Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Maybe someone out there could explain this one

I do work for various companies in the States, so this means I get checks from said companies, which I deposit here, which clear the banks in the States within 24 hours but which are held by my bank so that they can accrue more interest on my money (which I don't actually get, of course) for 10 business days. Anyway. That is not what I want explained.

What I want explained is this: When I deposit said checks in said bank (that being BAC), half of the time the teller will fill in my name and account number on the back of the check, and the other half of the time they will ask me to do it. Not sign my name, except for that one time when I got a stupid/new teller, but just print my name and account number. Why, on this green earth, why oh why can they not write in the blessed number themselves? Are their fingers broken? Is their penmanship that bad? Because, you know, half the time they do. Shouldn't there be a standard policy for this? Either write in the customer's name and account number all the time, or have the customer do it all the time (though why the customer should be asked to do it is, again, beyond me. It's not like they're checking my handwriting. Esposo has deposited checks of mine in our account with no problems.)

I know, I know... It's Costa Rica! You can't really expect anyone to explain these things now, can you? No. That's why I write them on my blog. Así es Costa Rica.

Oh, and Happy New Year / Feliz Año Nuevo!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Money, money, money!

I added a little exchange rate widget to the right-hand side of this blog. I figured it's something people are probably interested in knowing. I used US dollars because it's the currency of choice here after the colon (maybe even moreso than the colon, come to think of it). I am pretty sure that most, if not all, banks offer accounts in dollars, and a couple of them have started offering accounts in Euros as well. Something to keep in mind is that the exchange rate system changed a year or two ago, whereby there is not one rate as there used to be, but a "band" that the rate floats between, depending on the bank. Don't ask me more than that, because accounting is not my strong point. I generally do business here in colones, though I keep my money in a dollars account. Whatever my bank's exchange rate is is what I go with. So even though my account is in dollars, I can use my debit card for that account anywhere and the bank automatically does the exchange to colones.

If you are coming here for a trip, you might be tempted to buy colones before you get here. My advice is DON'T! The exchange rates are so poor abroad, and US dollars so widely accepted here, that there is absolutely no need to do this. You can pay for almost anything in dollars here. If you really feel the need to exchange your money, there's a bank or two at the airport, and you can do it there. It is easier to pay for things in colones, but there's no reason to make the exchange before you arrive in Costa Rica.

Buses are an exception. You have to pay with colones on public buses, as far as I am aware. And they will bitch and moan if you pass them a large bill (anything over 1,000 colones), so it's best to have a few thousand on you if you plan on taking buses. Cab drivers, especially airport cabs, will usually take dollars, though I'd play it safe there and ask before getting in. Again, cabbies will pitch a fit if they have to break a "large" bill (why the equivalent of $10 is considered large, I can't say, but that's just the way it is!), so have small bills on hand for paying cabs. If you're taking private transpo (like Interbus), you can most likely pay with dollars.

The other thing to know is that if you give someone a $10 bill to pay for something in dollars, you will get colones back. And you cannot pay for anything with coins; again, don't ask me why, it's just the way it is. Make sure you know the exchange rate if you plan on using dollars, or you may get ripped off. I have to admit I've been ripped off this way, and I even knew what the rate was. It wasn't much, but just the fact of the matter is enough to piss you off. When the rate is around 500 colones to the dollar, it's easy to calculate in your head. Or pay in colones and you don't have to worry. If you are paying with a credit card, just make sure the exchange is correct before they run your card. Having a transaction reversed or removed is a serious pain in the ass here and can take up more of your time than you may wish to give (ask me how I know).

I guess that's about it! Unless I've forgotten something, which is entirely possible probable. I hope I haven't confused you too much! If there is anything else you want to know about using dollars vs. colones or the exchange rate, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer it if I can.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How not to decorate for Christmas

Christmas Light Stringing for Beginners:
Step 1: Purchase lights.
Step 2: Remove lights from packaging.
Step 3: Hang up strings of lights.
Seems simple, right? Not so much, I guess... Someone needs to go back and read Step 2.

At least it's not as bad as this guy, spotted over on Chris' blog, who didn't even bother to leave them in the package, but instead just threw them up on the roof like a Christmas light hairball.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adventures in miscommunication

Sometimes, when you're learning another language, you'll say silly things unintentionally, such as calling the Pope (el Papa) a potato (la papa) in Spanish, for example. Or ordering toad (sapo) instead of soup (sopa). It's the same with kids. Our son, who is 4-1/2, has English as his first language, even though he's half Tico. We speak mostly English at home, as esposo and I had read that kids who grow up in a bilingual household should hear mostly one or the other at home, otherwise they get confused. I don't know how much of that is true, though. He's never seemed to have a problem figuring out which language was which. Often, in fact, he'll just make something up in one language or the other if he doesn't know the word for it, something my Spanish prof. in college was always trying to get us to do, though I could never really wrap my head around it.

Well, anyway. He gets to watch a little bit of t.v. at night, and about the only thing he likes to watch is Discovery Kids (all in Spanish here) or Baby TV (also in Spanish), thank goodness. I think we're still a year or two away from Cartoon Network. It has never bothered him to watch t.v. in Spanish, though it drives me right up a wall, unless it was originally produced in Spanish. Overdubbed movies and t.v. shows I just can't deal with. One of the shows he still likes is Barney (hey, don't laugh! may the innocence of childhood last a while, ya know?). There's a song on Barney about cleaning up that goes something like (in English), "Clean up, clean up, everybody clean your room." He sings it when I ask him to pick up his toys or clothes, but in Spanish, of course: "Limpia, limpia..." The next part is supposed to go "todos a recojer," but son has obviously misheard said line, and instead sings, "todos a cojer." Instead of singing, "everybody clean your room," what my son is actually singing is, "everybody start fucking." It was pretty hilarious the first time we heard it; hell, it's still funny! Not that he knows what he's actually saying, but I did ask him to promise not to sing the song around his abuela.

Other than those little things, though, his Spanish is excellent. He knows the words to "La Camisa Negra" pretty well, and insists on singing it when it comes on in the car. I'm a little jealous. I'm betting that his Spanish will be better than mine in a couple of years.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Last-minute Christmas gift for Costa Rica

Give a gift that helps Costa Rica and the planet, and will only set you back $10: plant a rainforest tree.
Costa Rica is best known for its lush rainforests and spectacular wildlife. Yet many of those species -- spider monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, and yellow and blue macaws -- are in great danger of extinction.

The major culprit? The destruction of forests.

And deforestation hurts more than wildlife. The slash-and-burn clearcutting of forests across the globe emits more CO2 than all the world's cars, trucks and planes combined.

You can take one simple step to help reverse this trend: Plant a tree.

For only $10, you can be part of NRDC's exciting new Revive a Rainforest campaign. With your help, we're going to bring a bare field in Costa Rica’s Turrialba region -- which was once a lush rainforest -- back to vibrant life by planting 20,000 trees.

This rejuvenated forest will be a sanctuary for rare and threatened Costa Rican wildlife including toucans and monkeys.

And it will also help fight the climate crisis by capturing carbon pollution from the atmosphere and storing it away for centuries.

When you plant a tree in your own name … and as a gift in the names of your friends and family … you'll be planting a better future for our planet.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Had me a little chicken...

...but now she's gone... only for a little while, yeah... It's a blues song, can you hear it?

We went to our friends A. & M.'s place last Sunday for a little catering job esposo did there. A. & M. live on a boarding school campus where M. is a teacher, and A. is a residence supervisor or some such title for one of the dorms where a group of teenage boys live. I was a little concerned that esposo might be overwhelmed by having to deal with 20 teenage boys at dinner time, but honestly, they were just an extremely nice group of kids. (Including the guy from Romania or somewhere who tends to answer questions with the opening line of, "Don't be stupid..." And? I think that is my new line whenever esposo asks me to do something. Don't be stupid, of course I'm not going to clean the cat box! Of course, this will only be effective if spoken in a thick Eastern European accent, otherwise he might just think I'm being a right royal bitch.)

So as esposo was cooking dinner, I was hanging out with our son, who is best of friends with A. & M.'s daughter H. At one point, A. tells me they have a chicken in their washroom, and do I want it? Apparently, the chicken had somehow managed to appear on campus, no one knew where it came from, and A. had to rescue it from a couple of dogs. So then he stuck it in his washroom, where it immediately went to work pooping all over the clean clothes, tools, and appliances. I went to see the chicken, and it was incredibly sweet. Let me pick it up, no pecking or trying to get away. So I sat with it in my lap on the couch for a while, and as I stroked its chin and feathers, it went to sleep. "It" turned out to be a "she," so I asked H. and my son what we should name it. H. came up with Chicky-Chicky Bop-Bop (hey, she's four!), though later I thought Francis would be nice, since she reminded me of my best chicken ever, Frank.

We took Francis/CCBB home, and called our friends E. and M., who have a nice little farmsita in Ciudad Colon, to see if they could chicken-sit for a couple of months while we get our act together and build a chicken coop. You see, we used to have chickens, lots of them, but after the great chicken disaster of 2007, I have been very reluctant to keep them again. I love chickens, but that incident hit me really hard and I was just so sad afterwards, I thought I would never want to keep chickens again.

And then Francis showed up, and I am rethinking. Chickens are nice. If you have never known a chicken personally, they have distinct personalities. I've had a few that were downright bastards (Foster! Worst Rooster Ever.), but most have been lovely. Frank was my favorite of all time; he loved to snuggle up in my arms and sleep, or jump up on my lap to see what I was doing/eating outside, or just follow me around the yard. Even though humans have tried very hard to breed intelligence out of chickens (because it's a lot easier to kill and eat stupid animals), they are not stupid. Birds in general are a lot smarter than we give them credit for (you should hear the stories Amy tells me about her parrot -- he's so much like a person, it's amazing!). Anyway, I love having pet chickens. E. and M. said we could take a couple more back with Francis when we pick her up in a month or two. I was a little worried when I stuck her in their coop last night (there's a reason they call it "pecking order"), but she snuggled up next to a black chicken sitting on a roost, and seemed just fine. E. said she was already part of the family.

Besides about 20 or so chickens, E. and M. also have two baby pot-bellied pigs, some hamsters, six dogs, three cats, a big tank full of fish, a rabbit... and I think that's it. And those baby pigs are about the cutest things ever. Next time I'm going back during the day so I can play with those pigs! They are too adorable.

Side note: Converstion between M. and me at her house, while I'm sitting on the couch with the chicken.
M.: It smells really incredible, doesn't it?
Me: Yeah, I forgot how stinky chickens can be!
M.: (laughing) I meant [your husband's] food! You can smell it all the way over here.
Me: Oh you meant incredible in a good way! I thought you were talking about the chicken! Hahahaha...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In the Christmas spirit

We finally got a Christmas tree, put it up, strung the lights, and randomly stuck ornaments all over it. At the tree lot, it looked a lot smaller than it is. Here in the house, it towers over us all. Christmas trees in Costa Rica are fast-growing cypress trees, not the nice Douglas firs I was used to in the States. At first, I couldn't stand Costa Rican Christmas trees -- I used to tell esposo they were more like Christmas shrubs. I guess you get used to it. Though I still don't like that they're usually too tall and not wide enough. Eh, whatever.

They (the big amorphous "they") didn't used to sell Christmas tree holders when I first moved here, so you dug up the tree by the roots, and put it in a pot with dirt (which, you know, I wasn't so thrilled to have in my house for the cats to dig and poop in). The past few years, though, I've seen the regular holder-waterer things, though I neglected to pick one up at Mas X Menos this year, and now they're gone.

The tree we ended up picking out was already cut and nailed to a wooden stand, so you'd have to take that off anyway in order to stick it in a waterer-holder thingy. I asked the guy how long it would stay green without water, and he said at least two weeks, so that should take us up to Christmas, anyway. If he wasn't full of crap, that is. We considered taking off the wooden stand and putting it in an old ice cream tub or something, though how it would stand up I have no idea (rocks, I guess?). At this point, that would require entirely too much work, so we're just going with the I-hope-it-will-last-at-least-until-Christmas-day idea instead. Oh, and it cost about $13, in case you wondered what trees go for here.

I met up with a couple of women from my son's playgroup on Monday at Multiplaza, and afterwards we walked around, and stopped in the (absolutely insane) toy store. Esposo heard a woman telling her son (in Spanish) "Stick up for yourself, guevon!" (that basically translates to "lazy ass"). The kid was not even 2. And later I'll bet she'll be wondering why her son is so pleasant and nice to other kids. Wow. Appalling. Let's hear it for Christmas spirit. We got out of there as fast as possible.

Every year, our playgroup does a thing for charity. Last year we collected toys for kids at the Children's Hospital downtown San Jose. This year we decided to choose the Sisters of Magdala as our charity. They run several homes for severely disabled (physically and mentally) children who have either been abandoned or removed from an abusive situation. They take care of children from ages of 6 months to 19 years on a shoestring budget. Esposo gave them a call to see if we could help them out and what they needed, and I thought I'd share that list with you in case you'd like to help out as well. They are most in need of a crib and a dresser. They also need clothing, especially warm pajamas for the babies and toddlers. And clothes do not need to be new; they are happy to take used clothes in good condition, so check your closets! Additionally, they can always use donations of non-perishable food items, such as rice, dry beans, canned fruits and vegetables, etc. If you'd like to give them a call, the number is 2228-9998 (Spanish only, I believe). One of the main homes is located on the street behind Pequeno Mundo in Escazu, next to the church.

Go Dog, Go!

My dog jumped up on the couch while we were out shopping last night. You might think, don't you try to keep your dogs off the couch? But the answer would be no, my standards are pretty low at this point, and if I can keep the cats off the table and most of the kitchen counters, I'm happy. The dogs even have their own couch, a really nice sofa-bed from Altea, in fact. We rarely use it, so they took it over as their own. In fact, I should say we never use it unless we have a party (and yes, we do clean it beforehand, though it's surprisingly still in great shape; go microfibers!), after which the dogs glare at us for letting those people sit on their couch.

Anyway. We have one little Chihuahua who is about 15 years old now. Her back legs started going out on her a few weeks ago, and I was worried the end was near for her. So I took her to our vet for a checkup, and he said that she actually was in great shape for an old dog, all things considered. He started her on pain pills for 10 days and a daily arthritis pill (Arthroflex), and said that we should start seeing improvement. After a few days, she was standing better on her back legs, and lately, she rarely has problems getting up at all. Then last night, when we came home, there she was in her favorite spot: On the couch, barking at us because we'd arrived home (because she can still hear a bit, but she's pretty much gone blind)! I was so thrilled. She's even started trying to climb the stairs. Wow!

The moral of this story is, if your older dog is having trouble walking, don't wait until it gets terrible to start on the arthritis supplements. I actually didn't think they would do that much good, but the improvement is remarkable. Yay!

Friday, December 05, 2008

News Flash

Well, here's something most of us women who are or have been married already knew: Mother-in-Law Problems: They're Worse for Women.

No surprise (to me, anyway) that psychologist Terri Apter "...discovered that more than 60% of women felt that friction with their husband's mother had caused them long-term stress." I wondered what the cause of my heartburn problem was. Now I know. Blame it on the MIL.

Apter also found that "Conflict arises when the newcomer and the more experienced matriarch wrestle over whose way is best." Gee, could that be because in my house I like to do things my way? I mean, seriously? If you ain't paying the bills, it's myob at my house. Our house, I mean. Of course...

Got kids? MIL can be a royal pain:
Apter found that, in all the ethnic cultures included in her research and across the generations, child-rearing was one of the most constant and stressful sources of conflict between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law.
Here in beautiful Costa Rica (maybe everywhere, I don't know, as I've only had a child here), everyone wants to give you advice on your kids. "You should do this, you should do that, you should bundle up that baby in a snowsuit because it's down to 70 degrees today!" For the most part, you just smile and say thanks. But sometimes you just get fed up with it. Especially if you're the kind of parents who have done a lot of reading and researching and talking to other like-minded, modern parents about things like cloth diapers, extended breastfeeding and bed sharing. Or having a baby at home without (gasp!) a doctor present. Or homeschooling. Or any of the other million issues that come up when you're a first-time parent. Quite frankly, unless a child is being abused or neglected, it's no one's business how you raise them. Not my own mother's, and not my mother-in-law's. It just isn't. You had your chance, this is ours. If we want advice, we'll ask you for it. And sometimes I do ask for advice, from other parents or from my mom (as I would guess esposo does with his mom). Otherwise, butt out! Seriously. Have fun with your grandson, but please complain about the way we raise him to someone else. We just don't want to hear it.

My favorite part of the article was this, however:
In Apter's study, two-thirds of women said they felt their mothers-in-law were jealous of their relationships with the sons, while two-thirds of mothers-in-law said they felt excluded by their sons' wives.
Hmm, my own mother-in-law disliked me from the day we first met. She tried to drive a wedge between esposo and me way before we ever had any inkling of getting married. Let's face it, I wasn't probably what she had in mind for her son. I was not Catholic, I was from California (thus, probably going to take her precious baby boy away at some point), I was older than he was. I had a mind of my own and a successful career. Though honestly, what's not to love? is what I say. :-) And then we did get married. And as someone very close to me once said, Those weren't tears of joy. I think my only saving grace in her eyes was producing a son. And a wonderful son he is, and I would not dream of trying to come between him and his grandmother. She and I, I think, have finally come to a meeting of the minds: you be polite to me, I'll be polite to you, and let's leave it at that. Fine by me.

Now, my father-in-law accepted me as part of the family right away. He always treated me like the daughter he never had. Sadly, though, he's gone now. I miss him. I had such a great relationship with my own grandfather (short-lived as it was; he died when I was 11), that it makes me sad my son will never have that (my own father was never a part of my life and died a couple of years ago). He adored our son.

A good friend of mine has a great set of in-laws that live next door to her. I once complained to her, Why can't I have your in-laws? H. is in that 40% minority of women who get along well with their MILs. P. (H.'s MIL) once told esposo that we were like part of the family, even though I could be a real bitch! I laughed. Coming from P. it's endearing and makes me like her all that much more.

Finally, guys, this next part is especially for you:
"Daughters are better at reassuring their mothers that even though their lives are changing, they're still attached to their mothers," Apter says. "Men are less proactive about that reassurance."
Basically, be nice to your mom. But don't forget to stick up for your wife.