Friday, December 19, 2014

29 Days and Counting!

Way past time for an update on our grand adventure by your ordinary, willing, and obedient servant(s).

We're back from a very good but all too short visit to my prima cousin in Cambria, and from the annual family reunion that happens lately sometime in December/January.  Our stored boxed belongings are now safely secreted away in isolation with my cousin - Thanks again, Pam! - and as reconstituted by her, now number 25 crates. 

That leaves us with 15 for sure suitcases of stuff to bring, under our limit of 20 for the two of us that Delta Airlines allows.  Could be a couple or so more, so we'll see.  Not sweating it anymore. . . At LAX, we know by inquiring ahead of time that our rental car company of choice, Enterprise, will take us to our terminal with dog kennel and the luggage - they've done it before, and not a problem.  One of us will need to be at the curb watching our luggage at the terminal while the other - likely me - ferries the luggage to checked baggage dropoff.  No Skycaps at Delta Terminal 5 anymore, though apparently American and United have 'em.  At Atlanta Hartsfield, there are Skycaps and taxis in van configuration to whisk us on our way to our hotel, and back again.  At Quito/UIO, we know the drill.  Once we claim our baggage and go through Customs, we will be able to be greeted by our Bed & Breakfast host and/or driver, who will supply us with helpers to get all items on board the van and if necessary, the taxicab (for overflow purposes).  Having a chofer from the taxi will be critical once we come to the B & B, as there are a number of steps to go up to on that hilly incline before we reach our floor that contains our rooms.  I could do the four pieces of luggage we had last Spring along with the help of our host, but 15 to 20 late at night would be truly tiresome.  Three of us works much better. 

Enough of baggage, then.  What's left from the once long to do list are essentially these: sell/give away cars, get the USDA APHIS papers for the dog and prep for his transport - display placards, papers, food/water, and obtain an appropriate USA based mail forwarding service before flying out.  In all cases these have to be done deals, as there will be a time soon - 29 days and counting - when it will be impossible to redo these actions. 

I'm not concerned now, but might be later at the timeline of developments if too much has to be done at the end in too little time.  We know there will be certain things that have to be done last - getting the rental van, withdrawing monies for travel, and packing/repacking so we know what we have and where while hopefully falling under the 50 pound/23kg weight limit the airlines impose.   Thinking about some stickers to our luggage and a "cheat 3 x 5 index card" in my wallet to code/decode our myriad belongings left to us.  Thank you, Lord, for neat ideas like that!  Don't want to tip off potential thieves on what to steal, but we will need to have a reasonably efficient way to know what items are where as we travel and finally get to our waiting condo in Cuenca. 

On selling the car: our Realtor has a lovely 17 year old daughter who would enjoy the car at the right price.  I've already looked up the Kelly Blue Book price for it, and hope we can hit off a deal soon.  Looking to be done with it come the start of January.  Wholesale vs. private party sale prices are ~ $1500 apart, so having this deal fairly consummated would be a financial feather in our cap, so to speak. . . God knows what we've already given away for free, so it would be nice for a fair private party sale to occur.

On the mail forwarding service: we didn't know it at the time, but the way we are doing our mail stop changes - residential USPS service --> private mail box PMB) with the UPS Store --> private mail forwarding service is exactly how one "throws off" those who are trying to send you mail.  We have been blessed by the underwhelming volume of mail since we sold the residence, but that's due to the overwhelming amount of junk mail that we had received. So the task is to stay connected and communicate.  So noted.

The reasonable cost mail forwarding services that we know of through searching the 'Net and listening to fellow US expats in Facebook groups do the following: receive your mail, discard your mail - junk mail - as you determine it, forward your mail electronically via email (where most accountholders get the bulk of their mail. . . a most welcome and timely service) or where you specify, send the (physical) piece(s) of mail to you at your specified foreign address.  Email communication is the only way to communicate your needs/desires to customer service, which is a bummer to someone with my learning difference, but of course it holds down costs to the supplier of the service.  Will check on this some more and come to a decision soon. 

In running errands around town, I am still getting compliments on my Spanish.  Easy conversations of reasonable length of up to 20 to 30 minutes, and it's reassuring I have a handle on the language since our emphasis for the most part was to get our house sold.  One of the employees at our lodging here, along with a pharmaceutical sales rep I met at my cardiologist's office - very engaging and considerate young woman, indeed - and more than one of the tellers at our Credit Union say I am going to do well in using Spanish.  One evaluation is that I am 80 per cent fluent.  I know myself better than they, and know just how much work there is to do before I am just as easily ready to strut out the ol' Espanol as I can the English. . . but it's nice to hear.  God is at work with that ability, and frankly I am enjoying our last times of being in worship, with family, and in a group setting in English before those opportunities are no more (or limited).  Cambio - change - is coming swiftly, and it waits for no man. 

90 per cent of this move looks to be done, which we are thankful to God for His wisdom, guidance, and direction through all of this.  Ten per cent still to be done.  Easy sledding, we hope!  A Christmas/farewell party with our adult Sunday school class, the Pathfinders at Grace Chapel in Lancaster, to be held at a member's home this Saturday.  It's getting to the end, and we are so anticipating that last drive - the last time I may ever drive again on a regular basis, btw - and our boarding the plane for the Big Trip.  LAX, here we come!  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Three Boxes of Life

Well. . . we are making steady but continued progress in our major, life changing move to Ecuador.  Items get checked off the checklist, bills - and final household bills get paid, and laundry gets cleaned, groceries bought, and meals eaten. 

We are in a different lodging in Lancaster. . . not in Mojave anymore.  It's in what was the premier spot for getting a room or a good restaurant meal a generation ago, but is now among the two still surviving inns that are still running a quality, and economical, operation.  The rates here are perhaps ~$30 to $40 less than one of the newer hotels by the freeway here, so we are thankful for the price break.  We save on fuel for the cars this way by being closer in to what still holds us here - mail service, credit union, and church - and this place serves a continental breakfast in the way a Holiday Inn Express provides, but without the well advertised name.  So some cost savings in fuel and food, offset by the increased (monthly) room rate.  Not a bad tradeoff for being closer to where we spend the majority of our time. 

It even has a pool and Jacuzzi, which I have been using to among other things tenderize my feet.  Maybe I *can* wear my dress shoes I had some trouble wearing last month, praise God!  I think the pain has lessened from the daily pool soakings.  Gotta wear shoes in Cuenca. . . they are our primary mode of transportation, or so we have planned.  Carolyn Anne has found one of her swimming outfits and is now joining me in the Jacuzzi. . . helping her back and joints, too.  Looks like we like this place.

The checklist of tasks to do before travel in January is shrinking to a very manageable size.  This is doable!  We now have airline tickets from Delta and have all lodging and accommodations in place, thanks in part to our Bed & Breakfast in Quito, Ecuatreasures, who we recommend based on our previous trip to Ecuador last Spring.  

The big task for us now is to sort through what I'll call "The Three Boxes of Life" (borrowed from Richard Nelson Bolles'  What Color is Your Parachute which is a classic employment resource I also recommend).  There's the suitcases we will bring to Cuenca this trip out, the tubbed belongings we won't be taking this time - but we can do it the next trip - and the items that don't fit either category. . . will be looked at in due time, and be recategorized into one of the other two categories. . . or donated away.  That's the simple, strategic reality of our few remaining belongings.  

This is beginning to hit Carolyn Anne as she is perhaps getting to "3-D" examine and realize what we can realistically take, keeping in mind Delta's luggage limit of 10 pieces of checked baggage per passenger.  As of yesterday, we were up to 13 bags to take, with bags at the motel room to add to that number. . . without a full elimination of the items that are in the "gray zone" of not going or stored.  As you may be able to tell, going through our stored belongings and deciding what goes and what stays is harder on my sentimental spouse (not that I don't have sentiment and emotions about our belongings. . . I do, but choose to be strategic and obedient to what I know God's call for us is to be.  And that means to travel light.  Airlines are ruthless that way. . .) .

I knew we were gonna spend at least a few days sorting out what to take and what to store.  Please pray with us on a good, kind, fair, and timely resolution for this one task to be done.  Also, that my wife would focus on us getting ready for our travels more than at present.  It seems she is getting distracted by a friend or two that wants to use her as taxi service (no car to drive).  I have told her for her friend to be referred to a friend of Carolyn Anne's who is willing to do that service in her place. . . after all, we're no longer gonna be able to live here anymore. . . soon!  Two months away.  Time flies, and we have to get 'er done, and focus without these distractions.    

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not so Fast!

We are now out of our residence. . . all moved out.  It sure was a different feeling to Pilgrim's Rest at the end. . . all the furniture and appliances taken out by the able crew at Grace Thrift Store in Lancaster, bare walls. . . and echoes to your voice when speaking. 

Thanks be to God for giving us the ability and wisdom for how to effectually get each item out of the house to get to this point. . . close of escrow, recording of deed, and sale proceeds wired to our account.  We rented a Penske moving truck just once during these last four months to move the vintage furniture items to a vintage furniture store or two in Highland Park/LA and Pasadena. . . where the reception given our furniture was chillier than we expected.  No one really cares about your "stuff," and so to Grace Thrift it went.   Dying to self. . . Living for God.  From an Eternal perspective, not a bad tradeoff.  We can't take it with us to Ecuador anyway, and certainly not Heaven!

It's the Motel life for now. . . Motel 6 that is.  In Mojave, where the rates are lower than the south end of the Antelope Valley - and weekly rates are offered.  What a deal!  Fridge, microwave, king size bed, dresser, desk and juice and coffee each morning from the motel's office.  Wifi too, of course.  Can't leave our dog alone in the room per motel policy, so we have been doing pet sitting while on errands.  Thankfully we're in Fall season so the temps are conducive for this kind of arrangement for the time being.

Now that we're out of the house after the sale closing, we are about the checklist I have created that delineates each task/step we need to accomplish before we board that airplane.  I counted up the time expected for each task, and came up with 23 and a half day's worth of tasks.  With Sundays off for worship, rest, and reflection on God's Word, that amounts to ~27 days.  A full month almost of activities to wind our life down Stateside!  Who knew leaving the US to immigrate to Ecuador would be so time consuming. . . not like being a tourist, where you are traveling temporarily.  This is for keeps!

One of the tasks - and an important one at that - is booking an airline and getting tickets to fly.  Looking to fly in November, I began the process of contacting airlines and checking on the 'Net to see who offered the best overall package for our needs.  I added a week of "wiggle room" for unexpected time needed to accomplish checklist tasks and the final saying of goodbyes, coming up with an expected date of leaving on November 24th.  

I - with Carolyn Anne's knowledge, of course - began the search for an airline that would meet our criteria: fly to Quito, allow our dog to fly in checked baggage, and take all of our luggage in checked baggage that we choose to bring.  Delta especially was helpful on the baggage aspect, stating on its website it allowed up to 10 pieces of baggage per passenger.  Though we are not anticipating taking that many pieces of luggage - the logistics of moving that many pieces on the ground on carts at the airport as well as via taxis I think is problematic for just the two of us alone - we think it's best to have that kind of flexibility should we need it.  $200 per bag charge over the first two pieces per passenger, of course.  This is serious bucks we're spending to move. . . and still less expensive than a shipping container ($7000  to $12000 is typical from what I've read elsewhere on the 'Net going from the USA to Ecuador).  By the way, I also looked into air freighting our belongings in. . . not allowed if you are an individual moving your belongings in this post September 11, 2001 world. 

One caveat with flying with Delta concerning pet travel:  you can't take a standard Boeing 767 from LAX to Atlanta because they don't take pets in checked baggage in it for some reason.  !!!   However, speaking to a Delta representative, I learned that a 737-900 would allow a pet aboard as checked baggage.  Problem solved. 

So it looked like we had done our homework.  I purchased tickets for LAX to ATL to UIO for the two of us for Monday, November 24th, which I calculated would be an achievable date for us to have everything wrapped up and ready for us to fly.  24 hour "cool off" period per Delta on refunding the tix, too.  

Good thing that. . . because I wisely checked back with another Delta ticket agent to see if there were any baggage restrictions/embargoes going into Quito during our dates of travel.  Sure enough, there was an embargo in place for the November 16, 2014 -  January 16, 2015 time period.  The embargo, btw restricts the number of checked bags per passenger to a maximum of six.  This is due to Delta managing its passengers and checked baggage capabilities during the busy Winter season of North American passengers heading to Ecuador, and not instigated by the Ecuadorian government, according to a Delta ticket agent I spoke with today.    Not so fast!  Yikes!

How I knew there were such things as airline baggage embargoes is due to time spent this last week at our church's Men's Retreat, which is blogworthy in and of itself.  Credit to our always Wise God and his able servant Howard Scholl, of our church and currently on staff as Activities Director at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Park, California.  I asked Howard while I was at Hume Lake if there was anything I should know about before traveling to Ecuador.  The baggage restrictions/embargoes that happen periodically during tourist "high travel season" was the biggest takeaway from Howard.  Major Kudos to him. . . how incredibly prescient a comment!  Howard, btw, along with his wife Mary served as missionaries in Ecuador for several years, ending this year.  I've learned much from him, and have a great respect due to Howard regarding the need to know and speak Spanish while in Ecuador. . . a Spanish speaking country.  !Gracias muy mucho en El Senor para sus palabras antes de el avion, mi amigo!      

So. . . with that said, I called up and cancelled our flight with Delta.  Carolyn Anne was beside herself when she first heard about the baggage embargo, already making firm plans to be there in Cuenca this November.  She is better about it now.   The lesson here is to be flexible and see things through to the end. . . . Never, never ever give up!  Be patient, tenacious. . . and let God see you through to the end.  It's for Him that we go, anyway.  So let Him fight those battles, those adversities, those setbacks for us.

Not without hope, we continue to expectantly wait for the day when we leave for Ecuador.  Look at where we are now. . . house sold, possessions mostly given away, and just a small amount of tasks to do before we leave.  We have a roof over our heads (Tom Bodett's, be it ever so humble), food to eat, and clothes to wear.  In time, the baggage/dog/time of departure issue will resolve itself. . . with God's gentle guiding shepherding hand, if we allow Him to lead us!  (wink)


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tying Up Loose Ends

Update on what has transpired in the last two days. . . more good news!

I received a call from Joanie of the Michigan Secretary of State office in Lansing, Michigan yesterday afternoon.  Turns out they have our original request for the birth certificate apostille right there under their nose!  She was looking for a UPS brown envelope, and not a parcel with just a UPS label.  There ya go. . . Thank God it was found!  Redeems them of a bad reputation, and helps us get an extra apostilled birth certificate for Carolyn Anne.  Now her birth certificate documents will match mine in quantity and quality, as I too have two apostilled birth certificates.  Joanie said she would ensure they were processed immediately and would be in the UPS system by the end of the day.  Very good news indeed!

As Doctor Luke, writer of the eponymous Gospel of Luke would say, "make a careful search."  (Luke 1:3)  She did, and that's how it was found.  Being more careful and observant.  Lesson to be had there. 

Our second chance attempt to get the same document apostilled is due to arrive at our friend's residence later on today.  So now it's a horse race of sorts to see which one comes back to us first.  We'll gladly take one or the other. . . actually, both.  By next week, Monday or Tuesday at the latest, we should have the both of them.  Fabulous!

Meanwhile, Pilgrim's Rest is still on track to closing escrow.  I played phone tag with my realtor friend, and it looks like we're all good to go.  Funding for the loan from the mortgage company looks like it's gonna happen this time (new papers were signed Friday), and so we will get our monies for the proceeds of the sale.  Off to Grace Thrift later on today to remind them to make the pickup of our furniture donations one last time, which will clear the house out of everything remaining except for the few remaining items we'll take out to our temporary storage unit. 

Our "roadmap" of sorts, an MS Word document I've entitled "Ecuador Immigration Checklist," has all sorts of items on it marked "DONE" on it now.  It gets easier from this point in the journey on, although we will give up certainty for the interim in where we are located. . . motel life it is for now.  

So incredibly grateful for our great God for getting us to this point!  My wife is doing well and in great spirits about the whole thing still, and things are coming together and on track for our flight in a few weeks. . . looking around on the 'Net via Google Flights app for appropriate fares that will allow us to fly our pet in the checked baggage compartment of our airplane, and take as many pieces of luggage as we deem appropriate.  Thinking about 10 or 12 total at this point as we are getting a better visual of our belongings we plan to take all located together in our temporary storage unit.  American won't let us take but one piece of checked baggage per person.  Ouch!  What are they thinking?  United is better, but not much.  Only four total pieces per person.  Delta is looking good, though.  Up to ten pieces *per person.*  That. could. be. done.  This. is. doable.  

Had our first official "goodbye" supper with our good friends Gary and Julie Wotasik, and their new in the process of adoption daughter from mutual friends we knew, EvaLynn.  Those two are incredible.  Gary gave the message for the worship service last Sunday at Cornerstone Church in Littlerock on missions, and what God's heart is regarding missions - which entails the direction we are headed to in living in a foreign land to befriend people who are culturally different from us and speak a different language.  Last year, they attended what is known as the "Perspectives" class (online here: ) where people may learn more about the mission field, what happens there, and how God reaches people through ordinary, yet willing people like them and us.  This year, they are teaching the class.  Good, close friends who love the Lord and love people. . . we will miss them, though we plan to use Skype to keep in touch.  

Julie was tired from having literally a "Three Dog Night!"  Gary was staying at his mother's in Long Beach and Julie was alone in bed with three pet dogs coming into the room beside her and keeping her up at night.  She was glad to see us, but the yawning couldn't be helped.  We have to take advantage of each moment, "for the days are evil" as the Apostle Paul remarked to the early church at Ephesus (Ephesians 5:16).

Hope to spend some time with other cousins as well in the local/regional area before we go.  In touch with some of my siblings too, and they are supportive and understand the adventure ahead for us. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good Success!

We've reached a milestone of sorts now in our efforts to reach our goal of moving to Cuenca, Ecuador: our documents that needed apostilling by the California Secretary of State - my birth certificate and our criminal background checks - have now been apostilled at the CA SOS regional office in Downtown LA as of Thursday, and our Social Security pension letters were received from the US State Department at our mailbox Wednesday.  With these crucial documents now in hand apostilled, we went to the Consul General of Ecuador in Beverly Hills, and. . . received our legalization papers for the Social Security pension letters, proving our sources of regular income. 

We didn't have to produce (except to show briefly) the birth certificate and the criminal background check documents.  Our consulate official, Cecilia, who we've seen three times in succession now, only wanted to examine for "perception of income" letter writing purposes our Social Security pension letters showing our proof of income and the amounts.  She carefully typed out the information - our names, address, passport number, and Social Security monthly pension amounts - in a Spanish language letter and when finished, called us back up to the counter. 

I'll briefly add that Cecilia remembered us from our previous visits, and so was in tune with our specific situation and what we needed to do to be legalized for our immigration to Ecuador.  She remembered we were going to finalize our Cedula indefinite visa application in Cuenca, and were therefore not applying for the six month visa, saving a total of $350 in the process.  Better to use those funds towards getting the Cedula, and she understands that approach and has no qualms with it. 

I was asked if I understood enough Spanish to read and understand the letter written on my behalf regarding my monthly pension.  I replied in the affirmative, with a "Si!". . . after all, it is their country, and I am a guest. . . even in their consulate.  I signed the letter with a blue pen - not my normal color, which is black - just the way I signed my name on my US passport.  Cecilia compared the signatures, and pronounced me "good to go" to Ecuador. 

Carolyn Anne was then called up to the counter, and was asked if she needed help with reading the letter written on her behalf regarding her monthly pension.  She did need help, of course. . . and so I came to the counter to read it over and ensure all the information was accurate and complete.  After signing the letter, she likewise was declared "good to go."  

According to Cecilia at the Ecuadorian Consulate, our marriage certificate needs to be apostilled.  According to our legal counsel in Cuenca, Dr. Cardenas, all we need is a notary public's signature and seal.  I'll go with our legal counsel, who is there where we will deal with the Ministry of Immigration office in Cuenca versus the US based Ecuadorian Consulate, who doesn't have direct interaction with that specific Immigration office as far as I know.  

Once done with the business at hand - and a careful going over one last time of the requirements for the pensionado visa (9-1) - showing we had fulfilled all the document requirements asked for by the consulate, we then asked about getting the "pet visa" for our dog.  "You don't need any further documents from us for your pet to travel," Cecilia responded cheerfully.  I asked her if she was aware that at least the Miami EC Consulate issued these kind of documents of late, according to my sources on the 'Net.  She was not. . . and said that all we needed was the USDA form to travel with.  Anticlimatic moment, this.  It became apparent that we were actually done with visiting the consulate, though we were anticipating two more visits - one for Carolyn Anne's birth certificate, and the last for the "pet visa."  But no.  We received a blessing of sorts from Cecilia, who is from Quito, by the way, who remarked upon our completed paperwork journey, "Enjoy our country!"  Graciously spoken. . . We replied in English "We will!" with smiles on our faces.  Sonrisas. . . success!

Well, with all this done and behind us, we felt like celebrating.  So we did!  We went to the Antelope Valley Mall near our residence - still our residence until Wednesday, thank God - and had supper at Red Lobster, normally out of our league budgetwise. . . but we now know we are leaving.  We won't have a chance to do this again anytime soon.  This is also the restaurant where one of my best friends (and our Best Man in our wedding) works part time at, and his shift was this day at this time.  We asked our waitress to please have him visit us for a moment at our table, if possible, and she was able to carry that message to him.  Our friend "Nick" was surprised and pleased to see us, of course.

I want to add that from our current perspective, the service rendered to us by the Ecuadorian Consulate through Cecilia was altogether appropriate and helpful.  It became obvious to us in this last visit that we had listened to her country's document requirements.  Having met them, the mutual understanding of each other and appreciation of each other's position grew in beneficial ways to the point that it seemed that Cecilia was more relaxed and smiling more than we had seen her doing in past visits.  A learning experience all the way around. 

One small detail to take care of: Carolyn Anne's birth certificate still needs to be apostilled.  Can you believe that the Lansing office of the Michigan Secretary of State's office *lost* this document and the request, though it was sent and delivered UPS, with tracking performed on it?  Wow!  I discussed this matter with the clerk I reached after a couple of phone transfers, Joanie, for a half hour early Friday morning and it is readily apparent that they don't know where on earth it is.  The office there is backlogged two to three weeks behind, according to our personable, friendly MI SOS staffer.  I asked her if she checked the logs for the day before and the day after I had recorded it as being delivered at their shipping dock.  She did. . . no record of it under my wife's name.  I asked Joanie if all of the mail received for September 29, 30, and October 1st had been logged in.  She said it had.  They process the apostille requests at a downtown Lansing location other than their Crowner Blvd. location that we mailed our documents to, fyi.  Wonder if it got lost in the transporting between addresses. . . (sigh)

This is why it's good to have friends.  Good friends.  Friends you can count on when the chips so to speak are down.  Joanie let me know if we had someone - not necessarily my wife, but a friend or relative - deliver the original birth certificate with the $1 payment, they would gladly produce the apostille for the birth certificate involved.  Good!

I asked Carolyn Anne if she wanted to fly to Michigan to get her birth certificate apostilled.  She wasn't happy with that question. . . costly trip.  I then let her know If we could find a trusted individual to do this for her who just might live somewhere in Michigan, it would be able to be accomplished that way.  Carolyn Anne mentioned after a bit of thought that her longtime friend Mary Ann O'Connor would be a good choice for the task.  Mary Ann and I discussed the matter and we will send her the birth certificate later on today.  Thanks again, Mary Ann!  You're part of the tapestry of our immigrating to Ecuador now. . . and we will owe you at least one good Mexican dinner down the road, if not more!  (smile)

The wisdom of requesting multiple copies of one's birth certificate is apparent here, of course. 

Getting back to the Ecuadorian Consulate office visit for a moment. . . some valuable lessons on how to comport oneself while there and amongst the Ecuadorian people.  There were a dozen or so people in the office waiting for service, and one other Gringo couple present besides us.  It became apparent that the wife of the pair was not all that patient and flexible regarding the details surrounding their pensioner's visa application.  They had already arranged a flight out to Guayaquil for Saturday - today - and had to get the details of getting their US passport stamped with an Ecuadorian Visa that day resolved, or else there was going to be complications.  They flew here from out of state, too. . . it's hard to get service from the Ecuadorian Consulate by email or telephone, and you have to get it in person from our experience.  So I empathize with this couple. 

All the pacing and whatever else done by the wife was not really needed.  What was worked out by the Consulate and this couple was to have them come back at 4:00 PM, after the office was officially closed, and get things resolved to good satisfaction then.  Won't go into details here. . . not necessary.  The Consulate even gave them their personal cellphone number should there be any difficulty getting to get together to meet at 4:00 PM that day. . . very good service from what I can see.  Coming together, working out differences. . . the hallmarks of a consulate or embassy's major tasks.  This was not lost on Carolyn Anne and proved a good object lesson on how to interact with others, especially as we travel and live in Ecuador amongst people not like ourselves.  Patience. . . is indeed a good and Godly virtue.  The Good News is that it is becoming quite obvious to me at least that the willingness to not respond verbally so quickly, to be patient, to allow God to take care of things by not being so in charge of every little detail is starting to take hold in my precious wife's heart.  May she continue down that path of Holy Habits of the Heart, and abandon ruthlessly those old habits that have ensared her and caused her grief.  Yea, God!  He is working amongst us. . . even and especially as we ready ourselves for the big changes ahead. 

Next up: Close of Escrow, Part II (The End, I hope) and storage unit sorting of belongings. . . what travels, what gets stored at my cousin's, and what will be donated away. 

We're talking about maybe three to four weeks away from flying out and getting to Ecuador.  It's really close up on the horizon, and our hearts are melting at the prospect of saying final goodbyes and anticipating the trip ahead. 


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Phases to Moving: Escrow Closing, Documents Approval and Flying

We're at the end of a large chapter in the novel that is our move to Cuenca, Ecuador: the close of escrow on our residence here in Palmdale. 

At the time of our arrival back here to Southern California in May, this house held all our earthly possessions.  Overstuffed to the point we did not know all the time where certain items were. . . not a good sign. 

We have majorly reformed in this regard.  We are  agreeing with Jesus in a very tangible and practical way with what he taught about covetousness:  ". . . life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  (Luke 12:15, ESV)  This is more growth on my lovely wife's part than on mine. . . she had to over and over say, "do I need it or do I want it?" (And. . . "Can it be repurchased in Cuenca after we get there?")  She learned through this hard path of winnowing out what you really need to keep for the Journey ahead - and regarding the excess as dross -  some very practical spiritual truth.  Since we can't take it with us when we die, we might as well get rid of it now while we can decide who gets it!  That part of the disposing of possessions has been the better part of it for her I think.  Me?  I've been getting rid of things too.  Many things I would have liked to share with those of the younger generation in terms of my books, papers and such.  No one has asked to see them, much less read them. . . out they went.  Of course the furniture being donated has been the dagger in the whole thing.  Now this house is virtually bare, and ready for the new owner.  It still takes my breath away.  But we're doing it to be free to serve our Lord in Ecuador and be able to travel there.

Organized, knowing where things are. . . excellent position to be in.  I found our wedding photos and DVD for example, not knowing for years - for years - where exactly they were.  I had faith they were squirreled away somewhere here. . . and they were!  No more of that.  From now on, we know where things are wherever we live at. . . and we will never again overstuff our residence like this place had been. 

I am so very proud of my bride in getting to this point where our possessions are barely covering the floor of our temporary storage unit. . . with lots of room to spare.  We will decide in the coming days what things to donate that my very understanding, supportive cousin Pam will not take as long term storage at her and her husband's residence - she has limited space and can't possibly store everything - and what isn't donated, or left in long term storage with my cousin gets to make the cut and get into baggage to fly with us. 

Besides figuring out what gets to be taken with us on our journey - and what gets to be kept in storage - the next big chapter is finalizing our documents for travel to Ecuador, where they will be used to obtain our Cedulas, or indefinite stay Visas.  We're getting closer in getting all of this done.  Still waiting for Carolyn Anne's apostille of her birth certificate from Michigan, and getting my birth certificate apostilled at the California Secretary of State's regional office in Downtown LA.  These should be straightforward.  Will check on her apostille request Friday. 

While at the CA Secretary of State's office, I believe it would be prudent to see about apostilling the Criminal Background Check documents from CA Department of Justice.  It doesn't make total sense to have the same department that issued the letter stating you have no criminal record to also provide a signed and (raised) seal letter affirming that fact.  Like the fox guarding the henhouse.  Instead, get the CA Secretary of State's office to apostille them. . . a hopefully impartial third party that does this for other state documents.  I'll bring them and ask them if they will do this as well.  I don't know if they do the apostilling of these documents the same day you walk in to the office - they do offer walk in service - or if you have to get them mailed to you and waiting for them to process your requests.  I'll find out either later on this week or sometime next week. 

Also waiting on the US State Department to apostille our Social Security pension letters (proof of income).  I see via UPS Tracking this afternoon that the documents are in transit again with UPS,  and should be arriving in two days via UPS air. 

The grand finale, of course, is bringing the birth certificate documents and the Social Security pension letters - all with apostilles, of course - to the General Consul of Ecuador's office in Beverly Hills.  Do I also present them with the Criminal Background Check documents as well?  Dunno.  Wisdom from you, Lord on how to proceed.  So many details.  Hopefully this next visit will produce the legalization documents we need to present to the Ministry of Immigration in Cuenca.  Praying. 

The next big step is . . . flying.  Sounds simple, but there's a lot to do even at this step.  Get our dog his papers for his "Pet Visa" for flying to Ecuador, which will require a visit to the local vet here, papers to the USDA in El Segundo near LAX to be finalized and filled out, and the presentation of the USDA form 7001 to the Ecuadorian Consulate, which hopefully (without complications or denials) will produce the document some call a "Pet Visa" for our "Beverly Hills" Chihuahua to fly with us to Ecuador.  This document will start a time clock of 21 days to enter Ecuador. . . if you don't arrive in Ecuador in those 21 days, the "Pet Visa" will become invalid. 

Then. . . notify our landlady we are coming. To do that we need our travel dates from the airline. 
Order tickets (of course), but get reservations in Quito for a place that will accept a pet, and help in transporting from the airport to the lodging, and from the lodging to either the airport to fly to Cuenca, or get a van and driver to drive us to Cuenca (maximum of $250 this way, according to one source on the 'Net).    

This means we will need to do our last visits, say our last goodbyes to friends and family members during this time, if not before.  Get mail forwarding set up for our international move, have doctor's office records given out (my cardiologist provides them on the Internet for free, available anywhere in the world with available Internet service. . . a moneysaving bonus!), and get our annuity set up.  Sell our cars, get a rental car, get monies for travel. . . and we're off!

Three great chapters, one epic novel. . . and one God who is over all.  We are continuing to depend on him for what we need.  It's interesting to have conversations with people here on what we are doing.  In this North American culture, so many are about the accumulating of stuff. Us?  We're so beyond that.  It's very countercultural, and gives a great witness to what the Lord is doing in our lives as we continue down this road of getting out of here and moving to Cuenca. 

"See" you next time via laptop.

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Stop the presses!  I got a call from my Realtor in the late morning that the loan documents for the buyer have expired.  !!!  Really really poor service by his realtor by that real estate company, with branches all over SoCal, including one right here in Palmdale a stone's throw from me.  That realtor is not looking out for their buyer, not in the least.  The buyer should be fuming right about now.  So. . . after conferring with my wife, we agreed to stay another week here - saves on the lodging bill, of course - and I have been very occupied getting all the utilities to stay on another week for us here.  Whew!  All done.  Brought home some pots and pans from storage, too so we can live a little.  Our "swan song" period has begun.  Thank you Lord for small situations that help us even a little bit like this one financially.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Word about Where We're Headed

I received a call from a friend of our landlady's yesterday morning.  Turns out she had our personal check for the rent we sent UPS to our landlady, with the landlady's endorsement signed on the back of it. . . seems our landlady didn't or couldn't negotiate depositing it to her bank account in Cuenca, and her friend was kind enough to give her the amount on the check in cash, accepting our personal check in return. 

This friend lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, according to her conversation with me in very good English.  She also lives part of the time in Cuenca, and so knows our landlady.  Apparently they have known each other for years, and get along well.  Enough to trust one another through a financial wrinkle or two, apparently!

Anyways, this friend talked a bit about what the residents in our condo building in Cuenca are like.  There's Gringo/Gringa expats from the US like us there - extranjeros is the proper word in Spanish - but there's also Cuencanos, native folks there too.  Good to have a mix, because I've heard from our previous visit (and read it besides) being in your own comfortable English language only Gringo "bubble" is not helpful when you are living in a foreign country like Ecuador as a guest.  The natives catch on, just like North Americans do here in the United States, when you live in your own enclave and don't venture out.  Here in Los Angeles County, California, well known as a magnet for peoples and cultures around the world to come and live the fabled SoCal lifestyle, the most famous example especially in film would be East Los Angeles, portrayed in actor Cheech Marin's "Born in East LA."  You can become stereotyped and not understood properly by the larger culture surrounding you. . . for good and for ill, often for ill.  Beware.  

So it's good to hear that there's a mix of residents in our condo building.  Sounds from the conversation with this friend that a lot of them stay quite a while too. . . for several years, it seems.  And they all get along well socially with each other from what I heard.  Excellent security too from the security guards at the front desk on the ground floor.  We didn't get into the amenities of the surrounding neighborhood, but we're aware there's services and such around.  Certainly plenty of Cuenca Transit buses that pass by Unidad Nacional, our street, and taxis are plentiful in our location, as they are in just about everywhere in Cuenca it seems. 

Going a bit further in this vein. . . I've experienced and heard on the 'Net of what the US expat culture in Ecuador and Cuenca is like to some degree.  Quite different from the life we've been living here, and in large part for the good.  With so many people not working, and with free time, there's social groups all over.  Joining is one of the things people do.  What should we join, if anything?  A prayer to have on this topic, to be sure.  Looks like there's a wide variety of life experience, talent, and interests among expats in Cuenca.  A rich array with a lot to offer.  It will be like going back to university days for us to some degree. . . without having to take exams or get a grade, of course.   

I'm guessing that friendships, considering the distance we all are from the US and family and friends, are a desirable thing once one lands in Cuenca among the expats.  But relationships take time, and at our age we don't have near as much time as younger folks do.  But we will have the free time on a pretty much daily basis to catch up in a sense, perhaps.  We have enjoyed the friendships made with Cuencanos and expats alike in our previous visit in April and May, and hope that we may continue in that vein once again upon returning to stay and live in Cuenca. 

In making a fresh start at this stage of life, we would be wise to be Christlike in our words and actions. . . and not press too hard for any particular thing too hard or too fast.  Be organic in relationships, care for the person - like Jesus does - first, and then take it from there.  I think there's some wisdom in trusting God for future friendships that way as opposed to doing and saying things that could tick people off within your own subculture or the larger native born culture in a foreign city in a foreign land.  So please pray with us as we begin that part of our move and resettlement. . . that we find good people of character to associate with, and that many mutually beneficial relationships may blossom as a result of our being friends of God first, and friends with the locals and Cuencanos too.   Most of all, that His Kingdom would be made great in all of this, and that we would bear much fruit for Him.     

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ducks in a Row

Some updated news to share regarding Carolyn Anne's Criminal Background Check and escrow closing on Pilgrim's Rest. 

Believe it or not, despite a long career in nursing which can wear down your hands and obliterate fingerprints, she did get her fingerprints read via Live Scan system with the State of California Department of Justice (CA DOJ).  Her prints were good enough to read to get a verification done that way.  Yea God!

That said, CA DOJ got her first name spelled wrong.  They introduced a variant spelling of "Caroline" when in fact the application to CA DOJ stated "Carolyn."  You just know the Ecuador Immigration authorities will have a field day with that mistake and deny her the granting of her Cedula after our arrival in Ecuador on that basis. . .

So I nipped it in the bud.  Sent an email to correct the name, and also - since she received a legitimate clear Criminal Background Check (CBC) - requested the Apostille letter to authenticate the Criminal Background Check report.  Wouldn't you know, our Anthony over at CA DOJ looked at the first attempt at her trying to get her report, and told her to make a second attempt.  What on earth was he thinking?  Taking each email sent to CA DOJ separately instead of as a whole, of course.  Within minutes, and before I had a chance to send a corrective email to him, he acknowledged his mistake in the previous email. . . upon reading the next email sent from here, no doubt. 

So she will be sent the corrected CBC *and* the Apostille letter, most likely in the next day or two.  Yea, God!  Prayers answered!

UPDATE 10/2/2014: We received the CA DOJ's corrected CBC, combined with a handwritten signature of Mr. Anthony Molina, Criminal Identification Specialist I, with the embossed State of California seal.  Excellent!

In other news, the house here will get an escrow closing date tomorrow.  It would have been today except I have to go to the hospital this morning to have a cardio conversion for my fast beating, irregular beating heart.  Not the first time, and not the last I would think, based on my history. . . but this delays escrow by a bit.  Probably will set a date for mid October.  Things are happening, and events are moving along quite nicely.  Prayers appreciated for my heart if you read this in time, of course. 

UPDATE 10/1/2014: Escrow closing date now set.  We have just a matter of days getting everything out.  Most of it is.  Just a few things to deal with, and we can handle it with the abilities God has given us.  Cardio conversion scrubbed due to blood not being thinned enough by the drug I've been taking.  I'll be taking a new drug to replace it, and it should do the job very well. . . free samples too from the tic doc, which is getting to become rare these days with Obamacare in effect.  A couple of drugs prescribed which have slowed down the fast beat to the heart and have strengthened it.  I feel better now, too, and can tell the difference.  Thank you Lord for good doctors like mine.  I will miss him and his excellent knowledge and manner.

Social Security proof of income letters should be arriving at US State Department today.  Carolyn Anne's Apostille for her birth certificate should also be delivered today.  My birth certificate is still not received. . . once received, I can drive to Downtown LA and get it apostilled.  Getting to the end of the document process at the higher standard required of the Consul General of Ecuador, and presentation of documents to them for birth, and proof of pension income from Social Security.  Pray with us please for approval, and speedy results.  We can see our time here in the US is rapidly coming to an end, perhaps sooner than we might have imagined!

UPDATE 10/2/2014: Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's office sent me my three copies of my birth certificate. . . so that's now received.  Getting the documents done in good timing, I hope.  Just a couple of items in transit, and then a visit to CA Secretary of State in Downtown LA where they have a field office at 300 South Spring Street, Suite 12513 for State of California documents needing an apostille, and then. . . on to the Ecuadorian Consulate in Beverly Hills for hopefully the grand finale on paperwork legalization. 

This should be the end of my being able to type new posts into this humble weblog via the desktop computer, which has a real keyboard, allowing for faster typing.  From now on the task will be via the laptop, which while new and up to the task, doesn't have a standard keyboard like a desktop does.  This will result in slower typing speed and most likely shorter descriptions and posts. 


Friday, September 26, 2014

Documents in Motion, Part II

What a difference a day makes. . . twenty four little hours. . . reminds me of a song once used by a now defunct LA area men's clothing chain store!

OK, here's the latest: The CA DOJ finally corrected their telephone messaging at (916) 227-4557, which was the number I called for my Criminal Background Check results.  They really do have a thing for email over there, which I'm sure is based on efficiency/productivity and overall communicative ability reasons.  Now we're told in a nice prerecorded female voice that one should email

and include the ATI identifying number, and the first and last name. . . nothing else since it's for an individual asking on their own behalf.  Obviously ask them for a status report on the Criminal Background Check. We now have a leg up, too. . . we have the trusty Anthony's email address at CA DOJ if all else fails.  CA DOJ does to date provide speedy email responses, a good thing. 

Carolyn Anne's birth certificate Apostille request to Michigan's Secretary of State is on its way via UPS Ground.  Should get there delivered by Tuesday.

Our personal check for our Cuenca condo was delivered yesterday, signed by hopefully the security guard of the building.  Will have to check on that to be sure.  Impressive service by UPS and thanks to Ecuador Customs for allowing it to go through.

Today the sending out for the Apostille of the Social Security proof of income - one for each of us - will go out via UPS.  I prepared, in order: the cover letter requesting the Apostille (the signature on the cover letter is important to authorize the thing to be done), the DS-4194 form filled out in ink per the nicely provided interactive example available on Windows software - the responses make sense - the *original* Social Security proof of income letters, and of course our payment.  The US State Department actually accepts your personal check, among other more obvious means of payment, such as a USPS Money Order.  Shipment can be made in two days less than the cost of three days - a bonus - and the total time start to finish should be two weeks.  Will need to make copies of the DS-4194 forms and provide the UPS tracking numbers on the forms before copying them.  Lots of details. . copies are so that we can telephone the State Department with any questions on processing. 

And yes, of course, I had the local Social Security office sign my proof of income letter in ink a representative's name, printed the name below that, with title. . . and even included his toll free telephone number with extension should the State Department need to talk to them about the letter.  Good to go! 

We're delaying the close of Escrow on the house a week, so mid October is going to be the close. . . as far as we know.  No official date set by the Realtor or Escrow Company.  Still some minor work to be done to the house per the home inspector's report due to the age of the house and how things were built back then. . . but nothing that isn't easily taken care of. 

We're gonna get there, eventually.  God is at work in the details, and we're doing our part. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Documents in Motion

Every day, I learn something new as I endeavor to get the official papers we need for our move to Ecuador filled out, completed, Apostilled, and set to go.  My Organizational Management professor from my College of Business days was right. . . "I am continuously learning and growing."  Without relent.

Carolyn Anne's second attempt Criminal Background Check with CA DOJ is in process. . . and no way to check the status via telephone automated message, as the system seems to still be inoperational.  I appreciated it when my Criminal Background Check was checked at earlier, and I could hear the "mailed" status of the check.  Now, I'm in the dark.  Will send an email to no doubt the trusty Anthony at CA DOJ for the update after a week's time, which should be sufficient based on the last response I had with them.

We were so very thrilled to receive Carolyn Anne's birth certificate(s) in the mail Tuesday.  Wayne County Clerk's office really did deliver on what they said it would do. . . I stand amazed!  Considering the now legendary dysfunction that Detroit has, and considering that they have furlough days according to the clerk I last spoke with, that is impressive service.  And my LA County birth certificate isn't here yet.  My hat's off to the folks in Detroit, for sure. 

The next step is to get her birth certificate Apostilled, which is to say authenticated per the Hague Treaty of 1961.  There's a whole Internet site about Apostilles here:  Since the clerk in Lansing didn't give me the information I needed, and my email request to them has not been fulfilled as yet, I have little trust with them to do the right thing.  I called up the State of Michigan Secretary of State's SuperCenter in Detroit (Detroit!) due to the fact I could find a telephone number for the office there, and spoke with a very capable clerk who told me I needed to send a $1 money order with the request, plus the birth certificate, of course.  Processing time of 5 to 7 days.  Great information, what I was trying to get the first time from Lansing, and I told her about the great experience from the Wayne County Clerk.  She too appreciated hearing that kind of result from them. . . a bit of good news to brighten her day.  I asked her if I could send my request to her office, which has a number of excellent Yelp reviews, by the way. . . but no.  She said it has to be mailed to the Lansing office (they accept in person requests, though).  So I got the papers in order with a cover letter (we're gonna miss this desktop and the ability to create/print items on the fly like that) stating the request, signed by Carolyn Anne.  Off to UPS to get it shipped, with tracking to *and* from (we included a return envelope, as instructed by the clerk).  We want to know where these papers are. . . coming and going.  Never done this before, and they'll know it's a prepaid UPS return.  We've included our email and phone number, so any problems, I hope they communicate and do the right thing. 

Speaking of UPS shipments, we sent off via UPS a personal check for our Cuenca condo rent for two months upcoming - December and January.  Over $80 for that to get done.  Tell me about it.  Tracking showed fantastic progress up to the entry in Ecuador at Guayaquil at the International airport there, and has apparently not moved since the ensuing 18 plus hours.  It was declared on the package to be a personal check. . . which UPS customer service said was allowable by Ecuadorian Customs.  Hope they're right.  If not, I will have to eat the return charge back to me for the disallowance by EC Customs.  Ouch!

UPDATE 9/25/14: the UPS envelope with the rent check enclosed made it past Ecuador's Customs, it appears.  Yay, God!  "Out for Delivery," is the current status.  Not in Cuenca yet, but should be delivered today according to what the tracking shows.

Now for the "third ring" in the circus act of getting our documents in order: our Social Security proof of income letters.  These need to be Apostilled, and the ones who say they will do it is the US Secretary of State's Office of Authentications.  Internet site link here:

After speaking first with a personable, but instrangient staffer at State's DC headquarters - and my request for a return call from a specialist didn't occur, I followed up once again with a phone call to them.  Same instructions via recorded message (a good thing if I need to retrieve them later) and same classical music where I was put on hold for a half hour, as before.  I don't trust getting a call back after the last attempt here.  Patience is the way.  I requested a specialist to call me back.    Sure enough, I got a return call in a few hours from a  very knowledgeable staffer who seemed to be well versed in Social Security proof of income Apostille letters, and gave me the short checklist on what the letter must contain.  Official stamp from the agency?  Rubber stamp is all that's needed, with address.  Check.  Signature of official?  I told him it wasn't there on the letter.  No problem, he said.  Just get them to sign, print their name below the signature, and give their title and you're good to go.  Great!  I asked him how often the State Department got these kind of Social Security proof of income authentication/Apostille requests.  "All the time on a regular basis," he replied.  Good!  Someone at State has knowledge and a clear, level head.  Will be sending our proof of income letters - must be originals, no copies - and the DS 4194 with the proper payment of $8 per request via UPS to US Dept. of State in DC at their Dulles, VA mailing address.  Hope I will get all the details right so it won't be returned unfulfilled.  Lord help. . . so many details, so many documents in motion.  Lots to keep track of. 

UPDATE 9/26/14: I now see how the first State Dept. staffer was basing his responses: treating the Social Security proof of income letter as a General Document income verification letter.  Not the way to handle it, imho.  The second staffer based his response from the fact that this was a Federally Issued document (plus he has had experience doing this very thing before).  Sure enough, the checklist he went through with me jives with the info on the Internet site page cited above.  Executed by a US Federal agency?  Check.  Have an official's original and/or stamped signature with the raised and/or stamped seal of the agency?  Check. . . original signature and stamped seal.  Flows nicely.  You learn new things every day, and it becomes apparent in the sea of regulations how two staffers in the same section of the same Department can come to different conclusions.  Seeing things from the customer's perspective. . . what needs to be done on their behalf. . . is the way, though.  Such a request isn't for nothing, after all!  Find a way to fulfill it.

As a result of all the time I've been spending on the paperwork end of our pretravel preparations, I am strongly considering asking our Realtor to delay the close of Escrow for a week.  That can be done according to him, but Escrow can never be sped up.  Talking to Carolyn Anne about why this needs to be delayed, and having that conversation, but no resolution just yet.  Help us, Lord to be of one mind and in step with each other.