Archive | July 2013

Game On, Part IV: Educational Games of My Youth

Carmen Sandiego

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

Although newer video games boast high definition graphics, trailers, and celebrity voices, I will always hold a special place in my heart for the original educational computer games of my youth. I learned all about “spelunking” and geography from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and I learned about prime numbers and fractions from playing Number Munchers.

Number Munchers

I loved Carmen Sandiego in all of its iterations – even now the name’s title plays in my head as the theme song from the PBS game show – “hit it Rockapella!”

Find out more about Carmen Sandiego here.

Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail

One of the earliest games I remember playing was the Oregon Trail. We played this at my elementary school first without a computer and then later on the computer. This game was one of the original role playing games where teams of settlers headed out west together and were given several scenarios leading to different repercussions throughout the journey. Kind of like a choose your own adventure story that we acted out during social studies class. We learned how to barter at the general stores, how to manage resources, how to fix a wagon wheel, and how to work as a team. It really brought to life how hard it must have been to make the long journey to settle the western frontier.

Oregon TrailIf I were teaching elementary school kids in the US, I would totally play this game with them. Even though somehow in the end someone always died of dysentery.

Learn more about playing Oregon Trail here.

Mixed-Up Mother Goose

Mixed-up Mother Goose

I attended an after-school program during Elementary School where we were lucky enough to have a couple of computers to play on. One of the first games I learned was Mixed-Up Mother Goose. The idea was to collect clues from the various storybook characters to find missing items and return them to their rightful owners. It really helped with reading comprehension and taught me how to maneuver with the mouse.

There is a newer version that you can download here.

Moment of Zen

You're a Firework

Lions and Foxes and Bears, Oh My!

Max in Wolf's Clothing

The felt I ordered online arrived (thanks for sending Susie & Steve!), which meant we could start on felt projects like making masks! The kids loved this project and were excited to use a new material since felt is not very common here for projects. As you can see, we made several different types of masks from butterflies to lions. Even Max got in on the action and dressed up like a fox.

I found inspiration for the masks on Pinterest and created templates that you can download by clicking on the link below each image. The fox mask template (as seen on Max) I found at “She Knows” and can be found here.

To make sure the mask will fit – print the template at 100% and hold up to the wearer’s face. If it needs to be adjusted either print again at a different size or trace onto your felt a bit inside or outside of the template line.

Another good tip is to do the eyes last. To make sure the eye holes are placed well, have the wearer put on the mask and mark where their eyes are in magic marker before cutting them out. Then, cut out progressively larger eye holes and have the wearer keep trying it on until it fits!


Download Butterfly Template here.


Download Super Hero Template here.


Download Lion Template here.


Download Bear Template here.


Not Pictured:

Download Chick Template here and Bird Template here.

Food, Glorious Food!

Savory Corn Muffins


I made these savory muffins recently and although I didn’t have just plain yellow cornmeal, a mix of masarepa (pre-cooked yellow cornmeal) and polenta (coarsly ground cornmeal) worked just as well. We liked them with extra ají (red pepper), shredded cheese, and onion.

Find the Savory Corn Muffin recipe here.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches


This is one meal that reminds us of summer BBQs back in the US. BBQ is not really a tradition here so I had to make the BBQ sauce from scratch, too. To save time you can use pre-cooked chicken or if you have the time, marinate the chicken first before cooking it in the delicious sauce. Paul liked it with tons of ají, or chili pepper.

Find the BBQ Sauce recipe here.

Find the Pulled Chicken Sandwich recipe here.

Llapingachos (Ecuadorian Potato Cakes)


I was feeling bad that I wasn’t making enough Ecuadorian recipes so I visited Laylita’s website to try my hand at an Ecuadorian dish (thanks for the link, Clare!). I made these llapingachos with traditional peanut sauce (not pictured) as a side dish one night and they were delicious.

Find more Ecuadorian recipes here.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


We had some extra raisins and like any good Ecuadorian we always have “Quaker” (pronounced here like quack-er – like another name for a duck) on hand. I never realized how popular oatmeal was down here until I was served it for breakfast and mixed with cinnamon and milk as a hot drink at lunch.

I like my raisin cookies chewy and reading this recipe I found out the secret is to refrigerate the batter before serving.

Find the Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies recipe here.

Unexpected Art

Ulric Collette

Genetic Portraits by Ulric Collette.

Genetic Portraits by Ulric Collette.

Have you ever wondered what you might look like if you were the opposite sex? Are you used to being told you and your sibling could be twins? Or, are you curious what you might look like when you get older? Well, the subjects in photographer Ulric Collette’s works experience this when they see a portrait of themselves spliced with another family member. The images reveal how powerful our genes really are and show us that blood truly is thicker than water. See more genetic portraits here.

Robin Eley

Hyper-realistic Paintings by Robin Eley.

Hyper-realistic Paintings by Robin Eley

Is it a photograph or is it a painting? If you guessed photograph – you’re wrong! These stunning images by Robin Eley are in fact paintings. Imagine how long it took to paint each of the folds in the aluminum…See more work here.

Anastassia Elias

Paper Cuts by Anastassia Elias

Paper Cuts by Anastassia Elias.

Looking for a new way to reuse toilet paper rolls? Well, if you have the talent of artist Anastassia Elias, you can create whole paper cut worlds. See more examples here.

Typography + Animation

1.5 Years in Ecuador

To celebrate a year and a half in Ecuador, we thought we’d take a look back at what has changed for us since we left our lives in the United States.

“On time” meant arriving at the scheduled time or 15 minutes early. “On time” means arriving 1 hour after the scheduled time.
Hot showers were plentiful and taken for granted. A bucket bath with warm water feels luxurious.
There was no one to greet us when we arrived home after a long day. Max, our biggest fan, shows us just how much he missed us.
We ate half of our meals at restaurants or out of take-out containers. Mari cooks almost all meals and the only delivery option is Palmar Pizza.
Entertainment ranged from dinner parties to concerts and art events. Entertainment consists of watching movies, reading, and holiday parties.
Cold meant snow, ice, hats, gloves, and wind that chilled you to the bone. Cold is any day when the sun isn’t shining.
Going to the beach was a novel weekend or vacation destination. Going to the beach means walking outside our door.
Work was a 9-5 (or 9-9) commitment that took place in an office at a desk. Work means setting our own hours and can take place anywhere.
Commuting was walking or taking the NYC subway to work. Commuting means waiting for a bus that makes stops anywhere.
We planned projects for weeks (if not months) in advance. Projects come together at the last minute and somehow still work out.
Food shopping meant walking next door to the Trader Joe’s. Food shopping means traveling over an hour to the only big supermarket.
Lunch could fit into a paper bag and might consist of a sandwich and fruit. Ecuadorian lunch consists of soup, rice, chicken/fish, juice, and dessert.
Rice was a side dish usually prepared with Asian or Mexican food. Failure to serve rice at every meal warrants comments.

Game On, Part III: Unplugged

Board Games

As you can see, most of these boardgames are available online for free. While playing online can be fun – the best memories I have are playing with friends sitting around a kitchen table or on a rug together.

Settlers of Catan

Designed by Klaus Teuber, Setllers of Catan is a game that has infinite variations. Not only because there are different versions of the game but also because the original game board changes each time you play. It’s also dependent on dice and on human nature. We like to think we are logical creatures but playing Catan has a way of getting under people’s skin. The basic idea is that you are settlers of a new area and you need to produce resources in order to build settlements and cities, which are worth points. The first to a certain number of points, wins. It’s a game of strategy but in order to complete your own tasks you must trade with other players so it becomes a bit of a collaborative game, too.

Recently, I heard about the 2012 documentary, Going Cardboard, about the making of Catan and the revolution in game design that its popularity has sparked. Learn more about the documentary here.

I’ve also shared in the past this short film about a regular Catan game amongst friends.

Get your Catan game on here for free.


Pandemic is different than most board games because it requires players to collaborate in order to rid the world of diseases. The winner isn’t one person, it’s all of humanity! Make sure you read the directions carefully before playing – Paul skimmed the directions the first time we played and it turned out that what he understood is actually a very difficult variation of the game.

Read more about Pandemic here.

Get your Pandemic 2 game on here for free.


I remember one of the first times I played this game with a friend from camp. We were maybe 9 years old sitting in her room, on the rug, and she wiped the floor with me. I barely understood how to play and to be honest, I was intimidated by her – not just because she went to private school but because she had a TV in her room and her own bathroom. These things were impressive to me at the time. Needless to say, I didn’t play much more Boggle for the rest of my childhood. I only really got into the game in college.

I really learned how to play the game with two friends from one of my art classes at Brown. One of those friends was an incredible player and playing with her not only motivated us because we wanted to beat her (just once!) but it challenged us to become better players so we could be closer to her level. Now, Paul won’t play Boggle with me unless I give him twice as much time to look at the board. I like that games themselves can be challenging but that playing against other people is really what pushes us to excel.

Get your Boggle game on here for free.


Oh, Monopoly! The granddaddy of board games. The hours I spent with friends at sleepovers playing this game…one friend from junior high and I in particular loved to play this game. We held epic tournaments at her house. Really, it was an excuse to sit together for several hours without the TV on and talk…about school, our friends, boys, whatever. I hadn’t played Monopoly much since then until coming to Ecuador. It doesn’t seem to be one of the more popular party games for 20 and 30-somethings. Now, I’m getting to relive the thrill of the game as I teach my students how to play our version of Palmar-polio!

You can buy the Photo-opoly version of the game here.

Get your Monopoly game on here for free.


I was introduced to this game playing on a computer…alone…which was good practice but not as much fun as playing with someone else. Paul and I liked playing this before we came to Peace Corps so we brought the dice, which is all you really need, and we found the scoresheet on the internet and can print it whenever we want. You can also play for free online, too.

Get your Yahtzee game on here for free.


I learned how to play this game in Colombia with a colleague of my mother. She taught me at her home in Bogotá and I have always loved playing it. You can actually play it with a deck of cards, too, and is very much like playing Rummy or like other forms of Gin with points like Rummy 500. The best part is stealing other people’s tiles to add to your own combinations…this is also why Paul doesn’t like to play this game!

Get your Rummikub game on here for free.

July So Far

Third Anniversary


We celebrated 3 years of wedded bliss at the same eco-lodge as my birthday but it was even better because Max joined us this time. He had a blast running around the beautiful grounds and chasing the property’s cat. Paul and I played games, sat in the jacuzzi, read books and magazines, and enjoyed the anniversary gifts we made for one another. It was nice to take a breather and have someone else cook our meals before getting back to work.

Mujeres Cambia Retreat

La Fábrica Game

We had a lot of fun planning for the Mujeres: Cambia board retreat but nothing could beat seeing our hard work pay off. Six women, three children, and one husband came to our house for the weekend to participate. We talked about personal and group goals, explored our values, played several team-building games, and watched inspirational videos. All-in-all, it was one of our favorite activities we have done so far during our service and we can’t wait to do it again. The next step is for the women who participated to bring the lessons learned back to the other members. Each week during one of our meetings a board member will lead one of the sessions we did during the retreat for the rest of the group.

Alexandra’s Birthday


In addition to working together during the retreat we also shared personal stories and home-cooked (by Mari) meals while celebrating Alexandra’s birthday.

Diego on the Beach


Alexandra brought her son Diego and husband Edwin to the retreat with her. Diego slept through most of the sessions but we’re hoping he absorbed all of the lessons via osmosis!

Palmar Festival

Merry Go Round

This week we celebrated the Palmar festivals with the traditional castillo or castle of fireworks that is usually accompanied by the vaca loca (crazy cow) that runs through the audience shooting fireworks into the crowd. With any town festival comes amusement park style rides, the opportunity to buy a new inflatable toy (we got a red horse this time), carnival games, and dancing into the wee hours of the morning.

Visit from NRC Program Specialist

Melba Visits the CAD

This week we also had the chance to show the Peace Corps NRC Program Specialist around both Palmar and San Pablo. She spoke with our counterparts and we discussed our current projects and our integration into our site in addition to visiting the Centro de Arte y Diseño and attending a Mujeres: Cambia meeting. At least two site visits by program staff are guaranteed during service and this one was our second. We have also had two other visits from PC personnel and there is another program staff visit scheduled for the fall. We had read prior to arriving that visits from Peace Corps staff can be few and far between but we are impressed with the amount of contact we actually do have with the Peace Corps office.

Paying it Forward

MC Meeting

Gina, Mujeres: Cambia President, shared some of the lessons she learned during the retreat at our last meeting. Betsy also led a charla entitled, “Quién soy yo,” (Who am I?) aimed at exploring the many roles that women fill in their lives. From being mothers and wives to workers and entrepreneurs, being a women anywhere is a balancing act.

Watching the Castillo

Paul Watching Fireworks

Watching the castillo is always mesmerizing. The last fireworks display for the Santa Rita Festival was considered a disappointment by many. Not this time – we were treated to a rotating castle, two vacas, and one of the best (and closest!) fireworks shows we have seen. Although we still have two more weeks left in July, it is turning out to be one of the most productive and fun months yet!

Shout-out: Among the Stone Cactuses


One of the great things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is the amazing and inspiring network of returned and current PCVs you become a part of…instantly. Even during the arduous application process, technology allowed us to become part of a larger community.

In particular the Peace Corps Wiki (now under the auspices of the National Peace Corps Association) and Peace Corps Journals (which is off-line for now but there are plans to re-start it again under NPCA) were our lifelines during our nearly 2-year application process. We calculated the odds of our country assignment based on stats from Peace Corps Wiki and we dreamed of what our life might look like from the words of current PCV blogs we found on Peace Corps Journals.

While I don’t read PCV blogs as much as I did in those application days, lately I have been following the blog of a fellow PCV in Mexico called Among the Stone Cactuses. The author and I share a lot of similarities and it is interesting to read about her experiences in Mexico and to compare and contrast them with our life here in Ecuador. The PCV is working in the Protected Areas Management program, which is like our Natural Resources Conservation program.

Two recent posts in particular struck a chord with me since I felt like I could be writing them! I appreciate her sincerity and candor. Read her take on how hard it is to translate humor here and the difference between friends and amigos here.

I, too, have found that my sense of humor doesn’t exactly translate and that I don’t find 90% of the jokes or cachos here to be even remotely humorous. Part of it is also the preponderance of non-PC jokes that are racist, sexist, homophobic, and just plain mean. But, I guess that’s a part of humor any where you go.

This PCV writes about how tough it can be to make friends since she lives in a family-centric culture. Not only is it tough to make friends with people because of the family-centric culture here in Ecuador but it’s also tough since I am serving with my best friend already.

We had a facilitator during Pre-Service Training explain to us that we are all each other’s best resource since it will be really hard to find people you can relate to as much as you can with other PCVs. I didn’t want to believe her at the time…I wanted to believe that I would become super close with my host family and with the people I work with at site. Yet, as we finish up our 19th month in-country I am starting to understand what she meant.

I love everyone I work with so much but many of my closest Ecuadorian friends are mothers and live 40 minutes away. Being a mother here means days filled with domestic and family obligations. For some, our Mujeres: Cambia meetings are the only excuse they have to leave the house that isn’t related to taking care of their families. Think about that…the ONLY time they leave their houses that isn’t to go to the market, taking a sick kid to the doctor, or walking their kids to school. For some, they don’t even do those things.

Something else that I appreciate about Among the Stone Cactuses is that the PCV shares at the end of her posts what is making her smile. So, in this spirit I will do the same!

Making me smile:

  • Successfully hosting 11 people at our house this past weekend for a Mujeres: Cambia Board Retreat.
  • Hearing from our friend **Marianela** that she sold nearly ALL of the Mujeres: Cambia jewelry we sent her for her house party in New Jersey. The women earned more than $600 from her efforts…thanks again Marianela!!!
  • The fact that when my friend’s daughter’s hair caught on fire from a birthday candle everyone laughed and didn’t freak out. “It’s only hair!” they said. Can you imagine a mom in the US being that cool about a kid’s burnt hair?
  • How excited the kids in our Brigadistas class got when I took out felt and taught them how to make little felt creatures and felt animal masks during our last class. Felt and construction paper are not the craft staples here that they are in the US. Here the staples are cartulina (card stock like oaktag) or fomix. I don’t know how to translate fomix – it’s similar to the material used on the bottom of flip-flops but is sold in thinner sheets in every imaginable color. It’s also terrible for the environment so I try to find other materials when I can…
  • Finishing and sending in my logo design entries to a contest…my first entry ever into a graphic design contest. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
  • The upcoming visit from two fellow PCVs **Khayla** and **Jess** as well as a trip we are planning with fellow PCVs **Nikki** and **Clare** for August. So excited to catch up with great friends!

Interested in reading more PCV blogs? You can check out a list of the top 40 Peace Corps Blogs from 2012 here

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