Freedom

Holidays, Life in General

This is July 4th, Independence Day for those from the United States. There are all kinds of freedom in this world. The first things that come to my mind are those mentioned in the first amendment to the US Constitution, providing for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The most serious breach of freedom in the news recently is the freedom to live when stopped by police, if you are a person of color. Racism has reared its ugly head once more, and it seems the US is more divided and polarized on that subject than it has been in decades. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that parents of young African-American boys especially, must give them “the talk” about how to survive an encounter with those who are commissioned to protect and serve their community. Of course, the vast majority do not misuse the power their position provides them, but all it takes is a few bad apples to taint the reputation of an entire profession.

In the United States, personal freedom is almost a religion unto itself, for better or for worse. Right now during this pandemic, I see people on the news who are whining and complaining about doing a very small task that will not only protect themselves, but others as well. You would think they were being brutalized by being required to wear a face covering or mask, yet they have no problem with other rules such as wearing shoes and a shirt in a restaurant or wearing a seat belt. Where is the outrage for those requirements? I don’t get it.

Art credit: Craig Frazier

One of the reasons I came to Panama is to gain a greater measure of personal freedom. Freedom to go to sleep and wake up in the morning without the tyranny of an alarm clock, freedom to structure my time as I see fit, freedom to work at home and set my own hours, and freedom to travel when and where I want (with the exception of the current pandemic rules).

With those freedoms I’ve experienced here in Panama comes a greater sense of peace. I’m happier and more comfortable in my own skin than I think I’ve ever been. I have more friends and a richer social life here than I did in my hometown. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and living in harmony with my inner self, and that brings me joy every day.

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Synchronicity, Part 2

Life in General

I’ve been composing this post in my head for a few days, and since a couple of commenters are asking for Part 2, I guess I’d better go ahead and actually write it! Part 1 was related to the beginnings of my career, and this series of synchronistic events relates to my retirement – kind of tidy “bookends”, don’t you think?

When I first thought about retiring, I knew the only way I could afford to do it was to find someplace where the cost of living was lower, and that would most likely be somewhere other than the United States. I started researching, and the first country I considered was Uruguay – it was said that living there was like living in the US in the 1950s. That sounded attractive (and the Italian-inspired architecture there is amazing), but the more I read, the less I was impressed. And besides, it was so far away that I’d likely never have friends come to visit.

Continuing my research, I discovered Panama – many more plusses here! Same electrical system, same currency, no hurricanes, no tornadoes, no ice and snow, mountains or beaches within a couple hours from anywhere in the country – and they have a lot of benefits for retirees. That ticked pretty much all of the boxes. I came across Panama Relocation Tours, which promised lots of information and no sales pitches – just what I needed! So I signed up and came to Panama on the tour in February 2018. I was not disappointed – best money I ever spent!

As soon as I returned from the tour, I started preparing the paperwork required. One of the items on the list was an FBI report requiring submission of my fingerprints. I decided to go to Dallas to have them prepared digitally, since that was supposed to have better results than the standard ink-on-paper type. That done, I was on my way back to OKC, when I was involved in a five-car pile-up on the highway just outside the Dallas metro. This happened about three months before I was scheduled to move to Panama.

I was hit twice by the Suburban that was behind me. The first time was on the back corner, which spun me 90° and caused me to hit the car in front of me broadside. The Suburban was still in motion and hit me a second time on the driver’s side, spinning me around another 90°. Both of my side-impact airbags deployed, and I felt like a bobblehead toy, getting bounced around.

My nearly new Kia Soul, which had just turned 10,000 miles on this trip, ended up exactly backwards after the crash.
The result of being pushed into the car in front of me.
The cause of the crash. There was a lane blockage ahead of me, but he didn’t notice that cars were slowing down quickly, and he plowed into the Suburban, which hit me and caused me to hit the back of the car ahead of me. There was a fifth person who had minor damage – he almost got out of the way in time.

Remarkably, none of us involved in the crash went to the hospital, including the guy who caused the wreck. The son of the people in the Suburban took me to their house while we figured out how I could get home. They ended up taking me to the airport, since I was much too shaken up to drive to OKC in a rental car. Nice people!

My insurance company (unsurprisingly) totaled my car. Fortunately, I had a friend who had a car he wasn’t using, so I drove it for the remainder of the time before moving to Panama.

I’m detailing this car wreck, because most of the synchronistic events center around it (although there are others). Here’s the list:

  • I found Panama Relocation Tours, which gave me the exact information I needed to follow to acquire residency in Panama in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible
  • Since my car was totaled, I didn’t have to make a car payment  or pay car insurance for three months
  • My friend had a car I could drive during that time, so I didn’t have to rent a car (saving me a lot of money)
  • I received free chiropractic care for two months, because I had whiplash from the wreck. The chiropractor also worked on my lower back that had bothered me off and on for 10 years or so – bonus!
  • I was planning to sell my car to a friend when I left, and the insurance gave me $2000 more than I was going to sell it for
  • I had bought gap insurance at the time I bought the car (which I had forgotten about), and received an extra $500 from that
  • I wanted to sell my house, and I made a lease-to-own arrangement with the same friend who loaned me his car, and he gave me a $10,000 down payment on the house before I left
  • I just received a call from my insurance company a few days ago (two years after the accident). They were doing a final settlement with the responsible party’s insurance, and it looks like I’ll be getting my $500 deductible refunded.
  • The company I worked for in Oklahoma fired the person they hired to replace me, and asked me if I would consider working remotely. I agreed, and that has worked out well, providing extra income.

So this turned out to be a very “lucky” car accident, both financially and physically, since I wasn’t badly injured and got free medical care. I had a friend who provided transportation and relieved me of dealing with selling my house, and I had unexpected income from my former employer.

It’s like the universe was literally throwing money and opportunity my way, indicating to me that I was definitely on the right path by moving to Panama. And I love it here – I have made many more friends here than I had in Oklahoma, the climate is lovely, and I have the freedom I came here to find, being able to structure my life as I see fit.

Our virus lockdown is being scaled back quite a bit starting tomorrow. No more two-hour windows only three days a week. We will now have a simple curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Masks and social distancing are still required. Hopefully, people will be responsible so they don’t rescind the freedom of movement due to a spike in cases!

But I’m still a happy camper, however the pandemic (and life in general) unfolds. I’m grateful for the good things in my life, and don’t obsess over the negatives. That’s a good way to be, in my book!

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Synchronicity, Part 1

Beginnings, Life in General

Synchronicity: the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Since there’s not much activity going on in Boquete these days, I’ll take this opportunity to reflect on past events in my life. There have been at least two major cases of synchronicity that I can recall. There are probably more, but these two series of events stand out as being major turning points.

The first is when I started my desktop publishing business in 1988. This was just after “personal computers” became popular. I had been working for my friend Bill Eudy in his commercial appraisal business for about four years, where I learned a lot about word processing and graphic skills (typing the content, drawing floor plans, labeling photos, producing the finished report, etc.).

My husband at the time drew a cartoon for a woman who was the editor of a health-related section of the Oklahoma Gazette newspaper. She broke away and started her own newspaper called The Public Medical News, and needed someone to set the type for the paper. Kinko’s (now FedEx Office) had recently installed some of the first Macintosh computers in their stores, which were available to rent to customers.

The newspaper owner struck a deal with Kinko’s to trade advertising space for computer time, and with my skills in word processing, I went to work creating columns of text for the new publication on their little Macs – sometimes for eight hours a day. I was there so much that the employees threatened to give me a name tag and work apron! Kinko’s printed out my columns of text and the headlines, and the owner of the paper, a friend of hers, and I pasted up the newspaper manually every two weeks.

After a couple of months of this, I decided I needed to buy a computer and start doing this at home. So the newspaper owner wrote a letter stating she would use me for a certain dollar amount of work each month, and I took this letter to several banks to request a loan for the equipment. On the strength of her letter, a bank loaned me $15,000, and I was in business! I named my business Precision Typesetting and bought a Macintosh computer, scanner, printer, and several software applications (Office, Pagemaker, Illustrator, Photoshop), and still had a bit of money left over for operating expenses.

Customer referral card from Precision Typesetting.

A bedroom in my house was converted to an office (for me) and art studio (for my husband). I knew nothing about how all that software worked, and there were no classes available at that time to teach the applications, so I just jumped in and learned the software (and journalism practices) on my own. I typed the articles, created the ads, and laid out the paper electronically, printing each page on three overlapping sheets of legal-size paper. I’m proud to say that we never missed a deadline, even during that transition period! The newspaper owner recommended me to those she sold advertising to, and they also became my customers.

After nine months of working from home, I decided to rent an office. My first office was on the ground floor of a six-story building near my house, so I had a very short commute. One day, a guy wandered into my office. He had a friend whose office was upstairs, and when he saw my sign on the door, he was curious as to what I did. I showed him some samples of my work, and he said he might have some work for me. He wanted me to print labels for his PC users group, to put on the diskettes they made each month. I found this hilarious – “You want me, on my Mac, to make labels for your PC users group?” His reply was, “I believe in Macs!” We became friends in that instant, and kept in touch.

A couple of years later, that friendship showed itself to be very valuable. This guy worked for Seagate (computer hard drive manufacturer), and one of his good friends there was the head of the Publications department. Seagate had just inherited a Macintosh computer from their office in Minneapolis, and they wanted their graphic artist to learn how to use it. Also, it was the only Macintosh in an office full of PCs, so no one was familiar with the computer itself.

So my friend recommended me to come in and teach him. Their graphic artist was in his 60s, and was a brilliant pen & ink artist who created isometric drawings of hard drives for inclusion in their product manuals – but he knew nothing about computers (and at that point in his career, I imagine he had little motivation to do so). After about three lessons, he told me that he had a relapse of leukemia and could no longer work.

They asked me if I’d be interested in the position, and asked me if I could create an isometric drawing. My reply was, “I don’t know – I’ve never tried.” So I ran to a used bookstore and found a technical drawing book that defined what an isometric drawing was, then went home and drew my little one-piece Mac and a portable CD player. I took those drawings to the manager, who sent them to his boss in California, and they had to admit that I could indeed do the work.

For the first couple of months, I worked half a day at Seagate and half a day at my own business. Then I notified most of my customers that I would no longer be able to work for them, and kept a handful of my best customers after I went to work full-time at Seagate. I worked there for almost 10 years, until they had a massive layoff. It was the best job I ever had, and I enjoyed it very much.

So here’s where the synchronicity came into play:

  • If I hadn’t worked for my friend Bill, I wouldn’t have had the graphic arts skills that I had
  • If my husband hadn’t drawn a cartoon for the Gazette, I wouldn’t have met the woman who started her own newspaper
  • If Kinko’s hadn’t had their Macs available to rent, I wouldn’t have had the hardware to work for her
  • If she hadn’t written the letter of recommendation, I wouldn’t have gotten a loan to start my own business
  • If I hadn’t moved my work to an office in a commercial building, I wouldn’t have met the guy who worked for Seagate
  • If I hadn’t met that guy, he wouldn’t have introduced me to his friend (and my future boss) to teach their graphic artist
  • If the graphic artist hadn’t fallen ill, I wouldn’t have been offered the job that provided me a good living for almost 10 years

If even one of those steps had been omitted along the line, my life would have undoubtedly turned out quite different than it did. When I started working for Bill, I had few marketable skills. By the time I left, I was proficient in an area that was just beginning to come into its own. There were few companies that provided desktop publishing services to small businesses that couldn’t afford the big advertising agencies. I did a lot of work for companies who were just getting started and needed logos and stationery to make them look professional. I derived great satisfaction from helping the “little guy” look legit instead of rag-tag.

I recognize that I have a certain intelligence level and creative talent, but going from no viable job experience to working for a large multi-national company and making good money in the space of a few years was a remarkable journey, and one that I still marvel at today.

So that’s the first major episode where synchronicity played a part. The second series of events helped bring me to Panama….

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Comfy in Quarantine

Daily life, Health

Since we’re still under lockdown here in Panama, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest to write about. As of today, there are 9449 cases of the virus in Panama, with 269 deaths. We seem to be holding our own in controlling the spread of the virus – at least it doesn’t seem to be running rampant, which is a good thing.

I’m doing great – my house is comfortable, the neighbors are neighborly, and I have a friend who brings me groceries. About the only time I leave the house is to pick up the veggies I order online – I don’t even have to get out of the car. I go to the centrally located place where the vendor is, they ask my name and go get my bag of veggies. I give them the money, they put the veggies in my car, and I’m on my way in about a minute.

As long as I have electricity and internet, my life goes on pretty much as usual. The internet was out for the entire day on Wednesday, but that was very unusual. I think someone accidentally cut a major line, and it was out in the entire area. Since I couldn’t work or watch TV that day, instead I read a book and played games on my tablet to pass the time. Sometimes you just have to roll with it and have patience!

The biggest change here is that they lifted the “dry law” this week (at least for the time being). People have been complaining loud and long on Facebook about the inability to buy liquor and wine, which has been the rule since mid-March. So I’m hoping things will settle down, now that people can get their drink on. But if people can’t manage to act responsibly, they can reimpose the dry law at any time, and then it’ll be back to whining as usual.

They are also beginning to open up the economy as of this week, in cautious stages. A few types of businesses are now allowed to be open, and additional sections of the economy will follow, unless they see a spike in infections. Then I suppose they will review and revise, if necessary. No airline travel from Panama (except a handful of humanitarian flights) will be allowed until at least June 22, and there is no word as to when flights will be allowed to arrive in Panama. So the people who are here and want to leave, or those in the US and other places around the globe who want to get back to their homes in Panama, will have to wait awhile longer.

Although outside activities have been put on hold, I did get to see some of my “clay buddies” recently, because we had a virtual mini-retreat (since the real one was cancelled) and a polymer clay guild meeting via Zoom. It was a lot of fun to see people I hadn’t seen for two years now (wow – has it really been that long???). Looks like we’ll have our next meeting online also.

People are still making great virus song parodies. This is one of my new favorites – this family is very talented, and have quite a few great videos.

I hope everyone is staying safe and hanging in there! This will be over at some point, although we may very well have a “new normal” when it passes. But whatever happens, life will go on and it will be OK!

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Life in the Age of Corona

Boquete, Community, Health

The virus statistics for Panama on March 28 stand at 901 cases, with 17 deaths reported. New cases have been added for the past 4-5 days at the rate of about 110 per day. This rapid increase in the past week is a bit alarming, especially since a handful of cases aren’t far from Boquete, but this seems to follow the global pattern – a rapid increase of cases, then (hopefully) a leveling off and decline of new instances.

Panama is doing many things right regarding their attempts to limit the spread of the virus – airports are closed, bus service suspended, residents are under quarantine except for a two-hour window per day, and that is only for necessities like buying food and medicine. IDs are being closely checked to make sure people are going out only at their allotted time. Numerous people have been arrested, and companies have been fined, for ignoring the rules.

The streets are eerily empty, compared to the usual hustle and bustle downtown. Below is a recent photo someone posted on Facebook of Boquete’s main street. Normally, there would be cars parked on both sides of the street, vendors selling fruits and vegetables from the backs of their trucks, and people filling the sidewalks, going about their daily business. Not today.

Main street in downtown Boquete, a virtual ghost town these days.
Cleaning crews were thoroughly scrubbing and disinfecting the bus stops, sidewalks, and even the streets a couple of days ago.

So while I’m hunkering down at home and staying safe, I’ve been enjoying some of the very creative efforts of people who are making well-done song parodies online. These are some of my favorites. This “Coronavirus Rhapsody” is phenomenal, and the couple singing “Homebound” is adorable! Gotta love the “Quarantinaville” homage to Jimmy Buffett, too!

Although very different, life under quarantine is not nearly as difficult as the alternative – this illness is no joke, and being in a higher risk demographic, I’m not about to tempt fate. With patience and calmness, we all need to be smart about our health and remember these four little words, “This, too, shall pass…”

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