Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cruising Carribean - San Juan part 2

After lunch we paid a visit to El Morro, a fort built to protect Puerto Rico from an attack of unfriendly powers.
El Morro is huge, still impressive, though a bit gloomy.

Walking from El Morro towards the governor's mansion, you pass this big, big green lawn with the view of coastline.

Then we strolled through the grounds of the governor's mansion

Slowly it started getting darker.

It was mid January, but the street leading to the governor's mansion, and the mansion itself was still decorated for the Christmas past.

We left San Juan around midnight, enjoying flickering city lights from our veranda.

Cruising Caribbean - San Juan part 1

Approaching San Juan by Sea

The cruise harbor in San Juan is located in San Juan Viejo = Old San Juan. It is such a pleasure to walk the streets f this old town, admire its pastel buildings

imagine yourself living in a penthouse of this blue building, with its inviting roof terrace

And suddenly, voila, we have reached El Convento

Who would not stop to shop - or at least browse - in such a nice store like this one?

We felt hungry when we spotted this inviting restaurant

and stopped for a tapas style lunch.

It was pretty expensive, but ooh, so good!

Cruising Caribbean - Dominican Republic

Approaching Dominican Republic by Sea

I am now in a countdown mode to Puerto Rico.

On Saturday, around noon, I should be in San Juan again. I was there once before: in January this year while cruising Caribbean with my daughter. So tomorrow we shall take a virtual, picture stroll of Old San Juan, but today we are to spend a few hours in the Dominican Republic's Casa del Campo resort, visit Altos de Chavon, a village for artists and craftsmen with its totally fake "Mediterranean" architecture - supposedly a replica of a XVI century Italian village - and than have lunch at the yacht harbor.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Places with a view: Ystad, Sweden

In Ystad, the beautifully preserved medieval town in Sweden’s southernmost province Scania (Skaane in Swedish) my apartment was shaped like a fan, with panoramic windows from my living room, dining room and bedroom affording - even without going out on the balcony - a panoramic view of the Baltic sea, the ferry harbor with ferries from Poland, Denmark ( mostly the island of Bornholm) and Germany and the yacht harbor; a loooooong, sandy beach framed in wild rose bushes with their heady aroma, interspersed with cute, tiny fishermen’s huts. And, to the left, in front of the yacht harbor, there was en enchanting view of an old prison: its buildings and its walled courtyard. No, I am not kidding: this view was very pleasant, since the old prison was stylishly remodeled as an architects’ office and the courtyard sported a tranquil fountain, and a Japanese style garden. Cool!
(pictures to be found and uploaded)


Nostalgia time. For the colors, aromas, tastes and happiness of autumns past.

For school time autumns in Poland: the anticipation of a new school year, new subjects, new textbooks, eagerly read from cover to cover before the first day of school. A new school uniform: pleated navy skirt and a navy sailor blouse with white pipings. (My neighbor - a seamstress - made it for me every year - in a communist country school uniforms, no matter that compulsory - were impossible to buy). Walking home from school through the park with old friends and new classmates, picking chestnuts and creating chestnuts animals from them.

For happy family times autumns in Sweden, with spouse and a child. For weekends in our cottage in the woods on the shores of Lake Maelar. Picking lingonberries and mushrooms. Cleaning them on the sunny veranda - or - if it rained - inside, by the fireplace, and then cooking them on an outside stove. Ooh, the colors, the aromas! Being a happy wife, a happy mother.

Now the spouse is long gone - brain tumor took him young, the child is a grown up with her own life. And I am just my own usually quite happy - though now much older - self always in search of a new adventure.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Places with a view: Lake Lanier (Gainesville, Georgia

At the beginning of October it finally got pleasant enough in north Georgia, so that I could sleep with ac turned off and all the windows open. It started raining, too. Not a real rain, just a refreshing drizzle and a fog, which made the mountains on the far side of the lake invisible. Mountains or no mountains, the lake view was still breathtaking, both relaxing and invigorating, inviting, on a pleasantly cool day, for a stroll in the nearby nature preserve or for a joy ride to the mountains… just to check they are still there, behind the fog. :-) (pictures to be uploaded someday) I’ll miss that place, that little town (Gainesville), that apartment, its terrace, which I seriously tried to turn into a garden, and most of all that view of the lake (Lanier), the woods and the mountains. I always seem to miss most places with a view.


Please close your eyes for a moment and imagine a paradise…..


Doesn’t your image closely resemble a lush tropical island with palms and sandy beaches?

Didn’t you imagine being somewhere in the Polynesia, Hawaii, Thailand or the Caribbean? Hmmm……..

Now close your eyes and imagine a cold, cold country with lots and lots of forests, thinly interspersed with small villages and a handful of medium size cities. The people there are - statistically at least - well taken care of by their government, have access to education, health care, good quality housing, long vacations and even decent paying jobs. Is that what you’d call a paradise?

The length of the day there is -during summer - more than impressive - it’s unbelievable. Yet, in winter, even in the southern part of the country, the daylight begins around 9 am and ends before 4 pm.

You notice that people, no matter how well taken care of, do not exhibit anything even remotely reminding of a joje de vivre - they are serious, if not gloomy, listen to melancholy songs all day and night long and are prone to alcoholism of a rather joyless variety : in its crudest form straight vodka (good one, though), on a street corner or in a portal of a building, from a bottle hidden in a brown paper bag.

I have been there - it is a beautiful country, full of the wild, stark beauty, thousands of lakes among the deep, dark woods… and filled with honest, friendly, hospitable people. But is it a paradise?

And yet, according to a country ranking based on a combination of UN Human Development Index and the Environmental Sustainability Index created by Yale and Columbia Universities and the World Economic Forum, if you are searching for the best quality of life ( wouldn’t it be the definition of paradise - a place with the best quality of life?) you need to move to Finland, or - in a descending order - Iceland, Norway, Sweden or Austria.

All winter paradises, perhaps. But if you are fond of islands, palms, tropics, what do you do?
I think someone in Puerto Rico had an ingenious idea of remaking Puerto Rico based on Finland as a model (see former post: Stagflation??? Tsunami???).

How could it look like? Let’s see…

First, all the high quality of life paradises have abundant natural values - so does Puerto Rico, so here we don’t have to do much.

Next - they all have very low population density. Puerto Rico has one of the world’s highest.
So, what do we do?

I have an idea: lets make a "Paradise Union" between Finland and Puerto Rico and ship the majority of Puerto Rico’s population to Finland. Finland still would have a very low population density, but now so would Puerto Rico. (And would everybody be happy?)

Third: open a rum distillery in Finland and let relocated Puerto Ricans teach Finns how to have fun on the lighter side, without necessarily always combining it with transcendental meditation of one kind or another. Lets combine sappy sentimentality with the lightness of carefree living!

Fourth: since the named ranking lists Stockholm and not Helsinki
as the most livable city in the world, we’d probably need to make a separate Stockholm-San Juan Union … or make first Helsinki a bit more like Stockholm and then make a Helsinki-San Juan Union as a part of the larger Finland- Puerto Rico Union.

Hmm, I've got to attend to my final preparations for moving to Puerto Rico, but I hope that you got ideas - even better than mine - on how can we improve Puerto Rico based on Finland and/or how to improve San Juan based on Stockholm.

So please, be my guest and post your ideas here as comments. And remember - dream big!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sustainability and a $2500 car

According to the recent automotive trends, soon there will be a $2500 car on the market, introduced by an Indian automaker and perhaps, soon after, about half a dozen of similarly priced models by other automakers, including such well known ones as Toyota and Renault.

Cars for the people, for lots and lots of people, who now have none. Can you imagine what that can do to the environment?

It is easy - and sooooooo politically correct - to see this trend as a horror scenario...

And yet I can't stop thinking of the other side of the coin: of the joy of all those, who, for the first time, will gain the freedom of movement. Because car to most of us is freedom, whether we perceive it as such or not. And to many it can also mean an opportunity to make a better living.

Born and raised in a communist country I - like most others there - was deprived that freedom and remember how I felt when, after I defected to Sweden, I purchased my first car, a used Volkswagen Beetle and was no longer dependent on commuting and moving around using only public transportation.
How could I now begrudge millions of others the same joy, the same freedom, the same opportunity ???

There should be other ways to take care of the environment, without limiting people's freedom of movement.

A basic car for the masses is not an ego driven purchase... (like a MacMansion, an environment "friendly" Hollywood star's mansion or ... Gore's mansion) but we need to make it - and all other modes of transportation, a lot more environment friendly.

A couple of years ago I had been offered an opportunity to work with an anti-car organization in Europe. They praised the imagined beauty of the earth's landscapes without paved roads, when all the cars were banned and removed.... and propagated banning and removing all cars.

But I thought, how are we to move through that pristine landscape??? On horse back??? Or on foot???

I refused to work with that organization, considering their ideas not only unrealistic, but counterproductive for the mankind - even though, theoretically, they might have been good for the environment.

Their approach to cars reminded me of an approach of American feminists towards modern technology that shocked me during an academic conference in Canada in the early eighties.

At that conference I happened to attend several discussions of a scholarly? feminist? movement? which - to my utmost horror - propagated turning our backs on technological development, on modern way of living, propagating instead creating and embracing small, isolated? labor intensive societies as women friendly. I was abhorred.

The communist regimes at that time still held a lot of the world's population hostage and those lunatic (pardon) ideas of perhaps well meaning, but totally divorced from reality American feminist scholars (???), who probably never experienced a day of life in a closed, labor intensive society, "free" from modern tools for work, transport, communication, were aiding communist and other authoritarian regimes. Communism - like other oppressive, authoritarian regimes - liked to isolate in order to control easier.

And how a renewed enslavement of women in the drudgery of a labor intensive work was going to aid their emancipation???

I tried to argue with them how much they were aiding authoritarian regimes and - generally - the oppression of women through propagating such models of society as desirable, but I was quickly labeled as a super reactionary black sheep and dismissed.

A feminist ( in the sense: pro emancipation) myself, I felt somewhat guilty being actually happy that nobody at that time listened to those women and their ideas did not take any hold, did not bring any fruit. Or we would have a world in which not even those anti-technology, anti-development feminists would like to live.

Similarly, an environmentalist myself, I do hope now that nobody will start propagating an anti-car, anti personal freedom of movement global police regime of sorts for the sake of environment.

Yes, environment is important. Very, VERY important. But so are people, their rights, dreams, aspirations and their freedom to pursue them. Sustainability to me means taking care of the environment while taking care of the people.

Let's save the planet through creativity, ingenuity, inventiveness, not through begrudging the people in less developed countries the standard of living that we enjoy... and don't want to give up. Let's think progressively, not regressively...... please.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hammenhog test and idea garden

In Hammenhog, near Simrishamn and the village I lived in a few years ago (see post: Experiments in minimalist living: Simrishamn) is a large test and idea garden of the Swedish seed and plant company Weibulls. There you can wander among fields of test flowers and marvellous exhibitions of planting ideas for various sizes and types of home gardens. Here are a few examples: (click on the test field picture to see details)

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A Saturday morning, early fall, the sun filters gently through the forested slope at the back of my daughter's Atlanta condo. I find it wonderful that a condo in the middle of a very large city, with hundreds of restaurants, stores, offices within a one mile radius, can feel like being located within a deep forest.

There is a Scandinavian festival in town today and all my Scandinavian friends are going to be there as either volunteers or visitors, my daughter is going to be singing at the opening ceremony..... while I'll miss all of that due to a bout with a flu ( I should not have procrastinated taking a flu shot - diabetics, even as well maintained as I, are prone to infections - but I was busy with the move out of my Gainesville apartment).

In normal circumstances I would have ignored feeling unwell until I was dropping, and would have gone to join the fun and excitement and Scandinavian food and folklore with everybody else, but not today. In exactly a week I'll be flying to Puerto Rico and I don't want to risk delaying the start of my new working retirement adventure by being imprudent about my health now.

So here I sit in a comfy leather chair, with my laptop and my blues.... but everywhere I look, I see red. Red, red, red. My daughter, a natural auburn beauty (after her father - he was a very good looking lad, while I was young and naive enough to try to play a Pygmalion in reverse gender roles: he - beauty, me - brains ;-) ... did not work out ... apart from Daughter being both gorgeous and smart) has recently fallen in love with red. Completely, passionately.

So the pajama I borrowed from her (somehow I was not planning too well and packed all my long sleeve, long pants pajamas away, while it is now only 52 degrees F in Atlanta) is red.

The armchair I sit in, as well as a nearby sofa and two ottomans are red, a fireplace is painted red, as are parts of her kitchen cabinets and an accent wall in the dining room. Red, red, red, red.

I know that red is supposed to be a symbol of love and passion, that in some cultures it is a color of brides' dresses. But to me it will always remain a symbol of communism. I grew up surrounded with those hated red banners, oceans of red flags over red lies and red oppression.
I hate red. With a vengeance.

.... But I am happy that my daughter, whom I managed to take out of communist Poland when she was 8, does not have such nightmarish associations and is able to enjoy all her red.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hurra! My best friend is not a "capitalist pig" anymore!

At 7:15 this morning my cell phone rings.
'Yeaaaaaaaaaaaah', I mutter to the receiver, yawning.
But my less than enthusiastic response has no effect on the enthusiasm level of my friend, Bonnie, who exclaims 'Congratulate me!'
'Any time' I answer, now enthusiastic myself 'but on what?'
' Today is the last day I am driving to my business as an owner!'
(Aah, I think, that would explain the early call. Bonnie has an hour drive from her ranch to her hardware store, and she loves talking while driving) '
I sold everything' Bonnie beams ' my store, Tim's (her spouse's) dental practice, I have achieved my and Tim's goals and in two weeks I am going to be retired! Hurrah!'

'Great news, Bonnie' I say 'Congratulations' . 'So you are not a "capitalist pig" anymore?

She laughs, she knows that I, like her former spouse, Konrad, was born and raised in a communist country. I told her about the relentlessness of communist propaganda against any form of entrepreneurship, which they called "private initiative", and made it sound like something very, very bad. Under communism don't ever dream of having any initiative, much less "private" entrepreneurial initiative, or you'll be a "capitalist pig", someone who profits at the expense of others.

And, although it seems that most of my compatriots, even from the same generation as I, have never let themselves be indoctrinated by that particular aspect of communist propaganda and after the communism's collapse went gladly to maximize profits at the expense of severely impoverished populace around them with a zeal of true "robber barons", true "capitalist pigs", I still have at best ambivalent feelings about profit.

Because, in truth, profit is to me a zero sum game: I win you loose. It may be attempted to be explained away, by arguing that the person, at whose expense you profit, profits also, because he/she gets a product or service he/she wants, but I do not buy that explanation. That person would be - in practically all cases - more than thrilled to be able to purchase that product or service at a lower cost. If he/she has to pay more, it is because of your profit motive and your "maximizing profit" mentality. Whether you are a rubber or shipping baron of the XIX century or a modern type hedge fund manager, oil sheik (both Arab and non-Arab like Texaco and other oil companies) , a Microsoft owner, etc., your wealth, being totally out of proportion to the wealth of most others, and out of proportion to your contribution to it, tells me that your profit is excessive, that it was achieved by taking advantage of others.

OK, I am not a communist, (far from it!) I am liberal. Contrary to communist propaganda I applaud entrepreneurship and I do accept a certain , let's say FAIR amount of profit, which would be defined as a reasonable compensation for your creativity, willingness to take risks, your business passion and talent. But greed, sheer, primitively egoistic, unmitigated with any concern for others greed, I abhor. Unfortunately the current business model, the "maximization of shareholders' value" ( at the expense of stakeholders) imperative, does not allow fairness and needs to be changed both for the sake of fairness and sustainability. But individual entrepreneurship does allow it - always have.

Thus I have always admired Bonnie, a totally self-made woman with a passion, a very hard worker, never wilting due to obstacles and occasional failures. She always treated her employees and customers fairly - which contributed to her success - and her profit from the sale of her business is not excessive, but well deserved.

Bonnie tells me she is now ready to buy that - modest - yacht, her spouse has been talking about for a few years now, to accompany a condo near the marina in Acapulco that she bought last year and completely refurbished, and enjoy her retirement.

'But wait' I say 'you do still have a ranch, don't you?' 'Not all of it' answers Bonnie 'but I still have some 600 acres. And animals, and ranch hands' she sighs ' so I guess I still am a "capitalist pig"'.
We both laugh.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I blame it on zooms

She ( got me into it:

You Are Pinot Noir

Sophisticated and worldly, you probably know more about wine than most drinkers.

You have great taste, and you approach all aspects of life with a gourmet attitude.

You believe that the little things in life should be cherished and enjoyed... and of the best quality possible.

And while you may take more time to eat a meal or tour a city, it's always time well spent.

Deep down you are: A seductive charmer

Your partying style: Refined. And you would never call it "partying"

Your company is enjoyed best with: Stinky expensive cheese

Somehow, however flattering this description might seem, I do NOT recognize myself in it one yota. Me a seductive charmer???? But that stinky cheese - perhaps of my own hobby production and thus expensive, due to all experimenting, might be true... ;-)
But the next test result is even worse:

You are Temperance

Time. Ages. Transformation. Involuntary change

Temperance is another card of aspiration, but also of much change. It often
represents complex situations. Positively, you can harmonize contrary

Temperance is, on a surface level, about "tempering." The original pouring from cup to cup might have been about cutting wine with water. So this is a card about moderation. There is, however, another angle to the card, that of merging seemingly impossible opposites. Sagittarius, the centaur, merges beast and man into a unique creature. And then there is the bow and arrow, one moving, one stationary, working together to point the way. Temperance may be, at first glance, a warning for you to "temper" your behavior, to cut your wine with water. But it may also be a reminder to that seemingly irreconcilable opposites may not be irreconcilable at all. Belief that fiery red and watery blue cannot be merged may be the only thing standing in the way of blending the two. Change the belief, measure out each with care, and you can create otherworldly violet.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Et tu Brute contra me???

Monday, October 8, 2007

Almost over

Uff, finally the move is almost over. Stuff moved, odds and ends taken care off ...though, to tell the truth, I was increadibly inefficient this time around and left more odds and ends than ever, so taking care of those took en entire Sunday of the friendly (and free!) crew of Daughter and Ex son-in-law, who flew over for the weekend to supervise the movers on Saturday and help with leftovers. Glad he did.

The "kids" must have been tired last night because at dinner they started dreaming up a scheme to have me grounded. Ex son-in-law suggested that in order to avoid me moving ever again with stuff, he and Daughter will form a corporation (since they are no longer married) and that corporation will buy a lake house for me, no further than 2 hours from Atlanta, with a view.
Since I haven't bought one in 15 years, when I sold the last one, I was not likely to buy one myself - they reasoned. Hmm, I thought, if I bought a house those 15 years ago, I would have been a lot poorer in experiences, in adventures, even though I might be richer in money - on paper - due to a possible appreciation. Forgo adventures for some financial gain? Not me.

It is true that I feel more than usually apprehensive moving this time - I haven't yet explored even a fraction of what Gainesville, Lake Lanier and north Georgia's mountains have to offer.
Yet, had I kept the apartment, I would have ended paying about $1400 a month for an empty apartment, to which I might or might not return in half a year or so. No matter how tireing a move was, its costs are negligible: not even half of a one months rent. So I know that getting rid of most of my stuff and putting the remainder in storage was by far the better choice, since it leaves me freedom to come back or not to come back and does not tie up resourses in unneeded lodging.

But the "kids" apparently had fun with "their corporate house for mom" scenario, because they kept coming up with additional requirements for a perfect location for that house. Besides the view and proximity to Atlanta (Daughter lives there and it also has a large international airport making it easy for Ex son in law to fly in from wherever he happens to be at the moment), the house needed to be no further than about 10 miles from Borders or Barnes & Noble (God knows why: I have now 20 miles to the Mall of Georgia, which has Barnes& Noble and I drove there gladly, at least twice a month, when it rained, completely ignoring all the other stores, to happily browse in all those tempting new books and picking up 4-5 of them each visit), close to a well equipped gym with an olympic size swimming pool ( my appartment complex has a gym and two swimming pools, but both are outdoor pools, so in cold weather I would have to drive 8 miles to the brand new, well equipped YMCA on Gainesville's east side) and located close to a mecca for intellectually minded retirees - so I wouldn't get bored. (Gainesville has an interesting lifetime learning institution at Brenau University, BULLI, attended by well educated, interesting people and fun edutainment programs and I am sure going to miss that in Puerto Rico).

And if I wanted to go somewhere to work or explore, for a few months, fine, they would take care of the house, just do not move the main abode. No more moving with stuff, declared Daughter and her ex.

Hmm. Supervising cleaning crew today I was pondering these proposed house requirements.
Somehow a reasonable proximity to a grocery store or health care did not come up, but I guess a grocery store could be found somewhere close to either a bookstore or a gym or that hypothetical place for activities for intellectually minded retirees ( if such a place exists anywhere). I was laughing a lot to myself today, but also thought that I am getting to be a bit too much of a bother for Daughter and her Ex, because they always come help with every move, without my asking.

So, OK, from now on - no moving with stuff. I wrote it - I'll have to own up to it.
It won't get me grounded as yet, since I got "kids" to promise they will wait at least till my birthday year 2009 or 2010 until they start looking for that corporate house for mom. So my freedom of movement is not going to be curtailed as yet - I can move myself, I just committed to leaving the stuff behind. Which, I guess, is a smart thing to do. ;-)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Moving days

are here now.

Today three men are supposed to show up with a truck to load all my remaining belongings and put most of them in storage - and the rest in Daughter's condo. I did not have to go the day laborers' route after all (see post Where is the service in service economy?), deciding to look for a moving company in Atlanta, a 50+ miles away place of my stuff's destination and a big city, after I found nothing acceptable locally.

Tomorrow is an odds and ends day and on Monday a cleaning crew will arrive - hired through a word of mouth after talking to some long term locals, not through any cleaning company.

I am afraid there might be no opportunity for blogging till it's all done. Wish me luck, since this is the part of the merry go round I do not like. I guess I am still not portable enough.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

An enemy hands you Coca Cola...

I sat down for a while on my balcony at sunset, tired after packing boxes and boxes of books, sipping a cold glass of Cuba Libre ( dark rum, orange mint, Coca-Cola), thinking of freedom and of Coca Cola and all those who fight for the first and long for a - symbolic - second.

And I remembered my first introduction to Coca-Cola... or rather a notion of it.

I was a little girl in then communist Poland, who just started to learn to read. I was playing in a park, accompanied by my grandpa (I lived with my grandma and grandpa then. My father was killed when I was only 8 months old - and he 21 and a partisan. My mother miraculously survived prison in which she gave birth to me - she was a partisan, too - and now was working full time and studying full time at a university some 300 kilometers away) when I spotted a large banner on a building on the other side of the park. It proclaimed "Wrog podaje ci Coca Cole!" = "An enemy hands you Coca-Cola!" Wow, I realized that I was able to read it! But I did not understand it.

'Grandpa' I asked 'What's Coca Cola?'
'A beverage' answered grandpa, who was reading a book.
'What kind of beverage?' I continued.
'A beverage made from cola nuts...' started grandpa absentmindedly, but then he stopped, probably thinking of the avalanche of questions such an answer could provoke, and finished ' a very, very tasty beverage. A symbol of America. A symbol of a good life'.

Now I was really confused. A very tasty beverage and a symbol of a good life? My, I wanted it, I wanted it badly! But I thought that "an enemy" was a bad person, a person who wanted you harm, who did horrible things to people. An enemy who would hand me a symbol of a good life??? No, something must have been wrong with my knowledge, so I decided to test it.

' But' I started 'grandpa, isn't enemy a bad guy?' Grandpa laughed, a bit sad, I thought, put his book away and looked at me seriously. 'You are big enough already' he said ' to be let in on a secret. But you have to promise to never, ever, repeat it to anybody else, or the commies would put your grandpa in prison, and God knows if he'd ever be able to come back.'

Now I was truly terrified. The thought of grandpa going to prison again (he already spent 5 years in Dachau during the war, and he told horror stories about it to his friends, when he thought I was not listening) made me almost not want to know that awful secret.... but my curiosity took over and I promised, both eagerly and solemnly.

'You, see, little one' started grandpa ' when the commies call someone an enemy, he is most likely a good guy, not a bad one'. And then he sighted: 'but here they mean USA, and USA sold us out to the commies in Jalta and is not interested in knowing what's happening to us, much less handing us any Coca-Cola.'

'You can't trust communist propaganda' he smiled sarcastically. 'If you want Coca-Cola, or freedom, or a good life, or anything else in the world you can't wait for it to be handed to you, you have to fight for it yourself.'

' But yes, it would be so nice' he added - 'if some friends, some "enemies" came then to support you with a tall glass of Coke.' He smiled again, but now there were tears in his eyes.
And I thought of Darfur, and of Myanmar. They ARE fighting there. And where is Uncle Sam?
Who does he give his support to? Whom does he hand his Coca-Cola?

Relocating to Puerto Rico - the why and the how

Photo of Puerto Rico's West coast courtesy of The Blog of Joy

When I was working working - not retirement working, like now - and was taking a new assignment away from home, I did not make my own living arrangements in a new, most often totally unknown, or at least fairly unknown, place. It was done by a relocation department, to which I would submit my desired specifications and they would try to follow them as closely as they could.

When I retired and was relocating for the fun of it, I submitted to myself my own specifications concerning part of the world, climate, fun of living (natural beauty, cultural richness, political climate, presence - or absence - of other expats, etc) cost of living, access to health care, relative safety, immigration friendliness and any other factors I considered important. Then I did my own research trying to follow my own specifications - what was not always easy, because I could be a demanding customer ;-)

Working retirement, or retirement working to me is a combination of an interesting work and a fun place to live in while doing it. Since, typical for a former workaholic, I get fairly quickly bored with periods of all fun and no work, I switch between a leisure retirement and working retirement, and, looking for a new assignment, choose first where I would want to be, then research who is there, whom I might want to work with and - if I find interesting potential clients/employers, I send them an " I might be available at a price you might be able to afford" letter, with a list of my - verifiable - credentials (stressing results I have achieved for similar organizations) and a suggestion how those credentials could be applied to them and with what potential results.

It might seem cocky, even arrogant, I know, but I am retired, I want to work for fun not for money, and thus can afford to be cocky... and so far this approach brings me desired results.
And when I make a choice of an assignment and 'sign on the dotted line', then the working retirement relocation process begins.
Its logistics differ somewhat from the logistics of a corporate relocation.

First, in a working retirement relocation, you yourself are the relocation department - however inexperienced and/or unskilled you are at it. The organization might help you to some extent in looking for a suitable lodging and otherwise navigating living arrangement, but they have neither the resources, nor the experience of a corporate relocation department - and - usually - neither do you. So a probability of making a mistake is larger, sometimes exponentially larger.

Second, in a regular relocation, the corporation that relocates you usually assumes all the costs: of packing, shipping, settling in a new place etc., etc. They also often offer a cost of living adjustment. And if the assignment is supposed to last for a shorter period than a year, they'd let you keep your current tax home - and your current home (for which you pay from your salary, as usual), offering you a temporary lodging, transportation and compensation for extra expenses overseas in a form of - nontaxable, if kept within certain parameters - per diems. ( On the other hand, you usually take the corporate assignment for either money or glory - or both - not so much for the fun of it.)

None of that is usually (though there are exceptions) available for working retirement assignments and you need to figure out how much ordinary - taxable - compensation - will be enough to cover your extra expenses (or at least some of it) in exchange for the fun of working on a challenging assignment in a tempting, exotic place.

OK, so I did my math, specified my usual: 'I'd like a place with a view, preferably of water, surrounded by nature as far as possible' adding here a location appropriate wish: 'close to a nice, sandy beach'.

For Puerto Rico, which lacks even the most rudimentary forms of public transportation, in order to allow me to figure out whether to ship my car or lease or buy a car there (see post: Stay away... or pay) an additional requirement for the initial lodging was 'in a walking distance - of employment - or you pick me up and drop me of every day I need to work from your office'.

And now - with the help from my new employer - I found it. An apartment ( no idea how large or how nice, but judging by its relative price level in comparison to other lodgings there, it should be nice) in a large villa, divided into three one bedroom apartments. All three were available, since the tourist season has not started yet, so I took the largest ( the price differential was not much: down in $50 increments from the largest to the smallest). It has a limited ocean view - between the two houses across the street, about 50 yards from the nearest beach.

The apartment - I was told - has all basic furniture and equipment: a bed, a sofa, a table with chairs, refrigerator, stove, even some cooking and dining essentials. It also has a wireless internet and fans. It does not have air conditiong, which might not be a problem during dry winter season, but would either require me to move come May (if not sooner) and - it does not allow pets :-(( . However, the owner assured me that, for a longtime lease after an initial three months period I signed for, he will be willing to consider both adding an ac and allowing my cats.

Oh, well, so the cats need to stay for a while under the guardianship of my daughter, and I'll have to try 'going native' living without an ac for a while, but I have a place to live, while I will be figuring out whether I like my new employer and the job, for how long they might need me, if I like Puerto Rico (tropics, Caribbean) to want to live there even on a leisure retirement.

OK, so the basics are - theoretically - in place. I will be arriving in Puerto Rico in less than three weeks - and - once there - will keep you informed how the assumptions met the reality. It's got to be fun, don't you think?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Leaving mountains

Early Saturday afternoon Daughter dropped in for a visit, straight from her fashion design class ( I know, I KNOW, I have a fashionista daughter, oh, irony... I thought I've done well raising her, as she is a highly regarded professional, but the kid also sings opera and designs fashion as hobbies... so what's a mother to do?), with her design portfolio and her idea board, exclaimed 'oh, sunshine' (the day was beautiful, warm and sunny, with a hint of a very early fall in the air and in the woods surrounding the lake) and promptly positioned herself on a chaise on the balcony, spreading all her stuff around and - time and time again - lecturing cats on inappropriateness of them helping her in her creative endeavors.

Her inspiration was champagne, she wanted to create an outfit that would be both effervescent and flowing, without being same old , same old. She asked my input, but, being as fashion savvy as your average lumberjack... or tree hugger (take your pick... I do dress up for work or for formal occassions but only because professional or social savoir vivre demands it and... noblesse oblige, not because I personally have any interest in it), the only way I could help was to offer her some - still unpacked - bubbly as a refreshment.

We enjoyed the bubbly together and then I went back to my bedroom to continue struggling with paring down my closet. I had already packed one - large - suitcase with clothes and accessories I am taking with me to Puerto Rico, and an - also rather large - duffel bag - with the most rudimentary household stuff I am taking with me, like high thread-count bedlinen, thick fluffy towels, my virtually irreplaceable Swedish potato/vegetable peeler and so on.

I know fluffy towels do not dry well in the humid tropics, but in this case I would trade convenience for comfort, for the sensual pleasure of fluffy towels, fluffy robe, silky and smooth sheets.

Only my High Sierra wheeled/backpack carry on with a detachable day pack (to be used as a purse on the trip) was still empty.

I have also packed another four suitcases/bags for my holiday visitors to bring with them.

I thought I had been ruthless in eliminating stuff that did not go either to Daughter (some cool and cold weather outfits I could wear when coming to Atlanta for a visit from the tropics anytime between, say, September and April) or to Puerto Rico, either with me or with my Thanksgiving visitors (both daughter and ex son in law will be visiting and both of them are supposed to check in two bags of my stuff and limit their own belongings to carry-ons - after all they are coming only for a week), my membership in Underground Knitwear Liberation Community notwithstanding (see posts and comments: Immensly proud and To pack or not to pack in, but the closet, still seemed, uhhm, less than empty?

So I stood in front of it, contemplating, when my fashionista daughter came to the rescue.

'What are you doing?' she asked, so I told her. 'Mom" she laughed, 'it's easy, look'. She picked piece after piece from the closet and asked me 'do you love it?' 'do you wear it?'

Well, yes, that IS easy done that way, since I, having somewhat of a difficulty pronouncing my love to humans (though - somehow - not to cats), much less to clothing, invariably answer 'no' to the 'do you love it?' question, and each piece ends up in a pile of clothes going to women's shelter until the closet finally is empty and on the floor there is a pile of clothes as big as a mountain.

A thought, that may be someone else, someone who really needs those outfits, might, in fact, 'love them' and wear them gladly, gives me peace.
P.S. My daughter got a fashion price for her creation made of silk, bubble wrap (!) and feathers, but I was not there to see it :-(((