Wednesday, October 30, 2013

They Melt In Your Mouth.....And On The Floor......

We all know the famous slogan, "M&M's melt in your mouth, not in your hands," but Mr. Mars should test out his famous theory here in Panama.  Baking is always a challenge here and once again I thought I'd stress myself out by baking something chocolate.  To avoid the hassles of icing which begins to melt as soon as it's made or taken out of the fridge, I tinted the sugar cookie dough orange. Rolling out the dough came with it's own set of challenges but then I thought it would be cute to add M&M's for eyes prior to baking the cookies.  In the time it took me to add two eyes to twelve large cookies on two cookie sheets, the candies began to melt in my hands. Since I poured the candies into a little bowl to make it easier to pick out the colors I wanted, I immediately put the bowl back into the fridge in between using them. 

My next horrible venture was to dip chocolate sandwich cookies into melted chocolate to coat them, then top each one with an unwrapped candy kiss so they'd resemble a witch hat.  Since chocolate melts instantly here I'd have to put them into the freezer to harden as soon as possible. In the process of moving things around in the freezer to fit the cookie sheet inside, I managed to knock over the bowl of M&M's that was in there chillin'.  The bowl went crashing down on to the tile floor but didn't break since it was Corelle, but the candy scattered everywhere breaking into millions of pieces.  I couldn't move without stepping on broken candies that immediately began to melt into a rainbow of colors.  The tan tiled floor and rug runners became painted with a rainbow of sugar-coated colors.  I got down on my hands and knees to clean up the mess when suddenly I noticed a colony on ants attacking the chocolate.  I had no idea where the ants suddenly came from since I hadn't seen any around in a long time, and I do look for them always.

Now totally frustrated and upset I didn't know how or where to begin cleaning up the mess.  Clyde came in from outside to hear me swearing out loud and asked for help.  The rugs went outside for cleaning, the bulk of candy pieces were picked up first by hand, then swept, before the floor could be washed.  The refrigerator had to be pulled out from the wall since some had rolled underneath, and the dipped cookies had to be put inside the freezer to harden, which is how this whole mess began.

Just for the hell of it I did some research on the famous little, colorful, hard shelled candies to see if they are indeed not supposed to melt and here's what I found.  The hard outer shell of the candies are not water soluble and therefore won't melt in your hand. When the candies are placed in water after a short time you'll see the colored dyes dissolve and mix in with the water.  But the transparent coating and white "M" are not water soluble.  After about 10 to 20 minutes if you keep watching the transparent shell and letter will float in the water but still not break down. So that makes me wonder just how or if they break down in our bodies?  Perhaps that's one of those things that we really don't want to know and another good reason to not eat them.

But I'm happy that I got the baking out of the way since today's adventure involves turning a bright pink curtain and some old fabric from my belly dancing days into a Halloween costume for a party tonight.  I've decided to conjure up an old costume idea that I've used in the past.  Years back I picked up some used belly dancing costumes at a yard sale and one included pink harem pants and a decorated bra top to match.  It worked well as an "I Dream Of Jeannie" costume for Halloween but we sold all of our costumes before making the move here.  After all Panamanians don't celebrate Halloween so we didn't need them.  Within one month of moving here two years ago we were frantically out shopping for Halloween costumes because the expats DO celebrate Halloween here.  If you remember this old broad even won a prize last year for "sexiest female" at a local restaurant while dressed as a sexy pirate. So today my wonderful "seamster" Clyde will be making me a costume because he sews better than I do, and I really don't enjoy doing it.  Besides, it'll let him live his fantasies for one evening as I cross my arms and say, "your wish is my command master,".......along the gringo trail.

We bought a bright pink curtain, a valance with dangly beads 
 and a $3.00 bra to make the costume
I look fat here since the pants are so baggy, but I wanted
 them that way

I wore a decorated headpiece that I made but you can't see here,
and my hair is up in a pony tail like Jeannie's

Bathroom Cabinets

I finally finished the bathroom cabinets!  I built seven feet of cabinets with double sinks.  I had purchased enough teak wood and granite to do this job.  I have to tell you, it is so time consuming!
The pictures were difficult to take as the bathroom is only so big.  But, I am sure you can get an idea of what we did in the bathroom. 
We do like our drawers!  In the middle, I placed three drawers and under each sink there is a drawer at the bottom.  Kind of like coming up with "free space" as most bathroom cabinets don't do this and the "under the sink" storage is wasted.
I do like to think that this is the last of the "big projects". But I guess I will have to wait to see what she comes up with next!  
6.5" Mirror above cabinets
I put a drawer under each sink for
extra storage space

The Left Sink

The right sink and
middle drawers
The center of the cabinet showing
the middle drawers

double sinks on
granite countertop


Friday, October 25, 2013

A Naked Man In The Road......

A few days ago I was sitting right here at my laptop watching a man change his clothes in the middle of the street in front of our house.  You see there's a vacant house across the road from our house and a truck load of Panamanians arrived to cut the grass.  As in typical Panamanian style when a worker arrives at the work location, before getting started he changes into this work clothes. First an old pickup truck parked alongside the road and a man and woman stepped out. The women pulled out a white sheet, stuck it into one end of the tailgate, and stretched it out so that the man could stand behind it and change clothes. Assuming it was her husband or just some man who didn't mind stripping in front of her?

After all of the men were in their work clothes they climbed over the fence, passed over their machete's and weed whacker's and began to cut the grass.  A while later an older man with a large belly pulled up in a nice car and unlocked the gate to the property.  For Panamanians it seems the larger their belly the more money they have, so we assumed this man was either the new owner of the house, a realtor, or banker. Turns out he works for the bank that owns the home now, since the previous owner defaulted on a loan.  We know this for a fact since I suggested that my friendly husband go over and find out who he was and what was going on with this vacant house. The previous owner of our house told us he'd heard that the house across the road was owned by a lawyer, it was his weekend home from where he was selling drugs.  After getting caught he was thrown in jail and the house was taken by the bank, and apparently that's whom it still belongs to.


Clyde was allowed to go into the vacant house and look around, carefully exploring both the inside and outside of the property.  He reported back to me that the home has two bedrooms, one bathroom, no electrical outlets, no appliances, and no sinks or toilet.  The kitchen is nothing more than a small counter top with no cabinets.  The living room is also tiny with wires hanging out of the electrical outlets, as if someone ripped out the wiring. The backyard is small and taken up by a tiny in ground swimming pool and hot tub, that may or may not work.  The front yard has an outdoor storage building and garage.  Clyde said since the house seems to have no electricity it probably has no plumbing properly installed either making it a major fixer upper. The bank is offering a special deal on the house for the next 30 days at the low price of $90,000 and after that it goes up to $107,000. We're happy to see they want so much for the house which means it'll sit vacant for a long time giving the neighborhood more privacy.

If you remember we paid and unspecified amount for our house which has four bedrooms, three baths and sits on one acre of land.  The inside is about 2,000 square feet we estimate, with a large kitchen that holds 18-feet of counter space and many cabinets. Outside we have a large, covered bohio area with barbecue that seats about 15-20 people. We have a caretaker's building to the back of the property with another full bathroom, along with another storage building.  There's an outside sink and shower area for cleaning up after a day at the beach.  The large wrap around porch is about ten feet wide and offers plenty of space for outdoor living close to the house. And let's not forget the hundreds of mature fruit trees, plants, shrubs, and flowers that line the fence line of this large, beautiful property.  And some of the vintage furniture even came with the house like a mahogany dining table with eight leather and cherry chairs.  A large hutch filled with handmade ceramic pottery that was made special for the previous owner, a well known name in the country. A large leather and cherry artisan type of bench sits in our entryway along with some other local handicrafts that came with the home too.  So compared to the price of the house across the way, we got a bargain on this place.

Recently I asked our Panamanian Spanish teacher why workers change clothes on the job site, instead of just arriving in work clothes. She didn't really offer an explanation, just said that workers like to look nice and smell nice too.  Panamanians seem to take much pride in how they look, regardless of how poor they are, they put their best food forward when out in public.  Never do we see them looking dirty or disheveled, and they're clothing is always neat, clean and pressed.

Yesterday we took a break and went to see a movie at Westland Mall.  We saw the movie "Gravity" for just $3.00 each, since we get in for half price being retiree's here.  The movie was 3D in English with Spanish subtitles.  We splurged an extra $3.00 for a large bucket of "Carmelo palomitas" or Carmel popcorn with another $2.75 for a large drink.  So for $12 we had a day out at the movies with friends.  There were maybe eight other people in the theater including the three other gringos sitting behind us. So from watching someone change clothes to watching someone in outer space it was just another busy day in Panama.....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Taxing Day In The City.......

Made another trip into the city to visit the tax office on Tuesday.  The office on the seventh floor was indeed open this time, although we had to wait until the lady near the elevator allowed us to go upstairs. Apparently only so many people are allowed up to this office at one time. Once inside the little office we waited in line and when it was his turn Clyde presented his case at the window.  On the way out a man overheard our conversation in English and interjected with his comments in English.  The man said taxes are his specialty and handed Clyde his business card.  On the card the man's title was listed as a "gestor," a new word to us so I did some research.

gestor:  person who carries out dealings with public bodies on behalf of private customers or companies, combining the roles of solicitor and accountant.
GESTOR The job of the gestor is concerned with completing the often complex bureaucratic paperwork and procedures involved in (for example) completing a mortgage deed, filing a tax return, or applying for a range of official permits. Both legal and financial knowledge is required, and a degree such as Law, Economics, Politics or Business is a necessary qualification. Currently the profession is under pressure from lawyers and others who seek to take over many of their traditional functions, but the job of gestor remains a fixture in the world of Spanish business and administration.
Perhaps the coincidence of meeting this gestor is just what we need to solve the tax issue?  After all it was our first lawyer that screwed up the paperwork in the first place when we bought the house.  Then another lawyer that supposedly fixed the problem, but only with one office and left the rest up to us. If you remember from previous blogs our situation is this. 
In the meantime October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so I'm off to have the tatas squished today.  Last year we stumbled upon a lab in the town of La Chorrera that offers mammograms for $25 in October, the usual price being $60. This year when I called for an appointment they said that the radiologist had to be present, because I have implants. Understanding Spanish on the phone is even harder than in person so I gave up and we drove to the lab yesterday. The doctor gave me an appointment for today at noon, so off we'll go once again. While in Panama City the other day we stopped at San Fernando Lab and they had signs all over announcing mammograms for $40 or $45 with implants along with PSA tests for men at $25. They insisted I have an order from a doctor so we couldn't have it done there, just as well since the price was so much higher. Yesterday I noticed my gynecologists truck parked outside of his office in Coronado so I stopped in to say hi and have him write an order for a mammogram, just in case I needed one. And yesterday Clyde walked into a local lab close to home and asked for a PSA test to be done.  For just $16 they drew his blood and he can pick up the results today in the afternoon.

Lots of busy day in retirement that always make me wonder how in the world I ever had time to work.  And so we'll see what other adventures come our way today....along the gringo trail.

Hurry Up.....And Wait......

Ah the frustrations of life in a foreign country where the national anthem is "There's Always Tomorrow."  No not really, but the maƱana syndrome is alive and well here and evident around every corner. Last week for instance we made the ninety minute trek into Panama City and spent 30-minutes stuck in grid-lock traffic before we even crossed the Bridge Of  The Americas.  What that means to those of you not familiar with Panama is that the traffic tie ups began even before we crossed the bridge into the city.  But we made our way to the large, bright blue building to solve an ongoing problem with our property taxes. We found a parking spot and took our lives into our hands crossing the street while four lanes of traffic attempted to run down the gringos all in the pouring rain. Our bags and pockets were searched by the security guard at the door as we made our way inside the building.  We stopped to speak with the lady at the desk in front of the elevator and explained that we needed to go to "piso siete."  She said "no" and explained back to us in Spanish that the seventh floor office was closed today.

You see three weeks ago when we began the process of solving the mess with our taxes we found a clerk in the tax office that spoke English.  He told us what forms we needed to bring back to the office on the 7th floor that was only open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  We asked to speak to him again on Friday and he apologized and said that the hours of that office just changed last week, and now they're only open on Tuesday and Thursday.  He went on to shake his head and roll his eyes  saying that no one knows why they changed the hours of the office on floor seven.  From there we had to go to another office which was already closed for the day, making our trip a total waste of time.  Clyde and I looked at each other laughing and said, "oh well that's Panama, we'll just have to come back next week."

Our Canadians friends celebrate their Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October, but family get-together's are usually held on the Sunday before the holiday. Some friends invited us over to help them celebrate and I wanted to bring along a decadent dessert to share.  I especially thought it would be nice to make something out of pumpkin since it's one of those things associated with the festive, fall holiday. I searched online through countless numbers of recipes before settling on a streusel topped pumpkin cheesecake made with Cool Whip and instant pudding mix.  Since I've never seen canned pumpkin here in Panama I'd substitute "camote" the local version of sweet potato.  Last week at Price Smart, the large warehouse type of store in the city, we did see whole pumpkins for sale at the ridiculous price of $10.  So I had the pumpkin, well sort of.....found a small section of instant pudding and pie filling and even found the cheesecake flavored one that the recipe called for too.  Already had everything else needed except for the Cool Whip which I was sure I'd seen here but never bought. Looked at one store but no Cool Whip, then another, then another and by this time I was frustrated.  Since I'd never used heavy cream to make whipped cream I didn't want to learn at this point and just ditched the whole pie project and made pumpkin cookies.

The cookies came out soft and fluffy, lightly sweetened, and the recipe called for a glaze to be dribbled over them making them look pretty.  Frostings and glazes in the tropical heat don't go too well together so I had to do more research.  I found a recipe for marshmallow frosting that's designed to hold up in hot temperatures which seems to be what the local bakeries use here. But it too used whipping cream so I ditched that idea.  Then I found a glaze that used powdered sugar and corn syrup which is the same one I used last year for the Canadian Thanksgiving so I went with that.  Although this glaze doesn't melt and run off the cookies it still doesn't harden for stacking.  So after making and decorating over 100 cookies I froze them on individual cookie sheets before stacking them in the pan I'd deliver them in. Since I didn't want them around tempting me to eat them I brought most of them to the party and refused to bring any back with us.  And my cookie loving hubby helped by eating many of the left behind cookies the next day so I didn't have to indulge in too many myself.  Perhaps that's why the bakeries here don't have anything rich and delectable because it would melt into a pile of sugar that only the ants would enjoy.

When we first moved to Panama I was impressed to discover they actually have trash pick up here.  For a mere $6 a month they come pick up our garbage twice a week. Usually they come in the middle of the night causing all of the dogs in the neighborhood to bark in unison as the noisy truck drives slowly through the streets.  But lately that's changed and garbage pick up has not been reliable, so again we just need to wait.  Sometimes they come once a week, sometimes every two weeks or maybe even once a month if at all.  Right now we're going on week three that the trash is piled high in front of everyone's house just waiting. Eventually the locals drag it off and throw it out in the woods. Maybe if everyone brought it to the office of the trash collection company and dropped it in front of their door things would change?  Probably not since things are done differently here, and no one understands why.  So we'll just continue to hurry up and wait for other things here in Panama....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...