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...