Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yonder Valley the Myrtle Breathes

December 27, 2011

Photo courtesy of
Doug Gould
One of my most beloved writers is Kahlil Gibran, and his essay on “Giving” in “The Prophet” is a particular favorite of mine. I am not going to re-write his whole dissertation on the subject, but am going to share a few of his quotes from this composition:

“It is when you give of yourself that you truly give…"
“And what is fear of need but need itself?...”
“There are those who give little of much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; they give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon earth.”

Photo courtesy of Doug
Last Saturday (Christmas Eve), a number of us had the opportunity and honor to participate in the Christmas party thrown for the children of the Olon Orphanage. This effort was spearheaded by the kind expats in Salinas, primarily Mary and Tod Freeman, and Will and Wendy of Hostal Aqui.
In an earlier post I mentioned that at the Hostal Aqui Thanksgiving party, for a $30 contribution, folks had a chance to draw one of the names of the 50 or so orphans (all under the age of thirteen, with the exception of a couple of special needs children) so that presents and clothing could be purchased for each of them.

Other donations were solicited towards food and other goodies for the kids. A big shout out also to several of you in the States (in particular Davida Julian and my brother Jack) who also sent money to help with the event after reading the earlier blog post. Your generosity was much appreciated and put to good use.

On Saturday a large contingent from Salinas showed up, along with several of us from Olon. Will and Wendy cooked and brought several turkeys and along with the usual holiday food side dishes.

The kids put on a wonderful and touching show for us before Santa handed out the presents.
Perhaps Mary says it best in an email she sent out after the party, and I quote:
“Hi Everyone,
 I'm sure all of us driving home yesterday could think of little else other the joy of the children we witnessed while they opened their gifts and were so willing to share all that was given them. Also, the dance and singing routine the kids put on was a real tear jerker! As Peggy said while we were walking to our cars to head home. "This is what Christmas is all about".
As we watched with tears in our eyes, I believe God, with tears of joy, looked down upon us and those who supported our effort and said " A job well done good and faithful servants" We are all sinners but yesterday God saw none of our sins only the joy given to the least of his children.
Merry Christmas and God Bless you all.”
And this email from her husband Tod:
“Hi everyone,
The Christmas party at the Olon orphanage was a great success! The children put on a great song and dance routine that had tears in everyone's eyes. We can't even begin to describe the joy and happiness experienced by the children and everyone in attendance as they opened their gifts provided by so many of you in our expat community. Afterwards the children and staff enjoyed a wonderful turkey dinner. Everyone involved in organizing this event appreciates the time, effort and money put into shopping and wrapping all 100 gifts.
With over 50 people participating it truly was a community event!”

In addition to being involved with the Olon Orphanage, these compassionate expats in Salinas are also actively involved in raising funds for the medical clinic in Palmar that perform life-altering/life-saving surgeries on needy children in the area (more on this later). During the party, our neighbor and newly permanent expat neighbors Doug & Pam Gould and Will discussed getting together after the first of the year to coordinate raising money on a regular basis for both of these worthy organizations, since we know there are many in our area that would gladly open their pockets to support the orphanage and clinic. Twenty-five to hundred dollars ($25-100) donated on a consistent basis may not go far in the Estados Unidos, but stretches much further here to make a difference in the lives of these special children. And each one of us CAN make a difference.

In the meantime, for any reading this that would like to make contributions, I suggest getting in touch with Will & Wendy at Hostel Aqui, or please email me at so that I can put you in touch with Mary and Tod Freeman (as of this posting, I haven’t had the chance to ask the Freemans permission to publish their email). 
Also, for those on Facebook, there is a page called “Ruta del Sol Mates” that I hope to develop further to use as a “bulletin board” to share ideas, information, suggestions for those interested, particularly those who live along our area of the southern Ecuadorian coast. Please join, and invite those of like-mindedness.

“For in truth, it is life that gives unto life – while you, who deem yourself a giver are but a witness.
And you receivers – and you are all receivers – assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity
who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for the father.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eight Blinking Functions

December 21, 2011

Christmas in Palm Springs
several years ago.
My granddaughter Avery in
the fore-front
It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less than a week away. Living here, it seems that one day just kind of melts into the next and after awhile, it has become more difficult for us to discern the day of week (let alone the specific date). This is especially true when the weather has been glorious for weeks now. We are heading into our summer season. Last year from June through end of November, it was unusually “cold” (well, 65-75 degrees), cloudy and drizzly with sunny days far and few between along our pocket of the coast) * … Many folks prefer that climate to the more hot and humid weather we have coming. And last year we went straight from unrelenting “cold” to sunny and hot within 2 days.  

But this year’s cooler season was milder, often bright, and since early November we have been enjoying balmy spring weather for weeks now. (It’s also been my observation that the weather has been pretty freaky across the globe for several years now, so we haven’t been the only folks on the planet going through unusual weather patterns for the last couple of years…Even after coming/being here for over 4 years, we’re still not that assured about our abilities to predict with any confidence “expected/usual” weather). But we certainly are not complaining.

I heard the “Omnisariato” tienda in Manglaralto was having a sale on Christmas lights, so I headed up there yesterday to buy a few strands for our house. My Christmas decorations are still in California storage, so I made do with what I could find from a pretty picked through Chinese imported selection, and our home does look more festive now. It’s been several years since I’ve had a chance to decorate for the holidays; I miss the traditions and celebrations of years past, especially when my girls were growing up.

One of the more difficult aspects of living in Ecuador is the distance from my loved ones. In particular, I miss my grown-up kids – Elizabeth, Katherine, and Kacie – and my granddaughters Avery and Clara, along with the rest of my family and friends, especially this time of year.

I confess, I’ve been in a little funk lately. Nine years ago (2002), my siblings and I lost both of our parents exactly 2 months apart (Mom died on October 9 and Dad died on December 10), to cancer. Though they had been divorced for 30 years, they lived only 5 minutes away from each other in Kansas City (Prairie Village, to be exact).  They handled the divorce well, got along fine, and we kids had the benefit of growing up in two wonderful homes….

Mom and Dad were just GREAT folks – smart, funny, kind people, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of them, but especially now. As anyone knows who has lost a loved one (harder too, when it happens near the holidays), there remains still a tinge of melancholy and hole-in-the-heart nostalgia (punctuated with the occasional grief sucker-punch, even after all these years) that accompanies the festivities since then.

The Christmas traditions in Ecuador, at least along our area of the coast, are very similar to our gringo customs. Most everyone has a dazzling-lit Christmas tree proudly displayed near the front door or window (to be seen from the street), and many have lights decorating outdoor balconies, etc as well.  Of course, all the trees are fake, because it’s not exactly like you can head over to the Christmas tree lot or tree farm and pick out a fresh Scotch or Douglas pine. Since we haven’t invested in our “tree” yet, I strung our two “8 blinking-function settings” strands around one of our indoor windows and had several extra lines to throw around one of our front yard trees…Our house does look more cheerful with them up, and my only prayer at this point is that they last long enough to make it through the holidays.

I was asking an Ecuadorian neighbor/friend yesterday more about the traditional food and customs typical of Christmas Day here. I felt kinda stupid for not already knowing, because my guess would have been some type of special coastal seafood dish(s).
He told me that if one can afford it, a turkey is served. Turkey (‘pavo”) is not cheap here. We’ve bought several over the years for the holidays, and the cost of a 20-or-so pound turkey is around $50-plus at the commercial grocery stores (not exactly like the days when I would do holiday grocery shopping/couponing at my nearest Albertsons or Ralph’s or wherever, and spend enough to get a turkey or two thrown in for “free”). Because ‘pavos” are expensive here, many substitute chicken (“pollo”) instead. Also, our friend Mario said that there is always a potato dish, salads, other side dishes served, along with sweets and beer/wine/champagne. It is very much a family holiday here, and most all will attend one of the church services offered. Gifts are exchanged, but without the obnoxious over-kill frenzy that most of us gringos are accustomed to. And like many families in the Estados Unidos, sometimes they open presents (“regalos”) on Christmas Eve, or wait until Christmas morning (or some combination of both).

One of the traditions I am determined to keep this year is to make Christmas cookies. I have a KILLER sugar cookie/icing recipe (see below) that I’ve had since around the age of 8-yrs, that came glued to a baking sheet bought then. Our family has used this recipe since, and always have had fun/special afternoons of cutting and icing them. Since all my specialty cookie cutters are still up in CA, (along with many of the sprinkle toppings/assorted dye colors that are not available here) these cookies are going to be round shaped (using a glass to cut) and less elaborately decorated, but addictively tasty, nevertheless.
A few of my girlfriends are coming over on Friday to help ice them, and then we are taking most of them with us on Christmas Eve afternoon to the Olon Orphanage party to meet up with the generous, warm-hearted Salinas expat group spearheading this wonderful event each year.


I always triple the original measurements, because otherwise, you will not have enough, even if you just double.
Original                 x3

2 cups                   6 cups                  flour
½ tsp                     1 ½ tsp                baking powder
½ tsp                     1 ½ tsp                baking soda                                          
½ tsp                     1 ½ tsp                salt
2/3 cp                    4 sticks                 butter/margarine
1 cp                        3 cp                    sugar
1                              3                      beaten eggs
2 T                          5-6 T                  milk
½ tsp                     1 ½ tsp                vanilla extract
½ tsp                     1 ½ tsp                lemon extract

In separate bowl - sift first four ingredients together.  In your main mixing bowl, cream butter/margarine and sugar till smooth.  Blend in eggs, flavorings and about half the milk.  Slowly add dry ingredients to mix, while continuing to mix – add the rest of the milk as needed.  Chill dough in refrigerator for 2 hours (or freeze and use later).
Roll dough out (flour up surface,etc) – Cut out cookies
Bake – Ungreased at 350 degrees – 8 to 10 minutes.

1 8-ounce pkg cream cheese – softened
½ cup butter or margarine
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups (1 box) of powdered sugar

Beat first three ingredients till fluffy.  Gradually add powdered sugar.  Mix – you may have to play with ingredients a little for right consistency.
Divided icing into separate bowls and add food coloring if desired.

* For one of the most current weather and tide information, for OUR area, please see the link: "Weather in Montanita"

Friday, December 9, 2011


December 8, 2011

I’ve got to hand it to the Ecuadorians….they really know how to party, and do so at the drop of Panama hat (and I hope by now all reading this realize that “Panama” hats are actually of Ecuadorian origin). Just about any reason will do, the partying doesn’t start until 9-11 PM and they dance until daylight or the power goes off – which ever happens first.  And these parties can last for days; by early afternoon the next day, they’re at it again.  How the Ecuadorians handle these party marathons is beyond me – and I’m a night owl.

The LOCAL party season really starts kicking into gear in early December, surges during Christmas and New Year’s, peaks during Carnavale (usually in February) and culminates with Semana Santa (the week before Easter) or so….And this is just the town-folks…when the gringo and Ecuadorian tourists start arriving for the big holidays, it gets utterly chaotic.

In the meantime, several carnival/ “circus” vendors (not to be confused with the holiday “Carnavale”) set up their rides in our area for a few months.

Now, if you are willing to bungee jump, or fling yourself out of a high-flying plane with a parachute, you will probably be keen to get on one of these Ferris wheels, or those tame looking brightly-lit Pebbles and Bam-Bam ground “trains” that run rampant all over town and the beach, with drivers purposely swerving, and looking for reasons to add to the excitement by possibly make them tip over at high speed.

And we always know when the local party season kicks off, because first of all, the grade school marching band starts practicing their routines on the nearby soccer field and/or on the school playground around the last week in November until end of December.
The band so far only consists of a variety of drums and those triangle bells. Last year, they generally rehearsed from around 8AM till noon, and they got pretty good at:
DA DA, DA DA, DA DA DA DUM” on the drums and the first two bars of “Jingle Bells” (I think) on the triangle bells.  It is cute to watch their earnest efforts, but by the second week of that, not so welcome. Last year, by the fourth week of those 4-hours of morning marathon practice drum and accompanying bell sessions beating non-stop, it started to effect all within hearing distance to think that water-boarding can’t be as tortuous.  At least for me, I was ready to stomp out to the field and teach the bell-players the next few stanzas of Jingle Bells, if only to mitigate – to a degree – the f’n drums.

Hit the "Play" button and
Turn the sound up to get the real effect.....

I took the above video a few days ago, trying to capture some of the band’s fervor and dedication – I had to hold the camera over a wall to get it, so the video has a rather bad glare, but it should give you an idea of our daily serenades this time of year.

The good thing about this year’s band practice is that they have gotten better. Much better. The bad aspect is that the school band leader is making them practice around 8 hours a day now.  But the thing that is most enigmatic to me is that – I  kid you not – they are practicing several songs that sound nothing like holiday songs, but more like boot-camp training cadence tunes and I SWEAR there is one song that they are now practicing that sounds suspiciously like the tune “from the hills of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”…DA DA DA…DA DA DA…DA DAA DA…DA DA, DADA DADA DADA DA DUM….Also I’m pretty sure I recognize when they are working on the tune “Hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, nah, nah, naah no”.  Go figure.

The Olon party scene kicks off each year with a local beauty pageant in early December staged at our new local park and is an entertaining evening.  Last year, it was supposed to start at 8PM, didn’t begin until 10 PM and lasted well into the late night/early morning hours. In the meantime, vendors were selling food, trinkets, drinks, and the kids played on the playground.  Two emcees (animadors) introduced the show, and the pageant included 5 area contestants strutting their stuff in various outfits (the representative indigenous clothing segment, the esportivo (sports) outfit, the evening gown portion) interspersed by some pretty lame acts. The crowd was enthusiastic, with various cheering sections for each of the girls. There was even the question and answer interview part with each girl (one poor girl was so nervous she forgot her name).  I petered out about 15 minutes before the coronation some time after 2AM, but found out later the girl I was rooting for won.

This year, the pageant was last Saturday night, and I popped up to the park around midnight to watch some of it; the whole town turned out to watch it. I didn’t have my camera with me, so the pictures included with this post were taken at last year’s show.

But the most fun party of the year is the 3-4 day festival to Santa Lucia (and Olon’s birthday party), which is the weekend after the pageant, and this year begins on this coming Sunday. I wrote in more detail about it last year in “I Love Lucia” (PLEASE click on that link to get a better idea about this fiesta. It’s one of my favorite posts), and I am really looking forward to it!
Last year our friends Scott Creasy and his mom Pat came down from Las Tunas to join us, and I believe they are coming again this year, along with some other friends.
The video below was taken last year at the Santa Lucia party, just as Todd and local friend Eduardo were tuning up for the first-night of drinking and dancing (a glimpse of Pat is seen at the end of the video).