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Last day of school

June 28, 2013

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First days of school

Dear Rachel and Alex,

Today is your last day of school – what a milestone.  You did it!  You made it through a whole year of school in Ecuador and you not only survived, you thrived.  You learned a new language (and are so fluent that you correct us sometimes!), you made new friends, you defended yourself against bullies, you learned about how schools can be so different.  You gained a new understanding about diversity.

We are not sure what you will remember from this year.  Above all, we hope you will remember how much you have accomplished.  How you trusted us to come to this new place and went to school every day despite how hard it was sometimes.  You learned to

Alex turned 7 in Ecuador

Alex turned 7 in Ecuador

Raquel turned 11 here

Raquel turned 11 here

maneuver in so many new situations – packed and unpacked and slept in more foreign beds than imaginable just a year ago.  We’ve seen you grow stronger and more flexible throughout every moment of this process and we hope that you’ll come to see yourselves that way as well.  YOU did it.  We cannot imagine being more proud of any completed school year than this one.  Thank you for seeing it through to the end and giving it your all.

Now only time will tell how you will view this year and how it may affect all that lies IMG_1688IMG_1584ahead.  Know that we wanted so much for you to appreciate that there is a world out there – greater than all of us.  Congratulations!

We love you,

Mom and DadIMG_0440

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Corpus Christi

IMG_3946May 30 – June 6: OK, so I am not Catholic and I cannot really tell you about the religious significance of Corpus IMG_3853Christi.  What I can tell you is that Cuenca honors it for sevenIMG_3846 days and that it is cause for lots of eating and celebration.  The main plaza turns into a sort of Candy land with more than 90 stalls selling traditional sweets.  It can make one’s teeth hurt just looking at it!  Then, there are “Castillos” or castles made of bamboo filled with every kind of firework you can imagine.  The castles are lit after dark for each of the seven days.  Our friends’ apartment is on the fourth floor of a building that borders the main plaza and we got to see the fireworks from just feet away.  Had we been in the US there would have been police, firemen and all sorts of safety precautions taken.  But here, where personal responsibility reigns, the Castillo was lit in the IMG_3899middle of the plaza surrounded by hundreds of people.  We were so close to the fireworks that we thought our hair would burn as the embers flew by our faces.  Check out the videos below – these are two of nine videos…so it’s just a glimpse at the fireworks we saw!

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Videos of the Castillos:

http://youtu.be/pbOgC2yt-kE

http://youtu.be/Qobb2YRQGec

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June 19, 2013 · 1:14 pm

What do you do?

Lisa’s post:  My first reaction when asked “What do you do with your days?” is to panic.  Am I being productive? Am I contributing? Am I fully using my talents here in Ecuador? But, there are other times when I am sure that my time in Ecuador was not meant to be about being productive – quite the opposite – this was my time to work on just being.  To be still.  To listen patiently for a/the/any “call”.  To be quiet and comfortable with downtime.  I’ve come to the conclusion that growth can be found in silence and lack of “busyness”.

Ana Luisa and her family

Ana Luisa and her family

But, I still get flustered about not doing anything so my default activity has been to focus on my only goal while here – namely learning Spanish.  I’ve had one-on-one classes twice a week with Ana Luisa, who has since become a good friend.  She even pushed me to translate presentations from Spanish to English during a conference on GMOs – I still need to work on my grammar and vocabulary, but I feel pretty confident now in most situations.  I also took a class at the University of Cuenca (in Spanish) on indigenous cultures.

Staff at El Arenal

Staff at El Arenal

I have also been able to volunteer – mainly consulting on

Betty showing me repairs that were supported by gringo donations

Betty showing me repairs that were supported by gringo donations

fundraising.  The experience has been reminiscent of my Peace Corps days; I received far more than I gave and things move at their own pace.  Even though my time was numbered in months, things still took months to happen if they happened at all.  I had the privilege to work with Fundacion el Arenal, a support program for 75 at-risk children who live in poverty.  Betty, the director, is a passionate, committed and gracious person – I learned a lot from her about tenacity.

US Dentist working on children from El Arenal.

US Dentist working on children from El Arenal.

Thankfully all my work was done in Spanish (see my only goal cropping up again?!) I am particularly proud of connecting a visiting US dentist with the Fundacion.   He did exams, extracted some children’s painful teeth and in the process we found a Cuencano dentist willing to continue seeing the children for free in the future.  How nice to leave here knowing that those children will not have to overcome dental pain in addition to the other hurdles in their lives.

I had written before that I volunteered to serve as a class parent for Rachel’s class at the kids’ school, Santana.  I was hesitant at first – mostly insecure of my Spanish abilities, but it has been a rewarding part of my

Moms at our Costa Rican booth during a Santana festival

Moms at our Costa Rican booth during a Santana festival

time here.  My interactions with parents and the administration at Santana put me right in the heart of Cuencano culture.  To be honest, sometimes I can smile at the differences and other times they drive me nuts!  Educational systems are reflections of cultural values and Santana has taught me a lot.

Amidst these other activities, Wayne and I have maintained our real estate business.  We were incredibly fortunate to have Sarah, Dan and Martin to manage the properties.  While there have been harried times, neither of us can complain of long hours.  It is a huge blessing that we have been able to live off our business income while here.  The challenge is that sometimes it makes me feel like we have had one foot in Cuenca and the other in Asheville.

Art with Arie and Gary

Art with Arie and Gary

And…my days are also filled because everything just takes longer here.  There is no such thing as one-stop shopping!  I’ve learned to cherish the couple of hours I spend walking to/from and shopping at the local market every week buying vegetables and catching up with market friends.  I can’t get everything there though…need to go to the supermarket, the coop, the bakery and the meat vendor too.

I’ve also challenged myself to try some new things.  I took my first ever art class and took a course through the Baha’i church here.  I am so thankful that I have had the time to venture into unknown waters.  I’ve been active in a gluten-free support group here too.

But…we’re not out of here yet.  Our artist friends have asked our family to paint a mural for the children’s ward at a local hospital and Wayne has signed us both up for some awesome exercise classes three times a week.  We are just trying to take advantage of and savor every moment we have left of this great experience.

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Galapagos

IMG_3624It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.  –Charles Darwin

May 1 – 12:  What a trip of a lifetime!  We were fortunate to take a six day cruise on Metropolitan Touring’s Santa Cruz boat (90 passenger) and then spend another six days in a vacation house rental (only reachable by water taxi) on the island of Santa Cruz.

Galapagos is unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been, primarily because the amazing wildlife is fearless of humans and we could get so close.  There are few natural predators.  The landscape is unique – braided and folded solidified lava, imposing towers of rock, and beautiful beaches.  Everywhere we went we marveled at Galapagos’ distinct beauty, its geology, its history, and its impact on how we understand the natural world.

Highlights:

  • We had never been on cruise and this one was fabulous.  We chose a 90 passenger boat to prevent sea sickness, but it had other benefits – the food was fantastic as was the service.  We will remember watching sunsets while sitting in the hot tub on the upper deck.
  • Our time in the water – the snorkeling was a big highlight for Rachel, Lisa, and Wayne.   If Alex was just a couple of years older he would have loved it too.  We snorkeled (it was Rachel’s first time) mask-to-whiskers with playful sea lion pups and could touch large sea turtles.   Galapagos penguins darted around us – these are the northernmost penguins in the world.   We also got amazingly close to sharks.  And then there were the beautiful fish and the octopus!
  • Unique wildlife – slate black marine iguanas covered rocky surfaces, facing the sun to warm up after feeding in the cool ocean and “spitting” salt from their nostrils.  Huge land tortoises eating guavas or slowly lumbering from one place to another.  Flightless cormorants – a lesson in evolution first hand – they don’t need wings anymore since they fish for their food.   We witnessed the mating dance of the blue footed boobies – they show off their blue feet, they give each other presents of sticks and then the male takes off in flight, landing graciously to impress the female.  And then as our guide said, “The fun begins.”  We saw the puffed bright red throats of the male frigates…also meant to attract females.  Darwin’s famous finches would fly in and sit within inches of us on the beach.
  • Galapagos is a volcanic hot-spot.  We visited five islands:  North Seymore, Fernandina, the west coast of Isabella, Santa Cruz and Floreana. Mind boggling to realize that the islands move a few centimeters east each year and, while it will take millions of years, each island will eventually disappear to be replaced by a new volcanic island.
  • We got a taste of the local culture and island living during our stay in Santa Cruz. We went to beautiful beaches (Tortuga Bay), a volcanic swimming hole (Las Grietas), bicycled, spent time at the fishing pier, enjoyed a couple of days at the beach and just hung out.  We loved the white fish in coconut sauce that we ate almost every night – couldn’t get enough of that.

Here are some photos to tell more of the story!

Blue footed booby

Blue footed booby

Male frigate

Male frigate

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Can you see the marine iguanas?

Can you see the marine iguanas?

Flightless cormorant

Flightless cormorant

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Let's talk to the sea lions!

Let’s talk to the sea lions!

Marine iguana

Marine iguana

Pengin

Galapagos Penguin

Us on a hike on Isabella island above Darwin Lake

Darwin Lake on Isabella island – see our boat in the distance?

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Land tortoise

Land tortoise

Land iguana

Land iguana

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Lisa swimming with the sea lion pups

Lisa swimming with sea lions

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Las Grietas

Las Grietas

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Kids at Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay

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Taking the water taxi into town

Taking the water taxi into town

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Dulce vida!

Tortuga Bay

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Waiting for a water taxi

Waiting for a water taxi

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A new home in Asheville?

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May 22, 2013:  Big news – we are selling our house in North Asheville which we have called home for eight years.  Below is a link to the MLS listing – feel free to pass on the word to anyone you know who might be interested.

http://www.recenter.com/search/detail/539436

Here is the scoop – A little less than a year ago, we left what we knew as normal.  We left our friends and family, we left jobs, our kids left their beloved schools and we left our house.  We followed a dream and started a stimulating adventure.  We knew we’d see amazing things and experience life in a new culture.  What we did not know is that we would also have more down time.  Time together as a family and time for introspection.  Wayne and I found time to talk, not just about who was driving which child where or what we would have for dinner, but to delve into an evaluation of who we are, what we believe and how we want to live.  Being here has given us the distance and time we needed to really consider, choose and aim more intentionally at what we want for and from life.

When we left our home in North Asheville a year ago, we did not anticipate that we would not be returning.  We have decided we want community, kids in the neighborhood and a much smaller mortgage that could keep us from having to join the rat race and leave us more money to travel or pursue other dreams (those are yet to be determined!)  It is amazing what we have been able to do from thousands of miles away with some supportive friends and the Internet/Skype!  So…we’ll look forward to sharing time with you in our new home – the manifestation of our newly affirmed values to live simpler, less busy lives.

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Canar with the Whites

IMG_3186April 19 – 21: Patricia, Stuart, Peter, Jacob and Nadine White graciously invited us to spend a weekend in their farm in Canar about three hours away.  Patricia and Lisa have become friends while serving as class parents at Santana where Rachel and their son, Peter, are in the same class.  Stuart, a US American, has lived in the Andes, his passion, for the last 35 years.  An adjunct professor at the University of Vermont, he is a wealth of knowledge and experience.  We could not have asked for better hosts and guides!  Their 1,800 hectares are mostly wild and serve as pasture for their 800+ alpacas (Stuart is responsible for reintroducing the alpaca to the Ecuadorian Andes). The views are absolutely breathtaking and he is quick to point out the Canari villages and agricultural terraces that once inhabited his land hundreds and hundreds of years ago.  Shards of ceramics are all over and his personal collection of Canar artifacts rivals some of the museums we have been to.

Stuart acted as our guide on, what turned out to be, a five+ hour hike around part of the property.  We hiked on a new “trail” – having to grab whatever branches we could in order to make it through some of the more precarious parts of the hike.  We found pottery, made a fire, saw evidence of bear feeding, roamed with alpacas (of course!) and got downright filthy in the mud.  We were exhausted and happy at the end of the trail.  The best part, as the kids agreed, was that it was like camping with friends apart from having some really comfy beds to which we could return (not to mention a sauna and Jacuzzi tub!).

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Kids looking for (and finding!) shards of Canari pottery.

Kids looking for (and finding!) shards of Canari pottery.

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Cuenca fiestas…again!

April 11 – 14: We love it that Cuenca celebrates both its founding and its independence…the more reason to celebrate, the better.  It was very similar to the November fiestas…food, stalls and lots of parades.  Here are some photos. IMG_3064 IMG_3090 IMG_3071

Where there are people, there are vendors.

Where there are people, there are vendors.

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Modern and traditional share the spotlight!

These are "mature" women sporting their Chola Cuenca!

These are “mature” women sporting their Chola Cuenca!

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A night parade too.

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