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February 7th 2021
Published: February 10th 2021
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Earring FlowersEarring FlowersEarring Flowers

The local name for this bush is the earring flower. I can see why!
Hola loyal blog readers! Let me begin this entry with a WARNING - the following includes a slightly graphic description of a medical procedure. If that kind of thing makes your stomach lurch, skip down to the 4th paragraph. (haha, now you're all curious and will surely read right from the start)



In early December when I returned to Ecuador from the US, I planned to stay in Quito for a few days to deliver some of the things I'd brought for my friends and also to have a colonoscopy. (oh joy!) Since I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease 20 years ago, I'm supposed to have my colon scoped every three years...and I think it's been at least five since my last test (but who's counting?). I stayed with my 92 year old friend Margarita that first night, since I was bringing her Backjoy seats from the US. I was grateful to have my own ensuite bathroom at her place, since the colon prep often causes you spend most of the night in the loo. I had eaten almost nothing the whole day, so it wasn't too bad and I was actually even able to get a few
Up in the Clouds Up in the Clouds Up in the Clouds

Meli and I pose in front of Mama Tungurahua, a now dormant volcano, as seen from the Casa del Arbol.
hours of sleep.









The next morning my dear friend Annie met me at the clinic - you are required to have someone accompany you since they use a "twilight sleep" anesthetic. Upon awakening from it you feel like you've just slept 8 hours...ahh! However, when I awoke (refreshed) they informed me that they had been unable to do the procedure because my colon wasn't clean enough for the necessary visualization. Seriously? SO - I spent the next night at Annie's, fasting all day (again) and ingesting yet another two liters of the vile prep solution! Happily discovered that if I put it in the freezer it went down easier (maybe the ice cold fluid deadens the taste buds). I began the prep at 4 pm so I was pretty much done by 9:00 and slept a fair bit that night.









I showed up for the exam AGAIN the next morning. This time before anesthetizing me they did a tentative scope poke while I was awake (yowch) to make sure that all was clear, but alas the doc told me that she could
Vibrant HydrangeasVibrant HydrangeasVibrant Hydrangeas

CiCi and I pose with some of the most brilliantly hued hydrangeas (called hortensias en español).
not perform the exam. She said it's probably because I have strictures, narrowing at various spots in the intestinal tract, that I was unable to fully cleanse as needed...even with two rounds of prep and two days of fasting!! My insurance covers the cost of the procedure but the doctor explained that it would be submitted as NOT completed. However I was required to pay $79 for the anesthesia I'd received the previous day. The way I choose to look at it, I paid for an expensive, much needed nap!









I had a quick visit with dear friends Mario, Melissa and their son Joaquin in the valleys below Quito to deliver a special Lego kit I'd muled back from the US. It was ok that we didn't have much time together because two weeks later they came down to Baños to stay with me for a few days. We had so much fun together...lighting the Hanukah candles, playing card games, hiking in the hills above my house, frolicking in the hot springs, and visiting the Casa del Arbol where the famous Swing at the End of the World is located. When
Baños from AboveBaños from AboveBaños from Above

Hang on tight little Joaquin...the wind could blow us right over the edge!
I first visited the Tree House Swing you had to slog through a big mud pit to get there. Now it's a popular tourist spot so there are beautiful gardens, safety belts on the swings, balance beams and parcours challenges for the kids, a mini zipline...we all had a ball, especially CiCi! On the way back we stopped at Cafe del Cielo (Heaven Cafe) and enjoyed amazing views of Baños from high above town.









When I first settled back in at home I struggled with how to fill all the free time I suddenly had on my hands. Maricarmen now takes care of Shana full time and it's a huge relief for me to give up those duties, but I hadn't realized how much I would miss spending daily time with my dear friend. I felt at loose ends with no commitments on my time. I felt myself sinking into depression -- finding it hard to motivate myself to take CiCi for her twice daily walks, staying in pajamas all day immersing myself in guilty pleasures - watching old seasons of Grey's Anatomy, eating big bowls of pasta (self-soothing with food).
Wacky Hanukah Wacky Hanukah Wacky Hanukah

Joaquin and his parents came down from Quito to light the last night of Hanukah candles with me!
When I realized during a videochat with my sister that I hadn't showered in a week, I knew I had to shake it off and pull myself together.









I now realize that a big part of my emotional decline had to do with Fernando - an Argentine guy I met in yoga class and fell hard for. I haven't had any kind of romance in my life for over a decade and I felt like he was truly interested in me, so I got my hopes up...high. I began to fantasize about the possibility of a relationship with this very masculine, tattooed, motorcycle-riding dude who was into yoga and meditation...a tantalizing and attractive mix and unlike anyone I'd been attracted to (well, there was a Scottish biker boyfriend when I was 28). Fer came over for lunch one day and told me that he had to go back to Argentina to help his 18 year old son through a tough time and that he may or may not return to Ecuador. What a huge letdown.









So, how to lift my emtions and
The Swing at the end of the WorldThe Swing at the end of the WorldThe Swing at the end of the World

La Casa de Arbol has become a huge tourist attraction in Baños since a photo published on Instagram won acclaim and awards. Whee! Lookit mee!!
fill my free time? The thermal mineral pools near my house opened up again (yay!), so I resumed my 2-3 times a week swimming and water aerobic routine. Our beloved yoga teacher was finally able to return to her home in Peru when the borders reopened, and several of us from the class have continued meeting 3x a week. A regular yoga practice is SO beneficial on SO many levels. I don't have the inclination or discipline to get down on the mat for a full session at home on my own, but Flo and Bolivar and I keep each other motivated and have created a sequence of postures that works well for us all. Flo (a former triathlete) is in her late 60's, Bolivar is 83 but plays tennis regularly, lifts weights and is passionate about yoga. So even though I'm the youngest of the group, I am definitely matched by my classmates' fitness and form.









I started opening myself to teaching again and I now have 5 students; three of them are in-person sessions (masked, which is not ideal for language teaching!) at my dining room table with all
Mirror Frame DetailMirror Frame DetailMirror Frame Detail

a mini metal pig, a lady´s garter hook, a mini hand-cuff and various keys form an artistic tableau
the sliding glass doors open wide. The other two are online. Ang is the mother of two small children so having an uninterrupted class is a near impossibility! She used to live near Quito and has moved back to the US and wants to keep up her Spanish. More often than not I have to wait for her while she's seeing to the needs of her kids (wiping poop, fixing a snack, averting a dangerous situation...) My other online student is a teacher at Colegio Americano...the school where I taught over 30 years ago! Her spoken English is quite good, but she wants to work on her written English so she sends me a few paragraphs each week.









Every teacher I know has said that online teaching is twice the work of regular classroom teaching. However, one teacher friend says that the big advantage is that she can mute any student who is being disruptive...now that's something you can't do in a live class (short of kicking them out!) Another friend joked that with online teaching everyone has become a TV star overnight!! I am very grateful that I have retired
Keys Broken and WholeKeys Broken and WholeKeys Broken and Whole

...form a sunburst design as the centerpiece for this baubled frame
from classroom teaching and I can choose to work with individual learners online, or not. Facebook messenger videochats have been the most stable connection for me...the few times I tried ZOOM the mouth didn't match the words, the images froze or the signal got dropped.









Nothing can raise spirits and dampen anxiety like diving into the world of baubles. The upstairs room of my little front house is a wonderland of beads and buttons and broken bits of jewelry, all organized into divided boxes and glass jars. SO, I had a mirror cut to fit an old black frame that I refound (I knew it had to be somewhere and I discovered it had slipped behind my crafting desk!) and I set to work baubling it with old keys and bits and bobs of silvery metal. I enter a different world when I am up in my art space...a feeling of mental and emotional flow that distorts time and carries my thoughts elsewhere. Why had I waited so long to reclaim this magical space? When I make the trek up those steep stairs, I know I will lose hours and hours
Baubled Mirror FrameBaubled Mirror FrameBaubled Mirror Frame

Using old keys and other bits and bobs of silver metal I created a mirror masterpiece!
of my life. So what? For now, I have the time!









The corner bookstore in town owned by a lovely Danish woman and her local husband is named ILUSIONES and has, as its logo, a fanciful dragonfly. Nynne and Juan Diego have always been generous about displaying and selling the work of local artists, including some of my smaller decorated picture frames. Over the past 3-4 years they've sold a few in their shoppe, more often than not to friends from the expat community. The "key-rimmed" mirror, which brings to mind "steampunk" style, is the largest piece I've ever foisted on them and I put a high price tag on it ($120). It took me over three weeks of nearly daily work to complete and if it does sell, I hope it goes to someone who can appreciate it in all of its wacky wonderfulness.









In a previous blog I posted pics of a hexagonal mirror that I decorated with semi-precious stones (chalcedony, unakite, picture jasper, tiger eye, crystals, etc) - In the end I decided not to part with it...it's now
Piecemeal Recycled TablePiecemeal Recycled TablePiecemeal Recycled Table

A solid wood sauna door got beautiful wooden legs and my dining table is complete!
hanging over my bathroom sink. The same might eventually happen with the key mirror if it doesn't sell in a few years - that's a hefty price tag for frippery in this culture and economy. I rarely keep my own creations...more often than not I gift them to a friend or family member.









There were two "home improvement" projects that I had on the back burner, so I moved ahead with completing them both. My dining room table for the past year has been a solid wood door (rescued from my neighbor's former sauna that got turned into a laundry room) balanced on two "saw horse" type bent metal rebar supports; their triangularity made for reduced legroom and infuriating tripping hazards. I traded them both to Leonidas, my maestro woodworker, in exchange for cutting plywood circles for a recycled footstool project that you'll get to see a few paragraphs down from here.









I also contracted Leo to make me a pair of wooden T-shaped legs that support the heavy door and maximize legroom. Now 3 people can comfortably sit on each side.
WildflowersWildflowersWildflowers

...and colorful dishes. Using wooden shoe racks as shelving I keep everything close at hand. Notice my new wood countertop...smooth as silk!
I'm gearing up for post COVID entertaining! I spend a lot of time in my dining room - playing Scrabble, hosting luncheons, giving English lessons, gazing at the volcano when she's out. The light is fantastic with glass on three walls, open to the kitchen on the 4th. I'm happy that it's coming together, bit by bit. I'm currently using an old, silk sari as a tablecloth; it's stained and threadbare but it's a gorgeous seafoam green and it works for now.









One of my kitchen "counters" is actually a cheapo wood table that I traded for with my last landlord. Several years ago Leonidas made a bottom shelf for it to support my collection of baskets which I use to corral plastic containers, bags, paper plates and the like. I had been using a piece of colorful Indian cotton to cover the top which had ridges and was not very attractive or functional. Well, that piece of cloth finally bit the dust (sadly, clorox abuse is all too common amonst cleaning gals!) so I had Leo make a wood tabletop. Beautiful, practical, useful! (the entire cost for the both woodworking
Finished ArchwayFinished ArchwayFinished Archway

With lush green hillsides in the distance. I love where I live!
projects, table legs and tabletop - including materials - was $170 (! !) He's such an expert craftsman, a true artisan. Over the years he's constructed a number of things for me that we draw and design together: ceiling to floor bookshelves, a 10 foot long art desk with drawers and shelves, a huge pantry with shelving in the door, kitchen shelves...all of my storage needs are met beautifully!









The next home improvement idea was for the front garden. I envisioned a black iron archway over the front gate. My bougainvilleas have grown nicely and they now camouflage the vertical black metal bars of the front fence...in fact they're putting off long upper shoots that have just been begging to become entwined to form an arch! Using string to guide the floripondio trumpet-flower bush (more like a tree, about 6 feet tall!), it's almost ready to join the flowery arch display as well. So, time to build them some support!











Almost 5 years ago I briefly met an Argentine woman running a café at the bottom of my street. She
Arch from BelowArch from BelowArch from Below

Training plants to grow over the archway...floripondio trumpet flower and bougainvilla.
showed me a black iron table and some chairs, quite modern and angular, and told me they had been made by her partner, an Afro-Ecuadorian from Esmeraldas province. We've become friends on facebook, and in that way I was able to contact Esteban about creating my archway. He charged me $40 for his work and the metal bar cost $13. I gave him $60 because he brought a friend along to help him erect and attach the arch which he had constructed at home in his workshop. I'm so pleased with how it turned out...simple and understated but it completes the fence in an artful way making it feel so much less prison-like!









I may have mentioned my seamstress friend, Zahra, in a previous blog. I met her when I was directed to her workshop to offload some too large blue jeans given to me by Billy who'd lost a bunch of weight. She made an adorable jacket from a couple of the pairs. She has helped both me and Shana take in and let out clothes, updating our wardrobes, so we invited her up for a progressive lunch one day
Zahra with NecktiesZahra with NecktiesZahra with Neckties

My seamstress friend was as excited as I was about my recycled tires and ties project. Here we are choosing color combinations.
(appetizer at my house and then down to Shana's for the main course). We discoverd that she really hasn't met many people (aside from her clients) during her 8 months in Baños. It's hard to make new friends during a pandemic.









And thus blossomed my friendship with Zahra, a young Muslim woman almost exactly half my age! She comes from Iran and aside from being a gifted designer and seamstress, she has a master's degree in Persian literature. Her dream is to do a PhD at University of Michigan...she's even been in contact with an Iranian professor there who would be her advisor. In the next 4-6 months she should be called up for an interview at the US Embassy in Quito in preparation for the issuance of a student visa. A lot of our lessons involve the types of questions and answers that might come up. She is extremely bright and such a delightfully joyful person!









We have an arrangement - in exchange for English lessons and lunch at my house every Sunday, she does small repairs and projects for me
Two Ottomen (haha)Two Ottomen (haha)Two Ottomen (haha)

CiCi poses with the almost finished products - old car tires covered with silk neckties to create hassock footstools. Stunning!!
each week. One Sunday we went through my fabric scraps from all over the world. They have been carefully stored in a lead-lined tea chest that I bought at the Salvation Army in Tokyo. Also in the magic trunk were seldom-worn clothes from SE Asia and Africa. We admired my antique cotton and lace wedding dress and rediscovered all of the old neckties I'd been gathering. During the days of collecting donations for the volunteer library secondhand shop, I gathered a wide selection of men's ties. In 1987 when I was in Panajachel, Guatemala I saw a woman wearing a skirt made out of old ties and that image never left my mind. When I mentioned the idea to Zahra she got super excited and showed me a YouTube tutorial that a Persian friend of hers had made - creating a type of hassock/ottoman/footstool from old tires and old ties. I had seen something like this too and showed her the photo I had saved of it.









Together we conceptualized, found the necessary materials and created these functional recycled works of art. I washed all of the ties, we sorted them
Helping Zahra HealHelping Zahra HealHelping Zahra Heal

She used to be deathly afraid of dogs after a frightening childhood experience, but CiCi has helped her learn how to love dogs!
by color and design and came up with what you see here. The tires are topped with a thick plywood disk (thanks Leo!) then the whole thing wrapped in a thin sheet of foam. The necktie covers have elastic bottom and easily come on and off. I think they are absolutely exquisite! Since this photo was taken we've added more fluffly stuffing to make them poofy on top and now wooden legs are in the works (thanks again, Leo!)









At the bottom of the fabric trunk we uncovered my High School denim overalls. I was loved embroidery when I was 15-16 years old, so virtually every seam and pocket is covered with colorful stitching (which 45 years later is actually holding them together!) At one point my niece Jenna wore them for a year or two. I sure felt like a cool aunt when she asked if she could borrow them! And tucked in the back pocket was a pocket flap from a denim vest I had embroidered for my mother. SO - these beautiful bits will be cobbled together into a shoulder bag (for carrying teaching materials?) - I can't
My Last Embroidery ProjectMy Last Embroidery ProjectMy Last Embroidery Project

Started in 1990, I finally completed this piece and had it made into a big pillow. I then gave away the rest of my embroidery floss.
wait to see what Zahra comes up with and how she works in all the pockets and their embroidered gardens! Zahra asked if I would teach her to embroider -- it took less than a half hour and she had it down. She has already created some beautiful things. She says it's relaxing for her, like painting with thread...so true!









For a few years now I've been feeling increasing pain and stiffness in the fingers of my left hand. I finished a long-abandoned embroidery project (Zahra turned it into a big pillow for me!) and I then traded or gave away the rest of my embroidery floss and materials. The pain had been steadily getting worse toward the end of last year and before I went to the US I saw a doctor in Quito. The ring finger of my left hand seemed to be the culprit, causing it to be difficult to grip, hold, grab and open things. In the space of two weeks I dropped three glass jars (some of the full of sticky, gooey stuff...yuk!) An echosonogram showed tendonitis and some thickening of the ligament at the base of the finger towards the palm. This would cause the finger to sometimes stay stuck down, then pop back up -- ouch!









The doctor explained that there is a simple outpatient surgery, very minor requiring just 3 or 4 stitches where the ligament is clipped to release the tendons. He indicated, however that I might want to wait and see if the problem progresses or improves. He gave me megadose paracetamol horse pills to take at night so I wouldn't awaken with such immobility. It's gotten to the point where I can't grasp a toothbrush first thing in the morning...I've had to learn to use my right hand. I am a "dyed in the wool" lefty, so switching hands has been nearly impossible for some activities, like cutting carrots, grating cheese, tying my shoes, clipping CiCi's leash on and off and even washing and brushing my hair. Dozens of times a day I feel a zing of pain or struggle to complete a simple activity. It makes me feel old and feeble. It's frustrating how just that one stubborn finger affects the functionality of all the others on that hand!
An Artful CornerAn Artful CornerAn Artful Corner

Zahra brought me a huge bunch of yellow chrysanthemums which have lasted for weeks! I re-arranged them all with another bunch of wildflowers.









I've really had to push myself to take longer walks with CiCi; it's straight uphill from my house, but at least it's downhill coming home! If the weather is nice, I set off intending to pick wildflowers which takes us higher up the hillside where the most colorful blooms can be found. I've enjoyed making various wildflower arrangements, several of which you can see pictured here. I seem to need creative outlets and I'm now cooking more as well. Maricarmen is feeling overwhelmed by all she must do for Shana, and neither of them is much into cooking so I've been making meals for us all 3-4 times a week. I enjoy preparing creative dishes, setting a beautiful table, and bringing yummy joy to others. Since I have the time, it doesn't feel like a chore. Occasionally I will ask one of them to help me with the clean-up...I don't love washing dishes.









Maricarmen's stress level has really ramped up during the past month. Shana's daughter sent her 17 year old son to stay with his grandmother...for THREE months! Ideally he is here
Shana and AlexShana and AlexShana and Alex

No idea what possessed Shana's daughter to send her 17 year old son to spend THREE months with his grandmother ... during this pandemic!!
to improve his Spanish. What could she have been thinking? Does she not realize we are living through a pandemic? Some friends found him an unpaid internship at a hotel in town so at least he has somewhere to go, but hopefully he is staying safe and will not bring the virus home to his grandma. Maricarmen feels like she has to cook for him, do his laundry and wait on him hand and foot...in addition to caring for Shana. I keep reminding her that he's a big boy and he can take care of himself.









Once a month Mari and Zahra and I take a shopping trip to Ambato, the big city an hour away. Zahra can find sewing supplies she needs for specific client requests and Mari and I can shop for grocery items that are not available in Baños. Then we all meet up for lunch. Getting away even just for a day is a great way for Mari to de-stress a bit. There's a big, new mall with a supermarket that carries some products I've never before seen in Ecuador (water chestnuts and bamboo shoots in little
Shopping Mall SceneShopping Mall SceneShopping Mall Scene

I'm told this is an advent scene, Mary waiting to give birth. The town of Latacunga is famous for its basketry, showcased in this display.
cans, jars of red curry paste, vacuum sealed gnocchi, smoked trout and more yummies!) Since I rarely eat out these days, I treat myself to extra special goodies I wouldn't ordinarily buy.









The contents of this blog actually began in early December when I first returned from the states. If you scroll down after the end of the text you will see some Christmasy photos. It might seem strange to be looking at them in mid-February, but I know people who keep their decorations up this long! Keep scrolling to the very end for another half a dozen bonus pics! Thanks for reading my musings and ramblings. If you feel so inspired, please leave me a comment or a message below. I love to hear from you!


Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 35


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Ana's Holiday BasketAna's Holiday Basket
Ana's Holiday Basket

Seen at a friend's house on the jungle's edge - she invited me for Christmas Eve dinner and her home was beautiful decorated!
Nativity SceneNativity Scene
Nativity Scene

Seen at my bank...oversized human figures beside miniature cutout facades of the bank's branch offices.
Recycled Holiday DecorationsRecycled Holiday Decorations
Recycled Holiday Decorations

Using painted fruit crates, a local hotel created a clever Christmas Tree.
Lemon Tree DecorationsLemon Tree Decorations
Lemon Tree Decorations

I have hung beaded and woven birds and butterflies from the branches of my tree.
Almost Grooming TimeAlmost Grooming Time
Almost Grooming Time

CiCi's muzzle is perpetually messy once her fur grows long...dirty mouth, but so dang cute!
Overarching FloripodioOverarching Floripodio
Overarching Floripodio

Welcome to our house! CiCi beckons from the front porch, peering from beneath the trumpet flower bushes.
My Goddaughter and her kidsMy Goddaughter and her kids
My Goddaughter and her kids

After delivering a Chrome Book for her older son, Adrian, I visited with Jeaneth Flor and her two little ones Emily and Carlitos.
Tire and TiesTire and Ties
Tire and Ties

Zahra did an exquisite job opening the ties and sewing them together into this artful pinwheel of color and patterns!
Butterfly FlowerButterfly Flower
Butterfly Flower

...just about ready to burst into bloom. Flo's garden is truly stunning!
Baños at nightBaños at night
Baños at night

I nicked this pic from facebook...my house is to the right of the main road, about a third of the way up from the bottom right corner.
Jewel Tone HydrangeaJewel Tone Hydrangea
Jewel Tone Hydrangea

The depth of color on these blooms is remarkable!
Green Baños HillsidesGreen Baños Hillsides
Green Baños Hillsides

Another borrowed photo...I live on the edge of the valley pictured here.
Corner CupboardCorner Cupboard
Corner Cupboard

Colorful dishes can be admired through the glass front doors. I love to set a pretty table!
My Local Produce MarketMy Local Produce Market
My Local Produce Market

Huge guanabanas and fat bananas flank a box full of end of season mangoes. Free range eggs stacked behind.


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