What I wish I could tell you…

Exactly four weeks ago tomorrow, Dan and I, along with Patrick and Oliver, boarded a plane out of Quito for the last time.  We had made the decision in June to return to the US permanently, for a variety of reasons.  Although we knew it was the right decision, it was not made lightly and it still hurt.

We made the decision to locate ourselves in Indianapolis, to be near our grown children.  We have a lovely house here, and thanks to the generosity of so many people, it is fully furnished with lovely furniture.  I have collected a lot of things that belonged to my grandmother, and having things around me that I grew up with is comforting, in the way that wrapping up in a warm blanket on a cold evening is comforting.

I wish I could tell you that we are settled.  That we feel right at home.  That we have adjusted and gotten ourselves into this new life without a hitch.  I wish I could.

The reality is that right now, I feel like I’ve been picked up and dropped into someone else’s life, and I have no idea how to live it.  I find myself in a muddle over the oddest things.  Things that I used to do without thinking twice now require me to actually talk myself through them.  Something as simple as getting in the car and going somewhere by myself is overwhelming.  In Quito, I didn’t drive very much.  The traffic was horrible and it made me so nervous that I just gave it up.  Dan was usually available to take me where I needed to go, and if he wasn’t someone else was.  Here, I can go anywhere I want to, theoretically.  Except that I can’t.  I’ve gone to Hobby Lobby once and to the grocery store once, but that’s it.  I just can’t navigate getting in the car and going anywhere by myself.  Dan has been incredibly patient with me, but I know he is ready for his wife to get some of her independence back.

Going to church has been hard.  Not because of the church–we actually really like the pastor and are enjoying the sermon series…but it’s not “our” church.  “Our” pastor isn’t there.  “Our” people aren’t there.  I am glad, however, that Our God is there!

Shopping is always an adventure.  I have to keep reminding myself that Target will have what I need (most likely in several different colors), they will have enough of it, and they will have it next week, or next month, so I don’t need to buy 12 of it.  I can’t be in a store for very long (other than Hobby Lobby–it’s my happy place and I could live there) without getting very nervous and overwhelmed.  And going in without a list is just not wise.  The other day I needed dog food, milk and cooking spray.  I came home with three different kinds of candy corn (which I don’t even like, but after 12 years of not being able to buy it, that was irrelevant.  And they had it in different flavors.), ice cream and tots.  No cooking spray and no dog food.  Fortunately the dogs like candy corn.  😛  I think I only remembered the milk because I walked past it to get to the candy corn.

I have had to deal with setting up utility accounts in our name, getting our drivers licenses changed, figuring out how to get someone to pick up our trash…and yes, I know I am saying “I” a lot.  The reality is that Dan and I are processing this very differently.

I wish I could tell you that we’ve been the poster children for how to do this and not have it affect our marriage and our home life.  The reality is that we are both a little snappy (OK, he’s a little–I’m a lot), and life here at our house still doesn’t feel “right”.  Every morning I wake up and for a moment, wonder where I am.  I still look at things in the store and think “I wonder if I can get that home”…then I remember that all I have to do is put it in the back of the car and take it there–no planes or luggage restrictions involved.

When we moved to Ecuador, we had a purpose.  It was exciting and new, and we were down there to do something for the Lord.  I know that somewhere in this move is a purpose, and that the Lord still has work for us to do…but right now I can’t find it.  I feel like a little kid lost in a crowd…looking around for my parents and just seeing people all around me that I don’t know.

What I wish I could tell you is that I’ve got this.

I wish I could.

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What’s in YOUR suitcase?

This week, over on Velvet Ashes, the theme is “suitcase”.  As global nomads, suitcases are a necessity, and it’s amazing how something so simple can get so many feelings rolling around inside of us.

Oliver, my dachshund and favorite child (he doesn’t talk back or ask for money) hates our suitcases, because he knows that it means we’re leaving.  When we pull them out, he gets nervous and goes and sits in them, hoping that we’ll take him along.  When Patrick was a baby, pulling out the suitcases made him jumpy and whiny, as though he knew that we would be going somewhere and he would be tired and confined to a carseat (we had him fly in his carseat until he was four).

Suitcases also mean new things, adventure and excitement.  Packing to go to the US for a visit, packing to go on vacation, packing to go home to Ecuador…all of these things are exciting.  When we moved here, packing our suitcases was the subject of endless debate.  What to bring, what not to bring.  Velvet Ashes asked this week for a packing list, and it got me all nostalgic, thinking about our first few times back and forth.  So, in no particular order, here are the things that I would recommend that you pack in your suitcase if you are moving to Quito, Ecuador.  This list is based on moving here from the US, since that’s where I came from.  I can’t speak for moving there from another country.

-Clothing.  Finding good quality clothing here is next to impossible, especially if you are tall or wear a larger size.  And although we do have “US” brands such as Levis, the clothing is CRAZY expensive and very limited in selection.  For children try to anticipate their growth and bring a couple of sizes up.  Again, the options are basically either very cheaply made or crazy expensive.

-Shoes.  Goes along with the clothing.  My husband wears a size 11 shoe, not terribly large by US standards.  Finding shoes for him here is ridiculously time consuming.  The last time he had to have tennis shoes, it took us three months to finally find a pair in his size, and we paid about four times the amount that we would have in the US.  And shoes for children are readily available, but either very cheaply made or very expensive.

-Electronics (computer, laptop, cell phone, e-reader):  Electronics are available in Quito, but prices are two to three times higher than they are in the US.  An unlocked cell phone can be used as you go back and forth between Ecuador and the US, and plans are ridiculously cheap.  Also included in this would be accessories such as power cords.  When the cord on my husbands’ MAC went out, we went to every MAC store in the city, only to be told that they don’t sell the power cords–just the computers.  There is currently a 35% duty on electronics (you are allowed to bring in one personal computer, phone, etc. and the duty is charged on subsequent items) but often the cost of the item plus the cost of the duty is still less than the cost of buying it in Quito.  Example:  The Apple TV unit is $99 in the US.  Add in the 35% duty at customs and you’re paying $135 to bring it in.  A new Apple TV unit in Quito?  $400.

-Toys.  We have toy stores, but they fall into one of two categories–either very expensive or very cheap.  There is no middle ground.  If you have a child who loves Legos, Transformers, Barbies, etc. you should consider bringing some with you.  Legos run an average of three times what they do in the US–that’s a lot of money for something that you’re going to step on in the middle of the night!  Selection is also pretty limited, except around Christmas.

-Car seats.  If you have a baby, you need to bring car seats with you.  They are available in Quito, but are very expensive for a reputable brand.  Other baby items such as cribs, strollers, highchairs, etc. are available and the cost is relatively reasonable.

-Medications.  Bring at least six months of any medication that you take on a regular basis.  Most medications are available in Quito, and the cost is much lower than in the US, however the brand names and dosages are not always the same.  Having a six month supply on hand will allow you time to get settled and find a doctor who can help you figure out what meds you will need, what they are called and what the dosage is. If you have small children, consider bringing Benadryl and children’s cold medicine.  Neither of these are available in Quito.

-A Magic Jack unit, or something similar.  This device hooks into your wireless and allows friends and family to call you with a US phone number.  The cost is something like $35 a year for the service, and is well worth being able to stay in contact with your loved ones, make necessary phone calls to US companies, etc.

-Craft supplies.  If you are crafty, bring your supplies with you.  There is very, very little available in Quito.  If you like to sew, bring patterns with you, as they are not used or available in Quito.  You can purchase fabric, notions and sewing supplies.  If you have a machine that is anything other than a Singer or Brother (Bernina, Pfaff, Janome, etc.) bring accessories that you think you’ll need.  None of these machines are sold in Ecuador and there is no service or support for them.

-Homeschool curriculum.  If you are a homeschooler, bring all of your curriculum with you, as there is absolutely nothing available in Quito.  There are a couple of homeschool co-ops where materials are exchanged, however you’ll need to plan on bringing the bulk of what you need.

-Your Kitchen Aid mixer.  This is the one household appliance that you need to bring with you if you own one.  They are available in Quito, but are VERY expensive.

-Sheets and towels.  There are sheets and towels available in Quito, but they are quite expensive, and not very good quality.  At present, the highest thread count sheet that you can buy is 300, and a King size set will cost you about $250.  The same goes for towels–a medium quality bath towel will cost you between $25 and $30.

-A grill.  If you can swing it, and you like to grill out, bring one with you.  The majority of grills available in Quito are poorly made and very expensive.  There are some very high quality grills available at some of the high-end decorating stores, but you’ll need to be prepared to pay thousands of dollars for them.  And if you want specialty grilling tools or spices, bring those as well as you will not be able to find them.

-Seasonal decor, other than Christmas.  Quito does not have a seasonal shift, so there are no fall decorations, etc.  You’ll find that you want to change your house, even if the weather isn’t changing with you.  Bring Halloween (if you celebrate it), Thanksgiving and Easter decorations.

What you DON’T need to bring…

Sometimes it’s helpful to know what you don’t need to bring.  Here is a list of items that are readily available in Quito:

-Kitchen supplies.  This includes dishes, baking supplies (The one exception to this is a donut pan.), cookware, kitchen utensils…all of these things are available in Quito, and there is a pretty wide selection.

-Decorative items.  If you have a favorite item, by all means pack it, but there are home dec stores with a good selection of decorative and functional items.  We have a store that is very similar to a Pier One that has a delightful selection of household decorative items.

-Small appliances.  Again, a large selection is available (see note about Kitchen Aid mixer above).

-Bedding (other than sheets).  Comforter sets, pillows and blankets are available in Quito and for the most part are very reasonable.

-Cosmetics.  Most major makeup brands are available in Quito.  They are somewhat more expensive, but not enough to justify taking up precious luggage space with products from the US.

-Christmas trees.  These are available in Quito, and the prices are usually pretty reasonable.  We also have an abundance of ornaments and other decorative items available, so just plan to bring the things that are special to you.

The grocery store is always a challenge.  While we can get some US products, such as Aunt Jemima syrup and Hershey’s products, it’s not very reliable and things have been known to disappear and reappear with no rhyme or reason.  You will most likely be able to find just about anything you want in the store, but it may be an Ecuadorian brand.  Most of us have things that we bring back because we prefer the US brands.  Ours personally are Peanut Butter M&M’s, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Hunts Ketchup, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, Jif peanut butter and random grilling seasonings.  For almost everything else, we have found that the Ecuadorian brands are not only acceptable, but in some cases better than what we get in the US.  So my advice would be to bring one or two of the things that you really, really like, and then take the time to get to know what’s available here.  We also have Asian grocery stores and a couple of high-end specialty stores that carry hard-to-find items.

This list is by no means complete, and I’ll call on my fellow Quitenians to add to it all of the things that they have found helpful in the comments.  And if you’re heading to Quito in the near future, let me know and I’ll try to answer your questions about our beautiful city!

Because we did it so well the last time…

I know, I know.  It’s been a while.  I would apologize and go on about how I plan to keep better tabs on this blog and post witty comments 12 times a week and think ALL THE THOUGHTS and then tell you about them…but we all know that’s not going to happen.  So lets just be happy that I thought some thoughts today and managed to share them with you right now.  Living in the moment and all that.

As many of you know, Sweet Hubby and Patrick and I were in the US for Christmas for the first time in 11 years.  It was glorious.  I had forgotten how much fun it was to be with our families and laugh ’til we cry and eat…Sweet fancy Moses did I eat.  I ate like it was my JOB.  And before you all try to help me out here by telling me that it was just because I hadn’t been in the US for so long and I missed Christmas cookies and such, let me just say that we don’t do without food here in Ecuador.  At Christmas we bake cookies and have cookie exchanges and Christmas parties and office parties…and we eat.  Unfortunately, my brain forgot this convenient little fact, and so I spent the last three weeks of December eating like there was never going to be another Christmas ever and so I needed to eat ALL THE THINGS like RIGHT NOW.  And just when we got to January, and I thought I was safe…Girl Scout cookies showed up.  It’s like the food universe had it in for me.

Rest assured people…I was up for the challenge.  Ice cream to be eaten?  I’ve got this.  Thin mints?  Those puppies come in single-serving boxes.  Check.  Cheese and crackers and dips and chips and hams and turkeys and on and on and on…

Had we just been in the US through December, I might have come off a little better, but we took the month of January for a mini-sabbatical, which is a fancy way of saying “We’re not working, but we’re thinking about work, which is driving us nuts…so we’ll eat”.  Or at least it was in my case.  Plus, we were in Fresno, California in January.  There’s nothing to do there BUT eat.  And we went to San Francisco one weekend and stayed on Fisherman’s Wharf…

We finally escaped this 7-week long food fest and came home on February 11th.  We arrived back home eagerly anticipating seeing all of our friends, being back in our own home and getting our lives back to normal.  This was a great plan, until Dan walked in after work on Wednesday (two days ago) and goes “Honey, I need for you to sit down”.  Now I am not the fainting type, so I thought he was being a little overly dramatic.  Then I noticed that he was steering me to the end of the kitchen that didn’t have any knives within reach, and I started to get a little worried.  He said (and God bless him, he was cool as a cucumber) “Our landlord called today.  He’s selling this apartment and we have to move”.

Did I mention that we’ve lived here for SEVEN MONTHS?  We haven’t even unpacked everything from the LAST move yet (which is going to come in handy, when you think about it).

All I could do was sit there and stare at him blankly.  I could not have been more shocked if he had told me he was uprooting us and moving us to the moon.

I hate looking for an apartment. There has been a construction boom over the past several years, and there are apartment buildings everywhere…with the tiniest apartments you’ve ever seen.  Some of the places we looked at last time were 3 bedroom apartments with 65 sq. meters.  That’s less than 700 sq. feet.  There is more room in the backseat of our car.  The bedrooms followed a strict pattern–one master bedroom that was fairly good sized…as long as Dan and I don’t mind sharing a crib mattress.  The children, on the other hand, don’t even get that.  The other two bedrooms were usually so small that sleeping in them would have involved curling yourself into a ball with your left foot wrapped around your ear and both arms tucked under you in a football carry…and sleeping on a kitchen sponge.  The kitchens were too small for a stove and full size refrigerator, so you make due with a Rubbermaid cooler and a hot plate.  All this for only $900 a month.

When we found the apartment that we’re currently living in, we were ecstatic.  It has three bedrooms that are fairly large by today’s standards, a separate living and dining area, and we don’t have to store the washing machine in the shower.  In short, it’s perfect.

And we have to leave.

We went and looked at an apartment in the building behind us yesterday morning.  It wasn’t too bad.  Large kitchen, big living room, good sized bedrooms…crazy landlady who lives on the second floor.  Back to the drawing board.  In the meantime, our current landlord comes to the office to see us and “discuss our options”.  Our “options” turned out to be another apartment that he owns, in the next neighborhood over.  We went and looked, and Hallelujah.  We’re moving.  As apartment hunting goes, this was by far the easiest we’ve ever had it.

But we still have to move.

I am pretty sure that in the “friendship/fellow missionary” manual that they don’t give you but should, there is a limit as to how many times you can ask someone to help you carry your king-sized mattress that won’t fit in the elevator up the stairs.  Or move your refrigerator.  These are the things that they don’t tell you in orientation.  “Oh, by the way, when you get to the field you become part of the missionary family, and with rare exceptions you’re all you’ve got.  Your annoying but useful brother-in-law isn’t there to move the refrigerator, so be nice to the people you work with.  You’ll need them.”

So, in about a week, we’re going to pack up and move AGAIN.  I swore when we moved here that I wouldn’t move again until we left the field, but you know how things go when you tell God your plans.  Stay tuned.  I’m sure it will be memorable.

Because we did it so well the last time.

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The summer I got it all together (and other fairy tales)

I had such plans.  Such dreams.  This was going to be the summer that I got it right.

Stop laughing.

We had to move–I knew that.  In my perfect little la-la-la world, we would find the perfect place (it would be miraculously inexpensive and glorious–think penthouse), I would casually pack up our stuff, tossing what we didn’t need with joyful abandon, and one day Dan and I would just throw our remaining belongings in the back of our Trailblazer and ride off into the sunset.

Stop.  Laughing.

We found the perfect place.  It is not a penthouse, nor is it cheap.  It is nice though.  I’ll take nice.  The packing of our stuff somewhat resembled a beagle digging frantically for the mole that just disappeared into it’s home.  Stuff flying everywhere, no rhyme or reason to what went and what stayed…and the moving.  Oh sweet mercy.  Dan and our friend Brian moved about 90% of our stuff in one day while Fibro and I hung out and Fibro made me progressively crazier and sicker.  On Sunday, our friend Pete joined in the moving fun while I sat in a chair and wondered why I wasn’t dead yet, because clearly Fibro had decided my time had come.  By Sunday night, most of our stuff was in the new apartment.  Turns out that I hadn’t gotten rid of quite enough stuff, which would be fine if we didn’t mind having our bed double as the dining room table and letting Patrick sleep on the couch.  Forever.

Clearly I should not be in charge of my life.

Things are somewhat settled now (please don’t open the guest bedroom door) and we are not eating on the bed, which is kind of nice.  Patrick is sleeping in his own room, and being the complacent child that he is, doesn’t seem to mind my “cardboard box” decorating style.  Bless it.  Dan goes cheerfully off to work each morning (which is literally right next door) and I attempt to discover just exactly what is in the boxes that are in the guest room and unpack stuff and put it away.  Yesterday I actually managed to get two boxes unpacked before I looked around at the sheer insanity of it all and went to find a snack.

Snacks.

This is the second part of my “summer that I get it all together” plan.  I was going to start running (STOP.  LAUGHING.  I’m warning you.) and lose weight and get myself into shape.  Instead, in what can only be described as the kind of freak accident that can only happen to me, I managed to tear both my ACL and meniscus.  Boarding.  An.  Airplane.  I don’t know how, so don’t ask.  I immediately realized that I would not be able to run this summer and decided to go with Plan B, otherwise known as “Eat like food is going to be banned tomorrow”.

I got this, people.  Like.  A.  Boss.

If there is a category in the Olympics for sitting and eating, you can all just go home, because I’ve won gold, silver and bronze.  Throw in Facebook and Pinterest surfing and I am Queen of the World or something.  Don’t even try to best me.  I am the bomb diggity on this one.

The final part of my “summer that I got it all together” was going to involve homeschooling Patrick all through summer.  I was going to be “that mom”.  No TV or electronics for that boy.  No way.  We were going to do field trips and every day was going to be a magical learning experience.

OK, Now I’m laughing.

Patrick has spent the summer with teams, with his dad.  He has helped build a house, and spent an entire week with a team of nursing students who thought he was the cutest thing they had ever seen and kept asking if they could just take him back with them.  It’s a 10-year-old boy’s dream, right?  17 girls all clamoring to be your favorite and get their picture taken with you?  I am going to choose to believe that even though we did no field trips (the Middle of the World doesn’t count when you’ve been there so many times that even the cleaning guys know who you are), he still carried his iPad around like it was an extension of his body and my battle cry during the move from Hell was “Oh, just go put a movie on”…he still had a good summer.  Please don’t burst my bubble on this one.  I’m fragile.  And by “fragile”, I mean “woman on the edge”.

School starts in less than a month–September 1st, to be exact.  By then, the apartment will be completely in order, those boxes will be unpacked and I will have lesson plans laid out through Christmas.  Or at least the second week in September.

This is going to be the Fall that I get it right.

Stop laughing.