Tag Archives: gratitude

A Different Kind of Holiday

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, I haven’t written since right around Thanksgiving. Yes, we are basically at the end of another year (I’m sorry, wait, WHAT?!).

Was this holiday season a blur for anyone else or just me?

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

That’s how it all started. I made pumpkin muffins to bring into the office two days before Thanksgiving. I then hopped on the train that night and served up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. My mom was on the same page and had blueberry muffins on hand, too!

What else would you expect?

What else would you expect?

Of course it wasn’t long until I was throwing flour all over the place. That’s my unbaked apple pie. If you look closely, you can see that the pie crust was a little rough this time around. Lots of tears and holes. But you know what? It all works out. I would insert a picture of the baked pie, but then my phone broke before I could upload the rest of the pictures, and I lost all the photos between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Womp womp. Trust me. The pie looked nice.

I moved into an apartment right before Thanksgiving! A couple weeks later, my family was kind enough to rent a van and bring down my bedroom furniture. I went ahead and bought a couple of counter-height stools so I could actually sit at the counter and eat or do work. It’s a little nicer than sitting on the floor. Shocking, I know.

Mostly I just try to enjoy the view from my balcony. And dream about the glamorous sunset cocktail hours and bright Sunday breakfasts I can host on it.

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Maybe I should get a couch or something first, though. So more than two people can actually sit down.

I started working with a new client at the beginning of December. They’re fantastic, and there’s nothing more I love than having a jam-packed to-do list. I’ve had multiple days where I leave my apartment before the sun is up and I’m not back until long after it has gone down. There’s a lot to get done, and I know I’ll love a vacation eventually. But for now, I know that I love to work, and I’m very lucky to have a job that challenges me and makes me excited for those long days.

Between the new client and the new apartment- all of the newness- the holidays arrived and started racing by until all of a sudden it was the weekend before Christmas. It didn’t feel like Christmas yet. I hustled around Michigan Ave. a bit to finish my shopping. I tried to listen to some Christmas music while I worked. I bought a poinsettia and set up my nativity set.

You know what really got me ready, though? Baking like a maniac that whole Saturday.

I decided to put together a box of cookies for my wonderful coworkers in another office. The key to a good cookie box (or tray) is variety. First up were apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies and sugar cookies. These photos have also gone missing. My apologies. The oatmeal cookies were to have a fruit-based flavor, and to get some hearty texture. The sugar cookies are just classic. I didn’t do cut-outs for this box, but I did cover them in lots of green and red crystals.

Next up were peanut butter blossoms. The recipe is on the back of a bag of Hershey’s kisses. For real! Get a bunch of peanut butter and those Kisses, and you’re probably good to go.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

These are a no brainer. Putting peanut butter and chocolate together is always a crowd pleaser. Note: these are not the easiest to package. You’ll want to layer them on parchment paper in your container. Also, I would suggest having a glass of milk on hand. These are dense, rich, and a little sticky.

Third in line: double chocolate chip cookies with candy cane kisses. Can anybody please come up with another name for these? Basically, prep a double chocolate chip cookie. I used this recipe. Bake them all the way, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes, and then press the kiss in while the cookie is still soft. Let cool completely before you store or package them. Like the peanut butter blossoms, they need to be layered, not tossed around.

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

I love these for how Christmas-y they are: those stripes and that peppermint flavor make these appropriate only during this time of year.

Because I still miss Chile, and these never fail to impress, I also made alfajores with homemade manjar. Find the alfajores recipe in one of my Chile posts. For those new to the blog, alfajores are basically shortbread sandwich cookies filled with caramel (dulce de leche, or in Chile, MANJAR). Prep the manjar ahead of time: you’ll need to boil the can of sweetened condensed milk for at least two hours, and it needs to cool completely before you can spread it.

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here...

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here…

These actually didn’t make it into the cookie box. My friend C. came over, taste-tested the cookies, and then kept me from crushing too many cookies into that one Tupperware.

And then, it was Christmas.

First, there was a train ride.

First, there was a train ride, and an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

And an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

Then, there were even more cookies. It’s not Christmas without these cut-outs!

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn't they do a lovely job?

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn’t they do a lovely job?

Then there was some pizza bread. And so much cheese and crackers.

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn't take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn’t take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

And then, there was just a really pretty tree, and a very beautiful, blessed family.

Couldn't ask for anything more.

Couldn’t ask for anything more.

And that, my friends, was Christmas. Just a few days before, I mentioned to a friend that it didn’t feel like it was time yet. My apartment wasn’t decorated, I hadn’t made much time to celebrate in the midst of work and learning the city, and everything was just so new that I didn’t know where my usual traditions fit in. But even though it maybe didn’t feel like the typical holiday season, and even though I maybe didn’t create enough time to reflect and just “be,” it was still a beautiful, meaningful holiday, with lots of time to appreciate and be grateful for what has been an incredible year.

That’s probably the best way I can describe what Christmas felt like this year: grateful. Appreciative. Just so unbelievably thankful for everything that has happened in 2014. Rather than buy extravagant gifts and plan out an elaborate party, in the moments I did think about Christmas, I kept returning to all of the things I’m thankful for. New friends, opportunities, adventures in other states, moving again closer to home, the closeness of old friends, college graduation- the list goes on and on.

Maybe that will be another post. But for now, I hope you have had a very merry Christmas, and that whatever holidays you celebrate have overflowed with blessings big and small.

With love,

Gaby

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En fin

And here we are.

I leave tomorrow night. At about 10 PM Santiago time, we should be taxi-ing/in the air on our way to Miami. We did the same thing 5 months ago: we took off in summer and landed in winter.

I remember that first morning surprisingly well considering how sleep-deprived and disoriented I was. I remember being rushed through customs and the impatience of the officer. I remember coming through customs, being approached by a man who I thought said something that sounded like my university’s name, and then his taking my bags and leading me out to my group. I remember buying a water and paying for it in pesos for the first time. I remember that it really was colder than we thought it was going to be. I remember we had two lunches that day and we were so unbelievably full. I remember a scalding hot stream of water in the shower, contrasted by the chill of my room in the retreat house.

There was Linares, which I wrote about extensively. And then, after what felt like a long two weeks, we came to Santiago. I remember how quiet I was during my first couple weeks in my house as I tried to figure out my family and my place there; trying not to fall over on my first metro ride; getting back into a school routine, but in another language; and learning some of the in’s and out’s of Chilean night life.

This is a little bit of what a normal morning looked like here in Santiago:

What the mountains looked like on a late winter morning.

What the mountains looked like on a late winter morning.

I love these egg pans. I had scrambled eggs most mornings for about three months. Also, it took me until October to light the stove by myself. Please don't judge.

I love these egg pans. I had scrambled eggs most mornings for about three months. Also, it took me until October to light the stove by myself. Please don’t judge.

My metro stop. The farthest east the metro goes.

My metro stop. The farthest east the metro goes.

Campus. Not a very descriptive photo, but then again, I never found campus all that pretty nor interesting. But I thought the way the trees lined the sidewalks was nice.

Campus. Not a very descriptive photo, but then again, I never found campus all that pretty nor interesting. But I thought the way the trees lined the sidewalks was nice.

And here’s what the end of the day looked like on one of my last days here:

Heading west on the carretera. This is the daylight at about 8:15 PM. Coming home to darkness at 5 will be hard.

Heading west on the carretera. This is the daylight at about 8:15 PM. Coming home to darkness at 5 will be hard.

End of the day sun over el Río Mapocho.

End of the day sun over el Río Mapocho.

Here’s a quick photo recap of the different places I visited over these 5 months:

Outside of Linares.

Outside of Linares.

Embalse Ancoa, Linares.

Embalse Ancoa, Linares.

Rabones.

Rabones.

Constitución.

Constitución.

A view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucía.

A view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucía.

View of the sea from La Isla Negra.

View of the sea from La Isla Negra.

Late winter sunset, Santiago.

Late winter sunset, Santiago.

Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago.

Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago.

Pomaire.

Pomaire.

A very rainy Valparaíso.

A very rainy Valparaíso.

Pintué.

Pintué.

Cajón de Maipo.

Cajón de Maipo.

La Ermita, on horseback.

La Ermita, on horseback.

Chiloé.

Chiloé.

Valdivia.

Valdivia.

And that, my friends, was a little bit of what I saw on study abroad, Fall 2012.

I’ve taken it easy my last few days. Some people like to blow it out. I, however, considering how close I feel to my family and that I am just now getting over that darn cold, have kept close to home. I went out with a few people I hadn’t been able to get together with yet. I went to Mass for the last time with my family. I made pancakes and muffins. I said goodbye to my program directors on campus. I packed. And I cried about five times in the process. (Thank you, F., for coming by and helping out! I would not be as close to done as I am now if you had not been there.)

I think I’m going through a lot of the same emotions I felt when I left the States. That I was leaving home, that it was going to be a long time until I saw my family, that I had so much left still to do. I’m glad I have all of these mixed emotions, though. I think it’s a good sign. I should be this excited to go home, and this sad to leave. Obviously, there’d be something wrong if I weren’t happy to go home and see my family after- again- 5 months. And I think it points to how great an experience I’ve had that I’m so sad to go, when it feels like things could just be getting started.

But that’s a little how life is, isn’t it? I will write more about this around New Year’s (more about that in a later post), but I had a long conversation with my host mom the other night, and she gave me some very good advice, which comes down to this: say yes more. You really do only get so much time in one place. Make the most of it. I wouldn’t change my experience and the relationships I’ve formed for anything. But the way the time has flown has reminded me, in a very hard way, how you’ve gotta take your chances when you have them. I think that’s going to be a kind of mantra for me in the next year.

Before I get too sappy, I want to let you know that the blog will continue. The transition back home is indeed a part of the study abroad experience. And we all know how I love transitions. I also love (probably too much) baking and cooking things and then talking about it and posting pictures of it. I have up to 15 cookie recipes I’d like to try for Christmas, plus other things. So that’ll be happening here as well. Beyond that, we’ll just see how it goes!

I went to theater camp almost every summer of my life from when I was 5 until I was 18. We ended every summer by saying thank you to the people who had supported us throughout the summer. It was very emotional and sometimes a little cheesy, but I always loved it. Doing that kind of thing remains very important to me, and I would like to do that right here, right now.

Thank you to all of my readers! Thank you for letting me share my adventures and everyday life with you. I hope you’ll stick around once I’m back stateside doing less interesting things like baking and being a college student.

Thank you to the blogs that I follow for being such a big inspiration and brightening my day when I needed a distraction or a pick-me-up. (My top three favorites are on the blogroll sidebar.)

Thank you to my friends and groupmates. We were very lucky to be together and get along the way we did. Thanks for being you.

Thank you, F. Something bigger put us here together. We were made friends for a reason. I will miss you like crazy when you are back here next semester and I…am not.

Thank you to our program directors. Not everybody gets someone on-site who handles problems with classes, finds them a family, organizes field trips, and so on. Thanks for all of your hard work!

Thank you to my Chilean friends and acquaintances. Thanks for your patience with my Spanish when it doesn’t always come out the way it should, and thanks for bringing around places gringos don’t usually get to see. I hope to come back as soon as I can so I can spend more time with you!

Thank you to my host family. You were pretty much just what I needed you to be this semester. Thank you for replacing the down key on my computer; for taking me to Mass; for rejoicing in the deliciousness that is s’mores; for teasing me; for dragging me into your room when I clearly needed to talk but was too scared to bother to you; for letting me borrow your nail polish and hair products; for making my lunch every day; for being entirely too worried by my colds; for bringing me breakfast in bed; for making me café con leche exactly the way I like it; for giving me an iPhone, for my safety, of course; for showing me how the metro works; for eating chocolate and talking forever after dinner; for reviewing my papers; for letting me study with you; for making me feel like a real part of your family. The tears you will see in the airport tomorrow will hopefully show you how much I love the three of you and how much I will miss you.

Thank you, most of all, to my real family. I can’t even attempt to list all the things you do for me. You support me in more ways that I even know, and without that, I could not have gone away and had this experience. I cannot wait to see you and make you more cookies than you will want to eat.

Santiago. Chile. South America: I’m coming back for you. And that’s a promise.

My cup overflows. Time to get off the internet and drink up what’s left.

With love,

Gaby

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Gracias

¡Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias! Happy Thanksgiving!

Pardon the belated Thanksgiving wishes. I did not have a long, work-free weekend like many weekends- well, I know a lot of American college kids were actually up to here with pre-finals work this weekend. But still. I had class on the third Thursday of November for the first time in my life. Like my host dad said, it was just another Thursday in Chile.

But we gringos made sure to celebrate. One of the guys was generous enough to offer his house for the evening. He bought us two turkeys and we contributed the rest of the food and drinks. I have to admit, I was doubtful. Everyone was incredibly busy that week with final exams and papers (because the school year has pretty much ended at my university here), and people were actually buying the ingredients for their dishes at 5 on Thursday afternoon. But not only did everyone contribute a dish, we had more than enough food, and it was all really delicious!

Of course, what was most important was that we were all together. I think for many of us it was our first Thanksgiving away from our families. I know that for me, the day was a little poignant, knowing my family was all together sharing the same meal we’ve had for years, and I was “missing out.” But once I was with all my friends, just sitting and talking and stuffing ourselves with food as the night got cooler, it really did feel like Thanksgiving.

Turkey, sweet carrots, gravy, homemade mac and cheese, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. There was also a salad, and fried ice cream with pumpkin bread and cinnamon rolls for dessert. It was delicious.

The aftermath. Believe it or not, two medium turkeys were just enough for around 20 people!

Oh, and the next day I baked up an apple pie. It was pretty spectacular.

Muy, muy rico.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am thankful that I had a place to celebrate Thanksgiving with some really great people. I’m thankful that I came down here with such a good group. I’m thankful that I have a host family who makes me feel like one of their own. I’m thankful for all the love and support of my real family. I’m thankful for the Internet, because when people went abroad not that many years ago, they couldn’t keep in touch with their loved ones as easily as we can now. I’m thankful for my friends who have listened to all of my study abroad stories and have been there for me when it’s been hard. I’m thankful for a second summer. I’m thankful for for this opportunity to live in another country for five months. I’m thankful that I still have a little time left.

And I’m thankful for everyone who has read this blog! Your comments have been so appreciated. Thank you for letting me share my experience with you!

I’ve got just about two weeks left before I get on a plane to Miami once again. In that time, I am taking a trip, my first and only real big trip of the semester. It’s not actually that big of a trip. I’m going to the south of Chile, which I’ve heard is where I have to go to truly say that I’ve experience Chile. In the next week, I will be bussing around to Puerto Montt, the island of Chiloé, and Valdivia. I’ll probably be pretty disconnected except email and phone for that week. It’s going to be a lot of sightseeing kind of stuff: there’s a national park in Chiloé, a lot of historic architecture, yummy seafood, chocolate, and just general seeing another side of this big country of which I’ve seen so little. Hopefully I will have lots of good stories and photos for you when I come back!

And after that, maybe I’ll take a day at the beach, and then…a week. One more week.

Thank you for coming along for the ride, and thanks for waiting to see what happens next.

Chao chao! Cuídense mucho! (Take care!)

With love,

Gaby

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Aprovechar

A couple of Fridays ago, I found myself crying in my host parents’ room. This was the result of multiple things: first, I was up to here with work. Second, I was starting to realize how little time I have left in Chile. And third, it was really hitting me that it’s been four whole months since I’d seen my real family. I guess a fourth cause could be that I hadn’t been sleeping well, as a result of the other three causes. Which just compounded everything and ended in tears. I’m very bad at hiding my crying. Host mom saw and pretty much sat me down on her bed to talk.

I’ll spare you more details, but the result of that much-needed heart-to-heart with my host parents was these realizations: I need to care a little less about some things. I need to say yes more. I need to stop dwelling on how much time I have until I get back on a plane to the States (1 month minus 4 days. Not that I’m really aware.). And if I can’t do anything about something right away, then I need to stop worrying about it until I can make it better. And if I can make it better, I should, as soon as possible!

Aprovechar means “to take advantage of.” “Hay que aprovechar” whatever good thing/free day/nice weather, etc. You have to take advantage of this. So that has become my motto for the rest of this semester. I have to take advantage of everything I can. Because who knows when I’ll be back again?

I started to aprovechar the very next day after that conversation. My host mom and I went up to the Cajón de Maipo, a region outside of Santiago that lies in the cordillera (the mountains). We spent the day there with friends picnicking, driving, and hiking around. It was needed. The friends were colleagues of my mom’s from work, many of whom attended my university in the States and with whom I have a lot in common. We got to talk about how they ended up in Santiago after graduation, what their experiences have been like, what it’s like to start growing up, and so on. Besides getting some good life advice/time with grown-ups (I like time with grown-ups. I always have.), it was more or less therapeutic to get out into the fresh air, into nature, four hours and yet so much farther away from the big city, from my homework, from my computer, from everything that had been nagging me lately.

Take a look at the pictures and maybe you can see how being out in the Andes for a day (you know, casual) would help me clear my mind:

The road and the mountains.

We got up to Baños Morales, 1850 meters high.

85 degrees and we were that close to snow!

Monumento Natural El Morado. It’s a trail up to the natural monument, but we got there too late to do the hike.

The colors in the mountains are unreal sometimes.

This was a good day. I needed that day.

Beautiful. I know this is something religious to say, but seriously, I can’t go out to all of these incredible places and not be constantly reminded of God’s works in the world. Look at how stunning it all is! And perfect! Someone who loves us had to have a hand in it, right?

The next week was very busy, but I went into it feeling refreshed and with a much clearer mind than before. And then I got to end that week by going horseback riding in the Andes. Note: school-sponsored field trips have never been so awesome.

We took a bus about 45 minutes outside of Santiago (seriously, we’re that close to the mountains) to a place called La Ermita. There we met up with arrieros (spanishdict.com tells me that means muleteer. How about horsehand? Is that a word?) who matched us up with horses and led us around the cordillera for the day.

There were two moments where I thought my horse and I were going to fall over- in one case, I thought we were going to fall off of a cliff. This is why you travel with arrieros, so you have someone who can pull your horse back on the path, away from the cliff, and almost literally save you. But besides those two moments, and the fact that everything from my shoulder blades to my calves was sore for two days afterwards, it was probably my favorite paseo this semester.

My pictures really don’t do justice to how gorgeous of a day it was. Full sun until the very end of the day. And there are actually pictures I don’t have, because I was a little preoccupied with going down a mountain on a horse. But imagine those pictures: just a huge landscape of mountains and valleys. One of my friends said it was like Lord of the Rings. I felt like a medieval queen surveying her territory, or looking upon her troops from afar before a battle. (Just in case you thought I was cool or something…no. Not at all.)

I took this while on top of a horse, one-handed, with the other hand on the reins. No, this is not how we almost fell off a cliff.

Here is my horse drinking water as we ford a stream. It was like Little House on the Prairie, or the Oregon Trail, where everyone had to take their horses and covered wagons through the river. (Just in case you doubted me when I said I’m not cool.)

The same stream, but from above.

A cactus! In Spanish: cactus. Plural in Spanish: catci OR cactuses. Because you know you were wondering if they have weird rules about plurals in Spanish too.

After 3-4 hours on the horses, we stopped for a long lunch, which consisted of anticuchos, or kabobs, and chorizo.

And that is what horseback riding in the Andes looks like.

Let’s be thankful for a minute. Agradezco mucho (I really appreciate/am thankful for):

The mountains. Clean sheets. Essay extensions. Visiting moms (thank you for bringing my birthday gifts, M.!). The air conditioned train. Washed feet. Agua de hierbas. Catching sweet moments out and about, like an elderly couple having fun on the playground in the park where I run, or when people get up right away on the train to give their seats to someone who really needs it. A really delicious birthday cake. People I can be myself with. Friends who come by for just ten minutes, even if they don’t live nearby. Longer days. Brighter mornings.

That’s life in Santiago right now! Lots more coming soon as we barrel on towards December.

Much love,

Gaby

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