Around Here – A 3 Month Update

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Around here I’ve been:

  • working to get this blog back up and running after some longstanding issues with my former web host. I’ve decided to revert back to using wordpress.com to host the site. Since I’m post less frequently, this is a more affordable option, and honestly, is the most reliable. I don’t have to worry about viruses, server problems, or random take downs. (hello months Feb.-May) It’s a tedious process, switching back, because the back-up import brought over all of my words, but none of my photos. So please bear with me, I’m slowly working my way back through the archive re-adding the photos.
  • sewing up a storm. I’ve got a big trip planned this fall, and several sewing deadlines to meet before I go. Expect to see several quilt posts very soon.
  • planning for a South American excursion. Yep! This fall (specifically early-mid October) my friend Jodi and I are venturing south for a two-week, three-country vacation to see 8 sponsored kids with Compassion International. We’ll be visiting Ecuador, Peru, and Columbia. It’s going to be a big trip, and I am so excited! (But we’ve got lots of planning still to do).
  • planting the garden. This is our 5th year to do a take on a straw-bale garden, and so far it’s amazing. I’m planning an update post for later this week to detail what we did differently this year, and what all we’re growing. It’s safe to say, though, that we’re just days away from the first big, juicy tomato – and that is gold!
  • working, working, and working some more. I’ve been traveling for work more recently (which is amazing, to be honest, and one of my favorite parts of my job) Plus, spring is typically a very busy time for us anyway, and now so is summer. We recently had several long-standing deadlines move up from December to August – so I’ve been tracking down all the info needed to meet these new deadlines, and doing my best to keep my head above water.
  • and speaking of water, we’ve been doing quite a bit of swimming, too. Dad and I downsized our pool this year from a 24′ above-ground metal pool to a 18′ “pop-up” pool, and it has been such a good move. We’re hoping to take a couple of years and put back some funds for a saltwater pool, but in the meantime, this pop-up Walmart pool has been great. If we get a few years out if it, we’ll be all set.

What all have you been up to the past few months?

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Ribbon Tag Baby Quilt

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Several months ago a good friend of mine sent me a facebook message asking if I could make a ribbon tag quilt for her newest daughter. I immediately said yes, and began searching through my fabric stash for coordinating fabrics. This quilt would quite literately be a sister quilt to the Self-Sashing Quilt I made a couple of  years ago.

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This time, I opted for the bright versions of the fabric, laid out in an off-set brick pattern. The piecing went very fast, but the ribbon tag border turned out to be trickier than I expected. I ended up putting the quilt aside for several months before finishing the edge.

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When I finally picked it back up, I powered through – but I’m still not 100% certain it was bound the best way. For the edging,I used 5 different ribbons, in varying widths – each cut to approximately 8 inches in length. I folded the ribbons in half, and spaced them about 2.5 inches apart. I ended up just turning the edges under and running a hem all the way around the border. Matching the edges and making sure I got each ribbon secure took much longer than I wanted.

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For the quilting, I just stitched in the ditch along the brick rows. All in all, I’m really happy with how it turned out- and so is the recipient, though I’m not sure I’ll be making another one of these anytime soon.

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Have any of you made a Ribbon Tag Quilt? Is there a better way to finish the edges?

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Ecuador Day 7: Final Day

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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First off, let me give you fair warning: this is the last of my Ecuador trip posts, and it’s a bit lengthy and photo heavy.

I started the day loading up the 7, yes 7, bags full of goodies, gifts, and my essentials (sunscreen lotion, swim suit, etc.) and heading down to the lobby for a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant. You can read more about what I took to my kids here – but let me just say that the duffel bags I made were a huge hit and I’ll be making more of them in the future, also, they can totally be worn like a backpack (see photo below).

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7 bags of gifts – Christmas, Birthday, and Just Because all wrapped up in to one visit!

While all of the sponsors were gathering in a room below the lobby, the kids were arriving and having some fun with the baggage carts! The photo below is one of the jewels I got from Emily’s camera – and a big reason of why I take a digital camera to my kids and give it to them as soon as I see them – they take great photos! This is a tradition I’ll continue with each trip: I buy inexpensive digital cameras at Walmart before I leave home with the intention of giving each of my kids one of them. I also stock up on batteries and SD cards. The plan is to put 1 SD card in each of the cameras at the beginning, let the kids take photos to their hearts content, and then switch out the SD cards with new ones right before I leave. I then take their photos home & print them, and then send the photos back to the kids in the many letters I write them. It works perfectly. I got tons of photos, but never have to be behind the camera – it is so awesome!

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Digital Camera photo from Emily

 

Once we were all reunited, we boarded several busses and headed to the waterpark for our fun day. Emily, Gladys, Josue, and I got to sit in the very back of the bus – and had a blast during the hour or so ride. Ecuador2015Day7_ - 2

Once at the park, we sat down our things and played some games – Josue is extremely sporty (which I am not – by any stretch of the imagination) and I cheered him on for a while before we talked all of the kids into trying out the swimming pool. Gladys had never seen a pool before, but she took to it like a fish. It was task to get her out of the water at the end of the day!Ecuador2015Day7_ - 4
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After swimming, and a quick lunch at the park, we headed back to our bags and began giving gifts. (It also started to rain on us a bit – but a few sprinkles weren’t going to deter our happiness). The kids all loved their gifts – and the quilts were a huge hit.

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Gladys also loved, and I mean LOVED, the doll Mom sent to her. Can’t you just feel the excitement? Gladys is very, very shy. I don’t think she spoke more than a dozen words the entire time – but once we opened gifts she came alive. She was the most expressive of the three, I think. After each and every gift that she opened, she gave me a big hug. I have some of the sweetest photos of her from this time. You could tell by her face that she couldn’t believe this was really happening.Ecuador2015Day7_ - 9
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Also, note the “v” on the above bird – for months we thought Gladys went by her middle name – Valeria. We were wrong – as I found out on this trip. Oops!

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After all the hard goodbyes (always the worst part), our group went out to eat at a traditional restaurant that featured dinner and a show. It was a fantastic way to decompress and process all that we’d been through. The costumes and dancing were amazing, and I’m so glad I thought to take some video of the performances – it really was a great way to end the day.Ecuador2015Day7_ - 19Ecuador2015Day7_ - 20

Finally, we closed the trip with a 2:45 wakeup call in order to make our early morning flight back to Miami and then my connecting flights home. I was exhausted, but the trip was amazing. I cannot wait to go back to Ecuador.Ecuador2015Day7_ - 21

As I mentioned Tuesday, the Compassion Bloggers are blogging their experiences in Ecuador this week, too. To read more from the bloggers, click here. To find your own beautiful child to sponsor, click here.

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Ecuador Day 6: Main Country Office & Meeting the Kids

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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Day 6 was easily the longest day of the trip – mainly because we were all super anxious to see our kids at dinner, but, before we could do so, we had a couple of other stops planned. We started the day by touring the main country office. Here we got to see the process of sorting and delivering letters, tracking student progress, and curriculum development. I also love going through the various project mailboxes and look for letters waiting to be delivered to my kids.
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After the tour, we stopped for lunch at a local pizza place – which took forever, but had some really great food. I ended up begin the last one to get my food, but it was worth the wait. After eating, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for meeting our kids. We gathered in the hotel lobby to drive over to the event space and set up our tables for the dinner with the kids.
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I had my own table for the dinner, since my group was going to be so large – and I decorated it with confetti and streamers. The kids ended up arriving 30 minutes later than expected, and let me tell you, we sponsors felt every second of it. On the plus side, this gave the event space staff time to get their wifi working – which meant that I was able to Skype home and let Mom talk to Gladys, so it was worth it.
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To meet our kids, our group leaders lined all of the sponsors up in order and one at a time, our kids came through the doors and met us. It was a cool way to do the introductions, and allowed for plenty of good photo time. I’m also very grateful for these photos – especially the one below – because I knew as soon as I saw my Emily that I’d be picking her up. My friend Jodi also got a great video of the moment – which is the best!Ecuador2015Day6_ - 5

I love, love, love that Ecuador does this dinner before the fun day. It’s nearly my favorite part. And this year they had a photo booth – which was such a fun idea! I don’t have any of the photo booth photos – I let the kids take them all – but I do have some other photos that capture the night perfectly. In fact, I have so many photos that it would be impossible to share them all without creating a blog post that is insanely long. So instead, I’ll just tell you some of my favorite moments:

  • Josue celebrating his birthday (which was 2 days later) with the ceramic cupcake I brought him
  • Opening the elaborate gifts created by my kids for me – including: a sculpted paper heart from Josue, Guava jam from Emily, and a balloon giraffe from Gladys.
  • Watching Emily and Gladys become fast friends
  • Hugs on top of hugs on top of hugs
  • Watching Gladys skype with Mom and take photos of my computer screen with Mom’s face.
  • Learning that Josue was competing in a reality TV dance show – seriously! This boy is so talented!

Some of my favorite memories are from this night – and I wish I could go back to it every single day. These kids, they are why my heart calls Ecuador home – and they are why I make every effort to visit as often as possible – to write as often as possible – and to send my love across continents. These kids will have a brighter future because of Compassion, and I am honored to witness it.

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As I mentioned Tuesday, the Compassion Bloggers are blogging their experiences in Ecuador this week, too. To read more from the bloggers, click here. To find your own beautiful child to sponsor, click here.

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Ecuador Day 5: College Kids, Otavalo Market, and Crepes

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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At the start of Day 5, we met as group in the hotel restaurant to enjoy some of the best food of the whole trip and fellowship with students enrolled in Compassion’s college program. It is always amazing to visit with the older Compassion students and hear first hand how the program has helped them. Ecuador2015Day5_ - 7

After breakfast, we headed to the famous Otavalo market – which was amazing and huge! We spent a little over an hour here – and I never feel like that’s enough time. The market was easily the size of an entire city block, with vendors packed in every available space. I knew that in order to see everything and get what I’d planned on purchasing (for myself and gifts) I had to be methodical and fast.

I don’t have many photos of the market, because it’s considered rude to take random photos. Instead, you’re encouraged to ask permission before taking a photo, and take photos of booths where you’d purchased something.Ecuador2015Day5_ - 1

The night before, I sat down and made a list of what items I’d be looking for at the market. I knew I wanted a bag of some sort since my carryon was a duffel bag that I’d made specifically as a gift for my sponsored girl, Emily. I also wanted to get as many alpaca blankets as possible – and ended up getting an amazing deal by buying them in semi-bulk! Finally, I wanted to pick up some small trinket like items for my coworkers, some artwork for myself, and a nativity scene (because I want to buy one every time I travel with Compassion).

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The artwork was so vibrant and truly makes me happy every time I look at it. I bought some beautiful pieces, but I left one behind. I really wanted that painting of the ship in the photo below – near the center of the photo – and I wish I had bought it, but at the time, I felt it was outside my price range. At least I got a photo of it, though.
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After the market, we made one final trip to Puerto Lago to pack our things and board the bus headed back to Quito. The rest of the day was mainly spent between traveling and stopping for food. We had lunch at Cafe Vaca – note the John Deere at the door. Ecuador2015Day5_ - 9Ecuador2015Day5_ - 10

Here, I introduced to the group to the deliciousness that is the mixed guanavanan and blackberry juice drink. I could seriously drink this every day. Ecuador2015Day5_ - 2

When we got back to Quito, we had a few minutes to check into our hotel rooms and rest before we met in the lobby and walked over to “Waffles and Crepes” – which was also so delicious. This was the first time I’d ever tried Crepes and they were worthy of the hype. Finally, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the next day – when we’d get to finally see our sponsored kids!

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As I mentioned yesterday, the Compassion Bloggers are blogging their experiences in Ecuador this week, too. To read more from the bloggers, click here. To find your own beautiful child to sponsor, click here.

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Ecuador Day 4: Birthday Celebrations and Letters Working

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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[Long post alert – consider yourself warned]

Day 4, and I wake up to the most spectacular hotel ever. Seriously, look at my room in the morning light – don’t you just want to curl up and stay forever? Just to the left of the photo is a wood-burning fireplace, too. This hotel, Puerto Lago, is now a definite weak spot for me. I had a very, very hard time leaving it – to the point of if I didn’t have commitments back home, I would have tried to find a way to stay longer.

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On this trip, unlike my 2013 visit to Ecuador with Compassion, I opted to pay the increased fee and have a single room – and let me say, it was so worth it. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 18

My room here had it’s own balcony, and all be it small, it was beautiful. The view looked over the lake with the volcano in the distance. It was truly breathtaking to see each morning – and absolutely peaceful. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to capture in writing the feeling of calm I got while here, but man it was amazing. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 7Ecuador2015Day4_ - 15Ecuador2015Day4_ - 23
Also, there were alpacas at the hotel. Alpacas. At the hotel. Several – and they were fun to photograph.
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For breakfast each morning in Puerto Lago, we ate at the hotel and had the best fresh fruit – strawberries, pineapple, melon, you name it. Plus, there was the most exquisite hot chocolate – like Swiss Miss to the max. After breakfast, we headed to EC-471 to experience a “Day in the Life of a Compassion Child.” Ecuador2015Day4_ - 12

Before breaking into groups to visit the children’s homes, we toured the main facility. This project had recently made use of Compassion’s Complementary Intervention Funds and upgraded a room for the teens to include a ping-pong table and several computers. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 1

After the tour, we once again loaded into the back of pick-up trucks and made the short but bumpy drive to the local homes. My group visited the house of Wendy and her brother. The house was constructed of concrete blocks and was one indoor room with a small kitchen area behind. You can see the kitchen best below:Ecuador2015Day4_ - 20

Here’s another view of the kitchen – the family cooks over a fire, but does have a small range inside. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 22

Against the other outer wall is a small lean-to bunk. This is where the adults (3) sleep. It’s covered with plastic sheeting to help keep the rain out. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 14Ecuador2015Day4_ - 25

Inside, there’s a bed where all the kids sleep, a bit of storage in the form of a wooden wardrobe, another small Cars themed wardrobe, and some shelving.  In the corner is the weaving machine where Wendy’s Dad spends most of his time creating sweaters to be sold in the local market.Ecuador2015Day4_ - 6
Wendy’s mother also knits (and is so fast it’s crazy). Together, their crafts earn the necessary income to sustain the family. In the little time we were there (less than an hour) Wendy’s dad had created the front panel of a sweater and her mother had banded a hat. It was amazing to watch. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 9
We also had the opportunity to ask Wendy and her brother about their experience in the Compassion Project. Both children are sponsored, and Wendy has received several letters, which she was excited to show us (though her face doesn’t look it, I promise she lit up when we asked about her sponsor). When we asked if there was anything she would tell her sponsor if she could, she replied, “I would let her know that I was waiting for this moment [to be sponsored] my whole life.” So sponsor, where ever you are, your letters are working. Man are they working. So thank you. Thank you for caring for Wendy and her family. Thank you for writing to her and filling her spirit with encouragement. And thank you for allowing us to witness such a small part of you story.

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Really, the entire family was so open, so grateful for their local church and Compassion. It was so inspiring. Also, see those minion and monster hats? Those are what the family makes to sell – and in the bottom right corner, that Canadian cloth? That’s the panel of the sweater they made while we were there. And, to top it all off, the family gave us each a hat before we left – they literally gave us part of their income because they were so happy to receive us in their home. Talk about generous – these who have less give most.

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Outside, the family has a small personal garden and a pen where they raise guinea pigs (below you can see 2 of the girls trying to get in with the guineas).
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Also, let me take this opportunity to reinforce the fact that I adore these Ecuadorian abuelas. I very much want to adopt one of these grandmothers as my own, they make me smile so.

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After our home visit, we gave Wendy and her cousin a ride back to the project – and they had a blast! (Again, one of my favorite photos from this trip!)Ecuador2015Day4_ - 19

Upon our return, it was time to play and, of course, paint nails! I will say, no matter where in the world you find yourself, little girls love nail polish, and the four or five of us sponsors painting nails were swamped the entire time.Ecuador2015Day4_ - 27Ecuador2015Day4_ - 30Ecuador2015Day4_ - 8

I also had several bracelets my friend Yvonne sent to me to give out – and man, these were popular, too! We had a crazy line for them and I enlisted several other sponsors to help me hand them out. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 13

After our play time with the kids, it was time for the projects grand finale – a birthday party for all of the kids celebrating their birthdays in April.
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They had so much cake! And giant sprinkler candles!

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And confetti! Truly it was one of the happiest birthday parties I’ve been to, and one I won’t soon forget!Ecuador2015Day4_ - 24

And after the cake and the party, it was time to say our goodbyes. The project presented each of us with a knitted hat (animals for the women), we took our final photos, and loaded back on the bus to head back to the hotel.Ecuador2015Day4_ - 2
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I keep forgetting how long these days were – it doesn’t seem like we did too much each day, but still got in so many activities. All day with the kids, and then back to the hotel just in time for a sunset over the lake. Just enough each day – just enough to soak it in and still feel like you can go on. Just enough to fully take it all in without feeling too rushed. Just enough.

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I’m planning to share more from this trip each Tuesday until the story is told. So be sure to check back for the next installment!🙂