Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Time for Thanks

This has been an unexpectedly challenging year for the Staton family. No patient anticipates a devastating diagnosis from one’s doctor, and no parent can ever be prepared for that phone call from their child saying, “I’ve got cancer.”

The earthshaking developments of the last six months, which came ripe with opportunities to wallow in despair and negativity, have instead fostered for me an increased awareness of wonderful blessings that have revealed themselves during this journey--some surprising, others obvious, and a few hidden in plain sight.

So in the spirit that defines the holiday season here’s what I am most thankful for:

While I am pretty diligent about exercise and diet, our daughter’s battle with cancer has given me newfound appreciation for my own excellent health and the well-being of the rest of the family.

How wonderful that I have three families to cherish--my immediate family with four beautiful grandchildren, my family of close friends at home in Cuenca, and my global network of International Living associates. All add such richness to my life.

I am pleased that Cynthia and I have created a lifestyle that allowed her to be at our daughter’s side within days of the diagnosis, and for us to be able assist our loving family as long as we are needed.

It’s impossible to describe how proud I am that Adrian, upon learning that she would immediately be undergoing a debilitating chemotherapy regimen, said, “Well, then I’m going to be the best chemo patient ever,” and then proceeded to do exactly that.

I am encouraged that through the combination of early detection, an excellent medical team, aggressive treatment, and positive intention by everyone that Adrian’s prognosis is extremely optimistic.

I am blown away by the incredible kindness and generosity of so many individuals who have sent cards and flowers--opened their homes for playdates--picked up from school and driven Adrian to appointments--donated money, meals, and supplies. Some are our friends from Ecuador, classmates from high school that I haven’t seen in years, even total strangers. The basic goodness of people that we have experienced firsthand literally brings tears of joy to my eyes.

Most of all I am eternally grateful for the incredible woman with whom I have had the privilege of sharing almost my whole life. Cynthia is the unwavering rock of our family. Her boundless energy and indomitable spirit are truly inspirational, and by her very presence she makes everyone, especially me, better.

Above our picture on this blog I write, “Life is good!! Be happy!!” After almost seven decades on the planet I thought I knew what that meant. The events of 2016 have expanded my understanding of these words to both a higher and deeper level than I imagined possible.

This is what I know--live with love and kindness in your heart and you will never experience regret. Be grateful for every moment, for each one is unique and precious. And take time to be thankful for everything in your life. Life truly is good!


Sunday, November 6, 2016

On the Road Again

Wow, it's hard to believe after such a short time at home that I'm outta here again tonight. Cynthia and I will be attending a BIG International Living conference (almost 700 attendees!) in Las Vegas next week, then we head east to spend the holidays with our family.

Those of you who don't travel for extended periods of time may not be aware that part of the exit strategy is completely eating down the contents of your refrigerator. I've done such an outstanding job this time that the only remaining food is an apple, three strips of bacon, and two eggs. No question what I'm having for lunch today (after a breakfast of, you guessed it, bacon and eggs). Maybe TOO good a job-----.

I'm often asked by fellow expats if I get caught back up in the "energy" of the U.S. when I'm there. Readers who haven't lived abroad probably don't know what this even means. I'm referring to the over-stressed, over-stimulated, over-scheduled life we left behind and that doesn't exist at least here in Cuenca.

The answer is "no." I find myself in that culture but no longer of it. As a mental tuneup I watched The Matrix again this week (if you've never seen it, you really should) because I actually feel somewhat like Neo whenever I journey to a different location. All around me life is going on but I am experiencing a different reality. I get amused (and a bit sad) to see people getting so worked up about trivialities. I marvel at the sheer abundance in the States and know that excessive consumerism isn't necessary to be fulfilled.

Don't get me wrong--I love my home country and am always thrilled to return. I look forward to a delicious steak, a trip to Target and a huge grocery store, going to the mall, and seeing a movie with the latest technology. And I of course cherish every minute of being with my beloved family.

But I'm always glad to return to our quiet, simple world here in Ecuador. No, we don't have access to all the goodies available in the United States. We instead enjoy something much more important---peace.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The "3 P's" of Our Presidential Election

I’ve been wanting to comment on the upcoming presidential election but there has been so much late-breaking news that I can’t keep up! Perhaps some new development will be in the headlines before you even read this.

What an earth-shaking, ground-breaking campaign we have witnessed. Two celebrity candidates, both profoundly disliked by the voting public, slugging it out for months in an ugly contest for the White House. Charges and countercharges have been so numerous that we’re all exhausted.

I see “3 P’s” in play (and, no, one of them is NOT the word used by Trump with Billy Bush), and two of them have in my mind gotten far too much attention.

Polls

I’m not sure how much the general public pays attention to polls but the media LOVE them. New ones seem to come out every few days with stories about how they indicate this and that.

Problem is, the information presented fluctuates so wildly that they are meaningless. Two weeks ago the pollsters declared the election over and Hillary the winner. According to them there was only a handful of undecided’s insufficient to have any impact on the outcome.

A couple of days ago (and before last night’s bombshell FBI revelation) polls showed Hillary’s lead had shrunk from insurmountable to within margin of error. Now given the previous “conclusive” data how could that have possibly happened in one week?

Polling data was wrong on Brexit. It was wrong recently in Columbia. WAY wrong in both cases. I say ignore all this rubbish.

Personalities

In this corner, a brash, outspoken newcomer with a faulty brain-to-mouth filter. His opponent, a scripted, robotic political veteran with a shady past.

It’s hard to like either one of them, isn’t it? Trump’s membrane-thin skin and supersized ego have opened so many self-inflicted wounds. Clinton is a congenital liar who seems more like a castoff android from Westworld than a real human being.

But sadly their collective flaws have driven much of the hateful vitriol of each candidate’s respective supporters. On social media I observe this behavior is much more pronounced among Hillary fans.

Many of them seem to despise Trump with an intensity that is borderline disturbing. Trump supporter: “Hillary is corrupt and evil.” Hillary fan: “Oh, yeah? Trump is the kind of man who would tie up and beat your child, rape her, then enjoy killing her.” Huh? No contest.

Like them or not, these are our two candidates and we’re voting for President, not Mr. & Miss Congeniality. Let’s force ourselves to quit watching the freak show this campaign has turned into and pay more attention to P #3.

Policies

For this final week, can we put all the “Crooked Hillary” and “woman-hating bigot” nonsense on the shelf and keep our easily diverted minds on what these two deeply flawed people represent for our future? And not just the next four years. Supreme Court appointments will impact us for a generation.

What is their vision on the economy, immigration, foreign policy, national security, deficit reduction, and the host of other vitally important issues? Which position most aligns with your own values?

Let’s make it our business to know as least as much about what’s at stake in this important election as we do about emails and sexual harassment charges. Then let’s vote our conscience on November 8.

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!