The Joy of Cooking–with a Two-Year-Old

my book launch

Tonight was the launch party for my book called What’s Cookin’, Cuenca? : A Gringo’s Guide to Buying and Preparing Food in Ecuador.  We had a fun time with great music, dancing, food and drinks, and 120 people. My friend, Sara Coppler helped organize it. She suggested that I  perform a reading from the book. Here’s a representative sample:

CHOCOLATE CHIPS are called mini gotas de chocolate (mee-nee goh-tahs day cho-koh-lah-tay), or crispas (krees-pahs) de chocolate. They are sold in plastic bags in the larger stores in the baking section. Raw chocolate is also available here. It is chock-full of caffeine (actually, theobromine) so be careful. It can keep you up at night. The small Ecuadorian chocolate chips are not very tasty. Think bits of brown Crayola crayon. The good stuff (Hershey’s and Nestle’s Tollhouse) can be purchased at Superstock or sometimes, Coral and SuperMaxi, but be prepared to pay a lot.

Not very exciting.

So I decided to write a story about cooking under challenging circumstances. People liked it. Here it is, and here am I, aspiring baker, at about the same age I was in the story:

Baby cook franny

The Joy of Cooking–with a Two-Year-Old

In 1957, my father was finishing his master’s degree in fine arts at Michigan State University on the GI Bill. He had just scored the job of Curator of Exhibits at the Natural History Museum there. My mother’s time was wrapped up in taking care of my four-year-old brother, Andy, two-year-old me, and my infant brother, Chris. We lived in student housing called “The Barracks.” A few of these Quonset huts still exist on the campus. They are used as chicken coops at the agricultural college. You can imagine how elegant they were.

My parents didn’t have a car. The closest shopping was a little store called The Quality Dairy. It also still exists. It sold a few groceries and staples, but mostly, things produced by the university’s agriculture program. It was about a mile away from our abode–which could be an uncomfortable walk with heavy groceries on a hot day in July.

Like me, my mother was a writer. I have all of her diaries, notebooks and letters. So I know about her struggles and aspirations. She was a young mother trying hard to scrape by on my father’s stipend. She was immensely proud of her beautiful children and liked to show us off. She dressed me, her only daughter, in frilly dresses, starched white pinafores, and hair ribbons. I looked like a doll but usually, within a few hours, I looked like a doll that had been dragged down a dusty road by its hair. This is not to say that anyone did such an awful thing to me! I did it to myself.

If there was a mud puddle to jump in, I jumped in it. If there was something sticky to get into, it was soon all over my face and hair and wiped down my front (hence my mother’s preference to dress me in pinafores—sort of a fancy apron). In spite of the challenge of being Franny’s mother, and the inelegance of her tiny home, my mother tried every day to meet the expectations placed upon women of her age. To be the perfect wife, to have an immaculate house, to set the perfect table, to have well-behaved and well-groomed children, ready to present to the public at any time.

So it was stressful for her when my father came rushing home at noon for lunch one day, to announce: “The museum director, Dr. Baker, and his wife are coming for dinner tonight! Can you bake a chocolate cake?”

I know that my mother loved my father because she didn’t stab him right then and there with the bread knife. She did express her unhappiness at this lack of notice, and insisted that he help her. His first job was to walk to the Quality Dairy and purchase the ingredients for dinner—a big chicken to roast and more potatoes, and if he wanted a cake baked, butter. She needed one stick for the cake batter and one for the frosting. While he was on that errand my mother would bathe me and dress me, and prepare me for my father’s second responsibility: keeping Franny clean.

Dad returned from the Dairy. Mom set the butter for the frosting on the kitchen table to soften. She prepared the chicken and vegetables, and went next door to borrow Millie Waggoner’s really big table cloth.

When she returned a few minutes later she found my father on the sofa reading a book. Little Franny, standing on a chair at the kitchen table, was happily squishing butter through her fingers.

I was two. Apparently, I didn’t express myself with words, but with actions. To express dismay when someone said, “Franny, no!”–I would screw up my face, start to cry, and run my fingers through my hair.

Before she thought to stop herself, my mother moaned, “Franny, no!”

“You said you’d watch her!” she hissed at my father, as she bathed me for a second time and washed my buttery-blond hair. She dressed me in another clean, ruffled dress and another starched white pinafore. “And now you need to get me another stick of butter! Take the kids with you and don’t you dare let Franny out of your sight!”

And so, leaving my mother to furiously slam the roasting pan with the chicken and potatoes into the oven, we took off. My dad pulled the wagon and my brothers and I went along for the ride to the Quality Dairy.

When we got back, my mother was not amused.

Of course, when my father arrived at the store he had forgotten the purpose of his shopping expedition. He bought everything but butter. He bought milk, cottage cheese, eggs, flour and chocolate ice cream. Chocolate popsicles, actually. We’d finished eating them on the way home, but they had melted down our hands, were smeared on our clothes and all over the faces.

“Oh, Franny!”

Oh, no…

“You bathe her this time!” said my mother. “I’ll go get the butter!”

She left my father to wash the chocolate out of my hair, grabbed her pocketbook and stormed out of the house. She fumed as she trudged down the road, went into the store, found the butter, waited at the cash register for her purchase to be rung up, opened her purse and pulled out—cookie cutters. Her purse was full of cookie cutters. No wallet. No house keys. No hairbrush. No lipstick. No handkerchief. Just cookie cutters.

Practically at the end of her rope, she struggled back to our house where my freshly scrubbed brother Andy ran out to meet her, yelling, “Franny can’t get out!”

Apparently, after bathing me my father had left me for a moment while he went to find something for me to wear. Ever curious in his absence, I had inspected the door latch and managed to lock myself in. The only key was the one on my mother’s missing key ring. My father’s next attempts to open the door with a variety of screwdrivers and metal chisels were in vain.

So for the next hour or so while my mother searched for the former contents of her purse, my father and several of the other Barracks daddies found and set up a ladder, jimmied open the bathroom window, hoisted Andy through it and told him how to open the door. Success!

My mother was less successful in finding her keys. She had not thought to look in the narrow place behind the sofa that only Franny was small enough to explore. It was not until a year later, when my parents were loading up the furniture for our move to our big house in Williamston that my secret cache of animal crackers, toys and other treasures—including my mother’s wallet, key ring, and lipstick–were discovered tucked into a hole in the fabric of the back of the sofa.

But! Too late for more butter! No time to starch another pinafore! Dr. and Mrs. Rollin Baker arrived to find the neighbors still thronging around the front door, the ladder lying in the yard, and a tiny, tow-headed girl wrapped in a white towel sitting on the porch steps.

My mother later wrote that the dinner was good. Instead of frosting, she laid a paper doily over the cake and sifted powdered sugar on it to make a lacy design. The Bakers, who were themselves doting parents, thought the whole story was hilariously funny. Decades later, when I met Dr.Baker at a University event, he told me that it was the most wonderful dinner party he and his wife had ever attended.


I Don’t Live on No Name Street

I don’t live on No Name Street (there are actually a few streets on Cuenca maps called this–Calle Sin Nombre….) but I wish I did. At least then I could give the Social Security Administration an address!  When I applied for my benefits two months ago I spent more than an hour explaining to the representative that I don’t have a mail delivery address (Cuenca has no mail delivery…) and that I don’t have a post office box because none are available.  He said I cannot use our US mail address because the Social Security administration needs to make sure I am alive from time to time, and so the letter demanding proof of life has to come directly to me. I waited several times while the representative left me on hold for lengths of time while he conferred with his supervisor. Finally, the supervisor said I could use the address of a place I worked. I don’t work but I do volunteer but the address where I volunteer is “Sector San Jose de Playa, Chilcapamba.” This also happens to be the same, sole address of everybody who lives in that town.

Finally, he and his supervisor agreed I could use the address of a bookstore owned by friends, where I have received mail before.  NO problem. My benefits will start being deposited in my US bank account in about sixty days.

The sixty days was two days ago. Today I received an e-mail telling me I must send “original records” of my “complete address in Ecuador,” and proof of my income.  I have until August 14 to supply this info or my claim will be cancelled. Even if I HAD any such records and ran with them to the Post Office here, they probably wouldn’t arrive by then. No problem.  I am invited to drop off copies in person, any time, at the office at 6100 Wabash Avenue in Baltimore.

In almost every way that matters, living in Ecuador is easier than in the US. Things cost less money, people are nicer, and it isn’t necessary to own a car. But some things–getting an ATM card delivered, for instance–can be complicated. When my cards expire and my bank issues me a new card, I have to ask friends if anyone will be traveling to the US. I ask the person at my US mailing address to send the card to wherever that friend will be. That friend brings the card to Ecuador. Expats call this “muling.” It usually works just fine and is safer than sending things through the mail, if I had an address here to mail it to.

So I spent 45 minutes on the phone today waiting to speak to a representative who told me that I had called the wrong number. (It was the ONLY number on the e-mail I received, of course…). She told me that I had to call the person handling my claim. I had no idea who that is. She spent another ten minutes trying to find that information for me. Of course, that person was not available, but I was given the opportunity to leave a call-back number. . . too bad I don’t have one. Or at least, one that works.

So while I waited, I prepared this:

Dear Sir or Madam:

The only forms of identification I have are my official US and Ecuadorian government IDs. The small card (front and back) is called a cedula. As you can see, there is no address (called a dirección in Spanish). Perhaps this is because most people don’t have one. Same for my visa. Same for my passport. What ‘original records’ of my address do you expect?

my ID edit

ID 2 edit

I live in an alley with no name. The alley does not appear at all on most maps, but on THIS map (and only on this map) it is identified by the word “pasan,” which means “they pass.” I live on the curvy part below that word, under the “P.” Here’s a close-up. Sorry that it’s fuzzy… I tried to draw an arrow for you.


The police and fire departments in Cuenca register residents without addresses by their gps location. The location of our house is-2.914573-79.014332, if that helps. To help people find us I had business cards made up saying we live on “Pasaje de Carlos V” (The alley of Carlos the Fifth), but that is just what WE call it. Here is a copy of my husband’s and my business card.

ID 3 edit

When people want to come to our house I have to copy and paste directions to them in an e-mail. At one point we had to rely on graffiti painted on the walls, which caused Cork Proctor, a Las Vegas comedian, to read my directions as part of his stage act because they were so ridiculous (“…turn right at the animal paw prints, right again where it says, ‘”Feliz Cumpleaños, Alix!” and our door is across from the unicorn puppet…”).

When the neighbors painted over the puppet, I was forced to try something else:

We live in an alley without a name near Av. Don Bosco and Calle Carlos V (pronounced “Carlos Keen-toh”). It is near the Mall del Rio. If you come in a taxi you can ask to be taken to Carlos V 2-84. BUT WE DO NOT LIVE THERE. DO NOT RING THAT DOORBELL! It is merely the closest house to ours that has an actual address. That house is next to an alley, and that is where we live. Ours is the dark yellow house with teal trim, on the left as you enter the alley. There’s a ceramic dove in the flowerpot on the balcony.

We don’t have a P.O. Box. Many people don’t. We couldn’t get one if we tried. They are passed down through the generations like heirlooms. There have been no new mail boxes issued since we moved here five years ago. When somebody dies, people ask on the Facebook pages, “Did they have a PO Box? Is it up for grabs?” I’m not kidding.

Here is a photograph of mail boxes at The Cuenca Central post office that my friend Taylor Brooke took. I plan to use it to illustrate an article I am going to write about the hassles of getting mail here. Need I say more?

Photo post office boxes

When we first moved here my husband used Don Bosco y Carlos V as our address for our taxes, because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t receive our 2014 tax refund. The IRS insisted they had mailed it to us at this “address” (an intersection about half a block from where we live). All of our efforts to get that payment re-issued (it was supposed to have been direct deposited) have been in vain. We’re still out $1,200.

In 2015 we tried using our bank billing address, the home of friends in Connecticut, where we have never lived. We stopped using that address when our friend became ill, and now we use the address of my brother Tim, in Michigan, but we cannot use that address for purposes of proof that I am still alive.


Perhaps I can send you a similar photo every January.



Frances Hogg Lochow

“Franny, nobody loves a DEAD horse…”

We were in our car on our way to church one morning, my parents and big brother in the front seat and my younger brothers and I in the back, when my father muttered, “Let’s hope Franny doesn’t see that…”

That, was the leg of a horse sticking up over the tailgate of a truck, lumbering along in front of us. But it was already too late. Their horse-crazy six-year-old had already seen that hoof.

“Daddy?” I asked tremulously, “Is that horsie dead?”

“It’s goin’ to the glue factory!” said Andy. “That’s what they do with dead horses! They make glue out of them!”

My little brothers and I considered our biggest brother to be an expert on most things, as he was eight years old and able to read. We generally took him at his word but I found this incomprehensible. “Aren’t they going to bury him?” I asked.

“Everybody doesn’t have a big field behind their house like we do,” said my mother. “It takes a lot of room to bury a horse.”

Still unable to wrap my young brain around this shocking concept, I blurted, “But what about cowboys? Cowboys love their horses!”

Then Andy turned around and uttered words that have become legend in our family:

“Franny, nobody loves a dead horse.”

Half a century later, I beg to differ.

My love affair with a dead horse began when I was very young. My father worked at the Dyche Museum of Natural History in Lawrence, Kansas. There were all kinds of interesting things in the museum, including dinosaurs, the famous diorama of North-American animals that was unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Indian artifacts, and a famous horse.

Comanche was a U.S. Cavalry horse so badly wounded at the Battle of Little Big Horn that the victorious Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho didn’t bother taking him when they rounded up the equine survivors of the disaster. Comanche was discovered lying in a ravine many days later and taken to Ft. Abraham Lincoln to recuperate. He was retired from service and spent the rest of his life at Ft. Riley, Kansas as a sort of mascot, appearing in parades from time to time.

Photograph of Comanche, reportedly he only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Comanche's body is fully preserved and can be viewed today at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.

When Comanche died in 1891 at the age of 29, officers at Fort Riley sent his hide to the taxidermists at the Dyche Museum, where he was stuffed and mounted, but they never came to get him nor paid the taxidermy bill, so there he stayed. When I was little, Comanche was exhibited inside a glass case. You could walk around him and count all his bullet and arrow scars. Even when I first knew him, he must have been been pretty moth-eaten and dusty, having stood there for nearly 70 years. But did little Franny care? No! Comanche was a horsie! A horsie I could be near, and think about brushing him and feeding him oats. I was enraptured.

Comanche 2

Comanche in 1995.

We moved away in 1958 or 1959.  I saw my dead horse infrequently–when we visited family in Kansas, when I was en route across the country to Michigan from California during my college years there, on road trips with my mother. In 1968 I attended a summer art camp at KU and insisted that all my friends must meet him.

In 2005, my mother wanted to attend a high-school reunion in her little town of Oneida. I told my husband that we cousins wanted to plan something we called “Cousinfest,” and that’s how I wanted to spend ten vacation days. At first it was difficult to get Robert on board. He told me that when he was a child he had a book about the United States. All of the states had an illustration–a happy red-cheeked family picking apples in Washington State, kids playing on the beach in Florida–but the entry for Kansas was different. The Kansas illustration was black and white and showed a terrified woman frantically trying to shove her children into a hole in the ground while above them, a monstrous tornado loomed and roared. He said he had no idea as a child why anyone would go there. I any event, we went and had a blast. And of course, we had to visit Comanche.

I confidently took Robert to Comanche’s floor. Not there. We went to every floor. Not there.  I didn’t think they would have discarded him, a favorite exhibit for generations of schoolkids, but I was feeling a tad panicky. My horsie!

But I finally found him, behind a locked door to a stairwell.  He was in some sort of rolling crate, wrapped in plastic up to his neck, waiting patiently to be taken to his new exhibit case on the fourth floor, after having been restored. I took a photo of him then, a fuzzy one, with the glass reflections in the way.  If I had not found him, I don’t know what I would have done…Comanche

My horsie! In plastic!


This is Comanche now. He looks good, for a dead horse.

There is a movie about Comanche, called “Tonka.” It was shown on Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color” under the name, “Comanche,” I think. And there is a song called “Comanche, the Brave Horse,” by Johnny Horton, of “Sink the Bismarck” and “The Battle of New Orleans” fame. You can find them both on YouTube.

Robert and I were in Medellín, Colombia a few weeks ago. There was a fancy store that had an interesting chair in the window. It was a stool of sorts, with a real horse saddle for a seat. I told my friend Anna about my obsession with horses when I was little, and about how, after I was convinced my parents would not get me a pony, I had wanted a saddle, just to sit on.  Then I saw this:


Some things are just wrong.  They should have buried that horse.

My Mummy

Robert and I have been planning a trip to Peru and Bolivia with some friends. I’ve actually been to Machu Picchu more than 20 years ago, but I’d love to see it again and we’re also planning to visit Lake Titicaca, LaPaz in Bolivia, and the Nazca lines. With this in mind, Robert and I have spent this rainy afternoon researching things we want to see. We plan to visit Arequipa, Peru, where a museum houses the Ice Maiden, a beautiful Inca mummy who was 13 to 15 years old when she was offered as a sacrifice 500 years ago.

Ritual killings were common within the Incan culture. In 1999 three Children of Llullaillaco, who found deep frozen were found with an extraordinary collection of elaborate gold, silver and shell statues, textiles and pots containing food The children included a 13-year-old known as the 'Llullaillaco Maiden'

The Ice Maiden, one of the three children of Llullaillaco found in Argentina in 1999. I would LOVE to tell you who took this picture, but I can’t find the source….

I am very fond of mummies. Far from being horrors, I find them beautiful, and I’ve made a point of seeing as many of them as I can, including the fabulous mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico, bog people in the British Museum and in Denmark, the wax lady in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Chinese mummies in Xian, and the mummies  in Niagara Falls (more about them, later…)

I am the child of museum folks. On my parents’ first date in April, 1948, my father took my mother to see a pack rat’s den in the middle of a Kansas prairie. There they discovered the skeleton of a torn-asunder cow and re-articulated it. After they married, Daddy was an exhibits designer and scientific illustrator at the Dyche Museum at KU (he later prepared exhibits at Chicago’s Field Museum) and they went on dinosaur digging expeditions together when my brother Andy was a baby. Daddy got the job of exhibits curator at the museum at Michigan State University in 1958. I was four then. He held that job until 1963, when he became the first curator of Abrams’ Planetarium at MSU.

So what does that mean? It means, I had the coolest childhood! My parents had the most interesting, brainiest and most artistic friends. Other kids’ fathers went to the office, our father went on expeditions. My brothers and I often had the run of the museum after closing hours. We knew and loved many of the exhibits. I especially loved my mummy.

She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen–a little girl in a glass case. She had a million shiny black braids. A colorful woven purse was attached to her belt. She had beautiful hair ribbons and a doll. She wore a shawl of many colors. Her hands were clasped around her knees. She was asleep. Her eyelashes were beautiful. There was vomit dribbling down her chin because they had drugged her with cocaine and alcohol before leaving her to die in the cold.  We were both the same age.

I felt we were alike. I felt I knew her. I remember standing in the dark, trying to communicate with her, trying to tell her, “Wake up!”  I had always felt a special connection with her. Then one day she was gone.  An international treaty had been entered with indigenous people, to the effect that the remains of native peoples would no longer be put on display in North American museums.

But I had other favorite mummies, too. When I was six my grandparents and my father’s sister’s family came from California to visit us. We went to Niagara Falls and visited Canada’s oldest museum (established in 1827) that featured such things as the barrels that folks used to go over the falls, parts of a mastodon, and a collection of stuffed animals and mounted fish in such terrible condition that they were funny (my favorite being a stricken-looking baboon, folding its desiccated arms protectively over the cotton batting that was bursting through his stomach). Later, whenever I hosted Kansas cousins or friends visiting the US from Europe, I took them to Niagara Falls (not that far from Detroit, where  lived) and I always made a point of visiting the Niagara Falls Museum. And in 2010, when Robert and I managed our Year of Dating Dangerously (we met in various places between Detroit and New York the year before we married) I took him to the museum, only to discover that it had been turned into a Hershey’s Chocolate store.

Niagara bison

This is part of a Niagara Falls diorama of a wolf attack on a herd of bison. This bison was stomping on and sticking his tongue out at the one of the wolves.

Niagara Falls Museum

Part of the museum’s large collection of ‘samplers” made of dead bugs glued on linen. (Note the pile of UNGLUED 100-year-old dead flies and beetles in the corner of the frame.) I can’t make out the motto–“To raise the C????? AND to mend the Heart”–can you?

Where were the exhibits? Argh! The entire contents of the museum, including its rotting taxidermy, cabin-sized slice of a giant redwood tree, my lovely baboon and two Egyptian mummies, had been purchased by a mysterious person and were in storage somewhere in Georgia. I WAS SO BUMMED! The two Egyptian mummies had probably been the most valuable properties of the sale. They had been really spectacular. One was a military general with red hair and a beard whose name they knew, and the other was a mystery.

In 2003, that guy in Georgia made a gift to Egypt. He returned the mummy of a freaking ROYAL PHARAOH to the CAIRO MUSEUM! Ramses I the father of Seti I and grandfather of Ramses II the Great was the unknown mummy that had been lying in Niagara’s dusty collection of curiosities for over 140 years! Now he has his name back! How cool is that???? The mummy from Niagara Falls now lies in state with the other royal mummies in the Cairo Museum. When I visited there in 1991 and was bummed because the pharaohs were undergoing some sort of treatment against mold and weren’t on display. At least I got to see this one…several times.

In Ecuador I take Spanish lessons. My teacher, Tati, assigned me to write in Spanish about someone special from my childhood. I decided to write about my little Incan girl.  But guess what? Even though post cards featuring her had been a big seller at the museum (I can’t find a copy of one…) there is no mention of her, anywhere. No photograph or presence of her, at all, on the internet. She does not appear in the on-line history of the MSU museum. She was the favorite of school children all over mid-Michigan for decades, yet it seemed she had been wiped off the face of the earth.

I called my brother Chris, the one of us who has followed in the footsteps on our parents. He has worked as an archaeologist and exhibit designer for subsequent curators of the MSU museum. I asked him what happened to my little mummy. He said, “It’s a secret.”

After the passage of the laws regarding indigenous remains my little girlfriend was removed from her case and hidden, or given back, or sold, or reburied. Who knows? Trying to research her, or ANY child mummy from South America other than the three famous children of Llullaillaco, is a dead end. I know there were dozens, if not more, perfect mummies of children in many museums before the law changed. Where are they?

The Ice Maiden in Arequipa and the other sacrificed children found on a mountain top in Argentina are beautiful. They are as beautiful as my little girl. In my memory, my little girl was more beautiful and more perfect than they. They exist–you can see them. You can see documentaries about them. But my little girl has been erased from history and existence.

Somewhere, my friend still sleeps. Somewhere, she may hear me whisper, “Wake up!”




How to Spend Three Days in Medellín

Day One-A Tour of the City

Robert and I decided to take advantage of a summer lull in activities (our Spanish teacher is taking a special training course in Chile to become certified as a translator of legal documents and I have stepped away from the Cuenca International Writers Conference until the new folks who have taken over get their heads together…) to see more of South America. Our good friend Anna Powell is staying in Medellín, Colombia, for a month so we decided to visit with her.

Medellín is the second-biggest city in Colombia, with about 2.5 million people. It has an attractive climate and, like Cuenca, a low cost of living for expats. Robert found a nice guesthouse for us to stay and researched stuff to do and buy. It all seemed very affordable until we checked out air fare on Avianca–we ended up spending just about what it would cost for us to fly to the US!  (We could have taken a cheaper airline called Viva Colombia but that would have required us to spend nights in Bogota, and we didn’t want to add days to our trip. Or, we could have taken a 28-hour bus trip for only about $100…) It didn’t help matters that we decided to travel in between two three-day weekends.

In any event, the flights were fine, and our hotel (61 Prada Guesthouse–highly recommended!) had a taxi driver waiting for us at the airport. Super easy. About $24.00 for the one-hour taxi ride through lush greenery, into the city.

We found Medellín to be busy, clean, and not expensive. Our comfortable hotel, with a king-sized bed, cost $33 a night, and our Filet Mignon dinner in the in-house restaurant was $8!  The food was so good that we ate there for almost every meal.

Robert had booked a walking tour of the city through City Tours. It took about four hours, and was free (though tips were gladly received, and we paid about $15.) It is extremely popular, and you have to make reservations the night before.  What a good job they did!  We felt we received an unvarnished history of the city, with honest explanations of the very complicated political situation that resulted in more than a decade of terror, murder and kidnappings, and the rise of drug cartels.  It is a reputation that the city is still fighting to erase.

Several times during the tour our English-speaking guide, Maribel, was approached by people on the street who asked her help to address us.  Maribel had warned us in advance that this would happen.  They all wanted to thank us for coming to Colombia, and ask us to come back again with our families, and to tell other people that Medellín is a nice and safe city to visit. (OK! OK! I’m doing that!) It was kind of cool that the people are so proud that they were able to solve their serious social issues.  Maybe WE can brag about that someday…


Maribel translates a bystander’s heartfelt welcome.

We had a lunch break near Botero Park, where I had a FABULOUS EMPANADA. Best fifty-cent lunch, ever!


The coffee is also fabulous. We grow it in Ecuador, too, but it seems the best of it gets exported.  In Colombia, they keep some of it for the populace. This very fancy brewer was inside Robert’s favorite coffee shop.


There are lots of sculptures and monuments in Medellín.  I liked a lot of them, and the ideas behind them, too.  During the Time of Trouble, the city’s main market burned and the space was taken over by homeless people and drug dealers. It was a very dark and dangerous place for everyone. The government cleared it out, put the Ministry of Education in one of the remaining buildings as a source of “light”, and built a forest of electric spires. We went back in the evening to see it lit up, but my camera had died, so I wasn’t able to capture it for you. The photo shows about a third of the towers.


I also really liked a HUGE scythe-shaped statue of the history of the city. It all made sense, with scenes showing the building of the railroad and Spanish gold-miners and stuff like that, but I didn’t know what the monster at the very top (to whom someone was offering a baby) was supposed to represent. It had giant chicken feet. Maribel said, “Oh, that’s God.” I never knew that God had chicken feet..  Interesting.


The city famously contains more than two hundred statues by native son, Fernando Botero, whose sculptures wreak havoc with proportions.   I like them because they make me feel skinny.


f and r cropped

The tour ended in a more run-down part of town where, on June 10, 1995, during a concert with lots of young people and families in attendance, someone set off a bomb inside one of the Botero sculptures. Ironically, they chose the Dove of Peace. Thirty people died, including a seven-year-old and a mother of ten. No one has ever claimed responsibility for setting the bomb, which blew a huge hole in the sculpture and sent pieces of shrapnel through the metal.  The artist begged the city not to remove the dove, but to keep it there as a memorial.



Robert, through the wreckage.

IMG_9429Later, Botero donated a second one.

Day Two – We Contribute to the Local Economy

People come to Medellín just to shop. On Wednesday, we spent most of the day doing that. I was able to replace my camera for a similar one with a better lens and I bought an HP laptop in a WalMart-type store called Exito!, both for about half the price I would have paid in Ecuador.  I bought cotton fabric to make blouses for myself, and books, games and beads for the kiddies at CETAP-Lucy.  Robert got lots of clothes and he was able to buy medications he needs for a lot less money.  We had fun poking around in shops in El Hueco (“The Hole”) with Anna. There was a huge, milti-floored building (called “The Palace”) It seemed to have nothing but stores and stores and stores filled with fashion knock-off baseball hats, sneakers and tee-shirts.  Impressive, but I hadn’t bought my camera yet. Anna took me to some fancy grocery store where I was able to stock up on jasmine rice (Oh, how I’ve missed you!), something I can’t find in Cuenca.

We had dinner again in the 61 Prado Guesthouse restaurant.  Robert had salmon, I had the best vegetarian pasta dish. Really! It’s worth a taxi ride across town just to eat there!

Day Three – We Fly Through the Air

Our last day was rainy. We had planned to visit a huge park outside of the city, which contains all kinds of things like an aquarium, horse and hiking trails, bike rental, etc.  We had already enjoyed using the city’s fabulous metro train system–clean and fast, and helpful for getting around.  (They will be paying for it for another 80 years.) Like Cuenca, Medellín is situated in a basin with mountains all around. At one end of the line there is the world’s longest escalator–28 stories–but we didn’t go that way. At the other end of the line there is a funicular to take folks up the mountain.  We looked down on rooftops for several kilometers.

r and A cropped

Anna looking interested. Robert looking a little green around the gills.

At the end of THAT line we paid $1.70 to take the funicular to the park. How amazing!  We traveled over TWO MOUNTAINS, fern forests, cocoa trees, and little farmhouses.  By then the rain had started in earnest and the only photos I have are of very close-up rain drops on glass.  We decided not to get off at the end, but to just continue our journey.  The funicular ride lasted more than an hour. Beats Disneyland. If you visit, this should be on your to-do list. Maybe you’ll have better weather.


Descending through clouds…

In the evening we broke tradition and had dinner in a place in an upscale part of the city called El Poblado that has fancy shops, and supposedly, lots of expats live there.  The restaurant was called “La Basilica” and the menu was funny. The meat section was called Los Pecados de la Carne (“Sins of the Flesh”) and included things like Alma en Pena (“Soul in Pain”), Sin Pecado Concebido (“Immaculate Conception”) and Maldita Tenatación (“Evil Tempation”).  Good food, and good company with Anna.


Cool architecture in El Poblado.

The next morning at seven we took off for the airport. It was good to get home. I like Medellín as a place to visit. We’d do it again in a heartbeat–there were many other thing we would have liked to have seen and done if we had had the time.  But we love our home in Cuenca!


Until next time!





Arrgh! A Pirate’s Life is NOT for Me!

Piracy is a sore subject for me. I prefer not to engage in it but here in Ecuador, if you want to watch a movie and you don’t have some kind of fancy computer set up, you can buy any DVD you want. You just can’t buy a legal one.

I like to watch TV series. I picked up one called Black Sails a while ago but gave up in frustration when I could not understand a blasted thing the pirate Charles Vane was saying. In my advanced age I find gravelly voices, that are supposed to be sexy, to be  mostly irritating. (Back off, Clint Eastwood!) But as I had finished a different series, I decided to give it another try.

This time I figured out the rather complicated plot. I enjoyed the combination of characters drawn from real history and the fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson.  I like the “extras” videos that show how they took a static wooden ship parked in the sand on a beach in South Africa and made it look like a naval battle, a ship among a flotilla of ships, or a ship suffering the worst storm ever, with water splashing everywhere and sailors sliding across the decks. How far movies have come from Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs and cyclopses (cyclopsi?) from our childhoods! If someone gave me another life to live, I would make it my life’s goal to find a job working in a film studio.

Anyway, I have enjoyed the show a lot. The costumes are fabulous, the plot twists and surprises are fun. I even figured out what Charles Vane was saying, until they hung him. (Sorry. Tardy Spoiler Alert.) I have been watching an episode or two every night.

And now I segue into another area, entirely.

I write creepy fiction.  Some of it is scary, some of it is just odd. I need only a few more stories to finish Stink Bug, the second volume of Poisonous Morsels series. Often, the way I figure out what to write about is to think about things that shocked me or frightened me when I was little. Like in 1958, when I was waiting for Daddy to get off work as exhibits curator at the Dyche Museum in Lawrence, Kansas, and wandered through the basement exhibits of plesiosaurs and mososaurs. Even now, a fleeting glimpse of this memory can give me the willies while swimming in the ocean or lakes. (Here’s a photo from the Dyche Museum website. Imagine walking past this, in the dark, when you’re only three…)


Other scary things come to mind–like the story our neighbor, Walt Klewicki, told us kids to keep us  from wandering too near the river bank behind our houses. “See that green stuff? That’s not water weeds. That’s BOOGEYMAN HAIR and he’ll reach up and grab your ankles and pull you into the water!” That kept us all  from drowning and also, still freaks me out whenever I have to wade into weedy ponds or rivers…

H.G Wells and his Morlocks, the original 3-D movie “13 Ghosts”, rabid skunks…all of those things scared me when I was little, and I still use them today to recreate feelings I must communicate to others in horror stories.

Back to our story…

Last night I watched Black Sails (and I am nearing the last episodes! Boo-hoo!) where the pirate, Edward Teach ( also known as Edward Thatch and Blackbeard) was killed. The real pirate was shot in the face, apparently, but in the series, Black Sails, he was keelhauled.

Yet I digress once more.

I had two sets of grandparents. The ones we often visited in Kansas, and the ones who lived in California. We saw the California grandparents less often and they were less known to us. We liked our Grandma Hogg, but Grandpa Hogg could be a bit hard to read. He once smacked me for accidentally pulling a rubber worm from his tackle box in half. (Our parents never hit us! I was in shock!)  But he was not all bad. Later, he made a submarine for my brothers out of a few tin cans and about twenty dollar’s worth of solder, and he took us to our first drive-in movie, at “The Crest” (Later to become The Crest Triple XXX Theater, and even later, a Pentecostal church! )

(Again, I digress…)

The movie Grandpa took us to was “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

I remember stuff about the movie. Stuff about breadfruit and island beauties. I also remember being COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT when the mean captain made a man fall into the water and then he didn’t come out again. I  remember asking Grandpa what happened. He said, “Well, the plan was to rip all his skin off with barnacles under the ship, but the sharks got him instead.”


I say this, but with much warm affection. Grandpa Hogg was just like that, you know?

I return to my story.

Last night, Blackbeard the Pirate got keelhauled. Several times. Sharks did not get him, but it would have been a blessing if they had. At age 63, I hid under the blankets.

And that’s how it is, being a writer. Something from our past can come back and scare us to death. But we use those fears and hurts and joys to craft new stories.

Thanks, Grandpa.

Small hurts, and things once lost…

front porch with azaleas

Our lovely house in Beacon, New York

When we were contemplating moving to Ecuador, my husband and I discussed what we thought we would need to be happy in our faraway home.  I said I wanted to be able to go back and visit my family every 18 months. But I hadn’t been back there for two years! (And Robert hasn’t been back for five…) Why? Partly because we have discovered that everything we need is here in Ecuador. And for me, it is partly because I carry a small hurt. For all the years we lived in our beautiful home in Beacon, few of my family ever visited us in spite of our many enthusiastic invitations. We had so much cool stuff to share with them!  Our beautiful Victorian home! All the history around us! Alexander Hamilton slept here!

Now in Ecuador, the cool stuff we want to share with them is EVEN COOLER! IMPOSSIBLY COOLER!  Freaking live volcanoes! Gorgeous, empty white sand beaches! Jungles full of screeching parrots and howling monkeys! Sloths and llamas! Magnificent colonial churches and architecture! Waterfalls! Shockingly gorgeous vistas! An even more beautiful house! And all our fun friends!  My small hurt exists because I feel it’s time for the people who love us to prove it, by coming to see us.

But in spite of that lingering sting, I found myself packing a suitcase in early April. Why? Because I miss my friends and my recalcitrant brothers, and I wanted to attend the 30th anniversary of the Rally of Writers, a writers’ conference in Michigan I was connected with from its first days.  I wanted to be able to buy black licorice and exotic Asian spices and to see new-sprung daffodils again. And my husband’s shirt collars were frayed and his underwear–well, you don’t really want to know about the state of his underwear–required a massive shopping trip.

In the past, I have flown into NYC, rented a car and enjoyed a nice road trip across Pennsylvania and Ohio, to Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. I stopped along the way to visit friends and checked off items on my pages-long shopping list as I traveled. But this time it made more sense to fly into Chicago and drive from there to do my business in Michigan. That was the plan, until I discovered I have misplaced my driver’s license.

Guess what? You can’t rent a car without one. My whole trip suddenly became much more difficult.

Still, I managed to see almost everyone I wanted to see, and to find almost everything on my shopping list (except for pink-grapefruit-flavored drink mix. What the heck happened to pink-grapefruit-flavored drink mix?). I managed to travel in taxis, on trains, and in friends’ cars. Thank all of you who helped me–Liz Hogg, Marisue Mongar, Tim and  Meg Hogg, Shirley Bradley, Colleen and Brian Murphy, Lynda Krupp and Mark Habel. And Barry.

I met Barry Knister when I moved to Detroit in 1979 to attend Wayne State University Law School.  Being impoverished, I got a job as a waitress at Johnny’s Dining Room, a Greek restaurant, pizza and breakfast joint near the campus, made famous in a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground comic book . (Keep on Truckin’!). That job helped me pay for  groceries, and there I met customers who became life-long friends. Barry was an English professor and writer, and a fair tipper.  He invited me to parties and I cleaned his apartment for him a few times. When he met a woman named Barbara and they married and moved away, he arranged for me to move into his fabulous apartment.

I hadn’t see Barry for about twenty years. But through the magic of Facebook, he contacted me a few weeks before my trip.  “I want to see you!” he said. And I would have loved to have visited him, but I didn’t have a way to do it. I explained my predicament and to my amazement, he offered to drive more than 150 miles to bring me to visit friends in my old stomping grounds in Detroit.

But I had to admit I held another small hurt. Not enough of one to make me not want to see Barry–but for decades it has been a tiny, insistent throb in my heart. All because Barry had pressured me into lending him a book. It had been a gift from a great love of my life, another English professor and writer named George Lewis. George asked me to marry him when I finished law school, but within six months he withdrew his proposal. On the way to visit me, driving from California through Muncie, Indiana, he became ill . He was hospitalized and diagnosed with acute leukemia. He sent me the book from a hospital in Ithaca, New York. I received it and treasured it but hadn’t even had a chance to read his inscription inside it when I gave in to Barry’s pressure to lend it to him, accompanied by promises that he would return it to me soon.

Barry didn’t.

In August, 1980, George Lewis died. Barry told me he had searched all his bookshelves but couldn’t find the book. He apologized profusely. A year later, when Barry moved house I asked him to keep an eye out for it again, just in case it was still tucked away in one of his many bookcases. But no luck. I had to accept that I had lost a little bit of George Lewis that I had wanted so much to keep and treasure–and was left with a small but insistent hurt.


Lynda, me, Benita and Ella, on Positively Fourth Street, in the Cass Corridor, Detroit.

I took Barry up on his offer to bring me to Detroit. He also offered me a Middle-Eastern dinner and a place to sleep. After coming to get me, Barry left me to spend several hours with my cadre of best girlfriends, Benita, Ella and Lynda. After a  nice visit with them, a nice dinner and conversation with Barry and Barbara, I spent the night on their comfortable fold-out sofa bed. I awoke early and had a shower. The sofa bed was squeaky, so not wanting to wake my hosts, I sat in a chair in the little office/guest room, next to a bookcase.

Part of me didn’t want to look. I knew that my little hurt would throb if I did.  But I did, anyway. And there, at eye level–


The book is called Innocent Eréndira, a collection of short stories by Gabriel García Márquez.  How funny that I ended up being a fluent Spanish speaker, living in a Spanish-speaking country! How would I have guessed that, 37 years ago?

I have held this book in my hands many times, but still I haven’t read it yet. I feel the same way I did when I first held it. These are the precious last words George Lewis wanted me to read. These stories contain the things he wanted me to think about. I need to be alert. I need to be in exactly the right mood.  But rifling the pages, I found some bits of paper. They are poems I liked that I had planned to send to George. But it was already too late. Within a few weeks of this gift, George was gone.

George was handsome. He looked a lot like the actor, Kevin Klein. He was tall and fit. He was smart and talented and successful. He was spiritual. He was from Austin, Texas and he had a beautiful accent–slow and sexy. I loved the way he said “Frances.” I don’t have a photograph of him. I only have this book. This last inscription.  The thing that was lost has been found. My small hurt has been salved.