Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In the past two days we've had two showings and two offers on our home (amazing!). Our house has never been so squeaky clean. But running out every time there is a showing is already getting to be a chore, but a necessary one in order to get it sold.

Last evening we packed up the car with the coffeemaker, toaster, mop, and non-essentials on the countertops, lit the candles, popped in an Andre Boccelli CD and left our "staged home" before the realtor and prospective buyers arrived. But instead of circling around the block for an hour, we treated ourselves to dinner at McCleary's Pub (Wings Night). There was a special treat waiting for us...a singer by the name of "Adam Blessing." We were seated in a private booth with candlelight and the wings were served along with our favorite beverage. When our server left our table, I felt a tear, then two, then three and before I knew it I was sobbing. The tears continued to pour into my hot wings until they were all soggy!

My hubby gave me a perplexed look, leaned over the table, and whispered, "Now what's wrong?"

Do you know what? I didn't -- or I couldn't -- explain it. Me -- the writer -- who is never at a loss for words, couldn't put my feelings into a sentence.

And then I reviewed the last week: We have been running around...making frequent trips to Home Depot to get materials to do last minute touch-ups on the house, sorting through 35 years of married life, planning a rehearsal dinner for our son's wedding, preparing for a writer's conference, trying to finish a book without my laptop, and still attempting to explain to family and friends why we're doing what we're doing. When I stop long enough to catch my breath, the tears start to flow.

Tears are a blessing. They come spontaneously for me when I'm sad, when I'm happy, and sometimes when I'm overwhelmed -- like yesterday! And then I check up on my new Ecuadorian friends via their blogs and wonder why I managed to get my face so blotchy in the first place. Last night I read Clarke and Brenda's blog and felt somewhat relieved (yep, they're going through the same thing too!).

So now I have a little Ecuadorian flag by my computer with a reminder: "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!" I'll be the first to admit that it's NOT easy, but it WILL be worth it.

What a blessing to know we're not alone in this great adventure!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

Friday, March 19, 2010

Are We Crazy?

Why is it when I say we’re moving and retiring to Ecuador, everyone looks as though I have horns growing out of my head? And then the words, “Oh, are you going to be missionaries?”


Then I say “Cuenca” and they repeat “Oh, you mean Quito; I had a brother who worked there!”

Last night we had dinner with our friend, the psychologist, and his wife (who speaks fluent Spanish) and they didn’t blink when we discussed our future plans for retirement. In fact, he turned to his wife and said, “Would you like to do what Mark and Connie are doing when we retire?”

Without hesitation she nodded her head in affirmation and blurted out, “Absolutely, I would love to do exactly what they are doing!”

Finally, someone got it. How refreshing! I actually enjoyed the rest of my meal because I didn’t feel the need to explain or “unexplain” the fact that I wasn’t crazy!

Retirement is a new adventure and on the stress scale it receives 45 points…the same as being fired from a job, but with a lot more PERKS.

Last night as we snuggled under the covers, I whispered in Mark’s ear, “Honey, do you think we’re crazy?”

A smile spread across his face as he mouthed the words, “What do you think?"

I had my answer!

Until next time…hasta luego!

Mark and Connie (not so crazy after all!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

House for Sale!

Yesterday we went over things with the realtor and we are putting our house up for sale on March 22nd. We plan on leaving for Ecuador on June 15,2010. We were afraid to put it up any sooner because our neighbors sold their homes in less than two weeks! Yikes. Well, I guess we can always pay the new owner rent until we leave (hmm...I think we can do that?!).

I made a slide show of our house, for memory keepsake (not that I'll miss all the stairs!). I call it our "Tuscan Townhome" because it reminds us of our apartment in Italy (Andre Bocelli is singing in the background). Nice

For those of you who are thinking of this journey, don't try to do it with a son getting married, book deadline, packing your life in four suitcases, and possible knee surgery (all before June 15). My goal is to get out of the States alive!

I changed my life insurance today and we made appointments for the Embassy in Washington, D.C. to get our tourists visas and start the paperwork for our pensioner's visa. We continue to juggle all kinds of balls at the same time. Mark is painting the basement with dry lock right now and I think we're both sick from the fumes, but it had to be done!

My brain is on overload; I walked around with the paint roller in my hand looking for the "paint roller." I ask you, "Who does such a thing?"

Crazy? Maybe! Excited to sell our house? Absolutely! we come!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

Click here: to view slide show!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Little Black Bags

Today was exhausting! Mark and I managed to clean out several closets. The walk-in closet in our bedroom is now living up to its name, but not without the accumulation of many little black bags!

I had to take a break from it to write this blog because it's overwhelming when you try to extract your life from files, manila folders, journals, letters, cards, and photos. Since I’m a writer, I find the need to “ooh and ahh” over everything and many times during my escavation I thought, That would make a great article! But I simply ignored the temptation until the job was done!

One of the treasures I unearthed was my original red leather journal from Sicily. The first entry was dated October 23, 1980. It started out with the words, “Saying goodbye is certainly difficult…”

I’m not sure that will get any easier in June 2010, but maybe a little easier in that we have moved 29 times in 35 years of marriage, but somehow we always managed to drag the little black bags along with us!

Today it feels like we accomplished something toward our move, although my book deadline is not budging (May 15, 2010), and I’m afraid I may have to lock myself in one of our “clean” closets in order to get it done. When I signed the contract—ages ago—I had no idea that we were going to move to Ecuador. I thought we were going to retire in Italy (as if that would have made any difference!).

I can also use the excuse that my laptop is fried (the motherboard is cracked), but the technician told me he can still extract the information from the hard drive. I’m looking at pink laptops online and have narrowed my search (I think!).
Then my hubby popped in the door and shouted, “I found it...look here!”
What he was referring to was the MagicJack. It’s a must for anyone living overseas. Using your computer, a phone receiver, and the MagicJack you have created a “land” line and can talk to anyone – anywhere! We communicated with our realtor in Cuenca using the MagicJack and found it better than the real thing! The cost is $20 a year. Next month we are disconnecting all our landlines.

We are having guests this evening (Scrabble night in Spanish), so I need to clear the living room of little black bags.

Until next time…hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

P.S. As promised, I inserted a photo from Mark's recent trip to Cuenca. This is the "Neuva Catedral."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Matters of the Heart!

Today I searched my heart and asked myself, "What's so important that you can't live without?"

When I answered that question (which will be different for everyone), I started to clean out my office. It was crucial to ask that question first because I had 31 three-inch ring binders full of "stuff" to go through.

Half way through the "ordeal," I thought, Did I really do all those things? I was a teacher of medical terminology and beginning Italian, personality trainer (Myers-Briggs), author, speaker, medical transcriptionist, tumor registrar, editor, wife, mother, and friend (not necessarily in that order!).

Out of the three-foot pile of black garbage bags, I kept exactly three things; two of them I will share with you and the third I will keep private (if you don't mind). The first is hanging over my computer and reads, "Remember: If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!" That pretty much sums up our move to Cuenca, Ecuador. The hardest part is getting there! It didn't help that I spent all day yesterday in the ER and today at the orthopedic surgeon's office (probable torn meniscus of the right knee).

The second item I kept is a card from a friend which pretty much sums up life (in general): "Ten Rules for Making Every Day a Great Day!"

1. Think and expect good things will happen!

2. Express gratitude to a loved one.

3. Let go of your grievances!

4. Be patient to an annoying person.

5. Do something special for yourself!

6. Reach out to someone who needs comfort.

7. Live and fully experience the present moment!

8. Learn from a mistake.

9. Look closely into a flower and see and experience its true beauty.

10. Smile all day and laugh as often as you can.

Things I did not throw away, include: my birth certificate, marriage certificate, and Social Security Card.

There you have it! After 35 years of hard labor, life boiled down to a few pieces of paper and lots of memories. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be (really!). It was almost cathartic because I realized that what mattered most to me (my husband, my sons, and my family) were already in my heart and, therefore, could never really be taken from me.

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

P.S. Each day I will post a picture of Mark's recent trip to Cuenca. Looking at those steps, I'm pretty sure I will need my knee fixed prior to boarding the airplane!

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Man's Perspective!

Mark arrived home from Cuenca late Thursday evening/morning (3:30 AM to be correct!). He barely got through the door when I asked, "Where's the camera?" He shuffled through his backpack and gingerly handed over the camera.

I wrapped my arms around him and whispered, "Oh, honey, it's wonderful to have you home!" And then I ran upstairs and downloaded the photos (all 70 of them!) onto the computer.

Seventy photos may seem like a lot, but to me--the photographer in the family--it seemed like "muy poco." Partly because 60 of them were of the same thing. I have a video of our apartment, but no pictures. I have pictures of streets (but no people); it was a Sunday! I have a picture of a cathedral (covered up by a tree), and many, many pictures of the river (I know there are four, but I think this was the same one). Oh, and let's not forget the yellow taxi, the pharmacy, and a strip mall.

"So what do you think?" inquired my hubby.
I tried to hide my disappointment, but it was simply too much (or too little?!). The words tumbled out, "That's it? Where are the rest of the pictures?" Mark had a glazed-eye look from lack of sleep and couldn't figure out why I was so upset about.

Of course, he couldn't...that's the difference between a man's perspective and a woman's; we need details...lots and lots of details!
At least he remembered to take a video of the apartment and walked me through it (and that's what he went for), so it was a successful mission for which I am thankful!

Yesterday Mark turned 55 and we celebrated with dinner out, lots of cake, and phone calls galore, so the pictures (or lack of them!) are now a distant memory.
It's no big deal -- right? I'll get to take my own in a few months ("mas/menos").

Until next time...hasta luego!
Connie and Mark
P.S. Thank you Chuck and Nancy for meeting Mark for coffee; it's the only picture I have that is proof that Mark was there (with people and not the river!).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Best and Worst Places to Live

Recently when my hubby and I sat in the Travel Clinic to receive our necessary (and not so necessary!) shots for travel to Ecuador, I picked up a magazine—“National Geographic’s Traveler Edition” with the top 109 destinations rated.

As I flipped through the pages, I was amazed—shocked really—to find out that one of the “worst rated places” to live was “Lancaster County Pennsylvania” – our home (score 45)! It was wedged between Deadwood, South Dakota and the Pennsylvania/Maryland/Virginia US 15 Corridor!

Why was Lancaster rated so poorly? The author cited many reasons, but one in particular hit me hard: “The Amish are lost amid the sprawl and schlock.” If you travel anywhere in Lancaster County at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon you will most likely understand and respect the writer’s opinion. We share roads with Amish buggies and all that goes with that (I’ll let you use your imagination on that one!). Some drivers aren’t so patient with the Amish and often put them in harm’s way as I witnessed recently during one of our record-breaking snowfalls. A car speeding 55 mph almost toppled an Amish buggy in the snow (with three small children inside).

Contrast Lancaster County to one of the best rated places to live: Wachau, Austria (score 88). It’s not difficult to understand why Austria consistently makes it into the top ten spots. This past year I had the privilege of traveling with my author friend, Kathy Pride, to Austria. We stayed in the idyllic town Bad Gastein. It was quite arguably the most beautiful place on earth (sorry Switzerland you just got bumped into second place). No wonder I cried when we left; it was simply breathtaking.

As I flipped to page 120 of National Geographic’s top 109 destinations, a smile spread across my face. Nestled between “Sitka, Alaska” and “Morelia, Mexico” was “Cuenca, Ecuador” with a score of 68. It was listed with the cities that are “doing well—“retaining a sense of place with few insurmountable problems.”

Hmm…I like that!

Cuenca scored so highly because of its aesthetic beauty and because it has earned UNESCO World heritage status in part for its architecture. The article ended with the words, “Cuenca’s future depends on proper planning now.”

Is it any wonder that we chose Cuenca as a place to retire? Having had the opportunity to travel to many places in the world, I have to say that Cuenca combines all the qualities that we love: the mountains, nature, city life, Old World charm, and much of what we enjoyed in Sicily (in the way of food, culture, and the warmheartedness of the people).

"The Best and Worst Places to Live" are really just one man’s opinion and in the end, you have to be guided by your own level of comfort and ability to adapt. No place on earth is perfect, but Cuenca is “perfect” for us!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

P.S. Mark arrives home this evening (actually 1:00 a.m.), so in the next few days I will post pictures of his journey!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Home Sweet Home!

Today I announced our move to Ecuador during a radio interview and then on Facebook. Within seconds of the announcement, my phone rang off the hook, I received 50 e-mails, and I escaped to the basement with my laptop! Only, the laptop didn't make it down two flights of stairs (it's now dead -- kaput!). Thankfully, I have a clunky old PC that works (sort of!). So I will try to be brief (ha!).

Mark is coming home tomorrow and has rented our new home (pictured above). As he described it to me and as I looked at the pictures online, I thought, "Oh my, it's nicer than our apartment in Sicily! It has two bedrooms and two baths. What more could I ask for!" Then my hubby said, "The only problem is it doesn't have an oven!" I laughed and said, "That's not a problem. You know I never cook/bake except in my crock pot!"

Now to some that might be a deal breaker. Uh-ah...not me! As I understand it; it's cheaper to eat out in Cuenca than to make a meal at home (especially when "almuerzo" lunch is about $1.50 and comes with five courses "mas/menos"). Oh, and the other fine point is when people come to visit, I can use the excuse, "I can't fix dinner...I guess we'll have to eat out tonight!" I'm already loving "home sweet home."

My son was concerned that it was on the sixth floor and I addressed his worrisome thoughts brought on by the recent earthquake in Chile. "Jon, don't worry, when it's our's our time!" I'm not sure that made him feel better (sorry, honey!).

We feel so grateful that we can "end" or life the way we started it: traveling to a different country, learning a "new" language/culture, and being with each other (just like it was before kids!).
"What about the grandchildren?" my friend asked. Well, as of yet, we don't have any and when we do there's this wonderful thing called an "airplane" which takes you anywhere in the world -- not to mention the Internet, Skype, and the phone (Mark called me for six cents a minute!).

"Home is where the heart is" and we can take that anywhere! I especially look forward to meeting our new neighbors, Chuck and Nancy, who so graciously met Mark at the Kookaburra Cafe in Cuenca and treated him just like family!

This past weekend, I spoke at a women's retreat near Philly and one of the ladies came up to me and asked, "But what about your writing...your books...your speaking?" Let me address that right now. Yes, I will continue to write, but it will be for several online sites and who knows...maybe a book about our new journey (someday!).
My parents are excited for us and will most likely come to pay us a visit. If not, I will be available to them whenever they need me. I can jump on a plane and be there within hours (not days!). Oh, and because I'm "retired," I can be available to them 100% of the time!
We already have a guest list of those waiting to book their tickets to Ecuador. Our condo is furnished, so that's a relief (no furniture buying). However, we will be in language school for the first couple of months, so keep that in mind for your travel plans. We'll let you know when we're open for "business."
Life is an adventure and we continue on the journey!

Until next time...hasta leugo!
Connie and Mark
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