Monday, March 5, 2012

A Visit To The Emergency Room

What would one of our trips be without a little adventure? This particular trip, Mom arrived in Ecuador with a cast on her arm. Some weeks ago back in the States, she had fallen in a restaurant or as she calls it a "Greasy Spoon". Apparently the grease made it off the spoon and onto the floor, at which point Mom stepped in it and went sliding. She tried to break her fall with her hands and ended up fracturing her wrist. Long story short, she came to Ecuador with a cast and instructions to have the cast removed about a week after she had arrived.

A couple of days ago we decided to make a visit to the Emergency Room/ Clinic to have the cast removed. With Juan, our English speaking guide in tow, Bob, Mom and I drove to the ER. Mom was happy to be getting her cast off and of course all the while, I was thinking this would make great blog material. As soon as we arrived at the ER, we were told to wait in the very modest, but empty waiting room outside of the double doors.

The Waiting Room

I immediately whipped out my phone and began taking pictures. When the nurse came to get Mom she told us only one person was allowed into the room besides our translator and being the opportunist I am, I immediately jumped up and started towards the room. Poor Bob was left standing in the waiting room saying "But I'm The Husband"... No matter, I wasn't going to miss a good story.

Mom Prepares To Get Her Cast Off, At This Point All Is Fine

The nurse led Juan, our translator, Mom and Myself back to a curtained cubicle and told Mom to lie on the exam gurney., The nurse then covered Mom with a blanket and pulled the curtain half way closed as she left to retrieve the doctor. It was immediately apparent that Mom was apprehensive and as she lay of the gurney stiff as a board. We tried to lighten the mood with idle conversation, but that didn't work to well. Mom looked as though she was waiting to walk the plank to the hungry crocodiles below.

Need I say More

Unlike the ER in the States, very soon after we arrived a kind, gentle, distinguished looking doctor arrived with the nurse close behind. His name was Dr. Alvardo and I guess he saw the look on Mom's face and decided to let Bob into the room as well. Doctor Alvardo explained that he would have to cut the cast off, he then proceeded to show Mom the saw he was going to use. Mom immediately turned as white as a sheet as she had been told in the States that the cast would be cut off with surgical scissors. Doctor Alvarado turned on the saw to demonstrate and I thought Mom was going to pass out. I was starting to feel just as nervous, but I was able to maintain my reporter persona and started snapping away.

A Picture Is Worth A 1,000 Words

By this time, Bob, myself and our translator were all busily talking, just trying her expression made me want to pass out. A few minutes later, Doctor Alvarado had cut the cast in two places, he then used some sort of forceps to pry the cast off. By then the mood had lightened a bit and we were all able to breathe. Mom said that the staff must have thought she was someone very important to have such an entourage.

The Cast Is Coming Off

The Worst Part Is Over

Next it was off to the X-ray room. The translator was allowed in, but Bob and I were told to wait outside where we observed the goings on of the Clinic/ ER. I have to say it was the quietest ER I have ever been in, we did not see a single patient. Our translator told us, the best time to go to such a place is during Siesta, I thought to myself "Do people not get hurt during Siesta"? Apparently not. We did see several nurses wearing the little paper hats like they used to back in the 50's in the States. We also saw a female doctor in a mini skirt that was shorter than her lab coat and high heeled boots, too funny. We peeked into some of the rooms where the patients would be and found them to be very basic.

Apparently A Different Dress Code For The Doctors

When Mom got out of X-rays, Doctor Alvarado had good news that her wrist was almost  completely healed and with some exercise and hot water soaks she would be good as new. Doctor Alvardo held the X-rays up to the window, so we could all see what he was talking about.

Dr. Alvardo Explaining The X-Ray

With the ordeal over, we headed to the cashier to pay the bill. They did accept credit cards, but it took a while to process. The total bill with X-rays was $110.00 and Mom was on her way with prescription in hand and minus a cast. Hopefully I will never have to grace the doorstep of an ER, but if I do I now know what to expect.

Checking Out...The Best Part Of The Visit

Monday, February 27, 2012

No Gory Details

We arrived in Cuenca on Friday and in spite of our questionable cargo, we made it through without incident. Quite the contrary of past trips, this one had barely a hick up. Assuming this time would be no different than the others we had anticipated long lines at the airports and then the dreaded customs checks. We were sure that we would be the ones to cause quite the commotion in Customs with our suitcases laden with rocks and plumbing supplies.

Much to our surprise we raised more eyebrows in our home town of Huntsville than in Quito. I was pulled aside for a check of my carry on luggage, it was the faucet that set off the red light, I suppose it looked like a pipe bomb as it was a long cylinder shaped faucet. Once security got into my bag they also discovered the rocks wrapped in plastic. The outside of the package was dusted with something and placed into a machine, once the machine beeped that everything was O.K. I was handed my bag and off we went.

When we arrived in Quito, we were pleasantly surprised by an extremely short line in customs. As we breezed through, we then held our breaths knowing the worst was yet to come. As we prepared to navigate the zig zag line through security a lady waived us through to the side of the line. What no bag checks? No 50 questions? No looks of disbelief when we explained that we were renovating a property in Cuenca? Be still my heart!

When we arrived at our hotel, I opened the suitcases to retrieve a few things for the night and found a pre printed card inside that explained that our suitcase had been opened and inspected prior to our arrival at Customs. No explanation necessary, now I just wish they could do that every time.

Friday afternoon we caught a taxi from our hotel to the airport and proceeded to check in for our flight to Cuenca. O.K. we knew something had to go wrong. As we were walking away from the ticket counter after having checked our bags, the agent called us back and pointed at one of our suitcases. It seems that the multiple trips we have made with our housewares has taken a toll on the luggage and I'm sure the rocks were the crowning glory. The zipper was broken and there was about a 3" gap that wouldn't close. So in order to get our bag on the plane, off we went, suitcase in tow to have it wrapped in plastic at the suitcase wrapping kiosk. Wow! $10.00 to get your suitcase wrapped in some plastic, we're in the wrong business.

Time For New Luggage

In spite of the little things this was by far the most uneventful trip we have ever had, what a relief. Carlos was there to pick us up in Cuenca. Of course the first order of business was to go to one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. Esteban was able to join us and as I was watching the pedestrian traffic through the window, I spied Mom, Bob and their friend Suzy walking down the street. I ran outside to flag them down and even though they had just finished lunch, they were able to join us for a bit and catch up.

After lunch we went to the house to see the progress. Carlos pulled up in front of the house and I didn't even recognize it. We have beautiful new wood doors now, the ugly metal rolling door is gone and the whole front of the house is primed in white. Even with nothing more than primer it looks a 100 times better.

Looking Good

The inside is coming along nicely and everything looks beautiful, but there is still a lot left to be done. Our mission this trip is to speed up the process and cut costs. Rod and I spent the better part of the day making a detailed punch list for our side and creating color coded spread sheets for the workers. Afterwards we met up with friends and had a lovely dinner at "The Secret Garden". Rod and I were discussing how amazed we were at how many Americans we are now seeing in Cuenca. There seems to be more every time we come. The plane from Houston to Quito was probably at least 3/4 Americans and there must have been 60 or more Americans at the dinner we attended.

I thought it would be fun to show some pictures of the place we are staying, so that you can see what you can get in Cuenca for the money. We are staying in the same apartment building that we have occupied several times in the past, only this time Rod and I are in one apartment and Mom and Bob are in another. Basically you pay $500.00 a month no matter if you stay two, three or four weeks it's the same price (still cheaper than a hotel). The apartments are very plain, but clean and each one is equipped with a basic kitchen. The location for us can't be beat as it is within walking distance of the house and centrally located to everything. The only drawback is that it can be quite noisy. There is no maid service and no front desk or concierge so you are pretty much on your own, but it is a nice alternative to a hotel and very convenient.

One Of The Bedrooms

Adequate Closet Space, But The T.V. Doesn't Have Any Cable Cords

Beautiful View From The Bedroom Window

One Of The Bathrooms

The Kitchen

The Dining Area

Our first night in the apartment was a Friday night, the busiest night in Cuenca. The bedrooms are right on the street, so we could hear every conversation, the traffic, the typical car alarms and even the crossing signal with its endless chirping all night long. The next day Rod came up with the genius idea to pull the two twin mattresses off of the bed frames and drag them into the living room where they are pushed together to make a king size mattress. We close the bedroom doors at night and slumber on our makeshift bed on the floor of the living room being lulled to sleep by the drone of the refrigerator compressor, much better than the street noise. Now if only the mattresses weren't like laying on bricks.

Our Makeshift Bed

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You're Taking What To Ecuador?

Yes it's true that throughout this Ecuador renovation, we have challenged not only ourselves, but Airport Security as well as Customs Agents. In past trips we have hauled plumbing fixtures, electrical supplies, electronics and more, but I'm afraid this time we have really pushed the envelope.

Since our Ecuador bathroom took on a life of it's own and went in the complete opposite direction of what we had planned, I have dreamed of having a spa like shower, especially in light of the fact that there was no room for a bathtub. Over the months our bathroom migrated more towards a minimalistic contemporary style, I swear I don't know how that happened as I don't have a contemporary bone in my body. I was actually quite surprised that I was drawn to this new style of decorating, well new to me anyway.

Rod and I have always preferred a more traditional eclectic style with lots of accessories. In fact our tiny little living room we inhabit right now contains many family heirlooms, lots of antiques and piles of books. We share our space with several mounts, including a Canadian Goose, a Peacock, an African Kudu and a Zebra Skin. Before anyone gets upset, I would like to make this disclaimer that these were all taxidermy pieces acquired over the years, most are antiques and Rod and I are not hunters nor do we have any desire to be. We are animal lovers with the best of them.

Ever since I decided that I wanted our shower to be more than just a place to get clean, I started looking at different design elements that attracted me. I finally settled on slate for the the floors and shower as well as a wainscoting on the wall. We found a prefabricated tile design on our last trip to Ecuador that matched the slate very well and decided to place the tiles on one of the shower walls as an accent piece.

After looking through hundreds of bathroom design ideas, I also realized that I loved the pebble floors, (very zen like). I thought this would be no problem, after all how hard is it to find pebble tiles in Ecuador, they seem to be readily available in the States. Turned out I was wrong, at one point I got so desperate I even suggested we buy tumbled pebbles loose in bags like you do in the States available in most hobby stores and grout them in one by one. Turns out pebbles in the bag were no where to be found. 

Our architect suggested that I could go to the river and hand pick pebbles for the shower floor. I actually entertained the idea until I remembered having seen that river after the rains. I could just picture being swept down stream, only to end up in some unknown town, trying to explain to the locals in English of course how I was collecting rocks for my shower floor. I surely would have been sent to the hospital to have my head examined.

The Packing Process

Those of you who know me, know that I will not be beat. I ordered my pebble tiles on line in the states and they arrived the other day, eleven of them to be exact. Needless to say, I spent a good part of my day trying to figure out the best way to pack these tiles into our suitcases. As you can imagine they are quite heavy, so I needed to split them between the suitcases to distribute the weight. Well the first go round didn't go so well as I had laid each tile out carefully padding them between layers of clothes within the suitcase. Of course as soon as I turned the suitcase upright, all of the tiles slid to one side and some of the pebbles became detached from the webbing leaving me with a pile of rocks.

The All Important Pebble Tile

Plan B...I went to Staples and bought some poly bags, I wrapped the tiles two at a time in plastic and securely taped them. I then placed them in a bag until I had a total of four. Next I  folded the bag tightly around the tiles and taped it shut. Mission accomplished! Now I will hold my breath and hope that we breeze through Customs and Security without incident. Stay tuned to see if my rocks are confiscated and I end up in handcuffs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Keeping Our Eye On The Prize

I write this entry with much apprehension. As soon as these words are put to cyber paper, I wonder will the sky fall? Will the sea rise up and swallow us into it’s dark depths or will the bowels of the earth erupt and sweep us off the face of the planet?

by terren in Virginia

I was beginning to think we would never see this day actually come, but I say with caution, I think we now see a light at the end of the tunnel. It turns out this is not the headlight of that out of control train that has been on the verge of derailing ever since we started the process of renovating a property in a foreign country.

Floors Going Down In Mom And Bob's Living Area

We are now at the point that we are keeping our eye on the prize and staying focused as the house renovation nears an end. This project has no doubt been a challenge and one that I’m sure none of us would choose to do over again as we did this one.

Our Finished Railings On The 2nd Floor

Who in their right mind would buy a property on the last day of their first trip to a foreign country? To make matters worse a fixer upper. Who would remodel a property in one country while living in another without even speaking the primary language? Who would take on a project with no plans or no budget in place?

Our New Entry Way Brick Floor

Looking back, I think Ecuador had a spell on us when we made the commitment to renovate this property. None of us were thinking rationally, even after we had returned home, before we finalized the deal, we still thought we were making a sound decision. Personally I think there was something in the water.

The Wall Was Moved Back To Its Original Position In The Entry

So many of our friends and family have voiced their concern and wonderment over the course of the project. All the while I’m thinking that they’re just too nice to come out and say “Are you out of your mind”? Looking at it through their eyes I can’t say I blame them. I can honestly say that at one time or another probably each one of us has had the thought cross their mind that a huge mistake had been made.

The Downstairs Hallway That Leads To The Back Of The House

Don’t get me wrong, hindsight is 20/20 and I would say that we would have done a lot of things differently, but in the end no regrets. We have learned so much along the way, met many wonderful people and had so many experiences both good and bad that we can reflect upon and yes even laugh about.

My Newly Stained Teak Countertops

One of the funniest memories I have of this project was when we met with one of the earlier architects to discuss a plan. We met at the house that day and it was a particularly dreary day… cold and wet. We were sitting in the first courtyard, which had the old glass roof over it. Many of the glass tiles were missing and the rain was pouring in on us as we stood there freezing to death while trying to carry on an intelligent conversation with the architect. As if things couldn’t get worse, an airplane flew directly overhead drowning out our conversation. It was one of those moments when we questioned our decision to take on such a huge project and all Mom could say was  “Swell.” Now that the house is tight and weatherproof and all of the outside noises are muffled, we can laugh about that day.

Yeah! Railings On The Stairs

Yes we have had our ups and downs, battles amongst ourselves as well as with ourselves. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.We have been so fortunate to have Carlos and Esteban our architect to help steer this ship. It took us several architects, countless blowups and many disappointments along the way.  Sometimes the stress and frustration got the best of us and we didn’t show our best side, but thanks to our crew we have now made the dream a reality.

Our First Commode

No doubt, even when the project is finished, it still will not be finished. Just furnishing this huge house will take an enormous amount of time, money and effort, but in the end it is our intention to create a cohesive environment that is as diverse as our personalities, a place that maintains the integrity of the house while at the same time expressing our individual personalities.

The Guys Take A Break

Would we do it again? Maybe so, but if we did, so many things would be done differently. We would have budgets in place, we would have our crew in place and most of all we would have proper plans drawn up, something that was foreign to this project. If we had plans in the first place, the project would have run a lot smoother and we would have lost a lot less sleep.

Finishing Touches On The Outside

How Do You Like This Make Shift Scaffolding?

Would I recommend that others follow in our footsteps? Definitely not, but I would not waiver from the firm belief that we should never sway from pursuing our goals. Always take the advice of others into careful consideration and never give up on your dreams. Our situation was a little different than most as we were the strength of four in the pursuit of one common dream. We were our own support group.

The Spiral Staircase Gets A New Coat Of Stain

On an ending note, I would like to apologize for posting duplicate images on the entry before last. Rod brought it to my attention that I had posted several pictures twice in two different entries. No doubt the early warning signs of losing one’s mind after renovating a property in another country.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chasing Our Tails

Photo by Daniel Davies

The last quarter of 2011 proved to be some of the most stressful months we can remember in a long time. Besides the usual holiday hustle and bustle, the Ecuador house renovation and keeping up with our online businesses, we decided to open our third automotive shop. Most of November and December were spent remodeling our new location, which had been a thrift store in its former life. Trying to turn a thrift store into a automotive repair shop is no easy task. Shortly after the holidays we moved our offices to the new location and are still trying to catch our breath as we recover from the mad dash at the end of the year.

For Christmas Each Of The Workers Received A gift Box Of Pantry Items and a tool. I Love This Photo, The Guy On The Left Looks Like He's About To Win The Lottery. Priceless!

The Gift Boxes

One Of Our Workers With His Goodies

One day Carlos sent us a photo of a typical New Years tradition that takes place in Ecuador. "Año Viejo" ("the old year") - the name refers to the puppet which symbolizes the Old Year. Every year on December 31st people in Ecuador are destroying and burning these symbolic puppets.

It just so happened that the workers constructed such a puppet in the house and they fashioned it after Miguel, our maestro. Apparently the puppets are made to resemble the elders and then at the appointed time, they are taken to the street and burned. This is a ceremony that represents the beginning of a new year, a fresh start. "Out with the old and in with the new."

The Miguel/ Old Year Puppet

Amazingly we survived the last three months and in spite of all the chaos, we were able to spend an amazing Christmas with our family in Texas. We are now open for business and completely exhausted. Rod has finally cried Uncle, promising to never open a fourth location. I want that in writing!

Our New Store

With the busy Holiday season behind us, we are now back to our chaotic normalcy. It is now time to put our focus back on the Ecuador house once again. My Mother and Bob have been trying to take up the slack with the decision making on the Ecuador project while we have been tied up with everything else. Great strides have been made over the past several months and we are actually able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The project is now at the point that we don't need our architect as much and Carlos is running the whole show. Bob was not able to return in November as he thought he would, so once again we have been renovating completely through emails and Skype.

A Rendering Of My Kitchen

Rod's New Teak Counter Tops On His Kitchen island

Several times a week, Carlos sends us pictures of the progress and stays in contact via email and Skype calls. Rod and I are now past the stage of worrying about every little detail. We have adopted the attitude of "C'est la vie,"  It is actually a liberating mindset for Rod and myself, we know that there is so much out of our control now. We will hope for the best and deal with any changes at a later date. It's amazing to me that we can relax now and not fret over every little detail. I just keep reminding myself that even if we had been on the job everyday, there would always be things we wished we had done differently. Maybe we're just practicing for a more relaxed way of life, always Mañana.

The Beginning Of The Aging Technique Of The Stone Wall In Our Rental

Step Two

It's Definitely Looking Old

Mom And Bob's Book Case In Their Library Is Getting It's First Coats Of Stain

One Of The Doors In Our Bedroom

 My Mother and Bob are still trying to get their visas and finally their residency. The process has unsurprisingly been very complicated with many set backs. We are hearing from many others that this has become the norm and not to expect a smooth speedy process. There are many horror stories out there as well, but hopefully we will be one of the happier stories. With the setbacks thus far, it is inevitable that the shipping container will not be put on the water for several months. The urgency of getting the house finished by the end of the year is a distant memory and we have now been able to take a little more time with the decision making process.

The Front Stairs Have Been Completely Torn Out And Will Be Replaced With Newer Safer Stairs

The Back Stairs Are Getting A Makeover As Well

Much Safer Now

The Front Stairs Are Looking Good

All four of us have made plans to return near the end of the month. My Mother and Bob at this point have just a few loose ends to tie up to obtain their six month visas. This will enable them to stay for two months this trip. Unfortunately Rod and I could only commit to three weeks as our new location is still in its infancy.

The Tile Room

Working In The Back Courtyard

Working On The Sidewalks Of The Courtyard

Over the holidays Rod surprised me with a two week cruise. In May, we will be flying to London where we will meet up with Rod's Sister and see the sites of England. We will then sail from London and make ports of call in Spain, France and Italy. Rod's sister is a seasoned cruiser, but this will be our first trip to Europe, much less on a cruise. We are very fortunate to be traveling with such an experienced cruise buddy and look forward to sharing the adventure. I suppose in May the blog will take a bit of a detour, but I will do my best to keep updates coming on the status of the Ecuador project as well.

The Infamous Alter All Stripped Down And Ready For Stain

Our Bedroom, Just Needs A Good Cleaning And We're Ready To Go