Continuing Quarantine...and Home Improvements!

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August 5th 2020
Published: August 19th 2020
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Full Body WagFull Body WagFull Body Wag

This pic only captures the tail in motion, but CiCi is an enthusiastic wagger!!
As we complete our fifth month of quarantine I find that I am more reflective...looking inward, focusing on details. During my daily walks up the hill with CiCi, I notice each new bloom and there are bazillions of wildflowers and fascinating plants. Awed by and grateful for the ever-evolving natural world around me.

My little lemon tree is producing prodigiously (I once counted over 70 lemons!) and I closely observe each blossom (future lemons!). This crop of lemons is taking awhile to get fully yellow but they are huge and juicy, sweet and luscious. I only need to squeeze 3 lemons to make a pitcher of sugar required! I'm told that they are Meyer lemons, the best of the best according to the locals. It is a joy to be able to gift 6 or 8 lemons to friends and neighbors and still have more than enough for my own use. I found a recipe for lemon bars and they came out incredibly delicious!!

From where I sit at my desk (yes, I spend a fair amount of time on the computer
Lemons, present and futureLemons, present and futureLemons, present and future

The blossoms smell heavenly and then they become juicy sweet lemons! Dozens of hummingbirds come every day to sip their sweet nectar.
these days...facebook is my social avenue), I look out at the lemon tree and marvel at the antics of the myriad of hummingbirds that come to visit each day, flitting from blossom to blossom and drinking deeply of the nectar. I can hear them arriving - the hum of their wings alerts me. When there are two or three at a time they often interact - engaging in a type of dance which at times seems almost like fighting, shoving each other out of the way. Other birds come to visit as well, and the occasional butterfly. From my glassed-in dining room I also have a view of the tree, so it's a big part of my life.

The valley where I live is very windy with dramatic gusting most afternoons. While I hang in my rooftop hammock, I watch the branches of the neighbor's giant juniper tree dance in the wind. This huge tree is also home to many birds and in the calm of the early morning I allow myself to lie in bed and listen to the birdsong. Some mornings (especially if it's rainy and cold), I stay
Snowy SummitSnowy SummitSnowy Summit

Blue blue skies frame Mama Tungurahua on a crystal clear morning after a rainy night.
in bed and read for an hour or more. In the past I've always been one to leap out of bed as soon as I awaken; hit the ground running and start the day. Lying in for awhile is a new rhythm of being for me.

July and August are typically the rainiest months here (winter in the southern hemisphere). In previous years we've sometimes gone days or even weeks on end without seeing the sun. This year our winter has been nicer in some ways - even if it rains hard all night and is still raining at daybreak, usually by afternoon there are at least a few hours of sunshine. It's been quite cold for here...down into the 40's some nights (no heating in homes; I happily curl up under my comforter), but during the daytime it almost always gets up to the 70's (eternal spring!). If it's been a rainy night but it dawns clear, that's when the mountaintop glistens with fresh, sparkly snow...a view that never fails to take my breath away - truly breathtaking!

The volcano is
Grey & Cloudy Grey & Cloudy Grey & Cloudy

Steely skies make for a dramatic view. Clouds fill the valleys below and creep up the base of the volcano.
also beautiful when it's grey and foggy -- clouds nestling into the hollows and ridges of the foothills. My neighbor, Mama Tungurahua offers up a stunning new view every time I look up at her. I am so blessed to be living at the foot of this marvel of nature. Her presence, at times menacing in the past, is now comforting and reassuring; transmitting the boundless majesty and wonder of Pacha Mama (Mother Nature).

I am grateful that my cleaning gal, Cristina, is able to come weekly to help me keep my house spotless (the way I like it but am unable to maintain on my own!). She also helps me with laundry (hanging bedsheets out to dry can be a challenge!) and is a master at folding clothes (I tend to just stuff them in the drawer). The first few weeks that she came back to work she brought her new baby girl, Angeles. Now that the baby can bottle feed she's able to leave Angeles with her mom so Cristina's weekly visit has become for her, a welcome break from being a new mother. Week by week she is
Baby AngelesBaby AngelesBaby Angeles

This little sweetie snuggles on my big bed while her mommy cleans house for me! I got to first meet her when she was just 6 weeks old!
paying off the stove she bought from me when I remodeled. I admit that I am spoiled by having frequent household help, and I sometimes even let the dishes pile up before her arrival! She always joins us for lunch when she's finished and I try to cook something extra-creative on those days.

So, I was sitting up on my little balcony out front, lamenting the state of my way overgrown garden, wondering how I could begin to tackle it. I do not like gardening...pulling weeds was a punishment for us kids during my childhood and I guess that resentment has carried over into adulthood for me. The gardener who had previously helped me stood me up twice, so I could no longer count on him. Just as I was feeling desperate, a young couple (early 40's) stopped in front of my fence as they were out for a walk. They were admiring the painting on my gate posts so I called down to greet them. As they looked up and waved, the wife whispered something to her husband and he called back, "Maybe you need someone to help you clean
Overgrown Garden - BEFORE pictureOvergrown Garden - BEFORE pictureOvergrown Garden - BEFORE picture

Weeds, weeds and more weeds! Too overwhelming to tackle and I've never been an avid gardener...Fabian and Hilda to the rescue!
up your garden? We are looking for work" and just like that, my problem was solved...kismet, fate, destiny, luck!

Fabian and Hilda came early the next morning, ready to tackle the overgrown garden. They are honest, hardworking and kind. They've been really struggling during the quarantine, out of work and trying to provide for their son, Jonathon. He is 21 and studying medicine at the Central University in Quito. During the quarantine he's come to stay with his parents in Baños and he continues his studies online, however his parents have to continue to pay for the room he rents in Quito. Some landlords have made exceptions during this time, but they were not so lucky.

The following week, while Hilda was cleaning Shana's house Fabian accompanied me on a journey to Ambato, the big city an hour away. I went to the Supermaxi grocery store to stock up on imported and luxury goods that are not available here in Baños...things like portobello mushrooms, asparagus, Chinese pea pods, cranberry juice, rawhide dog chews, Greek yogurt, dill pickles, etc. We had lunch in
Garden is Taking ShapeGarden is Taking ShapeGarden is Taking Shape

Many thanks to Fabian and Hilda for their gardening expertise and hard work!
the all-but-deserted Food Court where they only use sterilized metal cutlery and real porcelain plates (no more disposable plastics!)

On the way home from the mall we stopped in the villages where residents sell plants on the roadside. Fabian was impressed by my bargaining skills and we bought a dozen different plants to help fill out the garden. I got one plant called a "Chinese Lantern" that I'm hoping will climb the fence, providing privacy and hiding the prison-like black metal bars. Once the garden work was all but complete I began to look around for more jobs to keep Fabian in work.

The first project was a new floor for my covered rooftop terrace. I use this space as my living room (and laundry drying area) and the old cement surface was cracked and discolored. Fabian and I went to the hardware store to learn about a colored powder (caoba) that is mixed with cement to create a permanent brick-colored surface. Alas, almost as soon as the new floor was completed there was a big rain (coming in sideways with the
Upgrades to Upstairs TerraceUpgrades to Upstairs TerraceUpgrades to Upstairs Terrace

Tinted cement on the floor (caoba is the color name) together with fresh paint on the walls and the space is transformed into a true 'living room' - not just a laundry hangout spot with a sofa!
wind) which damaged his work. He did try to repair the darkened puddles a bit, but it's still uneven in color. Oh well, I told him, we have to accept that Pacha Mama is also an artist and thus her contributions to the project.

The floor finally dried (but still, the reddish tint rubs off on CiCi's white fur when she rolls around on it) and I had another idea. Climbing the stairs I saw the layer of red atop the surface of the cement steps SO I dug out my box of antique tiles and we created a tile arrangement for the riser of the top step, which also protects the edge of the colored surface. I am thrilled with how these special tiles look in their new, permanent home. They are Portugese style tiles that I bought in Malacca (the Portugese colony of Malaysia) and I love their textured surface. The design is created with a cotton string which separates the colors of the glaze and burns off during firing, leaving a ridge which enhances the pattern. Ficelle Brulée is the French name of this technique, meaning burnt twine.
Tiled Riser - Top StepTiled Riser - Top StepTiled Riser - Top Step

To welcome visitors to my newly improved outdoor living room and to protect the new floor surface I had the workman piece some favorite antique tiles onto the riser.

For awhile I'd been considering how to hide my unsightly laundry corner - washing machine, hot water heater, cement washing stone, cleaning supplies. I was considering something like a bamboo screen, but when I saw the new entryway that Shana's handyman had created I knew that I had found my solution. Marcelo helped to dismantle an old, falling-down house and he snatched up the 100+ year old linking floor boards before they were destined for firewood. Shana's entry used to have decaying straw mats and now has permanent wooden pallets made from the floorboards. I love the look for variation in color created by the different kinds of wood.

So, I hired Marcelo to make me an L-shaped enclosure to create an outdoor laundry room. The area is under cover from the overhang of the terrace roof above. I'm really pleased with the outcome - simple, rustic, practical, recycled! Once the wooden wall was up I realized that the side of the stairway, the last few steps at the bottom, has gotten damaged and discolored because the roofing doesn't reach out that
Laundry EnclosureLaundry EnclosureLaundry Enclosure

Recycled wood planks from a 100 yr old house that was torn down create this simple laundry room wall
far. SO, out came the box of tiles again and I had just enough left to complete a tile mosaic on the edge of the bottom steps. Fabian helped me create a template on a huge cardboard box so I could play with the tile arrangement on a flat surface. Then he came to affix the tiles and the result is fantabulous! Gracias maestro! Thank you to these workmen who embrace my wacky ideas and help me bring them into being!

I feel like I have aged a LOT in during the quarantine...I'm sure I'm not the only one. My hair has gone greyer in the past 6 months than it had in 60 years! It's all ok, it's my turn but it's a reminder of aging too. Here in Ecuador the expression used (when you are forgetful or some joint it aching...) LA PV (short for Puta Vejez -- mild transation: damn old age!) For a number of years now I've felt some stiffness in my left hand (and I'm a lefty!) but now I have to confess that it's full-blown arthritis. Each morning upon awakening I need to do

I´ve had some of these tiles for decades. It was finally time to affix them permanently where they can be admired all the time!
some gentle stretching to get the fingers moving...CiCi always gets up and rubs up against the side of my bed. I plunge my hand into her sleepy-warm fur, rubbing her warm, smooth belly, sending out Reiki healing which she transmits back to me along with some canine lovin'.

Since I'm the lemonade maker, Shana's electric juicer now lives at my house. The manual squeezer was hurting my hand. I also find myself aware of finger and joint pain when cutting and chopping. I have an ongoing embroidery project which I began over 30 years ago. I've recently come to realize that I'd better finish work on it while I'm still able to do needlcraft handiwork. Even baubling mirror and picture frames had become more challenging as movement of my fingers becomes more limited.

I have resumed my yoga classes, 3x per week for the past 2 months. It's just Adriana (the teacher), 82 yr old Bolivar (who owns a hotel down the road from me) and myself in a large, well-ventilated space. I always take the spot beside the open door and
View from Yoga ClassView from Yoga ClassView from Yoga Class

I always place my mat beside the wide open door to enjoy better air circulation and this view of town from above and across the river.
enjoy a view of town from just across the river. I can see the waterfall and the church steeples, all of town as it nestles in the valley. Ommm

Although I've practiced yoga on and off for the past 20 years, I feel like this time I'm taking it more seriously. I realize how important it is as I age. Alas, my teacher is moving back to her home country, Peru in a few weeks so the challenge will be for me to create and become comfortable with a personal practice that I WILL continue regularly on my own. The many physical and emotional benefits of regular yoga practice cannot be overestimated!

The Kullki Wasi Savings and Loan Cooperative where I have a fixed term policy (like a CD - that pays me 10%!i(MISSING)nterest!!) came around to my house (unannounced) to deliver a huge fruit basket to thank me for my confidence. The Coop is out of Salasaca, an indigenous community a half hour from here. Kullki (pronounced Koosk-key) means money in Kichwa and Wasi (also spelled Huasi) means house, so my saving
A Gift From the BankA Gift From the BankA Gift From the Bank

I have a CD (term policy) at an indigenous-owned Savings and Loan Cooperative (Kullki Wasi which translates as House of Money). Here's how they showed their appreciation for my confidence in them!
are hanging out in the House of Money! The giant tower of fruit (at least 3 feet tall) included everything from apples, pears, oranges, tangerines, a pineapple, a babaco (local hybrid fruit...cross between a papaya and a starfruit) and a can of peaches in heavy syrup (which seem to be a special holiday treat here!)

I was able to gift a lot of the fruit (along with lemons from my try) and we made an apple crisp (Shana is the master peeler), and the next week a babaco and peach crumble. I'm still cooking a lot, trying out new recipes, getting creative. Not too many desserts as they just get gobbled down too quickly! My latest new cooking adventure, a cream of chicken soup, was a hit!

Shana and I had a friend and her husband over for lunch...a big deal since no one's doing much entertaining these days. Since two of the walls of my dining room are sliding glass doors, it's the perfect COVID gathering place! I made a fish and shrimp ceviche (-the fish "cooks" in lime juice and
Ladies' LuncheonLadies' LuncheonLadies' Luncheon

Lunch with Shana and Janis. Fresh ceviche (fish pickled in lime juice combined with lightly steamed shrimp) served with popcorn and plantain chips, Ecuadorian style!
stays sweet and tender -super yummy!). It was a 'build your own' ceviche with diced tomatoes, onions, avocados, celery, cucumber, cilantro to add to the pickled fish as desired. I served separate baskets of popcorn and plantain chips for each person (more hygienic!). Janis and Jim had not left the house in months (their favorite taxi driver, Ines, does their shopping for them) so this gathering was a big deal! A delicious and pleasant time was had by all!

Janis always says that Ines is her angel, and I got to experience this firsthand when my truck got stuck in a ditch. My yoga class is up a fairly steep and narrow road. It was sluicing down rain and as I tried to do a 3 point turn on the slick cobblestones, my front end slid into the deep cement drainage gutter on a hill, on a curve! I was hung up on a small cement block, my wheel spinning in mid-air. The first vehicle to come down the hill was Ines in her pick-up truck taxi. She went on to drop off her passengers and came back up the hill
OOPS! Stuck in a Ditch!OOPS! Stuck in a Ditch!OOPS! Stuck in a Ditch!

Trying to turn around I slipped off the cement pad and got hung up over a deep drainage ditch. Our fave female taxi driver, Ines came by to save the day!
with a broad plank of wood. Dodging sideways rain, sloshing in the mud we used my jack to raise up the truck's body enough to slide the plank under the suspended wheel. It worked!! I felt bad because I didn't have my wallet, so I gave her all the coins from the change purse I keep in my truck (about $5) and the loaf of wheat bread I'd just bought.I felt bad I didn't have more to give her. She balked, not wanting anything... but finally accepted my modest show of thanks


I also had a visit from my adopted sister, Beatriz and her husband Juan. They live in Riobamba, about an hour and a half away. Beatriz is from the coast and she'd been missing coastal foods so we decided she'd teach me how to make CORVICHE, a fried oval of grated plantain dough filled with peanut paste mixed with a roux of tomato, onion, garlic and chili then stuffed with albacore tuna or shrimp (we used shrimp). We had a ball making and eating them. And this experiment inspired Beatriz and Juan (who is a trained chef)
Adopted Sister BeatrizAdopted Sister BeatrizAdopted Sister Beatriz

Since she now lives just an hour and a half away, Beatriz often comes to visit. Here she's teaching me how to make a typical snack from her home on the coast.
to make and sell them in their mountain town...a huge success which has helped them through these lean a public school teacher Beatriz has only received a paycheck two of the past five months!

Shana and I were fortunate enough to get out of town two Sundays in a row! The driving restrictions have been relaxed to allow transit every other Sunday, and the weekend after that was a national holiday so to stimulate the reactivation of tourism, all vehicles were allowed to circulate. Both times we went down towards the Amazon Basin to visit La Finca de la Vaca owned by my good friend Patrick who also owns Swiss Bistro Restaurant in Baños. The jungly recreation area and restaurant (Cow Ranch) has a heavenly swimming pool which follows a curve in the river. I've been there a few times to stretch my spine swimming in the bracing, cold water.

Each Sunday we were accompanied by a different friend; each one of them looked after Shana, helping her walk along the uneven stone pathways with very few handrails...not the easiest environment
Golden Brown CorvicheGolden Brown CorvicheGolden Brown Corviche

Grated green plantain makes a doughy mass which is filled with peanut paste and shrimp or fish, then formed and fried. Corviche is super yummy!
for her to get around. Their help liberated me to romp and swim and really have a break from caregiving...a break that I didn't realize how much needed. It was a welcome respite from my daily responsibilities helping Shana. I swam to my heart's content having the whole pool to myself for an hour before more families started to arrive. It actually got a bit crowded on the outdoor terrace where we were dining -- all of the socially distanced tables were occupied. It felt strange and good for things to feel "back to normal", as it were.

Another sign of a return to normalcy was a roadside sight on the way down to the Finca in Cumandá. The first Sunday we saw a common sight, a whole pig hanging up waiting to be carved into chunks and sizzled in a huge copper wok to make the famed Fritada. It's a favorite fast food for travellers -- super greasy and yummy. By the second Sunday all that was left of that pig was a small piece of skin! Must've been some travellers stopping for a bite along the way! Roadside pork
Swimming Heaven!Swimming Heaven!Swimming Heaven!

Less than an hour from my house, down towards the jungle, this magical place is one of my favorite swim spots. My friend Patrick created this awesome pool along a bend in the river.
is a sign that things are returning to normal. That, and the ice cream truck that has resumed its musical climb up my road each afternoon!

And this past Sunday I started collecting payment for a translation that I did. The nicest hotel in town, Hotel Sangay, needed their 28-page Biosecurity Protocol translated into English for the Tour Operators who work with Europeans and North Americans. To help out the owner, who is a friend of mine, I didn't charge for my work. Instead we did a trade so I'd have use of the pool and her nothing and I've sure been missing my water exercises! It's a beautiful spot at the base of the waterfall which is visible from all over town; La Cabellera de la Virgen (The Virgin's Cascading Hair). The morning I went to swim and soak there were at least 6 or 8 families there (wealthy Ecuadorians). Baños lives on tourism and it's good to see it starting up again...albeit masked and with hygiene and distancing protocols (which I knew all too well from my translating hours!)

Beautiful Pool! Beautiful Pool! Beautiful Pool!

Fanciest hotel in town at the base of the Virgin's Hair Waterfall. I did a translation for them and took my pay in use of the pool and jacuzzi!!

Is it possible that CiCi just keeps getting smarter? She turned 6 last month (estimated age since she was found in a park). Lately she LIVES for her walks (twice a day, rain or shine). Usually one walk is longer...about a half hour round trip up into the foothills of the volcano. The other is usually shorter; sometimes down to the neighborhood shop for eggs or milk and a good sniff of her canine buddies (they send her "pee mail"). She's always excited and talkative when I put on socks and shoes, but lately she gets going as soon as I reach for a mask!

I've decided to let my hair grow long again...a pony tail or a bun or a braid is just so much easier than keeping it presentable in a short style. Very excited that it's long enough to braid again! Shana and I continue to meet up each day for lunch and Scrabble. I keep busy doing all the shopping plus her banking and managing her medication. One of her pooches is having trouble walking, so it's up to me to also administer the pup's

My Ecuadorian friends tell me that you can't see my greys since my hair is such a light brown, but I can see them! More greys in the past 6 months than in my first 60 years!
daily meds too!

Hope you are all well. If you've read this far be sure to scroll down and see another dozen pictures or so. I've been getting a little "snap happy" -- spending so much time at home and focusing on changes in my immediate environment. Wishing you and yours good health and continued strength and joy during these uncertain times. Don't forget to always look for silver linings.

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 34


Looking Down at the Dining RoomLooking Down at the Dining Room
Looking Down at the Dining Room

From my terrace steps I can admire the glass block detail which drenches my dining area with light!

19th August 2020

the pic of Shana in the sun is beautiful!!! Your home is so wonderful! It is truly the culmination of all of your travels and experiences and adventures on display! I love it for you!!!!!

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