11 from 2011

Oh, I know, “numbered lists” are very popular. And somehow the change from one year to the next seems to bring out the need even more strongly to make lists.

So, here I am.  Especially with such big changes on the horizon, it seems like an especially appropriate time to consider listing some of the things that have happened over the past year, some things I’m grateful for, and things we’re looking forward to in the new year. (Oh, I suppose one could say that things I’m “looking forward to” are not part of 2011, but it’s my list and I’ll arrange it how it like.)  ;-)

Let’s call it the Eleven from Twenty-Eleven.

Yikes, where to start.  Okay, not in any particular order at all….

[1]  Although one could argue the point given David’s recent hospital adventures, I’m going to start by saying that 2011 brought us, overall, a year of good health.  The previous year (and even some of the year before that) David had felt increasingly crappy. We’d finally figured out it was an overgrowth of candida (a form of “yeast” in a sense, somewhat of a parasitic nature, which can make you really sick when it takes over your body!), which was perhaps not all that surprising given a lifetime of over-use of antibiotics and lots of steroids (such as Prednisone orally and in shots).

So it was a long and not-entirely-pleasant trip back to health through diet changes, supplements, and overall lifestyle changes.  It’s never “fully over” as far as eating sugars and watching out for antibiotic use, but 2011 was the year that brought “finally feeling better” to David. So that’s a huge thing to be thankful for.  Also, he had his cataracts operated on this past May in Salt Lake City, with great results.  And Mom is (physically) healthy, overall, and I’m hangin’ in there.  Life is good.

[2]  It was a year of much work with the Community Action Alliance, here in San Ramon.  I was part of this group at its inception, when it was first conceived as a business networking group, and have stayed active as a part of the Steering Committee since then. This past year has brought a huge expansion in our collective thinking about what the Alliance can be, and as part of all that, David has come on board as well as part of the Steering Committee. We’re proud of all that’s been done and will miss our involvement after we leave. Who knows, maybe we’ll stay in touch by Skype and torture them all for a while longer with our presence.  (Somehow I’m being technically challenged by making a live link here, but you can cut and paste the URL: http://www.actionalliancecr.com/ and check out some of the great stuff the Alliance has done!)


It's a beary happy baby!

Family-wise, hands-down, the big “activity” of the year was the arrival of Miss Avila, granddaughter extraordinaire!  If you’re reading this blog, you know that she is the core reason for our moving back to the states. It’s funny, I’ve had women friends who were openly wild about having grandchildren.  They couldn’t wait, they lived and breathed that desire, and I just never got it. Whatever.  But as soon as we’d spent three weeks up there holding that precious baby, we were starting to get it, and knew we’d have to make some kind of changes.  Admittedly, the first “thought” about changes was simply that we’d want to spend more time up there.  But over the coming weeks, as we fully experienced how quickly she changed, and how much that would continue for years to come, we realized that we needed to make a real change, to be up there for real and part of her life.  And, in turn, be part of our own kids’ lives again, in a more “day-to-day” kind of way. Six months after the decision to go back, we’re still thrilled and oh-so-ready to be there.  Life changes, we’re changing along with it.

[4]  My writing — Okay, since this is admittedly just a weird, hodge-podge list, I’ll throw in there that 2011 has been a good year for my writing. The book sales for Unraveling the Mysteries of Moving to Costa Rica have been good, plugging along on a regular basis, and although I have other books in the series (most notably, Thirty Days of Food) due to be out soon) I’ve taken on a new project with a lot of excitement.  Working with Doreen Banaszak, a long-time “Law of Attraction” coach and author, I’ll be collaborating to do much of the writing for an upcoming book that we’re very pleased about.  I’ll keep you posted!

[5]  2011 was the year when we “got a grip” on our electric bill.  Early on in this house we’d had absolutely crazy electric bills. They got up to $600 a month, and at the time we were still renting (prior to our having bought the house) and an electrician’s report of grounding (and other) problems and a survey of other gringo friends’ bills (a fraction of ours) were sufficient evidence to get a very fair and appropriate accommodation from the seller when we closed.

But even so, after that, our bills were still “high” — averaging around $300 a month which seemed to be about double the typical gringo bill.  So, this year we did two major things — thanks to the contribution of friends who’d been staying with us for some weeks, we switched out our electric hot water heater for a gas (propane) on-demand heater.  It made a huge difference.  Secondly, we simply stopped using our clothes dryer. We live in the tropics, for goodness sake. There’s lots of fresh air and sun… hang the dang clothes out to dry. (Even in the rainy season it’s almost always sunny in the morning.)

This resolve was reinforced by our dryer simply stopping working and my refusal to get it fixed. (We’d later found out it was a fairly minor electrical problem, which we did indeed fix, very happily, in time for that HORRIBLE period in October/November when it rains incessantly, and we gratefully used it daily.  It broke again after that and I’m back to my refusal to fix it.  At least for the moment.)    ;-)   In general, our electric bill now hovers around ¢60,000 or $120.

[6]  This was a good year for gardening. I’m a bit of a closet gardener.  No, that’s not right, I’m a “fantasy-land” gardener.  I like gardening, I think about gardening, I imagine myself gardening, but I have leaned more toward “black thumb” tendencies over the years than anything so my gardening stays mostly in my fantasies.  When we’d first moved here we were still under the “things grow like crazy here” delusion, and it took us a while to understand that since our plantel (house site) had been dug out of the mountainside (to make it flat, of course, and therefore suitable for building), the dirt surrounding the house was NOT nice rich topsoil, some sort of wonderful tropical verdant growing-zone, but rather was sterile horrible dirt, incapable of sustaining any desirable life.  (Luckily we’re surrounded by jungle and coffee, so our overall area is, indeed, lush and green, but the area right around the house — the area one would consider their “yard” — was a mess.)

So this was the year I finally got that… we started composting, we bought chicken poop, we bough coffee abono (the composted berry husks), we fought the leaf-cutter ants, we planted things in pots where we could more easily control them…. and it brought some successes.  (Much of all this thanks to my good friend and part-time neighbor, Julie, who gardens in the real world, not just in her mind, and has been both an inspiration as well as a practical asset with advice and even hard labor. Thanks Julie!)

We ate cherry tomatoes until they were coming out our ears from a couple of plants in pots on the front porch. We had exotic lettuces (grown, don’t tell anybody, by seed brought down from the U.S.) for salads, and even some for cooked greens after they got big and bold. For the past several months we’ve been harvesting a plethora of VERY hot peppers.  We grow tarragon, rosemary, mint, basil, parsley, and chives, with varying degrees of success. (Oddly, the chives which we simply couldn’t kill in Maine have been the least successful, and they’re the one I miss the most since they’re very hard to buy here.)

We think of this environment as being so ideal to grow things — no harsh winter, or even harsh summer, to contend with, but it’s not nearly as simple as that would seem. I’m actually really looking forward to a “normal” north American environment in which to grow things, where good seeds (especially for heirloom plants) are available. But, that said, we’ve sure enjoyed what we were able to produce this year, here, as well as several fun events with the CRGardening group.

[7]  My mom still sleeps solidly through the night.  If you have no knowledge of Alzheimer’s Disease, you might not fully grasp why this is such a big deal. But for many folks trying to care for their elders with Alzheimer’s, it can be a HUGE (huge, huge, huge!) issue causing enormous disruption to the family’s daily life.  Mom, unfortunately, has continued to get basically crazier and crazier over this past year, and it can be trying at times.  So I have to frequently stop and remind myself to be OH SO GRATEFUL (truly!!!) for the fact that however nut-zoid she was during the day, once I have her safely tucked into her bed at night, she’s about 99.9% assured of staying put, happily, safely, and quietly until morning.  Trust me, this is a huge thing. David catches me occasionally, after a particularly difficult session with mom, repeating to myself like a mantra, “just remember, she sleeps well through the night, she sleeps well through the night….”

[8]  Our car — a 1995 Ford Minivan — has continued to muddle along and serve us marvelously.  We have a wonderful mechanic, Javier, near us who’s just been a great resource when something does go wrong, but we continue to “do the math” and realize that we’re still way ahead of most anyone we know in terms of total cash outlay for transportation.  It really does make you re-think why you drive what you drive — a lesson we’ll be working hard to keep with us as we move back to the U.S.

[9]  We lost our dear golden retriever, Hannah, this past year, although we were grateful that she had lived until she was 13 years old (actually considered these days to be pretty old for a golden) and went seemingly quite quickly. That is, she’d developed a tumor in her throat which apparently grew very fast, and although she seemed to “feel” fine — was still playing ball and running around — she stopped eating her crunchy food, which for Hannah certainly signaled a problem.  We took her to the vet expecting some kind of dental issue (since she didn’t otherwise seem sick in any way) and were shocked to find the huge tumor.  Since she was already gently snoozing away from the anesthesia the vet had given her to be able to treat her, it was a painful but comparatively easy decision to let that sleep turn permanent.  We loved her and we still miss her.

[10]  We had fun travels this past year.  In January we drove down to Panama with Chris and Louise, just for the heck of it.  We stayed in Volcan at a simple lodge owned (at the time) by a friend. The restaurant was fabulous and food is much less expensive in Panama than here in CR, so we ate luxuriously with very modest expenditures. We also bought a bunch of random stuff at the lower Panama prices and were pleased to find that our border crossing at the “little border” was so effortless that no one ever asked and our odd assortment of purchases came home with us, duty-free.

Later in the year we ventured forth to the Caribbean side which we hadn’t yet seen.  We stayed at the delightful little Caribbean Coconut in Cahuita and again managed to do some fine eating, including a wonderful 6 course meal prepared just for us by our Italian chef/owner of the hotel. We enjoyed the tour at Jaguar Rescue center and lots of leisurely time hanging out in the little pool and playing cards in the open air pavillion that housed the hotel’s restaurant.  As is always our experience at the beach, it’s way too hot and humid for our taste, so it’s a classic case of “wouldn’t want to live there, but a great place to visit.”

The year’s travel was rounded out by our two trips to Salt Lake City, and we’re looking forward to more adventures in these coming years as we explore our new home turf!

[11]  Finally, no list such as this would be complete without a mention of our friends as “something we’re grateful for.”  We’ve made wonderful friends here and enjoyed a wide range of events, from going to the beach with a crowd, working together on a big “project” like the Alliance’s fund raising book sale, great big birthday parties and intimate little dinner parties, just hanging out on the back porch visiting, lunches shared with friends here at home and out in town, to our regular card games and dinners with Chris and Louise.

And it’s not just social.  This is a community of friends that are there to help, whatever the need is.  When someone sprains an ankle, for example, crutches appear, meals are brought.  Even as I’m writing this, at 7 am on New Year’s Day, phone calls and texts are flying as a friend’s dog is sick and no local vets are open. (Unfortunately, in Costa Rica, “pet emergencies” aren’t deemed true emergencies, so there’s not much of an orientation to making sure that someone is available for holidays.)  So, in the absence of any available vet, a friend with a lot of dog experience and knowledge steps up to offer to help, another friend makes the trek across the valley with the doggie patient and his mama to offer moral support and practical assistance, all just because that’s how it works here.  Friends matter.

So, there you have it — a strange little glimpse into our lives over the past year.  It’s an “off-the-cuff” list, so I might well have neglected to list something that was much bigger and I’ll be slapping my forehead later exclaiming “what was I thinking?!?” but for now, here it is.  Looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring us.

Happy New Year!

This entry was posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Health and Medical, Moving back to the U.S., Things we won't miss, Things we'll miss. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 11 from 2011

  1. David Crow says:

    Thank you for providing all of this information.

    We are just beginning to evaluate Central America–primarily Costa Rica–for retirement.

    Do any expat groups in Costa Rica have web addresses? If so, I would appreciate it(them).

    One last question did you choose Costa Rica over Panama? If so, why?

    Thank you.

    Dave Crow
    Sacramento, CA

    • arden says:

      Hi, Dave,
      Thanks for the comment and question. (And apologies for the late reply!) There are quite a lot of “ex-pat” groups in Cosat Rica, but most are pretty casual and very few that I’m aware of actually have websites. In San Ramon, where we lived, there is an excellent organization called the Community Action Alliance ( http://actionalliancecr.com/ ) which I’d helped found. It’s still VERY active and while definitely not *only* gringos, it’s certainly a good place to start.

      We didn’t “choose” Costa Rica over Panama since we never even considered any place *other* than Costa Rica, but we did later make an “exploratory” trip to Panama, primarily just for the adventure (for us) but also with a sense of “scouting it out” for friends who had asked. A few things in Panama are definitely less expensive — food, beer/wine, imported consumer goods, most notably — but the overall “situation” is pretty much the same. After our trip I joined a couple of the online (Yahoo Groups) forums and you could literally just substitute the words “Costa Rica” for “Panama” in pretty much every post and never tell the difference.

      We really loved our time in CR, but we are also REALLY glad to be home. We used to “sneer” at the “statistic” that you often read about 40 to 60% of gringos going home in the first year — we never saw anything that even remotely resembled that! — but we HAVE found, as the years have gone on, that probably at least that many folks will go “home” within 4 to 7 years. So I think a big “take-away” learning from that is just to be “smart” about moving — whether to Costa Rica or Panama or Ecuador or the south of France. The odds are that you will NOT stay there forever, so be sure you keep that in mind as you make decisions. Try not to completely “burn bridges” as you leave. Try not to buy properties that are so “uniquely you” that you won’t be able to re-sell them when the time comes. If you have professional licenses that you could keep up “from afar”, consider doing so “just in case” you decide in a few years that you sure wish you could re-enter the work force.

      AND, should you still decide to move (to wherever) thoroughly ENJOY it while you’re there. And recognize that it’s JUST FINE if you decide to return home in a few years. It’s not an endurance contest. What we’ve now seen (almost 7 years after we first moved there) is that LARGE numbers of folks — including people like us who really felt like they loved living “there”, wherever “there” was — will still ultimately decide to return home. Life changes. Family needs change. Health changes. It’s all okay.

      We were SO sure we would never leave once we moved there and many of our decisions ended up being pure luck rather than good planning. We never “opted out” for instance of my husband’s medicare simply because it never occurred to us to do so, but that meant we didn’t have to pay a higher “premium” once we returned. He’s just had a HUGELY “expensive” catheter aortic heart valve replacement procedure (cutting edge, something we would NEVER have done in Costa Rica) without any out-of-pocket expenses thanks to his medicare and the “supplemental” we added after we got back.

      Sheesh, I’ve rambled on long enough. If you have other specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask me at arden [at] the-ex-expat [dot] com I’m truly glad to help if I can, and I do offer a pretty balanced perspective. ;-)

      all the best,

  2. Steph says:

    As an aside to your other post about why can’t things be the same when you go back to the states, you mention one thing in here about community. In the 40 odd years I lived in the states, nothing EVER came close to the sense of community I’ve felt by living abroad. Leave a city of 2 million people to a town of a few thousand and it changes your perception of the fellow human drastically. You help out when needed (often without being asked), you share food, maybe you give away things of yours that they might need. It just feels GOOD. Small communities keep you in check as far as behaviour goes as well. It’s almost like a self-governing committee. Now I can’t imagine going back to the U.S. and not knowing who my neighbours are three doors down. But when you come home from work and shutter yourself inside all night, that’s how it goes. There’s something to be said for being outside most of the day…that’s how you get to know one another!

    • arden says:

      Hi, again, Steph — YES, the “community” aspect is such a huge thing we found in CR. We’ve actually stayed in touch with many of our friends there, even though — like us — most are now back in the states. And although I never really thought of it that way, it’s true that the “being outside” as folks tend to be there is one of the factors. It’s interesting here in Utah — we are *so very much* NOT Mormons, but we live here in the thick of Mormon country and we’ve been very warmly welcomed by our neighbors and members of “our” ward. (Churches are basically “geographically assigned” in the LDS church.) So we’ve developed quite a sense of community here in an entirely unexpected way and it definitely adds a huge amount to our enjoyment here.

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