Panama Hats

A Panama Hat is a straw brimmed hat made from fibers of the toquilla palm. It’s great for the tropics because it’s light weight, breathable, and protects from the sun.

But, the Panama hat is actually made in Ecuador!  Panama was (and is) a hub of travel, transportation, and commerce. The enterprising Ecuadorians realized that they could sell a lot more hats in Panama, and when the hats were carried far and wide by people who had bought them in Panama, they became known as Panama Hats.

An Ecuadorian Panama hat is an art form that is very labor intensive, taking even eight months to make, and the best ones can cost thousands of dollars.

Panama also has straw hats that I think are even more beautiful. They aren’t as finely woven but they have interesting patterns. They are commonly worn by working people, usually in more rural areas.

Also, since these hats are part of the traditional Panamanian clothing, you will see them in parades and events that also feature women in polleras, the gorgeous traditional dresses and accessories of the beautiful Panamanian women.

Now you know. The next time you see a “Panama Hat”, you’ll know if it comes from Ecuador or Panama.

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An immigrant refugee story

The immigration issue has been a big deal, especially lately. On one side, we can’t take care of the whole world when we have our own people to care for. On the other, we have enough resources to care for those who are suffering and often in fear for their lives, so we should. I have no answers. But, I was inspired by this story about a Syrian refugee who opened a falafel shop that was voted “the nicest place in America”. You can see the video by clicking on the link, or find it in the article.

The whole article is HERE  When you see this one family who needed help and support when they arrived, but now has gone on to be such a positive force in their adopted community, it makes you think.

Then, I happened across this concept, the Human Library. The idea is that if you meet face to face with someone and see them as a real person, you will have a much better understanding of what it means to be in their situation. The library presents a group of people – refugees, abuse survivors, gay or transgendered people, anyone who is not “mainstream” and participants can ask them anything and get candid answers. Again, the idea is that we are much more able to relate to individual people instead of a crowd of “them”.

The Human Library seems to be mostly in Europe and the Mid East at this point, though I noticed there is an event in Panama City next month. That’s very expensive ($250) so maybe out of the price range of those who need it most? But hopefully it’s a concept that will grow and reach more and more people.

I’m sure my experiences have colored my thinking. As a home health nurse I was in everybody’s homes from the richest to the poorest, and I worked with people of all colors and situations. Now, in Panama, in this “foreign” country I find people just like us. Of course there are differences but basically they want to be happy and they want their family and friends to be happy, to be safe, and to have what they need. Is it US vs THEM? Or is the whole world US? like I said there are issues far beyone my ability to tackle, but I’d rather see less division and more compassion.

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Expat? Immigrant? Refugee?

I never gave the terminology much thought until a friend send me this article here. “Expat” (short for expatriate) seems to be the most commonly used term I have heard. There are Facebook groups like Expats in Panama and websites like and the term is commonly used in conversation and seems to apply to any foreigners, most of whom intend to make the move permanent.

But according to the article an expat is someone who lives in another country temporarily and plans to return to their home county at some point. Often, in the past, they were relocated for work and it wasn’t  always their choice. Now the term expats implies more wealthy and mobile people who have the option to live in another country if they wish.

Someone who plans to stay in the other country indefinitely and make it their permanent home is an immigrant. That would be me. People move to other countries for various reasons, economics, greater opportunities, different lifestyle, etc. But to qualify as an immigrant according to the defininitions presented, the move is permanent.

Then there are refugees and asylum seekers. We have seen plenty of them recently in the Mid East, and now the huge caravan making their way north into Mexico. Many people feel they have no economic opportunities to support themselves and their families, and other fear for their very survival. We can joke that we are refugees escaping things we don’t like in our home country but it’s nothing like people leaving everything they have known, often to make dangerous and difficult journeys into the unknown just to survive.

Words don’t change your life in your new country. It’s just some terminology that’s interesting to think about.

Other than that, just life in Panama…. it’s height of rainy season so we have been getting a lot of rain, though most mornings are sunny and bright. I like it when everything is lush and green even if I get muddy working in the yard. We are getting over colds. There has been a stomach flu and some bad colds going around in Boquete and we seemed to have picked up the cold, which thankfully doesn’t seem to be the one that comes with weeks of coughing.

Even living in “paradise” you have the challenges you would face anywhere, the occasional illness, chores and errands, etc. We had an earthquake a few days ago. We were both standing in the kitchen when I thought I felt something, and then things started rattling on the shelves. It didn’t seem like a big deal but it got everyone talking. In general, Mother Nature is very easy on us for which we are thankful, and life is good.


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Wet Weather

It’s the height of rainy season so we expect a lot of rain, but the weather has outdone itself the last few days. Wednesday afternoon the rain came in full force. There is a video in the last post of buckets of rain pouring down on us. Usually this doesn’t last long though, the rain settles down and ends sometime in the evening. That didn’t happen this time though. It rained through the night, into the next morning and throughout the day.

This was last night, Friday night, when it had been raining almost continuously since Wednesday afternoon. There was a lot of red (rain) overhead and plenty more of it headed this way.

The weather forecast last night. The break expected this morning, I don’t think it happened. I can’t say for sure though since it was dark, cool, and wet and what does a retired person do on such a morning? Sleep! We were totally lazy and didn’t get up until almost noon. Ahh retirement. I think after more than 6 years I’m finally learning to be ok with being lazy.

There was a hint this afternoon that the sky was getting lighter and maybe we would see sun but no, back to light rain and drizzle. It’s now late Saturday night and I haven’t heard rain for a while, but everything outside is wet and dripping. Hopefully it will be clear tomorrow. I miss my bike and working in the yard. But, I have been spending afternoons on the terrace practicing bass. We are going to add a couple disco tunes to our lineup and see how that goes over.

It’s been chilly out here though. That was taken in middle of the afternoon when it’s suposed to be hot. Ok you can stop laughing now, but for someone acclimated to 80’s who wears shorts and flip flops, it felt good to go in and curl up under my fuzzy blanket.

”Mi vida difícil” (my difficult life) palm to forehead…. our neighborhood joke. I’m complaining about rain when I’ve seen what happened in Florida, and Indonesian. We really have minimal worries here when it comes to Mother Nature.

We just finished watching City of Joy on Netflix about this place that helps women in the Congo who have been victims of sexual rape and violence. To see their spirits and energy return when they get some healing help is uplifting and inspiring. That this goes on and on year after year though and nobody cares enough to do anything, that’s totally discouraging. We have also been watching the series Dancing Queen and it’s excellent. Talk about spirit and energy! We also watched Follow This, Buzzfeed reporters researching various topics, really interesting stuff.

OK, there’s the rain report and the Netflix report. Other than the extra rain it’s just another normal week in the neighborhood.

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Six Years in Panama

Six years ago today I landed in Panama with my suitcase and computer bag, ready to start my new life. I don’t have much different to say from last year, or the year before. It’s been a happy report every year.

Of course I had a lot of help. There were expat friends who answered countless questions and put me up for a couple weeks. There was their mechanic who sold me his wife’s car, and my realtor friend who found me the perfect house for us. It wasn’t furnished so there was Myrla at the DoIt Center who helped me get everything from the fridge to dishes and beds. There were the neighbors who welcomed me with open arms, and many taxi drivers and people on the street who helped me find things and get what I needed. And, very important, there was Yaira who patiently and persistently pounded Spanish into my thick head so I could talk with taxi drivers, people on the street, neighbors, and Myrla. (

On a side note, it sure can rain at this time of year!

It started mid afternoon and has been raining ever since, mostly continuing to pour down. (though word from friends in Boquete is that there hasn’t been any rain and they are out doing yard work. Go figure) I like the rain though and by the end of summer I will be really missing it. Panama is always beautiful but especially when everything is lush and green.

Many thanks to Panama and her lovely people for our happy lives here.

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El Puerco

Puerco means pig, but here it also means a large bag of assorted vegetables. You see them being sold in the street and in some produce markets.

Friends we met through the blog are exploring Panama, and they are currently in Chiriqui. Today they went up to Cerro Punta (in the mountains where most of the produce is grown) and brought me this gift! Since all this is grown up there it cost only $5. Down here it would be more, maybe $8-10 but it’s still a great deal. So, what is in the bag?

Three heads of cabbage, an onion, two tomatoes, a chayote, a small broccoli, some celery stalks, a leek, 9 carrots, 3 heads of lettuce, a bunch of leaf lettuce, a little green pepper, and a lot of potatoes. Some people say they tend to put the less attractive produce in these bags but not this one. Everything looked fresh and beautiful.

So what does one do with all this?!

Soup! We had some leftover pork roast that wasn’t as tender as we hoped. I figured it was a perfect candidate for soup, along with the celery, leek, chayote, a cabbage, most of the carrots, and some of the potatoes. It’s delicious! I’m sitting here with a very happy tummy.

Joel has boiled more of the potatoes for hash browns in the morning.

My friends, if you are reading this, come back tomorrow and we will have soup, or hash browns, or both, with salad! 😁

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Organ Donation

I strongly believe in organ donation. If your brain has ceased to function and you have healthy organs that can give the gift of life and health to others, why not? And, your family and friends can also appreciate that something good came out of a tragic death.

I hadn’t thought much about organ donation in Panama, but it happens here also according to some information I’ve found on line. 

Panama’s first heart transplant in 2016. Transplants haven’t been done as much or for as long as some other countries, but Panaman is coming along.

What got me thinking about this today is an article and video I saw this morning.   When a donor is wheeled from ICU to the operating room, the hospital staff lines the halls in a silent show of respect for the donor and his family. It’s one of the most touching things I’ve seen in a long time. Here’s the video and if you are like me, grab a tissue first.


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Water Woes

I’m very happy here, but there are still the occasional annoying issues. Last March we put in a water tank. March is the end of the dry season and we had many days without water. It would come back on at night, but who wants to wait until midnight to wash dishes, shower, and wash clothes? Life with a water tank is wonderful! We have water all the time and better water pressure than we had before as well.

But, they have been putting in sewer lines in our neighborhood. Lately they have also been putting in manholes for a mile or more south of our neighborhood. Word is this is what disrupted the water for four days! We didn’t know anything until day 3 when our neighbor was washing dishes outside. They have a hose faucet close to the ground and when there is no water in the house, there can be enough water in the pipes to get water from a low faucet. Sure enough, our tank was half empty but we have enough to share so we put the garden hose over the fence.

Later on Sunday, day 3, a water truck came through the neighborhood to fill any containers people put out. They told me the disruption was because of the work in the area, they didn’t know when water would be back on,  but we could call 311, the number for the water company.

Monday, day 4, I was sitting on the terrace when I heard water flowing in to the tank. This was really good to hear since by now the tank was getting really low. I opened the tank to check and saw that mud was flowing into the tank! 😡 oh NO! What a mess! I shut off the valve for the water line that goes to the tank and told our neighbor who has a tank, and was now very sorry that he had forgotten to shut off his valve.

I  suppose the silver lining is we now know how to clean a water tank. Lucho came over and helped after we drained most of the water out of the tank. He disconnected everything, he and Joel turned the tank up on end. I ran water in the house to try and clear the mud (there are two lines, one to fill the tank and another to send water from the street directly to the house) and then they used the hose, a broom, and a bit of bleach to clean the tank. But, Lucho forgot which wires went where to reconnect the pump so he had to call another neighbor, the guy who installed the system, who thankfully was home and came over to rewire the pump.

Lucho and Joel reconnecting everything

Unfortunately we also drained the tank on the pump, so Lucho had to help us again when the pump wouldn’t make any pressure. He used the hose to refill it and then all was well. Except…. the water was still cloudy and dirty. We ended up draining the tank twice more until we finally got clean water.

This is one way to get a much better understanding of your water system! 😁 And, I’m definitely thankful to have it. I no longer take water for granted and I’m thankful to have it all the time.

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The Federal Mall

They are building a HUGE mall not far from where we live, so I bike over there now and then to see how it is progressing.

At first they spent what seemed like months moving dirt around, clearing boulders, and preparing the site. A year and a half ago, I wrote this post, when construction was starting and tons of people were hard at work. The post includes a video of the vision for the completed mall.

About three months later it looked like this. I’ve gone by a number of times since but never got around to posting pictures.  But, a few days ago I took some more photos and actually got them ready to share.

It is really coming along! They guys on site said it will be another year though. When you think of getting 400 stores and whatever else will be there from block walls to finished spaces, that’s understandable. It’s a huge job.

I have heard conflicting stories about the bus terminal. At first it was planned to be there too, and then I heard it was going to remain downtown so I’m not sure what is going on with that. There would be more space and it would be easier for busses to get in and out at the mall, but many like the busses going downtown where they can easily walk to many places.

However that goes, it will be interesting to see how the mall works out. Who is going to shop and support all those stores? How many people in nearby and more expensive Costa Rica will be happy? How will it affect traffic in the area? How will it affect water and power use in a city that already has problems, especially with the water supply in the dry season? Traffic though… the Panamerican Highway is already bogged down with heavy traffic much of the time and could really really use a lot more traffic lights. Now there will be hundreds and hundreds of shoppers and employees trying to get to the mall? It’s a good thing I don’t like to shop 😁 Of course I’ll have to check it out though when it’s open.

I feel like we live in such a happening place! This is only one of many commercial and residential projects underway or recently completed. It’s exciting to watch, especially when we can retreat to our quiet little neighborhood at the end of the day.

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A Year Playing Bass in the Band

It feels like a milestone. September 18 of last year was my very first gig. By June of last year it was obvious that band was losing their bass player. He was spending more and more time in Colombia, and other bass players in the area were busy with their own bands and unavailable. Joel had a bass. I played piano when I was young so I have a basic understanding of music. Could I learn to play that big thing with four strings and keep the band going?

it was a lot of time and work and I didn’t have a life for quite a while. And, as I announced Saturday night, I didn’t do it alone. My husband Joel spent endless hours working with me, helping me learn songs, helping me understand equipment and sound, and practicing with me.  Chris, our drummer, has been super supportive and also practiced with me for hours and hours. The venues where we play and their staffs have been wonderful, welcoming, and supportive. And, most important, the people come out to hear us! Our fans have been wonderful to both the band and to me personally, and without them none of this would be happening. I am very grateful to everyone who has made our success possible.

Now, after a year of gigging it’s quite different. I actually feel like a musician, a bassist, not someone just doing a job and hoping to not screw up anything. The power to actually create the music, and the power of the low end, the bass with that huge sound that lays down the groove, the foundation, it’s pretty cool! After a year of playing together the three of us have become a tight unit and we really sound like we have our act together. We have a larger variety of music and styles now, and enough songs to fill more than two evenings of music. This has allowed us, and especially me to slow down the pace and bring other aspects of my life back like friends, biking, painting, yard work (it looks like work but is mainly enjoyment), and other hobbies.

Maybe this is a fitting time to bring out this song that we haven’t listened to for ages. We are working on it and it should be ready by this coming weekend. When I met Joel in 1990 he was in a band and would sing this song so beautifully it would just melt me. One night we were out with friends and the song came on the juke box, and we danced. It was the beginning…. I never would have believed anyone if they said that 28 years later we would be married, happily retired in Panama, and playing in a rock band together!

This retired life in Panama, it’s a wonderful thing. When the need to make money is taken off the table it changes everything. You do what you choose to do, not what you have to do. Your head is in such a different place, a much less stressful place. Then this beautiful country with these lovely people, that is just icing on the cake. Why me? How have I been so fortunate? I wake up filled with gratitude every day.

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