Saturday, February 26, 2011

Snow in San Francisco and other anomalies

I heard yesterday there was snow in San Francisco. When my girls were small we lived in that area and I don't ever recall having the opportunity to throw a snowball in our front yard. Instead we drove to Yellowstone or up to a snow line on the mountains. I'll bet neither one remembers the day we did that and saw a 'real live black bear' up close... and one of mine - I won't say which one - wanted to get out and hug it.

On my return trip to Florida, I opted for the southern route to avoid any
snow or storms. I managed to keep away from the storms, but this is the
well-known Mt. Shasta in California seen on my left as I drove by.
A lot of people think Mt. Shasta is one mountain. Actually it is two volcanoes, side by side, one more worn away than the other. And there is a third 'baby' volcano imbedded in the base which is too low to have snow on it, but you can see it from the road as well.

Along the way there was a load of road kill, which shouldn't be too surprising with vehicles hitting speeds of 85 and 90 mph even in speed zones of 70. There were several deer in the western states, loads of smaller critters everywhere and much to my surprise, a coyote alongside the road in either Alabama or Florida (I'd lost track of the states by then.) But there were other surprises as well.... I saw a pen of camels right next to a pen of bison and wondered what the owners were planning. Is this a return to the Old Ways? Except being prepared by having camels instead of horses?

Clearly there are deer or elk statues in the back of this
trailer; and I wanted so much for the driver to stop when I
did so I could ask him about his cargo. I'm so shy.
There were peculiar things being carried on trailers and in the back of trucks, too. So many stories, so little time. I may be retired, but I'm not retiring, as in "shy and" so I am willing to approach strangers and say, "I'm curious, why are you... ?" and my previous travel partner found this behavior annoying instead of charming. However, he was perfectly willing to tell the story afterwards as if he had been the one to ask the questions. Oh well, that's all over now.

I was lucky to have the window of weather that I did looking back at the timing of the trip and seeing how challenging the weather has been recently (snow, ice, tornados, etc.) on both the upper and lower sections of the U.S.

Zooming past a Redneck Riviera in Louisiana, I snapped this shot. I  am
not sure if you can see the bayou (body of water) behind the trailers,
but these humble abodes have it all - water, warmth, shade for the dog,
and a place to grow the vittles.
Spring is trying very hard to break through the cold snaps, and this last photo I have entitled "Redneck Riviera," because it seemed to me that it embodies all that is needed for a pleasure palace for Jeff Foxworthy (comedian) and his 'buds.'

Today I worked on the yard and was rewarded with the second wave of robins coming in to snack before heading north. They make a lot of noise rustling about in the leaves for worms and bugs, but everything here is organic, so they probably had a good meal. Wish someone would let me know when they get to New England.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thoughts on Florida

Feeding the manatees at Silver Springs, FL
February in Florida can be quite lovely, with the temperatures hovering between 68 and 78 degrees during the day and much cooler at night. The humidity is considerably less as well, making trips to various educational and entertainment sites more enjoyable.

A few years ago I went with my buddy T and his son's family (2 boy grands) to the Silver Springs manatee shelter. These animals are mammals, are sort of like hippos in skin texture and very sweet, endangered critters. It is a delight to watch them come up for carrots and lettuce and they stay in the springs area because they need fresh water to drink.

These manatees look like they are having an amorous
exchange, or are they exchanging carrots?
If you want to learn more about manatees, this is the place to go for the details. But when I was looking for pictures of the things I had in my house a few years ago, I found these and found the memories of this little trip very refreshing.

The reason I was looking for pictures is that when I returned to my house a few weeks ago, I came home to betrayal by my so-called friend Betty Johns and her husband, Albert, who took away things that clearly did not belong to them along with their skipping on the rent - a rather large sum, I might add. If you are reading this, Betty, I hope you still have enough conscience to be embarrassed to have taken so much from me when I was so willing to help you out in your time of need.

Your whole family took advantage of my generosity and there will be Hell to pay for doing that. Not by me, because I am turning it all over to a Higher Authority. The consequence of stealing is serious as you will discover.

The greatest pain was not the loss of stuff that I'd accumulated, but the betrayal by someone who even two weeks before claimed to be my best friend, her sneaking out from a debt with no compunction about leaving my car unlocked and available to vandals and all the filth left behind by people who have no sense of values and no pride. I am glad they are out of my life, but I am grieving all the same.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Different Sort of Art

In various cities around the world you are likely to see
artists like this one; usually men who look like statues
which move randomly and provide entertainment -
for a donated fee - see the slotted container? 
In my travels I have enjoyed going to museums, art galleries, art shows and other events where artists either have some kind of presentation of their work or are themselves on display. The photo above is of a man dressed up as a woodchopper. This is interesting on several levels. For one thing, there is a HUGE issue about cutting down trees in Colombia because of the erosion of the land, so I find this woodchopper in downtown Bogota, near the Museum of Gold (Musee del Oro), fascinating.

Secondly, this fellow appears to be wearing a cap which is more like something one finds in the United States up near the Canadian border, not common at all in Colombia. His artistry in the design of the costume and his actions was skillful and as one got closer, he raised his ax, made a few chopping motions and then stopped. Then he winked at me. And motioned for me to get a little closer. I'm all about the adventure, as my readers know, so I stepped in a bit closer. He bent down and planted a kiss on my cheek. Of course I made a donation!
The woodchopper's kiss - no splinters!
Then I managed to persuade my guide and friend, Stella, to pose with him for that winsome woodchopper's kiss and this is what I captured.

I have seen an all-gold fireman in Cabo San Lucas, a silver-toned 'Mercury' in Seattle, Washington, and a couple of coal black 'cast-iron' fishermen in Cartegena, Colombia. These men go to a lot of work to create their characters - I have yet to see a woman doing this kind of art - and I hope the next time you are in a city that has one or more statues that you will find it worthy of your time and a donation because it is an artistic expression that merits some attention.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Birds are heading north!

These two Macaws, a red and a blue, live in the Parque
Gallinera in San Gil, Santander, Colombia.
Not these brightly colored ones, of course!

I have returned to Florida during the annual migration of a variety of birds and yesterday I had the joy of watching a huge flock of robins pecking through the leaves in my front yard. Today I can hear the sounds of ducks, swans, geese and others calling and circling near the lakes in Lake City as they head north. So those of you who are suffering in snow and cold weather, take heart! The birds ARE heading north and spring will come.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Frost flakes that look like ferns...

Frost flakes found on my truck window reminded me of ferns...
This is just a short post because I am driving my truck back to Florida and am utterly exhausted from eating on the road, driving and generally am sick of cross-country travel. But in the midst of the journey I  came out to get the vehicle started and saw this lovely reminder of the randomness of things on the windshield... and it also confirmed for me that being in cold country is no longer pleasurable, except for these little moments - appreciated because I knew I was not going to have to deal with it every day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A short tale of true love

Love is... going for walks at the lake to feed the ducks every day, even
though your husband can't find the words to describe them.
Although it was nine months ago that a very dear friend was facing the certainty of her husband having to be placed into custodial care, the first awareness of Frontotemporal Dementia came when her beloved began to have difficulty remembering the names of simple things, and that actually seems to have started seven or eight years ago.

But apparently about two weeks ago, he took off in the car and withdrew a large sum of money from the bank. This kind of behavior was the indicator that he could no longer be trusted to stay in the home unsupervised. On the 4th of February, she told me, they drove him to a facility where he can be cared for 24/7. "I told him we were going to see some friends," she said, remarking that she was permitted a therapeutic lie in order to keep him calm. And then she went home alone.

I called her recently without knowing all this had happened and asked if she was up for a visitor. She exclaimed, "You are a blessing, coming to visit me now - how did you know?" I didn't. I live my life with a different sense of guidance these days and impulsively end up in places where I guess I am supposed to be.

So it was that I ended up in Salt Lake City this week, visiting this lovely woman who has been a good friend for many years. "I am a widow without a funeral, a single woman who cannot date, a wife without her husband," she said. We agreed that this long goodbye she has been enduring for all these years still has time on the clock. She doesn't know how long it will tick. "I have these wonderful memories of us together - almost 20 years of marriage - and the day before we were separated, I spent time with him, and he surprised me by telling me that he remembered the first day we met. He hasn't been able to speak of things like this for years! And he told me he loved me."

When we were together last November, I commented that if anyone wanted to know what love was, all they  had to was watch her with him. Her patience, her kindness, her tolerance for the child-like man he has become was remarkable. Now, only two days before the Day of Lovers, February 14, she is unable to be with him because the facility wants him to adjust to his 'new home,' since for the first week he was there he was constantly trying to escape.

Dedicated to my friend and her husband, who was also my
friend and business associate. Can you see the heart in
the clouds, making this evening even more special?
In one of our conversations I said to her, "You will have a chance to talk to him, and I feel sure you will be able to see him soon. He will adapt and you will be able to go and be with him as his loving wife, not a caretaker who has been stressed to the breaking point."

Just a short time ago I received a phone call and she announced, like a teenager, "We talked briefly on the phone and he said he loved me again!" It is heartening to tell this story of love and hope for Valentine's Day and I hope it brings you joy to read about it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Discovering more about Colombia - Bogota in particular this time

View from the host family's bedroom window of sunrise.

There are a couple things in Bogota, Colombia, that remind me of Seattle, Washington. First, there are a lot of cloudy days and when the sun comes out it is really hot and lovely. Second, although Seattle has mountains on two sides with clouds on top of them, making for truly fabulous views, Bogota is surrounded by them. Third, both places have a lot of hills with tall buildings perched on them, and fourth, the climate overall (even though it is on the Equator and at 8,000 feet in elevation) is very like Seattle so all the things that grow well in Washington also do well here making for a lot of familiar plants, and the temperature is very similar, except it is more constantly between 55-80 degrees than Seattle is.
Agapanthus grows very well in Bogota, Colombia.

American Embassy in Bogota, Colombia.
One thing Seattle doesn’t have is an American Embassy. But if it did, it would probably be just as frustrating to go to it as it has been here. First of all, it is only open from Monday to Thursday and only from 8:45 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Being an American does NOT make a bit of difference. If you read the sign, you may notice there is something missing... how about a phone number to call for that “24/7” service they say they have?
Services are available 24/7... if you know the number.

Many of the service people are Colombian and are nice enough but there is not enough information in either Spanish or English to make the time spent there more productive.
My first interaction with this Embassy was a week ago when I called the general number - found on the internet - from Barichara and was told they couldn’t even talk to me unless it was between the hours of 10:30 and 12:30 p.m. Or I could e-mail them for an appointment. Waiting on the phone when minutos are so costly didn’t make sense and especially when I kept getting a recording during those hours. So I wrote them. And never got an answer.
I arrived at ‘my’ American Embassy a week later at 9 a.m. on Monday to see about getting my Social Security confirmation letter. First I was told they couldn’t see me because I didn’t have an appointment. I tried to talk to someone about the problems of writing and not getting help, but I was told to come back at 10:30.
So I went to a phone and called someone and was told they would make an exception and see me right away. I went back in... by now it was pretty close to 10:30 anyhow.
I was not told that I needed proof of my SS income so I just showed up with my card and my passport expecting they had access to that information. They claimed they didn’t. And yet, the form I had to fill out was a FOIA-style form which clearly indicated they could get that information. So I was sent away to find a way to get something to prove what I said was true, but discovered when I went across the street to the local Internet place that SSA will not provide any information online. It has to be sent to you - and it takes 2-4 weeks.
Nearly in tears, I met with the fellow who is doing my visa work (getting papers translated, etc.) and he said that I should get a listing of the bank deposits which would be proof enough. Why couldn’t the Embassy folks have told me that? Then I could have downloaded that and returned to the Embassy... Oh, but I forgot, they close at 11:30 and don’t open up for anyone. By now it was after that and I’d lost a day for the three-day requirements. 
So I went back that afternoon to where I am staying. Got into my computer and did a print-out of my bank deposits for three months showing that they were receiving SS payments for me. TIP: if you want to ex-patriate, make sure you have copies of ALL your important papers with you whenever you go to an American Embassy.
Day two with the Embassy - We arrived at 9:30 a.m., due to traffic which can be horrendous here (except on Thursdays when private transport is forbidden), and were told to sit down. I noticed people were getting up and getting in line and we’d been waiting for almost 30 minutes. I went to the you woman directing traffic and said, “Exactly how do I know when I can go up to the window?” She was less than pleasant and said, “You go after the man in the black leather jacket.” I guess if I had not asked I could have been sitting there for hours!
My request was processed and we left at about 11 a.m. The woman behind the window said to me, “You know this was a special exception.” I merely said. “Thank you” and left, because I didn’t want to get into it with her about how they had failed to answer my phone calls or e-mails making it necessary for me to make two trips to see them.
Finally, after three stress-filled days I have my visa. Yippee!! I am officially an ex-patriated American, living abroad. My next challenge will be to get a bank account and probably an International Driver license so that I don’t run into problems driving in Colombia in my car. NOTE: Once you have a visa, you are no longer tax-exempt for return to the U.S. and have to pay the Empuesta (Excise Tax) of $65,000 CPs or approximately $35 USD.
After the Embassy work my female Colombian escort drove me to see the National Museum. It was an impressive place with three floors of displays, starting with their archeological history and moving up to present day including some of the more famous Colombian artists. A good way for this new Colombian resident to get acquainted with her country, I thought. More on this in another post.
This drive along the mountainside above Bogota
reminds me a lot of Seattle, Washington.
There is much, much more to discover about Bogota - like places to shop, or eat, or go to a movie, or a bullfight... yes, you heard me correctly. They have a bull-fight here every Sunday in a ring that looks just like the one in the story of “Ferdinand,” one of my most favorite childhood books. I do not care to go and watch the bloodletting, but this Leo-energy city apparently puts it right up there with the national sport of futball AKA soccer.
Anyhow, I have made some new friends and have an invitation to come back and stay with them when I return, and I will... as l continue my discovery of Bogota, D.C., and the rest of Colombia.

2012 UPDATE: The US Embassy now has a FaceBook page, has Twitter and followers... here's the link for the FB 
and if you want have an e-mail address,  (I hope this is the correct one for appointment scheduling. It took them over 9 months to reply to me last year, so we will see if there is an improvement this year.) That is also the link for the list of contacts at

I am getting ready for Round 2 in the renewal process and am both intending and hoping for an easier go of it. At least this time I am heading into the process knowing what documents are needed.

1) The document that shows the pension income must be apostilled by the Secretary of State in the state where the funds are distributed. Plan ahead as this is a time-consuming process.
2) You must have your Social Security Award Letter for the U.S. Embassy personnel to prepare a confirmation letter. As you read above, three months showing of bank deposits may be sufficient.
3) Your passport must have enough pages left for stamping by the DAS.
If there is anything new required, I will post it after I finish this 2012 process.