Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Randi, whose Swedish blog is not only visual delight, but a veritable visual orgy (visit it, you'll be as enchanted as I am), asked me (in Swedish) in a comment to my previous post (Flying cats) why I change countries and continents every year and I decided to attempt to answer this question.

But first a disclaimer of sorts: I do not really change countries and continents every year: I might stay 18 months in one place, 7 in another or have a period of moving more often: 3 months here, 4 in another place or country... still, in my early retirement period it averages so far changing places about once a year.

Why? Because I like it - I like new and different, over and over and over again. I do not have to get tired of the place in which I am, to suddenly feel this strong pull to go somewhere else, experience something different.

Sometimes that pull to go somewhere else coincides with the change of the weather: I was, for example, enjoying living in Georgia mountains, enjoying the scenery, the forests, the lake, the mountains, as well as the proximity to Atlanta and its abundance of metropolitan opportunities: cultural, social, commercial.

But I was not looking forward to spending the winter there: it is usually too warm there for a nice, visually delightful cover of fluffy snow, but cold and gray/black for several months. So I started planning a move to a warmer locale - initially for about 4.5 months (mid November-mid March), but the plans changed and I decided to go to Puerto Rico and ... stay longer. The same reason took me from Sweden to Spain and from Spain to Morocco ( even southern Spain seemed too cold for me in winter), etc. etc.

More often it is because I miss something in a place, which I otherwise like. On Padre Island, in Texas, I enjoyed being a beach bum, enjoyed a company of really good, close and fun friends, proximity to Mexico, which I visited fairly often.....yet I missed forests, deep forests, I missed trees - other than palms and I missed mountains, even hills. So - after a year and a half - I took an opportunity and moved to NE Georgia, famous for its deep forests, to the shores of picturesque (though man made) mountain lake, Lanier.

There is hardly a place where you could have everything: every landscape, every climate... though, I admit, California near San Francisco, where I used to live for several years. comes pretty close: within - at most - half a day's drive you can go from a hot desert to the snowy Sierra, from rugged coast to sandy beaches... but California is overcrowded and very expensive... Besides, I have already lived there - more than 5 years - and there are so many other places where I haven't lived yet.

But why this wanderlust? I don't know. I guess it is a personality trait (or as astrologers would say, my being an archetypal Saggitarius ;-) , but certain circumstances might have deepened it.

First my childhood and early adulthood in Poland, under a communist regime, when a dream of traveling abroad, exploring other countries, exploring life in a different political system was for most people just a pipe dream, while for the others required serious sacrifices: leaving your child, family, friends behind, without knowing for how long, if not for ever.

I still remember a Polish song popular shortly before I emigrated (here translated):
" ah, to get on a train to anywhere,
not caring about baggage,
not caring about a ticket,
squeezing a few dollars in hand,
watching how everything remains behind".

A - partially involuntary - emigrant 's song. Of course this was an uncensored version of a song; in its official, censored version, - "a handful of dollars" ("pare zielonych" in Polish) was substituted by " a green stone", ("kamien zielony"), which did not fool anybody, but the censor ... or may be not even the censor, but playing dumb, he or she had an excuse to allow it to be broadcasted.

Imagine what it did to wanderlust.

And then my doctoral dissertation was censored, I got "an offer I could not refuse"... and stay in the country, yet I had to refuse it to be able to look at myself in the mirror, so I emigrated, illegally, of course, to Sweden.

(A distinction: I never was an "illegal immigrant". I was always legally in Sweden. But I was an
"illegal emigrant": I had no Polish security police's permission to stay abroad any longer than two, three weeks and to take with me anything more than a small backpack and $20)

After a year in Sweden I got married, after another year brought my daughter from Poland. We bought a house in the Stockholm's archipelago, then a vacation house at the shores of Lake Maelar, two cars, stuff.
With Swedish taxation even two incomes weren't enough to carry those expenses and allow for travel more often than every second year, for a couple of weeks... and I soon started to treat ownership of real estate as a tremendous psychological burden - as a new kind of prison.
This time not a communist ("you shall never be allowed to move anywhere") kind of prison, but a Swedish - very heavily taxed - middle class ("you must - like every proper Swede - own a house and a vacation house - no matter that it limits your mobility") prison.

A few more years and I managed to convince my Swedish hubby to move to the USA, where we could afford travel - financially, that is.... but in the USA the vacation time is so short, I ended up in the third, US-capitalistic ("you shall never have time to travel" ) type of prison.

When my spouse died (young: brain tumor) and my daughter went to college I decided to turn a tragedy into an opportunity and get myself out of any and all of those "prisons": work on assignments, longer or shorter, in different countries, on different continents. And I did - in almost 50 countries total!

And I really enjoyed it so much, I still continue that pattern in my early retirement.

"Perhaps", my daughter mused recently "when you really retire, we can buy you a house and you can stay in one place? Mostly?"

"Perhaps" I answer "when I get really old and decrepit".

"And when are you planning to get really old and decrepit?"

"Never, I hope".

"That's what I thought" - she sighs.

But, who knows, I might actually get that old and decrepit... and perhaps even enjoy it ;-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Flying cats

This is Sweetie, the formerly abandoned or lost kitty, now living with me and my cats

My cats:
Rascal ( a big, 13 year's old Tuxedo):
Shark( a 3 year old Maine Coon)
(Yes, this is the same cat, who in 2005 came to me with her newborn babies to save them from hurricane Rita - but now with a lot more fur and a few extra pounds of flesh)

and Missy ( a 9 year old Calico)
arrived safely last Thursday from Atlanta.

They seemed terrified by the ordeal of flying: one of them, the fragile Missy, in the cabin with my daughter and two, Shark and Rascal, huddled together in cargo.

And then, after three and a half hours of flight plus being loaded and unloaded by strangers, my daughter and I loaded them into my car for a two hour drive from San Juan airport to Aguada.

At the new home they hesitated at length before they finally decided to leave their transport cages, no matter how much tiny little Sweetie tried to invite them out, sniffing and pawing at them playfully.

And today I am reading about another flying cat, whose aordeal must have been infinitely more terrifying than that of my cats:

Stowaway kitten makes it home again.
Man who picked up the wrong suitcase returns the missing Florida tabby

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - How many lives did kitten Gracie Mae use up when she crawled into her owner's suitcase, went through an airport X-ray machine, got loaded onto a plane, thrown onto a baggage belt and mistakenly picked up by a stranger far from home?
"She's got to be at four or five now," Seth Levy said after his 10-month-old pet was returned Sunday night by a kind stranger who went home to Fort Worth, Texas, with the wrong bag and Gracie inside to boot.

The last time Levy's wife, Kelly, saw Gracie was before she took her husband to the airport. The 24-year-old went back to her house in Palm Beach Gardens late Friday to find the bottom step, where Gracie would usually be waiting, empty.
She tore the house apart looking for the cat, who had been spayed just days before. She and her dad took out bathroom tiles and part of a cabinet to check a crawl space and papered the neighborhood with "lost cat" signs.
Then she got a phone call.
"Hi, you're not going to believe this, but I am calling from Fort Worth, Texas, and I accidentally picked up your husband's luggage. And when I opened the luggage, a cat jumped out," Kelly Levy quoted the caller saying.
Rob Carter said he made it home with the suitcase before realizing it was not his — and there was a big surprise inside.
"I went to unpack and saw some of the clothes and saw it wasn't my suitcase," he said. "I was going to close it, and a kitten jumped out and ran under the bed. I screamed like a little girl."
Carter said that he eventually was able to get the cat to come out from under the bed.
"In the morning, I got close enough to see its collar and the phone number on it," he said. "So I called the number and got a hold of the crying wife of the traveler."
The tabby made the 1,300-mile trip home on an $80 plane ticket. Carter said he considered keeping the cat before he knew she had a home.
"We were going to name it Suitcase," he said.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tuesday's theme: Surface

In one of the Swedish blogs I regularly read with a great pleasure (and in order not to lose my Swedish) , I found a Tuesday topic: 'surface' and decided to be game.

I am choosing the surface of the sea in the rain, storm approaching. There are almost no waves, yet, but you can (can you?) feel the approaching fury of the elements.

And then the surface during the storm:

And finally after:


Monday, January 21, 2008

Noni fruit

A friend gave me some local fruits ... in a bag, just as I was leaving to go home. She was in hurry, too, so I thanked her and took the bag with fruits home, where I unpacked them. Most of the fruit I knew, but one was new to me. It looked a bit like a pear - or a small green mango - but with cactus like "pricks". I put it in a fruit bowl together with the other fruit.

Now, I have got to admit that I sometimes neglect my fruit bowl, since many of the fruit I get need to ripen additionally before it could be eaten.

And as I had no idea whether the fruit in question was ripe or not, or what it was (I kept forgetting to ask someone what it was and what to do with it) I left it alone for about a week. First it turned yellow from green and then the yellow started paling to almost white. Finally one morning when I was in a hurry to go to work, I sensed a vague but rather unpleasant smell in the kitchen. Sort like a cross between dirty socks ( which seemed strange, since I do not keep dirty laundry in the kitchen) and a ripening stinky French cheese (which I knew I did not have). So, like presumably all people that have another being in their dwelling, I mentally blamed it on Sweetie-the-new-kitty's as yet unknown mischief, which I did not have time to investigate further at that moment... and left.

As luck would have it (since I would have thrown the fruit, have I found the source of smell) this day another bag of fruit have been offered to whoever wanted them, and that bag smelled suspiciously like my kitchen the same morning, only much stronger and much more unpleasant. Yet, to my surprise, one of my - local - colleagues felt it at the same time as I and exclaimed happily: "oh, noni, ripe noni". Then, taking out the stinky, now almost white and almost jelly soft fruit, she added: "it is so ripe I need to put it in a jar right away." She did. Added drinking water and closed the jar (thanks heavens, since the smell started getting to me).

That way I found about noni - a fruit, originally from Tahiti, which grows also in some other tropical places, Puerto Rico included - called both a miracle of natural medicine (its juice is selling for a really pretty penny... and with a litany of health claims... at many health stores) or a "starvation fruit" (locals supposedly don't eat it unless they really, really starve) or a "stinky cheese fruit".

I did the same to my noni as my friend did, then drained a bit of the - diluted - juice, mixed it with hand pressed orange and tangerine juice and drank. The taste of the concoction was not nearly as offensive as its smell and I managed a small glass. Every morning till it ended ... waiting for health miracles, of course.

I am still waiting for any medical miracles, though... and so far not looking forward to the next gift of noni.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My unusally well filled refrigerator

Here's what I found in my fridge looking for a snack.

Funny, just a moment ago she was outside a guestroom window

Apparently the "fish" she was exploring turned out to be inedible, so she tried the fridge....
but there she found mostly fruits and vegetables ... aah, and raw catfood, of course:

Smart kitty!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Poor retirement

I enjoy reading the keywords that lead people to my blog. Obviously, since my blog has a word "retirement" in it and is about my retirement living, a lot of key words are about retirement.

Most of them are different versions of "Puerto Rico retirement" ( cost of living, cars, acommodations, etc) but some are amusing and/or provoking an answer, which I have no idea how and to whom to deliver

"Don't you wish retirement came with an instruction manual? " was one of them. If I were to answer, I'd say:

"Jeez, I don't know. I'd hate to live MY retirement according to somebody elses instruction manual.

If "International Living" wrote that manual, it would instruct me to - even before retiring - take a 7 or 9 days trip to place unknown but being currently touted by them, and immediately, without a slightest hesitation, purchase property there, because then I could spend my retirement days looking past my gardener busily pruning something in my garden... or such other nonsense.

It would not pay any attention to the fact, that I might want to explore hundreds other places and NEVER buy any real estate... or that I might prefer to do the pruning myself : more fun and healthier than just passively staring at a gardener.

If a very family or "I want to live all my life in one place only and in the same social circle" oriented person or organization were to write such a manual, they'd probably stress an importance of being close to family, possibly old friends, of deriving joy from playing with - and taking care of - grandkids. And I have no grandkids, make new friends easily while keeping in a - light - touch with old ones. I can see myself yawning ear to ear just trying to read that type of a retirement manual, and if I were to live it, I'd probably shot myself.

If I were to write such a manual I might extoll virtues of a retirement merry-go-round : of travel, of exploration, of work - just for the fun of it."

No, no, wait a moment. I would not. I can extoll it in my blog, but I would never do it in a manual, which should fit many different personalities, a plethora of needs. And heavens know how suitable - even for me - are some aspects of my retirement.

There was another of those asking for answer keywords: "what should I say to a friend, who is about to retire?" That one made me laugh, but it also made me alarmed that the author of a keyword might, after visiting my blog, recommend a merry-go-round type of retirement to someone who is not suited for it. It almost made me want to warn the author: "Now, please, don't try to push any retirement lifestyle on him/her, unless you are sure you know what they would like. Retirement should be fun - and can be, ANYWAY it is lived, as long as it is not filled with -unwanted - loneliness, passivity and depression. "

And today, when I was feeling a slight pity for myself, having spent the entire weekend working, despite a gorgeous weather, fabulous surrounding and my body desiring to be on the beach or anywhere outside the office, a new retirement related keyword hit me: "poor retirement".

Just in time: today is an - obscure to me - holiday in Puerto Rico: Natalicio de Eugenio Maria De Hostos and I can't observe it by going to the beach, I can't even find time to research what it is all about, because, for the the fifth day in a row I am slaving in my office, all day long.

Why? Because somebody screw up and to "unscrew it" required an immediate action. Yes, working for fun has its disadvantages, too. The world, also the world of non-profits is full of both dimwits and egomaniacs.

Perhaps having from time to time to deal - voluntarily, for the sake of social profit - with that kind of nonsense might qualify my retirement as "poor". But I'll still say: let's toast the poor retirement! Cheers!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

El Faro de Cabo Rojo and La Playuela

At the beginning of this year I promised to show you more of one of my favorite spots in Puerto Rico. It is a nature preserve on the southwestern cap of Puerto Rico, Cabo Rojo, with great hiking areas, a lighthouse, dramatic cliffs,

salt fields
and the most beautiful beach in the entire Puerto Rico, la Playuela.

The beach is in a shape of a half moon, bordering a cove, enveloped in two "arms" of cliffs.

There is a lighthouse on one of the arms,

and a fan shaped escarpment at the end of the other.

Both arms have walking and hiking paths with tremendous views toward the playuela, the salt fields and the Caribbean sea on both sides of the cap.

La Playuela, lying in a protected cove, has a very calm water and the most azure caribbean color you can ever imagine. Its water is also very salty, so swimming and playing in it makes your skin very soft. Free natural thalassotherapy!

The beach is undeveloped, since it is within a nature preserve and only the most sturdy 4x4 with most skilled drivers are able to get there.

All others have to walk, leaving their cars somewhere along the road bordering the salt fields. But that is a small place to pay for having this place remain pristine, accessible to everybody and not marred by any housing and condo development. I love La Playuela and El Faro de Cabo Rojo and try to enjoy them once a week - preferably during the week, when there are a lot fewer other La Playuela lovers there.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I am a snapdragon

"Mischief is your middle name, but your first is friend. You are quite the prankster that loves to make other people laugh" pronounces the test I found at This Garden is Illegal (what a funnny name) blog.

Yesterday I went to Home Depot in Mayaguez ( the nearest relatively big town) for a prozaic purpose of purchasing a garbage bin, as instructed by my landlord, since here a garbage collection company does not provide you with garbage bins, but I found fun patio furniture, which I could not purchase yet, since it would not fit into my Mazda.

And, Eureka! I also found seeds, even organic seeds, which I purchased: a few kinds of basil, chives and garlic chives, dill... and my favorite nightbloomer: moonflower - ipomoea alba or noctiflora.

because I knew I wanted to have a - mostly white and very fragrant - moongarden around my patio

I admit I haven't purchased snapdragon yet, as I haven't even attempted to do a garden design (now I am "slave driving" myself at work, so I haven't have time), but, just like I made an exception for moonflower, I should have made an exception for snapdragon, which, after all, is ME, and - white, or pink and white - would fit perfectly into my moon garden !

Hope you like snapdragon - both as flora and fauna (me) ;-)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Help, the Christmas season continues here...

... and, according to speaking boricua, will do so for the next 12 days!

Please, remind me anyone to stay far away from Puerto Rico the next Christmas season if I don't want to become deaf!

Today is Tres Reyes Magos - the present holiday in Puerto Rico (as it is in Spain as well, and perhaps even in other countries with Spanish traditions) - so yesterday shops were packed with crowds making last minute purchases of toys and sweets. It felt like shopping on Christmas Eve elsewhere - sheer madness. And all I needed was some household items. Should have waited till tomorrow.
(the pictures are of Christmas season's decorations in Anasco, a lovely little town south of Rincon)

This morning I was awoken at 7:20 am, no, not by my kitty, but by a travelling parranda - just outside my windows. Poor kitty got so scared she dived under my sheets and crawled all over me, occassionally punching holes in my belly - and other parts of my anatomy - with hert oh, so sharp little claws. Finally, I managed to calm her, and hoped to snooze a little longer, but less than half an hour later the parranda noise terror returned.

When it did for the third time, I got up and went to work - no matter that it's holiday today - taking the poor scared to death kitty with me. I have to work a lot during this season - hiding from the parranda noise terror. 12 more days? TWELVE??? I am already starting to be considered a - boorish, of course - slave driver - by my coworkers, since, when I work, I usually need some stuff to be done by others for me, on time, or I can't continue to do my work ... and - since it is the Holiday Season - everybody involved may get pretty cranky. I, because stuff is not done, they, because they - rightfully, I admit - think I am inconsiderate giving them so much stuff to do during holidays, when they have other priorities. And all of this just because of the darn parrandas - or rather their noise levels (I would have enjoyed the music had it not be so loud).
Ok, I shut up already, before you call me a grouch. ;-)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Last move

The beach in front of my new apartment, facing Aguada.

This has been a busy New Year's Eve for me.
I moved. (Yeah, on New Year's Eve, of all days of the year!)
Again. (Can you believe it?)
From a cosy, furnished studio , where I lived during the last two weeks of the last year

on one side of the white villa

to a large, empty, unfurnished two bedroom appartment on the other side.

Which means the move took a lot longer than it should have done, since - instead of packing my stuff - I simply grabbed a handfull of it and walked to the other side. Then grabbed some more and walked again and so on, so on, so on, so........ (you got the picture?).

Well, after more than half a day, most of the stuff I have here, in Puerto Rico, was hidden in one of the two really large closets, or in the kitchen cabinets, or in the laundry room....and I had a new variation of a minimalist living: a leather recliner of a color of a melted butter in the living room, a reading lamp and a so called decorator table as a side table, covered - since uncovered it's ugly - by a Spanish mantilla.

A painting by Roberto Ortiz, which I got as a birthday present, on the wall and a book on the table completed the living room.

In the master bedroom I - so far - placed solely a queen sized raised airbed.

I promised myself not to exceed - during the first month - an agreed with myself home furnishing budget and thus placed myself in a dillemma: a nice, soft, good quality pillowtop bed or a nice, rather large, good quality.... plasma TV. And guess what won?

When I pick up that plasma TV during the weekend it will - according to the plan - go on the wall in the living room ( if I manage to mount it ... or talk my landlord into "helping me" = doing it for me) between the front and a side windows, so that watching TV I could also watch the Atlantic....

Ah, the kitchen comes with a bar and two bar chairs, so I do have somewhere to eat.... before I buy a table and a couple of chairs...

while each of the bedrooms will this month sport only its own airbed and its own cardboard box as a side table, unless I "splurge" on two more decorating tables. :-)

But the kitten, of course, makes even the most minimalist place seem filled to the brim.

But the possibly best part of the new abode is... the beach. It feels both dramatic

(can you guess looking at this picture why it is called Table Rock Beach?)

and secluded, like on a deserted island:

So here I plan to play Robinson Crusoe for at least a year, perhaps two... and NOT MOVE EVEN ONCE all of this year! Here, my New Year's Resolution! (Does it mean I am getting old - I wonder...)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

I wish you all the beauty and happiness for this New Year!

Please enjoy them both - however and whenever you can - at any age and in every situation!
That's all I am asking of you all, my dear friends and my - known and as yet unknown - readers.
I am a firm believer that there is beauty - and happiness - at every age.
Unfortunately, we do not always accept them - either our beauty ... or our happiness.
What a shame - hopefully a shame of the past years. Not of this budding new one. Please...

I have taken the picture of this beautiful mermaid frolicking in the waters of my most favorite beach in Puerto Rico ( I'll reveal its identity as soon as time permits) during the last weekend of the old year.

She is a new, local friend of mine, a cute as a button, witty and joyful 60+ year's old petite beauty of a woman. We had fun in the waters, had fun hiking and then enjoying a really great lobster dinner at a beach restaurant with a tremendous view. She was so full of joy, so happy... but when I asked her about her New Year's resolutions, she became sad and instead of listing things she wanted to DO, she answered " I wonder if I could ever live again".
I was stunned, not sure I could believe my ears: 'You wonder if you could LIVE again??? What do you mean ? Aren't you LIVING now???"

'You know' she answered 'live: be with somebody, perhaps be married'.
Her answer saddened me. I heard many single women (from their thirties to seventies) wish there were somebody in their lives, who'd love and cherish them, or at least appreciate them for who and what they were.... I heard many wishing to be married. Yet I never heard any one referring to being a part of a couple as "living".
Yeah, a soul mate could be great - if one were lucky enough to find - and recognize - him, a mate could be fun... or useful... or both, but LIFE is what you DO, what you do YOURSELF, whether single or a part of a couple (and actually, I often tend to think that I can live more daring, richer life alone than restricted by being a part of a couple, but perhaps I am dangerously close to the other extreme).

Don't turn your lovely back on life, please. Don't waste it waiting to "live again". NONE of you.