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Happy 2012!

Happy New Year everyone!  I know I’m a day late on the year-end wrap-up, but really, after 2 months of radio silence, one day late isn’t so bad.  Here we go:

Looking back — This year (last year!) was, well, pretty awesome.  M and I both enjoy our jobs, have a cozy house, and got to go lots of cool places. We visited the Galapagos and Machu Picchu (did I fail to mention that?  We’re a little behind here) and hosted visits by two great friends and my family. M’s family was all together for Christmas and now we’re enjoying a lazy long weekend at home.  I am trying out my new crock pot!  Oh, the excitement.  Bet you never thought living overseas could be so … suburban.

This year, Shomi enjoyed life in the lap of luxury, with a nanny AND a dog walker.

Looking forward — 2012 will be another year of change!  We’re headed back to Washington in July/August and are SUPER looking forward to life with Starbucks and Target and Chipotle.  Mmmmm.  And, of course, hoping to cross paths with friends we haven’t seen in a while!  We’re hoping to find a house in Washington and to get “settled” … at least for a couple years.  Moving again means M will have to find a new job, never a fun process but hopefully a new opportunity.  Shomi really gets the bum end of all this, since her days with the dog walker will be over.  But back home you can take your dog to the pet store and she can pick out her own toys!  So that almost evens things out.

Here comes the obligatory year in photos!

Hope you all had a terrific year, a fun-filled New Year, and another great year ahead.  What are your plans for 2012??

What she said.

I was planning to write an eloquent and reasoned response to Rick Perry’s statements about the Foreign Service … but I got too worked up just thinking about it to actually form my thoughts into coherent sentences.

Luckily, another State Department blogger did it for me.  If I may quote liberally:

I’m guessing our pal Rick Perry hasn’t actually met a Foreign Service officer before. But he probably knows there aren’t a whole lot of them out there (I’m told it is still true that there are more military band members than there are FSOs). Since there aren’t a lot of FSOs, maybe he figures it’s okay to insult the whole lot of them – after all, even if every single one of us votes against him, we don’t have enough votes to collectively guarantee a loss for him. And here’s the kicker: if he somehow manages to pull off a victory, those very same Foreign Service officers whom he just mindlessly insulted will stand up and support his policies across the globe.

Because that’s what the Foreign Service is about. Diplomats support American ideals in every country across the globe, often at great risk to themselves and their families. Diplomats (and their boss, the Secretary of State) don’t set their own policies. Rather, they serve as boots on the ground, the eyes and ears of the President in every corner of the globe. Diplomats report back what they see and hear and think in these countries that Rick Perry has probably never considered visiting. They present the facts – and yes, they present their own educated opinions – so that our President has the information he needs to create and direct policy. Once the President decides on policy, these same diplomats work to advance his agenda. Not their own agendas, mind you. Never their own agendas.

Thank you, Donna, for this beautiful defense of FSOs.  I agree with every word.

The way things should be

Today I got mad because the ice cream store didn’t have cups.  Only cones.  You could get an ice cream cone, or an elaborate sundae served in a glass dish at a table.  But I didn’t want a cone, or a sundae.  I wanted one scoop, in a cup, to go.

After some discussion, and confirming that they really didn’t offer a cup of ice cream (just cones), the salesgirl nicely offered me a scoop of ice cream in a paper Coca-Cola cup.  So I got what I wanted, in the end.  But I was still mad.

It’s not a communication thing here — not really.  I’m fluent in Spanish.  My dear husband is a native speaker and was standing right beside me.  So we communicated just fine.

And it’s not really a culture shock thing, either.  At this point, I’m not at all surprised that they don’t have cups.  That they don’t do things like we do.  I’ve been here long enough that I know not to expect that.  So it’s not a shock.

But the problem is, I still think they should do things like we do.  They should have carry-out cups for ice cream, not just cones.  And when they don’t — even though I’m not surprised — I still get frustrated.  That things aren’t just the way I want them.

I suppose that’s always the reason we get upset — because things aren’t the way we want them, regardless of the where or why.  And I suppose, too, that living abroad means that happens more often.  Even though it’s not a shock, it’s still a cultural difference.  Something you’re used to isn’t available, or isn’t the same.

It gets better — I get better — and I don’t get mad as often as I used to.  I’ve come to expect — to accept — that things are different.  That often times they don’t do things the way I think they should.  And I try to let go of the “shoulds.”

But really?  They should have more flavors with chocolate chips.

Parrillada

Everybody picks out their house largely based on the built-in grill.  Right?

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Yes, the built-in Argentine-style grill was a major selling point when we rented our house a year ago.

Since then we discovered that the grill doesn’t so much vent as fill up the entire garage with smoke and ash.  But hey, it’s totally worth it, even when your car smells for a week.

And hopefully everybody also has an adorable chef’s assistant to go with said grill:
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We found an Argentine butcher shop here (El Cordobes, Av Gaspar de Villarroel E9-130 y el Sol) … and while it’s not actually Argentine beef, it is really good (chorizo and milanesas and matambre, oh my!).

Also?  Any time I don’t have to cook, I think it’s pretty great.  So I’m fine with a parrillada pretty much any day.

Snow on the Equator

Remember all the times I’ve told you that it’s really cold in Quito??

… Now I have proof.

Last weekend there was a major storm in Quito (luckily we missed most of it because we were still driving back from Banos) and it hailed.  Like a lot.

Pictures taken from a moving car, so they’re not terribly clear …. but that white stuff??  That’s all ice.  And see how it’s not really melting?

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COLD, people.  It is cold on the equator.

a weekend away

I said I was done with the picture posts, but then we went away for the weekend and took LOTS of pictures.  (Came home with over 800 pictures, to be exactly … and I am going to post them ALL here!  And all three of my remaining readers will give up.)

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Anyways, we spent our three-day day weekend in Banos, Tungurahua province — an easy 4-hour drive south of Quito.  Banos sits on the side of an active volcano and is famous for the resulting hot springs.  Because impending natural disasters are what make vacation FUN!

We stayed at the (very) high-end Samari spa resort, which was beautiful.

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The room was very cozy, gardens were beautiful; breakfast was unremarkable, but they had free wi-fi!  Also?  They have a family of peacocks roaming around the grounds.  That’s just cool.  How do you get a peacock as a pet??  (And you think they’d get along with Shomi?)

There are tons of places to stay in Banos though so if we went again I think maybe we’d try someplace else… a wee bit less pricey.

We spent the day checking out some of the nearby waterfalls and “tarabitas” which apparently means “rickety basket ride thing that takes you scary high over a gorge.”

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At $1/ride, it’s a total steal!  We did two.  They were less scary close up, although I was pretty nervous about them loading 15ish people into our basket for the ride back across the valley.  (Don’t worry, we made it.)

And we took about a bazillion pictures of the mountains.  Because they were pretty.

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Tungurahua volcano.

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Just pretty.

You may not have noticed …

… but I haven’t had much to say around here of late.  And when that happens, I just can’t bring myself to post lots of pictures and uninteresting captions.  (And this is … another bird.  And a flower.)  Also, that’s a lot of work and not really interesting for anyone.  So the blog has been a little … dormant.

Part of the reason, i think, is that it’s now my job to *think* and *write* at work.  I write a lot.  I’ve never actually had to do that for a job before (despite the fact that it’s what I studied to do and probably what I’m best at).  And my job is GREAT — I love getting paid to think, and feeling like I’m actually good at it.

But it does kind of leave me without much to say outside of work.  If you want a nicely reasoned, concise analysis of Ecuador’s political situation (in no more than 10 paragraphs!), I’m totally your girl.  But then to come home and come up with witty observations about life in Ecuador (with no political commentary, thoughts about my job, or anything else that might endanger me or my blog) … is apparently too much.  There’s just nothing there.

(I am, apparently, still pretty good with the parentheticals.  That’s something.)

The other part of the reason, I think, is that I forgot what this blog was about.  Let’s have a story, shall we?  A long long time ago, I studied abroad in Chile.  It was my first time abroad and everything was NEW.  And exciting and interesting.  I wrote long emails with my stories and sent them out to friends and family (to mixed reviews — my father read them out loud to his colleagues; my brother called them spam.  really.).  I wrote whatever I wanted, trying to capture the characters and the stories and the experience.

A few years later, I again went abroad to study, this time for grad school.  A friend there taught me what a blog was and helped me start one to replace the old mass-email system.  That was 2006 (happy 5 year birthday, blog!).

So when I started my blog, it was primarily to update my friends and family back home about what I was seeing and doing and thinking about while living overseas.  For a long time, I’m pretty sure my only reader was my mom.  And I wrote whatever I wanted.  I didn’t post any pictures at all — heresy, by today’s blog standards.  But without pictures, you actually have to think and write things!  Which kind of made it much more interesting.

Like I said, that was 5 years ago.  The blog followed me to Cyprus, Ohio, Washington, Bangladesh, and now Ecuador (with stops in Argentina and a bunch of other countries).  And somewhere along the line, people started reading.  Not a lot, but enough to become intimidating.  And I started worrying about what I wrote.

When you’ve got readers in other countries — when you’re living as a guest in another country — you start to become super cautious about what you post.  Because you think it MIGHT offend someone.  And you wouldn’t want to POSSIBLY insult anyone.  And pretty soon, you’ve thought yourself into a corner where you don’t want to say anything at all, unless it is GREAT.  And really, it’s not possible for everything to be GREAT all the time.  And if you only post the GREAT it gets pretty bland and impersonal and uninteresting.

If you want a third and final reason this blog has sucked?  Blog intimidation.  When I started reading other blogs, I read about people posting daily and growing their audience and monetizing and search engine optimizing.  And of course I started to compare my humble little blog to these super-ambitious, semi-professional blogs, and I got overwhelmed. It’s silly, but I felt, well, inadequate.  For a while I tried to post regularly and be more interactive and to grow my readership … it wasn’t good.  I felt like the blog was trying to be too many things to too many people, and in the process had lost whatever personality it ever had.

That’s where I feel like we are right now.

All that to say, I’m not real sure where this blog will go.  I’ve thought of abandoning it entirely or of starting fresh or of just writing for myself and not posting it online.  But it kind of seems like a shame to just walk away from my little space.  So?  We might go back to how this blog started — just me sharing stories and thoughts on life.

If I ever have any.  I guess we’ll have to see.

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