Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A New Breed of Election

When I think of voting I think of receiving my ballot in the mail, reading my printed booklet bout the laws and candidates, filling it out at my kitchen table, and mailing it back in. However, this past weekend I experienced a new breed of election.

Two years ago I accepted my second citizenship here in Ecuador. I hold a national ID, a passport, and with those two items comes the obligation to vote (and the privilege of doing so!). The system here, as are many systems worldwide, is one of mandatory participation in the democratic election process. If you opt not to vote, or do not show up to participate, there is a fine ($50 for those who do not have a reason for not voting, $39 for those who show up but forgot their ID or cannot make it to their voting location and present in a different location but are not allowed to vote).

However, it is not these details that I would like to talk about. It is the overall experience I would like to focus on.

  • You vote in person. All public schools and universities becoming polling places, and you must show up to your assigned voting location. Typically you are assigned to a school in your neighborhood, and people from the same neighborhoods are assigned to the same schools to vote. This made it seem like a big block party more than an election!
My appointed school for voting, La Salle
  • Women and men go to separate areas to vote and you have a pre-assigned tables. You could look your table up online before you left, or you could request the information once you arrived at your assigned school. I was at women's table 1.

  • We were provided with 3 different ballots. One for president/vice president, one for national/regional representatives, and one for our CAN representatives. Here is a picture of me learning how to vote and another of a sample ballot. The logos are party logos (there are some interesting names there). On every ballot there were photos of each candidate (very helpful!). You have to mark vertically across the horizontal line in order to vote correctly (I had to verify this a couple of times to ensure I didn't nullify my vote, as you are only allotted one ballot!).

  • Votes are secret. Your name does not go on your actual ballot. They check you off at the table, hold your national ID, then provide you with a certificate that you have voted. This lovely sign reminds us that our vote is secret! (meaning we don't have to tell anyone who we voted for and no one, including the government, will ever know unless we reveal who we voted for). And, yes, I had to fit my pregnant self in that tiny metal desk. They obviously didn't think about pregnant ladies when selecting the seating.

  • After you make your selection you fold up your ballots and drop them in cardboard boxes. One is for your presidential/vice presidential ballot, the other is for the other two ballots. This is me voting for president/vice president! Who did I vote for? You'll never know because "mi voto es secreto!"
  • Then you receive your Certificado de Votacion which is extremely important here! (make sure the table head has signed it or it's no good!) You can't do anything nationally without your Certificado de Votacion. Like open a bank account, get national insurance, etc. If you did not show up to vote you either have to pay a fine (the amount varies depending on how you didn't vote, long story...). Once you have paid the fine then they provide you with your certification card. Here's me and my card. 

  • Then that was it! We headed home through the crowds of people on the streets - families riding their bikes, people enjoying local dishes, crowds hanging out greeting neighbors catching up

There is something about the ability to vote that is incredible. You are guiding an entire country's future, millions of people's lives, through your participation. YOU! Is there anything more incredible than the ability to do this?  

Overall, I have to say that I wish voting were like this in the U.S., and I believe that if it were more like this more people would vote (yes, I realize that there is a great difference between mandatory voting and voluntary voting). It was truly a civic festival, a reason to get together, a reason to celebrate, a reason to reconnect (Although this has not always been the case historically in Latin American countries when it comes to presidential elections, Ecuador is no exception, where many times presidential elections brought uncertainty and turmoil, it was the case today). Families and neighborhoods voted together, catching up at their polling locations, checking in on one another. Even though our family was divided in their polling locations (due to a lack on our part to verify our addresses with the CNE before hand), we began our day by all meeting up at my mother-in-law's house and walking to her and my sister-in-law's polling site together. Then those who had voted took the kids back home to play (yes, even children come with their families to vote, although they cannot vote until 16), and Arturo accompanied me to my polling location. 

I have never voted in person in the U.S., and submitting a ballot via mail or fax is not inspiring. This was inspiring. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in my adoptive country's recent presidential election and the honor of helping guide this country's future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why are you crying?

Someone posted this on Facebook, and although I am not a religious person it really hit home.

I have been shedding a lot of tears lately, and although I have blamed it on exhaustion and hormones, it's uplifting to think that maybe it's because of something more, as some days it does seem like I carry the weight of the world...

A little boy asked his mother, "Why are you crying?" "Because I'm a woman," she told him.

"I don't understand," he said. His Mom just hugged him and said, "And you never will."

Later the little boy asked his father, "Why does mother seem to cry for no reason?"

"All women cry for no reason," was all his dad could say.

The little boy grew up and became a man, still wondering why women cry.

Finally he put in a call to God. When God got on the phone, he asked,

"God, why do women cry so easily?"

God said, "When I made the woman she had to be special.

I made her shoulders strong enough to carry the weight of the world, yet gentle enough to give comfort.

I gave her an inner strength to endure childbirth and the rejection that many times comes from her children.

I gave her a hardness that allows her to keep going when everyone else gives up, and take care of her family through sickness and fatigue without complaining.

I gave her the sensitivity to love her children under any and all circumstances, even when her child has hurt her very badly.

I gave her strength to carry her husband through his faults and fashioned her from his rib to protect his heart.

I gave her wisdom to know that a good husband never hurts his wife, but sometimes tests her strengths and her resolve to stand beside him And finally, I gave her a tear to shed. This is hers exclusively to use whenever it is needed."

"You see my son," said God, "the beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair.

The beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart the
place where love resides."

My little boy.

This is also for my own mother, who I know has gone to the moon and back for her children (and grandchildren). Love you, Mom!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lasagna Roll-ups (recipe)

I'm a Pinterest addict. I'm on it all the time and introduce everyone I can to its sinful existence.

Lately these recipes for lasagna roll-ups have been popping up, so I decided to put my own twist on the recipe and give them a try!

I used what I had in the fridge and pantry, so mine were made spinach lasagna sheets and stuffed with marscapone, shredded cheese, chorizo, mushrooms, and basil. I topped them off with a homemade chunky tomato sauce.

Since many of my friends (and their family members) are constantly commenting on my cooking I thought I would share some of my secrets (and recipes) with you!

Becca's "Whatever's in the Fridge" Lasagna Roll-Ups

Step 1: choose your lasagna noodles
I went with spinach because it's what we had, but this will work with any type of lasagna noodle

Step 2: choose your filling and prep ingredients separately
My stuffing consisted of the following:
- chorizo sliced, quartered, and sautéed
- mushrooms, chopped (they should also be sautéed, but my pregnancy brain led me to completely fail on this one and I stuck them in raw)
- half of a small container of marscapone cheese
- quarter of a block of cheese, grated
- a hand full of basil leaves, rinsed, dried, chopped
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste

Step 3: mix all stuffing ingredients together in a bowl

Step 4: prep your sauce of choice
I chose to do a homemade chunky tomato sauce, but you can do whatever sounds best to you! You can also purchase a pre-made sauce to save time!
I used the following ingredients for my sauce...
- fresh tomatoes, cored
- tomato paste
- old red wine
- garlic (2-3 cloves)
- white onion (1)

Step 5: Cook your noodles
Simply follow the directions for cooking your lasagna sheets. I would recommend slightly undercooking them as you will put them in the oven for a bit. Don't forget to salt and oil your water!

Step 6: Roll 'em up!
Pull your noodles out, separate (watch out for burning your hands, they'll be hot!), fill, roll, and place in a pyrex baking dish.

Step 7: Cover and cook...
Cover your filled noodles with your sauce. Place the dish in the oven at around 350 and bake for 10-15 minutes. You are welcome to add cheese to the top (I opted not to this time, but have since).

Step 8: Serve up with sides of your choice!
I chose beans sautéed with a bit of honey, salt, and pepper

Friday, February 8, 2013

Where We Live

Since Kesh was born we have moved a lot. We first lived with my mother-in-law in her very large, approximately 300 square meter, home. Then we moved to an apartment. Then we moved to an extremely large house (400 square meters or so) where our company's office was shared with our living space (business downstairs, bedrooms upstairs, shared kitchen and common spaces).

However, with small child #2 on the way it was time to separate our living space from our office space. 

Finding rentals here in Cuenca is difficult. With the influx of retirees from North America (and other parts of the world) rental rates have skyrocketed. When we first moved back almost 3 years ago you could find a house for $250 or $300 per month. Now houses run for closer to $500 or $600 per month and you are lucky if you can rent an apartment for $300. 

We looked and looked with very little luck. Everything was out of our budget or too far away from where we needed to go on a daily basis (we walk everywhere). 

Right before I left for the U.S. in December, we finally found the right place at the right price! We had seen the apartment before, but the owner was asking $370 per month, which seemed steep for what it was. However, the real estate agent worked with us (and for us) and dropped the rent to $270 per month. (I know, most of you who live up North are dying right now at how little we pay for rent, but it is commiserate with the cost of living and salaries here in Ecuador)

We are now living in our own home, separate from our business. Kesha has her own room, we have our own room, and the new baby will have his own room. We have a wonderful kitchen that I love cooking in (it is one of the highlights of the apartment!), and a nice amount space for our family. We live a 1 mile walk from the new office and Kesha's daycare is on the way there. We live right in front of the river and close to parks. In fact, we leave our kitchen window open all of the time and we can hear the river from our apartment... it is wonderful!

I have given several friends and family a Skype video tour and one of my friends commented on how she was surprised at how our home was very similar to what you might find back in the U.S. I love her dearly, but it did make me laugh.

Arturo has sent away new countertops to be custom made of Laurel wood (as you can see below, the old ones are very well loved), and we still need to decorate. But overall home is reflecting who we are more and more every day.

This will be our home for the next few years until we can save up enough to buy a place of our own. I would love to buy a place like this and completely remodel it. The older apartments in Cuenca have so much personality and so much potential.

Here are a few photos of our new abode! Enjoy the tour!

Our kitchen with the well loved counters.

Another view of our kitchen. I love the natural light!

The view of the river from our kitchen
(you can also see some of the lineal parks that we have near by)
Another view from the kitchen side of our apartment
(that is Cajas National Park/the Andes Mountains in the distance).

Our well loved and well used washer and dryer!

Our dining room (it's dark because it's a bad angle...
we have wonderful natural lighting!)

Kesha's room (yes, she is sleeping in this picture).

The hallway from the living/diningrooms

What will be our new baby's room. The crib is being made and will be ready in a few weeks.

Our bedroom (view from the bathroom door)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Simple Sunday

Sunday was a simple day. One that allowed Kesh to do exactly what she should be doing.
Without technology.
With both of he parents actively involved.

We have a river very close to our apartment. It has waking trails, a park, soccer fields, and on Sundays the riverside parks come alive.

Today we were part of that liveliness.
But not on the swings, not in the soccer fields...
Kesha, Arturo and I sat and threw rocks, put leaves in the water and watched how they flowed.
Poked the river bottom with sticks, drew in the sand with the same sticks, ran on the trails chasing one another...
It was simple. It was wonderful!

I am thankful for year round sunshine and a mild climate, as well as 12 hours of daylight all year.
I am thankful for the ability to have this amount of time to spend with my daughter, and the time we are able to spend together as an entire family.

Sunday was a simple Sunday. I am thankful for it!