Car insurance

We bought used cars, and we have to insure them before we can drive them off the lot. We contact the insurance company, give them the needed info. We get back forms in Spanish. We expect forms in Spanish. We are in a Spanish-speaking country. Just makes it a little harder on us. Thankfully, someone from human resources at Dean’s work sits with him and explains things and tells him where to sign.

The rate for two used cars (2015 and 2012 models) is just over $500. Ouch. $500 a month. We are parents of a teenaged boy who drives. We know there will be pain when paying for auto insurance. We paid about $2,400 a year in the U.S. on two cars in the 2000 model year.

$500 a month. OUCH. But we bite the bullet and say ok. Gotta do whatcha gotta do.

And then the HR rep pauses and says, “A month? No. That’s the yearly rate, and if you want to pay in advance you can get a discount.”

Send us your teenaged drivers.

Our U.S. phone numbers are done, we think

I cancelled our AT&T lines yesterday. At least I think I did. We tried to cancel our phone lines ahead of time while in the U.S. You know, just end the contract at the end of the next billing period. Thought it would be neat and easy. AT&T didn’t agree. They had never heard of such a thing. OK. So we waited till we got here to cancel the phones. We didn’t want to be completely without phones in case of emergency and I wasn’t so sure I could get the phones unlocked if we weren’t AT&T customers, but now we have phones that work in Panama. Time to cancel the AT&T service.

I sign on to AT&T’s website and try to remember all the codes and passwords required to get to my account. I have something wrong, so I hit the chat button and write that I want to cancel my account. It takes three transfers to different customer reps who keep trying to convince me not to leave AT&T until I get someone who really understands — We have left the United States. AT&T does not offer service in the country we are in. I do not want to hear another sales pitch. I am not going to buy what you do not sell.

Eventually, all I had to do was give them the phone numbers I wanted cancelled. I can’t pay my bill without a password and a security code, but apparently, I can cancel all our numbers without having to give my name or any other info other than the phone numbers? Hmmmm.

And I’m supposed to check my account in 14 days to see if I owe money or if there will be a refund. By the language in the chat, I either overpaid or underpaid by $199. I tried several times and several different ways of asking, but I’m still unclear on that.

But I can get this information by dialing 611 on my AT&T phone in 14 days. Ummm. Didn’t I just cancel the phone?

This is the company that when we first got U-verse service for the TV we had to let the bill get to the shutoff stage before they would let us pay it. When U-verse was installed, the tech set up the online billing but neglected to give us the four-digit code needed to pay bills online. Customer service couldn’t give us the four-digit code because that would threaten the security of the account. And since we didn’t get physical bills, we had no way of actually paying AT&T for our U-verse service. But if you get to the shutoff stage, they do let you pay the bill. You see our troublesome cycle?

The cycle was broken when a good-hearted scofflaw of a rep took pity on us. He couldn’t tell us the code, but he let us “change” the code! I’m sure he broke company rules, and I hope he wasn’t fired for helping us.

After a little over an hour and half of internet chat, I think I can sign on to my AT&T account online via my email address, not former phone number, to wrap this up in a little under two weeks. Of course, then I have to figure out how to pay them or get the refund…

First the good news!

We have phones. Phones that work in Panama! We can WhatsApp. We can Facebook on the go. We can text each other from our separate hotel rooms. We can get an Uber ride! I know these are superficial pleasures and privileges, but they are also lifelines right now for us.

I think Neil spent most of the first night video chatting with friends. He had carefully lined up all his friends to get WhatsApp, but his old phone couldn’t support the app. He had been patiently waiting for a new phone. Now he is set up with Mom’s old iPhone 6. He is truly living the life of luxury. It’s been a huge boost to his moral to be able to communicate and to “see” his friends.

Some days

Some days, moving just stinks. You feel like you are trying to swim through mud. We keep trying to get cell phones. We are trying to use our perfectly good and expensive phones from the U.S. We’ve paid them off. We’ve unlocked them. We’ve applied for new sim cards. We’ve verified Dean’s employment. We’ve explained our lack of utility bills. Now they want immigration paperwork. When will we get phones? Who knows!

The house will hopefully have furniture tomorrow. I’m supposed to be there at 10 a.m. to accept the furniture. If I had a phone I would Uber there. I don’t have a phone.

Neil’s trying to get his Facebook account up and running so he can use messenger to talk to friends. Facebook wants to verify his account by phone. Facebook knows we are in Panama and would like our Panamanian phone number.

Trying to buy a car. Actually, we may have bought the car. We’ve submitted the paperwork to the insurance company. We are told it may take about a week to get insurance. We’d call but you know the drill.

Dean’s been trying to cancel our Auto Club insurance. A feat easier said than done. We tried to cancel while we were still in California, but AAA declined to let us cancel ahead of time (I think it was a Friday and we wanted it to cancel on Sunday). Dean was told that you just call and cancel. Really? He broke down and is currently using AT&T international rates to sit on hold so he can cancel our U.S. auto insurance.

Our container from our old home was picked by U.S. Customs for inspection. Great. At least it would explain why our container hadn’t left Long Beach yet. Three items were removed (a weapons magazine, a baton and a pair of handcuffs. All remnants from Dean’s Marine days.). Now the container is on its way. And I’m hoping Dean isn’t on a watch list.

Along the Amador Causeway


We went to the Biomuseo today and just looking at the views near there makes me want to convince you all to come see this! I need a better camera with me next time. Not just my phone.

We’ve got mail!

We got mail today! Two letters and two packages! It’s like we might really live here. I can’t believe how excited we all were. Jack got a card from family friends (Thank you Tish!) and his official high school transcripts in a sealed envelope for delivery to FSU. Dean had bought a book on Amazon to test the service back in May and before he could pick it up, he travelled back to California. I received my FabFitFun box! A bit extravagant but always a joy to receive. It’s like a present to myself. And this box contained, among other things, sunscreen, a glass water bottle and a passport cover and luggage tag. How did they know?!

We picked up our mail at the Mail Boxes, Etc. in El Dorado, near our future home. That’s why we gave you all a Miami address, then the mail is couriered to Panama City for us to pick up. For reference, we paid 87 cents per letter and $34 for the two boxes. We quickly signed up for the monthly fee versus the per piece program! $27 a month for a physical connection to Amazon Prime! And you guys, of course.

One week recap

We arrived last Friday. One week in a hotel trying to get phones, furniture, cars, house keys, electricity, water and internet in that house …

We have house keys. Yay!

We have electricity and water. Yay!

Rental furniture is scheduled for Tuesday delivery. We are hoping it is this coming Tuesday, not the next. We’ve been warned that “Tuesday delivery” could mean any Tuesday in the future. I’m thinking we will need bedding, etc. once we have delivery.

Car shopping is happening in the morning. The consensus is anything Japanese because that seems the most likely to find a repair shop. And looking at the traffic and the way driving seems to go… We are going to need that repair shop.

Phones have been their own struggle.  But we have managed to get them unlocked and a contract has been signed. We don’t have Panamanian utility bills yet so we had to pay three months in advance. There should be new Sim cards on Monday afternoon and we will just pop them in the phones and they will work — I remain eternally hopeful.

Because you know what a phone means in this day and age, right? It means freedom. It means access to translation, to maps, to uber, to communications with others.

I think of when I arrived in Prague in 1991. Just arrived. No phone. No internet. No real directions. A friend was supposed to arrive too. She didn’t. So I rented a place to sleep for two nights, and I set out on my own two feet to find the newspaper office. Sounds good doesn’t it? In reality, I did rent that place; a stranger on the street had to help me unlock the door; I cried myself to sleep and spent two days wandering on the wrong side of the Vltava River. I eventually handed a cab driver the address written on a piece of paper and paid WAY too much to get to the newspaper. I was thankful to find friends and plenty of help once I got there.

Working on getting there in Panama.



My second first impression of Panama

We made it through the flight. Each of us sitting in a randomly assigned middle seat. My sweet innocent husband (he does travel for business right? Shouldn’t he know better?) thought someone would gladly trade with us. Haha. Or as they say down here, jaja.

I said goodbye to California – place of my birth and home to me most of my life – sitting between strangers. On one side was a man with serious manspread of the legs and arms who pretended to sleep any time anyone tried to speak to him. On the other side a woman who was from Panama and had travelled to L.A. on business. She kindly and severely made the person in front of me put up her seat because it was crushing my knees. The landing terrified her. Comfort comes in all languages.

In Panama you go through immigration, then pick up your bags and go through customs. Then you walk through a long windowless hallway to get to the outside.

Oh when you hit the outside…

It was about 9:30 p.m. and it had just finished raining. It was like walking into a steam bath. Moisture rising from the streets, the air sticking to your skin, sweat pouring off you. Jack says his first thought was “oh, mom’s gonna kill dad.”


I’m trying to get past posts up on the blog. Internet was dodgy when I first started…

A really rainy day

Today we woke up to rain, wind and warmth. It’s very gray out.  If I crank the hotel A/C I could pretend it is a cold day, eat soup and read books from bed.

We are holed up in the hotel, playing games and debating what to do next today. The boys have been working out in the hotel gym. There’s been swimming. There’s been a visit to the spa. I’m planning a sauna/steam room trip next. It’s a bit like being luxurious hostages.

We are waiting to get electricity, internet and rental furniture for the house. And a car for Dean to get from the house to work.

We are working on phones. We can’t uber without them. We’ve been warned against taxis, but I see people doing it regularly. Should I really not use a taxi? Or is that the hostage speaking?

There’s a bus system and a very limited metro system. We’ve explored the strip malls around us. How many times can the boys watch Ted 2 on HBO while I pretend they aren’t watching such trash.

Quality reading time is next. Neil’s going to be thrilled.

“Mr. Watson come here — I want to see you”


Day Two of trying to unlock phones. It’s making me crazy. AT&T kindly puts “unlocking your phone is simple with a few steps…” on its website.


We need phones. Phones with Panamanian numbers so we don’t just rely on the hotel Wi-Fi to communicate. We’ve paid good money for perfectly good phones. Why can’t we use them? First we needed AT&T to stop sending emails to the email address they assigned us when we started service (sometime back in 1999). Thankfully, we had an alternative email on the account and convinced someone to send an email there instead of xx45x1 something, something, something at We paid off the phones online. Then we had to find a mobile security code that we didn’t know we had so we couldn’t “remember” it. We jumped that hurdle. Next we needed the IMEI numbers which you can so easily get if you just text #06# on our phone — if you are in the United States. OK, we googled it and figured out another way. Got that…

For those who think we should of tried this in the U.S., we did. The “helpful” AT&T person at our local store said to wait until we actually moved because we could do it all online and wouldn’t mess up our ability to use the phones while we were still in the U.S.

Now we are in a 24-hour hold before we can unlock the phones and hopefully a tablet that AT&T doesn’t recognize as its own. Clearly we need an international hacker.

P.S. The headline is the first words Alexander Graham Bell spoke on his new invention.