Monthly Archives: April 2012

So…what is it you do with your time?

When I talk with friends and family back home, the most common question is: “So…what is it you do with your time?”  The short answer is that we spend most days working with injured jungle monkeys, writing poetry in the native Quechua language and breathing in the mist of waterfalls.  On good days we do all three at the same time.

Yea, right. The truth is the things of normal daily existence seem to take up a lot of our time. Just cooking, cleaning up, getting the boys to and from school, doing extra school lessons with the boys, grocery shopping, running errands, finding ways for the boys to burn energy and relaxing a bit can take up whole days. Some of these daily to-dos are made more challenging simply because they are done in a foreign language and culture.  For example, the idea of one-stop-shopping is so far-fetched as to be laughable. Just today I tried to buy superglue to repair one of Luke’s toys.  The quest for one simple items involved numerous half understood conversations, visiting four different stores and walking two or three miles all around town. When I reached the much discussed store, it was closed for some unknown reason.

Entertaining and educating the boys, it seems me, also takes more time than it did back home (I say it “seems to me” because I might just be realizing now how much work it took Jamie the past six years!). There is the extra time for the English and math lessons which we anticipated, but man do I miss sending them to the family room to play with their numerous toys or to the yard to run in the grass and dig in the dirt.  Here in our apartment the “family room” and “back yard” are the same thing, which is the space right next to our desk. It’s where I hooked up my Rip 60 exercise equipment so I could get…well ripped!.  Although I have only used it maybe four times in nearly two months, the boys spin and swing on it for hours on end.  Thank God for Rip 60. Here’s a short video of Luke building his core strength!

Even with these new challenges we do have more free time than we used to. A lot more. I’m not working and that frees up countless hours.  The boys are in school five mornings a week.  Also, we have a wonderful lady named Elena who comes to help around the house three mornings a week. We pay her twice the going rate, but I’m still amazed at how much we get for so little.  This extra time allows Jamie and me to split the family responsibilities and chores pretty equally.  We have settled into a nice routine where we have a date on Tuesday mornings, family adventures on Saturdays and where we take turns with the boys in the afternoon allowing focused attention on them from each parent and large chucks of open time for the other person.

With the extra time I am doing more yoga and trying to learn to meditate, but not trying too hard or that defeats the purpose…I think. I’ve taken up running, which is much less fun and more painful than biking. I read more than I used to and watch less TV.  The extent of our TV comes from the pirated $1 DVDs of recent American movies and TV shows sold out of ubiquitous little stores (which also somehow have selections of cheap Oakley sunglasses and Converse All Star shoes?). We go for long meandering walks through the countryside and these walks may be my favorite thing about where we live.

We study Spanish a lot; or maybe more accurately, I study some and then watch Jamie study Spanish more. Last, I’ve also found a surprising number of ways to stay busy without actually doing much which boils down to either spending hours on sites like reddit.com or taking naps bookended by games like tetris on my iPad.

So how do I feel about how I’m spending my time? Pretty good actually. The main reason is that I get a lot more time with Luke, Vaughn and Jamie. We’ve spent the last 88 days together. At first, it was a bit much for me to be around the boys almost all of the time, but after maybe week three or four it started to feel normal and a never-before-seen casual comfort set in. Daddy being around was no longer just for evenings and weekends.  Much of our time here is spent doing unspectacular things like riding a bus or eating a meal but what a blessing to be able to enjoy and just be in these moments with my family. Back home I was often too busy or preoccupied to simply enjoy just hanging out with my boys.

And that touches on the second reason why I’m okay with how our time is going: namely, it is a great chance to practice taking each moment as it comes. After settling into this sabbatical thing, I’m now a bit less focused than I was back home on making sure every moment is productive and aimed at some big goal. Paradoxically, when it is time for me to focus on something or respond to a surprise, I often have more energy to do it. When it is time to just chill out and have a beer at lunch I do that with a bit less guilt. Put differently, it seems I have slightly more patience with reality, whatever it happens to be, because I’m not trying to impose my will it with the same intensity.

Don’t get my wrong; I’m no zen master here (I don’t think they drink rum) and life is not a continual flow of pure bliss. This place often overwhelms me to the point that I just feel like hiding. I still want and even need a routine, to-do lists and goals to stay on track, but it is fun to see some changes showing up in how we spend our time and how we see the world. It makes me feel okay about putting my wife, children and self through all of this.

We are blessed to be able to have this unique time away to get closer to each other and practice living in the moment. Often I wonder what it will be like when we return to normal life. Then after wondering a bit, worry sneaks in as I contemplate the stress of moving back, jump-starting our careers and rebuilding our lives. But then I remind myself that those are challenges for another day, they are months and even years away, so for now I just need to figure out where to get some superglue. 

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

¡Que Linda!

“I see her!!”

“There she is!”

“In a blue coat, see her?!”

“I do! I see her! I see her!”

And in the mass of arms and tears and glee and grandsons, just like that, YaYa came to Ecuador.

Not only was this visit the best heart-salve for all the homesickness lingering in our spirits, but it was also the first encounter we’ve had with someone from our “normal” life peeking in on us in our “sabbatical” life. That got interesting.

First, let me say that we had a blast and did and saw and toured and explored every hectare of our new home that we could squeeze into her 9 days. In addition to the daily adoration from the boys, morning coffee complete with volcano views and Bo and I showing her our favorite countryside walks, we also toured the surrounding villages with our friend Luis and saw the indigenous culture at work in heart-stoppingly amazing ways. We met an 85 year old man still making the straw mats he’s made since childhood with guinea pigs and kittens scampering around his dirt floor hut and feet that have spent the last eight decades bending to match said floor’s surface. Introduced next to a simply beautiful couple, also in their late 80’s, that still weave textiles together the way they have been since they were married. They stood on opposite sides of their wedding present, an 160 year old loom, smiled at us and each other, then with dexterity and sprite that defies their age, wove sheep’s wool into countless works of art.  We went as well to the topiary garden/cemetery of Tulcán, across the border to the stunning Colombian church at Las Lajas, and ended with the grand sights of Quito’s colonial old town. More adventures and stories than can be adequately summed up in a single post, and many that will hopefully have a post of their own later on, so for now I’ll put a slideshow of photos at the bottom for you all to see our highlight reel.

The work of this post, the sitting down to compose “My Mother’s Visit”, quickly became less about the adventures and more about the actual experience of having my mother here. In Ecuador. How she came farther away from home than she’s ever been and how her fresh eyes gave us new sight.

Previous visits to our home from my mother, or anyone, usually included coffee, wine, cards and conversations about how the boys are progressing in school, what’s new with Bo’s job, and any theatre projects I have in the works. There is a pattern that is known, a cultural road map, that guides our interactions via shared and understood mile-markers; clearly identified life signs telling you where you are in the “Grand Scheme of Things”.  Vaughn started kindergarten, Bo got a promotion, Jamie’s directing a play, Luke’s tying his shoes…all fairly standard and measurable steps of progression clearly letting us know that along the American cultural life map, YOU ARE HERE :

However, since jumping life tracks, and cultures, and professions, and schools, we’ve lost our mile markers. Shoot, they don’t even HAVE “miles” here. If we’d thought to make one, our route marker would probably look more like this:

-ish.

It would say, “You Are Here-ish”.

To be sure, our family sabbatical thus far has included joy and adventure and raucous shared laughter, but it has also included confusion, heartache, and a rather large portion of floundering.  Floundering around looking for progression points that we didn’t even realize we were looking for, until Mom came. Similar to how we know the boys have grown while we’ve been here, but mom, having not seen them for months REALLY saw the change – Bo and I knew we’d grown as a family and people as well, but couldn’t see or understand the full scope until placed in front of her qualifying gaze.

Vaughn did start kindergarten back in the states, but now he’s in a Spanish speaking school and has lost a lot of confidence in pronouncing his letters and will no longer even pretend to spell words he used to write for fun. Bo’s not working, I’m not directing, our accountants will have a no-brainer doing our income tax for this year, and no – Luke cannot tie his shoes.

The mile-markers of our native culture…don’t exist. Not only do they not exist in our life now, their opposite stance does! So, the usual catch-up conversations with my mother brought about more than a little bit of anxiety, for both of us.

But.

As my mother braved our new culture with us, her unusually green eyes and loving spirit picked up on what we’ve previously had and not really seen. Her being here showed us our new mile markers. We can now spot ourselves on this foreign map.

Mom found beautiful things at the Otavalo market at a great price, that I bargained down for her, in Spanish. Bo translated much of our guides’ information to her as well, enhancing what all of us learned through those jaunts. Her patience and attention and play time with Luke and Vaughn bolstered them from nervous about their original English skills to being proud of their new bilingual ones. She spent one-on-one time with both Bo and me, loving on us and talking with us, and telling us how proud she is of all we’ve done. And then listing off all we’ve done.

Mom ate fruit she’s never seen, trekked her blonde head through countryside that never sees blonde heads, hiked an active volcano crater, dodged feces on the sidewalks, was cheerfully mobbed by Ecuadorian children at the hot springs, yelled to be heard over the rain hitting our plastic roof, rode chicken buses over ridiculous terrain, clenched her seat and her teeth through each insane driving maneuver–and laughed with us at the errant livestock that sometimes pepper our street. Her joy in these discoveries was infectious. Her discomfort at times, relatable. Our ability to navigate her through Ecuador, illuminating.

At 3:30 am on April 21, mom quietly slipped into our Quito hotel room, kissed the boys while they slept, told Bo she couldn’t be prouder of him, hugged me with that fierce mother’s love, and left for the plane that would take her home. She left believing we had made a good choice in coming here and with such pride in us for doing something new and brave and bold. She left giving us the gift of believing the same thing.

Linda, in Spanish, means “lovely” and “elegant”.  We hear the male version, “¡Que Lindo!” at least 4 times a day as the local population walks by our startlingly beautiful boys. A descriptor of which I completely agree.

Linda also happens to be my mother’s name. Another descriptor of which, I completely agree.

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Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Semana Santa and Giant Smurfs

Years ago Bo and I were lucky enough to be in Granada, Spain on a Good Friday. It was an incredible spectacle for sure, with images that have stuck with us to this day. This year however has been our first experience living in a predominantly Catholic country and taking part in the whole of Semana Santa. Being that this holy week also coincided with the boys’ school vacation (lots of side trips all week), Vaughn’s first lost tooth (our own big event!), and our local town’s artisan expo (HUGE craft fair taking up several whole streets with tents)… the amount of sensory input in each moment was exponentially more than anything we have ever had before.

Sights, sounds, smells, noises, masses of people, colorful processions, loud food vendors, clanging cathedral bells, cloudburst rains, ricocheting thunder, and yes- even giant Smurf (and Barney) mascots selling various plastic toys and cups of bubble solution on the street. All of these things happening right on top of each other, no sequence or delineation between religious and commercial events…a whirlwind of culture served up inside of one special week.

LOTS of photos to share for this one. 🙂

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Off to Intag

With the boys getting a week off from school for Semana Santa and Jamie and I ready to explore the surrounding areas, we headed west to Intag.

It is a remote area on the other side of one of the two big mountains we’re in between. As the condor flies it is not far, but it takes three harrowing hours to get to by bus.  The bus starts in Otavalo and if you’re there early enough and have enough livestock crammed into old cardboard boxes, they will let you on the first bus.  If you don’t qualify by those standards, then you need to wait half a day for the next bus; either way you make it.

We did not qualify to make the early bus so we waited for five hours in Otavalo, which is not a bad place to be stuck.  Once we made it to Intag, we we’re in a new land of steep, green canyons, coffee beans shaded by banana trees and nothing around for miles including a good meal.  Here’s some photos of the “aventura”!

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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