Thursday, December 30, 2010

Who’s Idea Was This Anyway?

We’re taking on water in more ways than one...........

Well here we are once again feeling as if we are trying to blindly navigate our boat through an angry sea that is intent on sending us to a watery grave, but like any good sailor, we grab our life vests, start bailing water and look for a way to steer out of these choppy waters.

The house renovations seemed to be going well and we thought we had everything under control, but as with any remodeling project there are always unforeseen glitches. Up until recently our architects had been very good about sending us updates and photos. The roof was looking great, although we weren’t altogether happy that the glass skylight frames had been removed and destroyed without our knowledge. The architects said that the frames were in poor condition and not worth salvaging, but we would have liked to have a say so in the matter. The quote the architects gave us to replace the skylights was so high that we had to look elsewhere for a more reasonable price.

Also without our knowledge all of the gutters or canales as they call them in Ecuador were removed from where the sky lights were once mounted so that now when it rains, the water pours into the house through the holes where the sky lights and canales were once mounted. We had specifically requested that the canales be left in place until a decision could be made at a later date.

Rod emailed Carlos and immediately put him on the task of getting us another quote for the skylights as well as contacting the architects, since all of a sudden in spite of our attempts to contact them and ask questions, we could not get a response. Rod then asked Carlos to go to the property and inspect the work first hand to make sure that it was being completed as promised.

Carlos reported back that the roof was looking great, but that the safety railing that had wrapped around the perimeter of one of the skylights was gone. We knew this railing wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it served a purpose and replacing it was not in the budget at this time. As with the canales we had requested that the railing remain in place until at some point down the road we could replace it. We have since sent an email to the Architects asking what happened to our railing and are patiently awaiting a reply.

In fact the whole thing that started the repairs in the first place was the water tower on the top of the roof. It was too heavy and allowing water to seep into the house as well as causing damage to the roof. As part of the roofing job, the water tower was to come down and we have since found out it has not yet been removed because according to the architects it will cause more damage by taking it down (Go figure).

Over the holidays Mom, Bob, Rod and Myself discussed what our next move should be. Since the Ecuador house has two gaping holes in the roof and the interior is in danger of being damaged, we decided it would be best to get down there as soon as possible and assess the situation. We immediately began checking flights to determine at what point we could get to Ecuador.

Rod and I always use our American Express Membership Rewards points when we travel as this saves us a lot on airfare and allows for more trips to Ecuador. The only problem is that the rewards travel has a lot more restrictions than regular travel and the flights seem to be getting harder and harder to find.

What a site, all four of us each on a laptop, trying to find the best flight Ecuador. We worked as a team and each chose a block of time to research. All of us hunched over our laptops, scanning flights, someone in the group would yell out “I found a flight,” only to be followed by a “Well I found a flight, but it’s 22 hours long and we have to fly from Houston to Colorado, change planes, lay over in Ontario Canada for seven hours, catch a flight to Bogata where we would then change planes for the fourth time before flying in to Guayaquil.” We must have spent hours scanning our computer screens looking for the perfect flight. I even called the airlines to see if maybe they could find something we couldn’t, but no such luck.

Mom, Rod and Myself Getting Bleary Eyed Trying To Find A Flight

Finally Mom and I started to notice that the better flights were leaving out of the smaller cities, so we started to concentrate on leaving out of Austin and Huntsville. Mom was able to find a flight out of Austin, but there was no return flight, so we then concentrated our efforts on Huntsville and soon found our flight. We will be leaving from Huntsville on January 20th and flying from Huntsville International Airport to Houston Intercontinental Airport to Quito Mariscal Sucre Airport. Mom and Bob will have to drive from Flatonia Texas (outside of Austin) to Huntsville in order to catch the flight out with us.

We always prefer to fly into Guayaquil and have Carlos pick us up the next day, but at this point there was nothing available into Guayaquil so Quito it is. The worst part about flying into Quito is that you then have to catch a flight from Quito to Cuenca. Three airlines that fly into Cuenca are AeroGal, Lan Airlines and Tame. Lan Airlines was a bit cheaper than Tame, but we opted to go with Tame since it had more flights available.

When we arrive in Quito we will be staying at the Radisson Royal. I found the hotel on line and it looked to be very nice and had great reviews as well. They don’t offer airport shuttle service like the Hampton Inn Guayaquil, but the Radisson does send a car for you, which I suspect is really a taxi. We still remember our first trip to Quito and are hoping not to repeat that experience, even though Mom and I found great humor in the fiasco.

This time around we have decided to try and rent an apartment in Cuenca. Even though we will have to pay for a full month it will still be cheaper than staying in hotels for the full three weeks that we will be staying in Cuenca. Apparently short term rentals are extremely hard to come by, so we will be enlisting the help of our friends to help us find a place. It is even more difficult because we would like to be within walking distance of the house.

Rod stumbled across a property listed on one of the blogs by the name Hotel El Puente that offers both rental suites and rooms by the night and they are quite reasonable. I emailed the hotel for more information, but had to send a second email before I had a response. Once again a reminder that Ecuador moves at a slower pace than we do in the States and the speedy email reply that we have come to expect in the states is not the reality. This is something we are trying to get used to, but will be a very hard adjustment for us. I have to keep reminding Rod that not everyone checks their email fifty times a day as we do in the states and that is probably a good thing.

No News is Good News?

It has been one day since I wrote the beginning of this entry and we have now had news from Ecuador. Carlos emailed us to tell us that he had spoken to our architects and they have informed him that they have stopped work due to the fact that they have not received the last payment for the roof repairs. Anyone who has ever done a remodeling project or built a house knows that you do not pay for the work until it is complete. Rod immediately emailed the architects to let them know that we would be in Cuenca on the 21st of this month in order to inspect the work, but that we did not intend to pay the final amount until the work that we had agreed upon was complete.

The Unfinished Roof

So once again it looks as though we are having to look for a new architect (uuugh!) Who’s idea was this to try and renovate a property in Ecuador while living in the States? Did we temporarily lose our minds? But just like the fudge, we will not be beat, we will raise our wooden spoons, forge ahead and in the end we will prevail.

Getting Into The Holiday Spirit

Before we left for Houston, Rod and I were pretty stressed out with the opening of the new shop, the lack of response from the architects and the Holiday season in general. I had been in contact with a lady in Tennessee about a dish set I was wanting to purchase for resale and Rod offered to go with me to pick it up. We decided to make a day of it and invited our friends Terry and Deanna to go with us. Terry knows Nashville like the back of his hand so he volunteered to drive which suited us just fine.

Terry And Deanna

We decided to go pick up the dishes first, then grab a late lunch and after that head over to the Opryland Hotel. Rod, Lindsay and I used to go almost every year to view the beautiful decorations at the hotel and every time family came to visit during the holidays we would make a special trip. As Lindsay grew older and life happened, somehow we got out of the tradition and our visits were fewer and farther between.

In May of 2010, Nashville experienced a terrible flood. I was caught in the middle of it and can attest to the fact that it was quite frightening. The flood waters left a lot of devastation and as a result, the Opryland Hotel and the surrounding Opry Mills Outlet Center were shut down. The weekend that we chose to take our trip was the first weekend that the hotel was opened since the flood. Unfortunately Opry Mills remains closed.

We were glad to see the hotel open once again and decked out in all of its Christmas glory. As soon as we walked through the front doors we felt like we were in another place and the stress just started to melt away. One of the things that the Opryland Hotel is famous for is it’s lush indoor gardens and cascading waterfalls. There are three separate areas of the hotel that are all connected by meandering pathways, and even though they are all connected, each one has a different theme. Amidst the hotel's lush botanical gardens, pristine indoor cities and one-of-a-kind environments, you'll find a myriad of outstanding restaurants… and plenty of opportunities to please everyone.

One Of The Many Beautiful Pathways

Cascading Waters

The Delta Riverboat Tour

Can You Imagine The Time It Took To Put The Lights On This Tree?

Dancing Waters

The Poinsettias Were Spectacular

One Of The Many Indoor Waterfalls

The Outdoor Nativity Scene And Lit Trees

By the time we left the hotel that evening we were all in a much better frame of mind and ready to tackle Monday morning. On the way out of town we stopped at one of Terry and Deanna’s favorite restaurants, J. Alexander’s for dessert and coffee. Deanna loves their carrot cake, but decided she needed something salty so she ordered a side of fries to go with her cake (Yuk!)

Deanna With Her French Fries And Carrot Cake

In Pursuit of Perfect Fudge

During the holidays, Lindsay and I decided to try and make fudge. I have had an ongoing battle with this confection for many years now and I’m sorry to say it has always gotten the best of me. You name what can go wrong with fudge and I’ve done it. Well I am not one to give into defeat so I picked up my wooden spoon one more time and went to battle. The first night Lindsay and I worked as a team and had very near success. Rod managed to single handedly polish that batch off, so the night before we left for Houston for the Holidays, I decided to try my hand at another batch and failed miserably. The fudge seized so badly I could have literally sent this batch to Ecuador to use to construct the walls in our house.

Lindsay Sampling The Fudge

Rod promised me that while in Houston, we would make a batch together and it would turn out wonderful. We looked up recipes on line and after reading several reviews, settled on an Alton Brown fudge recipe that looked to be just the ticket. While in Houston I went to Williams Sonoma and bought a nifty digital candy thermometer (I needed all the ammunition I could get). Rod, Lindsay and I teamed up and made our fudge. 

My New Digital Candy Thermometer

The Three Musketeers

The Perfect Fudge

Our Holidays

In spite of our Ecuador problems, it was really nice to get away and be able to spend time with the family. We had a house full of people and air mattresses strewn everywhere, but no one cared as being together was all that was important. We all ate to much and stayed up to late, but in the end it was so worth it and we had such a good time. 


Bob Gets Some Much Needed Help With His Button Down Collar

Rod’s Mom Hard At Work

Rod’s Cooking Now

While in Houston, Rod, Lindsay and I were able to visit with his Daughter Michelle and our Granddaughter Jordan. Jordan is ten years old and wants to be the next Taylor Swift. We bought her a guitar for Christmas (Mom said no drums please) and we had a good laugh at Jordan trying to hold her guitar and strum a few chords as it was almost as big as she was.

Rod With His Daughter Michelle And Our Granddaughter Jordan

The Next Taylor Swift

We want to wish all of our friends and family a happy and prosperous year in 2011 and we look forward to seeing our Ecuador friends very soon. We did find out that our friends Jim and Kay who Rod and I met on our solo trip to Ecuador will be there the week before us. It was such a disappointment to find out we would miss them altogether as they leave before we arrive. Hopefully next time guys. Everyone please keep your fingers crossed for us.

Buster In His Christmas Hoodie

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Of The Most Important Women I Have Ever Known

This entry is dedicated to my two Grandmothers whom I miss very much and even today are still are a huge influence in my life....

Several days ago I received a generic email from reminding me of my Paternal Grandmother’s upcoming birthday. Even though I realized this email was nothing more than an attempt to make a sale, it really hit home with me. I lost both of my Grandmothers almost within a year of each other, the latter of which was last year.

My paternal grandmother whom I lost last year was a mother of three. She and my grandfather spent a wonderful active life together and were very much family oriented. They were survived by their two daughters (my father passed away years earlier). I was so blessed to have these two people in my life, they were actually a second set of parents.

       Ora Mae Sedlacek  

William Sedlacek

My grandmother and grandfather were and are affectionately known as Grammy and Grampy. My Mother and Father divorced when I was very young. Grammy and Grampy took us in and turned their basement into a little apartment for us until my mother could enter the work force and get established.

Even after we were able to get out on our own feet, my grandparents were fully immersed in my life. They took care of me during the day while my mother worked and made sure I got to and from school. My Grandmother volunteered at the school library and after school she would cart me around to swim lessons, baton lessons, Brownies, etc. We were constantly on the go, my grandmother was the original “Soccer Mom”.

We took endless vacations together with my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. I was exposed to more things in my childhood than some people experience in a life time. My Grandparents always had an adventurous side in everything they did. They made every trip an adventure and made lasting memories that will be with me forever.

I remember one time when I attended an aerobics class with my Grandmother. I was in my early 20’s and supposedly fit, by the end of the class my tongue was hanging out as I was trying to catch my breath and my grandmother was still going strong.

Ora Mae With My Father and Aunt

My maternal grandmother was quite different from my paternal grandmother in many ways, she had a great sense of humor and found the most obscure things funny, but she also had an adventurous side and was very family oriented as well. My maternal grandparents were known as Nana and Grandpa and they also spent many wonderful years together and were the best of friends. They were survived by their three children, my mother, her sister and brother.

Olive Deal And Her Daughter Dorie

I have fond memories of spending parts of my summers in their little vacation trailer in Crescent City, California. I remember often walking to a nearby field with them and picking blackberries and wildflowers. Their trailer was amongst many others and I had a little red headed boy friend named Eric. Nana and Grandpa would give us change and we would go to the general store to buy candy. Eric would always have to count my money for me. Boy I bet Rod wishes I was still spending change instead of dollars these days.

Whenever I was sick I was sent to my Nana and Grandpa’s house where they would nurse me back to health. I remember one year in particular when both my mother and I were sick, I think we had the flu. We were both in bed and my Grandmother came to stay with us until we were well enough to take care of ourselves.

I remembered my Mother telling me a story about some wild idea Nana once had and I asked her send it to me. This is what she wrote...

I think I was around 7 when the company that Dad worked for was offered a big job in Saudi Arabia. They were going to arrange for Dad to bring his family and they would provide for our education at the English school. Mother was so excited and even though I don't think she knew how to ride horses she decided that we would raise Arabian horses. When I got home from school she would tell me all about the horses and how fast they would run with their manes blowing in the wind, and we would soon learn to ride them.  The bubble burst when Dad's company decided not to take the job. I remember being disappointed, it sounded so exotic this far away place with people that lived in big tents So, mother decided to raise parakeets and then moved on to raising poodles, not very exotic!

Wow! and we wonder where my Mother and I get our constant need to change things up all the time.

Both of these women and my grandfathers as well were a huge influence in my life. They have left their mark on me as well as others forever. I see more and more of my Grandparents in myself the older I get and I know they would love the Ecuador adventure we are on now, in fact Nana would be laughing right along with us at some of our misadventures. Both of these women were strong, adventurous and lived life to its fullest. We should all be so lucky.

Today is Grammy’s birthday...Happy Birthday Grammy I love and miss you both very much, you will always live on through me.

Your Granddaughter,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Safe Is Cuenca, Really?

This weeks entry stems from an incident that happened in our home town a couple of days ago. I was sitting in my office when one of our employees came in and told me about a shooting that had happened at the Walmart just down the street from us. I was in shock for two reasons, one, these kind of things don’t happen very often in Huntsville Alabama and two, I had just been at the Walmart the day before doing some shopping.

Apparently the shooting was a crime of passion, the shooter killed one person and shot his ex girlfriend, the victims were both employees of Walmart. The shooter then went home and shot himself, he was rushed to a hospital in Birmingham, but was later taken off life support and died. The woman he shot survived and was released from the hospital.

It made me think how times have changed since we moved to Huntsville some 20 + years ago. When we first moved to Alabama the lifestyle was so slow compared to the fast pace that we had left behind in Houston, Texas that we actually hated it for the first couple of years. We were constantly looking for other areas to move to. We looked in Georgia and Tennessee and loved both places, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards for us and eventually we grew to love Huntsville and the surrounding area.

Since we have lived in Huntsville, safety has never been an issue I have worried about. Yes there was the time someone broke into our business and stole the very large gum ball machine (the kind that has a roller coaster type chute, so you can watch your gum ball take a winding ride before being dispensed out of the chute).
The thief was obviously after the change that was in the machine and tripped the alarm once he broke into our building, by the time the police arrived there were gumballs strewn all over the parking lot and needless to say a broken gum ball machine. Too funny, here we had all sorts of computer equipment, tools, parts, etc. and they go after the quarters in the gum ball machine. Whoever said a thief was smart.

Not to say Huntsville hasn’t had some violent crimes, but generally speaking they are few and far between, and as with any city, you practice common sense and caution. We do lock our doors when we leave the house or our cars (one time Lindsay did forget to lock her car door and her GPS was stolen at a busy shopping center. We don’t walk in unknown areas at night and we are careful who we give our private information to. Other than that it is business as usual.

Huntsville has grown considerably since we moved here. As of 2009 the population in Madison County is 179,653. In 2009 there were 13 murders, 629 assaults and 6,375 thefts. You can read more about Huntsville, Alabama Statistics.

One of the misconceptions about Ecuador is the crime. We find there is a lot of misinformation on the web and that coupled with the fact that many people are unfamiliar with Ecuador leads to the misnomer that there is a lot of crime in Ecuador. I can’t speak for all areas, but I can say that the only crime we have witnessed on our trips to Ecuador was a purse snatching in Quito, actually it was a backpack and fortunately no one was hurt and all the thieves got away with was some freshly laundered clothes. It was our first trip to Ecuador and apparently we were staying in one of the higher crime areas.

After deciding to write about this subject I immediately went on line to look up some facts about Cuenca since this is where we eventually will be settling. My information was taken from the following website Cuenca Hi Life. According to this website,

Cuenca has one of the lowest rates of serious crime, per capita, in Ecuador (only Loja has a lower rate among cities with populations of more than 100,000), petty and property crime are ongoing problems and rates are increasing. According to 2009 national police statistics, overall crime in Cuenca increased 3% over 2008 and many Cuencanos are demanding increased police protection.

This being said,
Cuenca is safer than almost any city its size in the U.S. if you are considering serious crime and crime involving violence. “If you look at crime statistics, Ecuador has about 30% as many cases, per capita, of murder and aggravated assault. The rate is even lower in Cuenca. So you are statistically safer here from serious harm than in other places.”

Once again the key as in any city is to exercise caution and common sense. According to a former criminologist,

many foreigners are victims of what he calls the “gringo bubble” syndrome. “For some reason, we tend to think that the rules we accept back home don’t apply here. They do. In the U.S. or Canada, most of us understand that spending a lot of time on foot in the central city would put us at risk. Here, because Cuenca has a friendly feel about it, we forget this.”

On a closing note as with any city that grows, so will the crime rate. Hopefully it will be a long time before Cuenca realizes the violent crimes that we experience in the U.S. although I suspect one day Cuenca will also see the consequences of increased crime as more and more people are moving in.

Repairs continue on the house in Cuenca and everything seems to be moving along quite nicely.

I did receive a very funny email from Sebastian, one of our architects that I felt inclined to share,

“Regarding to your house, the work is due to start again tomorrow since during the last bank holiday ("Fiestas de Cuenca", 1st-3rd of November), people did not work at all and on Thursday 4th and Friday 5th, we decided not to make them work either because the workers, most of them, drink a lot during those days and, therefore, they spent the rest of the week so lazy or very hangover and do not work properly.

During last week, the weather has been so terrible, that is why the work had to be stopped, this is because it turns to be very risky for our people as the new surface (chova) becomes very slippery to keep going with the tiles.
Also, we ran out of the old tiles and ordered new ones (old appearance ones obviously) which will be delivered to us tomorrow morning.

Despite all these problems, the whole roof has already been fixed to avoid water from getting in. So, do not worry, all the ceiling is now protected and will not be damaged any more. And, hopefully, the work should be finished by this week as promised.

I hope you understand all these problems that we always expect such as rainny days, bank holidays, etc”.

I found this email very curious, interesting how the labor issues parallel that of the States. Being business owners we can totally relate to the situation. Now that the roof is finished we will start on the next phase of our project. The immediate need is for new sky lites over the courtyards. Right now we have two gaping holes in the middle of our roof with rain pouring in.

The quotes for the sky lites came in from the architects, but they were quite high. We have asked Carlos to help us get some additional bids on the work. We suspect there will be times that we will have to hire outside labor to keep our costs in line. After building and remodeling several houses in the States this is something we are used to.

The last set of photos that sebastian sent of the repairs we noticed that the exterior walls that had been repaired looked very wavy and bumpy. When we asked him about this he explained that they had not finished the walls due to the fact that they had run out of "guano de caballo", which is horse manure, and was very difficult to get a bit more due to its slow process to be produced, which means one of two things, either the horses are not doing their job or horse poop is a hot commodity right now. Sebastian has promised to repair the walls with the next stage of the work.