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Published: December 29th 2016
Me and my CiCi Love!
I sure missed my pup during my trip to the US. Foto credit to Tia Tamara - taken early November at La Rinconada in Cinco Cerros between Ayampe & La Entrada.
We celebrated Thanksgiving early here in Banos. My Brit friend, Karl, asked me way back in October if Shana & I were planning to do a turkey dinner this year, so that planted the seed. Since I'd be in the states for Thanksgiving Thursday, we gave thanks together the Sunday before. Shana hosted at her house and I did the coordinating. Early in the week we took a drive up to Ambato (about an hour) to buy the bird (they're so expensive here...I paid over $40 for a 15 pounder). In addition to bringing a side dish, everybody kicked in a few bucks so with 18 guests we covered poultry costs!
It was such an interesting and diverse group of people -- 4 Ecuadorians, an American married to a Thai gal, another married to a mexicana, ages 3 months to mid-70's...Great food and great company! The turkey turned out so moist after brining it for 48 hours, and I must admit that my celery & mushroom stuffing is pretty yummy! I also made a roasted root veggie dish with purple yams (camote), carrots, beets, potatoes, yuca & garlic; colorful, healthful & tasty. Carol's apple/peach crisp with cashew/coconut cream was to
Early Turkey Dinner
On the request of our British friend, Karl (who has now celebrated at least 8 Thanksgivings with us Americans!) Shana & I hosted a dinner the Sunday before!
die for, as were all three amazing cheesecakes: traditional NY baked, pumpkin & passion fruit (maracuya). Three of the guests brought their guitars so there was singing, dancing and even balloon animals at one point!
Bye-Bye to CiCi - she'd be staying at Carol & Kirk's place with two senior dogs (Jack & Molly) and two 20 lb cats (Santana & Scruffy). I brought CiCi's travel bed (old foam cushion folded over several times & tucked into several layers of woven feed sacks) and topped it with her favorite wool blanket (that smelled like home!) She settled in right away and I'm told that the cats really liked her bed too! Carol drove up to Quito with me and we stopped to pick up donations (2 places) and then had lunch with my dear friend Deb. Since my flight left early the next morning, I stayed over at a hostel near the airport. Carol was just going to drop me off and drive my truck back to Banos, but since she'd be racing daylight to get home before nightfall, she decided to stay the night as well.
All went smoothly with my flights; I watched a few good
Everyone pitched in a few bucks for the turkey (a medium size bird cost over $40 -- not so commonly eaten here)
'seatback' movies on the long leg (Panama City to LAX, about 6 hrs) but the last hour always seems to drag... so I amused myself by playing 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' first in English (a definite British spin to the questions), then in Spanish (interesting how similar questions get translated) and finally the Portuguese version (a LOT of Brazilian history and culture questions which stumped me!)
I LOVE Brazilian Portugese and still remember a lot of what I learned while I studied at the Centro de Estudios Brasilieros back when I lived in Quito back in the late 1980's. When I read Portugese I can hear that fabulous Brazilian accent in my mind's ear. I truly hope to have a chance to spend time in Brazil again someday soon - who's coming to travel with me?! I've done a lot of solo traveling in my time, but at this point in my life I'm not as interested in travelling alone.
My flight arrived at LAX just as daylight was starting to wane. Living on the equator, I'm used to 12-hour days all year (6:20 am to 6:20 pm) so I was surprised how early it got
Singing & Dancing on the Porch
Before and after the feast we gathered on the front terrace where several guests played guitar for us and we even had a balloon animal demonstration!
dark while I was in California in Nov/Dec! I'm so grateful that my sister was able to meet me at the airport. After a looong day of travel it's difficult to go thru the rental car process (wait for a shuttle, long lines at the counter, wrangling luggage) and then have to jump on the freeway at rush hour in the dark! Fortunately, Claire knows all the back roads and the drive back to her home in the valley gave us a chance to catch up on each other's lives.
We enjoyed working in the kitchen together the next morning, preparing for Thanksgiving dinner at her dear friend, Paula's hillside home. We picked up Dad in the afternoon and attended a wonderful gathering; amazing food and great company. My Dad was having a good day and we enjoyed sitting together in wicker chairs on Paula's deck looking out over the city as evening fell. Dad would become anxious and disoriented if one of us was not by his side at all times. His world has become very small, living now in the locked 'Recollections' floor of an Assisted Living Facility. Any time Dad is away from his now familiar
with my Dad in California
Dad's mind is still sharp enough for Scrabble and card games - interesting how the brain clicks into a place of remembered skills
environment he feels confused and panics.
It was a special treat to have so much uninterrupted sister time in the days following Thanksgiving. Claire's boyfriend Chef Sam was out east with his family, her son Sam was in Europe for his new job with Spotify and her daughter and son-in-law were entertaining at their own new home in Brooklyn. Claire and I took some long walks together, enjoying brisk California winter weather and admiring the holiday decorations in her upscale neighborhood of Toluca Lake.
We went to some Black Friday Sales; Claire knew which stores wouldn't be too crazy with consumer madness! My sister invited me to the movies and I was blown away by the posh cinema (and $14 admission!). The concessions featured a touch screen drink dispenser with dozens of options to choose from; categories like caffeine free, sugar free, contains real juice, etc. I learned the secret to the free refill popcorn tub -- get a square cardboard carrying tray and dump the tub so you can get your refill right away! Once inside the theatre we lounged in plush leather recliners - I didn't lean all the way back for fear of falling asleep!
Claire & Dad
I didn't take many pictures this visit, so I stole this one off of Claire's facebook timeline - they were making sandwiches for homeless veterans.
As often is the case, I finished my popcorn during the previews; didn't even last until the feature film began!
Since I knew I'd be with Claire most of my first week I was in LA, I decided not to rent a car until my 2nd week there. This meant that a few days I made the 1 1/2 mile walk from her home to my Dad's place. Almost NO ONE walks in LA and although it was a relatively flat walk (except for the freeway overpass) it was all cement (very few trees) with stoplights on nearly every corner. Sometimes I had to stand on a corner waiting up to 10 minutes for the pedestrian crossing light, what with the left turn arrows and 3 or 4 roads crossing at an intersection. Between the emotional exhaustion of spending the day with my Dad at his place, and the physical exhaustion of walking 3 miles on city streets, I was more than ready to pick up my rental car!
Once I had a vehicle, I was able to take my Dad out to lunch once in awhile, however not often. He'd get anxious about not remembering where he
Xmas Flamingo Boat
MIchelle and I enjoyed a stroll along the Venice Canals (Venice near LA, not in Italy!) Creative living at its best in these narrow canal houses.
lived or how he'd get home. Sometimes I'd bring in food and set up a picnic lunch up on the 8th floor, where there are big windows looking over the hills. Floors 3-8 are independent living apartments, and while Dad & I played cribbage up on 8, we'd sometimes be visited by a 98 year old Russian gal named Xena. She always asked us to feel her bicep muscles and showed us how she could bend over and touch her toes.
Everyone in the building knows about the "memory wing" and when Xena saw my Dad's room number on his walker she asked me, right in front of him, "Why does your father live on the 2nd floor?" I discreetly shook my head at her. When Dad & I play cards his mind is sharp and quick - he often catches scoring errors that I miss! Occasionally when I brought him back down to his floor he'd search his pockets for a key and ask why we had to wait for someone to unlock the door. My heart would clench.
Dad used to like to pay for meals when we went out, but he recently lost his credit
Mosaic Tile House
Mouth-wateringly gorgeous -- my 2nd visit there was even more enjoyable than the first - I felt less overwhelmed by every inch of beauty and detail!
card and became very distressed. In a flash of brilliance my sister whipped out her Ralph's Grocery Rewards Card and said, "Here it is Dad." At the restaurant he'll take out his card to pay and with some sleight of hand I'll slip my credit card over it. When I'm in town to visit with him daily it gives my sister a break. Also it's nice for Claire & I to be able to share our observations of his quirks and the progression of his disease. As Dad's memory continues to decline, his anxiety and OCD behaviors increase. The few evenings I visited his floor the atmosphere was much more agitated as many of the residents exhibit 'sundowner' symptoms of distress, stubbornness or aggression.The foreign-born residents can be heard mumbling to themselves in their native tongues.
There are about 25 seniors living on his floor - some of them are non-verbal or even bed-bound. At any given time there are 4 or 5 staff members on duty and they are simply awesome. I was so impressed by the care and affection, patience and understanding that they show the residents. My father has a special friend, Susan whose dementia is
Reflected in the Mirror Shard
Look closely -- there we are, Jill & Michelle in a doorway perpendicular to this wall. Owner/artist Gonzalo knew just the angle to take the photo!
even more advanced than his. I'd often find them chatting in his room, writing love notes to one another when I came to visit. Each time I arrived I had to be introduced to Susan again, as if I were meeting her for the first time! If Dad & I ventured away from his floor, he'd forget her name and ask me, "Do I have a special friend? What's her name?" They informed me that they wish to get married and I told them that I'd look into it. Claire and I are hoping that they'll forget about that idea, but she and I did brainstorm some possible scenarios.
The weekend after Thanksgiving was a milestone birthday for my big sister, so she headed to Las Vegas to meet up with her kids for a star-studded weekend of glitz & fun! Meanwhile, I held down the fort. An old friend who lives in San Diego drove up for a visit. Michelle and I first met in Malaysia in 1993 when I took a group of students to visit a refugee camp where she was volunteering. Even though we've never lived in the same place since then, we've kept in
Cheri & Gonzalo actually live in their art house and this amazing kitchen's mosaic shelves are full of funky handmade dishes too!
contact and she even came to visit me in Ecuador!
I made a reservation for us to visit the Mosaic Tile House in Venice. I had been there once before with my sister and just loved it...so much to see. We strolled the Venice canals, admiring the quirky homes and then continued on the the quirkiest place of all! Cheri & Gonzalo own Mosaic House and are both artists who live in their ongoing work of art -- there was a lot of new stuff even since I'd been there last. When I went with Claire, Cheri gave us the tour but this time the charming Gonzalo took us around. Indescribably gorgeous and wacky, as you can tell by the images here.We took so many photos...be sure to scroll all the way to the end to see some bonus pics!
Since my sister had been swept out of town on her actual birthday, the following weekend there were two birthday gatherings in her honor. First she and Chef Sam hosted a beach party at a friend's waterfront condo. Sam set up a seafood bar with several types of oysters, huge shrimp, and porcelain spoonfuls of raw salmon and
Chef Sam's Yummy Food!
My sister's birthday was feted with awesome food -- two parties catered by her sweetie, Sam. Highlights were the oysters Rockefeller and the raw salmon & tuna poke spoons.
tuna poke - yummy! I enjoyed reconnecting with many of Claire's friends that I only see once a year or so. Alas the sunset was mostly clouded over but to our good fortune there was an amazing fireworks display just up the coast!
The second party was a brunch, hosted again by Paula for a group of December birthday gals who celebrate together every year. Chef Sam prepared the food and I had my first taste of Oysters Rockefeller...I know why they call them Rockefeller! Exquisite! It was a delightful morning share with a fascinating group of women from 20 to 80 years old!
While in LA I got an email from a friend who is a Nurse Practitioner in Alaska. Shanah and I met in Guadalajara in 1983 when I went back to visit the family I'd done a homestay with in 1978. Shanah was doing a homestay with them that summer, so in a sense we're "sisters". Her folks used to live in LA so we'd sometimes try to coordinate a visit when I was in Calif, but her mom passed away and her Dad is now in Florida so I didn't even let her know
Sue at Bob's Big Boy
This place brought back memories for her of when her kids were small. Built in 1949, it's one of the last original Big Boy Restaurants.
I was going to be in Calif this time. Coincidentally, however, she was in LA at a medical conference, staying with a friend of her Mom's. We had a great day together, catching up and eating Cuban food at the famous Versailles Restaurant.
My last weekend in LA, I received one more visitor - Sue was down from Fresno attending an indigo tie-dye workshop and we made plans to spend the night at a boutique hotel in Burbank. Sue has a house in Ecuador that I'm trying to help her sell. We've traveled a lot together and it was great to reconnect and catch up. We had a fabulous dinner, talked late into the night and then went out to breakfast at the iconic Bob's Big Boy restaurant nearby which dates back to 1949.
Two of the Thursdays that I was in LA, I went to the Jewish School where my sister works to help her with Claire's Cooking Club, an after-school program for 3 & 4 year old kids. There are big plastic knives for little hands to safely practice cutting, colorful measuring cups, and everyone helps stir. I have seldom worked with kids this young --
Claire's Cooking Club
Foodie Fun with 3 & 4 year olds on Thursday afternoons at Valley Beth Shalom PreSchool. Claire let them fix her hairdo with wooden spoons!
it takes a special kind of patience -- you have to really enter their world -- and Claire definitely does!
When friends in Ecuador found out I was heading to the US, everyone asked me to bring something back for them. I've learned that it's much easier if they order it and have it sent to Claire's work, so several friends were able to do that. I did a fair bit of running around to find specific items people requested, and for things that were on my list as well. I was glad to find new walking shoes, a swimsuit, Crocs flip-flops and some pants and blouses for myself.
Even if it's only been a few months since I last visited the US, there are always things that shock and surprise me, for example this time I was struck by the excellent customer service, even during the busy pre-holiday season. People wait patiently in carefully orchestrated queues lined with last-minute impulse-purchase items. At the grocery store I saw a sign at the check-out that said "Three's a crowd -- if there are more than two people in front of you, ask us to call another checker!" It never
Glad to be back HOME!
CiCi found her favorite spot under the table right away - I think she's really enjoying being an "only pet" again!
ceases to amaze me how folks in Ecuador think nothing of wasting an hour (or more!) waiting in line at the bank! On my last visit I was noticing all the Los Angeles "man-buns" but this time that 'look' seems to have been replaced by "beardy guys". I'd read about, and now I witnessed first hand the latest rage of young women with dyed silver-grey hair! And my observations of how fashion follows technology revealed purses & backpacks with built-in chargers and inside pockets on jackets with holes for cords & earphones.
Returning to Ecuador I had to hit the ground running! Carol had driven up to meet me and was tired from the three hour drive, so it fell to me to drive back down to Baños even though I'd been travelling all through the night. Since I had to head down to Guayaquil the next day and spend the night there, I didn't even say HI to CiCi when I dropped off Carol because it would just confuse her to see me and then not come home with me. It was soooo hard not to see my sweet pup! After a long night's sleep and a leisurely
Now that CiCi's wiry hair is growing out, her face and mouth are perpetually dirty. Sniff sniff sniff, mud, dust, goo!! Love that messy face!!
morning I set off on the 6 hr drive to Guayaquil crossing over the Andes with the company of a good audio book. Even though I'd carefully studied four different maps of Guayaquil, I knew I'd get lost! With the help of other drivers, taxis and a cop I managed to find my way to the guest house just as night was falling.
Leonore flew down from Quito to wait for her mom who was flying in from DC. She flies into Guayaquil so she can gradually get accustomed to the altitude before heading up to her daughter's home in Quito (almost 10,000 ft). I was already asleep when they arrived but we breakfasted together before heading back up over the Andes with a stop for lunch. As soon as I dropped them off at their hostel, I hurried over to Carol & Kirk's for their pre-Christmas gathering and to be reunited with my CiCi pup. Yay!! Joyful reunion, and nice to see a bunch of friends too.
After three nights in Baños, it was my job to drive Leonore & Sandra up to Quito. We got an early start and I landed a turnaround drive back down
Christmas Eve Dinner
You may remember my 'adopted' sister Beatriz from Salango on the Manabi coast, Her fiance Juan is from Riobamba, just an hour from Baños and his family has now adopted me! Awesome folks - and they love dogs too!!
to Baños with a gal I'd met only a few times. Her folks were visiting from the US so she and her boyfriend were taking them around. Such fascinating, multi-lingual, well-travelled, intellectual folks -- very stimulating conversation made the ride go quickly! We all enjoyed each other's company so much that they hired be to take them down the Route of the Waterfalls the next day. Whew! Five of my first eight days back in country were spent driving, but you've gotta make a living, right?!
I had three days to catch my breath, swim & take long walks with CiCi and get the BIB Bazar Secondhand Charity Shop ready for the big Xmas Eve Sale. We had brisk sales with customers in and out all morning and after closing the shop at 1:30 pm I swung home to pick up CiCi and make the 1 1/2 hour drive across to Riobamba. I'd been invited to spend Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) with my 'adopted' sister Beatriz, her fiance Juan, and his family. Beatriz is from the coast (Salango, just south of Puerto Lopez where I often work). She fell in love with a guy from the highlands...we joke that Costa
Rainbow colors tinge the bottom of these wispy clouds - breathtaking! Picture taken from the end of my driveway. I love the Spanish word for rainbow: arcoiris.
& Sierra are like two different nationalities! His family adores her and they have totally taken her under their wing.
I had made sure that it was OK for CiCi to come and they said told me 'Sure, it's a dog-loving family!' CiCi made fast friends with Shine, the big black English labrador retriever. Candy the shitsu tolerated CiCi (she's the queen of the castle) and the tiny teacup poodle, Chloe was all dressed up in a tutu and Santa hat. Shine dutifully wore a bow tie that matched Chloe's outfit. Everyone cuddled with CiCi and she was in heaven. Look closely and you'll see her little face in the group photo!
Juan's sister Sandra teaches at the same school where Beatriz works and Sandra hosted the whole family at her house. Juan's mom, Anita, has three sons & three daughters; three of her kids live in the US (Connecticut).The other three were all there with their children and we visited, laughed, feasted and opened gifts. The presents were for the kids and all of them were practical gifts like clothing, school supplies, a sketch pad, etc. Everyone pitched in to get grandma a huge food basket with
Love this door screen made out of old cutlery...it has movement and dimension and so much creativity!
rice, sugar, oil, flour, lentils, etc. etc. Even though she's the one who usually cooks lunch for most of them (they all live within a few blocks) she burst into tears as she opened her gift. By midnight, we'd all eaten, drunk and laughed enough and we said good-bye but were invited for lunch the next day to have leftover turkey and ham sandwiches.
Christmas morning I sat up on the end of the bed and bent down to feed CiCi, but felt a searing sharp pain as and couldn't straighten up. OY! I'd thrown my back out with that one movement! Juan knew where to find a traditional healer (sobador) who massaged me with mentholated ointments and then stuck newspaper on my back to help it soak in ($5 for the 20 minute treatment). I felt a bit better and when we got to Sandra's I was given a hot pack and instructed to lie down on the sofa. Later, cousin Alina arrived and since she'd been studying massage she gave me an hour of gentle backrub which made it possible for me to make the drive back home without pain.
However, the next morning I could
Water meter has a cutlery grate and the faucet drips melted green glass bottles...outrageously amazing!
barely get out of bed. My body was telling me to SLOW DOWN and REST so I spent the next two days in bed, alternating hot and cold packs. Yesterday I was well enough to do the first 1/2 of yoga class - gentle stretching - and to get the shop ready for the New Year's Eve Sale this Saturday. Today I went to the hot baths but I'm still in quite a lot of pain (though less excruciating than the past few days). I have one week to fully heal before starting my hotel job on the coast...so wish me luck! What a drag it is getting old!!!
Thanks for reading -- be sure to scroll down to see some more photos! Happy Healthy New Year to everyone!!
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