The Joys of July

Date: August 2, 2009
Location: Quito, Ecuador

The month of July came and went in a flurry of travel and settling into our new home on the Alliance Academy campus.  With all the changes going on, it was hard for Cristina to find time to sit down and update the family blog.  Between flying to the U.S. (west and east coast) and traveling by car up and down the east coast with two children in diapers, Stephen and Cristina had their hands quite full.

However, it was a blessing to stop and visit with family, friends and supporters.  We appreciate those who took the time to meet up with us during our travels.  (Many of you have a little box of “manzanilla” tea as a reminder of our visit.) We felt badly about the people whom we were not able to connect with, but we are glad that we can still keep in touch on-line.

Now, we’d like to share with you some of our adventures this summer.  Skim through our categories to read about the following:

Category – Family News
*Our trip to the U.S. (including eight different states)
*Jared’s celebration of his second birthday (he enjoyed the “ball” theme)
*Luke’s development as a 6 month old

Category – TCK Views
*Our trip to the Galapagos Islands (short but sweet)

Category – Ministry
*Stephen’s progress in learning Spanish

Category – Home Page
*Our current prayer requests

August Prayer Requests

We have a few prayer requests as we wrap up our summer months and prepare for a new school year at the Alliance Academy International.  Please be in prayer with us for the following situations:

1) Stephen’s Intensive Spanish Classes – That Stephen will get the most he can out of a three week intensive class in Spanish.  After finishing one week of classes, Stephen has felt challenged in taking in and retaining the mountain of language that is being thrown at him each day. 

2) Cristina’s Ph.D. program – That Cristina will continue to be motivated as she comes into her final year in the program.  She needs to retake two parts of her comprehensive exams in the fall, as well as work on the first three chapters of her dissertation so that she can defense her “dissertation proposal” in the fall.  If she passes this defense, she will be able to finish writing her proposal and possibly graduate in May of 2010.

3) Renewing Our Visas – That the process will take place quickly and that we might be able to obtain Ecuadorian residency.  We are in the process of renewing our yearly missionary visas for the family.  We had managed to get Luke’s Ecuadorian citizenship (because he was born in Ecuador) and his paperwork was completed before we went to the U.S., but we were running late in obtaining missionary visas for the rest of the family.  We were told to return to the country under tourists visas so we could get the visas renewed after we returned.  As of now, the school’s lawyer has all our passports and legal documents to see if it might be possible for us to obtain Ecuadorian residency based on the fact that we have a son who is an Ecuadorian citizen.  If we do obtain residency, we no longer have to obtain a missionary visa every one or two years, but would be able to pay a one time fee for being a resident of the country.

4) The RE-scheduling of the 2009-2010 school year – That the administrators will be able to make wise decisions that include the recent changes in the scheduling of school days. In past years, the Alliance Academy had started their school year in mid to late August.  However, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education informed the school this summer that they were not allowed to begin the school year before the first Monday of September.  Therefore, the first day of school is being moved to September 7th.  Recently, they’ve also expressed to the school that they are required to have 200 school days, of which 190 days must be “educational.”  This has the potential of increasing the school year for two solid weeks. Be in prayer for our scheduling team as they work out all the details.

Learning Spanish

Four days after coming back home from all our summer vacation travel, Stephen was waking up early to attend his first Spanish classes since moving to Ecuador.  Yes, he had picked up a few words here and there, but this was the first time that he would attend an intensive Spanish course specifically designed to help him learn Spanish quickly.

The class was set up by a nearby university in the city of Quito as a three week intensive class in Spanish, reaching the needs of various Spanish language learners at their personal level of learning.  The Alliance Academy International offered to provide the class for free to any of the teachers or staff (or their children) who wished to participate. Stephen said that about 20 people showed up for the free rides from school to the location of the Spanish classes.  The only thing that they had to pay for was the meal plan (if they chose not bring their own food from home).

Classes began on Monday, July 27 with classes taking place from 8am to 3:30pm. Stephen described his “placement exam” on the first day of class as a joke.  He couldn’t answer any of the questions or understand anything that was being said to him.  Eventually, he gave up and asked to be placed in the lowest level possible.

For the past week, Stephen has been learning the very basics of Spanish in a setting where most of the discussion takes place in Spanish.  Every afternoon, Stephen comes home with a stack of notes and picture cards to help him review what he has learned that day.

Although the class is quite a challenge for him, Stephen is already beginning to grasp some of the words and phrases he has been hearing for the past year of living in Quito. 

He is hoping to have a basic understanding of the language by the time he finishes this crash course.  He has two weeks left with his final class taking place on August 15th.  This basic understanding will help him as he begins preparing for the new school year next year.

A Three Week Visit “Home”

It only took three weeks and two days for this Meier family to travel between two different continents to visit the West Coast, the East Coast, three different time zones and eight different states (as well as the District of Columbia).  This travel included four days of air travel and eight days of car travel.  The longest day of car travel was 14 hours between the Northern Virginia area and Jacksonville, Florida.

Needless to say, the infant Meier boys (Jared and Luke) became expert travel companions during that time. Many visits were made between those traveling days. 

Our journey began when we flew out of Quito, Ecuador on June 23 and arrived in Miami, Florida.  We spent one night at a hotel before flying out the next day in the direction of Portland, Oregon and the home of Stephen’s parents (Rudy and Linda Meier). 

Stephen’s parents retired from the mission field in October of 2008 and had never seen their grandchildren in person.  We spent a week with them, as well as with Stephen’s sister, Lisa, his brother, Kurt, and some of his other relatives to took the time to visit.  While in Portland, we were able to go to the beach and visit the zoo. 

At Cannon Beach in front of "Haystack" Rock

At Cannon Beach in front of "Haystack" Rock

On July 1st, we traveled back to Orlando, Florida, where Cristina’s sister, Anita Gamblin, picked us up from the airport.  We spent the July 4th weekend visiting with her and her husband, Nick; with Cristina’s brother, Philip Cobb and his wife, Chrissy; and with Cristina’s brother Tim Cobb (who had recently returned home from a year’s service in Iraq).

We stayed with them through the weekend.  We attended Anita and Nick’s church where we had the privilege of hearing the pastor announce Anita’s first pregnancy to the entire congregation. She is due January 28.

We began our car traveling adventures on the morning of July 6th.  Stephen picked up our “premium” car rental, which had enough room in the back for two car seats and “Mamma.” We traveled to the Mobile, Alabama area to visit Stephen’s sister, Susan Blanton and her family.  Susan and Shannon have three kids.  Their oldest daughter is almost eight. Connor is about a year and a month older that Jared and their son, Gavin, is almost a month older than Luke.  The cousins had a lot of fun together. 

We left Mobile on the 8th of July to travel to Georgia and stay with some friends of Cristina’s, Liz and Dave Hansen.  The next morning, we traveled to Virginia Beach to spend one night there with another of Cristina’s friends, Kelly Head and her husband Jason.  They have two girls, Julianna (4) and Victoria (1), who entertained our boys quite well for the evening. We also managed to visit some of Stephen and Cristina’s friends the following morning.  We met up with Ken and Betty Dahm for breakfast and Jeff Anderson for lunch.  After lunch, we traveled to the Northern Virginia area to visit our church family for the weekend. 

While we were in Stephens City, Stephen wanted to run a race.  He found one in the heart of D.C. that was taking place on Saturday, July 11th at Rock Creek Park.  We all woke up at 4:30 am so that Stephen could make it to D.C. for his 7:30 race.  While we were there, we visited some good friends of ours that we had met while living in South Korea (Alex and Teresa Harrington).  We spent some time with them after the race and then ate lunch together before heading back to Stephens City. 

The following morning, we spent most of our time at church.  We spoke at both church services, the Sunday school class and the 6pm evening service.  We did manage to fit some time in during the afternoon to visit with some dear friends who used to be next-door neighbors to us during our first year of marriage (Brooke and Darrell Frick).  They had recently had the addition of their first baby to the family.  So, we got to meet little three-month-old Jacob while we were there.

The morning of July 13 was another early one for us.  My Yahoo! map directions stated that it would take 12 hours to drive from Stephens City, VA to Jacksonville, Fl.  So, we left at 5:30am with the goal of making it to Jacksonville by dinnertime.  Even with multiple stops along the way, we made it by 6:30pm. 

We spent the night with Cristina’s cousin and her family.  She had also given birth to a second daughter about two weeks after Luke was born.  Her older daughter was already 5 years old.  We spent the following morning together and then drove down to Gainesville to spend two more nights with Cristina’s family.

During that time, Philip and Chrissy, closed on their home to become homeowners for the first time. We all came over to “pray over” their new home.  When we got to the second guest room, Philip and Chrissy mentioned that they weren’t sure what they how they would use it.  They said it might be another room for guests or “possibly a baby’s room sometime in the future.”

After eating dinner together on July 15, Stephen and Cristina came home to do all the final packing of their things.  The following morning, they would be driving to Miami, Florida and flying back to Quito on a 5:10pm flight.

We made our final long road trip on July 16th.  This trip was only five hours long.  After several days of six to twelve hour road trips, this trip seemed a lot faster.  At least, that is how Cristina felt.  Poor Stephen was definitely getting tired of the driving.  He wouldn’t let Cristina assist him with much of the driving, because she had forgotten her driver’s license in Ecuador and was driving illegally each time she got behind the wheel.

People have asked us various times how the boys handled the driving.  We have to respond with awe at how well they did.  Yes, there were some fussy moments as we neared the boy’s mealtime while on the road.  However, toys, games, occasional DVDs and snacks (for Jared), chew toys (for Luke) helped to keep them busy.  We also drove no more than three hours at a time, so that Jared could run around and stretch his legs and so that Mamma could feed baby Luke, who was still doing 95% Mamma’s milk for his daily meals.

I think one thing Cristina will never forget this particular trip was the challenge of having to change diapers for two babies.  She had a new appreciation for clean restrooms with quality diaper changing tables.  It was also the first time that she realized how few airplanes actually come equipped with a diaper changing table in their restrooms.  The airplanes that did had only one diaper-changing table on the entire plane. 

It is also the last flight that both boys will be “lap-riders.” Jared just turned two years old, which means he will no longer ride for free on an airplane.

This summer trip was an adventure that the entire family will not soon forget.


The two pregnant aunts pose with their tired and fussy nephews.

The two aunts pose with their tired and fussy nephews.

A Galapagos Trip

Meier Family at the Galapagos

Meier Family at the Galapagos

It was the chance of a lifetime.  I had earned a free plane ticket to the Galapagos simply by purchasing groceries every week at the Ecuadorian grocery store known as “Supermaxi.”  All they had to do was pay for one ticket in order for the entire family to go.

We knew we were cutting it close by planning our Galapagos Trip so soon after returning from our trip to the U.S. However, we wanted to complete the trip before Jared turned two years old.  As an “infant,” Jared would be able to sit in our lap for a free plane ride.  At the age of two, we would be required to purchase a seat for him.  With his birthday coming up on the 25th of July, we knew that we couldn’t waste too much time.

Knowing that we were returning to Quito, from our trip to the U.S., on the 16th of July, I booked the tickets for the following Tuesday, July 21st.  We would spend two nights and three days on the Island of “Santa Cruz” and then return to Quito on the afternoon of July 23rd.

The flight was scheduled for 7:50am and I was told to be at the airport at least two hours early.  Fortunately, we do not live far from the airport and we were offered a ride by one of our coworkers.  We arrive shortly before 6am and soon discovered why we needed to be there two hours in advance. 

All adult travelers to the Galapagos Islands are required to go through an additional “luggage inspection line” and are required to purchase a special $10 card that gives them admission to travel to the islands. This line took nearly an hour.  It was also confusing and disorganized because several people kept cutting in front of us, and we couldn’t figure out why they got priority over us.  Eventually, Stephen got tired of the confusion and pushed me to the front of the line, saying, “Tell her that you are next.” 

After obtaining two cards and scanning our luggage, we returned to the main ticket counter where we needed to check-in to our flight.  When we checked in our luggage and received our boarding passes, we had to wait in another line to go through the security check point and get our carry-on’s checked AGAIN.  

The interesting thing about the airports in Ecuador is that they are more lenient on what you can carry through security if you are traveling domestically.  Therefore, we could carry as many liquids as we wanted.  If we had been traveling outside the country, we would not even be allowed to bring drinks on board that were purchased beyond the security check point.

Although we were less than two hours away from the islands, our flight to the “Isla Baltra” of the Galapagos was not a direct flight.  After being in the air for 30 minutes, we landed in the coastal city of Guayaquil to allow an exchange of passengers.  The rest of us sat on the plane waiting for it to take off again.

From there, we had an hour and a half flight to our final destination.  I carried Luke in her lap, while Stephen had Jared.  In past flights, Jared has insisted on sitting in “Mamma’s lap”, but he was quite content to stay in “Dad’s” lap this time.  (Probably because dad had a window seat.)  However, once we were in the air for the second time a flight attendant came to our row and offered the man, sitting next to us, the opportunity to sit somewhere else.  That allowed Mamma and Luke the chance to move over to the isle seat and for Jared to have his own seat between Mamma and Dad.   It was great to have a row to ourselves as we looked out the window to see the islands a few minutes before we landed.

Cristina and Luke Arrive

Cristina and Luke Arrive









Stephen and Jared arrive

Stephen and Jared arrive







I was amazed by the vast amount of empty land that surrounded the landing strip.  There was nothing but grey grass, green shrubs and tall cactuses that separated the land from the sea.

All passengers deplaning made use of an old-fashioned movable staircase to the runway.  A yellow path was marked on the edge of the runway to guide passengers toward the airport.  It got a little confusing in the middle, because the arriving passengers crossed paths with departing passengers who were getting ready to board their plane.

Apparently all major airlines only sent their planes to the islands for a few hours before turning around and going back to the mainland.  It didn’t seem to me that the airport was big enough for commercial airlines to be stored for the night. Only small charter jets could be seen near the few hangers that were on the island.

After getting through the sea of leaving passengers, we made our way toward several lines of people trying to go through the entry point.  A guard took notice of us and another couple standing in front of us who had a baby.  He guided us past the crowds directly to the front of the “foreigner” line.  He helped us to get our paperwork processed in record time, just because we were carrying small children with us.  Within fifteen minutes of arriving, we were paying our $100 “national park fee for foreigners” (per adult) and making our way to the luggage area. 

A large truck with a flatbed was driven up to a large open area where workers unloaded the entire luggage into the center of the room and allowed dogs to sniff over them.  After that, a make shift gate was opened to allow people to pick up their luggage.  The whole process reminded me of airport experiences in her childhood.  This airport appeared virtually untouched by 21st century technology. 

In the process of waiting for Stephen to find our suitcase, I was approached by an eager tour guide who wanted to offer them a $300 dollar package that would give them a “great hotel” with all meals included and a tour of all the attractions on the Galapagos.  She just smiled and shook her head, glad that they had already made reservations in advance at a hotel on Santa Cruz for only $45 a night for the whole family. 

The next step was to take an airport charter bus from the airport to the docks where boats carried passengers from the “Isla Baltra” to the “Isla Santa Cruz.” All passengers took the boat, because Baltra was a barren island, besides the airport. 

Baby Luke was asleep, but Jared was wide awake to appreciate the ferry boat ride across the channel which cost his parents a whopping 80 cents each.  After landing on the north end of Santa Cruz, we needed to take a 45 minute bus ride to the south end of the island where all the hotels and tourist areas were located.  The bus dropped us off on the main street at about 1pm, and we were all ready for lunch.

After a little bit of wandering down the main street, we were able to find our hotel called “Sir Francis Drake.”  We unloaded our luggage and went out to find a restaurant.  We found a little café that served a full meal for $3 each.  After lunch, Stephen and I were more ready for a nap than Jared and Luke.  After a couple hours of resting in the hotel room, we all went out to explore the main street area. 

Jared loved strolling out on the dock to look at the boats in the water and the birds flying overhead.  We played in a little playground and took pictures and looked around at the different tour packages being offered.  We ended up eating an early dinner and trying to get a good night’s rest so that we could go sight seeing the next day.

The next morning, we found another café to eat breakfast and then headed down to the docks to find a decent but short tour that would get us back in time for the boys’ naptime.

After talking to one tour company, we ended up taking a 2 ½ hour taxi tour of the inside of the island in the morning and a 3 hour boat tour to the coastal area of the island in the afternoon.

We saw turtles in their natural habitat and volcanic made craters and tunnels in the morning.  Jared wasn’t sure what to make of the huge tortoises lounging around in the grassy area of the tortoise reserve.

Cristina points out a tortoise in the grass

Cristina points out a tortoise in the grass

After a short nap and lunch, we joined a tour that took us out to sea in a little row boat with a motor.  I have to admit that I got a little nervous as we headed out across rocky ocean waves.  The tour guide had no life vests for small children.  Jared was swamped in a life vest that looked like it should have fit a teenager.  I was glad I had little Luke strapped onto me in his Baby Bjorn®.  However, the thin life vest given to me could barely be wrapped around me and Luke combined.  I knew that if the boat capsized, this life vest would not be much of a “life saver.”  I hid my concerns from the boys as the boat slapped mercilessly against the ocean’s surface, sending a spray of ocean water across my face every time.  Jared and Luke giggled and squealed with glee the entire time.

Our first stop was a little island off the coast of Santa Cruz to see some animals and to try to see the sharks.  We saw a few seals lounging among the rocky shore, but we didn’t see any sharks.  Our tour guide insisted he saw a shark fin a couple time, but none of the rest of us saw it.

Then we zoomed over to the coast of Santa Cruz to look at some blue-footed boobies nesting on the cliffs.  We spotted some iguanas lounging in the sun, as well.  We passed a fisherman’s boat as they were cleaning their latest catch. There were hopeful seagulls and pelicans flying around who were waiting for scraps to be tossed to them.

The tour guide brought us to a dock area that he called the “Harbor of Love.”  We all got off the boat to do a little hiking and exploring.  We hiked down to a sandy, beach area where the many iguanas had made their breeding grounds.  Iguanas were lounging everywhere we looked.  Jared had a lot of fun pointing them all out.

Looking at the Sleeping Iguana

Looking at the Sleeping Iguana



After our hike, Stephen was given a chance to snorkel.  I stayed on shore with the boys and watched.  Stephen saw a school of fish, but was too nervous about sharks to swim out too far from the shore. 

Our final stop before heading back to the bay, was to pass a half-sunken ship.  Our tour guide made a big deal about the fact that the boat had been stuck there for the past eight years.   He said no one knew why it sunk but it remained in that spot ever since.

We returned to our hotel with time to shower and get ready for our final dinner on the Galapagos.  The following morning, we would leave the hotel at 9am to catch a bus back to the northern coast and the ferry boat that would take us to the “Isla Baltra” and our flight back home.

It was a short trip, but it was enough to give us a taste of the amazing wildlife that make their home there.  Jared remembers the boat ride best.  If anything sticks to his memory, that would be the one thing that would. And we took plenty of pictures to reinforce his memories.

Let’s Have a Ball

Jared and his Basketball Pinata

Jared and his Basketball Pinata

Cristina had been planning for Jared’s birthday party for nearly three months.  She began to plan it before the school year ended, because she wanted to find out how many of the staff’s families with young children would be around for it.  Jared’s birthday falls on July 25th, which is right in the middle of summer vacation.

After several families responded that they would be available to come to a party on Friday, July 24th, Cristina sent out invitations and began to plan out the party theme, “Let’s Have a Ball.” 

One of Jared’s favorite toys is a ball.  It doesn’t matter the size or type.  Jared loves to play with circular objects. When Jared was first learning how to say the word, “ball,” he would wake up in the morning whispering it to himself. 

“Ball….ball….ball,” we could hear him say through his baby monitor.

Naturally, Cristina wanted to create a theme around this fascination. She purchased goody-bags and put basketball, soccer and football stickers all them.  She found little hacky sacks in the shapes of different balls and little toys that matched the theme.

Jared's birthday cake

Jared's birthday cake

She ordered a birthday cake that would have gumballs around the edges and little sponge soccer ball stuck in the middle of the cake. This matched the little soccer ball candles she had purchased in the U.S. during their summer vacation.

She was also able to find a piñata in the shape of a basketball.  Since Jared would be celebrating his birthday in Ecuador, she wanted to follow the Latin custom of having a swinging piñata that the kids could attempt to hit and break.  Breaking it open would allow the treats and candies inside to spill to the ground.

When the day arrived, Jared helped his mom put up balloons and streamers all over the house.  Then, dad took Jared out to the playground to wait for his birthday party guests to arrive. 

Although some families had to cancel at the last minute, two families brought their children over in time to join the fun and games.  They played with Jared’s wide collection of plastic balls in the playground, before coming inside for a snack and an “inside game.” 

It was very interesting for Cristina to try to teach toddlers how to play “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  A few of the children were too shy to make an attempt.  In that case, Jared took their tail for them and stuck them up randomly on the poster.  Jared had a hard time understanding that you were supposed to put the tail ON the donkey’s rear end.  He just liked to stick them anywhere on the poster.

After admiring the donkey with nine tails, we all went outside again for a few more games.  We had a little race around the dorm building.  Every kid who crossed the finish line received a metal around his neck, because “anyone who finishes the race is a winner!” 

Then, the kids took turns trying to hit the piñata.  The two and three year olds weren’t even able to make a dint in it.  Finally, the last one up, was a four year old who figured out exactly where to hit the piñata to make it slip open in the middle.  As soon as all the candy tumbled out, the kids began to pick up the candy from the ground and added it to their goody bags. 

It was hard to keep them from eating too much of their candy because we were about to eat lunch.  I believe Jared got to taste a chocolate bar for the first time in his life.

As the older children at their lunch, Cristina took care of her baby, Luke, and put him to bed.  He was tuckered out from all the morning’s excitement.  Lunch was followed by the lighting of the candles on the birthday cake.  Jared managed to blow out some of the candles on his own, but had some help from little friends to help him finish.

While Cristina cut the birthday cake, Jared opened his birthday presents.  He received an art kit from one family and a play dough set from the other family.  After the boys were given their piece of cake, their parents began to pack up to go home.

By then it was nearly 1pm and everyone (guests and hosts) were ready for an afternoon nap. 

As for Cristina, she is still trying to grasp the fact that her baby is now a full-blown toddler.  Jared has reached the “tremendous” twos.  His vocabulary is expanding more and more every day.  He is gradually learning how to eat by himself and communicate more clearly to the people around him. 

Being two is sure to provide plenty of adventures and excitement for both Jared and his parents.

Half a Year Old

A lot can happen in six months.  This is especially true if you are only six months old.  Luke Evan Meier hit the six month mark on July 6. 

Luke at the Galapagos Islands

Luke at the Galapagos Islands

It has been fun to watch little Luke’s world expanding as he becomes more interested in the things around him. He has been learning how to sit up on his own and eat solid foods for the first time.  He is still working on rolling over from his stomach to his back, but he knows how to roll from his back to his stomach really well.

Luke's "oatmeal" face

Luke's "oatmeal" face

His vocabulary is growing a little more quickly as he watches his older brother a lot.  I think Jared was over a year old before he associated the word, “mama” to his mother.  However, Luke will frequently start saying “ma…ma-ma…ma…ma…ma,” when he’s hungry and looking for his mother to feed him.  He also has picked up the sounds of “da da,” “ba ba” and “na na.”

Following in his brother’s pattern, Luke gained his first two baby teeth soon after being six month olds.  The first one was the left, front tooth on his bottom gum.  A second one appeared next to it a few days later.  He enjoys using those teeth to chew on any toy (or cloth) he can get into his mouth. 

One of his favorite things to do is grab his toes, pull his socks off and then sit there chewing them.  When Cristina finds him chewing on a sock, she’ll often say, “Luke, what are you doing?  Jared never did that!”

Yes, Cristina has to admit that it is hard not to compare her two babies.  Although many people tell her that her boys look very much alike, she can already tell that they are two different boys.  She has fun seeing the differences and similarities unfold in their budding personalities. 

So far, Luke is a calm and relaxed child who likes to observe what is going on around him.  This makes it very easy for Jared to come along and take all his toys away from him.  It is very hard for Jared to understand the concept of sharing. Still, there are those few moments when Jared will run up to Luke, give him a kiss and hand him a little toy. 

Those are the moments Mama loves to observe.