Thursday, April 30, 2009


We did it! Eric and I signed papers to sell or rent the house. I could not bear to meet with the real estate agent, so I left my signature on line after line and Eric met with her and discussed numbers. I have to accept that the house is worth far less than I imagined and will sell for hundreds of thousands less than if we had sold it two years ago. The market is horrible and sinking further. Unfortunately, I do not trust our agent. I suppose she would like to sell the house and make a profit, so in that her interests mirror our interests. I wonder if most people like and trust their real estate agents. Of course, since I do not want to lose my house, I may not like anyone who facilitates the sale. My husband is so eager to sell, I am not sure he cares about anything but removing the burden of the mortgage from our lives. I wonder why I am attached to the house. I did not like it much at first, but then again I did not like Baltimore either and I did not want to move. Eric and his parents selected the house and made the renovations and I had no input in anything except that I refused to wallpaper the walls in the foyer. I did not want yellow walls, since most of the house had yellow walls, and so I chose a colour that I thought was white and was called 'linen'. I was appalled when I came home one day to find the foyer walls a light yellow too. I anticipated the day that I would choose the colours all through the house. I decided on a stark white for the guest bathroom, and loved that room more than any other for years and years; it was the only room that I felt I participated in; except that I kept the old bathtub and cracked tile floors.

Over the years the house has become mine, and I am entirely responsible for the clutter everywhere, which has been shocking and embarrassing me for months now. I am responsible for buying stuff and more stuff to fill every room in the house. I like lots of thick white towels and pillows and sets of sheets. I believe I have some sort of thing for white linens. I have huge bags full of sheet sets for every bed in the house. I have several comforters and duvets, and I cannot remember why I felt the need for so many. I clearly have bibliophilia, and books are piled up in every room on every surface. And paper collects and collects and follows me all through the house.

The house looks less and less personal. Our 'stager' advised us to remove almost everything, which we have not quite done. I like the sparseness now and wonder why we did not do this a long time ago.

Eric and I discussed moving to a smaller for some years. With three humans and one dog rather than a family of four with two huge dogs, a smaller place makes sense,, and I look forward to living downtown rather than close to suburbia, so I do not understand my attachment to the house and why I am panicking about this.

Why can't I discuss this without emotion? Eric prints out a spreadsheet with financial details and logic dictates unburdening ourselves of his house. I realize that all the decisions in my life have been based on emotions and not practicalities; logic has never been involved with ANY choices I have made. Perhaps that has been the luxury in my life, that I have not been forced to make the hard choices and lose. That each step in my life has been intuitive, spontaneous, unrehearsed, instinctual, free. Until now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


My father's sabbatical year in Bonn and Brussels changed all of our lives irrevocably. Monica studied at the Sorbonne and Paris and stayed to marry a Frenchman and redefine herself. Karen returned to Canada to finish high school and university but ultimately moved to Italy and then France. I stayed closest to home, but have had an incurable addiction to travel, which only increases the more I indulge myself. Eric tells me we will have no money to travel while in Ecuador, but I am convinced that we will explore the country from top to bottom. And I will be the tour guide to any family or friends who come to visit while we are there.

Tara plans to leave NYU for the year and try different volunteer jobs and perhaps take a class or two at the university in Quito. She has never been to Ecuador and I am not sure how interested she is in the country. She wants to have a unique and interesting experience. I believe she wants to find a new direction in her studies and needs time to find her way.

Maya has expressed anxiety about leaving her friends and all that is familiar to her. Baltimore is all she knows, having moved here before she turned 2. She loves her life and does not want to change anything. I believe that as long as Eric and I are enthusiastic about our time there, she will join us in our excitement. I have no doubt she will make friends and find a place for herself in Quito. I hope that when she is older she will feel positively about her time in Ecuador, and not feel too displaced when she returns.

For my sisters and I, our time in Rome as children had the most significant impact; we never quite recovered from our move to Edmonton. I remember climbing down the steps of the plane to the tarmac at Edmonton International Airport that frigid January day wearing a coral coloured gabardine raincoat. It was minus 40 degrees, which is the same at Celsius and Fahrenheit, and it was shocking! It was difficult to breathe, and all exposed skin surfaces began to freeze immediately. The prairies spread out endlessly toward the horizon. I remember wondering why in the world would anyone choose to live in such an unbearable place. We spent alot of our itme inside that winter, when the sun rose late in the morning and set in the midfternoon. I was amazed when neighbourhood children played hockey on the street outside our house. The roads gathered ice and were over a foot thick and did not melt until the spring. Over the years I have come to love the snow and winter sports and when we visit my parents I drag the whole family down the river valley in our ski pants and layers and layers of protection, and we slide down the hills and slosh through the snow and make snow angels and have snowballfights and climb up slippery slopes. My parents wait for our return, wondering what we could possibly be doing for so many hours in the snow.

We were strangers in a strange land and never quite fit in. My mother was so disappointed that we did not embrace this wonderful place with endless oppoortunities. We are all remebered as very different young women. I look forward to my high school reunion in 2011. I wonder if I will recognize anyone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Change of Life

My high school class is having its 35th year reunion in August 2011! I received a phonecall form someone I did not remember with a funny accent( I am recognizing the 'Canadian' way of speaking). I expressed delight and am committed to going, but I did not tell the caller that I never graduated with my class. During my last year of high school, my father had taken a sabbatical in Bonn, Germany and then Brussels, Belgium. I spent the summer in Japan and then studied Japanese at the University of Bonn, where my father was teaching and researching. I lived with my younger sister Karen and my parents in a town outside of Bonn called Oelinghofen. Our apartment was the renovated top floor of a barn. I went to university with my father several times a week, and as a family we traveled around the Rhine, looking at castles and wine tasting. One week we coasted down the Mosel and ate and drank wine. We visited Cologne and Nuremburg and visited my grandmother in northern Italy. My sister and I brought correspondence school courses with us, but avoided working on our exercises as much as possible. Ultimately I returned to Canada to take summer school courses with the other high school dropouts to get into the University of Alberta.

During the second half of the sabbatical, we lived in Brussels. By then, I had given up on my school work and visited museum after museum, seeing every tapestry in the country and lots of Heronymous Bosch. We traveled to Holland and France and explored the big cities in Beligum; Louvain, Ghent and Bruges. My father would pile us into the car each weekend and choose a destination and go.

The year was incredible. My older sister studied in Innsbruck, which was on the road to Sterzing, in northern Italy, where my grandmother lived. We drove back and forth from Bonn to Sterzing and from Brussels too. My father's family lived near Stuttgart, where we regularly went shopping for clothes. My parents bought a new BMW in Germany and both enjoyed the freedom of the autobahn,which had no speed limits!!!!!

It was cold and damp, and I remember siting in the front seat of the new car and monitoring the heating system. I had lived in Canada for years and had never felt colder than I did in Bonn and Belgium that year. Coffee shops were a regular destination. Cheese cake in every variety was my mother's favourite. I loved a cookie called 'Spitzbuben' and that was always my choice. In Brussels the waffles we bought on the main square, or the 'Grand Place' were unique, and had sugar swirling around the inside of the waffle. We ate mussels everywhere, in all sorts of styles. Belgian pastries and chocolates were wonderful and a regular part of my diet.

I learned German by taking Japanese and finding a German boyfriend. In Brussels we watched alot of television and learned French. I had never taken French in school, but I became fluent during our stay in Beligium. There was a very frightening television series called 'La Poupee Sanglante' (the bloody doll) which my sister and I waiting anxiously for each week.

The year was so different form our usual lives, and offered such a different way of life. I found myslef enjoying going to the grocery store, just to look at all the food items, which were entirely different from the kinds of foods we had in our stores in Canada. I learned to cook, and fed my parents and family regularly.

It was an amazing year. I imagine our year in Ecuador will bring many unique experiences and will change our lives entirely. We will never return to this life of ours we have now.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I believe the house is actually coming together and may in fact be done by the weekend. Eric is very proud of himself; he removed the stump of a tree by himself and is painting and touching up and repairing and cleaning. I am trying to shrink the size of the boxes of papers that were removed from my closet and are lined up in two rows in the living room. I have filled two huge boxes of personal papers to be shredded or burned and a much smaller box to store. I feel very proud of the piles of discarded material. When the NCC or AmVets come by to pick up clothes and toys and other donations, I used to make it a goal to give away ten bags, except that one time I prepared ten bags and no one came to pick them up and it rained and everything went moldy and had to be thrown away. Now I never get more than two bags ready for them. They came last week and left with a highchair and a child backpack and baby clothes. I am finally giving up our baby things, somehow I could not let them go for the longest time.

I am finding photographs from our years in Baltimore and many more from Tara's childhood in Salt Lake City and California and a few from my chidlhood too. I love looking at the photographs and often get slowed down by the process. It is so easy to get disracted and find myself doing everything but prepare for our move. It is an emotional experience, reviewing the details of our lives here in Baltimore and saying goodbye.

I am embarrassed by my ineffectiveness. I presumed it was a way not to face the reality of leaving, but it is time to look forward and just 'do it'. My husband sees it as a necessary task, and systematically goes to each item on his list and just gets it done. I get waylaid by the sense of loss and resistance to leavimg and all the details of the process. And consequently although I am making progress, I am ridiculously slow and obstructionist in a way. This should be easier and more matter of fact, but it feels onerous and overwhelming.

I have resolved to be positive and look upward and onward. All this pain has a purpose and in two and a half months we will be in Ecuador and learning Spanish and finding a home and getting our lives organized and working in a new country. Of course there are no guarantees about our lives in Ecuador, it may turn out to be awful and a great disappointment, but I have to believe that it will be wonderful, or I cannot go through all this stress!

I argued with my daughter Tara this weekend. I tried to talk to her about her plans for Ecuador; I wanted to know what she had planned and what it meant to her and what she wanted to get out of her year away. She has no specific plans and has expressed interest in moving from one part of the country to another trying out different volunteer possibilities. She finally admitted that she just wanted to escape from Balitmore and New York and our sojourn in Ecuador gave her an opportunity to make that escape from her life. Of course the psychiatrist part of me told her that 'wherever you are there you are', that is, escaping to another place does not solve anything, and she became angry because I was being a therapist and not a mother. When I am a mother I know to keep my mouth closed and not judge her or advise her or disagree or question. It is not easy being a mother.

Maya worries about missing her friends and all that she knows here in her life. She is not keen on going, so I have to work to be positive and excited about our trip. We met with her violin teacher today who is very concerned about her violin practice; she does not feel we will find what we need there for Maya. On the other hand, I talked to a woman in my pilates class whose niece went to Quito for a year to play cello with the symphony before she studied for her masters at Carnegie Mellon and may know some musicians to connect us with. I am sure Maya will continue with her violin and her ballet in Quito, and will perhaps have unique and exciting musical experiences during our time there.

I am living on faith, expecting it all to work out well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Family Reunion

It is before ten o clock at night and I can hardly keep my eyes open. I managed to stay awake until my train arrived in Baltimore, and ran quickly to my car and did not encounter any trouble and arrived home safe and sound. I found Maya and her friends sprawled on the floor in Tara's room on the third level. There had been a storm earlier and a two hour power outage at the house. The areas near my house were still in darkness, and I must admit that everything looks better, not worse in the dark. The children were frightened and uncomfortable about falling asleep with a candle on...but I arrived past 2 AM and they were lined up side by side, breathing softly and looking adorable. They were less adorable when they woke up before 6 AM. I had three hours of sleep!!!

I could hear Maya trying to quiet them down to let Eric and I sleep, but her efforts were fruitless and I could hear requests for breakfast. I made pancakes and woke Eric up to join us for a meal. I am sure he wanted to sleep much longer, but today was a day to work on the house and the sooner he started the better! The children wanted to visit the dogpark, so we piled into the car with Elmer and had a wonderful time exploring the stream and looking for tadpoles (they are gone now, and frogs were hiding) and fish (which were too quick to catch!). The temperature was in the nineties, so we took off our shoes and cooled off walking in the water. Our time was too short and we agreed to return as soon as is possible.

Last week we were complaining about the bitter cold, but I expected that before long we would be complaining about the heat and the humidity. I heard from my sister in Boston; she spent the day at the beach with her dog Casper, exclaiming about the remarkable heat too. I was on the phone with my parents, my sister in France and Monica in Boston...Sunday is day to catch up with family! I am making arrangements for a family encounter in Ottawa and Kingston. my niece Lorna is graduating from Queen's University, so Monica and her family, Karen and my parents, and Eric and Maya and I will meet in Ottawa June 6 and celebrate together. I am relieved that we will be able to make this happen before I leave for Ecuador. I wonder if this will be the last time we will be together as an extended family. It does not happen often; we do not make it a point to meet all together; usually it is bits and pieces of the family, and the last time we celbrated in this way was in 2006 at my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Back and forth to NYC

It is early Sunday morning and I cannot get a connection on the train on my way back to Baltimore. I hope to transfer what I write later. I spent the evening in New York to see my daughter's 20 minute play and join her for dinner. I did not like the play at all, but I always enjoy walking in the city and absorbing the energy and liveliness that is New York. It was hot today and it seemed that every New Yorker was on the streets soaking in the heat. A huge crowd was gathering around Madison Square Garden waiting to see a concert. I tried to figure out who was playing from the dress and demeanor of the concertgoers, and I finally concluded that it was the remainder of the Grateful Dead. They were mostly younger people with dreadlocks and shabby attire. I remember Grateful Dead concerts ten years ago; the crowd was older, dressed entirely differently, but of course it was in Salt Lake City that I attended Grateful Dead concerts, and Utahns are quite different from New Yorkers. I learned that holding a finger up in the air meant that a person was looking to buy a ticket. There were scalpers about, demanding high prices, and finding customers. The crowd thinned as I walked south from Penn Station. I wandered down Seventh Avenue through Chelsea, and it was delightful to see women dressed in their summer shifts and sandals, and men in shorts and tank tops. The restaurants had tables outside wherever possible and the tables were full of New Yorkers having drinks and dinner al fresco. For a change, New Yorkers were meandering, slowing down, enjoying the warmth. It was sweltering and humid and I was wearing altogether too much. I had taught a class early this morning and had not had a chance to go home and change before I caught the train.

I walked by all sorts of restaurants; Indian, Chinese, Turkish, delis, smoothie bars, diners and more. New Yorkers were enjoying this wonderful day. Bars were full, children and dogs were everywhere, people were going to church and the theatre and the movies. The streets were even more crowded after the play, as more and more New Yorkers were pouring out of their homes to enjoy this lovely evening. My daughter wanted Thai food, so she brought me to a restaurant we had tried once before. I was not very adventuresome so I ordered Pad Thai. I tried to have a conversation with my daughter about her plans for Ecuador, but she did not want to hear my dire warnings or any potential limits on her plans. When I walked back to the train station I got lost for the second time; I had been confused about east and west on my way to the Tisch building, and almost missed the start of the play, and on my way back I approached a police car for directions. As I came up to the car, both police officers took a defensive stance, as if I was about to attack them. I held my hand up and yelled at them form a distance, asking where I was and how to get to the station. I was only a few blocks off, and found my way in time, but then had a 20 minute delay and ending up being early. I have become familiar with Penn Station, this is perhaps the tenth time I have taken the train to New York in the past two years. Taking the train is relaxing and easy, but far more expensive than taking the bus or driving my car.

It is a little outrageous to leave Baltimore at 4 PM for a play and return by 2 AM. Eric is home with May and her friends Belina and Marius. They will be waking up early and wanting pancakes and Eric will want to sleep in. I dare not sleep on the train; if I close my eyes I may not wake up when we stop in Baltimore and it won't be fun to find myself in DC having to figure out how to get home. I parked my car a block away from the train station, and am worried about walking to my car in the dark and with my purse and computer. I am planning to ask a policeman at the station to walk withe me or at least watch me as I walk to my car. More than likely I will just run madly to my car. It is interesting that in New York walking the streets at all hours is not of concern at all; it feels truly safe and welcoming.

Tara has one more week of University at NYU and then she is done! Her second year has passed quickly. She id bound and determined to take advantage of our year in Ecuador, and I pressed her to tell me what she is interested in doing when we are there. She talked about several volunteer organizations, she has been exploring on the web, and plans to go from one to another while she is there. I am not sure how that will turn out, but she will do what she is had to let children go.

Friday, April 24, 2009


We celebrated Earth Day two days late and went to see the new Disney 'Earth' movie. Perhaps I was still reeling from yesterday's movie; I was again disturbed by the violence in the film. It was mostly implied -- it was a PG movie and there was no blood and gore; but it was a somewhat disjointed story about predator and prey and the fragility of existence. I found myself covering my eyes in anticipation of an animal's death over and over again, much like my experience yesterday when human animals displayed as much compassion and kindness as violence and evil. The animals in the movie were just surviving, but so were the people in Sin Nombre.

I wonder if part of this sensitivity is a reflection of my visit to Canada. My parents are very much at the end of their lives. My father is 89 and although mentally fit, he is fading physically, both literally and figuratively. My mother's personality has changed significantly and although I have always had a difficult relationship with her, I miss who she was and and am having difficulty adjusting to who she is now. I feel that I am abandoning them when I leave for Ecuador and I have a horrible uncomfortable feeling that I will lose them when I am so far away. In truth, all three of their children have abandoned them! We could not wait to leave Edmonton and start new lives when we were teenagers, and we all moved far away and got busy with our lives and our parents adjusted and filled their days with work and friends and travel and regular visits to all three of us. They have missed us, and more recently I have missed them, and I miss them more and more. I miss who they were and am very aware of them slipping away.

The weekend with my parents was on one level joyous and relaxing, but I have found myself close to tears repeatedly since then. When I hugged my father it felt like I was crushing a delicate bird. My mother is fragile too; she fights to remember and not to reveal any cognitive deficits and to take care of my father and her children. After the years of conflict and disagreements and criticisms and chasms, all I feel from them is their love for me, for my children, for Eric, for my sisters. And loss.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sin Nombre

I saw an excellent movie tonight, but it was violent and disturbing and renews my anxiety about our safety in Ecuador. I had read excellent reviews about the movie and I also saw it because it was in Spanish and about Latin America. It was called 'Sin Nombre' and was the story about a young Mexican who is part of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. He and his homies kill and maim and abuse both the members of other gangs and each other. The bulk of the movie is about his encounter with a girl from Honduras who is traveling with her father and uncle through Mexico to the United States. It is beautifully filmed. The vistas are stunning, but the poverty and the privation of the locals and the immigrants riding the trains is devastating. The violence is unwatchable. I spent much of the movie hiding my eyes from the horror. The characters are sympathetic, particularly the young man who tries to escape from his life knowing that he is doomed.

It is the poverty and the violence that make me uncomfortable. I see that poverty in Ecuador, and of course there is poverty in Baltimore too, but our daily lives are insulated from the reality; we really do not experience it. As tourists in Ecuador, the poverty is part of the landscape. Children and elderly are begging in the streets, there appears to be so much need and want in the cities and in the jungle towns. Baltimore has a high murder rate and there are gangs and drugs and guns and violence, but once again, we are not exposed to it and feel relative safety in our daily life. Perhaps because we are foreigners and unfamiliar, I feel less secure in Quito. I am told that there are some neighbourhoods I do not want to enter, but that is the same for Baltimore. In Quito, there are security guards with guns guarding apartment buildings and bigger guards with bigger guns standing around the banks. Instead of feeling more secure, the men with the guns frighten me; if they are necessary, what does that say about the culture? When I met a defense attache from the American embassy, he gave us dire warnings about the increasing violence in the city directed toward foreigners. Maya's school has high walls all around and security personnel and more than one security check to get in.

So I am more worried today. Am I putting my family in danger? Or is it just the movie that is frightening just like 'The Wire' is about Baltimore and the culture of violence we have here? And of course statistics tell me that we have the highest rate of murder and mayhem in the western world, right here at home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I am making an effort to tell each patient about my departure and finalizing referrals and transfers. It is easy to forget that I am leaving and try to focus on the issues that present themselves in the here and now and avoid the looming reality. It is amazing to me that I can tell patients and then continue on as if the move to Ecuador was not happening and then I find myself functioning as if I was not going anywhere and not closing my practice and not renting/selling my house ( I am convinced it will not be sold, we are nowhere near ready to sell and there is so little time before we go!). But I feel pressure to get organized, focused, get through my to-do list, and sometimes the weight of what must be done is so great I am paralyzed and fearful and accomplish nothing.

It is not as if life without Ecuador was not full of activity anyway. School and work and friends and projects and outings and travel and family and more happen anyway. The Ecuador factor is on top of everything else that we have on our plates. I taught my last Wednesday pilates class tonight . I told my students that the class would be canceled, partly because it had not been full for some time and also because I had not found a replacement teacher. It felt sad but not awful and I will be teaching on Saturdays until the end of June, so I will see all the students several times before I go. But tonight was the first of many 'terminations', and I am still intact. This happened a little sooner than I expected, but it felt okay, and it gives me courage for the next goodbye, the next ending. In fact, I have transferred several patients who I do not see as regularly and it has felt fine for them and for me. It is those that I have closer regular contact with that are more difficult to say goodbye to. I steel myself every morning and force myself to remind everyone of my imminent departure, and plunge in as soon as I find the courage.

Yesterday I felt bolder. I saw myself as someone who has few doubts, who moves forward, is ready for anything, is not tied to place or security or safety. Today I am more uncomfortable, more fearful, more unsteady. I imagine I will go back and forth and up and down and land softly and moving forward.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Have I Done!

I finally told Maya's violin teacher that we were certain about our move to Ecuador and her response was disturbing; that Maya would lose a year of violin and not be able to catch up. I believe her view is extreme, but I am feeling suitably guilty now and worried that I am limiting Maya by taking her away from New York and the Manhattan School of Music. On the other hand, there are too many great experiences ahead for Maya in Ecuador and part of me feels that if she is meant to advance in violin it will happen when it will happen. I also feel some relief, that the pressure on Maya will lessen; sometimes we are held hostage by violin practice and concerts and competitions and accompanists and orchestra; I will definitely have her practice regularly when we live in Quito, but I want to lighten up, if that is possible for me. Perhaps her music education will take an interesting turn that she will be exposed to different forms and styles of music, that she will take a break from classical music and discover other talents.

But today is a day of doubt. What am I doing with our lives? Am I making the right choice for Maya? Will she be thankful later or wish she had just stayed in Baltimore with her friends and her hobbies and everything that is familiar to her? When my parents moved us to Rome we were excited and loved our lives in Italy. Later, when we were tweens and teenageers, we resisted the move to Edmonton and complained bitterly to our parents; perhaps we never recovered from the move and left Edmonton and Canada because we could never adjust to our new lives. I present our adventure in Ecuador as a once in a lifetime experience that we must take advantage of. I have been so convincing that my daughter Tara has chosen to take a year off from NYU and join us! And I am not sure I am right about anything at this point. Will this truly be as incredible a year as I try to tell myself?

This move is so daunting. We have yet to finish organizing our house. It is not on the market yet and the more we work on our piles, the more paralyzed both Eric and I am and I wonder if at some point we will just look at each other and express our doubts and... I am not sure what will happen. Perhaps we are at a point of no return; I have referred my patients to other clinicians and have chosen a school for Maya, and Tara has not registered for another year at NYU, and Eric has organized his year abroad and we are all committed to this move. It often feels as if we are gone already, at least in spirit, and are just tying up the loose ends of our lives here in Baltimore.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I wanted more stories from my father, but my mother would have none of it. I asked him the same questions years ago, when he was unwilling to answer. Perhaps because we have so little time, he is now ready to talk, but my mother is uncomfortable with his past, and intervenes. I wonder if I will ever have the chance to talk to him alone, without her editing or halting the conversation.

My father was not allowed to talk, instead she reminisced about Naples, and her father. She remembers the air raid sirens each evening at 9 PM when the Americans started dropping their bombs. Her father oversaw the families in her apartment building and made sure everyone went to the cellar for the night. When we were children, she would dive for cover every time a siren screamed in the distance, and we were curious and did not understand her. Her father finally decided to move the family to South Tirol, where his family still lived. It was a difficult transition for my grandmother, who did not fit in and was jeered at because she was Italian. My mother describes adjusting to her new life without apparent difficulty and has since preferred to be German than Italian. As children we never understood that. We were in love with Italy and all that was Italian, and half the family was Italian, so it made no sense to ignore that part of her. Perhaps it was because she had to redefine herself in her new home and had to deny her past to be her new self. When she moved to Canada at 22, she threw herself fully into her new identity and has been fiercely Canadian ever since.

As children however, we have always been confused about who we are, never really Canadian, and always displaced and foreign in our chosen homes. One sister lives in France and married a Swiss man and carries a Swiss passport and yearns for Italy. My other sister married a French man and lives in San Fransisco and Boston but has a French passport and describes herself as French. I still have my green card after twenty years in the United States and struggle almost every time I go through US immigration, but never consider getting an American passport, and always know I am a foreigner in a strange country that I do not understand. Curious that each of us has left our country of birth and do not feel Canadian most of the time, but hold on to our Canadian passports. I feel foreign in Canada as much as I feel foreign in the United States or Ecuador or France or Japan. My parents on the other hand left their countries of origin and feel home in Canada and do not understand their displaced children. Perhaps that is why I am so eager to hear their stories and understand why they left the lives they knew and found comfort in a new country and a new culture and a new language. It is curious that again in my life I am starting a new life in a new country too.

I think it makes sense that my father left Germany after the war. He had lost his home and much of his family and the 'new world' offered opportunities. But why did he leave and the rest of his family stay? What was different about my mother that she could board a boat at Naples and travel alone across the Atlantic and then across all of Canada to meet my father in Vancouver and start a new life with him? Neither spoke English and they still seem European today. What was it about their three children that instead of taking advantage of all the good things about being Canadian, we all left and started lives in other countries with partners of other cultures and languages and experiences? And why is it that I did not hesitate to leave the life I know in Baltimore to start this new life in Ecuador?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saying Godobye

My mother and I went to see the first half of the Che Guevara movie today. It was far more hopeful than the second half, since it celebrated the success of the Cuban revolution, and follows Che from his early meeting with Castro until the triumphant march into Havana. I understand why Che was so adored and admired. He was charismatic and idealistic and decent and fair and good, or at least that is how he was portrayed. It appears that Fidel was quite happy to send him away to Bolivia; there was no room for two revolutionary leaders, and Fidel could not compete with Che's charisma. It makes sense that Fidel did not help Che in Bolivia; Castro probably was relieved that Che failed. I listened to Che's speech at the UN; he directed his verbal attacks at the United States, whom he described as imperialists. He references North American actions in Nicaragua and Panama and Cuba. I understand more clearly the perspective of Chavez, Castro, Morales, Correa; and it is significant that those views are being expressed right now in Trinidad, where the meeting of the Summit of the Americas is happening today. It is remarkable that the US embargo against Cuba may be lifted!

I continue to try and demonstrate to my parents the advantages of having a computer. I bring up Guevara's speech at the UN, his photos, those of Castro as a young man. But my efforts backfire when my mother becomes irritable and claims that the computer takes me away from the conversation and that she will never agree to having one in her house! So much for my efforts, I thought I was making progress; she was so much more amenable yesterday.

We walked again today, although not far. My parents suggested we visit a lake in St Albert, a town north of Edmonton, where my father and mother once encountered a moose and her calf. Apparently they turned a corner and saw the calf, and then the massive mother moose charged at my mother who was lucky to step out of the way and not get injured. Curious that they like to return to the scene of danger. There were no moose today at this 'Big Lake', and little wildlife at all. My father described there being hundreds of waterfowl each time they visit, but there were few birds today. A few Canada geese, and a muskrat swimming in the water ( a muskrat looks like a big rat but is smaller than a beaver, or so my father informed me). I have never paid this much attention to the wildlife around me. I believe it is my trips to the jungle and to the Galapagos that have taught me to observe and look more closely, or perhaps it is because I always have a camera with me and am looking for something to focus my lens on. My mother asked me why I photograph and what I do with the photographs and was not satisfied with my answer.

I came to Edmonton to check on my parents and to celebrate my mother's birthday. I have concerns about both my parents, and am not entirely sure I should leave them on their own. On the other hand, they live a full life, are active and involved with friends and their community. And there is little I can do to make their circumstances any better. They miss their family, but we will all visit when we can, and if something happens that necessitates another trip, from Baltimore or Quito or wherever I am, the world is such that I can be here in a day or two if need be. Saying goodbye feels very final everytime I leave.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Time for Stories

It is spring in Edmonton after months and months of bitter cold, and the snow has almost entirely disappeared, except for chunks of ice floating down the Saskatchewan River. When we come here for Christmas, Eric, Tara and Maya and I put on layers and layers of warm clothes and take long walks in the snow along the river valley. We have great adventures climbing up the steep ravines and sliding down wherever possible. Such a different experience at this time of year. My parents and I took a walk along the river this afternoon, and it felt wonderful to be bathed in sunlight. It was not particularly beautiful, because the grass was brown and the trees were bare and everything looked dirty and dusty and dull. I was paying attention to the birds and saw magpies and crows and seagulls and chickadees. The beavers had been busy chewing on trees, clearly they had been out and about and working on their dams. My mother cannot walk far, but made an effort to keep up and participate. It won't take long for the grass to turn green and the bushes and trees to grow leaves and the flowers to blossom. I brought my camera with me and found myself looking more intently at the world around me. I found a surprising number of opportunities to photograph, and was delighted to be able to download and show my parents the photos immediately upon returning to the house.

I am trying to convince my parents to have a computer in the house so that they can skype and videochat when we are in Ecuador. They have been resistant to the concept of having a computer for years, but I am convinced that they will enjoy seeing us every day and maintaining close contact. I want Eric to set them up with an easy machine and simple instructions with failsafe steps to ensure that they can manage on their own. It will be easier for me to be so far away if I know I can contact them so effortlessly. I showed them the news and some utube videos as an introduction to the possibilities inherent in owning a computer. My sister Karen will be here in a few weeks and will continue working on them.

My mother is thrilled that I am here for her birthday now that she knows who I am. Our morning was filled with flower deliveries and phonecalls from wellwishers and phonecalls to family members and thank yous. It felt good to be with my parents. My father wants to be with me every minute and teach me something, anything. We drove to the university for lunch and ate at the Faculty Club, a tradition for my parents; we go every time I visit. Dinner was at my mother's favourite restaurant in Edmonton, La Ronde, which revolves around the city once an hour. I have never seen so much meat on the menu, from wild boar to bison to veal, lamb, and several different steak choices, including a 16 ounce serving! I was overwhelmed with all the steak and chose a hemp crepe ( I had never heard of eating hemp) with pheasant and wild mushrooms and wine sauce. It was an appetizer but more than enough. Once home we drank champagne and had birthday cake and celebrated some more.

My mother reminisced about her childhood in Naples. She lived in an apartment on Via Monte Calvario #16, near Via Roma. I remember going with my sister Karen to Naples after my 96 year old grandmother died and looking for the apartment. My mother remembers also living at Piazza della Carita #5. She described spending the nights in the cellar once the Americans began bombing every night at 9, and coming out in the morning thankful to be alive. Once it was St. Nicholas Day and the children were surprised to find gifts from St Nicholas in their rooms when they came up from the air raid shelters in the morning. She did not know until much later that her father had crept up while the children were sleeping in the cellar to distribute the gifts and surprise the chidren. My mother was born in 1933, so I think this happened in 1939, because shortly therafter the family moved to Northern Italy to be safer from the bombs. My father started talking about his time in the war as well, but my mother is uncomfortable when he desribes his experiences, so he did not get far. He talked about being conscripted into the German army in 1943, when he was studying at the Humboldt University in Berlin, of being a private in a panzer division and heading east past the Black Sea near Chechnya almost to Baku. The Germans were not dong well in Asia and at one point his division believed they were taking a train back to France to relieve the German soldiers there, when the train was diverted to Stalingrad to support the failing German army there. Stalingrad fell before his group arrived and they were soon retreating through the Russian countryside. He remembers the Russians being good to the German soldiers. Once he was alone guarding his big gun when a very very old woman came to him with two applesa and wollen socks. He kept the socks for years after that and had them wehn he moved to Canada. My mother remembers the socks too. My mother wondered if the locals were so generous because they thought that if they were kind and good, someone far away would be good to their sons....I wanted to hear more from my father, but my mother objects to talking about the war and it is her birthday so I stopped asking questions. Both my parents have so many stories to share, and I wonder how much time I have with them to hear all the stories.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Che Guevara

I woke up at 5:30 AM, raced to the airport with Eric driving and Maya sleeping in the back seat, made it to Minneapolis and Edmonton without incident, rented a cherry red PT Cruiser and drove up to my parents' house to surprise my mother. No one was home. I drove to Starbucks to read and write and returned to the house just after my mother and father had parked the car in the garage. I jumped out of my car and advanced toward my mother and she looked at me without having a clue who I was. She asked me several times who and what I was doing in their driveway. She did not hear me when I repeated that I was Ruth, her daughter. She looked scared and horrified and prepared for battle. My father said nothing, but nodded in recognition. My mother finally smiled and acknowledged me and there were hugs all around. What a strange and terrifying experience.

I had told my father I was coming and wanted my arrival to be a surprise and he was not sure when I would show up. Clearly he kept the secret.

My parents go out nightly and had planned to go to a movie, so I agreed to join them for the second half of the Che Guevara movie by Steven Soderbergh. They had seen the first half last week. My father tried to fill me in on the details. He was impressed with the story of Ernesto Guevara, who grew up privileged in Argentina, became a medical doctor, and when he traveled throughout South America by motorcycle, h was transformed by the experience. His concern for the poor and the disadvantaged led him to Cuba and the revolution. He was a social democrat and a Marxist and Castro welcomed all who joined him in overthrowing the dictator Batista. My father expressed much admiration for Che. The first movie ( which I plan to see later) focused on Che's early experiences and how they shaped his political views. The second movie started with Che's disappearance from Cuba and his subsequent efforts to start a revolution in Bolivia. Knowing that he did not last a year in Bolivia, I was worried the whole two hours, waiting for him to be killed. Che's diaries were used to script the story, and the meandering style reflected that. The movie was not interested in showing the audience anything about what Che was thinking or feeling, which was frustrating for me. Clearly, he encountered many obstacles in his efforts to create a revolution, and the atmosphere became progressively more tragic and hopeless and then he was brutally murdered and mutilated and disappeared.

I remember Benny telling us that Che and his revolutionaries were not particularly good to the peasants. My impression from Benny was that the guerillas gave the peasants a choice to join them or die. The film did not portray it that way at all. Che was always talking to the locals and trying to convince them that the cause was right. His men paid for supplies and provided medical care when needed. Perhaps that is what Che wrote in his diary. Certainly I have always heard of Che Guevara as an idealized hero, bringing the revolution to Cuba and then Bolivia to free the oppressed, to overthrow the dictators. Of course as usual the Americans look bad, as they always do in South/Central American stories, with the CIA helping the Bolivian dictator organize a campaign to capture and murder Che. My experiences in South America always include some encounter when I am scolded about American foreign policy, or lectured about the history of exploitation and abuse by the Americans.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Finally a sunny day and evidence of spring! What a difference it makes to wake up to a blue sky and green grass and flowers. We have been deluged for days! Of course it has cleaned everything up and the world looks crisper. The last few days have reminded me of how much I liked southern California. I moved to Newport Beach from Edmonton, Canada ( eight months of dark winter and eighteen hour days in the summertime!) and believed I had found paradise. So much sunshine and warmth! I loved being outdoors every day. When Tara was a baby I would walk with her around Balboa Island daily, and climb over the seawall near my house to sit on the sand and read a book while Tara played with her toys. There was often fog blanketing the shore in the mornings, but it would lift by noon and the sun would shine through for the afternoon and warm us up. I liked the cool winter sun, the perfect time to go to Disneyland and try all the rides. My friend Susan loved to go with us and never tired of the same rides over and over. I feel lucky to have lived in such a beautiful place.

Baltimore has more gray days than any place I have lived. Even in Edmonton, the sun shines brightly most winter days. Since in Baltimore, have suggested to many patients that they buy lights to use in the wintertime to increase their exposure to the UV rays that help their moods. The incessant grayness gets tiresome very quickly.

The prospect of permanent springtime in Quito is inviting. My experience in January has more often been rain and cold so my plan to take the funicular up the mountain each year is thwarted by clouds and weather! But with all the packing and storing I am doing lately, I am choosing spring/fall clothes with the expectation that I will never need long underwear or a parka or woolens...except of course if I climb to the top of a volcano. The jungle will be hot of course, and I left my jungle clothes in Quito so I will not have to pack them in the lone suitcase I plan to bring for the year. It seems unimaginable to manage with the contents of only one suitcase for one whole year, but I am trying to stick to the plan. I keep a pile of clothes on a chair in my bedroom and try not to let it get bigger than a suitcase. The other challenge is simply wearing the same clothing day after day. I have been working on that these past few weeks. I have chosen three pairs of pants and several tops and a couple sweaters and I have alternated the eight or so pieces of clothing in various combinations. I am amazed that no one has commented on the repetitive outfits. Perhaps friends, family and patients are to polite. I much prefer variety and colour and adventure in clothing, but I am tolerating the dullness of my attire.

Wading through the piles and piles of clothes and papers and stuff and more stuff has been embarrassing. How in the world did I accumulate so much? Most of it is entirely unnecessary. Why did I have such need, or was it compulsion to shop and consume and acquire and collect? I am feeling guilty and ashamed for spending so much money on so many things I did not need and am throwing or giving away now. Perhaps that is why I have this determination to pack everything I will use next year in one small suitcase and force myself to accept what I have and not acquire more. On the other hand, this fantasy of 'the simple life' is so foreign and unfamiliar to me that I find myself laughing at the thought. It does not seem possible.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A New Life

Instead of going through boxes and bags and packing, I am catching up on episodes of 'In Treatment'. So all day I am in my office talking to patients, and when I come home I watch a psychiatrist treating patients. Doesn't make much sense; after a long day in the office, I choose to watch more therapy! I guess anything is better than working on the house! Actually the show is remarkably good; I am impressed with Gabriel Byrne and the script. And I am absolutely sick of the house!

Eric is so much better at this than I. He gets focused on a room or a project and pushes through. Last night it was Tara's room. He believes he will get everything organized in a week. I simply get stuck and confused and can't decide what to keep and what to let go of and I find myself moving things from one part of my room to another. When I complain of being overwhelmed and exhausted, his explanation is that we are putting in time now for our reward later, which is the year in Euador, and for me it is taking a year off work.

I have no idea what it is like not to work every day. I am looking forward to it and I am excited, but I do not know what to expect and whether or not I will adjust. I have all sorts of plans, but part of me wants to have no plans, no projects, no agenda. I look forward to being free, to wake up each morning and stay in bed, read a book, go for a walk, hang out with Maya after school. I look forward to Maya not having every night booked with an activity. She has been talking about feeling disconnected; perhaps our year in Ecuador will give us all a chance to connect as a family.

I think Eric and I both have all sorts of hopes and dreams about our year away. Everything in our lives will be transformed, never to be the same again. I am expecting it all to be better, but I have no assurance of that. It will simply be different.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taxes Done!

It is tax day tomorrow and taxes are all done and mailed away and off my list of things to do! Yeah!!!! For the first time ever I overpaid, and do not have to pay anything tomorrow! I am usually very anxious in the weeks leading up to April 15, wondering how much I will have to scrounge together to pay for both the year prior and the first quarterly payment. I add up all my numbers and communicate the details to my accountant and am always hopeful that the news will be good. Of course, every year I am disappointed and dismayed with the final tally, so with all the bad economic news these past months, I am relieved to sail through tax day. Of course, since I will not be making any money next year, taxes will be minimal. Making money means paying taxes, so it is not particularly good news not to be paying taxes, it just feels wonderful for the moment.

My list of tasks to be accomplished before I go does not appear to be shortening despite completing tasks almost daily. More just get added to the bottom of the list, and the more I clean the more needs to be done. The work on the house feels endless.

I will be traveling to Canada this weekend. It is my mother's birthday on Saturday, and I will surprise her with a visit, which will make her happy I hope, but I am also checking on her and making sure she is getting adequate healthcare. She has been more and more forgetful lately, and it feels as if she is deteriorating quickly; my father has expressed concern, and talking to her on the phone suggests significant forgetfulness. I called her doctor and urged him to have her evaluated for dementia, but he gave her a clean bill of health today, so either I am mistaken or her physician is wrong. I have no idea how to present my concerns to her, I do not want to hurt her feelings or anger her. I worry about both my parents when I am living so far away and unable to be as available to them. My father is 89 and fragile. My mother has always taken care of him and is strong and supportive, but if she loses her cognitive function, they will have to be taken care of. I am feeling guilty about not being close enough to care for them.

With Quito being at an altitude of over 9000 feet, it is unlikely that my parents will visit. My father has in fact been to Ecuador before. He worked for the United Nations FAO when we lived in Rome, and had an agriculture project in Ecudaor in the 60's. I remember he came home with beautiful crocoldile-skin purses for all the women in his life, and I still have the one he gave me although it is much damaged from overuse. I imagine that Ecuador was very different 45 years ago. I will ask him what he remembers when I visit him on the weekend.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Moving Forward

Coming home means having to face the long lists of 'things to do before we go' and sort through piles of belongings and decide what to keep and what to throw away, what to pack and what to take with us to Ecuador. I would rather avoid it all and be in New York! I felt super anxious all day and overwhelmed by the enormity of what Eric and I have committed to do this year. Had I known how daunting the process would be, I'd have started three years ago! Had we sold out house two years ago we would have made a significant profit and the year in Ecuador would have been much easier. The way we are doing it feels unprepared, spontaneous, flying by the seat of our pants. I think I like that phrase and am delighted it fits here.

Both Eric and I have lost our focus these past few weeks. It is so easy to get busy with work and children and friends and family and everything but the house. Until recently I believed my ambivalence about selling was the problem, and perhaps it remains an obstacle, but Eric is keen on selling and he appears equally stuck. I would like to rent it though, and now is the time to get it ready to rent and I am still avoidant and not making the progress I ought to be making. I wonder if that is what the panic is about. I am uncomfortable and worried.

Maya is worried too. She does not want to leave what is familiar to her. Tonight she cried and talked about not belonging or feeling connected. I have made sure she has been with a freind every day of her spring break, but this year is the first year we have not gone skiing for the week, so it is unusual for Maya to be home and available. I am sure my anxiety is being communicated to her and she is expressing it so much better than I can.

I guess we are all struggling. We must push through.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Home From New York

The day was sunny but cold, excessively so when waiting in the TKTS lines to get tickets for 'The little Mermaid'. The children woke up early to search for eggs, all 42 of them that were hidden in nooks and crannies all over the hotel room. There were chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies and more, and Tara joined in as well. Maya, Belina, Eric and I had all slept in the same bed. The children were exhausted after the long concert, and Eric after his five hour long bus ride from Baltimore. I was squeezed between Maya and Eric and slept very little, but watched Maya while she moved in every direction and wiggled out from under the covers repeatedly. When I suggested the children stay with Tara in her dorm room, they were very excited and so was Tara, but after the performance, both Belina and Maya were exhausted and irritable, and idea of a night in a college dorm was less alluring.

We did make it to St Patrick's Cathedral for Easter Mass. The massive crowd in front of the church was a little scary, but we pushed through and stood for the service. It was the shortest, most efficient mass I had experienced, but I guess it served its purpose. We were ushered out quickly and there was another huge crowd outside the church waiting for the next one. New Yorkers were parading outside the church in their elaborate Easter hats, some with bizarre and colourful costumes, posing for photographs and strutting about.

We had hardly enough time to eat and get to the theatre. Tara had complained bitterly about the choice of a Disney show, but was laughing and smiling throughout the musical. I was sitting four seats away from Eric, but checked to make sure he was not sleeping though it all, and I did not catch him snoring. The children were delighted and the show was entertaining and inventive.

The drive home was tedious. The traffic was horrible, I guess everyone was driving back from a long weekend away...but we arrived home safely. There is still much work to be done on the house. I am getting more anxious about getting it rented or sold. I think that Eric and I have managed to avoid getting the work done. There are so many other priorities and distractions. Perhaps we are both ambivalent about the house and both find reasons and excuses not to do what has to be done. We will be gone in three months!!!!!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Raining Cats and Dogs

It rained all night and most of the day. When I ventured out my umbrella turned inside out and disassembled, suddenly a sheet of nylon and random spokes, and I became wet. I had left the children alone in the hotel room to find vinegar for egg-dyeing. I had to leave them again later to find more eggs. Maya and Belina were very enthusiastic about their eggs and would have coloured more than the four dozen if they had more eggs. The Easter bunny has been made aware of our current location, so will visit us in our apartment hotel off Time Square tomorrow.

I don't believe I have ever spent a whole day in a hotel room in New York, but with the incessant rain, and my concerns about keeping Maya calm and energetic, we did not leave until we were expected at the concert hall for rehearsal. Except to buy beef kebabs and hot dogs at the stand down the road. I was amazed at the tourists in Time Square, still in droves despite the rain and wind.

Maya practiced violin, but seemed fine, so I did not want to push her. She looked so tired after the late nights on this trip. I had asked how to prepare her for her concert and was told to be sure she slept long hours and was well rested, which I have not done. After our late night at ''Blithe Spirit', I tried to insist that Belina and Maya remain in bed 'til 8, and was almost successful. They were so excited about dyeing Easter eggs that they were especially compliant, and continued to make efforts to please all morning. They were stir-crazy by the afternoon, but not eager to walk in the rain. They did not sleep when I asked them to nap, but why I would expect them to nap, when Maya at least never naps, does not make sense. In the end, Maya did well at her concert. She was remarkable, as were all the other winners. I am amazed at these children who can mount the stage and hold it together through their pieces. They were all so impressive! I am so proud of Maya!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Busy in the City

New York is a busy place, and we are staying just off Times Square, the busiest part of the city. The children are overwhelmed by the noise and the activity, and would rather stay in the safe confines of our wonderful hotel room. We did get to the M&M store and ToysRUS (at Maya's insistence) and both Maya and Belina tolerated a long wait in the TKTS line. We got to the end of the line and did not get the Disney musical tickets we had hoped for. Instead, we saw Blithe Spirit, which I only realized halfway through was not exactly children's fare. Tara was in the play last summer in Princeton and because it was Tara, Maya was excited and interested. Without her sister to clap for, Maya was less enthused and Belina was simply polite. This despite a delightful Angela Lansbury and a very suave Rupert Everett.

Maya expressed boredom and when I challenged her, changed her tune and asserted her preference for the country and peace and quiet. When our Ecuadorian friend Erika was here last year, she too expressed her dislike of the noise and action of the city and her wish to be in Quito, or the jungle, or even Balitmore.

I feel incredibly lucky to visit New York regularly. In fact, I think I have enjoyed the city more than Tara has. Every visit has been exciting and interesting and adventuresome and I feel that I will never tire of it. There is simply too much to see and do and experience and I expect I will keep coming back for more. The place is special for Tara and I because we came for the theatre and would binge on plays when we visited. I am sure that is part of why she has chosen to pursue acting.

I bothered the hotel maid when she said she did not speak English. I asked where she was from and it was Cuenca, Ecuador and she had been in New York two years. I babbled in Spanish and told her about our impending move to Ecuador but she was not particularly interested. I wondered if she was thinking that we were crazy to move to Ecuador for a year when we could stay in this gorgeous hotel. Or perhaps she wishes she could return and misses her family and life there. Who knows. I was amazed that she could live here two years without learning a word of English. I understand that a big portion of the GDP of Ecuador comes from money sent home from Ecuadorians working outside of Ecuador.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New York Hotels and Harvest Moons

It was late before we left for New York. I worked all day and came home to throw our bags together and go. Tara was not happy with the delay, half hoping to get to her 10:00 PM rehearsal and half hoping to miss it. The drive was fast and we arrived in three hours. I was entranced by the orange full moon low on the horizon and bigger that usual. I thought orange moons were 'harvest moons' and happened in the autumn. I checked on Wikipedia and harvest moons do in fact happen in the autumn, but moons close to the earth look bigger than full moods high in the sky and they are often orange in colour. The moon was in front of me for much of the ride, looming above the Delaware Bridge, peeking between the vegetation along the side of the 95, hiding and then reappearing behind buildings. I kept looking for it, marveling, wondering what was going on with the moon and why it was so big and luminous.

Maya and her friend Belina watched a movie for the early part of the drive and I was thankful that they slept for most of the way. I looked back at Belina as we drove through Times Square, and her eyes were huge and I could feel her excitement. Maya has come so often that she does not stare in awe anymore, it is just too familiar for her. She became much more excited when she organized herself in our hotel room. What a wonderful place. I chose AKA Times Square for our stay, partly because it has a full kitchen and that is useful for the children; I can cook and keep snacks in the fridge for them and I will not be compelled to go out for every meal. Maya always likes to establish herself in her hotel room. She empties her suitcase and places her clothes in the drawers and lines up her treasures in her space. She claims her corner of the room and her side of the bed and tells me that she will not tolerate a mess in this marvelous place. I never stay in the same place when I come to New York, so I have chosen hotels all over town, east and west, uptown and downtown. I know this city well, but am always discovering and rediscovering and learning more about the city. The hotel room is never just a place to sleep, it is always part of the adventure, a window into the life of the city, it is home for a day or two.

This weekend will be a quiet and peaceful weekend. I want Maya to manage her stress and prepare well for her concert. She had a tough practice this morning with her accompanist and was crying and disintegrating when I came to check on her. I have less than two days to help her pull herself together. I am hoping that with a limited agenda except for fun and relaxation she will recover and feel good about her performance. I thought I was far more anxious than Maya about this concert, but she puts alot of pressure on herself as well, and I am afraid that my anxiety infects her, and I must manage myself. When I put her to bed at night she explains that she feels the feelings of others I tell her that is a good thing but she explains that it interferes with her enjoyment sometimes and does not always work for her. I am curious that my nine year old is describing empathy, and I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing for a child.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Back to New York City

There is always much excitement before a trip to New York City, despite the regularity of our visits. Will we drive, take the train or the bus? Where will we stay? What plays will we see? Where will we eat? Will we visit the Metropolitan museum? I will have Maya and her friend Belina with me, and Eric will join us on Saturday to attend Maya's debut concert at Merkin Hall. She won second prize at a competition a few weeks ago and she plays the piece she won with at the recital. This time it is Bach's Concerto in A Minor. She has been practicing daily, and it feels as if it is coming together. I believe I am more nervous than she is, and the anxiety is ramping up. We will travel by car or train or bus ( I have yet to decide) after work tomorrow, stay near Times Square, and focus on activities that children are excited about. I did not expect Belina to decide to come with us. She has been hesitant to sleep over at our house for months, and when she does stay, she will often call her father to pick her up and bring her home early. When her father called today to confirm her decision, and asked about details about our trip, I was surprised and delighted. It will be a completely different experience for Maya with Belina with us. Tara will travel with us to stay in her dorm and get back to rehearsals and school. Maya will have to prepare for her concert ( I am not sure how one prepares for this) and dye Easter eggs for Sunday and the Easter Bunny, who will have to be informed that we will be in New York and not home in Baltimore. This is not the first time that we have had to inform the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus that we are celebrating away from home.

This has been Maya's winter break, and this is the first year of her life, or at least since she was three years old, that we have not gone skiing for her break. She has been on skis almost since she could walk, and looks forward to our ski week all year. We return to Snowbird and Alta in Utah each year. I stay with a friend at the base of the mountain, and when not skiing visit each of my Salt Lake friends, and it becomes an intensely social and active week. I love skiing, and unfortunately with our trips to Ecuador and our plans to prepare our house to sell and move in less than three months, a ski week just did not fit in. Now that the ski season is almost over, I am lamenting having missed skiing this year and likely next, since there is no snow and no skiing in Ecuador. Perhaps we will have to head for Chile for a ski week in the middle of the summer (and their winter).

I had been worried about being so far away from New York City and Tara when we are away on our sabbatical. But now she has made a decision to volunteer and attend university in Quito, so I will have ner close by and safe. No more visits to New York City as planned. I will have to make up for that when we return.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cherry Blossoms

It it spring and cherry blossom season. My intent each year is to visit the Mall in Washington DC and view the cherry blossoms, and some years I do get there, but these past two weeks, when driving around Baltimore, I am noticing lots of cherry trees resplendent with blossoms and even more magnificent magnolia blossoms. It is not necessary to travel to DC to see cherry blossoms, they are right here all around me in Baltimore. It is only for a short time, and the wind has been blowing today so perhaps they will not last long, but I am appreciating them. I wonder what spring brings to Quito. Since the weather changes little all year long, how does spring differ from the other seasons? I imagine that flowers grow all year, so is there a sudden growth spurt when daffodils and tulips and crocuses suddenly spring out of the earth? Is there a cherry blossom time? Is it during midwinter or fall? Do certain plants grow at certain times or does the growing season just rotate all year long? How does one know it is spring in the highlands, or in the jungle?

I told a patient today about my move to Ecuador, and he surprised me by knowing exactly where the country is (many people don't know it is in South America), and the wonderful springlike weather all year long. He had learned about Ecuador in high school, which for him was a good 25 years ago. He had also watched alot of Discovery Channel and knew about the Galapagos and then launched into assertions that 'evolution is only a theory' and has never been proven... I have learned not to get into such arguments; not so much as to avoid offending my patients, but it does not seem to be my role to defend the theory of evolution, certainly not as a psychiatrist. I am reviewing my departure with each patient as I plan the transition time between now and when I leave and refer each of them to whom I believe will be a good fit. I am surprised by the encouragement and excitement that is communicated by almost every patient. It would be more difficult if I encountered resistance at every turn. Instead, I feel more and more enthusiastic.

I like when seasons change, especially fall and spring. With Quito weather being spring all year long? I wonder if I will miss the seasons, or will flowers be bursting all over the place in every season? Will I miss the cherry blossoms and the magnolia trees? Eric assures me that there are flowers blooming all year long, many varieties and mostly plants and flowers I have never seen or heard of. At the market in Otavalo, we bought 25 long stemmed roses for $3; I expect I will go wild with the flowers and make sure my house is full of them inside and out!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Burn After Reading

I started a fire today, and burned piles of papers, evidence of years lived in this house. I am taking an inordinate amount of time going through school papers for Tara and Maya, receipts, taxes, travel documents, letters, cards, notes to myself, notes from friends and family, photographs, artwork from preschool through high school, report cards, homework assignments and more. What to keep and what to burn? I really don't want to dispose of anything, but why keep it all in bags and boxes to be explored by mice and creatures that leave parts of themselves behind? I did well for the first few boxes, but then I get bogged down and look at each piece of evidence of my past and I do not want to let go. It is sometimes fun, but gets more agonizing if I persist for too long. I wish I could just burn all of it and not filter through each page, questioning whether this or that memento stays or goes. This is taking far too much time. Eric returns home on the train form Montreal tonight and I had promised myself I would get through all of the boxes lined up in a row in the living room. Those boxes hold me hostage.

A fantastic fire raged, consuming every morsel I fed it, especially enjoying the thick handfuls of paper I threw in with abandon. Unfortunately the ashes are piling up. I have never tended to a fire, so I imagined that everything would just disappear and that I could keep adding more and more paper....I have learned that ultimately I will have to vacuum away a foot high pile of ash.

After about two hours of sifting through my paper collection, I find myself less and less attentive, and I start to throw out more and more and then I worry that I will lose something important, so I become more selective and keep too much. Finally I decide that it is time to quit and I will face this task again and again. This is all so much harder than I anticipated.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday in the Country

It is Palm Sunday today and when I stopped at Starbucks for a coffee, there were palm fronds everywhere. I tried to find a parking place near the Basilica while Maya was practicing violin at Peabody, but my limitations at parallel parking kept me from dashing in as I had planned. I had watched the celebration of mass at St. Peter's in Rome and reminded myself that I wanted to acknowledge the day. Instead, we meditated while watching the flowing landscape between Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or 'Pennsyltucky' as Maya describes it, 'the backwoods of Pennsylvania' (her ballet teachers live there). She had insisted that we see ' Coppelia', put on by the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and the performance was stunning. The main ballerina was 13 and remarkable. It was unbelievable that in the middle of nowhere, a woman has established a stellar ballet school. Maya traded seats with one of her instructors, who sat next to me and explained that the director of the CPYB ballet had started her school in her parents' barn, with the goal of bringing opportunities for local children to advance in dance. She has built herself a stellar reputation and students come from all over the country to study ballet with her. Maya was thrilled, and wore her ballet attire under her clothes in the hopes of dancing for the director.

Tara and I had watched Bill Maher's movie, 'Religulous' last night, which made fun of all religions. It was interesting to hear that the story of Jesus closely mirrored that of an Egyptian deity described in the book of the dead. Horus was a child of a virgin, walked on water, raised Lazarus up form the dead, cured people of their ailments and changed water into wine. It appears that the Christians recycled old stories from past religions to write their bible. December 25 is the birthday of a god of the Persians, or some other pagan deity. I have never worried about whether the bible is 'fact' or 'fiction'. I believe the stories are symbolic and have meaning because they teach us about our lives and convince us that we mean something, that we are relevant. It is interesting that research suggests that there is a part of our brains that is receptive to religious beliefs, that we are hardwired to have faith. Perhaps it is evolutionarily advantageous for humans to believe, that we survive as a species when we believe. I have always enjoyed the rituals of church. I like the incense and the singing and the repetitive chanting and the order of the mass which reassures me because of its constancy. Tara was baptised, confirmed, communioned and schooled in Catholicism when we lived in Salt Lake City. Maya is very interested in religion and would love to go to church regularly. Since we have not, every time we enter a church she is insistent on lighting a candle and praying in her own way, although she has never been instructed in anything religious. Perhaps while in Ecuador, she will experience more religion. Interestingly, the school she will attend in Quito is the local Jewish school, so each time we have visited, a Jewish cultural holiday is being celebrated. Eric's grandfather was born Jewish, so that is part of Maya's heritage, so I am delighted that she will be exposed to a relevant culture and religion.

I have always found Catholic mass meditative. Perhaps that is why I like yoga. Once we returned from our afternoon in Pennsylvania, I took both girls to my hot power yoga class, where the movements are repetitive and flowing and naturally meditative, and I feel quiet and peaceful and that part of the brain that is receptive to faith is satisfied.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Busy Saturdays

Today was both an ordinary and an unusual Saturday. We regularly wake up early to get to ballet or to see Maya's accompanist; today she had a date with Jake, her accompanist, in the hopes of preparing for an audition later in the day for first versus second violin in her orchestra. After an hour with Jake and Maya practiced ballet for two and a half hours. I rushed home to pick Tara up ( she is visiting from New York) and we almost did not make it to a 90 minute power yoga class. It was wonderful to stretch and sweat and relax before I dropped Tara off at home while I sped back to Maya to feed her lunch at the local art gallery where they did not take my credit card and I did not have my ATM card to get money. The woman behind the counter knows me and agreed to feed us and I promised to bring the money in later. Maya's next stop was her orchestra practice and after dropping her off, I scrambled to get home to find my ATM card. Tara decided to join me for coffee near the music school where I met my friend Emily, whose son is taking a sculpture class at MICA, the local art school. I have not seen Emily for weeks because our schedules are too jampacked most of the time so there was much to catch up on. Before we knew it, I had to cut off the conversation and leave to pick up Maya, but when we arrived just in time, we learned that she had been asked to join a special master class on musical creativity. She is the youngest in the class and looked scared when I left her, but Tara had an appointment by 4 in the northern part of the city and I left Maya for the time it takes me to drop Tara off at her appointment and drive back ( should be an hour but takes me far less!). When I returned, feeling guilty that I had not stayed to support her,which I would have done if I could, Maya looked comfortable playing her violin with a sea of other violinists, cellists, and other musicians and when she was done, she found a friend who happens to attend the same school as Maya and take violin and ballet at Peabody as well. So much in common! I met Florence's mother and we discussed a play date and exchanged email addresses and moved on to discuss finding a violin teacher in Ecuador. I was introduced to a cellist who knows many musicians in Latin America and I gave her my email as well. I remembered that I have a great photo of Maya and her friend Florence from the concert they played together in a year ago and I promised myself I will find it and shar it with her. The day was not over yet, because I had to drive back north to catch up with Tara after her appointment and I waited in the waiting area of an office without internet, but tapped away at the computer while Maya watched a movie on my iphone.

I have done very little today and yet I am exhausted. I have driven the length of the city several times. I am still sore from the stretching this morning and have not had the time to shower or change and I can taste the salt on my skin and I am not sure if I smell. A bath sounds wonderful, but it is unlikely that will happen. I would like to read a book and enjoy a bubble bath.....that is sounding better and better as I wait for Tara.

Finally by 6 PM we were heading home, but we stopped at Blockbuster for movies and Pei Wei for take-out, a few items at the drugstore, and then dinner, walking Elmer who is depressed and lonely since Pippi died, a bubble bath that was too cold and turned into a shower, movies, lots of chocolate cookies which Tara baked, some clean-up and bed....

I do not expect that my Saturdays will be anything like today when we are living in Quito. I wonder what a typical weekend will be like. I am determined NOT to get caught in the whirlwind of activities on Saturdays and Sundays that is entrenched in our lives in Baltimore. I want weekends to be our time to explore the city and the countryside and get out of this habit of overcomitment and overactivity which most of hte parents I know get involved in. We want our children to be able to pursue their interests, so we sign them up for all sorts of classes and suddenly there is no time for play or quiet or reflection. I do not remember doing this as a child, and when Tara was small I insisted on skiing every weekend in the winter, so I did not plan anything on Saturdays. We actually went to church every Sunday morning, followed by brunch with friends we saw every week and then skiing. Church was a must in Salt Lake City, because the prevailing Mormon religion is so dominating, if one does not stake a claim so some sort of faith, they are relentless in their prosytelizing. When I claimed myself Catholic, I was told that I worshiped Satan and the locals kept a wide berth. Rather bizarre. Now that we live in Baltimore, institutionalized religion is more of a personal choice rather than a survival tool in a fundamentalist culture. I guess that sounds harsh, but I had no desire to convert to Mormonism. Ecuadorians are 90% Catholic and many attend church regularly, but most of the Ecuadorians I know do not. I cannot imagine that I will be attending, there are too many other distractions for us when we are there.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Medical Care and Emergencies

I am wondering about medical care in Quito. Like most places, I imagine it very good for some and inadequate for others. Several Ecuadorians I run into have been to the United States for treatment, many have chosen Hopkins for complicated procedures. I always find it odd that my parents when they visit are so eager to return to Canada for medical care. I try to point out that Baltimore has reputable medical institutions, but they have not had consistently good experiences in the States and probably have heard all the horror stories, and don't wish to get caught up in their own.

We had a couple alumni on our trip in the Galapagos who were hurt and required medical care. The physician on the boat was perfectly adequate and did what any doctor would have done in the circumstances. It is probably only in rather desperate circumstances, like when my brother in law was burned on over 70 % of his body and required many months of ICU care and millions of dollars in grafting procedures to survive ( and beat the odds), that the hospitals in Ecuador could not compete with their American counterparts. Perhaps it is just money that makes the difference, in that a country with over 300 million inhabitants has simply a greater amount of money.

I avoid doctors anyway. By the time I show up in a medical office for care, I have self diagnosed and already started treatment and am eager for confirmation that what I have recommended is appropriate. Rarely does what the physician say surprise me or reassure. I imagine I will avoid doctors if at all possible in Quito, much like I do here. My understanding is that one can purchase most medications in the pharmacies without a prescription, so it makes sense to prescribe for whatever ails us and simply pick it up at the drugstore.

Hopefully we will not be in situations that require immediate or urgent care, and we can hold off on screaming through the streets on an ambulance. We will be very very careful.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Off The Grid

I am figuring out how to live with more time on my hands. I have been saying goodbye to patients everyday and consequently have more and more time between appointments. I was able to meed with a friend who is organizing my files so they are more accessible to the new physician who will take care of my office. I was able to struggle through a long and onerous bill that has not been paid and send it out corrected and accurate (not my forte). I saw my therapist and talked about my daughter and her difficulties in New York, I was able to see patients in a more leisurely manner and give them extra time and attention, I could answer my phone messages promptly. This is nothing like my ordinary life, when I am whizzing from patient to patient, always pushing them out of my office to stay on schedule. Usually I have no time to organize or plan or take care of details which get pushed back to the point that I have no choice but to take care of them. I have decided to renew all my licenses while I am gone, including my malpractice insurance, so as not to get entirely 'off the grid'.

Of course, we will be 'off the grid' when we leave for Ecuador. We may or may not have our home, our dog will have a new family, our bank accounts will be empty ( I have lost a big chunk of my retirement already), perhaps we will have a post office box. We will live too far away for family or friends to visit regularly although we hope that many of our intimates will feel compelled to visit us. We will be strangers in a new world. We will have to make new friends,, speak a foreign language and adjust to new customs. I really have no clue about what our lives will be like.

Nothing will be ordered and predictable. Actually I am not sure my life is predictable anyway. Life always throws you (me) curves, but usually we don't sign up for the drama. This time we are asking for the adventure, the unknown.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Buses

Eric left the house at 3:30 this morning to catch a 4 AM train to Montreal. The journey lasted over fifteen hours, partly because there was some sort of glitch at the border, where Canadian border police took a Sri Lankan man into custody. Eric slept and worked on the paper he has to present on Friday, so it was not a waste of time by any means. To fly would take at least six hours, with a two hour preflight wait and perhaps another hour waiting for baggage at the other end. The return train ticket cost $144, and a plane trip would be at least $350, so the cost difference is substantial, and although the time it takes to get there is more than double the plane trip, if one has work to do, or books to read, or sleep to catch up on,the train ride can make sense. And train travel is fun. Far more relaxing than plane travel today.

I love taking the train. Having spent many of my early years in Europe, trains were a regular part of my life. Later, when I traveled on my own after high school, I had a backpack and a Eurail pass, and criss-crossed the continent following friends, whims, sudden desires to see something or someone a few countries away. I took the train from Edmonton to Montreal to do my internship after medical school, and stayed in a small cabin that transformed form bedroom to sitiing room day after day across the several thousand miles. I like watching the world go by, different landscapes, prairie towns, the wild wild west. Southern California and Salt Lake City were not suited for trains, or at least no one took the train because cars were preferable, but since I have lived in Baltimore, trains are an easy and convenient mode of transport to DC and to New York. I prefer the train, but the cost is excessive, so I have started taking the Chinatown bus, which is $20 each way to New York, convenient and fast, but not as fun as the train. Tara introduced me to the bus, and although there is a schedule posted, often the buses do not follow the posted schedule, and one just shows up at a the designated spot and waits for the next available bus. I close my eyes and awaken at Penn Station, relaxed ready to go. Then I can spend alot more money than I planned in New York, which is a bonus!

I was surprised that there are few trains in Ecuador. It just makes sense to me to have traintracks crossing the country. Instead there are buses that limp up and over the Andes to the coast and up and over the Andes to the jungle and through the jungle and north to south along the Andes. Everyone takes the bus, and they are crammed with people all the time.Erika does not think twice about taking a fourteen hour bus ride. For such a small country, distances are far because of the conditions of the roads. When the students come to Ecuador for the course, time is shaved off by taking planes everywhere. Our plans in Ecuador may not include having a car, so I imagine that we will be taking the buses,which are inexpensive and cover every small and large town and travel regularly. I am not sure how I feel about the buses. The roads often frighten me and I would rather not take a car or a bus, but that may be what we can afford and may in fact be the only means of transportation for us.

The only train I know of is a tourist experience. The tradition is to sit on the top of the train and experience the wild twists and turns of the precarious course through the Andes. I may be wrong, but I recall the name Riobamba, so either the train goes through the river valley, or starts or ends at the town. No doubt we will have to try it!

Having read what I wrote today, I must admit that I simply enjoy traveling and part of the journey is the mode to transport. I love to fly, take the train, drive a car, and buses are just fine because they get me from point A to point B, and I like to be moving and experiencing adventure.