ecuador, part let's finish this

i need to complete this round-up of our trip to ecuador before the chaos of thanksgiving/high school swim season/christmas/end of school year/graduations/first grandchild hits. because yes, it will probably go that fast.

but first,

YYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS, CUBS!!!!!

just had to get that out.

okay: ecuador.

the last couple of days in ecuador were a mixed bag. we were exhausted, we all took turns being sick for a day, and our enthusiasm waned. because of that, some of our plans got altered, and things we wanted to do and see got nixed. but before we hit the wall, there were a few really nice moments.

during our first week, we were able to have dinner at the home of one of marc's closest friends. matt and marc grew up together, matt attended college about an hour away from where marc and i went, so the guys were able to keep in touch and i was able to get to know matt. he was the best man in our wedding, and before that there is a long story involving spring break, a ratty shack on the beach in florida, and matt literally saving the day for me and my dear friend by letting us crash on his couch for a few days. needless to say, we love matt. he married a few years ago, and he and his family now live in quito, and he teaches at the academy where he and marc attended high school. his wife is lovely, and his kids are pretty great. harper and his eldest daughter totally clicked.

 

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we also did a little grocery shopping with harp, and she had fun looking at all the strange fruit. she's the pickiest eater, but she'll eat any weird fruit you put in front of her. i guess that's a good thing.

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and she got her first haircut from aunt hannah.

 

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on our second to last day, we walked from the guest house to the academy, so marc and steve could show us where they went to school. matt was there, too, and gave the grand tour. harper's stomach was starting to bother her, so we missed most of the tour, but saw the best parts:

the gym ... where marc spent most of his waking hours and, apparently, was a god ...

 

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he said the locker room felt a little smaller, though ...

 

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and his locker is still there ...

 

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the last Must Do before we headed home was the teleferico ... a ski-lift/gondola-type ride that goes 1000 meters up, along pichincha. because harper was afflicted with stomach issues, and she isn't one for heights anyway, i stayed back at the house with her and hannah while the guys took the ride. i gave marc my camera and crossed my fingers. and being guys, about all i got from them about the trip was, "it was cool" and "the view was amazing." so just keep that in mind as you scroll through the pix.

 

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 (yes, this is what i was afraid of.)

 

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(with all those antennae, there MUST be a signal ...)

 

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(typical teenager move)

 

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(stiiiilllll looking for service ...)

 

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and then they were home. since the boys got to have an outing, hannah and i took one last cab ride to an artist market in downtown quito for a few more souvenirs, and ended up with some lovely earrings that we dubbed the "sister earrings." (hey ... if the boys could have their fun ...)

and then that was that.

our flight home didn't leave until 11:30 p.m., so we spent our final day doing laundry, trying to fit all the souvenirs (marc bought one suitcase-worth of snacks) into our bags, playing some final games. as the sun started to set, harp and i said one last farewell to cayambe ...

 

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and then it was over.

we boarded our plane, and soon everyone was asleep. well, almost everyone. i can't sleep on planes. which means i got to see panama ...

 

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and cuba, which i actually woke henry to see, because he did a school project about taking study abroad in cuba and now very much wants to go. and also, we could see cuba!

 

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then there was lightning over the florida keys ...

 

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a super quick stop in atlanta ... (like, 90 minutes to deplane, get through customs, get to our next gate) ... and then we were on our way home.

it was a wonderful adventure, i'm so glad it finally worked out to take the kids and let them see the culture in which their dad grew up, and i know it was eye-opening for both of them ... and for me, too. it was great to finally get to know hannah better, and for marc to have time with his brother. the trip was worth every penny, every tired day, every day we thought the altitude would kill us, every day we thought diarrhea would kill us, every day we thought harper would kill us ...

and that's the end of the story. thanks for sticking it out.

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ecuador, part 4

i'm almost done. i swear. but ... it was 10 days. that's a lot of stuff to cover.

the trip to otavalo was a really great day. the ride there was through some amazing topography ... we were coming out of the altitude of quito through these strange hills of the andes, so dry and desert-like, and many are covered with this odd industrial run-off material. it was such an unusual landscape that we were all captivated by what was out the window. half an hour into the ride, we pulled off the road at an overlook and took in our surroundings.

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another half an hour down the road, the landscape started to get more green. steve had heard from someone that there is a great place to eat just outside of otavalo, off the main road but near a lake. we decided to find it, and once we did, we were all so glad. to say "a little place by the lake" is such an understatement to describe what we found. the view left us all a little speechless and giddy.

 

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the restaurant, which was part of a resort of small cabins, was literally on the edge of this lake, with the hill directly across from us. as we sat and ate, all we could see was the water and this amazing hill rising up from it. at lovely as the hills and mountains of quito are, i'm a water girl, and didn't realize how much i need to see water until we got to this place. my soul was instantly happy.

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we reluctantly tore ourselves away after lunch, and finished our trek to otavalo so we could check out the market.

 

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when marc and i were dating, i would often hear his family talk about the "otavalo indian market," but i had no idea what to expect. the center of town fills with booths full of textiles and sweaters and crafts and art, and the storefronts surrounding the market open up to sell food and other home goods. the people are incredibly friendly, but they are also relentless in their quest to get you to buy something. i had gone into it with the thought that i wasn't going to haggle; the price they asked was the price they wanted to get. however, when a blanket at one stall is $25, and two stalls over the same blanket goes for $11, you soon learn to find out what their best offer is.

(though it blew my mind every time that i would refuse an amazing, silky alpaca wool blanket for $18. i mean ... i would have bought 20.)

 

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 i was glad we'd chosen to go on a week day, when it was way less crowded. henry had already decided this was his least favorite activity of the trip so far, and after an hour of looking through the same sort of items over and over, your eyes start to glaze over. but we all found a few things to make us happy - marc, a soccer shirt; harper, an alpaca jacket; henry, a wooden bowl with an indian head painted on it; and i did get a couple of blankets and a silver ring - so it was a successful trip. after a quick stop for water at a place with an actual bathroom, we got back in the van to head home.

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and that was otavalo.

one more part, and i think this story will be finished.

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ecuador, part 3

part 1 ... part 2 ... life intrudes ... part 3:

our next big outing in ecuador was to mitad del mundo ... the center of the world ... the equator.

there are two centers of the earth, apparently ... the first was determined in the 1730s by a french explorer, and the official second site was gps-verified and developed in recent years. the new one is only 250 meters from the old one ... those early explorers did a pretty good job!

 

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we started at the newest one.

there is a replica village, complete with history of the area and some of the indian tribes. included in that history is a legit shrunken head and instructional seminar on how one makes a shrunken head. (allegedly, tribes no longer shrink heads. but still ... they have the know-how.) the most interesting thing about the process is that after cutting off the enemy's head, pulling out the skull, and filling the skin with a rock, they then sew up the mouth because they don't want the enemy's "evil spirits" to escape. (they couldn't escape through, say, the nostrils or ears or, like, the neck? and the spirits somehow live not in the brain or the heart but in the head skin? okay.)

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we continued through huts and kitchens and where they kept the cuy, or guinea pigs. (more about the guinea pigs in a bit.) our guide explained the way the indians lived, different activities and rituals (did you know if your husband died, you got to be buried with him - alive but drugged - so that you could care for him in the afterlife? thank god for feminism.), what it's like to live in the amazon. (the 10' python model was super encouraging ... encouraging me to not go to the amazon.)

 

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then we reached the line marking the equator.

 

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while at the equator, the guide did various experiments - how water flows down a drain in different directions, depending on what side of the equator she places the basin; how your balance is better right on the equator, how you have better leverage and strength on the equator, and so on.

 

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then we got to try the famous "balancing an egg on its end because its on the equator" trick.

 

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while standing at the egg balancing station, we could see a monument off in the distance. i asked what that was, and was told that it is the original site. remember how i said they are so close to each other?

 

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after egg balance had been achieved, we got our passports stamped with "center of the earth" ...

 

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then drove 10 minutes down the road to middle earth number two. this was the equator marc remembered going to when he was a kid, though much had been changed and built up since the last time he was there. he said it was all very impressive ... and it was. this was our favorite equator.

 

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our first order of business was lunch, and there were shops and places to eat all around the grounds. steve & hannah had a favorite restaurant, and there was a porch with tables and a lovely breeze.

marc ordered yet another ceviche, henry started with a big plate of sausage and eggs and plantains, harp had another choclo and some chicken soup, and i had a plate of corvina ... an ecuadorean white fish that is so yummy.

 

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however, before our meal arrived, we tried an ecuadorean specialty: cuy. remember what cuy is? yes ... guinea pig.

 

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it was interesting. i wouldn't say it was terrible, but i wouldn't say it was all that great, either. definitely a check mark on the list of exotic things to eat, though.

when we had finished lunch, henry actually decided to keep eating ... a cheeseburger, and then something else. i don't know what, because the girls decided to head to some of the surrounding shops while the guys (*guy) ate. half an hour later, we were all ready to walk off our lunches and check out the area.

we headed straight for the monument and climbed to the top. there was a great view of the surrounding area. as we stood there, we watched clouds envelop a nearby hill, and a small dust tornado swirl around a little neighborhood. the view was pretty amazing.

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back on the ground floor, we checked out the non-equator, and then wandered through some of the small museums scattered throughout the park.

 

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before we left, steve & hannah took us to their favorite shop, run by an ecuadorean woman named elvira, and her son, whom steve & hannah have befriended and always visit when they take guests to the monument. elvira was just the sweetest lady, and couldn't get over how tall marc and the kids are. she has granddaughters harper's age, and didn't believe us when we said harper is 11. i tried to tell her that i, too, am "muy alta," but elvira just laughed at me.

she talked to marc for quite awhile about the last time he visited quito, his time there for school, all the while she and her son were helping our kids find the perfect souvenirs. harper got a stuffed llama; henry got whatever this is:

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(which, he says, will be worn at high school meets this winter. so stay tuned for that.)

it was so good to hear marc using his spanish. he's been more than reluctant to pull out that particular skill over the years, even though i have repeatedly begged him to be conversational with the kids so they will pick up some. he did a much better job that he thinks he can do.  henry also did a really good job understanding what he was hearing and responding to the best of his ability, having four years of spanish under his belt. i had four years in school as well, but that was a long time ago. still, i could understand more than i thought i would, and could offer very rudimentary replies. just enough to feel like i wasn't totally in the dark.

amazingly enough, for the first week or so after we got home, i found myself expecting to hear spanish, and thinking of spanish responses. it's very weird to try and switch brain gears. but it motivates me to try to learn another language. spanish would make the most sense, but i've always wanted to take french or italian ... who knows.

anyway, after the shop, we walked toward the entrance of the park to find the car and call it a day. along the way, there were about a dozen identical hummingbird sculptures and leaf seats, and all had been painted by different artists. harper loved these, and had me take a photo of her sitting in each one, with her camera. and i had to get a picture or two for myself.

 

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one last stop before we called it a day: there was a very cool modern building just outside the park, and it was surrounded by all these different flags. we were very curious about what it was, and discovered it's actually the united nations building for south american countries - unasur.

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and that was that. we drove home, cleaned up, and went to marc's favorite steak place for dinner to celebrate steve's belated birthday ... and marc had yet another ceviche. (count: four days, five ceviches.) it was a day full of information and sun and walking and food and spanish. we were all exhausted, but it was a really wonderful experience.

next experience on the docket: the otovalo market. and that will be part 4.

 

 

 

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ecuador, part 2

i left you hanging halfway through our bus tour of quito. but i did mention that our next stop was el panecillo, sooo ...

the drive from the basilica to el panecillo - the name of a 200m tall volcanic hill (called "the little bread loaf" - el panecillo) - goes through the historic center of quito, then is pretty much straight up to the statue of The Virgin of Quito, the tallest aluminum statue in the world.

the sights through the city were varied, from very third-world-esque block buildings, to really beautiful and intricate colonial architecture.

 

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(you can see the statue in the distance)

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(gringotts, quito branch)

 

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(ecuadorean construction scaffold)

 

once out of the busier part of the city, the road begins to serpentine up the side of the hill.

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and then we reached the part of the trip where the bus has to essentially u-turn on a two-lane road on the side of a hill ... see that blue bus going in the opposite direction and getting ready to turn toward the bus in the center of the photo? we're about to turn 180 degrees in the middle of the road and do the same.

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we just trusted the driver, that he'd done this before.

turns out, he had, and soon we were on top of the hill. the density of the city continued to amaze me throughout the trip.

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and then, there was the statue:

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the only statue of the virgin mary depicted with wings, from the Book of the Apocalypse. (which, i assume, is revelations?)

you can actually go in the statue and climb up four floors to look out, but our bus was stopped for too limited a time. instead, we walked around the park a little and took in the views.

 

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and we stopped by the vendors so the kids could have a snack - choclo, an andean field corn that is roasted and eaten on the cob. marc was eager to have it again, henry is always up for trying food, and harper - even though corn is on her list of top five worst foods in the world - tried a bite and decided it was amazing.

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we used the bathroom - which cost us 25 cents for six squares of toilet paper, and the toilet had no seat - and got back on the bus.

heading down the hill was just as nerve-racking, because this time we knew what was coming, and we were driving on the side of the road closest to certain death.

 

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but after the first tricky turn, we knew to trust our driver, and just enjoyed the scenery for the rest of the bus tour.

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the streets are so narrow that i literally could stick my hand out the window and touch the buildings. harper looked down at one point, and said the sidewalk had almost enough room for one person to walk at a time, with one shoulder on the building and the other shoulder trying to not get hit by the bus. those bus drivers are incredibly good at not running into a wall or pedestrian.

 

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we drove back through the historic center, and saw the presidential palace and a quick glimpse of the guards, and the plaza. it was so beautiful, and we made plans to return the following week to watch the changing of the guard and spend time on the plaza. sadly, by the following week, harp was sick and we stayed in. i would have loved to see more of the plaza area. next time, i guess.

 

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and there was the basilica again ...

 

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and more of those wires you don't want to hit with your head ...

 

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we drove by soccer fields the way we drive by baseball fields in the states.

 

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it was a long day, and we saw so much. harper was too overwhelmed by it all, and ended the day with a major meltdown. she was too overcome by all the traffic and noise and spanish everywhere we went. so we put her to bed and promised the next day would be quiet and home-based.

we all slept in the next morning. harp woke up in a better state of mind, and we all enjoyed a more relaxed day. i got laundry done while harp sat on the front steps, trying to take pictures of all the birds that were flying around outside.

 

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i joined her in between loads, and together we looked at all the beautiful flowers growing in this small front yard.

 

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the geraniums here have leaves that are more like those of a succulent.

 

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and harp loved being able to pick a fresh lime ... which is called a limon ... just like lemon ...

 

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... which explains why, after 42 years, marc still doesn't know the difference between a lime and a lemon. (we figured out so many of these little things on this trip ... it helped me understand his brain so much better. like, all of the lunchmeat is labeled "jamon de ..." or, "ham of ... something". ham of turkey, ham of chicken, ham of ... ham. ham = lunchmeat. now i totally get why marc, for years, called every single sandwich a ham sandwich, regardless of what was on it. i literally thought he was being simple. but no, he was being ecuadorean.)

while we were busy enjoying the garden, the rest of the group took a trip to the grocery store. steve and hannah are moving to the coastal town of manta, where their mission will shift from guesthouse hosting to earthquake relief. so henry, to earn volunteer hours for national honor society, was able to help buy all the groceries and bag them in individual relief bundles for the mission. he was a big help to get that done before the next group heads to the earthquake-hit area, and ended up packaging 31 separate care bags.

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(store shelves aren't quite as tall in ecuador.)

 

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it was good to have a restful day, especially for harper, so she could mentally and emotionally prepare for our next big outing: the center of the world.

and that will be part 3.

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ecuador, part 1

when i was a senior in high school, my mom decided to take a class at the local university. one night, she came home from class and said to me, "there is this boy in my class, and he doesn't say a whole lot, and he's from somewhere in south america, but you would make the cutest babies."

and i just rolled my eyes.

the next year, for whatever reason, i chose to go to said local university. and i got a nice circle of friends. and there was this guy in that circle who didn't say a whole lot, and mostly just went to the gym to play basketball. but he would eat at our table occasionally, and we got friendly. by the second semester of my freshman year, we had a class together and he would sit by me. one day i realized he was pretty handsome. so we tried going on a date. and it wasn't great. we tried another. and it wasn't great, either. and i kind of let that go. then he called me to play pool at the student union, and that was pretty great. then we hung out for a day. my mom worked on campus, so he walked me to her office after we hung out, and she took one look at us together, dragged me into a closet, and whispered, "that's the marc from my class!"

so of course i had to marry him.

but before we got married and made those beautiful babies, we traveled to ecuador (because he was from somewhere in south america) to visit his family. and that was 22 years ago.

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his family relocated to the states within a year of us traveling down there, so marc never had a reason to go back to his home. but he has always felt nostalgia for certain things - going to boarding school in quito, the perfect climate while living in the mountains, seeing the snow-capped volcanoes in the distance, and certain foods and fruit.

we always said that at some point we wanted to take the kids to ecuador so they could see where their dad grew up. i had found it very helpful in understanding why he was the way he was sometimes, and knew it would help the kids be able to relate, too. we had decided a few years ago to take this trip before henry left for college, and as luck would have it, marc's brother and his wife moved to quito about a year ago. so the timing was perfect: henry is halfway through high school, we now have family in the area and a place to stay, and harper is finally (maybe?) old enough to cope with a trip of this scale and distance from her comfort zone.

so in mid-august, we hopped a plane for 10 days in ecuador.

(hint: go potty now. this is a little long.)

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(still handsome.)

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(the cutest babies.)

we left the house early tuesday morning, had a flight to atlanta, and then a five-hour layover before heading south. lucky for us, marc had sprung for business class for the second, longer leg of our trip, so we could have some leg room and a bit more comfortable ride.

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along with the leg room, we also had in-flight movie options. henry chose "the man from u.n.c.l.e.," harper watched "zootopia," marc watched a superhero movie, and i? well, i spent some time with bing and frank and grace kelly in "high society," then moved on to "to kill a mockingbird." it's really lovely to be able to choose what to watch ... ahem.

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i also lucked out and got the best row-mates ever:

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this photo was taken before the plane even took off. they woke long enough to eat some dinner, then zonked back out. the older one was so sweet and helpful to her little sister. perfect little dumplings.

anyway ...

about five and a half hours later, we saw the lights of quito ...

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then we got through baggage and customs, found steve & hannah, and were on our way.

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our first full day there, we relaxed, let our bodies acclimate to being 9,000+ feet above sea level, and explored our home for the next 10 days. steve and hannah are running a guest house through their mission organization, and the guest house just happens to be the old boarding school dorm where marc and his siblings lived during high school. for the duration of our stay, marc and i slept in his sophomore year dorm room. he said the senior year room was the best, because the bars on the windows were loose and you could easily sneak out. but that room now has bunk beds, so ... no sneaking out for us.

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and the bathrooms were set up with three showers and two toilet stalls, so they were super spacious ...

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but marc said the house was much like it was back in the early 90s. even the groundskeeper is the same guy.

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(the room marc may have inadvertently set on fire 25 years ago ...)

 

out the front door, you can see hedge walls of lantana, as well as pichincha, a dormant volcano.

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and out the back is cayambe, a not so dormant one.

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also in the back is the basketball court where marc spent innumerable hours of his youth.

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once the tour of the inside of the house was complete, we hung out and made plans for the rest of the week. around dinnertime, steve recommended a great place to eat that would give us a great view out over the city. we grabbed two cabs and were off on what was the first of several wild cab rides. through narrow streets full of drivers with very little sense of actual traffic rules, we bumped along and watched the driver honk his horn through intersections, to let people know stoplights didn't matter, and the other drivers were just in his way and he was going to go, regardless. once we reached the hilltop where the restaurant - cafe mosaico - was, we could see that the ride was worth it.

the view was breathtaking.

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the food was wonderful, even though hannah's didn't come out until everyone else was halfway finished eating. and marc got his first of many ceviche de camaron.

the cab ride back was a bit more than harp could take. it was pretty much the party cab of quito ... fur around the mirror, music, a light show, a metallic ceiling, and a little hammock hanging from the visor, among other accoutrements. the thing that pushed her over the edge, though: no seat belts in the back seat. she was pretty much a nervous wreck the entire ride home. poor kid. all we could say was, "welcome to ecuador."

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day two: we headed out for a different kind of road adventure: a big red bus tour of quito.

now, we are big fans of big red bus tours. we've enjoyed them in dc, we've enjoyed them in san francisco, and we enjoyed the duck boat and boat boat versions in boston and chicago. we love tours. it's the best way to get an overview of the city, figure out where you want to spend more time later in the trip, or just hop off and spend some time exploring right then and there, and then hop back on the bus when you're ready to move on.

quito's tour was no different ... with the exception of the traffic being way crazier, the roads way more narrow, and the hills so much steeper that - at certain points in the ride - we may have put our hands in the air. because it felt like we were on a roller coaster.

in spite of all of that, it was a wonderful way to get a glimpse of this city that sits five miles deep and 31 miles wide.

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there is a lot of construction going on in quito, so these trucks lined the center of the street. their cargo? propane tanks for the construction workers.

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we realized that "watch your head" basically means "all the different lines across the road are going to be about 6" from the top of this bus, so ... watch your head."

the first stop along the way was at the centro de arte contemporaneo. i could have spent way more time here, but there were more places to go and things to see and do. what we did see while here, though, was fascinating.

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the above item was suspended from the ceiling, hanging at eye level. in the corner was a video, and over the speakers around the room was this eerie creaking, cracking, moaning sound, with echoing hums and whistles. as we read the information signs around the room and watched the video, we realized that the artist/scientist had taken a recording device up a volcano to where there was a glacier. then he lowered the recording device into a crevice in the glacier, and recorded the sounds of the glacier shifting and moving. those were all the noises from the speakers. the sculpture above is a 3d printer depiction of the sound waves.

so interesting.

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and this number ... the artist traveled all over the world to gather dirt and rocks, which he put into labeled metal canisters. then he created this balancing scale mobile, using the canisters as weights and counterbalances, until he achieved perfect balance across the mobile. on the wall was a schematic - a map, of sorts - of the mobile and where the canisters are from.

that was pretty amazing, as well.

 

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next stop after the museum was the basilica del voto nacional ... the largest neo-gothic basilica in the americas.

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this place is way cool. the architecture is absolutely amazing, both inside and out. see those gargoyle-like things hanging off the side? not gargoyles ... but animals. animals from the galapagos.

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personally, it bothers me when churches spend so much money on their own looks. however, seeing this place, the money seemed so worth it. i couldn't get enough.

for a small fee, you can tour the inside, and see the incredible stained glass windows and flying buttresses and all those other fabulous trappings. for a slightly larger fee ... well ... i'll get to that in a minute.

first: inside.

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while harp and i took in the amazingness that was the inside of the church, marc and henry and steve and hannah took the slightly different tour. it also went inside the church, in a manner of speaking, but it included a special look at the outside of the church.

 

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did you see the people on the gothic spire?

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yup. they went there. first, they had to go to the third floor of the church. then another flight or two to reach the roof, where there was essentially a ridge pole-type bridge spanning the length of the basilica, between the buttresses and the roof.

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20160816_130405 from michele skinner on Vimeo.

and then once they spanned the cathedral and climbed the vertical ladder at the other end, they emerged up in the spire.

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 and then they went back down, walked back across the church, then up into the clock towers.

 

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once they were safely back on the ground floor, we grabbed a burger across the plaza, and hopped the bus to our next stop: el panecillo.

and ... this is long enough. we'll get to the rest of the bus tour, and trip, next time.

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... and summer's over

we woke up this morning - around 3 a.m. - to a massive thunderstorm. lightning, thunder, relentless rain. at 6 a.m., when my alarm went off, the weather was equally forceful.

the perfect way to start the first day of school.

i woke up harper, and her first words were, "is that rain?!"

yup. it's gonna be a raincoat day.

she quickly dressed in the outfit she laid out the night before ... denim capris, a white tank top, a white v-neck top she picked out at gap (from the adult side, thankyouverymuch), a hummingbird necklace ... was in and out of the bathroom, and eating a muffin, within 15 minutes.

someone was a little excited for the first day of school.

of middle school.

because ... my baby is in middle school.

w.t.h.

she eagerly put on her sandals, grabbed her backpack, made sure she had lunch money and an umbrella, and headed out the door.

the rain, thankfully, had subsided just long enough to get the first day of school photo.

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she was all smiles as the bus came, and she walked to it with two girlfriends.

and 10 minutes later, the texts started ... "mom." "mom." "mom." "i don't feel well." "i feel like i'm gonna throw up."

my poor little ball of anxiety. she hates the bus. she's nervous about a new school. she's terrified she'll show up in the wrong room, or at the wrong time. that she won't know what to do in the lunch room. that she won't have friends in any of her classes.

typical middle school fears.

i texted her back, told her it was just nerves, told her she would do great, told her no one would give her trouble if she ended up in the wrong room at the wrong time. told her to talk to her friends and take deep breaths.

and i didn't hear back ... so hopefully she got it all figured out.

the email from the principal at 7:45 stated that all kids were in classrooms and the halls were empty, so all looks positive.

and 20 minutes after harp was off to 6th grade, my 11th grader ate a muffin, grabbed his keys, and was out the door to get gas and head to school.

by himself.

not on a bus.

because he's a junior.

w.t.h.

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how?? how did we get here already?? i mean, wasn't HE just off to his first day of middle school???

i'm so confused, trying to figure out where the last five years have gone.

but he's ready. i mean, he isn't ready to be back at school ... he had a great summer full of friends and work and growing independence ... but he's ready to move forward. he's feeling the itch of almostdone-itis. this is a big year for him ... a lot of decisions to make, a lot of hard work and effort to put forth ... and i hope he's ready and understands that this is it. this is the big year.

summer moved so quickly at the beginning, as it always does, and then we consciously slowed down.

harper decided to take the summer off from swimming, so we spent a lot of time together, and she had some lovely play dates with friends. last week, to cap off the quiet summer, she spent some time on the lake with her bff from preschool to celebrate the fact that starting today, they will finally - again - be classmates. and while the girls took off across the water on their own, her friend's mom and i just shook our heads, trying to figure out how they aren't four years old anymore.

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henry, on the other hand, had the opposite of a quiet summer. he was heading to the pool every morning at 7 a.m., and then to lifeguard for an eight-hour shift, and then often to hang out with friends or co-workers in the evening. he carpooled with buddies or, once he got his license, drove himself, and felt the freedom that comes with your own time and your own money.

he didn't do any meets until the senior state meet at the beginning of august, where he cleaned up ... 6th place in the 100 free, 3rd place in the 50 free, and medals in all five relays - a 4th, a 3rd, two 2nds, and a first place finish in the 200 free relay that was .14 secs off the state record.

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we are entering very different territory today. it was a very different kind of summer. who knows what this year will bring.

but good or bad, here we go.

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in summary:

ten days before july ends and we start the lightning-fast slide to the end of summer, here is a brief look at where we are and what we've accomplished in the past two months.

to recap:

harper's room was going to get a new look

henry's room was going to get a refresh

something about shelves in the basement

veggies in the garden

 

as of today, we've accomplished precisely zero of those things.

unless you count three tomato plants and the herbs.

 

so what HAVE we been doing?

well ...

 

henry swims at 8 a.m. daily for 2-2.5 hours, at either a pool that is 15 mins away, or a pool that is 45ish mins away (depending on traffic).

 

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after swimming, there is a one hour or so time gap until he needs to go to work.

dude's a lifeguard:

 

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marc traveled literally all of june.

 

harp WAS swimming ...

 

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but kept having stomach issues, so she opted to sit out the rest of summer.

those stomach issues? last week they became a seven-hour visit to the emergency room, during which time she had not only a blown vein while trying to get her iv started, but both an ultrasound and a CT scan to check her liver, gall bladder, appendix. verdict? high likelihood of a ruptured ovarian cyst. poor kiddo.

 

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other than that, she had a sewing camp for a week,

 

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got some new socks,

 

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and is now in summer band.

 

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on the few days that henry doesn't work, he's usually either doing summer homework or out pokehunting with friends.

 

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and just yesterday we finally managed to make it to the dmv so he could take his driving test.

he passed.

now we have to let him drive.

 

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which ... remember what i said about 8 a.m. swim practices?

and one night i got to do something fun: i went to see brandi carlile and the avett brothers with my friend, sue.

 

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and right as the concert was starting, i got a text from my mom that my grandma had passed away.

 

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sooo ... yeah. fun stuff.

summer's been super productive and relaxing.

we have a very fun trip coming up, though, and then: school.

and then, maybe, i can get stuff done around the house.

 

how does it all keep going so fast?!

 

 

 

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it's here

the day i've been dreading for nine months has arrived, no matter how much i willed it to not happen.

it's the last day of school.

not that i'm not looking forward to having more time with the kids. (though, any introvert worth their salt will tell you that alone time is a must if we are to function and get through the day.) but ...

this last day of school is too big for me to take in right now.

this kid ...

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today is her last day of elementary school.

this is the last time she will climb onto the bus as a little kid.

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and in three months, these buddies will separate into two different middle schools.

where they will be middle schoolers.

i mean, what the heck?!

who said they could grow up??

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and as hard as that is to take, it pales in comparison to this guy ...

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who will be a junior in the fall.

a junior.

who will drive himself to school. no more bus. today was the last time.

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just ... nope. can't think about it yet.

makes my heart hurt.

i now have three and a half hours to enjoy the silence, gather my emotions, drink some coffee, and put on my big girl panties so i don't have tears in my eyes when they get home.

i mean, when the littlest kid gets home.

because the big kid is going to a pool party for the rest of the day with friends. and the girlfriend. and he'll get a ride home.

and i just can't.


all herby up in here

confession: i'm a little obsessed with my gardens right now. i wander out a few times a day just to see if anything has bloomed.

so far, the only thing that has are the little eggs ...

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so while i wait, i decided that our porch needed an herb garden. somewhere i could just open the door, snip off some stems, and make dinner that much better.

i ordered a cute tiered plant stand from world market, along with some copper plant tags, and then ran to the nursery for nine of our favorite herbs.

a few days later, the box arrived, and i couldn't wait to get started!

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(mario was obviously just as excited to supervise.)

building the stand was pretty straightforward ... any ikea-phile should have no trouble. three shelves, two long legs, two smaller legs, and a couple of brace pieces, along with screws and an abundance of allen wrenches.

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the multiple wrenches came in handy with the two-piece bolts. one to hold the bolt tight, and the other to screw in the second piece.

and, of course, there was the one screw that just didn't want to go all the way in.

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and mario just gave me that cat look, the one that said, "seriously, human. one screw? you're just going to leave it like that?"

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and yes. yes, i left it like that. (until marc got home.)

in less than an hour, it was built and ready to hold herbs.

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which it did. technically. still in the box from the nursery, though.

aaaaannnndddd ... five days later, i finally planted them.

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mmm ... thai basil ...

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hello, mint. can't wait to use you in iced tea and lemonade and mojitos ...

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my little herby stand makes me happy.

also making me happy? the peonies are about to pop. any day, man ... i can't wait!

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the show's about to start

summer is nearly here, the school year is winding down, the days are longer and warmer, and the garden is about to enter Act II.

 

the lilacs and bleeding hearts are on their way out,

 

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and my shade-loving friends (ie everything along the front of the house) are gearing up for their big show.

the hydrangeas are budding, both the annabelles and the fire & ice:

 

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the hosta have begun to unfurl ...

 

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and the astilbe are about to show their colors.

 

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the spurge is adding some needed brightness,

 

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but they've got nothing on the dianthus. those overachievers.

 

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the coral bells are gorgeous, even if they are the wrong colors.

(when we did our landscaping, i specifically said to the designer, "the only color i really don't like is maroon/burgundy.")

(which, of course, translated into two burgundy crab apples, and coordinating coral bells that will find a new home in a different part of the garden next year.)

 

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i am soothed by the fact that my beloved peonies are getting so close to blooming ...

 

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even though the salvia will beat them to it.

 

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and i added a few new friends this week: the columbine, and the daisies

(who were supposed to be in the garden since Day 1, but ... again ... the designer heard me say "daisies" and gave me "black-eyed susans".) ...

 

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the lady's mantel is full and about ready to take over the joint,

 

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and some bright lantana are now hanging out with the trumpet vines.

 

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and amidst all this new life, there is a tiny nest in the wreath on our side porch door, full of little speckled eggs.

 

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i can't wait for the next act!