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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Avast Ye Trolls!

On Facebook today, I came across a post that showed this little blog hit 24,000 two years ago. I was quite pleased. This year I envisioned achieving 40,000 hits. Little could I guess...

Today, my hits are at 45,972, yes, almost double in only two years after having the blog for 6 years. Am I so marvelous? Sadly, no. This is the result of web crawlers. I'm hitting over 200 page views everyday. It started with Russia and spread to the US and now France is in on the deal.

I believe it started when I linked to the last expat interview that I participated in. The hits have come crashing in, but they don't really count. The only thing that might help is that it may move me up the results chain when someone looks for "textured wallpaper" or "the Great Barrier Reef".

I expect I'll hit close to 46,500 by the end of the year, but it feels hollow. So, go away trollers, and let the real people of the world enjoy or ignore my little blog as they see fit.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Wish

Every Christmas and New Years seem to be a time for reflection. I know this isn't only my tradition and that others take the time to look back at the year and assess.
Up-cycled Christmas Decorations
It was a pretty amazing year, with both highs and lows, as usual. We had the vacation of a lifetime in Australia and finished up with a little bit of laziness in Thailand. We have a new granddaughter and had friends and family visit. We've made new friends, said good-bye to old ones and lost someone dear.

If my little health problem has taught me anything, it's to be grateful for the little things. (Like being able to lay on my back in the night without pain.) It's become clear to me that the truly important things in life are experiences, not things and that a good friend is worth more than their (literal) weight in gold and good health is a privilege not to be overlooked. So laugh, love and go out into the world if you can, that new smart phone can wait.

My wish for you, is that you have amazing experiences, that the ones you love are well and healthy and that life never  ceases to surprise and amaze you. I hope that all my friends and family know how grateful I am for them (no matter how far away we are) and that you have all given me an incredible life. I am grateful for so much, but most especially, Ron; my champion, best friend and incredible husband. What ever would I do without you? To my sisters, you are the ones that have known me forever and had a hand in making me me. (Yes, I'm blaming you! That's the little sister's job.) And to my dearest Janette, who comes to the rescue when it's most needed., I love you all.

To all of you: strangers, friends and my family, a blessed holiday and adventurous 2017. May health and happiness reign.

Friday, December 16, 2016

More Pain in the Ass and Wallet

Me, up and mobile, here's to better days!
The sciatica saga continues. What seemed to be a hopeful turn has ended in disappointment. While the intramuscular injections of relaxants offered relief from the truly mind boggling pain, they didn't last. Off I went to get x-rays (radiografía en español). So I have a compacted lumbar disc that is pinching my sciatic nerve. (This means the two vertebrae have little cushioning between them and are using my nerve in lieu of my squished "jelly doughnut" of a disc.) This is also know as degenerative disc disease, something that sounds frightening and irreversible. Apparently, this is not the case. Physiotherapy has a 90% efficacy rate for treating the issue. (Fingers crossed.) I kind of feel like I've aged five years over the last several weeks. Pain does truly bizarre things to my head. (I'm a lot wimpier than I thought, to be sure.) I think the meds are also messing with my brain chemistry, so I'm excited to get off them ASAP.

I'm actually quite surprised at the cost of medical treatment here. (In a good way.) As a Canadian, the whole concept of paying to see a doctor is a bit odd, but we're no strangers to coughing over for "alternate" treatments like massage therapy, chiropractic work, physio etc.

This is how it's broken down so far (in US dollars):
     * Massage therapy: $40 for two one hour sessions (an introductory rate)
     * Impromptu visit to Physiotherapist: $15 (including compression, electro-stimulation, 
            massage and assigned stretches.

     * Chiropractor: $25 initial consult and $15 an adjustment thereafter = $70
          (I have one more appointment, so add another $15)

     * Doctor: 5 visits $90, including 12 injections and x-ray consult, prescriptions etc
     * X-rays: 2 for $25
     * Physiotherapy: 10 sessions at $6.50 each (this is a partially government funded
           Association) = $65

What I haven't included is the medications. I've blown through 27 muscle relaxants, uncountable amounts of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, plus some minorly scary opioid pills to manage the pain. I'm now looking forward to 5 B-Complex injections in the glutes for anti-inflammatory and analgesic purposes. This also give me "pep" and can help correct nerve damage (if any). Be warmed photos of the needles to follow. The B shots were the most expensive of the medications prescribed (strangely) @ $22.70 for the 5. I figure I'm up to around $40 for pain management. The biggest surprise is that you can't book appointments for a lot of this stuff, you go, wait in line and get treated on a first come first serve basis. I can call my Doctor to see if he's in the office, but besides that everything is pretty casual. (This excludes the North American's working down here, but the Ecuadorians seem patently uninterested in arranging set times for appointments. If you've been here long enough, this likely isn't a surprise.)
Not too scary, right?
The needle 1 inch+ of metal for deep muscle access

The B-complex mix
Locked and loaded
So, all in we're looking at around $360 US (or $482 Canadian based on the current exchange - thanks US Reserve for increasing interest rates!) We've opted for "self-insured" medical, meaning that we put money aside every month for just this sort of thing. This is our first "major" expenditure, outside of Ron having some dental work done when we were first here. I've found an excellent source of information for the government insured medical care system, which is similar to how Canada runs. From the blog, it seems inexpensive and fairly easy to navigate. I have heard the odd story about complications and challenges with a laissez-faire approach to appointments etc, but this IS Ecuador. Thanks Bob and Linda for the excellent information. See Bob and Linda in Ecuador for more info about IESS and do some research as this is only one couples' experience with the system.

It may seem steep, as a Canadian, for medical care, but if I take into account the supplementary treatments that are only partially included, I think I'm actually well ahead of the game. The down side is I can't claim it on my taxes. So that's the state of things. I won't know until after Christmas how the treatments are working, but I'm hoping to feel some minor relief before then, again, fingers crossed! 

PS, the vitamin injection was stingy once the liquid was being injected - the needle prick wasn't bad at all - thank you Nurse Ron!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Ecuadorian Construction Phase Two

You might recall that early this year I posted about our neighbours putting an addition onto their house. (See Ecuadorian Construction, posted way back at the end of January.)

It was all very Peyton Place with the other neighbours shutting down the construction midway through. There were rapid conversations, cell phone photos taken and then...crickets. Nothing happened. The garage was left mostly open to the elements, the lower floor construction stalled and we were left staring at raw cement and re-bar. 
Fast forward (almost a year...can you imagine?) and construction has restarted. The open space over the garage is getting a roof. The production seems more complicated than necessary, as the framing for a space half a metre deep and maybe four metres wide has taken multiple days, using hand tools, no plumb lines or compasses to measure the angles and slipshod wood that might have fallen off the back of a truck.
Three days later, the metal roof is on and the small window has been removed. They seemed to be unconcerned about having a gaping hole in the side of their house, but finally put up a sheet yesterday. (I can't help but wonder if something "snuck" in).
That's a bed nestled up against the opening - cozy!

We're just at over a week and counting and we watch in fascination. I'm not quite sure how long the rest of the construction is going to take, but we wait with baited breath.

Friday, December 2, 2016

My Own Ugly Truth

When I could actually climb up onto something.

So, I've been in a lot of pain lately. It started with blowing out my back on the flight between Santiago and Auckland, but I thought I'd healed from that. My back would twinge off and on, but it wasn't anything I couldn't deal with. I like to think I have a pretty high pain tolerance and I've been doing all the "right" things: working on strengthening my core, keeping mobile, setting up the computer at a place where I could stand comfortably. I walked - a lot - to keep myself limber and probably was too stubborn about it. "Come on, Kid, walk it off!"

Then my back started stiffening up and a week later I had pains shooting down my left leg and it was hard to sleep through the night. I could barely turn over. Sciatica. Not pleasant. I went to massage therapy, not those nice calming massages that you get when you're on vacation, but one of those muscle probing, subcutaneous manipulating massages that leave you bruised, but somehow strangely hopeful.

The joys of a functioning body
That was almost three weeks  ago and I'm still suffering. (I'm hoping that it's improving, but if I don't take ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory, the pull of the nerve hurts. I've gone to another massage appointment, a physio treatment and one with a chiropractor, but here's the truth of it: I probably should have taken care of it when I first realized I couldn't do the things I normally could. (You know: touch my toes, tie my shoes without discomfort.) I just didn't have it in me. I didn't want to "deal" with finding someone, making arrangements (possibly in Spanish) and figuring out the where, how and how much of it. And my hesitancy led to this. And all because it's different here. 
Me, feeling like Humpty Dumpty
There aren't a lot of walk-in clinics, so you have to get to the doctor's office early, make an appointment (if you're lucky enough) and then return later to get checked out. Then, should I need x-rays, I need to go somewhere else and then return to the doctor to be seen again. Then I started wondering what I'd have to do if I needed an MRI or something. My concerns got the better of me. 

I'm glad to say I'm slowly on the mend (fingers crossed), but my laziness and reluctance to shake up my normal existence got the better of me. I'll never take my flexibility for granted again and will work hard at keeping and improving it. The more obstacles we face, the more comfortable we get, but our hesitancy might be our undoing when a new situation pops up. I guess that's something to take into consideration if you're looking at moving abroad. Can you do what it takes to take care of yourself in a time of crisis. Okay...crisis might be an overstatement, but I've never been in so much pain in my life!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What to Expect when Traveling in Ecuador

Some of you will know my views on traveling. All that crap about "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey" is a crock. It didn't used to be. Getting on the airplane used to be the most exciting part of the trip, but now in times of heightened security, power starved weaklings masquerading as security guards and "travel hubs", it pretty well sucks.
Thank you Salvador Dali for capturing the essence of
time in Ecuador
That's not to say that things can't go wrong once you arrive in your destination country. This is also true of Ecuador. So, what to expect?

As a rule, Ecuadorian people are warm and helpful, to the point where they really don't want to say "no" to you, even if what you want is impossible.(I suspect that they avoid conflict if at all possible.) As warm and accommodating as they are, they are not a timely people. (Okay this is a generalization, but true none the less.) Case in point: we called an electrician on November 12th and he said he would come by at the end of the day. Later on he texted to say he couldn't make it and we'd see him on Monday, the 14th. Today is the 22nd and we've yet to see him. Ron fixed the problem himself, so we're all good.
Nothing like seeing dawn and dusk at the same airport
(on the same day)
What you might not imagine is that this cavalier approach to timeliness can also apply to flights, bus schedules, restaurant and store opening and closing times, appointments (even professional ones), and dinner dates. (The rule of thumb here is show up at least a half hour late for dinners, parties etc.)
Don't expect them to be on time
So, imagine you're off on a once in a lifetime trip to the Galapagos, you've scheduled your time down to the hour, to get the most out of your expensive trip and then your connection gets cancelled. You have to spend the night in Guayaquil or Quito and your beautifully planned schedule goes to crap. To save time you arrange for a driver to meet you at one of the Galapagos airports so you can make up the time with a driving tour instead of the bus tour that you've missed. You smile as your plane arrives one time and you step out onto the tarmac and collect your bag. As you walk outside into the sultry air of a glorious day you scan the crowd for a sign with your name on it. There isn't one. You wait for an hour and finally your driver runs up, tucking in his shirt, like he just got out of bed. The steam is shooting out your ears and he seems confused as to why you're frustrated. He welcomes you with a smile, perhaps an apology, when you demand to know why he's late, but he likely offers no reason. 

This is Ecuador. There isn't really a sense of urgency for, well, darned near anything. Ecuadorians don't begrudge standing in line for half an hour to pay a bill or queuing up early in the morning to try and get a doctor's appointment for that day. You might get your drink order once you've already finished your meal and you ALWAYS have to ask for the bill. You'll never be rushed out of the restaurant until you're good and ready.

What do you do? Just be prepared for the unexpected, be patient and know that you'll get further with kindness than anger. (Again Ecuadorians hate conflict and "scenes", they will just walk away with a shrug.) Generally, they mean no harm, insult or damage. It just is. Think of the movie the Lion King and hum "Hacuna Matata" under your breath.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Humble Pie Sometimes Tastes Okay

Humble (chicken pot) pie
I tend to get caught up in things...overly caught up in things, to be sure. I'm a worrier by nature and love (LOVE!) to take things on that are completely out of my control. (The US election for example.)

I worry about our future, what the Canadian dollar will do, how I'll get my work out in when I have a sore back and pinched sciatic nerve. It can get pretty overwhelming. (Again...the whole US election thing...what does it mean? How will it affect Canada? Will our neighbours to the south reconcile and if so how? Why why why.) Sorry for the scary little peak inside my head, but I'm fairly certain that my thoughts aren't unique. 
To descend or not???
Not all that long ago we were invited to lunch at an Ecuadorian family's home. They actually fed us two meals and showed us proudly around their home.We spent about four hours (maybe 5) there and learned a lot about middle class life in Ecuador, enjoyed their sizable country/suburban house and arrived home...exhausted...operating in a second language for that amount of time is tiring. Fast forward to last Sunday. 
Setting up the kitchen
We felt it was important to reciprocate so we invited all five family members to come to lunch at our house. Now, some of you already know that the Ecuadorian palate is beautiful, but simple. I went with basics...a good old fashioned late afternoon Sunday dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and veg. I also made a salad, fresh dressing and a strawberry rhubarb pie. (Even using the Spanish word for rhubarb they were unfamiliar with it.) It turned out pretty well. I was also worried that our house might seem ostentatious or pretentious. (Is there actually a difference?)  Would the artwork be offensive. Did it seem like we were showing off? On the less hoity-toity side, our place isn't that big. They actually quite liked our place, art and view. They didn't shy away from asking about the meaning of our painting with skeletons in it and didn't seem shocked by the naked sculptures everywhere. We sat down and enjoyed the meal and talked of inconsequential things.
The journey of life
The mom offered to help us with the dishes and we explained that we had a dishwasher. Now, they'd admired our refrigerator (their youngest daughter couldn't believe that it made ice!), large oven and five burner stove, but they hadn't noticed the dishwasher. They were completely fascinated. They oohed and aahed over the detergent tablets, marveled at how much we could put in and that the dishes would come out clean. This was humbling in it's own way. I don't know if they realize that it's cheaper to buy a machine than to hire an employee and that's how middle class folks in North America get by. For the most part, they think that we (meaning gringos) are "rich" and that means all the trappings that come with it. Of course, they do their own dishes by hand, like we used to do, back in the good old days.

With all the craziness going on, this moment made me grateful. Grateful to have friends of different stripes, grateful for being blessed enough to have a dishwasher and grateful to be in a place where I can learn such lessons.

Friday, November 11, 2016

After the Fall - Rise Like the Phoenix

To my American friends,

I know that a lot of you are despairing right now. That fear and embarrassment have taken over and it feels like the end of something precious to you. I also know that 50% of the people who took time to vote are feeling pretty excited and that might be scary for some of you. Never has there felt like a larger divide in your country. I'll be honest, your president-elect scares the crap out of me and I don't feel he's a good person. I don't quite understand his appeal to a portion of the electorate, but I don't understand the gun thing or abject fear of universal health care either, so maybe it's me. That isn't my point though. I don't want to create more division.

I want to give you words of hope. Canadians did almost the same thing your country just did. (Perhaps not as grandly, but that's what makes us a little different.) We voted in a minority government two terms in a row. That meant that we had a conservative Prime Minister, but that the majority of the house was left leaning. They didn't get much done. So we decided to give the conservative guy all the power. He got his majority government and proceeded to tear our country down  (he would say in its own best interest). Of course, there are those in Canada that felt he did a great job, our economy didn't take the hit yours did in 2008 - we're suffering more now. He supported the oil industry, he promoted xenophobia and muzzled our scientists and snuck through large omnibus bills of legislation, burying the stripping of our rights in minutiae. Some of our people were happy. He was making Canada "great" (White North) again. Sound familiar? Then the next election approached and the crisis in Syria was front and centre. He talked about banning the niqab and closing our borders. That was our line in the sand.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, like you. Sure a lot of them are white, but they came to our country with a dream of a better life and while we now have a rainbow of skin colours, we all have that same hope. We've done terrible things to our immigrants, too. We're no angels. But we, as a country, finally stood up and said "No more". No to prejudice and fear. We said "yes" to our scientists and (hopefully) to protecting our environment, to adhering to the only true Canadian value - TOLERANCE. 

In the meantime, while you're waiting it out, stand up for what you believe in. Don't allow the hate spewed by your president-elect to define you - as if it could. You will have to be louder during this difficult time, braver and more steadfast. This is not the time to weaken. Loving what you don't understand is the hardest task of all, but it's so much better than surrendering to hate.

I accept that not all my fellow Canadians believe in climate change (or change in general for that matter) and they're allowed their opinions. I believe that they have the same fears and desires that I do. They want to feel safe and have opportunities to prosper and grow. They want their children to live in a better world than what we have now. This is common ground. We may define it differently, but if we can take fear off the table, we can work together. That didn't stop us from getting our country back and you can, too.

It may be a frustrating, embarrassing four years, but perhaps that's what is needed for the country to come together again.  You will be tested. Your commitment to love over hate will be tried, but this, too, shall pass.

We're your friends and we are trying to be a rational example in an irrational world. We have your backs America. 

With much love and hope,

Your Canadian friend