Shirlene’s First Blog Entry

How’s that for a title? :)  Bobby and I have both pretty much always considered ourselves “non-blog” people.  I enjoy reading things other people post and like everyone, I have my favorites.  You and I both know there are those really talented bloggers out there and those tend to be the ones I find the most entertaining and my mind finds great delight in.  Those are the bloggers that could be writers and aren’t, you know the the ones I’m talking about.  They write mind tantalizing posts with just the right amount of wit, humor, creative writing and interesting facts that your mind just gobbles up what has been written and you’re left feeling a little more informed, a little more inspired, and a little more alive inside.  THOSE are the ones I like to read.  It’s like candy for the brain (or chocolate, or salty potato chips, or whatever your weakness is….you get the idea).  Ya, well, that’s not me.  And just the question of what to blog about would be enough to cause plenty of angst if I sat and dwelled on it too much…and don’t get me started on my concerns about typo’s, grammatical errors or general misuse of the English language.  Do I dare publicly post anything without my Dad proofing my document or at least once referring to my Writer’s Inc or Bedford Handbook???  Dad’s a wonderful proof-reader BTW for any of you who need a second pair of eyes to proofread a paper. ;)  If I were at home in Washington living my “normal” life, I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t be sitting here trying to write my first blog.  We lived near all of our closest relatives and Facebook took care of the deeply missed friends across the country and the globe.  So what on earth would I write about??
As Bobby has mentioned, a blog seemed to be the best way to keep people updated on this little adventure in which God is leading us and just like that, we are plopped in a country not-so-far from home that in many ways feels like another world.  What do we blog about?  Problem solved!!

So what’s it really like here?  Honestly, it feels like a combination of camping, Mexico, being without power in Virginia after Hurricane Irene, Hawaii, and Gilligan’s Island.  Here are some random tidbits about living here from my perspective:

1.  It’s hot.  And humid.  It’s very tropical…from the beautiful blue ocean that’s teaming with life (starfish, jellyfish, tropical fish, sting rays and DOLPHINS!) to the foliage (lots of palms, fruit trees and colorful flowering plants) to the pesky insects.  Let’s talk a little more about the insects.  I’ve seen a few cockroaches, a few bees, some GINORMOUS wasps (these things look like they are taking HGH or something), a handful of mosquitoes, a few flying insects that look like versions of our normal housefly…and then, there are Chitras, also known as, sand flies, no-see-ums and sand fleas.  Of all the little aggravations of living here so far, the Chitras are by far the most annoying.  They are smaller than a fruit fly and feel like a flea when they bite.  They bite day or night, but are more aggressive at dawn and dusk.  Thankfully, they hate smoke and here in Panama they sell Dos Tigres, these fragrant spiral-coils that smoke when lit.  We often have two burning and we move them about if we are on the deck or outside showering.  We keep both doors open pretty much all day because the screened windows don’t keep the Chitras out (they are small enough to fit through the mesh on the screens), and there really aren’t many other bothersome insects that make their way inside, so we try to get as much airflow as possible (because it’s hot….did I mention that already?).  I am thankful for Dos Tigres.  I probably shouldn’t wonder what’s burning into the air we’re inhaling so I stop myself from researching.

2.  The air smells a little salty, but not very fishy.  We are on a hill overlooking the ocean, but there are no crashing waves or sounds of the ocean, other than occasional lapping of water.  I think this is primarily because we are in a bay.  There are beautiful beaches close by, but near the house, it looks and feels more like a big lake, thickly surrounded by tropical trees and bushes with houses scattered here and there.  Some of the homes are on stilts in the water, others are up on little hills.  There are far more people out there than one can see just scanning the landscape.  Boating up along the shoreline reveals a lot more houses hidden in amongst the trees, and is also evidenced by Bobby’s little boat peeing experience.  As we were out, stuck on the water and looked around us we saw what appeared to be maybe 3 homes in the particular area where we were stranded.  As Bobby prepared to urinate into the water, I distinctly remember scanning around and asking, “Are you sure you should be doing that?  It feels like we’re being watched.”  Two days later when we met a herd of gringos who live in the area, one sweet older woman informed me she could see us out there with her binoculars and watched as our hero Brent came out and rescued us.  When I asked which house she was from, she responded, “Oh you couldn’t see me.  If you know to look for our house, you can spot the roof through the trees.”  This little incident does beg the question, how many others witnessed to Bobby’s impromptu micturition?  Some questions we just won’t likely have the answers to in this lifetime.

3.  The sounds of life around here are quite varied and never quiet.  Day or night, it’s seriously like an orchestra of birds, monkeys, dogs, bugs and insects!  Seth, Virginia isn’t the only place where birds chirp and sing in the middle of the night.;)  There are no sounds of cars, planes, honking horns, or normal city sounds, but the outdoors are anything but quiet.  During the day, in addition to the chorus of the birds of the air and beasts in the trees, there are weed eaters, motor boats and sometimes you can hear the bass and beat of a neighbor’s sound system.  The locals often travel in dug out “cayucos” which are canoe-like boats that quietly move through the water.  This is the primary mode of transportation around here, so even the school aged children paddle to school in their mini-cayucos, quite cute to see!  Here’s a photo of one covered with palms on the property down by our dock.  The house is in the center of the photo, up the hill.


4.  Food and all things related to food poses one of the biggest challenges for me personally.  From trying to limit our meals to foods that can be cooked on the stove top (to use the oven requires a generator and it heats up the house, two things we try to avoid), to finding the ingredients I am accustomed to or like, it’s all a challenge.  A simple trip to the grocery store is literally nearly an all day affair, especially if you have 3 little kids in tow.  It takes 30 minutes to boat over to Bocas on the island of Colon for a grocery run.  One of the first complications is finding a place to tether the boat.  There are a lot of little shops and restaurants right on the water in Bocas so generally one can find parking right in the marina but the polite thing to do is to give your patronage to the establishment so it can be a little tricky to know where to go and who will have “parking.”  Once you locate an opening and tie up the boat, taking with you any belongings you need for such a venture, the adventure continues.  Most stores are owned by Chinese and I would like to interject right now a special message for our dear Chinese “daughter” Lucy.  You need to come to Panama.  You can find all kinds of Chinese ingredients and housewares, AND you could communicate with the store clerks in English, Mandarin or Spanish.  They could use some of your cheeriness and you would have no problem communicating whatsoever.  Ok, back to the shopping experience.   So once you park the boat, take any personal belongings with you and begin to walk around town, you begin to tackle the list of shopping items one store at a time.  This is the frame of mind I psych myself up for when the shopping begins…one item at a time.  I am sure with more experience it will get easier to know what’s available and where, and there will be some sort of routine to the task but for now it’s like I go into survival mode scanning the aisles for things on my list, and anything else that looks like it might make a promising meal and Ellie gets the task helping me locate items and crossing them off the list.  Bella usually pushes the cart, assists in collecting the items, or keeps herself entertained with random antics. As a generality, all of the stores are pretty hot (some have fans), have narrower aisles, mini grocery carts or shopping baskets, efficient workers and cashiers, and the same non-labeled plastic grocery bags.  I know of 3 stores that take credit cards (the rest are cash only), and two that have air conditioning.  I save the credit-card-accepting-air conditioned store for last…mostly because it’s the last store on the street, but also because by the time I’ve been lugging around every grocery bag from store #1 to store #4, I need the reprieve from the heat!  Did I mention that because we didn’t bring a stroller (the only road or sidewalks are in town when we shop), Bobby or I carry Ethan in our Ergo carrier on our back as well.  You know, just to complete the feel of being a pack mule. ;)   And if you’d like to know what his job is during the shopping process, it’s to grab anything within his reach (remember the aisles are quite narrow, so he gets to have a lot of fun) and to smile at folks and say “hi” and “hola.”  Now, for all of you moms and dads out there, you know that feeling of going to the grocery store with your little kids and how much more of a process it becomes then just going by yourself (or with another adult) to get what you need?  Well, multiply that feeling times 10, or maybe 100 and that’s how it feels to go grocery shopping here.  It’s, well, it’s exhausting.  Pure hot, tired, sweaty, hot, chaotic exhaustion.  Because now that you have 10 heavy grocery bags to haul all the way back to the boat, you’re not sure which will happen first; an arm or finger falling off from lack of venous circulation, or one of your equally exhausted children crumpling into a heap on the hot asphalt.

Now, having been brutally honest as I was just now, I really must say, I like going into Bocas to go grocery shopping very much.  It’s a fun adventure that I look forward to every time we go!  We meet new people, are starting to recognize some that we’ve seen before and there’s always something new to discover or see.  People are friendly, and there’s something interesting to experience for all of the senses!  There’s a real feeling of satisfaction after such trips, and I wouldn’t change the experience if I could.  Well, I might install some more a/c units, make organic foods available and I would’ve purchased one of those personal folding grocery carts, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing! ;)  On another a final food note, the property where we are living is absolutely beautiful and full of fruit trees and tropical plants.  The girls love collecting some of the gorgeous, fragrant flowers and putting them in their hair, and they also make good use of the swing in the front yard.  Some of the foods they have growing here are pineapple, yuca, plantains, bananas, cacao, and oh so many varieties of lemons!  We make lemonade and lemon bars often and will be on the hunt for more lemony recipes so please pass on your favorites!



5. Life is just different here.  From the foods that are available, to the slower paced, laid back lifestyle, it’s an entirely different experience than I’ve ever had.  For instance, to conserve water, we don’t flush the toilet with every use here.  It’s amazing how things can change, literally overnight. Here are a few other examples:

-In the States we went from sometimes having to chastise Bella about forgetting to flush the toilet, “Bella, please make sure you flush after you go potty!”  To, “Bella, stop flushing every time you go potty!”

-We shower outside, and do it “military style.”  Turn on the water to get wet, turn the water off, lather up, shampoo, shave, etc., then rinse off.  We love the outdoor shower here because it’s different, fun and has a great view!  By the way, there is a sink there in the picture but no water is hooked up to it.  We use the kitchen sink for all hand washing, teeth brushing and dish washing.

-We tend to go to bed earlier and get up earlier, just to make the best use of daylight and to conserve energy in the evenings (my kids get up about 6 am now at sunrise, which would be unacceptable to me if we were still back home). ;)

-Being on a rain water collection system, we get excited about the rain.  Even Bella animatedly turns to me when it rains and says, “That’s good Mom, the water tanks are getting filled up!” The rain also cools the temperature down, so it’s nice all the way around!  We have not been around long enough to experience weeks and weeks of rain on end, so this excitement might change in the future, but for now, rain is a blessed thing!

-We do strange, strange things here.  Back at home, we never buy pop (or soda, or whatever you want to call sugary carbonated beverages).  We simply don’t drink it, except for very, very rare occasions (like to make a root beer float, for example).  Part of it is to try to avoid such unhealthy drinks, but honestly, we don’t love pop.  It’s sweet and feels just wrong to drink.  Well, we’ve been in Panama one week and I’ve had two sodas.  TWO!  More than I’ve had in an entire year at home.  I can’t explain it, except that perhaps our bodies are craving the extra electrolytes??  For the record, even Bobby had a Pepsi yesterday…you heard me right, folks.  Bobby. Drank. Pop.  I’ll let that sit with you a while as you let the impact of what I just said really sink in.

Well, I’ve rambled enough about random facts and tidbits. This blogging thing has been helpful for us to process and to remember the details that seem so blaring now but I know one day will diminish.  Thank you all for your kind comments, and faithful prayers!  They are what keep our spirits light and brighten our days.  Blogging might just grow on me one day……maybe. :)



  1. Alice Mathis
    Apr 6, 2012

    WOW! You guys are amazing. You guys are in my prayers. What will your outreach ministry be or is Bobby helping with computer stuff? Does it get tiring more because of having to do more work because of the lack of the “luxuries”like home? Are you guys really happy there? It must get lonely sometimes. If you have specific prayer request please let me know,thanks. I hope you have a nice Easter.

  2. Megan Condo
    Apr 6, 2012

    We are so enjoying reading about your adventures and Brenna loved seeing the pictures of the girls! Prayers to you and your beautiful family!

    <3 the Condos

  3. Sandi
    Apr 6, 2012

    I LOVE it! You brought everything to life in such an entertaining way! And way to go Bobby-enjoy that Pepsi-it’s a little taste of heaven :-) We miss you so much. Thank you for being so transparent & helping us know how to pray for you. Have a blessed first Easter in Panama. Can’t wait to hear all about it!
    Love you all~

    • Verity
      Apr 7, 2012

      Sas, you may just become MY favorite blogger. Thank you for such an incredible description and wonderful pictures. I can now visualize your daily life a bit better, and somehow that makes me feel that much closer to you all..
      I surely hope you and Bobby enjoyed your anniversary and that your first Easter is blessed with the Hope that our wonderful Father intended it to be. I am so excited to hear more adventures.
      Praying for you all, and loving you from afar!

  4. dave and jan davis
    Apr 7, 2012

    What a treat getting to read all about your experiences. We love it! I sure enjoyed hearing a “female” point of view, too. (Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing what Bobby has to say, too!!) The pics are fun seeing and gives us a visual of what your house and surrounding areas look like. Keep pics coming!

  5. cleonejacobson
    Apr 7, 2012

    My face and heart light up when I get to read a blog from you two. What wonderful spirits. You will have many blessings. You certainly bless all who read.

  6. mom
    Apr 7, 2012

    Love every word and photo! So happy to hear how it’s going there. Missing you guys a lot! Praying for each of you often.

  7. Paula & David
    Apr 7, 2012

    So fun to read about your day to day adventures. I can just picture you grocery shopping and Ethan having a ball grabbing everything from behind you and there’s nothing you can do about it !!! Just so you all know you are the ONLY Blog we read right now.. so keep it coming. Love to you all. The Cagg’s xoxoxox
    P.S. Happy Easter!!!!

  8. Angie Boehm
    Apr 7, 2012

    Thanks so much for the insight into the normal things of you life. It was super fun to read and imagine you shopping with the kiddos. Thanks also for the pictures of everything, it makes us feel like we are there with you.

  9. Carrie Adams
    Apr 7, 2012

    Dear Shirlene, thank you for sharing a picture of your life! It was strangely full of deja vu for me to read about your shopping experience and water issues: we have to take a boat to shop, and it takes an entire day each week; we take short short showers infrequently b/c of our well’s capacity; but it is very cold and dark here for nine months of the year, our struggle centers around overcoming the isolation of this island and the press of these towering dark trees that snuff out the light.

    Your attitude and enthusiasm are a balm to me. i pray that you will love the work and place God has given you there so much that it will minimize the effort that the daily struggle of survival takes.

    Much love, Carrie

  10. Janelle
    Apr 7, 2012

    Loved every word of your post, Sassy! I think you have just the right amount of humor and detail that makes me feel lighter and homesick for you at the same time. Thank you! I adore the photos of your surroundings, and, especially of the girls….too cute!! Please tell them we pray for them daily and that Zoe misses them almost as much as we do, but is doing fishy-fine. Also, if there is a way to get an address to me, I’d love to send a package to the YWAM base in Panama City-perhaps? There’s a little mouse here that misses Bella, and wants to get in on the adventure. You have the gift of story-telling – you’re using it for the kingdom! I love and miss you with all my heart! Thank you for your first post. I eagerly await the next!

  11. Carolynn
    Apr 9, 2012

    That was fun to read Shirlene:-) Sounds like quite the adventure everyday…just doing normal stuff!! The grocery shopping experience alone would do me in…I bet in few weeks/months it will all be so easy. All those lemons…make Shaker Lemon Pie!!! Bet it will turn out sweet and not bitter with those fresh lemons:-) Bobby drank a Pespi…lol. I haven’t had a pop in a few years myself…just too sweet…I bet the change from typical American diet is the result of less sugar overall. Well as we deal with rain and cooler temps up here we will think of you in the humid sunshine:-) Keep sharing…and you are GREAT at blogging…I feel like I am there with you!

    • Shirlene
      Apr 9, 2012

      Thank you, Carolynn, it’s nice to know people aren’t bored silly with out detailed accounts. :) Shaker Lemon Pie! I’ve never made it, but heard you and Jon talk about it. Do you have a good recipe for one? Would love to try it!

  12. Jennifer
    Apr 9, 2012

    I feel a tad bit bad for not having commented on any previous posts by Bobby….that I have read in their entirity…even the long one :). Isaac and I both have really enjoyed reading his honest perspectives!
    But I just HAD to comment on yours…I may be a tiny partial to you ;)
    Love love LOVE your post…and I want more!! I thoroughly enjoyed YOU in your writing. I found it endearing and funny and I definitely am insprired for having read it…Truly I am more alive for knowing you…
    The pictures are so great! Your girls look so thrilled with the adventure! Love it.
    You definitely are VERY good at blogging…you both are. Please don’t stop!
    I adore you Shirleney!!

  13. Shirlene
    Apr 9, 2012

    Thanks everyone, for taking the time to read, and for your comments. We are encouraged by you and we are so glad you’re on this journey with us!

  14. Bonnie C
    Apr 9, 2012

    Well, I’d say for a first-timer you did GREAT! Love the photos. Always excited to be ‘alerted’ to an update.

  15. Bon
    Apr 9, 2012

    Sas, LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog post!! You gave us all another treasured view, smell, taste and feel of life with you. I could hear you speaking every word… reading it I got lost in your story. I’m with Nelle, gave me the false lightened sense of your presence as if hearing you tell it in person, yet upon finishing being hit with wave of reality making me miss you more and wanting more to read all at the same time! I now know whose blog I’m addicted to,is there treatment for a wood addict? ;) Thank you for sharing your beautiful God-given storytelling talent and allowing His image shine through your words. Praying for you, miss you & loving you more!

  16. Andrea
    Apr 10, 2012

    Opening each one of your blogs….(I went back to The Beginning before reading forward to your week of take-off,) is just as deliciously satisfying as opening a big stack of wonder-FULL gifts!! How I delight in every detail…..And Bobby, the “raw and transparent” is the best way to go. Shirlene, you do quite well at that your self! : )

    Your writings give me flashes into yoyr new lives, the-leap-of -faith-off-of-the-cliff that it was and is; and flashbacks to some of my own, well, leaps-off-of-cliffs into strange and challenging places and ways of life. You are making me richer my loves!!
    Thank you for your obedience….Father smiles and laughs for joy! (might even dance too!) I count it joy to be joined with our brethren and sistern in praying for you. Looking forward to the next chronicle! much love, andrea

  17. Lucy Liu
    Apr 11, 2012

    Shirlene!!! Thanks for mention me in the blog;) I am so honored!I guess I fit in right away then :) i will for sure come to visit you sometimes in my life! Wow…..It’s so fascinating to hear what you said on there!Good job adjusting the different life style! I love the pictures! It’s totally open my eyes! Thank you so much for sharing! Wood’s family will always be in my prayer! I can’t wait to hear more interesting stories!! Love and miss you guys! God Bless You!!!

  18. Ronee Poyneer
    Apr 11, 2012

    Hi! I was in Oregon all last week helping my folks, so now I’m catching up. Thank you, Shirlene, for giving the view from “the other half”. Smile! I really enjoyed your stories and pictures. FYI to both you and Bobby – I’m guessing that the reason people took Bobby’s “boat restroom” experience so calmly is that it is very common. Here’s a suggestion from us self-conscious Americans. When I was growing up and spent long days fishing on Puget Sound, we kept a bottle and a coffee can in our little boat for nature’s call, along with a small blanket for privacy. The guys have it easy. It’s a little more tricky for us girls. Smile!

  19. Mama
    Apr 17, 2012

    Hola linda, no es fácil ser ama de casa y mami ante esta nueva situación, el Señor te acompaña y bendice. Gracias por compartir, por las fotos de las lindas modelos, y la fidelidad de tu compromiso con el Señor. Mucho te quiero y extraño!! MUA!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>