Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Tale of Two Worlds

It's been a while since I posted, so I feel the need to say something as you might think we have slipped off the face of the earth. Several of you have e-mailed me and sent such lovely comments which I can't thank you enough for. I'm so very grateful to have you in our lives.

However, I read a comment this morning that was so extremely hurtful, which I won't respond to now as I don't believe that ever does anyone any good.

Suffice to say we are in the States (temporarily) until we can get some personal matters in order. My sister has been ill, I have elderly parents, and a son who needs our help at this time. To go into all of it, would be heartbreaking so I'm going to spare you the details. Sometimes what we want to do and what we have to do are two different things. Many of the expats we know have parents or children who have passed on and, therefore, don't have any ties to the States which is an ideal situation. But for many of us, staying connected is important and we can't always do that from a distance.

I love Cuenca and everything that it has to offer and although not "perfect," it comes pretty close. As far as being an authority on the subject; I don't think anyone is an authority on anything -- really. The e-book I wrote -- intended to be a guide to newcomers -- is exactly why I wrote it. The income I receive on the book is so trivial it would make you laugh! Those of you who give Spanish or English lessons would be much better off.  Or if you want to optimize your websites and make a living off of blogging -- you would do well -- if money is what you're looking for. The book was not intended to make "millions," but to offer help to newcomers as I received so many questions when we arrived in Cuenca, I simply couldn't keep up with it all. Many wrote and told me that they had written several of the prominent bloggers in Cuenca with not even a reply or an acknowledgement. However, Gringos Abroad is an exception. Brian always comes through with helpful advice and great blogging (kudos to you Brian!), so I often refer folks to him.

We "slipped" out of town after our vacation to the coast, which allowed us time to regroup before our trip to the States, which was supposed to be for a few months. We left our beloved Mocha in the hands of a wonderful expat couple who gives us updates and videos weekly and we send care packages on a regular basis. We like to think of them as surrogate parents who provide a loving home filled with joy. We made the transition over a month's time with regular visits until we knew that Mocha felt completely at home.

Rumors seem to swirl in Cuenca which happens anywhere you live, but don't listen to everything you hear. The truth seems to get distorted somewhere along the way which is never positive or helpful.

As a writer, I always share both sides of the story and thankfully I can do that wherever I live. Many travel writers have never been to the places that they write about and yet it is useful and helpful information. I feel fortunate in that I have actually lived in Cuenca for more than two years and continue to keep in contact with friends who update me on the happenings there.

Interestingly enough, we have used our Spanish more in California than we did in Cuenca and I'm continuing my studies at Cuesta College and hope to master it. We even go to a Latino Church, so we feel more involved in the Hispanic community.

At present, I'm on a speaking/book signing tour with Chicken Soup for the Soul (four books have recently come out) and I'm using my expertise in that area to help raise funds for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. All proceeds of the book go to the American Cancer Society (100 percent of the profits). I write for a variety of publications and journals (even Italy), where we lived for six years. Although we don't live there now (maybe in the future), it means that I can still write about a place even though I don't physically live there.

We are enjoying the Central Coast of California where we honeymooned 37 years ago and San Luis Obispo is called the "happiest place on earth." The past two months we haven't seen a drop of rain with sun and blue skies every day. We take long walks along the beach and enjoy spectacular sunsets. We found an apartment on an estate with a sprawling 5 bedroom 5 bath house -- totally private and secluded. Our rent is $895 per month with all utilities paid and fully furnished. That is about what we paid for our first condo in the Palermo Building in Cuenca over two years ago. We still have our medical insurance in Cuenca and also took out a policy in the States with Anthem B/Cross ($500) for both of us which covers everything. Although it's not $98 like it was in Cuenca, our policy there was only for $10,000. Our policy here covers up to one million, so we're doubly covered.

As far as groceries, we find it's cheaper to eat in the States. We shop Fresh and Easy ($25 a week) and the good old Dollar Tree is amazing; I forgot how wonderful it was to pick up everything for a $1.00 (literally). The best part is we can enjoy Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Shell Beach and Morro Bay -- all within 15 minutes from our house. Eating out is more affordable as well, which totally shocked us. Last night we dined at the Cliff's Resort (coconut shrimp and build a spud) and our total bill came to $18.00. Because portion sizes are so huge in the States, we often just split an appetizer and sometimes walk out the door for less than $12.00 at 5-star resorts!

We were fortunate in that we found a perfect rental, an economical car, and enjoy walking on the beach every day. I think I turned my mountain man into a beach guy -- at last!

There are many affordable ways to live all around the world. We just happen to live in a secluded estate area with 30 homes -- all on 6-acre lots with "granny" units or apartments attached. We already decided we never want to buy again. Mark works part-time, which he did in Cuenca (as we both did, actually), and so that part isn't new.

If you ever find yourself in the position where you have to come back to the States to take care of business, there are extremely affordable options even in the most expensive areas. We found our deal on Craigslist.

I plan on return visits to Cuenca to keep the book updated and to visit friends. However, this will be my last post on this blog -- all other updates can be found at www.thebestoflivingandretiringinecuador.com. I will also be doing a blog on Central Coast Living as well which will highlight some of the affordable ways you can enjoy five-star living on a one-star budget.

Hasta luego...back to the beach!

Connie and Mark

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Expat Events!

There are so many expat events in Cuenca each week, it's hard to keep up with them all. But last Saturday, we splurged and went to several. One of them was an Expat Wine Tasting at Mansion Alcazar. Leon Hall was there (from Fashion Emergency USA) singing a medley of songs and, of course, there were wines from Cousiño Macul Wine House.

Mansion Alcazar never disappoints when it comes to putting on a special event. The flowers, candles, and  hors d'oeuvres were the perfect complement to the variety of wines (especially the "gris" which simply disappeared). We also had an opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet the new folks in town.

My favorite part of the evening came right before we stepped in the door at the Mansion. Mark turned around and realized he had lost me! Actually, right down the street from the Alacazar was a wedding which was spectacular. Our taxi had passed by the church just as the bride and groom were getting into their car. I wanted to jump out and snap some pictures, but instead I waited until the taxi stopped and I ran back to catch a glimpse of the bride and groom. What caught my eye was a radiant bride holding a bouquet of red roses and the bridesmaids were holding white roses (that was a delightful twist to an old tradition). And the groom reminded me of Andrea Bocelli, so I played wedding photographer and moved up to the front of the crowd and watched as the couple got into their antique white convertible.

After the happy couple sped away from the church with shouts of "tanti auguri" from the crowd, I decided to join my hubby at the event that we had actually planned to attend -- the wine tasting! Mark knows me so well, he hardly flinched when I disappeared before we "arrived."

Expat events are always a highlight of the week and last Saturday was no exception --  filled with wine, music, and song!

 Until next time...hasta luego!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gala Event!

Occasionally, we get dressed up in Cuenca, but not that often! I brought one little black dress and a pair of fancy heels and after two years, I finally got to use them!

Last Thursday (June 7th), we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of CEDEI (the language school where we teach). The invitation read "formal attire only," so I let out a "yippee" and ran to the closet and made sure my dress still existed. Sure enough, I even brought a sparkly purse to go with it. We were set, except Mark left his suit at his father's funeral. But one of our friends came to the rescue with a navy suit, tie and off-white shirt. We were set!

The event was held at the Quinta Lucrecia and exceeded our expectations. As soon as we walked through the doors, we were greeted and escorted to our seats and our coats were checked. I can't even remember the last time that happened. At every turn there was another bouquet of roses and more sparkles. I'm so thankful I made an appointment and Lucy's for hair, makeup and nails because everyone was dressed to the nines. It was a who's who of Cuenca, even the Consular General of Guayaquil was there along with the reigning queen of Cuenca with her red velvet sash.

Before dinner there were introductions and a few speeches and then a toast to 20 years of CEDEI. I didn't realize it, but a lot of colleges from the States have exchange programs with CEDEI, including Salisbury University in Maryland, St. Ambrose University and Illinois College.

One thing to remember if you're invited to one of these events is to be sure and bring your appetite. The appetizer looked more like the main course to me, so I forgot to pace myself. By the time the main course arrived, I was already full. Thankfully, our table had a lot of twenty-something teachers who came with an appetite, so we kept passing the food.


Main Course: Filet Mignon and Chicken

Dessert: Raspberry Meringue

The evening didn't end with dinner (things just started warming up around 10:00 p.m.). We all went into the courtyard where there was a castillo (fireworks tower) and globos (hot air balloons), each representing a different department or college associated with CEDEI. While the band played, canelazo (specialty drink in Ecuador) was passed, along with a tray of miniature desserts.

To work off all the calories we consumed, the band played louder and the dancing began. I kicked off my heels and joined the fun. The party was actually just starting when we left and that was a little after midnight (which is turning in early for Cuencano parties). There were several taxis waiting out front of Quinta Lucrecia, so we had no trouble getting home. Mark had to teach the next day, so it was "early" to bed for him.


I told Mark, "Don't put your suit away yet, we've got Father's Day coming up!" I made reservations at Mansion Alcazar's Father's Day Eve Wine Tasting for Expats (Saturday June 16th). There's going to be wine, hors d'oeuvres and music by Robert Brinkmoeller and a special presentation by the former host of "Fashion Emergency." I made another hair appointment at Lucy's and who knows...the little black dress might make another debut.

If you're coming to Cuenca, you might want to pack a few nice clothes for special occasions -- like a gala!

Until next time...hasta luego!

A special thank you to my team at Lucy's for making me feel pretty!



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Two Year Anniversary in Cuenca!

Two years ago today we landed in Cuenca, Ecuador with four overstuffed suitcases after a whirlwind three months of preparation and on the heels of our youngest son's wedding. What a relief it was to arrive at our condo and breathe a sigh of relief. I also remember thinking, This is going to make a great story someday! 

Thanks to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress for printing our story...

Just Breathe

     “Have you seen the wedding list?” I asked my husband. 
     “Nope… haven’t seen it,” Mark answered. 
     As I shuffled through the stack of papers on the kitchen table, my elbow brushed 
against the “Have a Nice Day” mug, spilling the creamy mocha concoction onto the 
newly cleaned carpet. Too paralyzed to breathe, I felt a tear trickle down my cheek, 
followed by another and another, until they fell beneath my hands onto the pile of bills 
and receipts.     
     It was too much! Our son was getting married in three weeks; we had out-of-town 
guests who needed a place to stay; and we were selling our house, and packing up thirty-
five years of marriage in preparation for a move to Cuenca, Ecuador --our retirement 
     While I sat with my head in my hands, the phone rang beside me. “Yeah, what do 
you want?” I answered, without thinking. 
    “It’s Kathy -- your best friend -- remember me?” came the reply. “Are you okay? 
     You sound like you’re having a crummy day.” 
     It had been weeks since I heard the voice of my dear friend and I could tell she 
was genuinely concerned. 
    Kathy and I hadn’t connected in weeks and she was calling to cheer me up. 
   “I’m sorry, but it’s just so overwhelming,” I blubbered. “There’s so much to do 
and not enough time!” As I shared my fears about our house not selling, out-of-town 
guests arriving with no place to stay, and a house littered with boxes for an overseas 
move, I heard Kathy exhale a sigh. 
   “Whoa, girl… you need to take a deep breath!” she said. “Would you like to meet 
for lunch? I have time this week. I can even meet you halfway.” 
    Before I had a chance to respond, Kathy reminded me to practice breathing. “Heehee-
huu… shallow breaths and blow,” she prompted. “I’m a Lamaze instructor -- remember?” 
   “How could I forget?” I blurted into the phone. “But I’m not having a baby!” 
   “No, but you’re losing one,” Kathy replied softly. 
    A lump formed in my throat when I realized that not only were we moving to 
another continent, but our baby was getting married. As soon as I placed the phone in its 
cradle, I realized that breathing is how I made it through labor. It helped me focus on 
something other than the pain. And just maybe it could help with a wedding and a move! 
   Hee-hee-huu, I practiced. “Breathe in energy… exhale stress,” I told myself. 
 “Shallow breaths and blow!” 
   Over the next couple of days, I practiced breathing while I packed up boxes, 
prepared for a wedding shower, and “labored” through thirty-five years of memories. 
Night after night, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m., scanning important documents, family 
photos, and memorabilia, but I didn’t feel stressed. The breathing exercises were 
   I started to feel slightly better on the third day when I could actually breathe in 
deeply without clutching my chest for more air. The wedding plans were going smoothly 
and we finally had an offer on our home that we could both live with. It looked like we 
were going to have a wedding and a move to Ecuador after all. As I started to take in a 
cleansing breath, the phone rang. 
   “I have good news and bad news,” announced the realtor. “The new owners want 
to move in and settle over the Memorial Day weekend!” 
   “They want what?” I protested. “I mean they can’t. That’s the wedding weekend!” 
I shouted into the phone. “I have guests coming from California and they need a place to 
stay. It’s simply not going to work out.” 
   Our realtor stood firm. “The new owners need to settle by the end of the month 
and it’s in your best interest to do so,” she said. 
   After the phone call, I knew what to do. Hee-hee-huu, I practiced. “Breathe in 
energy…exhale stress,” I told myself. “Shallow breaths and blow!” 
   Over the next several weeks, I had more opportunities to practice my Lamaze, 
including when I found out the box labeled “wedding” accidently got sent to the 
incinerator instead of the church. But all was forgiven when the bride and groom danced 
up the aisle for the first time as husband and wife. When it came time for the mother-
groom dance --I breathed through that too, making sure I didn’t hyperventilate during the 
four minutes and thirty seconds of our song. The wedding was a success and so was the 
   It’s been over a year since the kids said “I do” and we arrived at our retirement 
destination in Ecuador, the land of “eternal springtime” and siempre mañana (always 
tomorrow). I rarely have to use my Lamaze breathing anymore, except for the other day 
when a taxista (taxi driver) slammed on his brakes for a pack of llamas crossing the 
street. As we slid into the intersection, my husband grabbed my arm and whispered in my 
ear, “Just breathe!” 

Until next time...hasta luego!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cupcakes in Cuenca!

My new favorite place in Cuenca is Tea Cup's located in the Paseo del Puente Building (open 9-12 a.m. and 4-8 p.m. -- Monday through Friday). If you want to feel like a queen or a king for a day, you have to stop by and sit in the plush purple chairs and enjoy their delicious teas or flavored cappuccinos. Don't ask me why I ordered coffee at a tea place, but it was simply the best. And the cupcakes look too good to eat, but they're scrumptious!

I picked out the Cookie Monster petite cupcake because it was just too cute, but a sweet little girl came up to me, tugged on my shirt sleeve and said, "But that one's for me!"

What was I going to say?

 I remembered from grade school days that blue icing can do a number on your lips and tongue, so I decided on the beautiful mariposa (butterfly) cupcake and made one little girl a very happy "camper."

"Cee-Cee" waited on me and delivered my tiny cupcake to the table with its own special plate and the cappuccino was served with lots of foam -- just the way I like it. I was in cupcake heaven while I watched folks come and go with beautifully decorated boxes filled with "to-go" cakes. And if cupcakes isn't your thing, there's cheesecake and other pastries.

How could I have lived in Cuenca for almost two years and not know about this place? That's the thing about this city; you can be here forever and still find new places tucked away in a "corner." In fact, if you're at the Millenium  (Milenium) Plaza and walk down a few blocks you'll be at Tea Cup's.

I thought I was going to get some writing done, but instead I just enjoyed eating my tiny cupcake and feeling like "Queen for a Day" in Cuenca.

Until next time...hasta luego!

Tea Cup's
Doris Correa (Proprietor)
Jose Peralta y 12 de Abril
Edificio Paseo del Puente 
Cuenca, Ecuador
Tel: 404-8222 or 08-516-1794

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