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.

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! 🙂

Fairy-Tale Mini Quilt

I’m finally making some headway on all the mini-quilt swaps I signed up for back in the Spring – and have seriously limited myself on any new swaps I sign up for (too many swaps means too little time to finish a well-crafted quilt). Anyway, today I’m sharing a look at a quilt I made for a Fairy Tale Themed Quilt. With this one, I had a last-minute partner switch, and consequently had to adapt my plan fairly quickly. My original partner was keen on Snow White and I had these grand plans of using this block as a center and adding a border of Lori Holt’s apples. But, that went out when I got a new partner. Thankfully, I’m a procrastinator, and I hadn’t gotten past the planning phase when they switched. I would have hated to have made the Snow White Mini only to find that my new partner was not a fan of Snow White. FairyTaleMini_ - 2

My new partner was, however, a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, and immediately I thought about making a cake-themed mini with the “eat me” tag so indicative of Alice. I made the tag with my embroidery machine, and busted out some of my favorite fabrics (including that Wee Wander Mason Jar Print) for the cake layers. FairyTaleMini_ - 3

I finished it all with some 1/2″ matchstick quilting, a bit of ribbon to “tie on” the tag, and some pink bias tape for binding. All in all, I’m super pleased with how it turned out, especially considering it was a plan “B” quilt.

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How about you, are you involved in any swaps this summer?

 

Ecaudor Day 3: Roses and Rose Gardens

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 3: Lots and Lots of Roses in Cayambe & Otavalo

Early Monday morning, we began our two-ish hour bus ride to Cayambe and the first Child Development Center of the Trip: EC424. This area of Ecuador relies heavily on roses and rose production for much of the economy – and we saw plenty of evidence of the floral influence. In the photo below, the field of silver that could be a lake if you don’t look closely, is actually a sea of greenhouses all growing different varieties of roses. We could just glance the beautiful colors during our ride to the project.

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But, even more beautiful than the flowers, were the people. They lined the street to welcome us in, giving each of us a small bouquet of the famous roses as a greeting gift.
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Once we entered the church, we were met with an amazing display of photos and resources. This is one of the nicest sanctuaries I’ve been in, and I remember the floors being very slick from the wax finish – with made for an interesting game of musical chairs between us and the moms 😉Ecuador2015Day3_ - 2

While we were here, the workers and staff told us about how they implement the Child Survival Program. We also got to visit with the mothers and babies participating in the program to see first hand the impact Compassion is having on this community. Ecuador2015Day3_ - 5Ecuador2015Day3_ - 4

After touring the facility, we helped serve all of the children lunch, and then ate lunch ourselves. The food was as amazing as I expected. Freshly cooked lima beans, lots of roasted chicken, potatoes, and corn. I’m generally a fast eater, and stepped outside to play with the kids while everyone else finished their food. Unfortunately when I did this I missed an amazing story from one of the project workers – but our tour leader, Bobby, writes it beautifully here. (Seriously step over and read it and then come back – I’m horribly disappointed that I missed it, but can’t help but think that there was a reason that I did. I’m not 100% sure what that reason is, but I have peace in knowing I was where I was supposed to be when I was there.)

Ecuador2015Day3_ - 14Once we’d finished lunch, we loaded up in the back of a pick-up truck and headed to the first home visit of the trip. The home was made of cement block, and we toured 3 rooms: bedroom, kitchen, and storage/bedroom.

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The family that lives here grows onions (that look much like our leeks) to sell for income. 

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After the home visit, we returned to the Compassion Center and helped to hand out monthly groceries to the Mom’s in the Child Survival Program. Let me tell you, that bag is heavier than it looks – and these moms carry it and their babies as they walk home – a walk that could take up to 30 minutes.Ecuador2015Day3_ - 8

And then, before we said our final goodbyes, we had a few more minutes to play with the kids.
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This little girl was great – when I first saw her, she was so upset that a project worker stopped me and asked if I had any bubbles that she could play with, apparently all of the kids around her had gotten some bubbles, and she’d been left out. But, fortunately for both of us, I had a fresh bottle that I was all to happy to give her. And she was all to happy to blow tons of bubbles for me to photograph – seriously, one of my favorite photos from this trip is of this little girl and her bubbles. Ecuador2015Day3_ - 16
And then, it was time for one last group photo before we made our way to Otavalo and the hotel.

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It started to sprinkle a bit on the drive to the hotel, but even so, it was a beautiful drive. I seriously love this country, the view, the people, all of it. Ecuador will forever have a special place in my heart – and I wish I could visit it every year. Ecuador2015Day3_ - 22
On our way to the hotel we made a fantastic side stop at Cayambe to sample a local delicacy, bizcochos. These cracker-cookies were so, so, so good! Made with tons of flour and butter, baked in a brick oven, and served with a caramel dipping sauce – they’re making my mouth water now just thinking of them.

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This particular shop is very famous for its bizcochos and I can totally see why. If you’re ever in the area, these are a must have. 

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And that, friends, sums up the day – we did make it to the hotel (and boy is it beautiful! I’ll post photos later this week – but know that it was here that I seriously debated never coming back) , and we initially only had wifi in the lobby, so there was this fun little convening of all of us as we “gathered ’round the wifi” before supper. We ate at the hotel – delicious empanadas, fresh fruit, and blackberry sorbet made for a great supper and a fantastic way to end the first day in the highlands.

I’m planning to share more from this trip on Wednesday, and then again each Tuesday until the story is told. So be sure to check back for more! 🙂

Planting the Straw-Bale Garden – Year 4

The week I got back from Ecuador (back in April), my Dad and I planted our strawbale garden – and man has it taken off. Before I share some progress photos and stats (scheduled for next week), I thought it might be fun to run through the basics of this year’s spread. StrawBaleGardenPlanting2015_ - 2

After last year’s boxed in beds, we still had loads of great compost ready for planting – unfortunately, as compost tends to do, it had shrunk quite a bit. So, to bring up the level of the beds, we supplemented the compost with 2 additional strawbales that had been setting out all winter. We shredded these bales and stuffed them in the boxes where more dirt was needed. Afterwards, we topped the boxed beds with a thin layer of garden soil to help stabilize the new plants. In these boxes, we planted 6 tomatoes, 4 cucumbers, and 3 yellow squash.

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And, like last year – and every year we’ve been strawbale gardening – we doubled the size of our beds. Last fall we bought 14 bales and set them out parallel to the boxed in beds. They composted all winter, and were prime for planting this spring. In these, we 3 zucchini plants.

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The tomatoes and yellow squash have taken to their new homes brilliantly, and the boxed in beds are quickly converting to actual soil-filled raised beds, which is the long term goal. 

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All in all, it’s looking to be a very promising year in the garden. And I’m super excited to start harvesting tomatoes – BLT sandwiches are calling my name!

Have you planted a garden this year?

 

Helen Angela’s Duffel Bag

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Just like I did for my Ecuadorian kids, I made Helen Angela a duffel bag that matches her quilt. I started by using this pattern and leftover fabric from her quilt. Since it had been a couple of years since I’d made Helen’s quilt, and I didn’t do so great of a job keeping the scraps, I did have to supplement some of the duffel bag fabric with coordinating colors (especially for the lining). But man, I LOVE this pattern, and I LOVE the bags it makes. I love them so much that I’m picking out fabrics to make one for myself. 

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All in all, the bags are much easier to make than expected, and extremely useful. Plus, they hold way more than you’d think (with a pocket on each end and a trolley sleeve in the middle), and are a breeze to carry through the airport – and to cram into overhead bins. This duffel is perhaps the most patch-worked one I’ve made thus far, and while the patchwork takes forever to piece – think giant jigsaw puzzle where you don’t really know what the final picture is supposed to be, but you do know the size – I think it might be my favorite one yet.  I packed all of the clothes I took Helen in her bag, and she was ecstatic to receive it. I’ll be sharing more about what I took Helen and our day together in the coming weeks, but until then:

What fun things have you made lately?

Home

PeruFlight

I’ve been home from Peru for just over one week – and it’s different this time. This past trip with Compassion International itself was very different. It’s hard to put into words, but while the poverty was similar (not the same, because poverty is never the same for anyone), but the feeling of the trip, the meshing of the people traveling with me, that was so very different. And that feeling, more than anything I saw or heard, impacted me in a way I did not expect, and in a way I could not prepare for – and in all honesty, I’m still trying to sort out what the lesson in it all was. On each of the previous Compassion trips I’ve taken, I’ve felt a connection fairly quickly – an “ah-ha” moment where it’s like “ok, this is why I’m here.” And that didn’t happen this time. Which means I’m still processing what it all means to me. So, dear readers, I say all that to say this – I’m sorry I’ve been absent lately. I appreciate you sticking with me, and I’m working on getting back to a regular posting schedule – but I am still sorting through a bunch of stuff from Peru (and personally) that may make posting a bit sporadic for the next little bit. But, I hope you’ll continue to come to my little corner of the internet and check in, and that you’ll find something useful and encouraging while you’re here.