Dec 28, 2011

A Holiday Prayer for Friends and Family


I translated the following prayer into English after receiving a Spanish email version from a Panamanian friend. I felt it to be comforting, inspiring, and uplifting.  Wishing all those who read it a similar response.
Dear Lord God, ruler of time and eternity… today, tomorrow, the past and the future all belong to you.  As this year is ending, I wish to give thanks for everything that I’ve received from you. Thank you for life, love, flowers, food, air, sun, moon, happiness, pain, for what was possible and for that which could not be. 

Everything I did this year I offer up to you; ---the work I accomplished, the things that passed through my hands & what I was able to create or achieve with them.  In your presence, I acknowledge the people with whom I’ve shared all these months---new friends, old loves, close friends & family,  those I see infrequently; those that have lent me a helping hand, and those whom I was able to help,---people who have shared my life, my work, my pain and my joy.

But also Lord, I want to ask your forgiveness for my flaws---for lost time, for money ill-spent, for unhelpful spoken words, for loving acts of kindness ungraciously received or un-acknowledged.    Please forgive my empty labors, my badly produced works, and all the time I spent living without enthusiasm.  Pardon me also for this rambling prayer that just  seeks to incorporate all my oversights,  carelessness and omissions.  Again I ask your pardon. 

I desire to live every day of this coming new year with optimism and kindness, bringing with me everywhere a heart  filled with understanding, compassion, and peace.  Lord please close my ears to all untruths, and stop my lips from expressing lies, selfishness, and spitefulness.  Open my being to all that is good, so that my spirit can be full with blessings that pour forth with every step that I take.  Fill me up with kindness, empathy, and happiness so that I can share these with people I live with or people I interact with, such that they recognize a part of YOU and Your influence on my life.

Within a few days we will be initiating a brand new year.   I hold my future days in limbo, awaiting the new calendar yet to be initiated, and present them to You , as You are the only one who knows if I will arrive to live them. 

I ask for my family, myself, and for my friends, that God grant us all peace, happiness, health, strength, prudence, humility, and knowledge.  Almighty God, please grant us a year replete with blessings, and teach us how to spread happiness.


Dec 5, 2011

Owner of The Bookmark Passes On

Some time ago, I wrote about Hal de Mun and his store, The Bookmark, in Dolega.  Although my initial encounter with Hal was a little jagged,  I enjoyed the store and later ran across his blog, which was well written, sharp-witted and entertaining.  I became a regular reader and follower. 

An announcement was sent out that he passed away on Dec. 3rd at the regional hospital in David.  Cause of death is not known, but he had been battling colon cancer since 2004 and was found unresponsive  sometime following a dialysis session.   

I was very sad to hear of Hal's passing, as are many people in the expat community in Chiriqui.  Reading his blog posts often brought me back to my San Francisco roots and gave me reassurance that there actually are others in this community who share my outlook re: many things.  His wit and candor will be sorely missed.  

Dec 3, 2011

Trip to Santa Fe, Panama

Just getting around to posting photos of the side trip taken from Santiago to Santa Fe last weekend.   Santa Fe is located about an hour and a half from Santiago, and is purported to be the next gringo enclave.   Expats are already getting entrenched there and the landscape is very reminiscent of Boquete.  Land is not cheap,  even now in it's primitive state, but still less than Boquete.   Foreign investors are buying it up as fast as they can.   The town has little to offer at this time, ---a small cooperative market and central park area is about it---but the surrounding areas are quite picturesque and the weather is definitely like Boquete.  On the day we went, it was overcast with a bajareque rolling in.
Below are a few photos from the drive. 

Probably won't have much Panama news to post in the coming week.    Heading back in time for the holidays.

Second Earthquake in Less than a Week

Yesterday at just a few minutes before 2:00 am we had another tremor--this time a 5.0 magnitude.  I was in bed, but still awake.  Too tired to give it much attention, though.  For some reason the earthquakes here don't feel as strong as they register.   Don't know if living in a less urban area has something to do with it.  Or perhaps apartment buildings, condos, and other concrete jungles just shake more.  The epicenter was near David this time.  No reported damage.  The locals here just shrug it off and say that these tremors always happen during the transitionary period between the rainy season and the dry season.
I'm fine as long as dormant Volcan Baru keeps sleeping.

Nov 29, 2011

ProcesiĆ³n de la Virgin de la Medalla Milagrosa

November 27th is the date the Catholic church dedicates to celebrate the Virgin Mary.  I am not Catholic, and I don't have a good understanding of the holiday.  But as a Christian, I was interested in understanding what this day means to the people in Santiago, who celebrate it more fervently than elsewhere in Panama.   I also wanted to observe the manifestation of their celebration and faith.

I did, and the experience was emotionally powerful,  uplifting, entertaining, spiritually humbling, and a little perplexing.  I am a Lutheran, and the Lutheran church does not practice devotion to saints or to the Virgin Mary.  It was a little hard to wrap my head around this celebratory event.   At the risk of possibly being incorrect in my reporting, I will try to capsulize what I came to understand about the day and the parade. 

Apparently, on November 27, 1830, [Saint] Catherine Laboure, a novitiate to the order of the Sisters of Charity in Paris, France, had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who showed her a medal and instructed the young girl to have other medals forged just like it.  She told Catherine that those who trustingly wore the medal around their necks would receive her abundant blessings.   Two years later, when Catherine's priest and confessor,  Padre Juan Maria Aladel, commissioned the production of 1500 medals,  Europe was in the throes of a cholera epidemic that had extended into Paris.  More than 18,000 people died from the disease according to conservative reports.  The Sisters of Charity began distributing the medals when they arrived, and the medals were subsequently credited with healing the sick who wore them.   People claimed the medal was miraculous, and that's how the name Medalla Milagrosa (Miraculous Medal) came about.  Other miracles are also attributed to the medal, including the conversion to Christianity of a Staussburg banker who had previously been an enemy of the church.    The story goes that a french nobleman gave the banker the medal, which he begrudgingly accepted to avoid appearing rude.  A few days later,  the Virgin Mary appeared at the church Sant’Andrea delle Fratre.  Her appearance sufficed to convert the banker, and later he and his brother funded missions dedicated to spreading Christianity.   My understanding is that Catholics revere the Virgin Mary as the mother of God and as an interventionalist with the ability to bestow blessings and miracles upon those who ask for her help.  She also symbolizes unconditional love and the "sum total of the love of all the mothers in the world and even more".    She is granted November 27th as her special day with the church. 

The city of Santiago, Panama, celebrates with a parade in her honor every fourth Sunday in November.  Small towns and aldeas, churches, neighborhoods, and even some businesses in Santiago and the surrounding areas,  construct floats featuring statues of the virgin Mary.  These floats are then pulled, pushed, or propelled by people on foot several kilometers through the streets and barrios of Santiago.  Each float is attended by many devotees who walk in front of and behind the float, carrying banners and singing songs.   After marching through Santiago, they return to the cathedral, when the floats are parked and admired.  A winning float is designated, but I'm unclear if there is any kind of prize other than the satisfaction of being voted the best float in the procession.    The final float to arrive is the float belonging to the city of Santiago.  It is generally the largest and most elaborated float.   When all the floats and their entourages have returned, the cathedral priest leads the multitude in prayer requesting Mary intervene for everyone and bestow blessings upon them.

At Sunday's procession, there were 252 participating floats.  The procession ended around 4 pm, having started early in the morning.  As people returned from their marches in the sweltering sun, they were met by members of their community who distributed food and drink to refresh them.   As things were winding up, prior to the priest's benediction, it started to rain heavily.   People around me explained,  "It always rains for the benediction.  That's part of the blessing!"

During the priest's benediction, one could have heard a pin drop in downtown Santiago, Panama's 3rd largest city.  All heads were bowed and not a single car horn, child's cry,  stray voice or dog's bark interrupted the silence.   It was truly awesome.  The spiritual energy of the faithful was almost palpable.   I felt myself trembling and was briefly moved to tears.   Would have been embarrassed,  but noticed I wasn't the only one wiping their eyes.   I don't believe in religious medals, nor in the need for someone to intervene on my behalf with God.   But I was definitely moved by the faith & devotion expressed within that huge crowd.    

Shake, Rattle and Roll

I've returned to Boquete.  It was a pleasant 3 hour drive.  As I sat down to start my post on the parade in Santiago, we experienced an earth tremor I would guess was around a 3 on the Richter scale.  No science or equipment to base this on,  just what it felt like from personal experience as a long-time SF Bay Area resident.  If there's a way to check out my guestimate later, I'll do so.  It lasted maybe 20 seconds.  There was a low bang, the house shook and vibrated, and the desk I'm sitting at wobbled.   Because my house is situated in a valley between two volcanoes, I always give things a second thought when the ground shakes.

Addendum:  Five hours after the tremor, I found documentation of it at the University of Panama's geosciences website.  It was a 4.1.  I guess it takes a lot to impress a San Francisco transplant.  Didn't feel all that strong....The epicenter was Volcan, just over the hill (Baru Volcano) from Boquete.

When I returned home today, my neighbor told me yesterday's Independence Day parade here is Boquete was really something to behold.  She said the town was packed so full of people there was barely even standing room, and she said the parade didn't end until 11:30 pm.  She said bands that first marched in Volcan contacted the mayor, asked if they could march in Boquete's parade, and then with his blessing showed up to add to the spectacle.  The bands marching in the evening carried candles, which added to the character and charm. 

A lot happened in Panama yesterday and over the weekend !

Back in Boquete---Briefly

Still job-seeking and interviewing. No solid offers yet.  Will probably take on a short- term temporary contract as soon as it opens up in a couple of weeks.  In the interim, made a quick trip back to Panama to wrap up some loose ends.  Boquete continues to grow and change,  with substantial progress made on the David-Boquete highway expansion.  Also, I hear the centennial water fountain in central park was  inaugurated today.  Two days ago I watched workers put the water pipes through a trial run, but I haven't seen the final outcome. I'm presently in Santiago.

November 28th in Boquete is always a big deal.  This is the date of Panama's independence from Spain, first celebrated in 1821.  Every year Boquete hosts a huge parade in which school bands from all over the country participate.  I'm told the parade starts very early in the morning and continues until late afternoon.  Unfortunately, I missed it.  I can't be in two places at once, and made a choice to attend the festivities in Santiago instead. 

Also occurring this same time in Las Tablas, is the pollera festival, which I also wanted to attend.  I was told the road is very bad due to new construction, and that it would be impossible to find lodging there at such a late date.  Maybe next year I will be able to make it.   Polleras are the intricate folk dresses worn by Panamanian women.  They are incredibly beautiful and unique.  Apparently there were 1000 polleras represented at this year's festival.  What a pity I wasn't there!  Below is a photo of a pollera I found on the internet.  I have photos of polleras taken on a canal cruise a few years ago, but they aren't uploaded to my laptop.  I may add them later when I return to the states...I've been wanting to research the origins and history of the pollera and may post more on the subject sometime in the future. 

Every last Sunday in November, the city of Santiago has it's own event which isn't practiced elsewhere in Panama.  It is a religious event, but as I quickly learned yesterday, religion and politics and business concerns and old-fashioned competition are all intertwined.  I was emotionally moved, nonetheless. I need to sort through photos and will post information tomorrow about the "Procession de la Virgin de la Medalla Milagrosa."

Oct 19, 2011

Motivating Women to Exercise

A girlfriend just emailed me this French video about getting women to exercise.  It's short, indeed motivational,  and entertaining.  You gotta see it.  What a concept!

Sep 29, 2011

Last Leg of Return Trip

Started out from Evanston, Wyoming this morning at 7:30 am.  Reached Utah shortly thereafter and stopped to take a few photos at this rest area.    It was a brisk, clear morning with lovely views.

Reached the California state line around 6:30 pm, and am still unpacking.  It was a long, tiring drive back, but have arrived safe and sound.    Lots of magnificent scenery the entire way...

Sep 27, 2011

Second Look at Wyoming

Yesterday I traveled through Iowa and most of Nebraska.  Today I left Nebraska and traveled across Wyoming.  I'm about 10 miles from the state line and will head into Utah, Nevada, and will hopefully finish up in California by late evening.  Wanted to do a little sightseeing, but I've got too many things pending at home and need to get back ASAP.  Another job interview awaits as well.  Wisconsin didn't work out for that.  My nephew got married, though, and I was able to be there for the big event so all is not lost.  Wishing Andy and Tara the very best!

I know Yellowstone National Park is partially in Wyoming, and wish I could have visited.  It will have to wait for another time.  But I drove though parts of Mountain Bow park and snapped a few photos.  There doesn't seem to be a lot here,  but the vast open spaces and ability to see for hundreds of miles is awe inspiring.  Wish my camera could have captured some of the distance views, but alas!

Californians---Try to identify this!

This may seem like such a trivial issue to midwesterners, but I just had to document my astonishment at the building I photographed above.    Most Californians try to stay away from rest stops and rest areas along the state highways.  At best they are questionably clean, cement,  camp-like structures that frequently lack hygiene supplies.  At worst, they are sleazy, dirty, dubiously secure spots to be reckoned with only in the most dire of circumstances.  When they are open, that is to say.

So I was absolutely amazed when I ventured into this one in Iowa today.  (On the first leg of my return to California...)  I was so impressed I took multiple photos while the locals looked at me as though I were some country hick who never got away from the farm.  Only a fellow Californian from the Sacramento area understood what I was doing and why. 

There were complimentary state maps on the walls for travelers to pick up if needed.  They were vending machines with every type of snack and healthy or unhealthy drink a person could want.  Including water with vitamins!  There were public phones, and areas to use a laptop, if one were so inclined.  The bathrooms were spotless, and there was even a separate and easily accessible handicap bathroom off the main hall.  There were picnic areas, and viewing areas, and........sigh!

The lady from Sacramento told me she had visited several rest stops in Iowa, and in Ohio, as well.  "They are all nice, " she told me,  "but they get worse the further west you head."   

I don't get it....

Sep 22, 2011

Wisconsin--end of the line for now

Arrived safe and sound on Tuesday evening as planned.  Not much to say at this point.  The drive in from Iowa was green and scenic...I'm relaxing and catching up on much-needed sleep.   Cats survived and seem to like the cooler weather.  More later.

Sep 19, 2011

Cruising through Nebraska

Didn't make it to Lincoln today.  Couldn't fall asleep last night.  At 3:00 am I  finally took a  Lunesta, then didn't wake up til a few minutes shy of check out time.  UGH!  Now I'm 200 miles west of Lincoln and hoping for an early launch tomorrow.  According to Mapquest, there's another 800 miles to go.    The last leg of the journey is tricky and has a million turn-offs. 

Planning to travel all day and night to get there.  Can't take another night in a motel.  I'm driving with two cats.  One is 20 years old.   The vet convinced me his heart couldn't tolerate a plane trip.    Simba's heart has been just fine, but my nerves are frayed.   He's developed a nasty case of cabin fever and is taking it out on me.  It has to end tomorrow or one of us won't survive.  

Still haven't been able to communicate via phone with family.   Would be nice if just one of them had the consideration to answer my emails!   Eveyone wants me to report in, but the effort doesn't seem to be reciprocal.  The national T-Mobile roaming plan I've paid into for 5 years isn't any good out here.  When there's signal, the network doesn't recognize me.   And most of the time there's no signal. 

I'm in another motel where I can't make a  long distance call.   At least that's what I've been told.  Sounds fishy to me.....No rooms with DSL or broadband internet anymore, so the Vonage device I brought is useless as well.   Barb, I guess you'll know I made it when I land on your doorstep.   Don't go to bed too early tomorrow.   I just may drag in at some late hour...

Wyoming---another third world country?

From the moment I entered Wyoming things started getting fumbled.  Don't know if it's the terrain or the technologically-challenged inhabitants of this land....Crossing the border into Evanston, I stopped for gas at the Chevron station that services all the weary travelers along I-80.  Went to two pumps.  The first one didn't work, the second one had a sign across it stating the pumps "on this side" of the station were functioning oddly.  Further instructions directed that one either pay inside first, or wait to see if a characteristic set of beeps sounded,  and then try fueling without benefit of seeing what the pump was doing or saying.  Having now twice parked the car at a pump and gotten out to fill the tank, I climbed back in again and drove to the other side of the gas station to one of the pumps on the "good" side.   I again parked the car, climbed out, and started to insert my gas card for the 3rd time.  There was another small, typewritten note on this pump stating the LED screen didn't work.  I got into the car again, moved it to the last pump, and was fortunately able to start fueling.  But the hose pushed in more air than gas, and wouldn't stay flowing when employing the lazy lever.  I had to hand pump the gas from the hose, which kept shutting off every 10 seconds.    As I was finally finishing up, another car drove up to the pump that had the small sign about the LED screen.  An irritated young man got out,  then quickly crawled back into his car and drove up behind mine.  No words were exchanged, but I felt his pain.

Several miles down the road, at the next small town, I pulled off the exit and got a room for the night.  It had quickly turned dark and I was too sleepy and night blind to take on the unlighted, barren terrain and roadway.  Although the motel boasted internet and cable TV, I learned too late the channels didn't match the channel list, the times and the programs were all off schedule, and there were two CBS stations, but neither showed the standard Sunday night line up.  Go figure.  Tried to use the lodge's phone to make a long distance call to Wisconsin, but it wouldn't work.  When I called the desk to inquire about it,  I was told they had been having problems with their long distance service and it wasn't working at the present time.  The internet service was WiFi, so I couldn't even use my Vonage box or Magic Jack to make the phone call.  Apparently,  broadband internet hasn't hit this town yet.  They do have Cable TV, but not internet.  Sound familiar?  For all intents and purposes I could be in Caldera or La Colorada, Panama with this scenario.   My first attempt to make the call was with my cell phone, but there was no network signal, either.   I don't ever want to hear another U.S. midwesterner in Boquete make derogatory remarks about the quality of Panamanian services!

Other than the technological challenges, the trip has gone well.  On cruise control at 75 mph the entire way.  Wide open spaces stretched for hundreds of miles and offered time to contemplate and relax while drifting along.  Was not impressed with the Great Salt Lake, in Utah.  It stank much worse than a poorly maintained seaside marina, and the view reminded me of low tide in Casco Viejo.  Didn't take many photos, but see for yourself.  Be glad you are being spared the smell. 

Hoping to make it as far as Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow.  I've been pushing it to get to my destination ASAP, but on the way back I'm hoping to be able to sightsee a little more.   Can't say I miss the congested freeways and crowded towns of the Bay Area.  I imagine I'll be putting all that back on as I get closer to home. 

Sep 18, 2011

High Desert Harmony

Although I love the lush, tropical forests of the Chiriqui highlands in Panama, I'm also drawn to the arid, sparse, high deserts in the western United States.  There's something about the vast, harshly serene, windswept scenery that soothes the soul and puts a person in awe of our Creator. 

The pictures below were taken en route to Winnemucca, Nevada.  For me, they are reminiscent of Arizona, however the scale is so much grander. 

Tomorrow I should pass through Salt Lake City, Utah and into Wyoming.  Haven't been that way since early childhood and remember nothing. Hopefully there will be photo opportunities for posting!  Two thousand miles still to go....

Sep 16, 2011

Lots of Changes, But Nothing New

Arrived back in California two weeks ago and have been hustling to try and get affairs in order.  Have gone on several job interviews for positions that are suboptimal.  Despite my qualifications and vast experience, I've received a lot of praise and encouragement, but no job offers.  Being only 9 months from retirement doesn't exactly help.  Prospective employers get around the age discrimination angle by asking me where I hope to be in 5 years.  My conscience has never allowed me to lie with any competence, and  vague responses about taking things one day at a time doesn't close corporate interviews very well.   Moreover, after having worked from home for the last 10 years, I lack  sufficient office attire for the 5-day/wk cubicle existance.  Salaries being offered hardly justify the required clothing investment, and although I'm not eliminating opportunities based on this realization,  it does help me feel better about the lack of offers. 
I'm heading out to Wisconsin this weekend.  Am scheduled for a job interview the end of next week.   I'm actually considering Wisconsin because my sister lives there and we could share expenses while working until retirement.  But the job has to be super special to get me to move there...  I often wonder if the small savings that corporations glean from displacing long term, loyal employees in lean times truly warrants the havoc wreaked on families and human lives.  Those remaining at work have to pick up the slack.   The stress and fatigue must manifest somewhere....

 Handling business transactions since my return to California has been  a rude awakening.  It's a struggle reaching live people when calling most large businesses.  If one goes through phone trees and remains patiently on hold for next to an eternity,  the eventual success of contact with a real person seems anything but.  Generally they are disinterested and admittedly unable to help.  Their "broken record" skills have been perfectly honed.  At some point the removal of humans from human resources has got to backfire and deplete interest in services and products, no?   

A little off the subject, but I was at Safeway two days ago and they no longer carry Fresca as part of their canned beverage stock. They have a few major brands; Coke, Pepsi, etc.  but now carry primarily the cheap, unknown brands.  Perhaps a reflection of the economy and struggle to survive as people get poorer and poorer.  But chasing the profit in voluminous cheap sales versus maintaining the satisfaction and loyalty of more discriminating customers can only lead to more of the same, with eventual loss of those customers who DO have the money to spend, would it not?  Safeway carries less and less of the items I routinely buy at a supermarket.  I now avoid shopping there as much as possible, despite living only a block away.  I seek out the small grocers, who have to charge a little more, but still have my old stand-bys.  Maybe we'll go full circle back to the way things used to be.  Wouldn't that be nice?  Unfeeling, callous corporate America might actually reap what it sows and orchestrate it's own demise. 

Or maybe everyone will leave...That certainly seems to be a lot of the sentiment these days.  Should be interesting to see what I observe as I drive across the midwest into Wisconsin.   Or not.  Que sera, sera.

Aug 15, 2011

Pineapple in Bloom and the Sky is Falling

I was told it takes two years for a pineapple plant to reach fruition.  It must have been 18 months or more since I stuck the top of a pineapple into the ground in the backyard and watched it grow.  I was greeted with a wonderful surprise when I walked out to check it this weekend.  Still a very tiny fruit, but WOW!  It actually worked!   I am thrilled to see it !  Such a nice diversion from all the stress I've been experiencing for the last week. 

After spending the weekend in Costa Rica to renew my visa,  I returned  to learn I  was no longer employed.   The recession is hitting hard everywhere, and apparently I didn't have immunity.  It was short notice, with a microscopic severence, and my health insurance ends in 2 wks.  I'm madly scrambling to figure out how my son and I are going to survive.  He's having to forfeit plans to attend college this September and fight like hell to compete for whatever job he can in this environment of record high unemployment.    I, aged 61, with  ten months from retirement,   am also trying to compete in a tough job market.    Heading back to California to re-engineer life plans.  Never a dull moment!

Depending on how things proceed, it may be a while before I post another blog entry.   Hoping for the best, and doing everything in my power to make this life changing situation eventful and productive.  Wishing everyone economic stability and job satisfaction !