Moving, growing, changing

Moving to a new country brought many changes. MANY changes.

But the stage we are in life would have brought so much changes anyway. Jack will be attending Florida State by the end of this month. Neil started high school. Young adults we love as our own are heading to other universities, new jobs, many different paths. These kids we watched grow up are so grown up! Wasn’t kindergarten just a moment ago? Weren’t they all Cub Scouts and Brownies just last month?

I think of kids in Jack’s kindergarten class and the plans they are making, the dreams they are pursuing. Amazing.

We are watching Neil’s classmates make plans and choices for high school – cheer, dance or theater, basketball or football, band, honors classes or/and vocational classes. Neil’s new school has a college fair in a few weeks. Neil’s planning on making a permanent friend of the University of Oregon representative. Neil has to wear a uniform to school, but he has figured out he can sport his Ducks socks that day.

In my Facebook feed, this memory photo showed up. It’s Neil, Graeme and Jack the day before school started last year. We didn’t even know Panama was on the horizon. Julie was teaching so I took the boys. They really didn’t need me. Two of them were drivers already! But it was tradition so I made them pile into my car and we headed to the bowling alley.


Turns out this photo marks the end of a back-to-school tradition. Each year Julie and I would take the kids bowling before school started. We had quite a crew when the tradition started. Jack might have been in 2nd grade, Neil in preschool. Graeme in 1st grade. We also had Morgan, Gavin, Quinn, and maybe an additional friend or two. Morgan and Gavin went off to college; Quinn is in Colorado.

Graeme started his senior year today. We are in Panama.

And a favorite tradition has become a treasured memory.

In the trees

I sat down at my kitchen table for my morning cup of coffee when I spied a very tall, very thin ladder out the window. Wait, there’s a leg at the top of that ladder. What? That does not look safe. And then I heard the chainsaw. I’m pretty sure that really isn’t safe. I wasn’t here the last time the gardener came, but I’m thinking that’s Jorge up there.


No lawnmowers (that I have seen) in Panama, just weed-wackers. Even when the huge open space next to us was trimmed.

AltaPlaza Mall


In California, it seemed as if malls were dying a slow death. Too much online competition, alternative spots or specialty stores, or just not enough disposable income. Maybe it is just a temporary decline.

But in Panama, malls are everywhere. Big malls, little malls, strip malls. They all have a mall name: Multiplaza Mall, AltaPlaza Mall, Ocean Mall, Multicentro Mall, Soho Mall, Albrook Mall (the largest in Latin America I am told), Metro Mall, etc.

Everyone charges for parking. Even many of the strip malls. And if the mall doesn’t charge for parking, there are often men who post orange cones in parking spaces and then ask for money to let you park there.

The photo above is from AltaPlaza. It’s very close to us, smaller than Albrook so it feels more manageable. We are guessing it is very new. Parking gates and payment stations aren’t up and running yet.

For us AltaPlaza is perfect — the A/C is on high, there’s a movie theater with subtitled movies (subtitles in Spanish means the dialogue is mostly likely in English) and somewhere to eat.

High school for Neil


Neil survived his first day of high school! New country, new home, new school! This kid is knocking it out of the park. High school is daunting enough but Neil put on a uniform and walked into the unknown. I swear he’s the bravest of us all.

I’m so proud of him.

He has 7 classes, including the dreaded P.E. His P.E. teacher is the basketball coach. That worked out nicely! He’s taking honors geometry, English, world history, Spanish, biology and graphic design.

Panamanian hospitality


We were playing progressive rum at the kitchen table when we heard the doorbell ring. Two of the cutest neighbors brought a Welcome-to-the-Neighborhood gift. The best kind of gift — DESSERT!

Miguel and Sebastian were the sweetest emissaries and treated us to a pretty in-depth discussion of where to buy the best candy.

They are clearly our favorite neighbors now!

Unpacking memories

In between crushed lampshades and ridiculously wrapped rocks, we uncover items that bring back memories. Beds are sporting quilts made by my grandma and my mom. Glassware I bought when I was 25 and travelled to Prague to work for an English-language newspaper (Prognosis). These glasses have survived the ’94 Northridge Quake, a couple Santa Clarita moves, being on shelves in a room that boys would play in, and now they have survived U.S. Customs and a container trip to Panama. Tucked next to them were crystal shot glasses a friend brought back from Czechoslovakia for our wedding.


This guy was my Dad’s. His twin sister is/was a teacher and one of her students made it. I’ve carried him around for years. Makes me think of my dad and my aunt.


Many of you know that Neil is rabid Oregon Ducks fan. His Ducks gear all made it in tact, including his favorite mug (made by family friends). Neil will continue to drink his soda in style. (And yes those are plantains from our back yard tree.)


My Uncle Jerry’s art work made it too! He painted this as part of a 20-piece challenge. I dragged PTA friends to see it at a gallery in Sacramento.


And Dean’s Aunt Betty. Her pottery is throughout our house — art tiles, mugs, bowls, umbrella stand (that we can actually use as an umbrella stand).

There are more things, but you don’t have to go through the list with me. It all makes it feel like home. Like family and friends are with us.

Unpack, unpack, and unpack some more

We just keep unpacking. It’s a weird sort of Christmas — brown-paper packages taped up in green. Sometimes these are my favorite things…

All our stuff is new again. Though sometimes the “gift” isn’t quite as expected.


That’s right, we unwrapped a button, 2 business cards, a rubber band, a couple paper clips and 14 cents.

We imported rocks too:


And baseballs:


About that fragile sticker …

We waited so long for the container and then to open it to find this. It was disheartening to say the least. I might have hid in the kitchen and cried. A corner of the kitchen because there are so many windows in this house, there are very few hiding spots.

Our container sat in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for a month. Every box was opened and examined. I know this because the bright green tape can be found on every box.

And then, as far as I can tell, they put it all back in the container in the reverse order. Stuff that was on top took its turn at the bottom of the heap.

For awhile, it just got worse as it was unloaded.

My favorite was this box marked “H.V.” for high value. All crystal and glassware. I couldn’t decide if I should open it from the top or just go in the way Customs did …


Shockingly enough, nothing was broken in this box.

And for how the container looked when we opened it, surprisingly little was broken — a few glass items, a rug was ripped at the end, several baskets and lampshades crushed. A couple irreplaceable were broken — a childhood lamp that I’ve dragged around for 40 years (time to let it go!) and art tiles we loved.

We felt lucky that that was all the physical damage.

Agents of my own country did this. It is hard not to take it as an insult. I know it’s not. Just overworked government agents trying to do their job.

And as far as bureaucratic insults go, this is minor. So very minor.

It still stung.

Water outage

The water stopped working about midday yesterday. Was it the water bill? Was it the issues with the water heater again?

When you don’t speak the language well it’s not easy to call the water company up. And truthfully, I have no water company information. We haven’t seen a bill, a company name, nothing. We just have water. Well, usually we have water. I’m guessing a bill will show up eventually?

I texted the landlord. Texting is a saving grace. I can text him. He can translate words he doesn’t know. He can text me. I can do the same. I’m thankful for it!

Turns out a pipe leading to our housing area had broken and was being repaired.

And we all know what no water means… We can’t do dishes so these guys had to take me out…

We explored a local strip mall. Found a great kitchen store that also had beautiful finished slabs of wood for sale. The pieces of wood were slices from the caoba tree. Hmmm, we are going to need a souvenir from this trip, right?

And we found a lovely internet cafe with good food, charming local wares for sale and delicious desserts.

The only moment of fear was when the most expensive thing on the menu was a word that didn’t translate. We had no idea what it was. Dean asked the waitress. She described it as “carne.” Ok, beef? She shrugged her shoulders. Steak? She shrugged again.

Dean ordered the mystery meat. Turns out is was a perfectly prepared skirt steak in a wine sauce. Best mystery meat ever!

It can get here from there!


I’m thankful for whoever at the Post Office in Florida figures out our mail is going to the wrong address and somehow gets it to us at the right address. Today we received a book we thought was lost to the great void of undeliverable mail. Suggested by Arthur Edwards, my high school Spanish teacher and father/grandfather to family friends. That makes him a family friend too, doesn’t it?

Sr. Ed was born in Panama, making him and and any children (I know his daughter) Panamanian citizens. Funny, I remember him describing this beautiful country during Spanish class. My high school self had no idea…