Saturday, September 29, 2012

This Old House Of Ours.....

When a man gets that primal urge to swing a hammer and tear down the old to create something new, the lady of the house just stands back and complains about the mess in silence.  She cringes to herself knowing that the mess of destruction will be worth the end result of a new kitchen...someday.  Ok so we're not exactly to that point yet, but as the lady of the house I'm cringing already.  Why do home improvements have to be so messy?  Or perhaps that's the mans' way of taking out his primal, male urges on the house, instead of on his dear wife?

Let's back up to reality and say what's really going on here at This Old House in Panamá.  But then if this really was that show Bob Villa would knock the whole house down and build a brand spanking new house in about an hour.  Unfortunately this is real life and it won't happen that quickly.  But Clyde did find a wood supplier out of Santiago that has an actual kiln to dry the wood.  Most builders here cut down a tree, make it into a log, slice it up and let it air dry for many months.  But in a rain forest environment where 70% humidity is considered to be a dry day, wood doesn't have much chance to dry out properly when left outside. 

But kiln dried wood in Panamá comes at a premium price of $3.50 a board foot I believe, plus we'll have to pay extra to have it shipped here.  It'll take about a month or so to get here and Clyde was instructed by the lady of the house to buy enough wood for any future projects that might come up too, since we have plenty of room to store it. 

So with the kitchen remodel on his mind, Clyde wanted to take a trip into Panama City to pick up a kitchen sink, faucet, dishwasher and anything else that we found along the way.  Thursday morning we hit the road, although not too early and as usual hit major traffic.  After being stuck in bumper to bumper, non moving traffic for about twenty to thirty minutes, Clyde decided to whip a u-turn and go the opposite way, just like many other cars were doing.  But what he didn't stop to think about is that just maybe they knew where they were going in the other direction, and he didn't.  But that never stops Clyde so off we went. 

The first place to turn off led us down a long road and directly into a trash dump.  He veered onto another road that seemed to be going nowhere and decided to follow a taxi in a different direction.  After all a taxi must be taking their passenger somewhere other than the dump we thought, and that he was.  We followed the desolate road that soon became lined with junk yards brimming over with all sorts of things.  Local tiny homes reeked of  squalor and were created from scrap metal, used wood and cement blocks. Yet school children walked in the street clothed in crisp, white dress shirts and dark blue skirts or pants. Even the poorest of poor in Panamá dress in clean, neat clothing regardless of how they live and their children always reflect that pride. 

Eventually the road came out to somewhere we recognized and we made our way to the stores.  At Casa de Materiales we found a square, bowl sink for just $66 each, so we bought two for the master bath.   The master bath coincidentally is the bath that I use and Clyde uses another one, so I guess once it's redone I'll have my choice of two sinks to use.  Whenever we watch one of those house shows on HGTV the potential buyer is always pleased when the master bath has double sinks.  So I figured since we have the room for a long counter, why not add the extra sink for resale value someday. The brand name on the sinks is Huida, a Chinese brand commonly found here. Each sink had a sticker on it boasting that it was "a Nano self cleaning sink." Since this was something I'd never heard of I did some research. Apparently the sinks are coated with a protective coating that repels soap scum, dirt, mold and other stuff and lasts for years.

Also found some "ofertas" or sales on faucets and bought matching ones for the master bath sinks and one for the kitchen sink.  It took some looking around to find a kitchen sink that was a bit deeper and not already scratched and banged up.  And it was my idea of course, to add a "lavaplatos" or "lavavajilla" also known as a dishwasher to the mix.

Now the dishwasher brings up a whole different issue when adding it to an existing older home here.  The counter is made of cement on the bottom so the dishwasher will have to sit up four or five inches instead of on the floor.  This in turn will raise the counter up several inches, but we'll probably do it only on one side where the dishwasher sits.  Clyde likes this idea since he's tall and having a counter higher up makes sense for him.  But kitchen counters don't necessarily have to be all one height, so we think it will work out just fine in the end.  And since dishwashers aren't too common here, we only had a choice of maybe three or four models ranging in price from $399 to $700.  And when the store only had the floor model of the one we selected we went to the next higher price point and paid a bit more for a much nicer model. 

Meanwhile back at the casa today, Clyde was outside mowing, trimming and weed whacking while I was cleaning inside.  At one point he called to me asking if I had clothes on but since I'd been cleaning showers the answer was no of course.  He wanted me to see some skydivers catching air directly over our property.  I grabbed something to throw on and ran outside hoping to get a picture but never did.  About three or four skydivers were gliding peacefully over our yard and then went behind the trees and out of view.  In our neighborhood there's an old WWII airport where small private planes come and go.  Although we heard they used to offer skydiving at this airport, after a plane went down they stopped.  What a contrast to see something so modern and expensive above a neighborhood of small, local homes that have so little.

And not to brag but a few years ago for my 50th birthday, Clyde and I both had the audacity to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.  Why you may ask?  Well, because the door was open and I was strapped to a hunky, handsome firefighter that pushed me out the door and then opened the chute.  Clyde reluctantly went along for the ride just because he felt he had to, being a manly man and a career firefighter.  Unfortunately though, the hot wife of the hunky firefighter that jumped with me was not certified to jump tandem and waited for us on the ground.  And we just love to tie people up and make them watch the video's of our jump whenever we can too. 

Our jumps a couple of years ago

Addicted to the HGTV show International House Hunters that did a recent new show on Panamá which we just happened to catch.  A couple moved with jobs to Panama City and had a monthly budget of $3000 for rent.  They ended up in a condo overlooking the water but passed on a gorgeous penthouse for just $3400 a month. So anyone looking to spend big bucks in Panama City, it's still available to rent.  Other shows on Panama in the past showed a huge complex for one million dollars  directly on the water.  And another show featured two male friends looking to buy a bar and condo in the Casco Viejo section of the city for half a million.  People move here with all types of budgets and all types of needs.  Some want to downsize and live frugally while others still have that need for a huge house with all of the American luxuries.  And fortunately Panamá has something for everyone, including these cheap gringos. 

Moving to Panamá or any other foreign country is much like jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet.  It's a leap of faith and a jump into the unknown just hoping that the chute will open and you'll free fall peacefully into a new life.  Some days we free fall into a garden of tranquility and other days we get tangled in a tree and land upside down on the cement.  But whatever the outcome we always know it'll be an adventure we can share together....along the gringo trail. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Standing On My Head......

For the past nine years or so I've been shall we say an exerciser.  Back in my working days in Texas I was up at 4:30 am and one of many other nutcases that opened the gym for a 5:30 class or session with a personal trainer.  After an exhausting hour of cardio and another of weight training, I was in the gym's shower to ready myself for my happy day at the office.  By the time I made it to work I was starving, tired and ready for a nap, never mind a full day of work.  Every night I'd pack breakfast, lunch and clothes for the next day and was usually in bed by 9pm.
Obviously I didn't take pics while in the class
 so these are borrowed from the internet 

Since we retired and moved to Panamá we need to exercise even more so, since we no longer work. We show up at a local gym three days a week to lift weights, walk for 45 minutes everyday in the heat, and I bust my butt on my spin bike for cardio.  On days we can't make it to the gym I use my old Bowflex machine which is what I did yesterday.

 More crazy moves

Having had the privilege of belonging to a huge, full service health club in Texas that offered hundreds of classes, I always enjoyed trying out the latest fitness craze, once I became brave enough.   It started one day after a brief two year period of thinking about it, that I walked into my first spin class.  My first spin class was tough and I was sure that every person in there was from another planet.  After all why would these people arrive fifteen minutes early and begin riding ahead of time, dressed in shorts with padded butts and shoes that clips onto the pedals?  Soon after the class began the tiny, rock hard, bike seat became intimate with my crotch, and soon it was on fire.  I couldn't wait to stand and spin to relieve my aching loins, but soon realized that standing is even tougher.  Although I hated my first spin class I left feeling truly exhilarated and for the first time I was "high" on exercise.  It made me realize that I hadn't been getting myself to that cardio level that the class pushed me to.  A few days later I went back and took another spin class and before I knew it the 50 minutes was up, I worked up a sweat, and had fun.  I was hooked and have been a devout spinner ever since.  In the years after my first class I've done classes in weight lifting, yoga, pilates, boxing, dance and whatever else seemed new and exciting while we still lived in Texas.

And more

The fancy, schmancy beach community of Coronado here offers some exercise classes on the beach for $10 a class and there's also a yoga studio that offers classes for the same price.  I noticed an add on a website called for "Fly Yoga" and had to investigate it more.  On my handy computer I searched for "fly yoga" also called "suspension yoga" or "zero gravity yoga" and watched a few videos. Although it's been years since I'd even taken a regular yoga class I thought fly yoga looked interesting and since it was so close, I just had to try it.  At the cost of $20 a class, Clyde was seeing dollar signs as usual, and maybe secretly hoping that I wouldn't like it and want to continue.

At least these people were in an airconditioned gym

The class was held outside at the instructors home and I was introduced to my hammock, a large, silk thing suspended from the ceiling.  But unfortunately, this hammock was not for napping, but was for suspending a body three feet above the cement ground in strange positions that bodies aren't meant to be in.  She explained that this fabric is very strong and supposedly holds up to 2,000 pounds so it should hold the average person.  Fly yoga uses basic yoga poses but with the help of the fabric, takes it to new heights.  Many positions that are difficult to get into are made easier with the use of the fabric for support.  And using the hammock like a swing, one is capable of hanging upside down by their feet, doing handstands and other circus like moves all with the safety of the fabric. 

The upside down moves really intrigued me and proved to be fun at first.  As the class progressed she showed us how to do a back flip out of the hammock and I thought "ain't gonna happen."  But with the support of the instructor nearby, she coaxed it out of me and to my surprise I was able to do a back flip out of the hammock and onto the floor.  So amazed that I really did this I just had to do it again and it was awesome.  Something I never thought I'd be able to do, and another thing off the bucket list of life.

She continued taking us through other upside down hanging moves and once upright again, I realized that things had shifted around inside and I was feeling a bit out of kilter.  Not quite dizzy, not quite nauseous but I just felt odd and really had enough at this point.  Thankfully the class was almost over and after some ending moves and a relaxation phase, I was free to go.

So you'll be happy to know that I won't be submitting my resume anytime soon for circus acts involving a trapeze.  And I think I'll just leave hanging upside down to the monkeys in the jungle and keep all future yoga poses to the floor.  But at least I was willing to venture out alone, into the gringo jungle of Coronado and hang upside down with other yogi grandmas....along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keeping Panamá Weird.....

As each and every new expats makes their way to the beautiful isthmus of Panamá, it seems to makes life here just a little bit weirder.  Last night we pulled into Novey, a large hardware, housewares and other stuff store in Coronado to get screws.  But as we drove toward the store, out of the corner of my eye I spotted, a polka dot poodle?  No, I hadn't been drinking or anything like that.  Clyde pulled out his trusty camera that he carries everywhere and we walked over to take a picture.  Turns out the dog and it's owners recently moved here from Austin, Texas where the city slogan is "keepin' Austin weird."  Guess they thought they were doing their part, by giving their perky, white poodle pink, blue and lime green spots.  But not only were the spots bright, they actually were big, pom pom like balls of fur, that stuck out from her tiny body.  I'm trying to be amusing here but I actually thought the dog looked adorable, and if I could figure out how to make our doberman look that way, I would.

Turns out that David, the man who was "manly" enough to stand outside a store with a polka dot poodle, just arrived in Panamá yesterday.  His wife arrived a few months earlier and the couple reside in El Valle de Anton with the adorable pooch.  An avid follower of this blog, David immediately recognized us.  In the time we stopped to chat and take pictures, a dozen or so women stopped to snap photos of the dog who proved to be a perpetual "chick magnet."

Lila the polka dot poodle from Austin, TX

Once inside Novey Clyde said "let's see if we can spot his wife Candace."  And since no one is a stranger to my friendly husband, he managed to find the woman and we introduced ourselves.  But I couldn't help but wonder how her pretty white hair would look with brightly, colored polka dots, so she and the dog would match.

Notice that she has one pink ear, and one blue ear

Always nice to run into blog followers, especially those from the lone star state of Texas.  In a country full of stray dogs that go unnoticed, the perky, white, polka dot poodle can't be missed.  And her warm, friendly personality go along perfectly with her bright, colorful appearance.  Yesterday we saw a polka dot poodle, and today who knows....perhaps a pink elephant....since we never know what's around the corner....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What A Difference A Year Makes.....

Yesterday was the second time we celebrated my birthday while living in Panamá, which makes it sound like we've been here so long.  Last year on my birthday we were in the Department of Migration in Panama City with our lawyer to initiate the process for our visas.  But since Clyde didn't have his original passport having lost it a few weeks earlier if you remember, only I could be processed through.  I remember this distinctly because the woman doing my paperwork wished me "feliz cumpleaños" with a big smile. 

But to think how much has changed in just one year!  Yesterday we went out browsing through some stores in La Chorrera and vicinity and picked up a few things.  Stopped at a Subway for lunch and started to have those feelings of "oh no, will I know how to answer all the questions?"  Those questions like "what size sandwich, what type of bread, what type of cheese, what vegetables did I want and not want, what type of condiments, did I want the combo or sandwich alone?"  But remarkably, it was so easy this time around.  Bet you never thought that ordering food at Subway could be a daunting task, did you?  Before leaving Subway I stopped to use the "bano" and saw something that impressed me which is quite unusual for a bathroom here.  A poster on the wall put out by the Ministerio de Salud, or Health Department listed the steps to proper hand washing.  With colorful pictures it instructed patrons to wash hands with soap and water then use a paper towel to turn off the water and to open the door.  Of course bathrooms here only have cold water in the sinks, but at least it encouraged hand washing. 

In the past year we'd have to say that the language has come a long way pretty much by just living here.  We haven't spent time working on our Spanish lately, at least not the book knowledge.  But we do keep a dictionary with us in the car and look up unfamiliar words as we see or hear them, hoping to be able to remember them. And watching the occasional short amount of time on the television in Spanish has helped too.

Found this cute video below:

To celebrate my birthday we danced the night away to the live music of "Poco Locos" at a restaurant in San Carlos.  This popular local band made up of mostly gringo expats, packs the house every where it performs.  Last night was no exception as they performed many oldie favorites from the past decades.  So to those that wonder what grandma and grandpa are doing in their retirement years here, some are jammin' in a band under the stars.  And others like us are swing dancing to the beat, bumping butts with other gringo grandparents.  We sure are rockin' through our retirement years but it's on the dance floor and not in a rocking chair.

Poco Loco's Band Of Mostly Expats And One Local Guy

And for a quick update on the chickens.....Clyde just went outside to feed them and noticed that one had escaped from the pen.  Once our watchful doberman Venus noticed it, she ran over and started poking at it and circling around her.  Perhaps she's just looking for a playmate since she made no attempt to eat the thing.  But then again this is the same dog that didn't realize there were chickens on her property for two days after we got them.  The information we read stated that dobie's rank 5th as far as intelligence among other dogs.  But apparently Venus never read that article or perhaps she just takes after her female owner and has some blond tendencies.

CLYDE HERE:    I have built "my version" of a chicken tractor.  This will allow me to move the chickens around as they eat the grass and poop in one area.  Remember, half of these chickens belong to my friend Daniel.  He is trying to get his chicken tractor done.  Anyway here are some pictures.

Clyde's Chicken Tractor

Still have to do some changes on the tractor
I think the ramp up to the laying area is too steep for them

Hay will be put in these for laying eggs

Yes, they are practically teenagers!

Clyde is busy looking for wood to buy to make new kitchen cabinets. Wood here is sold in log form and then has to be cut, planed and left to dry.  But in an environment with year round, high humidity, it's nearly impossible for anything to dry properly.  He went in search of anyone in Panamá that has kiln dried wood, but will have to have it shipped in from the other end of the country.  It's more costly but hopefully will create a better product in the long run.  Furniture here is made from wet wood and as it dries it tends to crack and split causing problems.  And since termites love to dine on wood, only teak and cedar seem to be used here.

Clyde is outside mowing the street with his riding mower, as the neighbors look at him in awe.  Grass grows so fast here we can practically watch it grow, and it needs constant upkeep.  A bit of cloud cover is making it a bit cooler, although there's no breeze at all.  But after two large cups of hot, strong coffee I'm sitting here glistening in sweat.  Time to enjoy a cool shower and get on with this day, although I have no idea what may come our way....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Trimming The Hole....

If you remember back in April before we moved into our house in Chame we decided to make a hole in the wall to open up the kitchen.  Actually I decided the room needed opening up, and Clyde was the one that had to figure out how to do it.  Knocking a hole through cement block is hard work, dirty, dangerous and very messy.  By the end of that day I was in tears because as the blocks came tumbling down they scratched appliances, freshly painted walls and left a trail of dust that would linger forever. 

Making a mess from the kitchen side

Nice and clean easy work

For the past five months the hole was opened up but still needed trimming, and also some repair work on tiles that broke in the process.  Since wood is hard to come by here, and even harder to dry properly before using it, Clyde had an idea.  One day while shopping at El Machetazo in Coronado, he went up to the third floor where they have a small hardware section.  Next to the escalator, sitting on the floor were some odd boxes of rough, brick tile and he thought this might work around the opening. After a whole day of working on it and many trips back and forth to the store later, the wall is done and looks great!

Living room side

Close up of the tiles
The kitchen side

When he opened up the hole some of the 30 year old white tile on the side broke, beyond where he was going to put the trim.  He ran out to buy some tile that looked similar, but could not find any four inch tile, and was told that it's not being used anymore.  So instead we had to create something out of nothing.  Clyde filled in the gaps with just any old tile that he bought, and with my trusty paintbrush I tried to make it look like the rest of the wall.  The old tile is white with gray specks sort of throughout. 

And along the top of the kitchen sits a row of decorative border tile in blue and white.  Once the hole was opened some of the nearby border tile fell one day.  Apparently it was never installed properly and was bulging in the middle like it never really fit into the allotted slot.  And to make matters worse, one day about a month ago I was standing at the kitchen counter doing something, when five of the border tiles above my head came tumbling down.  They broke onto the counter and floor, nicking the already old counter top and barely missing me.  But fortunately when Clyde made the opening we saved the blue and white trim tiles and amazingly had just enough to fill in all the holes.  So the walls of the kitchen are done, now on to the next project.

Clyde is still trying to find wood to rebuild the kitchen cabinets, which he'll do as he replaces the counter top.  The problem here in Panamá is that wood is available in either cedar or teak.  But in such a moist environment it takes forever to dry, if it ever really does.  And if wood is not properly dried it cracks later on after the items are made.  Even in the states wood is usually put into a kiln to dry out since it takes so long, whereas here they let it air dry.  Wood here is purchased by the whole log and then cut up and allowed to dry, which takes months and months. 

My partner in creativity and I were discussing yesterday how we both enjoy putting our own touches on our home.  We can't imagine being the type of people that pay someone else to design, build and decorate the whole house.  This old house has so much character and if the walls could talk it would have great stories to tell.  And now the two of us are adding to those stories, with our escapades and antics of making it our own.  And not to mention that we're doing all this in a foreign country where things are done differently.

But like we've said before, doing things different is not necessarily wrong, just different.  Living as two gringos in the midst of chocolate skinned people, we stand out and embrace our differences here in Panamá....along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Little Something Fishy.....

You would think that in a tiny country surrounded by two oceans it would be easy to buy fresh seafood, but it's really not, unless you know where to look.  There are a few fish markets where local fishermen sell their catch of the day but they usually sell out early in the morning.  Directly on the beach in Gorgona is one fish co-op and there's another down the road in San Carlos.  But since the cook of this house who's also my loving husband doesn't like to get up early, we usually miss out.  Most of the fish we eat is frozen tilapia filet's from Price Mart in Panama City. Although it's healthy, low in calories and we just love it cooked with Cajun seasoning on it, sometimes we crave something else.

One day recently we craved shrimp and went out to buy some.  Since it was late in the day all the local fish markets were closed.  Coronado has three nice, modern grocery stores but there was no shrimp to be found in any of them.  Remembering back to our first trip to Panamá, when we first set eyes on the El Rey Shopping Plaza in Coronado we spotted something we couldn't forget.  A local man stood near the street in the parking lot with his arm raised up, proudly displaying large shrimp.  The ugly creatures were basking in the hot sun and we couldn't help but wonder how long they'd been out of refrigeration.  Actually I thought it was rather disgusting and couldn't imagine buying shrimp that way.  But since we've moved here other expats talk about buying shrimp and other fish from him, so it must be safe.

Two pounds of fresh shrimp

His name is Jorge Gonzalez  and apparently he buys shrimp from local fishermen then resells them at a profit to tourists and locals alike.  Monday afternoon we stopped to check out his stash and bought some large, lovely shrimp for just $3.00 a pound.  Clyde grilled up some shrimp kabobs for dinner, a delicious treat that we haven't had in a while.

Jorge Gonzalez' fresh ‘langostinos’

Yesterday Clyde moved the chickens from the brooder into a larger co-op with trays for laying eggs.  Venus our dobie is still way too interested in them, poking her snout through the chicken wire trying to get to them.  Yet as soon as Clyde stops paying attention to the chickens, so does Venus.  Not sure how this whole thing will turn out, but these eggs we don't have yet are turning out to be rather costly and stressful.

Woke up today to a gorgeous 81 degrees with less humidity.  The wind's blowing, the sun shining bright and our neighbors are yelling at each other in Spanish.  Ah life in Panamá....where a Spanish lesson is only an ear shot away.  They're a young couple with two toddlers, which can make for a stressful situation. An American guy married to a local gal, they keep to themselves other than the occasional wave "hi" when we pass them in the street.

Another rough day in paradise.  First our morning walk with the dog, then off to the gym followed by chillin' out in the pool near the gym.  While hanging out Clyde made the comment that this is "hump day" which was a joke in our working days.  Hump day refers to it being Wednesday, which means that half of the work week is gone, and all eyes are focused on the weekend.  But since we're no longer part of the working world, hump day doesn't matter.  Wednesday is just another day like all the others now and I might add that it's absolutely wonderful!  People worry about being bored during the retirement years but it's nothing but delightful.  Having time to do whatever I want to is just grand.  Be it exercise, taking a walk, doing a craft project, reading a book or taking a nap. It's having the freedom to enjoy life without work getting in the way.  It's nice to be able to enjoy our home, our relationship, and our life and all that it has to offer.  I can't imagine ever being bored as there's so much to do, I just don't know how I ever had time to work.

Tomorrow perhaps I'll do, whatever it is I feel like doing once again, while the rest of the world is at work, and we're here embracing life....along the gringo trail.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Life To Remember....

Since I began this blog we've opened up our hearts and lives to the world with the joyous, sad and most mundane happenings.  As a child I remember feeling like I'd explode if I didn't write down my thoughts as they came up.  It was my way of self expression throughout my years of growing up. So today in light of some tragic news I just had to write about it to keep my head from popping off.

Last night my Mom lost her battle with lung cancer, and passed away peacefully in a hospital in New Jersey.  Born Theresa Balcer in 1930, she was the only girl in a family of four brothers.  Growing up in downtown Jersey City, NJ she learned to speak Polish at an early age while helping her Mom tend to the care of her younger brothers. 

During her first marriage to Joseph Michaels she was blessed with two children.  Maryann was the first born, then a son to be named after his father Joseph.  Tragically her husband died and she was widowed at a young age, left with two small children.  Obviously I don't know much about this relationship since I wasn't around yet.

She married Robert Haber and gave birth to another daughter, Theresa Roberta Haber.  They thought they were being clever with the name being a combination of both mother and father's, but of course I always hated it.  Since Dad wasn't much for travel we became the first family in the neighborhood to have an inground swimming pool.  They taught us all to swim at an early age which led Joe and I to pursue competitive swimming in school.  They both worked hard to give us kids the best of everything, although being the youngest I think I was blessed with a bit more.  After I graduated from high school they decided to move to Florida but Dad passed away while they were in the process.  I was just 19 at the time.  Mom had always hated cold temperatures and proceeded with the move alone, which changed the course of her life. After selling our childhood home in New Jersey she moved to Spring Hill, Florida. Since Dad wasn't much on change he really would have rathered stay in NJ, and I'd always joked that he died to get out of moving to Florida.

Soon after she settled into life in Florida she met Clifford Cox, who had relocated from Maine.  She had to rent a house while her home was being built and Cliff moved into the rental after she did.  Due to a mixup over him getting her electric bill in the mail, was his excuse to knock on her door.  They married and spent half the year in Florida and half the year in Maine.  The cottage on Grand Lake in Maine was gorgeous but Mom hated leaving the warmth of her Florida home.  Cliff loved to travel and Mom told stories of him picking her up from her morning walk and wisking her away.  She'd tell him, "but I have to stop home and get clothes," to which he'd say "whatever you need we'll buy along the way" and that's what they did.  They spent many years traveling the country and having a blast, but Cliff died and she was alone again.

Being the fitness, and health nut that Mom was, she faithfully walked six miles every morning. One day she took a different route home and saw a tall, good looking, gentleman watering his front yard.  She stopped to chat and the rest was history.  Her and Bernard Mulligan married and she sold her house and moved into his.  Although Bernie was a homebody, she convinced him to travel and they went on many cruises.  He was content staying at home with his homing pigeons that he raced on weekends. Bernie passed away too leaving Mom alone again.

Mom's 82nd Birthday in July 2012

I remember Mom telling me a story about a fortune teller who many years ago told her she would marry four times.  She thought this sounded crazy but it turned out to be true.  She was fortunate enough to be able to retire at age 50 and travel. Yet when I announced to her that I was retiring at age 51 and moving to Panamá her first response was "you're too young to retire."  After reminding her that she did something similar she agreed and said "life is too short, so enjoy it while you can."

Mom this past July

Perhaps Mom gave me her same name expecting me to grow up and be like her, which is not always a good thing.  When people are too much alike they tend to butt heads and that's we did.  But like Mom I grew up with a love for health and fitness, enjoy travel, cleanliness, and sunshine.  Both stubborn, feisty, and outspoken with a love for life and people.  She instilled in me the dislike of anything not clean, or disorderly and to this day I'm almost obcessive about it. 

From left to right my cousin Kevin, Aunt Charlotte, front Kevin's wife Dawn, Mom and Dawn's the pool is Uncle Joe.  Taken at my sister Maryann's house in NJ
The doors of Heaven opened wide to accept Mom in, as she was welcomed by those that went before her.  Her only son Joe is anxiously awaiting her arrival along with her parents and four husbands.  It's with great sadness and a heavy heart that I write these words.  She will be dearly missed by all that knew and loved her.  We were fortunate to have recently visited with her in New Jersey for her 82nd birthday in July.  She always told us kids, "if you want to see me come while I'm alive, not after I'm dead."  At last she's painfree and cancer free enjoying her new existence wherever it is that we go after we leave this life.  We all have our own beliefs on this subject, but I like to think she's gone to her happy place, lying in the sun, basking in the warmth of loved ones.  She had a great life full of fun and adventure.  Let's celebrate her life eventhough we'll miss her physical presence and know that she's looking down joining us in spirit....along the gringo trail.

Mom and Me in my sisters pool

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Less Terrifying Than Last Year......

Today was a good day in Panamá!  Since we've lived here one year now it was time to renew our car registration and have the car inspected.  Since we had absolutely no idea where to have either done, we enlisted the help of a friend.  Our good friend Phil seems to either have a photographic memory or writes everything down as he does it.  He gave Clyde a detailed list of where to go, how to find the place and what to bring.  With a folder of paperwork in hand full of necessary documents, off we went on our 90 minute drive into Panama City. 

Our first stop was a place called Auto-K for the inspection.  Phil suggested we ask for an Asian women named Alicia that speaks English.  She was sweet and very helpful and made the process painless.  Clyde watched the car as the mechanic drove it near the building, and parked it on a certain spot.  He pointed out a camera to Clyde that was connected to a computer screen.  After taking a picture he moved the car a bit for a different angle, and snapped a few more photos and the inspection was complete.  When we were buying the car last year Luis, the salesman happened to mention they did yearly inspections here to which I said "really? they inspect the horn to make sure it works since that's the only think you Panamanians seem to care about?"  He didn't get the joke but cars here are driven without brake lights, without head lights, without bumpers, doors etc.  And many have large clouds of black smoke coming out of their exhaust pipes choking the driver in the car behind them.

There goes the old license plate!

Now back to my story of today's journey.  Next stop was to get our new license plates at one of the seven offices in the city.  Which office we had to use depended on the first two numbers on our license plate.  According to the numbers we had to use the office in the Hatillo Building.  Since this is one of the busier offices with long lines, Phil suggested that we pay for the plates at the office in Balboa first then pick up the plates at the other office.  So after making our way through traffic in Balboa, it took only a few minutes to pay our $29 and then off we went to to the other office to wait in line.  After finding a parking spot and finding which building to go into, we were amazed that the lines were not too long and we escaped in a relatively short amount of time.   Believe me, if we would have done ALL the paperwork here we would have been there for hours!

Spotted this scooter made for the rains of Panama!
Really don't see too many on the road.
  It was parked in front of a store called "The Snob Shop."

Since it was around noon we stopped for lunch at a Mexican Restaurant then headed over toward Albrook Mall to find the Sertracen building to renew our drivers licenses.  Because they had our information on record from last year, we went through the line quickly.  After registering we were asked a few questions, then moved to another station for an eye exam, then had to take a simple hearing test in another room.  Last year this whole process was terrifying to say the least!  It was my first experience of being one on one with someone that spoke NO English while they were asking me questions that I had to answer.  This year it was SO much easier, although I was still nervous.  During the eye exam when she asked me to read line "cinco" for a few seconds my nerves got the best of me and I had no idea what number that was.  I read line five like I was supposed to then got sidetracked and read line seven.  She switched to colors and I managed to remember how to say those in Spanish and we were done.  She was supposed to make me identify a few traffic signs but I must have made her so confused that she gave up and sent me to the next person.  Then the next girl explained how to take the hearing test in Spanish to which I asked a few questions, before I understood what she was telling me.  From there I had to pay my $40 at one window and then sit and wait for the completed license to be handed to me from another window.  So this process is now complete for another four years.

With good directions in hand and someone who knows his way around Panama City behind the wheel of the car, we completed all the above tasks in about four hours once we reached the city.  This even included stopping for a leisurely lunch along the way.

As the sun goes down on yet another day I take notice of bats flying by outside the window.  Eagerly chomping up zillions of bugs they're a welcomed friend as are the geckos we share our home with.  Frogs loudly sing a melodic symphony in the swamp nearby as geckos chirp loudly announcing their presence for the evening.  As the daunting tasks of today are behind us we look forward to the next task that comes our way here in Panamá....along the gringo trail.
The Highway on the way to Panama City
they are expanding two lanes into three
but in the meantime, what the hell lines are we supposed to use?

These are some Red Bananas (guineos rojos)
that our Phil brought us down from his fruit farm

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Been One Panamá!

Last year at this time Clyde and I were on a plane excited to begin our new lives in Panamá.  With eyes wide open, we jumped in head first not quite sure how things would turn out.  As you all know from a year of blogging, it's been a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs.  But with more ups than downs we faced each new challenge as it happened and always managed to see the light.  And since today is also Clyde's birthday we planned a combo anniversary and birthday party yesterday with friends. 

These are all our new friends from Panama
I like to take candid pictures at parties
instead of "posed" ones

Don't even ask how this
"chino" guy got into the party

As two o'clock rolled around, the guests arrived and so did the rain.  What began as a bright, sunny day turned into a deluge of showers.  But this is the rainy season in Panamá, so no frets allowed.  Instead we all just waited it out and took cover under the gazebo, after grabbing some grub to stuff our faces with.  The rain was actually a welcomed relief as it cooled off the temperature.  Blowing through the gazebo giving everyone a light shower didn't stop anyone from eating the yummy collection of foods and dessert items.  It made us all realize how we've adapted to life in Panamá when getting sprinkled with rain doesn't effect much of anything.

Yep!  We made it one year!

Every guest brought a dish to share making it a fun way to try new foods without all the fuss.  A while later after the rain moved away it was time to pull out our anniversary cake and ice cream.  The party wrapped up around dusk as we said our good byes.  With a fridge full of leftovers, no need to cook today as we chill out enjoying Clyde's birthday.

Looking forward to our next year in Panamá which surely will be full of new adventures, good friends and buckets full of good times....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Around The Neighborhood......

Every morning when we walk Venus we pass by a tiny, cement corner building with a patio full of tables and chairs.  The small dwelling has a large window open on one side where people inside can hand out food.  Every morning there's people sitting at the tables but since there's no sign indicating it's a restaurant, we're just not sure.  Lazy street dogs protect the area, including some new feisty pups with an attitude.  An incoherent, old, Panamanian man always rambles something to us in Spanish after we say "bueno dio" to him.  His speech is so slurred together we're sure we wouldn't understand him if he were speaking English.  Usually toddlers are jumping around and playing too, perhaps "abuela" is babysitting her grand kids.

A few days ago while passing by we heard a tiny voice yell out "gringos."  It caught me off guard and what they said didn't even register at first.  Again we heard "gringos....gringos" in a high pitched, tiny voice, as we walked by. Clyde looked at me and commented, "out of the mouths of babes." He said the child was a "little bitty fart, maybe a four year old."    We laughed about it and I wished we would have stopped to see how the child reacted to us getting closer.  Was this a racial remark or just a kid repeating a word it had heard?  Did the word conjure up an image of a bad, white person that wasn't wanted in this country?  Each morning we walk by the adults gathered at this little spot always say "bueno dia" or make other small talk about the weather.  And we make a point of saying good morning or giving a wave to every Panamanian that we pass by, either on foot or in vehicles.

Also on our walk we pass by a lovely house on a working sheep farm, that sits across from this little airport.  Farm hands are usually out in the field working with the animals while two mean, barking dogs protect the property.  The house is usually vacant except for the occasional weekend party.  Lately we've noticed large amounts of wood laid out to dry in the hot sun.  One day when Clyde went on the walk without me he spotted the home owner there and stopped to inquire about the wood since he's looking to buy some.  We met Manuel, the manager of the sheep farm. 

This is the house at the sheep farm

Some of the teca (teak) lined up to dry

Manuel speaks some English and asked Clyde to come up with how much wood he needed in square feet.  Next he and Clyde will go to the land he has to pick out a teak tree.  Manuel will have it cut down and then it will be taken to another place to be cut into planks and then planed, after which it will need to dry before it can be used for furniture making.  Clyde is so brave about approaching the locals and speaking to them in Spanish!

We noticed these neighbors have corn drying in the hot sun.  The locals at this home always seem to be busy doing something.  Victor the husband seems to collect and sell junk for money.  In fact he's the one that took all of our old, filthy toilets, sinks, ceiling fans and whatever else we put by the roadside. But he always asks Clyde if he can have them first then goes to get his wheel barrow to bring them home.  Two generations seem to live in this house, or in other homes nearby.  The women spend the day washing clothes, hanging them out to dry and cooking.  The daughters seem to help Mama with the chores while the boys help the men.  It seems everywhere we go around this area, we spot Victor collecting junk, selling mangoes or hustling up other work.  Either he really gets around or all of the locals look the same.

Victor's yard with corn
laid out to dry in the sun
The chicks are growing nicely and we're trying to divert Venus' attention away from them.  The first week or so she'd sit in front of the brooder staring at them, mesmerized and drooling.  It's the drooling that has us worried since that's a sign she wants them for her next meal and not as friends to hang out with.  So I did some online research about how to stop dogs from going after chickens, even though it's a natural predatory instinct.  Someone posted his solution and since it was easy and free I mentioned it to Clyde and this is how it works.
The male head of household must let the dog know that the chickens belong to him.  And to make the dog understand this one must think like an animal.  In the dog world when a dog pees on something it's his way of marking the area, and claiming it as his or her own.  So the male head of household being Clyde, would pee around the chicken coop.  He then turned to Venus and told her in a loud voice, "these are my chickens."  Then he made her come over and smell where he marked and then chased her away, again speaking loudly that the chickens are his.  It has worked for the most part and she only ventures back to the coop when Clyde goes out to feed and tend to them.  Before that she would sit there all day long just staring at them and trying to eat the poop that falls to the ground.  She still does try to eat the chicken poop sometimes and Clyde yells at her and chases her away.  I thought we'd spare you a photo depicting the above situation, although Clyde was all too willing to pose for the shot.  

Man Peeing On The Ground In Public Clipart by Dennis Cox
Poor Venus is stressed enough barking at the birds taking up residence in what she thinks is "her mango tree."  She sits underneath the tree barking, jumping up and wondering why there are no more mangoes falling down from the tree.  Surely it must be those pesky birds up there, she must be thinking.  But mango season is over until next year when she'll once again have an endless food source falling from the sky, or so it seems.  If you happen to see some round, fat, mango shaped birds flying over your house perhaps they're the ones eating her mangoes.
Took a trip to Westland Mall yesterday for a few things.  It's on the Pan American Highway near La Chorrera and boasts three floors of great shopping.  Picked up some pretty red and white floral, linen "mantel de mesa" or tablecloths for our outdoor tables.  They were on clearance for $2.99 each along with some matching place mats for just 49 cents.  Clyde always stops to look at ladies shoes amazed at how nice and how cheap they are, but later complains about how many shoes I have.  So once again I had to stand strong and tell him not to encourage me to look at the shoes, since I really don't need anymore....right now anyway.
Since Clyde was starving we stopped for a bite to eat at the food court.  Amazed at how many American fast food restaurants have made their way to Panamá.  McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Popeyes, KFC, Subway, Quiznos, Dairy Queen, and Duncan Donuts just to name a few.  With all the comforts of home we settled for Leonardo's a local pizza chain cheaper than the US counterparts.  For around $6.50 we shared a combo pizza with 8 slices and a drink.  The pizza was slathered with a heavy mix of green and black olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, ham, and chicken flavored with some orange stuff which gave it the appearance of broken up crunchy cheese doodles. For a moment I wondered if they did put broken up cheese doodles on a pizza since nothing would surprise us here.  After all they put strange things like tuna and palm hearts on pizza, and mix jello in with ice cream sundaes, so we can't let anything surprise us.
As for now headed out to pick up a few groceries for tomorrow's fiesta here at our casa.  Since Monday will be our ONE Year Anniversary of living in Panamá we needed to celebrate.  Monday is also Clyde's birthday giving us even more reason to party.  And something about retired people and parties....all we need to do is say the word and they come a running with potluck dish in hand.  And we're the same way always ready and willing to visit someones house, enjoy their company and share some food. 
A little food, good friends, a few drinks and a little chicken poop make life one big adventure in Panamá....along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...