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T Minus Nine And Counting

Oh me oh my! Only nine days left before liftoff; seven days til I leave here! I’m getting more and more excited….and sadder and sadder every day. Somehow those two should not go together, but that’s how I feel. I do wish I could just jump on down to Ecuador and skip that nasty expensive PCR test and the long flights. First a 5 hour redeye flight to Miami, then almost 4 hour layover, then a 3.25 hour flight to Guayaquil. And a two hour taxi ride to Ballenita.

I did get my transportation to Phoenix straightened out though, and I don’t have to take the Greyhound bus! Phew! Matt accepted a family practice position in an Urgent Care clinic in Hilo, Hawaii, so they are moving too! They are going to do a goodbye visit to family in Phoenix next Sunday and they’ll let me ride along. My best camping buddy Jeanne will meet us on the road and take me home with her, take me to get my PCR test on Monday, and drop me at the airport on Tuesday evening.

I am selling my car to Matt, either for his oldest son to take to college with him, or they may possibly be shipping it to Hawaii! It’s the only state I haven’t been to (got hooked on Alaska and went there 5 times instead) but maybe my car will make it. I suppose that doesn’t count.

I did a trial packing run the other day…bad news! There’s no stinkin’ way I’m going to get everything I want to take in one checked bag. So today I’m going through everything again, trying to winnow out everything but the essentials. I could pay the extra fee for a second checked bag, but then I’d have to pay it again when I return to Phoenix in August, and I don’t think my stuff is really worth that much.

In Ecuador they don’t have thrift shops. They use it until it’s unfixable or pass it along. So I really need to take my clothes with me. Besides, seems like all the Ecuadorian ladies really love to wear really tight spandex, which is definitely not my style! I can’t imagine spandex is at all comfortable in that 90 degree heat, either.

Last weekend Matt came over and helped me finish painting the back of the house. Even with my 10.5′ ladder I couldn’t reach the highest part of the gable end. He also helped me muscle the big solar panel and a couple of the heavier propane tanks into the shed. I also finally did some small carpentry projects that should have been done three years ago! I’m so glad I got all those outdoor chores done, as we’re now in the middle of 5 days of 50+ mph winds here. Being outside is just miserable. Except for packing and getting stuff stored away in the shed at the last minute, I’m actually done with projects.

I sold my darling camper yesterday, to a young couple of Canyonlands National Park employees. It was a great relief to get it sold, but I’m very sad about it. I sure had a lot of great trips and good times in the 13 years I had her. This leaving is different from the last time I moved to Ecuador in 2013, because then I knew I’d be returning to the US for a couple months every year, since my mom was still alive. So when I moved then, I left my car and camper with friends. This time if I do come back, I won’t have anything to drive or camp in. And actually if I do return just temporarily, I’ll probably fly back to Detroit where I still have lots of school friends, not to Phoenix.

I am also very sad to leave my rocks. Isn’t that crazy? But during the years when I was wandering around, I picked up a lot of special “good rocks”. For three years when I lived out of the car and camper, I carried probably 100# of rocks with me everywhere! They’re now surrounding my little garden spot. I am taking some good rocks with me, but just a small handful of really tiny ones, mostly agates. Funny how my past life boils down to a bunch of digital photos and just a few special things, all goofy. The things I can’t live without: a very small stained glass happy whale souvenir from Maine, and a plastic solar flamingo that flaps it’s little wings. This move takes the cake though, paring down to just one large suitcase and a carry-on bag of stuff! I am leaving a large suitcase in Phoenix, in case I ever do get to go to Albania, with cool weather clothing and a few other things that are hard to find there. I would get rid of about half the hot-weather clothes, as it’s only hot for about 3.5 months in Albania. (No real winter on the Albanian Riviera though).

As to the “where to go after Ecuador” decision, right now I’m thinking that if the situation in Europe is about that same as now, I’ll come back to Phoenix in August, do my dogsitting gig, then fly to Detroit and visit friends for a few weeks and fly to Albania from there. It’s crazy though, it costs about $300 more to fly there from Detroit than it does from Phoenix, even though it’s a couple thousand miles closer!

If I had to make a quick exit from Albania, I could take a ferry to Greece (Corfu) or Italy and fly somewhere else from there, if I couldn’t get to the airport in Tirana (two hours’ drive from Vlore). Still, it’s a bit scary.

If I’m too much of a chicken to go to Albania then, I can get a 90 day visa extension in Ecuador just by asking for it and paying $150. After that….90 days in Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia??? I really don’t want to be THAT adventurous!

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Change of Plans

Well in light of all the strange things going on in the world right now, after much agonizing deliberation I’ve decided to postpone my move to Albania. I am still second-guessing myself but I guess playing it safe is a rational plan. But I am really really sad and disappointed. I had this whole new life planned out, and to change those plans is costly. I gave away and donated so many things that now I want back, and I will lose money on some Airbnb reservations that are non-cancellable. Some folks have said to try and change their mind but it would be different if Albania was at war. It’s not! There’s no way Airbnb is going to refund everyone who decides Europe is not where they want to be right now.

The kicker that helped me make the final decision was that the prime minister announced that there could be power shortages because they buy some resources from Russia. I noticed complaints from the Facebook groups about 5-6 power outages a day now…..coincidence? Hey if I’m going to be without power, it’s gonna be right here where I’m all set up for living off-grid, not in some all-electric city apartment!

I was having trouble making ends meet when I made the decision to move in October and now it’s way worse, the costs of food and gas in particular. Now it costs nearly $14 for one trip to town and back. It used to cost $8, which I thought was bad enough!

The thought of having to be here in this hot box for another summer is really depressing too. If the war in Europe drags out til summer I am considering spending $250 for a flight to Detroit so I can couch-surf at friends’ homes and soak up their air conditioning for a month or so! Surely no one would get too sick of me if I just spent 3 or 4 days at a time at their house? The big drawback I see to that is my weird eating habits now. I’m pretty sure my friends would not be shelling out extra money so I can eat my organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, packaged food-free diet.

The other alternative would be to take off in the camper again to higher elevations in New Mexico or Colorado. But most of the places where the free campsites are do not have easy access to organic foods either, plus it could be way too expensive if the gas prices continue to rise.

So……there are lots of things up in the air right now. I so like to have my ducks all in a row, and it’s just not possible at present.

I had donated so many of my clothes to the Concho thrift shop and threw a lot away, I decided I was going to need some back! So I went and found four shirts and a pair of cropped pants that I’d just donated last week, and luck was with me; it was Fill A Bag for $3 day! Yay. Most of the clothes I have left that I was going to take with me are “good” clothes, not “play” clothes. Working around here I get things stained and filthy so now I need more crappy clothes. Sigh.

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Getting Ready

Things with the move to Albania are progressing! Effective January 7, Albania changed the rules for Residency. Now they will be offering Retiree and Digital Nomad Residencies, but all seems to be in confusion right now as to exactly how they’ll work and what will be required. I was going to pay 59 Euros for a 30 minute phone assistance call with a facilitator but even they said to wait, they just don’t know what’s going on yet! One thing is for sure, that generous 1 year Visa for Americans is no longer, and I will have to apply for Residency within 30 days of entering the country. Yikes. I have exactly 30 days before I leave.

I did go ahead and get an FBI criminal background check and got it Apostilled, that’s a special seal from the state or federal government attesting to the validity of a document. I read that it could take up to 8 weeks (and I only had 6!) so was very relieved with it arrived quickly. I also got two Apostilled birth certificates. Of course all these things are not cheap.

I learned that Albania has a northern and a southern dialect, and they are quite different! I wonder which one I’m learning. Hopefully the southern one! One of the things that makes Albanian so difficult for Westerners is that some words are just unpronounceable for us. Like the word for “hot” is nxehte. Huh? I hit the audio button over and over but still can’t duplicate the sound of this word. And there are plenty more like it. If I pair it with “coffee” though, they all mash together. Kafe Nxehte comes out “Kafenzehsta”. Luckily a lot of Albanians speak English, and if someone doesn’t, they’ll drag over someone who does.

I’ve been collecting things to be packed in the camper, it’s my staging area. The gigantic spinner suitcase I bought for $10 at a thrift shop is there on the bed, along with my carry-on backpack and smaller under-seat daypack. I’ve been trying to sort and clean out the storage shed to make room for those things, so I can get the camper cleaned out and hopefully sold. It’s a big drawback to having a tiny house, there’s just no extra space for things like that.

Yesterday I brought in all the clothing I’d stashed out there to go….tried everything on and weeded out about 2/3 of it! I’ll probably become known as the little old lady who never changes her clothes. But I know they do have thrift shops there, as long as I don’t gain any weight. I’ve read that it’s pretty hard to find clothing larger than size 10 unless you have things custom made. I sealed them all into those Space Bags that squish all the air out, and they still take up nearly half of the big suitcase.

Today I went through all the goodies I’d stashed out there to go. I wish I knew what was going to be available there, and what’s not. I thought nearly everything was already out there, but there’s lots of stuff thatI’m still using so will be last-minute items. Seventy of them, as it turns out! Yikes. I guess I’ll be winnowing that list down also, though nothing really takes up a lot of space or weight, 100 items do add up. Luckily the few special things I can’t live without are very small and light.

The suitcase weighs almost 11 pounds so that leaves only 40# for my stuff. The heaviest items are the Chromebook, the PC laptop, a powerful solar battery bank to recharge the phone & Kindles, and two Kindles. Those will all go in my carry-ons.

Two weeks ago I saw the neurologist again, and a neurosurgeon about the brain tumor. The neurologist and my speech therapist both thought I should get it out while it’s nice and small. The speech guy told me they grow tentacles and if you wait too long, just removing it causes a lot of damage to the brain. Pretty scary!

Well the neurosurgeon absolutely did not recommend removing it. He said it’s so small, they’d do more damage trying to find it than it would ever cause. The first neurologist I saw 2 1/2 years ago told me it was a couple inches above my left ear, right about where the speech center is. Wrong! It is actually right on top of my head, between the two hemispheres. Nowhere near the speech center, so there’s no way it’s causing my speech problems. And he also said that this kind (meningioma) almost always grows super-slowly and I’ll most likely be dead of something else before it ever got big enough to cause problems. And they DON’T grow tentacles!!

So the neurologist blames the speech problems on a small brain stem stroke that was SO small, it didn’t leave any trace! I find it hard to believe but I guess we have to blame something or else send me off to the crazy-farm. She wants me to have a CT scan of my head and neck but I’m waiting to discuss this with my regular doctor. I’m not really seeing a lot of advantage to getting it done, and CT scans do involve a good bit of radiation. I had a CT scan of my head 2 1/2 years ago when we were searching for a reason for the speech problems, and it didn’t show anything. BTW my speech is much improved, but not 100% fixed. I still have to be very cognizant of where my tongue is situated.

I dog-sat for friends in Mesa for almost two weeks in early February. I sure got my “dog fix”! There was a big boisterous neutered male Standard Poodle, a tiny intact male Toy Poodle, two Havanese and a toy Doodle. One of the Hav girls was in season. Oh my! The toy poodle, Finn, hated the big poodle. Luckily he has no teeth so when he went all Cujo on the big poodle, he couldn’t do any damage. And the big poodle was just enough of a doofus to not realize he was being seriously attacked. Finn and Misti had to take turns being crated. She was an angel but Finn whined and cried the whole time. What an adventure!

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone; I hope you had your favorite kind of holiday!

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment. The whole office staff came into the exam room and sang Happy Birthday, and Dr. Matt gave me a beautiful little mason jar bouquet of flowers, two jars of his wife’s homemade sugar-free jam and a really sweet card! It was all I could do to keep from crying….I swear, he’s the kindest man I’ve ever known. (My birthday is Saturday)

Plans for Albania are progressing. I’m getting more & more excited, but also sad. I know I’ll be fine but just thinking about the Goodbyes makes me cry!

I have reserved an Airbnb in Tirana, the capital, for the first three nights. I’ll need time to recover from the flights and the 8 hour time change, plus get a new phone sim card and calling plan, and exchange some money. The Airbnb owner is going to pick me up at the airport.

I have also reserved an Airbnb apartment for $335 a month for March 26 – May 1. This will give me time to find a long term apartment. This is the place I rented: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/46851887?adults=1&guests=1&s=42&unique_share_id=1b4e0fbb-f88b-4284-9d8f-e0dcf12db795&source_impression_id=p3_1637680483_eOoAdQHG%2F4k1uBL4

I had some inexpensive sea view apartments bookmarked and when I checked on them, two were already rented for my time period, two turned out to be in the old Communist block buildings with no heat, and one was a third floor walkup! (It pays to read every word in the descriptions!)

So that only left a few of the cheaper ones and I felt I’d better jump on board. I had to pay the first 30 days up front and there’s no refunds for cancellations!

Oh and I changed destinations! I’ve decided to head to Durres, not Vlore. Durres is bigger, not a plus in some ways. I’m so not a Big City girl, but both cities were bigger than I’d like so it probably isn’t much different. The population is around 120,000 and Vlore has 80,000. It’s only 30 minutes from Tirana, the capital, so probably has a better array of goods and services and better healthcare, with more English-speaking doctors. Vlore is about 2.5 hours from Tirana. The summers in Durres are not quite as hot. I read that the temperatures there are rarely colder than 31° or hotter than 91°. Summers are hot and muggy and winters are wet but not terribly cold, and even in summer the temps drop to around 65° at night. The increased humidity will be something I’ll have to get used to! The annual rainfall is about the same as it was in Asheville, NC when I lived there. (42″)

I had to apply for a new passport because all I have now is a Passport Card, which has limited benefits and is of no use for going to Europe. I picked up the application and got my passport photos (ugh, they look just like me!) Then I had to make a $35 appointment at the post office to turn it all in. That’s a new one, I didn’t have to do that the last time I applied. I went for my appointment and was really mad that she kept stopping to wait on other customers! What the heck was the $35 for, if not to get exclusive attention?? If I’d gone in there with a bunch of packages to ship, she would not have waited in other customers while working in my stuff! Grrrrr.

I’ve been looking at ads for long term rental apartments in Durres. I really want to have a sea view! Here’s one I found, can you believe the price??! I sure hope there will be places like this available once I get there! (And yes, it has heat, air conditioning and an elevator!). https://www.century21albania.com/en/property/760669/jepet-me-qira-apartament-1-1-me-pamje-nga-deti-new36188.html

I decided to buy myself an early birthday present. I wanted one of those really lightweight four wheeled “spinner” suitcases. I had saved an $89 one in Amazon but when I went to order it, it had gone up to $129! And most of them were around that price. Then I found an American Tourister on a Black Friday sale at JC Penney for $109, so I ordered it for store pickup. Yay. About a week later I went to the St. Vincent thrift shop, and they had one there for $10! So I grabbed it, stopped off at JC Penney and cancelled my order, and went home happy. When I opened it at home, there was a nice jacket, skirt and some books inside! I was going to take that stuff back but a friend fell in love with the jacket and gave $20 for it. So I took back the books, skirt and the $20 and the woman was quite shocked, but very happy! I looked up the suitcase brand and was amazed to find out it cost $280 and is made of polycarbonate which is much stronger than the usual ABS suitcases. Happy Dance! And now I can stash stuff I want to take with me right in there. I’ve been making lists ….I love lists! So far I have 73 items I want to take, and that does not include any clothes. Hmmm. And I’m only taking the one 28″ checked bag, a backpack carry-on and the personal under-seat item, a smallish day pack. So we’ll see how that goes! I may have to do some extreme paring down. The checked bag also can’t weigh more than 51#.

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Albania

Good News

October 31, 2021

Hello again! Good news, one by one I’m eliminating the health concerns! On the second try I finally got a successful MRI of my brain and the tumor has actually shrunk a little! I still need to see the neurologist in Flagstaff next month. I had to wear a heart monitor for 10 days but it didn’t turn up anything ugly either, so all’s well and I don’t need to return to the cardiologist. I do have a very slow heartbeat but it’s not causing any problems. I still feel great except for some back issues every time I have to horse around my 30# propane tanks, which weigh close to 60# when full. In winter I use a tank every 6 days plus a tank every 3 weeks or so for the fridge. The one for the cooktop lasts a good 6 months or  more, as does the bbq grill. I applied and received supplementary propane credit from the Northern AZ Council of Governments, they gave me $1000 credit that’s good for a year and a day. Last year it was $800 but I heard that propane prices are rising exponentially! It’s still $2.69 a gallon where I go but the place in Concho is charging $3.90! And it’s supposed to possibly go up to $7 in the near future. At that rate, the $1000 won’t last long enough!

I’ve been having trouble reading at night so I had a vision checkup and I have a cataract in my right eye. It’s not terrible but it’s really getting in the way of my reading 2-3 books a day! So I’m going to have it corrected in early December. The left eye had cataract repair at the same time I had a macular hole fixed in 2015 when I lived in Ecuador.  I opted to go with “monovision”, where one eye is good for long distance and the other eye is for close up. It sounds crazy but that’s what I’ve got now and I really like it a lot! I only have to wear my glasses for driving, and then only because my driver’s license says so[JP1] .  My big huge problem with the surgery is that they require someone drive me home, and I don’t have anyone I can ask! Even if I took a Uber there & back, they still require another person to be with me for the ride home! So I’m thinking hard about that…..don’t really know how to handle it.

A friend told me that crypto currency was a lot of fun, like going to a casino. So I bought a little bit and earned around $50 worth by doing some quizzes on the Coinbase website. Wow, talk about volatile! It’s up to the sky one day and in the depths the next! I bought $10 worth of Shiba Inu when it was first offered (1.2 million shares!) just because it was doggy-related. Well it’s gone up over 1000% in the past month! Hey this IS fun! Of course it could plunge again any day now. I just read that a guy bought $8000 of it and now is worth $5.7 BILLION! Hey I don’t need that much, a million or so would do nicely, LOL!

A realtor’s sign showed up across the road a few weeks ago, and now it’s gone. Ugh, does that mean more neigbors?? It was 4 really beautiful acres with fantastic views over the valley, for $22,000.

So on to the big news of the day. I am moving! I am finding it harder and harder to make ends meet here, and there’s no cheaper way to live….I have no household expense at all except for $28 a year property tax! But Medicare and a supplement eat up 1/4 of my income, car expenses take another large chunk, and my car is 16 years old! It’s got 220,000 miles on it and bound to need some really big repairs in the not too distant future. The prices of everything are going up way faster than my income. There have been some months where I end up with less than a dollar in my checking account well before the end of the month, so I do more fasting than usual. And I really try to keep a zero balance on my credit card but sometimes I can’t. Those credit cards are a very slippery slope!

I am selling my place to friends, with a Life Tenancy or something like that, that says I get to live here the rest of my life if I want. (So I’ll always have a place to come back to if I want)

So….I’m moving to Europe! Albania to be exact. I have a one-way ticket for March 22. It was only $444 and I just don’t see it getting any cheaper than that, so I jumped on it. Round trip cost $1328…almost 3x as much! Crazy.

I’m sure you’re all rushing to Google Maps to see where the heck Albania is! It sits on top of Greece, on the NW side. It’s a little bitty country about the size of Maryland, and at the same latitude so approximately the same climate, though I believe it’s warmer in winter. It is on the Adriatic Sea!

Albania was a Communist country for about 50 years, ending in the early 90’s. The dictator was extremely paranoid and super strict and Albania was very much a closed country. He was so paranoid, it’s estimated there are 750,000 cement bunkers placed all over the country, ready for the invasion that never came. No wonder the country was so poor! In the past 30 years since it’s become a parliamentary republic, it has gone from being the poorest country in Europe to now considered to be an upper middle class country! The countryside lacks infrastructure and good healthcare but the larger cities can offer a very comfortable lifestyle for shockingly little money.  

It’s a great place for “aging in place”, something I’ve always known that Concho is not. At some point I’m bound to not be able to drive anymore, and then what? I’m 30 miles from a grocery store and 10+ miles from even a convenience store!

I believe I want to live in Vlorë, a city of 80,000 people, about 2/3 of the way down the Western side of the country. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to 3000 BC. It’s got a great downtown area with easy walking distance to markets, etc. and is also very close to the sea. It is very very safe, and has pretty good healthcare. Vlorë is about ½ hour drive to the best hospital in the area but also has it’s own highly rated private hospital. It’s also just a ferry ride from Italy and Corfu, Greece where the healthcare is excellent. Italy is rated #2 in the world, and Greece is #14. (The US is #37 but #1 in costs). Private health insurance costs $50-200 a YEAR.

I really like that Albania doesn’t allow GMO foods or glyphosate at all. The food is naturally organic, but far better than our organic foods because ours are still tainted with cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting glyphosate.  That’s another one of my larger expenses here, food as clean as I can get it. (I still only spend the same amount as is “average” for a single person, probably because I never eat in restaurants) My food costs in Albania will probably be cut by 2/3! The life expectancy in Albania is about 6 months longer than the U.S.

Two bedroom apartments with sea views cost around $300-400 a month, though I’ll be looking for a one bedroom or better yet, a studio! So that should be even cheaper. Lord knows, I can easily live in a small space! It would be cheaper yet in the middle of the city but I kind of have my heart set on a sea view. I loved living in Ecuador just two blocks from the beach. Actually I’d go back to EC in a heartbeat but it’s way more expensive than Albania and far less safe. The things that brought me back from Ecuador no longer exist….too fat, knees too bad to walk very far at all, and my mom.

I have high hopes that I’ll be able to make some friends there. There are expat groups that meet up at restaurants and go hiking & sightseeing together. I’d love to find a friend or two who like to play cards or games or like to kayak. I really miss having friends nearby.

So…that’s about it for now. I know it’s kind of a drastic change but please be happy for me. I’m very excited! I intend to live out my life there but if not, is it a huge deal? Is it a FAIL? I don’t think so! I spent two years in Ecuador and count it as a really GREAT experience. Even if I just stayed in Albania for two years I could easily become debt-free! (I have a low-interest personal loan I used to purchase the land, some of the building materials and the Tuffshed)  I will have around $500 a month left over after I pay all expenses, including that loan payment! It will depend on where I find to live. I really do have my heart set on a sea view.

And just think….this move will definitely revive the blog! I’ll have LOTS of cool stuff to report on.