Monday, April 29, 2013

Celebrating Labor Day In Panama.....

In our working days, Labor Day for me was just another day off that usually involved a long weekend, which made it even better.  For Clyde being that the Fire Department paid overtime on holidays, he always hoped to work them for the extra money.  Here in Panama "Dia del Trabajo" was supposed to be on Wednesday but President Martinelli moved it to Monday so that the workers could enjoy a three day weekend. 

The sound of music and fireworks were in the air last night as we shut the windows and put on the air conditioner for a good nights sleep. The one and only highway through the country is packed with city dwellers packing the beaches for some much needed rest and relaxation with their families.

On Saturday we hit the road and headed in the opposite direction of the crowds to Chappala, on the other side of the city of La Chorrera.  Friends Fred and Linda had an impromptu get together at their stately jungle hideaway for a group of friends.  With a nice array of food, drinks and snacks we gobbled away the afternoon chatting with old friends in the picturesque setting of their property. 

We headed home toward evening just in time to hit more of the city traffic headed to the beaches. Although traffic was slow it was at least moving and we made it home in time for our next outing.  After a quick shower and some sprucing up we headed over to Coronado to rock the night away to the sounds of INVICTA.


Music is one of those loves that we all seem to share since it transports us back to the yesterdays of our youth.  INVICTA is a well-known rock and roll band out of Panama City that sings in both Spanish and English appealing to expats and locals alike.  They packed the house at Picasso's Bar and Restaurant, a popular expat hangout near the beaches of Coronado. We did some Swing dancing, swaying, gyrating and belly rubbing to the music as the night progressed. I even brought my drivers license this time just in case we came across any police stops on the way home, but of course we didn't.  As usual we had a fun night out enjoying the company of old friends and making some new ones along the way too.

But we won't be sad when we realize that today is the last day of our long day Labor Day weekend since we have no jobs to return to.  Instead we'll appreciate the life we've made for ourselves here, even with its ups and downs it's a whole lot better than any day at work.  Thankfully we'll celebrate a time of not working anymore yet still being young enough to enjoy life....along the gringo trail.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Check Out My Bottom In The Kitchen.....

The bottom cabinets for our new kitchen are in along with a dishwasher, garbage disposal, new sink and granite counter top.  A few days ago we drove into Panama City to buy a new stove to complete the look.  I wanted one with two oven racks since most ovens now come with only one.  Clyde wanted a griddle on top and we both thought a broiler would be a nice touch too. We found what we wanted at Panafoto, a large electronics store similar to Best Buy in the states.  Since they only had the stove as a floor model, the clerk offered us a discount which we gladly accepted.  The original price of $589 was marked down to $500, a great deal for a nice Whirlpool gas range.  While we were paying someone was wrapping the stove in plastic since it didn't come with a box. He wheeled it outside to our Rav 4 and helped Clyde slide it into the back.

Since it was late when we arrived home we left it in the car overnight and took it out the next day only to discover that one of the black burner discs was missing.  We searched the car over and over again and looked around outside and inside for the round, black thingy.  Surely it had to be here somewhere?  Perhaps it fell into the stove somehow so we tipped it up on it's side and shook it hoping to hear a rattle, but nothing.

Yesterday again we made the long 90-minute trek into Panama City to explain our dilemma.  The same sales girl was there and she remembered selling us the stove.  Clyde explained that the part was missing to the girl and a well dressed man who appeared to be a manager.  The man talked quickly in Spanish losing us along the way.  I asked him to slow down and immediately he switched to English which was even better.  He looked at the sales receipt that Clyde handed him and said "well you signed for the stove when we delivered it which means that ALL of the parts were there."  Clyde explained that there was no delivery and since it was a floor model it was being wrapped while we paid and we really didn't see whether or not all burner covers were there.  After some words were exchanged and voices raised it was determined that they did have the same model in the warehouse.  The manager agreed to give us the part, although no one in the store looked happy about it.  Having a long retail background myself, I know the store can order the part much more easily that we can.  Perhaps the part fell out in the parking lot while being loaded into the car?  We'll never know but we have looked everywhere and it's nowhere to be found.

Still searching for a venta-hood to put over the stove to pull out grease, we found one of those at Panafoto too.  Clyde asked the same sales clerk about one to which she immediately said, "no hay," which means "they didn't have one." I think at this point they just wanted to see us leave the store and we quickly obliged.  On the way home we stopped at Westland Mall to look for other things and stumbled upon a store called "Unica" that just happened to have the same venta-hood we tried to buy from Panafoto.  The price at Panafoto was $289 but the price at Unica just $200, another savings of $89.  But Clyde just informed me that he'll have to drill a hole through the cement wall to install the thing, which means more cement dust! Perhaps we can tape a box to the inside of the wall and he can drill from outside to avoid excess mess in the house? 

Granite was costly in the U.S. and I've never had granite counter tops.  Here is Panama granite is cheap and I assumed that it was a durable, easy to care for surface, but apparently that's not the case.  I began to research it only to discover that it's supposed to be sealed yearly and polished weekly to avoid having liquids sinking into the stone. We did manage to find a spray on sealer and polish so hopefully that will take care of the problem.  I don't like the idea that we'll have to be on alert constantly worrying about stains on the counter top.  But since granite is a natural stone what happens to it in the raw when rain gets it wet?  Does it stain and leave water marks?  The same is true of a leather couch that can possibly fade in the sun.  Does the cow standing in the field all day in the hot sun fade?  Just some oddities of life that makes me wonder.
Here's a view with the new stove

Another shot of the stove

Dishwasher, had to raise this end to accommodate it

New sink with dishwasher and of course
my much loved "soap dispenser" brought from
the states by Ray and Allison

The total price to purchase 24-feet of granite was around $320.  Although it's not one of the thicker cuts it should still be adequate for normal kitchen use. By remodeling the kitchen himself Clyde spent around $2000 for the project, much less than if he'd had someone doing the work. And a note about Panafoto is that they've always treated us well and that's why we specifically went there for the stove.  When we first moved to Panama we bought all of our appliances there since they also offered an outside delivery service. We even bought a small 19-inch television to use while waiting for our stuff to arrive from the states, way back when.  After two weeks the TV stopped working and Panafoto had their service department look at it. After they determined it was not repairable they replaced the TV free of charge. And the store at Albrook Mall has several English speaking managers which can be helpful too, especially to newcomers.

Still left for Clyde to finish in the kitchen besides installing the venta-hood are to build upper cabinets and cover the two existing floor-to-ceiling pantries with teak and build new doors for both.  The bold new look of teak is a warm welcome to everyone entering our home.  It certainly adds much value to this old house and will serve us well for many years to come....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Run In With The Law......

After a long day of working on the kitchen project, my tired husband needed some well deserved relaxation.  I suggested a night out at local restaurant called Picasso's where a well-liked band would be playing some great tunes.  After a few beers and some dancing Clyde was feeling pretty good, maybe even forgetting about his aches and pains.  Since he'd had way too many beers and I was drinking water, he suggested that I drive home.  As usual I didn't bring my purse which meant that I didn't have my drivers license with me.  Routine police check points are quite common here, but since we only had a short drive of about ten minutes we thought we'd probably be safe.

We made our way out of Coronado and turned onto the Pan American Highway.  In about five minutes we'd be home safe and sound, but oh no....what's that up ahead?  Yep, a police check point and suddenly we were in the line of cars that would soon be facing an officer.  What to do?  Should I pull over and switch places?  Clyde said "no, I'd rather pay a fine for you driving without a license than for me to be locked up for driving drunk." And many times the officer just looks into the car and waves the car on through the lineup, without checking anything.

I pull up next to the officer and say "buenas noches" to which he responds the same. There was an awkward silence until the cop said "su licencia." I began to explain in Spanish that we were out at a restaurant and my husband had too many beers and is drunk and cannot drive.  My license is at home since I didn't think I'd be driving.  If you'd like to follow me to my house in Chame, only a few minutes from here I'll show you my license. The cop sternly says "no," and starts giving me a lecture in Spanish telling me that he has to give me an $85 fine.  He tells me to pull over onto the shoulder of the road and wait.  In the meantime the other office approaches the car and apparently he's heard the story already.  He says something to me and I begin to ramble on with my story, throwing in lots of comments like "oh I'm so sorry officer,"...."please follow me home and I'll show you my license," ....."my husband was drinking but me, no, only water,"......along with "excuse my Spanish officer, it's not perfect but I am trying to explain." The cop smiled and showed an ounce of compassion, then assured me that my Spanish was good and he did understand what I was saying.

Next he asked for my name or for my passport, assuming that we were tourists.  I handed him my cedula, the resident visa that we live on here and he typed my name into a little handheld computer.  My information appeared on the tiny screen that he turned to show me asking if that was the correct information.  I agreed even though I really couldn't read it all without reading glasses, but I could read my name.  He walked away and chatted with the other officer for a few minutes before coming back to our car.  When he returned he rambled on in Spanish and we didn't catch it all, but he seemed to be telling us to go.  I questioned "no multa hoy"....which means "no ticket today," to which he responded a clear NO, no ticket today.

We responded with a huge "muchas gracias," and drove away carefully getting to the house as quickly as possible.  We were elated that we were able to talk our way out of a ticket in Spanish!
One big accomplishment and another interesting adventure....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Piecing The Kitchen Back Together.....

Day two of the kitchen project was spent putting the kitchen cabinets into place one at a time then Clyde had to level each one, before screwing them into the cement wall behind them.  This tedious task took up most of the day, but eventually we had time to sit the granite into place along with the dishwasher.  In case you're wondering why half of the counter is higher than the other, it's because I wanted a dishwasher.  On the bottom of the original cement cabinets is a cement base that's about four inches high.  Clyde was able to adjust the cabinet size according to this base but dishwasher's come as a standard size.  By placing the dishwasher on top of the cement base it would raise it about six inches, thus raising the counter top too.  But in the end the split counter top looks good and just gives our kitchen that unique one-of-a-kind look.  Since Clyde is 6'1", he likes the idea of a raised counter top, although it may be too tall for me to use as a work space since I'm only 5'3". 

On Friday, day three he had planned to hook up the water lines so we'd have a kitchen sink to use again, and then hook up the dishwasher too. While attempting to connect the water pipes one of the pipes broke and he couldn't find the other end.  Off to the hardware store he went to explain his dilemma in Spanish of course, but no one could help.  Eventually he found one man who spoke English and explained that he needed to chip away at the cement until he found the male and female ends to connect to.  After chipping away for what seemed like hours, he decided to try drilling into the cement which went faster.  Eventually he found what he was searching for, and was able to connect the water lines.

The hole on the left went back three inches the one on the right 2 inches
I had to cut into the wall to put new pipes in

His next dilemma was to find what he needed to hook up the dishwasher, a kitchen appliance that's not too common here in Panama.  Clyde explained to me that in the states dishwashers are usually hooked up to garbage disposals, and that may be the easier way to go, if we could find a disposal.  I did remember seeing one here and went with him to the store to find a disposal.  The additional of a disposal meant that he had to wire the electric and put in a switch to operate the thing too.

I put a switch in the wood
a lot easier than trying to put it in the cement!

Although Clyde's day began with much stress over the water pipes, it ended with success as he finished hooking up the lines and dishwasher.  Today his plan is to install the sink and hook up the water lines to it so we have a functioning kitchen sink once again. Then he needs to attach the granite before we can seal it.

It looks like hell
but it's all ready to go!

Before the stove goes back into place we're thinking of replacing it with a newer model.  When we first moved here since we were living in a rental house with a small kitchen, we bought a small stove-oven combo.  It has only one oven rack, is so narrow that only certain size pans fit into it and doesn't have a broiler.  For that extremely rare occasion when I actually bake something, it would be nice to have two oven racks to make twice as much.  But the old stove-oven combo will go outside under our bohio and take it's place next to the barbecue grill.  This way we won't have to heat up the house when we turn on the oven because we can use the one in our outdoor kitchen.  Outdoor kitchens are quite common here in this land of eternal summertime, where it's, hot, hot.

My new kitchen is looking absolutely wonderful and I'm so proud of my hard working husband for his handiwork.  This whole project has been overwhelming for Clyde and presented many challenges along the way. Hopefully the worst is behind him now and the rest will just fall into place, as this old house turns into our new casa....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Demolition Day In Our Kitchen......

The count down is over, and the mess has begun!  Yesterday morning started out like any other first with our weekly Spanish lesson then with a lesson of another sort.  What happens when a cement counter top is demolished?  A big mess of cement dust and chunks of cement spread all over the house.  Under the cement that was poured onto the counter was a layer of steel rebar that ran horizontally along the whole thing.  So far it's been about two hours and already half of the old counter is history, vanished into a pile of rubble.  I've stopped to blog about the day because Clyde ran off to have the tires from his garden trailer repaired.  We've been filling up buckets with the cement pieces and he's been putting them into his little red, tow behind garden wagon that he pulls with his lawn tractor.  Down the road he goes to dump the cement pieces onto the side of the road, to fill in a pothole in the dirt that we actually ran into one night. And before he returned I demolished a small brick wall that framed one side of the stove.  It was my first attempt using a sledgehammer and it felt good to destroy something.

The start of the demolition

"Maybe" I am too old for this hard labor

Terry thought I was going to catch myself on fire
We filled up 18 of these
but who's counting.

Set them placein just to see if they would fit

Day one ended around 4pm, about five hours or so after we started but it probably felt much longer for my poor husband who was doing most of the work.  The old counter is gone and the new cabinets have been set into place and fit almost perfect.  Since I couldn't live with the layer of cement dust on everything I had to clean.  After using the vacuum I mopped the floors over and over so we could at least walk around without getting dirty. I had to wipe down the couch and end tables too before we could use them since everything was covered with dust.

Clyde cooked dinner in the dining room since that's where the stove is temporarily parked.  He made his scrumptious chicken Parmesan with avocado the night before so the chicken was cooked, but he had to add the toppers.  He added some red sauce, sliced avocado, mozzarella cheese and popped it into the oven to heat.  Since I didn't want to make a salad in the mess I simply ate an orange after the chicken, then some crackers with peanut butter later on for both of us.  Our dinner table was the couch since that's about the only place we could find to sit down.  Clyde downed some beers to make his aches and pains go away from swinging the sledge hammer so long.  We washed the few dishes from dinner in one of the bathroom sinks before crashing on the couch for the night.

The refrigerator is also in the dining room and the dining room table is covered with everything that we pulled out of the kitchen cabinets and off the top of the counter.  Since everything is covered with a layer of cement dust it'll all have to be cleaned before being put in the new cabinets and drawers.  Clyde's plan for today is to level the cabinets, hook up the sink and dishwasher and hopefully install the granite counter tops too.

After that he still has top cabinets to build and hang along with covering the two huge pantries that sit at the entrance to the kitchen.  But because of windows above the counter there's only enough room for two cabinets on the wall. And since house projects are never-ending, especially when one has a wife to come up with new projects, there's always more to be done.  Clyde wants to replace the old decorative trim that lines the top of the kitchen walls, maybe with stone to match the pass-through in the kitchen that he added and trimmed last year. 

Many men talk about the projects that need to be done but not all of them actually do them.  When Clyde worked as a firefighter the other guys at his fire station called him "the finisher."  He didn't just talk about things he wanted to accomplish but actually did them and in a timely manner.  The kitchen project here has been on hold for so long because of the long wait for the kiln-dried wood.  Clyde was ready to get started a long time ago.

A brand new kitchen is in the works as we breathe new life into this old Panamanian style home.  But not before more headaches, muscle pains and lots of sweat equity for these retirees.....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Alternative Natural Medicine.....Or Not?

Sitting on the counter in a local pharmacy we noticed a stack of boxes with the word "Jellyclar" on the side.  Inside each box sits a collection of twenty vials that look almost like the kind medicine comes in and needs to be extracted by syringe. Similar vials can be found in many of the tiny "chino" stores on the side of the road.  "Chino's" here in Panama are similar to convenience stores in the U.S. where one can pick up a variety of items like bread, milk, beer etc....  Apparently the vials contain something called "Royal Jelly," which needed further investigation.

The Box of twenty Royal Honey

Royal Jelly is a substance made by worker honey bees and serves as the exclusive food source for the Queen bee.  Because of this miraculous substance the Queen bee lives seven years compared to only seven weeks for the worker bees and she is double the size of the other bees.  What's more astonishing is that the Queen bee is fertilized only one time during her life yet is able to produce 2,000 to 3,000 eggs per day with each brood weighing more than twice her own body weight. Just imagine a 130 pound woman giving birth to a 260 pound baby!

Twenty Vials of the Royal Honey

Somewhere along the way, somehow, someone came up with the bright idea that if royal honey could extend the life of the Queen bee, perhaps it could do the same for humans, and they began to market it as a nutritional supplement.  Royal jelly is rich in proteins and contains eight essential amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, sterols and phosphorous compounds as well as acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine is necessary to transmit nerve messages within our cells and too little is associated with Alzheimer's disease.  It also contains gamma globulin, known to stimulate the immune system and help fight infection.  Combined with a bunch of vitamins and minerals it seems to be one of those supplements that's good for just about everything.

To my surprise Clyde actually suggested that we buy some and try it since he noticed another customer buying a box yesterday.  My surprise is because I'm the supplement junkie and not Clyde.  Back in Texas when I'd tape the Dr. Oz Show and watch it later my dear husband once remarked, "every time you watch that show you start taking another supplement."  Although supplements aren't as easy to come by here in Panama, I still do take multi vitamins, calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, iron, fish oil, and probiotics found in yogurt.  Not as many as I used to consume, but still enough to put a dent in the wallet.  Some are necessary because I've had weight loss surgery years ago, others are supposed to reduce the risks of developing certain diseases or conditions. 

As for the Royal Jelly the following is the short list of what conditions it's supposed to help.  Perhaps just a little help to keep away many of the things we hope never to deal with in this lifetime. 

Menopause Related Symptoms
Chronic Fatigue
Skin Blemishes and Wrinkles
Immune System Stimulant
Viral and Bacterial Infections
Endocrine System Disorders
Hormonal Imbalances
Coronary Artery Disease
High Cholesterol Levels
High Blood Pressure
Weight Control
Broken or Weak Bones
Retarded Growth
Bladder Infections
Wound Healing
Liver Ailments
Impaired Memory
Panic or Anxiety Attacks
Parkinson's Disease
Anabolic Support (Athletic Abilities)
Weak or Tired Eyes
Mental Exhaustion

A few months ago I found a new plant in our backyard bearing Noni fruit.  The Noni fruit comes from Hawaii and the fruit is said to be one of the worst tasting, worst smelling fruits in the world.  The juice is extracted from the fruits and mixed with other juices to make it tolerable to drink.  I asked our Panamanian Spanish teacher today what the fruit was used for and she immediately said "it's medicine." So here's the short list of the benefits of Noni fruit that contain over 100 different nutritional components.  That alone would make me think it's got to be good for something!  But having said that I've never attempted to eat one with it's foul smell and taste which may make it impossible to consume. 

Drug addiction
High blood pressure
Muscle aches
Headaches of all strengths
Menstrual problems
Heart disease


Noni Fruit in our backyard

I've always been a believer of preventative medicine along with alternative medicine.  Seems to me it's much better to keep dreadful diseases away if at all possible, but should they occur why not try alternative medicine too?  Modern medicine simply treats diseases as they occur but never teaches us how to prevent them from happening in the first place.  Living here in Panama we eat fresh produce, fish and chicken like the locals do and consume very little that comes out of a box or bag anymore.  And being surrounded by tropical, rain forest that embraces us with the moisture and goodness of nature can only add to our rejuvenation.  Perhaps one of these days we'll wake up looking and feeling 30 years younger as we continue to search for the fountain of youth....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...