Here I am!! Sitting in the equatorial sun, listening to birds sing (and cars rush by) on the terrace of our rental. 24 hours after leaving Spokane, we arrived safely in Cuenca- feeling like zombies, but with all of our ridiculous, ridiculous amounts of luggage intact and accounted for!!
Pyra is so well adjusted to her nap routine at home in her bed that she had a really hard time sleeping during travel. During 24 hours of travel, she got about 6 hours of sleep. And I suppose you can guess: mom and dad got much less sleep. But we made it! And Pyra is currently napping soundly in her bed after an excellent night’s sleep. Man do we love her little travel bed. (Hummingbird chirping up a storm just above my head … and a little bird that looks like a miniature dove just flew into the garden).
We didn’t venture out much yesterday after our 6:30am arrival. But we did go out for our first “almuerzo” just a couple blocks from where we are staying. “Almuerzo” is one of our favorite culinary traditions here: an inexpensive set-plate lunch. Yesterday’s almuerzo was a $3 variety that was an exceptional value: fresh juice, lentil and sausage soup, rice, potatoes in sauce, some kind of stewed pork in a sauce, a tiny salad, and a tiny cookie. Man do I love almuerzo!!! The ability to walk from home to a $3 very-filling meal is the best!
Poor Pyra was out of sorts most of the day, but she loved waving and interacting with all the people while we were out and about. I heard her say “hola” for the first time: melt my heart!!! It was to a little boy at the restaurant that she was interacting with through a window 🙂 Later she smiled and waved a lot to the other kids at the park. There is a nice little neighborhood park just two blocks from where we are staying. Parks here are so awesome because they are well-attended by families, as residential yards and green spaces aren’t so common inside the city. Most parks are well-maintained and well-used. It’s one of the main (and favorite) ways we can “naturally” interact with locals.
Rod has his work station set up, and is plugging away, but the internet is a woeful affair in our rental. We were completely spoiled in our previous rental in Cuenca; it had the fastest internet any of our local friends had heard of. But we’ll get things figured out. We have this rental for one month while we look for more permanent accommodations. I suppose it’s time to start hunting. Ugh.
Another thing we need to look into is OB care and where to give birth this time around. We’re not sure if we want to go the same route as last time … I feel like I want a little more medical presence, although I don’t want to give up all the autonomy and flexibility we had before. We never visited a hospital the last time we were here, we may do that this time, just to get a better sense of what is available. Our little guy (little because he has at least 3 more months to bake, and little because he’s supposedly on the small side for his gestational age: 22nd percentile) isn’t expected for several more months, but I want to feel the security of having some kind of plan and support system in place, and the sooner the better.
Well, the equatorial sun is so fierce here that I need to go back inside to cool off. Only my legs and feet are in the sun, but dang is it hot when it’s out! The sun is super intense at this latitude and elevation, and it scorches quickly. We plan to go get Pyra a better sun hat later today; Rod and I still have ours from our last visit.
I’ll try to get photos on this blog and the Facebook page as the internet connection and Little P allow. Wish you all could be here on the terrace with me!!!! Big hugs and kisses from Cuenca.
Our townhouse is emptied out and we’re checking off the last of our “to-do” items, because … we’re moving! In less than 24 hours. Out of the country. Again. To Ecuador. Yes, moving again after only 5 months in the Spokane, WA area. And while I’m definitely not excited to uproot ourselves so soon, the reason for our move definitely IS wonderfully exciting! We’re moving back to Ecuador for the same basic reasons that we went down in 2018, only this time … it’s a BOY baby that we’re expecting!!
This will be a short post because it’s the morning before we leave, and Little P is about to wake up. Today is a day of last-minute items like confirming that our (7!) checked bags are within weight restrictions and inventoried; meet the carpet cleaners at our rental and then return the keys; take our van to the storage lot; pack the last of our food items to give away; pack up our carry-ons (do we have enough diapers, snacks, and distractions for air travel with a 17-month old?); clean up at our temporary housing at the AirBnB and get to bed early (yeah right) for our 3:15am ride to the airport.
I just wanted to get this post out because it came to my attention that many of our friends and family weren’t actually aware of one or all of the following: that we’re expecting (and I’m already 27 weeks!), that we’re having a boy in May/June, that we are moving back to Ecuador. We plan to stay through until the end of the year and return to the USA for visiting over the holidays. I’m hoping this post reaches all the people who would want to know!
Well, I best be getting myself ready for this very busy day. Baby boy is already kicking at me to get going, and soon there will be a precious toddling girl calling for me. Rodney and I will have our hands full for the next 48 hours … but then we can rest at the equator and take deep breaths of mountain air at 8,400 feet in Cuenca, Ecuador.
One last thought before I sign off and get this day going …
The appreciation we feel for our family and friends could not be greater. We are wildly blessed with good fortune and loving support. We are going to miss everyone so, so, so incredibly much. We have deep gratitude and appreciation for all the help and love we’ve received these last months and in these last weeks and days. You know who you are … you wonderful people. And some of you may not even know how much you make us feel supported with just a few words now and then, but sent with sincerity and intention. From Alaska to Washington and Oregon, California and Arizona, south to Ecuador, across the oceans to Spain and Germany, and in so many places in-between … our support network is wide, deep, and rich with love. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
A crowded coffee shop, my Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music in my headphones to overpower the din of conversation and clatter of silverware. A steaming drink and a sweet treat … still hot, and all to myself, all by myself. Gosh, that sounds selfish! But I need it right now. I needed it all week, and the week before. I’m going to just sit and enjoy it for a minute …
Oh dear: my drink and treat are disappearing too fast, I better start writing again.
Man, I’m terrible with routine and consistency … well, for some things, anyway. I’ve actually been remarkably consistent with Little P’s sleep routine and schedule; I feed both my children every single day, multiple times a day; and I’m consistently amazed by both my incredibly fortunate life and how often I feel utterly exhausted. So, maybe I’m actually great with routine and consistency?! Perspective is a wonderful thing; I just need to continually adjust mine! I’m also consistently distracted from my task at hand … so, ahem, as I was saying …
I haven’t been great at updating this website, despite my frequent desire to work on it. I have two draft posts that never made it onto the blog. One post is from the end of March 2019 when we were in Cologne, Germany and the other I wrote at the beginning of May 2019 in Madrid, Spain. SO MUCH has happened, and I wish I had been documenting and sharing all along … but I prioritized the moment and need to be fine with that. I will, however, go ahead and paste in those two partial posts here:
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Sleep Training, Part 3- Traveling Takes its Toll
March 26, 2019 – First off, I want to say that I’m pretty sure it’s still worth it. I sat down to write this post feeling like I would mostly complain. But that would be rather weak of me. I’m always touting my mantra of “perspective, perspective, perspective” and that’s probably because I have a really hard time keeping things in perspective myself. I’m the one who needs the word “perspective” tattooed across my forehead. Hm. Maybe I will get a tattoo, after all ….
It’s true that things haven’t been easy with Pyra (now six and a half months old!) since we started to travel, but I would likely be second-guessing and having trying times if I were in one location anyway. I’m an over-thinker, analyzer type with postpartum empathy on over-drive. Then you throw in that we’re moving around to different housing, dealing with a 9-hour time, teething, illness, vaccinations, lack of sleep, lack of support system …. yeah, it makes sense that I might feel a bit overwhelmed, a bit exhausted, a bit like throwing in the towel and going home now and then. Only, where is home?! And would the grass truly be greener, more lush, and worth giving up all these other wonderful experiences and memories?
*pausing to get my crying baby …*
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And, cut. that was the end of that post. HA! A rather appropriate conclusion given the post title. (I also consistently bring up the all-important “perspective!” High-five to myself!)
I looked back at my photos, and I took this photo on that day … a coffee that was drunk in many different sittings, as a parent often does when caring for an infant.
If I remember correctly, I was going to elaborate on some of the issues with baby’s sleep due to our travel schedule. I’m not going to try to finish the post, but I will recount a couple very memorable experiences.
Teething Infant + Major Construction
In Maui (where we were the last time I actually published a post, back in February of this year!), the condo we were staying at was under construction. I’m not talking about some light remodeling or major renovations in the tower next to ours … I’m talking about jackhammering into concrete on the level directly above ours. I’m talking about not being able to talk to one another in our living space, due to the intense noise level. And then there was Baby Pyra. Teething and needing a nap. I was about to lose my mind (over lost sleep and frustration), but children are incredibly adaptive and that sweet little girl ended up sleeping through the ridiculous noise … at least some of the time.
Teething Infant + Nine-Hour Time Change
The other memorable experience was the first several days in Europe after arriving from the west coast of the US. As it turns out, babies aren’t great at adjusting to major time changes without a great deal of external influence. The one recommendation I had read about before we traveled suggested that, a week or so before travel, the parent should begin to push baby’s sleep time either forward or back in 15-minute increments. This recommendation probably works wonderfully for an hour or two time difference. But our nine-hour time change would practically be a baby’s entire awake time for a day!
The travel tip would be tricky enough to implement as we were already on the road and could barely stick to a routine as it was, but throw in the little wrench of the amount of the time change and we would need 36 days to adjust Pyra’s sleep schedule according to recommendation! And even if we could adjust to half the difference, soon baby would be going to bed at 11:30pm and waking up at almost noon! Completely infeasible. So, instead, we got to Barcelona and I was awake all night with baby and asleep most of the day … for nearly three days, and with the baby in my arms for nearly all of it. After the flight, Pyra wanted to be in my arms all the time; I couldn’t lay her down to sleep. I was desperately tired, so I remember holding her in my arms until they shook with fatigue and sleeping inclined on the couch with a six-month-old on my chest. I was too exhausted to figure out what to do, so we continued this way until finally Rodney had had enough and forced me to make the necessary changes to adapt our sleep schedule. It weren’t no fun, let me tell you … but I’d do it all again to live my fortunate life with my precious family.
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Travels with Baby, Part 1
May 02, 2019 – It’s silent in the dimly lit room except for the whir of the fan and the occasional squeak of a mattress and turn of a page as my eldest daughter (tries to) read quietly on the springy hotel bed. My husband is lying on another bed, working on his phone, and I’m stretched out comfortably on my own bed, writing this.
What’s so noteworthy about this cozy scene in Madrid, Spain? It’s that our 7 and 1/2 month old daughter is taking a nap in the same room, in her own bed, after being put down awake. And I feel pretty well rested and in good humor. It is absolutely glorious. But I won’t lie, it’s not been exactly a piece of cake to get to this point.
We’ve been traveling for …. well, where do I start? From when we left Ecuador when the baby, Pyra, was 2 and 1/2 months old? Or when we left Alaska when she was 5 months? Let’s be conservative and I’ll say that we’ve been traveling for 11 weeks and 1 day. That’s how long it’s been since we took off from Alaska (we were there for 10 and 1/2 weeks and before that we were in Ecuador for 5 months, where Pyra was born).
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I think folks can use their own imagination to suppose what kind of trials might arise when you travel extensively with an infant and a woman who doesn’t function well unless incredibly well-rested. I’m done dwelling on the downsides … I want to remember and relish the amazing experiences we shared as a family. My alone time should be wrapping up soon and I want to end this post with some fun memories and photos. So that’s what I’m going to do!! Here is just a tiny fraction of the 3.5 months we spent traveling … I’ll have to do more catch-up later.
I just poured cold water into Nixin’s breakfast bowl. Nixin watched me, confused and a little amused, as my water bottle stood patiently nearby. That’s why we’re not going to Turtle Town this morning.
More accurately, we’re not going because Pyra is teething and she and I didn’t get enough restful sleep last night. I quickly gave up and went back to bed after trying to persuade Rod to take Nixin to the beach without us.
This lifestyle is an interesting mix of vacation and … “life” that I feel we haven’t yet sorted out. We’re still finding our footing and figuring things out as we go. I feel a bit like we’re moving around in limbo. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to the idea of venturing out from a permanent residence: you leave your home and stuff behind for a certain period and then return and resume where you left off. Only we just left, we didn’t leave off. We have no home to return to (although I admit that the generosity of my parents to share their home with us is very near the feeling of having our own home).
I was frustrated that Rod wouldn’t take Nixin to the beach without me, because we’re only on Maui a couple more days, and our time with Nixin is fleeting. Who knows when she’ll next have the chance to swim with sea turtles? More importantly, when will he have the chance to share the experience of swimming with sea turtles with his daughter? Well, maybe it will be tomorrow, or maybe it will be never. Who knows?
On vacations you generally are more motivated to get out and experience things because your time away from “real life” is limited. But what if you’re living a semi-permanent vacation? Is our motivation declining because we don’t have a deadline to return to “real life?” Or is today just an off day because we’re all a little under the weather? I’m sitting on the lanai (pretty sure that’s what they call a deck here?) soaking in some gentle morning sun, listening to the coos and chirps of island birds, with the sea shimmering a deep blue just a few hundred feet away. But I’m letting my daughter sit in the air-conditioned apartment and watch “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.”
I’m going to have to do better to take these things in stride, because this IS our life. There will be down days, and there will likely be many more than I imagined. We’re not out on a quick 2-week trip, we’re just “out.” There will be indoor tv days even in paradise. But I’m grappling with this, because as much as I appreciate relaxed, having down time, and not over-planning, I feel the tug of mortality and uncertainty in my periphery- the uncertainty of how long this lifestyle will last. There are other variables, out of our control, that we have to contend with and incorporate into the equation.
We don’t get to make all of the decisions for Nixin’s experience and future on our own. There have already been some shadows of roadblocks coming to light that we’ll have to navigate. And it may potentially lead to a change in course.
But I ramble in my cocoon of sleepy thoughts. I guess I just want to make sure I appreciate this life right now, as we live it. And to really live it, even as it stretches out in front of us indefinitely. I don’t know if we’re at the beginning of long and durable venture, or if this beginning butts up against the unexpected ending.
I may have experienced a sleepless night with a teething baby, and awoke to feel unrested and grumpy, but the Maui morning sun has soaked into my bones as I sat writing this, removing the sense of frustration and anxiety that permeated my foggy thoughts. The blue water swept those unwanted feelings out to sea. The chorus of birds have brightened my outlook and helped to adjust my perspective.
We can never know exactly where we sit on our journey through life. But that’s ok, especially if we recognize and appreciate the inevitable uncertainty as opportunity.
I’m sitting down during another no-fuss nap, after a night of good sleep. It’s been just over a week since we’ve started and the change to my life has been absolutely dramatic.
It’s incredible to me how quickly and easily our nights were transformed from me getting up every hour and nursing Pyra back to sleep, to an entire night of sleep without a peep from Pyra. Some nights there are a couple fussy periods, and often I choose to give Pyra a “dream feed” or two to help keep up my milk supply (technically I am an “older mother,” even if my husband balks at the term and assures me otherwise!). The results of the “cry it out” method (CIO) were so positive and so immediate- and with so little crying, despite the common name of the method- that it really felt like CIO was a little bit of magic for our family.
The reason that CIO is not pure magic: naptime continues to be tricky. I was prepared for this, having read that nighttime sleep is easier, so you should work on that first then move onto naptime which is harder for babies to catch on. However, since Pyra transitioned her nighttime sleep so incredibly fast, I was still surprised and disappointed that naps were so much more difficult. There is definite naptime improvement, but it is slower progress. There is also a lot more trial-and-error and second-guessing involved with naptimes (Is she ready to go down? Should I get her up, leave her to cry, or soothe her back to sleep?) which leaves room for a parent to regret decisions and feel like they have no idea what they are doing. Naps are just way harder. At least they have been for us.
I’ve started to think ahead to when we start to travel and wonder how that will go. I know that we will have trying times ahead of us and I’m working on my perspective now, so that I don’t get overwhelmed and super frustrated later on. Naptime conditions will change considerably when we are traveling. If naps are out of whack, what happens to nighttime sleep? How will we cope with four of us sleeping in the same room with a crying baby? How will it feel to have a baby crying in someone else’s home?
I’m encouraged by our nighttime success that things will go pretty well, but we have tried one sleepover at my sister’s and it was a little rougher than usual. There is often some intermittent fussing and crying in the first hour or two after we put her down. It’s one thing to have that in your own home, and another to “subject” other people to it in a home you’ve been welcomed into.
One step we’ve taken to provide Pyra with better sleeptime consistency is to purchase a travel bed. We went back and forth about whether to haul around a baby bed, but ultimately we decided it might prove to be worth its weight in gold (and if it’s not we can get rid of it along the way!). Our rationale is that if she has a familiar bed and bedtime routine, it won’t be so disruptive to change locations. Children adapt so quickly, we’re sure she’ll get used to moving around, but we think the bed will provide some comfort and make transitions smoother. And if baby is sleeping well, the whole family will sleep better.
The travel bed will not only provide comfort, but it will provide safety as well. It makes me feel a lot better knowing that Pyra will be in a safe place to sleep wherever we go. She’s already starting to roll around, and soon enough she’ll be crawling. We don’t know what our housing will look like, but no matter where we are, Pyra will sleep in a safe bed.
We bought the Guava Lotus Travel Crib (http://bit.ly/GuavaLotusTravelCrib) for its lightweight portability and good reviews. After we’ve used it more- and lugged it around the world- I’ll post my own review. So far, it’s been four nights and it seems to be working out great. We have already used it at my sister’s house for some naps and an overnight. Considering that we’re still in the early days of sleep training, I’d say the experience was very successful.
Well, I’ve reached the end of this post … in one sitting! Pyra is still sleeping soundly and I’m going to go make a coffee and hope that I have a few moments to sip it before going up to get my rested, happy baby.
I started this post yesterday while my crying baby resisted her nap. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far. It was Day 1 of sleep training after the 1st night. While the night had gone relatively great, the naps were rough and took a toll on me. But maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t invest a lot of time into that first writing session, because, get this:
I’m drinking my decaf coffee (while it’s still hot!) in the quiet AND it’s 1.5 hours after I put Pyra down for her nap AND she went down with no crying!! What, what, what?!
Pyra’s sleep cycles changed several weeks back and my world turned sideways. Then quickly flipped completely upside-down. My sweet little Pyra went from sleeping like a baby (quickly dropping into sleep anywhere) to not sleeping much at all, and fussing and crying while resisting sleep. Right around 3.5 months old she started the so-called “4-month sleep regression” which means that instead of falling directly into deep, newborn slumber, she sleeps more lightly at first and has to transition into deeper sleep.
Unfortunately, our habits of holding, bouncing, and nursing her to sleep (which previously worked really well and quickly) made it exceedingly difficult for her to get to sleep- and stay asleep- on her own with her new sleep cycles. The past few weeks have been very trying and I started to work up a good solid case of sleep deprivation. Not only have I been drunk with lack-of-sleep, but we’re still in Alaska, so isolation and minuscule amounts of sunlight have turned this cocktail into a ridiculously stiff drink. Pretty ideal, right?
I borrowed my sister’s book “On Becoming Babywise,” which I should have read before giving birth. I’m not following the book to the letter (especially since it’s really formatted to guide you into good habits from birth, not break habits later on) but, it did inspire us to get into a better feed-wake-sleep schedule that helped us move to a napping routine without nursing to sleep. It meant that daddy could also put baby down for a nap. Woohoo! “Baby steps,” right?
After a week and a half of working on our daytime schedule and a few evenings of reinforcing our bedtime routine, we decided to take the leap into “sleep training.” I was a little anxious, but so ready. I needed more sleep to get back to being a nicer, more patient, more generous, happier me. Not just for me, but for my family as well.
I knew nothing about sleep training babies before this started, except that I’d heard the term “cry it out” and also of modified versions of cry it out (CIO) where you go in to soothe your child intermittently (now I’ve learned that this is often called the Ferber method or “ferberizing”). I thought that the CIO method seemed cruel to babies and terrible for parents. I had also heard of moms that spent nights on their child’s bedroom floor, inching their way out the door over a series of nights to wean their child of their presence. Because I had no idea what to do, I read up on no-cry sleep training methods and the CIO alternatives as well, and I quickly came to a surprising conclusion: we would be implementing CIO.
I could hardly believe that this was my decision. I mean, I started out co-sleeping and nursing my baby to sleep, for pete’s sake! I wasn’t sure I had it in me to let my baby cry and cry without any sort of parental comforting. The thing is, what I discovered through my research is that if you set up a good daytime feed-wake-sleep schedule and bedtime routine first, CIO tends to be much more effective than other methods and actually tends to result in less time spent crying. Methods that included periodic soothing would require much more patience and energy … that I just didn’t have anymore. I also knew from experience that my particular baby does not appreciate intermittent soothing- my presence fires her up even more- so I was pretty sure that the Ferber method would be hell for us.
I read somewhere (but can’t find it now) that babies that learn to self-soothe and who are left to “deal,” rather than having parents constantly block all crying with a pacifier or some other method of comforting, are better problem-solvers and less dependent on their parents for comfort. I say “yes” to that! I want to be able to soothe and comfort my child, but I also want her to have confidence in her own abilities. CIO is controversial, but so is just about every parenting trend. What I do know is that we have to do what is best for our family, and if that means using a method that some people think is extreme? So be it.
Well, folks, I’m now a believer in CIO. In two days, our lives have changed dramatically, with much less crying than I expected. We had been spending much of our time bouncing Pyra to sleep (and back to sleep mid-nap) during the day and I had been up 5 or more times in the night to nurse her back to sleep. This is only Day 2 and nap #1 (when I was writing the first paragraph) lasted 2 hours and I had to wake her up to eat on schedule! Last night she slept for about 8 hours straight (except I roused her once to nurse) until 7:00 am, when I woke her up to nurse. I never imagined that would happen so soon.
In fact, we started out planning to tackle nighttime sleep first and leave naps for later, but the first night went so well that we dove into nap training right away too. There are moments when I regret that decision, but overall I think it’s going exceedingly well. Everything I read said to get nighttime sleep down and then move to naps. But I think there are some cases when doing both at the same time is OK.
We’ve had incredibly fast results with CIO and it hasn’t been that bad. Pyra doesn’t ever scream. She mostly fusses and sometimes cries heartily. Yesterday’s naps were the worst with more than an hour of crying at a time, but that was the first day. I’ve read that parents are often dealing with 3+ hours of crying at a time. I wonder if those parents are getting a good daytime schedule and bedtime routine prior to starting, or if the efficacy of any given sleep training method depends a lot on the temperament of both baby and parents. I do think a lot of parents that start CIO set themselves back by going in to soothe their baby. Our results are definitely not consistent yet, but the progress is astounding and incredibly promising. It will be interesting to see how things go from here.
Even with our dramatic progress over a short amount of time, I wouldn’t describe CIO as “easy.” I cried both yesterday and today, and I am often second-guessing my decisions. It will never feel good or be easy to let your little one cry without going to them to provide comfort. There are moments when I feel confident (that’s when Pyra quickly goes to sleep with minimal or no fussing) and there are plenty of times when it kills me to not rush in to where she is crying, pick her up and kiss away her tears.
I still hate to listen to my baby fuss and cry (as I’m actually doing right now), but I know that the gift of being an independent sleeper is going to be sweet.
** I came back to add some info immediately after putting my baby to sleep for Night #3 … with zero fussing at all. Not even a peep!!! Unbelievable. Absolutely, completely, wonderously awesome!!!!
When life feels difficult, or even unbearable, remember the importance of perspective.
I am comforted by my insignificance, by the enormity of time surrounding the flash of my existence.
Remember that this nearly imperceptible flash is all we get, and that we are the center of our personal universe. You exist for you, and I exist for me.
I am the center of a massive web of relationships, experiences, and interactions. If we want our web to be woven with love, the center must be at peace and full of love at the core, from within, then reach outward to our surroundings.
Find your peace. Exalt in your insignificance.
I wrote this letter to myself sometime in the past. It’s undated, but I’m guessing it was 5-10 years ago. I found it as I was cleaning out files before we left for Ecuador.
I’ve always felt more comfortable knowing that I’m an insignificant speck in the universe. Of course I still affect the lives of others, impact the environment, and generally play a role here on earth- it’s just a teensy, tiny role. Played out just for a moment. The thing is to make that moment as big and lovely as I can.
I have several posts that are waiting for me to find the time and patience to type out. For some reason, I thought I would be writing all the time once the baby was born. I’d just be sitting around smiling at my newborn and have a fresh, energized mind and two free hands to write all I want, right? Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha … ha. As I write this, I do have two free hands even though there is an adorable baby latched to my breast (I figured out how to prop her up so that I can type with both of my hands!), but my mind is far from fresh or energized. So … this post may end up a little funky … if I even manage to finish it.
Anyway. I write now on a topic I hadn’t planned to, but that’s been knocking around in my head lately: the effect of sunlight on (my) health and wellness.
Obviously, I’m not a brilliant luminary shedding light on a glowing new topic (I told you my brain is on the frazzled side), as scientists have been studying the effect of light on humans for a long time. I just found this article– from the year I was born- on how sunlight may affect, not just mood, but fertility as well. My suspicion has long been that my infertility is due to a complex amalgam of issues related to imbalances in my immune system and hormones (not just the “sex” hormones, but ones typically not associated with fertility), but I had never considered that sunlight may play a role in my infertility.
Part of the reason we moved out of Alaska was to see if increased exposure to sunlight would help my (recently acknowledged, self-diagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Let me tell you:
Moving to the equator may have been the single best decision I have made in my entire life. Seriously.
Since coming to live in Ecuador, I’m beginning to believe that exposure to sunlight has had an even greater influence on my well-being, and life in general, than I could have ever imagined.
For starters, it’s late November and I’m not sluggishly and irritably crawling out of bed just to day-dream of sleeping all day. In fact, yesterday I took a walk outdoors at 7 am. Of my own volition. In a good mood. What, what, what?! All the more impressive since I’m up half the night with a 2-month-old. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d cope this well with the lack of sleep that accompanies caring for an infant. I’m convinced that if I had stayed home in Alaska, yesterday morning would have seen me either asleep, trying to sleep, desperately sleepy, or ridiculously grouchy. Here in Ecuador, I feel better on less sleep. I wake up more easily than I ever have, and I feel more rested than I ever have.
I also believe that increased exposure to sunlight has alleviated my tendency to be, to put it bluntly, a bitch. I’m simply not as moody and irritable. My patience is more generous and I’m not (as) snippy. This is a beautiful change, not just for the people around me, but for me too. My irritability has been a source of immense personal guilt over the years. I don’t want to be snippy and impatient. I’ve always known that’s not who I really am, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix the problem. Here at the equator, I have felt that my patience runs deeper and my moods are much more even. It feels really, really, really good. Really good. The irritability and guilt ran cyclical with deeper feelings of darkness that were hard (or impossible) for me to climb out of. That leads me to the topic of the “D” word: depression.
It is clear to me now, that every winter since puberty I have slid into a mild depression. I never recognized it as being seasonal, and I also didn’t acknowledge that I was actually depressed. There was always something on which to blame my sadness, extreme lethargy, inadequacy, or apathy: puberty itself and hormones, unmet expectations, stress at work, grief, etc. Only recently did I recognize the pattern. These life experiences weren’t causing my unfavorable symptoms, it was depression that was keeping me from coping with life’s ups and downs in a healthy way and leading to undesirable responses. I have suffered for years, and my family (especially my husband) has suffered along with me.
I believe that even the grief of my infertility and pregnancy losses was more intense and more disruptive because of SAD. I coped with my summer-time miscarriages much better than those in the winter. In the few months with prolonged sunlight, I felt more hopeful and motivated. I reached my lowest low of incapacitating grief during the mid-winter darkness. I was non-functioning. I was so low, that I reached out for professional help. And for the first time in my life, I took a prescription medication for mental health. What I wonder now: would I have reacted so deeply, would I have struggled so painfully, had I received more exposure to natural sunlight?
I also believe that sunlight somehow affects immune function. Whether it’s related to a role of hormone regulation, or something else, I have no idea. This article seems to point to the same hypothesis, without specifically stating so. There is evidence that exposure to sunlight affects immune-related disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, lupus, and thyroiditis. One of my fertility doctors diagnosed me with an immunological abnormality, to which he attributed my recurrent miscarriages. Could increased exposure to sunlight be a possible treatment for some cases of infertility??? That old article from my birth year states that there is at least some evidence that this may be true.
As to the potential effect on other areas of my life, I recently made the link between job dissatisfaction and SAD. As I recall, the apathy and daily battle to get out of bed for work were mostly during winter months. I think I would have appreciated and enjoyed my jobs more if I could see the light of day. Furthermore, I have frequently felt inadequate because I feel that I easily become inordinately stressed out about work. I have felt broken, weak, and a failure. The stress at work that I just couldn’t handle? I don’t think it was really that I was incompetent, but that my body was incapable of a healthy stress response and so I would just shut down. I would go home and go straight to bed, or even stay home from work in order to sleep.
I don’t know that I’ve articulated my case very well, but I’m going to wrap this post up anyway. I haven’t written this piece in one sitting, but I would like to publish it on the same day I started to write it so that I don’t run the risk of “the post that was never completed.”
One thing is for sure: I can never go back to how things were. My hypothesis may be completely incorrect and the antidote is something other than (or in addition to) sunlight. But if I ever spend time in a geographical region with prolonged darkness, I will be taking precautions to safeguard my wellness and ensure that I get adequate sunlight every day.
I wonder how many of my friends and family, how many of the folks reading this, would flourish- or at least feel like a better version of themselves- if, on a daily basis, they could step out into the light.
What makes a location, let’s say a city, special? Sometimes it’s very obvious, well-known characteristics (I’m thinking: Eiffel tower, pastries, art, history, mimes, etc.) But I think it’s often the multitude of little, seeming inconsequential quirks, that breathe distinct life into a place. Subtleties that may even go unrecognized but create a unique feel and flavor, both for residents and visitors. And I think that sometimes these qualities are so subtle that they hard to appreciate unless you’re a visitor, or if you’ve been absent and returned.
Cuenca, Ecuador is a well-loved city, by many people, for many reasons. Tourists and resident expats feel welcome and safe here. The colonial architecture of the historic district distinguishes Cuenca from other Ecuadorian cities. It’s a very walkable city, with the best drinking water in the country (or so we’ve heard). Cuenca is supposedly more “laid back” than other cities in Ecuador, and while I haven’t actually visited any other cities in Ecuador yet, Cuenca definitely seems to fit the “laid back” designation.
Kids often go to work with parents rather than to daycare.
Many shops decorate with live plants.
Domes of the “new” cathedral undergoing restoration.
Tamales and humitas for sale on almost every block.
Laid-back life in Cuenca.
Milk delivery truck
Clean and tidy green spaces
Mercado 12 de Abril
Parque Calderón by evening
Parque de la Madre, just a few minutes from our apartment.
As a new arrival, I have a lot to learn about Cuenca, her people, and what makes this city special to so many. And yet, there are qualities that Rodney and I noticed right away and have appreciated from day one. Other characteristics took me longer to realize, and I’m sure there are many other little things that make life in Cuenca pleasant or different, but I just haven’t recognized their presence or absence yet. I’ll try to add to this list as my thick skull allows- and feel free to comment if you’re a local or have visited Cuenca and would like to add in your thoughts!
I will note that this list is purely from our experience, and others may have different opinions/realities. Also, some of these characteristics might be valid for all of Ecuador, or even all of South America, as I have yet to visit any other areas of the continent. These are just some of our impressions; the little things that make Cuenca special, welcoming, and pleasant to us.
this may not be particular to Cuenca, but it’s something I noticed in the last week: older children holding hands with their parents as they walk down the sidewalk. My heart feels a little fuller every time I see it, and I feel like I didn’t see it as much at home. But maybe that’s just because, at home, we drive everywhere? In Alaska, would I see adolescent boys and girls holding their parent’s hand on the way to school or to the store if they were walking instead of driving?
locals seem to be very patient and low-key in their (at least public) demeanor
folks do not ever seem to be in a hurry nor seem to get worked up/impatient when there is a line or inconvenience
in the almost-month we’ve been here, I’ve yet to hear yelling, screaming, or even an argument with raised voices. Actually, I don’t think I’ve witnessed a recognizable argument yet.
I feel like, in general, the epidemic of “self-importance” has not hit Cuenca.
I was just realizing how much I appreciate the lack of persons with the “holier than thou art,” “I’ve got places to be and people to see,” “don’t inconvenience me,” mentality. I wonder if it’s because there isn’t much of a wealth/class disparity? It may well exist, but I haven’t recognized it yet … I don’t see well-dressed folks avoiding or snubbing those with less.
sidewalks and parks are kept very clean from litter and dog waste
Rod discovered that there is a pretty steep fine for not picking up your dog waste- I love that!! I wish that littering fines were enforced in the USA … even (or maybe especially) for cigarette butts. It’s mind-boggling to me that people think throwing a butt on the ground is acceptable.
there are folks regularly sweeping the sidewalks (not to mention that many shop owners scrub the sidewalk in front of their business most morning)
park vegetation appears to be cared for well and regularly (no long grass or overgrown landscaping)
we were really surprised about this one: cigarette smoking is uncommon
the majority of smoking I see is by foreigners
when I asked a local about why there isn’t more smoking, she didn’t really have an answer; she didn’t seem to realize that there isn’t as much smoking here as in other places. She did say that you’ll see more smoking at bars and discos, but we have yet to visit such an establishment to verify this 🙂
all the restaurants we’ve visited have been smoke-free, and have only experienced smoking annoyances at an outdoor seating area of a cafe
locals do not approach us (obvious foreigners) to sell things/ask for money
taxis have working meters and drivers charge only what the meter reads
grocers and shopkeepers appear to charge foreigners and locals the same prices for goods
very, very, very few insects/arachnids/creepy-crawlers (this is super remarkable to us, coming from the land of incessant mosquitoes, plentiful no-see-ums and other flying and crawling pests)
we’ve rarely seen folks who appear to be homeless or that blatantly struggle with substance abuse
it feels like a very family-friendly city. The parks are well used and families seem to spend a lot of time together. Kids seem to go everywhere with their parents and to really be members of the family, i.e. helpful, given responsibility, and acknowledged as a person, rather than simply doted on or excluded from “real life.”
I think this last one is a difference between the USA and the rest of the world … maybe? I appreciate, what appears to be, the honest representation of self here. The lack of disingenuous friendliness, particularly in customer service. I think so many interpersonal interactions in the US are plagued by social facades that mask true feelings and over-emphasize cheeriness and interest until we don’t even know what is “real” and “honest” in a relationship anymore. I suppose it’s because I’m an introvert, who appreciates candid and honest social interactions, that I appreciate that folks here just seem to be who they are, whatever mood they are in … and are generally neither super-friendly, nor frustratingly rude.
Maybe these aren’t even things that are unique to Cuenca and maybe folks would argue that they aren’t things that make the city special. Maybe these are just some things that I’ve noticed and wanted to recognize. I don’t know. But now there’s a list.
I should’ve written prior to this, but I was too wrapped up/overwhelmed/tired/overstimulated with the move and figuring things out to settle my brain enough to write. But, now I’m ready!
I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot, but at the same time it’s been so relaxing and low key. Most days are spent reading, going to the market or out to eat (especially if a World Cup match is on!), various tasks related to moving logistics and getting settled, finding desserts for Rodney (OK, for me too), and doing a lot, a lot, a lot of walking.
We both have noticed some effects from the elevation (2,500m/8,200ft) but luckily, we haven’t felt sick. Mostly we’ve noticed our heart rates and blood pressure are a bit higher and that we get winded more easily. We’re hoping to adjust quickly and figure that walking a lot should help. We’ve also wondered how a few months of development and being born at this altitude will affect Pyra (our bun in the oven!!), if very much at all- I suppose no lasting affects. Another elevation-related realization is just how intense the sun is!! While most days have had cloud-cover, as soon as the sun hits your skin the temperature seems to climb 10-20F! We finally got some sunscreen as we noticed that we seem to get a lot of sun even though its overcast most of the day.
We have an apartment that we plan to stay in until November, and we’re really liking it- both the location and the apartment itself. We feel pretty fortunate; we found it just a couple days after arriving, and it has a ton of great features: heart of the city; double-paned windows to dim the street noise (this appears to be very uncommon and we’re extremely grateful for them!); furnished tastefully and thoroughly (good beds, many kitchen appliances- they even installed an oven for us!!!); all utilities paid (thankful we don’t need to deal with local utility companies); 2 bedrooms and 1.5 bath (welcome, guests!!); family-owned building (very sweet and accommodating people); and … walking distance to most everything!!! The son of the family speaks excellent English which helped us feel comfortable negotiating for the apartment ourselves. The son owns/manages a really nice gym downstairs and the parents invited us for coffee and rolls the day we signed our contract. 🙂
We took the plunge and signed up for Spanish lessons today at a local language school. We knew we wanted to sign Rod up for an intensive course to get him going (I’m so proud of his efforts already!) but they gave us a deal for me to take lessons too. I’m really excited- I’m such a sucker for languages 🙂 Rod will likely continue with the intensive course for longer, but I’ll go for a week and then switch to some conversation practice sessions or less-frequent tutoring. We attended one English-Spanish language conversation exchange last Friday, and we’ll probably continue to go; it’s good for me to practice in a more conversational context than just market transactions. We’re not sure what to do when Nixin gets here, but I think a little bit of the intensive course would be good to help her re-discover her basics (she was in an immersion school for K-2) and build up some confidence quickly.
I have to say, it’s been awesome with Spanish so far. I’m getting tons of practice!! I was really surprised (and pleased) to find that locals don’t switch over to English, even when confronted with my very rudimentary Spanish skills. It’s going to be so great for Rod and Nixin! I still grasp for words from my limited vocabulary, and I only use present tense verbs (and probably incorrectly, at that), but we’re able to do what we need to! We’ve successfully taken taxis, purchased bus and local SIM cards, and kept ourselves well-fed. OK, so maybe we haven’t need language skills to do much of anything aside from order food and understand prices at the markets … but it feels pretty good. I think it has helped to feel more settled, faster.
We’re also getting to know the streets and way around “el centro,” where we live. In fact, today I was able to point out to the taxi driver a better way to get us home! Many of the streets are one-way and he just wasn’t familiar with our neighborhood … but if felt good that I was familiar enough to point out the right way! We’re starting to navigate from memory and feel rather than relying completely on a map, which is awesome. It’s incredible to think that we’re going to be at this location for at least 5 more months and then how “at home” will we feel?!
OK, my eyes are asking to be done with the computer, so I’m going to oblige them. I was going to tell about our first pre-natal appointment (which was great!), but I’ll get to that soon.
I hope that you, dear reader who apparently got through this whole sloppy post, are feeling good in your life and that you have a wonderful rest of your day!!
Oh! and I did get around to posting photos here on this site, and also setting up an Instagram account. If you might like keeping up on our adventures via images, I encourage you to follow us on Instagram … I’m finding its a really easy and convenient way to share what we’re up to.
Until next time- make a choice (that you usually would not) that makes your heart swell with joy!!! Life is short, love yourself!