Thursday, June 28, 2012

Monkeys, Waterfalls, and Line Dancing!

Our last day in Boquete was a little more low key, mainly due to the oldest and I having some digestive issues (from the beef at El Sobrason?  Who knows).  We had hoped to go ziplining yesterday morning -- the tours were full.  Then we signed up for a horseback-riding tour -- and then decided against it (thankfully . . . kiddo and I wouldn't have done well bouncing on horses away from potties for four hours).  We ended up sleeping late and going to La Jungla, an animal rescue center near our casita.  Some photos:
This spider monkey was a hoot!  It would reach its
tail through the fence to wrap around our arms and
reach out his hand to hold ours.

A Spanish-speaking macaw named Casey.
This monkey went in and out of the enclosure.  SO cute!!

We were right inside with the birds.  Don't know what kind of bird this was.
Our guide only spoke Spanish, so we only got half the story.  :)
And the youngest was the only one with the courage
to actually hold the snake.
By then, I was feeling better, so the youngest and I decided to check out a swimmin' hole down the road we heard about:

Yep, that's my girl in the water down there.

BEAUTIFUL place, but very, very rocky on the shore and in the water.  We were told we would want water shoes -- but we haven't had any water shoes since we left Jersey.  A possible future investment for the family.

And we ended the evening at the place we started -- Las Ruinas restaurant.  This place has probably the most authentic American-style food we'd had in town.  My BBQ pulled pork sandwich was to die for.  And besides that, we were there for country line-dancing night!

Yep, a bunch of old white gringos dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus
in a thatched hut in Panama.
And so now, we're packed to leave.  We talked yesterday about what we're most excited to get back home to:  the girls said their friends -- hubby and I are looking forward to communicating in English again.  What will we miss in Panama?  The weather and the terrain -- it is absolutely gorgeous here.  And the youngest will miss the sense of adventure!  I think this trip may have awoken something important in her . . .

Our trip back is brutal -- we drive seven or eight hours today to Panama City (with a quick stop at a housing development in a different part of the country on the way).  Our flight leaves at 2am.  Arrggghh!  None of us sleep well on a plane.  We get into Chicago at 9am, and start the drive back to Sioux City (where I hear the temps are in the 90s?  Yeesh...).  Don't expect to hear from me until the weekend -- maybe Monday.  But your prayers would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Photos

One of the many gorgeous flowers around here. 
All wild, I believe.  Can't give you names for any of them.
What five bucks gets you at the ice cream parlor.

My friend Carol is into the wild flower pics,
so here you go.  :)

A view of Boquete -- the town there in the middle of the valley.
The Caldera river runs through town and the mountains surround it.

The menu at El Sabroson, if anyone wants to try to read it.

This flower was in the neighbor's yard -- big and beautiful!!

Tuesday . . .

La dentista
We started our day at the dentist.  Dra. Monica Sanjur was great -- spoke English, very friendly, has her own office, just her and her assistant.  We got rather wet, but we got good cleanings at a great price -- $40 each.

Then was the market at the BCP.  (You'll recall that the Boquete Community Players was the theater and event center where we attended church on Sunday.)  Every Tuesday morning, they have a market there with local vendors of a variety of items -- jewelry, cosmetics, handbags, produce, books . . . and FOOD!  We got some BBQ pulled pork from a gringo selling a variety of pig meat.  We also tried arepas, a Columbian item; a corn meal pancake with cheese inside.  Yum!  Another gringo was selling "genuine NYC conies" -- he said he and his friend had been sitting around talking about what they miss the most from the states and conies was near the top of the list.  Hubby also got a chiropractic adjustment for $30. 

Tuesday market at the BCP
Usually, at 10:30 during this market, they have an expat meeting with speakers addressing various topics of interest or concern to the local expats.  Unfortunately, this particular week, there was no meeting scheduled.  But that's okay -- the market was great.

We spent the afternoon looking at properties in the Valle Escondido development, the lovely spot where my youngest was soaking her feet in the creek in an earlier picture.  Beautiful houses in a gated community with golf course, restaurant, fitness club, pool, etc.  Ralph, who showed us around, was great because he was very honest with us about the bringing-a-family-to-Boquete experience.  His family has lived here for a couple years, but his wife and kids are now leaving.  It just wasn't for them.  He's debating what to do about his very successful security business he has here.  We then picked up food at the market to cook dinner in our casita.  But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men . . .

My Panamanian dinner -- about halfway finished
About 5pm, a wicked thunderstorm came through.  Wicked because it was directly on top of us.  In fact, if the casita didn't actually get hit by lightning, it struck within a few feet of us anyway.  It was LOUD!!  All my years of living in the meteorologically volatile Midwest, I'm not sure I've ever been in a storm like that.  We laughed at each other jumping at the thunder crashes.  And then, the electricity went out.  This meant no TV, no internet . . . and no stove.  No home-cooked dinner.

So we went downtown again to El Sabroson, a local spot with Panamanian food.  Great rice . . . kind of fatty beef, although hubby like his chicken . . . fried bread and empanadas (Panamanians like their fried food) . . . typical fries . . . and our new favorite soft drink: Kist fresa.  Dinner for all four of us was about $9.

Silliness in the square
By now it was dark and we still had no power at the casita, so we hung out at the square downtown for a while -- because other than the restaurants, the grocery stores, and the hostels, there was NO PLACE open anywhere in town by 7pm.  Fascinating.  Small town life, I guess.

Today's our last day in Boquete.  Gotta think through what all we want to be sure to do before we take off tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Random Observations . . .

A big, BEAUTIFUL flower in our neighbor's yard
- It’s a pain in the rear to find a place you want to go here.  There are no “addresses”.  Houses and buildings are not numbered.  Streets have names, but rarely have street signs.  Even when you ask for directions, you get, “Do you know where the bank is?  How about Big Daddy’s Grill?”  They tell you, "Go this way, and this way, and down this street, and it's right there."  And then it rarely is.  Or it's poorly marked.  Or it's not open.  Pain in the rear.

- Even if you think you know where you're going, it's difficult to get around.  The roads are two-lane, and people are walking everywhere in town with little regard for oncoming traffic.  Vehicles just stop anywhere . . . one way streets are not labeled . . . it’s tough to find a place to park, and when you do, you’re very likely tilted at a 45-degree angle.  And outside of town, some of the roads are in pretty decent shape, but others are just horrendous.  Really.  Horrendous. Although we're told they're going to be fixed . . .

- There are taxis everywhere, and they’re apparently very cheap.  The woman we ate lunch with said her daughter takes a taxi home from town for $1.50.  I anticipate using taxi service A LOT if we live here. 

- It really does a number on your brain after a while when nobody speaks your language. 

- My hair is curly in the humidity.  I don't know when my hair got so naturally curly.

- Stray dogs roam all over the place here.  And even dogs with owners run around everywhere.

Eating at Pio Pio -- a Panamanian KFC wannabe
- We are much more dependent on fast food than we realized.  For lunch, the girls and I so wanted to just grab a bit of something and eat at the casita.  No place to grab and take anything.  Many, many restaurants – all sit-down.  We did try a Panamanian fast food place called Pio Pio in David, 30 minutes away – not too bad.  And last night, we finally found a "fast-food" place in kind of a shack downtown here in Boquete -- "Milqueburger", it was called.  But it opens at 4pm and closes when they run out of food.  We were warned to not plan on eating there after 5.  But it had tasty burgers and fried chicken.

- Our dependency on cell phones -- that we're quite aware of.  We have no cell phone service in Panama, and it’s amazing how often that has been a source of stress for us. 

- At the movie theater in David, most movies have Spanish subtitles.  But “children’s” movies (Ice Age 4, Madagascar 3, etc.) are dubbed – I guess because they don’t count on kids being able to read the subtitles. 

- It rains every afternoon here.  Such is life during the rainy season.  But the mornings are gorgeous, and the rain has usually stopped by evening.

- As the week has gone on, I've slept better and better.  Last night, I think I slept for 7 or 8 hours and I don't remember waking up that much.

- We still don't know if this is the place for us.  Our youngest definitely wants to live in Panama.  Our oldest is determined she will NOT live in Panama.  Hubby and I are still up in the air.

I've found myself an interesting psychological study while we've been here.  :)  On one hand, I've been amazed at how easy-going and peaceful I've been about things.  As I've noted before, I'm not a spontaneous, go-with-the-flow kind of person.  I don't like the feeling of things being out of my control, and I don't feel in control of much here.  But I don't have that constant underlying feeling of panic that I've had at other times in my life.  A sign of spiritual growth?  Maybe.

On the other hand, I do have my moments.  I fought mild panic yesterday when hubby was much later than we expected getting back from a meeting, and I had no idea how to get a hold of him or how to find someone who could help me find him.  And I cried for a moment after one daughter voiced yet another complaint of a series I'd heard from her that morning. 

It will feel good to be home.  But I can see the possibility of this being home someday, if the Lord leads us here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gringos Stupidos!

We went to the La Barqueta beach yesterday.  We were a little concerned because we'd heard the beaches on the Pacific side were not very nice and had a dangerously strong undertow.  But Thelma at church said La Barqueta was fine and gave us detailed directions how to get there (it's difficult to figure out how to get places here).

Turns out, it was lovely.  Here are a few pics:

The young 'un loves the waves!

There were a dozen or so of these little cabana shelters
on the beach -- great place to stash your stuff and
get some shade!

The sand was black -- volcanic sand. 
Our drive home afforded us our most unique moment of the trip so far.  We had to drive through a couple of tiny little villages on the road to the beach, and on the way back, as we approached one, we could tell some kind of festival was going on.  By the time we got into the center of town, we were poking along through backed-up traffic, and people and horses were lining the streets on both sides.  The truck in front of us turned left -- to park we assumed, since parked cars were everywhere -- and hubby started forward into the now open road.  That's when I saw the horses and their riders galloping right up the main road straight toward us! 

"Uh . . hon . . . Idon'tthinkwe'resupposedtobehere!!!!"

The best shot I could get of the horses
through the crawling detour traffic.
He stopped quickly, the horses swerved to avoid us, and a policia came to the window.  He rattled off some rapid Spanish and pointed to the left, the direction that truck had gone.  Hubby swiftly backed up and turned to the left . . . which got us into a detour/parking area trying to get around the races happening through the middle of town.  Nobody was moving much; we feared we might get stuck there and be obliged to hop out and join the party -- which might have been a bit embarrassing after we'd made such a spectacle of ourselves.  Oh, heavens . . . we laughed so hard!!

I'm not sure how we were supposed to know that the only road through the town ahead of us was closed due to a horse event.  Clearly, they just expected folks to be aware of this and avoid the area.  Ah, well!  Call us gringos stupidos!  I just wish I'd had my camera in hand when the horses were racing toward us . . . !!!

Sunday Morning

The "BCP" where Boquete Bible Fellowship meets.
One of my prayers before we left on this trip was that God would show me that there was a community of genuine spirit-filled believers here that we could be a part of.  I had contact with a couple of homeschoolers online and was hoping they would be such people.  Not so confident of that now.  The family we met with for lunch Saturday was friendly but not church-goers, and the other homeschoolers are not in town this week.  So, I came to church Sunday morning still feeling pretty out of place here. 

The Boquete Bible Fellowship is apparently the only real English-speaking church in town.  It meets at the Boquete Community Players, a theater and "event center" opened by local expats.  We arrived at 8:30 for the potluck breakfast hour before service started at 9:30. 

Immediately, I met Karen, an African-American woman from Atlanta, and Thelma, a mother of two boys from Texas.  Thelma sat with us at breakfast and talked about schools and volunteer work at the Casa Esperanza, an after-school program for the Ngobe Bugle children.  (The Ngobe Bugle are the indigenous people in the area -- very poor.)  She introduced me to the Ngobe gentleman who runs the program and we arranged a time to meet at the Casa on Monday.

We heard that the church usually has about 60 in attendance, but numbers were low today, probably because the main pastor and the music leader were both out of town.  But another woman in the congregation led the music -- we sang to some youtube videos of hymns and praise songs.  A retired chaplain in the church preached while the kids went to Sunday School (our youngest attended the SS class and our oldest was drafted to help with the younger kids in another area).

Our youngest and some kids she met in Sunday School.
During one song, I started to cry.  I wasn't even sure why.  I just finally felt like this was a place I belonged, like these were people I could relate to.  We still don't know if we're moving here, but if we do, I will at least feel like I have a home base to come to and get recharged.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some Photos of Boquete, Panama

I'm having trouble moving these pics around into the order I want them.  Harumph!  But here are some images from our day in Boquete yesterday.

A fast-running creek in the Valle Escondido development --
one area we may consider living in.

My youngest dipping her feet in the creek.  It was beautiful here!  The sound of the rushing water
almost lulled me to sleep sitting there beside it.

Another shot of Valle Escondido.  They have a golf course here, a restaurant, a fitness club and more.

This is what much of "downtown" Boquete looks like.

But then you find spots like this . . .

Another beautiful creek we found on a drive up the mountain surrounding Boquete. 
The mountains were just beautiful -- none of our pictures could do them justice.

A fascinating rock formation we found on our drive. 

MANY houses we passed looked like this.  The girls have vetoed their purchase for our stay here.  :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

We're Here! We're Here! We're Here!

Our casita, in the morning light
(Echoes of "Horton Hears a Who" in that title.  He he.)

After a full day of driving through beautiful Panamanian terrain, we arrived in Boquete last night at about 7pm in the pouring rain.  Kind of a bummer -- couldn't really see a thing in town.  Our hosts met us at Las Ruinas restaurant, and we followed them to their casita that we're renting for the week (they rent it also, but they're house- and dog-sitting for someone this month).

We kept telling the girls before we left that this is a casita -- that means "small house".  But apparently they had something grander worked up in their imagination.  Both were disappointed when they saw it.  Hubby and I were satisfied.  Just what we expected.  Not fancy, but signficantly better than a hotel room, especially at $125 for the week.  Arriving in the middle of the rain (and dark -- it felt like it was the middle of the night) was not optimal.  We see now why people around here have dehumidifiers.

This is a very low-key place.  No air conditioning.  No ceiling fans, which would have been nice.  Lots of animals in the neighborhood; we went to sleep to a chorus of dogs and woke up with the chickens.  The stacked washer and dryer are on the back porch -- the lady warned me to do laundry in the morning or it might get rained on.  Very low water pressure on the hot water, but they said we're lucky to have hot water at all -- very few Panamanians use hot water, so very few places have it.  The landline phone only takes incoming calls unless we get a prepaid phone card.  Good internet service, but not wireless.  And cable!  With many, many channels, and about half of them in English, too.  The girls were thrilled to find the Disney Channel.

One of the many flowers in the yard
We let them watch Disney for the rest of the evening because they clearly needed something familiar to anchor them a bit.  Especially one daughter, who had pretty much had it by the time we got here.  She was tired, she was hungry, it was wet, and none of this was what she expected it to be.  Tears flowed.  This was not entirely a surprise.  We knew this would be a culture shock.  After his visit in April, hubby had returned home saying, it's different enough there, we need to all experience it before we make a decision.  We were prepared for different, and for dashed expectations and readjustments, and for strong emotions exacerbated by travel stress.  But the first night was rather soon for a meltdown.

I think a good night sleep will help, however . . . and seeing the place in the morning sunshine.  It really is beautiful out.  I'm anxious to see how everyone feels when they get up.  I know I'm feeling good!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Two Days In

Killing time at O'Hare
What would be do without technology?
Daughter #1: WE are in a CAR in PANAMA at 2:30 in the morning.
Daughter #2:  Whoa!  How'd I get here?  That must have been some party!!

That pretty much sums up our first two days of travel.

Lots of driving . . . a weak Disney Channel movie in the hotel Wednesday night . . . lots of wait time in the airport yesterday . . . no free drinks or snacks on Spirit airline! (We had to pay for each carry-on bag, too -- what up with that?  Guess that's why the flight fares were so low.)

Emotional climax of the trip (for me, so far): filling out the immigration and customs paperwork on the flight from Ft. Lauderdale.  It was late at night and I was tired, so that may account for the emotion.  But I had a quick rush of, "Arggh!  I don't know what this means!  This is complicated and official and scary and I want to be home in my bed!"  A chemical brain fart, I believe.  I took a deep breath and was fine.

Emotional anti-climax:  actually arriving in Panama City.  As the earlier quote indicates, it was the middle of the night.  It was too dark to see much of anything, and we were tired.  I'm looking forward to seeing things today.

Not that I'm not still tired.  Didn't have a great night's sleep last night.  But I did sleep some, which is always better than none, and I think hubby is doing all the driving today.  Off we go, into the hot, humid yonder!  :) 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And Off We Go . . .

We leave today. We arrive in Panama City tomorrow night – actually in the wee early hours of Friday morning .  And we pull in to Boquete Friday around dinnertime.  This is it.  The Big Trip.
I’m trying not to feel pressure about this.  Trying to forget that the purpose of this visit is to make a monumental decision about our and our children’s futures.  No stress.  Just a vacation.  What am I worried about?

I love this picture.  "Security Checkpoint" --
as in, "Check your sense of security here."
Here’s what I’m worried about.  Number one: I’m worried about traveling.  Being in Boquete for a week should be cool. However, getting to Boquete is likely to be exhausting.  Drive to Iowa City . . . hotel . . . drive to Chicago . . . evening flight to Ft. Lauderdale and then Panama City . . . get a rental car in the middle of the night . . . find the hotel, check in and try to sleep . . . wake up, breakfast with a contact person there, then drive seven hours to Boquete . . . I’m stressed just thinking about it.  I’m afraid we’ll be grouches.  I’m afraid one of us will kill another of us before we get there.  That wouldn’t set the stage for a pleasant visit.
Number two: I’m worried that we’ll decide this isn’t what God wants us to do and all our friends who are all psyched and excited about the possibilities here will be let down.  Isn’t that stupid?  I had to write that here just to look at it and see how ridiculous it is.  I’m afraid that God’s will for our lives will be disappointing to other people.  Psshhht.  Actually, I'm probably more afraid that they'll be disappointed in us if we decide not to go:  they'll think we’re flaky . . . that we wimped out . . . you know . . .
Number three:  I’m afraid we still won’t be able to discern God’s will clearly after the trip.  As luck would have it, Keith has recently had more job opportunities pop up, and some are rather inviting.  One in Virginia – an awesome place to live and study Colonial times and the Civil War in the next couple years.  A couple in Texas – a great state to have residency in if we choose to go to Panama at a later date, and a great state to homeschool in.  We’ve kind of debated whether a few more years of employment here in the States might make the Panama idea more financially comfortable . . . ugh.  SOMEbody just had to complicate things for us.
But I’m trying to forget all that.  If nothing else comes of it, a week with our family living in a small home in a small town in Central America should be a fascinating life experience.  I want to concentrate on that – what this trip can do for us now, not just what it means for our future. 
I expect to blog as we go, so check back for updates.  And as always, prayers are much appreciated!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Freedom of Education

I’ve been experiencing unusual feelings of mild panic regarding my eldest’s schooling for the fall.  If you know me or have read my blog much, you know that I’m kind of radical in my beliefs about education.  I strongly value all people getting a high quality education; I just don’t believe schools --  public or private – are necessarily the best way to accomplish that.  School is one tool for being educated, and not always the most effective one.

My eldest is now sixteen, the age where, in most states, she is no longer required to attend school – at home or anywhere.  This suddenly gives us a great amount of freedom, especially with a move pending.  This means, we can decide what is now the best form of education for HER and just do that.  Freedom is a wonderful thing.  Freedom is also a scary thing.
The possibilities are various and exciting.  We could homeschool the rest of high school, giving her our own version of a high school transcript.  She could go back to school and get a “normal” diploma.  She could take the GED.  Or she could just flat out quit.
Then she could get a job.  Or she could take a gap year (or more) of working, volunteering, traveling, figuring out who she is and what God has called her to do in life.  Or take some general ed classes at a community college.  Or online.  Or acquire some kind of technical or specialized training (I’ve mentioned the idea of learning to style hair – everywhere she goes in the world, there will be women needing their hair done).  Or start working on a college degree.  Or any combination of these.
There are a number of things she could do.  But we don’t know what she should do, and neither does she.  The safe route is to go with the default and do what everybody else in our walk of life does: finish high school, go to college, get a degree, get a job . . . at least if it turns out to be the weak choice, we can blame “society” rather than ourselves.  But no, we really couldn’t.  We walked away from the default route when we started homeschooling nine years ago, and we’ve never regretted it.  We know better now.
I have a hunch what direction we need to go.  1) Homeschool for the GED. 2) Homeschool beyond the GED in certain subjects hubby and I believe are critical to a godly, purposeful, effective life (government, economics, literature, composition, logic).  3) Require her to take college-level courses (online, if we’re in Panama) in some of her strong areas (English, psychology) before we allow her to be “done” with secondary education.  4) Give her time to work and volunteer a while to discern a calling before plunging into further formal education, if it is necessary. 
But do I trust that hunch?  What if I’m wrong?  What if we set her on a path that makes life more difficult for her later on?  Will she later wish she’d gotten a 4-year degree right away?  Will she learn the discipline that comes with high-level academic study if she never goes to college?  Will she regret not going to a “regular” high school? Is this being lazy, or is this being wise?
Sigh!  It takes guts to live in freedom.  Lord, give me guts.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's Only Natural

There’s a cupcake on the kitchen counter in front of me.  A chocolate cupcake with white icing, rolled in tiny multi-colored sprinkles.  And inside the cupcake is a gooey center of white crème.  It’s the last of these cupcakes that we baked.  And it’s calling out to me.
In my grad school counseling classes, we would have labeled my desire for this cupcake as “organismic”.  (Check the spelling of that closely, folks.  Easy to mistake for another word that will make you giggle and get distracted. . .)  That is, it is natural to my organism, my self.  My love for the taste of chocolate cake and vanilla crème is not a value that I introjected or absorbed from people around me in order to receive their acceptance and approval.  Not like, say, my enjoyment of bluegrass music, or my willingness to take on every volunteer job at church which someone asks me to take.
Nope.  I do believe had I grown up on a desert island with no influence from outside humanity, I still would love Ding Dong-type cupcakes.  That love comes naturally to me.
Here’s the question: because this desire is natural, because it’s “organismic”, should I indulge it?  And here’s where I took issue with my grad school professors, or at least with the theories they were presenting me.  We were taught in my counseling program that a primary goal of counseling is to discover a person’s organismic values and encourage them to act on them – that this is how they will feel genuine contentment in their lives, how they will become the person they were meant to be.
Hmmm.  If that’s true, then the person I am meant to be is a fat, diabetic slob.
Now, let me clarify: there is some truth to this introjections business.  Human beings have an innate need for love and acceptance, and they do end up doing and believing crazy things in order to get that.  A good counselor will recognize evidence of this behavior and help a client see reality objectively.  But to stretch this truth into the idea that what’s natural to us is always the way to go . . . well, that will get you into danger in a hurry.
I’m all for knowing thyself.  It’s a recurring theme of mine, actually.  But we always need to remember that sin comes naturally to us . . . as does self-deception.  It is a lie to believe we can always trust our feelings, our heart, our “organismic self”.  We can only really trust our Maker.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Almost HALF

Let me clarify something before I start: I’m not attesting to the accuracy of this graphic to the right.  In fact, the friend who posted it on Facebook got a comment correcting the percentages.  But I’m assuming the figures are in the ballpark, and the figures are somewhat incidental to my point anyway.
I assume that my politically liberal friend who posted this did so as an unspoken criticism of the high percentage of money going to the military and the low percentages going to such things as education, housing, etc.  As a politically conservative person, I have a different perspective on the graphic.

No doubt, there is probably a significant amount of money wasted in the military.  And I acknowledge the arguments being made that our military presence in the world is out of control.  However, can we at least acknowledge that the financial support of the military is a specific and legitimate duty of our federal government?  That is a line item that MUST be in the budget, whether we agree on the amount or not.  It is a DUTY – specifically listed in the Constitution.

“Medicare and Health”?  Not in the Constitution.  “Housing & Community”?  Not in the Constitution.  “Science”?  “Transportation”?  “Food & Agriculture”? “Education”? “Energy & Environment”?  Nope.  Yes, I know my liberal friends group those under Promoting the General Welfare, but again – let’s at least acknowledge that the category they are complaining about is the only one of those that the Constitution specifically gives to our federal government as an obligation.  If our federal government were only spending its money on its Constitutional obligations, we would expect that the military would be the highest percentage.  It’s the most costly obligation.

When I look at this graphic, I see only 37.1 cents of this dollar going to programs that are specifically designated as the responsibility of the federal government (military, government, international affairs – and I’m grouping veterans benefits in this, too, since it’s related to the military).  48.5 cents goes to General Welfare programs which are not addressed in the Constitution at all beyond that vague phrase in the Preamble.  I find that to be the most troubling fact here.  (Well, the second most troubling.  That 14.5 cents to interest on the debt?  Don’t get me started . . . )
Almost half of our federal tax money now goes to things that our Constitutional founders presumably never intended the federal government to be involved with at all.  Almost half!!  I wonder, if taxpayers of this country got almost half of their federal taxes returned to them, if they themselves would be able to cover – through private purchase or through charitable contribution – the costs of the services provided by those federal programs.
At the very least, they’d have more money for state and local taxes, which is where I believe these General Welfare programs belong.

Monday, June 11, 2012


No, this isn't me.  Sorry!
I went zip-lining yesterday.  MInd you, I had no intention of going zip-lining yesterday.  I was planning on a relaxing day with my sisters on our sister trip in Branson -- taking a little hike somewhere, relaxing in the hot tub, playing some games -- but they had plans they surprised me with.  If this is our last trip before you leave for Panama, we need to make it memorable, they said.

Well, zip-lining with my sisters is certainly memorable.  You need to know, first of all, the nature of the Poland girls.  We are not adventurous types.  We are not athletes.  We are not outdoors people.  This is quite out of our comfort zone. 

There's a zip-lining place in Boquete that hubby and the girls want to go to when we're in Panama.  I've been hesitating.  I don't do heights well, generally.  I kind of thought I would watch the three of them enjoy the experience from the ground.  But now my sisters, 13 and 17 years older than me, are willing and even excited about the idea.  To back out of this would be . . . well, kind of pathetic. 

So, i strapped into my gear, put on my helmet, bantered with the guides to forget my nerves, and went zip-lining.  And it was great!  Just sit down in your harness and pick up your feet!  Yeah, I'll do this again.

Of course, there is the question of whether the safety guidelines will be as strict in Panama as they are here in (as our guide called it) sue-happy America.  But I'll still do it.  Oh, yeah.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Learning With my Ears

At Hubby’s softball game last night, there was a darling little Latino boy running up and down our bleachers.  I overheard him using a few words of Spanish to his mother, so I asked him, “Habla espanol?”  He nodded.  “Will you help me practice my Spanish?” I asked, looking at his mother for approval.  He nodded shyly and she smiled.  I had a new tutor.

Ellos está jugando beisbal, I said questioningly, pointing to the field.  He nodded.  They are playing baseball.  La pelota amarilla, sí?  He nodded again; it’s a yellow ball.  Su camiseta es negra, sí?  Yes, he nodded, my shirt is black.  He looked at me curiously, wondering why a woman my age didn’t have her colors down pat, I suppose.

“How do I say, her jeans are dirty?  Sus jeans son . . . ?”  He thought for a moment and said . . . something I didn’t catch.  I looked at his mother, and she kind of shook her head.  “That’s a slang term for dirty.  I would suggest you use sucio.”  Got it.  Sus jeans son sucios.

When I got home, I looked up sucio to check the spelling.  And in the process, I found the word I think he used: cochino.  Google Translate says it means “swinish, hoggish”.  Basically, “looks like a pig”.  Had to giggle at that.

But I also had to be annoyed at myself for not being able to understand cochino when I heard it.  I think this is going to be a problem for me when I try to learn Spanish through conversation in Panama (if we end up in Panama).  I am a visual learner – this experience confirmed that to me all the more.  I couldn’t even register the sounds he was using because I couldn’t see them.  I needed to have him sound out each syllable separately and let me visualize it before I would have known the word.

Sigh.  That will be aggravating.  I suppose I’ll have to bring a notebook and pen with me everywhere and ask people to write down new words for me.  Perdón? Escribir eso, por favor?  Or maybe, hopefully, my ear will train itself.  This will be a fascinating process for a linguistic connoisseur like me!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Free Me From the Stuff!!

We’re in the process of purging, getting rid of stuff we don’t need anymore, trying to find homes for it all.  And here’s what I've learned:  I just might rather burn the house down and start over.
Seriously.  There just isn’t a lot here that can’t be replaced.  Photo albums and home videos . . . a handful of momento items . . . but not much else, really.  I have scores of things in storage that bring back beautiful memories when I get them out and look at them – but if I never looked at them again and never had those specific memories again, my life would continue and I would still thrive.
That sounds kind of cold, probably.  But it’s reality.  Life goes forward.  The moments and events that changed me for the better have already left their mark – I don’t need a physical memento to reactivate the effect. 
To be honest, it would absolutely be a kick -- it would be unbelievably FREEING!! -- to lose all this stuff, get the insurance money, and be able to start over, purchasing only the stuff that now, when I’m older and wiser, I really see as important.  Stuff that I REALLY need.  Stuff that I REALLY will use.  Stuff that I REALLY think is beautiful.  Stuff that REALLY has meaning to me.  I would be less concerned about quantity and more concerned about quality.
I would so never again allow myself to be a stuff collector.  I would never again buy something at a garage sale or on a sale rack with the idea that someday I may find a use for it and then, by golly!  I’ll have saved all this money and hassle!  The stuff is a weight, a burden.  Right now, the idea of living in a small apartment with nothing but the basics of life sounds SOOO inviting.
I may be wrong.  Maybe I'd get into my small apartment, need a box to ship something in and long for my stash of empty boxes in the basement.  Maybe.  But I kind of doubt it.

Monday, June 4, 2012


When I wrote my post in March with the Sin Challenge, I asked you all to let me know after a while how it worked out for you.  And now a friend has done so.

Actually, it was a few weeks ago that she called and wanted to meet for lunch and talk.  To talk about writing.  Turns out, my friend had suddenly felt a calling from God to write a novel.  Well, no . . . suddenly isn't correct.  She'd apparently been feeling this call for quite some time but had resisted out of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection . . . all that, you know.  And this is where the Sin Challenge came in. 

"My sin of insecurity has long ruled my life and permeated every decision," she said.  Can insecurity be a sin?  Oh, yes, it can be.  If God has made a certain path for your life very clear to you, and you refuse to walk that way for fear of what may come on that path, is that not the sin of rebellion?  If you prefer to make your own safe, little plans for yourself -- be your own god -- is that not idolatry?  If you think that God would point you down a road that is not in your best interests, or that he will not walk down with you, is that not unbelief and lack of faith?  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1)

"My sin challenge was to make war on that fear and break free from those chains," my friend told me.  To look that behavior in the eye and say, No -- this is over.  You do not rule over me.  I have another King, and he has defeated you.  To refuse to wallow in that sin any longer.  And by golly, it worked!  She said once she made the decision that she was going to write this novel God had laid on her heart, and that was all there was to it . . . the fear left.  And the words have been flowing onto the page ever since.  She doesn't know what will come of this novel.  Of course, publication would be awesome!  But she's certain she's supposed to write it, whatever comes of it.  And peace and enthusiasm have permeated her life since she chose to obey.

Yes!  This is what I wanted to hear -- stories of victory!  We need to hear them.  What has convicted me so deeply for the last couple years is how few stories of victory I have in my life . . . and that this was probably because I took on so few battles, particularly battles of any significance.  "We do not fight for victory; we fight from victory," Pastor Jeff said last month.  Amen!  Let's prove it to ourselves and the world.

Want to be re-inspired to try this challenge?  Re-read the posts I wrote before:  here.  And you don't have to meet me for lunch to tell me your victory stories . . . share it as a comment here on the blog.  Or send me an email or FB message.  I know we all want to hear from you.

Friday, June 1, 2012


My mother-in-law attends a small Baptist church in a small central Kansas town, and for most of the near-quarter century I've been a part of the family and visiting this church a few times a year, Dexter was a regular fixture at worship services.

He was a short, stocky man, older than you realized at first, sporting glasses and short, wiry curls.  He moved stiffly and an actual smile rarely crossed his lips even when his words were dripping with joy.  His nasal voice was piercing and usually a little too loud.  Dexter was "special", that lovely euphemism we use these days to describe the mentally handicapped. 

But, Dexter loved his Jesus, and nobody left a worship service at First Baptist unaware of that fact.  He would tell you all about it as he greeted you.  Rarely a service went by without an extemporaneous expression of praise from Dexter.  Sometimes it was a rambling comment during prayer requests about the latest thing he was thankful for.  Sometimes it was a loud, nasal "A-a-a-amen!!" punctuating his loud, off-key rendering of his favorite hymn.  Sometimes it was a comment or question shouted out to the pastor during the sermon.  "That's right, Pastor!"  "How do we do that, Pastor?"   And I've even known him to simply stand up in the middle of a service, ask "Can I say something, Pastor?" and take the floor to testify to his Jesus he loved.  Dexter would have fit right in at a little black Baptist church in rural Georgia.

As I said, he was a fixture, and the congregation loved him.  I'm sure there were days when he got on their last nerve.  When a visitor was present who visibly looked uncomfortable with his interjections, I'm sure they were wishing Dexter had been sick that morning.  But he was Dexter, he was theirs, and the man loved his Jesus.

I recently got word that Dexter passed away, and my heart ached for his congregation who was surely mourning deeply.  He left a hole there, and interestingly enough, I felt a hole in my life, too.  Even though I hardly knew the man, God had used him to teach me.  In the midst of my complicated religious life, with the ups and downs and intellectual gyrations, Dexter was a regular reminder that faith . . . actual, genuine, for-real faith . . . is simple.  As simple as loving your Jesus.