Friday, November 30, 2007

Government Lawn Mowers

The purpose of today’s post happens to be more of a observation Patrick and I have made which compares and contrasts our old life to our new one.

When we lived in Minneapolis as owners of a house in the city, we were required by law to maintain our front sidewalk and gutter area. This meant mowing in the summer and shoveling in the winter and ensuring none of the lawn clippings, snow, or other debris ended up in the gutters. As a matter of fact, after living there a few years, the city started charging us (everyone) a city sewer few based on the size of our driveway (this was separate from our typical sewer usage few) to cover the expenditure of added debris in the sewer system. How rude!

In Big Lake, we lived in a subdivision without sidewalks or extra fees.

This morning we Patrick and I heard a loud whirring noise (like a chainsaw) coming from the area of our lower house. We headed up to the balcony to take a look. From that vantage point we could see four city workers with weed eaters cutting down everything and anything in site. This is the third time they have been in our neighborhood trimming our front drive. At first I thought it seemed crazy that the city does this for us, but I’m starting to warm to the idea. If they charge us for this service, I have yet to see the bill.

We have paid our taxes for the year and I’ll try to remember to cover that in a later post.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Frantic Friday - Part Two – OR- Where’s Azure?

Recap: We decided to go shopping in Escazu before Azure’s soccer game. We arrived at the school 30 minutes early to find the school closed and the gates locked. Holy …. Where is Azure?

Patrick resolves the car alarm problem but by this time he is starting to unravel. We explicitly told Azure we would meet her at Blue Valley school and not to accept a ride with anyone (the school hires a bus to take the kids to their games and they must take the bus even if their parents plan to attend the game).

I walk confidently into the indoor soccer area and ask some kids if they speak English. They point to a woman who appears to be setting up for a party. I ask her if she knows anything about a game between Blue Valley and European Schools. She confirms that she is setting up for her son’s birthday party and she doesn’t know anything about a school game. She shrugs and directs us back to the first indoor soccer place we had stopped at with sincere apologies that she couldn’t help.

By now Patrick is in a tizzy. I’m actually trying to stay calm. I keep thinking to myself that I have been in this situation before – some sort of déjà vu. We head back to the first indoor soccer place thinking we should check it out since we never did go inside. There are a group of guys conversing with the security guard so I explain our situation to them and ask if they have any ideas of other places the girls could be playing soccer. They tell us the indoor soccer place we are standing next to closed but one guy thinks there is another one about half mile down the road. Patrick and I have doubts but at this point we have no choice but to check.

Of course we never found the place down the road. Patrick is panicking. He doesn’t know how we will ever find Azure. Maybe there is a different Blue Valley or maybe they gave the coach a game location and that information didn’t get passed to us. Or maybe they are playing a different school. ETC I suggested we should drive back to the school but Patrick disagreed figuring if we arrived there and couldn’t find Azure on the school grounds then what? We agreed that our best bet would be to call the school and hope someone was still around to answer the phone – after all it was a Friday and about 30 minutes after the last class.

Here is another problem. The payphones in Costa Rica don’t take coins (they use a card you have to buy at certain stores) . We head toward the mall looking for an internet place since they typically allow you to make phone calls. We don’t see any internet places since I suppose most people in Escazu can afford to have internet at home. We do see an AM/PM (mini-market). We pull in and ask to buy a phone card. The cashier has to ask his supervisor and then says they don’t have any. What’s up with that? According to all the info we’ve read, all markets should sell phone cards. Okay, let’s not panic. We leave the car in the parking lot and run around for a few blocks trying to find a phone we can use. We even considered asking the agents and Coldwell Banker to use their phone but the office was closed. Figures! (I guess Costa Rica agents don’t work on Fridays just like in Minnesota)

I calmingly tell Patrick we should head back to Blue Valley School since it was almost 3:30. Maybe the girls really were playing there –yeah right. Otherwise, I figured we should get the security guard to call European School and find out what happened. Good plan so I thought until the guard tells us he doesn’t have a cell phone. Now what? Panic strikes!

I tell Patrick that I knew the other security guard had a cell phone. I bet he would let us use it since he knows we are worried parents. We head back over to the indoor soccer field yet again hoping it’s not to late to reach someone at the school. By now the security guard is not surprised to see us. We’re almost friends J I ask if he would call the European School for us and hand him one of their business cards. He obliges and calls them then hands the phone to Patrick (I always forget that this is still a man’s world here in Costa Rica…).

Patrick asks the receptionist if she knows anything about the girls’ soccer game at Blue Valley. She puts him on hold for only a moment and returns to say the game was cancelled. Whew! Patrick asks her if she happens to see Azure Jones to tell her that her parents just received the message and we’re on our way to pick her up.

Now to get back to San Pablo de Heredia during Friday rush hour. On a good day it takes 45 minutes! Patrick handles the traffic well but obviously we are both relieved to know where our daughter is so the panic attacks have subsided!

We actually make it back to San Pablo quickly (about 45 minutes!) and locate Azure sitting under a tree outside the principal’s office. Her principal, Ms Cristin, yells to us from her window apologizing for the misunderstanding. She said they didn’t know how to reach us but she emailed and hoped we would figure it out. She said the coach also said she would wait as long as it took for us to get Azure. We walked past the front office and waved to the coach. She immediately ran out to apologize. She said the school only had a half day and no one bothered to tell her. She called around noon to talk to the other coach and found out the game was cancelled. The other school knew all along the students wouldn’t be there. Azure’s coach says “This is Costa Rica after all… “

So, I have to wonder, what did parents do before there were cell phones????

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Frantic Friday

First, I would like to start out by stating that we don’t have a cell phone. I thought it would be easy to live in Costa Rica without a cell phone. I don’t like conversing over the phone much and my old job consisted of customer service type calls which I could do without for a while. Besides, my Spanish sucks so what’s the point of having a phone if I have no idea why the caller called and vice versa. It’s not like I’m going to call for take-out pizza, right. (Well, I have thought of that…)

Okay, on to our frantic Friday.

Azure’s soccer team had a game scheduled for Friday against Blue Valley. I recalled that my blog buddy, Jen poco loco, had originally planned to send her kids to Blue Valley so I knew that the school would be in Escazu. When we met Jen a few weeks ago, I mentioned the soccer game and asked her for directions. Surprisingly, I knew the area she mentioned so I confidently told Patrick I could get us to the school. (By the way, I’m happy we finally met Jen and her family. They are great people. Patrick and I enjoyed our chat and Azure really had fun playing with her kids. We can’t wait to get together again.)

Since we knew where to meet the team for the game this time, we decided to get some errands done first including a little gringo shopping at Hipermas and a huge hardware store I spotted nearby the last time we were in Escazu. We breezed through Hipermas noticing the store in Escazu stocks a lot more gringo style products than the one we normally shop at in Heredia. We still didn’t buy much but Patrick replaced the jack, lug wrench, and tie down which were stolen out of the car the week before. Next we headed to the hardware store across the highway. The name of the place was EPA and it happened to be very similar to Home Depot (I kept looking for Tony Stewart ) which isn’t typical for Costa Rica most hardware stores require you to know what you want and a gentleman will go in back to get it for you. I’m embarrassed to say that we loved the place. We found much needed kitchen cabinets that are more affordable that all the other stores we have shopped in and I actually like them more. I thought I would have to settle but I guess not! We also found some bamboo blinds I just have to buy for the empty windows. We plan to go back with measurements but I did end up buying a vanilla plant and some chiles for my growing garden.

We left EPA about 2:30 figuring we had plenty of time to drive to the school. We knew we would even beat the school bus since the game didn’t start until 3:30. So, we drive past the school and notice no one is there. I don’t mean that there are no people we know there; I mean there is literally no one there. No kids, no teachers, no bus drivers –wait! -there is a guard dozing on a folding chair against the fence. I leap out of the car and verify with him that this building is actually Blue Valley School (since there is no sign labeling it). Yes, it is Blue Valley. Where is everyone I ask him in my crappy Spanish. He tells me nothing is going on there until Monday. What? Where do the girls play soccer? He mentions something about down the road. I do remember an indoor soccer place we passed about two blocks down. So, we head over there. Another security guard stops us and we explain that we are looking for a girl’s soccer game between Blue Valley and European Schools. Of course he has no clue what we are talking about but like all helpful Ticos, he directs us to another soccer field down the block.

On the way to the other indoor soccer field, our car’s security alarm wouldn’t turn off (remember our previous story about this subject?). so our car locked up. Patrick had to disengage the car battery and fiddle with the alarm wires. Meantime, I walked up the hill to check out the facilities and to see if I could find either of the teams. I didn’t see any girls but the woman working the place claimed they were in the back. I walked back down the hill to wait to check things out further with Patrick.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of Frantic Friday or Where’s Azure?

Friday, November 23, 2007

two for one day

I already published a post today but I wanted to add some photos to go with the car/theft blogs. I figured no one would realize I added them unless I put them in a new post so here is the map we tried to use for Tibas, missing stereo, and the car window (newly fixed).

Happy Thanksgiving

I realize this happens to be a day late but I’m sure all my American readers are enjoying their 4 day weekend and won’t even read this until Monday…

Since Azure didn’t receive any time off for Thanksgiving, the Jones Family spent the day at home. This was a change of pace for us since the last five years we’ve taken advantage of the school break to travel and the years previous we had always spent with family. Oh, well. I miss my family but it’s also nice to garden in mid-November when I heard it was snowing in Minnesota!

Some people have asked me if Ticos celebrate Thanksgiving. The answer, my friends, would be “maybe”. Thanksgiving really is not a national holiday here in Costa Rica (and it shouldn’t be). BUT, due to all the influence the Americans hold over the locals, some of them seem to feel obligated to celebrate especially the rich ones. Even the kids at Azure’s school teased her when she asked if they celebrate Thanksgiving. Yet we know most locals don’t celebrate.

Local high-end grocery stores offer imported turkey for about $50 per bird. (Patrick and I still can’t figure out why they don’t have turkey farms here). They do stock “turkey” lunchmeat on a daily basis but we aren’t exactly sure what type of meat it is –perhaps iguana?!? Also, some of the local restaurants cater to Americans and offer real Thanksgiving dinners for an average of $20 per person. I love turkey but given our budget we couldn’t afford the prices for a typical Thanksgiving meal and instead we settled on spicy spaghetti and delicious fresh baked garlic bread.

Anyway, if you are reading this today and you live in the US, have fun shopping on Black Friday and don’t be tempted to buy something just because the price is unbelievably low! You don’t have to be “good consumers” to have a great holiday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Just another day in the slow lane OR how to find auto parts in Costa Rica

Obviously since we were driving around with a missing side window and it rains everyday, we figured it would be a good idea to replace it as soon as possible. Our first stop was Joel’s Used Car Parts which is right around the corner from Azure’s school and as it happens, the only place we’ve noticed for used car parts. I figured it would be too good to be true if “Joel” actually had what we were looking for - a rubber piece to hold the piece of glass into the car. The place always has several cars parked around the entrance so my fingers were crossed; guessing he must have a lot of the right parts or it wouldn’t always be so busy. Unfortunately, it turned out he didn’t have the correct part.

But, Patrick met a gentleman that explained that he knew exactly what Patrick needed and drew him a map to a place in Tibas that he usually goes to when he needs this part. Patrick appeared happy when returning to the car with the hand drawn map and said we would drive to Tibas on Friday since the drive there and back would take a while and he doesn’t like to drive in the dark. After I saw the map, I expressed my concern that we would never be able to find the correct place. Patrick, undeterred, spoke to his bus driver friend Friday morning who agreed with Patrick that there should be no problem finding this place. I still was unconvinced…

So, after dropping Azure off at school in San Pablo, we drove to Tibas and attempted to locate this mysterious auto-parts store. We stopped at many potential places and no one had the part or could make heads or tails of the map. The first place we stopped had given Patrick the name and address of a Suzuki parts store in San Joaquin de Heredia. This seemed like a likely place to find the part but we were currently way south and east of Heredia and figured we would head back that way if we exhausted our current search.

After driving around Tibas and then Santo Domingo for 2 hours we were quite grumpy and hungry. We grabbed a quick lunch of plantain chips and orange juice at Mas X Menos (grocery store) in San Pablo and headed for the Suzuki parts shop.

We easily located the Suzuki parts place a few kilometers west of Hipermas and Heredia. But again they didn’t have the part. A young guy gave Patrick a phone number for a guy named Leo that may or may not have the part. Patrick’s lunch didn’t help his mood and he was about to leave when I said that we should have the store call Leo for us since we didn’t even have a phone. I was quite determined to end this fiasco instead of prolonging it another day or more. Grudgingly, the young kid at the store called Leo. Apparently, Leo could help!

Long story short, we met Leo at the gas station in San Pablo –he actually waited for us to drive over there. Then he took us to his shop which was the backyard of his house. An associate of his directed Patrick to a store that sold the exact rubber piece he needed by the length while I waited at his house and tried to converse with Leo’s wife in Spanish. Shortly they appeared with the part and grabbed tools to install the window. A quick 10 minutes and 4000 colones ($8) later, the window was installed and looked as good as new.

The whole incident cost us $4 in parts, $8 labor, and $10 gas. The funniest thing happened to be that Leo’s shop was about 4 blocks from Azure’s school and 1 block from Joel’s where the whole adventure started!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Unlucky November in Costa Rica

I’m not sure what it is about November in Costa Rica, but this is the second time we’ve been robbed. Last year we had our backpack stolen while waiting for the bus in Jaco to take us back to San Jose. It was quite traumatic because our passports and car keys were in the backpack along with all our cameras, mp3 players, money, and credit cards.

This time (yes it happened again), Patrick noticed the passenger car door open before we headed down the driveway Thursday morning. We all knew immediately that someone had broken into our car. Patrick was furious. Azure was upset. But I didn’t really let it bother me. So, once we were at the bottom of the hill, we noticed that the thief or thieves had cut away the back/side window to get into the car. They took our Pioneer stereo (probably the only part of the car worth anything) and Patrick’s tools.

Okay, so we’ve been hit again. I’m not surprised and the best part is that the robbers were very nice about the whole thing. I’m sure you’re thinking, “what do you mean nice? They stole your things!” Yes, but it could have been a whole lot worse! They left the window intact sitting on the ground next to the car. They took the stereo out without breaking the plastic surrounding it and left all the parts in the car so it could be put back together nicely –just a hole where the stereo used to be and some carefully cut wires. They left Patrick’s jumper cables and only took some wrenches, two jacks, and some tie downs. They could have just driven off with the car or even slashed the tires and the seats. So, all in all, we were lucky.

We had the neighbors call the police for us and they came quickly. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much other than refer us to the OIJ (basically the detective department) in Heredia. Patrick headed out to report the incident to the OIJ immediately. I stayed behind just in case the thief knew we would be leaving to report the theft and then decided to come back to hit the house. Patrick was gone 4 hours and it was very nerve wracking for me but I got a lot of gardening done!

Anyway, it turned out he had to wait one hour to report the theft. Then the OIJ inspected the car and the pane of glass which they dusted for fingerprints- which took one hour! Since they dusted the car they also needed to fingerprint Patrick which took another hour. The whole scenario seems quite funny since we know this is a typical theft and there is no way the OIJ will do anything with the report let alone the evidence. But, we thought we should report it as a formality if nothing else, since we are pretty sure our insurance will not cover theft of personal items. Oh well, who needs the daily radio news anyway?

Stay tuned tomorrow for the adventure of replacing the window in the car…

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First soccer game

Azure’s soccer team had their first game Friday. The game scheduled for 3:30pm took place at the International Christian School.

Since we had no clue where ICS was located, Patrick and I decided to follow the team bus. We arrived at European School early hoping we were in time to see the team leave. We waited and watched and never caught sight of any of the players or the coach. Finally, Patrick walked down to the bus loading area to see what was holding up the team. Apparently, both the boys and girls team were headed to ICS for a game and only one of the two buses showed up to carry the teams there. Everyone waited until finally the coach loaded the boys into any available cars and we all tore off to ICS in Santo Domingo in a long line. The bus in first place drove awfully fast for the narrow winding roads but Patrick managed to follow ok.

Even though the team arrived late and didn’t get in much of a warm up, they played much better than I expected. The day was cold and rainy but the girls handled it well which I guess made sense since most of their practices occurred during major rainstorms.

Azure played center defense the second half of the game and the other team didn’t get an opportunity to score the entire second half since the girls from the European School managed to keep the ball in the offensive end most of that half. The score ended with European School winning 6-2. Patrick and I both enjoyed the game and are excited for the next one.

We watched the first half of the boys’ game but then headed out since it was already getting dark and we weren’t sure we could find our way home. Obviously we made it home safely but we heard the boys lost their game. Better luck next time.

Azure and Patrick worked on some more defense over the weekend and Azure looked much improved yesterday at practice. We are all hoping she gets more play time during this week’s game. I will keep you updated what happens against Santa Monica at home.

By the way, I do know it is futbol here in Costa Rica but it’s so difficult for me to refer to soccer as futbol when I love American football so much!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bleaching the driveway-what are you crazy?

Our driveway is on an extremely steep slope. Basically, the drive up to our house is far too difficult to make not only because of the angle but also to go back down backwards is much more complicated than should be attempted for no good reason. This means, we leave our car at the bottom of the hill under the lower level car port instead of the upper one.

The hike up the hill a few times a day provides a good work out but also happens to be hazardous. Due to the constant rains, there are permanent grooves in the driveway from the run-off. From trial and error, we’ve determined that walking on the outer portion of the grooves could prove dangerous to your health. The outer part seems to be covered with something similar to slime and moss. So, to prevent major wipeouts or even pulling a hamstring, we stick to the inside of the driveway. We also make sure to keep the driveway clear of wet leaves by sweeping.

The last few months had brought so much rain that the driveway never found much time to dry and the inside part of the drive turned black and slick as oil. Finally afraid someone would end up in the hospital, I decided to scrub the driveway. I took a scrub brush and pail of bleach water outside. Then I literally got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the driveway. Not the whole thing (that would be almost impossible for me) but the key points that we continued to slip on while walking up or down the drive.

Yes, I’m crazy but at least the driveway is now safe to walk because before I bleached the driveway there were days I felt like a sober Bode Miller at the Olympics –way out of control!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another hurricane and more flooding

I’ve posted about the hurricanes affecting us here in Costa Rica with major rainfall. Unfortunately, the rains continue and a major portion of Costa Rica has been declared natural disasters.

Only last week Azure’s class at school held a food drive for flood victims in Alajuela. This week hurricane Noel hit flooding our own neighborhood. The newspaper reported 180-200 homes in a community of San Rafael de Heredia were damaged. The homes were all in a single neighborhood and were flooded when the storm sewers failed to remove the large amount of rain that fell in such a short period of time. Patrick and I have actually been worried these past few days but so far we have been lucky. I feel awful for all the victims of the floods and mudslides here Costa Rica.

Our own home is trenched out between the coffee plantations. We aren’t concerned about the back yard since the original builders planted trees in a terraced affect. Luckily, the planting will prevent erosion and the trenching will prevent flooding. BUT, the side of the trench on one of the sides of the coffee plantation is beginning to collapse and some small trees have fallen into the trench. So far, nothing critical but we happen to live below a huge tree that will fall right into the house IF we get much more rain and the tree loses its hold…

I wish I had taken some photos Wednesday while we were watching all the rain rush through the trenches and running into the river but all I can do is tell you about the weather. Wednesday morning I emptied our rain gauge of over 3 inches of rain - the majority of which fell in only a two hour period on Tuesday. When we left to pick Azure up at school Wednesday, I felt excited because the sun was blazing hot so I figured it would be a great Halloween. By the time we arrived home at 1pm, the sky was almost black and the rain started falling. By 4:30pm the gauge once again had over 3 inches of rain water inside. The rain continued to fall all evening and was still falling when we woke at 5:30am Thursday morning. I wasn’t shocked to find the rain gauge was full at
5 ½ inches and each new drop just spilled over the side.

Good thing the dry season will be here soon! In the meantime, if anyone feels like doing a good deed, the people here in Costa Rica could use some help. Please make donations to the Red Cross. Thanks!
This is a photo of our backyard trench.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween in Costa Rica

Well, it’s officially November and I still don’t know how Tico kids in Costa Rica celebrate Halloween. Patrick and I had been debating for weeks whether or not we needed to buy candy for little trick-or-treaters. Since Azure had a school party and we wouldn’t be home most of the evening anyway, we opted not to buy any. Besides the fact that we went to Hipermas last week to buy Halloween items and they had Christmas decorations everywhere but nothing for Halloween. We purposely chose Hipermas thinking if any store would carry Halloween items it would surely be one related to Walmart - but zip!

Azure’s party was a touch and go situation since we received over 3 inches of rain from 1pm until we left at 4:30. The bridge was slightly flooded again but I was determined to get Azure to school for her first Halloween party in a new country. So, I wasn’t surprised when we were one of the first families to arrive. Even her teacher admitted some of the roads were washed out which meant the party might be a washout. But, 30 minutes later the place was packed with kids running around and parents standing in the way…

Several classes had been in charge of creating a game for the kids to play like musical chairs, piñatas, darts (ones with sharp points even!), and mazes, etc. The kids were then supposed to get stamps in their passports which could be traded in for a cookie treat.

All the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and Azure “won” 3 cookies. Of course there were some left over so everyone enjoyed the extras. We arrived home safely and I never saw a single trick-or-treater anywhere along the route there or back.

By the way, I forgot to mention Azure made her own broom for her Hogwarts costume.