Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!!!

Walking in the Sand

I am naive enough to believe that the new year offers us a chance to do better, to change ourselves, our lives, our perspective. So I am always excited about the evening prior to midnight. I must arrange an event, there must be good food and wine and conversation for the new year ritual. So we began preparing early in the day. The menu included cheese fondue and meat fondue and chocolate fondue. Eric was sent to the store three times to ensure that we had all the ingredients necessary. There was good wine and champagne, four fondue pots, fondue skewers, lots of fruit and vegetables, bread, meat, oil etc. We were ready!

One Legged Seagull

Monica and Thierry, my sister and brother-in-law, and their children Edouard and Lorna, arrived early in the afternoon after a ten day sailing trip through the Caribbean. They are staying at the Don Cesar, the pink palace hotel a short walk away. We exchanged stories and Christmas presents sitting on the back porch with the view of the sand dunes and sea grasses between us and the pounding sea. They had had a marvelous week sailing and were relaxed and happy.

Reconnecting on the Back Porch

The party tonight was smashing. We were all so happy to be together to celebrate. Max and Jason joined us and fit in perfectly with our wild and raucous crowd. Eric's brother Marc arrived for the chocolate fondue part of the evening.

My brother in law, Thierry, asked us each to describe what experience was the best part of 2009; I thought of my first time on a rollercoaster a few days ago when I closed my eyes tightly and prayed alot, of my first time swimming with sharks in the Galapagos and being scared and thrilled at the same time, and how much I have enjoyed this past week cooking in a kitchen that is bigger than my whole apartment in Ecuador; but I chose to describe how wonderful it has been to take time off work and live life as an adventure every day these past few months in Quito. The year has been unusual, in that the first six months were devoted to our preparation to move to Ecuador, and the second half of the year have been focused on living in our new home and adjusting to all sorts of new adventures. Eric's answer to the question was that it has been great for him to experience me being happy most of the time. Many responded that being together to celebrate has been the highlight, and truly it has been marvelous to be together this past week and to feast and party with family.

Beach Antics

We drank champagne on the beach, our toes digging into the soft sand. It was cool but pleasant, but I ran into the water to my waist to feel the tug of the sea. The moon was full but the sky was cloudy. I expected an explosion of fireworks at midnight, but they did not materialize. Eric had set off backyard firecrackers at the house, which I thought were rather lame, but they were our only fireworks of the evening, so I am thankful that at least we experienced a few 'juegos pyrotecnicos'. They were nothing like what we see in Ecuador. We tried to describe the 'vaca loca' and the 'castillos' , but I believe that one must experience Ecuadorian fireworks to know what they are like.

Midnight Celebration

It has been wonderful to be with the family this week. There are dozens of delightful moments that we will remember forever. The hardest part of our stay in Ecuador is being so far from family, and I feel so lucky to be with them for the holidays. Maya is absolutely thrilled.

My Father Thinking

I do in fact write out a list of New Year's resolutions. It matters not if I follow them, they are fun to think about and aspire to. Happy New Year!!!!!!

Sunset on the Last Day of 2009!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Sun Going Down

Another perfect day in paradise, but warmer and sunnier and a wonderful day for a boatride and a fruitless attempt at fishing. Eric's grandfather, Gil, and his wife Mary invited us out on their small but powerful motorboat, and Eric, Maya and I along with my father, joined them. I love being on the water; every year my birthday gift is sailing for the day. I cannot imagine a place I would rather be on my birthday but on a sailing vessel. Every other time out on a boat is a bonus.

The' Tortuga'

I am unsettled by the incredible wealth I see all around me. Perhaps I am sensitive to it because of the months in Ecuador, where despite living very simply and often at barely a subsistence level, we are so much better off than most, with so many choices and possibilities. In the United States, people have so much, in comparison to the average Eucadorian. I am not so aware of our limitations when I am in Ecuador, but visiting southern Florida forces me to be more cognizant of our place in the world.


Spending time in Ecuador has changed the way I look at the world around me. I am more observant, I pay more attention to the flora and fauna. Here, there are ospreys along the highway, perched on lightposts; there are herons and pelicans and roadrunners on the beach, cormorants on posts in the water. I am astonished at how much wildlife l see, and how much more is visible to me with each subsequent visit. I am curious about Florida and would like to explore the Everglades and the surrounding areas. Tara and I took a sunset stroll along the beach where the seagulls and pelicans dominated. We watched the sun go down in a bright fiery display and caught up on girltalk. Today is the calm before the storm. Monica arrives tomorrow with her husband and two children after a week of sailing in the Carribbean, and we have parties and celebrations planned over the next few days, which I am looking forward to.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Sea

Morning to the West

Living on the sea is a special experience. Waking up to watch the sun rise over the waves is a surprise each morning, and watching the fiery sunset each evening is spectacular. We are staying at the very beautiful home of my inlaws, and until the last couple of days I have been focusing on appreciating the marvelous kitchen, but with less pressure ( which I put on myself) to arrange for meals, I am enjoying my surroundings and paying more attention. This is important because the home we are staying in is for sale, and it is unlikely we will ever be able to celebrate Christmas as a family here again. Every morning and afternoon and evening is our last, and I am also not sure we will be able to arrange for my parents to travel such a distance again. My father will be 90 in February, and since travel to Ecuador is impossible for him, and any travel at all is stressful, this is an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate a unique time in a gorgeous place.

I have been pushing to arrange for a walk along the beach for days now, and today my father and mother and daughters all agreed to brave the cold (it was warmer and much more pleasant today than the last few days) and venture forth. We discarded our warm jackets once out on the beach, and my father immediately took off his shoes, as did Maya and Tara. It felt so good to feel the warm sun on our faces. The sand on the beach is fine and white and soft and I am not sure I have walked in such wonderful sand before. The walk was exactly what we needed. We stopped for ice cream and cappuccino along the way and picked shells ( I brought a bag along this time) and took long breaks to soak up the sun. It was too cold to swim, although Tara plunged in again (I am not sure how she does it). When we returned from our walk no one wanted to leave the beach or the sun, so we stayed for hours.

I lived in California for several years, on the beach, listening to the tide coming in and going out and I decided then that I lived in paradise and would never leave. I left anyway and I must have forgotten that feeling, or perhaps I got used to it and stopped appreciating it. Now I have that feeling again --- that there is nowhere else to live but next to the sound of the ocean against the shore. Eric loved growing up in Florida and I wonder sometimes if he would rather return home than live anywhere else. Of course that is not an option for us, at least for now, but I understand his nostalgia for this place now.

Maya and Opa Loving the Beach

We are gearing up for bigger celebrations ahead. My sister will arrive Thursday with her husband and children to bring in the New Year with us. We are planning an event for New Years' Eve and again a few days later for my father's 90th birthday, which is in February, but we will not be able to return home to celebrate on that date. I am hoping to have as many of Eric's family and mine join the party.

Beach Art

I had my first attempt at ten pin bowling today. I have never bowled with the big huge ball that we used, and I was awful at first but gradually improved and am feeling more confident now. I had gutter guards up, which appeared to help improve my aim (I was too embarrassed to have my ball redirected by the guards) and I enjoyed the evening far more than I expected. In truth we were all quite awful at bowling and I was not the absolute worst player tonight.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Too Cold

Kite Boarders Brave the Elements

It was a cold and windy and bright and sunny day, and the plan was to take a long walk along the beach, but the family ate breakfast/brunch and read and talked and played on the computer and waited for the wind to die and the temperature to rise. I kept reading my book, Maya played on her new computer from Santa, Tara watched a television show on her Macbook, Eric worked on his computer, Dad read the paper and Sherlock Holmes, my mother read or talked or sat. I kept saying we would be off for our walk, but then I would see the trees bent over in the wind and read some more. Finally around 3 PM, Maya and Tara and I braved the elements for a stroll. Surprisingly there were wind surfers and kite boarders in the water, which had whitecaps and looked cold and forbidding. Eric had said first thing this morning that it was a perfect windsurfing day, and all the wet suited boarders agreed.

Maya dared Tara to take off all her clothes and plunge into the water. Maya agreed to give Tara 15 dollars and be her slave and servant for the rest of the vacation. I did not expect Tara to do it, and even while she started taking off layer after layer, I still thought she would stop and renege and joke about it. I was stunned when Tara actually took every bit of clothing off and dove in. She stayed in the water longer than seemed possible considering the frigid temperature, and then came out, put all her layers back on, and walked with us to get an ice cream for Maya at the corner sweet shoppe. She left us soon after to warm up while Maya and I searched for intact shells. We found so many big and beautiful shells we could not find enough room in our pockets and in our hands to pick any more. We walked to the end of the island (Pass-a-grille) where we found a fisherman at the end of a jetty covered with wave after wave of the very wild sea. Walking back against the wind was work. It was cold and the wind was biting, and it seemed that the distance back was further than the distance out.

Tara Takes the Plunge

My parents had decided not to join us because walking in the cold was not an attractive thought. The view outside was beautiful, the sky bright blue and cloudy, the sea dramatic (like a Turner painting) the sun bright and piercing. I could not get warm after the walk and kept my ski jacket on (my parents had asked what we needed for Christmas and I had told them that we needed warm jackets because Quito was much colder than I expected) for several more hours. I am hoping that the weather warms up over the next few days!

Staying Warm

We are trying to finish all the leftovers we have accumulated over the past week. I would like to leave the kitchen much like it was when we arrived, with the pantry bare and the refrigerator empty (except for 50 or so tupperware containers full of key lime juice, which my in laws harvested from their keylime tree). So it was leftover turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and the locro de papa with avocados and a tomato salad. I made a quiche with the leftover mushrooms and another with the leftover broccoli. The piles of food on the counters are shrinking with each meal. There are two boxes of oranges from Marc's two orange trees, but those go quickly when we squeeze them for juice each morning.

Beautiful Beach

The plan was to go bowling tonight at the ten pin bowling alley with Sherry and Jeff and Max and Jason, but the leagues were playing tonight and we postponed our bowling night for tomorrow. Eric remembers bowling at the same place when he was a child and little has changed in the 30 or so years since.

Sun is Setting

Somehow it does not seem necessary to have too many plans here; we talk, we eat, we read, we play; time passes and night falls and we sleep and then another day begins.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sailing Day

Despite little wind, cold and some rain, it was a sailing day today. Eric's brother Marc showed up while we were eating breakfast, announcing that he had a boat and we had a six hour sail planned. We gobbled up our French toast and strawberries and grabbed as many jackets and warm clothing we could find and met Marc at the dock and off we went. We passed under several bridges to get out to the gulf, looked for dolphins playing off the boat, sailed up the coast and back into the bay. Eric and Marc sailed, while Tara, Maya and I played cards and read down below. It was a two or three person boat and there was little room or patience for us on deck, so we hid and kept busy. Eric and Marc are good sailors, having sailed all their childhood, and Marc has been obsessed with boats for some time. He is a miracle survivor of 70+% burns on his body after surviving an explosion on his boat over two years ago. He is covered with cloned skin and is a marvelous example of modern medicine. He spent months in a medically induced coma in the Tampa burn unit and survived skin grafts and operations to bring him back to life. He is an incredibly lucky person to have lived through his ordeal and has a second chance at life. Sailing is his passion and he is building a boat in his backyard which is almost seaworthy.



I was surprised how quickly the hours flew. Maya, Tara and I had little to do, but we joked and played and read and cuddled to get warm. It was so cold! It rained a little. We were lucky to be wearing our skijackets! My mother had asked what we needed for Christmas when I informed her that we had no warm clothes, she bought all of us warm winter jackets, which we needed today on the water in the rain and the cold. It feels much colder in St Petersburg than it did in Quito! I imagine it is because it is very humid here and in Quito the dryness makes the temperature tolerable. My mother complains that she feels cold and of course in comparison to Edmonton where it is 40 degrees below zero, it is balmy here, but the humidity makes it feel much colder, and the biting cold seeps into ones' bones and one truly feels it!

Tara and Maya Reconnecting

My calm and relaxing vacation here has not started. I have yet to take my long and leisurely walk down the beach. I did not cook much today, which was a relief. We had steamed stone crabs tonight for dinner, which were delicious and did not take much work. My plan is to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible these next few days and to work on getting the kitchen looking more like it did when we arrived, rather than the whirlwind it has been since we arrived.

Looking for Dolpins

The sunrise and sunset are entrancing me. I am remembering how much I enjoyed living on the beach and hearing the tide come in and the birds screeching. This is a beautiful place, it feels like paradise, and I feel lucky to be here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Very Pink Flamingos

Our day began early. I was desperate to get out of the kitchen, and most of the Richters and Fortunes decided to go to Busch Gardens, the local amusement park/zoo. I left my parents behind, to enjoy the house to themselves, in fact they were not yet up when we left around 10 AM. Busch Gardens is about 45 minutes away in Tampa, and I expected it to be packed with people the day after Christmas, but the crowds were not overwhelming. The shock of the day was the price of admission. At $75 a ticket for all those over 9 years of age, the total for the ten of us was well beyond our monthly rent! How is it possible for families to pay for such an outing? Yet there were thousands of visitors to the park, speaking all sorts of languages; many tourists from other countries, but even more local residents. I was hyperventilating when I saw the price, and I had to work to calm myself and focus on enjoying the experience. I could not help but think about our lives in Quito and how impoverished the majority of the inhabitants are, and how impossible it would be for most to experience a day like today. Perhaps I was uncomfortable because we have chosen to live more like the locals in Ecuador; we have been on a strict budget these past months and I have forced myself to consider every purchase carefully, always questioning our need for a particular item, and most often deciding that we in fact do not require much of anything except food. I worked not to think of our excesses all through the day, so that I could simply be in the moment and appreciate what we saw. I felt very much like a consumer of entertainment, and often had to force myself out of that mode of thinking, so that I could appreciate the experience.

Roller Coaster Heaven

Bumper Car Styling

I did not remember that Busch Gardens is as much a zoo as an amusement park, and was pleasantly surprised to see remarkable animals kept in impressive enclosures and appearing well taken care of. I find zoos sometimes uncomfortable places, with unhappy animals in horrible conditions, but I was impressed with the efforts made at this entertainment complex. The chimpanzees and gorillas were impressive, as were the lions and elephants and rhinoceroses and giraffes. The rides were exciting, with several massive roller coasters (I tried one!) which the teenagers could not get enough of. Luckily the lines were not prohibitively long, so there was limited waiting. My favourite ride is the log 'flume', where we got a little wet and moved along slowly and carefully. Roller coasters such as the 'Scorpion', the 'Shreikala', and the 'Montu' were hits for Tara and Jason and Max. One roller coaster was enough for Maya!

Feeding the Parrots

Alligators Versus Crocodiles

In the months we have been in Ecuador, I have seen several amusement parks set up at the various fiestas. There is a large, more permanent one called 'The Volcano' near the Teleferico, and we saw another at San Antonio de Ibarra in September, another at Latacunga, at El Quinche, perhaps at Cuenca too. The rides are smaller and less sophisticated, more primitive and perhaps more or ?are they less dangerous?, and the Ecuadorians are very enthusiastic about participating. Maya has expressed interest in joining in, but I have always hesitated, worrying about safety issues. I am often uncertain about the safety standards in Ecuador. The structures looked rickety and unstable, but of course everyone gets on the rides and few people are hurt. The roller coaster and the 'Phoenix' Maya was on today were terrifying, and after trying a couple rides I was no longer interested in subjecting myself to the intense physical forces involved. I was delighted when Maya agreed to stay out of the last few chosen rides. Tara was fine after trying every roller coaster they had, hopefully not having lost too many neurons in the process!

Exhausted After Too Many Roller Coaster Rides

Opa and Maya Practicing Violin

My parents had too much time alone, and were anxious about our return when we finally showed up at home for warmed up turkey dinner and more conversation. My parents are always excited about being together and talking or discussing our lives, and Jeff and Sherry stayed to share the food and talk some more. I am delighted to have the family together. I miss my extended family so much in Ecuador, that it is a delight to have them here with us and to spend so may precious moments with them. If anything, missing my sisters and parents and close friends has made my stay in Ecuador more difficult. If I could see them more regularly, I would feel so much more myself there. Instead, we are limited by our disconnection from all that is familiar. Eric worried that with this return to home and family, Maya and I may not want to come back to Ecuador, but Quito has become home, and we will return to our apartment and all that now part of our lives.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Last Day of Christmas

Santa Claus Came Last Night

I wondered what Quiteños were doing today. They would have gotten together as families for a big meal last night, and being the last night of the novena, they would have gone to church to have their little baby Jesus' blessed. I am sure midnight mass would have been on the agenda. I believe everything goes back to normal after that, until New Years, when they create huge puppets and consequently burn them. I wanted very much to be in Quito for Año Nuevo, but we will create our own 'muñecas' for our celebration here.

Our holiday celebration includes three meals of importance; Christmas Eve dinner, and Christmas Day breakfast and dinner. My family opens presents on the 24th and Eric's does it on the 25th, so we planned a few presents on the eve and more in the morning. Fish is served Christmas Eve and there are all sorts of choices for Christmas Day, but turkey was the chosen meal this year, so I had an opportunity to cook a 25 pound turkey with all the trimmings, in a real oven and a huge kitchen with all the kitchen utensils and pots needed. It was fun to cook and the results were wonderful. I am enjoying this kitchen and everything that has been possible. The kitchen is a mess however. I keep everything on the counter so that I will be able to find the ingredient when I want it, so all food, pots and pans are visible, and the kitchen looks like a tornado whirled through it.

Maya Gets a Computer

Too much work, too much time on my feet, too much time cooking. But the combination of food and guests was consistently positive and rewarding and although I am feeling tired, I am also feeling very accomplished.

Sun Sets