Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year 2010!

Took our usual trip downtown on Sunday, met up with a couple of couples and had tea etc., saw a passing parade, picked up some fruit and caught the bus home. Monday was shopping/chore day and Tuesday morning we spent prepping finger food for several guests we'd invited over Tuesday afternoon. We made humus & set out Shelley's home made salsa. We cut Shelley's home made cheese log and put together a special savory vegetable appetizer dish. We dished out crackers & olives & pickles & pita bread and generally set out a small feast. Why is it that all entertaining seems to centre around food? From time to time Monday & Tuesday a smaller version of the Children's parade would pass us by. We could usually tell because a band would be playing or music would be blaring from a loud speaker system on one of the floats.

There were 4 couples that came over and we just barely had seating for 10 people. The food mostly turned out; some of it very good, some just OK and we talked the usual talk about our feelings here in Ecuador, learning to speak Spanish & overcoming small hurdles.

"It went well?" Brian asked Shelley after everyone had left.

"Sure Brian" Shelley agreed. "It went well..."

We did a bit of research but never did find out what you call a soiree when it's in the middle of the afternoon, but by the time everyone left it was getting dark so we'll settle on soiree. About the middle of the event, it started to rain & thunder & lightning and as the storm was very close & it actually rattled the building a couple of times. We're still getting regular power outages and so all agreed the rain was a good thing. Our party broke up as a matter of fact because one of the couple's power was due to go out in their building and they didn't want to walk up the several stories to their suite. There's no generator in their building at all and so even their elevator doesn't work during the outages. The next day we found out that the outages would be suspended again for awhile; at least over the New Year's weekend. If the rains keep up, a while may turn into something more than a few days. We can only wait and see.

Wednesday was our bill day and we'd arranged to meet some people to have lunch with them and see their new short term rental apartment afterward. They'd spent quite some time renovating it and were almost finished. We all met at the new Kookaburra Cafe where some of us had a North American type breakfast and others of us had an absolutely wonderful grilled sandwich and still others a tasty looking spaghetti dish. The owners are Australians (who would have thought from the name) and are very personable & friendly. It was a nice experience and we settled in to the point where the proprietor was thinking of charging rent. Afterwards we walked to our friend's rental apartment and were absolutely charmed. It's a bright & airy two bedroom apartment (2 twins in one room & a queen in the other) in a heritage building, with rustic but tasteful furnishings, plus WiFi internet, TV and small & large appliances in the kitchen (not to mention washer & dryer) and, to top it off, it has fascinating views of the river and colonial Cuenca. We'd heard so much about the apartment as they'd (1) gone through the process of renovating it (2) complying with Cuenca heritage building regulations & (3) furnishing it, we really appreciated the opportunity to finally see the place.

By Wednesday evening the river was so high, it was flowing over the tip of the island just outside our window. The large branch the indigenous women were using as a drying line was long gone. The water was creeping up the bank, consuming all the lower portions. Only the highest stumps were still visible at the edges of the island and only the hugest boulders stood up to the onslaught. We could hear the river even with the television on. We both stood by our window and looked out for at least 20 minutes and listened to the thunder and marveled at the variety we were experiencing in our environment. By 9:30 in the evening it had long stopped raining and although the river was still rushing, it had gone down a bit and wasn't threatening any more.

There's been a flurry of e-mails and we're trying to get together with several people for a New Year's Eve dinner. The restaurant we collectively first picked closes at 3:30 that's no good. We're waiting to hear the results of the next survey. We'll undoubtedly find a suitable place and gather and talk and marvel at our arrival in Ecuador and the simple fact we're sharing this New Year's Eve meal together. Brian & Shelley are probably socializing more now (that we're retired and in Ecuador) than we have for many years. It's somewhat of a sociological experiment in that this is true (we are told) for many of our friends. Some of us find work projects, some of us keep busy with travelling & visitors, some of us delve into the internet & hobbies and the list goes on...wethinks however, the secret kind; whether you're with others or alone by kind. Be kind & forgiving of foibles, be kind and be generous with yourself & on behalf of kind. To all the people who may read this kind. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

"Boy it sure doesn't feel like Christmas" Brian commented when we were walking around downtown and sweating slightly because it was so hot out.

We'd gone to the post office and picked up 2 Christmas cards from Canada and sat in the park and met a friend at the Nice Cream place while we were having lime tea. Beside the new Cathedral they're selling individual Christmas cards, too late to mail to Canada, but they're there. Angels abound walking on the street from toddlers to teenagers to adults. We went on a bit of a search for some hand crafted, cloth covered shoes that Shelley had spied but in the end she decided against them.

The power was out Monday 4 - 7 pm, Tuesday 7 - 10 pm and Wednesday 1 - 5 pm. We're not supposed to loose power on Christmas Day and usually the power doesn't go out Saturday or Sunday. It rained the other night, all night, and the river is up quite a bit, so we're keeping our fingers crossed for more night rain.

Christmas Eve Day we set out from our place at 10:10 in the morning to see this Children's Parade (Nino Viajero) that we've been told so much about. Last Christmas we were in Vilcabamba and missed the big one. Smaller Children's parades continue well through January and up until Carnival time in February. We walked to Gran Colombia and found a place in the shade and watched for 3 hours until our backs gave out. We've been told the parade goes for something like 7 hours! Passing on the sidewalk were dozens and dozens of children dressed as conquistadors & angels & shepherds & in traditional Ecuadorian costumes & biblical costumes and they weren't even a part of the official parade! The line of trucks & cars decked out as floats with children dressed in costumes sitting & standing on them continued down the road as far as you could see. Watching from our patch of shady sidewalk, 3 sets of friends passed us by and assured us the line went on forever! We'd dressed Fredi in her Santa hat and several people turned from the parade and took a picture of Fredi but she wasn't the only animal dressed up! We saw several dogs decked out as Santas and clowns. To see more pictures of Cuenca's Parades, including this Children's Parades, see our FaceBook album.

Christmas morning Shelley got up and made pecan pie. We'd been invited on Boxing Day to a Canadian friend's of ours for an open house/pot luck but she'd had to cancel (possibly reschedule to January) because her partner was unable to be in the country. Knowing how we'd feel if we couldn't spent Christmas together, we'd invited her and her family & a couple of friends she'd introduced us to over for Boxing Day turkey & pecan pie. Brian had picked up a turkey bag at the grocery store and was astonished that we'd be able to cook our 21 pound turkey in something less than 3 1/2 hours. We're keeping our fingers crossed it'll work.

In the mean time, we'd been invited over to a friend's place for prime rib, yorkshire & plum pudding at 3 in the afternoon on Christmas Day. Before going, we took Fredi for a good walk. Everywhere we went there were young families walking with their children and several dog walkers as well.

"They're supposed to be wearing heavy coats & boots & mittens & have red noses" Shelley told Brian.

It did seem odd to us. It was a gorgeous day; the sun was shining and it was quite hot out. We noted that both the local drug stores were open but the giant grocery store was closed. Christmas Eve is a bigger day in South America than Christmas Day, although we assume the churches were doing a booming business. Most people open their presents on Christmas Eve and they have a big meal quite late in the evening. Fireworks, always present it seems in Ecuador, went on all day Christmas Eve, all that evening and all day Christmas Day!

Our Christmas Day dinner was fabulous! There was a very diverse group of people with many different interests all gathered together in Ecuador sharing our time here. We ate until we were stuffed and then ate some more. Everyone told their stories and the highlight of the meal was the ritualistic flaming of the plum pudding which had been imported all the way from Marks & Spencer in England.

Boxing Day had us up early, peeling potatoes, making home made stuffing, dishing out pecan pie, chopping vegetables & generally puttering around the kitchen. (Brian worked on the turkey & stuffing, Shelley worked on the details). Our guests were due to arrive at 2 pm and Brian & Fredi went down for their nap at 11:53 am. Up at 1:15 pm we all (including Fredi) went into overdrive prepping for a complete turkey dinner with appetizers to begin (Fredi vigilantly patrolled the floor).

Our guests arrived right on time and we fed them smoked trout & Shelley's cheese log and talked about our season and our year just past and waited with trepidation for our 3 1/2 hour turkey. It ended up taking 4 hours but it did turn out juicy & wonderful. One of our guests brought Nanaimo Squares (a Canadian delicacy) which just topped the chart for wonderful things and generally it was a very good day.

We're now heading in to the end of the year. A time for reflection and review. It seems to us we've had a good year and hope 2010 continues to provide.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Excelsis Deo

On our neighbourhood walk, we ran into a Czechoslovakian ExPat with two 8 week old pugs. Fredi, being older intimidated them a little, but they were remarkably resilient and willing to put up with her little bit of bullying. Shelley couldn't get over how soft and cute the pugs were and Brian couldn't get over how sharp their little teeth were. We stopped and talked with the woman in a blended mixture of English & Spanish about our dogs, how much we like Cuenca & how ExPat night was divided into 2 venues these days. We're planning on attending ExPat night as it might be a long time before we'll get back and we're planning on visiting both venues.

First we stopped in at the Eucalyptus. We'd advised some friends we'd be going there and then on to Zoe's. When we arrived they already had a table. We were introduced to a new fellow we'd never met before and then along came another fellow new to Cuenca and then along came a Canadian couple we'd been talking to through the blog and before you know it, we needed a couple more tables. Just when everything started to get quite loud we decided it was time to be off to Zoe's. At Zoe's we encountered more friends and ended up having dinner with 3 other couples.

"I can actually hear the Canadian accent" Shelley told Brian at one point talking with our new friends. "It sounds good!"

Just about everyone had chicken madeira as recommended by Brian, although one person had a sea food dish & another ribs. It was a nice group and a nice evening and we quite enjoyed ourselves. Neither venue was crowded, although at Zoe's they were having a frat party upstairs with music and sing alongs, so that made the whole thing seem quite jolly.

Saturday took us downtown to the CB Carolina Book Store for our regular run. We met a young fellow from England and chatted with Carol and picked out our books and Fredi inspected everything on their floor. Later we met the Canadian couple at Sankt Florian for lunch. We'd talked with them through email and they'd brought us a bunch of chicken bouillon without MSG in it. When we first came to Cuenca we could find such bouillon but as happens here, the stock ran out and they didn't restock. We now have enough to keep us going for quite awhile and Shelley's daughter is also going to bring us some in February. After lunch we pointed out the furniture store where we'd purchased most of our stuff and it seemed to suit their needs as well.

There was no entertainment in the park on Sunday but we did run into 2 couples we know and went to a restaurant for lime tea, syrup cafe con leche & a pretty weird cappuccino. We caught up with each other's adventures the last while or so and talked about what we each were doing for Christmas. After we went our own way, we stopped at the street vendor and got Shelley a black skirt for Christmas Day and then we did our usual run to the market for fruit & Brian's pig lunch. Monday was shopping/chore day and Tuesday we ventured to a friend's place to share some of Shelley's modest computer knowledge. They served us cappuccino that wasn't weird and Fredi always enjoys exploring a new place.

For the last week or so, we've been seeing random angels (children dressed up as such) walking down the street and on the bus. Tuesday morning we got a preview to the Children's parade which they hold on Christmas Eve Day. About 1,500 angels, men playing instruments, young girls in long dresses and Santa's helpers paraded down our little side street. We figure that these were students from the school on the other side of the river practicing for the big day. We watched from the balcony and took pictures and clapped for their effort. Earlier in the morning, while we studying our Spanish, the demented school master was rotating the worse singers at his school through the PA system. It was extremely distracting while we were doing our translating and then the band and the huge parade came by putting an end to any thoughts we had of continuing to study.

That evening we went with several other couple friends to the Conciertos Navidenos put on by the Orquesta Sinfonica de Cuenca. It was absolutely fantastic! To begin with they had a children's choir which astonished us with some of the big voices on such tiny people. The symphony was wonderful (!) bringing tears to our eyes with the fullness of the music. There was a female soloist and an adult choir later on in the performance and they played many songs where the tune was recognizable to a North American audience as well as Christmas favourites of South America. We left the concert with big smiles on our faces and sang to the night air on our walk home.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Boredom is Largely in the Mind

Monday, on the way to do our weekly shopping, we ran into one of our oldest friends in Cuenca. We stopped in the street and talked about Christmas and both confessed we hadn't anything really planned as yet. That evening, that same friend phoned us up and invited us for prime rib, yorkshire pudding & plum pudding for dessert. We were thrilled!

"I'm not sure if what I got is really a prime rib" our friend told us "But they told me it was."

It'll be the first prime rib (?) we've seen since coming to Ecuador.

We made sure Fredi could come: "Of course!" was the answer and our Christmas Day plans became written in stone.

"What about turkey!" Brian wailed.

"We'll cook turkey on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day" Shelley placated him.

Some friends have been raving about this ceramics place called Artesa at Av. Isabel La Catolica 1-102 y Av. de Las Americas. We'd listened but weren't all that interested because we already had our place settings, etc. but did admire their settings and a few other pieces they'd picked up. However, things changed when Brian decided he wanted to have some nice serving bowls. We took the No. 28 bus out to just past the second river (going towards Coral). Isabel La Catolica is the second street past the river. You have to ring a bell (sticking your hand through the fence) from the dusty street and eventually someone comes out to open the gate for you. Don't be put off thinking the place is closed. There is a show room where a selection is on display but there is also a factory outlet where they sell seconds. We had to ask to be taken to the "seconds" section. In this section they have even more of a selection and we easily were able to pick out 3 medium sized serving bowls. We'd brought $60 with us figuring that would be enough and were more than pleased when the total bill came to $12.30! All the pieces having bright designs on them, are quite delightful & would do well gracing any home.

The powers that be had promised that the power outages would discontinue December 15th. They lied. OK - they didn't lie; their crystal ball was simply a bit cloudy. We have just been advised the outages will continue until the foreseeable future (presumably until it rains enough to fill up what needs to be filled). Monday our power was out 10 am - 1 pm, Tuesday 1 - 5 pm, Wednesday 7 - 10 pm, Thursday 10 am - 1 pm, Friday 8 - 10 am. We seem to do just fine adjusting our days for all of the outages except the 7 - 10 pm one. That one's just a little harder, but of course we get through it; we've re-discovered the games on our computer (which we can operate by battery) not to mention of course, our crib games.

Brian started his "famous" beef & kidney stew in the slow cooker and then we realized half the potatoes we'd purchased the other day were rotten. Off we took ourselves to the Feria Libre market to pick up some potatoes and whatever else we could see. Fredi got her free walk on the way there and on the way back, and we actually picked up the new movie 2012. It seems to be a pretty good copy; we got to see a piece of it on the TV at the place where it was sold. For $1.50 for a movie, one can't really complain too much but some of the copies are terrible: people walking in front of the screen, the sound quality is awful, everything is too dark, etc. so, we have learned always to pre-screen the movie at the store. The market is always quite crowded on Wednesdays, the biggest market day, but it was even more crowded than normal. Christmas season shopping we suppose? Incidentally, Brian's stew will keep him going for several days as Shelley's still eating salad ~ she's getting tired of salad ~ but she's still eating salad.

Downtown filling up our cards (bus cards & phone card) the power was out there too. After doing our chores, we stopped at the Nice Cream (generators running outside), had a lime tea & cappuccino and semi-shouted conversation to each other. Leaving the restaurant, we passed by the square where the main flower market is and an army band, decked out in their dress greens, were playing rather upbeat latin music. We sat down and enjoyed a few songs before continuing on our way to the 10th of August market to pick up a papaya. Not being burdened too much, we walked home (often we'll walk downtown & take the bus home) and legs a bit rubbery were happy to reach our door.

It's hard to get that pensive, thoughtful, arms wrapped around yourself, end of the year, Christmas thing going when you're looking out the window at hummingbirds, eucalyptus trees & green grass. That must be a Northern thing, unknown to those in the South. When you're in a warm place, looking out to frigid rain or snow, it's easy to contemplate your year when you've got a visual demonstration of the end of that year before your eyes. Brian's been telling Shelley about his forum visits and that several people on the forum are complaining about being bored in Ecuador/Cuenca after the initial flurry of getting settled.

"Well let them leave" Shelley tells Brian not the least bit sympathetic to the plight of these poor bored souls.

Boredom is largely in the mind, but there are practicalities to consider when moving to a different climate. A change in the weather often brings a change in your attitude. When the weather largely stays the same, you have to take care of your attitude on your own. Cuenca/Ecuador provides endless entertainment in the form of travel, cultural differences, music & art displays, a parade every second day, special meetings & outings for ExPats, shopping experiences, parks, hiking, bars & cabarets, horse back riding and the list goes on and on. We may not get that Northern pensive, contemplative thing going at the end of the year, but we're very grateful for the year we've had.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Beginning to Look

Thursday, we took Fredi for a walk in the neighbourhood and then Brian & Shelley split up. Brian was off to the airport to pick up tickets for the in-country flights relative to our daughter's visit in February, 2010. Brian will fly to Quito & pick her up and take her back to Quito on her return. While he was in the area, he was going to drop into the large hardware stores there and see if he could pick up a rather special lightbulb. Since Fredi is welcome at neither the airport nor the hardware stores, Shelley & Fredi went home and puttered around the apartment. Well...Shelley puttered and Fredi stared at the front door willing Brian to be home.

Earlier in the morning we'd received a telephone call inviting us over for dinner that evening and were rather thrilled to say "yes" because our power was due to be out. It was a lovely evening. Our hostess fed us home made Thai food with rice and mango sorbet for dessert. The conversation was easy flowing & we all seemed to really enjoy ourselves. As Brian had been restricted from alcohol for a couple of weeks due to taking antibiotics, he really enjoyed himself and had several glasses of wine. He got quite garrulous & Shelley had to drag him away from his fun in the end.

The next day we both headed off to the airport to exchange one of the sets of tickets Brian had purchased the day before. He'd got them for the wrong day! Shelley was somewhat worried about the situation but there was absolutely no trouble changing the date. We then caught the bus to where we can free walk Fredi beside the river and then dropped into the place where Brian gets his empanadas. He picked up a dozen, warm & wonderful smelling on the trip home. We're feeling quite light hearted these days after a couple of weeks of concern.

While we send a cheque to the Grandkids & a few cards out, we don't get presents for each other any more. What do we want or need? We did however, think it was somewhat important, to really feel the season, to go shopping at Coral. Coral of course, does not accept Fredi, so we had to take turns sitting at the front of the store, on the benches very courteously provided. This in itself is a good Christmas experience as you watch the young families coming out of the store, children trailing behind, with multiple and awkward packages. There is inevitably a small child that will make friends with Fredi, and at least while Shelley was doing guard duty, the occasional older gentlemen. In any case, Shelley was the first into the store seeking some liqueur glasses. She wandered around the store, eyed longingly a small food processor but ultimately decided it was something she'd use only once a year, and finally asked for "vasos?". During the course of her wandering she also managed to pick up a container of coco butter cream which, although you'd think in a hot country would be sold everywhere, is hard to find. Six shooter glasses and a bottle of cream cost $5. Coming out of the store, Fredi did her "OMG! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN! I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOUR FOREVER! I THOUGHT YOU'D NEVER COME BACK" dance. We then traded places and Brian went into the store on a fruitless search for our special lightbulb. We bought this camp lamp that has a four prong socket on the light bulb which we can't find a replacement for. Coral did not supply either. The store of course, was decked in artificial trees & decorations & was selling Christmas plates & wrapping paper & everything you can think of for Christmas. We were there about an hour altogether and that was just about right for our Christmas shopping experience.

Sunday the main square downtown was fair bustling with activity. In the gazebo they had a fellow signing karaoke style to canned music and between his performances they had beauty queens wearing sashes giving speeches. We noted somewhat wryly that the 2 beauty queens we saw were both blonde. In a country where 99.9% of the population has dark hair, this seemed to be a bit of an oddity. On the other side of the park they had a street play going on in which live actors interacted with puppets. On the street just beyond the park, there was a stage set up. We don't know if this was for an act to come or something put on the night before that hadn't been disassembled yet. From now until the end of January there will be all sorts of entertainment forthcoming. The giant children's parade is put on the day before Christmas and small parades continue throughout January. Before hitting downtown we stopped at a display of Peruvian handcrafts that will probably be set up for the season as well. At the Tourist Centre we noted that a series of guitar concerts were being put on in different venues throughout the City and at the edge of the park is a giant artificial Christmas Tree decorated with oversized ornaments.

We've been spending a fair amount of time semi-angsting about what we should do about Christmas Day. We're definitely getting a turkey and will spend the day cooking but are somewhat unsure whether we should invite a couple of people over or not. We don't have the facilities to invite all our friends and feel a bit funny about singling any two or four out. Last year we went to Vilcabamba with Brian's friend Jan and had Christmas Dinner at a huge long table with a bunch of semi-stranger ExPats. It was fun but not something for us to make a tradition out of. We ultimately decided not to decide and will wait and see if something spontaneous happens. If not, we'll cook all day, stuff ourselves with turkey & pecan pie and make up enough TV dinners to last us a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

OK...Here's the Skinny's the skinny. Brian went to the hospital Tuesday morning and met with our GP and the urologist ($25 each). He spent about 20 minutes in the waiting room with the urologist waiting for the GP to be available. They used that time very productively, not talking about Brian's condition, but practicing English & Spanish with each other. Note: The GP speaks English perfectly. The urologist only haltingly. Most of the people in the hospital, radiologist, nurses, etc. have only a minimum of English. Fortunately, these days, Brian's Spanish is up to the challenge. It is however, important to have the GP with them when discussing the nitty gritty of the situation.

"They are both such very nice men!" Brian told Shelley talking about the urologist & GP.

The biopsy strongly indicates that the cancer is localized in the prostate. The urologist said that there are 4 different international protocol indicators which confirm this. He also said that the gland is not malformed which would indicate a more serious condition. There are two nodules deep within the gland that are malignant, but the surrounding tissue shows no sign of it metastasizing. Wednesday morning Brian has to go back to the hospital for another CT scan of the lower abdomen ($230 this time as they're covering more acreage) as the one he had done for the lungs doesn't go far enough down his abdomen. This is a due diligence procedure and unless he has an unrelated cancer, should confirm the lack of migration. He has yet another consultation Wednesday evening.

Brian will probably go for the operation next week which is going to put a serious crimp in our plans to go to Peru as he'll be in the hospital for 4 days and then has to take it easy for 2 weeks. After that hopefully he'll be as good as new.

We emailed to our friend who we were going to meet in Peru and emailed to our children and told them what was happening but encouraged them not to fret.

"The whole thing will be very rough on Fredi" Shelley pointed out to Brian. "She'll miss you terribly and she'll have to be alone when I come to visit you in the hospital."

Brian pretended to have his nose out of joint: "You love Fredi more than me!" he exclaimed.

We want all the people who read this blog to know our intention when writing about Brian's health problems certainly has nothing to do with eliciting sympathy. The essence of our blog is our life in retirement in Ecuador, with all the good and the bad. Also we are very aware that a lot of folks who are considering moving down here have serious concerns about the quality of health care. We feel that this experience speaks very highly of the excellence of health care here.

On Wednesday adventures with power outages made Brian's CT scan somewhat rushed but he did manage to have it first thing in the morning.

"You have to drink 3 glasses of this chalky stuff with 10 minutes walking around between each glass and the power was due to go out at 10 a.m." Brian told Shelley.

The scan was done but the urologist advised Brian he did not want to do the operation until after Christmas. This is because everything is still traumatized by the biopsy and it is better if there is no swelling for the operation. Brian was of course a bit disappointed as right now all we want to do is get everything done and over with but, following the correct procedure is of course the only right thing to do.

"What's Shelley doing while Brian's at the hospital getting poked and scanned?" You ask.

What every red-blooded female in the world does when she's got something she doesn't want to think about; she & Fredi have been shopping! She tried several places over several different days and finally found a nice blouse in a little shop at Larga 8-78 y Benigno Malo that specializes in East Indian type clothing. The fellow in the store only spoke Spanish except for the prices and those he could blurt out in English. Shelley asked him to show her all the clothes that were "mas grande" and out of several choices he presented to her, she picked a very nice, very breezy blouse. Fredi thought it was great!

Wednesday our power at home was out 4 - 7 pm and Thursday it's due to be out 7 - 10 pm. This is the first time we've had two evening outages in the same week. We're feeling kind of hard done by, especially since a number of our friends have not experienced evening outages. On Monday, when it was out in the evening, after playing 2 hands of crib (Shelley beat Brian both hands!), we lay on our bed in the candle light and took comfort in discussing our old boat Dowager. We felt that she probably had been in better hands with us than her new owner, but hoped that they were managing her just the same. It was like fondly talking about a Grandparent that had passed away some time ago. To be fair to them, however, you must remember that we actually lived on the boat so maintenance was just part of our daily lives, whereas they have to do it all when they visit the boat on weekends & holidays.

Brian came home from the CT scan in an excellent mood. The cancer has not spread and all of his other organs are in very good condition. They've tentatively scheduled his operation for January 6th or 7th and he should be in the hospital for 3 or 4 days. Total cost for the hospital stay & a team of 5 surgeons will be $4,000. Of course, no surgery is without some risk of complication, but the specialist was very emphatic that he expected all to go well. We're feeling very good about the whole thing at this point and can now relax over the Christmas season and enjoy the company of friends & all the warmth of the festivities.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Far Away from the People you call Home

Saturday, we walked downtown in the morning and did some chores and in the evening went to a friend's place. Brian's still on antibiotics so he's not drinking and Shelley's finally decided to try and loose a couple of pounds so she's not drinking either. We brought a couple of agua con gas with us and admired our friends' apartment and spent some time on their computer helping them figure a few things out and then we walked to the Mediterraneo Restaurant and had yet another one of their lovely meals! Fredi has gotten to be such a trooper on these outings that she's truly is amazing. She's charming without being intrusive and always endeavours to be a good guest.

Sunday in the square downtown beside the flower market, they had 8 young men & women dressed in various indigenous costumes doing traditional dances and whooping up a storm. The crowd watching them were very appreciative and the energy displayed was outstanding! We picked up a small watermelon, a bunch of green grapes, 6 kiwi & 9 tomatoes for $5 and of course Brian got his roast pig lunch. We always go to the same market on Sundays and they've pretty much gotten to know us. Shelley was tapped on the elbow & given a huge grin by one of the tiny indigenous ladies because she's finally figured out how to ask for a bag in Spanish.

OK...the Doctor phoned. He wasn't going to say anything to Brian over the phone but Brian pointedly asked: "Is it malignant?" The short answer was yes. Brian has a Doctor's appointment the next day to find out what his options are.

We sat quiet for awhile, then watched TV for awhile and then Shelley asked Brian to mute the TV.

"I can't let my feelings out" Shelley told Brian. "If I tell you exactly how I feel, I won't be able to stop."

"I'm going to be OK" Brian reassured Shelley.

"You always say that!" Shelley almost yelled at him.

We puttered around the house, we quietly talked about what would probably happen the next day & the days to come. Our power was due to go out from 7 - 10 pm and the next day it was out 8 - 10 am. We're looking forward to when our power isn't going out on a regular basis.

"Are you scared?" Shelley asked Brian.

"You know how scared I was when I got my root canal" Brian told Shelley.

"Yes..." she answered.

"I'm not as scared as that".

We both laughed.

When we first moved into our building they had a security force watching the front door. They rotated, 3 shifts, 3 different guys, all with a hand gun sitting on the desk. One of the security men was absolutely awful. He asked to borrow money from us a couple of times and always tried to garner sympathy because he was ill with a cold or some such. He'd sit at the front desk with a blanket wrapped around him looking cold and miserable on the odd night we came in late and saw him there. We were not displeased when they decided to hire one of the men as an in-house security, cleaning, all round maintenance guy. He moved in with his wife and his young son (about 1). The owner of the building had fixed up a tiny apartment adjacent to the parkade where they set up house keeping. We quickly became enamoured with their son. Cute as a button, crossed eyed terribly, we watched him learn how to walk, learn how to wave to us as we always greeted him enthusiastically, and these days he's learned how to say "hola" and "ciao" as we pass him by going in and out of the building. We, of course, bought him a small gift for Christmas, as well as cash for Mom & Dad for a job well done; a bare minimum "thank you" for the human kindness we've received from their whole family. It's funny; the small things that mean so much, when you're so far away from from the people you call home.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mosaics & Menus

December 2nd had us trucking downtown to mail our Christmas cards to Canada ($2 each; we don't send that many!). Cards aren't the big business in Ecuador that they are in Canada. In Canada you can find cards in corner stores, drug stores, the grocery store, stationary stores, department stores & believe it or not, card stores. In Ecuador you pretty much can only find cards in card stores and for some reason, toy stores, and there's not all that many to choose from once you do find them. Shelley actually discovered a box of Christmas cards last year in one place and instantly bought it. Otherwise she has only seen individual cards for sale. This year she's determined to go back to the same store and see if once again they have boxed Christmas cards. Curious enough, for Valentines' Day there are cards everywhere! They have a whole block of card vendors beside the Cathedral downtown. Stay tuned for an update in February.

At the post office, and this is the second time we've noticed it, they have absolutely ancient old women directing people to the proper lines. They've been moving wickets around lately (we suppose for the Christmas rush) and this tiny, ancient, lovely woman will tap you on the elbow & direct you to the proper wicket. It's quite delightful!

After mailing our cards, we set off to the market to buy all the ingredients for Shelley's home made salsa. She likes to alternate between making salsa one year at Christmas & antipasto the next. Shelley's ethnic background is Welsh/Norwegian so we have no idea how Latin & Italian recipes became a part of her Christmas traditions. Both recipes can be found under (you guessed it) Recipes on this blog. Buying all the ingredients for the salsa this year cost us about $5!

"It makes 5 or more jars" Shelley gushed at Brian. "And if you were going to buy one at say Capers Market in Vancouver it'd probably cost you $15 bucks!"

In any case, after chopping apples & tomatoes & hot peppers etc. into tiny little pieces, she poured all the ingredients into our slow cooker and let it bubble away for the afternoon. The smell of it cooking was absolutely wonderful!

Setup: We watch English language television with Spanish captions crossing the screen at the bottom. Whenever someone swears, unless it's "my God!" (Mios Dios) or "bitch" (perra), they always put "maldicion" as the Spanish translation (which basically means: curse or swear word).

Scene: Brian's in the bathroom. Shelley's in the front room, lying on the couch, reading. From the bathroom, quite loudly, we hear: "Maldicion!" (not really but we're being polite).

"What is it?" Shelley shouts.

"I've been taking the wrong medication for the last 2 days." Brian explains to her.

After Brian's biopsy he was given 2 antibiotics and 1 pain medication to take. He was quite proud of himself because he didn't have to take any of the pain medication at all until he discovered he'd mixed up the medications and was taking the pain one instead of one of the antibiotics. Whether this was a Brian's obtuse thing or a language problem, we (those other than Brian) don't know. He, of course, switched around the medications and continued to feel no pain so, we trust his infection potential was affected in much the same way.

We'd been invited to Liza Wheeler's solo exhibition at the El Otorongo Cultural Gallery & Cafe and went there to be stunned by her beautiful mosaics. The time & effort & talent it takes for each and every piece is overwhelming. Larry, Liza's husband, helps her make the pieces and he is by far her greatest fan! They're a wonderful couple, a joy to talk to & have an immense dedication to their work! We've had them for dinner a couple of times and take great delight in the mixture of his Texas drawl and her Eastern European accent.

After the exhibit we met up with some friends and went to the Tiestos Restaurant (Juan Jaramillo 7-34 y Borrero) for a wonderful meal. It's Ecuadorian comida tipica but with an avant garde twist (spices & sauces added to make it absolutely wonderful!) They have a menu where it is possible to get individual meals but they specialize in meals intended for 3 or 4 people. We had a chicken dish & a beef dish which we shared between 7 people. They provide bread as an appetizer with 6 or so different pestos & chutneys & hot sauces to spread on it and then with the meat dishes there are several starches like rice & potatoes & pasta & something we couldn't agree what it was, but it was delicious etc. A shared dessert was provided (chocolate mousse cake, passion fruit sorbet & a flavoured whipped cream) displayed in an artistic presentation as well as a home-made almond or coffee liqueur. The owner/chef made several visits to our table making sure all was right with the world. He was charming, personable & at one point took one of our party around the restaurant on a private tour of the art on display.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Decking the Anxious Halls

A friend had asked if we'd attend ExPat night and so we caught a cab down to Zoe's for a meal and a drink. Brian's toe was still hurting (thus the cab) and he'd said he just wanted to have a meal, say "hi" to a couple of people and come home early. As it was, we ended up sitting at a table with 2 relative newcomers (they've been here 6 weeks) and Brian in his gregarious way got to enjoying himself. We talked about the prices of food in the indigenous markets compared to SuperMaxi and what was good to buy.

"Never let the ladies at the market pick out the fruit for you. They'll pick out stuff too ripe. Make sure you do it yourself" Shelley advised the woman.

This couple had only explored Cuenca so far, so we talked about Vilcabamba & Salinas & various other places where it was lovely to have a holiday but agreed we liked Cuenca the best to settle down in.

We said "hi" to several friends and ended up having 2 cervezas each before Shelley was able to drag Brian home. We took a cab to save his poor toe and upon arriving home fed him some aspirina (both for the cervezas & the toe).

The next day we only took Fredi on a walk around the block basically (again to save Brian's poor toe). Brian was pleased when we got home that his toe "only hurt a little" and predicted happily that he'd be able to go downtown on Sunday for our trip to the park & the market & his roast pig.

There was an unscheduled power outage on Saturday starting with a brownout at 2:15 or so. The fridge kept going on and off in cycles & the lights started to dim, then finally all the power went out.

"I like it better when I know when the power's going to come back" Shelley told Brian as they were playing crib.

The power came back about 2 1/2 hours later.

Sunday there was nothing happening in the main square but we found a bench and did our usual people watching people watching people, had Fredi admired by several small children and bought our fruit & a roast pig lunch for Brian (he never gets tired of it). Monday was chore day and we bought groceries, cooked, cleaned & generally puttered around the apartment. Tuesday Brian went for his biopsy.

What they told him would happen was that upon his arrival at the hospital at 8 a.m., they'd get him settled in and start with the general anesthetic around 9 a.m. The operation would take about an hour. It'd take another hour for him to come out of the anesthetic and then they'd want to keep him for at least an hour after that. Thus, we figured he'd be home around one in the afternoon. If he wasn't going to be home then, he promised he'd phone. They told us the results would be available in about a week. If the biopsy proved cancerous, then they'd do a CT scan to see if there was any spreading. If there was spreading, then things would happen pretty fast after that. If there was no spreading, then they'd do an operation in January to remove the cancer. If the biopsy proves benign, then he'll be off the hook for a year. We, of course, are voting for off the hook! Brian subsequently phoned at 11:30 a.m. and advised now that he wouldn't be home until around 4 o'clock. They wanted mostly to make sure that there wouldn't be any excessive bleeding.

"I'm just lying here in the Emergency using the Doctor's phone & staring at the walls" Brian told Shelley.

"Do you want me to bring you a book?" Shelley asked but Brian thought about it for a 10 count and then said it was "ok".

"Have a nap" she told him.

Shelley & Fredi stayed at home both fretting in their own way for Brian. Chores were done (dusting & windexing), Fredi was taken for her walk & then Shelley ventured to their storage locker to dust off the Christmas decorations they'd purchased last year. It's just 3 stylized cone-type trees, some covers for the pillows on the couch, a Christmas mug, some place mats, a table cloth & hot pads; nothing like the huge trees covered in home made decorations & the profusion of other decorations they'd had in Canada when the kids were little but still; something to mark the season. We'll be posting a bunch of creche pictures over the next couple of blogs, taken at one of Cuenca's art galleries last December & you'll note we got Fredi a hat to celebrate as well. Right now all the stores are decked out with decorations, artificial trees are everywhere dressed to the nines & soon the city will put up decorations throughout the downtown area.

Our power was out 10 a.m. - 1 p.m on Monday, is on all day Tuesday but off again Wednesday from 8-10 a.m. and Thursday from 4-7 p.m. It rained late in the afternoon on Monday; biblical, pouring, sheeting, tropical, can't hardly see through it rain (for an hour or so). The river is up just a little more and we've been told the power outages will end December 15th.

Brian arrived home at 3 o'clock with a tale of his experiences, 2 sets of different antibiotics ($45.69) and a list of 40 items, costing out every procedure & drug given to him (ranging from $0.30 to $20.00; totaling $206.80) as well as an itemized list of 5 doctors who worked on him ranging from the anesthesiologist to a cardiologist to a urologist costing from $40 to $140 each; totaling $370.00. As Canadians, we've never seen such a list before. A doctors visit produces no bill & a visit to the hospital produces a small bill if you've chosen a private room (for example) or a television. The lists were of course in Spanish but we endeavoured to figure them out. Fascinating! The only real hitch to the whole procedure was Brian showing up at the hospital by himself. They had no provision to take care of his wallet & clothes. Normally a family from 1 to 20 strong would show up with each patient. In the end the urologist kept his wallet & the hospital administrator kept his clothes. He came home with everything intact. His first visit to the bathroom produced blood but he was told this was to be expected. If he ends up running a fever, he's to get to the hospital right away, otherwise we're waiting until the results come in. At this point we're happy to wait and have a couple of days free from anxiousness.