Monday, July 30, 2012


This past week we have slowed down quite a bit.  Mostly we are just waiting for our furniture.  Today has been three weeks since we ordered our couch, loveseat and chair.  We are planning on dropping by Casa Flores today to check on the progress.  We went last week, but they were closed for vacation.  Hmmm. That does not bode well. 
Our bed frames, end tables, tv console and computer desk will be delivered on Sat.  Fingers crossed.  Good news is that we were finally able to make a decision on a dining room table.  I wasn't happy with the dining room table designs at Mogab Muebles.  We ordered our other furniture from them, but I wanted to go somewhere else to look at tables.  We had read good things about Creacion Muebles so we went there.  I was very happy with what we ended up designing.  It is a rustic table with red-stained chairs and green or brown cushioned seats depending on what they have in stock.  I hope we get the green.  People who know me know I love color.  We also bought a small occasional table for the landing so that we can put our keys and sunglasses there.  That was delivered the next day and we are really happy with the construction.  I hope the table turns out just as nice. 

We met with our lawyer on Friday and things are going as planned.  Cuenca has opened their own visa office and they are pushing people to not use a lawyer, but Mark and I just feel better about using one at this point.  Maybe if we were more fluent in Spanish it would be a different story.  We have some tasks to accomplish this week.  We need to get colored copies of our passports notarized.  We also need to go and get what is called a movimiento migratorio.  I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I know where to get it.  We also need two more passport photos unless I can find ours in the mess that is still our house.  We meet again with her on Friday and present to the courts on Monday for our 12-IX extension. 

Three other things on our list have been checked off.  We bought a tv and got Direct TV hooked up just in time for the Olympics.  Yeah!  I made an appt. for all of us to get our hair cut tomorrow, and we are meeting with our new Spanish tutor tomorrow as well.  Mark and I are going to have to take lessons separately, but I think the kids would do well together.  I think they will push each other to learn.  Friday we are "renting" Dan and his car again and going to have another look at the surrounding countryside.  We are trying to narrow down our personal likes as far as topography and micro-climate.  Once we get that pinpointed we will have a better idea of where we would like a small farm. 

What else...I made another Ecuadorean meal from scratch.  Chaulafan de Pollo, which is Ecuadorean fried rice.  It took two days because I had to make the chicken stock from scratch.  First time I did that, but it wasn't too bad.  Coopera had already cleaned the chicken out.  That was the part I was dreading.  Mark deboned the chicken after it was cooked.  The next day I spent about two hours chopping up all the vegetables needed.  It turned out really good, but next time I will skip the rice.  I used brown rice and it was still a bit hard even after an hour cooking.  Don't need it anyway.  I would add a bit more seasoning as well.  I was worried about putting too much heat in it because of the kids, but it needed more of something.

Last night I finally returned the many edible favors our neighbors have given us.  Empanadas, granadillas, uvilla, and then Sat. it was cheese-filled fried empanadas covered in sugar.  So yummy, but so bad for you.  They seem to fry everything.  I tried to come up with an "American" dessert that they might never have had that I would also be able to bake, and that I would be able to find the ingredients for.  Cooking at 8,300ft. is very different than cooking in Ohio.  I was worried that I would screw it up.  My mom gave me a great recipe for an apple crumble.  It called for 35 min., but was done in 25.  It actually started to burn.  I learned last night though, that if you double the pans underneath that helps to prevent things from burning while baking.  Next time. The crumble turned out great and we had to hurry up and send it downstairs or we would have eaten it all. 

On Friday night we went to a "presentation" put on by Draw Cuenca.  I assume they do these often because this one was number 12.  We had no idea what to expect.  The presentation was at Sofy's Orchard restaurant.  The Draw Cuenca club was going to present as fairies.  We were supposed to bring paper and colored pencils and to get there early because you needed to get a seat.  Ha!  The fairies were supposed to arrive at 5:30p.m. We got there at 5:00 and no one was there but us and another table of gringos.  And that's all that came.  It was slightly lame, but we ate dinner there and the kids seemed to enjoy it, especially Tali.  This is what happened.  Some young girls dressed up as fairies posed for 10 min. while the patrons drew what they saw.  They they would switch poses and hold the next one for 10 mins.  Tali was really into it.  Finn said it was too hard, which surprised us since we all consider him our family "artist".  Tali may be usurping that role because what she turned out was pretty amazing for an 8 year old. 

Here is the first pose and Tali drawing the pink fairy on the right:

Here is her first drawing:

Here is the second pose:



Here is her second drawing of two of the fairies.  Mark and I love her interpretation of the blue fairy.

Drawing on the balcony:

Our walk along the river yesterday:

Nectar Cafe was having a Sunday brunch yesterday with Argentinian flute music, so we decided to head up there and check it out.  Nectar is a vegan restaurant so we weren't sure what we would get for breakfast.  First was a very good corn-type pancake with vegan syrup.  It didn't taste like the pancakes and syrup we are used to, but it was good.  Next came a huge plate of home fries, cole slaw and grilled eggplant, yellow squash and green peppers.  That was good too, but we wish the pancake had come last.  The music was the best part.  The flutist was from Argentina and the guitar play from Chile.  They sang and played lovely songs from South America.  Tali was mesmerized.  She could not take her eyes off of the flute player, even when the food was in front of her. 

I'm not sure how to embed the actual video into our blog, but you can view it here:

It rained a lot yesterday, but that didn't slow us down.  We walked all over town, went into some stores and an art gallery of a local artist.  Of course we couldn't resist supporting him.  :) 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Piedra de Agua

It was my friend, Caroline's birthday and she wanted the moms to go to Piedra de Agua with the kids. I was so excited. I have been looking at pictures and reading about Piedra de Agua and the other thermal spring pools in Cuenca for about a year. Unfortunately the day was 66, cloudy and windy, but we had a great time anyway. The kids and I got there around 11:15a.m. and they swam for about 45 min. before the rest of the crew arrived. We had a nice lunch and then enjoyed ourselves soaking in the hot volcanic waters. The pool the kids swam in was warm, but the small square pool was very hot once the attendant opened the floodgate and let the thermal water and mud flow in. They also have a japanese thermal pool, massage caves, and a grotto that has a freezing cold pool, a hotter pool and a steam box in which you alternate all three in some order. Next time I would like to go with just the ladies so that we can take in the whole Spa treatment.

The cabanas where lunch is served.  Thankfully they had the heaters going.

The largest of the pools.  Warm.

The spa is cut into the volcanic rock.  It is a beautiful setting.

Finn learned how to do the backstroke and he is quite good!

Hot chocolate and a yummy lunch for everyone.

Mindy, Michelle and Caroline.

The small square pool in front is hot!  Especially when they open the gate and let the water flow in straight from underground.

There is a preschool a couple of houses down on our street.  Yesterday they took the children for a walk.  What a great idea to use a giant snake to keep everyone holding on and together. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Things That Are Quirky - The Good and the Bad

We didn't do much yesterday.  I was feeling lazy and very tired for some reason.  Maybe I just needed to slow down after all the running around we did this past week.  Since we didn't do much I thought I'd share some of the things that we find are a bit different in Ecuador compared to the states. 

A couple of weeks ago we went to a local ceramic studio and gallery called Artesa.  Most expats know about this place.  They have beautiful hand-made dishes, vases and artwork.  On Fridays from 9:00a.m. until 12:00a.m. they open their "seconds" store in the back of the shop.  I wish I had brought my camera that day.  You walk past the women hand-painting the unfinished pottery into a section that has all of their imperfect dishes.  We wanted to get a hodge podge of plates that didn't match.  Most of them had only small imperfections.  We purchased 7 large and 7 small plates.  We couldn't find any bowls that were deep enough though.  We can always go back later.  Each plate was around $1. 

When we first went looking for a fridge we ordered the biggest one that would fit in the space not realizing that even though it fit in the refrigerator designated space it wouldn't fit through the kitchen door.  We wanted a large one because we knew we would be filling it with fruits and vegetables.  Bummer.  We had to get a much smaller fridge and it didn't have an ice cube maker.   Well, I guess it sort of has an ice cube maker, but it is the craziest thing and I haven't gotten the knack of it yet.  You pull the whold piece out of the freezer and the three separate containers swing horizontal when you lay it down.  You are supposed to fill it with water and then stand it up vertically and the separate containers are also supposed to swing vertically as well.  Maybe I am not moving it fast enough because I spill a boatload of water every time.

After you swing it vertical and spill water everywhere, you slide the whole contraption into the freezer. 

When the water is frozen you spin the knobs and the ice cubes are supposed to fall into the bottom tray.  Usually I have to pull the whole thing out and pull and squeeze the containers to get the ice cubes to release.  I see a bigger fridge in our future once we move out of this house.  One with an automatic ice cube maker. 

This is one thing I like.  On the stoves they have a heavy, glass cover that does not get hot when the oven is on. It gives me another space to place things when I am cooking. 

When you need to use the stove top the glass cover opens and leans back against the wall.  Nice.

This is what gringos call a "suicide shower" because the water is heated with electricity.  We are lucky enough to have one shower that runs on propane gas and one run on electricity.  The water in the house is heated using propane gas tanks that are about twice the size of your gas grill can back home.  When the propane runs out, and your water turns freezing in the shower you are shit out of luck unless you have a back-up container.  So, we are lucky because if our tank runs out and we don't have a back-up we always have the shower that is run on electricity to fall back on. 

Before leaving Ohio I bought a Vita-Mix blender in the hopes that I would be making fresh veggie and fruit smoothies for the family.  I have been trying to juice every morning, but I am not following a recipe.  I just throw whatever I have in the fridge into the blender.  So far, Finn and I have liked what I have made, but Mark not so much.  And Tali?  Forget it.  Unless it is super sweet I don't think Mark or Tali will ever drink one. 

These are the veggies I put in the blender today along with some hot sauce and worchestershire sauce.  It was kind of bland, but I still liked it.  I ended up drinking the whole thing by myself.  Good for me.  :)

Here is another thing I like about my kitchen.  These really nice drying racks.

Milk comes in bags.  I wish we had a source for raw goat or cow milk, but until we do, this is what we have. 

This will probably be one of the reasons family might not visit us.  It took some getting used to, but now I don't even think about it.  In Ecuador you cannot throw the toilet paper down the toilet.  The pipes are old and they just can't handle it.  So, all tissue goes into garbage cans located next to the toilet.  Honestly, it doesn't smell and I change it every day.  Garbage in Cuenca is collected three times a week so it has no chance to sit around and stink up the place. 

You can buy sticks of butter, but the good butter comes in huge chunks that look like cheese.

The other day we were walking and we noticed that there was a large milk truck in the yard of the house on the corner.  We believe that you can go there and buy milk, so I bought a small milk container.  We're going to ask the neighbors downstairs because the kids said they saw someone from the family go over there and get milk.

That's about it for the quirky stuff.  If the weather holds we are going to go to the Latin Culture Festival today.  Tomorrow we were invited to a birthday party at Piedra de Agua.  I am very excited.  I have wanted to go since first reading about it.  Piedra de Agua is one of a few thermal spring spas in Banos, which is about a 15 min. taxi ride from Cuenca.  They have several pools, mud baths and massage chambers.  The kids are going to swim and the moms are going to relax.  It should be fun.  I will be sure to take lots of pictures.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fried (Catching Up)

I am going to backtrack a bit and recount our tale of getting from Ohio to Ecuador.  This might take a few days for me to catch up.  I will label all of those entries Catching Up. 

Yesterday (our last full day in Oberlin, Ohio) was hellish.  But before hell began we enjoyed a nice breakfast at The Feve with Nana and Grandpa.  The last time I had pear and blue cheese pancakes and I wondered what weird concoction they would have.  Well, this time I got avocado and bacon pancakes.  Double Yum!  Creamy and bacony goodness.  It was a very nice breakfast, but bittersweet for sure.  Saying goodbye was very hard for me all around.  Lots of tears and grieving.
After Nana and Grandpa left it was "balls to the wall" as Mark likes to say. We did not stop until late in the evening.  I finally went to bed at 11, but Mark was up until 12:30 packing the car.  Even though I had packed almost 8 footlockers to match the under 50 lb. weight restriction, we ended up moving and scrunching and pushing things in over and over and over again.  And then it was weighing the bags and taking things out and removing things altogether like my Oat Bran.  :(  And then repacking and weighing again.  Before that day I had thought I was doing pretty well.  Yeah, right.  Packing the bags and repacking the bags took the entire day and well into the night.

We got up around 5, said goodbye to the farm and headed out.  We gave ourselves two days travel time to get to Miami.  My goal for the driving portion of the trip was to be as stress free as possible.  I wanted to take it slow.  Mark drove the entire way.  He would not let me drive at all and that was a little annoying because he had been up most of the night packing the van.  He had made a little nest for the kids and Scout and they were the most comfortable on the trip. I crawled back there and slept for a bit with them each day.  There was plenty of room.  I will admit though that the van was hard for Mark to drive.  It kept swaying back and forth and it didn't have cruise control.  The pedal was heavy and his leg started cramping a few hours into the trip and stayed that way the whole time.  So, I guess I should be thanking him for not letting me drive.  :)  Our goal for the first leg was to reach Columbia, South Carolina and we managed that with no issues at all.  We stayed at La Quinta Real because they are a dog-friendly hotel.  The hotel was okay.  A little scruffy.  It was filled with armed forces from the nearby base. 

After a continental breakfast we were on our way again with a destination of Miami Airport.  This day was fraught with worry and issues.  Before we left I had a list (of many lists) of things I still needed to do.  One of them was to call LAN and let them know we were bringing Scout.  On Scout's travel papers was a little note at the bottom that said to call the Ecuador Agriculture Dept. and let them know we were bringing Scout.  On our first day of driving I spent quite a bit of time trying to get ahold of the Ag. Dept. with no success.  The woman had no idea why I was calling and I did not have the Spanish resources to explain it to her.  I gave up and said forget it.  In the meantime I did not call LAN.  I have no idea why.  A huge brain fart.  I think that my overwhelming worry about calling the Ag. Dept. pushed the LAN thing completely out of my head.  It wasn't until we were driving away from South Carolina that I realized that I needed to call LAN.  That is when the shit hit the fan.  They told me that I had needed to call 48 hrs. in advance of our flight to request that she be on the plane.  I was calling only 24 hrs. in advance and there was absolutely nothing they could do.  They could not get her on the flight.  No way, no how. I went round and round with her. (That is after finally getting ahold of someone and struggling through a language barrier and a phone that had horrible reception.)  She told me to try LAN Cargo.  I hesitated to do that because then Scout would have to go through Customs in Ecuador and they sometimes hold the dog for days and you have no idea whether they are being fed or watered.  But I called anyway.  They told me that their restrictions were even tougher.  They required a 10 day in advance notice of request.  Now why doesn't the LAN airlines know this????  Why would she send me on a dead-end goose chase?  So, back to LAN I went.  This time I got a very nice lady on the phone and she suggested that I change my ticket for myself and Scout to the next day.  That would give me the 48 hour window they needed for the request.  She would put in the request for Scout and hope that they would accept it the next day.  For some reason LAN needs the 48 hour advance call, but then they can't guarantee the request until after 24 hours.  I don't know why they can't look at their manifest, see how many dogs are flying, and then tell you either yes or no.  But here was the kicker.  There were no more economy seats on the flight for Thursday, but they could bump me up to business class.  AND, the ticket would only cost us a mere $1200!  Mark almost shit his pants, but I was willing to do anything, of course.  Here was the other problem.  We had all of our money on us in cash.  We only had about $800 in the bank.  Not enough to cover the ticket through our debit card, and she could not guarantee the price in person if we went to the ticket counter.  Our only other option at this point was to drive to the airport before checking in at the hotel and go to the counter (by the time we got there it would be 7:00p.m. and no guarantee that anyone would there) and hope that there was something someone could do for us.  Then Mark thought about trying to get me on another operator.  So we called Patrick and asked him to scope out flights through other companies.  But he had to do it on his phone because we had disconnected our internet services.  URGH.  Patrick saved the day though.  He found a flight on American and when I called America they told me that since they were partners with LAN I could apply my LAN ticket towards the purchase of the business class seat on American and it would only cost us $300.  Do it!!!!  So, we did.  I don't know why the LAN person did not think of this option.  But somebody did so we were very happy.  After 4 hours on the phone and a lifetime's worth of stress I had a ticket for Thursday with Scout on an American flight.  I was less than thrilled to not be on the same plane with Mark and the kids, and I was less than thrilled that I would have to stay in a hotel room with Scout alone for a night in Miami, especially after seeing the hotel and the clientele.  Yikes.  Mark was less than thrilled that he would have to get the kids and 15 footlockers from Miami to Quito by himself, but I knew that we would all eventually arrive and that was what mattered.  After checking into the grossest, seediest motel we headed out to dinner.  We were so fried that we couldn't even eat.  At one point in the meal I looked at Mark over the kid's heads and mouthed, Can We Go Home Now.  I just wanted to cry.  And I really wanted to turn around and go home, but I knew the only way was forward and I had to trust that it would all turn out okay.

The next day we woke up and had breakfast at McDonalds.  We did not eat the included breakfast at the hotel because like I said, it was a gross place.  It was another La Quinta Real, but so different from the last one.  Scary.  We knew that we had to be at the airport hours and hours in advance in order to get the Mark, the kids and luggage checked in.  I was going to leave my carry-on bags and Scout's carrier at the hotel since I was coming back, but Mark suggested that we pack up everything and see if we could get on the plane with them.  We arrived at 11:00a.m. and got in line.  It was funny, but embarrassing because the porters took all of our luggage and dropped it off in front of the line between the poles and the check-in counter.  Everyone was looking at us and our bags.  I tried to act nonchalant, but it was hard.  Mark had to go and drop the van off so I stood in the line feeling the humiliation all by myself.  I was wondering how I would get Scout in the airport.  Would I be able to walk her around or would she have to endure sitting in her crate while I pushed her in the line.  So, I walked her in the airport hoping no one would say anything to me and no one did.  I was grateful for that because I wanted her out of her crate as much as possible.  She was a true lady in the airport.  Very quiet and sweet.  A little freaked out though.  The kids in line in front of us loved her.  At one point a LAN operator was walking through the line and she asked who owned the luggage up front.  I had to say me.  She told me that we could not leave it there and that I would have to move it.  Okay.   I have two kids, a dog, I'm standing in line and now I have to get out of line with the kids and the dog and go and move 16 50lb bags all by myself.  Are you kidding me?  My only option was to ignore her, so I did in the hopes that she wouldn't say anything to me again until Mark came back, which he eventually did.  Then we got to the front of the line and realized that the line was not for our flight.  They would not be able to check us in until 12:30.  Another URGH.  Away we went to try and relax.

I was coming back from taking Tali to the bathroom and Mark was gesturing wildly at me with the same lady who had asked me to move the bags. The one I had ignored.  Now we really did need to move the bags. LOL  I sat with the kids while Mark brought cart after cart over to where we were sitting. 

At 12:15 the women at LAN told us we could now check-in.  They were so nice and helpful.  We were the only ones at the counter and they checked all of the bags except for my carry-on and Scout's crate.  It went without a hitch and amazingly enough they were able to get all of the luggage on that flight.  We sighed a deep sigh of relief and went to sit and wait for the time when we could say goodbye to each other and I would send them off.  It was at this time when the stress was finally leaving our bodies that I said to Mark that maybe he should check to see if he could get Scout and me on the same plane.  It was worth a shot.  So, he went to the counter and they told him he would have to go downstairs and talk to the people down there, whoever they were.  10 minutes later and Scout and I were on the plane!!!  YEAH!!!  We couldn't believe it!  After all that...4 hours on the phone, two days of overwhelming stress and not 10 min. with a real person and we were on the plane.  We were so happy.  I still had to change my flight to business class.  I offered the seat to Mark since it was my screw up, but he wouldn't take it. 

That is all for now.  It is not much fun reliving those two days.  Next time I will write about sitting in business class.  :) 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Walking Around

We woke up early today in the hopes of getting to Mogab Muebles to order our dining room table, but soon realized that we had no electricity. Our first blackout in Ecuador! It was on and off throughout the morning, so I was still able to dry my hair after a quick shower. What a glorious morning it was though! After two days of gloomy, cold weather it was so nice to see the sun. And what a difference the sun makes. It warmed up the house within minutes and we were soon throwing open all the windows. I wanted to take picture after picture of the sky today. It was that gorgeous. A deep, deep, clear blue. And the mountains were spectacular.

The furniture store was closed again!  Urgh!  Maybe it was due to the blackout.  All of El Centro was out as far as we could tell.  We decided to hit the mall again and I was able to find my yoga mat this time.  Yeah! 

We made it home just in time for a little siesta and quiet time.  I could get used to this.  The kids were getting hungry and since we didn't have electricity yet we decided to go to lunch at the cafeteria at Ital Deli.  Its about two blocks away and they have a beautiful selection of all kinds of meats.  Even tongue and other parts that I don't know.  We had a nice lunch and the sandwiches were quite good.  Mark and I split a Hawaian pork sandwich, Tali had an Italian sub, and as always Finn had a hamburger...just meat and bread, please.

It was such a glorious day we decided to walk around and explore some more.  We found the cutest, quietest neighborhood around a little park.  It was newly renovated, and Tali and Finn had a great time on the swingset and slide.

A word on some of the animals around here.  There have been flocks of parrots winging their way across the sky every day.  I really want to take a picture of them, but they fly by so fast its almost impossible.  You can hear them coming and you get ready, but then they're gone.  I can just barely get a glimpse of them.  We have seen one flock of the green with blue heads, and one flock of rainbow colors. 

And then there are the neighborhood dogs across the street.  There are two medium-size dogs that live downstairs and one large yellow lab that lives upstairs.  Next door is another yellow lab.  For some reason the people let the two downstairs dogs out in the morning to roam the street.  They lie down in front of the driveway door waiting to get back in until a car drives by and then they chase the car down the street barking.  I keep thinking that they are going to get hit any day, but so far so good.  Then there is the little red dog who comes to play with the dogs across the street every day around 4:00 p.m.  He stays for two hours and wreaks havoc the whole time.  He slides along next to the wall and then pounces on the bottom of the door where the other two dogs are waiting with their noses hanging out, and they all go into a barking frenzy along with the two yellow upstairs and one next door.  Then he calmly walks away, scratches up the lawn and moseys on down the street.  He waits until the two dogs have stopped barking and have moved away from the gate, and then he pounces! and the frenzy starts all over again.  This craziness goes on for two hours staight.  EVERY night.  If I wasn't such a dog lover and I didn't think it was so funny this would drive me absolutely batty. 

Here they are waiting for him.  See their noses?

Here is the yellow lab upstairs looking for him.

He's been spotted!

I am going to tease the shit out of you.

 It is now 6:24p.m. and he is gone.  Until tomorrow that is. 

Last night I cooked my first Ecuadorian meal:  Frittada de Gallina
It was soooo good!  You marinade the chicken in orange juice, cumin, cloves and garlic overnight.  Then you cook the chicken in the marinade until it reduces all the way down in to sticky, gooey goodness.  It made the house smell lovely, and everyone really liked it.  The only thing I would change would be to use dark meat next time.  The breasts were a little dry, but still tasty!

Some people on the yahoo and Facebook groups have been talking about moving here with a dog and looking for a house with some green space.  When we first started looking I knew that I would be lucky to find a patch of grass for Scout to do her business.  The house we are in now was the first house we looked at and the minute we saw the yard we were sold.  I will take a small kitchen if it means that my kids and dog have a large green space to play in.  The picture below is of only the right side of the yard.  It wraps all the way behind the house and along the side and front as well.  It is very large for a Cuencano backyard and we count ourselves lucky.  So, it is possible to find a house with a nice yard in Cuenca.  You just have to look.

Scout enjoying the wonderful sunshine this morning in the office.