My View in Cuenca

A beautiful morning here at 8,300 ft in the Andes. Brilliant blue skies dotted with pure white marshmallow clouds provide a backdrop to my landlady’s towering and quite laden avocado tree. Large hummingbirds flit between their feeder to the right and the moira bush to the left. And I see no evidence of any shortage of bees here in Cuenca.

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Our back patio butts up to Josefina’s lovely orchard

Their existence may be in danger in the US, but down here, they seem healthy, happy and loaded with bzzzz.

Margarita, my friend and weekly cleaning lady, arrived just a little bit ago.  She came in bearing a small bag of rolls, fresh from the panaderia.  She gave me two.  David received just one.  “Shhhhh, don’t tell,” she communicates, flashing a huge grin as she heads to the kitchen to get her coffee.

A bright yellow/orange tablecloth hangs on the line outside my window.  Not handmade, but still beautiful, the fringed cloth has multi-width stripes of vibrant purples, greens, blues and reds. The weaving is a traditional Ecuadorean design.  I had wanted to cut the cloth up to use for curtains, but Margarita would have none of that. “No, no, no,” she insisted some weeks ago.  She speaks no English, but she looked like she wanted to say, “It’s a tablecloth, dammit!”

One thing I’ve gathered in my limited time here is that most everything and everyone has its place. People have roles. Things have a purpose. And one shouldn’t try to mix them up.

Getting curtains made for our home, for example.

My former landlady, Susana, has taken me to several fabric stores to select curtain material.  At one shop, I found a fabric and design I loved and wanted to purchase it for the living room.  But they wouldn’t sell it to me because it is not intended for curtain material. It is for muebles. Furniture. Now, I’m a person that uses what I like for decorating. Corrugated cardboard and brass tacks served as wainscoting in my dining room in Arkansas. Brown craft paper has papered many a wall of mine with amazing effects. I had painted concrete floors before it was cool.

So, when I saw this material, I knew it would work. But I couldn’t buy it because Susana and the sales clerk knew I wanted it for cortinas and this was NOT cortina material.

Our windows remain curtainless.

The same for my bright colorful tablecloth. It is fated to serve one purpose and one purpose only–covering our mesa.  Do I dare tell Margarita I’m thinking of buying two more tablecloths to sew together for a bedspread?

This single purpose idea isn’t totally consistent, however.  The other side of the coin is to make do.  Just make things “good enough”, as my friend Jody says.

When we first moved into our current home we had a few plants in the front of the house that proved impossible for our dog to ignore.  Within a week or so, the succulents had been unearthed and left for dead. Josefina (our new landlady and next door neighbor) noticed the bald spot in the garden and offered me something to cover up the blight to prevent more digging from our sweet Punky.

Good idea, I thought. “Thanks”, I said.

imagesJosefina brought over a wooden toilet seat lid, with fake-brass fittings. She speaks no English but her look implied, “That should do it.”  I plopped it into place in plain view of our front door and every guest who visits and there the toilet lid sat for a few weeks until new potted plants could be arranged. It remains out there somewhere. I think I hid it behind my towering rose bush.

Now, I imagine in this city of anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 (who really knows) there are people who wouldn’t dream of using  toilet seat covers in their front lawn to protect their gardens.  There are the rich who live in enclaves behind tall pristine walls and iron gates. Their shrub and tree-lined streets absorb the incessant barks of neurotic dogs confined to tiny spaces, block the smells of belching diesel buses as well as the tone down the bombardment of car alarms. These people live in a more perfect world. No bald spots in their lawns. They have full-time gardeners who tend to the gardens and mini-paradises that surround the family estates.  Not a potty lid to be found.

Friend Jody and I talked not too long ago about the “good enough” attitude that seems perfectly acceptable in our new city.  We got to laughing at the ways we see it around us every day.  For me, a visit to my hair salon brought me face to face with “that’ll do.” I went to the bathroom and was met with one of those beauty shots that appear in every salon in the world.  A stunning woman, a kick-ass hair style and a body that won’t quit.  The pièce de résistance was that my stylist had hung the poster up with what looked like duct tape.  Good enough, indeed.

I experience less pretense here. People are people. It’s hard to put on airs when a toilet lid sits in your front yard. Or a poster promising unlimited beauty is held in place by bulky grey tape.

51967999_Alt01And one more thing.  Next to almost every commode in this city stands a covered wastebasket. A silent reminder that everyone has crap in their lives and we just have to deal with it.

Toss, not flush.  It’s a great equalizer as far as I’m concerned.

365 days on Cuenca time

Our six-week road trip across the United States ended on February 28,2016 at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. David, Katherine and I had criss-crossed the country, visiting family and friends from the California coast to Florida. We packed and repacked eight jumbo suitcases and three carry-ons, paid the hefty excess baggage fee and boarded Jet Blue for Quito, Ecuador. We disembarked at 11 pm to a fairly empty airport.We made our way through customs, hassle-free. Amid a crowd of eager drivers, we found our two assigned taxi drivers who took us to the Airport Suites where we spent two nights adjusting to the altitude and our new life.

Not-so-bright and early the second morning,  Patricio our driver arrived to transport us across the country to our new home, Cuenca. (The not-so-bright refers to the time, not our driver!)  We saw little of the volcanoes  we passed through the Avenue of the Volcanes as fog and rain obliterated most of the high peaks.

But what we did see was beautiful.

Deep greens, crystal clear streams and beautiful skies. Dairy cattle grazing precariously on high Andean slopes. Families tending crops squeezed onto steeply-pitched fields. Colorful hats and skirts popping against a crazy-quilt landscape. Pint-sized brown-skinned children walking alone, close to the highway, heading for school without a care in the world.

We pulled up in front of our new home at 5:00 pm (our new landlord said he’d wait no later than 5:30) and unloaded the truck. Carrying even one small bag up 13 steps had me winded. The altitude would take some adjusting for me. David and Katherine moved with apparent ease.

From that first day at our Air B&B rental next to the Tomebamba River,we have moved twice in this year.  Not unusual for expats who settle here. Someone said to expect to move 3-4 times before you find the place that totally suits you.  We’re lucky. I think we’ve found our casa after numero dos.

Learning to live without a car was difficult for me.  I missed jumping behind the wheel and taking off for who knows where. Katherine missed that too. I also longed for greasy Mexican food (my Atlanta friends know what I mean) and Crunchy  Peanut Butter. David missed–nothing.  He felt immediately at home and settled in without a moment of remorse.  His two female companions–not so much.

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Katherine finds a seaside friend at Ayampe, Ecuador


Tears and despair have been frequent guests in our home here in Ecuador. Despite feeling we made the right move, I’ve questioned our decision because of Katherine’s unhappiness. But we were right.  Over the months, she has found her place, made some friends, created a space for herself and now calls Ecuador home.  She likes it…she really, really likes it. She’s shot up and thinned down. She’s developed into a young woman full of fun and ideas. She knows more spanish than she lets on. She has begun impersonating her old parents with amazing accuracy. Have I told you how much I love this daughter of ours?

We were planning to visit the US this summer but those plans have been postponed.  Maybe next spring. Or summer.  Time will tell. It feels too soon to return to the old home.

So what do I love about this place that has won our hearts?

Not in any order of importance, I love…

  • no constant bombardment of advertising and marketing of things to buy
  • family-oriented culture
  • constant spring-like weather–cool in the morning, sunny during the day, cool again in the evening
  • stress-free zone. i do not have to face the traffic (it’s horrible) nor do i have to make a commute. i have no work that must be done. some days it is fun to do nothing.
  • history around every corner
  • rivers running through the city, count them…four
  • rubbing shoulders with indigenous men and women who keep their native dress and customs in the 21st century and fit right in
  • the woman who started cleaning our house and who has become a dear friend that makes me laugh
  • gringo-frequented establishments that satisfy an occasional need for familiar foods and conversation
  • a culture of creativity and a cast of characters who make each and every day more interesting
  • hummingbirds of all sizes

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  • gorgeous flowers that bloom in our front yard–no thanks to me
  • a day view from our bedroom window on a cloudy morning.

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today is ending up the long weekend of Carnaval (not sure of the correct spelling as I’ve seen it so many ways).  unlike Rio or New Orleans, Cuenca celebrates not with parades but with spray foam, water balloons and string foam.  i haven’t gone out much. but Katherine has had a ball!  the city has been “at battle” for days. many people having the time of their lives. quite a few expats complaining about the unrest.  such is life. a good dose of a water gun and spray foam from a stranger isn’t such a bad way to celebrate.

all is well for the Thornton-Vander Plaats in Cuenca, Ecuador.  it’s been a good year. looking forward to many more. and remember friends and blog readers…our door is always open–except when string foam is being sprayed.

 

Suffer the little children? Really?

At this moment in time, I am not particularly fond of children.

Except mine.

I’ve dealt with this sentiment before, but not to this level of severity. In fact, prior to us welcoming Katherine into our lives, I was known as someone who did not tolerate children especially  well.

A good friend, Johanna, said she thought seriously of organizing an intervention when David and I announced we were adopting.

No doubt Jesus would have had sat me down and had a good talk with me, too, as I’ve never much suffered children to come unto me.

But that was BK (before Katherine). She burst into our life holding her head up high right from the day she was born.  This energetic, creative, dramatic, beautiful child breathes so much life into a room and into my life.

A dear friend Julie calls her an old soul. Godmother Paula delights in her antics. And me, I often marvel at the utterly delightful creation of Katherine Marida (petita) (tenacious) Thornton-Vander Plaats.

She’s as headstrong as can be. She far surpasses the level of stubbornness possessed by both her father and me and that says a lot. She’s funny. Insightful. Quick. She possesses a tremendous concern about fairness. Her heart is big, her laugh is delightful.

I cherish my daughter and I am finding it very hard to like the children who are not kind to her.

I want them to go away.

I want to  meet them in a dark alley and scare the bejeezus out of them.

And I want to take my daughter away from the hurt and hardship they inflict on her at school.

I was lucky.  I never felt bullied. I had friends all through school…friends I could depend on.  On occasion I felt betrayed by girls I cared about.  I remember losing a few friendships in high school and being confused.  Why did they no longer want to be with me?  What was wrong?  I felt a loss and a sense of betrayal.  But no cruel words were every spoken to me nor did anyone every hit me and ostracize me.

That is happening to my daughter now and I want to scream.  I want to scratch.  I want to pick up the little monsters and fling them into a dark abyss.  I want to yell at mothers and fathers who somehow teach their children that it’s ok to call children names, act superior, bully, push and punch other children because they can.

So you could say it’s been a rough morning in our household.

I woke to Katherine saying (again) she didn’t want to school. Third day this week. It’s day five. She blurted out the whole series of events from yesterday.  A boy who was her friend has now hit her, bit her, jabbed her with a pen, threw water on her hair (it’s just been straightened so this is a big deal, trust me) and twisted her arm.  Two other girls made fun of her for not understanding Spanish.  Katherine had spoken a Spanish word or two and one of the girls said, “Oh, look, she can learn.”

As a full figured woman in a small figure world, I know what it feels like to have comments made about you and to you.  But I’m an adult.  I can let it roll off me and decide whether to let it hurt or not.  Not so easy for an 11-year old in a new culture, new country, new home, with a new language.  Her desire to have friends and fit in is pretty intense.  And she feels excluded. Ostracized.  And put upon.

My mother bear blossomed this morning.   David called a taxi and Katherine and I headed off for school, Katherine feeling somewhat stronger to have a mama bear growling on her behalf.  We arrived and were able to meet with the school psychologist immediately.  School hadn’t yet begun.

Katherine sat quietly while I talked.  The counselor was gracious.  And surprised.  The boy in question is one of the best behaved in the school.  The girls….ah, the girls.  Sixth grade brings out the worst in girls, she said.  Not right.  Not acceptable.  They will be talked to immediately.  The boy will too.  Then Katherine will be called back in.  Then I will meet with the psychologist for a more indepth meeting.  I felt she listened.  I felt she understood Katherine’s pain.  I feel something positive will be done about it.

And I feel fairly certain I won’t have to box some mothers’ and fathers’ ears. Literally and figuratively.

How do parents do it?  How do you maneuver around this minefield of raising children without having your heart broken and your anger burning when cruel, unkind, unnecessary things happen to the one you’d give your life for?

I thought it would be different here.  I felt in a family-oriented, slower-paced, less materialistic world that children would be kinder.

They aren’t.

Katherine is not perfect. I know that.  But her imperfections don’t fall in the area of hurting others. Intentionally.  Cruelly.

How did Jesus Christ and other great peace-makers walk this earth and turn the other cheek?  They didn’t have kids, that’s how.  No, I don’t mean that.  But Christ, and for that matter, Buddha, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth and all the other gentle yet powerful leaders in history —how did they walk with strength and power and also gentleness?

All I want to do is howl. Scratch.  Defend. Protect. Soften the blows and kiss the wounds.  I don’t want my daughter out in the world.  I don’t want her dealing with these things that I have no “control” over (ha!  there is no control!).

There are no pretty photos in this blog today folks.  I feel nothing pretty.  I want to be strong for Katherine and show her safety and comfort and a place to be herself –surrounded with love and acceptance.

Dear friends, new friends, family and mothers and fathers.  Please share your advice.  I want to charge into that school yard on a white horse and slay the pre-teen dragons.

But what of charity?  What of forgiveness?  What of tolerance?

And how do I best prepare my wonderful daughter for the harsh realities of life without her losing her very big,.kind heart?