Saturday, May 30, 2009

Snail Mail Surprise

Making the trek out to our Postal Box in Sangolqui (a 45 minute bus ride-trek each way) is always slightly depressing. Since it's such an ordeal to head out there, we usually only check it once or twice every month. Therein lies the depressing part: even after a whole MONTH of not checking it, we usually have one measly little letter from one of our Universities asking for money (how'd they FIND US?!). Every time I head out there, I find myself talking down my expectations.

"Holly, Ecuador is notoriously bad with mail. 50 percent of things sent down here probably never even made it past customs. You just told your mom not to send anything because it would probably never make it. Emails are quicker and guaranteed to arrive. Don't get upset if there's nothing there. Don't take it out on the Postal Worker if there's nothing there."

Ok, so perhaps I'm giving over to my more dramatic tendencies. There was that amazing letter I got back in November from Ashley, and the homemade Valentine complete with a sparkling Wizard of Oz shoe-decal from Kaili. And don't get me started on the packages Dunc's mom has sent him; they're incredible. Actually, alright, now that I think about it we've gotten some great things from almost all our families during the past 10 months. Thanks Moms!

On Thursday, however, I got something incredible. I didn't even go to the Post Office so it was even more of a surprise when Dunc handed me a letter. Inside I found one of the paintings Marjorie had done on one of the many afternoons in Children's Art, beautifully rendered onto a stationary card. Minette Hand (younger sister of Country Director Mark Hand) had emailed me a few months back to see if I might be able to take pictures of some of my students' artwork and email them over to her so she could make cards as a fundraising tool. I did it and then quickly forgot about it, moving on to planning for Thanksgiving and trying in vain to learn Ecuadorian long division.

Melanie Hand (Mark's mom), it turns out, hadn't forgotten. She was kind enough to send a card down to me in Ecuador. I almost teared up in the kitchen (effectively freaking Dunc and Mark out) as I opened it. Marjorie will be so excited when I show it to her on Monday. What pride she will feel when she sees her artwork on a beautiful piece of stationary!

Thank you, Minette and Melanie, so so much.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Questions for Holly AND Meet Summer Session 1!

The next (and last!) PD interview is with me, Holly. As much as I was trying to avoid it, outside pressures have forced me to reposition myself in front of the camera instead of behind it :) I know the housemates are going to get back at me for their interviews so please, if you have any questions you'd like to ask me don't hesitate to submit them (so they'll balance out the embarrassing house-fueled questions)!

You can submit them either as a comment, to me directly (, OR to Dana Conway if you want to be secretive ( The deadline for question submissions is THIS SUNDAY, MAY 31.

And now, meet Summer Session One!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Interview a PD: Seth Harlan

The Seth Harlan interview is up! This time around we received a wide variety of questions, from the hilarious to the serious, the wacky to the contemplative. Seth did an incredible job with his responses, so much so that I couldn't help but include more footage than usual.

In response to a question from Johanna, one of our dearest Ecuadorian friends (and Seth's girlfriend), Seth answers in both English and Spanish, so be sure to stick it through to the end if you want to brush up on your Spanish comprehension :)

And now, the Seth interview!

Scratching Our Heads and Stretching Our Brains

(Today's guest blog (two in a row, amazing I know) comes from Country Director Mark Hand. I think everyone's trying to de-stress me so I'll get the Seth Harlan interview up, and it's worked; it will be up tomorrow! In the meantime, enjoy Mark's insightful contemplations on educational games.)

"When we opened our library here at MPI-Ecuador, we had a handful of books, a couple of chess sets, and a second-hand Connect-Four. I've wanted to expand our educational games section for some time now, driven by the feeling that my own intellectual development had a lot to do with Mastermind and Memory.
Thanks to the McCallas, we've significantly expanded the number of games that make our heads hurt, with Blokus, Rush Hour and my personal favorite, SET. In my mind - given Ecuadorians' own acknowledgment that the educational system here discourages creative thinking - these games are one of the funnest ways for us to contribute to the development of the children at the MPI library.
If you'd like to contribute to our collection of educational games, please let us know! I've picked out a handful of games below that a) develop fine motor skills or critical thinking abilities; b) are durable and c) are either language-free or Spanish-based.

Apples to Apples para Niños
Memory (Dora the Explorer edition)
Memory (original)

Thanks, and really, you should all pick up Blockus next time you're at Target. It's awesome.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Los Muchachos Dulces

(Today's guest blog comes from Jocelyn, who as I type is most likely flying through the rainforest with all the summer volunteers on the ziplines out in Mindo!)

"After hosting such amazing volunteer groups during spring break season, all of us here at MPIE have been eagerly awaiting our newest arrivals- volunteers from all across the U.S. (and one from Canada!) who will participate in a variety of programs and projects over the course of a month this summer. It is without hesitation that I inform our readers of the fact that we have a pretty sweet group of volunteers here right now, and so far they have done a fantastic job with the tasks they’ve been handed. One of the summer volunteer projects is the planning and teaching of a 3-week intensive English language class for middle-school aged kids in a barrio close to our house. The group in charge of this project have aptly, and enthusiastically, named themselves “Los Muchachos Dulces” (The Sweet Kids), and consequently named me, their fearless leader, “Capitan Dulce”, a title I hold with pride.

We are only 4 days into the program, and “Los Muchachos” are already rocking each class like seasoned professionals. For Rebekah, Priya, Patrick, Maria, and Jeremy, their days look a little something like this:

8am- breakfast (hovering over the flapjack-flipping PD for a second helping or trying to get Perry to poach another egg)

8:30- 11:30am- Spanish class with professors from Quito

11:30- 1:45- lunch, go into town, print worksheets and make copies

1:45pm- toss around the pigskin, head to the bus

2:30-5:30pm- teach English class

6pm- go for a jog as the sun sets (they are hard core)

7:30pm- family style dinner with all the volunteers and PD’s

8:30- 10pm- lesson plan

10pm- read/hang out by the fire on the roof/climb over to the apartment

As you can see, they’ve got a lot on their plate and are handling it beautifully. The first day of class, “Los Muchachos” got their feet wet when 14 kids from the barrio registered in the class, but it was on day two, as 30 children showed up with their notebooks, grinning and ready for 3 hours of English instruction, that they really realized what they had gotten themselves into.

Today’s lesson was one of adjective vocabulary, and since Los Muchachos Dulces had everything completely under control, I sat back and watched as 30 Ecuadorian children in small groups fervently hung onto every word that came out of their Profe’s mouths. The individual teaching styles range from Rebekah acting out adjectives like “tall”, “short”, “fat”, and “skinny” in exaggerated motions, to Patrick rewarding his students with exploding handshakes every time they got a word right. With so many students, the ability levels span a wide spectrum; so personal attention and games are key to keeping each child interested in the daily lesson. Then there are the students who can’t help but stand out among the crowd. For example, my favorite kid, Erick, is a cheeky smart-alec who bugs me constantly for new English vocabulary that he uses to show off for the girls in his group (demonstrating his all encompassing foreign language knowledge).

With two weeks left of the San Juan English class, I can’t wait to see what fun and creative activities Los Muchachos Dulces will think of next. Whatever they are, I know the students will love them, and cherish the time spent with the volunteers to whom they already look up as role models and new friends. It will be a sad day for teachers and students alike when summer ends and we all part ways, but until then, let the exploding handshakes and impromptu vocabulary lessons live on!


(The students break up into their various groups in the Casa Barrial)

(Patrick gets an excited response to a vocab question)

(Rebekah uses flashcards to quiz her group)

(Maria plays a memory game with her posse of girls)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Campbell's Soup

While editing Seth's interview, I came across some footage from art class a few weeks back that I had completely forgotten to upload. And since Seth's interview probably won't be ready for another week, here's something to tide you over. This was filmed in the art studio with half the students; the rest of them were in the kid's corner. Not having enough space for all our students is a good problem to have, I have to admit.

Check in tomorrow for a guest blog by a certain someone who likes to bake and has extremely long legs. If that didn't give it away I'm not sure what would :)


Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Seth and I have been throwing around the idea of a teenage art class ever since, well, probably the first conversation we ever had back in July when I was still living in Quito and going to language school. Back then it was totally just a concept, a dream. One of those good ideas that gets thrown around at family dinner, along with 20 other good ideas and a couple of inappropriate stories. And then life in Ecuador officially kicked into gear, and the idea was pushed to the back of the closet and (almost) forgotten.

Once the teen center was up and running, however, we found ourselves returning to the idea of such a class. While we weren't quite sure how to organize it, once three teen-center teens expressed interest to Seth in an art class, we knew there was serious potential for something.

Now, every Wednesday morning from 10 to 11:30 the five of us meet at the big work table in the library. I come up with a rough idea to structure the class and provide some sort of technical instruction, Seth provides the comfortable atmosphere, and the students provide us with commentary on the never-ending supply of high school drama. We all have an hour and a half to sketch out what creativity is to us. I'm coming to love Wednesday mornings.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Summer has begun

As I mentioned before, our first session summer volunteers arrived last week and have since taken over the apartment, or as I like to refer to it, The Hostel. (People tolerate my little phrases and oddities down here because I have interview editing power). While they're all currently out working hard (hosting programs at the library, shadowing at the local clinic, teaching English with Jos in a local neighborhood), last week we got to play tour guide and drag them around to our favorite tourist traps in the city.

This meant that they climbed the Basillica, toured the Plazas in old town, lounged in Parque Moya, ate lunch at Sazon de la Abuela in Conocoto, experienced the Guayasamin museum, hiked to the waterfall in Selva Alegre, and did science experiments at Mitad del Mundo (the equatorial line). All us jaded PDs got to experience these things (which we've admittedly done more than a few times between family & friends visiting, spring break, and our own wanderings) based off a meticulously planned schedule created by one Dana Conway, our summer guru.

Since Serena and I took the kiddos to Mitad del Mundo, those are the pictures I have to share with the blog :) There was even a llama sighting, which made me very happy. Have you SEEN their eyelashes?! Incredible.

(summer vols pose on the fake equator, which is actually 240 meters off from the real one)

(the summer crew on the ACTUAL equatorial line, as dictated by GPS)

Ginny balanced an egg on a nail! And got a certificate for it :)

(Serena does a balance experiment on the equator)


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Interview a PD: Serena Zhou

And...a week later, Serena's interview is finally finished! Her responses were definitely worth the wait, though :)

The sound is a little funky, gets pretty quite in certain parts and slightly loud in others (although that's probably because I have zero volume control over my laugh), but it wasn't worth delaying it more for me to watch more tutorials on

Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Questions and the Moon

With our first session summer volunteers arriving tonight, life at the house has gotten a liiiiiiittle crazy. As evidenced by the still-unedited Serena interview, nowhere to be found monthly update, and general neglect of the dishes.

The interview will be up at some point this week, but in the meantime, please start sending me questions for Seth Harlan! The deadline for questions is Thursday at noon, so send them in before then if you want them to be included!

Last night we ate dinner up on the roof to celebrate our last 'family dinner' before summer changes everything, and the moon was killer. Check it out below.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Open Letter

An open letter to all of our Moms, who we miss even more than usual today.

Dear Mamas,

Happy Mother's Day!

We're sorry we can't be there to bring you breakfast in bed or help out in the garden, take a walk through the neighborhood or share a glass of wine on the porch together. Thank you for letting us venture out on our great Ecuadorian adventure and for making home such a sweet place to which to return.

Below you will find a few things we miss most about you, today and every day!


(Walks through the neighborhood, movies on Saturday, Chicken & Rice and Thanksgiving)

(Talking on the phone at least three times a day)

(Good ole' home cooking - king ranch chicken, spinach enchiladas, chicken barf bombs, etc. )

(Afternoons spent wandering the stacks together at The Tattered Cover Bookstore)

(The healthy desserts and assisting in turtle surgeries)

(Looking at you looking at me, and your smile)

(Roaming around the house yelling "MOOOOMMM" then realizing she's probably in the backyard again with a glass of sweet tea, tending the garden. Yep, right again.)

(Tunnel of Fudge Cake, Rocky Road brownies, and walks in the park at dusk!)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Self Portraits

So here's the thing with my children's art class. While I try to incorporate some kind of artistic technique or artist study into each class, when 75% of your students are under 5 years old, it gets a little tricky. Take Jori, for example. He would rather sit under the table scraping off crayon shavings with his scissors than learn about Georgia O'Keefe's desert inspirations. Or Carlitos. He'd rather be kicking Jori, who's under the table, than trying to understand Kandinsky color palettes.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when, after discussing the composition and symmetry of the face and explaining the 'self-portrait' project for the day, each and every one of our tiny students were hunched over their papers, painstakingly drawing their "football-americano" shaped eyes half way down their oval-faces, making little heart lips, and trying to remember where their ears go (Kerley was absolutely positive that her ears are in fact above her eyebrows). Yes, Serena and I had to walk them through every step of the way, coaxing them to erase all pencil marks after going over their faces with pen (ALL of them, Jonathan), and help them cut out the difficult parts involving their drawn hair, but overall, I was incredibly proud of the finished products. They even kind of look like them :)

We're excited for Eliah's brother, Aravon, to arrive tomorrow night! We LOVE visitors!
Happy Friday,

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Sky in May

This is Ecuador's way of saying "Holly, stop cursing the afternoon rainstorms". I'm almost convinced.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Questions for Serena!

Please don't forget to send me any and all questions you may have for Serena Zhou, the interview-ee for the week! Leave them as comments or email them to me at

Suggested question topics include:
~anything about food
~her theories about vampires
~a synopsis of the movie The Godfather
~appropriate substitutes in the kitchen
~pronunciation of almost any spice in the kitchen, particularly Oregano
~how she spent the Chinese new year in Ecuador
~how she got to be the best price haggler of all of us
~why she'd be great at Jeopardy

Monday, May 4, 2009

Laying Down the Law

At the library, Marco is in charge.

The kiddos have come to realize that even though they can get away with most anything in children's art by shooting me their precious little "I'm innocent as a baby sea turtle" look, the same does not apply with Profe Marco. The combination of height (I think he may be the tallest person tiny Jori has ever seen in real life), Spanish fluency (ie. ability to effectively get his point across), and no-nonsense attitude towards running in the library or leaving books strewn around the kid's corner make him the perfect guy to sit behind the front desk. That and the fact that no matter the finished product, if a little library patron draws him something he will post it on the wall behind his desk. They love him :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Interview a PD: Dunc Fulton

Dunc definitely wins the award for most family members submitting questions: three aunts, an uncle, his grandma and his mom all submitted stellar questions this time around. Thank you, extended families!

Yes, I do realize that the video is a *bit crooked, ie. it looks like Dunc might slide off the couch at any moment. This is because, since there really was no other option but to film him on the couch in the kitchen, we had to construct something on the sink to hold the video camera at the right height. And apparently our dishtowel-bowl-cutting board contraption was, sadly, kind of crooked. Oops...

Without further ado, Dunc Fulton!