Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Typical Week of Our Expat Life

This article I wrote was just published in IL's Ecuador Insider. Thought you might enjoy it as well.

"My wife Cynthia and I look forward to participating in IL's exciting new Bootcamp event in Las Vegas next month, and I'm sure we'll hear the most-asked question we get from attendees at conferences: "So what do you do all day in Ecuador?"

We've come to understand that this is a roundabout way of wondering, "What would I do all day?" After all, you can do endless research on the weather, healthcare, and cost of living in expat destinations, but it's hard to put yourself in the picture and imagine what daily life is really like.

Since living abroad seems so exotic, our typical answer of "Pretty much the same things you do now," catches people off guard. But honestly, wherever you live, food must be bought and prepared, dishes and clothes washed, and errands run. All between the time you get out of bed in the morning and go to sleep at night.

That being said, we live a charmed life in Cuenca. Simple, but charmed. Except in rare instances (that usually involve setting the alarm to catch an early flight) we wake up whenever our eyes decide to open. The sun is always up—starting the day in the dark is taboo in Casa Staton.

We tend to ease into the day, quietly drinking coffee while checking the news online or reading. Three mornings a week, Cynthia practices yoga in the studio conveniently located in the lobby of our building and I walk to a nearby gym. These are the only regularly scheduled activities in our entire week.

The other four mornings often involve other types of physical activities like riding a stationary bike we have upstairs, or taking a long walk along one of the nearby rivers. The morning is also the time to catch up on emails and talk to our grandchildren in the States on Skype video.

Afternoons are whatever we want them to be—doctor appointments, meeting friends for lunch, going to the grocery store. Sometimes we don't unlock the front door all day, choosing instead to stay home and work on writing assignments, or perhaps cook a nice dinner. Whenever we feel tired we simply lie down and rest.

There was a time when our evenings were filled with social activities, but now we usually choose to prop our feet up with a glass of wine and watch TV or movies. A free Zumba class takes place three times a week in a park across the street that we keep threatening to attend. But it starts at 8 p.m. and…well, you know...

Does this all sound incredibly boring? After spending our adult years in the U.S. being overworked, over-scheduled, and over-stressed, we relish the easy, carefree lifestyle we have created in Cuenca.

Plus, having only three waking hours scheduled each week allows us to spontaneously decide to throw our bathing suits in a bag and go to a spa just outside of town. Or stay out too late with friends having too much fun.

Is there such a thing as having too much fun? I don't think so."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Clean Sweep

Habitat III, a United Nations-sponsored conference on sustainable living, has drawn 20,000 attendees from all over the globe to Quito this week. Cuenca is in the spotlight as the only city in Ecuador to be recognized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for meeting standards of “orderly and sustainable” growth in the category of cities under two million in population.

Not only that, Cuenca ranks #14 throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean. The designation is based on the city’s coverage of basic services, including electric, water, and sewer, for its growth planning, low crime rate, and social and environmental consciousness.

Visitors to Cuenca often have preconceived notions of places in Latin America being trashy and dirty, and there are plenty of areas in Ecuador that fit this description. They are therefore favorably surprised to discover the city's cleanliness.

I'd like to say that the elevated consciousness of our citizens deserves all the credit, but sadly that isn't the case. Sure, there are trash receptacles throughout town and, yes, you sometimes see pet owners with poop bags. But too many folks are still prone to toss trash out of car windows and leave empty alcohol bottles here and there.

Cuenca is so clean because the city government employs a small army to pick up after all of us. Beginning at 5 AM every day two hundred fifty six uniformed employees with rolling 55 gallon drums sweep the streets and sidewalks, and another one hundred ninety five park workers maintain Cuenca's many public green spaces every 36 days.

Street cleaning machines pass through El Centro five times a day and once or twice a week in the rest of the city. One hundred eighty four people collect garbage twice a week, and even in this department Cuenca ranks highest in the country with a 98% coverage area.

So congratulations to Cuenca for the much deserved international recognition, and thank you to the 600+ hard-working Cuencanos who help make our beautiful city such a wonderful place to live.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Different Strokes---

At the moment Cynthia is participating in a weekend yoga/meditation/detox retreat somewhere outside of Cuenca. When she was signing up she asked me if I wanted to join her. My only hesitation in answering was the "Uh---" that preceded, "No thanks."

Don't get me wrong. I practice yoga right here in this office three days a week and try to meditate daily. I have no qualms about de-toxing and would probably benefit from it. But two whole days (and I mean two whole days--she left at 6 AM yesterday and returns home around 8 tonight) of all that is a little too rich for my blood.

Instead I've so far spent the weekend doing a little writing, catching up on some reading, drinking beer and watching football. Thus our "How was your weekend?" conversation this evening is going to be a little one-sided.

It's great that we know ourselves and each other so well--after 45 years of marriage we should, right?--that the "do it to make the other person happy" ship sailed long ago. I still cringe to think of the ear splitting Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad concerts I dragged her to back in our dating days. I swear I thought she was digging it!

In only two more weeks Cynthia heads back to the States until after the New Year, with me following shortly thereafter. All of our travel this year almost makes it feel like we're visitors instead of residents of Cuenca. Here's to a more "normal" 2017 for us and the rest of our dear family.

Yikes, it's almost time for the Falcons/Broncos game. Priorities-----. At least I did yoga this morning.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Cuenca Art Walk 2016

The 2nd annual Cuenca Art Walk has been in full swing this weekend. Fifty-five different venues all over the city have opened their doors for patrons to enjoy art, music, dance, and food. Cynthia and I were out of the country last year for the inaugural Art Walk so we were anxious to participate this time.

We met friends for breakfast downtown at a small cafe inside the old cathedral. Then we ventured out together to wander the streets of our hometown. What's really interesting about an event like this is you get a new perspective on something that already seems so familiar.

Some of the galleries and shops we visited I've probably walked past a hundred times without ever noticing their presence. We all "put the blinders on" in our daily lives, don't we, as we're going from Point A to Point B. In addition to enjoying all the artistic presentations it was fun to get to know Cuenca even better. And any time you're out and about here the chances are good you will bump into someone you know, so the camaraderie of hanging out with our friends plus all the other folks whose paths we crossed made the day extra special.

Even when the weather temporarily became uncooperative things worked out. We happened to be in front of a small Italian restaurant where none of us had ever dined as it started to rain. A few minutes later we found ourselves upstairs in the cozy dining room sharing a lovely platter of cheeses, olives, bread, and condiments while toasting our friendship with glasses of Carmenere. Of course while we were there other friends arrived and sat at a nearby table--it's Cuenca!

I enjoyed myself so much that I didn't remember to take as many photos as I intended. But here are a few shots from along the route of the Art Walk.

At our last stop we came across another group of friends gathered at a big table outside a restaurant facing a beautiful park. We pulled up chairs and joined them for a final glass of wine and some conversation before wearily heading home. Our terrific day suitably ended with a remarkable sunset.

Special thanks to Cara Venn for coordinating Cuenca Art Walk 2016. Your unselfish efforts gave us all a memorable weekend!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thoughts about the First Debate

Let me begin by thanking so many of you for your kindness regarding our daughter Adrian. I am pleased to report that she is responding extremely well to her treatment and we have every reason to expect a full recovery. Cynthia and I returned home to Cuenca three weeks ago for some much needed rest. After our duties in November at the next big International Living conference in Las Vegas we will spend the holiday season in the States with our family.

I've enjoyed following this presidential election more than any in my life. There was so much drama during the primaries for both parties with Bernie Sanders giving presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton an unexpected run for her money, and the even more improbable rise of outsider Donald Trump within the Republican ranks.

While the first challenger is a socialist and the other a capitalist, both were lifted by the electorate's desire for a change. Hope and change, the promises of Barack Obama eight years ago, have been largely unfulfilled as our country finds itself today more divided than ever racially, economically, and ideologically. Disgruntlement with our elected leaders is at an all time high, and people are eager for the country to move in a different direction. Any direction, given Sanders' near-victory and Trump's ascendance.

At last when the candidates met for the first time face to face last night, Cynthia and I joined 80 million other people anxious to watch the spectacle. With 46 years of political experience (beginning as a volunteer in Joe Lieberman's state senate race in 1970), the bar was set high for Hillary to perform at an exemplary level. As usual, no one knew exactly what to expect from The Donald, who was participating in the first one-on-one debate of his life with zero mock debate preparation.

So how did it go, and who won? From the perspective of proper debating skill I thought Hillary won by a landslide. She kept a cool (bordering on icy) demeanor throughout, never got rattled, and delivered obviously rehearsed "ad libs" on cue. Donald sniffed, drank water like he was channeling Little Marco, and often demonstrated his lack of rehearsal by going off on tangents and wasting valuable stage time.

And yet------

Predictably, most journalists declared Hillary the winner. But in almost all the polls of actual viewers, Trump won "bigly" in spite of his sometimes ragged outing.

If you are Hillary and her camp this news has to be incredibly disappointing and frustrating. She gives a stellar performance while he huffs and puffs, yet he wins in the public eye by margins as high as 90% to 10%.

What gives?

Eventually running for President has always been the inevitable trajectory of Hillary's long career, but I think the message for this election cycle is she's the wrong candidate at the wrong time. She has demonized Trump on the campaign trail and through massive ad buys. In fact her whole campaign of Stronger Together (whatever that means) is basically, "He's even worse than me!"

There is nothing memorable about her platform because she basically embraces the policies of Obama that the electorate appears eager to reject. And since he defeated her in 2008 on the way to becoming our nation's first black president there seems to be no juice behind electing the first woman to the nation's highest office.

Beyond the results of last night's debate is more bad news for the candidate. In spite of throwing everything at Trump but the kitchen sink for months, the race is virtually tied including vital swing states and others that traditionally vote Democratic. Coming down the home stretch she appears to have nothing left in the tank except to keep repeating the same charges of "dangerous," "incompetent," and "unfit" that have grown increasingly stale.

Plus there are two more debates to go. After such extensive prep she probably can't top her performance of last night, but guess who can? And will? Trump has proven throughout the last fourteen months to be an amazingly quick study, so there's no reason to think he won't get better and better.

Then there's the Julian Assange wild card. Mr. WikiLeaks states that he has critically damaging information about Ms. Clinton. Why would he make such a statement if it isn't true? Look for him to dump it shortly before the last debate for maximum impact.

The Ecuadorian owner of a restaurant where we often eat lunch approached our table this afternoon and asked what we thought about the debate. I replied, "A better question is what you thought about it." He said, "It seems like Donald Trump isn't ready to be President of the United States."

Ah, what a year of political surprises. And with six weeks to go, who knows what may happen between now and November 8. But given the current direction of the campaign I told our friend, "Well, he'd better get ready because we very well may be calling him President Trump in January."

Monday, August 8, 2016


In June our daughter Adrian was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cynthia immediately flew to the States to join the family and I followed a week ago. We will be here in New Jersey until the end of the month.

Adrian will soon finish her first round of chemo and is responding remarkably well to the treatment. Her positive attitude and resolve are inspirational, and we are certain she will beat this. If you would like to follow her journey she has set up this website:

Your positive energy is much appreciated.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit--Good or Bad?

I want to address a subject that is very important to me today. I awoke this morning to learn that the UK's citizens have voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the European Union.

This news came as a shocking surprise to pollsters who assumed the vote would maintain the status quo, but not to me. There is an undeniable parallel between the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. and this historic vote on the "other side of the pond." No establishment figures, be they politicians or the media, took Trump's candidacy seriously either, yet he has attracted a record number of new voters on the way to becoming the GOP nominee.

Too many critics focus on The Donald's oversized personality and sometimes outlandish statements while ignoring the underlying discontent that has propelled his candidacy. There appears to be a shift in global consciousness occurring where people have reached a breaking point regarding their frustration with unresponsive government. They are fed up with the loss of personal freedom through overreaching government intrusions into their lives and the arrogant attitude of elected representatives that signals "be quiet--we know what's best for you."

Trump's appeal to his supporters is not so much exactly what he will or won't do but that he can be counted on to do something. They believed that a vote for more experienced establishment opponents in the primaries, and now for Hillary in November, is a choice to continue along the same "do nothing" path with which they are supremely dissatisfied. And their unhappiness is so intense they are willing to take a chance and boldly move the country in a new direction.

The same mindset has prevailed in the UK. The EU experiment from the outset was a monetary initiative cloaked in the same "safety and security" fabrication as our own Patriot Act. In the end each has been revealed to be more about government control than the welfare of the citizenry.

In both cases the immigration issue stands at the forefront, but it is a mistake to lionize this one aspect of a much broader feeling of disgruntlement. Famous author Stephen Covey reminds us to "keep the main thing the main thing." The main thing right now is that people worldwide are standing at the window like the guy in the movie Network and shouting, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!"

Has the UK made a wise decision? Time will tell. The great news is if this turns out to be a mistake they can decide something different.

I believe the vast majority of us are good and decent, and that we are perfectly capable of deciding what is best for ourselves. I fervently believe in democracy. I believe that the will of the people must prevail.

And for that reason I celebrate yesterday's vote as a win for the people. Let freedom ring!