LIVING IN BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR – THE BASICS

By: BajaInsider.com
Discovering La Paz as a wonderful place to call home more than 13 years ago this month I wanted to take another look back at the changes and provides the tips on living in Baja California Sur. With so much to share with our readers we have broken the article up into a four part series.

The first version of this article was published on the BajaInsider when I had passed the 5 year mark of my Baja experience. Now I’m bi, bi-national that is, bilingual as well, married Mexicana, own property in Mexico and am a season Mexican businessman. All these things took more than a little while to grow into. So as you suffer the slings and arrows of your migration to Mexico know that it is neither all sunshine nor is it all rain, but it is certainly a growing experience.

A lot of things have changed over my 13 years here, some for the better, and some in my opinion, for not. Overall I still applaud my decision to relocate my life to Mexico. Immigration policies and procedures don’t even resemble the process I went through and was a decent authority on, so we will have to include that information for you in an upcoming article.

First and most importantly, I will say it is important to learn the language. You are in their country, learn their language. There are a variety of ways to do this, language schools are perhaps the most rapid way to learn correct espanol. Watching movies you are familiar with, alternating audio and subtitles between languages. But certainly the best way is to make some Mexican friends. They will enjoy learning English from you just as much as they will enjoy laughing at your horrible pronunciation. Knowing the language is key in defeating what I call “Mexiphobia”. Socialize with the locals, you will find it educational and a whole lot of fun to experience a culture different from your own.

Housing

The first matter of course, is to find shelter. Thirteen years ago an apartment rented for about $150 a month and up. After doing a little legwork I found an acceptable level of apartment in a part of town that wasn’t on the tour list for $225 a month, including utilities and the landlady did my laundry. Installing an air conditioner was not permitted without further rent negotiation. Today that same very basic apartment rents for $375, no laundry and I’m not certain as to the utilities.

Homes with a small yard can be rented for about $450USD and up. Very nice apartments are also available in marina and ocean view locations. These usually run $1200 and up. If you are a first timer there are a realtors and rental firms that can assist you. This may add a little to the price but their experience in both location and contract assistance can be invaluable.

Population

Baja California Sur has grown tremendously. North Americans living here has grown, but is still relatively insignificant in the totals and seasonally may account for as much as 5-7% of the state population. Since 2005 the population of the state has grown from 512,000 to over 630,000. La Paz remains the largest Baja Sur city, but Los Cabos (the conjunction of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas) has narrowed the gap. In 2010 La Paz had more than 215,000 residents and Los Cabos about 76,000. Unofficial numbers place the population of La Paz around 300,000 and the Los Cabos near 100,000. Loreto, Mulege and Todos Santos are fractional contributors. Complete 2010 census results will be available later this year. Contrary to popular rumor, women do not outnumber men in Baja Sur.

Food

Groceries have never been a bargain in Baja, as we live on a three sided island. Although agriculture is one of the economic staples of Baja the food we produce here is shipped to the mainland in many cases, sorted, graded and shipped back to us across the Sea of Cortez. Every other product comes by ferry from the mainland and the rest by truck down Highway 1 from the north. You can sometimes cut costs by shopping the city markets rather than the supermarkets which import nearly ALL their products, but that requires time, if you have plenty of that it is a Baja experience.

A few years back the Insider did a semi-scientific price comparison and Baja Sur’s supermarket prices were the second highest of our survey. Only San Diego was more expensive on the basic items like milk, butter, bacon beef and so on. Since most of the major chains are represented in La Paz and Cabo you will find little difference in their prices. With the addition of new chains competition seems to have driven prices down a bit.

Not so very long ago there were two major places to shop in Baja California Sur, Aramburo’s Markets, Sr Aramburo came down from the mountains of El Triunfo to open his market in La Paz in the 1920’s as silver was running out in the mountains and the CCC chain, which was also locally owned and dated back to the pearling days. Then the Ley chain opened three stores and right after that we got our first two Soriana’s in Cabo and La Paz. Then like a biblical begat, CCC sold to Chedraui bought out the CCC stores, Mega came to town. Then came the “Express stores”, these compact sized versions of the big chain stores, every time I drive into a different neighborhood I find a new one of these smaller stores. Price Club, Sam’s Club and Walmart are all common names in town. I do enjoy the fact that it is easier to finds the goods that you need, but it has run the corner shops out of business and taken some of the fun out of search out your item.

Perhaps one of the biggest invasions and changes to the local retain market has been OXXO. The Mexican equivalent of Circle K or 7/11, the glitzy new junk food markets can sell you every thing from phone card time to semi food. Seriously, if you have any concern for your body at all you would find nothing nutritional for sale here. As of December 2014 there were over 90 OXXO’s in La Paz alone and more than 15,000 of them in Mexico

Dining

As tourist destination Los Cabos has had a broad spectrum of restaurants for some time, including one of the best sushi restaurants I have ever enjoyed. Fast food, high class, top end and often pricey as any tourist town, some of my favorite ‘bargain eats’ have disappeared from Cabo over the last few years. Running down the wide variety of restaurants in Los Cabos would be another 10 page article.

La Paz 13 years ago had very limited fine cuisine, one of the most popular steak houses in town was one of those where you ‘cook your own’ on a communal grill – now long gone. You could get a reasonable steak taco meal with a beer for about $5. Today it runs $2 to $4 dollars more than that. Quality at the various restaurants was hit and miss depending on the mood of the cook. Today you could dine for a week at true culinary experiences and not complete the circuit.

Good sushi however, still alludes La Paz. If your a real sushi fan like I am, let me know if you find something other than ‘lunch sushi’ in La Paz, yet one of the best sushi restaurants I’ve ever enjoyed is in Cabo San Lucas. Sushi restaurants have been the rage in La Paz for probably about 5 years and despite what you think about La Paz and the Sea of Cortez and Seafood, it must be the enormous margin gleaned from a thin slice of (the wrong) fish and a whole lotta rice and when you run out of sea weed sheets, just fry it!

Thirteen years ago it was still possible to find a $10 peso beer (about a buck at that time). That quickly jumped to $15 and today you are doing well to find a bar or restaurant serving Mexican beers for under $25 pesos. Imported hard alcohols and wines are taxed and a mixed drink consumer will often find himself financially pushed back to drinking beers. Some imported hard alcohols have an import tax as high as 700%! The exception being Argentinean and Chilean wines, which are except from the tax and usually one of the best values on the shelves..

Shopping

Puerto Paraiso, the harbor-side mall in Cabo was just being completed on my arrival, it seemed like they would never find enough high end stores, it was the only thing like it between Land’s End and San Diego. Today it is a busy center-piece to downtown. Since then the mall has been expanded twice. Sophisticated items are available from makeup and lingerie to Harley Davison’s are available in the substantial indoor mall. It also makes a really good place to wander on a hot fall day. But that is Cabo.

La Paz has a mall or two now too, depending on how loosely you define ‘mall’. The Shoppes La Paz. The anchor store is a Liverpool, a chain which North Americans may find of dubious distinction. On my visits there, I have found them to have Nordstrom’s marketing and in-store displays with Sears quality merchandise and help that is really just waiting around for a text message or 5PM. Kinda like J. C. Penny! The mall is struggling, AutoZone, Walmart and Sam’s Club are across the street, Home Depot, Soriana. As much as I hate to say it, and as strange as this will sound to folks in SoCal, who consider them the bottom of the food chain, Walmart offers the best quality cloths/products we an chose from I’m afraid to say. Shorts I’ve purchased from Soriana had 100% zipper failure on 4 pairs and then they gave me static about returning them – again… not Nordstrom’s.

With the appearance of the new malls in La Paz and the tremendous retail building boom that took place from 2006-2009 there is just plain too much retain space available in La Paz. Even the Shoppes mall has nearly as many empty stalls as full. Downtown has taken a hard hit from this suburbanization and the core of downtown seems to be a trend toward a Gas Lamp district of clubs and restaurants and the remaining dinosaurs of Orient electronics shops that were tax exempt in the 1980’s. One of the problems with this real estate glut is 1) builders are upside down with no tenants 2) they offer ridiculous move in allowances and when the ‘free’ period is over the business dries up and blows away under in adequate management and funding.

The true departments store Dorian’s has now been replaced by Sears in both downtown and in the mall location. La Perla’s history as a department store went back over a century, to the days when it was the company store for the pearling industry. But a couple of years ago a careless welder ended that dynasty and the store burned to the ground. Today the resurrected La Perla is a footnote, they have moved back into the original building that was the dicount center before the fire, it is a little sad, but if you listen when it is real quiet in there and half close your eyes you can still imagine the bustling perfume counters and sales people of the 1920’s.

I continue to do a lot of online shopping from the states. Amazon.com or other sites can regularly provide me a better selection of exactly the brand and type of product I want at a price that is still significantly cheaper than the local price. Yes, I do feel bad not supporting local business, but it seems that Mexican companies want a much higher margin than US companies find profitable. Goods tend to be more expensive here across the board for the shipping down our three sided island or the lack of big city volume. A good example is the set of solar panels I just purchased from Amazon and had shipped down, paying the 16% import IVA and about 9% more for transportation to my door in La Paz via ACV Logistics. The panels, direct from the manufacture in Mexico City were 20% more than I had them in hand from Amazon.

Cloths shopping is a challenge unique to me. At 6’8″ with a size 14 shoe – even socks are hard to find in my size, the one size fits all is smaller than the US version and to get 38 inseam pants I’d have to sew two together. .

Bars, Dancing and Drinking Establishments

In Los Cabos the beachy, Squid Roe caliber bars are now getting a run for their money from the $200 bottle of champagne glitz bars and clubs. La Paz has made a concerted effort to locate the nightlife to a section of downtown which points out onto the Ensenada de La Paz. This has certainly helped with neighborhood noise complaints, but I think you can walk nearly a block and a half from 16th of September south along the Malecon before you run into something other than a bar. The bars are of course all aimed at the younger crowd and La Paz has a burgeoning yuppie class, trendy places like Jungle Bar, but all in the category of “Beachy”. The only place even close to getting all dolled up is El Rollo at the Hotel Palmira. For Mexican music La Cabaña on the Malecon has live music on Friday and Saturday night with a mix of Chilango and Choyero music, the house band is pretty good. Nearly every bar and restaurant in La Paz has live entertainment on the weekend and holidays.

I think the saddest part of the growth of La Paz and the bar scene is there is but one bar on the Malecon now where you can wiggle your toes in the real beach and drain down a frosty cerveza, Stella’s at the west end of the Malecon. hey have a good salsa dancing night too.

Going to the Movies

The original ‘big 1950’s single screen theater’ had just been closed in favor of the modern more comfortable Cineplex in the mall facility. Today La Paz has no less than four very comfortable multiplex theaters. For those of you who don’t speak espanol well enough (yet) to follow a movie, a good number of the current releases come through with English and espanol subtitles in at least one showing per day. You will find the movie ticket about 1/2 the price of the states and if you have your old folks card it costs even less.

Driving

In Baja Sur auto transportation has grown tremendously. More people own cars, and newer cars than I could have imagined in years past, this is in part to the explosion of personal credit. Before real estate took a flying face plant in 2007 we saw a lot of Hummer’s and big black Lobo’s (a Ford pickup) but the other day I even saw one of those former Hummer drivers jetting about in a golf cart sized econo-box. Volkswagen in made in Mexico and a very popular brand in La Paz. With this growth traffic has increased as well, although it still pales in comparison to my days in San Diego and L.A.

The four lane highway from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas has been completed for several years, it trims a good 40 minutes off the trip between cities, but it too has stripped some of the adventure from the drive. Very shortly the Cabo by-pass will be completed too. This will take traffic off Highway 19 south, just before you enter Cabo San Lucas, and take you north of the city to connect with the Airport toll road and further on, Highway 1 east of San Jose del Cabo. From La Paz ths could trim as much as 30 minutes off the trip to the airport.

The “rolling stop signs” still baffle rookies, but once you get the hang of it you see how much better it works. It is not based on how important you THINK you are, as in Southern California, but rather precisely on who arrived at the intersection first. You are required to pay attention or other drivers will become annoyed and toot at you. Coming to a complete stop will result in a rear ending, if you drive around La Paz for about a whole day.

In past years you could drive as a gringo with expired plates, it has always been illegal, but today you are probably more likely to get pulled over for bad gringo plates as you would be for bad Mexican plates. One of the great Gringo Scams are the South Dakota license plates. Folks who have their cars here year round are stymied by the California requirement to have valid insurance to maintain valid registration. The minute you cancel your insurance your registration is void. So, even if you have Mexican insurance, if it is a substantial claim, the Mexican carrier will have the right to say your car was not legally registered and deny the claim.

Mexican auto insurance remains very affordable, Liability is required by law to drive on any Mexican federal highway and as a North American you will find the accident is nearly always your fault and insurance can save your vacation or 8 weeks trying to get our car back. If you are driving an US plated car you can buy Mexican Auto Insurance very reasonably for the entire year. Unfortunately, many states such as California cancel your registration if the insurance company informs them you canceled your US policy. This forces you to carry two policies, a Mexican to cover you in Mexico and a stateside policy to keep your registration active. In the event of an accident you must be carrying a valid registration. If your state has recalled your US registration they could legitimately decline your claim on your Mexican insurance.

Ok so your probably still laughing about mandatory insurance, in a place where maybe 20% of the cars don’t even have plates. Insurance violations will be an add-on ticket to your other ticket or accident infraction. It can only be enforced on federal highways.

Well that is it for this installment, next we’ll take a look at medical care in living in La Paz.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND ENGAGEMENT FOR SENIORS

By: SeniorFitnessLifeStyle.com
Even if you don’t consider yourself a social butterfly, you may want to begin increasing your amount of socializing as you get older. Social relationships and engagement with others have been clinically shown to help the elderly age more gracefully as well as encourage better health over time.

Loneliness in life might be expected and even healthy at times, but, as you age, the more you engage with others, the better.

Loneliness and solitude are not just anti-social, they can have negative effects on your health and even result in a shorter life expectancy. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities out there for seniors looking for ways to get involved, make friends, and create social engagements in their lives.

Social Relationships

Family, friends, co-workers, and significant others are often those who make up your social group during your adult years. Unless you stay actively involved through different social outlets, you may find that these social groups begin to dwindle as the years go by. The children get older, you may retire, friends may move away or pass on, and soon it may just be you and your significant other spending time together.
For those who aren’t so lucky, they may find themselves alone with an occasional visit from the children and grandchildren, but this is not always enough. Social relationships are those that require you to connect with another person on a personal level.

These are friendships in which you share interests, relationships in which you share love and values, and familial relationships in which you share culture, understanding and more.

It is true that some are more social than others. Extroverts are those who gain energy and joy from being around lots of different people and interacting with them. Introverts, on the other end of the spectrum, are those that gain energy and happiness from spending time alone.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, though, you still require some amount of social engagement in your life to feel good and stay healthy.

The Importance of Being Social

Socializing is an important human activity at every stage of life. For young children it is useful for learning how to relate to other people, pick up on social cues, make friends and other connections, and learn more about the world.

As we grow, these same needs and goals are met through social interactions though they grow and morph with our different ages and stages of maturity.

For seniors, social interactions can affect the following:

• Self-perceived health
• Life satisfaction or dissatisfaction
• Loneliness

A recent study conducted by Statistics Canada found that seniors who actively engage in social situations are more likely to perceive their health positively as well as lower the odds of loneliness and feelings of dissatisfaction.

Those who did not, however, reported more health problems, feelings of sadness and loneliness, and higher dissatisfaction rates in their lives.

The Health Benefits of Social Relationships and Engagement

Seniors who have and actively cultivate quality friendships and relationships are open to a host of health benefits.

Regular involvement with friends, family, and others can result in the following:

• Lower blood pressure
• Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
• Significant stress reduction
• Less risk for depression and other mental disorders and issues

The Dangers of Social Isolation

On the other end of the spectrum, failing to involve yourself with others can cause very real problems for your health.

Those who are socially isolated most of the time are in danger of these health risks:

• Feelings of depression and severe loneliness
• Developing high blood pressure
• An increased risk of death
• Less physical activity
• Poor diet

What You Can Do

Unsure of how to get yourself out there? There are plenty of opportunities specifically for seniors looking to increase the amount of social interaction in their lives. You don’t have to worry about doing things far outside of your comfort zone or even about putting yourself in difficult situations.

Many seniors find that they are able to pick an activity that suits their personality and comfort level that garners wonderful relationships.

Here are some suggestions of what you can do:

• Volunteering: Churches, schools, day cares, animal shelters and more are always on the lookout for volunteers. These places are great for seniors to make connections with others their age and younger in a safe environment.

• Get Involved With a Senior Center: Senior centers put on all kinds of activities for people in your specific stage of life. There’s no better place to make a new friend than at your local senior center.

• Join A Group: A group of people who share your same interests is a great social outlet you can engage in weekly or as often as you want. Play cards, see movies, or even try a book club.

• Take a Class: Whether this is an exercise class or an art class, enrolling in a course is one of the oldest and most successful ways to get to know other people and make lasting friendships.

8 GREAT APPS FOR OUR ELDERS

By: Jeff Salter | NextAvenue.com

Every day for the last 24 years, I’ve worked with the elderly and, by extension, with their families. As the founder of Caring Senior Service, a non-medical in-home care provider, my goal is to ensure that people can age with dignity in their own homes and to reassure families that their loved ones are safe and secure. Increasingly, technology helps on both fronts.

As our elders are become more and more tech-savvy, using smartphones, tablets and computers, I am always on the lookout for tech solutions to support their care. Here are my picks for eight simple-to-download apps, costing no more than $9.99 each, that seniors, their families and our caregivers can use to enhance daily life (I also recommend one non-app — ThinOptics flexible, one-size-fits-all, shatterproof thin reading glasses which fit in a case that attaches to most phones; cost: $25):

The Eyes Have It
1. Magnifying Glass With Light

Platforms: iPhone, iPad

Cost: Free

Description: As we age and our eyesight decreases, it becomes more difficult to see in general and to read small print. With this app, developed by Falcon in Motion, seniors can illuminate and magnify books, magazines, newspapers, restaurant menus and more from Apple products.

Staying Social
2. Skype

Platforms: Android, iPhone, iPad

Cost: Free

Description: Many families are spread out across the state, country and even internationally. Although they’re able to write letters or talk on the phone, nothing compares with face-to-face interaction. For that reason, our caregivers often set up Skype on their mobile device, computer or tablet so they can “see” each other by video conferencing. When our clients are able to see their children (or grandchildren) who don’t live nearby, it not only makes their day, but also provides their grown kids with peace of mind seeing that their parents’ care is being managed well.

Medication Management
3. Pillboxie

Platforms: iPhone, iPad

Cost: $0.99

Description: As caregivers, we are responsible for managing our clients’ medications on a daily basis. Many of them are required to take a number of meds throughout the day at specific times. That’s why we recommend using this app to help streamline the process. It allows you to set up reminders with visual pill boxes within the mobile application. Pillboxie is ideal for tech-savvy seniors or a family member acting as the primary caregiver for an aging loved one to ensure that no dose is missed or late. This app does not require a data connection and even sends reminders when your phone is asleep.

4. MedCoach

Platforms: Android, iPhone, iPad

Cost: Free

Description: Our caregivers love this app for many reasons: It has quick access to lists of medications, pill reminders with easy setup and even access to the pharmacy’s website to fill prescriptions. And all of this can be done right in the palm of your hand on your phone, tablet or other device.

To Pass The Time
5. Crosswords Classic

Platforms: Android, iPhone, iPad

Cost: $9.99

Description: Not only do seniors enjoy reading, playing games and doing puzzles to keep busy, these activities also keep their brain active. This classic crossword puzzle app is available anywhere they go; it has hundreds of puzzles and adds new ones daily.

6. Sudoku

Platforms: Android, iPhone, iPad

Cost: Free

Description: Another great option is Sudoku, the numbers version of the classic crossword. It’s also available for download and can be played anywhere.

7. Lumosity

Platforms: Android, iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad

Cost: Free

Description: Another app that is great for passing the time and keeping the brain sharp. Used by over 60 million people worldwide, this app is designed to help train memory and attention.

In Case of Emergency
8. Red Panic Button

Platforms: Android, iPhone, iPad

Cost: $2.99 plus fees for some features

Description: This is another important tool we can provide to our friends and loved ones. There may be times when a primary caregiver needs to go to the grocery store, step outside to get the mail or run an errand. Anything can happen, so providing your loved ones access to immediate help during the time they are alone is important. This app allows you to input both your information as well as your loved one’s should an emergency occur. In order to report an emergency or a need for assistance, seniors simply open the app and hit the red button in the middle of screen. While the app charges for some features, that’s a small price to pay for safety.

The world we live in is constantly changing and one of the most important things I’ve learned from my 24 years in the industry is that we need to adapt to these changes. Technology can make our lives simpler and, as a result, we can enjoy more time with our family and friends.

VALLARTA #2 ON 2015 LIST OF BEST PLACES TO RETIRE ABROAD

By: Marie Callan – BanderasNews.com

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico – The concept of moving abroad in retirement is usually associated with adventure, good food and the freedom to explore other parts of the world. Aside from the coveted seaside views, friendly English-speaking community and safety, the main factor that motivates people to spend their later years abroad is often affordability.

“Outside the United States, you can live for far less,” says Kathleen Peddicord, the publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, whose annual report ranks cities based on cost of living, weather, options for residency and other factors.

According to Peddicord’s 2015 list of the 21 Best Places To Retire Overseas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico comes in at #2 as the most accommodating city for foreigners.

Algarve, Portugal took the top spot for the second year in a row, thanks to its low cost of living, affordable real estate and pleasant weather. Rounding out the top five are: #3 Cayo, Belize; #4 Languedoc, France; #5 Abruzzo, Italy.
But since I have chosen to live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, let me explain why I think baby boomers, either recently retired or about to retire, owe it to themselves to consider all the qualities this beautiful city by the sea has to offer:

Puerto Vallarta has become home to thousands of North Americans that could afford to live anywhere on the planet and have chosen PV as their retirement destination. While the cost of living here can run as much as $1,950 USD a month and up, you can live comfortably on a lot less – depending on your lifestyle.

No hablas Español? Expats living in this beautiful tourist resort area can get away with doing most of their errands in English, such as shopping, going out to eat or visiting the spa. The Banderas Bay area is well developed, giving retirees options for golfing, shopping and fine dining. Puerto Vallarta is also a safe part of the country with a strong presence of bilingual police officers, as the study points out.

Located at the same latitude as Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta has a perfect climate with an average daily temperature of 73°F from November through May with virtually no chance of rain. Summertime, from June to October, is Vallarta’s rainy season with temperatures ranging from the mid 80’s to low 90’s. Sure, it gets hot and humid, but afternoon rain showers cool things off and a swim in the ocean is just steps away.

As for transportation, retirees don’t need a car unless they live outside the town’s center. A reliable bus system, along with affordable taxis, makes it easy to get around. For health care, the city has world-class hospitals and medical centers offering the latest in medical technology and English speaking doctors. And, at $1,273 per square meter, real estate is decently affordable.

If you’re a baby boomer, either recently retired or about to retire, you owe it to yourself; make PV your next vacation destination and consider all the qualities it has to offer. You’ll definitely be impressed, and will probably agree with me… Puerto Vallarta is the best place in the world for expat living or retirement.

GREEN RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES ARE SPROUTING

By: Beth Baker |  NextAvenue.org

Is “green” living important to you? If you’re a boomer or GenX’er, the answer is likely “yes,” and interest in environmental sustainability is increasing. That’s why some forward-thinking retirement communities are offering residents everything from greener buildings to energy-efficient lighting to community gardens. And some towns are putting a focus on walkability.

According to AARP surveys, such measures are important to a large segment of older Americans. Its 2014 House and Community Preferences of the 45+ Population survey, for example, found that 61 percent of respondents valued their community being “easy to walk,” with those over 65 most appreciating walkability. Roughly 30 percent wanted their community to be near transit with an equal portion wanting to be close to a park.

Traditional retirement communities, though, have typically been built on the outskirts of town, leaving residents dependent on cars. And their manicured lawns and golf courses usually use plenty of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, not to mention water — a scarce resource in much of the nation.

A recent New York Times story found that the supply for green retirement communities has not kept up with the demand. But that may be shifting.

The reason we started this was to demonstrate how to live more sustainable lifestyles and to put some working models on the ground.
— Liz Walker, EcoVillage Executive Director
If environmental concerns or saving money through energy-efficient housing matters to you, here are a few examples of what’s out there:

Living Lightly
One standout is Pennswood Village in Newtown, Pa., a Quaker continuing care retirement community founded in 1980. “Sustainability is one of our six founding Quaker principles,” says marketing director Jennifer Doone. “It was important to our founders, and it continues to be important to our residents and staff.” (The community is open to all, not just Quakers.)

Among the steps Pennswood has taken: It constructed a personal care (assisted living) building with LEED gold certification, the second highest level given by the U.S. Green Building Council; it installed a geothermal heating and cooling system for some common buildings; it supported a resident-initiated recycling program; it planted a community garden and, through a partnership with the nearby town, it created an award-winning, multi-million-dollar storm management system under its natural meadow that benefits Pennswood and the surrounding community.

Doone says representatives from other senior living communities visit Pennswood to learn about its LEED certification and landscape and architecture students come to study the storm management system.

New residents Lynne and Todd Waymon, in their 70s, were drawn to Pennswood in part because of its environmental ethic. They immediately joined the residents’ Environmental Concerns Committee, which developed a year’s worth of activities to encourage sustainable practices, such as reducing the use of plastic bags.

Working in partnership with the dining services staff, the committee found that residents and staff used 2,250 plastic bags in June, just for carrying leftovers from the café. After their campaign began, the number dropped to 1,750 in July.

Lynne Waymon, who had not been an environmental activist before retirement, says she views Pennswood as a microcosm and says she hopes to put the experience she gains there to use at the town or state level. “People get to a certain age and they think, ‘I’m done, I don’t have any influence or say,’ and that’s sad,” she says. “I want people to band together and feel powerful — and know that we can make a difference.”

Pennswood residences range from studio apartments to two-bedroom homes. Two possible contracts are available: fee-for-service, in which long-term-care costs are paid later as needed, either at Pennswood or elsewhere or a lifecare contract which includes long-term care, including a nursing home, at Pennswood. There is a one-time entrance fee and monthly service fees. The cost ranges from a $90,000 to $400,000 entrance fee, depending on the contract, and monthly fees of $2,500 to $8,000 for a couple.

A Smaller Ecological Footprint
Co-housing, a community model developed in Denmark, is generally more sustainable than the average American household. Individual homes are smaller, with large common spaces and gardens. Co-housing residents tend to use less energy and drive fewer cars.

EcoVillage in Ithaca, N.Y., (its street address, appropriately, is Rachel Carson Way), is a large co-housing, independent living community with an unusually strong commitment to living green. “The whole reason that we started this community was to demonstrate how to live more sustainable lifestyles and to put some very good working models on the ground so that people could come visit and get inspired and take home good ideas to their own communities,” says Liz Walker, EcoVillage’s Executive Director.

Now in its 24th year, EcoVillage is comprised of three neighborhoods. When the newest section is fully occupied later this year, 230 people will live there, about one-quarter of them over 60. Eighty percent of the new housing is wheelchair-accessible, something the community hadn’t considered building when its founders were younger. Currently, homes are available for rent starting at $450 a month and for sale starting at $97,000.

“We’re aiming at affordability, accessibility and sustainability,” says Walker. “These goals can be in conflict with each other, so we’re trying for a happy medium.”

The newer homes are among “the most energy efficient in the United States,” she says. Using a “passive house” system, developed in Germany, they are 80 to 90 percent more energy efficient than what the standard building code requires, Walker says. Two of the new homes produce more energy than they use, by employing solar for heating, electricity and hot water. “It’s extremely hard to achieve,” says Walker. “I’m very proud of our group.” (In September, EcoVillage is offering a workshop on how to achieve net zero energy buildings.)

EcoVillage has also preserved 80 percent of its 175 acres as green space. The property includes an organic farm, a neighborhood root cellar, and community gardens, ponds and woodlands.

Walkable Communities
What about the eight out of 10 people who say they’re not moving anywhere? The growing movement to make cities “age friendly” shares many of the “livability” goals of environmentalists — such as increased walkability, public transit options and community gardens. At least 28 U.S. municipalities, as well as AARP, have joined the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.

One pioneer is Portland, Ore. The city is bike and pedestrian friendly with a network of light rail, buses and streetcars. Its Green Building and Development Program works with residents and businesses to encourage sustainability.

Portland’s original development was during the streetcar era, with each terminus on the line having a village center, explains Barbara Bernstein, executive director of the nonprofit Elders in Action. “So our neighborhoods are built around these,” she says. “Within walking distance is a library, several coffee shops and restaurants.”

Walker also points to some 30 farmers markets and a vibrant local agriculture scene. Entrepreneurs are creating new businesses, she adds, such as Soup Cycle, which pedals homemade meals to customers. Bernstein, 55, uses the service after a long day’s work. Businesses like these give older people easy access to ready-made fresh food, she says.

All these efforts at sustainability promote a high quality of life. “With so much demoralizing going on in the world,” she says, “the local focus that Portland offers is really life affirming.”

WHAT JAPAN CAN TEACH US ABOUT LONG-TERM CARE

By: Chris Farrell  |  NextAvenue

Here’s a sobering calculation: The odds that Americans turning 65 today will eventually need assistance with bathing, dressing and other personal activities are about 50/50. And those who’ll need long-term care can expect to incur costs of $138,000, on average, estimate Melissa Favreault of the Urban Institute and Judith Dey of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Yet people age 55 to 64 with retirement savings accounts have a median balance of $104,000 in them, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

See the problem?

America’s Broken Long-Term Care System
Sad to say, America’s system for financing long-term care is badly broken. If we take a few ideas from Japan, though, we could help avoid a long-term care catastrophe.

A 1994 survey said one in two family caregivers in Japan had abusively treated their frail older relatives.
Japan has the highest proportion of people 65+ in the world. And 20 years ago, its long-term care approach looked much like the current failed U.S. system. But Japan took a few key initiatives in 2000 that are widely admired among long-term care policy experts.

Before I explain what they did, first let me offer a brief look at the U.S. situation.

Long-Term Care Financing in the U.S.
America’s private long-term care insurance market is contracting and its policies are expensive. Only about a dozen companies now sell coverage, compared with about 100 more than a decade ago, according to Marc Cohen, chief research and development officer at LifePlans, a firm that helps health- and long-term care insurers manage risk.

Tom McInerney, chief executive officer at Genworth, the nation’s largest long-term care insurer, estimates that between half and two-thirds of Americans can’t afford to buy in the traditional long-term care insurance market. A 60-year-old married couple would pay $3,930 per year, on average, for a typical long-term care policy (daily benefit of $150-a-day for three years and inflation protection), according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

Medicaid, the joint federal and state safety net, is the main public program for meeting long-term care expenses. But it’s geared toward the poor. And Medicare offers little help with long-term care expenses. So families provide the bulk of care at home.

What Happened in Japan
In Japan, policymakers traditionally expected the country’s younger generation to respectfully care for their aging parents in multi-generational households. Public long-term care programs were mostly restricted to low-income elders without family support.

As the 21st century was approaching, however, Japan’s family-centered approach foundered, due to demographic and economic changes. Daughters and daughters-in-law — the primary caregivers — grew overwhelmed by the task, especially with the trend toward fewer children and more women joining the workforce.

The emotional and financial stress of taking care of frail older people in homes took a steep toll and might surprise you based on the way you think the Japanese treat their elders. A 1994 survey said one in two family caregivers in Japan had abusively treated their frail older relatives; one in three reported feelings of “hatred.” Elders were shunted into hospitals (called “social hospitalization”) since Japan offered free hospital care to frail elderly — an expensive government policy.

Public pressure propelled reform and Japan came up with a public, mandatory long-term care insurance system in 2000. The universal elder program is funded half by general tax revenues and half by a combination of payroll taxes and additional insurance premiums paid by everyone 40+. The family remains the key source of caregiving, but the system supports the adult children with subsidized services whose fees and co-pays are relatively moderate. Among the most popular services: adult day care, home help, respite care and visiting nurses.

The emphasis is on home and community-based services. Families choose the services and providers they want, introducing a measure of competition into the market.

Major Japanese employers are also starting to help families manage caregiving duties and ease their burden. The clothes retailer Uniqlo has begun experimenting with a four-day, 10-hours-per-day workweek in Japan, for instance.

The Prospects for Americans
Don’t get me wrong. Japan is hardly long-term care nirvana. For instance, the new system’s expenses have been higher than anticipated, which has led to various control measures aimed at reining in costs.

Still, it supports Japanese caregivers, especially in the home and in the community, something many American families caring for aging parents would love to see here.

“Every major developed country in the world has adopted some measure of long-term care social insurance,” says Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. “Except the U.S., and maybe Britain.” (Britain has passed, but not implemented, a public universal catastrophic long-term care policy.)

Unfortunately, these days, U.S. policymakers won’t come close to discussing, let alone adopting, a comprehensive Japanese-type system. The term “mandatory” is toxic on Capitol Hill following the partisan fights over the Affordable Care Act. So far, the many candidates running for the White House aren’t saying much on the topic either. Even the official bipartisan Commission on Long-Term Care of 2013 couldn’t reach agreement on what to do to address Americans’ growing long-term care expenses.

There may be some hope in the future, however.

Beneath the political radar, experts at places like the Urban Institute, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative have been working on some ideas. They’re drawn from the ranks of health care providers, the insurance industry, the government and elder care organizations. And they’re well aware of what has worked in Japan and other countries.

They’re asking questions such as:

Could Medicaid be redesigned to support a greater number of older, disabled adults?
What about more public/private partnerships? Could the federal government backstop the private long-term care industry and reduce its risks enough to encourage firms to get back into the market and offer consumers affordable policies?
What would it take to integrate Medicare into long-term care?
Could local regulations be changed to break down barriers to new forms of community — such as zoning laws that limit the number of unrelated people who may share a home?
You can find a good summary of these and other ideas at the website of the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative.

With a bit of political will, imagination and, yes, money, it isn’t difficult to think that we’ll stumble toward ways of better supporting long-term caregivers through a mix of broader public coverage, a healthier private insurance market and an improved safety net for low-income elders.

Maybe the result won’t be as ambitious as in Japan. But it would be an improvement and welcome relief for families.

Winston Churchill famously quipped: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

Wonder if he was thinking of long-term care?

BANKING IN MEXICO NOT AS FRUSTRATING AS IT USED TO BE

By: MexicoMike.com

Mexican banks have mostly been bought by international banks …
but customer service comes and goes. Mexican banks, which had begun to appear to treat customers well in the late 1990’s and even in the early 00’s, returned to their old ways in the 10’s. Now that we are in the “teens”, they seem to be almost nice again.

There are regulations governing the amount of dollars a tourist can convert to pesos and it changes and varies. At the moment, that limit is $300 a day.

Most Mexican banks have been sold to foreign firms. Banamex is now Citigroup; Bancomer is now BBVA; SERFIN is now Santander; Inverlat is now Scotiabank; Bital is now HSBC; etc. If I had to recommend a Mexican bank, I guess the tops ones would be Scotiabank and HSBC since they work better with foreigners. Avoid Citibank and BBVA; they are huge banks and the lines take forever. Deposits of Mexican checks from banks other than your own will take twenty-four hours to be credited, and from the same bank will occur instantly. However this can still vary from bank to bank. Sometimes a Mexican check can still take three to ten days to be credited. Count on waiting a week or two for U.S. checks.

Changing money – dollars to doughnuts or pesos.
In 2010 and 2011 I railed against the frustration of trying to cash dollars to pesos at Mexican banks. In 2013, I had to and the banks were nice as pie. Maybe they read my screed. Anyway, today, cash your dollars at a bank or an Elecktra store (which has a bank inside) or a casa de cambio. I was warned that the rates at the casa were worse than a bank, but frankly, I did not see much difference and they are very convenient.

Don’t even think of changing traveler’s checks. Sure, have a few for a sense of security, but don’t count on being able to change them in a hurry.

ATM’s
The best exchange rate can be obtained from ATM’s, so I always recommend to my clients withdrawing money from ATM. With the international exchange fee of 3 per cent or more, they are less attractive than they used to be, but less hassle than changing cash at banks. In tourist areas, some ATM’s dispense pesos and some shell out dollars. Make sure you are using the right one. 500 pesos is a piddling amount of money to request when you wanted $500 dollars.

The easiest way to get money is to use your debit card from your home bank at an ATM machine. ATM machines are everywhere. So are ATM crooks, just like back home, so don’t throw caution to the wind. A popular scam is for someone to offer to “help” you and then help himself to your pin and card info through a scanner. There are also (like in the USA) fake ATM’s. Always use an ATM at a bank and if you really need help, ask a banker.

Cirrus is the most popular, followed by Pulse; Visa Plus is sometimes accepted. You can also use your Visa or MasterCard for cash advances at the ATM. (If you go to a bank to use them, you will have to show a passport.) You know, of course, that there is a hefty fee for this service. Unfortunately, ATM’s in smaller towns always seem to be out of cash.

Check with your US bank before you leave. Some US banks no longer allow withdrawals through foreign ATM’s. Some Mexican banks won’t even change cash (dollars to pesos) for you unless you have a Mexican banking account with them (though that is rare these days).

I’m afraid that Canadian checks are still problematic to cash. Allen W. Lloyd has offered banking and investment services to foreigners for more years than I can remember and is a company I would recommend for assistance.

A nickel here, a dime there
As an expat, you will soon learn that Mexican banks (all of them) will nickel-and-dime you to death with incomprehensible service charges. You certainly don’t want to borrow any money from them because interest rates, which vary, are currently around 20 percent! During the crisis of 1995, they were as high as 140 percent! Of course, the other side of that coin is that you can garner some hefty interest on your own shekels by getting a cuenta maestra, which pays you interest and allows you to write checks and use a debit card.

Certificates of deposit are called CETE’s.
You can invest your money in CETEs, or twenty-eight-day certificates of deposit. The same as in your country, there are longer term certificates, up to 180 days. The days of 30 percent and higher returns on your money are gone, for now. You’ll get a bit more than you would in the States or Canada at the moment, but who knows what the future holds. Mexico’s central bank raises (or lowers) interest rates periodically, just as in any other country.

Traveler’s Checks Ain’t What They Used To Be
Verify this before you leave, as this courtesy could dry up at at any time. If you have an American Express card, you can go to any American Express office and get up to $500 in American Express traveler’s checks. Unfortunately, that is about the only place you will be able to cash traveler’s checks.