Monday, August 15, 2011

The Fast Lane

When things happen, they sure can happen FAST!  This time last week, I was thinking through my options for the next few weeks, considering taking another intensive French class, Tango lessons, painting more, and investigating possible contracts.  Then, my first-choice activity, a contract to work for a few months, seemed to be more definite.  Then, it was!  And things started hopping :-)

  • 10 Wednesday:  The contract looked promising; reserved airline ticket, good for 24 hrs (got the last non-red-eye flight)
  • 11 Thursday:  We reached an agreement; the new company started the ball rolling; I bought the airline ticket
  • 12 Friday:  The contracting agency contacted me and sent forms; I started collecting info
  • 13 Saturday:  I filled in and printed forms;  went out to dinner to celebrate :-)
  • 14 Sunday:  Completed/confirmed forms, faxed to contracting agency (17 pages!)
  • 15 Monday:  Confirmed contracting agency received documents; asked follow-up questions, completed application
  • 16 Tuesday:  Breathe, pack, take final Tango lesson :-(
  • 17 Wednesday:  Fly to California
  • 18 Thursday:  Take drug test
  • 19 Friday:  Test results known (earliest possible date)
  • 20 Saturday:  Visit, pack
  • 21 Sunday through Wednesday:  Drive to Iowa (3,000 kilometers)
  • 25 Thursday:  Start work
Yeah, it's a little complicated...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Do You Want From Life?

Well, ok - that sounds a little more "inspirational" than I expected.  But it is a fundamental question.

When we first decided to move to Costa Rica, we put together a plan for *how* to do it, but for my part, I purposely left the "what" part vague.  I knew it would take a few years to figure out life here, and I wanted to give that a chance without being sidetracked by "things I said I gotta do."

When you are first finding out how something works, even the negatives can be viewed as valuable learning experiences.  Take the feria, for example.  Your first trips are full of excitement - you see how to get there (follow the empty carts), you watch for cultural norms (everyone calls you "reina"), and you discover pricing and quality differences.  You're exhausted because you meander and buy too much, but that is easy to ignore when you think of how to use these newly discovered foods.  After a while, you know who to go to for the best broccoli, and you spend more time chit-chatting, and less time comparison shopping.

But shortly after you become comfortable with something, it's no longer exciting.  You know enough about how to do it that you aren't challenged.  It can become boring, and even perhaps an irritating chore.  If too many of your activities make that turn, your life is in trouble.

Now, after several years, most of my daily life is in that "comfort zone."  I've weeded out a few items that were heading towards the "irritating chore" category, but I find I'm searching for excitement, for a challenge, for a new purpose.

In my search for "different," I don't want to lose sight of our original purpose - find a way to spend more time together.  Secondarily, we wanted to give ourselves the opportunity to experience... whatever strikes us!  To find out what else might interest us, and delve in!  What I *have* discovered is that I enjoy so many things, and each new activity builds a skill.  There are also aspects that are just plain hard and frustrating, but ultimately rewarding.  I am finding out more about myself.  One thing that I pretty much knew, but which was made obvious to me is that I very much enjoy engineering - the work, the problem-solving, the pure focus, the geek-jokes, and the community.

I thought about working here in Costa Rica, and maybe that will be something in my future.  But I know that if I did that, a lot of things would have to change.  It would impact my life here, and not all for the better.  When I pick up a painting from the framers, and it takes me an entire hour to do so, I have to wonder how in the world working Ticos survive!  I see the long line of people waiting for the bus to work at 4:30 in the morning, and I don't even have to wonder for a second if I would want to do that (that would be "no!").  It simply takes a lot longer to do anything here.  When you aren't working full-time, you can usually deal with that.  So, if I did work here, it would have to be part-time.  The intriguing aspect of working here would be that I would see a whole different side of the culture.  I got a hint of that by taking classes, and it would be interesting to experience more.  So, for now, I won't toss the idea completely aside.

What I have decided to do is to keep Costa Rica as a home base, mix in some travel to explore more of the world, but take contracts for software engineering elsewhere.  I think this will keep my Costa Rica life pleasant and relaxing, with plenty of time to explore the "other" life, and still provide the excitement and challenge (in manageable bursts) of work.  No one can predict the future, but this is a plan I can enjoy following :-)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back to Painting :-)

I finally finished a couple more paintings, and got them back from the framers - I've branched out to abstracts

and non-tropical flowers

Tango Lessons!

We finally did it!  After nearly 20 years of thinking about, wishing for, and putting off taking tango lessons together, we finally went! 

Last Tuesday evening, Rick and I learned the "basic 8" along with a little variation.  Class was at the Alliance Française (French), in San José, Costa Rica (Tico Spanish), taught by Oscar Lopez Salaberry (Argentina).  We did all right, and had fun!  Even if we didn't have the right shoes...
To see what we danced like, click here :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Art City Tour

San Jose has an ART blow-out every couple of months, called the Art City Tour - on a Wednesday evening, from 5 to 9, museums and art galleries are open to the public (free entry!).  In addition, the GAM puts together several routes that folks can follow.  They organize tours by bus, by bicycles, or on foot, with helpful people on hand to answer questions and relieve anxiety :-).

We kept missing these tours, until (yay!) this last one - we met some friends downtown, and we all trooped around gawking at art and museum exhibits.  We signed up in advance for one of the bus tours - SIX stops in FOUR hours!  It turned out that it is much looser than I expected - people were changing routes, bus-hopping, and generally playing everything by ear.  The buses leave each venue every 10 minutes, and are easy to find.  You can stay on the bus if you want to skip a gallery, and you can walk between different places, change the order, go to a museum that is not on your original route... It's a free-for-all!  And a lot of fun! (and exhausting!)

We ended up walking between a couple of places, then skipping a couple.  We'll definitely go back for a longer look at the National Museum. 

We saw a fun dance exhibit at the Alliance Française - especially interesting was the one man dancing with two women - one woman was blindfolded.  It was a very interesting way to tell a story, as well as exciting to watch as a dance.

As we walked between a few other venues, we overlapped the bike route - there were probably two dozen bicyclists, and they just took over Avenida 7.  It reminded me a bit of the Critical Mass rides in San Francisco.

When we go again (and we will), here's what I would do:
- still sign up for a bus route, but just not worry about sticking to it.  I think signing up in advance helps the organizers, but it's not critical to follow it to the letter.
- bring snacks (and not just candy) and water
- expect to drop out here and there, and take a load off; "museum strolling" is hard on your feet and back!
- don't worry about seeing *everything* in the museum; expect to return another time
- leave behind any anxiety about following a plan, and just go with the flow!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Changes at the Clinic

One thing about living here, you come to expect changes.  And sure enough, the procedures at the clinic (EBAIS) have changed again :-). 

I had gone to my clinic in May for my regular blood tests, and had been putting off going back to find out the results.  Mainly, because I am (still) not a morning person, and any trip to the EBAIS means leaving the house by about 6 a.m.  Honestly, who can even think that early in the day?!?  Well, I made it this morning (sorta - I didn't actually leave the house until quarter after 6).  I got there after the crowd had already gotten their numbers (they open the doors at 6:30), but they hadn't run out of spaces.

About a year ago, they shut down a neighboring clinic, and so my clinic absorbed all those patients.  They modified the procedures then to have two sets of numbers - when you first came into the clinic, you would grab a number (from the right stack), then wait for them to call it.  Then you showed your carnet (like an insurance card) and ID, and got an assigned time for your appointment later in the morning.  This was sometimes enough time to go back home, go get some breakfast, or just sit there and read or chat with your neighbors.  When it was time for your appointment, the nurse would call your name, take down your information, take your weight, blood pressure, etc., then send you to the doctor.  On your way out, you dropped off your records, got any prescription slips or follow-up appointments, and you were done!

Now (don't ask me why), the procedures have changed again.  You no longer get an appointment time - everyone gets "7:00 a.m." (even if your number comes up after 7).  And, everyone first sees the nurse, then goes back out and waits for another call to see the doctor.  The effect of this is (1) a lot of confusion (2) irritable clinic office workers and (3) missed reading opportunities (the latter is especially tragic!).

My first hint of confusion was when people kept going back to the office window.  Then, when it was my turn, I fully expected "the usual" - I would present my carnet, and get an appointment.  But the clerk asked if I *had* an appointment for 7 a.m.  I thought "huh? it's after 7, and I'm here to *get* an appointment!"  And, of course, I had no clue what to actually say to her.  Finally, people took pity on me - another patient explained, and another clerk made my appointment (for 7 - LOL).  Everyone kept saying they would call me soon (and they did, but I suspect they were awfully tired of saying that to everyone).  Several of the times that I was waiting to be called, I sat next to a lovely lady who was a retired English teacher.  She said that *everyone* is confused by the new system.  And proof came soon enough - she didn't hear her number called, and so missed her place in line, and had to get a new number, waiting even longer.  There was not a single time while waiting that you could relax and simply wait without listening with great anxiety for either your number or your name.

All told, people now "wait" 5 times:
- wait in line for the door to open (the only time it is safe to read)
- wait for your number to be called
- wait for your name to be called to see the nurse
- wait to see the doctor
- wait to get your prescription slip or follow-up appointment

Ultimately, I was done by 8 a.m., so I really don't know if this new system is faster per patient, or if I just got lucky. 

But the good news?  All my test results are *great!*

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blackened Tilapia and Zucchini with Coconut Onion Garlic Rice

Rick had a nice idea for dinner tonight! I have a long-standing favorite recipe for Spiced Zucchini that I like for a side dish (especially good with an all-out baked chicken dinner), and I had mentioned that a friend had recently cooked blackened Tilapia. He put the two together, and said "how 'bout Blackened Tilapia with your zucchini spices?"

And a star was born...

Spiced Zucchini
Slice (and optionally lightly salt) 3-4 zucchini – set aside
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat
Sprinkle over the hot oil (each should bubble slightly when added):
- ground coriander / cumin
- ground cloves
- cinnamon
- ginger
- nutmeg
Add the zucchini.
Sprinkle with cayenne, stir to coat the zucchini with oil, and cover.
Let the bottom zucchini brown, then turn. Cook until almost soft.
Serve immediately.

Blackened Tilapia
Follow the recipe for Spiced Zucchini above, but add one filet of Tilapia at the same time as the zucchini (I also reduced the amount of zucchini by 1/2).

Coconut Onion Garlic Rice
- slice one large onion into half-moons
- roughly chop 3 cloves of garlic
- toss in a small pan with 2 Tablespoons of butter and cook on high, with the lid on (stirring occasionally) until the onion is transparent and a little browned.
- turn down to medium/low heat and add 1 cup of leftover coconut rice
- stir occasionally until warmed through

Coconut Rice
In a covered pot, mix:
- 1 part dry rice
- 1 part coconut milk
- 1 part water
- 1 stick cinnamon
- salt and oil to taste
Bring to a boil, stir, then turn heat to almost off. Cook with the lid on for 20 minutes, then turn off heat. Stir before serving.

The above combination made a very nice dinner for two :-)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mini-Tour of San José

Sometimes, you can go years knowing people electronically, and never meet them in person.  Well, this morning, I met an e-friend in downtown San José - in person!  She was on her way through town, so we met at one bus station, and ended at another.  In between, we meandered around downtown, and ended up seeing a number of parks - and closed museums :-(.  Holidays are usually fun in Costa Rica, but a drawback is that a lot of places are closed (and buses often run on a Sunday schedule).  Today, Guanacaste Day, was a holiday.  And a Monday.  And San José was *quiet!*

I was amazed at how much I had forgotten!  What was the history of the metal school?  Who is that and what represents which country on the national monument?  sigh.  Fortunately, detailed information is available with a click of the mouse.

I've been having fun with Google maps lately, so you can see where we walked :-)

View Mini-Park-Tour San Jose Costa Rica in a larger map

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Home Cookin'

Unbelievable!  We've been home from France for 4 weeks, and we finally went out to lunch!  I don't think I've had so many meals in a row at home in... well, ever!

I think part of it is that we were on the road so much for so long - four weeks of travel, and I only cooked twice.  We were constantly on the move (for us, that is - I know plenty of folks who stay one short night in each place and move on early).  When we finally got home, we sort of dug in :-).

Another part is that it is rainy season, perfect bundle-up-and-stay-at-home weather.

The other part is that I don't have very much pulling me away from home.  I don't have French or Spanish class this session, and I work from home.  I did go for art day (yay!), but that doesn't involve restaurants at all.  My only reason I absolutely have for leaving the house is to get groceries. 

Time to get back into my walking routine - go out for a walk, then decide where to go :-D.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Strawberry Chicken

Strawberry Chicken and Green Beans

In a medium-high hot pan, add
minced garlic
minced ginger
Stir and cook a few seconds, then add
cubed chicken breast
Let brown, then
Stir in chopped grean beans, cover and cook till done, ~10 minutes
Deglaze with white wine and orange juice
Add chopped strawberries
Warm through, then serve over rice with soy sauce

Monday, June 27, 2011

Creamy Orange Tilapia

I felt a little inspired by my trip to France, and really missed being able to cook!

Creamy Orange Tilapia

In a pan (with a lid), cook a few minutes on high heat, stirring occasionally:
- soy oil
- butter
- one onion, chopped
- one zucchini, chopped
- ginger
- basil
- cayenne pepper
- nutmeg

When onions are transparent, reduce heat and add
- one filet of Tilapia
- 2 Tablespoons Orange Marmalade

Cook approximately 7 minutes, flipping Tilapia part way through.

Stir in 1-2 Tablespoons heavy cream, and serve over rice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

'Cause That's My Bag

I had been using an old "swag" bag more and more here.  The bag was the perfect size and weight for all sorts of things:  it fit my school books, I could easily add some shopping to the end of my day, it was a great over-night bag, and it even fit my art supplies without crumpling them!  But, it wasn't the prettiest thing :-) and one of the straps was safety-pinned on.

So, I decided the time had come to replace it.  I got a half meter of heavy drape material at Yamuni, and started sewing.  I ended up adding a few frills - now I just have to get used to the idea that I can abuse this bag too, even though it is quite a bit prettier :-D.
This version has a button-down flap (adjustable to a second button you can't see at the top), an umbrella-holder on the right side (also handy for other items I want to keep separate and easy to access), two inside pockets, and adjustable straps with quick-release clips.  I used nearly every bit of the 1/2 meter of cloth.

  1. Straighten and fold the material, making the fold become the bottom of the bag.  
    1. cut the main bag piece 24" long x 17 3/4" wide.
    2. cut 2 straps 4" x 32"
    3. cut 1 flap 5" x 10 1/2"
    4. cut 1 pocket 5" x 10 1/2"
  2. Overcast all edges
  3. Sew the sides of the bag, leaving gaps for the umbrella-holder:  
    1. 5 inches from the top, stitch around a sturdy elastic hairband
    2. 5 inches below that, stitch around 2 gaps, leaving space for a long shoelace
    3. Note: use a satin stitch around the gaps for strength
  4. Form the bottom of the bag:  fold the bottom of the side seam into a triangle, so that the end of the seam forms the tip.  Each side is 2 3/4" - Stitch perpendicular* to the side-seam.  Repeat on the other side.
  5. Sew the straps: 
    1. fold one long edge 1/2 inch and stitch
    2. add batting if desired, but only to the center section of the strap (not the ends, since this will make them too thick)
    3. fold the other long edge to abut the first edge and stitch
    4. fold the long edges together and stitch
  6. Form the top of the bag and attach straps:  
    1. place the straps 5 inches in from the sides
    2. fold the top edge of the bag under and stitch, securing the straps in place*
    3. fold the top edge of the bag 1 inch and stitch
    4. topstitch along the top edge, again including the straps
    5. stitch an "X" at each strap to further secure it to the top of the bag
  7. Add the pockets
    1. fold under all edges of the pocket material and stitch.
    2. determine where you want them - I put mine at the top edge, mostly along the back of the bag, but also opposite the umbrella holder, straddling the side seam a bit.  I wanted easy access for my phone and change purse, and that is the side that will be handiest for me.
    3. topstitch pocket to the bag around 3 sides (leaving top open, of course). 
    4. stitch a separator up the middle to form two pockets - you can vary the size
  8. Add the flap
    1. fold under all edges of the flap material and stitch - at one end, form a clipped-triangle
    2. make a button hole at the triangle end
    3. center the other end of the flap at the top of the bag (this is now the "back" of the bag) and stitch
    4. sew one button at the fully-closed position, and another at the top of the bag (for when the bag is very full)
  9. Add the clips to the straps (this is why you don't want batting at the ends - the straps will be too thick to fit through the clips)
    1. determine where you want your clips, and cut the straps
    2. overcast each end
    3. pull the strap through the non-adjustable end of the clip and stitch
    4. pull the other end of the strap through the adjustable end of the clip
* Caution - this is a tricky step, so double-check your placement and orientation before stitching

Friday, June 10, 2011

USA Embassy to National Theatre by Bus

I've had a "bus" request!  Someone asked me how to get from the USA Embassy to the National Theatre (and environs), so... here goes!

Across the street from the Embassy, catch the Pavas bus towards downtown San José.  Get off on Paseo Colón at the first opportunity.  Catch either:
- the Sabana Cementerio (Ruta 1) bus and take it all the way to the Caja, or
- the Sabana Estadio bus and take it to the terminus at the Banco Popular (one block West of the Caja).
Either way, you will be across Avenida 2 (South) from the National Theatre.

If you miss the Paseo Colón stop, and end up at the terminus of the Pavas bus, then simply walk South a block or two to the Paseo Colón and catch the next Sabana bus there.  You will be in front of the San Juan de Dios hospital.

Once you are near the National Theatre, you can walk South 3 or 4 blocks to the Super Sony (Asian food store).  A block or two on your way, you will pass Casa Alfi on the right.

You can also go West from the National Theatre along the pedestrian walkway to Lehmann's, Universal, and a wide variety of shops and street vendors.  There are quite a few places to buy sewing material on the West end of the pedestrian walkway.

If you go East from the National Theatre about 3 blocks, you will see the terminus for the San Pedro buses.  North from here is the Parque España, Morazan, and CENAC, as well as the Alliance Français (behind the Holiday Inn).  On the street beside the Holiday Inn is Mora's used books.

To return to the Embassy, catch the Sabana Estadio from the Banco Popular.  Get off at Parque La Sabana, in front of the ICE office, and switch to the Pavas bus.  Make sure to ask the driver if it is in fact going to the USA Embassy (remember, there are a ton of embassies in San José, so make sure you ask for the *USA* embassy :-) ).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Costa Rica Census!

We've been counted!

The 2011 Census started this week in Costa Rica - it will be going on all week.  We had a lovely young woman come to our place and ask us all sorts of questions :-)

Years from now, people will be able to look us up and see what sort of house we lived in, what our education was, and what we did for work.  An interesting thing (to me) is that there was no question about nationality.  Yes, we said where we were born, but there is no way (from this questionnaire) for people to determine whether someone is a citizen, a resident, or a tourist.

It was an interesting experience; I hadn't participated in a one-on-one census before, not even in the states.  It feels a little odd somehow.


We had HAIL this afternoon!  In a tropical paradise!  In May!  What else is there to say, but "weird"...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Just-Sew Story

I've decided to get back into sewing a bit - I have my sewing machine here after all!  I used to do quite a bit, including prom dresses, and my wedding dress.  But all that was in the states, where the art of sewing is managed a bit differently.  There, you walk into a store armed with your measurements and some idea of what you want to make.  You pour over the pattern catalogs, collect your chosen pattern from the many drawers full, and read the "ingredients" list.  Then you browse for the perfect material, and swing by the notions section for matching thread, zippers, lace, and all the trimmings.  You take your pile to the counter, they measure out the amount of material stated on your pattern, give you a smidgen extra (although I saw less and less of this as time went on), and you're on your way!

Here, just to get off to a good start, there are no patterns.  Already you know it's going to be tough.  So, you start with some piece of clothing you have, but would like to change somewhat.  I chose a pair of shorts - I wear these almost constantly at home, and they're wearing out here and there.  I decided to make a pattern from the "sample" so I would have it for another time - I also think it is easier to modify and double-check measurements with a paper pattern.  I found that the paper the grocery store uses to wrap glass wine bottles works pretty well - especially if you've just opened that bottle, and have a glass of it handy.  I drew out my pattern, but forgot a seam allowance.  I discovered this in time, and so was able to tape an extension on :-).  I also discovered that I did *not* in fact have my french curve with me.  So I just winged it.

Next, I needed material!  I went to my neighborhood Yamuni - a department store that has a nice selection of material.  They had a large selection of curtain/drape material, some fleece and toweling, some suiting, and some basic blends.  It is very difficult to find cotton or silk, and wool is just not to be dreamt of.  Not that I *want* wool in the tropics, but these are things you need to be aware of.  Since I have no handy-dandy pattern telling me how much material to get, I'm back to winging it - I get a meter.  Turns out it was on sale, so that it cost me all of $1.25...

However!  Yamuni has no notions!  Here in Costa Rica, they have a type of store called a "pasamanería" - *this* is where you go for all your sewing notions!  Not knowing (yet!) where one of these is, and knowing that I have some basic notions in my kit, I feel like I'm in good shape.  Can you say "famous last words?" 

I got my material washed and straightened, lined up and cut out.  Remember those nice instructions included in a pattern? Sew this part first, line up these notches, start in the center, etc. Hah!  Fortunately, I remembered a lot.  I sewed a few seams, then pinned up the sides, and tried on my pseudo-shorts.  Looked good, but I want to adjust a thing or two.  In the end, they do the job, but there is an entire list of "oopses:"
- I wanted to use the selvage, but after adjusting the seam allowance, the selvage shows.
- When I clipped the excess material from the inseam, I snagged the leg.  Sigh. Now it's patched and zigzagged; doesn't show :-) but I know it's there.
- I added enough to the pockets to account for the waist, but not enough for the stitching - Pockets are now definitely just for looks, since my hand won't quite fit.
- I was careful to keep the embellishment on one side from flipping, but the other side... bent.
- When I measured the sample, the back curved up at the waist.  When I put the new shorts together, it didn't really work that way.  An easy adjustment to make :-)
- At the leg, the two halves *almost* line up at the hem.  Also easy to fix.
- I knew I didn't have enough blue thread for the whole project, so I went with the white thread I had.  I got to the final hem, and ran out!  Fortunately, I had enough bobbin thread, and I could work it so that it was what showed :-)

Not bad for a prototype...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Law of the Titans

I had an interesting conversation today about the laws (specifically immigration laws) of Costa Rica.  I had noticed that the most recent immigration law, effective March 1, 2010, was published and available to read, and it didn't contain a lot of the rules that the previous law had (e.g., a rentista resident under the old law must spend at least 122 days out of each residency year in Costa Rica in order to maintain this type of residency.  But the new law says nothing about a time-in-country requirement.)  So, I asked if the new law superseded the old law completely, or if it was additive.  It turns out that the answer is not simple!

Costa Rica has three levels of "law" - first, the law is written, passed, and published.  Then, the "regulations" are written and published.  Then, various "clarifications" are written, but not published (that is, not necessarily available to the public, but issued as a type of memo to the officials involved in enforcing the law and regulations). 

However, if the regulations are never published, then the old regulations (governed by the old law) are still in force!  In the case of immigration, the last *several* laws had *no* regulations published!  This means that the regulations in use are OLD - several version of law changes old!  So, to be safe, even though the new (1 year old) immigration law says nothing about a time-in-country requirement, you must still plan on spending 122 days each year in Costa Rica if you are a rentista resident.

This set of rules also governs what is commonly known as the "perpetual tourist" - someone who lives in Costa Rica on a tourist visa.  This PT must renew his visa by leaving and re-entering Costa Rica.  If this person is a citizen of the USA, the visa is usually for 90 days, but this is entirely up to the border official, who may give less than this.  In this case, there is no law against living in Costa Rica as a tourist, and the immigration regulations don't address this.  However, there may well be "clarifications" in the form of memos from the director of immigration to the border officials that we simply do not know about.  These are the documents that set the tone of the law, and determine what the border official is likely to do.

Keeping up with this would be a nightmare, and I don't envy those who must.

Note: don't use this as any sort of legal defense - I might easily have misunderstood something important.  Just be aware that it is not as simple and straight-forward as one would think!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pineapple Drink

There I was, cutting up a pineapple (nice and ripe!), when my housekeeper said "don't you use the shell?"

After a few moments of confusion, I finally understood that she was telling me how to make a drink from all that stuff I normally throw away! 

Piña con Arroz

Boil in a pot, for approximately 1/2 hour:
  • approximately 1 liter water
  • one handful uncooked rice
  • one stick of cinnamon
  • all the shell, core, seeds and plugs from one large pineapple (piña)
 Using tongs, fish out the cinnamon and pieces of pineapple skin and throw them away.  Put the rest in a blender and liquify - some of the core will simply never get chopped up.  Add milk if you prefer.  For a stronger cinnamon flavor, leave in the cinnamon stick when blending.  Pour through a strainer and cool the liquid.  Makes about 1 1/2 liters.
Sweeten to taste.
I added some mora juice, because I like the mixture of the two flavors.

The pineapple itself is excellent eaten as is.  Or you can chop it up and freeze it for later.  Fresh or frozen, it's good cooked in stir-fries, curries, sprinkled over salads, or used as part of a glaze for roasts (especially good with pork or chicken).  Note: if your pineapple is ripe enough, you can eat the core right along with the flesh, but this reduces what is available to put in your drink.  Either way, enjoy!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Routine without Ruts

I had a nice little routine going here - some structure, but not so rigid that it was suffocating.  But then visitor season hit, followed by major holidays, and some serious and multiple changes to my class schedule (I have to blame something, right?).  I found myself a bit rudderless, and didn't really realize what was happening.  Then I suddenly saw!  And remembered how important it is to have purpose and structure in life.  So, I made a little schedule, and a few rules. 

The number one rule is:  every day, say "where will I walk today?" instead of "do I have to go out for something?"

Supporting rules include basics like get up by 7:00, have a real breakfast, no more than 2 cups of coffee (that one is tough, and may very well go by the wayside), and get ready for bed by 10:00 (but actual sleep time will take care of itself).

Today was the first day of tryouts :-).  Rick and I walked to Guadalupe, mainly for the walk, but also to stock up on meat at the butcher.  I hadn't been there in a very long time, and never any day but Saturday.  Saturday is feria day in Guadalupe, and so I used to combine that with a number of other chores - as did many other folks.  And the butcher was **busy!**  But on a Monday?  Not so much! :-D

Once I started to think about what I could do when I go out, instead of how to accomplish everything efficiently, life got a bit nicer.  No more groaning about having to go out to do a bunch of chores, no more over-stuffed shopping cart, no more saying "where did the day go?"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ghost Town Stay-cation

Who wouldn't like a stay-cation when you live in Costa Rica?  That's what we decided to do this week, Semana Santa, probably the biggest beach-travel week in the country.  We spent Monday and Tuesday stocking up, taking care of errands and chores around town.  Wednesday, I was all set to enjoy the day at home, when I saw the news report - Thursday and Friday, by law, are *DRY!*  That is, absolutely *no* alcohol can be sold on those two days.  Having never personally dealt with blue laws (only even heard about them well into adulthood), and often relied on 24-hour supermarkets for "oops we're out, gotta make a beer run" emergencies, this was a bit new.  Lickety-split, I took the cart down to the store and piled in the spirits - 'cause, you know, if a day is supposed to be dry, well, ya just gotta drink, right?  (I exaggerate just a bit)

But we did while away the weekend in our cave, and it was lovely :-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What a Week!

What a week (to miss out on)!  Yes, I'm going to whine...

I was not up to snuff this week, and missed out on a *lot!*
Saturday:  dragged through class, hopefully absorbed something, but I was certainly not a stellar student.
Sunday:  no visiting with friends.
Monday:  missed Juan Santamaría Day in Alajuela; parade, festivities, museum events.
Tuesday:  chores at home, but did not experiment as planned with a hoped-for butcher delivery.
Wednesday:  missed afternoon festivities at UCR, but at least we walked through it on our way to the clinic;  *REALLY* missed the Art City Tour!  Had planned to meet friends and make a real night of it.  Back-up plan was to go to the Alliance Française for a Milonga.  Too tired for even that.
Thursday:  no painting workshop with friends.  At least I can hear some of the music wafting over from UCR while I rest up in my recliner.
FridaySemana U will still be going on at UCR.  Maybe...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Phew! Not Dengue!

I do not have Dengue!

We had a little scare here this last week - I got sick on Thursday, and by Saturday morning, I had all the classic symptoms of Dengue Fever.  Fortunately, ALL in miniature, so not a whole lot of pain or life-derangement :-).  I felt well enough to go to class Saturday, although I was not really with it (but no tests, so lucky me!).

By Monday, we had decided that I'd better see a doctor to find out if it really was Dengue.  We had read that not everyone has the severe symptoms, so even though mine were minimal and very short, it was still possible.  The most important reason to know for sure whether or not I had it, is that the second time someone is exposed to the virus, it can be life-threatening.  Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever is a high risk when someone has the dengue antibodies from a previous bout. 

Well, it turns out that the EBAIS is closed on national holidays* (imagine that!), and Monday was Juan SantaMaria Day.  We made our trek to the clinic, not really expecting it to be open, but we didn't know for sure (now we do!).  We couldn't go Tuesday, so that left today.  By the way, each trip to the EBAIS means getting in line somewhere around 6:00 a.m., getting an appointment for later that morning, perhaps returning for tests, etc.  Basically, you get up too darned early, and your day is shot.  But, you get pretty much everything taken care of all in one day.  Today was only slightly different, because dengue is a public health issue, and so the blood test for it is "urgent."  So, after my morning doctor's appointment, we went to the urgent laboratory at UCR, got blood drawn, then went to the cafeteria there for brunch.  We returned to the clinic for the results.  We had a little language mix-up**, and so were two hours late :-| but they fit us in!  And... NO DENGUE!  Turned out it was a bigger relief than I anticipated!  I'll still worry a bit about mosquito bites, but if the bugger is carrying dengue, at least I am back at square one in that progression.  Square one is a *good* thing sometimes!

* In case you didn't know, next week is Semana Santa, and Thursday and Friday are national holidays too.

** language mix-ups are no fun!  And here's an easy one:  12:30 sounds like "dosayeemedia" and 2:30 sounds like "doseemedia"  - say that fast and see what happens...  The fix is this - write down the numbers and confirm those with the person giving you the appointment.  It's a bit harder to *remember* to do this...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Glazed Ginger Carrots

Glazed Ginger Carrots

In a small amount of water, cook to desired texture (I like al dente)
- 2 sliced and peeled carrots

Drain off the water, and add:
- 2 TBS butter
- 1 TBS brown sugar
- 2 TBS dried cranberries (available at most AutoMercados)
- 2 TBS chopped candied ginger (available at Super Sony in San José)
- a *very* slight sprinkling of cayenne pepper and cinnamon

Cook an additional minute or two over medium heat, then serve.

Excellent with baked pork loin or chicken.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Norman in Action

Lunch at Jalapeño's in Alajuela is always a treat!  Not only do we get great food, but watching Norman and his crew in action is fun (and informative!).

------ where is it? -------
From the North-East corner of the Cathedral, go North 1 1/2 blocks.  It's on the right.
Go 1/2 block South from the post office.

Note that all streets inside the Calle Ancha in centro Alajula are one-way streets.  This one goes North. Of course, if you're walking, that doesn't really matter :-)

Sometimes a map helps:

Monday, April 4, 2011

We're in the Pink

There's an explosion of pink, and we're right in the middle of it!
And just to balance things out, one non-pink flower:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If I Had a Nickle...

If I had a nickle for every time I planned to do something in Costa Rica, and didn't, I could retire to a tropical paradise.  Hey...  Wait a minute!

Friday, March 25, 2011

University of Costa Rica - Getting Plugged In

This weekend is the UCR Expo, three days of "getting to know your local University!"  It's something like a combination of a fiesta, feria, and open house - there are dozens of food and craft booths, sellers of all things Costa Rican, many workshops and information centers, and half a dozen stages presenting music, dancing, martial arts demonstrations, and work-out regimes.

This morning, we strolled the few blocks from our house and wandered around.  We had a few things in mind that we wanted to see, but pretty quickly found much more to do.  We had walked through the campus many times (it makes a nice short-cut to many places we go), but hadn't really stopped to find out more than a smattering of what was there.  This time, the only real purpose was to do just that - discover what the campus had to offer.

Some snapshots:
  • posters touting studying science abroad (a lot of opportunities in Italy!)
  • a new-to-us cafeteria (near the music building, and so we saw some musicians hanging out, playing)
  • an even better short-cut :-)
  • a lively soccer game
  • even more sculptures
We also stopped at a few information stations.  One of these was about the Costa Rican folkloric music, and what they are doing to archive it.  While the music is not (yet?) available online, you can request digitized copies by email. (

UCR is using and promoting a lot of free software, including using it as part of the coursework.  There was a room full of demonstrations, and the first one we encountered was a CD burner for Ubuntu!  Rick quickly got passed to the experts in video and audio editing, and got a nice demonstration of the free-ware available. He came away with a *lot* of information, and was *very* encouraged! (

Well.... Since Rick had such luck, I finally screwed up my courage and approached an expositionista in the pottery/ceramics tent.  She was *lovely!*  We talked about the School of Art - what types of art are taught (painting, ceramics, wood sculpture, etc!), and - most importantly, how I could join a class here and there without being a full-time student on a career path!  I had heard that people 56 years and older could audit classes (no placement exams, could be part-time), and I knew several full-time "regular" students, but I had never heard how someone in the middle (like me) could attend a class or two.  Opportunities for getting involved at UCR is one of the main attractions for living where we do!  So, now I'm a step closer :-)

Of course, no open-house is complete without *food!*  We got  a nice big chunk of 100% pure cocoa from a woman who made it herself, on her Finca Loroco in Talamanca.  Then we got a jar of cas pulp from the executive chef of Ay, Que Rico! from Heredia.  He had several other pulps and sauces, and we had a nice foodie moment talking about how to use them :-).  Earlier, I had seen interesting items like pejibaye flour - I'll probably go back for that...

------- contact info --------
Free software sites:

Escuela Artes Plásticas
Lilliana (for info on matriculation, session dates, what to do, etc)

Finca Loroco:
Dirección 300 m hacia Carretera a las Cataratas, Volio, Talamanca.  Familia Moreno Vargas
fax:  506.2751.0283

Ay, Que Rico!
Luis Mathieu M.
Chef Ejecutivo
8829.3464, 2262.2744
Urb. Boruca 1, Mercedes Norte, Heredia

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

National Theatre 2011 Season

The National Theatre MedioDía has gotten off to a great start!  A few things have changed since last year - entrance is now c1000 ($2) instead of c500, and there are many Tuesdays of dance and theatre as well as music. 

Today was the first musical performance, and for me it's all about the music!  We hosted the Juilliard Jazz Artist Diploma Ensemble, with 3 members from the USA, one from Australia, and the charming Spanish-speaking Italian.  They are on a tour of Costa Rica, and definitely worth going to see!

Some other activities and events:
  • Master class and concert at Universidad Nacional - Heredia
  • Master class at UCR
  • Transcultural session at the San Pedro Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano
  • Master class at Teatro Eugene O'Neill
  • Concert at Palmares - Colegio San Agustín
  • Concert for students of MEP - Teatro Eugene O'Neill
  • Concert at Hotel Club de Mar - Jacó
  • Concert at Teatro Copaza - Quepos

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pesky Ants

Costa Rica has an amazing diversity of plants and animals, including ANTS!  Outside, they are fairly easy to avoid, and I have gotten used to watching out for the trails - no fun getting swarmed, or even bitten just once.  But once they are inside the house, they are fair game for full-on extermination.

Of course, the first thing to do is try to keep the ants from coming in force.  I can live with a few here and there, so I don't worry too much about a one-day trail in the bathroom.  However, there are some species that send in "scouts," and if they are able to report back that there are ant-yummies available, then you will have waaay too many visitors!  The scouts I notice are the large (almost 1/2 inch long) red or black ants that meander around the floors, usually at night.  When I see them, they're squished and flushed.  Usually I see one per night for perhaps 2 or 3 nights, then they give up. 

There is no sense in tempting fate!  Keep sweets sealed, put away food in a timely manner, and keep your counters and stove clean.  You don't have to go crazy, but a quick swipe with the cleaning rag after dinner is a great way to cut down on ants (not to mention other nasties).  If you use sugary sodas or coffee creamers, then it's also important to wipe the counters after using these - minute amounts go flying, and the ants will find them!

If a trail of ants becomes too much, I make a solution of half water and half vinegar (any kind will do), and wipe the trail with it.  At the same time, I'll use the solution to wipe down the counters, bathroom edges, and other likely places.  Usually, the ants are gone right away.  But sometimes they are driven in by weather, and so it can take a few days of vinegar-wipes to completely discourage them.

About a year ago, the ants seemed to completely take over my kitchen.  I couldn't even leave out a batch of cookies long enough to cool, and they swarmed over a carrot cake that was on top of the refrigerator in less than half an hour!  That was the last straw!  I mixed up some ant poison, and set some out.  I have since had an entire year (plus!) free from ants :-)  The recipe - in a small 1/4 cup jar, combine a tablespoon each of honey, water, and boric acid.  Shake well.  Dribble a little in the lid and leave it behind the microwave.  Leave the open jar on top of the refrigerator.  Check it every 6 months - it should still be a thin syrup.

PS - you can get boric acid at most pharmacies; I haven't been able to find it in grocery stores.

PPS - if you have pets, a good way to protect their food from ant invasions is to place the food bowl in the middle of a larger bowl of water, creating a moat that the ants won't (usually) cross.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Green Bean Home Fries

Green Bean Home Fries

In a large skillet (12"), heat oil. 
- 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 potato, sliced

Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, cover, and let cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once.

- 1/2 pound green beans, cut into pieces about 1/2 inch long
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Cover and cook till done (~7 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Serve as a side dish, or add bacon and cheese for a main dish.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Puerto Viejo Again :-)

Puerto Viejo is becoming an annual trip for me, coinciding with my brother's visits :-)

I decided I had enough photos of the area for a while, so I left my camera behind - now that's travelling light!  Unfortunately, I also left behind part of my CPAP machine, so my sleep was not optimal - but still not all bad (very nice to know this for the future).  I did bring my very own snorkel gear - my only rental this trip was the bike!

We splurged on a dinner at La Costa de Papito but most of our dinners were from street vendors - the chicken on a stick with hot sauce is to die for!  And the big plus is that is leaves plenty of room for ice cream :-).  "Deelight" ice-cream parlor serves gelato that has the most *intense* flavor I have ever had in Costa Rica.  Choko orange - OMG!  It is right across from the bus stop, and is on my must-must-must do list.  Coming from a die-hard ice-cream lover, that is really saying something...  Oh yes, the Italian owners/chefs are simply lovely to talk to as well!

We continued the eat-on-the-street theme for lunch - bought french bread at a bakery on the South side of Puerto Viejo, got water, sodas, beer, wine, cheese and yogurt drinks at a grocery store, and ate at the beach whenever we got hungry :-).  I discovered (a little late, but not entirely *too* late) that I like to carry a little something to drink with me - so, I poured some wine into an old soda bottle and sipped it to cool off that hot street chicken. 

Most restaurants in Puerto Viejo now serve filtered water when you ask for a "vaso de agua" - there is a very minimal charge, if any, and it does cut down on the "water issues."  There are also places that advertise water-bottle refills all along the main drag.

We rented bikes one day, and rode down the coast along the mostly-newly-paved road.  This was a *considerable* improvement over last year's body-bruising cruise.  Tides were high, and a storm was coming in, so the waves were pretty rough, but the water was still lovely.  And the rain held off until we were all tucked up for the night :-).

The weather was generally very nice!  Temperatures were in the low 80's, and there was a nice breeze.  Humidity was often in the 50's, and never oppressive.  We had rain two nights, and a couple of hours of mist-and-drizzle one day - no umbrella needed, although we did see a couple of people riding bikes with an umbrella held just so :-).

I finally have to admit that the Cactus Juice I have simply does not work against the biting bugs in Puerto Viejo - I now have more than 40 bites as my unwanted proof.  After a couple of evenings of providing ice-cream enriched blood to the wretches, Big Bro saved us all by buying a bottle of DEET...

Coming back, I got a small surprise.  Usually, the bus stops at an immigration check-point just past Limón - an immigration officer checks everyone's passport or cédula to make sure everyone is legally in the country. (So if you're a tourist, it's important to carry your actual passport.  Or perhaps at minimum, a copy including entry stamp.)  But this time, we didn't stop!  Good news for my travel companion, since she only had a copy of her passport info page (not the entry stamp).  Bad news, only because now I don't know what would happen in this circumstance.  Of course, that good news far outweighs the bad...

--- trip details ---
  • This time, we hopped the 10:00 bus from San José on Monday morning (crowded), and I returned on the 9:00 Friday morning bus (half empty) - each was c4545 (~$9). The trip is about 4 hours, including a 10 minute stop in Limón (run for the bathroom, since there is only one, and please wash your hands in the sink outside, not inside the women's room).
  • You can buy your ticket from San José at least 2 days in advance, and all seats are assigned.  
  • You can buy your return ticket only one day in advance, and seating is open.  The bus starts in Sixaola, about 1 hour away, so boarding time in Puerto Viejo is *very* approximate - bring your patience.
  • We stayed at the Cabinas Casa Verde, still my favorite place to stay there (it's for sale!).  Even though there are ceiling fans, we find that it is more comfortable to bring a small personal fan as well.
  • Cruiser Bikes rent everywhere for c3000/day (return by 6 pm).
  • There are several farmacias in town, and at least one had Breathe-Right strips (3 for c850).
  • Taxis between Playa Cocles and Puerto Viejo run c2000.
  • Electric Golf carts rent for $70 for 24 hours, and have headlights and enough juice for 6 hours of solid running.
  • Pareos sencillos sell for c5000 (I got a nice yellow one this time).
  • Casados run about c2700; a little more on the main drag, a little less a couple of blocks inland.
  • "Chocolate y Pan" turned into a regular breakfast place for us.
  • Almost everywhere had 2x1 drinks for happy hour, usually 4:30-7, often c2000 for *large* tumblers of daiquiris or piña coladas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Manuel Antonio!

Unbelievably, in the FIVE years we've been in Costa Rica, we had never visited Manuel Antonio.  Thankfully, Visiting Brother was up for the trip :-).

Our first glimpse of the beach...
Beautiful beach for sitting, listening to crashing waves, watching birds dive, and just being...
A little watcher (who was really watching whom?)

--- trip details ---
We decided to rent a car and *drive* instead of taking the bus.  We got a "full-size" car from Dollar for about $30/day, including the mandatory insurance.  We had confirmed earlier with our credit card company that they would cover additional insurance, so we waived that.  Renting from Dollar was pretty painless!  Every car rental place here requires you to sign a "blank" credit card slip to cover damages, etc.  We certainly didn't like doing that, but at least Dollar puts their name on the slip, reducing the risk somewhat.  We had also double-checked with our credit card company on this situation, and they said they would treat it like any other fraudulent charge if something was inappropriately charged using this slip. 

I took the bus to pick up the car in the morning, and drove it back to the house to pack up (bus, rent car, get directions, drive home, took about an hour and a half).  The day after we got back, I returned it early in the morning, and caught the 7:45 bus to class.  The entire experience was a far cry from the first time we tried to rent a car here!

We left San Pedro, on the East side of San José, at 12:15.  After several ahem, "sightseeing" detours, and one official detour, we arrived in Manuel Antonio at about 4:00.  All told, the detours probably only added a bit more than a half hour to the trip.

We decided to see a little more of the country on our return, so we went back via San Isidro de El General.  We left Manuel Antonio at 9:15, driving South along the coast, were in Dominical 2 hours later, and stopped to stretch our legs in the park at San Isidro at 12:30.  We drove through the 11,000 foot pass of Cerros de los Muertos, and stopped for lunch while we were still pretty high up (and while it was still pretty cold!).  We got to San Pedro about 4:00, got gas (The entire trip took less than 1/2 a tank! It took about $24 to fill up.), and got a load of groceries ('cause we had a *car* to haul it all home!).

Manuel Antonio park entrance fees are c1600 for residents and $10 for tourists.  Our hotel was between the two entrances/exits (very convenient!).  We ate a *lot* of our meals at Costa Linda, an almost-hostel backpacker surfer place.  This would be a great place to stay if you don't need air conditioning or private bathrooms, and if you can ignore the very prevalent smokers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13 - National Oxcart Driver Day

aka Día Nacional del Boyero, is a day to celebrate the oxcart drivers of Costa Rica.  The weekend celebration started Saturday, but having just returned from a week at the beach, we decided to just go for the parade on Sunday (with a little hope for some pre-parade music).

Plan A:
- leave at 7:30-ish, catch the San Pedro bus into San José
- catch the Sabana Cementerio bus to the Coca-Cola terminal
- catch the 8-something bus to San Antonio de Escazú
- get there in time to see the folk music at 9

Plan B:
- ask people at Coca-Cola about the best bus and stop for the fiesta; change if it make sense
- if we can't find the music, find a café and wait for the parade to find us

What Really Happened:
- left about 7:50, caught the San Pedro bus, then the Sabana Cementerio bus to Coca-Cola
- walked around a bit looking for the right Escazú bus; caught the 8:30 bus.  "looking for the right bus" included asking people in line about the fiesta (one blank look, immediately followed by a "you bet, San Antonio" from her neighbor).  Confirmed with the driver, who was a bit caught off-guard by the question.  Listened as another passenger asked the driver more specific questions about the fiesta.  Managed to mention this fact to the French couple behind us, who were also going (done in French, thank you very much!).  Watched said person like a hawk, and followed him all the way to the festivities :-).
- left the bus at 9:00, walked the 6 blocks in a few minutes to the San Antonio church area.  No folk music.  Food stalls were getting set up, but definitely not ready for us.  Had coffee and pastry at Musmanni's - now why is it that I can never tell if I'm spelling that right?  It's a bakery chain all *over* Costa Rica, and I stop in regularly!
- found a seat in the shade; waited, listened, watched
- 10:30 - heard that the parade had started (we were at the finish line).  More people start to show up.
- 12:30 - no oxen. Getting hungry.  Getting a sore behind.  Sunburnt.  Still enjoying watching the action and talking to our neighbors. 
- We wait a bit longer, then decide to eat.  Meander down to the food booths - I got a chorreada (YUM!), and some real food.  I soooo love fiesta food!
- 1:00 - finished lunch, walked around a few minutes, and lo and behold, there's the first part of the parade!
- cameras are out!
- 1:30 - look for our bus back to San José and home!

Next time:
- leave home about 10:00, wearing sunscreen
- take the San Antonio de Escazú bus to the terminus, walk 3 blocks to the church
- eat fiesta food lunch
- watch oxcarts come in, get blessed, and judged
- eat more fiesta food :-)
- bus home about 3:00

Front of the parade - brass band and giant heads, followed by.... OXEN!
At the very end of the parade, the oxen - and passengers :-) are blessed by the priest - cool water at the end of a long hot ride.
Somewhat smaller participants:
Even smaller fiesta-goer!
The After-Party Crowd

Monday, March 7, 2011

No Gas!!!

Argh!  I ran out of gas! 

I use propane gas from a small tank for cooking, and *love* it!  But I was always paranoid about running out of gas in the middle of cooking - after all, when else would you run out of gas?  So, about a year ago (or was it two?), I got a second tank.  The *idea* was to always have a full back-up tank.  When the one in use became empty, I would switch tanks, and *immediately* call the gas guy to give me a refill.  One tank usually lasts 3 months.  Well, I kept my empty around just a little too long this time, and last night (Sunday, the one day the gas guy does not deliver), my dinner was nearly done, and ... phft!  No gas. Luckily, I have a microwave, and the dinner was nearly cooked, so we got to eat...

I let Pura Vida get the better of me - but then Pura Vida took care of me too :-)

---- if you need cooking gas ----
Tropigas delivers (to many places, but not all) Monday - Saturday, 7am - 7pm.  Their free servicio express center is 800-876-7442.  They exchange your empty tank for a full one, and charge the going rate for the gas (currently just under c9000 for a 25# tank).  The first time you call, they get all your pertinent information (phone number, address, needs, etc).  The next time:
- you say you want servicio express
- they confirm your address (based on the number you call from, which they can see)
- they tell you the price, based on your last order
- you tell them what bills you will pay with (so they will have the correct change)
- they will give you a time estimate; mine has been delivered anywhere between 15 minutes and and hour and a half
- I always ask if the guy can test the tank(s).  The last time, he tightened my regulator valve for me :-)
- *Immediately* bake some cookies to make sure everything is working right...


Monteverde is one of the must-see spots in Costa Rica - what did we do?  Went hiking in the Cloud Forest, took nature photos, saw frogs and butterflies, had cheese fondue for dinner, "enjoyed" two long dusty bus rides...
Thankfully, they included amazing sunsets!
 We saw some familiar butterflies, and a whole lotta new ones!

 Our tour of the frog ponds started with one of the largest specimens I have ever seen :-)
We took the route suggested by the park ranger, hiking to the continental divide at 4700 feet - on one side, we saw the Nicoya peninsula and gulf:
On the other side of the path, we looked East to the Atlantic:
Decided it was good luck (when isn't it?) to stop for a snog :-)
Came back from the divide via the hanging bridge (yes, I walked across it too, but *very* carefully)!

Our Trip details:
  • Our bus left from San Jose at 2:30.  The normally 5 hour ride became 6 1/2 due to traffic and bridge repairs.  Note that the published bus information is not up to date - currently, buses leave SJ (and Santa Elena) at 6:30 am and 2:30 pm.  Buy your return tickets (assigned seats) from the boleteria half a block from the bus terminus.  Cost = c2350 each
  • All buses (including shuttles) stop/start from the North corner of Santa Elena town (it is a triangle).
  • We stayed at the Swiss Hotel Miramontes, owned and run by Walter and Kathi Faisthuber (2645-5152
  • The Santa Elena preserve is less crowded, but we braved the Monteverde preserve and didn't run into too many people :-).  Entry cost = $5 for nationals (citizens and residents), $17 for tourists.
  • Shuttle buses from Santa Elena town to both preserves run throughout the day.  To Monteverde (old yellow schoolbus) is c600.  To Santa Elena preserve is $2.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Something New...

I'm taking a hiatus from painting while visitors are here - we're roaming the countryside :-).  My last complete painting was something very new for me (at the urging of Rick, the sky-guy). 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mercado Borbón

A while ago, I decided to try some different options for my veggie shopping - I had been going to the feria (Farmer's Market) in Guadalupe, but since our move further into San José, and spending more time in class, it was less and less worth the trouble.  Getting vegetables at the grocery stores is iffy - there just isn't the selection that there is at a feria, and the prices are slightly higher.  My latest method is to take the bus into downtown to the Mercado Borbón.  The drawback to this is that I can't take my cart - I almost always end up with about 30 pounds of food, and that's a lot to carry around.

Food from a recent visit (about c500 = $1):
  • carrots = 2 kilos / c400
  • palmito (*fresh* hearts of palm) = 2 bags (over 1 kilo) / c1200
  • avocado = 2 / c500
  • culantro = 1 bunch / c50
  • tomatoes = 1/2 kilo / c200
  • spinach = 1 bunch / c300
  • strawberries = 3 boxes / c1000
  • mango = 1 kilo / c800
  • mora = 1/2 kilo / c800
  • onions = 1 kilo / c1000
  • broccoli = 2 big heads / c1000
  • cucumber = 2 for c275
  • zucchini = 2 for c800
  • green beans = 1 kilo / c1000
  • platano maduro = 8 / c500
  • chili dulce = 10 / c1000

One time I went, many prices were *high* - green beans were between c1600 and c2000 per kilo.  I was looking for zucchini, asking all over, and one vendor said that they were just too expensive!  I thought that was an interesting concept in sales - resellers at the market won't buy something if it is too expensive for their customers to want to buy.  The next week, prices had started to come down, and yes, the zucchini was back :-).

Monday, February 21, 2011

These Booties Were Made for Walkin'

Summer is here, and I have some good walking shoes!
School has started, and I've determined that it takes just about the same amount of time to walk to school as it does to take the bus (*if* you just miss the bus, which *always* seems to happen).  I walked to downtown for class - half an hour of "normal" non-power walking.  From there, it's only a bit further to the market, where I load up on fresh fruits and vegetables - and cheese :-)  On the way, it's easy to stop at the post office or pop into the supermarket.  I take the bus home, with a full (really full!) bag of goodies!

I've been trying to find ways to wean myself off of getting things from the states, and shoes seemed to be an easy way to start.  In California, I finally found the right shoe for my odd feet - wide, high, snug, and room for orthotics.  They are specialty shoes, at a specialty price!  I've gone through 4 pairs of these shoes, each time having to find a way to get them here. 

So, a while ago, I started the dreaded comparison shopping routine here in Costa Rica.  This is enormously time consuming.  It is also worth it for many, many products.  I took my old pair around, first asking about getting the soles replaced.  One place couldn't do it.  Another wanted c8000 - I kept that one in mind, but confirmed with neighbors that it was too much.  One of the hardest things to find out is what is a reasonable price for something here (as opposed to what's reasonable in California).  No one likes to feel like they've been fleeced, especially after the fact.  I went to a place in Alajuela that we went to for Rick's shoes, but it had been several years, and the shoe store was now a sushi restaurant :-(.  Conjures pictures of leathery raw fish, or shoe-shaped rolls...  I had given up for the day, when I noticed that we were walking right past *another* custom shoe store!  We walked in, showed him my shoes, got a quote, and left (leaving behind one of my old shoes for him to use as a pattern).  Two weeks later, we bused back to Alajuela, and I have new shoes - at less than half the cost, and none of the shipping (unless you count the bus)!

This year's expert craftsman (and super friendly fellow):
Calzado Lazo
Santiago Lazo, proprietor
275 m North of Llobet department store

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cream of Sweet Red Chili Soup

Cream of Sweet Red Chili Soup

Fire and Peel 6 Chili Dulces*

Chop and saute one onion in 2 Tbs butter

Combine above with:
- 2 cups water
- 1 bouillon cube (chicken)
- basil, cayenne, cloves, cumin to taste

Bring to boil, then cool slightly.
Pour all into a blender, and blend until smooth.

In a jar, mix 1/2 cup milk with 3 Tbs powdered milk, then add to blender.

Serve hot, with bread or crackers.

* Firing chili dulces is easy if you have a gas stove and tongs!  Hold each whole chili over the open flame until the skin is blackened and hardened.  Place fired chilis in a covered bowl and let rest for 15 minutes or more.  Pull off the skin, and rinse if needed.  Remove seeds and ribs.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pesky Problems in Paradise - Sugar and Salt

There is just no other way to say it - Costa Ricans love their sugar and their salt!  If you have sugar or salt issues, or if you just prefer to reduce your intake of these, you will really have to work at it while living (and therefore eating!) in Costa Rica.

- Most "sodas" (those little cafeteria-style restaurants found almost everywhere, and one of the best deals for a quick meal) include a "refresco" (a blended drink, usually fruit) with their "casado" or lunch special.  This sounds like both a good deal and a healthy alternative to say, a coke.  However!  These refrescos are *loaded* with sugar!  What to do?  Your first line could be to ask them to make it without sugar (you can always stir in a substitute if needed).  This works for restaurants that make them per order, but most sodas have a series of dispensers with pre-made drinks.  If you get past this, then the next problem is that even when made to order, many restaurants use a "pulp" instead of the fresh fruit.  And, guess what!  Yep, the sugar is already added to the pulp!  You can still cut your sugar consumption if you ask for no *added* sugar, since more sugar is often added to the sugary pulp. When all else fails, we either get plain tap water or spring for the added diet coke or, if we're really lucky, a diet ginger ale (pretty much the only diet sodas you will find).  Well, of course, beer is also a nice option!
- Iced Tea, or "Te Frio" is popular, and proudly announced as "natural."  It is naturally sweetened with sugar...
- Some of the ground coffee you buy in the grocery stores is pre-sweetened.  This seems a bit strange to some of us, but can be seen as a convenience to those who always add sugar to their coffee.  The thing to do to avoid this circumstance is to (naturally) read the packaging, and avoid the ones that include "azúcar."  If you go out for coffee, you can ask for it "sin azúcar," but you may still end up with sugar in your coffee (they just won't add sugar to your cup).
- There are quite a few options for sugar substitutes available.  Splenda is in AutoMercado and some other grocery stores, and also in many farmacias (but considerably more expensive there).  Stevia comes as either as a plant, or in liquid or powdered form.  Grocery stores carry Sweet-n-Low, and several Costa Rican brands of sweetener.  I have yet to see the coffee creamers without sugar, so it's best to stick with milk.  (speaking of milk, you *can* get powdered WHOLE milk here - it's wonderful in coffee, especially if you like very strong coffee with milk)
- On the topic of sugars in general, High Fructose Corn Syrup is making headway in Costa Rica.  Reading ingredients lists is crucial here if you want to avoid this as well.  It is especially prevalent in low-fat salad dressings.  Unfortunately, I didn't write down the exact wording for the ingredient (fortunately, I did not buy the product, but that means I can't just go look for the words) - but look for words like "jarabe or sirope de maiz, alto en fructosa"
- Most desserts here are very sweet.  It's almost as though the flavor of the dessert is "sugar" with a tinge of something else.  Even the brownies are generally not very chocolate-y.  If you like strongly-flavored desserts, you will likely first be frustrated, then find that you just don't eat very much dessert.  The one flavor that is fairly strong is dulce de leche - caramelized milk, with a *lot* of sugar.  (nothing to do with sugar, but an important note - most pastries and cakes here are *very* dry).

- Of course, the best way to avoid salt is to cook for yourself.  But, if you're like me, once in a while you get a little tired of constantly experimenting with the exotic food combinations that are possible here :-).  So, *the* key phrase to know when ordering at a restaurant is "sin sal" (without salt).  This won't work in a soda, where the food is pre-cooked, but is nearly essential when ordering eggs.  I will say that I usually cook with no added salt at all, and the soda food is usually not noticeably salty.  But if you must avoid salt, then visit these places sparingly.
- While you can find all sorts of cheeses in the up-scale grocery stores, we get most of our "daily" cheese from ferias, sidewalk stalls, or central markets.  These generally come in 4 or 5 types, and all but one are salty.  The "Turrialba" (or sometimes just "tierno") is a fresh cheese that is low salt and low fat (but always confirm this, even with your usual guy). (update)
- Amazingly, french fries are one of the few foods here that are not salted nearly enough!  Fortunately, you can always add this :-).

Pesky Problems in Paradise?

Can Paradise really have pesky problems?

Yes, well, you need something like a pinch every now and then to remind you that you're not really dreaming, right?  This is the start of a series of posts on Pesky Problems, and what we have done or will try to do to deal with them.  Just off the top of my head, here are some of them:
  • Humidity
  • Ants
  • Mosquitoes
  • Sugar and Salt
  • Allergens

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Summer Time, and the Livin' is Easy

The livin' might be easy, but the time is *flying* by!  It seems like just a few days ago, it was rainy season.  We've just been poking along, making plans in the distance, but sticking pretty close to home. 

Now, all of a sudden, with summer in full bloom, school is right around the corner!  In two weeks, my French classes start again (hah! less than 2 weeks now, since it took me a while to actually write that down!).  Then, a short week later, VISITOR season starts!  (that's a big "YAY," by the way)

This just can't be - I have too many emails piled up that need some kind of answer, a French book to finish reading, a few essays I was supposed to write (we'll just rip out that little piece of my to-do list), and "just a few" visits to friends that haven't even gotten planned.  Time to get crackin'...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alajuela Day Trip

On the spur of the moment, we decided to go to Alajuela for the day!  We woke to cloudy skies, but by the time we were on the other side of San José, the blue was fighting its way through! 

We got to our old stomping grounds in Alajuela, and walked to Norman's restaurant, "Jalapeño's," in time for a late lunch and a nice chat.  Then we wandered down the street, looking for the place where Rick had some shoes made a few years ago - unfortunately, it was no longer in business.  We are still trying to wean ourselves off "needing" things from the states, and so my latest mission is to find a way to either repair my shoes or have some made.  We had given up on that idea for this trip, and were walking towards a park, when we spied another shoemaker!  We walked in, talked a bit about what I wanted, agreed on a price (c38,000), and left one of my shoes there for him to use as a pattern.  No, I didn't limp around the rest of the day with just one shoe - I had brought my old pair along :-).

We made it to our park, and then went on to visit a couple other friends - because it was a last-minute decision to come, we didn't call ahead.  But no one seemed to mind :-).

As we were walking around, at first we were sooo relieved that it was warmer and sunnier than at our house, but we *very* quickly warmed up, and remembered that that was the main reason we had decided Alajuela wasn't for us - the tiniest bit too warm.  Funny how picky you can get...

Oh, but we thoroughly enjoyed the bright sky, the brisk breeze, the blooming trees, and the soooo very friendly folks of Alajuela.  It had definitely been too long since our last visit!

Scenes From a Bus

  • A Profusion of flowering trees and shrubs
  • Grandmothers pushing strollers
  • Kind Strangers offering fruit to toddlers (after subtly checking with the mother)
  • A Happy Toddler with fruit juice running down his chin
  • Mothers laughing with their children
  • Sunny skies with flitting clouds
  • Young adults sitting and talking in the shade of a bus stop
  • People jumping up to offer their seat to those who need it more

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Santa Ana's Calle Vieja

It's funny how you hear terms over and over again, and never find out exactly what they mean until some occasion comes along to force you into finding out.  Santa Ana's Calle Vieja was one for me, until last night :-).

Calle Vieja means "old road" - there are *tons* of roads in Costa Rica that use this name!  Any time a new route is built (like a highway between San José and Santa Ana), the old road becomes Calle Vieja (natch).  Well of course it is still used (and the traffic is horrendous)!  I found out which road is called Calle Vieja because a restaurant we wanted to go to was off it, and listed it as part of its directions.  Then I had to plot a route to get there (in plenty of time for our reservations).  Thankfully, I love a challenge...

Our timetable:
5:15 leave our house in San Pedro
5:25 Barrio Escalante bus picks us up.  Note that this is rush hour traffic - standing room only on the bus, and it takes half again as long as normal to get into town.
5:45 Downtown San José, Barrio Escalante bus terminal.  We decide to walk to the next bus stop instead of taking the Sabana Cementerio bus.  It turns out to be 8 blocks, through a not-so-nice neighborhood, but do-able.
6:00 get on the bus for Santa Ana at the Coca Cola terminal.  Fortunately, it is exactly the bus we need, and the driver seemed sincere when he said he would tell us when we got to the Paco stop in Escazú/Santa Ana :-). 
6:10 bus leaves station (still rush hour)
6:30 finally out of town, and we take the exit to Escazú.  We go past EPA, and turn right onto THE CALLE VIEJA!  I can easily see several landmarks, and so we're ready to ring for our stop when the driver looks at us and says "Paco" - it's truly wonderful when the bus drivers look out for you (this is not the first time a driver has done something special for me or for other riders, but they don't always remember what help you needed).
6:45 exit at Multicentro Paco.  We have now experienced the trip to The Calle Vieja Santa Ana, in rush hour!  As you can see, it takes a very long time, especially compared to the same trip in mid-day :-).

Our return, much later:
9:37 PM - bus to San José picks us up at the Multicentro Paco, on The Calle Vieja Santa Ana
9:50 leave bus in San José at Yamuni, just past La Sabana park
10:03 Sabana Cementerio bus picks us up for the ride across town (BTW, this bus stops running at 10:30 PM)
10:15 leave SC bus at the San Pedro bus terminal (notice that it only took 12 minutes to get across town?)
10:30 San Pedro bus leaves terminal.  I think this is the first time I have taken this bus so late at night - most of the time, I catch it in the middle of the day, and the buses leave every couple of minutes.
10:47 Home!

By far, the longest time factor in rush hour is the traffic.  Late at night, it is the wait between infrequent buses.  The same trip in the middle of the day would be shorter by about half an hour.