Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Angels Sing on High

December 24, 2013

(For whatever reason I am no longer able to upload videos onto this page, so please check out the YouTube links to see videos of the events  - in particular, the special videos of the Olón Orphanage 2013 Christmas Party)

The winter solstice was a couple of days ago.
It’s the shortest day of sunlight during the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s the longest day of sunlight in South America, and means diddly-squat in Ecuador, because we have twelve hours each of day and night, with little variation year-round.
Our weather is heating up, and Christmas has a way of sneaking up on some of us.

Since Thanksgiving, many houses are brightly lit, and a lot of locals display their trees outside too.  The lights are blinking from our house as well, and our fake Christmas tree is up…which was easy, since we have nowhere else to store it, the tree is a permanent fixture in our living room.
We’ve been listening to lots of Christmas music to get in the holiday spirit. The other night, Todd and I were fixing “breakfast for dinner” and listening to Bing Crosby, and couldn’t help but think that it was “beginning to smell a lot like bacon” in our case.

The holiday season in Olón is marked with raucous town parties, parades, and nativity pageants – punctuated with frequent and loud fireworks (which terrify Daisy, and she has spent most of it cowering at home, in the far reaches of our office).
Below, I have posted pictures and videos of some of the recent festivities here in Olón.

Parades are a big deal here, especially this annual one:
Please see this link for a video of it


One of my favorite pictures I took that day

As are Nativity scenes and pageants:
The "reason for the season" is celebrated here in Ecuador.

The scene is set for the Nativity Pageant later in the evening.


 Other town events that mark this season:

Baptisms on the beach

New soda pop machines being delivered to the
beach cabanas (in readiness for our "high" season)

The aluminum turkey pan needed some
"flexibility" (squishing) to fit in here

It is Christmas Eve, which is traditionally the day that Ecuadorians  close up shop early, and celebrate together as families.  It is a festive day, but on the somber side.
Todd and I are fixing our turkey dinner for tonight, so we can eat left overs and do movie marathons tomorrow.
One of the challenges of fixing holiday meals in Ecuador is that many of our traditional ingredients aren’t available, so improvisations are required in the kitchen (not to mention that whole turkeys cost as much as a used car).  Over the course of three and half years of living here, we have both become more adept regarding substitutions, but Todd definitely reigns as the chef in our household.

My lack of interest in cooking - along with my poor sense of smell – renders me a mediocre cook (though as a Kansas City gal, I do come with a pretty decent repertoire of casseroles).

Given that insight, it strikes both Todd and me – as hilarious - that I am a HUGE, HUGE fan of “Top Chef”.
I never miss an episode, read many of the “Top Chef” blogs, and talk French while warming up canned lentils on our itsy-bitsy propane stove.
I can define a “mise en place”, “amuse-bouche”, but still trying to figure out what the hell might be a “chawanmushi”.
I’m thinking our kitchen might make a fun place for a Quickfire Challenge, given the teesny, weensy, baby stove/oven, and equipment and ingredients available. 
Because I think most expats who have lived here long enough can take on those "Top Chef" guys any day, in this situation.
Gauntlet thrown.

"Santa" (Woot) and
"Mamita" Isabel the.
director of the orphanage in Olón

But most special today (Christmas Eve) was the annual Christmas party at the Olón Orphanage. Many expats and locals contribute to make this a special day for the kids (providing a holiday meal and gifts that these children don’t normally have).
Traditionally, these special children put on a Christmas program to celebrate the day. Not to be missed, and never a dry eye in the house afterwards.
I will let the photos and videos links from that presentation say the rest`


Angel from the Lord speaks to Mary
"Do not be afraid"
“For Nothing is impossible with God”
The angel went to her and said,
 “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”


Please click on this YouTube link below. Not a dry eye in the house afterwards.

  Joseph and Mary seeking shelter for the birth of their child.

Mary & Joseph
seeking shelter


A child is born

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
 keeping watch over their flocks at night.
 An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
 and the glory of the Lord shone around them.
 and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people".


The shepherds said to one another,
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing
 that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.”
 Click here to see the shepherds pay their respects:

And the angels sang on high






Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tis The Season

December 10, 2013

Little neighbor boy playing
"peek a boo" with candy wrappers after
I gave him a "carmelo"

In the last couple of weeks the weather has finally turned the corner, and we’re welcoming back sunny days after months of mostly overcast and drizzly conditions.  While the weather is always mild (ranging from 65-75 degrees from June through November, to 75-80 degrees of brilliant sunshine the rest of the year), it’s wonderful to bask in the steady sun rays once again.
Starting around Christmas, the “high” season begins in our area and lasts through March/April.  Tourists flock here for New Year’s Eve, Carnavale, surf tournaments, Semana Santa and other festivals, especially to Montanita (international travelers and Ecuadorians alike).  It’s a lot of fun, but exhausting after a while.

This makes us grateful that we live in Olón, the next town north of Montanita, since we’re close enough to enjoy the “party” there, but can escape back to Olón for a more tranquil environment.
However, Olón has become more and more of a tourist destination in the last few years (especially for families and retirees). I suppose we personally view this with mixed emotions.
Many of you who have visited Olón will recognize
the "Old Man by the Park Who Sells Beer"
Wonderful gentleman, second from right
This group of friends plays cards most everyday
 outside his house.


It’s “good” in the sense that as a consequence, the local economy has thrived.  It’s unwelcome at times because no one I know in town (locals or expats) wants to see Olón turned into another Montanita (hey – Montanita friends, don’t bite my head off…we love you!...and no one can do it better than you all).

Local elections for communa leaders (gringos, think “city councils”) being elected later this month, and we hope for officials elected that have long-term vision for these Ecuador beach communities.

Local fishing boats heading out at dusk

Refreshment break

Don't be fooled.
These trains are anything but tame.
Drivers push pedal to metal and purposely swerve.
Olón version of roller coasters.
One tradition that always kicks off the Olón season is the annual beauty pageant, which was held last Saturday night on our park stage.  I got a few pics this year, but didn’t stay for the whole show.  Typically, it is very similar to any beauty pageant (coordinated dance routines (s), native costume, “esportivo” clothing, and fancy dress competition…as well as the “interview” portion).
I am still scratching my head a little about the “belly dancing” routine preformed this year.

Beauty Pageant
Belly Dancing Segment (???)
I have YouTube video that I will post eventually

Later this week is the annual “St. Lucia” 3-day party, which coincides with Olón’s birthday. This is the town’s biggest party, and is always fun, boisterous, and loud. It includes music and dancing until the wee hours of the morning, carnival rides, food & gift booths, and fireworks (our dog Daisy hates that part, and cowers inside during most of the festival).

Last year, a girlfriend (Elizabeth LaFortune) and I braved riding the Ferris wheel. I’ve never had the nerve before, because the wheel spins so fast, I’m always waiting to see bodies flung from their seats as it wildly rotates – and I’m pretty sure there are no stringent safety inspections for these.  We hung on for dear life and laughed ourselves silly.

Preparations are now underway for this year’s festival.


School band students practicing for
Christmas program and parade
Also have another video to be posted on YouTube

(See the post “I Love Lucia” for more details about our annual town party).

Wishing all of you a very blessed and special holiday season.

And welcoming my newest granddaughter

Photo courtesy of Kacie

Chloe Annabel Diniz
Born December 9, 2013 at 1:56PM (in Germany)
  6 lbs 8 oz and 19 inches long
Congratulations to proud parents Kacie and Pedro Diniz, and big sister Clara!
Also, a very happy, happy birthday today, to my oldest daughter, Elizabeth!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Orbit of Love

November 23, 2013

The world is a little less bright - and heaven just got a little livelier -  for the passing of Ecuador expat Denise Morris earlier this week of a sudden heart attack at the age of 51 years.
Denise was a fun, intelligent and loving woman.
I only had just met Denise a couple of months ago, but we bonded instantly.  I get the feeling she had that knack with anyone blessed enough to come into her orbit of love. 
I'm reading her FB page, and I'm impressed, touched, and honored to have been blessed to know her
And - clearly - she made friends where ever she went.
So many tributes to Denise.
This was one of my favorites.
 Contributed by her friend,
Elektra Fike-Data
California, USA

Photographer Unknown
Nor the date or location
But I thought

this picture really captured
Denise's spirit.

They say it is noble to grieve behind closed doors. Today, I refute this philosophy. Human kind lost an AMAZING individual last evening; a woman who, of her own accord, lived her dream fearlessly with intent, passion, and curiosity. Denise Morris showed my mother and me how to stand tall, how to love unconditionally, how to live without fear. She sat with me at dinner and told me that nothing should stand between me and my happiness; but more importantly, she lived by example. It is because of her unwavering quest for knowledge and for exploring the world that I made it my dream as well to venture as she did. Denise, you ARE the reason I choose not to stand on the sidelines of life. You ARE the reason I fight for the strength to conquer my goals. Your last words to me were “remain the positive spirit that you are” and I publicly declare that by keeping you in my heart, I will do all that I can to keep this promise.

It pains me deeply that this paragraph of words does little justice to the saint and human being that you were.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Peeled Garlic

November 15, 2013

A mural in Olón, with hammock
hanging in front of it.

The month of November is the tail end of our “winter”, south of the Equator.
This is our fourth June-November season living here permanently.
Here in Olón, (pronounced “oh-LONE”), we live in a rather narrow coastal eco-climate that is typically overcast from June to November.  (Go 40 kilometers either north or south of Olón, and the weather is more arid and sunny).
It is also considered our “dry” season.

Don’t ask me why, because suffice to say it is better described as the “drizzly” and the “muddy” season, from our observation.
This time of year, the temperature ranges from 65-75 degrees, and it is generally hazy to overcast.

Some years have been colder, cloudier, wetter , and longer, than others - and by November, I feel safe to say that everyone living here is ready to see the steady sun again… *

Locals taking the weather in stride

Many folks enjoy this season – it’s always ocean swimming weather along our beach - and in another month or so, the weather will be sunny and scorching for the next six months.
And there are trade-offs – from around June through September it is whale watching season, and the mating time for many species, so it’s also a very colorful temporada, especially for bird watchers.
Currently, sections of the Olón beach are protected for the tortugas laying eggs in the sand.
I just took these pictures last week:

Friend and neighbor, Maria del Carmen
(of the "Sea Garden" hotel)
explaining to local kids the importance of keeping the eggs
safe until they can hatch

According to Maria del Carmen,
these baby turtles will be emerging from the sand
about two months from now

The fresh seafood and vegetables are always plentiful, nothing is usually taken for granted or wasted, and the natural beauty is breathtaking.

All of these veggies were purchased for $2.50.  Cabbages are as big as basketballs here, check out the size of those radishes, and one of my favorite things about Ecuador is that the garlic (shown in the plastic bag) can be purchased pre-peeled.



Most of all – we enjoy the kind and affable local coastal people, and the tranquil pace of life.
I would say Olón is a “quiet” village, unless you count the roosters crowing at 3:30AM, the dogs that tune up shortly later, and the somewhat frequent town parties that happen at the drop of a “Panama” hat, which can last until dawn, with amp speakers going full blast.


Todd and Daisy chatting with our friend
and landlord, Klevar.
On the back of his bike is fresh milk that he sells and
we buy.

Setting up for one of the town parties.
The weather certainly hasn’t put a damper on the locals’ parties.  They love to have fun; they love to joke; they love to dance and sing.  Birthday parties for kids are a big deal (see pictures of one we recently attended), and loud, exuberate quinceañeras and other town fiestas start around 9PM and last until 6AM, or until the speakers blow out, which ever happens first.  

I honestly don’t know where the locals find the stamina.
Rather than try and sleep through one of these all night parties, (if they are close by), sometimes it’s just easier and more fun to join them.



Halloween isn't an officially recognized
holiday in Ecuador, but it has caught on to a degree with
these kids in Montanita

When we moved here a few years ago, there was not much of a permanent gringo expat community in the small pueblos along our area of the southern Ruta del Sol (Spondylus).
There was a burgeoning community of expats (mostly from USA and Canada) beginning to migrate to Salinas, and some part-time expats spending more time around our area north of there.

Taken at one of the gringo gatherings
a couple of months ago
However, in the last two years or so, the number gringo expats who have moved/are moving to the small Ecuadorian coastal villages has multiplied considerably.
These days there is a plethora of gringo potlucks, book clubs, game nights, and other get-togethers for those who are interested.
Also, in the last few years, there has been a dedicated and generous group of expats called “Expats Helping Kids in Ecuador” (based primarily out of Salinas, overseen by Tod and Mary Freeman) who work closely with the medical center in Palmar, and the Olón orphanage. Through the generosity of many expats, and others, they have been able to offer lifesaving surgeries, other medical procedures and medicines, and clothing, etc. for kids whose families could never afford them on their own, as well as supporting the Olón orphanage.

Please see their NEW website “Helping Kids in Ecuador” for more information, and how to donate funds.
The Salinas area contacts are Will & Peggy Sanders. 

Taken at the 2011 Olón Orphanage Party 

The orphanage Christmas party is truly a special event.  The kids sing and perform a dance recital and are so grateful for their simple gifts.
Anyone who has ever attended one of these can attest to “not a dry in the house” afterwards.

 (See the post “Yonder Valley the Myrtle Breathes")

This year the Olón area expats are in charge of organizing the annual orphanage Christmas party (spearheaded by Susan McCumber and Deb Anderson).
We recently attended an Olón area fundraiser for the Christmas party at the McCumber’s home in San Jose.
There were great raffle and silent auction prizes, delicious food, in a delightful setting with generous attendees.

Deb and Susan
(I'm not sure who took this snapshot)

It was a fun and successful evening that raised enough money to provide the children with clothing and shoes, hygiene items and toys for each (also gifts for the much deserving staff members) and everyone is looking forward to the Olón Orphanage Christmas party this year.

Fatima and Marynella
Two of the angels who care for the kids
(Photo courtesy of Elizabeth LaFortune)

* See the post “Spite and Malice” (written during our first "winter" here)