Twas the night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the airport
Not a store was open, not even a food court;
The passengers are milling about without a direction,
In hopes that one convenience store would be a distraction;
The children are screaming in their restlessness;
While parents are flustered with helplessness;
And airline agents keep counting to end of light,
While the crews rush to their last flight,
Mom and I gratefully slink into the lounge and forgoe
The choas while we bid farewell to Santiago.

 

Feliz Navidad, peeps!

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

As I wait for the turkey, I reflect on this year. It’s been a roller coaster one.

It has been a big year of change. I concluded my overseas life, at least for now, ending a six year stint. I loved every moment of it. It was one of my lifelong dreams and I’ve accomplished it. I look forward to going home. I miss it. As much great memories as I have living abroad, home is still home.

The move meant changes to my work. Changes to my life. I’m still not fully sure how the changes in my job are going to shake out to be. I decided to let things take its own course when I get back to work in January and not stress too much about it for the time being. It’s a strange feeling, that uncertainty. On the other hand, I’ve had my dream job for years. That’s an accomplishment most people can’t chase down their whole lives. I’ve been truly lucky.

This year has brought about what felt to me to be a greater share of life’s ups and downs. Marriage. Birth. Illness. Death. I’ve celebrated joyous occasions with friends. I mourn in loss of another.

I was diagnosed with PTSD. I lost track. Late last year or early this? Sometime in last winter, basically. I probably knew subconsciously but it was surreal to hear the diagnosis spoken aloud. On one hand, the brought about a resurgence of rage at everything around me. On the other, it was a relief that maybe I can start finding ways to organize, label, and bin this challenge I was now confronted with. I fall into the “wait and see” category for treatment. It’s hard when I’m suspended between moves right now. Routine, I find, is good for me. Ironic when a majority of my life has been the antithesis of routine.

It’s the little things that inspire and ground me. Moments that suddenly ignite excitement and joy. It was a dinner with a befriended Croatian family revitalized my blogging. I gained a new perfect travel partner when I least expected to find one. I found the perfect scent diffuser, coincidentally named Happy, for my home. A bouquet of flowers- when was I last given one? Getting a peck on the cheek from a friend’s daughter, my favorite three-year old girl, brought a smile to my face that lasted days.

Coming home means a new chapter of my life. And I’m finding in that new chapter, an appreciation for and an understanding of the little things. Holidays like Thanksgiving are perfect. I have the time to sit down and count my blessings. Sometimes, we all just need to be reminded.

 

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My belated Thanksgiving

My day of food appreciation came late. I usually am sure to treat myself to a nice Thanksgiving meal whether I am home or on the road. But I somehow lost track this year, despite it being my favorite holiday.

I made up for it, though. I took a cooking class a couple days later. Morocco cooking seems to be the vogue in the Western world lately. How better timed than this trip and a cooking lesson?

The truth is tajines are easy to make. No real special cooking technique that any regular home cook can’t figure out between all the online resources of recipes and videos to search through. But, after a couple days of being inundated with aggressive vendors and being catcalled at to get my attention as if I were a call girl, being driven out to the edges of the countryside and surrounded by fellow food lovers was a lovely reprieve.

The kitchen, Faim d’Epices, was in a studio in the far reaches of town. Pretty much into the countryside. It was a gorgeous red concrete building, as is typical of the area. Inside, was a large kitchen for the staff, and an open area with a ring of cooking stations, and the teaching counter on one end. There was also a separate bar counter used to demonstrations where we would gather up close.

The business is owned and run by a French expat, Michel. I feel I’ve met more French in Morocco than any of my trips in France! Michel clearly has a passion for his job, and a sense of corny humour that never seems to go out of style. Who knows how many times he’s said the same jokes to each of his classes, daily. But as we are more often than not one-time clients, it never got old.

As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed as if we have visited him personal home. Shaken hands the moment we step off the car, served tea or coffee while we did introductions. After the hustle and bustle of Marrakech medina, the quiet countryside with such sincere friendliness was refreshing.

I also lucked out in having such a friendly group of classmates. We all had a lot of the same questions and complaints from our experiences in Marrakech. How to shop in the souks, how to find haggle when we didn’t care enough to bother, how to know when we were buying a true product.

The class included a spice smelling quiz, wearing blackened fake purple plastic Ray Ban sunglasses that made us chuckle as we put them on. It occurred to me later that I should have checked the mirror to make sure I don’t walk out with raccoon eyes from any residual black markings. But I didn’t see any on anyone else so I figured I should be OK. By the way, I would have failed the spice test miserably, were I graded.

We were given a demonstration on making bread, salad and crepes. I was especially delighted to be able to give it a go in kneading my own bread. A lot of work for something I would consume in 5 minutes, but making bread has been on my to-do list for a while in my venture into cooking.

We tossed together our tajines without much fanfare. The spices were already laid out in individual little bowls. All the effort it took was to split the portions into two and scoop them into a bowl to mix and marinate before cooking. As I said, nothing technical and nothing that couldn’t be looked up on the Internet. The tajine chicken marinated for about half and hour, and cooked in its container for about 45 minutes. The flavors were added on top of the marinade for the last 30 or so minutes, in our case, lemon peel and olives.

The main Moroccan spices are: parsley, coriander, ginger, turmeric, and a touch of saffron. For the sweets, cinnamon as well. I will need to decide if I want to bother with preserving lemons or curdling butter at home.. I have the sense I already do that unwittingly each time I travel anyway :)

We ate our meals outside on the patio to the side of the building, protected by the building’s shadow and some canvas awning above us. Yummy, I must say.

As Michel offered us wine to go with the meal, I sat back, reveled in how full I was and what a lovely sit down meal I was having. It then struck me: this *was* my Thanksgiving meal. Even if there weren’t any other Americans around me, and I had met these people only four hours earlier, I was sharing a happy meal, grateful for my company, and reveling in my good fortune as a whole.

I was so full from the mid-afternoon meal, I really didn’t need dinner. I took that lack of hunger as an opportunity to venture and try one of the delicacies of Marrakech street food: la tete du mouton. Yep, sheep’s head. I figured if I was totally grossed out, I could just walk away and not worry about searching for more food that may not go down well.

If I hadn’t watched the meat being pulled off the skull right in front of me, I would have thought it was just any pulled meat stew. It was served with bread, and an extra plate of simmering stock and sauce. We could get more sauce or bread if desired. Whooping 60 dihram, plus another 2 if you want to down the meal with a cup of mint tea, unlimited refills. Despite my not being hungry, I polished off the entire plate, eating with my bare fingers and getting my hand all soppy with oil. It was probably the best dish I’ve had in Morocco. I suspect the vendor was both amused and impressed by both the Italian tourist next to me and me.. we practically licked our plates clean.

Belated Happy Thanksgiving, world. I am reminded how lucky I am to be able to see and taste so much of it.

Santorini Smiles

As what I call my “Do-Over sunny get away” I went to Santorini, Greece. The Greek Islands never really appealed to me.. they struck me as cliche, build solely for tourists these days. But it was the perfect therapy.

I was sitting in a restaurant for a late lunch, on a day that was also Greek Orthodox Sunday. Enjoying the quiet, digesting a phenomenal bowl of mussels and savoring a glass of white wine. The only other occupied table was being assembled to stretch across the entire length of the restaurant balcony. Someone approached me and insisted I join them for a glass of wine. It’s Easter, he said, and they feel very uncomfortable having me eat on my own on this special holiday. Please join then for a glass of wine to celebrate.

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Three courses, countless glasses of wine later, I finally excused myself. They had ended up serving me their share of the Easter lunch. I wasn’t the only invitee.. Italian, Austrian, and this American.. they had opened their tables to their visitors and friends.

Why I never pack well

grumble.

20 kilos. Who the blazes crams all the ski boots and clothing and regular week’s worth of stuff in 20 kilo. Why don’t they just let us check a boot bag in as part of the extra charge for checking in a ski bag??

Ah. The ski pants. Haven”t pulled these out in ages. Years in fact. Wonder if they even fit. Goodness knows my weight fluctuates. *rustle* Ah. Like a glove.

Gloves! Oh, those. Remember them. Must remember where I last put them. Brought them with me to Norway when watching the Northern Lights.. where did I store them when I unpacked?

Here they are. Oh, the neck warmers. Hat, do I need one? Or two? How about a casual one for the evenings? Toss, toss, toss, toss.

Oh, dinner is ready. (Walk away)

Wonder what new blog entries are there? Why is this telly channel playing? Where’s the remote? Food not warm enough. Reheat in toaster oven a wee bit longer. At 300, yea? Where was I?

Remote. Yes. Where are those darn contraptions? Couch. TV stand. Under the couch. Dining table, ah, voila! What makes a good background channel? BBC? Sky? ITV? Fx. Perfect.

Food warm yet? Plate. Must remember to unload the dish washer. It’s soft and gooey. Looks about right. let’s take out a piece. Yumm. almost ready. Eating this piece anyway.  Sit down. Oh, look, email from prodigal brother! No, the 23rd won’t work, brother. Stop changing your mind.

Ahh, food. Next piece. Ouch. A little hot, eh? But perfectly juicy. Just right.

Ah, Brother again. Seriously?? You are complaining that I schedule our weekend with the parents on St Paddy. We’re not even Irish. I’m coming from Europe. Talk about twisted priorities, geez.

Gonna finish the meal before I get grumpy. Ah, turn off toaster oven.

What on earth is showing on the telly? Ugh. switch switch. Where’s the remote?

Email! Oh, furniture. Right. Getting some delivered Friday. They want full payment. OK. Gotta get that done tonight.

Still sweaty in gym clothes. Perhaps shower and toss the outfit along with the load of work out gear in the wash to run? Hm, a shower sounds so good right now. Worry about payment after.

Ahh. What a nice long hot shower does for the soul. My aching muscles. What possessed me to sign up for a personal trainer?? OK, laundry. Toss.

Cripes. All the clean loads I didn’t fold. And the hanging rack. Fold. Fold. Shelve. Hang. OK, whew. One less pile on the group. Drats. Delivery Friday. Need to clean up this foyer to be somewhat presentable. Argh. So many things. I shouldn’t have wasted away my Sunday. Regret. Regret. Regret. How’s that for the weekly topic?

Dishes. Oh, drats. Gotta pack lunch. Let’s see what’s in the fridge. Got rice, meat. Argh. No cooked veggie dish. Sigh. Leeks. Let’s stir fry some up for tomorrow. Where’s the lunch tupperware. Empty the rice and scoop some pork. Pan. There. Heat up the stove. Cutting board. Leek. Wash. Geez, so much grit in this one. Clean, cut. Dice. Cook. Oooh, that smells soooo good. Tomorrow’s lunch is going to be yummy. Empty pot into lunch.

Argh. So many dishes. Wash. Look at all that tupperware. Why did I buy so much? Store. More pots and pans. Wash. Oh, the lunchware from today. Where did I drop all my bags when I got in? Foyer. Oh, the gym bag. Must empty and pack fresh set. Lemme do that while I remember.

Clothes. Most of the gym wear in the washer right now. I *must* have at least one more set. Ah, yay, just folded from the drying rack. Top, bottom, inside. Grab grab. Stuff, stuff. Wow. I actually am getting a lot done tonight.

But, man, look at my bedroom. what a mess. Worse with the suitcase sitting in the middle. Suitcase. Oh, packing. drats. Let’s unpack the lunch bag and finish the dishes first.

Lunch bag. Unpack, wash, load. Store tomorrow’s lunch in the fridge. Ah.

Oh. Money. Drats. Need to do an international transfer, too. OK, US-UK. Argh. Have to wait a few minutes for the money to show up before making payment.

I keep tripping over this ski bag! Oh. Right. OK, let’s pack the bag at least. So, technically nothing else allowed in the bag other than skies. Blah. I’m going to push the limit. The bag has zero padding anyway. One layer of clothing wrapped around. Pants. Where are the ski pants. OK, wrap around the bottom. Top.. Thermal layer. Oh cute. Let’s top the tips with the hat and neck warmer. Haha. That’s funny looking.It will do nicely. Middle. Ugh. Haven’t used in a while but binders can be greasy. What can I put? Ah. Yes. The outside layer ski coat. That works nicely. Wax in the pocket. Zip up. Tie the ends. Let’s hope they don’t stop me and throw a fuss about the clothes. It’s not that much. If they do, I can stuff in carry on.

Oh, the actual suitcase. Maybe should start organizing. What *is* the weather going to be like anyway??

Back to computer. Oh yeah, pay for furniture. Log on. Why are these systems so slow? Blah. OK, pay. Wait, no, that’s not right. Transfer scheduled for 17/2? What’s today? Why is my computer so slow? Date. That’s all I want to see. 15th. Just as I thought. Cancel, try again. Doh. It’s after business hours. Sigh. Email vendor, let him know to expect payment 12/2.

Weather. Oooh. Snow. That’s a good thing. How much snow? Oh, look at that. Snow disrupts transportation in the area. Well, good for us next week. As long as roads clear up then.

Ah, cozy spot in front of telly. I’ve been good. Haven’t actually watched anything today yet. Let’s see what I have on my recorded list. Got time for one before bedtime. Oh, blankie, get warm.

What else can I do on the computer. Ah. Blog!

2011: A Reckoning

Well, folks. We’ve established I am a horrible future predictor. The only reason I went out of a limb to post my plans up is because I am good at following through. I had planned all those trips. I knew when I was going to go, how I was going to go, where I was going to go.

Life has a way of getting in the way. Let’s see what happened, shall we:

Lombok. Oh. Sigh. This one irks me a little. I had an itinerary all planned out. And my work asked me to scrap the plans. I am not angry at my boss.. he did not have a choice anymore than I did. I am disappointed, though, at my fate. Lombok has been a destination on my list long before Bali made it.

Yosemite. This was a conscious elimination on my part. The cross-country road trip didn’t pan out. The moving company messed up my car shipment. I didn’t scrap the idea of a cross-country. I just changed the mode of transportation from a car to the train. A heck lot cheaper than renting a car for the entire trip, I must say. But in choosing the train, I was limited by time and route. While I said I want to go to the Yosemite Park, my heart wanted to go to the Glacier National Park. Anyone who has looked at the Amtrak map will know there are two destinations on the cross-country rail. Pacific Northwest. Or California. Glacier it was.

More on the latter trip in a later post.

I did, however, achieve my dream of going to Myanmar. It was easy and hard. I had already purchased the deeply discounted plane tickets through an advance sale in August 2010. $30, anyone? At that price, it was a gamble that I could afford loosing. But also with an actual plane ticket, it was easier to hold myself to the commitment.

More details of that trip:
Bagan
Mandalay
Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake
Photo slideshow

Fallen plans notwithstanding, I had a lot of plans that did happen. My celebratory year in review, take a look.

Let’s hope I’m better at carrying out my bucket list for 2012. What is it? Well, do I dare share? Maybe. Let me thinking about it. I honestly haven’t really planned that far yet. Any suggestions?

From mountaintops…

I celebrated my 30th birthday in grand style.. by rewarding myself with a ten-day vacation in a whole other continent with a girlfriend. And reminded myself that I’m still young, healthy, strong, and loving life by climbing up Egypt’s highest peak, Mount Katherine.

And, boy, was I hurting up there! By the last bit of the ascent, I could barely keep up with my 61 year-old guide who probably weighed 95 pounds soaking wet and whose soles were about to fall off his ancient shoes.

The view was absolutely gorgeous. No green, but the variation of stone, terrain colors, lava rock, made it all awesome when looking from the top. This self-pic is just beyond cool. I didn’t expect to capture so much detail.