Monthly Archives: April 2014

Familiarity is Blooming…

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I may be strange (I’ve accepted this fact about myself!) , but I really thrive on the connection I feel when people around town begin to recognize me and remember who I am. This is just beginning to happen and when it does It just makes me so happy. I’m getting to know several of the people who work in some of the places I frequent, like the butchers in Romero’s, the lady who pumps my gas at the gas station, the guys at my favorite stalls in the produce market and the security guards at my bank, just to name a few. Yesterday I had a great chat , (well a ‘chat’ of sorts) with both the butchers at the Chicken side of the meat counter as well as the nice man on the sliced lunchmeat counter. The chicken guy who is normally pretty serious looking, not a big smiler, suddenly became very very smiley and friendly when I apologized to him for my lousy Spanish (in Spanish!) and told him that in a year my Spanish would be much better (Mucho Mejor!)! He told me that he has learned a little English and agreed that it is very hard to learn another language! I suspect from now on I will get many more of those nice smiles from him when I go to buy my Chicken. Then the guy at the sliced meat counter helped me learn how to say 1/4 Libra of Canadian Bacon. I normally stick to ‘un libra or media libra’ but was not prepared to throw in 1/4 libra…he gave me a very good lesson and I wrote it down on my little pad of paper I always carry with me. I told him he was my new Profesor de Espaniol! He laughed and said something I didn’t understand one bit!! Hah! I got “Nada”! Oh well! Again, very ,very friendly and helpful! At first they seem kinda annoyed and not happy but when I attempt to talk to them boy do their faces light up! Oh, and I must tell you about the sweet teller at the cash register and the bagger. Again, they are always nice enough but not especially friendly. Yesterday I was buying one of those great big 5 gallon jugs of water and It was my first time buying one so of course I didn’t know what I was expected to do as far as , do I lift it out of my cart and put it with the rest of my groceries to be scanned, or just leave it in the cart? I asked and I thought she said yes (meaning, yes, put it up here), so I lifted it and she and the bag boy both quickly stopped me…’No!, No! No Necesasita!” OOOOPS! I laughed really hard and immediately put it back down. The bagger even sort of dashed over to help me..oh boy, another embarrassing moment! So I said..”Oh Loco Gringa!” and they looked at each other and we all laughed! Just today, I ran in to Romero’s to get some Cilantro and there was that bagger, saying Hola! Como Esta? to me like we were old friends! Love That!! The lady who pumps my gas is beginning to remember me when I go there. Just this week we had a little chat (again, of sorts!) about our Hair! Hah! She asked me if my curls were natural? She’s so sweet, I really like getting to know people. Do you remember how nervous I used to be when I went to the Mercado, (the produce market)? Well, today I ran over to find some Jalapeños . I marched right up to my favorite guy, Benjamin , and said, without any hesitation (mind you, I had said it at least a hundred times in my head before I got there!) “Tiene Usted Jalapeños picante ?” And dontcha know…I got a smile and a big bag of Jalapeños! Whoot! Whoot! And there was a time, not so long ago , when I very nearly had tears welling up in my eyes trying to make myself understood. He was very clearly pleased by my progress too.
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Today’s Casita Progress Photos….

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Well ,just in case the photos of the cement art was too boring for you, how bout some exciting construction photos? Whoohoo! I know, you can hardly wait!! Go ahead, roll your eyes now! With each day that passes the walls get taller and now I can make out windows and doorways. They’ve been making forms to pour the parts (forgive me for my lack of construction vocabulary!) that go over windows and doorways. Given the fact that they cant use the concrete bricks in those areas they actually make wood forms to pour the cement into. I know, there’s many reading this who know all about this stuff, but I gotta make sure some of my less knowledgable readers get my easy to understand narrative on all the technical stuff, right? Cuz’ I’m just the gal to describe all this to em’. Pfffffft! 🙂 Well, now you can see where windows and doors will be and the one where you can see my car out the door is the entry. Yes, we do have a big dirt cliff right outside the front door…I noticed that too! We plan to cut into that and build steps up to the parking area. And then on either side of the steps there will be terraced areas with retaining walls, we will plant lovely tropical things and ferns and make it look beautiful, who knows I may even be able to find some sort of leaf Birdbath somewhere! Hah!

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The Finished Products…

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Many of my friends and family asked me to post photos of my finished pieces so here they are. My first attempts at working in Cement to create figurative sculpture has been quite challenging. The most challenging aspect of using cement has been the fact that it eats up my skin on my poor hands! Sheesh! This aspect of working with cement is nothing like clay! The lime in the cement just soaks up all the moisture in the skin and man, is it painful! I had bought a big box of latex gloves for doing my hair color and tried using them instead of kitchen gloves. The kitchen gloves just get holes in them too easily but if I wear the latex gloves under the kitchen gloves while I’m mixing up the cement it really works well. Also, while I’m sculpting I can wear the latex gloves because the cement doesn’t stick to them like it does to the kitchen gloves. The process of sculpting with cement requires layers and drying in between the layers so there’s really not the same instant gratification that you get when sculpting with clay, which is not fun! But I think as I get a bit more experience and have more than one piece in process I’ll have more to work on and wont have to wait until the next day to work. Another aspect of creating figurative sculpture that I’m going to have to get used to is not having a live model to use as a reference! Hah! They don’t have a lot of people who pose nude here in Boquete! Darn!! LOL! I’ll just have to rely on photos and memory. I really enjoyed making the birdbath and the little leaf plates make fantastic gifts, they are perfect to be used as a soap dish or a place to put your jewelry. I got this tip from Mindy! Thanks so much! As a matter of fact all these are gifts for certain people who will remain secret! If I mentioned your names it wouldn’t be a surprise….but… I’ll be seeing you three friends soon!! Hah! You may know who you are!!! I’m just horrible at keeping ‘secrets’! Sheesh! So, as you can see, I have finally found a medium to play with and I’m looking forward to making lot’s more fun things. Chris McCall, the artist who taught the class, also gives classes in Stained glass! I’ll be learning that next! I’m envisioning a couple of pendent lights for our casita!! I’m excited to learn yet another new art form that looks like lot’s of fun! In my mind, there’s really not much that is more fun and gives me more pleasure than making something beautiful, especially when it’s something useful! This Adventure just get’s better and better! And now, it’s only 16 more day’s until Mariah is here in Panama with me!! I can barely wait!!! Cheers!

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Here we go….Jumping through more hoops! (and trying like hell to hang onto my Tranquilo!)

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We seem to get no where with our permanent residency visa at each turn. This week I finally had all our required documents ready to mail to our attorney in Panama City. They had all been authenticated, notarized and Apostiled, and to the best of our knowledge all was in order. Schreeeech! Nope! I received an email from Mayra, our attorney, that our FBI reports are three weeks too old! They cant be older than six months and we went three weeks past that, unknowingly. We knew that the Apostile on them was too old so our attorney had told us that if we simply had them ‘re-apostilled’ all would be in order, which we did do. But no one told us about the six month requirement (big eye roll here!). This seems to be our biggest problem, not knowing the little rules like that. If you don’t know the questions to ask then you end up making mistakes. We had a big hold up when we sent all the letters of authentication and our marriage certificate and bank statements to the Panamanian Consulate in Houston to be authenticated. We were notified after waiting weeks for them to acknowledge that they had received them, that they were not able to authenticate documents that had been notarized in Panama, so they could authenticate only about two out of the six that we sent them. Uggggg! So we then learned that the U.S. State department could Apostille the remaining documents. After receiving them back from the Panamanian Consulate we put them back in the mail to Washington DC to be Apostilled by the U.S. State department. Then waited, and waited and waited. My heart leapt with joy after we finally received everything and we were finally ready to mail it all off to Mayra. Then my heart sank last night after receiving this email from her…
“I am very sorry to tell you that your FBI records are too old to be used in the application of the visa. According to the latest rule immigration issued the FBI or any police report is only good for 6 months. You FBI reports have a date of 9/3/2013. The bank statements are too old.”

?!#$!!! DEEP BREATH….where’s that good ol’ TRANQUILO? More deep breaths and a good nights sleep and here I am getting in a little blogging therapy. We spent the majority of our evening trying to strategize about ‘what now?’. Back to the beginning. By the time we get this straightened out all the other documents will also be too old so we may as well just have it all redone. Deep Sigh… So, we are due for a good ol’ border run once again. We are thinking about just doing a really fast and furious flight into Houston and visiting the Panamanian Consulate to re authenticate and notarize all our documents and also having our fingerprints done while we are there and just mail them to DC while we are in the states. This way we get our border run requirement out of the way as well as having a much easier time getting fingerprints that the FBI will accept. (I sure hope my cement injured fingertips heal quickly! ) And a personal visit to the consulate should make things go much faster. Of course we will make sure to make all the proper appointments and to ask lots of questions, hopefully the right questions , before getting on the plane.

All this right before Mariah is due to arrive!! Geeesh! And don’t forget, we have six Panamanian employees who are depending on us for their living. So we need to keep them working or we will have to pay them for working while Scott is gone even if they don’t work, It’s only fair. So, this should be interesting. We have found flights , luckily we have plenty of miles on our airline points so we wont have to spend a ton of money. Some of you may be reading this and wondering why we didn’t just get all this paperwork done in the states before our move….well, in case you haven’t read earlier posts let me explain so we don’t’ look completely idiotic, (only slightly idiotic). Well, you see, it’s all because of the requirement of having proof of a “lifetime income”. Most retired people can satisfy this requirement with a pension or social security which would show that you do indeed have a lifetime income of a minimum of 1,250.00 per couple, per month. We have chosen to make this move a bit earlier than traditional ‘retirement’ age, which means , no Social Security and we also have no pension, so our only other option for this proof of ‘lifetime income’ was to purchase an annuity which would pay us that amount for the rest of our lives. We could not afford to do this until after we sold our house in California and then after purchasing the annuity we had to wait three months to have bank statements to show proof of payments. Also, they wanted authentication from the company that the annuity is from as well as proof of the validity of that company, it got a little more complicated than we expected but we were able to acquire all the necessary documentation that our attorney told us we would need. All these documents are part of the Authentication, notarizes and Appostille issue. Not an issue really, just a process of getting all these ducks in a row within the right time period, which we seem to have so far failed to do. So let’s try it all over again, shall we?

There are other different residency visas that we could have opted to apply for but one of the big perks of this visa allows us to ship our container of belongings from California to Panama without paying any import taxes which could be fairly hefty. Of course, in my mind, by the time we pay for all this time of storage in the states and all the other costs involved in flying to and from Houston now and because Scott doesn’t have his tools we have had to purchase many things for our project that we already own, I’m questioning weather or not it’s even worth it all just to avoid paying ‘import taxes’? But Scott seems to think it is , so given the fact that he’s the one who has done the bulk of the research, we will march forward and just keep jumping through hoops until we have jumped through enough of them and see if we actually get this visa. I’m getting a bit discouraged, can you tell? It really helps that Scott is such a calm, focused and sensible person. I get frustrated while his mind is spinning on what is the most logical and realistic step to take next. And yes, he’s always that calm! I must admit, I am one person in his life who can get him a bit ruffled but he’s pretty darn good at tuning me out! Humph!

In our life we often choose to do things a little out of the box, unfortunately this time it’s proving to be a headache. Although I know plenty of other people here who have experienced just as many headaches in their process as we are being confronted with. Rules change, lawyers aren’t always especially , uh, shall I say, ‘reliable’? I know many who have had their @#$! together and still end up jumping through endless hoops only to be told that , oooops, the rules have changed. So, everyone has their story, some have lucked out and it goes smoothly , others , like us, have their ‘tranquilo’ tested! But in the end I’ve seen many many people who endured through all the BS and now carry that little cedula and Panamanian Drivers license , and no longer need to run to the border ever 3 months to re-validate their drivers license. Our day will come, I’m sure and like all those others we will really really appreciate having it all behind us. And The advise I’ll pass on to those of you applying for residency…don’t try to do something a little ‘out of the box’ when it comes to dealing with government officials and lawyers. Just go with what everyone else is doing and save yourself a little trouble, oh there will still be trouble but maybe, just maybe, not quite as much as we seem to have created for ourselves! Hah!

Sculpting with concrete…

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Well, after learning how to properly mix the cement, what proportions of sand cement and fiber to use, I’m beginning to get the hang of it. I’ve made a beautiful birdbath from a giant leaf I got on my property up in Jaramillo, and I made a bowl using a stainless steel bowl as a form and placing small leaves in the cement to create a leaf pattern. I also made the stand for my birdbath . Yesterday we learned about staining the cement. Chris (the instructor) gave us notes on all the formulas for the tints and dies, thankfully because he already had all the colors all mixed up and Geesh! The guy is like a mad scientist when he’s working and not especially great at teaching how to actually do what he’s doing. I can totally relate to how hard it is to teach, It’s near impossible for me to teach someone how to do a haircut! I don’t really have the words to describe to someone in great detail , exactly what to do, I have to just do it and show someone. Chris is much like that when he’s trying to teach what he already has in his head. It’s all just such second nature to him and I notice he’s best at showing rather than talking. He has provided us with some great notes on all the formulas and all the important procedures for working with concrete. So, as I said, we colored our pieces yesterday and I had a great time watching all the other students pieces come to life as they painted the different colors onto them. We really have a great group of people in our class, which to me has made this experience even more fun! You know how much I love making new friends and I met some great people as well as got to know someone I already knew. Everyone ended up making some great pieces, all very different and all just beautiful! I’m going back today to finish up a few things. I also started trying to create a figure, which was my whole goal in taking this class. I was really hoping to learn how to do my figurative work that I love so much. The torso that I started is not looking so good! Yikes! It seems as though working with cement is not quite as forgiving and its not the same immediate gratification that you get when working with clay. I just hate that I have to work in layers and wait till the next day to add any detail! I’ll work on it some more today and see where it goes. I suspect I just need to get used to this new medium. Another thing that’s not so great about working with cement is “Ouch!” it’s terrible on your hands!! Sheesh! I’m all cut up from bending the chicken wire and my poor fingers have areas with no skin from the lime in the cement drying it out so badly!! Yesterday I experimented with working with my latex gloves that I have for doing my hair color and that seems to have really worked pretty well! I can buy them at Price Mart in bulk and they aren’t too expensive so as they tear I can just dispose of them and get new ones. I’m going to keep trying to acclimate myself with using cement and I may even set up a little space here at the house, under the carport to work on making a few things. It’s really nice that you don’t need a kiln and the pieces just dry up on their own. There are so many cool possibilities, I’m psyched to explore what I can do and what I can create with this new (to me) medium. I just hope my poor hands will forgive me, Yikes! Latex gloves are my new best friend!

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Our Very First Happy Hour At The Casita…

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Life is GOOD! And it’s even better when it’s shared with good people! And I tell ya, we do have sooooo many great people in our lives! Last night our friends A & S joined us for a Happy hour up at our new Casita. We really had a great time sipping wine and chatting and enjoying the spectacular view from our new place.

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Someone Has A New Hobby….

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Day two of my cement art workshop and I’m hooked!! On the first day we learned all about cement mortar and concrete and how to properly mix it to make different figures and pieces of art. We’ve been mixing a mortar like consistency with sand cement and a little fiber and water. We practiced by making our first project which was a bowl. We simply used a stainless steel bowl placed upside down on the table and added moist sand around the lip to hide that part of the bowl and create a wide rim on our bowl. Then we covered the bowl with wax paper to assure that the cement will easily release from the bowl. We also walked around the yard and collected cool looking little leaves and placed them on the bowl over the wax paper and before adding the concrete which will give a pretty leaf pattern inside the finished piece. Another option , in place of the wax paper some used plastic wrap which gave the piece a shiny surface after it dried. I decided to scrunch up my wax paper and this gave a wonderful texture after it dried. Then we added the mortar and completely covered the bowl and the sand around the lip. I then added more leaves on the cement to give the outside of the bowl the same leaf pattern. We used a trowel to flatten the very bottom of the bowl giving it a level base so it sits nicely. Then we covered it with plastic wrap and let it dry over night. This morning , first thing we unwrapped our bowls and removed all the wax paper and leaves and used a file to smooth out any rough, pokey edges. Then rinsed it off and put a little water inside the bowl, wrapped it in a plastic bag and put it away to finish slowly drying. If it dries too fast it may crack so keeping it a little moist is important. I just love my bowl, its very organic looking, which I love. The next step will be learning to tint and die and all that good stuff. It will be very interesting to learn about all the different dies and tints and chemicals to use to create color on concrete.

Day two (today) we learned about sand casting. We were told to bring a big leaf with us to class. I went up to our property and got some huge leaves to bring. I decided to use one of my giant leaves to make a birdbath. First we placed damp sand down on the surface about the same size as the leaf, the leaf then goes on top of this small form and then on top of the leaf is the mortar. He instructed me to make it about 2-21/2 inches thick and to make the edges a little flatter so the birds would have a place to sit while they drink. This will dry tonight, we shall see tomorrow what happens with that. I also made the base of the birdbath by rolling up some wire mesh and covering it with a scratch coat of mortar to be added to tomorrow. I cant wait to finish this piece. My mind is just racing, thinking about all the different possibilities! One thing I’d really like to consider trying is making concrete countertops for our casita! The most important part will be learning where we can buy all the chemicals for tinting and adding color. Here’s a few photos of the progress so far….. Read the rest of this entry

A Day To Explore A New Medium To Create Art With…

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Today I’m starting a class taught by a local artist who has an art studio in Caldera (a town about 30 minutes from Boquete). He teaches several different classes and I hope to go another time to learn about stained glass. But today is the first of three days of a class to learn about making cement sculpture. Before I left the states I had spent about 3-4 years participating in a figurative sculpture group. This group got together every week to create figurative sculpture and had been doing so for many years before I was invited to join them. There is a local art league in Palo Alto, called the Palo Alto Art League, and through this organization we were able to use a wonderful studio and hire amazing nude models to pose for our classes. So once a week I took off from my busy schedule, as did all the other sculptors , and we spent about 3 hours losing ourselves in our art. We would also have a great time chatting and sharing stories as we worked on our pieces, stories of our lives, our kids, our travels, our work , our spouses, food, whatever happened to bubble out! The group had a core group of about 5-6 of us that consistently attended and there were others who would occasionally join us when they had time or were in town. We liked to call ourselves the “Sculpturistas !” As time went on we grew into a great little social group, gathering for a yearly Holiday extravaganza and attending one another’s art openings as well as just getting together for organizational meetings that were really a nice excuse to get together. I got so much inspiration and support from this group of artists. Before I joined them I had never sculpted and I was looking for an outlet, something other than my own woe’s to focus on. I will never forget the first time I walked into that studio with my bag of clay and my brand new tool box filled with shiny new sculpting tools that I had no idea what to do with. I was filled with such a mix of emotions, I was nervous and excited, but mostly I remember wondering If I would be able to create anything remotely resembling a human figure. I mean, I had never studied anatomy or sculpture. I didn’t know the first thing about what to do or how to do it. But right away these other sculptors encouraged me and helped me and gave me confidence. When the model dropped her robe and stepped up onto the little platform to hold her pose I remember feeling a little shy about looking at her, I mean….She was Naked!! I just followed the lead of all the others and took out my clay, put it on the sculpture stand and began to let my hands accustom themselves to the clay. Almost instantly all my inhibitions melted away. It was as though none of it had ever been there. I began to work and shape the clay and as it warmed under my fingers shape began to emerge. The others were chatting and there was gentle classical music playing in the background , but it all disappeared as I let myself become a sculptor. The feeling I got from my very first introduction to sculpture was one of losing myself while simultaneously finding myself as I created something from the raw clay. To me, there is such a Devine feeling of pleasure in making an ugly lump of clay into something beautiful. Now, I’m not ever going to be a professional sculptor, the other artists in my group were actually selling and showing their work and had reputations in the community of artists as accomplished sculptors and continue to do so. It’s not my desire to do anything but enjoy having my hands in clay and creating shapes and designs and enjoying that wonderful feeling of losing myself in something other than what’s going on around me and in the world, it’s an escape. I have several bags of clay in my container to be shipped out here, although who knows if it will survive the journey. But, sadly, I haven’t been able to find any sculpture clay here in Panama. I’ve asked around and I’ve learned that I will have to have it shipped in from Florida which would be very costly. So when I discovered this cement workshop my heart leapt! My sculpture group in the states had actually done a workshop with a visiting artist who taught them to work in concrete. I was not able to attend this workshop in the states and now I miraculously have the opportunity to learn here! Yea!! So this morning as I type this, I find myself once again feeling that same familiar feeling of trepidation. Will I be able to make something from Concrete? Something beautiful? I hope so. I have printed out a few ideas of some things I might like to try to make but I have no idea what is possible with concrete. I’ll keep you posted on this new adventure. One thing’s for sure, I’ll meet some new people and hopefully make a new friend or two!

Our First Easter in Boquete…

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Easter weekend….
Today when I went to Rosemary’s house for our language class we talked about the Easter holiday which is upon us. I must admit I had not even really thought much about the fact that it’s a holiday weekend. Our workers do have two paid days off, Friday and Saturday so Scott will also have a couple days to take it easy. Because of this fact we decided to take advantage of the time off and made plans to go to Boca Chica for one night. Rosemary was telling me that she and her family have given up eating Chicken and Beef for Lent. Not being an especially religious person myself, I’ve of course never participated in this observation and I am very interested in learning how they celebrate this Holy Week here in Panama. It is a very important week for this Catholic country and there are many processions and gatherings to celebrate as a community. It’s during holidays here that I really enjoy observing how all the town comes together to put on huge displays that they seem to all enjoy with great gusto. Rosemary tells me that for three nights they have a long procession that marches all throughout the town and either begins or ends with a service at the church (remember she is telling me all this in Spanish and I’m doing my best to understand but I’m sure I’ve gotten some of the details totally wrong, forgive me for those of you who know all about this holiday). I would love to see this and I may try to go into town on Friday night to see if there is anything going on. Here is where my total ignorance comes out…remember, this is my first year living here so I’m still learning! I had to ask if they had the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg hunts and she shook her head and laughed ,”Noooo! ” “No Bunny!” hah! okay….I had to ask, feeling a little dumb. But now I know! That may be why It hasn’t really occurred to me that it’s actually Easter time, I haven’t seen any Easter egg dies for sale at Romero’s and come to think of it….not one easter basket either. Hmmmm….Okay. Got it! So it’s strictly a religious holiday, as I’m pretty sure it was originally meant to be. As many of the new customs I’m learning about this year, it’s refreshing that it’s not as commercialized as it is in the States. It’s very personal and it brings the entire community together as a big family to observe something that’s holy and a tradition all of the town gathers to participate in. We, heathens will be relaxing in a kayak exploring the coastal town of Boca Chica and likely enjoying a refreshing cocktail. If we happen upon an Easter egg hunt I’ll probably join in, but I suspect that isn’t the most likely thing we’ll see this weekend!

Casita Progress…

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This morning I went up to the property to help Scott with the Electrical plan in the casita. We needed to decide on where all the light switches and plugs would go. Here’s where I get to do some actual helping, finally! I know, bringing lunch up there everyday is help, but this is much more fun! As you can see the walls are getting taller and taller and they are really beginning to look like rooms. Its interesting to see them chipping away at the concrete walls to make room for plumbing and electrical installation. Not quite the same as building with wood, huh? Scott’s really wishing he had his tools right now. He’s got lots of great grinders and things that would make the work so much faster and easier, but these guys seem pretty comfortable with a hammer and chisel. Watching them chip away, you can tell that they’ve done this many times before and are very experienced with this type of construction. Scott has his hands full trying to manage six guys who are all tackling different tasks. One guy, Ariquiles, was pounding metal rebar stakes into the dirt for something Scott had told him to do and he just couldn’t seem to do it right. Scott kept telling him no and to do it differently then finally after trying to tell him several times Scott just walked up there and did it himself. And others kept coming over to ask this and that…boy, Scott is really getting very good at this construction Spanish, that’s for sure! I don’t spend too much time at the construction site, I’m just in the way, walking around with my camera. When I am there while they are all working its very overwhelming, I gotta tell ya I really admire Scott for being able to manage such a huge project. He really is good at this. I already knew that, but normally when I’m there it’s lunch time and not much is going on. When all those guys are working the job site takes on quite a different feeling. Lot’s of hustling going on and each guy seems to have a task that they each are very intent on doing. So, here are the photos of the progress today….Tenga Fin De Semana!

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Learning all the in’s & out’s of employer responsibilities here in Panama…

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Poco a Poco we’re getting the hang of this Panamanian employer gig. We were very concerned in the beginning, before we hired any workers about making sure we knew and understood what we needed to do to be totally above board when employing people here in Panama. We went to an attorney and got information about taxes and social security and learned about the best way to make sure we don’t get into any trouble. The attorney sent us to a woman in town named Clavdia, who will do our bookkeeping and take care of filing all the necessary paperwork with the Social Security office in town as well as making sure all our employee taxes are paid. She is a treasure and we feel good knowing she’s got that part taken care of, and for $10.00 per month! We’ve read about some of the issues one can have when hiring people to work for you as well as talked to friends about their experiences and we felt it would be prudent to get ahead of the ball and learn as much as we could learn to hopefully prevent any nightmares in the future. Even though we sat down with an attorney and asked as many questions as we could think of to ask, we find ourselves still learning things that she didn’t tell us. One little thing just came up this week. One of our employees was asking Scott about his Decimo pay….Huh? What the heck is that!! We went down to Clauvdia’s office and she set us straight on that… Apparently this is a bonus they get three times a year April 15, August 15 and December 15 …8.33% of their wages. Other important things we had already learned are that they also have about 10-12 Official “Paid” days off each year. Plus,we’ve also been informed that the best way to structure the hiring of employees is to have them on short contracts that last only a few months at a time. This is to avoid any issues if we need to let someone go. It can be very tricky to fire a worker here so it’s much easier just to tell them the contract for work is over and not to offer them a new contract, this is very important if you find yourself with a particularly unreliable, or lazy worker. “Sorry, no more contract for you”. No need to fire them, the job they were hired to do is just over, easy breezy. As a matter of fact Scott has two workers who seem to have a hard time getting to work on Mondays, so this week was time to renew contracts and he told these two that if they continue to miss work on Mondays this would be their last contract. Another interesting little ‘required bonus’ is each time a contract ends, we are required to give them a project termination fee which is sort of like a severance payment and that is 6% of their pay. So, lets see, these employees work for $23-29 per day and they get 10-12 legal paid days off per year, they also get paid for sick days if they bring a note from the doctor, (which they seem to be very diligent at doing), a bonus at the end of a contract, and a bonus every three months….Whew! These are the rules we know of, but I’m wondering just how many other “bonus’s” we don’t yet know about? Hah! We still need to find out from a Panamanian guy we’re friends with in town who is in the construction business about the validity of what one of the workers told Scott about it being ‘customary’ for the Jefe to purchase rubber boots for the entire crew…..Hmmmm? That seems like a funny one, but ya just never know! If it’s the way they do it here, then we’ll be off to the store to buys some boots!

Scott may be a generous and fair Jefe but one things for sure, he’s not one to be taken advantage of. He’s always had a very consistent code of ethics that he deems very important and to be sure, those who know him know that he’s never one to lose his cool, there’s never any yelling coming out of his mouth. He’ll be fair and honest and often generous to a fault but don’t let him down or betray his trust or respect because your day’s of working with him will end and he wont look back. It’s like a light switch just goes to the off position and he’s just walked away. No, there’s never any drama or games, probably one chance but definitely not two. So, when his workers bust their butts on an especially physically exhausting week like they did last week, Scott will always acknowledge that, maybe not always with a Friday treat of cold beers and a paid day off, sometimes just a hearty thanks, but they will feel appreciated to be sure. And if an employee is just not living up to Scott’s standards he’ll let them know that they can go now. So, as we are just getting started with our project, because we still have a long ways to go until we’re done building, I’m sure we’ll go through a few workers along the way. But the smart one’s will be able to see that they’ve got a good thing going with this particular Gringo Jefe. Scott’s trying his best to strike that balance of being a good Jefe but not feeling as though he might be thought of as a sucker. Hence the time spent getting the low-down from people who know the actual rules and laws. We have a lot to learn and Poco a Poco we’re learning about what it takes to do things right and to give and receive a mutual respect with the guys working on our house. We’ll make mistakes and I’m sure a day will come when we’re let down somehow by a worker we trusted and liked, that’s just the way it goes. But so far we have a pretty solid crew of guys who seem to be consistent, hard working and glad to have a job to go to everyday. It’s all part of the Adventure!

Progress Report…

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This week the focus on the casita project is building walls. What that means for Scott is that he’s driving back and forth from the supply store with brick, brick, and more brick as well as bags of cement. Luckily the delivery trucks have been managing to get to the entrance to our lot with loads of rock. This has really been a great help to Scott. The delivery trucks can carry about 3-4 times the amount that Scotts little truck can carry which means quite a few trips less for him. We got a big surprise on Monday, it seems that our neighbor who owns the finca right next to our lot has decided to improve the road and he had a tractor and a crew of workers up there clearing trees and brush an leveling out the dirt, maybe they will pour an actual road soon! It’s already so much better and I cant wait to see what they do next. Read the rest of this entry

Ahhhh, Good To Be Back Home…

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Not only is it good to be back home, but it’s also great that we feel so ‘at home’ here! After living in this house since Sept 1st, (7 months! wow!) It’s become, “HOME” to us. I felt comfy in this house from the very first time I came to see it with Daniesa. It’s a funny realization, having gone to live in a temporary spot for a week, just how much we were looking forward to being back here. I’ve written about how nice it will be to be in our own home with all our own belongings, and it will indeed be nice. But that’s not to say that this wonderful house is not a perfectly comfy and homey place to live. After all, I’m learning that old saying ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’, happens to be quite true! Oh, I may miss having my own ‘stuff’, but I never realized just how easy it could be and has been, to make a place a ‘home’. It’s really true that it’s a state of mind, and not simply material possessions that make a place a home. In my adult life I can count on one hand the amount of places I’ve lived. I really haven’t moved around all that much. Which may be the reason why I attribute my deep-seeded need to feel as though I have a place to call my home. I’m a ‘nester’, for sure. I love to create an environment where I feel I belong and where I can be myself. It seems as though most of the people I’ve known in my life have moved around and lived in many different places. Not me, I normally like to put down very deep roots and stay put. I lived in my house in Los Altos for 20 years. For me, even though I chose to leave my ‘home’ and start all over again someplace totally different, even ‘foreign’ I still have a deep need to nest That being said, I have to say I’m learning to redefine my notion of what ‘home’ is to me. What that ‘re-defined’ notion is…I’m not exactly sure, but I’m more certain about what it’s not. One thing I’m learning is that my home isn’t defined by my pictures on the wall and furniture that I picked out and purchased nor is it my paint colors on the walls or plush towels in my bathroom. I know these things are not what make me feel as though I’m ‘home’, because I have none of it and here I sit in this house that is merely a temporary stopping point for us and after being gone for a week, I walked in the front door and felt a sigh of relief at being ‘home’ again. Sigh! I’ve always known in my head that material things weren’t what really matters in life but this is one of those times in my life when my head and my heart are actually connecting and a realization is becoming, ‘Truth’. This heart of mine is at “HOME” here! Mind you…..this doesn’t mean I won’t be extremely jubilant to unpack those ‘lush’ towels from our container when they arrive!!! Hah!

Friday, Treat Day…

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Friday…

It’s Friday and Scott decided that given the fact that his crew kicked but this whole week and got the entire floor of the casita poured, he would give them tomorrow off ….paid(mind you, Saturdays are a short day, they only work 7:30-1:30). He had expected to only finish the first two pours this week, which were the bedroom/bathroom/closet and then the living room/kitchen/entry. But they managed to work so efficiently that they were able to do the terrace today, which is the last part of the floor. And so he asked me to round up a case of beer and get it chilling in the cooler so they can have a little “Friday Treat” after they finish work for the day. He’s such a nice Jefe! I must tell you, that guy really is building a pretty good relationship with his crew. I wonder to myself if they’ve ever worked with a guy like him (sounding just like the proud, biased wife that I am!). He isn’t the kind of guy who stands around giving orders, oh don’t get me wrong, he gives plenty of orders, but he gives them while he’s sweating and working right along side of them. I could tell that at the beginning the guys were a bit baffled by this foreigner who was working just as hard as they were working. One time while they were unloading a bunch of stuff from Scott’s truck, one of the guys tried to take something from Scott and Scott said, “no” and pointed to the bed of the truck where there was a lot to unload. The guy just kinda shrugged and went to get a load out of the truck. It’s just not in Scott’s nature to do it any differently, he’d never stand aside and watch as others did all the work. In the states I don’t think he had a crew any larger than 3 or 4 guys at one time. He’s up to six employees now and I sure hope they’re appreciating how good they have it working for someone like Scott who is honest, generous and hard working. Even though he always treated his employees in the states with the same kind of appreciation and respect that he’s treating these guys here, It always made me so mad to see them lie or steal and work as half-ass as they possibly could get away with until Scott had no choice but to fire them. It was very frustrating at times to go through workers time and again who were just plain lazy and many times pretty dishonest. Scott’s just a good guy and he conducts himself with such integrity I often worry he’ll get taken advantage of (although, I know he’s not gonna let that happen). He told me this week that one of his guys didn’t have any rubber boots, which they needed to wear when working in concrete. So he asked him what size shoe he wears and he went to Melo and bought the guy a pair of boots! Ahhh…that Scott! Of course one of the other guys saw this and proceeded to show him the big hole in the bottom of his boot! Uggg! No, He didn’t run out and get that guy boots! He may be generous but he’s not a sucker! Humph! These guys really do work hard. And Scott appreciates it and makes sure they know it by being fair and by treating them with integrity. I mean, come on…A cooler full of ice cold beer on a Friday!! Whataguy!!! I think he’s building a good relationship of mutual respect and appreciation and that’s never a bad way to deal with people in life. Hopefully it pays off with a crew of guys who are loyal and who appreciate Scott as much as he does them. So far, so good.

It’s So Much More Than ‘Teaching’…

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What I love about making friends in Spanish…

As you know , I’ve sorta ‘fallen into’ teaching English to four Panamanian women. I’m very uncomfortable thinking of myself as a ‘teacher’, and my so called ‘classes’ are taking on more of a ‘social gathering’ than any sort of structured ‘class’. This is exactly what I enjoy…Social Gathering! I mean, that’s what my hairstyling business often felt like as well. I think anyone who walked into that salon felt as though they were getting together with friends and not only coming to an appointment. Isn’t that the way life should feel? As though we were gathering to connect and not just robotically going through life? I didn’t have this awkward feeling I have now when I’m supposedly ‘teaching’, a feeling of being an imposter , cuz’ I was right at home behind the chair making people feel good. As these wonderful women and I are becoming more comfortable with each other and they have gotten to see that they too are ‘teachers’,( because they help me so much in my Spanish learning) it’s beginning to feel so much more like friends getting together to chat and to laugh and have a good time. I’m much more comfortable with this ‘give and take’ type of learning. They are just as much teaching me as I am supposedly teaching them, which I just love. But what I love the most is the laughing fits that we often get into during our little gatherings. Read the rest of this entry

Staying in Town Is Not So Bad….

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An Evening Stroll,

It’s actually been pretty nice staying in town this week. And not having a kitchen to cook dinner has meant going out to eat every night, which we don’t usually do. And the added bonus of living in town is having the ability to walk everywhere. Of course my friends Valerie and Mark would beg to differ about some of the benefits, during the many festivals that kept them awake until 3 and 4 a.m. The Boom! Boom! Boom! of the drums and the “Are You Ready!” Blasting from the make shift disco techs that sprout up during these very festive times of the year. We are fortunate to be staying in town while there’s nothing going on. Which is a rarity around these parts, they do love any reason to have a celebration. No, it’s been fairly quiet so far and being able to walk to dinner is something we miss about our home in Los Altos. Read the rest of this entry