Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Reality of It All

Things have been very busy. Mick booked our trip to Cuenca last week. We’ll arrive in Quito on June 16 and meet with Gabriella on June 17. On Friday, June 18, we’ll hire a van to transport us and the excess luggage to Cuenca. We want to rent an apartment for our stay instead of a hotel. Our focus will be to find an apartment to either rent or purchase for our return in September. It is important to have a final destination for our crate. Shopping for furniture and other essentials is also a priority. It’s all so exciting.

One of the documents that are needed for residency is a marriage certificate that has been certified by the consulate in Washington. It took exactly a week for our certificate to depart Charlotte, get to Tallahassee, have the apostille done and return to Charlotte. It arrived at home just before me. I typed a letter to make a mad dash to the post office to have it overnighted to DC. Of course, it was a Murphy’s incident, with two printers in the house, neither would cooperate. I ended up handwriting a correspondence. My penmanship is barely legible, but hopefully if can be deciphered. It headed for DC the same day and hopefully, the return will be comparable to that of the apostille.

We’ve been working on closets. I’ve been told that I cannot keep anything that does not fit. Shipping with the intention of “I’ll get into it again” is not an option. Bags of clothes have been given away to those who might use them and to Goodwill, many still with tags on them.

There was still the dilemma as to how to finally dispose of the remaining furniture, which is basically the entire house, minus the dining room and two wing-backs. Discounting a yard sale, there were two possibilities. The first possibility was to have an auction, the second, was to transport the furnishings to Lexington to run with the estate auction. The auctioneer came yesterday to peruse our treasures. He felt that the problem with an auction at our house was the space, our neighborhood is not exactly set up for such an event; a yard sale is actually pushing it parking wise. He felt that the best option was to transport most of our worldly goods to Lexington and he is willing to do that for a larger percentage for our portion. So instead of having a couple of months, the house will be left with basics after the second week of July. We’re anticipating many, many people for this event which will be complete with food service and a Port-a-Jon.

Today was another Lexington day. The attic had not been done and I still had a few cabinets remaining. The neighbors usually come over when they see one of our vehicles and visit with Mick, walking down memory lane. This is an old community. Everyone in the area is related. All the land can be traced back to the common ancestor who came from Germany over two hundred years ago. They’re a somewhat clannish bunch; you’re either “one of them” or an outsider. I qualify as one of them, because of marriage. Those are the rules.

Over dinner this evening, Mick was sharing his experience about today’s trip. He was alone in the garage, sweeping it, as he had done hundreds of times and it was as if he could still hear his mother and father. It was overwhelmingly sad that for the first time in over 50 years, the house was empty, really empty. The family had gone on vacations and the house was empty for a week, but it has now been silenced. This is where he moved at the age of 10. This is the house where celebrations were held. This is the house that was a showplace in its time. This is the house filled with guests and laughter during holiday festivities. The 16mm movies in our closet confirm the happiness on the faces of grandparents and others at the Christmas parties. When we drive off, we still see Maxine and Bob at the door waving to us as we drive off. His mother, father, Grandma Wesson, and then Bob, had all lived in the house on Rowe Road and now they are all gone, only a memory for a remaining few. All the things that were accumulated throughout their lives are gone or will be in a few weeks. For many of us that’s all we leave behind a few things that no one really cares about. Life can be bittersweet.

I have told him that these feelings will pass. Although it was only dishes, I experienced a great deal of agony in dealing with parting with my mother’s china. In a day or so, the anxiety will pass. There are too many exciting things happening to dwell on. Mick has never been one to look back, but reflection is a good thing and it’s always important to remember from whence you came. Without the journey, there would never be a destination.

Until next time,
Mick and Kathy

Monday, May 24, 2010

Number 2 on the Miss List

On our Miss List, there is very little difference between the numbers one and two spots. Of course, Denis took #1, but vying neck and neck for that illustrious position is something that is very near and dear to our hearts, Lexington Barbecue. North Carolina is famous for barbecue and there are two distinct types. Eastern North Carolina barbecue is whole hog and the sauce is vinegar-based, whereas, Lexington-style uses only the shoulders and the sauce, referred to as dip, is tomato-vinegar based.
The city of Lexington has literally dozens of BBQ restaurants, but there is only ONE Lexington Barbecue. Many of the locals still refer to it as “The Honeymonk”. It has been open since 1964 and the owner, Wayne Monk, in the early days had a partner by the name of Honeycutt, hence the name Honeymonk.

The restaurant is a simple barn-like structure that sits on a hill overlooking Business 85. Service is impeccable. Your cup of tea, of course, since this is the South, so, it’s iced tea, never gets low. Your hushpuppy tray gets refilled if you want.

Wayne has truly perfected the art of cooking a pig. We fully understand Brian’s use of the term “roast pig” in their blog, Planet Irony. You will often hear barbecue referred to in Lexington as “dead pig”; it’s accepted and no one gives it a second thought. The shoulders are slow cooked over a pit of hickory coals. The tender meat is then chopped and the dip is added. Some people prefer the outer meat which is referred to as brown lean. The skin is trimmed off and puffed in the deep fat fryer and served with dip. This is truly delectable and not for those high in cholesterol. There are those who simply want a “skin sandwich”, which is a hamburger bun, skin, and slaw.

Mick always gets a chopped plate, which consists of the barbecue, fries, dill pickles, and barbecue slaw. This is not coleslaw; this is barbecue slaw, which is chopped cabbage, catsup, vinegar, red pepper, black pepper, salt, and sugar. It‘s a delightful blend of hot and sweet and is the perfect complement to the delicious pork. Mick always gets extra slaw and we usually bring it home.

With the plate or the tray (the tray is fryless); there is the unending tray of hushpuppies. These scrumptious little morsels are a kind of bread made with cornmeal and then dropped into the fryer. Hushpuppies are a southern tradition which, as legend goes, has their origins during the Civil War. Southern chow wagons had a large supply of cornmeal. In order to keep the dogs that wondered near the wagon quiet, the cook would stir up a batter, fry it and toss it to the dogs for their silence… “Hush puppy”. These little concoctions are like chips, “you just can’t eat one.”
Lexington Barbecue also has THE best hot dogs and cheeseburgers in the state. An “all the way” burger has mustard, chili, onions, and slaw. They are to die for.

These are truly the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet. They’re friendly and cordial to the tourists, but if you’re considered one of them, they do back flips for you. We will miss the food and the staff. Lexington Barbecue is a restaurant, but it is so much more. It is a tradition and an institution. It is a part of Mick’s heritage. A number of years ago we were traveling from Quito to Ambato. We were told that we had to stop in Latacunga to have hornado pork at Restaurante Rosita’s. The pork was wonderful, tender and tantalizing. Although we may believe in our hearts that the best is in Lexington, good pig can be found elsewhere. Mick knows that there is pig at the end of the rainbow.

Until next time,
Mick and Kathy

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Miss List

As our plans progress and our excitement increases, that obscure little topic creeps into our conversation, what we’ll miss. Not being a student of the human psyche or behavior, it seems only natural that regardless of the situation, when someone leaves one phase of life, there are always things or people that will be missed. To date, on our “Miss List”, we have two items.

Number one on our miss list is Denis, our housekeeper. Denis is always there for whatever we need. She is truly the best housekeeper that we’ve ever had! She is always smiling, always kind and is gentle with Nikolas. She is the best ironer I’ve ever seen. Even the kids at school have repeatedly commented on the creases in my pants. When Bob passed and we were left with the task of dealing with the house, all I had to do was ask Denis. She and her sister have given up the past two Saturdays to work at the Lexington house. Everything is the cleanest that it has been in years and is now ready to sell. Not only is she incredible with the house, she is a great cook. Mexican food is one of our favorites. Occasionally she will treat us with her tacos, which will, as Mick says, “will make you see Jesus”. She has this apparatus, a wooden tortilladora that she uses and even had one brought to us from Mexico.

This is Denis, on the right, and her sister, Centhia, after a hard day at Bob's house.

Yesterday was Denis’s 28th birthday. We treated her to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Azteca near Northlake in Charlotte. I hope Denis and her husband, Ruben, enjoyed it as much as we did. We’ve decided that should we ever win the lottery that we’ll move Denis and her family to Ecuador and have her as our personal assistant. We’ve been so fortunate to have had her in our lives and we will genuinely miss her when we leave.

Denis is being serenaded by the wait staff at Azteca.

This is Ruben and Denis, a lovely couple.
Mick and I wish Denis a wonderful birthday and hope that she has a least a hundred more of them! We would love to take you and Ruben to Ecuador!

Item number 2 of our Miss List will be discussed in a later entry.
Until next time,
Mick and Kathy

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"We've been passport naked."

Last week Mick made the comment that he’d love for us to get away for a few days. I told him that we couldn’t leave Bob. He replied, “We can’t anyway because we’re “passport naked”. Our passports pages were full and we had only a few months left on them. Since we were in a travel lull, we decided that it would be a good time to renew them. The passport returned yesterday. We had them expedited and they were promptly returned in all their splendor. We're no longer passport naked. However, there are some changes since our last renewal. I was extremely disappointed in that this is the first time our old passports did not accompany the new ones. Being the pack rat that I am, I like to save them.

With the old passports, the picture and information was on the inside cover; now it’s on the next page. The primary difference is that it is micro chipped. The cover is much thicker, more cardboard-like. So we are no longer naked and are now ready to travel again.

This is a look at the old versus the new passports.

I spoke with Gabriella this week regarding what we should bring when we visit next month. We need our passports and a marriage certificate that is validated from the Consulate in Washington. She suggested that I call Marco Farfan. The marriage certificate that we have is not sufficient it must have the stamp from the Secretary of State in which we were married, which is Florida. This afternoon, I called the Clerk of Court’s Office in Kissimmee, who said that I needed to send our certificate to Tallahassee for an apostille. Tomorrow, Mick will get that off to Florida and hopefully by the end of next week, it will be in our hands to forward to Marco for our stamps.

Other happenings this week have involved dealing with Bob’s estate. We’ve decided to sell everything, including the property at auction. Things that we’re having difficulty selling will be transported to Lexington to be auctioned. Mick has been extremely busy this week handling all the legalities involved with the estate. It’s as if we’ve suddenly increased our speed from gridlock to the autobahn. We’ll slow down and smell the roses when we get to Cuenca. The first trip is less than a month away.

Until next time,
Mick and Kathy

Monday, May 17, 2010

Faith of the Heart

A few years ago there was another TV sequel to the ‘60’s “Star Trek.” I always found the theme to be inspirational. The lyrics seem apropos for us.

And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing's in my way…
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got faith to believeI can do anything
I've got strength of the soul
And no one's gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I've got faith, I’ve got faith, faith of the heart

Mick and I are feeling “the change in the wind right now”. Our routine has changed and what was normal for months now is nonexistent. Every time the phone rings, one of us will comment, “it’s Bob”, and then we realize that it can’t be.

Saturday, we began the process of cleaning and discarding. Our housekeeper, Denis and her sister, Centhia went with us and worked all day. I believe every receipt and piece of paper that crossed Bob or Maxine’s hands over the past 40 years remained in the house. Bags and bags were filled to throw away. The girls scrubbed diligently, cleaned out drawers and pantries of old and expired food. They will return this Saturday and I’ll remember to take a picture of them this time.

Because of the weekend his request for immediate burial, was not until today. Although he wanted no one to view the body, Mick was told that someone had to, for identification purposes. After I saw him this morning and agreed that it was him, he was closed up and transported to the mausoleum. We followed and witnessed that also. His natural son, Michael, and a neighbor were present with us. There was a light drizzle that added to the solemnity.

Life continues and with the passing of someone, there are many legalities to deal with in North Carolina. Mick and Michael left the mausoleum to go the courthouse to initiate the probate proceedings. I went to the house and began with more phone calls to auctioneers and realtors. Mick says that it is possible for the estate to be settled by the end of August.

Tomorrow we will return to the home in which Mick grew up. It has to be made ready to sell. There are so many “man things”. Tractors, lawnmowers, big boy tools…lathe, drill presses, items that are specialized for electrical and mechanical work. There’s also a golf cart and literally a fleet of power chairs, 2 Hoverounds and a scooter like those that you find in supermarkets for the handicapped. Bob had two mottos, “more is better,” and “don’t return anything.” I have a number of returns in the car. We have more meetings with those who want to “help” us with the estate.

Mick and I have faith to believe that we can do this. When everything is done, we’ll go where our heart will take us, which is Cuenca. There have been so many warm thoughts and responses this weekend from our new friends that we’ve yet to meet and we thank you so very much. Our bodies are here, but our hearts are already in Ecuador. Mick got the court’s approval to be away for a couple of weeks in June. When school’s out, we will be down to meet with Gabriella, rent an apartment, and see all of you.

This is the house that Mick's parents built in 1959. It's situated on a beautiful 7 acre tract complete with a pasture, an apple orchard, and a pond. Mick's room still has the original furniture in it.

Until next time,
Mick and Kathy

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Cycle of Life

Throughout our lives we are continuously a part of cycles. The greatest of these is the cycle of life. Each cycle has various phases. We are in our transitional phase. Everyone experiences this transitional phase; it’s merely differs from person to person, but always filled with emotion. For many it involves children leaving home, going to college, getting married, and grandchildren. The transitional phase is different, but yet the same for everyone, always emotional. Our phase has been primarily exciting.
Amidst all the excitement and the many things to do in order to make our final exit from North Carolina, there has been a situation in our lives that has compounded all of the physical and mental exertion. As stated previously, our projected departure date for months has been September 15; however, that date was chosen prior to a major development. Mick’s step-father, Bob, was diagnosed with cancer on September 21, 2009. Bob was 73 at the time and had never had a colonoscopy. He had colon cancer that had metastases to the liver, lungs, and lymph system. The above picture is of Bob a number of years ago.

Mick’s dad passed at the age of 46 of a massive coronary and died instantly. A few years later, his Mom, Maxine, met and married Robert Warren, a younger man. They were married for more than 30 years prior to Maxine’s passing in 2004. Although Mick and Bob had differences through the years, we continued visiting Bob and actually had a better relationship with him after Maxine’s sudden death.

Bob could be difficult and for him, control of everyone around him was essential. He was extremely strong willed. Through the last 8 months, Mick and I became the primary care givers. Medical issues, doctor visits, medicines, and the like were usually handled by me; whereas, business and legal aspects were dealt with by Mick. Gradually, the one who had always needed to be in control was now being controlled by his illness.

His original oncologist in Winston-Salem had given the prognosis of 3-6 months with the option of no treatment. At Mick’s prodding, he changed oncologists, who did offer one option, Xeloda, an oral chemotherapy, that although palliative, may improve the quality of life. The Xeloda gave him a couple of extra months, with December and January being the best. During those winter months, he was out and about, visiting the neighbors and his lady friend.

When his scans were repeated in March, the tumors were once again growing. The Xeloda was discontinued and acceptance of the inevitable set in. Even without the chemotherapy, nausea continued and grew worse. Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity progressed. What was originally a procedure called “paracentesis” once every three or four weeks, led to a permanent catheter for the evacuation.

This strong man, with an iron will AND an iron stomach stopped eating, drinking only juices….and beer….and brandy. If you’re dying, you should have what you want, right?

April 28 was his last good day. He was walking well. I took him to get a haircut, along with lunch at the Barbecue Center, and then other errands. That day was also a walk down memory lane for him and I learned things about him that I never knew. He was as much of a pack rat as I. Bob was in the air force back in the ‘50’s and still held on to binders from his two tours, which included being stationed in France. We perused them all. He later drove the golf cart to visit his lady friend (this is out in the country). It was a very good day; the last good day.

Bob began sleeping more and more and experiencing pain. Additionally, he was becoming confused. He couldn’t open the garage with the key pad. Last week, he locked himself out of his bank account because couldn’t remember the password. He began falling. On Wednesday when Mick was there, he was in his power chair in the hallway, kept running into the walls, and did not know where the living room was.

On Wednesday afternoon, he went to Hinkle Hospice House. Yesterday, he slept. Today, he died. I took yesterday off to visit him. The nurse told me early this morning when I called that his breathing had changed during the night, more shallow along with the “death rattle”. Mick said there was nothing that I could do. I went to school and Mick went alone to Lexington, which about 50 miles away and is where he grew up. Later in the morning, with Mick and his step-brother, Michael there, his spirit left.

This is Mick’s first experience with an “illness”. The deaths that have been dealt him have been immediate and unexpected. Death with illness is different; it is processed differently. Death with illness is exhausting. This is my third. You never get used to it, just know what to expect.

For now, our partially furnished house will remain as is. We must deal with Bob’s affairs and complete this part of the cycle. His request was no funeral or other routines of death, only immediate burial. We will take a deep breath and continue. There is much to do. We will close the chapter of Bob and resume our next chapter of moving. The cycle continues. Our cycle continues. It is now feasible for our initial trip to set our Cuenca phase into motion will come in mid to late June and our September 15 deadline will be met.

Until next time,

Mick and Kathy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Parting with the Past

As we have been sorting and sorting and sorting into our various piles, an excerpt of Ruby Payne’s book, “Framework for Understanding Poverty” comes to mind. In a little quiz, “Could you Survive Poverty”, a criterium is “I know how to move in half a day.” We are apparently a little higher up the socioeconomic level in that I doubt our completion of this task in the remaining four months. Sorting, sorting, and sorting.

Although Mick and I have gone through the entire gamut of emotions during this process, I more than him, and I know there will be many more episodes. It is to an extent relaxing. If you’ve been involved in teaching or known someone who has, this time of year is quite hectic and exhausting, with the coming of spring, hormones, exams, and attempting to keep the students focused.

After talking with a number of moving companies and getting quotes, we’ve decided to go with United Van Lines who offered a 7 x 4 x 7 box called a lift vault. This will be adequate, but a few things that we had originally planned on relocating, have been cut from the list.

One of the items is an oak hall tree, circa 1901, that was Grandma Wesson’s. It is not only sentimental, but beautiful and functional. Mick decided that his grandmother would understand. We have no heirs; therefore, we’re not certain of its eventual fate. It made its way to Craig’s List today.

We hope that someone will treat it with love and care as we have done for decades.

The major dilemma for me has been my mother’s china, early 1960’s. Mick has always been anti-formal china. His idea is that if you use it only once every Haley’s comet, you don’t need it. In fact a good Chinet paper plate is good as long as it has the three divisions (so his food does not mix) according to Mick. I’ve been back and forth, debated with him, debated with myself, cried, debated, and cried. I’ve finally agreed to part with it and to who would be its keeper.

Nikolas goes to daycare at Stoney Creek Animal Hospital. Through the many years that we’ve dealt with them, relationships have developed with some of the staff. One of the receptionists is extremely personable and transferred to that position from the kennel staff. Sarah is 22, married, and just completed her degree at UNCC. Mother would be pleased for her to have the china.

Sarah was genuinely delighted to get the china. I also gave her a set of Noritake Simplicity goblets to accompany the Gainsborough.

Hopefully the most difficult partings have taken place and everything else will be considered just "things".

Until next time,

Mick and Kathy

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Decision

Over a span of 15 years, we hosted more than 20 foreign exchange students from all over the world. It was through our exchange students that we grew to become enamored with the continent to our south. Our first love was Brasil, with its relaxed atmosphere, and a colorful, diverse culture. Our love story with Brasil prompted us to whimsically purchase a home in a little town in the southern most state, Rio Grande do Sul. It was our intention to retire and spend the rest of our lives there in the Pe do Serra.

From the time of our purchase until winter of 2007, either we had aged or there had been some sort of climatic shift. (We’re certain that the winter temperature has dropped at least 20 degrees because it is impossible for us to age.) Our July visit was excruciatingly frigid. We decided that we would not be happy there, sold the house and began looking farther north, along the coast. Our travels lead us to a small town in Alagoas state, Coruripe and began building a beach house. Shortly after the house was completed, changes occurred for the residency requirements. The residency issue along with the weakening U.S. economy and the strong Brasilian economy, our dream of becoming expats to Brasil began to fade.

We considered Central America, but then remembered our travels to this tiny country, Ecuador, several years ago that we had considered one of the most beautiful and unique places that we had visited. Ecuador had a true splendor beyond anything that we had experienced. While in Ecuador, we had traveled from Otovala to Banos. The cuisine was wonderful, the people friendly and every head turn was a post card.

Immediately after the initial thought of Ecuador, Cuenca became foremost on the list for a number of reasons, economy, availability of housing, inexpensive, and something that is extremely important, climate.

We have learned from our mistakes with our property in Brasil. This time we will be certain before we purchase. We’re certain that we want to be in Cuenca; however, we want to take our time to find a place that is perfect for Mick, our little one, Nick, and me. Initially we will rent. Our projected date of departure is September 15. There is much to do prior. The liquidation process has already begun.

Work wise, there is little time remaining. Mick has officially sold his practice and his last day will be June 1. I, however, have 4 weeks remaining of my mid-life crisis, which was teaching after having been a chemist for 25 years. After June 11, all actions will be directed toward the move.