Sunday, May 8, 2016

Big Mamma Don't Mess Around

The girls are back at their original school after a three month hiatus.  They weren't playing hooky during those three months, but were attending Big Mamma's Preschool. 

Here is Big Mamma's Preschool.

I know it might not look like much, but there is a lot of learning going on inside of that garage. 

Don't the girls look like they're working hard?

And here is Big Mamma with her students.
Look at the focus on Big Mamma's face while she teaches.

Go Big Mamma.  Do your thing!

How did she get the nickname Big Mamma, you might be thinking to yourself.  What she lacks in size, she makes up in personality.  Trust me.

Can't forget Big Mamma's side kick, Matthew.  His large personality didn't fall far from the tree.

Hola Teo!  Can't forget you.

We decided to take the girls out of their local Ecuadorian school because of the rave reviews Big Mamma's got, and because the girls were getting every Ecuadorian cold/sickness known to man.  And these weren't minor infirmities.  These were the type that sent the girls to their beds for weeks at a time.  Their immune systems couldn't handle the Ecuadorian strand.

The real issue wasn't them getting sick though, it was that that they passed every one of their illnesses onto their baby brother.  After giving Matthew five doses of antibiotics and him loosing a bunch of weight, we decided to yank the girls out of their local school for the remainder of the flu season.  Since the girls have attended Big Mamma's Preschool, they have learned a ton and haven't got sick at all.

Big Mamma don't mess around.  Trust me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Another First in Ecuador

We had a fun filled week long trip to Banos, Ecuador.  On the way home I must have been daydreaming about our great times or maybe our turbulent tarabita ride.

Hold on!!!

In the middle of one of those thoughts I ran a red light, and a cop pulled us over.  It went down a little something like this with my English translation provided.

"You ran a red light."  The cop said. 

"Yes.  Sorry.  Can you forgive me?  I'm not from around here."  As if he didn't notice.

"I can't do that.  I have to issue you a ticket."

"How much is the ticket?"


"That stinks."

"Yes it does."

"Can I pay you the fine now?"  I heard that is what you say to the cop if you get pulled over in Ecuador.

"We can do that."

"How much?"

"$50."  I guess a 50% discount for paying at the time of the incident.  I like it. 

"How about $40?"  Everything is negotiable in Ecuador. 

"Sure.  Can you hand it to me under your registration?"


And off we went.  It is common in Ecuador to "pay" your fines to the issuing officer.  I guess it serves as a bonus for the officer and an immediate punishment for the violator.  Either way, it was my first bribe, and another first while living in Ecuador.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Happy 1st Birthday

I never thought that I would be the type of parent that adorned my kids with all sorts of supperlatives.  That's because your kids aren't supperlative worthy, you might be thinking to yourself, to which I would reply WATCH IT WISE GUY! 

I wanted my kids to grow up tough without unnecessary superlatives being thrown at them from all directions.  But recently, I have found myself falling prey to that which I never wanted to do, and I can run from it no longer.  Here it goes . . . my son has the most names that I have ever known anyone to have.  There it is.  I said it.  I am now one of those parents that I never wanted to be.

My "son" recently celebrated his first birthday.  I have begun referring to him as "son" as he has accumulated so many names I don't even know what to call him anymore.  It will be amazing if the little guy doesn't grow up with identity issues as a result of his many nicknames.  Whatever his name is, Rachel's mom, dad, grandmom, uncle, and my mom and sister joined together to celebrate his first year of life.

Opening up some birthday gifts.

It has been a good year for my "son," and exciting of late to observe his personality form in front of our eyes.  A few adjectives that come to our minds when thinking about this little man of ours are aggressive, determined, and social.  He will do whatever he has to do to get what he wants and he likes other people to be around while he does it.

And to celebrate our little guy with many names, I have listed below his numerous aliases along with cute pictures (not in any sort of order) throughout his first year of life.

Matthew Hyatt Downing II  




Teo (short for Mateo)

First haircut

Te Te (short for Teo)

T (short for Teo)

Little T

Doesn't he look comfortable? 

Big T

Deuce (off of him being a II)

Jr. (even though he is not officially a Jr., he still gets it from time to time.) 

Enjoying his birthday cake and some chocolate.

Segundo (The II in Spanish)

A couple of hours after he was born.

Gundo (abbreviating "Segundo" in Spanish)

Precioso ("precious" in Spanish and a favorite term of people looking at him as they pass by.)

Gordito ("little fat one" in Spanish, and a term that was reffered to him more when he was younger and his cheeks were even fatter.)

Had to include a naked bathtime picture.

Son (my go to name as of late, which is only confusing him more.) 

Look at those cheeks.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ano Viejo

New Year’s Eve was a big deal in Ecuador.  
A major way that they celebrated bringing in the New Year was through Ano Viejo’s.  These were paper machete creations that could be bought at a number of roadside stands or made at home out of hay and other materials.  These Ano Viejo’s ranged from depictions of political to historical to Hollywood characters.  
Anaiah, Eliana, and Teo posing with the Ano Viejo that we bought.

The Ano Viejo’s were usually put in a stationary position with a house built around it out of tree limbs or they were attached to the top or front of cars.  

It was customary to burn the Ano Viejo’s at midnight, hopefully removing them from the car before doing so, to symbolically burn away all of the bad from the previous year.  While the Ano Viejo burned, the person burning it was supposed to jump over it 12 times, signifying blessings for the next 12 months.

Another “unique” New Year’s Eve tradition in Ecuador was for the men to dress up like women and collect money while doing so.  One Ecuadorian explained it to me that the men who dressed up like women were supposed to be the widows of the Ano Viejo’s that were burned, and they were collecting money to survive.  No matter what they said it was supposed to be, it ended up being a bunch of drunk guys dressed up as women jumping in front of cars to do a dance and then collect money to get more booze.  
enough said . . .

Our New Year’s Eve celebration turned out a bit different than the norm, even though we tried our best to fit in.  There was no way the kids or us, for that matter, were going to stay up till midnight.  Teo still had a habit of waking up with the rooster’s at 5am.  We burned our Ano Viejo after a couple of smore’s around the campfire no later than 6:30 pm.  Prior to burning it, the girls jumped over it 12 times.  
Look at them jump.

I was looking to secure some extra blessings for this coming year so I jumped over it 12 times while it was burning.  

Rachel added a twist by taking apart the previous year’s calendar and burning each page.  After it was all finished, Eliana and Anaiah continued to look for more things to burn and jump over.  

Adios Ano Viejo.

Here is to another year that was and another year that will be.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

O Christmas Tree

The past couple of years we have cut down our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.  This wasn’t a quick selection at some temporary Christmas tree lot.  Rachel had strict requirements of the type of Christmas tree that she would allow to enter our house.  It had to be cut down, full and proportionate, and the bigger the better.  The process of finding a perfect Christmas tree was an all-day affair that involved roaming about sometimes more than one Christmas tree farm and putting garments of clothing on multiple trees to reserve them until she found "the one."

Things were a bit different this year.  After days of looking, we ended up with this one. 
Isn't she a beauty?
In el Valle de los Chillos, the valley outside of Quito where we are living, we found two places that sold Christmas trees.  The first place had five brown Christmas trees with their dead needles falling off.  No thanks.  The second place was a nursery that had a bunch of trees, but not so much Christmas trees.  We bought our skinny minnie, which was the best one out of the ragtag assortment.  The roots were still attached and we kept them that way by putting them in a cleaned out 5 gallon paint bucket so that we could replant it when we were finished.  No decorative tree stand this year. 

Rachel’s parents also got a Christmas tree.  But they were much more resourceful than us in acquiring their round beauty.  
Our tree is on the left and their tree is on the right.  It is hard to tell which one is more amazing.

They dug it up from their yard, and will replant it when they are finished.  I like the sound of that.  If we had a yard at home, I would start that tradition immediately.  Using the Christmas tree and replanting it again and again until it got so big that it wouldn’t fit into the house, and then start over again.  This would save a ton of money and a ton of searching for the perfect tree time. 

Christmas trees are not as popular in Ecuador as they are in the States.  Some people here have artificial trees, a few people have a tree that was cut down, but most people have Bethlehem scenes.  These scenes aren’t just nativity scenes of Jesus in the manger.  They are reconstructions of what the town of Bethlehem would have looked like.  They include merchants, tradesman, houses, livestock, etc., and can become quite elaborate and creative.

Eliana and Anaiah checking out a Bethlehem scene at their cousin's house.

Check out the incense on the left, a common effect used at Bethlehem scenes.  

Christmas is over, Bethlehem scenes have been taken down, and our tree that would given Charlie Brown’s a run for his money is back in the ground, getting ready for another year to be dug up and used again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stupidity Always Costs, No Matter the Country

I realized something today.  Stupidity costs.  I know - It’s basic, but I am a basic guy so stick with me here.  
I understand that all costs in life aren’t directly correlated with stupidity like when I purchase a sandwich it costs money, but it isn’t a stupid decision.  When my car tires wear down and I need to purchase new ones, they cost money and that isn’t a result of my stupidity.  There are costs that are associated with living, and then there are costs that are associated with stupidity.  And stupidity always costs something.  The cost might vary depending on the offense, and the costs aren’t always produced in monetary amounts.  But stupidity always costs nonetheless.  

Where is this recent pondering over stupidity coming from, you might be wondering?  Or you might be shaking your head in agreement as you read these words, knowing that I have much experience with this topic.  If advanced degrees in stupidity could’ve been earned, then I would have earned at least one – a long time ago.

My most recent awareness into the costliness of stupidity came when my engine blew.  Yup, you read that right.   My engine blew.  And it wasn’t because it was overused or time for a replacement.  It was a direct result of my stupidity.  And it is going to cost quite a bit.  I have owned a lot of clunkers in my day, going back to my 1989 Plymouth Voyager Van that was reconstructed with a varying color of patchwork panels from multiple reckless teenage accidents.  Even that car’s engine never blew.  But the engine of the car that we purchased 4 months ago while living in Ecuador did.  

I will spare you the many events that led to the final stupid conclusion of my engine blowing, but there were many.  Stupidity doesn’t just happen, appearing out of thin air, ex nihilo.  There are internal and external factors that cause stupidity to bubble to the surface.  There were many of these factors at work in my situation, causing me to walk down the path towards stupidity.  But, these factors no matter how much they blurred my vision or made it difficult to see around or through didn’t force me into stupidity.  I had to take the plunge.  I had to cross the line on my own two feet.

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever found yourself influenced by an internal or external factor leading you towards stupidity and then finding it difficult to step back and evaluate the situation with a clear, stupid free, mind?  And then in the end you commit the stupid action that these factors were guiding you towards.  Can you relate?  

Back in Philadelphia my trusty mechanic saved me from many costly stupid mistakes, but he refused to fly to Ecuador with us, no matter how much I begged, in order to prevent expensive car damage from occurring.  My trusty mechanic left me alone in a foreign land unable to speak the language, which was one of the factors that led to my stupidity.   But even without him, there were many chances along the way to escape the costly stupidity of my engine blowing.  I continued moving forward, and I crossed the line.  

It could have been worse, one might say.  Or another might add, at least you learned something through this process.  I listen and nod to those well-meaning remarks, but I don’t think either of them is where I want to rest my hat.  

What do I do in the wake of my stupidity?  There is not a simple answer to that one.  An answer that will allow me to sit back, exhale, and feel good about the stupidity that I just committed.  Although I don't have the answer, there have been a couple of thoughts bouncing around in my head since seeing that smoke rise from the car's engine and its wheels coming to a halt.  One thought is that I need to examine the factors that led me into stupidity, and hopefully be on guard against those in the future.  Another thought that has come to mind in the aftermath of my stupidity is that I need to acknowledge that the burden of responsibility is upon myself, no matter how influential those factors were.  Finger pointing will only cause stupidity to grow.  A third thing that has come to mind is that I need to remind myself that there is hope, especially after a stupid action takes place.  Wallowing in self pity will not help.  Hope is essential if the fight against stupidity is to progress.  As wisdom continues to grow in this life, stupidity will diminish.  But although hope exists, the reality is that no matter how much stupidity decreases in this life, it will never evaporate.

Unlike the water that caused my engine to blow.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Thanksgiving in Ecuador

It was an interesting experience to celebrate Thanksgiving in a foreign land, and there were many unexpected hurdles that had to be bypassed in order to make it all happen.  

Thanksgiving Day craft by Eliana and Anaiah.
The first hurdle was the all-important turkey.  It was easy purchasing the turkey, but the problem was a capable oven to bake it.  Ovens aren’t that important in Ecuador as most of the food is either sautéed, fried or grilled.  So while we have an oven, we didn’t want to test its ability to maintain constant heat with our prized turkey.  So we outsourced the cooking of it to someone in the town who cooked turkeys, for a small fee, in a wood fired grill.  It was arranged, the turkey was stuffed, and they picked it up to cook.  Done.  

Finished turkey

Won't find the turkey foot inside of the turkey back home.

The next hurdle was getting pumpkin filling.  We couldn’t find it anywhere.  No grocery stores.  No tiny tiendas.  Nowhere.  Until we talked to some friends that worked at the U.S. embassy.  U.S. embassy employees have a perk of being able to purchase anything that they desire from Amazon with the same shipping fees as if they were living in the U.S.  They purchased us a can of pumpkin filling, so that we could make the essential Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie.  Complete.  

Apple crisp and pumpkin pie

The next hurdle was cranberry sauce.  I could have lived without it.  But Rachel’s family has a Thanksgiving Day obsession with cranberry sauce that equals the importance of the turkey.  We had one can by accident.  While shopping at a grocery store a few months before Thanksgiving, someone tossed a can of cranberry sauce into our cart thinking it was theirs.  We purchased it unknowing, and were surprised and delighted when we unpacked our grocery bags back at our house.  “Great, we can get some more cans of cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving the next time we go to that grocery store.”  We said to each other.  We went back to the same grocery store the following week to procure a few more cans, and there were none.  And we went back every week after, and there were never any more cans of cranberry sauce, which gives a brief insight into how things work in Ecuador.  One can was better than none.  Finished.  

The next hurdle was the sweet potatoes.  Ecuadorian sweet potatoes have a purple color and are not as sweet as the yellow variety from back home.  It would feel odd to eat a purple sweet potato casserole, so we went on a mission to find the yellow variety.  A friend heard through the grapevine that yellow sweet potatoes were sold at a tucked away produce market in the center of Quito.  We found the market, and then searched and asked and looked till we finally found them.  There they were, all beautiful and yellow.  Rachel started clapping and jumping up and down at the sight of the yellow coloring.  The vendor gave her a curious and slanted look at the over excitement.  Crazy gringos, clapping for yellow potatoes, she probably thought.  Got 'em.   

The preparation was complete and dinner was served.  The wood fired turkey was delicious along with fresh green beans, stuffing, gravy, sweet potato casserole with melted marshmallows, one sliver of cranberry sauce per person, and pumpkin pie for desert.  

Picture of my first serving.  Yummy!
We had a full house.  The Spanish speaking table was made up of Hugo, Rachel’s uncle, Christian, Rachel’s cousin, Ronato, Rachel’s uncle, Rachel's dad, Gisella and Jackie. 

And the English speaking table had myself, Anaiah, Eliana, Rachel, Rachel's mom, and Rachel's grand mom. (Matthew was sleeping, giving us uninterrupted eating and another thing to be thankful for.) 

Everything about the meal and the day were exceptional, until I almost threw it all up after watching the Eagles get destroyed by the pathetic Lions.