Last Woman Standing

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No.2 Sis looked out at the rain, and the trees being whipped by 30 mile per hour winds and said, “I hear that Costa Rica is such a beautiful country. We must not have seen very much of it.”

TODAY'S VIEW OF LAKE ARENAL AND THE MOUNTAINS BEYOND

TODAY’S VIEW OF LAKE ARENAL AND THE MOUNTAINS BEYOND

This is true. We haven’t toured at all in the months that we’ve lived here.

NEIGHBORING CASITA IN STORM

NEIGHBORING CASITA IN STORM

Instead, we’ve taken turns being sick. This latest bug was delivered by No.3 Bro and his girlfriend just before Christmas.

Then No.1 Sis came down with it. She passed it to her son, Dude, who was visiting. No.2 Sis got it next.

I’m the last one standing. I haven’t gotten it, knock on wood.

We managed to get a grocery order delivered in spite of the lack of an address. The driver called several times to describe where he was, and we guided him to Casa Amarilla.

I’m thinking we should have asked how much the zucchinis weighed before we ordered two of them.

10 POUND ZUKE

10 POUND ZUKE

Know any good zucchini recipes?

Stay tuned…

Tumbling Around The World

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My first trip to Europe was during The Second Great Depression, in the late 1990’s. The depression wasn’t a European financial depression, but a personal, emotional depression. A story for another time.

I went to England with No.1 Sis and No.2 Sis. We were sharing a small hotel room in Birmingham. The room had two beds, a double and a single.

I was sitting on the edge of the double bed, and No.2 Sis was standing with her back to me, facing the single bed.

No.2 suddenly lost her balance and started to fall into my lap. I tried to catch her (okay, maybe I pushed her) and she fell head-first, bottom-up onto the single bed.

Meanwhile, the force of the catch/push knocked me backward on the bed, forcing my feet high into the air.

No.1 Sis applauded. She asked how long had we been working on our tumbling act, and could we do an encore?

Just a couple of days ago, I was sitting on No.2 Sis’ couch. She was facing me when she picked something up near my feet.

As her center of gravity shifted, she started falling head-first into my lap. I put my hand flat on her face, and pushed her upright. No tumbling today.

CHEESES

CHEESES

While in the U.S., I bought three blocks of sharp cheddar cheese. It cost me less than $10. We brought them back to Costa Rica.

I can’t even find sharp cheddar in Costa Rica, but this much cheese would’ve cost around $50.

I’m still eating mostly like an American, and it’s expensive. At least the Tasty Gates of Hell are inaccessible to me.

Stay tuned…

 

 

4 Reasons I Can’t Retire In The U.S.A.

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I’m on a short visit to the U.S.A. to take care of No.2 Sis after she’s had surgery. Being back in freezing Minnesota has really driven home the reasons I can’t retire here.

HOUSING COSTS:

I’ve mentioned before that my rent in Costa Rica is $675 and my house payment in Minnesota was $1500. Both houses are similar in size and layout, with 2 bedroom-and-bath suites on opposite ends of the house.

When you add utilities in, the cost differential is even greater. In Minnesota, you need heat in the winter and and air conditioning in the summer. That ran me about $100-125 every month, year round. $100 per month in Costa Rica pays for all my utilities, PLUS internet, PLUS my land line phone, AND a security service for the house.

Of course, my utilities would be higher if I had air conditioning, but so far I’ve been okay without it.

MEDICAL COSTS:

My health insurance, still bought from the U.S.A., is a continuation of the group coverage I had at my last job at “The Company”. It costs me $680 per month, and I pay an additional maximum out-of-pocket of $2500 per year. That basically puts my cost at $890 per month.

Once I no longer qualify for the continuation of my work insurance, my per month cost may go up as much as another $400 per month.

When I qualify for residency in Costa Rica (which has, admittedly, been a moving target) I expect my premiums to be around $200 every month, with no further out-of-pocket expenses. That will be a per-year savings of (where’s my calculator?) $5760 over my current medical costs.

MAIL SERVICE:

Mail service in the U.S.A. is excellent (as opposed to Costa Rica, where’s it pretty much nonexistent). That’s both good and bad.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve ordered a few things to be delivered to No.2 Sis’s house. A puzzle book, a small dehumidifier, a clip-on lens for my i-phone camera (damn you, late night infomercials!), a puzzle book, ink cartridges for my printer, toothbrush heads, health supplements that promised to make me young again (damn you, late night infomercials!), a puzzle book, a Magic Jack, an herbal remedy for vertigo, a new Kindle, a puzzle book…

Okay, not having mail service in Costa Rica is really a big money-saver for me.

FOOD:

I don’t really like the food in Costa Rica, which has been really great for me. I’ve lost 25 pounds, and my blood glucose levels are back in the healthy range. Of course, I’ve lost the will to  live, but still, I think it’s a net positive.

And in Costa Rica, there’s no access to the Tasty Gates of Hell.

TASTY GATES OF HELL

TASTY GATES OF HELL

Stay tuned…

 

 

Focus On Jesus

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I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned that I’m a delicate tundra flower. Now that I live in Costa Rica, this delicate tundra flower is becoming a delicate tropical flower.

My most delicate part is my stomach, or is it my inner ear? In any case, I am prone to rather bad motion sickness.

No.1 Sis and I met a group of ex-pat women who live around Lake Arenal. They meet for lunch once a month, on one side of the lake or the other.

This month, lunch was on the opposite side of the lake from where we live. Renee, an ex-pat who lives near us, volunteered to drive us to the lunch. Very nice.

I applied a motion sickness patch before we left, and I figured that would keep me on an even keel. No such luck. We live in a mountainous area, and I’m not sure which was worse, the ups and downs, or all the curves. I just tried to focus straight ahead.

The conversation didn’t help at all either. No.1 Sis asked Renee about earthquakes, and Renee described in great detail (the shaking, bouncing, inability to stand up…) a 6.8 Richter scale earthquake she had experienced.

Yes, even talking about motion can make me queasy.

Because my patch had not protected me from feeling sick on the trip around the lake, I added another one for the trip to the airport a couple of days later. I double-patched.

Roberto, the driver, picked me up at 9:00 for the 90 minute trip to the Liberia airport. I sat directly behind him, so it was difficult to focus on the horizon. Instead, I focused on the picture clipped to his visor. It was a picture of Jesus.

JESUS

JESUS

It would have made me happier to focus on a picture of George Clooney, but alas, only Jesus was available.

Every time I started to feel queasy, I’d tell myself, focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus.

When we were nearly to the airport, I notice the rear view mirror perfectly framed my neck wattle. Good Lord! Focus on Jesus! Look away from the mirror and focus on Jesus.

Thank Goddess, the double patch got me safely and comfortably to the airport, and through the bumpy flight itself (no thanks to hurricane Otto).

And I never thought I’d say this, but thank you Jesus.

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

Entering Adulthood

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Costa Rica, like many Latin American countries, has a quaint custom called a quinceanera. It’s a lavish party with extravagant gifts to celebrate a young person’s fifteenth birthday. The girls wear ball gowns and tiaras and the boys wear tuxedos. It is a rite of passage into adulthood.

QUINCEANERA

QUINCEANERA

 

My family celebrated my transition into adulthood in a similar way, albeit without the party, gown, tiara or gifts. And I was thirteen.

My mother called me into her bedroom on my thirteenth birthday and told me, “You’re an adult now. You can go out drinking and partying all you want, but it’s your job to get yourself home safely”.

Harrumph. I thought to myself, what’s different? I’ve always felt as though I’ve been on my own.

I soon found out what the difference was, the next time I asked Mom for a dollar so I could go to the movies with my friends.

“You’re an adult now”, Mom growled, “make your own money”.

I had already bombed as a babysitter. I had an unfortunate tendency to only keep track of one child at a time. This was a problem living in a neighborhood where the average family had five kids. I should have asked the parents in the beginning which child was their favorite.

I asked Mom how I could make some money and she told me to get a job. But I was only thirteen and businesses couldn’t hire anyone under the age of sixteen. Mom’s advice? Lie.

I went to every business downtown, asking for a job while lying about my age. Of course, nobody believed I was sixteen, and I remained a sad little “adult” without a job for the next three years.

I would get an occasional babysitting gig, usually for a family with only one child (they didn’t know that’s all I could handle).

When I turned sixteen, I returned to the downtown movie theater and again applied for a job. The manager remembered me and asked how I could be sixteen now, when I was sixteen then. Um, I lied.

I got the job (that’s how desperate they were) and soon I was selling popcorn and candy and making $15 per week. And the best part of it all was that I could see movies for free.

Finally, adulting like an adult.

Stay tuned…

 

Wherever You Go, There You Are

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Like everyone else who undertakes a geographical cure for all their problems, I believed moving to Costa Rica would make me into a new person. A better, more ideal version of myself.

And like everyone else who’s tried it, I found that to be utterly and indisputably false.

I was going to begin every day with an early morning walk. No.1 Sis has been doing this, by the way, so I wouldn’t even have to walk by myself. Instead, I start every day with an early morning nap. After the first light wakes me up, I put a pillow over my eyes and go back to sleep for another hour or so.

I was going to eat healthy, and cook for myself. My eating improved a great deal when No.2 Sis was here to help cook, and I’ve lost 20 pounds and cut my blood sugar in half.

But I’m slipping. I’m partial to Elvis sandwiches. That’s peanut butter and bananas on bread. And when No.1 Sis tried to throw away a package of vanilla Oreo cookies, I almost dove into the garbage to get them.

When I told people I was retiring to Costa Rica, they asked what I was going to do with myself. I had planned to take on-line courses. Spanish, of course, and painting and photography.

My Spanish course expired before I finished it (still procrastinating, harrumph). I had to sign up to take it again.

The cute waiter at the local restaurant has been giving us some tips, though. I told him, in Spanish, that his Spanish was very good. He looked confused for a moment (as he often does when I speak Spanish). Then he laughed and complimented my English.

At the end of the meal, he gave us our check, and a list of Spanish phrases to practice. I gave him my payment for the meal, and a generous tip. Did I mention that he’s very cute?

I’m taking a watercolor course, too. I’m almost through with that. Through watching it, that is. I haven’t picked up a brush since I started (watching) the course.

As far as photography goes, I haven’t signed up for a course yet. I think I’ll finish watching my watercolor class before I start watching a photography class.

Speaking of photography, No.1 Sis called me early one morning to tell me there was a troop of howler monkeys in the trees across the street from her house. I went outside and took a few pictures of them from my porch, but they just looked like black blobs in the trees.

I walked down the hill to Sis’ house (still in my pajamas) to see if I could get some good shots from the balcony off of her Queen bedroom. The monkeys were just a little bit bigger black blobs. But look at her view!

NO.1 SIS' VIEW

NO.1 SIS’ VIEW

 

And that’s an 180 degree view, unobstructed by the three-story apartment building  (affectionately known as “The Monstrosity”) that’s next to me.

Hell, if I’m going to be an under-achieving lie-about, I might as well be an under-achieving lie-about in Costa Rica. You can’t find a nicer geographical cure than this.

Stay tuned…

Meet The Neighbor

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No.1 Sis and I walked down to the main road, merely yards from our houses, to wait for the bus into The Big City. There was already a man standing there. He was tall and scruffy and had no teeth.

MR. NO TEETH (ARTIST'S RENDERING)

MR. NO TEETH (ARTIST’S RENDERING)

We nodded politely to Mr. No Teeth and wished him a good morning. He realized he was among fellow Americans, and started to tell us his Costa Rica story.

Mr. No Teeth had arrived in C.R. about the same time we did, seven weeks ago. He spent the first week at motel on the Caribbean coast.

I felt some stinging sensations on my feet.

As he was leaving the motel to catch the bus to San Luis, he locked the keys in his room, as per the landlord’s instructions. Unfortunately, he realized too late that he had locked his only suitcase in the motel room, too.

The feet-stinging was getting more frequent. I looked down, and saw that my feet were swarming with fire ants. I shook and stamped my feet to try to dislodge the little buggers.

Mr. No Teeth continued his story without interruption. He narrated how, even though he had locked all his worldly possessions in his motel room, he didn’t want to miss the bus. He left the bag inside and got on the bus, which took him hundreds of miles away.

Meanwhile, the ants were stinging me like crazy. I bent over in half, a feat I can only accomplish in the most dire of emergencies, and started picking ants off my feet and crushing them, one at a time. My alarmed No.1 Sis dug through her backpack and found some bug spray.

Mr. No Teeth continued his story, oblivious to all the panicked gyrations occurring a few feet in front of him.

He indicated the outfit he was wearing. It was, he said, a thirty year old tee shirt given to him by his wife (now ex-wife) and warm-up pants loaned to him by his neighbor.

The ants coughed a little at the the bug spray, and then laughed, crawling deeper into my shoes. I took off my shoes and beat my own feet with them.

Mr. No Teeth called the motel after arriving here in San Luis. He asked the landlord to mail his suitcase to him. It’s been six weeks now, and he still hasn’t received his bag. Imagine that.

I wanted to go up to him, grab him by the thirty year old tee shirt and scream in his face, “You don’t knowingly drive hundreds of miles from everything you own, then ask for it to be mailed to you IN A COUNTRY WITHOUT MAIL SERVICE, YOU STUPID GIT!”

He was fortunate that I was still preoccupied with doing the roadside Hokey Pokey.

The Hokey Pokey. It really is what it’s all about.

MORE OF "DOWNTOWN" SAN LUIS

MORE OF “DOWNTOWN” SAN LUIS

Stay tuned…

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

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No.1 Sis and I had planned on taking the bus to Tilaran on Monday, so we could shop for groceries. It rained, so we stayed home.

Then on Tuesday, it rained, so we stayed home again.

On Wednesday, we arose to another rainy day. We figured if we waited until it stopped raining here in Costa Rica, with the two seasons of wet and wetter, we’d soon starve to death.

I told myself what Dad used to tell me when I didn’t want to be outside in the rain. “You ain’t made of sugar. You ain’t gonna melt.”

So into town we went. I didn’t melt, but I sure got soaked. Turns out my Eddie Bauer raincoat isn’t water-proof. What good is a raincoat that isn’t waterproof? It just gave me another wet thing to lug around town.

Eddie Bauer raincoat

WATERPROOF, MY FULL AND GENEROUS BOTTOM

Tilaran is rather lacking in street signs, and there don’t seem to be any maps available on line. I drew myself a map so I could find stores, and the post office, and the bank, and the library again. Unfortunately, I seem to have thrown that map away last time I cleaned my purse. Oops.

As we wandered about Tilaran in the rain, we made the most wonderful discovery! We found a libreria. A libreria is a bookstore. And, in addition to books, they sell my favorite thing in the whole, wide world. Office supplies.

I sold all of my office supplies and most of my arts and crafts supplies in the big estate sale in August. It wasn’t easy (emotionally speaking). But I did it.

Now I’m here in C.R. with nothing to do.

I didn’t go crazy. I bought a few sheets of card stock, a couple of stickers, a little notebook, and a sharpie. It felt so good. SO GOOD! Is there something wrong with me? Don’t answer that.

HAPPY, HAPPY, JOY, JOY

HAPPY, HAPPY, JOY, JOY

Stay tuned…

No.1 Sis And The Broken Housekeeper

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Included in our crazy rent here in Costa Rica ($675 for me and $600 for No.1 Sis) is a housekeeper once a month.

We’ve been here a month, and Sis has already broken the housekeeper.

MI CASA & SAILORS ON LAKE ARENAL

MI CASA & SAILORS ON LAKE ARENAL

The housekeeper’s name is Mayra, and she came to my house on Wednesday. Even with my limited Spanish and her lack of English, I managed to communicate which bedrooms and bathrooms needed to be cleaned and where all the supplies were. I also said I was going out and I’d return before 3:00. I knew that’s when she had to catch the bus for home.

I went to lunch with No.1 Sis, and came home about 2:00. Mayra left about 3:00. All good.

On Friday, Mayra came to clean No.1 Sis’s house. Sis asked me if Mayra had brought herself a lunch on Wednesday. I told that I didn’t think so. As a matter of fact, when I returned from lunch that day, Mayra had said, “Yo faim”, and rubbed her stomach. Then she chuckled and went about her business.

The thing you have to know about Ticos (Costa Ricans) is that they’re very non-confrontational. They don’t want to embarrass you, or make you feel uncomfortable. So “I’m hungry” is a pretty broad hint.

The thing you probably already know about most Americans is that we’re pretty direct. Hell, I can be damn obtuse even when people are direct with me. I don’t do subtle.

So it took Mayra’s comment about being hungry put together with Sis’s question about lunch for me to realize it was my responsibility to provide lunch for Mayra. Epic fail.

On Friday, before Sis and I went to lunch, we asked Mayra if we could bring her back something from the restaurant (making her eat our cooking would have been cruel). A salad with chicken, perhaps? Perfecto. No.1 Sis for the win.

But then, No.1 Sis went above and beyond. She gave Mayra a tip. Insisted. Mayra did the Minnesota refusal (say no three times) and Sis finally had to tuck the money into her bag. Mayra responded with many thanks and hugs and kisses.

So you see my dilemma. I’m between a rock and a hard place, with a broken housekeeper. Of course, I’ll feed Mayra next time she’s here, but if I don’t give her a tip, I look very cheap. If I do give her a tip, I’ll get hugs and kisses, which will make me very uncomfortable.

What should I do?

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

5 Important Lessons Learned During My First Month In Costa Rica

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DOWNTOWN SAN LUIS

DOWNTOWN SAN LUIS

 

 

In the first month I’ve been living in Costa Rica, I’ve learned a few hard lessons.

LESSON #1: LEARN AT LEAST A FEW KEY WORDS IN SPANISH.

The other night a truck drove slowly through town, blaring a message beginning (in Spanish), “All of San Luis, come to the school now”. I didn’t understand the rest.

I ignored it, figuring it was a religious revival of some sort. I don’t want to be saved.

I told No.1 Sis about it the next day and wondered aloud, “What if it had been calling for an evacuation because the nearby volcano has erupted? In that case, I do want to be saved!”

Sis scoffed and said, “Just listen for the word ‘volcan'”. Dear Sis knows about six words in Spanish, and one of them is the word for volcano. Those are survival skills of the highest magnitude.

LESSON #2: ALWAYS CLEAN ALL FOOD PREP, COOKING, AND EATING SURFACES IMMEDIATELY.

Immediately, as in before you even eat, when possible. Costa Rica has tiny, nearly invisible little ants that get everywhere. On the floor, on the counters, in the sink, on the hot stovetop, INSIDE the microwave.

The only place I haven’t seen them is inside the refrigerator, so now I keep everything in there. I’d sleep in there if I could.

LESSON #3: YOU CAN GET BY INDEFINITELY WITHOUT UNDERWEAR.

I only know this because the airline lost one piece of my luggage. The one with all my underwear.

LESSON #4: DO NOT EVER, EVER EXPECT TO GET MAIL IN COSTA RICA.

I have one dear friend who is not well-connected electronically and she wants me to write her letters. On paper. Sent through the mail.

I posted the first one last week. She should get it in about three more weeks.

But she won’t be able to reply. There are no addresses in Costa Rica. There is no home delivery. There is no Post Office in San Luis.

There is a Post Office in Tilaran, from whence I mailed the aforementioned letter. I inquired about a rental box there. It’s $45 per month. I’m a retired old lady on a fixed income. I’m not paying $45 per month for a P.O. box.

By the way, it cost $2.50 to mail that letter. That may be the last one my friend ever gets.

LESSON #5: BRING CHEESE.

You know how I feel about cheeses. Enough said.

Stay tuned…