Just Another Busy November

Date: November 5, 2011
Location: Lake Jackson, TX

The MK Meier family has finally settled into life here in Lake Jackson, Texas.  During the past month, we’ve seen the weather go down from the 90’s range to the 40’s. We’ve watched the mosquito armies bring on a late summer attack for a couple weeks, just to die off every time the temperature dropped below 50.  We went from using air conditioning on a regular basis to needing to use heat. We’ve settled into a routine that keeps the boys busy (and Mamma from going insane).  She also been quite busy attempting to potty train Luke and to get Grace to eat some of her first solid foods.

If any of you have been following the blog, you’ll note that I’ve actually been adding posts a little at a time over the past month.  However, if this is the first time that you’ve visited the blog since the past update, here are the stories you will find:

1) Our two big prayer requests (probably our biggest stressors at this time)
2) My 25 hour day (thoughts on what Cristina should do on the day that daylight savings ends)
3) Halloween alternatives (how the MK Meier family celebrated Halloween for the first time)
4) A Trip to Chicago (find out why Stephen left Lake Jackson for three days to attend a conference)
5) Remembering Smashed Potatoes (discussing some of the cute phrased the boys have said)
6) The Lake Jackson Speed Trap (owning up to Cristina’s first time caught speeding)
7) Texan invadors (dealing with the Texas mosquito population explosion)

Feel free to read through the blog and enjoy!

My 25 Hour Day

Daylight Savings time is going to end tomorrow.  This yearly event has not affected me very much in the past three years.  I had been living in Ecuador where the time never changed. The only difference it made was when I needed to call family and friends living in the U.S.  I had to remind myself that their time had changed.  For half the year, I was on Eastern Time and the other half I was on Central Time.

Central Daylight Saving Time is what we moved into living in Lake Jackson, Texas. Tomorrow, we will move into Central Standard Time.  Although I’ve always had a hard time adjusting to the change in hour, I’ve appreciated the falling back one hour.  It felt like I had an extra hour added to my day.  With all the things I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been to ponder my 25 hour day and ask myself, “What will I do with my extra hour on Sunday, November 6?”

Perhaps I’ll use that hour for my morning preparations.  I could wake up an hour earlier than normal.  That’s when I pull out my breast pump and start doing my devotions while pumping out enough milk for Grace’s morning bottle, four extra ounces to mix with her cereals and some left over for storage, if possible. Jared and Luke are usually awake by the time I’m finished.  So, I get them dressed, make their beds and give them their 8 oz of milk in a sippy cup.  While they drink, I start preparing the hot water to warm up Grace’s morning bottle.  Most of the time, Stephen helps me feed Grace.  Then I can make our bed and straighted up the rooms a little before getting started with the boys’ breakfast. When I finish making breakfast for Jared, Luke and Grace, I let Stephen feed Grace and supervise the boys, while I get myself dressed. Then we switch off and I put Grace down for her morning nap, eat breakfast and get the boys’ teeth brushed and shoes on while Stephen gets himself ready. This would, perhaps, give us enough time to get to church on time instead of a few minutes late.

Jared and Luke get goofy at lunch time.

Or maybe, I should save my extra hour for lunchtime. We usually feed the boys as soon as we get home from church.  When they are done eating, they get to play a little while before they are sent back to the room area to use the bathroom and prepare for their afternoon nap.  Stephen puts the boys in bed while I feed Grace her noon time meal of “Mamma’s milk.” She usually goes right to sleep when she’s finished. That gives us anywhere between 1 and 1/2 hours to 3 hours of peace while all three children are sleeping.  Stephen usually takes the opportunity to take a nap.  I, on the other hand, uses this time for household chores or unfinished projects, such as writing in this blog. Maybe my extra hour would be most useful here.

Grace plays on her mat.

However, I could use the extra hour later on in the afternoon.  Once the boys wake up from their nap, they ask for a snack and either spend time playing or watching a little television. They always wake up before Grace does.  When she wakes up, she’s ready for more milk and then enjoys spending time in her walker so that she can play with her toys, but can also observe what her brothers are doing.  By 5pm, I’m getting dinner ready for the family, Stephen is helping me wash the laundry and we sit down to eat at about 6pm. As the boys start eating, I go to my room to feed Grace and then bring her back to the table to eat her solids.

Cristina with Jared, Luke and Grace.

Actually, I think I might just save my extra hour for the later evening hours.  After dinner, the boys play with their toys or watch a little more television while the dinner dishes get cleaned and the laundry continues to be washed.  Around 8pm, we start getting everyone ready for bed. Jared and Luke brush their teeth, get their pajamas on and then pull out some books to read.  I used to be the story reader of the family.  However, Grace’s final feeding for the evening has come to conflict with the boys’ story time.  Therefore, Stephen is the one who most often reads to them while I start feeding Grace before putting her to bed. However, I do get to see the boys before they go to bed.  After their stories have been read, they insist that I pray with them and give them a hug and kiss good-night.  So, they run over to my room so that I can pray with them while I’m still feeding Grace.  After hugs and kisses, they run back to their room where Daddy puts them in bed, prays with them again and turns on their music so that they can fall asleep.

By the time Grace is asleep, I begin to wonder where all the hours have gone in my day.  Maybe my extra hour should be used at this point, so I can get a few more things done on my to-do list. Or maybe I’ll just use the extra hour to go to bed early and feel somewhat rested for the next day.

Changing Caregivers AGAIN

Ever since early April of this year, our boys have had to adjust to a new person to care for them.  The lady who had been taking care of them since we moved to Ecuador, Marina Hernandez, had to quit working for health reasons.  However, we were excited when Jenny Pilataxi was able to begin working for us immediately after Marina left. 

Jenny was considerably younger and full of energy.  She always came to work smiling and with a positive attitude toward anything I asked her to do.  Her positivity helped to make the change easier on my boys as I had to continue teaching for the rest of the school year.  When the summer break began, we told Jenny to take some vacation time while we traveled in the U.S. 

When we returned, I was able to get to know Jenny a little better since I wasn’t teaching classes.  Jenny’s husband runs his own mechanic shop.  She has two daughters in their twenties, one daughter who is nineteen and a son who is nine.  Her nineteen year old just started attending a local university last year and still lives at home.  Her oldest daughter is married and recently found out that she is pregnant.

That was when the trouble began.  Her oldest daughter also is the secretary/book keeper for her husband’s mechanic shop.  In Ecuador, the labor is cheap so they make most of their money off of the parts they replace on cars.  This requires a lot of purchases and paperwork and negotiating with the bank. 

A few weeks into her pregnancy, Jenny’s daughter went to see her doctor with concerns about bleeding.  Her doctor ordered her to go on immediate bed rest for the following three weeks.  This left Jenny’s husband without a secretary/book keeper.  The situation was tough, because he couldn’t hire outside help that was both willing to work temporarily (so the daughter could continue working for him after her maternity leave) and willing to accept the lower salary that he gave his daughter. 

He began putting pressure on Jenny to quit her job with us so that she could work for him full time.  Jenny told me the situation and said that she was trying to reason with him.  But after a week of arguments and stony silence on his end, she told me that she had no choice but to quit.  However, she also told me that she had a niece who had been recently left unemployed and needed a job. 

That is when Sonia Yanchapaxi enters the scene.  She has been working for us since August 9 and says that my sons are the boys she never had.  She has two teenage daughters.  One is going into eighth grade and the other is going to be a senior.  Although we were very sad to have to say good-bye to another caregiver that the boys were finally getting used to, the past three weeks have not been as hard as I thought they would have been.  Sonia enjoys playing with the boys and has been very helpful during the times that I have to work on preparations for the new school year and working on my Ph.D.  We are hoping that Sonia can continue to work for us for the rest of the time that we live in Ecuador.

Sonia encourages Luke to come down the slide.

Changes for the new school year (2010-2011)

During the summer, Stephen and I received an e-mail from the director of Alliance Academy International (AAI), stating the following:

“After prayer, careful consideration, and substantial research of legal risks and implications, the Foundation and Governance Board of the ‘Fundacion Academia Alianza Internacional’ voted to authorize the Director to take the necessary steps to withdraw the Academy from the relationship with the Ministry of Education [of Ecuador]. The Academy’s request was formally presented to the Ministry on Monday, July 5, and documentation was received today which officially REPEALS the 2007 ‘Acuerdo Ministerial’ which brought the AAI under the authority and supervision of the Ministry of Education.

“The Academy’s primary objective in submitting to the Ministry of Education and meeting national educational requirements has been to confer Ecuadorian diplomas for those students who will remain in Ecuador for university studies, especially in the traditional universities which require the national diploma. However, after three years, AAI has not had one Ecuadorian diploma approved by the Ministry, leaving our graduates in the same circumstances as graduates before the relationship with the Ministry was formalized. (AAI graduates choosing to attend the traditional Ecuadorian universities have been obliged to go through the same diploma approval process as graduates prior to Ministry recognition.) 

“The AAI will continue to operate under the legally-constituted AAI Foundation, and will produce academic records and confer diplomas accredited by AdvancED (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) and the Association of Christian Schools International. AdvancED is the world’s largest accreditation agency, with accredited schools in sixty-five countries. ACSI is the world’s largest Christian accrediting agency, with member schools in one hundred countries. AAI’s records and diplomas will continue to be recognized internationally.

“The Academy will continue to offer the instructional content in the high school to assure that graduates remaining in Ecuador will be well-prepared for admission and success in national universities. In addition, graduates will be provided assistance in obtaining recognition of the Academy’s international diplomas by the limited number of universities in Ecuador requiring validation of the such diplomas. Assistance in legalizing academic records for students transferring from AAI to national schools will also be provided.”

This was exciting news for all of us who had watched the struggle the school had in adapting to all the regulations being given to us by the Ministry of Education.  It was because of these regulations that we had the longest school year in the history of the academy last year and did not finish classes until June 25th.  It was during the 2009-10 school year that it became clear that the structures, programs, and processes of the AAI were not compatible with those of the national education system.

We are excited that we will be able to finish the school year a week earlier this year and have extra holidays added to the school year. 

All faculty and staff are expected to be on campus as of Friday, August 27. Classes begin on Thursday, September 2. 


Many renovations have taken place on campus during the summer.  The walkways between buildings have been completely remodeled, buildings have been painted and new wheel chair ramps have been made in the efforts to make the entire campus wheel chair accessible to the students who are in middle school and will be entering high school in the next couple years.

From Marina Hernandez to Jenny Pilataxi

Marina accepts a good-bye present on her last day at work.

At the end of March, our little family went through a painful change.  The lady who we had hired to help me take care of the boys, Marina Hernandez, discovered that she had two completely blocked arteries in her heart.  Her doctor told her that she needed to stop working and get more rest in order to prevent a heart attack.  He told her that is she kept working, she most likely would suffer a heart attack soon. He felt it was time for her to retire since she is almost 60 years old.

The news hit me hard, because I realized how much my boys had gotten attached to their “nana” (the name they had given Marina).  I also was sad at the thought of not seeing Marina again.

That meant I had to look for someone new to help me with my boys and with the house work.  Within a week, God made it possible for the maid of another missionary family to start working for us.  Jenny Pilataxi has three children.  Two are fully grown, but her youngest is only nine years old.  She has also worked for missionary families her entire career as a nanny.

Although it has been an adjustment to have someone new working for us, we are excited about having her help.  She is actively trying to help me teach my boys more Spanish words and she said that she will help me potty train Jared when he shows us that he is ready for it. (He hasn’t quite gotten there yet.)

We are excited to have a Christian working for us who is both trustworthy and full of energy and excitement about caring for my children.

The “Loose Change” Issue

One of the convenient things about being a U.S. citizen living in Ecuador is that there is not foreign money exchange.  The same dollar bills used in the U.S. are also used in Ecuador.  According to Business Insider, there are over twenty countries that use the U.S. Dollar as national currency in some form. Some countries adopted this change of currency after their own money lost its value.

For the small country of Ecuador, this happened in January of 1999.  The president announced on January 7, 1999, that they would discontinue using the “sucre” and adopt the U.S. dollar for all monetary transactions.

The first minting of the Sacagewa dollar coin also happened the same year, although it was first dated as 2000.  Perhaps it was the familiar face of a woman carrying her small child on her back that made this coin so popular among Ecuadorians.  This coin was part of an effort to memorialize the contributions of individual tribes and peoples in  native American history in the U.S. However, the people in Ecuador just see a lady who looks like their next door neighbor as she tries to make a living cooking local food or selling items she has made in a local marketplace.    I personally never saw this coin in the U.S., but saw it used everywhere I went shopping in Quito and other cities in Ecuador.

sacagewa coin 2000

The Sacagewa dollar coin used by Ecuadorians as spare change were first minted in 2000 but rarely circulated within the U.S. (Image from – treehugger.com)

Although the transition from the sucre to the dollar was painful, especially those in poor communities, the country was able to stabilize its economic situation within a few years. Perhaps this transition was also a reason that so many were able to accept the coin with the Sacagawea image as their own currency.   It is, by far, the most popular coin used in daily transactions.

It makes sense that these coins are especially used by those in the lower economic strata.  For these citizens and entrepreneurial business people with small businesses, cash is king.  Having a bank account is a mark of luxury.  Very few have credit cards or handle checks of any kind.

One prime example is the lady who cares for our sons while I’m teaching.  Her name is Marina Hernandez. She’s in her late 50’s and she’s never had a bank account in her life.

“I need $100 to start a bank account,” she told me once. “I just don’t have that kind of money.”

Therefore, I must pay her in cash.  Her payday is on Friday.  Without disclosing the exact amount that I pay her on a weekly basis, I will tell you that the final two digits end with 10. One particular Friday, I found that I did not have change for that final $10 bill that I needed to give her.  I had a $20, but I needed to break it down to give Marina half of it.  So, I put Jared and Luke in a stroller and took off down the street near our home.

I stopped at a pharmacy to buy something.  They didn’t have change, so I used the last few coins in my wallet  to purchase something I needed and continued on to another store.  I stopped at a corner bakery and tried to buy a few bread rolls that were less than $2 total.  When I presented my $20, the lady shook her head.  She had no change.  I was about to leave the store without buying the bread, when she said something that shocked me.

“Oh, that’s O.K.  Just take the bread.  You can pay me back later.”

When I asked her if she was sure about that, she said, “Oh, I know you’ll be coming back.  Just pay me the next time you are here.”

Well, I left the store feeling a little amazed at her trust, but still needing to get some change.  So, I stopped at another street vendor to buy two pints of strawberries that were worth $2.  The lady also gave me the same response.

She said she had no change, but I could pay her back later. Wow, at this rate, I’m going to be owing everyone money all the way down the street!

Finally, I came to a little stationary store and bought a ball for Jared and a few other items.  The purchase was going to be about $5.  I pulled out my $20, and to my dismay, the lady said she had no change.

However, she looked to a customer who was purchasing something behind me and managed to get the change I needed, from him, to give to me.

Finally, I had my change.  I was able to go back and pay everyone else that I owed money to, and get back home to give the $10 to Marina. I had learned two valuable lessons that day.  First, street vendors are very trusting and generous to their regular customers.  Second, never leave the house without some loose change handy (especially those Sacagewa dollars)!


Author Note: This post was initially written in October of 2009.  Besides updating some of the history behind the use of the U.S. dollar in Ecuador, I have not lived there since June of 2011.

Research shows that there is current questioning among governing authorities as to whether or not the dollarization in Ecuador was the right choice.  There is evidence that there could be a possible de-dollarizing of the economy through the use of electronic currency.  Time will tell how or when these changes might come.