Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today's Weather Report

Brought to you by.... The SUN!

YAY!  Finally, the sun peeked out, and our cold snap (cross your fingers) is over!

Most of today was sunny, with a light breeze.
Temperature inside = 72F
Humidity inside = 64%

Weather Opinion: YAY!
Weather Advice:  Go Outside and Play!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Our first visit to Costa Rica was nearly 5 years ago - oh, how things change!  Our original plan was to pack up everything, sell the house, ship all our stuff to Costa Rica, and settle in.  We ended up doing things a *lot* differently!  We did what I now call a "slow move" - in the first 4 years, we made several trips, living in different towns each time.  Each new time, we brought suitcases of things we missed the last time.  Some places were furnished, some were not.  As we bought and brought the few necessities, subsequent trips back to the states meant we had to find a place to store our Costa Rican things.  First we left a few bins with friends, then we rented a small storage area.  On the other end, when we finally moved out of our state-side house, we also stored a few items - we used these basics each time we came back.  We finally trimmed our state-side stuff down to less than half a storage unit, and... YES! *Shipped* our stuff!

The main reason for shipping via container, instead of continuing our suitcase method was that we finally decided it was worth it to move our mattress here.  And, of course, it is too big to ship any other way.  You may think "gee, they're awfully attached to a mattress!"  - and you would be right :-D.  We looked at mattresses here, and found one that was close enough.  If we hadn't already owned one with plenty of use left in it (stored in the states), we would have bought the one here - it was a cushy king for $1600, at Artistica.  When we checked around on shipping costs, we found that we could get our mattress here for about a third of that.  On top of that, we weren't going to use it anymore in the states, and there was no good way to get rid of it - basically, you can't give it away, and you have to pay to take it to the dump!

Once the decision was made (waaaaay back in August!), we found that it was worth it to add in a few more items - there was room in the container (shared with others), and didn't add unreasonably to the cost.  We said we could wait for several months until the others were ready to ship.  Fortunately we really were flexible on the date, because it moved - first it was going to be late September.  Then late October, then mid-November, then late November... Right before Christmas, we heard that the container was in Costa Rica, and would get through customs the next week.  Frankly, we were surprised, because most government offices are completely shut down the last half of December and the first week of January (and very slow on either end!).  But I guess customs is a different story.  Maybe...

Sooooo... NOW Anticipation *strikes!*  If all went as planned (snort), we could have our things delivered Monday, or maybe Tuesday.  We don't hold our breath, but we do move some furniture around and out of the way.  Tuesday comes. And goes.  Now Wednesday...  Don't start thinking about unpacking.  Don't start imagining feasting your eyes on long-stored books.  Don't, and I mean *really* don't think about falling into sleep, blissfully tucked between your favorite comforter and your oh-so-perfect-for-you mattress!

Monday, December 27, 2010

San Jose Tope

The day after Christmas, San Jose has its big Tope (horse parade)!  This year they expected over 6,000 participants, and many many more in the crowd.  Check out this short video someone took at this year's tope - click here.  Notice how windy and chilly it is...

Here are some pictures from last year - notice the sun :-)

Weather report:  overcast, drizzly, 70 km/h wind, 62F outside (normal for December is 72F), 66F inside, 66% humidity
Weather opinion:  UGH!
Weather advice:  stay inside, bake something, go see the tope next year :-S

Friday, December 24, 2010

A New One!

Look what I brought home!

I started this in *October!*  I finally finished it - now it needs framing.  But I think I'll keep it on my wall for a little while before I cart it off again.

PS - this one is acrylic on canvas, 16" x 20"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I've been framed!  Well, a couple of my paintings have been, anyway ;-)

My new life now includes painting sessions with my "painting buddy" - I feel I can say that I paint now because I go to friend Linda's place almost every Friday, and we spend the day just painting - it's officially one of those pass-times that get me into "the zone," and nothing else enters my sphere of awareness - how wonderful to have found another of those :-D.

The nice thing is that I have an awful lot of bare walls to fill up, and Rick seems to like what I paint.  I looked around a bit for a framing place.  I had no idea of what was a reasonable cost, and what could be done with a painting, so it took some looking, asking and comparing.  At the high end was an art gallery in San José - they would mat and frame with glass my small painting for c20,000 (about $40).  I kept that in mind, and checked in (and tried to check in) at a couple of other places.  I finally took my painting to:

Miró Galeria y Enmarcado
San Pedro, Barrio La Garanja,
de Ferreteréa El Mar 100 sur y 25 este
2280-0672 / 2283-8081

They quoted c9,000 ($18) for double-mat, non-glare glass and frame.  They even have a discount for artists who are framing their own work!  Hmmm - I left my painting there, and picked it up a week later.
I decided to leave my next one too!  (The larger one was c15,000, and ready in 2 weeks because of the Xmas season.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fruit Pudding - Yummmm!

Fruit Pudding

Cook over low heat, about 5 minutes, till bubbly and fully incorporated:
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup mashed fruit*
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
Cover bottoms of 4-6 ramekins with mixture, and set aside.

1 cup water
6 Tablespoons powdered whole milk
2 Tablespoon sugar
6 egg yolks
dash salt
1 cup mashed fruit*
1/4 cup Flor de Caña 7 year old rum

Mix water and milk (I like to put them in a lidded jar, and shake it well).  In a heavy pan, scald milk with sugar. Beat egg yolks with salt until very thick. With wire whip, quickly stir a small amount of hot milk mixture into the yolks, then add the yolks slowly to the hot milk mixture, while stirring quickly.  Cook on low heat, stirring gently, a minute or two.  Strain pudding and return to clean pan.
Add rum and fruit; stirring gently, cook 2-3 minutes until pudding thickens.
Pour into ramekins, over the fruit mixture. Cover and chill.
Makes 4-6 servings.

* Fruit - I used mashed bananas.  Other fruit to try:  mango, strawberries, papaya, starfruit (seeded), or any other easily-mashable fruit. 

  • The rum could be removed (add 1 Tablespoon vanilla) or changed to go with the fruit (Grand Marnier comes to mind). 
  • Likewise, you can add any spices that seem to go, like cinnamon with papaya.  Or fresh chopped mint with starfruit.
  • You can mix fruit as well:  try sliced kiwis in the bottom, and mashed strawberries in the pudding. Or pineapple/papaya.  Or... :-)
  • Normally, whole milk is made using 3 tablespoons of powder to 1 cup water.  Doubling the powder like this makes it creamier.
  • This can also be served hot.
  • I did something similar using Miel de Chiverri (available around Easter in Costa Rica) - it was ok, but needed something (not yet sure what that is).
  • You can freeze the egg yolks if you first mix them with the sugar.  Then just put them and the salt right in the pan when heating the milk.  They can even still be slightly frozen!  If you do this, do *not* skip straining the mixture!

Replacing Glassware: the Never-Ending Story

Clink, clink, CRASH!  There goes another one!

Tile floors and glassware just do not mix!  I love tile floors for so many reasons, but there is just that one thing that I would like to be different.  One little bout of fumble-fingers, and your glass is toast.  Then you have to wear shoes around the house for a few days while the glass slivers overcome their shyness.

The fortunate thing is that we got over any sentimentality long ago - glasses are just glasses.  When we run low, we make a run to the store and stock up again. 

And we do run low - I think my record is three broken glasses in two days.  One glass made it through a single pouring of wine before it cracked.  We still have one glass from our original batch, but I'm thinking of getting a pool going for it's crash date...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Paradise Redeemed

Most of this week, it has been colder than aich-ee-double-toothpicks!  ehm, in the Nordic sense, that is.  But today!  Ahhh today!  Paradise has redeemed itself!  The air was soft again, the sun was out, and my sweater found its way into my carry bag and stayed there. 

On top of all that lovely-weather-ness, my day was pretty much paradisaical from a "what's happening" point of view too :-).  My morning was slow - trying experiments with showers, coffee, breakfast, etc to try to break some nasty headache / acidic stomach issues.  Not so lovely, but the great thing is that we have the ability to actually try these different things - not possible in our old life...

Then, while I'm waiting for my bus, my fellow bus-waiter and I start chatting... in Spanish, and I'm holding my own!  Turns out, we are heading to nearly the same place - and it's two buses away!  So, we sit together, talking more, then walk to our next bus, still talking, then ride out... Ultimately, I'm speaking Spanish with someone, making more sense than not, understanding almost everything, for almost 2 hours - I feel all warm and fuzzy :-).

Next, I catch my 3rd bus of the morning, alone this time, but with my new French book.  I make it through a couple of pages before my stop (hmmm, that's half an hour, if you're wondering how fast I can read).  I absorbed more summer sun for a few minutes, then my paint-buddy picked me up, we went back to her house, had an *excellent* lunch, and then painted for the afternoon! 

I finished (and signed - very important to do) my canvas, a collage of flowers, then started on a new project.  I'm trying out acrylics on broadcloth - I plan to stitch it to some vanes, and have my very own hand-fan; just in time for summer :-)

The weather held all afternoon and into the evening - I caught my return buses without too much delay (I suppose I've just gotten used to my neighborhood bus being perpetually late - sigh).  Rick had some wine chilling, so we got caught up over a nice glass or two, had dinner, watched a couple of TV shows, and relaxed! Oh yeah, brownies for dessert! :-D.

Does it get much better than that?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Too Cold to be Paradise?

*Everyone* is talking about the cold weather this week!   Yesterday, the temperature broke a 15-year COLD record here in Costa Rica - It was 50 (FIFTY) degrees in the central valley! 

Yeah, yeah, I know - you folks in the states and Europe are laughing in a puzzled manner, rolling your eyes so far back into your heads, you're getting a headache...

I would be too, except that I'm *here!* Costa Rica is not set up for this - we don't have insulation, no central heat (or *any* heaters, for that matter), *and* our houses are made for maximum ventilation - those super leaky windows that are great in warm weather don't serve too well this week.  We don't have parkas, gloves, or snow boots.  The lucky few who suffered before and remembered, have sweatsuits and slippers (yay!).

Thankfully, giving baked goods is something of a tradition at this time of year.  I'm taking full advantage of that.  Yesterday, the inside temperature upon waking, nose peeping out of quilts and thermal blankets, was 66 degrees F.  We went out for lunch and supplies (biting wind and total-sun-blocking clouds added to the cold).  Then, yay! I baked all afternoon - brownies, zapote cake, and ginger snaps.  Peak inside temperatures (outside the kitchen) made it all the way up to .... 76 degrees!!!!

Overnight temperatures inside plunged again - 65 degrees.  Fortunately, I have a looooong list of things left to bake.  I already started on the cornbread, and have plans for more brownies and cookies...

Zapote Cake - Improving!

My first experiment with a zapote cake was pretty good, but I felt it could be improved :-).  I felt that the pecans overwhelmed the cake, as did the rum sauce, and the zapote flavor was lost.  I made a few changes (underlined below) - this cake is *amazing!*  I had thought about adding some spices, but am glad I resisted.  The carambola adds a bit of tartness that brings out the zapote, and the coconut and raisins add just enough "other" flavor. 

Zapote Cake with Carambola Sauce

Mix in a large bowl:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbs powdered whole milk

Mix in a smaller bowl:
- 2 Tbs melted butter
- 2 cups Zapote pulp*
- 1 tsp vanilla

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, then add:
- 1/2 cup grated coconut (unsweetened)
- 1 cup raisins

Pour batter into 2 loaf pans, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees (F) for 70 minutes.  The cakes should be very moist, but with a hard surface.  Cool slightly in the pans, then refrigerate, turn out and slice.

Serve with warm Carambola Sauce spooned over (microwaving for 10 seconds works great).

Carambola Sauce

Mix in a heavy saucepan:
3/4 cup Carambola pulp**
1/2 cup sugar
Combine and heat on low, stirring constantly, until thickened (stop just before it boils). Let cool, serve while still slightly warm.

* for zapote pulp, blend pieces of peeled zapote with enough water to facilitate movement.  It will be creamy and fluffy.

** Carambola is a tart tropical fruit, also known as starfruit. For pulp, dump clean, chopped fruit pieces into a blender, add enough water to facilitate blending. Blend, then strain.  No need to peel or seed the fruit first.
CAUTION!!! If you take statins (or other medications), check with your doctor - like grapefruit, carambola can significantly increase the effective dosage within the body.

Monday, December 6, 2010

French Student Party

Thursday, the Alliance Française in Costa Rica threw a year-end party for all the French students - what a blast!  Everyone was "encouraged" (we weren't *actually* threatened) to dress up as something that started with either "A" or "F" - in French, bien sûr! 

Then the students had a little "show" and contest - the "artichoke / artichaut" won for the "A's"

The "cheese / fromage" won for the "F's"
And the "Black Angel / Ange Noir" won for (darned if I know what the third group was!)

I went as "l'Abondance," and carried a jazzed-up cornucopia, wore a harvest crown, and (of course!) carried a glass of wine! :-)

My teacher and her fiancé came as a flower and martial artist...
I found some friends from previous classes too!
And caught some candids...

Oh yes!  One other thing - there was a raffle, and I won a gift certificate to a *very* nice French restaurant - Le Monastère.  Sounds like I'd better pass my finals...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Exploring South

Jim came to visit last week!  He has a finca (farm or acreage) in Ojochal that he needed to check on, and invited us along for the ride - what an interesting whirlwind that was!

We met him at the airport, went and got his rental car together, and headed out of town - Friday afternoon traffic struck, as did the rain, but we still got to Ojochal in 4 hours.  Ojochal is on the Pacific coast, a little over an hour South of Quepos.  It's up the hill, about 700 feet, and the sea breeze keeps everything very comfortable (of course, the air conditioned car didn't hurt :-D ).

After all the recent heavy rains, we were lucky that the roads were all open.  Several places had restrictions while the road was being worked on, and we could see the remnants of quite a few mudslides.  We got to Ojochal a little after dark, had dinner, and went on to our hotel.  Diquis del Sur is run by a charming Québécois couple, Renée and Pierre.

The next morning, we relaxed over breakfast and enjoyed the view while Jim met with his property manager.  After a while, we packed up and headed out to the finca.  We drove up a dirt road, pulled to the side, and got out.  Alongside the road was a river, about 25 feet wide and 2 feet deep - and yes, the finca was on the other side!  Fortunately, I had on shorts and water shoes, and the water was simply refreshing :-).  Unfortunately, the water washed off all my bug repellent!  I ended up with about a dozen bites - the fire finally banked after about 5 days.  Aside from that, tramping around the finca was fun - we saw some of the new fruit trees and pineapple plants that had been planted - even brought home a big bunch of bananas (ripening as we speak on my back terraza).

We originally were going to spend the rest of the day at the beach, and another night in Ojochal, but decided to explore a bit farther - we had never been in the area, so *everything* was new!  So, the plan was to go on to San Vito, near the Panama border, stay the night, then drive back to San José through the mountains and San Isidro de El General.  Well, we were all set to drive off, when someone mentioned that the buses to San Vito were coming along the coast road - that could only mean one thing - the inland road between San Isidro and San Vito was closed or very restricted.  Hmmm.  Time for plan B (or is that C now?). 

We decided to spend a little time in San Isidro.  A couple of hours and several road restrictions later, we were hunting for a hotel.  We drove past a few, looked in at one, and ended up at the Hotel Diamante Real (2770-6230 / 2770-6232), a decent, somewhat generic hotel, pretty close to the center of town.  We walked around, had dinner, and found out that San Isidro has a lively music scene!  Our restaurant ("gato" something, near the hotel) turned into a jazz club after 8:00 :-).

The next morning, we walked around a bit more, then took off for San José.  I had heard about this road - horror stories!  It passes over Cerro de los Muertos at about 11,000 feet, and very near Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica at 12,228 feet.  I know now what it looks like above the timber line in Costa Rica - glimpses of shrubs between banks of fog... :-D  BTW, the horror stories are all about the fog, slick roads, and steep drop-offs - don't take the name (los muertos = the dead) to mean that ghosts stalk the unwary traveler :-).

A bit over 3 hours later, we were relaxing at home in San José, eating a late Sunday lunch.  We have a number of places to return to, and a lot of things to do when we do return!

Driving directions from San José (the airport) to Ojochal, Playa Tortuga, South Pacific, Costa Rica:
  1. Head North from the San Jose airport (towards Alajuela-Puntarenas)
  2. Continue driving for 11 kilometers
  3. You should see a sign pointing right (La Garita, Atenas)
  4. Exit the highway to the right and make a left turn (direction Atenas-Quepos)
  5. Continue driving on the main road for 2.5 kilometers
  6. Turn left towards Turrucanes
  7. Continue driving for 3.5 kilometers, passing under the highway, and turn left in downtown Turrucanes.  Maneuver the two rotundas to get onto the highway (autopista) Caldera in the Caldera direction.
  8. Continue driving on the highway until you see the exit for Jaco
  9. Continue driving on the main road, signs are pointing to Quepos 103 kilometers and Jaco 37 kilometers
  10. Continue driving straight; go past Jaco, towards Quepos
  11. Continue driving through Parrita
  12. Before Quepos you should see a sign pointing left (Playa Dominical 43 kilometers)
  13. Continue driving on the main road
  14. Drive straight from the police checkpoint, drive past Dominical on the right
  15. Continue driving on the main road for 34 kilometers
  16. You will see the entrance to Ojochal on your left. The road is not paved.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Roller Skating?!?!

Roller Skating?!?!  You bet!  I went roller skating this afternoon!  I haven't been since I was a teenager, but guess what?  Nothing much has changed - same music, same games, same smell :-S.  Nostalgia is strange sometimes.

I went with a couple I met through my French school, so we had a very nice conversational mixture of Spanish, French, and English.  It was a workout for my brain as well as my legs!  Speaking of legs...  It did take me a while to find my "skating legs" - I was a windmill for at least the first half.  But then I found my balance, and even started to get the hang of the cross-over turn.  Spinning, squatting, and skating backwards will have to wait.  I got a little cocky, and so I fell twice.  I'm not going to count all the times I grabbed at other skaters - a very common occurrence for nearly everyone - all in all, not too bad.

Some details: the rink is in San Pedro, just across the circunvalacion from the Mall San Pedro.  Skate times are at 1-3:30, 4-6:30, and 7-10.  Entry and skate rental is c2000 (about $4) at the 4:00 time slot.  You can choose between in-line or traditional skates.  Skate are in USA sizes.  Shoe (etc) check runs c150, but some people keep a small backpack with them for that instead.  Sodas are c500.  I did not hear any songs from KC and the Sunshine Band, but there were definitely others from that "original" era of skating.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Informative Morning

I had a very, uhm, informative morning...

I left the house at 9:30, with the sun shining, and a list of errands.  I had a nice walk, then caught the bus to the Yamuni, hoping to finally find a nice coffee service.  Quite some time ago, I wanted a wildly colored set, including coffee server, several sugar bowls, and a few creamers.  Since that time, I got my rolling buffet that is brightly-colored tile, and so I decided that a white coffee service would be perfect!  And Yamuni had them!  (And, of course, *no* place had my previously-sought-after wildly-colored service.)  After looking at them (and the c8000 sticker for the cafetera alone), I decided to modify my "needs" a bit.  I did get enough for a nice cafecito, and figured no one is going to miss the extra milk option I had in mind.  I started to get some cloth while I was there, but after waiting about 15 minutes with a bolt of cloth in my hand, and no one even glancing my way to sell me some, I left.

My next stop was a cluster of shops - I looked for a framing shop that I knew about, and had just never stopped in.  Now I have some art I want framed, so I am "slow-shopping" around, trying to find out what is a good rate.  So far, one art store in downtown San José will frame a small-medium piece, with matting and glass, for c20,000.  Well, I walked right past where I thought the shop was.  So I crossed the street, looked at my notes, and looked back across the street - at the closed storefront, with a missing sign.  It's officially closed down.  (By the way, that is an excellent method for finding a store that you *know* is very near - cross the street and scan for it from the other side.)  Well, I know of another place to check, so I'll get some more data points eventually, and hopefully some framed art!

Since I was right there, and since I had given up on cloth at Yamuni, I walked into a Quilt store (where I was *immediately* helped).  Times have sure changed!  It used to be that you could buy the end of a bolt for a much reduced price.  The clerks used to automatically add several inches to what they measured, just to make sure you got all you paid for.  And you could buy "fat quarters" of any material, *especially* in a quilting specialty store.  Well, no more.  I found the cloth that I think will work for my project, also found a bolt end "on sale," waited (typical of a fabric store, no matter where you are), and then found out that the bolt end wasn't a great deal, *and* I couldn't buy less than a meter of the other cloth!  Very strange, but not bank-breaking, so I got my meter of cloth (about $2).  This place *does* have beautiful material!  I am sure I will go back for another look, and I'm sure I will need more than a meter :-). (The store is called "Quilts," and is 200 m East, 100 m South, of Banco Nacional San Pedro.  And they do sell fat quarters, but they are in packets.)

Next, I walked to a photography store, hoping they would have a way of using my pictures to make a calendar.  No such luck.  They would print it, but couldn't make one up, and couldn't bind it either.  So, I will have to put one together myself.  Maybe. Not holding my breath.  But I do have some nice pictures all picked out!  BTW - Guilá in Sabana would be able to print and bind, but also couldn't make it in software.  This photo store did have the ability to make a custom coffee cup - they will put your photo or logo on a cup for c4000 (surprisingly for Cost Rica, they did offer volume discounts).

I decided to finally ask about getting my shoes resoled.  There is a very busy shoe repair place in the same neighborhood, so I stopped in.  I had already asked about getting my shoes fixed at a shop in downtown San José, and he said he plain couldn't do it.  So, I didn't hold out much hope.  However, this fellow said they could do something about it, and what they suggested sounded just fine to me.  They quoted 2 days, and c8000.  The timeframe sounded good, but I checked with my housekeeper about the price, and she agrees - it's a bit much.  c6000 seems more like it.  Again, I know of a few other places to check.  Again, it will take me a while to get there. :-)

On the way home, I decided to forgo shopping for a small fan - that's been on my list for a long time, and I don't really need it for a couple more months.  I did a little grocery shopping, and got some take-out for lunch.  I was home with my swag and eating lunch with Rick (by far the best part!) by 12:30.

I always get a little laugh now when people say "you can find a good deal, you just have to shop around."  That's fine, if you have an easy way to get around, and (*most importantly*) you know where to go to look!  Hopefully, this bit of information will help others in their quest for comparison shopping.

This was a pretty good morning!  I did almost everything on my list, and found out a lot of valuable information.  Of course, it helps if your list is not so specific as to say "get shoes repaired" instead of "check on price and possibility of getting shoes repaired" :-D

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

San Jose Tour - art supplies!

Yesterday, I met several friends (old and new), and we toured San José - our quest was art supplies!
Some came from Puriscal (South-West, some from near Grecia (North-West, and I cam from San Pedro (East).  We all managed to meet near the East side of La Sabana park shortly after 9 in the morning.  I count that as a minor miracle, given that we all bussed there, some for the first time...

We had a plan, and that plan included a *lot* of flexibility - something we had all cultivated in our years of living in our new home :-).  Here is the map that we used:

  • A,G = Alajuela / Grecia bus stop coming into SJ
  • P1 = Puriscal bus stop coming into SJ
  • A1 = ARCR offices; meeting place
  • Y = Yamuni store; landmark
  • * = selected stops for Sabana Cementerio (SC) bus
  • G1 = Guilá art store
  • LU = Librería Universal
  • L = Lazaro fabric store
  • PSJ = PSJ notions and craft supply store
  • C = Caja; central office for the caja health system; major stop for buses
  • NT = National Theatre
  • SP = San Pedro bus terminal (no building)
  • r = Chinese restaurant where we had lunch
  • L = Lehman's art store
  • U = Universal downtown
  • s = Soda Maxi (good food, cheapest casado I've found in downtown, at c1700)
  • e = art gallery that also frames art for you (enmarco = frame)
  • AF = Alliance Française; art gallery in their central salle 
  • G = Grecia terminal (building)
  • P = Puriscal terminal (building)
  • A = Alajuela terminal (building); Tuasa and Station Wagon are a block apart
The red lines are the routes from Puriscal and Alajuela / Grecia on the West, and from San Pedro on the East.  For this tour, the folks from the West got off before the terminals.

The blue line is the Sabana Cementario route # 2 - a very useful route to know!

We started out at Guilá.  This is a nice new branch of the chain store; the one in downtown is now closed, and all their stock moved here.  At first, it looks like you have to ask for everything, as all their stock is behind the counters.  However, as soon as you ask (or evince an interest) for anything, they invite you behind to look for yourself.  It is a very nice set up, and a very good selection.  Item of interest: 100% cotton, 180 lbs pressed watercolor paper, 32 x 41 cm - 20 pages for about c21,000.

We next went to Librería Universal.  This is a *huge* department store, with several aisles of art supplies.  Item of interest: medium tube of cadmium yellow acrylic paint c8000. (Note: bathrooms available)

Next, we got on the Sabana Cementerio bus (unusually long wait; they are usually every 4 minutes), and stopped at PSJ.  It appeared closed, but there is a button to push, and they let us in.  This is definitely the store to go to if you are outfitting a wedding party!  They had an entire wall full of packages of zippers in a rainbow of colors.  They had a huge selection of various embellishments, ribbons, thread, embroidery thread, and knitting yarn.  Then there were the items such as bells, plastic fasteners (such as used for fanny pack belts), and 12-inch wide spools of elastic.  The odd thing was that they had a minimum sale requirement - you couldn't buy anything unless it totaled c10,000 or more!  We pooled our shopping, and did it, but this is the first time I've heard of such a thing here.  We decided to skip the fabric store, Lazaro, that was right next door.  Most of us had been there before, and we were a bit short of time.  Lazaro is not just your typical fabric store - they have upholstery material, sunbrella material, and a host of specialty items.

We hoped to get to the National Theatre in time to see the MedioDía concert, but this was not to be.  The SC bus was again later than normal, and we finally got the theatre at exactly 12:10 - the concert had started, and it was too late to get in.  So, we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant a few blocks away.  The food and service was good, and I will go back again.

After lunch, we met another friend, and continued shopping.  We went into Lehman's, a department store with a large art supply section on the second floor.  Items of interest: the same watercolor paper (different brand) as Guilá for c20,000 (about $2 cheaper), the same acrylic paint as Universal for c8,250 (about 50 cents more), a very large plastic portfolio for about $15, and a *huge* selection of paper - crepe, tissue, corrugated, etc.

We decided to skip the downtown Universal, since we had already been to the Sabana store.  We walked up to the Alliance Française and looked at the art on display, then had a coffee at the cafeteria there  (Note: bathrooms available).  At 3, we decided to call it a day.  I had previously asked about framing at the art gallery down the street - they want c20,000 for framing a medium-sized watercolor with glass and matting.  I know of two other places that I want to check for pricing, so haven't done it yet.

From the Alliance Française, we walked to the SC bus stop.  The Alajuela-bound folks got off at Mercado Borbón and walked about 3 blocks to the terminal.  The rest of us got off at the Puriscal bus terminus.  The Puriscal folks caught their bus, and I caught the (other route) SC bus at Paseo Colón back past La Merced, walked up to the Escalante terminal, and was home by 4:15.

It was a very nice day, full of new experiences, chats with friends (lots of catching up!), and interesting purchases!  I can't wait to try out some of my new stuff!

----  some useful art shopping terms ----
  • paintbrush - pincel
  • paint - pintura
  • watercolor - acuarela
  • acrylic - acrílico
  • canvas - cuadro, lienzo, tela (although, I think the fellow at Guilá used a different term)
  • paper - papel
  • cotton - algodón 
  • frame - enmarco
  • matting - maria louisa
  • glass - vidrio

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wheelchair Accessible?

Yesterday, I watched three people help a wheelchair-bound man get on a bus.  This particular bus did not have a wheelchair lift, hydraulic lift system, or any other specialized equipment for helping physically challenged riders.  While the rest of us waited in our queue, the bus driver and two others held the wheelchair while the man pulled himself on to the steps at the back door.  He was able to use his legs as leverage enough to turn around and sit, then pull himself up into a seat.  His young helper (perhaps his 9 year old grandson?) held his personal belongings, and then the others put his bag of goods (a big net bag of maduros) and wheelchair in the storage compartment below the bus.  We all got on, and the bus took off.  I got off before he did, so I didn't see how everyone managed the reverse.  But I imagine that the driver stopped, got out, removed the wheelchair and stuff, and helped the man get settled before leaving the stop. 

Another bus line that I use regularly has a wheelchair lift.  I saw it used once, and it was pretty elaborate.  Everyone waited patiently (and curiously, I think) while the lift was let down to the sidewalk, the man wheeled on, it lifted him up, and he settled into the space right at the lift.

So much of Costa Rica is not set up for those who use wheelchairs (or walkers or scooters, etc).  The sidewalks are so rough, it's even a challenge for us to walk around without falling (it used to be our "rule" that each time we came to Costa Rica, one of us had to fall).  I have seen a couple of service dogs, and quite a few red-tipped canes, but I honestly don't know how they do it.  Many (most?) houses and apartments don't have much doorway clearance, several steps at the entryway are common, as are sidewalk steps when the roadway gets steep (often, in this mountainous country).  I grew up with stairs, and am used to running up and down - you get used to a certain space between risers and so you bound just that much.  Well, my bruised knees are here to tell you, that is not a good habit to have here...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Have License, Will Drive

We've been coming to Costa Rica since the beginning of 2006, and we have had our Costa Rican driver's licenses since the day we got our cédulas in early 2007.  In all that time, it has been sort of fun to say that we've never driven here.  Well, no more!  Last weekend, I house-sat for friends - early in the morning of day one, I drove them to the bus station, and late in the afternoon of the last day, I picked them up.  So, not only have I now driven here, it has *all* been done in the dark!  Thankfully, I had ridden the bus often enough that I knew my way around, and had very few guesses, and no wrong turns :-).
On the other hand, Rick wasn't with me, and *he* still gets to say that he has his license, but has never driven here...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sunny San Jose

Today, in the middle of rainy season, we had a soft, sunny day in San José - we took full advantage!

We had a slow, easy morning, then walked around downtown.  We saw some brilliant flowers (and their visitors on the way.

We made a quick stop at the cathedral - there was a service in progress, so we didn't take any pictures of the amazing interior - stained glass windows, woodwork, painted ceilings, and processional statues.

  Across the street, we found a shady bench and had a snack while we people-watched.  Camera out, snapping shots, we were watched in return :-).

Some of the "people" were entertaining, but not entirely real...   

 The breeze snapped the flag...

Across the street, we *finally* saw the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar - we had been past this building uncountable times, but never made the connection until now.

I put the camera away (that made Rick happy), and we walked back to the National Theater in time for the MedioDia, a lunch-time concert - this time it featured a *great* pianist, playing the romantics.

After the concert, we walked around downtown a bit, hitting up a few fruit-stands, the post office, and the cheese shop.  We got lunch, then caught our bus home.

And it was *still* soft and sunny!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Zapote Cake with Rum Sauce



I updated this recipe after a second experiment - use the one called "Zapote Cake with Carambola Sauce" instead - I promise, you'll like it better :-).


mmm mmm mmmmmmm - I *love* successful experiments!

Zapote Cake with Rum Sauce

Mix in a large bowl:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp soda
- 1/2 tsp salt

Mix in a smaller bowl:
- 2 Tbs melted butter
- 1 cup Zapote pulp*
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/4 tsp vanilla

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, then add:
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup grated coconut (unsweetened)
- 1 cup raisins

Pour batter into 2 loaf pans, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees (F) for 45-55 minutes.  The cakes should be very moist.  Cool slightly in the pans, then turn out and slice.

Serve warm, with warm Rum Sauce spooned over (microwaving for 15 seconds works great).

Rum Sauce

Mix in a heavy saucepan:
- 1/2 cup butter (no substitutes)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 to 1 1/2 Tbs flour
Add 1/2 cup very hot water.  Cook over low heat till mixture becomes clear.
Stir in 1/2 tsp Rum Extract.

* for zapote pulp, blend pieces of peeled zapote with enough water to facilitate movement.  It will be creamy and fluffy.

This was originally a family recipe for persimmons.  I had been thinking about a fruit that would make a good replacement, and zapote was the first one I tried.  I'm also thinking that papaya would work.  I replaced half the nuts with shredded coconut, and replaced dates with raisins.  I'm not sure where to get rum extract in Costa Rica - lovely brother brought this from the states.  I will probably check Tips when I need more, since I know they have some flavorings.  Since I don't have a bundt cake pan, I halved the recipe for the experiment - I like how it turned out, so I will probably keep the loaf-pan approach.  Added pluses - I don't have to butter and flour the pan, and it bakes in about half the time.
Believe it or not, with the original nuts and dates, this would be a $30 cake!  Without persimmons! Now it is reasonable at about $6 and *tropical*  :-).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Feeling Like Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! La la la la la....

Today, after days and days of rain, saturated ground, landslides, road wash-outs, electrical outages, and more rain, we finally had an entire day of sun!  The humidity was all the way down to the mid-50's, and the air was soft and breezy.  Lovely!

In the midst of all this sunny, balmy weather, *several* Ticos commented on the day, saying that is was very Christmas-y.  Whaaaaaa?  All the Gringos together now, say it with me - WHAAAAAT? Now let's add in the Canadians and Europeans...

Of course, once you think about it, it makes complete sense.  Christmas here is at the beginning of summer - days full of sun and soft breezes, and no more rain.  Just as people in the Northern Hemisphere are reveling in that Autumn snap to the air, we relish the few days here and there that are rain-free. People in both places are celebrating the change in the weather, and anticipating the holiday to come...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

International Guitar Festival!

The International Guitar Festival kicks off this week!

Rick and I went for our first little taste at the MedioDía today.  What fun!  The Orquestra de Guitarras de la UCR played arrangements for guitars - there were about 20 players, ranging from soprano to electric bass (is there such a thing as a soprano guitar? dunno, but it went pretty high, like a mandolin).  The composers included Manuel de Falla, Andrew York, Astor Piazolla (!!!), Ernesto Alfaro, Pedro Elías Campos, and Rubén Fuentes.

We're very much looking forward to more guitar this week :-)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Voting From Abroad

Today, we voted in the USA and California elections, from Costa Rica. Because the Democrats Abroad organization had a get-out-the-vote event today, it was pretty easy.*

One thing that makes a big difference (at least for California) is whether you register as living abroad temporarily or indefinitely. To quote from the California SOS website (

"You are eligible to vote in California's federal, state and local elections if you are a U.S. citizen living temporarily outside of the U.S. who lived in California immediately prior to your departure from the United States. If you are living abroad for an indefinite period, you can only vote in elections for federal offices (President, Vice President, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives)."

This was the first time we registered as living abroad for an indefinite period! In all the previous elections, we lived in both Costa Rica and California. We went through all that agony of reading and trying to understand all the ballot measures, divining which candidates would best represent us, and finally, rejoicing or lamenting the results. This year, we simply wrote down two names - it took us longer to fill in all the forms than to decide how to vote!

I have mixed feelings about this - I have always hated voting, and have always done it from a sense of duty. Because of that, I spent a lot of time reading the propositions, pros, cons, etc. And in the end, I never really felt that I got the whole story. But I was fully engaged. Now, I don't have to spend that sort of effort, but I also am not *allowed* to participate. So, for the moment, especially since I have no choice, I will lean toward relief :-).

The type of residency that your state** says you have when you move abroad affects much more than just your voting. You have to worry about all sorts of things:
  • mailing address - no matter what, you are still going to get mail. Do you want it all forwarded to you out of the country? Probably not. Many people impress family members or friends to take care of their mail, but there are also companies that will sort through your mail and notify you of contents and forward as necessary. The post office does not know that you are out of the country indefinitely. It only knows if you are out temporarily if you have your mail held (and even then, it would be guessing). A mailing address in the state generally doesn't affect your residency status.
  • banking - it's generally a good idea to keep some kind of banking presence in the USA. As dismal as the interest rate is on savings accounts, it can often be a bit better than other banks. Also, if you get social security or pension checks, many countries aren't set up to receive these directly - many people get their checks deposited into their USA bank, then transfer money as needed to their new country. Bank accounts in Costa Rica are fairly difficult to open, and often are frozen or closed without notice. Unfreezing or reopening these accounts is a time-consuming process, and almost always requires a personal visit with documents in hand.
  • driver's license - most people keep their state driver's license. Most countries allow you to drive on your USA license, at least for some period of time. You have to figure out what to do when it is time to renew, and that is when a mailing address really helps. The DMV would not know or care about any change in your residency status, unless you changed states (and this is not the case).
  • taxes - you'd better believe you still pay taxes! The good news is that you can get your refund checks mailed to you in your new country, or direct deposited into your USA bank. You also get a later filing date - no more April 15th deadline; your agony can be extended all the way out to June 15th! The IRS and state tax board have all sorts of rules you get to discover when you change your country of residency and your stateside residency status.
  • health (and other) insurance - we've been away from the states since before the new health-care laws came into effect, so I'm not completely sure what is required of those of us living abroad indefinitely. We're not exactly residents, but we're not "non-residents" either.
  • jury duty - this was confusing at first! I actually got a jury duty summons! I finally remembered that the summons specifically says to not forward, so I asked my put-upon family mail-sorters to return it with that designation. I would think that if you are living abroad temporarily, you would have to ask for an extension, and eventually have to show up.
  • rights upon your return - if you have claimed that you are living indefinitely abroad, then return to the USA, what might you have to do to reclaim residency? Let's say you wanted to attend UC Davis as a resident - more than likely, you would have to establish residency just like someone who moved to California from another state. But it would be worth asking directly about this, especially if you have maintained at least some presence in the state. If you lived abroad temporarily, then you retain all rights of California residency, and don't have to do anything.

The great thing {insert eye-roll} is that these government offices don't seem to be in sync!

* Anyone living abroad can vote on their own (see or You do not have to be a Democrat to register or vote at these events - you can register for any party (or none), and vote for whoever you like.

**Each state has its own rules regarding continuing residency and voting. The state where you resided immediately before moving abroad is the one whose rules you follow. Most states consider you a resident (of some sort) even while you are abroad.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!

Yeah, I know. You thought this would be a sunrise picture, or a description of how great it is to wake up in Costa Rica.

Well, it *is* great to wake up in Costa Rica, and for the last several days, I've had that darned song going on in my head. But the flip side is that everything *doesn't* *always* go your way. Here are a few such items to consider.

Item 1: Several times in the last few months, I have spent the day at a friend's house painting. It is a great way for us to visit and to focus on the artistic side (one big goal for my life here). We don't have a car, and I thoroughly enjoy the bus system here. However! On this trip, the buses *never* seemed to align! They're like the stars that way, I guess. The last time I went, it took two and a half hours to get there, and then (OMG, I almost died) it took THREE and a HALF hours to get home! That's an average of three hours to go a distance of 20 miles! And this is without much traffic - that would take *maybe* an hour in a car (lots of windy roads on one end, and a few stoplights at the other).

Item 2: Rick and I usually go to the MedioDía at the National Theatre. It is a noon concert of just less than an hour, and gives you a nice taste of a performance that is often played in expanded form later that week in San José. Usually it's a nice taste. The last time we went... Well, it wasn't that the musicians were bad, because they weren't. It wasn't a bad composition either. We just didn't like it! It was too something - too modern, dissonant without relief, snippets of melodies that went nowhere... The little girl sitting next to us had her hands over her ears by the end of it - very subtly of course, since she was a Tica, but still. My compensation was that I was with Rick. And anytime I get to spend with Rick is great :-).

Item 3: I often go to the Guadalupe feria - the produce is fantastic, and the people are friendly. But one time, I had gotten everything except strawberries, and so was cruising pretty fast. A stack of strawberry bags caught my eye, and I stopped. I have gotten pretty good at testing weights, and so I pretty much know what a kilo feels like. These bags looked light, and when I asked how much, the guy said the price. Then I picked up a bag, and asked how much it weighed. He said about a kilo - I looked kind of funny I guess, and he put it on the scale. When he did this he kept his hand on the bag, and pressed on the scale - well it was pretty obvious. So I laughed, and motioned that he should perhaps lift his hand. He laughed, lifted his half-kilo hand off the scale, and - well, there you go. I said no thanks and moved on.

I'm quite sure there are other disappointments, but they do fade quickly. Because you know, we *do* have beautiful mornings here :-D

Would I let these set-backs stop me from trying again? No! (One might even be tempted to say "No way, San José!")

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whatever Will We Say Now?

Typically, when a taxi brings us home, we turn the corner onto our street, take a sharp breath, and say "Perdon! Hay muchos huecos!" (Sorry, there are a lot of potholes!)
NOW WHAT!?!? :-D

Overlapping Holidays

In the states, we have seen the Christmas holiday creep earlier and earlier. Time was, the official start of the Christmas season was the day after Thanksgiving. You could pretty much count on enjoying your Thanksgiving holiday without another holiday invading, then finish it off with a Christmas parade or the first Christmas movie.

I think the earliest I have seen ads for Christmas decorations was a couple of years ago - the day after the 4th of July! Something about pre-ordering your custom decoration for your collection. At this point, not only is Thanksgiving incorporated, but Halloween as well - as soon as the Halloween candy is taken off the shelves, it is replaced with Christmas candy.

When we first moved to Costa Rica, we kidded ourselves - we felt like we were getting away from the USA-style Christmas over-hype. And in a way, we were. It feels different here. Less corporate-controlled, more relaxed, more joyful. However. sigh. If it can be believed, Christmas starts even *earlier* here!

The Christmas-trigger here is now Independence Day (September 15). We went shopping for paper and tape (basic stuff) the day after, and the stores were chock full of Christmas decorations! Window space is a premium now, with flags vying with Christmas ribbon for that eye-level spot. The flags, seals, and buntings are still available, but enormous sections of other goods have been moved aside. One store had reduced its books by about a third, and replaced them with toys. (As an avid reader, I find that sad.)

Notice, however, that the shelves and windows are still full of Independence Day items! In Costa Rica, Costa Rican independence is celebrated the entire month of September - flags and seals go up, storefronts erect enormous drapes of color, school bands practice marching, parks and government buildings are cleaned and painted... The country is full of pride and independence-day spirit.

So, does your average Tico really do much about Christmas this early? I'm sure some thinking starts, but I've asked a few people here and there about it, and most usually get started after the first of November - that's when Christmas trees go up, and decorations become noticeable. The fiestas really kick in at the beginning of December, when the aguinaldos are due - these Christmas bonuses are mandated by law, and amount to an extra month of pay.

What about the other end of Christmas? A few years ago, I was surprised to see a woman buying wrapping paper on Christmas eve - I thought "wow, she really put this off, eh?" But I have since found that gift-giving is also spread out. January 6th is the *big* gift-day, and the official end of Christmas.

For us, the best part of the season are all the fiestas - they are nearly back-to-back, in every town. It is truly a different sort of celebration.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Mora Sauce

We always seem to talk about food in my French class, and Monday (the first day of level 4!) was no exception. So, here it is, Tuesday, and I just finished sampling the latest piece of heaven :-).

Chocolate Pots de Crème*

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup crema dulce (whipping cream, not actually sweetened, despite the name)
1 Tablespoon sugar
14 pieces (about 4 ounces) of "La Chocolatería" semi-sweet chocolate
3 egg yolks
dash salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan, scald milk and crema dulce with sugar. Add broken chocolate; stir frequently until chocolate completely melts and thickens slightly. (Mixture must be quite hot.)
Beat egg yolks with salt until very thick. With wire whip, quickly stir a small amount of hot milk mixture into the yolks, then add the yolks slowly to the hot milk mixture, while stirring quickly.
Add vanilla; stirring gently, cook 2-3 minutes until pudding thickens.
Pour into small pots de crème cups, ramekins, or small glass dishes. Cover and chill.
Makes 4 (1/3 cup) servings.

*based on a Ghirardelli recipe, "Lafayette Pots de Crème," with necessary changes to accommodate the products available in Costa Rica. I *highly* recommend the cookbook "Ghirardelli Original (3rd edition) Chocolate Cookbook."

Mora Sauce

3/4 cup Mora pulp**
1/2 cup sugar
Combine and heat on low, stirring constantly, until thickened (stop just before it boils). Let cool, serve while still slightly warm.

** Mora is a tart Costa Rican blackberry. For pulp, dump clean berries into a blender, add enough water to facilitate blending. Blend, then strain. Will keep in the fridge for over a week, or almost indefinitely in the freezer. Also makes an excellent drink when the pulp is added to orange juice :-)

To Serve

Dribble a thin layer of warm mora sauce over each pot de crème. Sprinkle with chopped candied ginger. Eat. Die happy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Breakfast at Our House

One thing that has changed drastically with moving to Costa Rica from the fast lane of Silicon Valley is *Breakfast!* This used to be a quick canned shake on the road, followed by coffee at my desk. Ugh.

Now? Most mornings we have a full, cooked breakfast, eaten together - much better!

Veggie Scramble
Chop the following:
- 1/2 onion
- 1/4 sweet red chili
- 1/2 piece palmito and/or carrot (~2-3 inches)
- 1/2 zucchini (or some other green vegetable, such as broccoli, chayote, or green beans)

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet, add the veggies, and cook until done. I like mine browned and somewhat caramelized.

Break 3 eggs into a bowl, and remove one yolk (either throw it away or keep for another purpose). Add the following, and stir well:
- a bit of water or sour cream (about 2 tablespoons)
- black pepper
- powdered ginger
- basil
- any other favorite spices (Rick likes garlic)
- cheese en polvo - that is, a dry cheese, powdered or grated (optional)

Add the eggs to the veggies, and reduce the heat. Stir until done. Remove to a plate and cover until ready to serve.

Heat a shallow layer of oil in the pan, then add sliced maduro. Cook on low until browned, then flip to brown the other side.
Meanwhile, slice tomato (sprinkle with basil or pesto sauce), avocado, and fruit.
If cheese is not in the scramble, slice some queso fresco (aka tierno, aka new cheese)
For a *very* hearty breakfast, add some Gallo Pinto :-)

Toss everything on 2 plates, serve with bread and jam, and sometimes sour cream and Lizano. And don't forget the coffee!

Budget tip - throwing away egg yolks is still cheaper than buying prepared egg whites! But stay tuned for a crème brûlée recipe (ok, so it's Pots de Crème) :-)

Living in Costa Rica - Best and Worst (for now)

People often want to know "the worst" and "the best" about living in Costa Rica - unfortunately, this list changes, depending on what kind of day you're having :-S.
So, my list for today is all about the unexpected...

Three of the best things about living in Costa Rica:
- sharing a moment with others while waiting for or riding a bus. Or shopping. Or watching a tope. I love it that so many people get a gleam in their eye, for no apparent reason. Then a smile, then sometimes a comment about the line, or the weather, or whatever, that sometimes leads to a lovely conversation.
- the fiestas that never seem to stop! The new year starts with the end of Christmas fiestas, then continues through school summer break. Then fiestas leading up to lent. You would expect things to quiet down during lent, but noooo! It's *summer,* and March is a *huge* month for weddings, horse fairs, and other celebrations. Then Easter! It is the biggest week for family vacations to the beach, as well as religious parades. May slows down a bit, but there are still plenty of fiestas. Then June and July have major events - Guanacaste day, and San Juan's little summer. August sees patron days in San Ramon and several other cities. The entire month of September is Independence Month, with clean buildings and parks, flags and buntings streaming, parades and fireworks. October and November seem to build up to Christmas, and December is chock full of fiestas!
- the bus system! Every time I really think about this, I have to laugh at myself. I used to practically *live* in my car - drove since the age of 9; I never used a bus (except for school, and then only until I could legally drive). Now, in Costa Rica, I have yet to drive a car. And I get a special thrill out of finding a new way to get somewhere by bus. So call me weird.

Three of the worst things about living in Costa Rica:
- news from USA. More and more, I find that news from the states is just plain depressing. The rest of the world seems so much more sane by comparison. But that might be because I am less vested in the details of the rest of the world.
- cherries and blueberries. Unattainable at a reasonable price, and even if you could bring yourself to pay $25 for a handful, you could only do this for a very short time each year. Mitigated by luscious, year-round mangoes :-)
- that uncomfortable feeling when you think you should know what to do in a situation, but you don't. When and how do you invite someone to coffee? What do you do to thank someone for an invitation? How closely do you calculate time spent on a job, and therefore determine pay? What hints are you missing? It's a minefield...

These are some of the things that were unexpected - let's not forget that the original reasons for even investigating Costa Rica as a place to live still hold:
- We can live (really live) together, as we like, spending real time together
- Medical care is excellent and affordable

and the expected difficulties:
- culture shock - yes, it still attacks, but less frequently, and less severely. And it is more recognizable each time, and therefore more easily dealt with.
- safety, and the necessary suspicion that goes with it - this is still hard to accept and live with, but it is becoming a more natural part of life. I'm telling myself that is a good thing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is 4 Out of 10 OK?

I have lived here *how* long now? Off and on, coming up on 5 (FIVE) years! And I see that I have *not* been to 6 (SIX) of the top ten destinations in Costa Rica! As a summary, here they are, along with my lame excuses:

1) San José - well, I *live* here, so I have *been* here. But I haven't seen an awful lot of it - almost none of the museums, for example. I'm counting it.

2) Arenal - I have been here, several times! And I'll be back :-)

3) Monteverde - sorta went here, once. Really, it was Santa Elena. But I walked through one of the reserves. I'd go again if someone was visiting and wanted to go - any takers?

4) Manuel Antonio Beach - haven't been. Don't know why. It's been on my "must do" list since day 1.

5) Tamarindo Beach - went to a couple of other beaches on the Nicoya peninsula. They're darned hot! Sámara was nice, and I'd go back with an interested visitor. I would tell a visitor how to get to Nosara. Tamarindo has never interested me.

6) Jacó Beach - Probably won't go, just on principle - too many gringos can't pronounce it. But principles are meant to be broken...

7) Puerto Viejo & Cahuita - ooooooohhhh yeah! Have been. Will return. Got new snorkel gear demanding a try-out.

8) Drake Bay (Corcovado National Park) - this has also been on my "must do" list since day 1. I will get there eventually...

9) Tortuguero - turtles. For some reason, you can't come to Costa Rica without doing something with turtles. I don't mind turtles, I just don't get the fascination.

10) Montezuma - One of the first friends we made in Costa Rica lives here. Maybe one day we'll get out there and see him. If others in this area are as nice as he is, we'll probably kick ourselves for not getting out there sooner.

So, is 4 out of 10 OK? If you count the fact that we'll be here for the foreseeable future, and have spent a lot of time figuring out LIFE, maybe so.

This is not a whirlwind...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hot Honey Lemonade

Hot Honey Lemonade

4 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 packet splenda
Water to finish filling a mug

microwave 1 minute

The Perfect Pick-me-up!

Shopping Tip - I got 25 small lemons for c500 (less than a dollar) at Mercado Borbon :-)

Permanent - Cedula!

Last Wednesday, I found out that my permanent residency was approved! The next step - get my new cédula! That would be the ID card that actually *says* I am a permanent resident :-).

So, I paid the cédula fee (currently $123) and the rest of the legal fees, and my lawyer called for an appointment. Once upon a time, this took months (I'm not kidding! Our very first appointment for our very first cédula was FIVE months after our residency was approved.). This time? Less than a week! My appointment with immigration was Monday morning - 2 1/2 business days after being notified of the approval. (I'm wondering how many times I can get away with saying "approved" in one post...)

This morning, I hustled over to ARCR, met my lawyer's aide, and checked over my documents:
- latest orden patronal showing that I have joined the Caja (the national health system)
- my passport(s), boarding passes, exit tax receipts
- my old cédula

Waiting in the wings, just in case, I also have:
- hoja de delincuencia (a Costa Rican police report, showing I have been a good girl)
- USA embassy registration (proving that the USA knows where I am)
- Caja carnet
- bank letter, showing that Rick's family (that's me) has converted the required amount of money in the last year as rentistas
- marriage certificate ('cause *everyone* wants to see this)
- copy of Rick's cédula

Then we went over to La Migra (immigration), in time for my 9:15 appointment. As usual, we expect to spend up to 3 hours waiting for my turn.

I had brought a book, but quickly realized that I would be too anxious to read - I had to listen for my name (no numbers or moving-chair line), and that is problematical here. Will it be "Julie Hill?" or "Hoolia Eejh?" Turned out it was "Julie Kris Hill" whaddaya know, almost right - I heard it the first time, as did the aide :-). And it only took about an hour of waiting, most of it sitting!

We both went to the desk, where the immigration official asked to see my resolution (the piece of paper that says my residency was approved), receipt showing I had paid the fee, and then my cédula. Then she asked if I had picked up my old cédula at immigration, or had I had it sent to the post office - I still don't know why that mattered, but it did :-S. And nothing else did matter - she didn't need to see any of the other documents I had with me. But of course, if I hadn't had them...

She took my fingerprints and my picture, and printed out my new cédula information for me to verify. Interesting to me was that the date of my new permanent residency NOW says mid-March! My comprobante (residency package accepted) was dated early May, and my resolution said mid-August, but they changed the residency date to match Rick's. Also, my cédula is good for 2 years, and expires at the same time as Rick's - very nice! This to me is just one more clue that the two residencies are *not* in fact separate.

One other item on the printout was whether to be an organ donor or not - I asked her to change it to yes.

By 10:15, I had a receipt (with picture) for my new cédula, and a date (October 4) when I could pick it up at immigration. However, it turns out that now you can get the ID in ONE WEEK if you opt to have it sent to your nearest post office. Hmmm. Going to Immigration is easy for me, but I'm feeling impatient! I paid the c2,600, and plan to pick it up on my way home from school :-).

Just in time - tomorrow, my old cédula expires :-S

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Changing Ferias?

For several months, I have been reluctant to go to the Feria (farmer's market), and today, it finally hit me why!

When we lived in the "other apartment" in San Pedro, it was pretty convenient to go to Guadalupe - I walked a couple of blocks, caught the bus, walked a couple more blocks, shopped, had a quick lunch in the park, and usually had a pleasant walk home through UCR with my cart full of groceries.

Our "new apartment" in San Pedro is still about the same distance to the Guadalupe Feria. However, getting there and back is just not so straightforward. This is the sort of thing that shouldn't make a difference, but does! For some reason, I just hate the thought of having to go a couple of blocks out of my way, or reversing myself when I know my house is "just a block over that way."

To get to the Feria now, I either:
A) take the Escalante bus East to La Antigua Aduana, then catch a Guadalupe bus North and West, or
B) walk 35-45 minutes, taking the pedestrian bridge (with stairs) across the circunvalación

The return is more frustrating:
A) walk a different route (full cart, so no stairs please!), and back-tracking a couple of blocks, or
B) buy a lot less and take the reverse bus route (no cart on the bus, please), or
C) use a taxi

On weekends, the Escalante bus only comes every half hour, and even at the best of times, it is not very reliable (unlike every other bus I have ever used here).

During school, I went on a Feria hiatus :), and simply picked up a few items each day after school. That worked well enough, but put a strain on my back (no cart), and made a long day even looonger.

I have decided that there are several things I can get at my local grocery store at the same quality as the Feria - things like potatoes, onions, and carrots (all heavy, by the way). The price is not significantly different, and I can get them as I need them (instead of waiting until Saturday). And I can use my cart! It is only certain fruits and vegetables that are either poor quality or very over-priced that I should get at the Feria.

So today, I tried something different! I took the bus into San José, walked 2 blocks to Mercado Borbon, shopped around, and took the bus back - all told, I was gone less than 2 hours, and only had a short walk. This would be a lot shorter during the week, with less waiting-for-the-bus time (and Mercado Borbon isn't open only on Saturdays!). I did a quick informal survey, since I only had a short list of must-haves. I will have to spend some real time looking around soon for particular items. However, for what I did see, the prices and quality were comparable to the Feria.

BTW - earlier, I did a quick run-through of the San José Mercado Central - it was over-priced and had succumbed to tourism. Not worth it...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Permanent - Los Dos!

It was surreal! Today, 11 months, 3 weeks, and 4 days after applying, I got *the* phone call! My application for permanent residency was approved!

Within the hour, we were headed out to our lawyers to get things lined up. I paid the various fees (second half of legal fees, plus cédula fee), got a copy of my approval letter (to carry around until I get my new cédula), and gave the go-ahead for my lawyer to get my cédula appointment. By the time the rain got serious, we were on our way back home - and the news still hadn't really sunk in...

But now it has (yay! little happy dance going on here)!

There are still so many things about this process that are hard to understand and accept. Rick and I started out as rentistas - the law that covers us ties us together as a family. Rick was the primary, so everything was in his name. When we applied for a change of status, to permanent, the two applications were split, and treated separately. This was in early September of 2009.

Rick got his permanent residency in March, and was notified in April. At that same time, immigration said they wanted another copy of my cédula. I still don't know why, or why it took them until April to know they needed it. My letter from immigration accepting my package was now dated early *May!* I don't know if there was even an earlier one - I just never worried about getting a copy of the letter until later, when my cédula was in danger of expiring. (FYI - if your cédula has expired, or you don't have one yet, then this letter from immigration means you are "in process" and they won't kick you out of the country. So it's important.)

Meanwhile, I'm starting to become a very squeaky wheel. I'm calling my lawyer almost every week. The story is always the same - immigration said check back in 2 weeks, or sometimes 3 weeks. (We had started the squeaks in January, but limited them to every 4-6 weeks.)

Finally, immigration said to check back in early August. Yikes! My cédula was set to expire in September! When the August date came and went, and there was no good news, I tried to get my cédula renewed. HAH! When that didn't work, panic went into overdrive. We made it through the weekend, then called and got an appointment with the experts for a little hand-holding.

Here are some odd tidbits:
- Because Rick was the primary, all this time, all immigration looked at was his proof for continuing our residency. They (maybe) looked at his bank statement (converted enough dough) and his passport (time in country). Apparently, I could have stayed the entire time in the states, and it wouldn't have mattered. That wouldn't have been in the spirit of the law, but the way it was explained to me is that the laws here are tiered. Family trumps everything, and so if one family member is granted residency, and the other family member(s) didn't comply, then they can't split up the family - they all get residency.
- Since Rick was granted permanent residency, I could not be denied. WOW.
- Since BCR didn't renew my residency, my lawyer had to go through immigration to get a renewal appointment there. This is *not* a quick process! That request is still pending - and will get canceled now, thankfully.
- My lawyer was notified 20 days after my residency was approved. The astute reader will notice that that means my residency was approved on the 12th of August - one day *before* my BCR appointment to deny my renewal. It really makes me wonder sometimes...

There is another new-ish method going. For cédula appointments at immigration, the lawyer calls for an appointment, and generally gets it for the next day - which means I will get less than one day notice. Fortunately, I live nearby and have no commitments that I can't get out of if needed. I really feel for those folks who live far away tho.

Now - thinking about next week. May have a visit to immigration then...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

San Jose Photo Safari

We had gone on Photo Safaris in Costa Rica before, but hadn't really focused on our part of San José much. Today, we fixed that!

We left this morning, while it was still sunny, took the bus to the first park, and continued walking to downtown and then lunch. It was a beautiful day, and it didn't take us long to see a few sights that we had missed before, as well as several familiar from our usual errands.

*AND* we left plenty of photos for future trips! :-D :-D :-D

This is "Place de France" or Parque Francesa - it is a nice place to sit in the shade and listen to the fountain. The statue of Marianne commemorates the 200th anniversary of the French revolution.

One French woman, one future French woman. I don't think I quite have the look down just yet...

The old customs house, La Aduana, was renovated in time for the transfer of presidential power in May. One side is old brick, and the other side is modern glass. There are a lot of concerts and exhibits held here now. You can see the Santa Teresita church nearby.

Rick leaving La Aduana - the entire wall across from the old train station is covered in murals, and the mountains behind are nice too :-)

On a whim, I thought I'd try this shot - turns out I like it!

The old train station has recently been renovated. I just liked this view.

The figures at the top of the National Monument represent the 5 states that joined in repelling William Walker at the Battle of Rivas.

Close-up of one figure on the other side.

Looking South from the National Park, along one of the pedestrian walkways. San José has a lot of these streets restricted to pedestrians, and there are more being added all the time - perfect for walking tours and photo safaris!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weather Report

This morning was sunny enough that I got a little sunburn walking to, from, and around the feria. It was warm enough that I was in desperate need of a cool shower as soon as I got home :-|.
Conditions persisted until early afternoon, then came the torrential downpour!
Except for the "feria" reference, this could apply to almost any day this month - August - rainy season in Costa Rica...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Permanent Residency - Mission Impossible?

The Goal: Permanent Residency status in Costa Rica.

Likelihood of Success: Diminishing?

In 2006, several immigration law changes ago, Rick and I applied for and received "Rentista" residency in Costa Rica. Under this version of the law, which still applies to us, we deposited money in a Costa Rican bank, in an account in Rick's name. Each month, the bank transfers dollars from that account into an account in colones (also in Rick's name). This counts as our "income" in Costa Rica, and covers the entire family (that's me!) even though only Rick's name is on the account. This is what was required.

Each year, we have renewed our residency by getting a letter from the bank stating how much they converted from dollars to colones. This letter *always* states that this was done in Rick's account. Other items required for renewing have included passport stamps showing that we were in the country for at least 4 months each "residency year."

Since our residency was approved, there have been two new laws which have gone into effect: (a) in 2006, rentista status changed so that each person had to have their own account, (b) in 2010, rentista status changed back to covering the entire family (but the amount went way up).
In addition, there is now a requirement for (1) joining the health care system (known as Caja), (2) registering with your originating country's embassy, and (3) being able to prove that you have been a good boy/girl while in Costa Rica. This means additional paperwork when renewing:
- orden patronal (caja)
- print out of embassy registration
- "Hoja de delincuencia" (Costa Rican police report in your name)

What has not changed is that after three years of this type of residency, you can apply to become a "permanent" resident. This means several things - you no longer have to show proof of "income" (our bank account), you don't have to spend more than one day each year in Costa Rica (not that we want to limit it, it just gives us flexibility), and you can legally work (more flexibility).

So, last year, in September, Rick and I both applied to become Permanent Residents. In March, his application was approved. Mine is still in LIMBO!

My cédula (ID card that shows valid residency status) will expire in early September (as will my residency, unless it gets renewed or "permanent-ed"). Since my status is still in limbo, my lawyer said to get my cédula renewed. She also said that 95% of the time, people in my situation automatically get a permanent status with their renewal (they see that I am in process, and it has been a year, and so they just sort of approve it on the spot).

You can call for an appointment to renew in the month before your cédula expires (so, NOW). We did that - Rick, great guy that he is, did this for me while I was out having fun painting :-). We gathered all the supporting documents we needed, and went to our appointment.

We both go to the appointment at Banco Costa Rica (BCR), supposedly the only way now to renew cédulas, and reportedly much easier, faster, efficient, (name your superlative), etc. than going to the immigration office.
I have all the documents you could conceivably wish for:
- my old cédula
- Rick's cédula
- orden patronal (every single one of them, also all in Rick's name)
- Caja carnet (shows that I am covered under Rick's orden patronal)
- old and new passports, boarding passes, exit tax receipts (covering every single year of residency)
- embassy registry (yep, I'm "other traveler" here, under Rick's registration)
- bank letter (account in Rick's name)
- our marriage certificate ('cause, DUH! everything is in Rick's name!)

Well, so... the nice lady at BCR looks up on her cheat sheet for what kind of documents she needs to verify, and asks for my bank letter. Hmmm - she takes it to another person. She says that it needs to be in *my* name. We explain that that's not possible, and that our residency is under the old 2006 law. She talks to more people. She does stuff on her computer. She writes out a note, first in Spanish, then takes the time to translate into English. But the fact remains; the cheat sheet says the account has to be in my name, so that is what the nice note says. It makes no difference that we got our original residency that way, and no difference that we have renewed several times the same way. After an hour, we leave without a new cédula on the way. (And *forget* anything about *any* possibility of getting in on that "95% of people in your situation will just get permanent residency!" HAH!)

We're pretty stunned, but - onward! I called our lawyer, who was shocked at what happened at BCR. She said that obviously the person hadn't been adequately trained. She also said there was nothing to be done about that. sigh. But, she could (and will) write a letter of complaint to immigration about how long my application for permanent residency is taking. She has already pressed the "boss" at immigration about it, and explained that she is (by law) unable to talk directly to the person who is handling my case.

I still have a few weeks left on my valid cédula. So, between now and then, my lawyer will write that letter of complaint, she will check on my status with immigration again, and we'll hope that works - and works in time. If I get approved by my residency expiration date, I'll get an appointment right away for my new cédula. If not, well, I expect there will be stronger methods available. Fingers crossed that I won't be breaking new ground in finding out. But you know, I *have* been studying French...