Thursday, January 31, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way home yesterday... bus. While carrying a stroller and three excessively large bags of groceries and dog food. I saw the Haunted Hyundai sitting in a driveway just outside of downtown Grecia. Briefly, only very, very briefly, I wished I had it back, if only to carry all of those freaking groceries. But just as quickly as it came, that feeling was gone. Is this a small country or what?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday morning ramblings

I think we're getting my car early next week. I think. I sure do hope so. Only $2,500 to go! I had to apply for a credit card today, and I haven't had a credit card in something like 10 years. I hate credit cards. I figure, if I can't pay cash for it, I probably don't need it. The exception being really big-ticket items like cars and maybe one of these days a home, in which case we apply for a loan. And even then, the thought of having to make car payments every month is a little bit scary when you work for yourself, though now that esposo has a full-time-and-then-some job, I'm not too concerned. Maybe I should be. I don't know. I am getting the credit card only for renting a car in the States. I tried to rent one with a debit card here a few months ago and that was a big mistake. Don't do that. You can, but you really don't want to.

Anyway, so we have no car, and esposo left my digital camera in the car of a guy he works with who gave him a ride home on Monday. So yesterday we went all the way to San Jose by bus to pick it up. I told him if he lost my camera, I would get to keep his iPod, so you know secretly I was hoping the camera was gone. (I recently discovered Woot! and I'm just waiting for them to offer digital SLRs again, 'cause I'm gettin' one, for sure. And a Roomba.) Well, it wasn't gone after all. Guess I have to get my own iPod! We arrived by bus in the city just before 3:00, and were hoping to get to our favorite restaurant (Lubnan) before they closed for the afternoon, but we were just minutes too late, so we ended up walking back up Paseo Colon to the new fast-food Teriyaki that opened next to Quizno's. I have to say, none of us usually eats fast food -- it's disgusting, and it smells, makes me nauseated, and in general just grosses me out. But Teriyaki was pretty good. Probably the best fast food we have in this whole country. Just simple rice, veggies, and udon noodles, and you dump the sauce on top. And they even had tofu. Tofu! Are you kidding me? How rare here. Even our son loved it. I guess they're a chain. Esposo and I were talking yesterday about how, when I first came here, you really didn't see the big, fat people in Costa Rica that you do now. He blames it on the U.S. for invading this country with its fast food chains; I blame it on the people for eating that crap; the reality is probably somewhere in between. Anyway, I wish if fast food chains were going to invade this country, they could at least have something edible, like Teriyaki.

So I got my camera back, and here's that picture I wanted to show you of Phoebe and Olivia. Olivia is like Phoebe's big mama, though Phoebe is nearly as big as she is at this point. They are about inseparable.

I have this really ancient printer. But it works just fine. I used to be able to buy generic printer cartridges for it when we lived in Ciudad Colon for around $4 each. I cannot find them in this town. There's a libreria in town called Dimi that I swear is run by idiots. (You know I have little tolerance for stupidity.) I've been trying to order the generic cartridges for my printer for the past two weeks from them, and every time I go in, they first forget what I'm talking about, then tell me it will be a couple more days before they're in. Finally, I decided last night to break down and buy the $30 cartridges. As I was paying for one black ink cartridge, I saw the store was having a sale on Canon printers, for $40. So I decided, what the heck, a brand-new printer and it comes with two cartridges, can't really go wrong! I had bought a Dell printer with my Dell computer and had them shipped down from the States (I can't stand the way computers are set up if you buy them in Costa Rica, if you're wondering, and rather than wipe the hard drive and set up everything myself, it was easier and cheaper to buy one from Dell on sale and have it shipped down here). Of course, I have not yet been able to find Dell printer cartridges here. Maybe the Dell store has them. Maybe it's something else I'll have to ask my mom to send me. It still makes a great fax machine and scanner, if not a printer.

So there I am, carting a big printer box through downtown Alajuela at night as we head for the public hospital. If you've never had the pleasure of Costa Rica's public hospitals, pray you never have need to. The one in Alajuela is, I believe, the newest in the country, and it's still gross. The emergency room is packed; the bathrooms lack toilet paper, soap, and paper towels (how sanitary, eh?) -- even the bathrooms on the patient ward levels. That should be illegal. I guess they think people are going to steal the toilet paper. There's a huge lobby, but no one is actually allowed to use it, so everyone has to wait outside on benches in the cold and sometimes rain. Only family members are allowed to visit relatives, and only one at a time, so basically son and I just sat outside and played with a street dog for two hours. Now here's a weird/Catholic/Costa Rican oddity: Once, we went on a Sunday and it just happed to be time for mass. The hospital opens the doors to the lobby at that time, and there's a mass held right there in the lobby, and that is the only time random people are actually allowed in the lobby. Otherwise, it's outside for you, pal! The big hospital downtown is worse. Disgusting and old. I believe it was the one where a disgruntled employee set fire to an upper floor a few years ago, killing several patients in the process because there was only one exit and it was blocked by the fire. Esposo was in that hospital about five or six years ago for surgery on his knee, and I felt worse that he was in that gross hospital than that he was going through the surgery itself.

Oh, why were we at the public hospital in the first place?, you may well ask. Esposo's dad is in there, and not doing too well. Think good thoughts.

We finally got home around 9, and how I wished I had my car. My new car, that is, not the HH. I never wish to have the HH back. Never. Never. Ever.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

For my friends in the U.S.

Here's something that found its way into my inbox this morning. A way to put your money where your mouth is -- literally:

Dear Activist,

Are you a customer of AT&T or Verizon?

Turns out AT&T and Verizon have been assisting the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program for quite some time. AT&T is alleged to run every byte of its internet traffic through a listening room where only NSA-approved personnel can go. And to make matters worse, the Bush administration has just about convinced Congress to grant the telecom companies retroactive immunity from suits from their angry customers.

What can you do? If you have a cellphone from Verizon or AT&T, you can keep on sending them your money and supporting them.

Or you can join CREDO Mobile. We’ve fought long and hard to expose the administration’s surveillance program and bring to justice those responsible.

CREDO Mobile is brought to you by your friends at Working Assets. It’s the same great wireless service we’ve offered for years, with a new name to reflect our commitment to the causes we believe in.

How different are we? Take a look below. What you see may upset you. For an immediate remedy, make the switch to CREDO Mobile.

What your phone company does:
to spy on you: We don't.
Actually, we donate to the ACLU to STOP wiretapping
Cooperate with the Bush administration's warrantless spying on American citizens.
with the money you pay them: We donate millions to progressive nonprofits, including the ACLU. Contributes more money to political campaigns than almost any other company — mostly to Republicans. Spends $90 million on lobbying — more than Phillip Morris or Exxon.
for the environment: We're America's greenest phone company — and the only one to offer solar chargers. Think of the worst polluters in elected office. That's where their money goes.
for your freedom of speech: We support First Amendment heroes like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Democracy Now. Censored Pearl Jam's criticism of Bush during a concert Webcast. Blocked text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America (until forced to allow them).
for a free
and open Internet:
We support nonprofit groups that advocate for Internet freedom. Preparing to abandon the neutral net and start filtering content. Called for an end to Google's "free lunch" and tries to drive users to its own search engine.

If you think your privacy is important, then it's time to think about CREDO Mobile. Switch now and we'll buy out your current contract (up to $200).* Click here to learn more or call 877.76.CREDO (877.762.7336) to talk to someone right now about making the switch — mention code 556068 — so they'll know I sent you.

Join today! Offer ends February 15, 2008.

Michael Kieschnick
Co-founder and President
CREDO Mobile and Working Assets

P.S. In case you're wondering, you'll get the same quality coverage, phones and accessories with CREDO Mobile that you enjoy from any major provider. Sign up today and we'll give you a FREE Katana® II camera phone ($249 value) with no shipping or activation charges when you join.

I don't work for this company, and I don't even have U.S. mobile service. I just think it's a good idea. I did have Working Assets Long Distance when I lived in California all those years ago, and though it wasn't the cheapest service around, I liked the fact that they donated to various causes I also believed in. (Here's a list of the causes Credo supports.) It isn't necessarily cheaper to buy clothes that aren't produced in sweatshops, or produce that isn't organically grown, or phone service that is an alternative to the big guys, but as my Grandma used to say, "You get what you pay for." A lot of the time the only thing politicians listen to is money, so I say use it wisely. Vote with your dollars.

(And on a sort-of separate subject, I found my absentee ballot yesterday. Hooray! Do you think if I mail it tomorrow it will get there by February 5? And on a not-really-separate subject, if you do sign up for this service and end up with an old phone you don't know what to do with, feel free to send it to me! Esposo lost his and the price of phones down here is outrageous. Or you could donate it to charity.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Give me a break!

This morning in my inbox, I read that our president, Oscar Arias, was the one millionth person to sign the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. While this sounds good on paper, at this point in time it means absolutely nothing. There has been no word of it in the national media here, no campaigns to improve the welfare of the animals in this country whatsoever lately, and, basically, animals live in as much neglect and suffering as they ever have. What is really improving their lives are the small groups, associations, and individuals throughout the country working hard every day to educate people and save animals. Not Oscar Arias putting on some kind of show for the international media, as if this country is a haven for animals. Hardly. Nor is it the eco-paradise that tourism companies and real estate developers want you to think, especially in the past few years with real estate developments going crazy and practically unchecked, removing hundreds of thousands of acres of lands that were previously wild -- and home to countless wild animals. What were once sleepy beach communities are now unrecognizable; when I first moved here just 7 years ago, "Lindora" in Santa Ana was nothing more than a country road with one bar (Bikers) on it. Did you know the monkey population of Costa Rica is half of what it was just a decade ago? This country has a lot of serious, interrelated problems it needs to face in order to move forward if any semblance of sustainability is to be achieved, otherwise I'm afraid it will be overrun with development, and soon. So Arias, how about you put your money where your mouth is, and actually do something for the animals of this country? Because here in Costa Rica, we aren't exactly buying it; that Nobel Peace Prize you won oh-so-many years ago can be trumped around all you like in the international scene, but what people who live here care about is what you're doing for this country now. Because so far, the jury's still out.

Have you signed yet?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just a few Costa Rica pics

For your Thursday morning enjoyment.

Sorry, I took this on on my cell phone while waiting in line at the bank. As you're not supposed to use your cell phone at the banks here, I didn't want it to look too suspicious. I was trying to get a shot of the sign, which reads something like, "Sorry, we are out of coins in the amounts of: 500, 100, and 50." I would venture a guess that the 100-colon coin is the most popular one in the country (like a quarter would be). This is at Banco Nacional, the national friggin' bank, and they run out of money? I mean, how does that happen? I never wanted esposo to open an account here, but supposedly he "has" to because the place he works needs to do direct deposit and they can only do it (or, from my point of view, are only willing to do it) through Banco Nacional. I have no faith whatsoever in this bank.

Also, you can't read the teller's name, but it's Jose F. Acuña. Jose Facuña. Hee hee.... Esposo pointed that out, btw, not me.

We have no coins here, OH! We have no coins here...

Here's a photo from our local not-very-super-market, actually-it's-kinda-lame-market, Perimercados. There are no apostrophes used in Spanish, so it always amazes me when they randomly throw one in a word that doesn't need one, such as "Snacks" in the photo below. I guess they figure if it's in English, and it ends in an "s," hell, better put an apostrophe in there 'cause you never know with those crazy Gringos! Because, as you can see, the plural nouns in Spanish have no apostrophes. This stuff drives me nuts. Actually, I'm surprised it was not spelled "Esnack's," because Costa Ricans cannot pronounce any English words that begin in "s" and another consonant, so they all come out sounding like "eh-" whatever. The dog across the street is Espot, the guy on the soccer team is Erik Escott, and if you want chips, better look in the esnacks aisle. The stockboy thought we were out of our collective hair, laughing and trying to take a picture.

Snack's what? What belongs to the snacks? Oh, that's right, ME!

On the subject of snacks, here are a couple of candy bars esposo picked up at the if-you-can-believe-it-there's-an-even-crappier-not-so-super-market near where he works. I think the names speak for themselves. These are from Turkey. I ask you, how do candy bars from Turkey end up in the Costa Rican sticks? And in case you were wondering, they were awful.

Runny or crispy, either way it's poo!

Here's an armored car in front of the same store with the "Snack's" sign, parked halfway in front of the handicapped ramp. This town is so difficult for anyone in a wheelchair or even using a walker to get around that making it more difficult is just uncalled for. Do you think it's going in the You Park Like an Asshole Flickr group? Oh, yes, it is.

Dude, you're a butthole parker.

I wanted to show you the cutest picture of Phoebe and Kitters hugging each other, so you could see that at least two of the cats get along swimmingly, but esposo, I just discovered, absconded with my camera before he left for work this morning and did not tell me, and I hadn't downloaded those pics yet. So instead, here's a shot of Kiki the Terrible on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Oh Kiki, so freaky...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fun with iguanas

So you already know, if you're one of my regulars, that we have a gazillion iguanas running all over the place here from sunup to sundown (iguanas, being exothermic animals as they are, don't go running around during the cold of night). We eat lots of veggies around here, and used to give veg scraps to our chickens and rabbits, who, sadly, are no longer with us. I hate to waste anything, and it pains me to throw perfectly compostable scraps in the trash, but having a compost heap here isn't really feasible with all of the dogs (they'd just dig in it and make a total mess). So I was thrilled when I realized that iguanas will eat just about anything vegetable- and fruit-wise. Apple cores, grapes and strawberries that have gone too soft, lettuce that's lost its lustrous green hue -- all are fair game for iguanas. We've made it a habit to keep the scraps in a bowl next to the kitchen sink, and then take them out each morning and throw them on the roof for the iguanas (I know, it sounds weird even when I write it! Throw food scraps on the roof? Yes, yes we do.). Until yesterday, I hadn't actually seen any iguanas eating the scraps, though I knew they did, because they'd be gone within a few hours. But yesterday morning, we'd thrown some watermelon scraps and too-brown bananas up there, and I heard scrabbling on the tiled roof right away. I looked up, and sure enough a smallish (about a foot long) iguana was scrambling all over the place, picking up every last piece of watermelon! It was so cute! When he/she had finished all of the watermelon, he/she (how do you tell the sex of an iguana? I have no clue.) grabbed an entire banana in his/her mouth and took off over the back side of the house into the empty lot next door. So cool.

Who needs gargoyles when you have real, live lizards protecting your house?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ride the bus with us

When I lived in California, there was a push at one time by the Monterey-Salinas Transit to increase ridership, and one of their ads was a ridiculous commercial that sort of took "Down on the Corner" by CCR and changed the words to "Ride the bus with us." You know those cheap commercials that government offices often do to spend money while saving it at the same time? This was one of those. Bad. However, you couldn't help but have that damn song stuck in your head.

I drove an MGB at the time, and had a British mechanic in Salinas named Mick. Mick was the Hagrid of the west coast. He was at least as large as Robbie Coltrane, and so, so funny in that way the British often have of being funny without trying. He drove a vintage Jag and I swear I have no idea how in the world he fit into it, nor how he possibly fit into my car to test drive it. My Gumby-Girl was always breaking down (hey, it was an MG!), so I was seeing Mick on a regular basis. Once, when it needed a completely new engine, Mick said something to the effect of, "So I guess it's ride the effin' bus with us, eh?" You have to imagine a giant of a man in greasy coveralls saying this with a thick Cockney accent. It was hilarious. When I have to ride the bus, I usually am reminded of Mick and his "ride the effin' bus" line.

Back in the days when I first moved to Pacific Grove and didn't have a car, I would take the bus to Carmel where I worked, and it took an hour to get there. The service was so bad compared to Costa Rica, where buses are frequent and usually on time. And cheap. Did I mention how expensive it was to ride the MST bus? Then, when I went to UC Santa Cruz, I had a car but was pretty much forced to ride the bus because of the lack of parking at school and the outrageous price of parking passes, if you could even get one. I got a bike, rode the bus up the hill, and rode my bike back home downtown. It was fun, and the Santa Cruz buses were a LOT more frequent than the MST buses.

Bringing us to the present, you all will recall I have no car at the moment. Esposo is, hopefully, coming home tonight and we can get the financials together tomorrow and go get my new car. In the meantime, it's ride the effin' bus with us. Yesterday I had to go into Grecia to pick up my Interlink mail at the ecomiendas bus office, so hop on the bus we did. I also wanted to get some toner for my printer (ok, yes, it is a hundred and one years old, but still it works fine and I'd like to be able to get toner for it -- is that too much to ask?), but the one store that supposedly carries it still doesn't have it in stock, plus I wanted to get a cake mix and some dog food. The box I had been waiting for since before Christmas for ended up being huge and weighing 5 pounds, so I sort of had to balance it on the top of the stroller while attempting to navigate sidewalks that are mostly holes, with actual paved sidewalk few and far between. So imagine me trying to get on a full bus, carrying a bag from the grocery store, a large and bulky box, a stroller, my purse, and a sleeping three-year-old (notice I left out the dog food; I just could not carry one more thing). It was sort of a nightmare, but a nice young man on the bus helped me get my packages through the door, while a young mom helped me fold up the stroller and get it in the door (because the guys could not figure it out!), before I finally got situated in a seat up front which a man had given up for me. I mean, talk about nice. Esposo had told me earlier yesterday to just take a cab, but I actually feel a little safer in a bus than in a cab without a car seat. Call me crazy. Plus, our son loves to ride the bus. Oh, I forgot to mention that the nice young mom (who had her adorable little girl with her) offered son some plantain chips, and you know since he's a blondie, no one expects him to speak Spanish (which I guess is good for him, because he doesn't speak it very well anyway). So when he said, "No, gracias," she thought that was just the cutest thing.

Usually on public buses here, people will either be selling snacks or taking up a collection for something or another. One man from some organization in Puntarenas got on with a sad story about a child who needed spinal surgery but his parents couldn't afford it, and do you know that only me and the young mom gave him some money? I guess the thought of our own children going through something similar hit us both with a wave of gratitude.

When it came to our stop (and a normally five-minute drive to town only took about 10 minutes by bus, not bad! I'm sure it would have been an hour on MST), the same young man again helped us get our things out of the bus, and son said "Gracias!" (which sounds like "Grasshus!") completely unprompted, causing several old ladies in the front to exclaim, "How cute!" Did I mention the cost of the bus rides? 160 colones for both of us each way, so that's about $0.75 total. A fargin' bargain. I think MST was up to around $2.00 one way by the time I left.

A couple of things to know about riding the bus in Costa Rica: A lot of bus stops are marked, especially in San Jose, but many are not, especially in rural areas. If in doubt, ask someone, or just flag a bus down. More often than not, they'll stop for a Gringo who looks lost (or anyone, for that matter!). Remember not to stand between the electronic bars in the doorway. They count how many people come and go, and if you stand in between the bars, the people count won't correspond with the amount of money the driver has on hand. So you can imagine he'll get mad and maybe yell at you. Bus lines are run by private companies, which means frequent buses and usually on-time service. But it also means no transfers, and there isn't a set fare for every bus in the country or city or province, there are only set fares by line. You can usually find the fare rate in a sign on the front or side window of the bus, but if you don't see it, just ask. If you have a baby or young child, as long as they are in your arms, they ride for free. Don't hold up a line trying to get your money out (which you pay directly to the driver, not deposit in a box like you do in the States). Sit down, or stand just behind the driver, get your money, and then pay. But don't just go sit down without paying. Say, "Yo le pago," which means, "I'll pay you," and then dig out your change. Don't pay with large bills. The elderly, women with children, pregnant women, and handicapped are by law given the seats in the front of the bus. If you fit any of these categories, and there's someone in that seat that doesn't fit these categories, they'll usually get up, but if not, don't hesitate to ask them to move, particularly within earshot of the bus driver. Most people are extremely accommodating. Oh, and forget about route maps or time tables. You ain't gonna find any. If you want to know how to get somewhere or which bus to take, ask a bus driver. And the only real modern buses are the Alajuela-San Jose lines, though I think Escazu has recently upgraded some of its buses. Otherwise you'll be riding on those old Bluebird buses we used to take to school back in the day, or something similar. No LNG or electric buses here, not yet, anyway. Most buses are really cheap, and even going all the way to the beach from San Jose is only going to cost you a few dollars.

Once upon a time, MST had a survey out that asked people what they thought of service and the costs, etc. I let them know that bus service in this so-called "third-world" country was head and shoulders beyond what it was in the posh Monterey Bay. Bus service here may have its drawbacks, but let's face it: you're taking the bus because you want to get somewhere. And I think Costa Rica does that better than Monterey does. So take that, MST!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Is it wrong... want these boots? Because I do. I want them so, so much. I have been wanting to buy cowboy boots for some years now, but haven't been able to find any that weren't made of leather. These are animal-free boots and oh so cute!

I used to be more of a shoe girl than I am now, because, let's face it, living in a tropical country is more suited to flip-flops than Doc Marten's. My Docs fell apart a couple of years after I moved down here (the humidity, I suppose, is what finally drove the nail in that coffin). I have a couple of pairs of nice sandals, and even some platform flip-flops and beaded flip-flops, but no closed-toed shoes and certainly no vegan cowboy boots. And the price! And they even have my size! What girl could resist?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wine for dinner

Or maybe I should say, wine as dinner. The boys got pizza and I don't do cheese, so I'm having wine instead. And I didn't feel like cooking. Plus, I'm celebrating. The Haunted Hyundai has left the building. YESSSS! We sold it today for more than I'd have hoped. Enough to help make the down payment on the RAV-4. So long, HH, you won't really be missed, but I do appreciate your having transported us all these years. I won't miss your lack of a horn and air conditioning and hot/cold air blowers, or the fact that your passenger-side door didn't open, or that the back seat on the passenger side didn't have a working seat belt, or the leak in the power steering contraption, but right at the moment, since we won't be able to go get the RAV-4 until esposo gets back from work once again next week, I am missing having a car. Still, in this country, it is rather easy to go without one. Bus service is great, and taxis are everywhere. I just like having my own car, American that I am. We do love our cars, don't we?

It is interesting to note that everything having any legal implications whatsoever goes through a lawyer in Costa Rica. Back home, I would have just sold my car and given the person the pink slip and forgotten about it (unless you are my ex-friend/boyfriend/friend Patrick, in which case I would just hand you my car keys and believe you when you said you would pay me, even though you never did, and there was nothing I could do because you lived in Oregon and I left for Costa Rica the following day), but here you go to a lawyer, they write up papers, etc. etc. At least lawyer services are relatively cheap here. Which they should be, since there seems to be one on every block.

The Haunted Hyundai rides off into the sunset, for the last time in my life. Hooray!

In other news, perhaps due to the drinking of the wine, perhaps in part due to my having dreams nearly every single night about returning to California, I looked up a couple of friends from the old days that I haven't talked to since I left that beautiful state seven years ago (I know, I know, I'm a real shit), and sent them "hey, let's get back in touch" e-mails. You gotta love the internet for being able to find people. They may both be royally p.o.'d at me for not having contacted them in seven years, but in my defense, I was robbed of everything I had brought down here about a week after we moved here, including my computer with all of my contacts on it. And, also in my defense, I held a grudge against one of them for a long time because he told me (and I quote) "You're not the kind of girl that inspires guys to give you flowers." Oh well, maybe he was right after all. At any rate, I have forgiven the trespasses against me. I'll let you know if I hear from either one of them.

Because I am a geek at heart

I'm not ashamed. Ask anyone who knows me. If I had to make a list of my top ten favorite movies, Star Wars (the original Episode IV) would be at the very top. And since it is a voting year in my home country of the U.S., I laughed MAO reading The Star Wars Guide to the Candidates. Which I link to now for your enjoyment. And enlightenment. Hee hee...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The question

Costa Rica can be a child-friendly place to live. Most people here really like kids. A lot. On the other hand, there is a lot of child abuse and, if you have young kids, not a whole hell of a lot for them to do. Playgrounds are seriously lacking, because, you know, "people" (read: poor people) would "ruin" (read: use) them. I have heard more than one Costa Rican tell me this. It disgusts me. And most cities would rather spend money maintaining giant soccer fields than building playgrounds for the kids who live there. But I digress...

Living in a country where every married couple is expected to have a ton of kids can be bizarre/suck badly if you don't want a ton of kids. I remember when I was pregnant, people would ask me the stupidest questions. For example, "Was it planned?" "Is it any of your business?" is what I most often wanted to respond, but usually just said, "Yes, of course he was." What if he wasn't, though? Sheesh. People can say the dumbest things.

The one we've been getting lately is "Are you having more children?" or "When are you having the next one?" People. I'm done having kids. I will admit we had thought about having just one more child about a year ago, but the older I get (I'm going to be 40 in May, if you missed that post!), and the closer I get to my son, the older he gets, the less desire I have to bring another baby into this mix. I remember not sleeping well for a year. I remember breastfeeding for what seemed like forever; I remember diapers and straining baby food. I just have no great desire to go through that again. Been there, done that. Plus, damnit, I'm OLD! Okay, maybe not old, but I feel old, and I'm not willing to put all that strain on an already strained body. These are some of my reasons. The most important, though, is that I feel like my family is complete. I'm happy with us the way we are.

Yet, Costa Ricans are so shocked when I say that, no, I am not having any more kids. "You really need to have two, because blah blah blah..." What do they know? They know nothing of my family life. How irritating for someone to assume they know what's best for me, what's best for my family? I know I'm living in a Catholic country, where the whole reason for marriage is to have kids and propagate the Catholic species. But I'm not Catholic. Even some friends of ours who got married in the Catholic church (a year after their son was born -- hee hee -- that must have stirred up the congregation!), have no intention of having more kids. I'm sure their family must give them a rash of you-know-what about that.

The people I really feel sorry for, though, are those who are childless by choice. I would bet that in Costa Rica they're few and far between, and they get hassled by parents, family members, friends and complete strangers all the time. "When are you guys going to have kids?" Having children is a huge decision, and I totally respect people who choose not to have kids at all. I am sure they thought about it and came to their conclusion after much weighing of the pros and cons. Who are we -- their parents, their best friends, anyone, really -- to think we know better than they do? Why do they (the question askers) assume we have not discussed the issue of having more children and decided, after much thought, that we have come to the conclusion that is best for us? And as much as I love my friends here, I really do, I can tell you that not a single friend of mine from California has once asked me when/if we are going to have more kids. Not one. Whereas nearly every single one of our friends here in Costa Rica have. Maybe it's like, "How about this weather we're having?" "Are you guys thinking of having more kids?" Mere conversation between adults who, for the most part, already have kids. I'm just tired of this question. I'm tired of hearing it, and I'm tired of answering it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

If you need a reason NOT to vote for Huckabee

How about this one -- his son, David Huckabee, had a hand in killing a stray dog at a Boy Scouts Camp (where he was working as a camp counselor; great role model for children, eh?), was fired from his job there, and then Huckabee himself had a hand in covering up the entire episode? Disgusting, from start to finish.

If you can stomach the gory details, you can read more about the entire incident here. Here's an excerpt:
A December 2007 Newsweek article reported that shortly after the animal's death, the local prosecuting attorney wrote a letter to the Arkansas state police asking them to investigate the case to see if the two young men involved had violated state animal cruelty laws. The state police did not look into the matter, and no charges were filed.

John Bailey, then director of Arkansas's state police, told Newsweek that people in Governor Huckabee's employ (his chief of staff and personal lawyer) leaned on him to write a letter officially denying the local prosecutor's request for an investigation. Newsweek reported that: "Bailey, a career officer who had been appointed chief by Huckabee's Democratic predecessor, said he viewed the lawyer's intervention as improper and terminated the conversation." Bailey was fired by Huckabee seven months later, with (according to Bailey) one of the reasons given by Huckabee being that "I couldn't get you to help me with my son when I had that problem."
Newsweek also quoted I.C. Smith, the former FBI chief in Little Rock, as saying: "Without question, [Huckabee] was making a conscious attempt to keep the state police from investigating his son."
Now you all know how I feel about stray dogs, and animal abusers. Perhaps one cannot hold Huckabee entirely responsible for his almost-adult son's actions, but then again, the apple don't fall far from the tree, ya know? We certainly can, however, hold Huckabee responsible for thwarting justice, justice that never came for the poor dog murdered by David Huckabee, who was never made to stand trial for his crime of animal abuse, due to Huckabee's intervention into the matter. Not to mention that he fired a career police officer who was trying to do his job. What a self-righteous bastard. Let's fast forward a couple of years and imagine, if you will, the damage this jackass might do once in the White House... Yeah, no, thanks!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Nine dogs! The other four, or part two of a two-part series

Today I am sworn (to myself, anyway) to finish writing about the dogs. To not write about the dogs feels like leaving them out or something, and they must be acknowledged!

Now before reading about my dogs, yet knowing that I have nine dogs, you might have asked yourself, How in the world does one acquire nine dogs?!? It is a process, dear reader, that does not happen overnight. You start out with one dog as a companion for another, then see another dog being abused, and then another that is starving, and then... before long, you have nine dogs. Actually friends of mine here have something like 14 dogs, plus horses, parrots, cats, etc. etc. that they've rescued. Of course they also have a big farm in La Guacima, and I don't, so I think we're stopping at the current number of dogs we have for the time being. It is really hard here to turn away, when you see street dogs every single day that you just know, in your heart of hearts, would make someone a wonderful companion. But reality sets in, and you have to, at some point, realize you can't save them all. I'm still learning this lesson. Every day. You can't save them all. One of my favorite quotes that I see on a lot of animal rescue e-mail signatures is, "You can't save every animal in the world, but you can change the world for every animal you save." Or something like that. In other words, you do what you can. Even if it's one cat. Or one parrot. Props to you.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes, number six. Number six lived with the crack family across the street. She used to be called Lechita (or Milky? I think), and was so very, very sweet that every time we came home, she would run up to greet our car. This really pissed off the crack children. Once I saw them hitting her with a stick, and I told esposo, that's it, the next time she comes over I'm keeping her. She did, and I did, and thus we had Liz. Now, it was hard to keep Lizzie in hiding and keep her from going back to the crack family (you might think I was horrible for keeping their dog, but believe me when I say she was not in good shape -- covered in ticks and fleas, malnourished, etc. -- and was not only not being taken care of but was being abused, so I really feel she was liberated!), and around this time my dear Lucy girl passed away, and I became pregnant, and we decided the house was not child-friendly in any way, shape or form, so we moved soon after. Much to the delight of La Familia Crack (whom we had alternatively christened the Hillbilly Bears; remember them?). Liz is best of friends with Bonnie (dog number 9), and a very sweet girl. And yes, we do have two dogs at the same with some variation of the name "Elizabeth," which I obviously like a lot (Isabella and Lizzy), but honestly did not do on purpose! Counting Liz, that was three dogs that somehow came from the crack family to ours. I am sure they still have plenty of dogs hanging around their "house."

Lizzy, who is much fatter now that she lives with us!

So then we moved from San Antonio de Escazu to Ciudad Colon, in an attempt to find a house that was more suitable for a child. Unfortunately, the one we were in was built on a landfill, and every time it rained, broken bottles and cans and all sorts of miscellaneous crap would wash up into the yard. So we moved again, closer to downtown Ciudad Colon, and started a cafe in town. This would be the source of two more dogs (and Kiki cat, and Olivia, who showed up at that house just before we moved out of it).

The first dog to show up at the cafe was this cute little tan puppy, whom we called Caramela. There was a couple who stopped in just about every day, and they insisted that they knew the perfect people who would love to have the puppy, they had a little boy, etc. etc. So we gave the puppy to them. And I'll get back to her story later.

The next dog to show up at the cafe was a big black Lab mix. She was very friendly, and soon made herself at home. She'd sit on the back patio every day, but soon was barking at customers (much to esposo's chagrin!). He called me up one day and said, Do something with your dog, she's scaring the customers! So I did. I took her home. I actually did try to find a home for her, but this dog was bat-crap crazy and no one would take her. She chased my chickens; she later killed both of my rabbits. Yet she could be so sweet, and honestly I was torn on what to do about her. At one point I was ready to have her euthanized, because I just could not deal with her, and a baby, and trying to keep her from the other dogs (she nearly killed poor Liz once, who had to be rushed to emergency surgery). But then I couldn't bring myself to do it. Esposo was ready to shoot her himself. I somehow talked him out of it. I guess that most black Labs do go through this extremely horrible puppy stage, that, wonderfully, lasts longer than any other dog breed! (Have you read Marley and Me? Numaya was at least that bad, if not worse.) Oh, and I had at some point named her Numaya. It came to me in a dream, in which I was also told she was once a buffalo spirit who was here to protect me and had done so in a past life. How could I not keep her after that? Numi has since settled down somewhat, but I still don't trust her around chickens or rabbits, which is why I won't have any more until Numi has crossed over the rainbow bridge, whenever that day may come. Of course, I love her dearly. She can still work my nerves, though!

Numaya Gordaya Brataya, Numi, the Great Numi Monster.

The next dog to come into our lives was Tiny. She actually was the dog of friends of ours for many, many years (which is why she is named Tiny, and not something like Elizabeth in French), and she is now 13 years old. The problem was, they had a young son (a year younger than ours) who was basically torturing the poor old dog, causing her to bite him. You can't really blame her. But, they couldn't manage to stop their son from hurting Tiny, and G. was at her wit's end about what to do with her. We were over one day visiting, and Tiny was in a pen out back. I felt so bad, and G. related the story about what had been going on. We offered to take her home, and did so that night. She nipped quite a bit when we first brought her, but now she's so sweet that even our son can hug and kiss her and she won't nip at him. She usually sleeps in bed with us, and mostly just lives out the rest of her life in a pretty relaxed state. Though she is totally the boss of the other dogs! So I have to keep her away from Numi, thus we have the "big dogs" in the front (Chloe, Cheska, Numi and Pooh) and the "littles" in the back (Liz, Bonnie, Maddie, Roxanne and Tiny, although the last two spend most of their day and night in the house). She has pretty much lost most of her sight and hearing, and I don't know how much longer she'll be with us. She was quite depressed when she first came to live with us, but she's much happier now and is Roxy's constant companion.

Tiny, or Littles, or Tine-Tine, or Tininha, the little granma doggie

One day, esposo and son and I happened to be at our friends' house in Colon, who happened to live across the street from the couple who used to come into the cafe almost every day and who took Caramela to be adopted. I noticed the dog next door looked a lot like Caramela, and lo and behold, her it was! I wasn't really thrilled that they kept her tied up, and was considering taking her back that night, except that she was really the little boy's dog, and I didn't want to take a dog away from a boy who loved her. But we did ask our friends to tell the boy's mother that we were the original "owners" of that dog, and that if anything at all came up and they couldn't keep her, to please let us know first. Fast forward about six months, and we get a call from our friends, saying that the kid was diagnosed with athsma and they had to give away the dog. So we took Bonita home (bleh, they renamed her; I would never call a dog something like "Pretty" or "Precious" -- bleh bleh bleh!), renamed her Bonnie, esposo made the mistake of telling son it was "his" dog, and thus we ended up keeping her (though I was sure, due to her small size and playful, loving personality, it would have been easy to rehome her). Son adores his dog to no end, and after getting moved around a few times her her life, she's for sure in her forever home now.

And I think she'll be the last dog for a while... But then again, I never say never...

Bonnie (left), hanging out with best friends Liz and Maddie.
And the chicken wire on the fence that Numi ate through.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nine dogs! The first five, or Part I of a Two-Part Series

Manders asked me a while back about the nine. I told her it was a long story, too long to go into detail over Skype or via e-mail! So here is part II of the "Animals We've Rescued" saga.

We came to Costa Rica with three cats (Venus, Bug and Boo) and one dog (my lovely Lucy). Lucy was already old when we arrived, but she made the trip well and was no worse for wear. She did, as dogs often do when they get old, start having incontinence problems, so we took her to a vet who would give her a hormone injection about once a month, and that worked quite well. One time, though, a junior vet just out of school was there and our regular vet was not, and he tried some kind of speed, basically, instead of the hormones. Esposo knew it was a bad idea, and I still kick myself over why I subjected my girl to this. The speed affected her cataracts to the point where she was about to lose her eyesight, and her eyes altogether, and of course no one at Dr. Molina's office would answer an emergency call, even though they supposedly had an emergency number. My dog may have died that weekend if it were not for Dr. Rafael Gamboa (the best vet in Costa Rica, IMHO, he's in Escazu and comes highly recommended!), who saved her life. She did end up losing her sight, though, there was nothing to be done about that. Lucy sort of went downhill after that whole episode, and passed away quietly in my arms at home a couple of years later. She was the best dog ever, and no one could ever take her place in my heart. There still isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss her.

One of my very favorite pictures of Lucy Elizabeth.

Not long after we moved to Costa Rica, we went up to visit esposo's mom and aunt. These women have an incredibly bad habit of taking in dogs and cats (and chickens! grrrr....) and then, when they outgrow their cuteness, giving them away. In the backyard of grandma's house was a little puppy, basically living in a dirt patch, no blanket, scraps for food, and filthy water. All I could think about was this puppy after we left, and the next day, I made esposo go back up there with me and we took her home. I thought she might make a nice companion for Lucy, who, of course, would have nothing to do with her rambunctious self. We couldn't think of a name for her, until one night when we were listening to The Police and "Roxanne" came on. That was it. She is as adorable as can be, loves to escape through the fence and run the neighborhood when she can, and doesn't take any crap from any large dogs (and let's face it, at her size [about four pounds] every other dog is large). We love the Roxy. Oh, and Roxy's claim to fame? She won "Mejor Zaguate" (Best Mutt) at the dog fair in Ciudad Colon a few years ago! The whole crowd (none of whom actually knew her) were united in shouting, "Roxy! Roxy!" Her cuteness and fun-loving attitude are undeniable!

Who's the best mutt? Roxanne Olive, that's who!

After Roxy, we moved from San Rafael de Escazu up to San Antonio in the Escazu mountains. It was a cute little house, Swiss-chalet style, but the strange thing about the whole neighborhood was that there were shacks next to million-dollar estates. It was very weird. Across the street from us lived a family of crack dealers, who, at one point, tore off the facade of their house to trick the bank into thinking they had left the repossessed property (they didn't). They had tons of stray dogs hanging around, several of whom we ended up with. We used to walk a lot more back then than we do now, and one day, walking down to the bus stop, we saw a really cute lab-type dog being chased off of some stairs by a grumpy old man (people here can be so mean to animals, it makes me sick). I gave him a nasty look and petted the dog; esposo even commented what a nice dog it was. Later on that week, we saw the crack family playing with the dog, and at one point she came over into our yard. Esposo commented that he'd always wanted a big dog, so it was decided that we'd keep Chloe Luna. We call her Booty because she's always shakin' her thang! She's super intelligent, very protective and very loving. She also thinks that she's a lap dog. A 60-pound lap dog.

Chloe Luna eating a very tiny green mango.

The next dog to come along was Francheska. We happened to be driving in Alajuela one day, and saw a completely emaciated dog, I mean you could count each rib on her. I thought, no way is that poor dog going to live. When we got home I called the McKee Project, and was talked into picking her up if possible. So the next time we went out there, about a week later, we saw the dog, in about the same area as she had been hanging out before, slightly heavier, as though she'd actually had a meal that week. Esposo opened a can of dog food, and she came to him, hesitantly at first, and then he easily picked her up and put her in the car. She was so happy. I still didn't know if she would survive, but she did, and thrived. She's become our protector; Cheska is definitely the dog that will tear someone apart if they make the mistake of trying to break into our house. Unfortunately, she's also one of the fighters, and the reason we need to now keep some dogs in the back yard and some in the front. And she's part beagle, so she's a real barker. We do love her, though, and she's absolutely perfect with the people she knows and loves.

Francheska, another mango lover!

I'm a little blurry on the details of who, exactly, came next, but I believe it was Madeline. We had gone down to the little supermarket one day to pick up a couple of things, and I noticed (while esposo was in the store) someone walking in with a puppy. I figured he was either taking his puppy for a stroll, or seeing if someone was missing a puppy. Lo and behold he came out of the store sans puppy. Esposo came out next, and noticed the cute puppy (I mean, this was the cutest puppy I have ever seen in my life!), gave it a pet, and started to walk back to the car. Puppy tried to follow him and almost got hit by a bus. Luckily for puppy, esposo picked her up and started making hand gestures at me, as if to say, "What do I do with this?" I shrugged, he took her back in the store, and of course no one would claim her. What else could we do? We took her home. She came close to death not just that one day, but twice more, when she came down with distemper and later when she was given too much anesthesia during her spay operation. Madeline (or Maddie, as she's known around here, or Gwew-Gwew, because she had the cutest little bark when she was a pup) is a big ball of fluff, and I could not love her more. She did, I think, lose a few brain cells during the time of the distemper and anesthesia-induced coma-like state, so she has this very happy-go-lucky personality. She loves playing in water that comes out of a hose, and usually sleeps in bed with us (all 40 pounds of her). Oh and I forgot to mention: The guy who dumped her at the grocery store? Was one of the crackheads across the street. Lovely, lovely people, they were.

Madeline back in her cute, fluffy puppy days.

Around this time, esposo and I finally got married. This was in the fall of 2002. Next door to us, we had our own very nosy neighbor. At one point, she got a dog, and this dog mated with the German shep they kept tied to a tree in front of their house (poor thing -- I told you dogs are treated poorly here). The dog's puppies kept falling over their fence into our backyard, and esposo kept putting them back over on their side. At one point he said, "If those dogs fall over one more time, I'm going to keep them!" Of course they did fall over. Esposo finally went over to the woman to talk to her about securing her fence a little better. She confided that she wanted to find a home for the female, but wanted to keep the male (of course, because female dogs are worth so little here, you know, all they do is breed more dogs, and thus keep the street dog population overflowing! But I digress...). There was some confusion about which puppy kept falling over the fence; esposo insisted it was the boy but the woman was sure it was the girl. Turned out they were identical, and we took the girl home for a couple of days just to "try it out." Yeah, right! We actually did take her back to the woman's house for a week while we went on our honeymoon (to Columbia!), but as soon as we got back, I went straight to her house to pick up my puppy. I named her Isabella after the first quilt I started working on (Isabella's Garden from HGTV), and esposo said I would spoil her because I let her sleep on my head. She's part cocker and part German shep, which is a weird combo. She's 110% my baby. She's one of those dogs who always has to be near you or she gets nervous. Whenever she whines because she wants something, esposo says something like, "See? It's because you let her sleep on your head." Silly man. She no longer sleeps on my head, but she does sleep either in bed or right next to it.

Isabella Linda, aka Bella, Isapooh, or just Pooh

Ok, this has taken me all morning to write, so I need to do a bit of work and then I'll tell you about the remaining four. If you've read this far, pat yourself on the back. I think this is my longest post ever.

Euros, anyone?

Lately the dollar-colón exchange rate has been tanking here. That has never happened as long as I can remember (which is 9 years now). Just a couple of months ago, it was 520+ colones to the dollar; currently, it has fallen to just under 500 to the dollar. Historically (and I mean in the last few years historically), the exchange rate rose by a few colones every few days, making having one's money in dollars a good idea. I think most people who live here and keep their money in Costa Rican banks are more aware of the falling dollar rate than those actually living in the U.S., because those of us who get paid in dollars (but need to pay for just about everything else here in colones, and thus exchange our dollars for colones every time we use an ATM or take money out of the bank) lose money when the U.S. dollar falls. I'm no economist (in fact I totally struggled through macroeconomics in college!), but it seems the Euro is a lot stronger these days than the dollar is. At least from my standpoint. So I'm thinking of converting my dollars into Euros. Or is that just too much trouble for a small amount of loss? Perhaps this is a momentary thing and the dollar will begin to rise again. Anyone who is more versed in the ins and outs of international exchange, feel free to chime in here!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Me, in photos

Just for fun. If you want to play along, type in your answer to each question in Google Image Search and use a pic from the first page of photos that pops up. (I have no idea who originated this; I've seen it on lots of blogs.) I took some out, and added a couple in... if you want to, leave a comment with a link to your photo answers.

Age on your next birthday:

A place you'd like to visit:

One of your favorite places:

Your favorite object:

Your favorite food:

Your favorite animal:
Your least favorite animal:

Your favorite color:

Name of a past pet:

Where you were born:

Where you live:

Your middle name:

Something you do for fun:

Something that terrifies you:

A bad habit of yours:

Your college major:

Your first job:

Your current job:

Your favorite holiday:
Ok, who's up next?

45 Salamanders

Not a Costa Rican rock band (though it would make a good name!), but the number of species of salamanders we have in Costa Rica. Three new species were found recently in La Amistad way down south. Read more from National Geographic news:
Three previously unknown salamanders have been discovered in remote cloud forests in Central America, scientists announced yesterday. ...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The wind, it is a blowin'

During our summer, which usually starts in December, the trade winds also start blowing, with considerable force. (As you can imagine, since back in the days of sailing ships, sailors used the trade winds to cover quite a bit more ocean than they might otherwise.) The winds started blowing a couple of days ago. They blew so hard, I think something has come loose from the roof, but the landlord is going to need to go up there to fix a hole anyway (a hole through which a stray cat has come in in the middle of the night, a cat who attempted to start a fight with Boris the Grande) so he can check it out. A big, old pine tree "downtown" (and I really use that word loosely) Puente de Piedra broke right in half and was lying in the middle of the street yesterday morning.

Of course, it would seem completely natural then, that this would be the day I would choose to go up to the hotel and visit esposo. I have still not purchased hiking boots, so I made the rather substantial mistake of wearing flip-flops up there. And, clearly thinking ahead, I left my Isotoner driving gloves at home. I should have realized it was not the best idea when, as soon as we started the climb up the mountain road, the weather changed into horizontal rain, heavy fog, and high winds (and this was at 10:00 in the morning!). Good thing they have two fireplaces in the reception area, because I parked myself in front of one as soon as I got there and loaded on the logs.

It ended up being a nice day (well, not the weather part, but the spending-the-day-with-my-husband part) after all, complete with a deep-tissue massage at the spa and a lovely lunch cooked up by esposo (although all our son wanted was a cheese sandwich, I had the homemade fettuccine with some sort of aromatic sun-dried tomato/cilantro/macadamia nut "sauce," topped with eggplant parmesan (panko encrusted, yum!) and wild greens, though I had to pass on the eggplant once I realized it was cooked in the same oil as the fish -- yuck [not that you could taste the fish in the eggplant, but being a vegetarian and all...]).

All night long, the sounds of the trees blowing in the wind and scraping on the roof of our house sounded like something (or someone) was up there. Sort of freaked me out. Since I put clothes on a clothesline to dry, the trade winds also usually mean that half of my clothes go flying around the yard in this weather. It is not the most enjoyable time of year for me. I still remember being pregnant and alone in the house with a plumber up in San Antonio de Escazu when a tornado hit the area. We looked out the window and I could see an uprooted tree swirling around in the air about 400 meters from our house; a six-foot piece of roofing landed in our driveway only inches from the Haunted Hyundai. I remember mentioning something to the plumber about how this was kind of scary, and he said (probably just not wanting to have a freaked out pregnant woman on his hands), Nah, it's just the trade winds. Turned out a few houses were destroyed in that particular tornado. So last night all I could think of was, Can you see a tornado hit at night? If a tree came swirling up into our yard, it would smash right through these sliding-glass doors... How on earth would I contact esposo in the middle of the night, and what difference would it make since you can't get off that damn mountain after sundown?