Puppy Love – A Dog Story

Kaia 057

From the time my grandson was old enough to crawl, he and Kaia formed a deep bond. She loves the connection they share as he gently clamors over her.

This is not about just any dog.  It is about an adorable mutt I know personally.  My daughter sent me this story about their family dog, Kaia, who is now crippled with a torn ACL.  This is her heartfelt appeal for financial support to help her and her husband cover the cost of repair surgery. Here is her story:

Ever since my youngest grandson was born, Kaia has played mother to her 'pup'.

Kaia has played mother to her ‘pup’ ever since she was no longer the baby of the family.

I found Kaia on Petfinder.com a few months after our long-time pet dog Roscoe passed away. Our house felt empty without a dog in it. Kaia was a 4 month old rescue puppy from Eastern Washington. She is a sweet chocolate lab/pit bull/weimeraner mix. I was pregnant with our second child the same month we adopted Kaia. She went from being the “baby” of the family to a surrogate “nanny” of our young son, guarding the baby swing while he slept and looking at me pointedly when he cried. Now our youngest is almost 2. He and Kaia love one another. He climbs on her, hugs her, and affectionately tugs on her ears and tail. They play chase when he holds a cracker and she chases him around the house. She still licks him like he’s her puppy.

Dogs, like children, are fascinated by their first experience with snow.

Dogs, like children, are fascinated by their first experience with snow.

Our older son is almost 8. He is Kaia’s favorite playmate. She loves chasing and running with him. It was devastating when we took Kaia to the vet and learned she has a partially torn ACL. Unless she has surgery to repair it, her running days are over. That is sad because there is nothing that Kaia loves more than to run! She would still fetch balls and sticks with my boys if she could run. Our vet told us her operation would cost over $3,000. We want to do everything in the world to keep our young dog happy and healthy, but money is tight right now.

No matter where the baby goes, Kaia is sure to be close by.

No matter where the baby goes, Kaia is sure to be close by.

My boys and I are seeking support for our surgery fundraiser. Any amount you can spare will be deeply appreciated. As my oldest son says, “We don’t want her running days to be cut short.” Here is the link if you would care to make a donation:  http://www.gofundme.com/forkaia



Note: Anyone who has knowledge of canine care as it pertains to this pet’s torn ACL is invited to share their expertise in the comment section. Thank you for any support, financial or otherwise.


The Highs and Lows of Travel Life

One of my favorite high points - Whistler Mountain, BC Photo credit - whistlerblackcomb.com

One of my favorite high points – Whistler Mountain, BC
Photo credit – whistlerblackcomb.com

The insights revealed by our travels over the last few years have been nothing short of amazing. There have been so many beautiful places and interesting people. I continue to fulfill a lifelong desire to better know and appreciate the world we all share. I try to keep an open mind and to demonstrate my desire to reach out to people and to understand their culture, and I have learned that we are all not so different.

Mt. Villarica and the town of Pucón, Chile, another favorite peak

Mt. Villarica and the town of Pucón, Chile, another favorite spot     Photo credit: Wikicommons

My greatest love of the outdoors is the mountains. This was something I acquired at a young age as a hiking and climbing partner with my dad. I learned to love the clean air, the fresh water, the exhilaration of looking at the world around me from the highest perch I could reach, and the camaraderie that comes from sharing these experiences with like-minded outdoorsmen. Even though my legs are nowhere near as strong as when I was a constant hiker and backpacker, I dream of the heights when I spot snowcapped peaks on the horizon. At least there is a chair lift to the top of one of my favorite peaks, Whistler Mountain, so I will still be able to visit the high alpine country even when I am too old to hike the trails.

Not every day on the road is an adventure. There are health issues that crop up. I had to have a root canal performed on a broken tooth while we were in Mexico. I broke out in hives a few weeks back, an apparent allergic reaction that made me itch so bad that I felt like my whole body was one big mosquito bite. We also have money concerns, just like everyone else. I think the hardest part about traveling full time is missing family. I do not have a lot of family – two daughters and two grandsons. Other than my in-laws I am not close with any other family.

I have often heard the phrase on television shows and from friends that ‘family is the most important thing.’ In my case that has hardly ever been true. My family of origin was never close. In one way or another every member of my family abandoned our relationship. My father was hauled off to the East Coast by my stepmother’s family, and after 2005 I never saw him or heard from him again. I found his obituary online a last year and learned that he passed away in 2009. He would have been 90. My mother never had so much as a memorial service. Maybe that was not a bad thing. I am not sure if I would have attended. My sister, two years older than I, just one day stopped communicating with me. We have had no contact with one another since 2008.

All of these family failures sometimes make me wonder if I unwittingly sabotage relationships? Have I been a good enough father to my two daughters? Am I a good enough husband to my wife? Am I at fault for the failure of my first marriage of 28 years? I cannot take all that on myself. Relationships are a two-way street. All I know is I miss my daughters and my grandsons. They are on the other side of the world, and I cannot easily commute to see them.

I love my life on the road. Every day holds the possibility of a new adventure. I love adventure, and I always have. I also love my daughters and my grandsons. I miss them. I know their lives are busy. Mine was when I was their age. Alas, not everything about our traveling lifestyle is easy.

Retirement – It’s Not What You Think

Statistics tell us that 10,000 baby boomers in the United States will reach the retirement age of 65 every day for the next nineteen years. Some will keep working either because their retirement savings were wiped out in the banking crisis or because they have worked all their adult lives and that is all they know. Those are not necessarily bad decisions, as long as those decisions are made for the right reasons.

Hiking up Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

When I announced to friends and acquaintances that I was planning to retire at age 62, I cannot tell you how many people tried to warn me against that idea. The reasons given were typically:

  1. You will be bored.
  2. You will lose 25% of your Social Security benefit, and you won’t have enough to live on if you live to a certain age.
  3. Inflation will eat up your purchase power when you are on a fixed income, and you will not be able to maintain your lifestyle.
  4. The cost of health insurance will eat up your life savings, especially if you become ill.

While none of those ideas are wrong, they all have one thing in common. They are all rooted in fear. Fear of the unknown. The unknown is often scary. Anyone without a sense of adventure will always seek the most comfortable, the most predictable, and the most secure path through life. This story is not for those people. My message is for any younger reader who wants to know what retirement might have in store for you, because unlike life after death, I am still able to contact you from the other side and give you a glimpse of what retirement might be like.

First, you will not be bored. Boredom is for people who never developed any interests outside of their careers. And you will finally have time to do many of the things you put off while pursuing career goals, raising a family, or seeking to fulfill your version of The American Dream. You will suddenly have time to go hiking or skiing, time to play with grandchildren or nieces and nephews, time to volunteer at a school or a shelter or a hospital. And perhaps best of all, now you will have the time to travel! All those expensive vacations you put off your whole life, other than maybe Hawaii or The Bahamas, are now a real option.

Macaw photo op at the Bird Park in Iguazu, Argentina

I don’t have time to be bored. I am doing things I always wanted to do and didn’t have time. I am writing for three blogs and I have a children’s book ready to self-publish. I am traveling (40k air miles in 15 months). I also just completed training to be a Certified International Tour Manager through the International Guide Academy. I am now qualified to work as a tour director anywhere in the world, and I am applying for jobs I only dreamed of when I was younger. Who knows what 2013 will bring?

If retirement is not what you think, then what is it? In a word, it is opportunity – the opportunity you have worked your whole life to experience and enjoy. It is a gift of time, something you haven’t had enough of since you were a child – time to read, time to write, time to play, and time to work at whatever you have been putting off.

You don’t have to be all that adventuresome to enjoy retirement. You just have to decide what is important and to live within your means. I accomplished this by moving outside the United States for the time being. I have been blessed with excellent health my whole life, and that is a gift I don’t intend to squander by sitting around. I still have three continents I haven’t yet visited, and I have my blog name to live up to. Part of my legacy will be that of a global explorer.

Florence and I in Argentina near the majestic Andes Mountains.

Back Home in Panama

We are on the turbo-prop commuter flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, and through the clouds I recognize the Pacific coastline of Panama coming into view. We’ve been traveling for over three weeks, and the now familiar landscape surrounding the city of Davíd below us evokes a visceral sense of contentment that comes with knowing we are almost home.

It seems remarkable to experience this sense of pleasure when I reflect on the fact that we lived in Panama for only three months prior to this trip. I compare living here to falling in love. Panama is like an attractive woman with a personality and charm that is irresistible. When you are with her you are immersed in a sensation of heightened pleasure. Food tastes better. Colors seem brighter. We have all experienced something like that. Likewise, when you are apart you can’t wait to see her again. It’s like that. And so I am comforted to be back in Panama.

From The Big Apple to The Big Easy

I’m cruisin’, Mon!

We flew to New York City October 20th from Tocumen Airport in Panama City to board the Norwegian Star for a repositioning cruise that ended in New Orleans two weeks later, our objective being to complete the International Guide Academy’s Certified Tour Manager Training. The seven days at sea were our classroom days. There were twenty-two of us in the class from five countries. Many had no prior group-leading experience. Ultimately, we learned a great deal and we all passed the course.

We were just a couple days ahead of Hurricane Sandy, which impacted a number of the guests on the cruise who didn’t know for several days if they had intact homes to return to back in The Big Apple. Nevertheless, spirits were high and we lucked out with great weather the entire cruise.

Our cruise ended in New Orleans. This was my first visit to The Big Easy, and it is like no other city I have ever visited. Total strangers walked up to us tourists (the camera hung from the neck is an obvious tell) to ask where we were from and if we needed help finding anything. The beignets were so good in the morning that I went back for more at lunchtime. Standing on the banks of the Mississippi River evoked recollections of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. Incredible music wafted from every direction. If ever there were a city I would want to revisit it would be New Orleans.

Florence brings a gift to Marie Laveau, The Voodoo Queen.

We had one last duty to perform before our departure. It so happens that my wife, Florence, had visited the grave of Marie Laveau, The Voodoo Queen, back in 2005 before we met, and wished for a husband. As this wish was obviously granted, Florence was obligated to return to Marie Laveau’s gravesite with a thank-you offering (because you don’t mess with voodoo). Florence had picked out a ring of beads to honor her pact, which she dutifully placed on the tomb with a blessing of thanks. We were immediately engaged in a conversation with a local visitor to this famous site, after which we turned our attention back to the tomb. The ring had disappeared. It had not fallen to the ground, and no one else had approached the site during this brief encounter. We are at a loss to explain this event other than to say that perhaps The Voodoo Queen recognized the gift as genuine and took it with her to wherever she now resides.

Now we can head for home.

Dad, what are you doing?

A typical view of the Cascades on a gorgeous sunny day.

I want to start by saying I am nothing like my father.

“Hey! Who are you people?”
“We’re your collective subconscious of the people that knew both you and your father, and unless you are going to state that this is a work of fiction, you are going to have to start again.”

Hmm. Okay, let me start again by saying I never thought I was much like my father, but I will admit I see more and more of him in me as I get older. I was the child who favored my mother’s side both in looks and temperament. Over the years, however, I took on this look. It wasn’t so much a scowl as it was a deadpan expression, neither approving nor disapproving. That’s my dad. (My mother constantly scowled, so this isn’t about her.)

My dad’s sense of humor was dry, droll in fact. He and his clan could sit and tell whoppers all day and never so much as smile. I remember a family reunion when I was a young boy listening to my grandpa and his brothers tell whopper after whopper, and I was captivated. After one particularly outrageous fish tale, I asked in all seriousness, “Really?” That got a smile out of them, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I made their day.

My father was kind of a loner. I don’t mean he didn’t have a lot of friends. It was more like he didn’t connect deeply with others. The one exception in his life was his mother. My grandma was the most caring, nurturing woman I knew growing up, and my father was absolutely devoted to her until the day she died. Other than that, he was typically kind of distant. And more than anything, I wanted to impress him. I think I did in some ways, but he never said so.

I remember one time coming up to him in the basement workshop where he was running the table saw. I was in junior high school and I approached him with my report card, my first one with straight A’s, and I said “Hey dad, what are you doing?”
“I’m building some shelves. What’s up?”
“I got my report card. You want to see it?”
He took the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper with the column of A’s, read it over briefly, and gave it back to me. Then he said, “I’m glad you got all A’s. I just wish it wasn’t so easy for you.”
When he saw the stunned look on my face, he said, “Mike, I would rather you had to work your butt off and got all C’s than to see you get all A’s without putting out much effort.”

To say my father was stoic would be a tragic understatement. But in all fairness, he was a product of his upbringing. He never got anything without effort, some might say superhuman effort. He was born in 1919 and grew up in Selah, a rural farming town in central Washington. He graduated high school (barely, from what I’ve been told) in 1937. There was no work except picking fruit in the summer, which he did. Later, he took a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the federal work programs during the Roosevelt years. Then, in 1939, he joined the Army to get out of the middle of nowhere.

My father was always well-read. He knew war was imminent. I think he knew before anyone in the country was even speaking about it. He landed a good job as a clerk at the Presidio in San Francisco because he was the only one in his unit that could type. He could have remained there and prospered in his new role, but he wanted to travel. He told his CO he signed up for a post in Manila, which he took. Anyone who knows a little history will know that was a bad decision. It was just over a year later that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Japanese troops next invaded the Philippines, and my father was on the island of Corregidor when it fell. Atrocities like the Bataan Death March followed, of which my father was a part. He always told me, “The lucky ones died first.” I didn’t understand that until years later when I read numerous accounts from the war.

My dad didn’t talk about the war until he was in his 70’s. His whole life was about living and getting the most out of each day. For him, every day not hiking and climbing in the mountain wilderness areas so near to our Seattle home was another day lost. He signed up for swing shift or graveyard shift as much as he could during his thirty years at Boeing in order to get up and take a day hike before heading to his job. Vacations were for weeklong mountain expeditions, and he retired at the age of 60 in order to spend all the days he could in his beloved mountains. As it turned out, he outlived most of the POW survivors from WWII. He gave up skiing at age 82 when he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, which he determined was what caused him to keep falling down. He still went for day hikes with his pet beagle for a few years until it became too risky to go alone. Both he and his wife, my stepmother, began displaying signs of dementia, and my stepsister moved them back east somewhere when he was 85. There was no love lost between me and my stepsister, so I lost track of him when he moved, and I have no idea when he passed or where his remains are. It doesn’t really matter, because he would not have remembered me by that time.

I remember on a four day hike in the Cascade Mountains I found an unspent .45 caliber bullet, which I picked up. That evening around the campfire, my dad said, “Let me see that bullet you picked up.” I handed it to him. He inspected it, and then tossed it into the campfire. “Dad, what are you doing?” I hollered. We looked at each other wide-eyed for a moment. Then we both jumped up and took shelter behind a log. About thirty seconds later, BOOM! We looked up and the entire campfire was blown out. We quickly ran to extinguish coals that were burning holes in our tent fly and the clothes we had laid out to dry. He never offered an explanation, and I never bothered to ask. It was the most spontaneous, goofy thing I ever experienced with my father.

To know my dad was to know and love the outdoors, which I did from a very young age, something I tried to pass on to my own children. I was 15 years old when I completed the Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course with my father. I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time that summer of 1965, a milestone for any outdoorsman in the Pacific Northwest.
And that was the legacy my father passed on to me. More than anything, he taught me to survive. Granted, on Maslov’s hierarchy, survival is pretty basic, and there is much more to life than surviving. On a somewhat higher plane I will admit I have acquired some of my father’s sense of humor. And often to my surprise, I find myself quoting my father – some of his philosophy, as well as some of his brain farts. Here are a few that come to mind:
“Show me a man who plays good pool, and I’ll show you a man with a wasted youth.”
“Humility is something you have until you find out.”
“A good loser is someone who loses consistently.”
And whenever I asked where we were or where we were going, my dad always said, “We’re taking a shortcut.”

Looking back, I can recall sort of smiling when my daughters asked me, “Dad, what are you doing?”

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The top 10 things I love about Panama

Looking down the valley at Boquete from the highlands.

1. Waking up to new bird songs I’ve never heard before coming from our verdant arboreal surroundings
2. Facing the daily decision upon getting up in the morning – do I log on or pick up my latest book? (That’s kind of a retirement thing, but we’re in Panama, so it counts.)
3. The fruit vendor in his compact pickup truck, la camioneta, comes by every Tuesday and Thursday. I always buy something, so now he drives by my place slowly to give me a chance to get my shoes on and grab my wallet. He used to say, “Que quieres?” Now he says, “Hola, amigo! Como estás?” Then he holds up samples of what he remembers I have purchased in the past to encourage me to buy. He appreciates that we do the whole thing en español, and I appreciate that he doesn’t laugh at my gringo Spanish… and that his prices are really good!
4. The weather – mornings are clear and clouds move in around noon. We get rain at least every other day, and sometimes we get a lot! (see previous post – So you think you know rain) But it’s still warm enough to wear short sleeves.
5. Old reruns of House, Law and Order, and CSI – I enjoy the English language shows with the Spanish subtitles. Sometimes the interpretations are funny. Example – the actor said, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” and the Spanish subtitle said, “Just like Pinocchio.” It’s just a reminder that you can’t translate everything literally, or if you did, it wouldn’t make sense. (Note – NFL Football is televised in English. You don’t get that in South America without satellite TV.)
6. The fish and seafood truck – just like the fruit vendor, only once per week. (see #3)
7. Going in to town – We live four miles from town. We don’t own a car because we don’t need one. The bus or taxi costs 75 cents each way, a little more if they pull right up in front of our gate, which is about 100 yards from the highway. Going to town usually means a shopping trip, and that typically includes fresh baked goods. (Note to self – Don’t let the boxboy pack the baked goods bag with the donuts hidden among the empanadas under the fruit.) There are still a bunch of restaurants we have yet to try, too.
8. Sightseeing – so far we have visited Finca Lérida – a coffee plantation, the Caldera hot springs, Los Cangilones de Gualaca (a beautiful swimming hole on the Rio Estí), Playa Las Obas – a local beach, a rustic sugar cane processing operation near Dolega, and Davíd, the second largest city in Panama, with more restaurants than we’ll ever get a chance to try. (Note – My wife is of Sicilian ancestry, and we just learned a Sicilian gentleman operates a Sicilian style restaurant, La Pianista, just outside of Boquete. We are both eager to try it.)
9. The food – we were shown by our landlord’s lovely wife the proper method for preparing platanos (plantains) and yucca. We are always on the lookout for the perfect empañadas. Lots of people make them. Not many make them well. You need a local connection. We’re working on it.
10. Affordable living – rent, health care, public transportation and dining out are all relatively inexpensive. I save about one-third of my SS check every month.

There are more things to like about Panama, most notably the people. Anywhere you travel, if you treat people with kindness and grace, they reciprocate in kind.
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