Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There is a new blog where I am writing  - a little about living in Cuenca, EC, a lot about quilting and more about living a gluten free lifestyle in a wheat filled country.  Please join me at


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cuenca Chronicles: This is my last post here, at least for now. I h...

Cuenca Chronicles: This is my last post here, at least for now.

 I h...
: This is my last post here, at least for now.  I have greatly enjoyed recording my experiences and observations during my first year of ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This is my last post here, at least for now.

 I have greatly enjoyed recording my experiences and observations during my first year of life in Cuenca, Ecuador.  That other people read my posts is very gratifying and always a little surprising to me. I thank you for your interest. I am grateful I have had bits of information to share with people hoping to visit or move to Cuenca, Ecuador.


I plan to dedicate the time I've used to blog to get back to writing fiction.  My fiction may never be published or read by others (or maybe it will!) but it makes me happy to write which seems reason enough.

                            Luscious fruits and vegetables abound.

Today, a few thoughts and observations about my first year here.
The majority of people who are from Cuenca, thus Cuencanos, are delightful, kind and gentle people.  I recommend that you do NOT move here if you do NOT want to get to know this wonderful culture and its people. Ecuadorianos are a delightful lot! Don't miss out.

                        The Flower Market near Parque Calderon

Ecuador is indeed a gem.  However, Cuenca is not for everyone. We live high in the Andes - it is not a tropical climate. Cuenca is such a multi-faceted delight in its own right.  I always had a secret dream to live in Central or South America, to learn first hand about the people, the art, the plants, the music, the history, the animals, the dances, etc.   I had a mental picture years ago of water tumbling down from the Andes, of sun reflecting off tile roofs to warm the day, of fresh citrus fruit just outside your window, of the haunting melody of the Andean flute and alpacas wandering across a hillside.  Our daily life is different from that but it has the fresh charm of that long ago dream.  I am a very fortunate woman.  I get to share this incredible journey with my husband.  We enjoy our life every single day.

                 Len enjoying shopping at the November 1 festival

I miss grandchildren, other family and dear friends.  I sometimes miss hopping in a car to run to the store.  I miss US vanilla bean ice cream and, God help me, I even miss the convenience of Target.  But I am gently challenged to find new products and pathways here.

I am pleased to find that the ex-pat community in Cuenca is vibrant, supportive and varied. There is a distinct love of the US among ex-pats but also a weariness often surfaces of the myriad problems that have gone unanswered.

I have not once felt "there is nothing to do".  But I may have never felt that in my life. There is too much world to explore to feel that way.

I had hoped to become friends with some natives of Cuenca.  That happened so easily and with such joy. This is a true gift.

                                 Fiera Libre Market

I know after a year of study that Espanol will take me 2-5 years to get...well... from barely beginning to...better.  I also know the Spanish would come faster if I did more practice each day.  Being surrounded by people who are only speaking Espanol is disorienting and also my best learning time.  I understand and read more than I can speak. (this is common)  I sometimes marvel at a three year old conjugating verbs effortlessly in normal conversation.
                                   A New Friend

There is a true joy of life in Ecuador.  A more pure form of joy that I suspect is related to a lack of owning tons of objects and credit cards. Family is all important.  Multiple generations are involved in the raising of each child, in many cases.  Cousins count in Ecuador, even second and third cousins.

                         An unusual angle of Nuevo Catedral

There is less fear here. People talk about the weather, El Presidente, food prices, traffic.... but there is a much lower sense of fear.  I know I am generalizing but...there is much less fear here, in general, than living for the past generation in the US has shown me.
                                 Near University of Cuenca

There is so much for me to learn in Ecuador!
I have not begun to learn about the plants this country has to offer.

I have not had much experience spotting birds yet.  Although there are zillions of birds all over the country, many are shy and remain invisible in the trees and brush.

                              The view from Turi

I have only scratched the barest surface to understand the neighborhoods in Cuenca. I understand now that neighborhoods are comprised of about 10 block squares that have been self-sufficient.  A church, a grocery, many tiendas frequented by one needs to market their store because neighbors shop there daily. No need to drive across town.


I get my directions turned around as I go into the old part of the city.This is disorienting for a person with a good sense of direction, used to knowing her way around.

A quick look at a few of the 51 beautiful churches of Cuenca:
            Cuenca's oldest: Todos Santos  (All Saints) circa 1500s

                          Nuevo Catedral -"new" cathedral circa  1874

 Looks like a scene from Butch Cassidy toward the end of the movie but it's San Joaquin

                                 San Francisco Catedral

                                             San Blas

                                    Santo Domingo

I still become shy when I walk into a tienda and cannot think of the words I was just practicing out in the street to ask for a product or service. Deer in the headlights! Even though I KNOW that most people of Cuenca are pleased if you try to speak their language and will help you along.

So, with some sadness, I put this blog on hold, and say goodbye for now.  I'll write again if something moves me to do so.  In the meantime, best wishes to you in whatever you pursue.

Have a terrific, peaceful summer.  Tranquilo!
Hasta luego,

Gracias mi carino Len for the great photos.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cuenca Gluten-Free User's Group planned

 an unknown small cinnamon colored bird in Vilcabamba

If you are eating wheat free: no rye, barley or wheat, also known as gluten-free, please contact me by email in July (at email given below).

  I plan to host a monthly "Gluten-Free Users Group" . I will provide the space, coffee and tea. There will be no charge for a person's initial visit to the group. There will be a $5 charge.  It will be 90 min long.  It may start out small but I have heard from several people who are gf and are new to Cuenca, as well as some "longer time here" people who would like the supportive sharing that this could provide.  Some of the goals are
- to share resources
- to discuss ordering gf products through the shipping service Correos
- to provide some social connection, as desired
- to see if there is interest and enough support for talking with the buyers for Super Maxi to ask if they would import/carry some gf products.  More voices carry more weight.
- other ideas from attendees

We can discuss wishes at the first couple of meetings.  There are more people trying to eat gluten free in Cuenca than you would expect!
                         People love key lime pie so I made 2

I am thinking to have this first meeting around the first half of July, 2012 if things work out. Let me know if you are interested and I will email you with more info.
 my email for this purpose:

Have a happy new week in Cuenca and wherever you are!

Friday, May 4, 2012

A beautiful week in Cuenca, Ec concludes

Friday night, another wonderful week coming to a close.  I worked on a quilt all week and loved that project, the quilt top will  be done soon to show.

On May 1, out cat Feisty turned 17.  She is a great amount of company to me.  The picture above shows her natural green eyes.  The photo is not juiced - that is her real eye color.

Lenny is not as enamored with Feisty as I but they have a "can't we all just get along" truce.  And he buys nearly all of her cat food. Primiro de mayo...Feisty had a great birthday, celebrating with a little tuna  and a nap by me.
The heating pad is not turned on, she just likes the texture of it.

I really enjoyed my art classes this week.  Made good progress on a small painting - it is close to completion.

I also tried something new this week to see if it would help with general well being - reflexology.  Had several visits with a gentle reflexologist and feel quite a bit of energy and less pain.  All cool and part of my ongoing search for the best possible health.

Here is a quilt project I'm working off and on - new blocks each month.

Here is some of the fabric I plan to use to make a baby quilt for the new grandchild if she is a girl.  The fabric for a boy is also wonderful. Only a few more weeks until we will hear if it is a boy or a girl on the way.  It is all very exciting.  The baby is due in Nov, on election day.

I watched the growing moon a lot this week.  It seems odd that we all look up at the same moon.  Each with different wishes and hopes, each with different and very personal beliefs.  But the moon is the same, shining down, gently lighting our night-time way.  Tomorrow night is supposed to be the closest the moon has come to earth in many many years.  It will be brightest.  But it may be cloudy here.  So seeing the moon's brightness last night and maybe tonight is a special treat.  If it is clear in Cuenca on Sat night, just more to experience in watching that moon hover close to planet earth.

Hope each of you can find something you treasure and enjoy this week end.  Seek out some opportunity, it does not always knock.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Nearing 1 year in Cuenca, EC

         In my son's back yard in January, 2012  San Diego, CA

I am finding that it is as I near the one year mark of living in Cuenca, it is harder to think of new things to write about moving to Cuenca. Let's see how I do today.

I feel the transition has been a very good one. My husband and I are fortunate to have had only a few bumps and even fewer surprises.

I feel safe and settled here.  Not speaking Espanol well is still a problem but I will continue to take lessons and practice...eventually I will do more than barely get by with "caveman" Espanol.  Cuencanos are kind about it - if you just try to speak their language and they know you are working to learn, they are very forgiving of your primitive butchery of verb conjugation.

The biggest challenge of living in Ecuador besides not speaking the language well, is living 4700 miles or so away from my children and grandchildren, friends and family of origin.  We will visit them once or twice a year which is about as often as we were seeing the California grandchildren but way less than we were seeing my daughter's family of 3 and my Portland-area friends. Daughter lives 90 min from Portland so we got to take care of their son one week-end every month or two.  People who move to a foreign country really cut themselves off from daily contact and the intimacy that comes with that as children are growing. Skype helps tremendously but it cannot allow an actual hug.

But there is not much to do about that painful reality except hope that they will decide to visit us at some point, adding connected time to that of our visits back to the states.  There will be a time when the grandchildren may decide to visit us on their own but right now, they are 3, 6 and 9 years old so that time is quite a way off. An exciting bit of news is that our daughter is expecting her second child around election day in November.  So I will be blessed with 4 grandchildren - what an incredible joy!

More positives: There are many things I love about living here. The weather is a definite plus.  It is not ever really hot or humid.  It is often sunny for several hours mid day before rains begin for a couple of hours.  It often clears up in time to go for a walk after dinner.  Nights get quite chilly at this high Andean altitude but it never freezes or snows.  All of the seasons are similar, within a few degrees change. The sun rises and sets within 30 min or so of 6 am and 6 pm year around.  We are edging toward winter now but listen up Michigan and Minnesota, it is not the winter you know and hate.  It is moderate here.  Not balmy like a beach climate but moderate like being high in the mountains near the equator.

People do not wear capris here.  I do not know why.  Some people wear shorts but the majority of people dress in jeans or slacks and shirts, adding a sweater or coat as needed. Dressing in layers becomes a way of life.

 Many of the indigenous people wear the traditional clothing of their group (we would perhaps say "tribe" in the US but that is not used commonly here).

Some generalizations which are just that: generalizations.  The Ecuadorian people are, by and large, very handsome people. There are many different looks with a noticeable trend toward being quite good-looking. Gorgeous hair, big eyes, friendly faces and a hard work ethic all contribute to this.  Both men and women tend to be under 5'5" tall.  Being overweight is not common in Cuenca.  Among the poor, malnutrition or poor availability of "healthy foods"  is often the cause of a very stocky build.  But among the rest of the Cuencanos, being overweight is quite rare.  Many Cuencanos age beautifully, looking younger than their years.  However, there is also a lot of apparently inexpensive plastic surgery available so it is difficult to tell how much that effects the natural age look of the population.

Moving on:
There are virtually no bugs in Cuenca.  The occasional fly buzzes around but no mosquitoes, few spiders, and I have not seen a single cockroach - hooray!   Things like this make life here easy and pleasant.

There are dogs EVERYWHERE in Ecuador, Cuenca is no exception.  There is virtually no neutering of animals so dogs trot by wherever you are.  But they usually do not beg or come up for human attention as in the US.  They are busy searching for food and exploring the world.  The ones who are alive, are street-smart and have learned how to cross busy streets without getting hit by a vehicle, how to forage for food, how to avoid dog fights to stay alive. It is a different dog culture.

Then, of course, there are many pet dogs being walked by owners in parks and along the streets.  People LOVE their dogs here, just like in the US.

On the other hand, I have only seen 2 cats outside in this city. People who have cats must keep them inside because the streets seem not to be cat-friendly. I have a sneaking suspicion that the multitude of loose dogs have something to do with that.
We brought Feisty, our cat, with us.  She stays indoors.  She will be 17 years old on May 1st!
Different people move here for different reasons and find things they enjoy here. Some move on to Thailand or Brazil or another exotic place.  There is a gypsy quality to some ex-pats who explore the world, living in one country at a time for a few weeks and then heading for other adventures in other lands.  Other ex-pats move here to settle and set up a solid foundation for the remainder of their years, living out their days/years in Ecuador.  There is room here for the many individual differences ex-pats bring.

During our year here, it has become more difficult to obtain residency in Ecuador.  I do not know why but it seems that the government is requiring more stringent things of those wanting to move here.  An example is that now it is required to have a police report.  Last May, when I arrived, this was not a requirement.  Not a big deal but one more thing a person has to get done correctly.  My advice: hire a good attorney early and send all of your documents to your attorney before you get on a plane.  That minimizes your chance of having petty errors foul up your attempt to get residency.

My husband and I decided to rent a home once our apartment lease is up and a few updating repairs are done on the home.  we think it will be a good next step in our adventure in Ecuador.  We have loved our apartment but look forward to a little outdoor garden and a bit more roomy space.
A couple of months ago, I took my very first art class EVER from Gary Myers ( in El Centro.  I began with charcoal drawing which morphed into painting as I continue with classes.  I am really having a wonderful time.  The art is for me and brings me a wonderful sense of satisfaction and pleasure.  We are fortunate to have Gary Myers teaching in Cuenca.  He moved here from Santa Fe, New Mexico in the US.  He is a well-known artist there, where he influenced countless young artists and students, as well as being admired for his own rich practice. 

Contact him by email New classes begin frequently.

Last summer, I set out to write a blog chronicling my first year in Ecuador - the anniversary date of my arrival in Cuenca is coming up in May.  Initially, I hoped the blog would help friends and family keep in touch with us.  Very soon it became apparent the bulk of my readers are people who are also interested in moving here. That is terrific!

  Thank you for reading my blog over the months.  As May 1 approaches, I am planning to conclude my blog writing so that I may focus time and energy on the mystery novel I have partially completed.

I will post one more time around May 1.
I am very touched by your interest and wish you well with your plans, whatever they may be.

Have a terrific week end.
I hope you face the new week with joy and expectation.
Stay positive.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Smiling in Cuenca

Parque Calderon, looking at Nuevo Catedral in Cuenca

Today I find myself smiling a lot.  It is a pretty normal day but I find myself feeling joy at every turn.  For one thing, I am finally feeling like myself again with good energy and interest in projects. Whatever that flu bug was, it was a sneaky one.

Today began when a friend came over to fix a couple of household things we did not know how to repair.  Len and I are in the bottom 1/3 of people in the world who are seriously "repair challenged". So it was great of this friend to take his time to do a few things for us.  While Bill worked on "the list" we had some nice conversations going.

I decided to wash the curtains in the living room while we had the curtain rod down being repaired.  I washed them in the kitchen sink because I feared the washer might tear them up.  We rented this place furnished.  I know the curtains are only about 2 yrs old, yet the water was dark brown from all the - well whatever it is.

The buses here are diesel and pour out a ton of black smoke.  Although no buses travel on our street, the air must have a lot of pollution. Come on, Cuenca! Get this changed to keep your gorgeous, magical city looking that way.

But some of the joy is that the city IS magical. The weather would not  be ideal for some - it rains way more than I expected and there is nothing balmy about most evenings here. Yet there is a fresh  crisp feel to the morning air each day.  The Rio Yanuncay tumbles by, carrying off the rain that came overnight. It is fun to see each day how high it is running.

Today we went for almuerzo (lunch) in the heart of the historic district. Nectar is an organic vegetarian restaurant that uses only...well, sweeten things.  Lunch was great but what made it interesting was that there were several people we know at other tables.  The owners of Nectar are Yanni and Tania, a charming couple who work very hard to assure that this restaurant is successful.  It is located on Benigno Malo near Gran Colombia.  The building is painted a deep red shade, go upstairs to find 3 rooms decorated in wonderful intense shades.

I love going to Nectar because I know that Tania will take care of me regarding being gluten (wheat/barley/rye) free. If the soup has barley in it, for example, she tells me and we discuss what she may substitute.  It is very cool to feel relaxed that most food items on the menu will be safe for me to eat. Also the food is prepared in imaginative ways, organic and delicious.

Life today is very difficult for many people all over the world.  I am so fortunate to be in Cuenca where my health is better and every day is an adventure.

What an incredible gift my life has become: to have the pleasure of living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Learning about a new culture. Trying new foods, meeting other people from the US who have elected to live out their years here. Learning from Ecuadorians about the history of South America.

So many things are unfamiliar here. And yet, I can say that a lot of my joy is related to the natural beauty and warm nature of Cuencanos. Many of the people of Cuenca, as I've mentioned before, are generous, kind, shy about speaking English, humorous and helpful.

I love life here every day.  Thank you to my wonderful esposo Lenny Charnoff who generously gives me photos whenever I ask. Check out his new blog,

I hope some joy oozes out of this brief post and expands your day.