We are back in the US. I have things in mind to write about, but with the whole family here including three young grandchildren, there is minimal quiet time. You can credit this writing with being on the west coast with the tree hour time change, and today I am up before the rest of the family. (For 10 minutes as it turned out, so excuse any disjointedness in the rest of the post)

The trip here is always long but usually uneventful. We started with the long bus ride on Monday. The buses are big and comfortable though, and stop in Santiago so you can stretch your legs and get something to eat. There are usually movies on the bus, usually action adventures movies, but this ride was quiet which is fine too.

We stayed at the Costa Inn in Panama City, our usual place. It’s an older hotel with occasional unusual features, like the room with two bathrooms, but it’s always clean and the people are nice. There is also a very good 24 hour restaurant on site. At $38, with breakfast and an airport shuttle it’s a great deal. But, we had to catch the 5am shuttle to make our flight so it was a short night and too early for breakfast.

We flew Delta and I had downloaded their app on my tablet. Technology does some cool things these days. I checked in with the app and tracked the status of the flight. It even sent me a message when my luggage was loaded on the plane, and unloaded at baggage claim. How cool is that.

I have flown on Delta the last few times because they had a good price, good travel times, and I really like the free movies and electric outlets for your devices. With a 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 flight to San Francisco, the movies really help pass the time more pleasantly.

An aside, we qualify for the jubilado (retired people) 25% discount on airline tickets which is a significant savings. You have to go to the airline’s office though, or use a travel agent. Our agent, Andrea Cook, makes the whole ticket buying process super easy.

So, we made it to SFO without incident, hopped on the Airport Express to Santa Rosa where my daughter and grandson picked us up. Now my other daughter has arrived with her husband and little girl, so the whole family is together. Thanksgiving was yesterday at the in-laws. What a beautiful time with the whole family here! It is enough to totally melt a Grandma.

Now though, people are getting dressed and ready for this morning’s adventure, an adventure outing to the children’s museum. It’s going to be fun. Hasta lluego.

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Suicide Shower

That sounds scary! These water heaters are actually very common in this part of the world, and if you can get past the idea of electric wires in (actually above) the shower they work quite well.

Hot water isn’t standard in Panama. There are many people who never had a warm shower in their lives. I’ve seen neighbors bathing the children outside with the garden hose. Of course this is the tropics and cold water isn’t especially cold. To me it feels like a swim on a hot day, maybe a second to get used to it and then it’s refreshing and really nice.

We have an on demand gas water heater on an outside wall with lines to the shower and kitchen. When I moved in a neighbor pointed it out as something really special. It’s temperamental though. You need to turn on the hot water and when it’s hot, then turn on the cold and hope you get something pleasantly warm for a minute before it turns totally cold. Repeat the process as needed. I quickly decided this was more trouble than it’s worth and just took cold showers.

The water heater stopped working. It’s been so long I don’t even remember when. New batteries didn’t help, and we didn’t care enough to try anything else.

Now though it’s the height of rainy season, and we’ve had a few very chilly days with little to no sun, and temperatures down to 70 at night. Ok, I can hear most of you laughing and rolling your eyes, but we are acclimated to heat and happy in the 80’s. This is why we don’t live in the mountains. We like it warm.

A long time ago we bought a suicide shower to help a friend. She ended up fixing the one she had so she didn’t need it. They are inexpensive enough that it wasn’t worth taking back to the store, so it’s been in storage. Then it dawned on us. If we don’t want cold showers on chilly days, we could get it out and install it!

These heaters draw quite a bit of power so always use a heavy duty wire. You can see the circles on the unit, black for hot, white for cold, and half and half for warm. Black tends to pop the circuit breaker, but warm with a slower water flow (less to heat) produces a very nice, comfortably warm shower. I don’t mind a cold shower at all but even I will admit it’s very pleasant to have warm water sometimes.

So, if you find one of these in a shower, don’t freak out. It won’t electrocute you. It will just give you some nice warm water.

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Nothing Going On

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been here on the blog. There just hasn’t been much to talk about. I’m finally recovering from that dang cold that hung on forever. The band has been keeping me busy between gigs, practice, and learning new songs. There is just way too much interesting music out there, and we always find more songs than we can possibly learn!

Life in Panama is going on as usual. After five years everything is just normal life, and it’s easy to forget that to others it’s all new and interesting. We woke up today to no power and very little water. The power came back shortly, but now it’s out again. The power is usually quite reliable so this is unusual. Oh! It’s on again, just a short outage, never mind.

The water is less reliable. It may be inconvenient but it’s not that big a deal. We have stored water on hand, and it’s usually out for a few hours or maybe half a day. It’s been out longer only a couple times but they sent a water truck around to fill any container you gave them. Today was a short outage, and if you want more water there is plenty pouring off the roof at the moment.

We are in the rainiest of the rainy season right now. The rain should taper off over the next month until it stops entirely in mid/late December. I know it’s a hassle for people out and about, but I love the rain. Morning are usually clear and beautiful, a good time to be out if there are things to do. Then, come home in the afternoon, enjoy the rain when it comes, and enjoy the cool air. I love sitting on the terrace and looking at the yard when everything is so lush and green.

Oh yes, earthquake! We were driving home from a gig last night and didn’t feel it, but many others did. It was a 6.5 in central Costa Rica. We have felt quite a few others though. It’s a very odd feeling to have the ground under you shaking and moving, and a good reminder that we are only small beings on this massive and powerful earth.

Otherwise… we still have birds, bugs, lizards, and other wildlife, often in the house. There was a very interesting bug in the shower the other day, like a large, long legged spider with a beetle body, but only six legs so not a spider. I should have taken a picture but I was busy trying to trap him while Joel stood on the drain where he had seen the bug escape before. I managed to get it outside where it scurried off PDQ.

The rain seems to be tapering off, but the thunder is still strong enough to set off a car alarm nearby. I have a good size metal baking pan that I use as a birdbath. It was empty when the rain started and now it’s overflowing, and I’ve seen it rain way more than this at other times. But, this is the tropics where the air is warm, and the water that falls from the sky is also warm so life goes on through it all.

Life in Panama… it’s a pretty chill life if you want it to be. Nobody cares if you haven’t mowed your yard in a month, or if your dog barks, or if you are having band practice in your house for four hours, or if your laundry has been hanging in the carport for days. Enjoy life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff. Life is good.

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This and That

There is nothing pressing on my mind to write about, but of course that doesn’t mean I won’t rattle on about something. Right now, it’s just daily life, mostly music and coughing. A cold has made its way though the band until it finally got to me, and the cough hangs on and on and makes it hard to sleep.

The music, however, is going really well. The more I play the more comfortable I am. The audience and employers alike have been very positive and enthusiastic. There is a Panamanian bass (and guitar and piano) player who is beyond amazing. The other night he went out of his way to compliment me. That meant a whole lot, coming from him especially. I see a trend which I really like. The musicians,  both gringo and Panamanian are coming together, supporting and helping each other, and becoming friends. It’s a nice feeling of community.

We have outgrown our car though. The Hyundai Atos that we like so much will be on the market soon. With both of us taking equipment it’s packed like a 3-D jigsaw! If any of you are interested in a well behaved, inexpensive around town car ask me for details.

Otherwise.. my daughter and her city of Santa Rosa are starting to recover from the fires. She is part of the effort of finding housing for displaced people and says it is very frustrating. There are something like 6000 homes destroyed, but no place to house all these people. It’s going to be a long hard road to recovery and the city hopes it doesn’t lose many of its young working families, people vital to the culture and functioning of the city.

Here in Panama we are in the height of rainy season. Some days are hot and sunny, but by afternoon there are usually clouds moving in followed by rain. Do your laundry and errands in the morning! There are some days with no or very little rain and others, like yesterday, where it felt like the sky had opened up. Those big downpours don’t last long though, and then settle in to a steady rain through the evening.

So, just life, chores and errands, hanging out, playing music while it rains, going to the gate to find a pot of flowers from the neighbor, petting the dog who thinks she must be no more than six feet away from me at all times, and waiting for the latest bananas to ripen. Mi vida difícil en Panamá.

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California, a Week of Fire

It’s been exactly a week since my daughter and her family fled Santa Rosa in the early hours of the morning as the fires rushed into the city. I know there are disasters in many other places but this is my daughter’s city, my US address, and a city I’m familiar with. This has hit too close to home.

My daughter and family came back home last night. Her house is fine, as is the house of her in laws. There are still fires burning though and areas are still under evacuation. She said the air isn’t too bad because the winds weren’t blowing the smoke at them, but they could see the flames in the hills.

Many weren’t so lucky. According to this article, 40 people lost their lives. Hundreds are still missing and more may be found dead. 217,556 acres have burned and 5700 homes and businesses have been destroyed. 100,000 people have been evacuated and many won’t have homes to return to.

But, in all this trauma and destruction, thousands have come forward to help. There are more than 10,000 firefighters and police in the area from all over, and national guard, Red Cross, FEMA, and many other personnel. My daughter said it looks like an air show with all the planes and helicopters overhead fighting the fires. Individuals are also helping with an outpouring of donations, food, shelter, services, and tons of care and moral support. Even I, because I have a Santa Rosa address, I have received emails from Schwab and other banks offering support and any services they can offer to help get through this difficult time.

some random photos…

There is a FEMA center where people can go to one place for help with everything – housing, insurance, FEMA assistance, replacing vital documents, drivers licenses, etc. There is an article here. My daughter, who usually works for the county, will be there helping with housing.

Its a daunting task to rebuild all those structures and lives, and to recover from the stress and trauma. There were people who literally ran for their lives in the middle of the night with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. I thought the fire chief was going to break down in a town meeting when he described putting every resource on the fire and being unable to stop its progress. But, with the amount of help and support being offered, I think in time people will be able to move forward and rebuild their lives. I certainly hope so.

I try not to pay much attention to what goes on in the White House. It’s better for my blood pressure that way, but has the president even mentioned the California fires, let alone made plans to visit? At least congress is sending money which is enormously helpful.

I am very glad to be sitting in my block house with a metal roof. I’ve seen many brush fires here but I’ve never seen a burned house.

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A Cane Toad Can Kill Your Dog

My neighbors found their dog dead one morning. At first they thought some bad person had poisoned him. But, why would someone poison this scruffy but friendly dog who roams the neighborhood? Robbers have been known to poison guard dogs, but kill a free roaming dog in the middle of the night to rob a house full of sleeping adults and children? It just didn’t make sense. Then, I got to thinking….

We have cane toads here. I have seen a number of them in the streets who had unfortunate encounters with cars. I even had a live one on my terrace one night (before we had our dog). My neighbors said their dog had been foaming at the mouth, like a mouthful of soap. This is one of the symptoms of cane toad toxicity, along with mouth pain, seizures, and death.

Bastard (it could be basta – enough, but it sure sounds like bastard), a typical dog, likes to hunt anything that moves. It is quite possible that he thought catching a cane toad one night was a good fun.

I found this picture on line and though I haven’t carefully inspected the toads I’ve seen here, I’d say they look like this. They are fairly large and would probably cover most of your hand if you held one (but don’t!) They tend to have a bumpy, chubby appearance.

I’m going to miss Bastard. He would run squealing to greet me, and he often sat in the street at night barking at nothing. Well maybe I won’t miss that exactly, but he was part of the fabric of the neighborhood and his death has left a bit of a hole in it.


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Five Years in Panama

Tuesday, Oct 10, five years ago was when I arrived in Panama intending to make it my new home. Joel followed in November after wrapping things up in Florida.

I came with few expectations. I figured there would be problems with the language barrier (there were). I knew there were comfortable homes and stores that sold pretty much anything I would need so I wasn’t worried about setting up my new life. The people we had met on visits had been nice so I wasn’t worried about getting along. I figured I’d just move forward and just let things unfold.

I never expected it would be this good though. I never expected to feel happier and more comfortable here than I ever did in my native country. How could that be? Why is that?

  • People accept and respect you as you are. Nobody cares about your religion, politics, net worth, appearance, relationship status, how you spend your time, or any of the things we judge people by in the US.
  • Of course no place is 100% safe but we worry much less about our safety and property than we did anywhere in the US.
  • There are no hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, or other weather disasters. After living in tornado alley and hurricane prone Florida, it’s a great relief to be here.
  • It’s warm. I do not like to be cold. I am very happy at 80+ degrees in shorts and t-shirt.
  • It’s affordable. It’s a relief and peace of mind to have enough for everything you need and most everything you want.
  • As one of the uninsured for most of my life, it’s a huge relief to have competent and affordable health care available.
  • We live with happy people. Greetings are genuine and smiles light up like sunshine. People don’t get upset  and life unfolds at a relaxed pace. So, the water isn’t on today, or there are weeds in the yard, or potholes, or the neighbor is blasting music. The strongest reaction is probably an eye roll. It can feel inefficient and messy at times but I’ve come to love it.
  • Panama is a gorgeous country with mountains, beaches, and everything in between. There is always a new bird, bug, fruit, story, recipe, remedy, or cultural belief to learn about so it’s endlessly interesting.

Of course there are downsides. No place is all rainbows and unicorns or the paradise some publications promise it will be. You have to be prepared for many things being quite different, and sometimes confusing and frustrating. But if you can just go with it, it can be a great experience. It’s one of those things you have to experience to understand fully but now that I understand, I definitely plan to stay.

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California Wildfires, Continued

The devastation of the fires is just incredible. I’ve been following news and updates from here while my daughter concentrates on taking care of herself and her family. They are fine at the moment, back at home, and even have power but they are packed and ready to go at a moments notice. The fire above them seems to have burned down and become calmer, but there is a more active fire below them prompting new evacuations, and the wind is expected to start blowing hard again today. The in laws are nearby, also fine though they don’t have power, and they are also packed and ready to go. It’s watch and wait for now.

There are multiple fires in the area. The Tubbs fire is the one that swept through Santa Rosa. The area had a considerable amount of rain in the recent past so the grasses and plants really grew. Then the rain stopped, everything dried out, and the winds starting blowing, some at near hurricane strength in the mountains. It’s a perfect recipe for fire disaster.

This from the local newspaper. Bennett Valley is just below my daughter.

I watched a live presentation last night by local officials. There is an incredible amount of help pouring in – firefighters and equipment from all over the state, gas and power people and equipment, hundreds of police and national guard, Red Cross, telephone services, medical help, and volunteers. Most are working around the clock. They pledged to stay as long as necessary to help people recover. Financial help is also coming, and insurance adjusters and FEMA are on site.

My heart went out to the fire chief though. He was almost in tears when he told about Sunday night. They had every available resource on the Tubbs fire but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Soon their job turned to banging on doors and getting people out, saving lives over property.

Hopefully the winds today won’t push fires into new areas to do more damage, and hopefully this crisis will be over soon. People look exhausted. Then comes the long process of recovery and rebuilding.

Meanwhile, here in Panama, the country is beside itself with excitement. The soccer team is going to the World Cup! Soccer is a really big deal here, and it’s such a big accomplishment that the president has declared today a holiday for everyone.

I realized last night that yesterday was my five year anniversary of living in Panama. I was too focused on other things to even think about it at the moment. I’ll have to gather some thoughts and write something later.

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California Wildfires

My older daughter lives in Santa Rosa, California. She was awakened in the early hours of Monday morning to learn that large parts of the city were being evacuated because fires were rushing into the city. Conditions were very dry and there were high winds, 30 mph gusting to 50 and even 70 in the mountains! There was no stopping the fires under these conditions and soon 20,000 acres, and more, were on fire, and this was only one of a number of fires in Northern California.

It is now Tuesday morning and it’s hard to find updated information. My daughter (with husband, two little kids, and a cat) first went to a friend’s house in a nearby town and later, when her in laws decided to evacuate also, they all went to her aunt’s house south of San Francisco so they are all safe. Her house is just outside the latest evacuation zone maps that I can find, and the in laws are right on the border so I think chances are good that their homes will be ok but it’s too soon to say for sure. As of last night fires were 0% contained and though the winds had decreased, they were still blowing.

This is my daughter and her sister on her wedding day.

This is Paradise Winery now, totally destroyed. The wedding photo was taken on the gravel walkway you can see on the left. (Above photo is from the winery’s Facebook page)

I have seen entirely too many photos like this of various houses and buildings on fire, and the whole area looking like an inferno. I saw a live broadcast from the Home Depot parking lot yesterday and the decorative trees  in the parking lot were going up like torches, one by one,  and smoke and flames were billowing from th buildings just beyond.

This is Fountaingrove, a lovely area on a hill with beautiful vistas and high dollar  homes, and it’s completely destroyed. These are affluent people who certainly have insurance and the means to rebuild, but can you imagine having no home today? Where would you go? How would you start to rebuild your life? Now imagine being a homeless person, and there are many in Santa Rosa. I’ve seen them in tents, and those with cars and RV’s fill the parking lot to overflowing every night where my daughter works in her government job. Oh, and BTW who knows the condition of her workplace. A mobile home park two blocks away burned to the ground.

I know disasters happen all over the world, often with huge losses to lives and property, and often to people who have no means to rebuild. But, this is my daughter, and a home and city I’ve visited many times. I know whatever happens they will come through but I hate to think of the trauma, and many of her friends and coworkers who have lost everything.

Today I am thankful to be in a Panamanian block house with a metal roof where pretty much nothing happens. But, my mind is mostly elsewhere at the moment.


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Panama is cold and wet, very very wet

October and November are the height of rainy season, and it has been raining! Tropical storm Nate has been moving through the Caribbean and causing a lot of the rain. I think it was Tuesday, it started in the early afternoon and rained hard through the evening and night. Wednesday was more rain, and Thursday was very cool with a light fog/drizzle rain off and in. This morning it’s cool again, not actively raining but overcast and dark.

David, una Cuidad para la Modernidad posted a video in their Facebook page of a river between David and the Costa Rica border. Usually it’s about 20 feet below the bridge but in the video it was almost to the bridge and large, full size trees had only their tops showing. Facebook Video.  If the link works you can take a look. This river flooded a few years ago and took out the west bound bridge and I was told that all happened in a matter of a few hours.

There is also flooding in Puerto Armuelles. Maybe This Link works so you can see that video.

Costa Rica is also flooding. There is an article HERE. It says three people have died, and the crocodiles near Jaco are wandering about because of the flooding in their river.

This was our thermometer yesterday morning and it only went up a few degrees all day.

Today it’s almost as cool. I know many of you are shaking your heads but for us, this is really cool. After living in Florida for 17 years and (sea level) Panama for 5, we are acclimated to and comfortable with temperatures in the 80’s.

We have a river behind our neighborhood. We are so high it couldn’t reach us up here, and there is no building allowed done there for good reason. There is a family of Indians squatting down there though and their closeness to the river concerns me.

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