Friday, December 27, 2013

Travel: Macará

It's a good 7 hour drive from Cuenca to the small southern border town of Macará. And it's not just any old 7 hour drive. A winding two-lane highway leads the way through the Andes, finally dropping you in to the hot, desert-like part of the country (lying at 1,500 feet above sea level, some 7,000 feet below Cuenca), connecting Ecuador with Peru.

Macará is known for it's agriculture, and for having maintained it's small town charm and way of life. The population tops out at around 15,000.

This is where my mother-in-law is from and where my husband spent many childhood days.

It is a stark contrast to the city life we lead.

People hang out on porches, street corners, in the plazas. Chatting. Never in a hurry. Kids head off with any relative, their parents never quite knowing exactly where they are, they know they are safe. Kids walk to shops on their own, buy what they need, and return home with no adult supervision. People say hi, gather, chat, take time to enjoy one another, and life.

My husband's uncle spends his days at the family farm (this farm is immense, many hectares of land) "la Guatara" training Peruvian Paso Horses and watching over the land and its animals. There is no schedule other than the sun and the needs of the animals.

When we go, we stay in an adobe home that is more than 100 years old. Rooms are not completely closed off, one bathroom is shared with everyone in the home, and there is a fantastic open courtyard in the back. The covered part of this courtyard is where the dining room is. The floors are a polished cement and the finish is rustic. High temperatures let to an in necessity for blankets and the lack of hot water goes unnoticed.

Traveling to Macará always reminds me of how Cuenca is just part of the Ecuadorian experience. Staying put in the city doesn't allow you to grasp the true depth and diversity of the Ecuador, it's regions, or its people.

I am always thankful for my visits to this unique part of the country. But I am a city girl at heart and am always happy to come home.

Below is a photographic journey of our whirlwind weekend in the south...

A Nativity scene at La Toma where we stop to have lunch.

Basilica del Cisne

Failed family portrait just outside of the Basilica del Cisne.
Every family portrait should include a llama!

Candles inside of the Basilica.

Kesha inside the Basilica. I loved the colors. 

Nothing like fresh coconut water straight from the "nut" when it's hot outside.

At a "rest stop" playing with some chickens.

The plaza in front of my husband's grandma's house.

How we bathed Kalah.

A typical afternoon in the hammock outside of the house
(this is like the front porch).

A public warning about malaria from the 1960s 

Kesha's second cousin playing "trompo" right outside of the house.

In order from back to front: my mother-in-law (Graciela),
her mother (Teresa), me (with my eyes closed), Kalah,
and Kesha. This is right inside of the front door of the
house in the hallway.

An electrical outlet inside of the house.

Our room. 

The house at "La Guatara" farm.  

Horse saddles for the Peruvian "Paso" horses at La Guatara.

Tio Marcelo and the girls at La Guatara.

Tio Marcelo and Kesha at La Guatara
(yes, Kesha is wearing her gold shoes *sigh*)

Kalah May meeting a horse. This horse was pregnant and due any day. 

Kesha "hammocking" at La Guatara.

Mi Vaquero. Arturo on a Peruvian Paso horse at La Guatara.

On the porch of the house at La Guatara.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Play time: winter crafts

As Kesha started growing I found it daunting to figure out where to get craft supplies. I didn't grow up here, so there were no shops I remembered frequenting as a child, and I had not a clue where to even start looking for things like tissue paper, card stock, felt, nor what the words for these items were in Spanish.

As I've become more acclimated to life here with children, I have ventured out on my own and not only found these items, but have discovered that they are relatively inexpensive here as well. Projects have been in full swing and I'm sure, at times, Arturo wishes I had never made this discovery!

So, for you moms out there who live in countries you did not grow up in, know that sometimes it just takes a few solo adventures to figure out where you can get fun craft materials!

Here are a few crafts we have made this "winter" (remember, it's not actually winter here) and a list of the supplies and where I purchased them.

Build Your Own Snowman
This activity was fun because Kesha could be creative and we made all kinds of hats and scarves for the snowmen out of what we had around the house. I originally saw this idea on Pinterest, but I can't find the link to share it here, so if this was your idea. Thank you and please feel free to email me with your link and I'll add it here.

What you need...
  • Those round cotton pads that are for cleaning makeup off your face (I bought them at Supermaxi for about $2.00)
  • An assortment of buttons/beads for the snowman's buttons
    I already had these at home, but I bought the bag of star beads you see in the picture above at Coral Rio for less than $1.00.
  • Sticks for arms
    I got these for free on one of my walks by the river.
  • A "carrot nose"
    I used an orange, glittery puff that I got in a pack at Coral Rio. The entire bag cost me less than $1.00. I used the other puffs for other projects and also as an alternative type of button for the snowman.
  • "Scarves"
    I used ribbon, felt, string, things I already had around the house.
  • Eyes
    Truth, I had my mom send me goggly eyes from the US. However, you can buy them at Coral Rio. A pack of mixed sizes runs about $1.00.

How it works...

  • Put a bunch of this stuff on a plate, leave out, let kids play.
  • You can also get creative. In the picture below you'll see a "magic wand" we created with some felt and a pom pom.
  • Let them use their imagination. Kesha created really tall snowmen and used the scissors to destroy the cool hats I created since she apparently had something else in mind.

Salt Dough Candy Canes 
I love salt dough.

It's easy to make. I almost always have the ingredients. It's hard to mess up. It's versatile. And if kids put it in their mouth who cares.

For this holiday season, we made candy canes. Correction... I made candy canes since Kesha was not home when I did this. Yes, I'm sure there was a better way to use my time.

I used this salt dough recipe, split it in half, then added red food coloring to one half until I had the color I desired.

2c normal flour
1c salt
1c lukewarm water
Red food coloring (as needed)

Mix ingredients, split dough in half, add food coloring. Ta da!

After you have you two balls like I did above, you pinch off a bit of each and make a small snake out of each color. Enter twine the two colors and roll. Shape like a candy cane then stick on a silpat on a baking sheet.

Bake at around 200 (f) until done (will depend on size and thickness... ranges from 45 minutes - 3 hours).

Let them cool then hang around the house, on the Christmas tree, etc. Then let your 3 year old find them and break them all by using them a drum sticks. Nice! Here's a picture of them before they were massacred. 

Fresh Eucalyptus Wreath
This one not many of you will have the materials do make this. I do because I live by a Eucalyptus infested river area. We are never at a loss for Eucalyptus leaves. However, since some of you who read this blog are in Cuenca, here ya go....

Get a bunch of fresh baby Eucalyptus branches (it has to be baby or you'll have a hard time manipulating the branches and they won't smell as good).

Start with 3 longer strands. Tie them together to form a circle (I used a gold cord that I had to tie the branches together).

Once you have your basic circle, weave the rest of your branches around the base branches to fill out your wreath.

Adorn with something fun and festive like a red bow, or in our case, red jingle bells.

Your house will smell amazing for a week or so and the wreath will dry and preserve. Also, any leaves that fall off while making the wreath can go in a pot of water on the stove, simmered, and they will help kill germs and clear your nostrils! Great if you have a cold!

Festive Wall Hanging Thing
This is easy, fun, kid friendly, and makes you feel accomplished.

I bought all of my supplies at Coral Rio. I made this for under $5, easily. I'm not going to give you step by step instructions because if you look at the pictures you'll see how it's done. However, I will tell you that to get my circles I traced an espresso cup then hand cut them out.  

Enjoy and happy holiday crafting!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


I love birthdays. Always have. Always will. 

My whole life I have been the kind of person who puts others first. But on my birthday, it has been the one day that was about me, and only me. 

December 11th was my day. A day where friends and colleagues bring you balloons, flowers, cake, presents... And if these things doesn't happen on that specific day, well, then it doesn't really count because it's not your day anymore. 

I felt this way, that is, until I moved here.

In a collective culture it's never really all about you. 

Why completely inconvenience yourself for something that happens to everyone? Now, this is not to say that people don't do nice things here for others, or celebrate birthdays, but they're not going to break backs to make things happen on that specific day. For example, maybe everyone has to work and Tuesdays are not ideal for parties, or one of your friends has another dinner, so you do it on Friday when everyone can make it.

I also married in to a family that is not big on birthdays.

And let's face it. As you get older, it's not as much fun. I mean you can't really compare your 21st birthday and your 31st, right?

Then add in two children, and nothing is about you anymore. Not even your once coveted birthday day.

Enter giant brick wall we call reality that I slam in to... Yeah. Ouch.

Truth be told, my birthday day was about the worst day I've had all year. Kalah was sick and colicky, Arturo was sick, and Kesha was getting over a cold. I did get a big hug from Kesha and a quick "happy birthday" from Arturo in the morning. 

My birthday morning "selfie"
Although Arturo is not much of a birthday guy, he does make an effort for me, as he knows it means a lot to me. We tried to go out and do fun things, but Kalah was miserable. So, I locked myself inside the house with her and did nothing. She was so sickly I didn't even really get to eat lunch since she only wanted to be held (even though Arturo did bring me lunch). I ran in to our friends MIssy and Tony on the way home to let Kalah rest, and they had left me some flowers with the guard! It was a nice surprise, and very much so appreciated! 

Kalah had a high fever and we made an appointment for her to see the doctor. After the doctor we attempted to go out to dinner with Kesha, who hadn't napped and was grumpy and Kalah who was sick. Kesha whined the entire dinner and Kalah cried. Needless to say we ate as fast as we could. It was not a relaxing celebratory birthday dinner by any means. 

After that we went home and went to bed. No cake, no singing, no presents... I was pretty bummed out.

Cue Thursday.

I had a play date with my "gringa" mom friends who are also married to Ecuadorians. The had ordered an allergen free cake for me and made cupcakes for one of our friends, Karen, who had a birthday just before mine. I got a cake, a candle to blow out, and sung to! How fun! They were so kind and thoughtful, and the cake was wonderful!

Milan and his mom, Amilie, Kesha, and Rafael at my friend Judith's house on Thursday.

Then came Friday...
We had planned to have sort of a Christmas party with our friends. We decided to do hot chocolates for the kids and we were going to do dinner and wine. In my mind I thought of something simple, relaxed, nothing fancy. Well, I showed up at Alex's house and she had gone all out! 

Alex's Pinterest-perfect table setting

Alex's Christmas tree
(obviously has nothing to do with my birthday,
but it is pretty so I wanted to put a picture of it here)

Alex had her mom's housekeeper come help prepare dinner. There was wine and appetizers. The kids ate, we ate, and then... a cake, a candle, and a song! Pip and Arturo had found someone to make me an allergen-free birthday cake too! And oh what fun! We had hot chocolate (well, not me, but everyone else), wine, and cake! What a wonderful evening!  What wonderful friends!


Friends having dinner at Alex's house

Juanacho and Joaquin having dinner
(Joaquin is chowing down on a cherry tomato)
Blowing out my candle! 

A shot of my allergen free cake

Making hot chocolates with Alex's daughter Juli.

An "artsy" shot of our hot chocolates.

Slices of allergen-free cake.

"Richie" showing off his hot chocolate.

So, maybe it's not all about the exact birthday day after all. It's about celebration, friendship, special moments, and a reason to get together (and eat cake). The day it happens isn't as important as the fact that a celebration happens. That people who love you take the time to make you feel loved and special, no matter the date.

Thank you everyone for a wonderful 3 days of turning 31. 
I love you all and can't wait for my next birthday!

A big extra special thank you to my parents who are gifting me a new camera for my birthday!!! I am so excited that I will finally be able to take amazing shots of my strange, yet intriguing life, and post quality pictures here on my blog!!!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

When a holiday is not a holiday where you live

I've written before about the difficulties of raising a bicultural family. But truth be told, most days I don't think about it.

Holidays, however, are an exception.

The challenges a two culture family faces when attempting to incorporate both cultures in to daily life is fully confronted during holiday season. Especially when a holiday is not a holiday in the country where you reside.

Cue Thanksgiving.

We do Thanksgiving. Like full on do Thanksgiving (I even handmade decorations this year).
Our decorations
I cook (with a bit of help) for 30 or so people. Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, pies... the works.

Our 2013 spread, minus the desserts

We hold a late dinner on actual Thanksgiving day and people typically arrive late and don't stay very long.

Why? Well, because Thanksgiving is not a holiday here. There is no vacation on Thursday, and no vacation on Friday. So, while people in the US are shopping "Black Friday" holiday specials on one of their days off for the 4-day holiday weekend, kids here have school and adults have to go to work.

We eat all of the parts here. Nothing goes to waste!

Even I was supposed to attend a school meeting at 6:30 at Kesha's school. I sent them a polite email informing them that it was a holiday in my culture and we had an important family meal that evening and I would not be in attendance.

This year my invitation asked people to arrive by 7:00. However, I selected my invitation time knowing that most people would not show up until closer to 7:30. And surely enough, people had work, meetings, appointments, evening activities, and most didn't appear at my mother-in-law's house until closer to 7:45. We were finally eating by 8:00. I was in home and in bed by 10:30.

Our 13 kilo (almost 30 pound) bird.

So, as you can see, the Thanksgiving "sit around eating all day while catching up with friends and family from late morning/midday to late in to the evening" is not really a thing. But, it is a wonderful reason to gather together with friends and family and share my culture and holidays with them all (and I know everyone appreciates a giant, 30 pound turkey being cooked for them too).

Some of our friends and family enjoying dinner

Even though Thanksgiving is a lot of fun here, and I love doing it. You do not get the same "once a year super special event" feel you get in the US. It is not cold or dreary here. There are no beautiful red, orange, brown leaves coating the ground. There is no smell of fall or crispness of the coming winter season in the air. It doesn't get dark early in the evening and make you glad you're all together and warm indoors. And those with which I share the holiday do not fully grasp the concept of the changing seasons and all that celebrating Thanksgiving encompasses. For them it is simply another meal with friends and family that happens at some point in November that I might remind them about and extend an invitation to at some point. No one is anticipating it. Looking forward to it. Reminiscing about what this holiday was like for them as a child.

The "ugly cake"
Homemade squash pie (aka: pumpkin pie)

I fear that my girls will also lack this comprehension. As they are celebrating something that is from my world, not theirs. However, I am thankful that they get to experience it. No matter what form it comes in. Hopefully what we do as parents will help them build their own memories of what Thanksgiving encompasses, and that doesn't have to be what mine was. Nor do I suppose it would ever be what mine was. In that I take comfort. For that, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

*This is indicative of my own personal experience