Sunday, September 17, 2017

Get Out of Town!

What do you do when you've basically been in exile for two months with a messed up face and blot clot issues? Well, if you're the Staton's you get the heck out of town and head to the beach!


I found what appeared to be a great Airbnb rental right on the Pacific, invited one of our favorite couples to come along, and off we all went.

The good news--the place where we were staying was just right--private and oceanfront. Here are a few pics.

Covered seating area right outside.


Big hot tub with the ocean just beyond our seawall (couldn't resist the overdone foot pic).


Grill for fresh fish, shrimp, and lobster.


And the ugliest dog I think I've ever seen.


When I said private, I meant it.


The bad news--one of our motivations was to enjoy sunshine that has been sorely lacking here. Over the course of five days we experienced a total of about thirty minutes of patchy blue sky. Sigh-----.

We went to a local fish market to get that grill fired up. Hello, dinner. These guys cost $3 apiece.


Fun in the sun wasn't happening but that didn't dampen our spirits. One day we jumped in the car and headed up the coast to Playa Los Frailes, one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. Located within Machalilla National Park, it's very secluded (the number of visitors is limited so there's never a crowd) and has a lovely horseshoe shape.



Another day our friends took us to a wacky hotel/restaurant/museum called Hosteria Farallon Dillon. The owner and his wife have created a very unique property perched high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We had a beer, then toured the museum filled with artifacts collected from a Spanish shipwreck he discovered and lots of other treasures from his worldwide travels.



We otherwise spent our days walking the beach, playing cards, and enjoying cocktails. Not many shells to be found but lots of amazingly colored rocks.


Every evening involved seafood, wine, and extended visits to the hot tub. After that and the hypnotic sound of crashing waves we slept the best in a l-o-n-g time. Now we're back in Cuenca with improved health and renewed energy. Even without sunshine, getting away was exactly what we both needed.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

In the News!

Cynthia and I are honored to be featured in this article today by author and financial planner Ben Carlson:

An Alternative Solution to the Retirement Crisis

Posted September 2, 2017 by Ben Carlson

After writing about some of the reasons for the potential retirement crisis a few weeks ago I gave the standard prescription for the solution for most retirees — a combination of working longer, living on less, and reducing expectations for their retirement dreams.

Then I received an email from two of my retired readers, Edd and Cynthia, who took a different approach — they retired abroad. Like many others, they had a difficult time following the financial crisis with both work and their finances so they got creative with their retirement solution and moved to Ecuador where the cost of living is much lower.

People are constantly trying to emulate world class investors but I think most would be better served looking up to normal people who have been able to find a happy, successful retirement.

What follows is Edd and Cynthia’s story as well as a short Q&A we had through email about their experience. Retiring abroad won’t be for everyone but this is a cool story about normal people getting creative to solve a financial problem and retire on their own terms.

Here’s Edd and Cynthia:

*******

As 2008 began we were on a roll. Edd had recently been honored as “National Salesperson of the Year” by his company and Cynthia was selling a high-end condo development on the shores of Lake Las Vegas. We earned great incomes and lived in a beautiful home. Our investment strategy looked solid and the enjoyable retirement we had envisioned for so long was only a few years away.

Six months later our world turned upside down as we were engulfed by “The Economic Tsunami of 2008.” Both jobs vanished and the value of our investments was shrinking by the day. We desperately sought new employment but the job market had also disappeared, especially for middle-aged sales professionals seeking high compensation.

As the months dragged by and our financial situation became more desperate we realized that the conventional wisdom we had always followed–hanging in there, staying the course–was no longer serving us. A radical solution was needed. Now.

We decided that preserving our remaining assets, retiring early and relocating somewhere overseas with a lower cost of living was our best bet. But to make such an extreme move a reduced budget wasn’t enough. Our wish list also included a temperate climate, excellent health care, proximity to our family in the U.S., plus cultural amenities and modern conveniences.

Internet research turned up a location that seemed to check all our boxes. It was a small city we’d never heard of in a country we knew next to nothing about–Cuenca, Ecuador.

We scheduled an investigative trip in July of 2009, loved everything we experienced, and immediately made plans to move to Cuenca the following May. Preparations were going smoothly until January when we were rocked with another setback–Cynthia was diagnosed with breast cancer.

By now we were fully committed to this relocation and there was no turning back. Surgery was immediately performed followed by radiation therapy specifically designed to support our schedule. Shortly after her final treatment we were on the plane to Ecuador.

Flash forward seven years later. Cynthia’s cancer-free and against overwhelming odds we’ve never been happier. We live in a beautiful 3000 square foot two-story penthouse apartment with 270 degree views of the surrounding Andes mountains. The weather is spring-like year round, and we’re only hours away from our kids and grandkids.

Our budget includes a housekeeper, dining out 4-5 times a week, gym and yoga studio memberships, fresh flowers, mani/pedi’s, plus national health insurance (100% coverage with $0 deductibles).

And how much is that budget? Less than $2000/month.

For folks in their 50’s and 60’s who, like us, suffered a major financial setback, or who for whatever reason just haven’t saved enough, the standard advice to work longer, save more, and after doing all that accept a meager retirement is, well, not acceptable. Moving abroad as we did provides the opportunity for a retirement lifestyle that can greatly exceed expectations with zero stress and 100% freedom.

PS. As a finance guy you’ll be interested to know part of our capital is invested in one year, government-insured CD’s that earn 10% interest.
*******

What are some of the biggest drawbacks of retiring outside of the country?

1)The psychological distress of being apart from family and friends, especially if grandchildren are part of the picture. This can be alleviated by an adequate travel budget for regular trips back home. 2) Adapting to a different language and culture. Some new expats have the mistaken expectation that moving abroad is simply a cheaper version of life in the U.S.

How difficult was the transition from a paperwork perspective?

Shifting everything online involving paperwork in your home country makes life abroad much easier. Banks, credit card and investment companies, and other ongoing bills you may have will most likely offer this option. For the rare situation when you would need to receive mail, many expats maintain an address of record with a family member or use a service like US Global Mail. Since paperwork in foreign countries is often extensive and confusing, we highly recommend paying qualified attorneys for their professional guidance with legal transactions, including property purchases and visa matters. We have found legal fees abroad to be generally much less expensive than in the U.S.

What’s something most people wouldn’t consider when making this type of move?

Many people our age move abroad primarily to enjoy a better quality of life with a lower cost of living. The surprising discovery your new relaxed lifestyle reveals is how debilitating the stress level was that you unknowingly carried around for years. It really is a silent killer. So without sounding dramatic, for someone facing retirement who is financially under-prepared for whatever reason, this “type of move” where the cost of living is now affordable could add many stress-free years to one’s life. Since retiring to Ecuador this has certainly been true for us.

How long did the planning process take to make it happen?

Of course, there’s no standard answer here. Our life was fairly complicated, so it took us about a year to unravel everything and make the move. We discovered Cuenca online in May of 2009, traveled here for our investigative trip in July, and arrived as new residents May of the following year. Even though this seemed like plenty of time to prepare, some last-minute obstacles caused a bit of scrambling at the end.

Thinking about any other locations or are you happy where you are?

After 7+ years here the subject of “what’s next?” has recently been broached, but honestly at this point in time there’s no itch to scratch. All the attributes that initially drew us here are still in place, and Cuenca just keeps getting better and better.

What are the biggest financial hurdles to pulling this off?

Our biggest hurdle was summoning the courage to abandon the retirement plans we’d nurtured for years and head off on a radically new path. Once that decision was made there was no looking back. We arrived in Cuenca intending not just to “live” but to create a fulfilling life, and to make this new direction work at the highest possible level. And it has. We also had to overcome the hurdle of our own skepticism that a satisfactory retirement financed by Social Security income was doable. On our investigative trip we experienced firsthand a truth that our subsequent residence has confirmed–moving abroad offers an affordable lifestyle that exceeds expectations.

*******



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On the Mend

Abundant appreciation to the many kind friends who reached out to us during Cynthia's recent health scare. I wanted to update everyone that she is doing great. We normally think twice before taking an ibuprofen tablet so it's been weird for her to be on a schedule for multiple medications each day. The good news is she has had no adverse reaction to any of them and within a few weeks she'll only need the anticoagulant once a day.

Throughout this whole ordeal a nagging problem has been a pain in her side. It was discovered through a more specialized examination of the CT scan that when she lost consciousness and fell she fractured a rib! Good grief. I suffered a similar injury playing football and know there's nothing you can really do except take pain medication and let your body do its thing regarding healing. Without complete range of motion she's not yet back to full strength but is definitely on the mend.

A number of you have inquired how my face turned out. The joke around here is that if Cynthia's problem had occurred a couple of weeks earlier they would have immediately put me on a gurney when we showed up in the emergency room. "Oh my god, this gringo set his face on fire!!"

Honestly I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. My skin looks so pink and fresh with next to no blotches or discoloration, even on top of my head. Appearance aside, it feels fantastic to know that at least from the neck up I have zero potential skin cancer lurking. I'll post a pic of our smiling faces soon.

So the mood is upbeat in Casa Staton. Between the two of us it's been a rough couple of months but we've both overcome our challenges and are excited about the future!

Thanks again for the remarkable support you have given. Our hearts are filled with gratitude.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Believe in Miracles

It's amazing how life can sometimes change in the blink of an eye. My last post described a lovely walk through the neighborhood. Two days later all hell broke loose.

Cynthia was experiencing shortness of breath on Tuesday but we didn't think much about it because she had had a couple of similar episodes since we returned to Ecuador in July. We figured probably more altitude adjustment. After she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and lost consciousness we were in the emergency room at the IESS (Ecuador's national health care system) hospital first thing Wednesday morning.

After a l-o-n-g day and many tests an echocardiogram found a blood clot in the right side of her heart. A CAT scan found another on the left side. The official term for this condition is bilateral pulmonary embolism. Then an ultrasound of the leg where she had previously had a clot nine years ago revealed a third in her groin. The level of apprehension and stress we felt were beyond description.

Our dear friend and personal physician Dr. Pablo Parra quickly took charge of her care. She was immediately given anticoagulant injections, oxygen, and pain meds. Because of all the monitoring and medications being administered she was placed in a private room--a luxury since patients in IESS are normally in triples.

There has been concern recently in the expat community about IESS. I can tell you Cynthia received world class treatment that greatly contributed to saving her life.

I'm thrilled to report that after a week of excellent care Cynthia is doing great and was discharged this afternoon. She has now switched to oral anticoagulant medication for the next six months or more. There was no damage to her heart and she'll be able to resume normal activities as her strength improves in the coming days.

This whole episode is really a miracle and we feel so blessed considering the circumstances. We will be eternally grateful for the kind and professional care she received.

Please send healing thoughts and prayers her way as Cynthia continues to recover from this terrifying episode.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunday Stroll

So far we've had to "endure" our winter for a stretch of only about ten days. During that short period constantly overcast skies kept the temps uncomfortably chilly. How chilly? Our bedroom registered 58 degrees several mornings. Thank goodness for the heated mattress pad!

Maybe there will be another nippy week or two but in the meantime Cynthia and I have resumed our pleasant Sunday strolls. We've created an hour or so walk that takes us beside the Yununcuay river, down lovely Solano Avenue, then along a beautiful street in our neighborhood called Luis Morena Mora before returning home. After gazing on my gruesome mug shots the past few weeks I thought you'd enjoy seeing something more enjoyable. So come along with us on yesterday's outing.

Remember, we live in the "Land of Eternal Spring." Even when we have occasional periods with lower temps the flowers continue to bloom.




Here's the closest representation of what you consider winter that I could find.


Our walk begins along the Yununcuay less than five minutes from our apartment.


It's so peaceful here, and the views are spectacular.


Sometimes the path takes us beside massive eucalyptus trees.


A new food truck park has opened near Solano Ave. Cuenca's getting hip!!



Solano Avenue is normally very busy, but Sunday is family day here so roads are almost deserted.


We always pass by a couple of Sunday flea markets. Don't think they have much we'd be interested in----



Yesterday we popped into a mercado to see if we could find pumpkin seeds for the granola Cynthia makes.


The fresh food area wasn't very busy, but the "food court" was doing brisk business.


Success! That dinky 2 ounce bag from Supermaxi costs about $3. We bought the 10 ounce bag on the right for $4.


Sunday after church is a popular time for families to eat out. This is an upscale al fresco seafood restaurant on Luis Morena Mora.


Here are a couple of shots just to show you a bit of what our neighborhood looks like. A lovely new condo building


And the mature trees and landscaping add so much to the visual appeal


Looks like a motorcycle club decided to dine at the nearby Mexican eatery.


Back home after a pleasurable walk. Thanks for joining us!




Sunday, August 6, 2017

The End Is Near!

Recently if you were to say that I'm a little flaky I would readily agree with you. Should you comment that I've really got sex a-peel I'd appreciate the compliment. For the past three days I've been shedding skin from my face at a rate that would make a snake jealous. The deep red blotches are now more like a blush, and the godawful pain is no mas.

In short, I'm coming to the end of the month-long ordeal I put myself through, and the results will be well worth the trouble. Here are photos to review the journey I've shared with you:

Three weeks ago (don't look very happy, do I?).


Last week.




Damn it, those look rough! And, tah dah, here's today.




Not perfect yet, but I hope you agree it's a remarkable improvement in only a few short days!

The purpose of me posting these photos the past few weeks has been neither to gross you out nor suggest you take on this regimen yourself. What I've put myself through is unarguably radical and not for everyone.

I do encourage you to be proactive regarding your health. I've never understood why many people take better care of their vehicles than their own bodies. They'll be sure to keep the oil changed and make sure the tires are rotated, balanced, and properly inflated. Yet they avoid visits to the doctor and dentist and ignore common wisdom regarding their weight and fitness.

As far as your skin goes, think about scheduling that dermatologist appointment or at least be sure to apply a quality sunscreen. And now is as good a time as any to get serious about nurturing the "vehicle" (your body) that carries you through this life.

Thanks so much for all your support this past month. The love and encouragement you freely shared with me meant more than you know.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Red Lobster Comes to Cuenca

***WARNING: WORSE THAN LAST TIME***

No, not the restaurant chain, silly. I'm talking about me.

This recent exchange says it all:

Friend: "Damn, dude, that's the worst sunburn I've ever seen."

Me: "That's because you're looking at every sunburn I've ever had all at the same time."

Last night marked three weeks into my treatment for sun damage. I applied the fluorouracil ointment for the 21st time and once again it felt like I had set my face ablaze. I got into bed and said to Cynthia, "I don't know if I can keep doing this." When water from the shower striking my face this morning made me wince in pain I decided it was time to pull the plug.

The maximum recommended length of time for this treatment is 30 days, so anybody who knows me also knows that was my goal. As one of my readers said in an email, "You go big or go home." In spite of the pain I could have continued but I'm ready to start healing and get on with my life. I'm sure what I've gone through will go a long ways toward removing most if not all of the pre-cancerous skin growth.

Beyond the obvious shock of how extensive my sun damage turned out to be came some smaller surprises along the way. I was concerned that I wasn't going to be able to shave. And between my head and face I've got a lot of real estate to maintain.

You've never seen me with hair and a beard, and you never will for a very good reason. Both look terrible. So the thought of having this surface-of-Mars face and cranium covered with a scraggly coat of gray fur was more than I--and Cynthia--could bear. Fortunately, as long as I take my time, shaving hasn't been an issue.

A real surprise has been some unexpected spots where sun damage has revealed itself to be lurking. Like in the nooks, crannies, and creases of my ears of all places. Thinking back that's probably not an area where I always diligently strived for 100% sunscreen coverage. A couple of open, bleeding wounds tells me that was a bad idea. Ugh.

And it's a complete mystery why the skin on my face right next to my nose is freaking out. No way I missed putting sunscreen there.

So as we say goodbye to my active treatment phase, here's my full face photo from the previous post followed by ones taken today:










Anybody blame me for stopping? Good. I'm not sure what to expect next so I'll update you in a few days. Thanks so much for the many emails and Facebook messages, my friends.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

To Hell and Back

***WARNING---THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES***

"What in the world happened to your face?!?!"

I've been getting that a lot recently. And will continue to for the next several weeks.

Was I in an accident? A fight?

Based on the way I look those are both reasonable guesses. But, no, my current monstrous appearance is of my own doing.

Let's back up. I've diligently taken care of my skin for the past 30+ years--cleansing, moisturizing, applying sunscreen. Even occasional facials and microdermabrasion treatments. Since we moved to the land of intense equatorial sun I've been extra careful to never leave the house without first applying SPF 50.

Ah, but in my younger days it was quite a different story. I can remember those sunburns at the beach that were too painful to touch. The baby oil and iodine summers at the pool going for the darkest tan line possible. In college I once made a reflecting contraption out of cardboard and aluminum foil to intensify those rays to the absolute max. Geez----.

And of course, for almost four decades now I've had this shaved head. No matter how careful I am, without a hat on out in the sun that thin skin stretched across my skull is like frying bacon.

Over the years I've spent a lot of time in dermatologists' offices for checkups and maintenance. There have been countless freezings of troublesome spots with liquid nitrogen and three instances when basal cell carcinomas had to be surgically removed. Last spring my doctor recommended that I apply fluorouracil for a week to treat a few scaly areas on my scalp. I followed his instructions and the ointment worked.

Fluorouracil is a topical cream or gel used to treat pre-cancerous and cancerous skin growths. It works by killing fast-growing cells such as the abnormal ones in actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinoma. These cells are drawn to the skin's surface and eliminated from the body.

I recently noticed more of these spots had appeared and decided to repeat the treatment. But before doing so I this time did some Internet research and learned that instead of only a week, the recommended period of application was a month.

OK, then, a month it is. You've seen plenty of photos of me over the years. Overall I felt like my skin looks pretty darned good, so I decided while I was putting the ointment on my scalp I'd go ahead and take care of what little sun damage there might be on my forehead as well.

The first week of treatment nothing happened. Then, oh, my------. To say I was shocked with what happened next would be the understatement of the century. Are you ready for this? Here's the "minor" sun damage on my forehead today, 2 1/2 weeks into the regimen:












OMG, right? As soon as I saw what was happening I decided to extend the fluorouracil application to the lower half of my face as well. Here's what it looks like, a week behind the scalp and forehead:


Put those images together and here's my current frightful appearance:




However shocked you are viewing these images, I am even more so. Outwardly my skin looked so good I had no inkling of the damage that lurked below. Let me answer some of the questions I'm sure you have:

How long will the treatment last? For 30 days. So I'm on Day 17 on the top half and Day 10 on the bottom.

Does it hurt? Once the gel starts working it hurts like hell. Washing my face is painful. Putting on the ointment each night burns like I'm being hit with acid. I've sometimes been on the verge of tears and felt like stopping the treatment almost daily but continue because it's obvious the problem must be dealt with. Thankfully Cynthia remembered we have a container of Aquaphor that has honestly been my salvation. It soothes the inflammation and provides healing moisture to the dry, flaking skin. It feels like every sunburn I've had in my entire life is slowly emerging. Payback for all those foolish choices so long ago.

When will you look normal again? You will look normal again, won't you? Once I quit applying the fluorouracil I expect to look even worse for maybe the two following weeks. Then rejuvenation is supposed to happen rapidly and I'll end up with totally healthy skin for the first time since I was a child. Unfortunately the wrinkles stay----.

Are you glad you did it? Ask me when it's over. Seriously, I sure am. Yes, it's painful and, yes, I look horrible right now but I'm pleased to be doing something proactive that will ward off future potential problems. I've been in semi-seclusion during this ordeal but decided to "go public" and write this post to encourage you to be mindful of your own health. Skin cancer that turns into melanoma can kill you, folks. It's not something to fool around with.

I'll continue to post more pics of my progress as this journey evolves. Thanks in advance for your support, encouragement, and comments.





Monday, July 10, 2017

A Love Story


Two kids fell in love in the summer of 1967. From the start their romance was improbable and unconventional. He was a college freshman; she was a freshman in high school. No one except them gave the relationship much of a chance.

While classmates talked of sock hops and football games, they spent hours planning their future and spoke of growing old together. They patiently waited four years for their June graduations, exchanged vows a month later, and have been joyously married ever since.

Those two kids are Cynthia and me. Today is our 46th wedding anniversary and the amazing celebration of 50 years as a couple. We've grown up together, and now we indeed do have the privilege of growing old together.

Cynthia, my darling, I love you more deeply than words can express. We have an eternal, unbreakable bond that few could understand and even fewer will experience. Your presence has been my life's greatest treasure, and I only wish that time could grant me the honor of spending another fifty years by your side.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. May we have many, many more.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Is Retirement??

We were catching up with local friends last night over dinner and they asked, "So what's been going on with you two since we last saw you?" I proceeded to rattle off the following:

"Well, at the beginning of May we went to Atlanta for an International Living conference.

Then, since I was born in Atlanta and we spent most of our adult lives there, we stayed over some extra days visiting family and friends. I'm missing my 50th high school reunion this fall so I organized a mini-reunion of classmates which was a blast."

Next we flew to New Jersey and stayed with our daughter and her family for three weeks. While there we took a train into Manhattan to visit friends who live in SoHo.

Before returning to Cuenca we took another train to Boston and enjoyed exploring that beautiful city for four days. Plus we discovered we really love train travel.

After being home only about two weeks we turned around and flew back to Quito for another IL conference, then hung around in the city a few days.

We flew home and spent the weekend before leaving for several glorious days in Yunguilla.

And now we're back in Cuenca."

Our dinner companions own several businesses and have young children so their lives are very different from ours. The husband seemed amazed and remarked, "Wow, you two are really busy for retired people!"

The truth is, yes we are. On purpose.

After this recent flurry of activity we have no set travel plans for awhile because we are working on a massive project that requires us to stay put and focus. That doesn't mean we'll be hermits. We cherish our relationships with close friends and look forward to socializing with them after being away so long.

I'm in no way knocking those who embrace a more reserved approach to retirement. Heck, if you feel like you've worked hard your whole life and just want to putter around, I say more power to you. We enjoy limited doses of chillaxin' ourselves, with our just-completed getaway to Yunguilla I mentioned serving as a perfect example.

We spent an extended 4th of July celebration with wonderful friends eating, drinking, sleeping, playing games, sunning ourselves (the weather is fabulous there--and only an hour away!), and hot tubbing. Sound like fun? It sure was!

Here are a few photos of our surroundings:

This is the view from our bedroom window


And here are a few from the deck looking down into the valley




Yes, this is retirement, Edd and Cynthia style.