some, but not enough. OK for the first time back tho.

We've been listening for bothersome noises
- *none* from any construction (except one day when the apartment folks were fixing our garbage bin, so short and acceptable).
- *none* from our neighbor who rides a moto - it's not one of those loud ones, and he doesn't gun it.
- *none* from dogs, babies, loud neighbors, etc.
- if we listen hard, we can hear some truck noises on the main road, but completely ignorable
- we can hear the train hooting in the morning and evening, but it too is ignorable (I was especially worried about this, as it is really only 2 blocks away)
- occasionally, we hear a plane (big or small), but not rattling the windows

The AutoMercado is the closest store - ugh. Thank goodness for the Feria! AM is nice, but I don't like it for everyday purchases. We have a Jumbo, but it is across the river - we've only been once, when the apartment manager gave us a ride to pick up stove-gas. We have to explore a bit; hoping to find a foot bridge for a nice direct route to the commercial center there. (not holding out much hope, since the river is pretty big)

We're kinda wondering what the neighbors will think of us when we start having music here - we'll invite them, and we don't play late, but you never know.

We're also starting to wonder what is the proper thing to do at Xmas time - we have a guard and an apartment manager, but they are paid by the landlady (I think as part of the condo fees). So, legally we don't owe aguinaldo, but I feel like it would be a good idea to at least give them some baked treats. I'm thinking that would be a nice thing to do for the neighbors too - we've met them (and borrowed some tools already!).

re: pots, pans - I saw some cast iron in AM, but didn't look closely. Friends have complained that they aren't the same here - not as heavy, etc. I did get a heavy pot and pan at the Agriculture store (forget the name) up the street from Jalapeno's. But *very* expensive ($60 for one) - wouldn't do it again; better to bring your own, especially since you're making trips anyway.

One of our first, best investments was in a gas plantilla - 3 burner counter top type. It takes months to use up the gas, and Alajuela has a gas-delivery guy who "sold" us a used cilindro (we officially borrowed it w/ a c9000 deposit). He brought it up to our kitchen, and attached the manguera even! I have to admit, I do like my new 6-burner estufa :-D. With gas, I don't worry at all about electrical outages (I have matches!). (And we did have a short one last week)

Our side of town - we have a nice soda, and just discovered a good (!) Chinese place near us.

October 28
Rick and I are going to the local clinic to get our tests done - we take them unmentionable body wastes, and they take our blood.

November 3
The biggest, and latest news - Rick sprained his ankle - we confirmed that today w/ the doctor (and x-rays, and a CT scan). There was no single event that stands out, but about 3 weeks ago, his ankle started to hurt, and was pretty swollen. He heated it (no real help), and iced it (helped some), and elevated it (helped some). We've been housebound for most of that time - I got out to the farmer's market and grocery store, but we had to put on hold any more furniture shopping. So, we're housebound WITHOUT comfortable chairs - ugh.
Yesterday we got a recommendation for a bone doctor, and he fit us in - got there at 6 pm, finally saw him about 7:30. We were able to walk next door for an x-ray, brought it back, and it was inconclusive. So, doc said to get a CT the next day. That was today - it showed a small chip on the inside of the ankle, but not big enough to put a cast on - so, tomorrow we go out to get an ankle brace, and Friday Rick start physical therapy. He'll be stuck at home for at least another month, and won't be able to walk much for 3 months. It should be fully healed in 6-12 months. I'm wondering if we can count the last 3 weeks in all that (sure hope so...).

I've been going to the Feria (farmer's market) every other Saturday, and stocking up. My trip includes a stop at the post office and butcher as well as the feria. This last time, I also stopped at a material shop, and got some ribbon - used it to finally hang my painting from the art workshop last March - it looks *great!*

ugh - had to take a moment to kill off a giant cockroach (not *quite* as big as my thumb, but obviously too big for the gecko to handle). The price we pay for living in the tropics, sigh.

Speaking of the tropics! Costa Rica is well below the hurricane belt, but *BUT!* News is that there is a tropical storm becoming "better organized" in the Caribbean - we are getting some rain from it now; who knows what will happen in the next few days. Hopefully, November will give us enough rain to make up for our exceptionally dry October. They are already talking about having electrical outages (remember those rolling blackouts in California?) in the dry season because of the lack of rain (hydroelectricity, don't ya know).

Rick took a look at our budget for the last month - we're just about at what we expected. But we've hardly eaten out at all (housebound, remember?), and our local grocery store is the expensive one. And, I have gotten a bit carried away at the Feria (trying a lot of different cheeses). Oh! AND my butcher had a special on tenderloin (oh man! was that good!) - couldn't resist it, but it was something like $17 for an entire one (about 3 3/4 pounds), and we're still eating it...

We went out one evening to the Jazz Cafe - went to see live music and Flamenco dancing. Unfortunately, the sound system wasn't so great; we left early. The group (and more of them) is coming back in March - this time to the National Theater (gorgeous building!), so we'll get another chance. What we did see was fabulous, as expected. (check it out:

I've been baking brownies in my gas oven. Haven't yet used all 6 (SIX!) of my burners, but you never know what will happen ONCE WE GET FURNITURE... hehehe.

I have a small book of typical Costa Rican recipes, and that has been my "reading material" for all these doctor visits. This afternoon, I saw something that seemed a bit strange (2 tablespoons of baking powder for an 8x8 pan of something-like-moist-cornbread). So, I asked the family that was also waiting whether they thought it was perhaps a mistake. Had a nice conversation about all sorts of food - and ends up they figured it was probably not a mistake. Guess we'll just see (vamos a ver)...

Between all this sitting around and cooking, I sure am enjoying the sunny mornings! Just realized that it sets the mood for the entire day, so even when it rains all afternoon and evening, and I have to walk to the store for consumables (yeah, yeah, more food) in the rain, it still feels delightful! And even though I don't know all the street guards by name, we always exchange an "adios" or "buenas."

November 4
Yesterday, we left a book (difficult-to-get research book) in a San Jose taxi.
Of course, looking for the taxi was a lost cause ("there are 4 million taxis!"), and we figured it was gone for good.
Later that evening, we got an email - we had been using the shipping order as a bookmark, and it had our email address on it. The taxi driver's brother had our book, and we could come to his business at any time to pick it up - WOW! We immediately called to thank him, and today went to get the book. All very friendly, lots of smiles, no ransom :-D, and lickety-split, we had our book.
I'm betting that they run the business just as honestly - it is "Cromo Tico" in Calle Blancos, 125m Oeste de Embotelladora Tica. Unfortunately, we didn't find out what they do there, but it looks and sounds like the do chrome work (on cars?).

November 11
We're not doing a whole heckuva lot - Rick started Physical therapy for his ankle, so we get out of the house at least 2xs per week. Enjoying the gentle rains and sunny mornings.
Heard Christmas music yesterday in a store - sigh.
Still on the hunt for molasses so I can make ginger snaps.

November 17
We kept fine-tuning our location, finally decided on San Pedro. It is almost always in the 70's (F) and anywhere from 55%-77% humidity - that's inside, where I have my "weather station." It's a little cool for me, but I have slippers and sweats, and a husband who doesn't pass out from the heat :-D.

November 19
Went to Sarchi today for rocking chairs. Took the bus from SJ to Grecia, then met a friend and drove together to Sarchi. Did the reverse, but with two enormous boxes!
The bus driver was great! The boxes just barely fit in the under-compartments (only one per side, at that). When we got to the terminus in SJ, I asked him if there was a place I could put them while I flagged down a taxi - he said to just leave them, get the taxi to drive into the terminus, and get them then. And he pointed out where he would park the bus. So, I got the taxi, he came to the gate and told the driver to come in (taxi driver was yakin on the phone, grrr - after starting the maria...). Anyway, we drove in, and the bus driver had already taken the boxes out, and he and another guy put them in the taxi for me - when I thanked them (sans menudo), they simply looked delighted - one even patted my arm. Que dulce!
Traffic was horrific, as you can imagine, but got home in one piece; came to 2400c - worth it!
Tomorrow, I'll be rockin' and a-rollin'

November 21
I went to Sarchi Thursday, and bought two leather/wood rocking chairs and footstools. And I got a nice carved wood vase for my flowers! A friend and I met in Grecia, and she drove us around Sarchi (Sarchi is known for its wood artisans and furniture, and so I was drooling the entire time.). We put the chairs together Friday, and have been enjoying the heck out of them since. :-D.

November 23
Bull riding to start soon!

November 25
re food: "yogurt, cottage cheese and lots of fruit and vegetables, sunflower seeds and raisins. Add some kind of fish..." Yogurt is pretty popular here, although you won't find very many flavor choices. I usually get a large tub of strawberry at the AutoMercado; Mas x Menos only had the smaller containers. I can get low fat, no sugar, which is more than I can say about most stores in California. Cottage cheese is definitely not the same - it is still cottage cheese, just different. I like it fine. It is almost always 1.5% fat; pretty much impossible to find 4%. Fruits - there are a *ton* of them - many will be new to you. If you're like me, you will have fun discovering what the heck to do with them. No blueberries tho. sigh. And cherries are scant and outrageously priced. (saw them today for $20 for a small double-handful). The farther you get from the mountains (e.g., towards the beaches), the harder it will be to get strawberries. But they are available at my farmer's market year-round. Vegetables - if you like a lot of variety, you will have some adjusting to do. I regularly get green beans, zucchini, broccoli (now that i know where to get the good stuff), all the root vegetables (and a new one - camote; yummy), and a million different kinds of squash. The corn looks tempting; have heard it's just so-so; bought some, ended up not using it - so we'll see. Again, near the mountains, you can easily find lettuce, celery, leeks, etc. Fish - quiet a bit to choose from. My market usually has tilapia (these are farmed here), trout (not brown or rainbow; cachi trout is definitely different), corvina (seabass), dorado (mahi mahi), salmon. Haven't seen halibut. You'll have to look for a good fish market - many places don't have enough turnover for really fresh stuff (this includes bakeries). Just be careful until you find a good place. This will be an advantage for you living near the ocean (I know a few people who regularly go to Puntarenas for their fish). Sunflower seeds - no info on this, but I know sunflower oil is easy to get and one of the cheapest "good" oils. Raisins - available all over. Cheeses - your basic is Turrialba (usually called queso fresco, in the states). Farmer's markets, butchers, and supermarkets almost all have some kind of cheese. Usually, you can get (1) low-salt, low-fat, "tierno" (young), (2) maduro (aged, and a bit drier), (3) ahumado (smoked), usually pretty salty and dry. Sometimes you can get mozzarella and Parmesan. Rarely, you can get cheddar and swiss.

November 26
I am putting off getting a rolling pin, etc, so "real" pies will just have to wait.
I did just finish making an apple crisp - yummy! AND

ginger snaps! Yes, I finally found molasses! They sell it in macrobiotic stores (sort of health-food stores, or places to get "natural" medicines - you would have a blast talking to the clerks about all the products). The directions on the melaza say to dissolve 1 tsp in a cup of hot water, and drink - 3 times daily! Made me remember when I used to eat molasses by the spoonful.
So, anyway - the ginger snaps came out pretty darned good - they are considerably darker and more molassesey than what I make in California. Use soy oil instead of wesson, use the melaza I can get here... But they still have that chewy texture.

November 30
I did not see this one coming - missed it...
To be fair, I would have missed it anyway - we had our dinner on Sunday; barely enough room at the table for our plates!
Dry season is definitely coming! Sun is shining, sky is blue, humidity is below 60%!

re bulls - the "bull-fighting" here is more like bull-riding, but after the guy is thrown, a lot of the young men from the spectators jump into the ring and try to catch the attention of the bull (sorta like the clowns in USA rodeos). After a little while, usually rodeo people on horseback come into the ring and either chase the bull into the pen, or rope him and "encourage" him back.

December 2
cost of living
bad news for us - between the cost of living increase, drop in dollar, and moving to a new place that has a more expensive supermarket, our "basic basket" of shopping items has increased about 20% over last year. That's a lot, no matter *how* you slice it!

December 10
I just went to the Dr. (at the clinic, so it was FREE!) today for a checkup, and got the results of my tests (done in late Oct).
todo bien!

December 11
We like to say about our lives here, that we can "plan" to do say 4 things in one day. If we get them all done, we are ecstatic, but we usually get 2 done, and then have another day to get the rest done.

December 12
Festival de la Luz!

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Cédulas!

Last week, we picked up our new Cédulas! It was so ridiculously easy, it hardly seems worth writing about. But, it *is* a milestone, so...

It took us quite a while to get to the office - we took the Periférica bus from San Pedro to the "muy feo" part of town (a few nasty blocks North of the end of the North-South pedestrian boulevard, near Fischel and Banco National). Then we walked around asking all the green bus-drivers (drivers of the green buses) if they were going to migración. We walked around and around, and finally asked at a soda. Half a block away, we caught the direct bus to migración.

At migración, we went directly to the window (previously pointed out to us), where there were perhaps 2 people in front of us. We waited all of 5 minutes, then took perhaps a minute each to get our new cédulas. Geez! no reading time! no chatting with the other unfortunates waiting in the interminable line! what is Costa Rica coming to!

We went back out to the street and waited about 10 minutes for the green "pista" bus, took it back to Paséo Colón, took our new cédulas to the bank, took care of some business at ARCR, and had lunch at a *great* Argentinian restaurant "Aquí Es." We caught the Periférica home again.

Now *all* of my IDs have new pictures! No more strange looks ("this isn't really you, is it?") :-D.

Public Health Care - Ebais Clinic

I picked up some germ or other last week, and finally had occasion to visit my local public health clinic. These small doctor offices are called "Ebais" - the one you go to is determined by where you live. Ours happens to be just a block and a half away :-). Strange as it seems to gringos, everything at the Ebais is free (that is, it is 100% covered under the CCSS public insurance).

To see a doctor, here's what you have to do:

1) make sure you are affiliated. When you first move into your new home, find the local Ebais and register. You take your CCSS receipt (and your last CCSS card, if you have one), and your cédula. If you are a family covered under one receipt, you need to go together and take all relevant certificates (marriage, birth); these have to be "recent" copies (The definition of "recent" varies from less than 3 months to less than 6 months. Don't ask me why a birth certificate has to be recent.). Our Ebais only did affiliations between 8:30-12:30 and 1 and 2, Monday through Thursday. When you register, you get a new card and (maybe) an appointment booklet. You are encouraged to "plasticize" your card (there are street-side vendors who do this). This CCSS card is also called the "Carné del Ebais."

2) make an appointment. Go to your Ebais at about 6:00 a.m. and wait in line. This morning, we got there at 6:15, and there were 25 people ahead of us. The doors open a bit before 6:30, everyone files in and takes a number. When you number is called, you go to the window and show your CCSS card, appointment card, receipt, and cédula. You get an appointment for later that morning (e.g., 8:45 and 9:45).

3) see your doctor. Take a copy of your medical records to leave with them (you should bring these from your previous doctor). Don't expect anyone to speak English. To make it easier, you will probably want to write out your symptoms in Spanish ahead of time. Pointing and miming also helps. You will see the nurse first, then go back out to the waiting room until the doctor calls you. When you are done with the doctor, you take your file back to the desk and finish up any paperwork.

4) if needed, return for lab tests. Get there at 6:00, wait in line. When they open the doors, go directly to the lab line. A bit before 7:00, the lab opens. It is only open until 8:30. Show your lab request paper, get a number, and wait. If you need a urine test, you have to bring it with you, in your own (clean, dry) container. Jelly jars are common for this :-S.

5) if you need a prescription, return in the afternoon, between 3 (farmacia opens) and 4 (farmacia closes). Bring your prescription receipt to the farmacia window. I like to write down the names from the doctor and check them online before I get them - then I can look up and ask any remaining questions when I pick them up. Sometimes, the doctor prescribes medicine that is not available at the Ebais - when this happens, the doctor tells you, so you know to go to a regular farmacia to buy it (and you get a written prescription for it).

Timing for recent appointments:
- 6:15 in line for appointment
- 7:10 got appointment
- 8:40 return to Ebais
- 8:45 appointment time
- 8:50 see nurse, then doctor almost right away
- 9:40 done with doctor; problem with CCSS card
- 11:00 problem resolved; have new CCSS card
- 3:00 return for prescriptions

- 6:15 in line for appointment
- 7:10 got appointment
- 9:40 return to Ebais
- 9:45 appointment time
- 9:55 see nurse
- 10:30 see doctor
- 10:40 done with doctor
- 10:50 done checking out

Special note: flu shots are available at the Ebais between February 2 and March 31, in time for "winter."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cost of Living Part 3 - San Pedro 2009

I finally posted our cost-of-living in San Pedro! It looks a bit funny, because I had started a draft in February (so it is posted as February 21), but ended up using February / March data.
Here it is:

It's a Small World

With a name like Pequeño Mundo (Small World), wouldn't you expect to find toys and baby supplies inside?

Well, guess what - that stuff is there, but mainly this store is a great place to buy cheap household goods - plates, glasses, flatware, candles, plastic kitchenware, etc. Right before school starts, it is also a place to get uniforms.

I kept seeing this store and ignoring it - no kids, you know. It took a funny short conversation about it with a friend before it made any sense at all to me to try it out. Since then, I've made uncounted trips...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Art Workshop - Part III

The main "event" of our Art Workshop was to start with an interesting hard surface (e.g., a piece of wood), add papier maché to all or part of it, then add water color.

I found a piece of lumber that had been scored and banged up, and did a few sketches - the scoring reminded me of falling water, so I thought of either a waterfall or rain.

I played around with it, breaking rules right and left :), and it evolved...

See Part I and Part II.

Art Workshop - Part II

Alison got our creativity jump-started with some sketching - "the hand without looking" is a fairly typical exercise for this - probably because it works :-)

Then we tried some perspective with charcoal - mine went all caddywonkus, so I focused on just one small part of it, experimented with color and deep shadows. The idea is that every part of a picture should be interesting. Well, this is as much "interesting" as I could salvage...

Later, we went our separate ways - the idea was to go on a nature walk and find something to capture in a sketch. I went a short distance (a *very* short distance), and focused on this flower.

These leaves also caught my eye.

We tried different surfaces for papier maché - this is bamboo

Then we progressed to water colors - this definitely takes some practice!

See Part I here.

Art, and the Other Side (Art Workshop Part I)

Art, and the Other Side...

After 25 years of training and working the "engineering" side of my brain, I wanted a shot at exploring "The Other Side."

We so often think that if you are a scientist or engineer, you can't be artistic. "Creativity" seems magical, mysterious, so opposed to logic. But science and art at their best require both rules *and* flashes of insight. In science, very often the flashes provide the basis for new rules. In art, breaking the rules is often the catalyst for something amazing!

In the last 2 years, I have been absorbing a new life, allowing more creativity to creep in, but until recently, not actively pursuing art. Where I've never written for fun before, now I am. I've been experimenting (e.g., playing) with different foods and cooking methods. We've taken time specifically for "photo safaris." And I tried a new approach for learning Spanish.

But until now, I hadn't done anything structured, or specifically aimed at ART. Taking a class in some kind of art has been on my "to do" list (you can take the kid out of engineering, but you can't take the engineer out of the kid) :-) So, last weekend, I went to an ART Workshop! Alison is a gifted artist and teacher.
My art-self-confidence going into this was pretty low, but I decided to take a deep breath, ignore convention, and dive in! When I started talking about vague recollections of rules, Alison threw the door open - you can do this, or that, or whatever you like - wow... When some vague doubt crept in - "something is missing, or not quite right" - she was like a guide in a maze - "see how you did this here? you can try a few more like that." When I thought something worked, she was right there agreeing :-S.

The retreat in Puriscal was ideal - our small group spent Friday afternoon through Monday morning completely focused on art. The retreat folks took care of us - we woke with the sun, had a leisurely cup (or two) of coffee, breakfast and wake-up conversation, then gathered in the open-air studio.
We sketched, painted, and papier machéd, continuing through a mid-morning snack, then broke for a late lunch. Usually we did some more artwork after lunch, then went for a refreshing swim, showered, and relaxed in the heat of the day. When it cooled, we went back to art, then broke for dinner, followed by fun and games. All we *had* to focus on was art!

More Flowering Trees!

When I was in Puriscal last weekend, the Cortesas Amarillas were in full, glowing bloom!

Some of the blossoms fell - here's what they look like...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Flowering Trees!

Summer was *made* for flowers! Costa Rica is home to a whole *bunch* of trees that bloom after the leaves drop - they are *fabulous!*

Of course, you *need* a funky bench to sit on too...

USA Embassy Trip

We just got back from our trip to the USA Embassy - it's just across town, but it took essentially all day!

I had a document that needed to be notarized by a United States notary public - not that easy to find in Costa Rica... Well, the embassy has a notary as part of its consular services for USA citizens (no, it's not free - it was $30). We had tried to do a similar thing earlier, so we knew that this service is available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 1:00 to 2:00 (or maybe 3- can't remember).

So, we headed out a bit before 11 this morning. First stop, gotta get my documents printed at the local internet cafe. Well, there are a lot, and so (of course) some never make it to the printer.

We hop on the Periférica bus in San Pedro some time after 11, changed to the Pavas bus (push the button when you see this funeral parlor (nervous? hehehe), then walk back to it)
about 40 minutes later, and were at the Plaza del Oeste across from the embassy just after noon. To get the right stop, push the button after the Mas x Menos on the left. The embassy is on the right side. If you miss this stop, there is another part way down the embassy (it's *huge!*). We decided to treat ourselves, and had some ice-cream :), you know, to kill time...

We meandered across the street and got through the embassy check-in by 12:40. At the entrance, you hand over all your electronic devices, including remote door openers, cameras, cell phones, computer memory sticks, ipods, and you-name-it. They lock all these up into a bag, and hand you the key. Then (just like at the airport) you put all your metal and bags through a screening device, walk through a sensor, get hand-wanded if you beep, and collect your things. Then we got our ticket and got to sit in line! Well, one o'clock came and went... Finally, we got our turn - I think I was only 4th in line, but didn't get to the window until 1:30! But, by 1:45, we were done - we collected our electronic gizmos, and went back across the street to catch the return bus.

By 2:15 we were eating lunch at a soda, and shortly after we were at ARCR faxing the documents - just in time for another earthquake! Well, most of the pages were done, but the earthquake messed up the fax line, so... They'll get there eventually.

No More Noise!

No More Noise!

Well, *somebody* got fed up with the noise next door! A few days ago, this showed up, and the noise *stopped!*

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Qué Ruido! What a Racket!

OMG! O-M-G!!!

It is 7 a.m. (SEVEN! in the MORNING!), on a SATURDAY!

I woke up to the sound of an electric saw cutting metal, hammers banging away (more metal), people shouting directions...

And once I'm awake, I notice the trucks using their air brakes as they come into town on the main road. And the train whistle - whoever said the train no longer runs in Costa Rica is soooo *wrong!*

NOT the "tranquilo" morning envisaged when you think of Costa Rica - I'm *supposed* to wake up to birds tweeting, and - well, at the moment, I can't think of anything else that would be pleasant to hear waking up.

Gotta go get my feria fix...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mango-Pineapple Sundae

Yum! I just had my treat for the week (or maybe a month!).

Mango-Pineapple Sundae:

Melt 3 Tbs butter in a skillet
Add and heat through:
  • scant 1/4 cup pecans
  • 2 heaping Tbs brown sugar
  • dash cinnamon
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup diced Mango
  • 1/2 cup diced Pineapple
Stir in 1 Tbs vanilla
Pour over 2 bowls of vanilla ice cream
And *devour!*

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cost of Living Part 3 - San Pedro 2009

Part 3 of our assessment of *our* cost of living in Costa Rica...

To Restate for emphasis :-D... An assessment of the cost of living is meaningless unless you know *how* we lived.

In San Pedro, our most representative month was February/March, 2009. We were renting a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, furnished apartment in a University neighborhood of the capital city. We had no car, and no cable TV (no TV, for that matter). We had a land line phone with high-speed internet (in the landlady's name), and a post office box. We still had our 2 cell phones. We ate out at restaurants an average of 2 meals per week - quite a bit less than before, but an average meal was more expensive than our previous cities - often between $5 - $10 each. We shopped at the local supermarkets, and went to the feria regularly. We still went without a housekeeper, but took our laundry to a lavanderia. We were still using only Caja for insurance. But we also go to private doctors occasionally, and pay as we go. Our total for the month, including averaged one-time-only purchases was $1,224.

Here is the breakdown of costs:

2/21/2009 through 3/22/2009 (in U.S. Dollars)

Item - Dollars - Averaged One-time
Dining Out - $102
Groceries - $373
Rent - $400
CCSS (Caja) - $61
Doctors - $0 - $32
Medicine - $0 - $34
Local Travel (bus, taxi) - $18
Internet - $20
Electric - $25
Cellular Phones - $35
Long Distance - $10
Local Telephone - $5
Internet installation - $0 - $2
Water - $10
Laundry - $14
Entertainment - $18
PO box - $0 - $3
Miscellaneous - $0 - $3
Subscriptions, dues, gifts - $0 - $9
Clothing - $0 - $1
Legal Costs - $0 - $8
Spanish School - $0 - $41

Total => $1,091 + $133 = $1,224

Part 1 is our cost of living in Orosí in May 2007, and part 2 is our cost of living in Alajuela in January 2008.

Cost of Living Part 2 - Alajuela 2008

Part 2 of our assessment of *our* cost of living in Costa Rica...

To Restate for emphasis :-D... An assessment of the cost of living is meaningless unless you know *how* we lived.

In Alajuela, our most representative month was January, 2008. We were renting a 2 bedroom, 1 bath (plus very small "maid's quarters"), unfurnished apartment in a large city. We had no car, no land line phone, no post office box, no cable TV (no TV, for that matter), and water was included in the rent. We had 2 cell phones by this time (yay!). We went to internet cafes several times each week. We ate out at restaurants an average of 1.4 meals per day - still not extravagant at less than $5 each. We shopped at the local supermarkets, and central market, and went once to the feria. We skipped using a housekeeper, and by this time I was doing our laundry (by hand). We no longer had USA medical insurance, but had joined the Caja. Our total for the month, including averaged one-time-only purchases was $1,106.

Here is the breakdown of costs:

1/1/2008 through 1/31/2008 (in U.S. Dollars)

Item - Dollars - Averaged One-time
Dining Out - $267
Groceries - $346
Rent - $234
CCSS (Caja) - $61
Doctors - $12
Medicine - $83
Local Travel (bus, taxi) - $27
Internet - $8
Electric - $16
Gas (cooking) - $0 - $3
Cellular Phone - $11
Long Distance - $9
Local Telephone - $12
Miscellaneous (refund) - $0 -$12
Subscriptions, dues - $0 - $7
Bank Charges - $0 - $3
Clothing - $0 - $4
Purchase Cell phones - $0 - $12
Cell phone deposit - $0 - $2
Gas canister - $0 - $1

Total => $1,086 + $20 = $1,106

Part 1 is our cost of living in Orosí in May 2007, and part 3 is our cost of living in San Pedro in early 2009.

Cost of Living Part 1 - Orosí 2007

The cost of living was an important aspect of our decision to move to Costa Rica. The hype said that we could live here with either:
  • the same quality of life as the states for about 2/3 the cost, or
  • a much better quality of life for about the same cost as in the states.
Since we also needed to determine *where* to live long-term, we decided to start with just the basics. Once we find our "perfect place," we could worry about adding in extras. This experiment has had added benefits - we have been living closer to the culture than we would have if we had jumped right into high-end living.

An assessment of the cost of living is meaningless unless you know *how* we lived.

In Orosí, our most representative month was May, 2007. We were renting a small, furnished apartment in a small town. We had no car, no phone, no post office box, no cable TV (the antenna got us a few local channels) - all utilities were included in the rent. We went to internet cafes several times each week. We ate out at restaurants an average of 2 meals per day - none were extravagant though, as they were usually less than $5 each. We shopped at the local supermarkets, and occasionally went into Cartago (when we couldn't find what we needed). We didn't shop at the feria (the nearest was in Paraíso). We hired our landlady's housekeeper to also clean our apartment and do our laundry one day per week. Although we had USA medical insurance at the time, I don't include it as a normal cost of living in Costa Rica. Our total for the month, including averaged one-time-only purchases was $1,060.

Here is the breakdown of costs:

5/1/2007 through 5/31/2007 (in U.S. Dollars)

Item - Dollars - Averaged One-time
Dining Out - $500
Groceries - $280
Rent - $130
Medicine - $30
Local Travel (bus, taxi) - $6
Internet - $15
Electric - $0
Gas (cooking) - $6
Long Distance - $10
Laundry - $20
Cleaning Service - $20
Entertainment - $15
Miscellaneous - $0 - $4
Bank Charges - $0 - $1
Clothing - $0 - $3
Furniture - $0 - $10
Moving - $0 - $10

Total => $1,032 + $28 = $1060

Part 2 is our cost of living in Alajuela in January 2008, and part 3 is our cost of living in San Pedro in early 2009.

Escazú Multiplaza

A few weeks ago, we took our first trip to the Multiplaza in Escazú. Some friends had some errands to do there, and so meeting them there was a good excuse for us to find out more about this shopping mecca :-).

When we go to the West side of San José from our apartment in San Pedro, we usually walk to the Outlet Mall and look for the Periférica - this bus takes us North through Guadalupe, then West along the outer edge of San José, then South across the Paséo Colón, past ARCR, and to the South-East end of La Sabana park. Our alternative (for instance, if we *just* miss the bus) is to take the San Pedro bus - across the street from the Outlet Mall - into downtown San José, then hop on the Sabana Cementerio bus. The SC (route # 2) goes just North of the pedestrian boulevard, then West through the Central market and Coca-Cola area, then follows the same route as the Periférica to La Sabana park. Both alternatives cost about c300, and both take about 45 minutes (depending *heavily* on traffic).

Either bus will do it; Before crossing Paséo Colón, when we got just past the Coca-Cola area, we passed a funeral parlor on our right, and got off. Then we walked back a couple of blocks to the posted "Santa Ana / Escazú" bus stop. Our plan was to ask the first bus to come along (Escazú or Santa Ana) whether they stopped at the Multiplaza (I think they almost all do). Our first bus did, so no problem! We weren't the only first-timers on this route - there were *several* other potential passengers who asked our driver this same question - he was nice about it *each* time :-).

Our approach to changing buses is that the earlier we can get on the "new" bus, the better - this gives us more opportunities to get a good seat :-). Also, whenever we ask the driver for help, we try to sit close to the front, and on the opposite side - this gives us a better shot at the driver remembering us and our question.

This worked again (it doesn't always tho, so be aware)! We saw the Multiplaza on our left, and started thinking we would have to cross the highway on foot (ugh!), but the driver held out his hand to all of us first-timers (nope, not there yet). A few minutes later, we pulled off the highway, wound around the Multiplaza parking lot, and stopped at an actual bus stop! This is a *popular* destination! And I don't think it took more than 10 or 15 minutes from where we got on the bus.

We also passed EPA, CIMA, and PriceSmart - good for future reference...

The Multiplaza is *huge!* And it has a *lot* of things that are difficult or impossible to find anywhere else. On the top of my list was to get some Biotin. Well, as we were sitting in the food court, planning our attack, I looked up and saw a store specializing in vitamins. Hmmm - sure enough, they had biotin...

Top Ten Spanish Verbs

Rick found an interesting Spanish dictionary the other day - it lists the words in order of frequency-of-use! So you can learn the "most important" words (or at least the words you would hear and use most often) quickly. The dictionary is by Davies, and is called "A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish."

The top ten Spanish verbs listed are:
  1. ser = to be
  2. haber = to have (as an auxiliary verb)
  3. estar = to be
  4. tener = to have
  5. hacer = to make or do
  6. poder = to be able, can
  7. decir = to tell, say
  8. ir = to go
  9. ver = to see
  10. dar = to give
Of course, these are simplified translations - most of these verbs have subtleties associated with them, and so have many different meanings and are used in many different ways. Still, it is a nice study list!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Live Music in Grecia!

Last night we went to Diego's Red Door in Grecia, and had a great visit with friends, along with an excellent dinner and fabulous live music! You can read a spot-on review of the restaurant and the band "Two Can Jam" in this month's Mountain Howler (note: this is not a permanent link).

After dinner, we extended our visit over coffee and dessert, then crashed at a friend's house nearby.

We returned home this afternoon - the trip had the added benefit of learning about some new bus routes :-D.

We left our apartment in San Pedro in the afternoon - 3 buses and 2 hours later, we were in Grecia. We took the San Pedro bus and Sabana Cementerio bus to the Grecia terminal downtown. When we got on the Sabana Cementerio bus, I asked the bus driver if he knew the Grecia terminal, and could he tell us when we got there. This has become a good habit, but I also never count on the driver to remember. So, we roughly knew where the terminal was, and so as we neared Coca-Cola, we peered around anxiously. At one stop, we started to rise, and the driver put his hand out to us - indicating that we should wait (nope, not there quite yet). Then he stopped a few blocks farther (I don't even know if it is a regular stop), and motioned to us. We thanked him profusely, and got off the bus. Then what? Well, we asked someone, and she pointed back the way we had come and said it was a couple blocks back. Having just come that way, we were inclined to ask someone else... We waited until she was out of sight, then asked at a nearby cafe. The gentleman behind the counter *came out* of his cafe, walked us down part of the way, and pointed around the corner - doh! We had gotten off the bus within 10 feet of the entrance to the *huge* terminal, *full* of buses, all with *great* *big* signs on the front, saying "GRECIA." Ok, it *was* out of sight around the corner...

A short wait later, we hopped on the bus - we were a bit surprised by the c815 fare - we were thinking of the c425 fare for the Alajuela bus. But, as we thought about the alternative bus route (SJ->Alajuela->Grecia), we figured the total amount would be the same. It comes to only about $1.45, but it stripped us of all our small bills and change.

About an hour later, we pulled into the terminus in Grecia - it is the same place that the bus from Alajuela uses - just West of the central park.

We killed some time sitting in the park (aahhh) and drinking iced coffee (AAAAHHHHH) with a friend, then headed over to the Red Door.

Our return trip was nearly the reverse - buses leave for San José from Grecia every 25 minutes. We decided to get off on the Paséo Colón, and after about a 10 minute wait, caught the Periféricia all the way home. I timed some of the distances on the way back:
  • Grecia terminus 2:10
  • Enter Autopista 2:25
  • Airport 2:45
  • Paséo Colón 3:00
  • Home 4:00

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Immigration - Year 2

What a lot of build-up for such an easy morning!

This morning we had our appointment with immigration to renew our cédulas, and it couldn't have gone any smoother.

The build-up:
  • Last year, immigration was so backed up, they gave everyone amnesty on their residency renewals. That was our first year.
  • This year, we went through ARCR. We called in September (the month our residency was approved) to get an appointment with immigration. This is when the officials check that we met all the requirements for maintaining our residency: stay in Costa Rica for a total of 122 days (or more) and convert $12,000 into colones - all within the calendar year (for us, that is September to September).
  • It was clear that immigration was already beginning to back up again - just one month before, people were able to get appointments within a month. Our appointment was 4 months away. I kept watching others - by the time January rolled around, appointments were nearly a year away!
  • Because our first year went unchecked, ARCR recommended that we bring our proof for both years.
  • We anxiously kept our airline boarding passes and exit tax receipts as additional proof of the days we traveled. Our passports were our main proof, but these are not always sufficient.
  • This year, we also had to renew our passports - this meant that our old passports had to come with us as well, since they had all the entry and exit stamps.
  • The week before our appointment, we went to our bank to get a statement - our proof that we converted the proper amount of money. We got the form letter from ARCR, showing the dates that applied to us, walked it over to the bank, and the fellow typed it up, stamped, signed, and we're done! Well, almost... We double-checked the dates, and they were not exactly right. So, several more passes (our poor bank guy seemed to take it ok after a little initial embarrasment - just how *do* you avoid that?!?), we left with our proof.
  • At ARCR, we made copies of our passport pages and bank letter, and paid our attorney fees and immigration fees.
  • The day before our appointment, I got a bit nervous - did we need to do anything more? Were our papers ok? I called ARCR, and all was well (tranquila, Julie!).

The Appointment:
  • The morning of our appointment, we took the bus to ARCR. Our immigration appointment was for 8:50, and our appointment at ARCR was for 8:00. We got there a bit early... While we waited, we had a nice chat with some of the other residents who also were renewing. We always seem to meet the nicest people!
  • ARCR took care of paying the immigration fees and organizing the proof. We all piled in a couple of cars and went to the immigration office, where someone had been saving our places in line. And what a line! People were *everywhere!* We killed a little time sipping coffee in the cafe, chatted some more, then our "line-stander" came and got us. Talk about feeling a tad guilty - I felt like we just waltzed past all these dedicated people; like we had a great big blinking neon sign on our heads saying "we're special, we get to cut." I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time, and people are used to it, but that didn't stop the twinge...
  • For our renewal, we didn't even talk to an official. I thought for sure we'd have to point out the dates, maybe even show our back-up stuff (those ticket stubs, you know). But noooo! All we did was go to the desk with the camera and fingerprint machine. I'm guessing (but who knows?) that ARCR handled all the discussions with the officials - they *must* have looked at our carefully prepared proof, right?!?
  • We got our pictures and prints taken, signed the forms, and got our temporary cédulas. This is a piece of paper with my picture and information, stamped and signed by the official.
  • We got an appointment to pick up our "real" cédulas. On or after March 16, we can go to a different window at immigration, get them, and we're done! We could also have arranged for them to be sent to our local post office. But then we would have to pick them up within a week of their arrival there. We prefer the flexibility of picking them up at the immigration office.
Some advice and benefits:
  • Immigration has just now implemented a new policy (probably because of the increasingly long back-up, but I'm not going to question it) - we paid an extra c11,500 and got an automatic extension on our cédulas! Yipee! Our cédulas are good for an extra year! Fortunately, we had the extra cash on us (and still some left for the bus ride home) :-D.
  • Speaking of buses, we caught a new one! There is a green bus that goes to immigration from either downtown San José (just North and West of Fischel and Banco National on the pedestrian boulevard) or from Paséo Colón (this one says "pista"). It is c185. We caught the "pista" bus to Paséo Colón, then switched to the Periférica - we were home by 11:15 (but dog tired, since we had gotten up at 5:30)!
  • When it is time to pick up our cédulas, the best time to go is between 11-2. This is when the line is at its shortest, but the window is still open.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My New Butcher

A few weeks ago, I went to "My" butcher in Guadalupe. I wanted to make some beef stew, but I didn't know how to ask for the right cut. The butcher shop has a sign on the back wall listing all sorts of cuts and types of meat, but they are all specialized Spanish! How would you ask for a chuck roast? or stew meat? I knew that if I asked for meat for "Olla de Carne," I would get ribs - not at all what I wanted. (Olla de Carne translates to "Pot of meat," and is like beef stew, but it is a specialty of Costa Rica, and is definitely different than your basic Irish stew.)

So, in preparation for this trip, I looked up all sorts of possibilities in my dictionary, and wrote them on my shopping list. I'm sure all that helped, but the final answer for the name of the cut was *not* on my list!

When I got to "MY" butcher, as usual, I stood in a line that was 4 or 5 people deep. Saturdays are *very* busy, with so many people buying their meat for the week. So, it took about half an hour to get to the front. Meanwhile, I was sharing eye-rolls with my fellow penitents, and becoming more and more amazed at how friendly and patient the butchers continued to be. When the fellow in front of me finally paid for his mountain of beef, chicken, pork, sausages, etc., and it was my turn, I started with the hard question.

I said that I didn't know the name for the cut of beef, but it was something like... and I rattled off my list of Spanish "stew meat" names. Well, "my" butcher called over another to help, and we all had a conference - they looked at my list, and seemed amused that I was trying so many different Spanish terms (and none of them the right one). They finally determined that what I wanted was rump roast - "posta cuarta de res"- cut small - "trocitos." They showed me the entire roast first, and I said "yep! looks good." Then "my" butcher cut some pieces and showed me the size. I said "maybe half that size" and he cut them even smaller - "trociticos."

All this time, my butcher was smiling, the consulting butcher was smiling, and another fellow behind the counter was smiling (I don't know about the folks standing in line behind me - I didn't dare look...). I noticed that the name on the money bowl was "Solórzano," and it made me think of the sun (sol, solar) - and before I knew it, my mouth was open again... I asked if that was his name, and he said yes - I said (essentially) that it suited him, because his face was so sunny. Well... he wrote out his name for me - and added his phone number =:-o.

I am *positive* (yes yes yes) that this is the phone number of the butcher shop, and he only gave it to me so that if I had more questions, he could answer them.

Hmmm. Well, the stew turned out great, and the next time I went to the butcher, I somehow ended up in the line next to "my" butcher. The consultant saw me in line half-way across the room, recognized me, and said "how are you?" I hollered back, and when I got to the front of the line, he came over and shook my hand. Both he and "my" butcher asked how the meat worked for me (this is two weeks later!). I told them how I cooked it, and they seemed genuinely interested.

My walk home took just over half an hour, and I smiled the whole way...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Renewing Driver's Licenses

Today, we renewed our Costa Rican driver's licenses!

The experience was a lot less hectic than when we first got our licenses. Two years ago, the MOPT (Costa Rica's transportation authority) was in downtown San José, we had help, and we were getting new licenses (really, we just showed our USA licenses and our cédulas and we got Costa Rican licenses).

This time, we went to our branch of the Banco National in the morning, and paid c10,000 for the renewal fee, plus a c455 processing fee. Then, just to be accurate, we used the scale at the mall to get our height and weight (you know, in metric...).

Then we went home, where I promptly burned lunch, AND broke (another) glass - this does *not* bode well for later...

Well, I guess that got all the bad luck out of the ether, because the rest of the day went pretty well.

We took the San Pedro bus to downtown San José, then the Sabana Cementerio bus to the Fischel stop, then walked a couple of blocks (asked a bus driver for the La Uruca bus) turned around and walked a block back and a block over (sigh), and caught the La Uruca bus. It was easy to see the Mercedes dealer where our stop was - we got off and crossed the street with no problem (yay for pedestrian lights and crosswalks!). We knew the medico / laboratory was near, but didn't immediately see it - we asked a handy guard, and he pointed down two doors East :-).

Since I knew my blood type, my medical check was only c10,000. Rick's was c15,000, and now he knows his blood type :-). The receptionist (3:15) asked for our cédulas, took our cash (we probably could have paid with a credit card), and started our paperwork. Rick went off to give some blood while I stood in the examination line. The Doctor was very nice; asked if I spoke Spanish, and when I said "poquito," he conducted the rest of the exam in English - I didn't even *think* to say the eye chart in Spanish - I should have at least done *that* much.

After the exam, we took our completed medical reports and walked West one block to MOPT. The new MOPT complex looks almost like a university - it is very pleasant. The guard at the entrance asked if we wanted licenses, and we said yes, we were renewing. He asked to see our bank receipts and medical reports, then pointed us to the last building on down a path. Along the way (3:30), we saw several signs that confirmed we were on the "yellow brick road." At the door, another guard checked to make sure we had our receipts and reports, gave us a number, and said to have a seat.

When my number came up, I showed my receipt, report, cédula, and old driver's license, gave my new address and phone number, said I wanted to be an organ donor, and then waited for a camera to become free. I got my photo taken (no fingerprint this time, since it is already in the system), waited a few minutes, and signed for my new card (3:55)!

Everyone was very helpful and friendly, and the lines were short. What a change from before!

On top of everything else, we caught a different bus back to San José - I asked the fellow in line ahead of us if it went to Fischel's, and he said yes. When we got to the right stop, he said here we are! *and* walked and talked with us all the way! Near the end, I was a bit worried that he was going out of his way just to show us how to go, but when we shook hands good-bye at the corner, he took off in the same direction (whew!).

We decided to walk the pedestrian boulevard back to the San Pedro bus, partly because we still don't know a good bus going the right direction, and partly because we like to walk the boulevard when we aren't in a hurry - it is only 10 blocks or so, and always lively.

The crazy part is that my first driver's license was good for 2 years, and in all that time, I have not even *once* driven in Costa Rica! The renewed one is good for 5 years - surely in that time, I'll take the plunge...

Note: current exchange rate is about c564 = $1

Spanish School in San Pedro

Ahhhh - I have this week off from Spanish school!

Yep, I started Spanish school again! Two weeks ago I unclogged my brain, cleaned out my ears, and started stuffing my head with more Spanish. (Hmmm - I could probably translate that somewhat complicated sentence into Spanish now.)

Epifanía is in San Pedro (Montes de Oca, part of San José), just a few blocks from our apartment - talk about convenient! I compared their approach, location, and cost with COSI, then went to talk to the folks at Epifanía. They showed they were willing and able to work with my schedule, let me sit in on a class, and *then* offered a deeeeep discount - I signed up!

They tested me both with a written exam and verbally (basically, the teacher evaluated me while I was in the class). After the first class, they shuffled me into another (I needed more confidence in speaking, and more practice overall).

Their approach works great for me! Comparing it to my previous experiences, I think it is the best so far. The classes go all morning, from 8:30 till 12:15. The first half is focused on grammar lessons, and the second half is conversation.

I need some structure - Epifanía offers more than I had at Montaña Linda, and just a bit less than at Intercultura. I definitely benefit from having other students in my class (who knew?) - I find that they make different mistakes and have different questions than I think of asking. You get used to hearing other students answering questions with complete sentences, practicing their new Spanish concepts - it is an additional push to your brain - "oh yeah, this is a different situation - take advantage of it!" Plus, conversation is much livelier! It is downright difficult to think of a topic, think of what to say about it, *then* say it in Spanish - in the *tense* that you want to practice! So far, the classes haven't been too big either - my usual class size is 4 or 5 students. They change the teachers often, so you also practice hearing different people, and learning in slightly different ways. But the teachers obviously have the same approach and plan, so it is not disjointed.

Basically, the only drawbacks are those that won't apply to everyone.
  • I like to have a plan - I like to know what the subjects will be for the duration, so I can study up on the topics that my class has had, but I hadn't. Well, there *is* a plan, but I don't know what it is. So I'm going with the flow. My first few days were a bit rocky, but I spent one night burning the midnight oil, looking through my grammar and verb books, making "cheat sheets" and refreshing my memory. Then I just plunged in.
  • My main problem is that I have a hearing and short-term memory problem. It turns out these two symptoms are correlated (I'll post about this soon), and together they make it *very* difficult to learn a new language. So, I've had to explain to each teacher that I can't hear well over background noise (Costa Rica is *full* of background noise!). They have been lovely about it - they just tell me to say "repite, por favor." By the end of the first week, I was getting used to focusing on their voices, and it got easier.
A new light went on the other day about school! When you do homework in school, you get used to making sure it is correct - it affects your grade, after all. Well, *now* "homework" has an entirely different purpose! This is when you *want* to make your mistakes - you get the chance to *take* chances, and then get corrected. It is an interesting mental hump to get over.

So - this week, the week that Costa Rican students start their school year, I have off from school :-D. I feel evil! For one tiny moment, I felt like gloating (really, it *was* short)! Then I set myself some homework - ugh! I go back for two more weeks of school after this week. The main reason for taking a week was to let the lessons gel. The reason for taking this particular week is that we have our immigration appointment, and we also have to renew our driver's licenses. So, I can't dedicate the entire week to practicing and reviewing my Spanish lessons. (that's my excuse, and I'm stickin' to it!)

My homework for this week includes:
  • capture lessons from 1st 2 weeks (done - next time, I'll do this as I go)
  • write essays using different tenses and forms (2 each day)
  • review flash cards; write simple sentences for at least 6 words each day
  • add flash cards for top 10 verbs (conjugated)
  • read a Spanish book aloud (1 chapter each day)
  • review Spanish grammar books
  • practice with Spanish-speakers (did some at the feria and laundry)
So far, I haven't done too well. But weekends don't count, right? Stop blogging, Julie, and hit the books!

Front Page News at Your Fingertips

If you get a little homesick, this site will show you the front page of newspapers around the United States (thanks Karl!) - even from fairly small towns!

It's a nice little dose of "home," when you are making a new home...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bread Without Salt - a Dicho

Bread Without Salt?

No, it's not another recipe - those are fun once in a while, but this is *not* a foody blog...

I heard a new saying (un dicho) this week - it is deeper than it seems at first, and it sheds a little bit of light on something that is strange to a lot of gringos in Costa Rica.

This is something that is said about some women - she is like bread without salt, or "pan sin sal." It isn't an insult - bread made without salt is still a nourishing staple. But the salt makes it flavorful, and more enjoyable.

So, what kind of woman is like bread made without salt? A woman who does only the basic grooming - she showers, for example. But she does not apply make-up, style her hair, polish her nails, wear stylish clothes, use perfume, etc.

What many gringos "see" in Costa Rica are women who seem to "dress to impress" - specifically to impress men. But these women are really just adding flavor and joy to their lives, and to the lives of those around them. The effort is not aimed just at attracting men - although it usually *does* attract men :-D, that is more of a side-effect.

When you "add your salt" you show that you care about yourself and that you enjoy life. You care about adding something special to the lives of others as well.

I have to admit, this discussion opened a new door for me - both to the Tico culture, and to myself. I have had my time as bread without salt, and have recently started to add salt back into my bread. It feels different - the difference is subtle, but definite.

Hmmm - I think it might be time to paint my toenails...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Papaya Beef Stew

Fusion Cuisine Lives! Here is another experiment with Costa Rican foods, used to modify an old standard. (and modified again, February 2010)

Papaya Beef Stew

Marinade (let stand for at least 1 hr, preferably all afternoon):
1 small papaya, seeded, peeled, and cubed
3/4 kg stew beef, cubed very small - about 3/4 inch per side (trociticos)
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped fine (picado)
1 whole Orange, diced (include the peel but not the seeds)
1/4 cup red wine

I marinade in a crock pot (not turned on) for several hours, then put the pot in the fridge overnight. After lunch the next day, I plug in the crock pot, and let it go for several hours. About an hour before dinner, I dump the contents into a large pot and add all the rest of the ingredients. This seems to have the best effect for tender beef, and it is a *lot* easier.

Add, then simmer for 1 hr:
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup of barley
2 sliced/diced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 joint ginger (~ 1 inch), minced or grated
black pepper
ground cloves
1/2 Tbs cocoa powder
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 costilla criolla packet
bay leaf
other herbs to taste

2 hands full chopped celery (w/ leaves)
3 large carrots, sliced
4 small potatoes, diced
3 medium-large camotes, diced
enough water to cover

serve w/ good bread

- stewmeat in Costa Rica is "carne para estofar" and the cut is "posta cuarta de res"
- papaya has an enzyme that tenderizes meat (as does pineapple)
- I marinated the meat for several hours. I would consider mashing the papaya a bit next time.
- Before this latest modification, I cooked the stew for a total of 1 1/2 hours. It wasn't enough time for the meat to get tender.
- The stew got better each day - we had leftovers for several days. The extra sitting time let the flavors mix and the meat get more tender. I added water each time to the stew as I reheated it.
- if necessary, you can cook the potatoes and camotes in a separate pot of salted water, drain and add to the stew later (I do this if I don't have enough room left to use just one pot).
- the cocoa doesn't make the stew taste like chocolate; it just enriches the flavor - if you don't know it's in there, you won't know what it is that makes that "strange, good" flavor. One time, I accidentally put in 3 times the amount - it was still ok, but you definitely could taste the cocoa (so, too much).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What a Sight - To Forget?

Sometimes it pays to forget to bring in the towels!

We put our towels out on the pila (the small outside courtyard for doing laundry) everyday after our showers so that they can dry (in what little sun our current pila gets).

Today, we forgot to bring them in until right before bed.

But what a treat for our eyes! The full moon was straight overhead, and surrounded by a rainbow! Clouds were scudding by, making it look as if the moon were racing along, and we were just keeping up with it somehow. Lovely!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We Have Internet!!!

We have *internet!* In our *apartment!* I think I'm excited...

Oh, what a *saga* - we moved into our apartment December 10th. When we talked to our landlady, we said we wanted internet on the phone, and she indicated that it was possible. So, a few days later (we did have to move in, after all), we (ok, all this "we" stuff is really Rick) called ICE (the phone and power company) and requested internet on our existing apartment land-line. They said that because the phone was not in our names, they needed a copy of the owner's (our landlady) cédula, a request form filled out and signed by her, and a copy of our phone bill.

We called our landlady (she is awfully difficult to contact), and she said that she had already requested the internet - YAY! - and that it was supposed to be available to us within 15 days. Well, that put it right *on* Christmas, so we hoped, but didn't count on getting it by then (things reeeeaaallly sloooow dooown here during the Christmas season).

Well, Christmas came and went, and we saw our landlady again. She mentioned in passing that ICE had said that it would be faster to get wireless than to get DSL, so she said "sure, do wireless!" ARG! We explained that wireless wasn't secure enough for us, and that we needed the DSL line. So, she goes back to ICE and starts a new request. Yes, a *new* request...

Meanwhile, soon after the earthquake... Our phone starts to get flakey. And it quits working. Now we worry that if the phone isn't working when ICE comes for the internet install, we'll need a *third* appointment (no-no-no!). We find our landlady, and after a few days she changes the line between the phone and the wall box - and it works! YAY! But! only a couple of days later, it quits again - what a *rollercoaster!* We thought maybe the bill hadn't been paid (it wasn't ours yet), so we paid it (no effect). The landlady eventually comes and checks the phone, and says she will come back tomorrow (uh-huh, we've heard that how many times?).

January has come, and now it has gone. Still no phone. We called ICE, and they estimated that the internet would be connected in the first week of February. We're still worried about that phantom third appointment looming. Fortunately, a person-who-knows tells us that 5,000 colones to the ICE guy will get any wiring problem fixed - but quick!

So! the night before last (February 1), the landlady was here, checked the phone line, had her fix-it guy come by and check it, and thought that the wire was broken somewhere between the apartment and the outside switchbox. They planned to come at 11:00 am the next morning to finish fixing it.

Well! Yesterday at 9:00 am (Nine - that's earlier than eleven!), the ICE internet guy shows up - they (of course) had been trying to call us to confirm this appointment, but couldn't reach us - duh. He is not too happy that the phone line isn't working. When he tried to track down our phone line to check it, he found that our *phone number* wasn't even working at the switchbox! The fix-it guy had left the line disconnected - geez! So he couldn't even *find* the right line to *check!* He thought that the phone number was dead because we hadn't paid the bill, but (YAY!) Rick showed him the receipt (hehehe). So, back to square one (that's the phone connection, in case you lost track)!

AHA! Some Very Important Wire out in the street was loose! It was probably shaken loose during the earthquake - truly minimal damage for us. He eventually got the line fixed and the internet connected! It took a second trip, but fortunately it was in the same morning. AND all with no 5,000 colon tip :-). YAY! (are you suspicious yet? 'cause I sure am).

Rick spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon trying to get our router connected and working. The box we got from ICE is a combined router and DSL modem, and the two were set to the same IP address by default, so they got in each others' way. But, Rick "es listo" (is clever), and got it to work :-D.

I got to check my email in comfort finally - but (of course) after so long without internet, I have too much to get through in any reasonable amount of time. We also got to call my folks using Skype! It was great to actually speak to them - no echo, no delay, clear as a bell! whoo hooo!

Naturally, I stayed up waaay too late last night, and am dragging my you-know-what around today!

Naranjilla Refresco

Another fruit to play with!!!

These are Naranjillas that I got at the Guadalupe Feria - they look and feel a bit like persimmons, so they are probably related. I asked La Señora what they were, and if they should be cooked (this is becoming my standard line at the Feria). She said to cook them with a bit of rice. I thought this meant that they were an interesting addition to food, and could be either sweet or savory, depending on the cooking method.

Well, I hadn't gotten around to cooking them yet, when I had an opportunity to grill someone else :-D. Here is what I came up with after *that* discussion. I asked my landlady to taste the end result, and she said it was pretty good, and seemed normal, "but then, I don't like things very sweet." Hmmm - I think that is "Tica" for "most people would want more sugar in it."

Naranjilla Refresco

6 naranjillas, diced (remove the stems, but don't bother peeling them)
1/2 cup granulated Splenda
1/2 cup uncoooked rice
7 cups water

Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes

Let cool slightly, then blend.
Strain into a pitcher, and refrigerate.
Makes 1 Qt

- This is also good hot; I am betting that many people drink it that way.
- Try adding any or all of these: ginger, vanilla, more splenda, a bit of salt, coriander, another type of fruit (maybe pineapple?), and/or another seasoning.
- This comes out *very* thick! It is like a smoothy.
- Since these seem like persimmons, I might dig out my Mom's Persimmon Pudding (it's really a very moist cake) recipe and try it (with Rum sauce - Yum!). Always assuming I can figure out my Oven problem...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gasless Beans?

Those who know me are doing a double-take - *Julie* is writing about *beans?!?* But she *hates* beans!

Well, they are still not my favorite food, but - since Gallo Pinto is practically the national food of Costa Rica, and I do live in Costa Rica, I decided a while back that I needed to investigate this bean phenomenon a bit more.
I found a good Gallo Pinto recipe, and then found a whole bunch of tips on how to cook beans so that they aren´t quite so musical...
So, I cooked a batch of beans the other day, and used *all* of the tips that I could. And here´s the result!
and it seems to work...

Gasless Beans

Clean beans, and rinse
Cover beans with water, add 1T baking soda
Bring to boil, simmer for 15 minutes
Drain and rinse
Cover beans with water (~ 1 inch above top) and soak overnight in fridge
Drain and rinse
Beans should be a little slimy
Cover beans with water (~ 1 inch above top)
- ginger (1 joint, ~ 1 inch)
- garlic powder
- 1 onion
- 1/2 chili dulce
- 1T honey
- 1 medium potato
- 1 jalapeño pepper

Bring to boil, reduce to simmer approx 1.5 - 2 hrs. A cooked bean should squish to a paste when you squeeze it with your fingers.

- all the additions don't really flavor the beans.
- I probably used too much water to cook them.
- Next time, I will try cooking w/ less ingredients, then adding them to the cooked beans along w/ the rice, etc. for Gallo Pinto.
- Definitely add salt! but later - if you add it before the beans are done, they will stay hard.

And, believe it or not, I am becoming a bit enamored of the humble black bean...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Internet Issues...

We're having issues with internet right now, so bear with us if we don't respond to emails, etc. very quickly.
I'll probably post the entire saga once it is resolved :-D.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cutting a Mango

Cutting a Mango
No, it's not like cutting a rug :-D.

Long ago, I saw a Poirot movie where he demonstrated how to cut up a mango. I've used that method ever since, and thought I'd share it here. It maximizes the amount of fruit you get from the mango - the only way to get more is to eat the skin (which many people do, but only when it is "tierno," literally "tender," "young," or "fresh," but also is "unmarred" colloquially).

Poirot's Mango method:
- cut mango along edge of pit

- insert spoon, scrape along sides of pit - both sides, freeing the pit

- remove pit (eat any fruit left on the pit - this is the cook's tax)

- cut a grid in each side of fruit; don't cut through the skin
- invert the half by pushing the center of the skin side

- scrape the flesh off the skin (use a knife or your thumbs)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Another Reason to Go to the Feria

When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go...

Sure, if "downtown" means the Feria in Guadalupe!

You can forget all your worries, forget all your cares, and go...

If you want to boost your ego, go to the Feria!

*Everybody* loves you at the Feria - you are their Queen, their Love, their Friend!

January 17, 2009 - Saturday morning in Guadalupe

The available fruits and vegetables in our local supermarket are just *not* up to snuff - definitely not what we are used to seeing in Costa Rica!

So we quizzed our landlady, and she said there was a Saturday Feria (Farmer's market) in Guadalupe (North of us about 1 mile) and a Sunday Feria in Zapote (South of us about 1 mile).

So today, I went to Guadalupe! I took my carrito (little rolling, fold-up metal cart), and caught the 10:30 Periferica bus (ruta L1) in front of the Outlet Mall in San Pedro (c295), and got off in Guadalupe - one of these days, I'll walk it, but I want to be sure of my route first :-).

I first went to the post office (across the street from the North-West corner of the park) and checked our mail - nothing yet!

Then I walked North about 2 blocks - I wandered around a bit, seeing a lot of people with carts (full and empty), so I knew I was close. But I finally had to ask La Señora con el carrito - I ended up following her (west 1 block) to the Feria :-D. It looked small at first, but then - turn a corner, and it explodes! It is *big!* It is probably a bit bigger than the Alajuela Feria - a bit more dense, and not covered.

It is hard at a feria to not buy before looking around - I compromised and bought some stuff; waited on others. By noon, I had a pretty full cart, and had tried two new fruits!

The "caimito" looks a bit like a fig on the outside.

A nice gentleman shared one with me - he broke it open like you would a fig, but then we ate the white-ish part around the seed (spit that out), and scraped the flesh (purple) off the skin with our teeth - we tossed the skin and seed on the ground. It left a sticky feeling on my mouth. The same gentleman took a leaf (from the same bin), and folded it so that the underside was exposed, and rubbed it across his lips. He found a leaf for me, and I did the same - the sticky stuff was rubbed right off! I was just picturing myself walking around with sticky purple lips...

After that, I guess I got a bit more brave - I saw what looked like small plums at another stall, and asked what they were. These fruits are called ciduela, and they do have a plum-like texture. I tried one - ate the skin but not the seed.

After the Feria, I went to a butcher that was recommended - the "Union" butcher, just South East of the church. It was *crowded!* There were at least a dozen lines, all about 4 deep! By this time, I only had about c5,000 left, so I was a bit nervous. But then I saw someone pay with a credit card - ahhh - gotta love plastic! Sooo many people were buying *huge* amounts of meat! bags and bags of it - you knew they were doing their weekly meat shopping. Well, so was I...

I got out of the butcher's in less that half an hour, and expected to walk back to San Pedro. But, as I was turning the corner, I saw the 12:37 Periferica bus (ruta L2), and thought I'd take a chance. The driver didn't bat an eye (well, not that I could see) when I lifted my carrito up the steps and handed him a c5,000 note. He made change, I got a seat - another chance to study the route home in relative comfort :-D.

On the way, I was sitting next to a mother and young child - he was a bit fussy, and I offered her one of the ciduelas for him. He liked it! Then it was gone, and he went back to fussy. Oh well - still, it felt good...

I was home, and putting away my haul by 1:00 - a very productive morning!

You can compare these to last year's prices in Alajuela: January 5, 2008, Farmer's Market. Note that the government released the inflation figures for last year - nearly 14%!

Feria ITEMS -
cost in colones (current rate is approximately c560 = $1; note that this is up 11% from last year)
weight is in kilograms:

chili dulce - 100 each; 250 / small bag
ciduela - 1200 / kilo
cheese (Turrialba) - 2800 / kilo
cheses (Turrialba, aged) - 3000 / kilo
cheese (smoked) ~ 3800 / kilo
lettuce - 200 / head
celery - 400 / small bunch
bananas - 350 / kilo
green beans (mature) - 400 / bag (1/2 kilo)
green beans (young) - 700 / bag (1/2 kilo)
pineapple (large, ripe) - 600 each
broccoli (finally, some that looked good!) - 1000 / kilo
carrots - 300 / bag (1/2 kilo)
mango - 1500 / kilo
tomato - ranged from 200 - 450 / kilo
avocado - 1000 / bag of 6
potatoes - 1400 / kilo
strawberries - ranged from 600 / bag (1/2 kilo) to 1500 / kilo
zucchini - ranged from 100 - 300 each
camote - 200 / bag (1/2 kilo)
tacaco (green grenade-looking thing, good in soups) - 200 / bag
jalapeños - 200 / bag of 5
caimito - 1500 / kilo
mandarin oranges - 200 / bag of 6

Tacaco picture (boil whole in soup, then peel. Discard the peel, Eat the flesh and seed):

Butcher items (these might be mixed up a bit):
beef steak (2) - 2240 / maybe half kilo
ground beef - 1450 / half kilo
bacon - 1920 / quarter kilo
pork chops (4) - 1540 / half kilo