Wednesday, November 30, 2011


"Hello, Peter. Whaaaat's happening?"

This from a recent Bloomberg article: Americans working too much. Anyone out there disagree? Anyone since 1975? So Bob, how we doin' there on that working too much thing? I think the article was subtitled "but keep watching TV; it's making you smarter."
Wanna cry? Here's some excerpts from the department of Statistics to Prove What We Already Know.
  • In 1965 a U.S. Senate subcommittee predicted that due to automation Americans would be working just 20 hours a week and taking at least seven weeks of vacation a year.
  • In 1991 Joe Average had added 163 hours to his work year since 1973. And now Jane Average (Joe's wife) was also working full time, so the average per family was 500-700 more than the 70's. (And anyone think we're working less than 1991? We surpassed the Japanese by the end of the 90's as the worlds sweathogs.)
  •  Median annual paid vacation time for Joe and Jane these days? Less than one week.
But at least the rest of the world has been having to compete with us to keep up. Right? World?

Dutch workers put in less than 1,400 hours a year and get a minimum of four weeks of vacation a year. I used to do my staff budgeting using the standard figure 2080 hours per year for full time, 120 of that as paid vacation. And the Netherlands has a positive trade balance, ranks fifth in life satisfaction, and enjoys the highest children's welfare (as in well-being, not a government programs) in the world. Man, there are just two things I can't stand in this world...

So, now that the dollar buys less, jobs are scarce, still got the big mortgage…better really start showing 'em who's a hard worker, eh? People keep saying that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. OK, no, it isn't. It's got nothing to do with insanity. Besides, as a negative motivation, it ignores the fact that these days insanity is cool. But can we agree that doing the same thing and expecting different results is…stupid? I think we can.

So what are you going to do? Think about it next time you've got some time off.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A quiver of insults

Taking a break from thinking too much--or at least thinking way too seriously--with this little road game. We are all familiar with the terms of venery for many common animals: a herd of cattle, a gaggle of geese, a school of fish. There are also some less common, but very cool names: a parliament of owls, intrusion of cockroaches, and my personal favorite, a murder of crows. And it occurred to me the other day that traveling nationals deserve their own terms to fit our stereotypes for them. Here are some to get us started, and please contribute in the comments.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My friend the witch doctor--the jungle part II

Upon seeing the breathtaking display of nature and life that is the Amazon Jungle, one is overcome with the desire to completely destroy it and everything in it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Heart of Snarkness--the jungle, part I

We are from a high sierra ecosystem...I think. Whatever it's called, the point I'll make about our ecosystem is that it's sun-baked, windswept, bitterly cold in winter and covered with snow, and dry in summer. We have laws in Colorado prohibiting picking wildflowers or otherwise trampling certain foliage, and limiting hunting and fishing to protect species. It is an ecosystem defined by scarcity. The jungle, on the other hand, is a surging sea of life and abundance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The jungle (on approach)

Yeah, we're not on a bus!
So we've been here in Ecuador a year and had not yet managed to get into the Amazong Jungle. Since we finally had someone here to talk to Teddy after 9pm a night we took the fam, Teddy, and our friend Juls to the edge of civilization, entered it, and left the rest of the world behind. But first...we went to Baños again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Amidst the Noise and Haste

I came here to write a blog post about Americans working too much and also do some other work. I won't even diminish the fun irony of that sentence by commenting further on it...unless I just did. I will just go straight into telling you that the Americans Working Too Much will have to wait, because I have just entered a profound and euphoric state and I have to tell someone about it.

San Sebastian has always been my favorite plaza in Cuenca and I can't tell you why. It is at the edge of the historic El Centro, the area responsible for Cuenca's UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. It is bordered by San Sebastian cathedral, the Art Museum housed in an old convent, and some small, unremarkable businesses. Because it is away from the commercial core and any other kind of traffic generator, it is always a very tranquil setting. The fountain is usually not running (as most aren't in Ecuador), but it has been running in five minutes on, five minutes off cycles right now for reasons probably only two guys in Cuenca's public works department probably know. The pauses in the fountain are welcome, though, because opera music is playing from speakers on the light posts at an uncharacteristically modest volume (Ecuadorians love it loud and distorted, typically). It is bordered on two sides with fairly constant traffic, including that of the perpetually smell, noisy town buses, but somehow feels isolated from it. There are birds singing in the trees. And there are eight people I see from where I sit who are also doing nothing but sitting, watching, thinking, so I'm not the only one. Except I'm the only one mucking it up by thinking onto a computer (gah, I'm such a loser!).

I give you the F. Scott Fitzgerald treatment to detail here, not because I'm trying to bring you into my mental euphoria right now (all F. Scott did for me was create a profound sense of boredom that I suppose could be the state that meditators speak of when they lose all care about the world around them); I tell you all this because…well, I guess because I can't figure out why this park does it for me so much. Maybe all that will trigger a memory of someone else who's had this in a particular place and had insight into why that was.

I mean, the easy answer is all the reasons I gave, but I think there are plenty of places like this. Why this place? And—deep breath and hold it; we're about to go deep—I take stock in the phrase we do not see the world as it is; we see the world as we are. Really, all this is just a particular pattern of sensory input to which my brain provides an emotional response: euphoria in this case. So the question is, can I take this with me? Can I imagine, envision, and trick my brain into this place when I am not in it?

That's an important questions now, because we are talking about leaving Cuenca now and making our plans. And I will miss this particular place if I cannot take it with me in my mental carry-on.

I once returned from a long trip to Australia and New Zealand and was driving my truck down busy Colfax Avenue in Denver and had a strange sensation that I was moving through the world much slower than everyone and everything around me. It was a similar feeling of being removed from the world as it is, or of seeing the world as we all believe it to be from the place that it truly is.

I don't know, but a bird just pooped on my screen, and I'm taking that as a sign from God that I may be overthinking it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

All That and Flush Toilets, Too!

Just another reminder for anyone wondering whether they can afford a family sabbatical (even a non-working one). Here are some pictures of our new apartment and Mama's Little Helper. No pictures of the flush toilets here in the Third World, however, so you'll just have to take my word for the three in the apartment.

We're on the top of a 4-story building in a 4-bedroom apartment. I'd call it fully furnished, but that would be underselling it. We have the first T.V. we've had in over ten years, though we keep forgetting to watch it (it really would be great for our Spanish to watch Latin soap operas). It's loaded with kids' toys and a pre-princessed room for Piper. It's got a computer, Internet, stereo, and a balcony on every bedroom.

And the best thing it has? Chicha!

Included in our rent is this walking miracle who cleans, cooks, does laundry, babysits, teaches us Spanish, keeps the plants alive, and generally provides for nice company. She makes a full lunch every day that we all sit down to, helps prep for parties, and teaches us how to cook Ecuadorian. Part of her time is covered in our rent, but we pay a bit extra to get her full time.

Clearly we are living higher on the hog than we need to, but we are because...we can. I mean, this place is nicer than our home. This is a bit like the first new car I ever bought (leased, really). After my three year lease was up, I was done owning new cars. I got the fix, realized it wasn't a good investment, and now I get all the car I need or want for half the price. Next time we sabbatical, I don't know that we'd go so big, but some of this is circumstantial (furnished places are rare here), so we'll wait and see what the future holds.

But in case you're curious, all in (rent, all utilities, Internet, Chicha) is $790 a month, a princely sum here, and less than half our mortgage for our little 1,700 sq. ft. house  at home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taking it seriously--preparing for Cotopaxi

The hills are alive

We did a warmup hike for Cotopaxi to see how we do with a bit more air beneath us instead of in our lungs. We happen to live right next to Cajas National Park in Cuenca, so we elected for a short, steep route to mimic the Cotopaxi slog as much as possible. But we were baffled at why the Cajas map shows this route, at just under 4km (2.5 miles) round trip, taking over 6 hours to complete. But just the time it took to find the trail was our first indication as to how this could be true.