Best Countries For Expats Part One

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Best Countries For Expats Part One.

“In any given moment, we have two options, to move forward into growth or to step back into safety.” Abraham Maslow

There are somewhere around nine million American civilians currently living abroad. Where to go is an open question. Mild weather is the most important thing for us. Whether a country has a lot of English-speakers, a favorable cost of living or an immigration process that’s (relatively) navigable are other considerations.  Here are some of the possibilities we are thinking about. These countries make a pretty compelling case to leave everything behind. I think no matter how much research you do and how prepared you think you are, there will always be things that surprise you when you’re finally there. Some are good, some are bad but that’s what the experience is all about! Here are five of the ten countries that we are considering in no particular order.

New Zealand would be an easy place to move to because everyone is friendly and speaks English. It has a lot of outdoor activities, great air quality, Lord Of The Rings scenery and wineries. Wellington is a cool city. There are many areas with milder temperatures year round. It is extremely safe with no violent crime. We can really travel around Australia and Oceania. The downside is that it is a full day’s flight from America and the cost of living on an island far away from everything is high. 

We visited Uruguay for the  first time last year. I loved it. Uruguay has a stable economy, large middle class and a very low violent crime rate. There are no homeless camps. People live simply. It has a functional political system with little corruption and a highly educated population. Marijuana is legal to grow and to possess for personal use. The wine, the beef, and the national soccer team are all world-class. The Atlantic beaches are among the best in the world and the temperature in the winter never falls below freezing. It is relatively easy to buy property and establish residency without bribery. Uruguayans on the whole are welcoming, friendly and helpful. I love South America so traveling around from here would be great. It is not as cheap as other Latin American countries  to live in but is still less than the US. Thefts and muggings are common in the cities. There is not a lot of English spoken here so I will need to improve my Spanish.

Greece is sadly expensive for the Greek people but a bargain for Americans. The food is delicious and fresh – think feta, lamb, fish and tzatiki. The scenery is breathtaking and the weather is similar to California. If you want a city, avoid Athens and try Thessaloniki. I have spent many summers there and love this country and the people I have met. The islands are dead in winter and ferries don’t always run so it’s important to pick an island like Naxos or Crete that is agriculturally self sustaining. I’m familiar with the culture, the beauracracy, and the slow way of doing things. There is terrible unemployment due to their financial crisis  and as long as you are not going there to work you will be ok. 

Peru has some  of the best food in the world. No country with 5000 varieties of potatoes is anything but deadly serious about food. The food in Lima is a mix of Chinese, Andean, Japanese and Incan influences. The landscape is beautiful, diverse. and filled with history. Macchu Picchu is one of my favorite places on earth. There are plenty of Pacific beach towns as well. At the moment, the government and the economy is stable. Good health care, cost of living and travel is very affordable here if you are coming from the U.S.  A tourist visa lasts for six months so it will be easy to try it out and Peruvians seem to like Americans. You do need to speak Spanish and crime is high in the cities. Some parts of Lima are not safe.

Portugal has a mild climate, panoramic seaside views and endless beaches. The American dollar does well here. It is a relaxed way of life and there are many English speakers in the cities. The people are warm, welcoming and helpful which is good when trying to deal with the language and bureaucracy.  Health care is good and affordable even if you pay out of pocket.  Violent crime is very low and theft is mostly pickpockets in the tourist areas. It is considered one of the best places in the world to move to. The downside for me is that the language is very difficult. It looks like Spanish but is pronounced so differently. I have been to Portuguese speaking countries four times and still can only say Thank You.

Stay safe,

JAZ

Amelia’s Divorce

Amelia’s  Divorce

“But in the real world, you couldn’t really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn’t see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.”  Sarah Dessen

 I  have noticed that kids around the world are all the same. They might eat different foods or attend a village school in the rainforest but they share universal commonalities. They all need to have their basic needs met and feel safe, secure and loved.

A little girl came over to my dog Banksy  at the hairdresser.  She wanted to pet him. I said that  he was kind of nervous because we had just moved to a new place and dogs don’t understand moving, She asked where we had moved to. I said to Venice/ Marina Del Rey.

“My dad used to live in Marina Del Rey but now he lives in the valley.  My dad doesn’t live with me anymore. I am from a divorce now. I live with my mom near here in a new house,“she replied.

“Since you are in a new house,  maybe you could help Banksy. Do you have any ideas how to make him more comfortable in his new home?“

She asked if Banksy was from a divorce? I said “No, it was just me and Banksy.”

”It is just me and my mom now,”she answered. Amelia told Banksy not to be sad because everyone will still love him the same even if he has a new stepmom who is going to have a baby.  “My new stepmother is Filipino so we don’t know what the baby will look like because my dad is Jewish. But the baby won’t look like  me and no one will know that she is my sister.”

“You will know and she will know and that is all that counts.” I said.

“She isn’t really going to be my sister. She will be my half-sister because we don’t have the same mother.”

”To her, you will be her big sister and a very important person in her life when she gets a bit older.“ I said.

She smiled and said “Yes, but the valley is very far away. Banksy, even though you are scared now, your new home will be great. You won’t have to miss things when it is your weekend with your mom or your weekend with your dad.” Amelia is seven.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Banksy’s First Night In The New House

Banksy’s first night in the new house

“She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Dogs don’t understand concepts like moving. They don’t even understand that when you leave the house you are coming back. Moving can be more stressful on a dog than kids. I have a particularly nervous puppy. He is small and he can squeeze through most little spaces when in panic mode. Also Banksy is – to put it delicately, not that smart. I don’t think he is well equipped with coping mechanisms.

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He did not do well with the packing and sorting stage which went on for a while. It was a big house. People were coming and going and he was not happy as big pieces of furniture that I gave away left the house. He did not like all the plastic bags and boxes of stuff around. He fell into psychological chaos – barking much more, having a lot of accidents, following me around the house and never leaving my side, except to rip up any paper he could find.

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Also, he is not a fan of stairs,. Both small and large flights elicit heavy breathing then crying followed by piercing yelps.

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The new house has two and half flights of steps and one of them is not small dog or child friendly. Banksy is not a problem solver. When he thinks there is a problem the heavy breathing/crying begins.

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Banksy stayed with a friend during the three days of moving and packing. Moving is the most stressful thing a person can do and he was already feeling it. An open door is the time for him to flee if someone decides to go out and leave him in the kitchen with music on. it was better not to have him around during the actual move.

Banksy arrived at the new house with workers there. I had set up a space with his stuff. He looked around and fell asleep.

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I took him outside and within one minute he had a found a way out to the street and was running down the block. I’m sure he was trying to get home. All the stairs were freaking him out. He went back to sleep. He didn’t feel like playing with toys. He woke up again ate something and looked around. He saw that we were still here and he went back to sleep. I say it’s ok every five minutes.

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.  Banksy is a hyperactive puppy and while all this sleeping makes him a good neighbor, he is clearly depressed. He doesn’t want to walk. He doesn’t like the sand, wind, cars and bikes and people.

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Instead of quiet Mandeville Canyon we are living in a beach community in the middle of the summer. There are loud scary noises coming from every direction. He is exhausted from being on alert all the time.

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Banksy has a lot of fears of things that don’t really present any harm to him. Today Banksy played with his toys and has reluctantly gone up and down the steps a few times.  Life is getting better.  Once he learns to stay positive and embrace the full reality of the move he will be fine.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Cleaning Out Stuff With My Kids In Los Angeles

Clearing Out Stuff With My Kids In Los Angeles

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can”. Beryl Markham

I  moved a lot  when i was growing up so I didn’t get to save things.  I wanted my kids to have their stuff and my house was big enough to save it.  Now I am moving and I can’t keep it anymore. I  really don’t want to let go of anything. I want to cram every exam paper, swimming trophy, essay,  dance tape, favorite stuffed animal and birthday invitation into a storage locker. I would know that it would be there if for some incomprehensible reason we would ever need it.

My kids started going through their stuff together. There were years and years of accumulation of things in this house. That is what happens when you have many closets.

“Here is your pile.” says my son.  I don’t need a pile. “It’s my college diploma, bar mitzvah stuff, first birthday invitations and all my baby pictures. Don’t you want  to keep that?“ I replied “Don’t you?” He said “I have no room for it so you keep it. Don’t you want memories of me?” Yes I think to myself.  I want to hold on to you both as kids forever. I want  very much to have all the pieces of our past.

He reads aloud his speech from when he ran for seventh grade president. “I remember that being a much better speech,” he said. The sorting continues.

“I need this, I’m keeping this, I can’t get rid of this, I must have this, oh wow look at this – all my Nintendo games. I have to get a Nintendo player.” His pile gets bigger and  bigger.

I once read that you are supposed to ask a question with each item. Does this bring me joy? If not, toss it. His reply is that ‘Maybe someone will make a documentary about me some day and they wont have any information about my past. We need to keep this stuff.”

My daughter finds something that belongs to him. “Here pass that to the ‘A Beautiful Mind’  pile” she says.”Look I found dad’s Bar Mitzvah invitation.” It was clearly something his mother had kept.  “Give it to me”, I say, “Are you going to give it to him?” “No.” I answer. They look horrified and snatch it back. I was going to save it for future grandchildren but I did not tell them that. 

My son starts taking pictures of things and posting to his friends. His friend replies “Great, send that to me in another ten years when you go through your boxes again.”

My daughter isn’t doing that much better. I start to pull out some of her discarded clothes to save for my god-daughter. “Why are you saving stuff for  her and not me?” “Did you want to save stuff? I ask.  “I didn’t know that we could. “Now she starts making a pile of things she wants to save and not take.

I pull out one coat I took when my mom died a few years ago. “Have you ever worn that coat?” she asks. She tries it on. “I would wear it today. You have never worn it.” I put it on. ”Uh, it looks like a bathrobe on you. It looks so much better on me. “ Now that is all true and probably why I have never worn it.  It is one of the few articles of clothing that  I took from my mom so it is hard for me to part with it. 

My daughter takes a lot of boxes out of the storage room and leaves them in the garage. Can’t we do this one by one I ask? I don’t want boxes all over. She says that she has to leave now. My son says quietly,“I agree with you but I’m not siding with you publicly against her.“

There are about twenty boxes unopened from our old house that no one has looked at in sixteen years. They are filled with their elementary school things. They carry all the pieces of my children that I was trying to hold onto. It was the same way I took things from my mom’s house after she died to hold on to her and her past. I realized that whatever was in those boxes, I hadn’t seen in all that time. I remembered their childhood without ever accessing the boxes. I didn’t need them and they probably don’t either. 

I know now that I will remember things or I won’t but I don’t need a storage locker filled with stuff. It is difficult to distinguish between possessions and memories.  The possessions do trigger the memories for me. The emotional cost of letting go of their childhood is high. These things connect me to a happier time in my life.

We are more than our  possessions.  Our memories are inside us and maybe writing my story is a way to remember. The most sentimental things aren’t things at all, but stories of the people and places we love, and how we spend our time.

Fly safe,

JAZ

What Do I Really Need? Packing Up My Life In Los Angeles

What Do I Really Need? Packing Up My Life In Los Angeles

“You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened… or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the fuck on.” Tupac Shakur

I’m a traveler so I pack all the time but the process of moving out of a house you have lived in for a long time seems insurmountable. It keeps you constantly focused and in the present of what is important. What is the most beautiful or most practical? How many clothes do I actually need? And why do I have so many other versions of almost the same thing? How many books do I really love? Do I need a suitcase collection?

I felt lucky to have boxes of memories of happy moments and remembrances of people who have died or passed through my life. I’m more of a hoarder than a minimilst when it comes to stuff. It is interesting to see the randomness of things we hold on to. The more stuff you have, the more resources and energy you spend taking care of them. I notice that there are a lot of things that are just taking up space in my life.

The problem with being the person left in the house is that you are the one to deal with all the accumulated memories.  I have cleaned out the garage once and the surfboards bicycles, skiing and camping equipment, musical instruments and some suitcases are long gone. It is a lot of memories for one lifetime.

What do I really need? For such a long time I have lived my life for other people.  It is a scary but liberating question. What is right for me? When you claw back some space from the overwhelming demands of other people in your life, you start to think about your own needs. I need to feel safe. I need light and walls to hang my art. I need to hear and be heard, love and be loved. I need to be able to travel.

Eventually I will pack up the whole house. There is always a sadness about packing up a house. I expect to hear music when something big is happening- an overture that takes you to the next step in your life. But  after the chaos, the real change always happens quietly.

How good it will feel to have it all in one place, all I really need. Then I can move ahead. When you are packing, you see how much stuff you have accumulated in your life that is unimportant. Im learning what is important is the moments that the people who loved you and you loved are together. Not stuff, but memories that you take with you, wherever you may go.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The House In Los Angeles

`The House in Los Angeles

“Walking on a path of uncertainties, Shuffling on the probabilities of uncertainties, Waging on the possibilities of uncertainties,Waiting for the occurrences of uncertainties, Solving the mysteries of wandering uncertainties, We move, lead and live’’Pushpa Rana

I’ve learned as I get older that no matter how much I want to hold on to the past – things change. If we stay where we are, when something new is trying to get in, we will get stuck or that is what I tell myself anyway.

The house was the last remnant that a family existed. To my ex husband, it was an inanimate object. But to me it was as much a part of the family memories as the people who lived in it.

I was very scared to be in this house alone when he first left but I had to be brave for my daughter who was still here. I have a lot of safety issues and anxiety about being alone and having to face those on top of the loss was very hard. But I had this heavy thing hanging on top of me that I was the only adult in the house responsible for my daughter who was still home and my son in college.

My fear did often evolve into anxiety or panic. But gradually as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and years, we encountered many of the little things that malfunction in a home, car accidents, emotional and health problems, illness, death, holidays, graduations and we survived, even conquered them. And with each incident my self-confidence grew and my fear subsided.

He could not afford to give me the house so I have lived with its impending loss for a while.–the loss of familiar, beautiful well-loved surroundings, the neighborhood, the routine, and the security of owning a house.

Driving up and down the street now, I know I will never see another Mandeville Christmas light competition. There are financial and age restraints so I will not live the way I live now which makes the emotional situation much worse. I will miss the pale cast of light in the morning which illuminates my house as the day goes on. I will miss seeing every shade of green from my windows  – olive, jade, leaf, kiwi, lime, a silver-green and a bright pistachio. i will miss the wide open spaces and high ceilings and walls that have my big art on them.
I imagine that the physically moving out of the house alone will be the hardest thing I will ever do.

I will be mourning the loss of living somewhere that I loved. I will be mourning the intact family life, roots, values, security and inheritance that I couldn’t give my kids. I expected to have grandchildren, showers, holidays and birthday parties in this house. I will miss the children who became adults here. I will be mourning the loss of me, the person I was when I lived in this house. I once wanted to grow old here with the boy I met when I was 16.

Worse I will be mourning the loss of my memories. I have always had a bad memory and pieces will fade because the person who also remembers and the house won’t be here to trigger them.

When you have to get through something big, you must remember that you have tools – friendship, conscience, honesty and strength. You need to look at the mess and know that you will never completely get over it. It turns out that writing helps me reflect on my life and the changes I am making. Maybe as much as I wanted my roots to be in a house, my roots turn out to be in my travels, my stories and where I am going next. Maybe my roots turn out to be in the uncertainties of not knowing.

Fly safe,

JAZ