Saturday, December 24, 2011

Preparing for a holiday without the whole family

Tomorrow is Christmas and this will be the first without most of the children. It will be the first without Christina the 2nd without Frank and Ryan and Courtney have rotated Christmas' with us and Christmas in San Antonio with their Mom and grandparents.

Tonight we have a private party at Moca Cafe Bar with few of our close friends. I have baked an apple pie for all and a single serving apple pie without sugar for our friend Bob O. I also made some chocolate peanut butter fudge. I am excited to see everyone tonight and looking forward to having some deviled eggs, Trish is bringing them.

Nick's last day of school was 15 Dec and since then he has been going to Moca everyday and working on writing in spanish and goes to see Josh 2 hrs a day for spanish. He hasn't really complained, so that is great. Next year we will be starting him on some online class work.
Steve and Bill have started an emarketing business to help small businesses in Cuenca get online for cheap and work with some of the professionals to get better email addresses using Outlook. Who wants to email their doctor at hotmail or yahoo???

I have been upset this week about not having the kids her for the holidays so I will be the first to admit to you it is HARD being away from your family especially during the holidays. Last night I tried to think of a way to live back in the US without having to find a GOOD job, but with todays economy I don't think it would be possible and really even if we moved there would we really be able to see the children as often as I want? NOPE They all live in too many places. Ry in Illinois, Frank in Texas and the girls in Georgia. I think I will talk them all into moving here?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nick's 1st birthday in Cuenca!

Yesterday was Nick's 14th birthday and for weeks we had been asking him if we want to do anything, invite friends, or go out? He really didn't say much until last weekend. He mentioned inviting some friends over and having pizza.
I started to get depressed that he wasn't going to have his brothers and sisters around but I don't think it bothered him as much as it bothered me.
Steve and I got Nick an ice cream cake from Supermaxi, and ordered pizza from Papa Johns. Yes, we have a Papa Johns here and it almost tastes the same as it did back home. I think the slices are smaller though.
Nick had 4 friends from school over 3 Ecuadorian and one Gringo. All of them spoke english, unless they wanted to speak fast about a video game they were playing then they switched over to Spanish. They are all so polite. Everyone of the Ecuadorian boys came up and gave me the traditional greeting of a kiss on the check and asking how I was. :)
Our friends Stefani and Bob were going to come but the boys were very unpredictable about what they were going to do next. So I brought them up some cake and after everyone left Nick went up to thank them and took them half a pizza so sweet.
Nick's 1st birthday in Cuenca went over well so we are happy and I think he is too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another meeting at Santana

On Monday we had another meeting at Nick's school to see if they can challenge him. The were very nice and polite and really insistant on Nick staying at Santana. The are always nice. They feel we aren't giving it enough time but we aren't asking for him to be fluent in spanish we are asking for them to challenge him, to give him hoomework, and to give him school work.


We've given them the rest of December to see if they can try to treat Nick as a normal student and not just ignore him. They are to fill out his agenda according to our meeting. I really want this to work. I don't want to homeschool him. I want Nick to be around other children his age. I guess we will see what Nick will be doing in the new year.


On another note...


Nick's birthday is in 8 days and Christmas in 24 days. I've asked Nick if he wants a party or have friends over but he said "no". I feel bad that the package his uncle sent him was returned to the states for having food in it and no letter from the food ministry (or something like that). Allen sent Nick his favorite chocolate (Reese's Cups)which cannot be bought here in Cuenca and some video games. Well, I must figure out what to do for him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where has time gone?


Wow, time has gone by so fast...
Moca Cafe Bar



WORKING AT MOCA CAFE BAR
These last few weeks have been busy. Starting November 1st we opened Moca Cafe Bar in the mornings and have been running it Mon-Fri ever since. We're enjoying are mornings there together and our siestas in the afternoon. I guess I can't say I am bored anymore. I, more than Steve have been having a difficult time getting motivated in the morning. Steve's been so great, he lets me stay home some mornings to try to sleep in which I am not able to do. I usually get up and surf the world wide web hoping to see one of my children online. I still miss them very much and I don't think it will get easier, but I know their safe and that even if I were living in the states I may not be seeing them either. Life is busy.

Steve and I have made some new friends through Moca. Bob and Stefani they are brand new to Cuenca. We talked with them and decided to show them how to ride the bus and take a trip to Feria Libre Mercado on a Saturday, one of the busiests days at the mercado. It was an adventure for them. Stefani isn't too fond of the busses and I am not sure she will ride it again, but she knows how if needed. We all went to Puerto Grill on Gran Colombia for her birthday, and enjoyed some great margaritas :). We met George and Monica and their beautiful daughter. They have plans to open a Thai restaurant. Also, we met Matt and Diana from Wu Wei We Go blog who have 2 children that go to Santana where our son Nick goes. Matt comes by Moca and takes advantage of the FREE wifi and gets some work done, if we aren't picking his brain. They will be leaving to head back to the USA soon. Last week we met Jeff,  he was here visiting Cuenca to see if this is where he and his wife would like to retire. He heard that we had a mall so we showed him how to get there via bus. It has been so exciting meeting all these great people in Cuenca. Almost everyday we meet someone new at Moca. I hope we continue to meet such great people.


NICK'S SCHOOL (SANTANA)



We recently received Nick's report card and saw that he is passing everything. How can that be? He isn't that great with the language yet and when we talk to Nick he says he doesn't do anything but sit in the class all day. We were really hoping that Santana would be the place for Nick and we know that it is going to take time because of the language barrier, but we don't feel as if he is even being challenged. He has had homework twice since he started yet our friend Trish's son in a lower grade then Nick has two hours of homework a day. How can this be? Nick says he doens't know when he has homework and he tries to ask his friends but they don't give him a straight answer and the teachers never have time so he says.
We had a meeting with some of the staff to see what we can do to help Nick. The staff were all so very nice and helpful and tried to reassure us that all will fall into place as he learns more spanish. We came up with a plan that Nick was to write the homework in his agenda and the teachers would initial it to show that he wrote the right stuff. This has not been done...
Steve and I worry that we are just paying for an expensive daycare. We are considering taking him out the rest of the year and doing some online classes and working on his spanish then try a new school next year. We have spoken to a few Cuencanos that say that Santana is more of a place for kids in the upperclass to go to socialize and network. When I went there last week with Josh, Nick's spanish tutor for a meeting I saw kids walking around campus with there Blackberries out and headphones on texting and listening to music and it was during a class period NOT break time.
We have started researching more schools to find a more challenging one for Nick. I worry about him not socializing with kids his age so I really worry about taking him out of school but I am paying a little too much for him to socialize. We will put him back into a futbol league to have some interaction with kids his age and hopefully Nick will stay in contact with the friends he has made at Santana.
Well that's enough for now. Hopefully it won't be so long before the next post.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Busy in Retirement

When we decided to move to Cuenca, one of the main reasons was so Susan and I could both retire full-time, and enjoy just being together with less stress. After three months we have gradually found little things to do, which are adding up to making us a very busy couple.

We started out teaching English to Evelina, Joacquim, and Juan Jose after being in Cuenca for a two weeks to give us something to do a few hours a day. This lasted until school started in September, and recently resumed two evenings a week after the families asked us to resume classes.



Susan was an Air Force Medic, and instructor for thirteen years, and saw a volunteer opportunity to work at a cancer hospital once a week. So now, Susan, along with several other expats volunteer there time once a week to assist nurses at FASEC, which is a cancer ward for under-privileged patients who are from out of town, or are without any family in the area. They make bandages, speak with patients, and help in any way possible to make the lives of the patients better.

Cuenca Flats (www.cuencaflats.com) is a property management company which originally was developed to help our landlady and friend Martha lease the other apartments in our building. It has now grown to include nine apartments, a commercial office space, and a country home we are listing soon for $200,000. I thought I would design a little website, and be the gringo go-between to get the word out, but now we have two Ecuadorian clients, and one expat client, and more inquiries for apartments than we have apartments to lease. We are in the process of uploading three new apartments, and beginning the possible renovation of another apartment ourselves. Also, we have made several friends in our building, and are trying to do our best to help newcomers with their transition to living in Cuenca.



Our good friend Trish purchased a cafe called Moca Cafe Bar (www.mocacafebar.com) on Gran Colombia earlier this year, and has been a very hands-off owner. She asked Susan and I to help her come up with some ideas to grow the business, and after a few meetings we decided to expand the hours to include mornings beginning November 1st. The last few days Susan, Trish, and I have been developing a new menu, looking for new vendors, purchasing new equipment, and developing a website and Facebook page to promote the cafe. Last night Susan and I waited on customers, and learned the menu, and how to make different things. Beginning next week we will be opening Moca from 8:00am - 12:00pm, Monday - Friday to see if we can entice new customers to give us a try for coffee and breakfast during the week. It is an upscale cafe, complete with Wi Fi, music, and is a nice romantic setting for coffee, dessert, or a nightcap without having to go to El Centro. Last Wednesday was our first Happy Hour (Wednesdays 4:00pm-10:00pm), and we invited our friends and neighbors to join us, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Moca will give us an opportunity to practice our Spanish on a daily basis, so our goal is to be semi-fluent on our one-year anniversary (July 12, 2012) of arriving in Cuenca.



So, we came here to retire, and spend time relaxing, and enjoying our time together. BUT, as you can see, even in retirement, Susan and I still seem to get ourselves involved in plenty of things to keep us busy. Susan keeps saying that at 37 she is too young to retire, but at the wise old age of 52, I believe you are never too young to retire. So, we will enjoy working together for a change, and see if we can expand our network of friends, and our understanding of our new country. Life is good.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mandatory event

Saturday, Nick had a mandatory meeting for Santana called a "Maratón". It was at la Pista Atlética Jefferson Pérez at 8 am, yes at 8 in the morning on a Saturday. Nick caught the bus around 7:15 and our friend Trish came by with her driver Manny to pick us up. It was a great day for this event but none of us knew what to expect.

They had all the children walk out to the field in their respective grades with matching shirts and signs representing their grade. They even had a torch that they used to light a simulated Olympic torch.I was a little shocked at what some of the girls were allowed to wear. This is a sporting event and they were wearing shirts made to come of the shoulder and no they weren't wearing sports bras, at least not all of them. Am I a prude?

I believe this event was to raise money for another school, Escuela Fiscal Ulises Chacón which was also in attendance. In the states we would have never seen an event like this on a saturday. I was so happy to see Nick with kids from his class and they were smiling. It was surprising to see almost all the kids smiling even though it was early on a Saturday morning. There were kids selling cookies, cakes, drinks and hot dogs.

It seemed that most of the kids participated in the event. You should have seen the little 5 year olds running on the track it was adorable. They grouped a lot of the grades together and ran certain distances per group. Nicks grade level ran two laps on a 1/4 mile track. He started strong and then ended slow but he still beat a bunch of the boys. He said it was hard to breath that his throat was dry. The next group had to run on the track and then they went outside of the track and ran around the stadium.

After the event was over, we all crammed into Manuel's car, with me sitting on Steve's lap like we were in high school, but we all made it home safely. Overall, it was a good experience, and it was nice to see so many smiling faces on an early Saturday morning.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pets Cuenca

As I was awoken this morning around 4:45 by the loud sounds of a very small dog, I started to think about the differences in pets here versus in the USA, at least where we last lived in Decatur, Georgia. Our last neighborhood we lived in had any kind of oridinace you could think of, noise, smell, pets and so many more. When we moved there we brought 2 of our 4 dogs Ed and Capri. I knew Capri would be able to handle a smaller hame and yard since we were downsizing and she is a beagle. We couldn't find Ed a new home so we had to take him with us. Ed is a big dog, he is a tree walker coon hound.


Where we lived before Decatur, in middle Georgia, the dogs had lots of yard to enjoy and the neighbors didn't seem to complain about them barking, we even asked a few of them and they said "no problem". Taking them to a city was a little different, and we didn't know that dogs weren't allowed to bark for more 10 minutes, or you could get cited. Unfortunately, we moved to squirel haven. Every where you'd look there were squirels and for a hound and a beagle, well lets just say it was hard to control them. After a few months I learned some new commands that helped get them back to the house when they wouldn't stop the barking.


Now we are here in Cuenca and we left Ed and Capri back in the states with family. Ed is with my brother Allen and Dad. Capri is with our daughters in an apartment. We miss them very much, but there are benefits to not having pets anymore. We can go out and not worry about being there to take care of them. Feeling guilty when we are out past their dinner time.


Before moving to Cuenca we had read on some blogs and Yahoo groups about dogs that were being poisoned. That was so sad. Maybe it's because they don't have a system in place to deal with noisy dogs. No animal control and they can't talk to each other here either.


When we first arrived here in Cuenca I saw dogs roaming around the streets without owners and it wasn't like in the US where they just run out in the street with the possiblity of getting hit. No these dogs in Cuenca know how to cross the streets. They will start at one side and stop in the middle where the island is and then look to make sure it is safe to continue crossing the street. It is great. Our landlady told me that she will let her dog out of the yard and remind it to look both ways and be safe and then dog comes home. You can walk down the side walks and dogs will walk right past you, they don't care about what you're doing or what you have in your bags they are just going some where with a purpose it seems.


Back to the little dog this morning. I wanted to open the window and yell out to tell it to shut it up, but I am pretty sure it speaks spanish LOL, and I may have upset it more and it could have barked even longer. I thought about going to talk to the owners later in the morning and then I remembered what my friend said that it's not worth it because then they owners may not be responsive to you telling them how to take care of their dog and then they will know where you live and may treat you worse. I just want to be neighborly and tell them to shut their dogs up. Hopefully nonone is thinking of poisoning them.


In the states you could call animal control, but here the animals are in control. Still it seems a dogs life here is much more laid back than in the states, and just maybe the dogs are smarter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Three Months in Cuenca

We have been in Cuenca just over three months now, and we are starting to feel more like residents than tourists. Going to Coral, Supermaxi, and the bakery have become routine, and even crossing busy streets have become less of an adventure. Last week Susan, Nick, and I got our Censo's, because our 12-IX visa was completed several weeks ago in Quito. Our Pensioner Visa application was submitted by our lawyer, and we anticipate getting our resident Censo, and Cedula before Christmas.

I developed a Cuenca budget before we left Atlanta based on the information I had gathered from blogs, forums, and websites, and after three months there have been some changes. Below is our budget based on our first three months in Cuenca.

Rent: $700 - We have a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment, very comfortably furnished with everything we need, and great views out the front and rear of the apartment. Our rent includes electric, water, cable, high-speed internet, and condo fee. The apartment is 1,600 square feet, open floor plan, laundry room with a full size washer and dryer, large kitchen, and real wood floors. We could of found an apartment for less money, but we love the location, our landlord, building manager, furnishings, and have made friends with the other people in the building. We may never move again!

Food: $300 - We shop for fruits and vegetables once a week ($10) at the large outdoor market (Fiere Libre) which is a twenty minute walk from our apartment, and visit Supermaxi, or Coral for the rest of our food, and household items. We are a vegetarian household, meaning we do not buy meat, fish, or poultry, so this helps keep our food costs down.

Household: $40 - Cleaning products, hygiene products, and miscellaneous stuff for the apartment.

Transportation: $25 - Each month we put $5 each on our two bus passes, and average around $15 for taxis. We generally walk to El Centro, Supermaxi, and Feire Libre, and they all within a 20 minute walk from our apartment. After dark we take taxis exclusively, and if we have too much to carry we take a taxi home after shopping.

Cell Phones: $12 - Two prepaid Claro phones ($6 each), and we have yet to use all our minutes. We really love this, because in Atlanta we had 4 cell phones (2 Droids), and spent $160 a month!

Entertainment: $75 - This includes eating out (usually ice cream), DVDs ($1.50 each), and shopping trips to Artesia (ceramic shop), and the Flower Market.

Gas: $6.75 - Two gas cylinders a month for hot water (we all love hot showers!), and one cylinder for cooking and the clothes dryer.

Medical: $22 - Prescription drugs for Susan and myself without using any health insurance benefits. We have medical insurance (retired military), but we have no need to use it here in Ecuador.

Private School (Nick): $231 - Nick is in the 9th grade at Santana (www.santana.edu.ec) an IB certified private Spanish speaking school for grades 1-13 (K-12 in USA). Tuition is $200 a month, and bus transportation to and from school is $31 a month.

Spanish Tutor (Nick): $144 - A tutor comes to our apartment Monday-Thursday after school for 1.5 hours each day, and charges us $6 an hour. Attending a school which is taught is Spanish is tough, and having a tutor is a necessity for the first year to make sure he fully assimilates.

After School Activities (Nick): $55 - Futbol (soccer) is three times a week after school, and they provide lunch between the end of school, and the start of practice.

Total Monthly Expenses: $1,610.75

The first big expense many expats don't have is the expense of a teenager in school, and these expenses account for $430 of our overall budget. We haven't made an effort to keep our costs down, so we are happy with our budget so far. We are still able to save a considerable amount of our income each month, and are looking forward to venturing out of Cuenca to explore more of the surrounding area. When I look back on the budget I developed before we arrived, the only expenses I didn't expect was the cost of Nick's school, and activities. Our apartment is more than I budgeted, but it is worth every penny we pay each month. We are very happy in Cuenca, and we wouldn't do anything different so far. Life is good.

  


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A little of this and little of that...

Life has been going by very fast these last few weeks.

I volunteered for FASEC (the Foundation for the Service of the Illness of Cancer) on 21 Sept. It was nice . Myself and another expat named Ed were the first expats to volunteer. We had a great translator, Josh. He is an 18 year old expat who is bilingual. We got to spend time with a few patients before we were done. The coordinator Keith can be contacted at kbyancey931@yahoo.com . He has conducted training for expats to volunteer at FASEC and offers us 2 hour shifts.

On 28 Sept we went to the Ninth grade parent meeting at Santana, I was very worried about being able to understand the speakers. Instantly we were approached by a few parents that were bilingual. I was so relieved. They introduced themselves and let us know that they were here for us if we needed help to understand the speakers. After the meeting was finsihed we had even more parents introduce themselves. We were so happy. In the states you can go to these things and never meet anyone.

Santana School
We went home after the school meeting to meet up with our new friends Barry, Maxine, and Eva, Brian and Coriana. We decided to go on a day trip to Gualaceo to Ecuagenera, the orchid farm.

Steve
We took the local bus for 25 cents to the bus depot and there caught a nice bus with comfy seats to Gualaceo. We paid 10 cents at the depot and 60 cents per person on the bus. The ride was about a 45 minute ride, and the bus dropped us off right in front of the orchid farm. The tour fee was $3 per person, which include a tour guide. There were so many beautiful orchids is was great. The tour guide only spoke Spanish, but our friend Eva translated for us. He showed us the different stages the orchids go through. For the first year to two years the grow inside a bottle where they are sealed off from everything, in the next stage they are taken out of the bottles and planted in big trays, after this they are able to start to grow bigger and mature. It was amazing!

1st Stage

2nd Stage


Tour Guide




Eva and Coriana
On Saturday, 1 Oct, I went to The Color Purple Event with Trish and Eva and meet some new friends Denise and Kaitlin. Denise is actually the mother of Josh the translator from FASEC and Kaitlin is his 22 year old sister. Kaitlin is a very talented young lady. She is finishing her college degree online, while giving singing lessons and providing bible school classes to teens 13-18.

This was the first Color Purple Event to raise money for SOLCA's pediatric unit. SOLCA is a cancer hospital her in Cuenca. We had tomato soup, bread and salad. They gave away some door prizes while they had speakers tell us about SOLCA.

On Sunday, 2 Oct, Eva and I went to Kookaburra for an essential oil presentation it was nice. They also showed us Raindrop therapy which looked so relaxing we meet a local lady that provides this therapy here in Cuenca.

On Monday, 3 Oct, I went with Trish to look at some homes in case she has to move from her penthouse due to the her pet situation.

That's all for now...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Visa Extension in Quito

Like many others we are in the stressful process of applying for a Pensioner Visa. Since we initially provided our attorney the necessary paperwork after arriving in July 2011, we have had the additional requirement of a Criminal Background Check issue to tackle and we did so earlier this month. But, of course as many of us have experienced first-hand, another problem arose to delay our visa application. The day our attorney submitted our Pensioner Visa application we only had 29 days left on our 90 day tourist visa, and we needed 30 days according to the requirements. This could have been avoided, but our attorney wasted 21 days by not informing us we needed the Criminal Background Check, as our application sat in her office after she had told us that she was going to use an Interpol report in its place. If I hadn't called to check on the status of our application, we may have never found out we needed to do our own Criminal Background Check. So, our attorney's error caused us to fall one-day short in meeting the 30 day requirement to submit our application. So, we required to extend our visa, so off to Quito we go.

With two daughters back in Atlanta that we help financially, and Nick's school expenses of $400 a month, we needed to make the trip to Quito and back as cheap as possible. After doing some research we decided to take the overnight bus to Quito on Wednesday evening. The bus company, Pan Americano, offered an overnight trip for $10 per person leaving at 10pm, and arriving around 7am in Quito. The bus was modern, with reclining seats, on-board movies, bathroom, and seats 40, but there were only 10 passengers, so we had room to spread out. One big problem though, NO HEAT! It was one of the coldest, and most uncomfortable bus trips of our lives! We felt safe, but it was just too damn cold to get comfortable. We arrived in Quito at 5:20am, and had to kill time until our attorney's office opened at 8am. Sitting in a cold bus station, and watching time drag by was not fun. Eventually, we got a taxi at 7:30am, and headed to our attorney's office to only sit there for an hour before our attorney's assistant arrived. We headed to the Immigration office after a quick stop to purchase proof of return tickets to Miami for $11.50, and then sat with others needing Visa's for the next two hours. After one failed attempt to get a 12-IX Visa, and several discussions with supervisors, and the head of the Immigration office we finally walked out with a 12-IX visa at 2pm.

Tired, and hungry since we hadn't eaten since the night before we headed to McDonald's, because is was near by, and we were hoping had a nice bathroom. McDonald's are the same around the world, and the one in Quito was no exception. It was clean, busy, and the food even tasted the same. Well, after our experience on the bus we decided we wanted to get home quickly, so we headed to the airport, and bought three one-way tickets to Cuenca on AeroGal for $201.23. We arrived home on Thursday at 7pm, exhausted, dirty, and ready to spend the next few days relaxing. In all it was a success, we extended our Visa for $30 each, and our attorney is submitting our Pensioner Visa application this week, and we should only need to return to Quito in a few months to get our Censo and Cedula.

The most important thing we learned during our 44 hour experience is you must have patience, and never give up hope that in the end everything will work out.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Private School Costs

As we have mentioned before, our 13 year-old son Nick is attending 9th grade (8th grade in USA) at Santana, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) certified school in Cuenca. It is a small school, with Kindergarten through High School, and the campus of multicolored buildings is situated in the hills above Cuenca. The classes are taught in Spanish with the exception of the English class, which is two hours per day. The majority of students in Nick's classes speak English as a second language, so Nick has had no problem making new friends. There is talk of bringing an International School to Cuenca similar to the ones in Quito and Guayaquil that teach classes in English. Even if that option was already here for Nick, Susan and I would have chosen Santana or another school that taught primarily in Spanish. Nick is currently interested in attending college at Georgia Tech University, which is a very competitive school. We are hoping that graduating with an IB degree from Santana, being bi-lingual, and having the experience of living in another culture will make him more competitive when he applies to college.

Below are all the cost associated with attending Santana for those who are considering a private school for their children in Cuenca. First a disclaimer, Santana is one of the most expensive schools in Cuenca, but it has also the reputation as being the best in preparing students to attend top universities.

Initial (one-time) Expenses: Total - $394
- Application Fee: $50
- Registration Fee: $118
- *Uniform Expenses: $131
- Required School Supplies: $95

* Uniform Expense consists of: 1 pair of Navy slacks, 1 long-sleeve turtleneck shirt, 2 short-sleeve Polo shirts, 1 Sweater, 1 Warm-up Suit (pants and jacket), 1 Physical Education Outfit ( shorts and jersey), and 1 pair of black dress shoes.

Sports Uniform - Shorts, Jersey, Warm-up Pants and Jacket, and Tennis Shoes

Formal Uniform - Navy Slacks, Turtleneck Shirt, Sweater, and Dress Shoes

Casual Uniform - Jeans, Polo Shirt, Warm-up Jacket, and Tennis Shoes

Monthly Expenses: $375
- Tuition: $200
- Bus Fee: $31
- **In-Home Spanish Tutor: $144

** In-Home Spanish Tutor is dependent on your child's level of Spanish fluency, and it is up to you to find a tutor. Nick had 5 weeks of Spanish prior to beginning school, so we have a private tutor, Flor Ortiz, who comes to our house Monday-Thursday afternoons for an hour and half each day. She is teaching Nick Spanish, and also helping him with any problems he encounters with his school work. This is an absolute necessity for Nick, and we expect to use a tutor for at the first semester, but possibly longer based on Nick's progress.

The 2011-2012 school year started on September 8, 2011, and the final day of school is June 28, 2012. We hope this gives you a good starting point if you plan to have your children attend a private school in Cuenca, and there are several good schools to chose from. The quality of a child's education is the result of good-quality teachers, involved parents, and a willing student. I won't try to compare an Ecuadorian school with a US school, because it has only been a week, but I will post updates as we go through our first year at Santana. Life is good.








Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cordova Family Dinner

Our friend Marta's parents invited us to their house for dinner on Sunday. Sunday dinner is truly a family affair for the Cordova's, because it includes four generations of family. Marta has eight siblings, and five of them live in Cuenca, and each of her siblings have children, and some even grandchildren. We were invited, because the family wanted to meet the gringos who were teaching English to two of the great-grandchildren (Joaquim and Juan-Jose), and helping Marta with her apartments.

Marta and her daughter Alexandra, who is a dentist, picked us up at our apartment at 1:30, and we drove to her parents house which is nearby. I had meet Marta's father our first week here when Edgar (building manager), and I were running around town getting parts to install our washer and dryer. He is a retired member of the National Police, and he spent a year in New Jersey training with the State police there in the 1980's, and he is very healthy 82 years old. Once we arrived at the house, we began the process of meeting the family. I lost count after meeting the first 20 members of the family. The meal was fabulous, soup and salad to start, followed by a dish consisting of large shrimp, vegetables, and rice. For dessert we had raspberries covered in the best whip cream I have ever had. Plenty of good food, two huge tables of people, and great conversation. Marta's oldest brother loves music, so we went back and forth inquiring to what kind of music, and artists we enjoyed. Marta's mother looked at me and realized I look a little like John F. Kennedy, and later Robert Kennedy. What is funny, is I have heard that comparison for the last 20 years, and to have Marta's mother point out the resemblance over dinner was surreal. 

After dessert, we all headed upstairs to the covered terrace, and continued our conversations. The family was curious why we chose Cuenca as our new home, and wanted to know all about our family. During our talk, we learned that Ecuador shares the same problems we have in the states. The middle-class in Ecuador is seeing a reduction in their quality of life, and families are spending less time together than they did even five years ago. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle-class is seeing the cost-of-living rising faster than income. It was nice to seeing Marta's 60 year old brother sitting next to his mother holding her hand as he talked, and seeing the grandchildren listening to every word their elders spoke. It was a truly special afternoon for us to be welcomed into the Cordova home, and to be treated as family. 

We  left at 5:45 to head home, and while we were saying our goodbyes, Marta's parents told us we are now part of their family, and are welcome to come to dinner every Sunday. It was a great afternoon for us, and so much more happened than what I have written here, but as we attend more Sunday dinners, and our Spanish improves, I hope to share more experiences of the Cordova family. Life is good.      

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nick's First Day of School - Ecuadoran Style

Nick 


This morning Nick started the 9th grade (8th grade in the US) at Unidad Educativa Santana which is an IB (International Baccalaureate) certified, private school located in Cuenca. All the classes are taught in Spanish with the exception of English class which is two hours per day. School begins at 7:40 AM, and is dismissed at 1:40 PM which includes two 15 minute breaks, but no lunch, and classes are held Monday-Friday.


To prepare Nick  to attend Santana he had Spanish lessons for five weeks, consisting of two hours each day Monday-Friday. After researching and choosing Santana we had to go through the application process. First task was to complete the application package, which consists of a copy of Nick's passport, a letter from the Ecuadoran Ministry of Education stating Nick's meets the requirements to attend a secondary school in Ecuador, and approving Santana as his school choice, a Health Certificate, school transcripts for the last two years, and a $50 application fee. Once the application package was turned in and accepted we had to pay the annual registration fee of $118. Next, we had to go through the testing process, which included testing in Mathematics, English Language, Spanish Language, and Psychological testing, and personal interviews with Nick, Susan, and I with the school Psychologist, and the Principal.  Wednesday, the day before school started Nick was officially accepted, and we purchased his school uniforms for $108. Last Saturday, Susan and I bought Nick's school supplies for $89, so he was ready to go this morning.

With school starting so early, we got up at 6:00 AM (yuck!), and were out the door by 7:15 to look for a taxi. Usually, we can walk out our building and find a taxi within 5 minutes,  but not today, the first day of school. We had to walk up the street a good ways until Susan finally was able to flag down a taxi. We arrived at school with 5 minutes to spare, and stood in the courtyard waiting for someone to point us in the right direction. Luckily, the Principal, her name is Margarita said Buenos Dias, and explained where Nick needed to go to meet his class adviser. After meeting the adviser, Susan and I left Nick alone in a new school, in a new language, and we had no idea how he would survive the day. Susan, and I walked part of the way home before catching the bus, and once home had second thoughts on what we had just done to our youngest child. Would he understand his teachers? Get frustrated by his minimal understanding of Spanish? Or be an outcast due to being a gringo?

In the afternoon, at around 2:30 the school bus/van dropped Nick off in the front of our building, and Susan was as excited as if Nick had just come home from his first day school ever. Nick was smiling (rare for a teenager), and told us school was fine, he made two friends, but could only remember one of their names (Lucas). He said the other kids in his class speak English, and he understood a little of what the teachers were saying. He doesn't change classrooms during the day which is helpful, and the different teachers come to the individual classrooms to teach the different subjects. Santana limits the 9th grade to only 50 students per year, and Nick's class has 22 students. He arrived home hungry, since he hadn't eaten since 6:30 in the morning, so he grabbed a snack, and we headed out the door to his Spanish lessons in El Centro.

So, the first day of school is over, and we can relax a little bit, because it was stressful going through the process of finding a school, the application process, and finally starting school. We will continue to write about Nick's school, and hopefully this will help anyone with school-age children who considering a move to Cuenca. Life is good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

School Supplies and Pizza

This morning we visited our friend Trish, and got a tour of her beautiful apartment. The apartment has amazing views of Cuenca, and a nice terrace full of plants. While there, she loaned us a TV stand, and two small space heaters for our apartment that she was not using, and Susan already has the heaters in use. Thanks again, Trish.

As we were walking up to the entrance to Trish's building we met an Ecuadorian gentlemen named Jaime who lives in the US, and is a ships Captain. As we were talking to him in English he mentioned that he was looking to rent out two apartments he owns in the building across the street from Trish. I mentioned our new website www.cuencaflats.com, and that we were offering to list apartments for rent, and handling the leasing process if people are interested. Well, he gave me his contact information, and he would like us to list his two apartments for him, so I am going to go over and take pictures of both apartments for our website. We literally bump into an opportunity that we weren't expecting, so I guess we now have six units to market and lease. 

Later, after a brief visit to our apartment by Trish, Susan and I walked to La Papeleria Monsalve next to the soccer stadium to buy Nick's school supplies. An employee of the store named Maria took the list we received from Santana, and helped us get everything we needed. Total cost, $89.11, and we still need to find a few things that the store didn't have in stock, but we have 97% of the list. The supplies were bulky and heavy, so we took a taxi home. The taxi headed in the wrong direction to our apartment, so we were a little curious what he had in mind, but later realized he didn't know where he was going, but eventually with our help he got us home.

Finally after running around we decided we wanted pizza, but didn't want to leave again, so I called Pizza Hut with hopes that we could place an order over the phone for delivery. Luckily, the manager speaks a little English, and we were able to place an order, and 30 minutes later we had pizza. The pizza was disappointing, and I am not going to order Pizza Hut again, but Susan and Nick liked it better than what I have been making myself, so at least they enjoyed it and I didn't have to cook. We had the typical Saturday night at home like we used to in Decatur, pizza, and a good movie (True Grit), so it was a nice way to finish the day. Life is good.

Friday, September 2, 2011

American TV in Ecuador

I consider myself pretty typical to the stereotype of an American when it comes to TV. I have a love of watching certain shows on TV and even would move my errands around to watch some of my shows. bad huh?
Now, that I am living the life of a retiree I have all kinds of time on my hands and I can't watch my shows or can I? I found a way with help of my hubby. Hopefully he won't regret it.
Well, when we moved to Ecuador I realized that our cable doesn't show my shows. Yes there are channels that have reruns and their in english with spanish subtitles but I want to see up to date shows.
At first I found USTVnow which allows me to watch basic TV for free, but I have problems with it freezing up on me and I would miss vital parts of my soaps :), but you can DVR it and then not miss any. If you do sign up for USTVnow please use this link so I can get credit and get FREE DVR points :)
Then I found channels on Youtube and I was able to watch my soaps anytime after they posted them that made me happy because I was not tied down to a specific time, but I can't find all my shows on Youtube.
On Facebook I have feeds from some of the shows I like to watch Combat Hospital, Bones, and Big Bang Theory to name a few and they have been posting about the new seasons coming up and I've been realizing that I won't be able to see them unless someone posts it on Youtube which has made me sad.
My wonderful husband came to the rescue he did some internet searching and found a FREE internet masking program Ultrasurf it is great I tried it last night and I was able to go to ABC and Fox and watched a few shows. Today I am able to listen to Pandora and it's making me smile.
Next, I will have to see if I can get NPR, I used to love listening to some of the shows.
I hope this post will help you smile a little more.

Our First Earthquake

Last night as Steve and I lay in bed getting ready for our slumber we felt the bed and windows shake. At first I thought it was us moving in bed, so we tried to recreate the shaking but we couldn't do it. We thought could this be an earthquake? It only lasted a few seconds so we just decided to go to sleep and look it up this morning.

Steve got up first this morning and reported to me that there was an earthquake near the coast of Ecuador it was 4.9.

Nick slept through it so we told him about it this morning. No big deal to him.

So we lived through our first earthquake! :)









Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Criminal Background Check

Our Pensioner Visa application was delayed due the new requirement enacted August 2, 2011  which required a Criminal Background Check for the immigration visa process. Today our oldest daughter Courtney took a few hours to get the backgrounds check completed and apostilled, and the documents are on the way here via FedEx. One less thing to worry about, thanks again Courtney. 

Cuenca Flats

This morning Susan is working with Martha (Landlord/Friend) on her English, and Susan is practicing her Spanish. Later today we need to go to Santana School to buy Nick's uniforms for school which begins next week. Nick has been attending Spanish lessons two-hours a day for four weeks, and once school starts the plan is to attend lessons for two-hours each Tuesdays and Thursdays to help with his school work. Hopefully by Christmas Nick should be fluent enough to no longer need weekly Spanish lessons.

Martha is always trying to find things to get us out of the apartment, because she worries we are bored, and missing out on what Cuenca has to offer. Her latest idea is to have me develop a website for her four rental apartments in our building, and provide input on what amenities Gringos want in an apartment. The 3 BR / 3 Bath apartment on the fourth floor is currently unfurnished, and she is in the process of furnishings it. The apartment is over 2,300 square feet with a large kitchen, office space, laundry room, so it is going to take a lot of furniture to fill the apartment. Martha taste in furnishings is very high-end, and treats each apartment as if she is going to live in them herself, so it will be a very nice apartment. I have registered a new website (www.cuencaflats.com), and have started gathering information to include on the site. I built websites in the past, but I am a little rusty, so this new project is a challenge, and should keep me busy for a few weeks. I am doing this for free, but Martha keeps wanting to pay me, and I keep explaining to her that friends help each other, and in the end all is good. Life is good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Spanish classes and more









I just finished my second week of spanish school at Amauta. At first I enjoyed the classes and it gave me something to do. Lately, the classes have been getting harder for me. I have never been very good at memorizing and without being able to use everything I learn on a daily basis it just doesn't stick. So, now it is starting to feel more like a task to go to class. I need to find a better way to look at it because I really want to learn spanish. It depresses me not being able to talk to the locals. I feel bad when someone says something to me and I haven't a clue what they said.
Nick just finished his third week at Amauta and he has one full week left before he starts school at Santana an all spanish high school. I hope he is catching on. I know it will be better for him when he starts high school because he will get to use what he learned at Amauta.
My teacher is Lorena and his is Gaby. Lorena is from Cuenca and has visited the states as a foreign exchange student so she speaks english also. Gaby doesn't speak english at all.


Talking about school starting, Nick starts school on 7 Sept. There is so much to do before then. We have to buy school supplies, my friend Trish spent around $125. for her 6th graders supplies and we have to buy uniforms I believe she spent around $265 for her son. I am not looking forward to these costs, but it's for a good reason our son. Nick still has to take the placement test which they are supposed to call tomorrow to set them up and we have to talk individually to the school psyschologist still.

Well tomorrow starts a new week with lots to get done. Our landlady Martha wants to come by every morning at 8 to help us with our spanish and work on her English. Must buy school supplies, uniforms and get set up for Nicks testing. I hope everyone has a great week and we will try to write sooner than later. ~Susan

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Market Day

Fresh and Cheap!
Saturday we walked to the market (Feria Libre), and bought our weekly supply of vegetables, and fruit. Our friend Trish joined us, and Susan and I dragged Nick along to get him out of our apartment. I bought carrots, broccoli, onions, green beans, potatoes, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, and oranges. I filled up my backpack, and a large cloth bag with all our goodies for $8.50, and in Decatur the same amount would have cost over $30.00! The produce is so beautiful that I have been making smoothies everyday, steaming vegetables for dinners, and I just love the abundance and quality of the fresh produce. We always talked of eating less processed foods, but in the USA it was easier and cheaper to eat primarily processed foods, but here in Ecuador it is totally the opposite.

For Frank
 Our middle son Frank is in the US Navy, and on his last visit home before we left he tried to convince us that aliens are present on Earth, and that the 2012 Doomsday Theory is true. We saw this painting on a wall as we were walking home from the market, and immediately though of Frank. Frank, it is true, aliens are at least present in Cuenca! We miss you son.

Crazed American Teenager
There is graffiti in Cuenca, and for the most part it is in good taste, and brightens up the numerous white concrete-cinder block walls. I think artistic expression should be encourage, and I think graffiti is a great medium to allow creative people to express their talents, so I will continue to take pictures when I have the chance.

Winter Day in Cuenca
Last night after we returned from the market, Susan and I walked to Super Maxi to finish our shopping. It takes us about 20 minutes to walk to Super Maxi, and the same amount of time to walk to the market. We walk most places or use the buses. Last night we had our first two-way exchange with an expat at Super Maxi. We have said hello to several expats in the month we have been here, but we have NEVER had anyone respond in any fashion to our greeting. As Susan was starring at the cereal selection, a nice man (expat) struck up a conversation with us about cereal choices, and was very pleasant. Also, while we were looking at chocolate, a nice woman (expat) suggested a certain brand of chocolate that she really liked. So, after a month, and a dozen trips to Super Maxi we finally had a positive expat encounter!

Flowers are everywhere
Lastly, a purely personal observation of mine (Steven) after a little over a month in Cuenca. When I was researching the blogs and forums before deciding on Cuenca, I had the sense that the expat community would be as welcoming, polite, and maybe even helpful as it seemed online. But, after our first month here, our experiences with expats have been mostly disappointing. I didn't expect instant friendships, a parade in my honor, but I did expect common decency one would expect of fellow countrymen when greeted on the street in a foreign country. We have made friends with a few expats who we talked with before we arrived, but the expats we pass on the street, or in the stores and restaurants have behaved as the stereotypical rude American. On the other hand, the Cuencanos we have greeted on the street always smile, and respond politely, and some have even taken the time to help us if we look lost or confused. Luckily for me, the beauty of the city, the richness of the culture, and the friends we have made (Expat and Ecuadorian) has made the move worthwhile. Life in a new country is challenging, and I hope that if I am given the chance, I will take a few seconds out of my life to say hello to a fellow countrymen to make them feel, if only for a brief moment, that they are not alone in the challenge. Life is good...
  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Last week.

Last week I went to the market with our new neighbors Paul and Diane and met up with Trish from New Beginnings in Cuenca. I was supposed to be a tour guide to the newbies to the market Feria Libre but unfortunately I had only been there once before with my husband Steve. As you read our blog you will learn that Steve is the one with a sense of direction not me. So, Paul, Diane and I head off on foot towards the bridge at Las Americas where we are to meet up with Trish. As we are walking we met an environmental lawyer from Cuenca, he walked with us for a while. He and Paul talked most of the way. Diane was having some difficulty breathing going up the hills; she is still adjusting to the altitude. Suddenly my phone rings and it’s Steve telling me that Trish is meeting us near the market. So, I call her to find out that she is waiting for us. As, we continue to walk I realized that my bad sense of direction made us walk a little far. I was so embarrassed and I felt bad because I knew Diane was having a difficult time adjusting. The agreed to continue our walk and we arrived to the biggest market I’ve ever seen.
I guided them into the market where there were so many choices of fruits and vegetables, even meat but I stay away from that area. We were on the hunt to find rice (arroz) for less than .40 a kg. I was buying fruit and vegetables and filling up my backpack and even had to carry some in another bag. On the way out Trish spotted some animals so she went over to check out the puppies, kittens, bunnies, chickens and turkeys. Oh ya can’t forget about the guinea pigs, a delicacy in Ecuador called Cuy. Yuck! We all got some items and then it was time to head home. We took a taxi to Trish’s first and then the three of us headed back to the apartments.
That evening I ended up with some pain in my ribs it wasn’t very comfortable. I went to sleep hoping to awake in the morning feeling better. The next morning I awoke and it didn’t feel well. Marta our landlady wanted Edgar to take me to her sister who is a pharmacist to get something for them pain. I told her I would be okay. We are so lucky to have such a great landlady.

I was invited to go to the Artesa and finally meet Lizette from The YES Effect. I asked to Trish to join me and she agreed. So on Friday I headed out the door around 8am and walked to Trish’s. I got there around 8:30 and we drove to Artesa. Of course with my bad sense of direction and the lack of street signs we missed our turn and headed to Banos. I called Steve to see if he could help but nope he couldn’t. So, Trish and I turned around hoping to find the street. As we were driving Lizette called me to see if I was coming and I had to explain that I wasn’t sure where I was LOL. We continued to drive and we turned right down 1 de Mayo and I realized that the next street should be where Artesa was so we drove up and found it tucked in off the street. We were only a half an hour late, but according to what I read that is on time for Ecuador.

When we finally arrived outside was Lizette, I finally got to meet her. She was so nice she showed us to the back where it is called seconds and thirds. They are discounted items for blemishes. The Artesa was full of pottery: Plates, bowls, vases, soap dishes and so much more. I saw so many pretty items but couldn’t justify buying any because we have everything we need. Trish was buying all kinds of beautiful things for her apartment and others that she will rent out. Towards the end I was thinking I can’t go away empty handed so I found a mixing bowl that we can use in our home. The process to check out is a little tedious. You take all your items to a table and then a person will hand write everything you have on a sheet of paper which is then handed to someone at a computer they will type up the items and I believe they also are looking up the prices. Then your items are wrapped and brought up front to the main store where another person will input all the items into a computer and will give you your total and take your money CASH only. My mixing bowl was around $3.00. Not too bad for a ceramic bowl. Trish ended up spending around $60 and she got a lot of stuff I was really impressed with the prices. We were finally done and Trish drove me home.

As soon as I arrived home I had some lunch and then Steve and I headed to the Coral Centrol via bus and then that afternoon we headed to Nick’s 2nd Futbol game via bus it felt like it was on the other side of town as far as we rode. They only played half a game I guess there is a mercy rule. Nick’s team was down 6-0, I think. Back on the bus and home we go.
On Sunday we decided to make sure we knew where Nick’s Spanish School (Amauta) is, since he was starting Monday. We took Nick and Ebony with us on the journey. Of course we walked which we didn’t like when we went up the hill. We found the school and then we thought we should treat ourselves and have some lunch. We knew the Coffee Tree would be open and it was near by so we ate there. I had fries and a Fanta, Nick and Steve had burgers and fries and Ebony had a Strawberry sundae. The food was not so great and it cost a fortune, at least in Cuenca standards. It was $35. We won't be going there again.
Well, that was last week. Thanks for reading.
Susan

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fourth Week in Cuenca

Tuesday was the beginning of our fourth week living in Cuenca. The majority of the things you associate with getting settled into a new home are done. We have a beautiful apartment (12 month lease) with all the luxuries we had in Decatur (minus family of course). Our landlady Martha, and building manager Edgar have become good friends, and they enrich our lives daily by challenging us to speak more Spanish, and to enjoy what Cuenca has to offer. We are comfortable walking to the farmers market called Feria Libre for our fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, and to a nearby bakery for delicious cinnamon rolls (and more). We can also walk to Super Maxi (similar to a Publix), but we limit our purchases to cheddar cheese, chocolate, and few other things due the higher cost of goods. Being a vegetarian household, the abundance and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables is awesome, and we have reduced the amount of processed foods in our diets by at least fifty percent.

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Nick at soccer practice
Nick is playing soccer three times a week, and has already played one game, and has another game tomorrow, so Susan and I soccer parents again. I ride the bus (#7) with Nick to practice three times a week, and then spend the 2-3 hours reading my kindle, or talking with another soccer dad in a mixture of Spanish and English. It takes us about 15-20 minutes each way on the bus, and I must admit it is nice to ride a bus here instead of driving to practice in Decatur. So far, I do not miss having a car at all,!

Susan teaching English
We are have our very own students (Joaquim, Ebony and Lisabeth) who visit each morning for their daily English lessons, and in exchange helps us learn Spanish. Depending on how early our students arrive, or whether Nick has soccer practice determines who the teacher is each day. Lately, Ebony and Lisabeth have been hanging out with Susan for 2-3 hours after classes are done to watch English language cartoons on my laptop.

Cuenca Bus Card
With the help of our upstairs neighbor Edwin, we are the proud owners of our very own prepaid Cuenca bus cards! The card has set us free in Cuenca. No more worrying about change for the bus before leaving the house. The card itself cost us $1.75 (we bought two), and we loaded $10 on each card which is enough for 40 bus trips each. Yes, the bus cost $.25 per trip, and we haven't found anywhere we cannot get to by riding the bus, and it feels safer than using MARTA in Atlanta.

Nick Spanish Language School

On Monday, Nick begins Spanish lessons at Amauta Spanish School to prepare for his placement exams for the Santana School at the end of the month. His lessons are two hours a day, Monday-Friday, with a pupil-to-teacher ration of 2-1, and last for four weeks. Once Santana School begins September 7th, the plan is to continue Nick's Spanish lessons for one hour a day, 2-3 times per week to help with homework. Santana is a private IB certified school which teaches in Spanish with the exception of ten hours per week of English lessons, and as parents we are excited by the opportunity to have Nick become bi-lingual.

Now that we have been here a whopping 24 days, I must admit I love it here, so here is a list of ten things I enjoy about living in Cuenca.

1. Public Transportation is cheap, reliable, and safe.
2. The availability of fresh fruits, and vegetables has made me forget all about Whole Foods.
3. Weather is unbelievable.
4. Ecuadorians are friendly, helpful, and smile when we say hello.
5. Green! Everything is green, and beautiful. Hard to have a bad day when you are surrounded by the natural beauty of Cuenca.
6. Smiling children playing outside.
7. Walk-ability. We can get just about anywhere by foot with relative ease.
8. The sounds of the city. I may be strange, but I enjoy the sounds a city makes, and it gives off energy that makes me feel alive.
9. Spending time with my wife, and son without having to rush off to work, soccer, or somewhere else as we did in Decatur.
10. Safety. I have yet to feel uncomfortable, or as if I should be worried about my safety anymore so than I felt in downtown Decatur, and I feel safer here than in downtown Atlanta.


If anyone ever reads this blog, we hope our ramblings are at least entertaining, and maybe even a little helpful. Take care all.
    

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Soccer, Santana School Visit and Visa Paperwork

This morning was Nick's second day of soccer practice, and we took the bus instead of a taxi. The bus is the same one we rode to Mall del Rio, and it goes right pass where Nick practices. The bus ride took about five minutes longer than the taxi, but you can't beat the cost savings (taxi $3, bus $.50). Nick scored a goal during the scrimmage today, and his teammates seem to have accepted the new gringo kid.

After getting home from soccer we had to take a taxi to the Santana School for a meeting with the Secondary (High School) School Principal Margarita. She explained the school's philosophy, uniforms, academics, costs, and the application process. One uniquely "Gringo Rule" that was explained to us came about because of some previous experiences with gringos. Example, an Ecuadoran family can pay the tuition and fees on a monthly basis, but gringos must pay 2-3 months in advance, because evidently some gringos have just quit midway through the school year without any warning. We have to get a slot or quota from the government for Nick to attend Santana, and evidently there are limited slots in the Santana School. We told the Principal that Nick would be entering 8th grade (completed 7th in US), and she told us there were no slots available in the 8th grade class this school year. We thought great, now we have to search again for a school for Nick. But, after talking with the Principal, she explained that Nick should be entering the 9th grade, because in Santana 1st grade is Kindergarten. Obviously, we were relieved that there is a slot available in 9th grade, but now we must begin the application process tomorrow which includes testing for Nick, and interviews with a School Psychologist for the three of us.

This evening we meet with Linda, who is our lawyer's (Gabriella Espinosa) representative here in Cuenca. Yesterday we received a call from Linda telling us we needed to go to the Immigration Office (near our apartment luckily) to get a "Movimiento Migratorio" for each of us. Susan, and I walked to the office with little idea of what to do or expect, but after about an hour and a half we walked out with the documents we needed, and $15 lighter in the wallet. So, now Linda has all our Visa paperwork to send to Gabriella's office in Quito, and Gabriella told us she expects to have everything submitted within the next two weeks. So, we have started the journey through the visa process, and we hope to avoid any surprises.

A long day is complete, and we are one more step closer to having our lives in order.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Futbol (Soccer) Practice

Yes! Today Nick joined the La Liga Quito (LDU) youth futbol club here in Cuenca under the direction of Pablo Marin a former LDU, and Ecuadoran National Team player. Practice was very much the same as his practices in the states with the exception of the lack of water breaks. The practice was two hours of non-stop activity, and Nick had no communication problems once he was on the field with his new teammates. The registration process was fairly easy since the team manager is Pablo's daughter, and she speaks a little English.



During the practice I had a conversation with one of the other fathers named Luis, and we talked the whole time with my limited Spanish and Luis's limited English. The best part was seeing Nick smiling, and having fun again with kids of a similar age. Futbol has been Nick's main source of interacting with people his age for the last several years outside of school, and it is a place he feels comfortable, and confident. Next for Nick is finding him a school. I contacted a private school (Santana) this morning, which is IB certified like his school back in Decatur (Renfroe Middle School), and now we are just waiting for an email with the instructions for registration.



One thing I relied on in the states was the ability to use Google to find a contact, or information for schools, physicians, futbol clubs, and anything else I ever needed. In Cuenca, It took me ten times as much work to find a contact for Nick's new futbol club, and someone at Santana who spoke enough English to help us. Susan, and I discovered something in our apartment called a "Phone Book".  The funny thing is, we declined and never used one in the states,but here it is actually more helpful than the internet for a lot of things.    

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Teaching English

I started teaching English to our building manager (Edgar), and his nine-year old daughter (Ebony) this morning in our apartment. Ebony has three workbooks for teaching English from her school, and they are very well written in my opinion. The plan is to have lessons Monday-Saturday beginning around 7:30 AM for an hour each day. I was a bit nervous to be teaching, since Susan was an actual teacher in the Air Force (Medic), and I was no more than a guest lecturer, or a Quality Air Force teacher a few weeks a year. Luckily for me, the expectations of my students is relatively low, and I am doing this for free, because I have no desire to work for an income ever again. As soon as money is involved the fun and enjoyment seems to slowly disappear. The benefit for me is I get to work on my Spanish in a low stress environment, and continue helping others as I did with soccer coaching in the states. Day one was fun (Susan joined in mid-way), and I gave homework to Edgar and Ebony, and they gave Susan and I homework as well. In August we resume our daily Spanish lessons with our young trio of teachers, Ana Isabel (11), Juan Jose (8), and Joaquin (8), so we will have 2-3 hours a day of Spanish/English lessons in our apartment, and lots of smiling faces to brighten our mornings. Life is good.

Steve

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Water Update

We have water, both hot and cold, so we were excited to shower. Also, the new all-in-one washer/dryer was delivered, but the installation team arrived four hours after the delivery. After the installation, the person explained how to use the machine to my wife, and our landlady Martha. He explained it would take 4-6 hours to do one load of clothes! Martha immediately saw her electric bill rising rapidly above an acceptable level. So, Martha told Susan jokingly we could wash one load a week. Well, I spent an hour searching the web for an English version users manual, and found one. After reading the entire manual I discovered that the average time to wash and dry a regular load is 1 to 2 hours. Also, by creating a custom program you could shorten the time to 1 hour for a load. It is a very high-end LG unit with more options than the Space Shuttle, and more options than we could ever use. Well now after thinking about her purchase for a few hours, and the fear of a high electric bill, Martha has decided to return the washer/dryer for a different model. All of this is fine with us, and it just puts off washing clothes for a few more days. Luckily for the three of us we brought plenty of clothes. Just another part of the adventure in our new home.

Steve

Need water!

Yesterday, we noticed some problems with the hot water. So, we went down to Edgar (our bldg manager) and asked for help. He worked on it and called someone else they showed up right away and looked at and realized it needed special care. This morning they showed up bright and early to take it to a shop to get it fixed. We are still waiting at noon. We also received our washer/dryer today Yay! Of course we can't try it out until the water is back on. LOL

I've been in contact with a few people here in Ecuador to try to decide what to do about Nick and schooling. We have met with the Yahoo home schooling group here and another family and I've been emailing Trish from New Beginnings in Cuenca blog and our landlady Martha is realling advocating that we put Nick into school here. We have to try to contact the schools which we aren't having any luck yet.
More to come...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

Today we began our daily hour long Spanish lessons with Juan Jose, Joaquin, and Ana Isabel. The are 8-11 years old, and they teach us Spanish, and in return we teach them English. They are cousins who we met through our landlady Martha, and they come to our apartment at 8:00AM each day for an hour before heading to basketball camp at the Coliseum. Before we moved here I was a youth soccer coach for a club in Atlanta, and had several players who were refugees from Sudan, and Afghanistan who were part of our family, so it is nice to have children to interact with again. One of the toughest decisions for me personally was to leave my coaching job to move to Cuenca, because my players brightened up even my worst day with their smiles. Also, Edgar our building manager is measuring our windows for new curtains, and the laundry room for a new all-in-one washer/dryer. Our landlady Martha is spoiling us with all the high-end furnishings and improvements to our apartment. Example, we have shower curtains, but Martha insists on installing glass doors to make the bathrooms look nicer. Martha is eager to get Nick into a good school she has taken it upon herself to help us find the best school. One of the reasons we decided on our apartment was Martha and Edgar treat us as family, and are always looking for ways to help make our transition to life here easier. We feel very fortunate.

Steve

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our View


Front of Our Building


View from our Living Room

We moved into our permanent apartment four days after arriving in Cuenca, and luckily it is in the same building, and just one floor below our short-term rental. The views from the apartment are beautiful from our living room as well as our bedrooms. We love the mountains in the background, and the view was one of the top things on our wish list in a new home. The apartment has 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, laundry room, dining room, living room, breakfast area, large kitchen, fully furnished (nicely too), excellent internet connection, and a lot more space (1200 sq feet) than we expected to find at a reasonable price. So, we spent 4 days in our short-term rental, which I guess is a very short-term rental, and are now comfortably established in what we hope will be our home for a very long time. 

Steve






Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Arrived in Cuenca

We are settled into our short-term rental for our first night in our new home. Did some wandering around looking for an ATM, and a mini-market for some stuff for tonight. Nick ordered a chili dog in Spanish, so he has been successfully fed. Tomorrow we plan to venture further from our apartment, which is near the Sports Coliseum, to find the markets and Super Maxi. We really enjoyed the van ride from Guayaquil, and would recommended it to future travelers, because the views were amazing even on a cloudy day. Speaking the language will take some time, but we have been able to get from Atlanta to Guayaquil to Cuenca successfully and without any embarrassing language difficulties.  Sleep will come easy tonight.

Steve

Arrived in Guayaquil

We arrived last night on a Delta flight at 11:00PM, and are ready for the drive to Cuenca this morning. A few notes about the trip here. We purchased one way tickets for the trip through Expedia ($322 per ticket), and no one questioned the one-way tickets at anytime during the process. Immigration and customs were easy to navigate, lines are a little slow moving, and disorganized. Our hotel (Hampton Inn) was waiting for us with a sign, and loaded all our luggage, and delivered them to our hotel room. Susan is a little overwhelmed by the language, but we are not having any problems communicating. This morning we are getting a shuttle to Cuenca, which Juan from Ecuador Central arranged for us, and we should be in our short-term rental this evening. So far, so good.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Leaving USA...

We leave in less than 5 hours for Ecuador, and we are still packing, and scrambling to get our daughters settled. Stressful, but not too bad since everyone is helping, and the realization of our move is sitting in finally. Said our goodbyes to family and friends, and our next post will be from Ecuador. Everyone be safe.

Steve

Saturday, July 9, 2011

2 Days and counting

We are in Warner Robins, GA saying our good byes to family and friends. I am feeling the stress and anxiety I can't believe we leave Monday for GYE, Ecuador. I was hoping to see our son Frank before our trip but he can't make it out.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

6 Days to Go

Today is the day to get a new tire for Susan's Civic Hybrid that we are leaving for Christina. Well, as things work with us, instead of one tire, we needed three tires and an alignment. Additionally, the catalytic converter is bad, and need replacing. I budgeted $150 for car repairs, but instead we are looking at $1500! Nothing like the last minute surprises to add a little stress to your life. We are leaving tonight to drive to Washington, D.C., because I never received documents that required an apostille by the US State Department. It has been over two months, and I have left phone messages, and sent numerous emails requesting status, but no reply. Today's experiences reinforce my desire to leave the USA. Poor customer service and dedication to one's job is the exception in the USA instead of the norm. Automobiles are expensive to maintain, and depersonalize our movements through society. We hide behind glass encased vehicles, park in enclosed garages, and enter our houses from the back or the garage. Most front doors in America are no longer used, because we do not participate in society as our parents did. If we gain anything from our move to Cuenca, is I hope we are move involved in the world around us.

Monday, July 4, 2011

7 Days!

We are running out of time to get everything done.
last day of work: tomorrow
Washington DC: Tomorrow after work
Find all my stuff I wanted to take:?????
I hate the way we (Steve) moves, I call it a mess he calls it guerilla moving. Computer dying forgot the cord at the girls place.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

8 Days!

8 Days and counting. Steve and I have been staying in a hotel here in Atlanta trying to catch up from last weeks craziness. We took Nick to his friends house two hours south of ATL.
The girls having been trying to organize their apartment so tonight we will be staying there.

We never received Steve's retirement pay paperwork after sending it to the US State Department. So we are driving there this week, it's only a 10 hour drive, Ugh! I think we will head there after my last day of work on Tuesday.

We still have to organize our suitcases. Right now it's just all thrown in there and I can't fit everything I want.

Well, I have to finish breakfast. I will try to update but the girls don't have WiFi.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

13 days

So, we have 13 days left. I am nervous about getting everything done in the timelines that we have. We moved our daughters out into an apartment, but there are still items in the old house that they must get.
We had a garage sale Saturday which went alright. We made $300. Not as many people as I had hoped, but we got rid of some of the bigger items. So, that's a plus. We posted the rest of the furniture items on Craigslist and I have sold one item and I am still waiting to sell a few more. I am sad that we couldn't find a home for the China cabinet and now we will let it go to who know where.
Paperwork: We had everything except for proof of my husbands retirement pay, which we sent out and never received back. So, now we are going to drive to Washington DC to get it done.

I am scared that there won't be a place for us to stay when we get to EC, but Steve doesn't seem worried. I feel it would be easier if we knew the language but I only know a few key words.

Today: Dr appointment for me, dental and shots for Nick. Run some errands. So much to do to get to that SIMPLE LIFE.