28 August 2014

Our Loot From Ikea Brooklyn


When you move abroad, you desperately - with every ounce of your American self - want to go to Ikea as you get settled in your new home. haha. We have definitely felt that and I've heard the same sentiment from many expats here. I guess if you live in Europe, you're set. But for us, it took an unexpected trip to NYC to be able to stock up on all those glorious nesting must haves. 

First up, these two pillows (1 and 2) from our Great Pillow Hunt. Yes, we had to go to TWO Ikeas to get these. Sweet Danny was leading the way as he knew I wanted these. I just love them on our new sofa. 


Here's a 3rd pillow (Stockholm) that we got for the sofa. It's kind of a velvety fabric and super soft. I like the black and white leaf pattern. I still can't believe it has come together, but our sofa these days is the most comfortable place in the world to us. We actually found a good sofa here in Ecuador - I'll share pics soon!


I'm a huge fan of the Gaspa sheets. We got a set for our guest room. I just think for the price, they're perfectly soft (nearly silky) and comfortable! Our guest room in NYC had these sheets as well and many guests commented on how much they loved the sheets.

We also got some new towels. I didn't want to spend a ton of money. But surprisingly, these Åfjärden towels are a decent price and actually super soft, thick, and dare-I-say fluffy. I've been really pleased with them!

And lastly, some new pillows. These Gosa Pinje down pillows are priced really low to me yet they seem to be plenty comfortable. We like the back sleeper and side sleeper ones.

OK, there you have it: six Ikea items that I like well enough to tell the world about. And Danny's favorite is not pictured: soft serve ice cream cones. 

How about you? What Ikea items can you taunt me with between now and my next visit to the states? :)

P.S. We sure missed our cars while in NYC! On this visit, we took the train and bus to Ikea. But it turns out, we relished every single second of seeing the views we know so well (these are from Smith + 9th St.)



26 August 2014

Hacienda Rumiloma in Quito


(by Danny)

One really fun thing about having a blog is it gives you an opportunity to connect with passionate business owners who are out there doing amazing things and to help promote one of their life's passions. Such is the case with our visit over a month ago to Hacienda Rumiloma, which is situated above 10,000 feet deep in one of the canyons of the Pichincha Volcano of the Andes, overlooking Quito.




In this case, it's hard for me to decide whether I should write about the fabulous accommodations, or about the 3 hour breakfast conversation we had with the owner, Amber Freier. To be honest, you never quite know when you reach out to a business owner just how thrilled you're going to be with their product or service afterwards, nor do you know if you're going to hit it off with the owner in a way that helps you have an authentic passion for promoting what they are doing in their little corner of the world. It didn't take long after arriving at the hotel and meeting Amber to put both worries to rest.

Within seconds of meeting Amber, it was easy to see we had a lot in common. Perhaps the most surprising thing, though, was that we both went to the same college. Go figure! That's about the last thing you expect to hear when traveling and touring abroad.



It was also clear that she resonates well with the message of this blog. She could easily write a guest post or 5 if she was so inclined, and you'd all love to hear every ounce of it. She's gone through many of the ups and downs that life tends to send everyone's way. Some of her ups have been pretty high with great personal success and living all over the world, and some of the downs have been pretty low, with losing much of what she'd gained, having the hotel room portion of the Hacienda burn down a short time after it was completed and having to start all over again (without insurance). She seems to have done it with a calm and attitude and grace that anyone would admire and seek to embody for themselves.

She's also no stranger to great love! She met her mountain-climbing husband when doing some charity work, and they fell instantly in love.

It is from her husband that she gets her motto for hospitality. As a professional mountain guide, he feels that his job allows him to be "a bridge between people's dreams." She feels the same way about the hotel they run together, and it truly shows.

She isn't just vested in the dreams of her customers either...she and her husband have gathered almost all their staff from the local neighborhood a few minutes down the canyon road and trained them in all the ways 5-star hotel and restaurant service. They believe in empowering all the people around them.

I wish I could recount everything about that conversation....it was one of those you just didn't want to end. This is someone who is truly dedicated to doing some good in the world. She's a great example that you don't need to have a big platform to do it. Nor do you need to have a certain kind of job that you'd normally think goes along with making a difference. To borrow a phrase I heard in church a year or two ago, they make a difference by "standing where they are, and lifting."



Some details about the hotel...

The Rooms -

Rooms at the hotel are more like mini homes. Even though the rooms are stacked all close by each other in a single building, the design is done in such a way that you feel as though you are entering your own isolated cabin with complete privacy. Rooms have beautiful wood burning stoves that will keep you warm all night in addition to the hot water bottles they tuck in your bed. You will be greeted with an array of fresh roses (one of the biggest Ecuadorian exports) and a wide selection of fresh and delicious local fruits.






There are a lot of fun details in the rooms...it just might be one of the most beautiful hand painted toilets you'll ever have the privilege of sitting on. The beautiful artisan toilet (can you believe those words even go together!?!) is complimented by the massive mosaic tiled tub/shower which has some of the best water pressure we've had in Ecuador, or anywhere else for that matter. There are skylights and windows galore, which helps you drink deeply from the natural beauty of your surroundings.



Styling -

Although it is called Hacienda Rumiloma, I'd say the styling of the hotel is a mix between the rich hacienda heritage you find in South America and what you might find in a Tuscan Villa. The mix in styles was a deliberate choice by the owner because locals often want to stay somewhere that feels more exotic and foreign. Amber used to work at Sotheby's and has used her design background to bring together every last detail.







The Restaurant -

Mara and I arrived pretty late after a bus and taxi ride from Cotacachi. We were worried we might have to just feast off of the fresh fruit basket in our room, but were delighted the restaurant was still open. We had no idea what we were getting in for. The food here is truly delicious. One thing that Ecuador is known for is ceviche, and this was one of the best we've had. I think I may have convinced Amber to share the recipe with us so we can post it on the blog. It comes from her Ecuadorian mother-in-law's recipe, as does much of the other recipes as her mom is one of the head chefs.

But by sharing that, I need to clarify. This isn't just down-home Ecuadorian cooking. My mom is a pretty good cook and I always felt pretty spoiled growing up, but I must say I have a little bit of food envy going on for Amber's husband Oswaldo...because I didn't think anybody's mom could cook like that. No wonder they had the confidence to open both a fine hotel and restaurant with mostly family help in the beginning. We ordered some of the house specialties, and were not disappointed.









Things that make this place special -

The hotel is divided up into two buildings. One building has the guest rooms and the other has the dining facilities on the main floor, a full Irish pub downstairs (did I mention Amber lived in Ireland for some time), and the Library/Lounge on the top floor. I believe the top floor used to be a master suite of sorts, but they converted it into a common area for guests, and boy are we glad they did. We ate both of our breakfasts (which by-the-way were AMAZING!) up there while gazing at the city of Quito far below. They had a daybed/couch up there next to one of the big windows that Mara sat in for half a day working....and if she was like me when I got super comfortable on their accommodations, she might have even taken a nap.





The hotel also has a few resident peacocks and some llamas that can't seem to help themselves from gazing down that beautiful canyon. One friendly llama seemed to be on the pay of the hotel as he was the first to greet us in the entryway of the hotel.







And if you decide to take a walk around the 100 acre property, you might just be as lucky as I was when you find yourself a new best friend. I can't remember if he wandered up to the hotel all on his own, or if someone dropped him off. But the owners took a liking to him and he's now a permanent and friendly fixture at the hotel. His name is Coffee.





Activities -

Our chief activity consisted in enjoying the views and relaxing. We'd been to Quito before and didn't feel the need to explore the city as much this time. But I did hear Amber speaking with some honeymooners about all sorts of excursions they could do: hot-springs relaxation, volcano tours and mountain climbing, trips to the nearby "middle of the world", food or chocolate tours with Quito's best....pretty much you name it and Amber and her staff know how to make it happen.

Even though the hotel isn't in the heart of the city, it's only a $5 cab ride away. Mara and I made it into the city primarily in search of our two favorite items from our first visit: Empanadas and fresh tropical juice at Frutería Monserrate, and a chocolate delight by the name of "Rocas" (it's like a baseball sized ferrero rocher, but better!) from a Parisian chocolatier/bakery called Cyril.  It would be impossible for us to be in Quito and not seek those two things out.

Thanks to Hacienda Rumiloma for an amazing stay & letting us share your place with everyone!!

21 August 2014

Our Interview on 'Mormon Stories'




While in Brooklyn, Danny & I did a big 2 part interview with John Dehlin of the Mormon Stories podcast. We talked a little bit about our religious experience, infidelity, infertility, divorce, and ways we have healed. I often get a little teary eyed to think of sharing what I know with a large audience - especially when I think of people who may be in the same shoes I was once in. And well, the teary eyed part happened on this day, too, right before we began. 

It's been great to hear peoples' thoughts on the interview and we'd love to hear your's, too. Also, you might also like to see what Danny wrote in the comments section.

Sending out love to you all, 

Mara

P.S. I saw a quote by Deepak Chopra on twitter and I thought it was pretty great...

"Religion is belief in someone else's experience. Spirituality is having your own experience."

20 August 2014

Love Announcements



[The pictures above were taken on the award-winning public transportation tram above the city of Medellin, Colombia. It's a ride you MUST take if you ever visit that amazing city. Your eyes just won't believe the views.] 

We're about to sign off for Vipassana in Quito... (I probably should be meditating right now about just heading into 10 days of meditation. ha. Because holy crap, it's really something preparing to be out-of-touch for 10 days!  :) And it's also humbling to embark on an experience that already feels as though it's stripping us of everything we "think" matters so much. We both found ourselves in tears tonight as we talked about our goals and our purpose in this life. Sometimes we feel so meager and lowly and we feel our offerings to the world are so inadequate. We go to Vipassana with a hope that we can have clear minds - free from all outside influences - and be reminded of our light. We pray that our hearts can commune with God and our greatest purpose. I guess it's not unlike having a clearer view of the world from on high.

Before we go, here are several good Love Announcements... 

-Mint.com wanted to do one of their Personal Finance Interviews with me awhile back. If you'd like to check it out, you can see it online here. (Mint.com does personal financial planning and we totally use and recommend their service!)

-A great movie recommendation for your next date night movie at home: The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. This is really, really a beautiful, inspiring film. It's about a woman who rescues thousands of Jewish children during the holocaust. I didn't want the story to end.

-My dear cousin in Arizona has two sets of young twin girls. Instead of having more kids, she & her husband decided they wanted to help other families in need and so they've become foster parents to a newborn. Here's a very honest account of what their experience has been like so far.


-In case you missed it, Pope Francis gave his "Keys to Happiness" and I just love what he says. 

-Have you experienced infidelity or porn addiction in your marriage? A woman named Jacy has made it her mission to help you. She is hosting a conference for women like you in Utah in October. See The Togetherness Project. We were asked to speak at the event and we wish we lived closer so we could do it.

-5 Ways Sleeping Naked Can Benefit You. Can we get a yes please on that???  :) The nights get chilly this time of year in Cuenca. I think we need to do this more often then we do.

-These two wear-with-everything shirts have totally caught my eye from Kate Spade Saturday:




Plackets Shirt. I just love the button detail on the shoulders.


-Cozies are a priority around here. So I was glad to see that my favorite lounge pants ON EARTH are now available in more colors at Uniqlo. I have bought them for 3 seasons now.


Danny even got a pair of the men's version while we were in NY and LOVES them. (see here.)


-My Brooklyn friend, Lizzie, wrote a post, "Yes, My 7-Year-Old is Old Enough To Stay Home Alone," and ever since she's been fielding interviews, including with Good Morning America! (What do you all think? On my end I'm all for it if your child seems ready. Do you have a different age in mind?)

-And, Parsons has accepted this Brooklyn mom of three into their design program. She is desperate to attend but needs the financial support of the community. She hopes to be able to give back to the community tenfold. Check out her story here on indiegogo.

Alright. That's quite a list. Hopefully something was of interest to you.

Off we go.

Much love to all,

Mara

P.S. I have a few blog posts scheduled for while we're away.



19 August 2014

Three Back-to-School Must Haves


It's drizzling outside as I write this and I'm thinking about fall and back-to-school days.

Some of my favorite little people will be starting school soon and just thinking of them heading off with their back packs makes me melt. I'm hoping so much that they have a wonderful year!

Back-to-school always makes me want to start a new class of some kind myself. I've never actually done it, though. But good news: we scheduled our art classes with Gustavo (classes will start just after the retreat)! I'm so excited. Do you have any traditions for yourself at the beginning of a school year?

And today, I thought I'd share with you three back-to-school items that are pretty genius. They're two things I've heard chatter about and one thing I just saw on my own. Maybe some of you already know about these things. But just in case, here you go....

18 August 2014

See Our Gorgeous Flyer

So happy to share this flyer with you. We're so thankful for the design work of Linsey Laidlaw, of Brooklyn. Just looking at this makes me want to drink a melon smoothie on the beach!! If you have a blog and care to share this with your readers, we would be so thrilled.


I have been not blogging as much lately and it's for good reason. We are in full retreat mode around here! We are getting really giddy about what is ahead. Menus are being perfected. Schedules are being upgraded and refined. Our wonderful masseuse said she would even offer facials to our guests for those who want them (what a treat). We are trying to go all out completely and we're just THRILLED to have so many attending. We have a nearly sold-out event. Though if you are considering coming, do contact us for sure as there is still some space.

Several have asked...

Q: Do you plan to host another retreat in the future?
A: There are no guarantees, but we hope that all the stars align once more and that we can do it again! 

Now, here is an important note: Danny and I are actually going to be off-line completely for about 10 days starting this Wed. (Aug. 20-31). We're going to be traveling to the Vipassana meditation course in Quito. In our absence, our colleague, Tony Spencer (tonyspen63@yahoo dot com), will be the contact person for all questions related to the retreat. Don't hesitate to reach out to him. He is beyond excited to help any and all of you.

Much love to all,

Mara

P.S. End of September is still whale-watching season in Ecuador in case you wanted to extend your stay for an adventure.  :)

P.P.S. I can't believe we will be off-line for 10 days, sitting on a cushion!!  I'm afraid I'm going to miss talking to and falling asleep next to Danny for 10 days. This will be NUTS. I hope my mind can settle into the experience. It will not be easy - not one bit. At the end we will get to reconnect with each other and with all of you while we hole up for a few days in another gorgeous hacienda near Otavalo: Hacienda Cusin.

05 August 2014

Our Recommended Anniversary Gift

Danny and I recently celebrated our 4th anniversary.

We had such a lovely, lovey day together. I don't ever want to take that for granted for one second. I felt myself beaming all day just to be by this guy's side.


One of the highlights of the day was visiting Gustavo López Moreno, an artist who has become a friend here in Cuenca. We met Gustavo last November when we were traveling through Ecuador for a month. We passed his tiny art studio and couldn't help but be called straight in the door by all the amazing colors. We fell in love with so many of his pieces and made a hopeful plan that if we moved back to Cuenca, we would love to buy a piece of his work. In the meantime, Gustavo took us out to lunch and introduced us to his sons and his wife. He's one of the first friends we made here in Cuenca.









So, it was quite a treat to go in 7 months later and purchase a piece of artwork on our anniversary. Luckily one of the pieces we had previously admired was still available. It's of the Cajas Mountains here in the Andes...

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