Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vegetarian in Cuenca

When we arrived here in July I was concerned how I would maintain my vegetarian diet that I have had for the last six years, my vegetarian friends that I met through Facebook assured me that it would be easy because, fruits and vegetables are in abundace here. The only problem is I didn't cook.

In the US I could buy frozen vegetarian food like Morning Star and Quorn and throw it in the microwave or oven, but when we did our first trip to the grocery store, Supermaxi I was disappointed. What would we do. For the last two years in the US we hadn't even cooked meat in the home even though the other family members eat meat they would just eat it when we went out. We had to learn to make other things, we had to learn to cook.

We started with trying to add eggs in meals since they are a high protein source. We bought different types of peas in a can, since I don't like frozen peas and they weren't right either. One day at Supermaxi or Coral (the other big store here) I saw TVP and on the package it said Soya. Could this be a protein source? I didn't buy it yet I went home and did some online research. Wikipedia stated "Textured or texturized vegetable protein (TVP), also known as textured soy protein (TSP), soy meat, or soya meat is a defatted soy flour product; a by-product of extracting soybean oil. It is often used as a meat analogue or meat extender. It is quick to cook, with a protein content equal to that of meat."

I found out that I can use TVP in almost anything that you would use ground beef in. Meat loaf, hamburgers, lasagna, and tacos. Wow this is very versitile. Why didn't I every try this in the US? Oh because I didn't really like to cook. We also found out that a local restaurant sells Tofu. I was so excited I went and bought some but it was soft tofu and it didn't work to well I had more of a scrambler effect with it LOL. Then I went back and asked if they sell firm and she sold me some and said it wasn't real firm but it worked I was able to fry it up in our stir fry. I was so thrilled.

On Wednesday of last week Courtney and I were walking through El Centro trying to get some of my goals done. As we were heading home I noticed a picture of meat in a nutrirional store and I thought that was strange. They were real busy so I didn't go in. We continued our walk and I saw it again. This time the store wasn't busy so we went in and I asked the young man about it and he said it was completely soy. I was so happy something else to add into our bland meal rotation. They had hotdogs, chorizo and a steak all are veggie friendly. When we got home Nick was so excited that he was going to be able to have hotdogs. On the package it states they also have bacon, salami, bologna, chicken, ham, BBQ, and cocktail (not sure what that would be). We will have to try some of the others.

There are tons of vegetarian restaurants here in Cuenca so if you like to eat out you won't have any problems. I would list them but I don't know all of them, so I would leave some out. You can go to Vegan and Happy to find some of our local vegetarian restaurants.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

5 Goals in Cuenca

We have been here over 10 months now and I still don't know where certain places are or where to get certain things done.
We have also made a new friend who has interests in knitting and I have no clue where those types of stores are so this week I have some new things to do.
According to
There are three main obstacles that make goals hard to achieve; stress, our subconscious, and emotional addiction.
I know stress makes it hard for me to achieve my goals at times. I stress about my spanish communication skills which in turn makes it difficult for me to go out and look for the things I want. What obstacles are in your way?

Five goals for me this week
  1. Find knitting stores for my friend
  2. Find someone to make a few wood projects for me and my friend (step stool, meditation stool and an over the sink shelf)
  3. Find someone who can make me a cushion for the meditation stool and maybe one to go under it (helps with my ankles)
  4. Find a copy place to make color copies for my meditation group
  5. Find low cost sturdy furniture for my friend (maybe a bed frame for me)
I have a general idea of where to look, El Centro :), but I usually don't have the patience to look for places on my own but Steve has been busy at Moca so I must do it.

Wish me luck as I attempt these goals!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Approaching 10 Months in Cuenca

In three days we will celebrate our ten-month anniversary of living in Cuenca, and it is time to share some of my impressions of our new home.

1. Weather: The weather is not spring like everyday unless you are from Canada or Montana. Spring in Atlanta means thunderstorms and high temperatures in the mid-80's to low 90's. Here expect morning temperatures in the mid-50's, and afternoon highs in the mid-60's, with an occasional sunny day in the mid-70's. Rain is frequent, but usually only an hour or so late in the afternoon, and it is rare when it rains all day. As you all have heard we do not have central heat in Cuenca, so homes can feel a bit chilly at times, but it is nothing a sweater, or a space heater can't overcome. I am a rare individual that wears shorts most of the time, because I don't want to be confused for an Ecuadorian. LOL. Actually, I used to play a lot of golf, and soccer, so shorts have been plentiful in my wardrobe. When we move here I tried to change, but I just can't get used to "big boy pants", so a fellow expat, and I are now known for wearing shorts around town. We walk a lot here, so the temperature is perfect for shorts for me, but some, including my beautiful wife feel the weather is on the cold side.

2. Finding an Apartment or House: Susan and I have a little property management company we started after being asked by an Ecuadorian friend to help with her properties. It has grown to include several apartments, and even a home for sale, but as I tell people we are not Realtor's. Yes, we have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, but the one we stayed did not include a real estate course, so we leave the searching for potential homes to the true real estate people. Expats in Cuenca are some of the most helpful people you will ever meet, and many helped us when we were the newbies. But, even after being here as long as we have, I still don't feel comfortable recommending a certain area of Cuenca to live, or if you should get a house or an apartment. But, I have come to the conclusion that if you have specific needs in mind for a new home you should use a local real estate professional. We list properties for customers, we show the properties to interested clients who contact us, but we do not feel qualified to act as a Realtor in helping clients find a new home. We have turned down many opportunities to earn $10 or more per hour to help newcomers find their new home. One suggestion I do share with newcomers is to rent first, and do so for 90 days, and no longer. Newcomers need to get their bearings, and make new friends before settling on a home to purchase or a long-term rental. Many expats move to a new apartment or house within 6 months of arriving in Cuenca, because they have learned the city, and made new friends, or found a better place to live. So, please rent short-term initially, settle in, and explore your new city before making any long-term commitments.

3. Schools for Expat Children: We discovered with our 14 year old son Nickolas that six-weeks of Spanish lessons is not enough to drop him into a Spanish-speaking school. After one semester at the private school Santana we realized we had made a mistake with our son. It is difficult enough changing schools in the states when you understand the language being spoken. All schools have their cliques, but imagine the adjustment to a new language, new cliques, and teachers that are unwilling to challenge a student, because he is from another country. So, we decided to home-school Nickolas through the use of an on-line curriculum, and spend the time before the next school year improving his Spanish with lessons three times a week. Nickolas is ready to get back to a regular school, and his Spanish has improved significantly.

4. Television: We were once a five television household! Now, we are a household that has a 20" television which we only use for our PS3, and our weekly movie night. No Cable, no Direct TV, and to be honest I don't miss it as much as I thought I would a few months ago. Our apartment is wired for Direct TV, and there are all kinds of televisions here for sale, but it has become something I have learned to live without. We spend more time talking (not as much as we should), reading, surfing the internet, or watching specific television shows on our computers when we are at home.

5. Learning Spanish: Susan and Nickolas are both speaking Spanish much better than I am at this point. They both have the accent down well, and a much bigger vocabulary than they did just three months ago. I can still get things done in Spanish on my own, but I feel a little ashamed that I haven't taken the time to learn more.

6. Social Life: Susan and I have never been social animals, or a couple who spent evenings out with friends very often. We have met a lot of interesting, and friendly people during our time here, and luckily we even consider many of them our friends (hopefully they feel the same way). Being an expat creates an environment to where people tend to be more open to new friends and experiences. There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people here. Just this morning I met my friend Bob for breakfast with four other gentlemen, and enjoyed good food, and conversation. This afternoon, Susan enjoyed lunch with several women, including our friend Maxine at a nice inexpensive vegetarian restaurant in El Centro. So, the opportunities are there to meet new people, you just have to get out there, and meet them.

7. Missing the USA: Personally, I miss our children back in Georgia, and Illinois, the friends we left behind, and the soccer players I was lucky enough to coach and mentor during my time in Decatur, and Warner Robins. I don't miss the depressing political environment, and constant complaining about the status of the economy, government, educational system, immigration, and the lack of compassion for the less privileged in society. Susan misses the ease of getting in her car, and hitting thrift stores, grocery stores, and of course our children. Nickolas misses his friend Emanuel, and fast food, and maybe his siblings. Courtney is still in the honeymoon phase.

8.  Helping Others: The uniqueness of being retired at this point in our lives has provided us the opportunity to help others. We have shown people the beauty of the indigenous markets, how to safely use the buses, where to find certain items, or just showing someone where to get their "Movemiento Migratorio." Last week we got some friends together to paint a newcomers apartment, because she wasn't able to do it herself, and to reconfigure her bathroom to make it handicap accessible. A friend donated a bed to save her some money, and Susan has taken her shopping to make her new home comfortable. We don't expect anything in return for helping people, we just feel good knowing we had a positive effect on someones life, and hopefully they will pass it on one day. Our daughter Courtney has noticed the change in my behavior since she has been here. I am more willing to talk to strangers, or take the time help an expat with his internet problems, or walk a new couple to the Immigration office to get a form they need for their visa application. We are truly blessed to live in Cuenca at this time of our lives, and it feels great to help others when the opportunity presents itself.

9. Patience: Nothing happens in Cuenca quickly, or when you expect it. There is not one store where you can buy everything you could ever need. Restaurants are not in a hurry to serve your food, but are in no hurry to see you leave either. I spent parts of three days looking for one brass fitting for a Whirlpool dryer, and visited over 25 different stores with my friends (one Peruvian, one Ecuadorian, one Expat) before the item was found. We laughed at our inability to find this one part, but we discovered several new hardware stores, and shared a remarkable adventure. It seems Super Maxi the big grocery store has cameras following me when I shop. I will find something I like and buy it, but whether it is cereal, cheese, or peanut butter, the very next time I try to find it, it has disappeared to never return. I swear someone is doing it on purpose just to toy with me,  but I refuse to let it frustrate me, I am way too competitive to let the mystery people win.

10. Beauty: I wake up each morning next to the most beautiful woman (my wife Susan) in the world, and the rest of my day is filled with the smiling faces of children on the way to school in their uniforms, and the beautiful green expanses along the Rio Tomebamba  that separates old town from new town. It is hard to have a bad day when you are surrounded by family, friends, and the limitless beauty of Cuenca.

So, try your best to smile, and enjoy life, because it is far too short to waste even a single day being unhappy!