Saturday, January 28, 2017

Panama - Three Years Later

January 28, 2017

As we are fast approaching our three year anniversary here in Panama I thought it might be a good time to update our friends and family on our adventures, trials and tribulations.  It has been a wild ride with lots of good days and unfortunately lots of bad days.

CASA DE LAS BENGALES:  Our beautiful house is still under construction.  Our first builder turned out to be a con-man not only stealing a large amount of money, but exaggerating his skills. Once he was fired, the house sat dormant for seven months until we found a new and improved builder.  He spent the first month correcting all of the deficiencies and inaccuracies.  Little things like columns the wrong size and in the wrong place, floors and walls out of square, a carport too small to fit an actual car and the teeny tiny thing of having to redesign stairs so that they wouldn't end in the middle of the pool.  We are very happy with the new builder and now that the rains have stopped we hope to rapidly approach completion.  The kicker is that we are spending over two times what we budgeted!
Roof structure going in

So much bigger than we thought

WORK:  We have been lucky enough to find gainful employment in order to help us pay for the builder debacle which is somewhat of a mixed blessing.  It is great to have the ability to continue building our dream home, but now we are both working full-time.  So much for early retirement!  Fortunately we work from home most of the time sitting at our garden table surrounded by the beautiful breezes and lush greenery.

FRIENDS:  After two years in this rental house we have finally found a really great group of friends. Expats tend to come and go for varying reasons and in the relatively short time we have been here we have seen quite a few come and go.  Karen, our first friend here, moved back to the states after only a little more than a year.  Our dear friend Leo, found himself a wonderful wife and swept her back to the states before she could change her mind :).  But now we have met a really great group of folks here in this area that we can laugh with and share our crazy experiences.  Even as much as we love each other's company, sometimes it is nice to socialize.

TRAVEL: One of the main goals of our move to Panama was to have more time and money for travel.  As it has turned out we have less of both!  We finally decided that we need to start living a little more so we have set a goal of some sort of travel (even just within Panama) every couple of months.  We were lucky enough to be able to travel to Paris for Christmas, Peg's 60th birthday and New Years this year.  Our boss let us stay in one his apartments which just happened to be vacant for our two week window - I think God knew how desperate we were to get out of dodge.  We had the time of our lives.  A great city with so much to offer and don't even get me started on the food.  Cuba is on our radar for our next big trip.  We just have to figure out how to make it happen.
Beautiful hike with the Crouch's in Boquete, Panama

Loved seeing our dear friends on our home turf

FAMILY: We were hit with the devastating diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in Peg's mom in August.  We made a trip to see her in September and were rewarded with her upbeat, nothing can stop me attitude as her treatment seemed to be working.  Sadly she passed suddenly, but peacefully on November 7.  We are completely at a loss to be living in a world without her beautiful spirit.  2016 also had the nerve to take my beloved Aunt Georgie and Peg's fun-loving Uncle Billy. Grieving from another country is not for the faint of heart.
Beautiful Mama!

Uncle Billy's 80th Birthday

Glad I was able to see Aunt Georgie

DOG BITE - THE SEQUEL: Well Peg is decidedly very tasty to the canine crowd.  In May, she was getting fit by riding her bike when a pack of dogs chased her and one took a huge chunk out of her ankle.  A month after the stitches were removed we realized there was definitely something wrong.  A trip to the ER in Panama City determined that she had severe necrosis that needed surgery.  After a week long hospital stay and four - yes four - surgeries they let her go home.  The good news... medical care here in Panama is fantastic and the health insurance even better.  It didn't cost us a dime.

Black and Red are not good colors on Peg

Not a happy camper

HOPE: So after a really disappointing 2016 we have started 2017 with a new motto: Live every day with JOY, PASSION AND COMPASSION.  We are excited to be moving into the new house in the March - April time frame at which time we finally be able to welcome all of you as visitors to our beautiful part of the world.

Of course there is a lot more to tell... kids - all good; Zoe - still alive; us - on a diet again etc.  As always would love to hear from all of you! XOXO

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Unretirement and New Adventures

November 1, 2015

Palo Seco, Mariato, Veraguas, Panamá

I am sure some of you have been wondering where we have been over the past months since our last posting.  Well all is well here we just continue to struggle along in internet hell.  We recently increased the speed of our satellite system and seem to be able to communicate a little better, but it is still far from perfect.  So this post will hit some highlights from our life here in beautiful Panamá.

The house building continues at a rapid pace even through the worst part of the rainy season.  Usually by this time of year the rains would be so consistent and heavy that work would have slowed to a crawl, but Panamá is in the middle of a severe drought.  On our side of the peninsula we are getting rain most days, but it starts late in the day so they are able to still get a lot of work done.  It is really fun to watch the progress and we are now able to see the bones of the house and imagine our future in it - if all goes well sometime next June!
View from the living room
Covered terrace and guest room below
While we were happily spending our days continuing to learn and practice our Spanish, playing on the beach, working with the Los Islotes sales team and getting to know our new home country; we couldn't pass up an opportunity to work with Live and Invest Overseas in a bigger capacity.  I have taken on some new bookkeeping responsibilities and Peg has begun some writing.  Welcome to "Un-Retirement".  We are really enjoying our new jobs and the extra money is giving us some breathing room especially while we build the house. Peg is the new face of a weekly e-letter called In Focus Panama It is mainly the retelling of our old stories, but it has been interesting seeing it out there in cyber-world.  We have had several people here say "I just read about you...." So weird.

In trying to get to know our new community we decided to go into the town of Mariato (about ten minutes up the road) for their 14th anniversary fiesta.  We were the only gringas there, but we had a great time with our neighbors.  There was a little parade with "floats" from the neighboring communities all with beautiful women throwing candy to the kids along the way.
These kids performed beautiful dances together 
All of the students were part of the parade
One of the floats 
We had a very fun adventure with our neighbor Iris and her kids hiking through a nearby river to a little waterfall searching for shrimp along the way.  We had been calling her Edie in our horrible English accented Spanish and came to find out that her name is Iris - pronounced basically the same way.  We had the whole family over for a few nights during the Gold Cup soccer tournament cheering on the Panamanian team.  They are very passionate about their soccer.  It has been so fun getting to know them.  We cook together, help them with homework and practice our language skills.

Jonathon age 11 and Irisbel 13
Iris and Abner age 7
Our dear friend Karen who lives on the other side of the peninsula came down with appendicitis and was rushed to the private hospital in Chitre (after stops at the Pedasi clinic and the Las Tablas public hospital) where it burst and she had surgery.  She ended up very sick from the infection and had to be transported to the Johns Hopkins hospital in Panama City where she finally recovered very nicely.  Her experience taught us some valuable lessons  1) Get to Panama City as soon as possible with anything serious 2) The importance of having Panamanian health insurance with our English speaking agent.  Here is a shout to our agent extraordinaire - Ronen Ceasar who helped her get the care she needed and bridge the language barrier when necessary.

We had the fun opportunity to spend a week in the city working in the Los Islotes office and we stayed in the apartment of a friend where we had beautiful views of the bay where the ships come and go from the canal.  In a "Godincidence" it was the very week that my son Andrew was sailing through the canal on his school /work cruise.  I stared out the window and waved hoping that I might see the right ship, but alas he went through at 4 am.
Great view!
When we returned from the city our little Zoe was down with something we attributed to her old age.  A couple of weeks later Calcite came down with the same symptoms!  We took them to a vet in Santiago who turned out to be life saver.  They both had tick fever.  After a couple of shots and a few other medications they are both back to their old selves.  Of course when he looked at Zoe's blood work he basically looked at us and said he doesn't know how she is still alive.  We will just keep loving her for as long as God let's us.
Zoe still loves the beach!
Well I always like to end by saying how much we miss all of you and that we love to hear about what is going on in your lives.  I don't know what I would do without Facebook.  Hopefully the next blog won't be five months down the road, but it is still Panama so you never know.

Love to all!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Casa de las Bengales

June 22, 2015 from Palo Seco, Mariato, Veraguas, Panamá

Hello to old friends and a few new ones.  I can't believe it has been three months since my last blog.  I guess since we have settled into our new life here in Panama it doesn't feel like I have much to share.  As I sit here thinking about the past few months there are a few things that stand out.

Our Trip to Texas
I planned a trip to Texas over spring break so that I could spend some much needed time with my kids.  The plan was to spend a few days in McKinney with Alex and Jacob and then move onto Austin to see Andrew and Amanda.  Our dear friends the Scheppners could not bear the fact that Peg would be sitting alone here in Panama so they pooled their family resources (thank you Caitlin and Beth Ann) and got us a ticket for her too.  It was a fantastic surprise and made the trip so much better. We had a fabulous visit with Alex and Jacob and our new grand-dog Captain filled with fun dinners at home, a brewery tour, walks in the park, and several trips to the new pie place in downtown McKinney - DELICIOUS.  We then headed to Austin to spend time with the kids and friends.  Unfortunately Andrew decided that the beach with his college friends was more exciting than his mother so I didn't get to see him, but the rest of the trip was a blast.  Peg decided that she could not get along for one more day in Panama without her bicycle. So we endeavored to pack up her mountain bike from the storage unit and bring it back with us.  What a fiasco!  We are now calling it the money pit.  Not to mention that we did not factor in how hard it was going to be to get it from Austin to Dallas and then to the airport.  A big thank you goes out to Cherie, Randy and Cindy Rumney and to Jacob - the best son-in-law on the planet who took it all in stride.
Franconia Brewery Tour with Jacob and Alex

Spoiling the grand-dog with his first ice cream - He loved it.

Thanks Schep, Cheri, Beth Ann and Caitlyn!

The Starting of our Casa de las Bengales
We finally have started our new home which we have dubbed the House of the Sparklers.  Peg's grandmother used to proclaim the day a "Sparkler" when you looked out over the ocean and could see all of the sunlight sparkling off the water.  So we have named the house Casa de las Bengales in her memory.  Our builder is progressing nicely and the footings and foundation are underway.  We visit the sight once a week to see the progress and are very excited to see it taking shape.  He has a great crew there every day and they are making great headway even with the rainy season in full swing. They work long days when the weather is good and have been able to put their forty hours in without problem.
Pouring concrete
Portable concrete mixer
A bustle of activity at Casa de las Bengalis

New Neighbors
Our neighbors here in Palo Seco are a Panamanian family with three kids and no English.  We have really enjoyed getting to know them and getting the much needed Spanish practice.  We have so much fun watching the kids play in the yard. Peg has designated the middle boy her novio (boyfriend) and has taken to buying them different toys when we go shopping.  The latest was a wrist rocket airplane which had poor Edie (mom) moving the ladder from one place to the next to rescue the airplane from the various trees and roofs.  We have made them brownies and they have made us some delicious Panamanian treats.  .
Irisbel practicing her English on our Ipad
Jonathon getting pipas

One year anniversary
We celebrated our one year anniversary of moving to Panama with the tasks of renewing... health insurance, truck registration and driver's licenses.  It turns out that you have to renew your truck registration at the office where it was originally registered.  Since we lived in Pedasi at the time of our purchase that is where it is registered.  The steps involve getting a revisado inspection with all of the appropriate paperwork and then going to the Corrigiemento office in Pedasi.  In our usual Panamanian way it took three trips, but we got it done.  Then we find out that in order to renew my driver's license I need to update the truck registration with my permanent resident cedula number which means... another trip to Pedasi.  Well at least we got to visit with our friend Karen!

Live and Invest in Panama Conference
Lief Simon asked us to be a part of the Live and Invest in Panama Conference in April.  We worked the Los Islotes sales booth and gave a presentation on expat life here in Panama.  We met a lot of great people and once I got over my nervousness of speaking to a large group we had a great time.  Kathleen even wrote an article on us so we are now sort of famous :).  Most of you reading this know the story, but you can read the article here:

To Internet or not To Internet
The internet down here in Palo Seco has become the bane of my existence.  In our time here we have learned what we "like" versus what we "need".  This will be different for everyone.  I need hot water in the shower - I don't care how hot it is outside - but not in the kitchen; we like consistent water and electricity, but are able to make due when we don't have it without much difficulty; we need a washing machine, but not a dryer; and finally WE NEED INTERNET.  We use the internet for everything; email, to talk to people back home, entertainment, news, to study Spanish, our work..etc.  The Claro wifi that we had been using since we moved here depends on the cell signal.  We were able to get our booster to work on the correct frequency to drive the internet - thanks to a great help line at Wilson.  But the signal is still too unpredictable to work consistently.  So we had a satellite system installed.  What a disappointment.  The satellite is more consistent, but it is so slow we feel like we are back on a dial up system from a hundred years ago.  Our patience is tested daily, but we are trying to keep our spirits up and forge ahead.  I should note that we could pay a huge monthly fee to the satellite company for faster service, but our budget doesn't allow for that now. We really miss being able to Skype call our friends back home.  So if you haven't heard from us that is why.
This is what our water looks like some days.

Not Really Retired
The main reason that I have not made the time to update the blog is that we are now working girls.  Los Islotes has actually added us to their sales team.  We spend time every day reaching out to prospective buyers that have shown an interest and we give tours whenever needed.  I also have taken on the job of the bookkeeping for the project.  So between the two we seem to spend time working every day.  I must admit it is nice to have something productive to do.

I know there is so much more that has happened in the last three months, but these are the highlights.  We spend our days enjoying this beautiful country, continuing to learn Spanish, and living our new life Panamanian Style.  We have been so blessed and feel so fortunate to be living this adventure.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Goodbye Santa Fe, Hello Palo Seco

March 23, 2015

February was a crazy month filled with good and not so good adventures.  The end of January marked the end of our Santa Fe adventure, but not the end of some great new friendships forged there.  It was really hard to say hasta luego to our friends, Leo, Kim and Denny, Glorys and Carl and our favorite little man Colby!
Leo, Anita and Carl at Anita's going away party
Kim and Glorys
Great Santa Fe friends
Our last weeks in Santa Fe were filled with a trip to our friends Bill and Mitzi's orchard to collect bags of ruby red grapefruit and mulberries; a great day trip up to Denny and Don's property with beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes; and a day wandering the annual Santa Fe Feria.

Denny and Peg - two peas in the same pod
The move was complicated by an emergency trip to CA to visit my dad after emergency brain surgery - he is doing much better. When we realized I needed to go help with my dad's recovery we pushed up the move.  We hastily packed up and made the three trips down to the new house and tried to get settled. Sorry to Leo who was pretty upset to find out we took off without a good-bye. There was cell service at the road in the front of the house so we had purchased a signal booster thinking that would be enough to get the signal in the house.  After a couple of hours with me on the roof and Peg monitoring signal strength we were able to get the phones working, but no luck with the internet.  We also discovered that the refrigerator was way too small and had been used for fish (read dreadfully smelly) and the gas stove had a burner that leaked gas and would stay lit when off.  So I left poor Peg with no internet, very intermittent cell service, and the job of purchasing and installing new appliances.  With the help of Glorys she handled everything like a champ.

This will fit our two weeks worth of groceries
New stove working great thanks to some Peg problem solving
Great family time caring for my dad.
By the time I returned from the states Peg was dying to get out and about in our new neck of the woods.  We are now living about 45 minutes from Los Islotes so that we are all ready to get started building.  We spent a couple of days with our future LI neighbors Barry and Melissa checking out all of the local beaches.  There are quite a few to choose from, but our favorite is the Los Islotes swim beach.  Perfect for swimming laps while the dogs run free.  We are very excited to be able to start enjoying our new home.

Sunset at Puerte Duarte - Beautiful
Summer here and everything is in bloom

The architect finally received the soil test results and is working on getting the plans finalized.  We should have the completed plans this week and Mike our builder is ready to get started as soon as we have them.  He was very pleased with the preliminary drawings we received.

Coming soon.... fun trip to Texas to see kids and friends.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

January 12, 2015

I want to begin by saying thank you to everyone who sent us a Christmas Card.  We received quite a few and loved every one of them.  We did hear that some were returned as un-deliverable for some crazy reason; all I can say is try again!  We are really learning to take things in stride.

One would think that as a retired person with nothing to do I would have plenty of time to write a silly little blog, so I don't know what to say except that I am the busiest retired person I know :).  We made it through the holidays and have a few more adventures under our belt.  This is going to be a long one.

We finally made it back down to the Pedasi area to visit our friend Karen.  We had yet to see her new digs and we wanted to see our Spanish teacher Dania, and our friends Robert and Lolita who had just returned from a long trip to the US.  Karen has a great apartment that sits on the beach and overlooks the ocean in a quiet town just outside Playa Venao.  We spent one morning at the nearby La Playita Resort a great place with red macaws, monkeys, emus, and giant iguanas roaming about and a beautiful beach with pristine water.  We soaked up the sun and salt air and even shared a lunch with a local who was determined to share his fried chicken with us!  We then had lunch with Robert and Lolita and took a trip to their new house which is nearly completed.  They are behind schedule mainly due to not being able to get their electricity hooked up, a common problem in these parts, but they are making great progress and should be able to move in soon.  It was a great couple of days.
Red macaws at La Playita
Lots of baby monkeys 
Beautiful private beach with no people 
A friendly emu looking for a handout 
Janet organized another outing to a great spot on the river for a group of us including our new neighbors Kim and Denny for Denny's big birthday.  We swam and relaxed and had a great day concluded with a spur of the moment feast supplied by Janet and Julie of delicious soup, salad and of course birthday cake.  We were joined by some new friends one of which is a hair stylist in Aspen, CO and she volunteered to do haircuts the next day which we took her up on of course.  It turned into a fun girl's day with a few of us sitting around waiting our turn and getting to know one another better with a glass of wine in hand.  Who knew getting your hair cut could be so fun?
A perfect birthday swim for all.  That is Peg swimming freestyle with Calcite by her side.
Calcite and Peg loved it 
Impromptu birthday dinner - Peg, Janet, Kim, Denny, Julie and Leo 
Zoe makes herself at home wherever she wants!  She made her own nest using their Christmas tree skirt.
New Do's for Peg, April and Janet... thanks Rae
We spent Christmas Day cooking, talking to family on the phone, missing our friends back in the states and hoping you were all having a wonderful time celebrating the birth of our Savior.  We got together with a group of friends to share another feast and had a wonderful time.  It is fun being with new people with new stories and yummy food.
Christmas Feast.  This was at Kim and Denny's house which is in our backyard.  There are two houses on our lot.
What comes between Christmas and New Year's every year you ask?  Peg's birthday!  Peg's favorite thing is to spend her birthday doing some new outdoor adventure and since it is now summer here in Panama that made it really easy.  We hired a local guide (read Spanish speaking) to take us to the Alto de Piedra Falls. This hike is up in the cloud forest so it was pretty rainy and wet still, but boy was it beautiful.  We also did pretty well with our Spanish which was a nice reward after seven months of practicing.  It is a long slow battle we are determined to win eventually.  It was a really good day if I do say so myself.
Thank you Denny for the birthday Machete and sharpening lesson, Peg is putting quite the edge in that Machete.
Ariel our guide for the day
Waterfall number one!
Walls of green surround us
They don't call it a cloud forest for nothing
Waterfall number two much more majestic than this shows, about 50 feet tall
The day after Peg's birthday our friends Cole and Katelin Rador (aka Frey) came into town for a visit. Katelin is an ex-student of Peg's a really, really, really long time ago (she is almost 30) and newly married to Cole.  They spent one day in Panama City seeing the sights and then took the bus to Santiago where we picked them up.  We spent the first day touring Santa Fe and getting caught up on life's happenings.  The next day we drove down to Playa Uverito where we were staying for two nights in a little B&B on the beach.  This is just outside Las Tablas which is known as one of the biggest party cities in Panama.... think Time Square South American style.  So we spent New Year's Eve day on the beach, had dinner at the B&B and then headed into town for the festivities.  We arrived in the town square at about 9:00 pm to find it almost deserted.  It turns out the entire city goes to mass in the town church before the celebration.  As midnight approached we found a good spot and waited for a count down which never came.  All of sudden these two huge floats come into the square, light up like a jumbo tron, music blares and then..... we were under attack!  Men on both sides of us start lighting fire works and fire crackers and when I say fire crackers I mean the whole brick at a time gets thrown into the street one after another without stopping for 30 minutes - not exaggerating!  People were running back out of the flames and plugging their ears.  We carefully watched each other and extinguished embers landing on our hair and clothes.  The smoke got so bad that the pretty girls on the floats were covering their faces with handkerchiefs.  Something tells me they have been here before.  It was crazy!  Once the explosions and mushroom clouds stopped, the floats, dancers and musicians made their way around the square.  It was so fun and very memorable.
Posada Inn at Playa Uverito with Cole and Katelin
Delicious paella for dinner!  YUM
Beautiful church for New Year's Eve mass
Have box wine will travel!
Let the festivities begin! That is Karen in the middle.
We could feel the heat from the wall of fire! 
Good thing Cole is a fire fighter!  We could have needed him - that's not confetti!  
I should have been covering my ears - I still can't hear
Were we too close...... NAH  Peg kept her ears covered for 30 minutes!
I'm not sure what to say about this
The floats were beautiful 

A great way to start another year!
On New's Day we hired a boat captain to take us to Isla Iguana for a day of snorkeling and laying in the sun.  When we arrived at Playa Arenal to pick up the boat we looked at the substantial surf and evaluated if this was a good idea.  Katelin came running back to the car saying "this is gonna be so much fun!" Karen on the other hand said NO WAY, I'm not going out there, even though she had taken Dramamine 30 minutes earlier.  She said later as she watched the boat going up a wave and then ducking out of sight that she had made the right decision.  So without Karen we headed out into the pounding surf for the 30 minute boat ride out to the island.  We were flying through the air with the greatest of ease thanks to our magnificent captain.  We had a great day on the island and although the surf looked milder for the return trip, it was trickier than on the way out.  Our captain had to time his driving with the in coming tide waves speeding up and slowing down to perfection so that we weren't swamped.  It was like watching a beautiful ballet dancer.  I just kept thinking if you go overboard just hold onto your glasses!

A beautiful beach!  That is the kind of boat we were on.
Isla Iguana
Katelin thinking......To snorkel or not to snorkel, that is the question.... NOT
We finished off our fantastic visit with a trip out to Los Islotes so we could show them where our house will eventually be built.  It was such a great few days with a great couple who know how to have fun, relax, site-see and cook!  Can't wait for our next visitors!

Hopefully next blog we will have some house news... stay tuned.