Category Archives: Daily Life

Stress free travel with Trusted Housesitters

When we lived in India, most expats had household help who were happy to pet-sit during school holidays. Our maid, Raji, would stay at our apartment whenever we traveled and often said she loved our cats like they were her own children.

Here in Chile, we no longer have that luxury. We left Ella at a local “pet camp” twice, but both times she came home a little shell-shocked. Cats just don’t love communal living like dogs do.

At the recommendation of my friend, Sarah, who teaches in Dubai, I decided to check out the website Trusted Housesitters. I set up a profile and posted our travel dates: mid-June to mid-July. Assuming I would have to beg for someone to spend a whole month in Santiago, I was surprised at the number of responses. People in England, Wales, Argentina, and two U.S. states expressed interest in babysitting Ella during our trip to the States.

We ultimately chose Kyle and Desi, a young couple from South Dakota. He is a running coach, who consults online and works from home, and she is a Spanish teacher. They flew in a few days early, so we got to introduce them to Ella, show them the apartment, and treat them to their first pisco sours. We liked them right away.

Not wanting them to witness the mania of our last week of school, we sent them off to Valparaiso for a few days. They came back to Santiago for our last night, and we took off for Michigan feeling secure Ella was in good hands.

Over the break, they kept in touch, sent screenshots of our bills, and posted photos on Facebook. It was clear they were taking advantage of all Santiago has to offer, despite the chilly winter weather. They even experienced the city’s biggest snow storm since 2007. Although ringed by snow-capped mountains, Santiago rarely experiences snowfall. Tree branches fell on power lines, cutting electricity to many neighborhoods, including ours. Kyle said the power was out for several days. No fun.

Our return flight was delayed in Atlanta overnight, so we didn’t cross paths with our pet sitters upon arriving in Santiago. They had taken off for a short trip to Vicuña to explore the Elqui Valley (a 5-hour drive north of Santiago), but they came home for one overnight before flying back to the States. When I opened the apartment door to let them in, I was happy and yes, maybe a little jealous, that Ella quickly ran to brush up against their legs. She will miss them.

I should also report that we found our apartment in excellent condition: clean litter box, trash was taken out, no dishes in the sink, linens changed, everything in its place. Couldn’t ask for more than that!

So our first experience with Trusted Housesitters was fantastic. Cross your fingers that we find future caregivers for Ella who are as wonderful as Kyle and Desi.

Summer (winter?) vacation – same same but different

This is for Sam, who reminded me that I haven’t posted in awhile…

We left South American winter for North American summer in mid-June for a stay at our lake house in Michigan.

Our school calendar includes only a month’s break with a new school year kicking off July 24 (tomorrow!). That meant we had to cram in a year’s worth of house maintenance and family fun into four short weeks.

Annesley perches on the wall in front of our house.

My sister, Kate, lives nearby with her family. My other sister, Megan, drove from Texas with her family and stayed with us for three weeks. (Her husband flew home for work, but he came back for a few days at the end of her visit.) My brother, Mike, stopped by Michigan with his family en route from England to their new home in Korea. And my parents roadtripped from Florida. Seventeen of us in all, including seven kids ranging in age from one to 10. We are a pretty tight-knit family, even though we migrate to various global destinations, so I was thrilled to spend this time together.

Kate’s friend, Gary, kindly and patiently staged a family photo shoot for our gang of nutballs.

As Tony said, if you want to know what our summer was like, you should read any summer blog post from the last few years. But here’s the scoop.

We have some standard summer activities…

Lake fun, of course!

Biking on the Paint Creek Trail. We almost always see a few deer.

Playing in the creek at Rochester Park.

Jack got soaked, so I gave him my sweatshirt.

Jumping on giant rubber food in the play area of the Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall….

… followed by lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. (I’m not really sure why we keep coming back here as there is always at least one kid who is scared to death of all the loud, animated animals. This year, it was poor little Max.)

Flare Night is a Lake Orion tradition with a fabulous party at our neighbor’s house. Unfortunately, I had to make an airport run that night to pick up Tony, who was returning from a conference. So no photos. The Fourth of July fireworks were pretty spectacular, as always. We watched from our deck after a fun day of splashing in the lake.

Other summer snapshots…

Kate’s new house features a fantastic basement playroom, where we sent the munchkins to build with legos, play Monopoly, hold nerf wars, watch movies, and whatever else kept them busy.

They also set up a badminton court in the backyard, which was a huge hit with children and adults.

Mike is always good for a little rough-housing, but he might be getting a bit old to take on all seven at the same time.

When my dad babysits, this happens.

We watched Moana a lot. Meg bought these costumes at the Dollar Store, but her kids soon fought over who got to be Maui.

Jack turned four and celebrated with a party at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center. Everyone learned about and touched several animals, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a small snake, a bearded dragon, and a couple turtles.

Party highlights:
When Kate was setting up the party, her balloon bouquet escaped into the woods.

Getting out the ice cream, Summer found some tarantulas in the freezer.

The bearded dragon snacked on a crunchy beetle, and the turtles shared a worm. Yum!

The superhero masks were pretty funny.
Birthday boy, Iron Man.

The Hulk (Will) eats some pizza.

We also celebrated my parents 43rd wedding anniversary, a few weeks early.

Tony and I spent a day at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Detroit. We picked our favorite cars (1955 Corvette roadster for me; 1965 Mustang convertible for Tony), marveled at the massive old trains, strolled down memory lane at an exhibit called “Your Place in Time,” and toured the aluminum Dymaxion House.

As part of a powerful exhibit on transformative moments in U.S. history, we saw the original bus where Rosa Parks took a stand and the chair in which President Lincoln was assassinated.

In a less evocative moment, we posed with the Wienermobile.

Overall, it was same same but different … another wonderful – albeit fleeting – summer.

Yoga as a language lab

In 16 years of living overseas, I have often lamented my monolingual brain. Sure, I picked up a pretty good amount of Turkish, Mandarin, and even Lao (then I totally dropped the ball in English-saturated India and learned almost no Hindi). Despite the inner glow of success that radiated confidence when I chatted with waiters, haggled at markets, booked hotel reservations, asked for directions, ordered food at restaurants, and understood signs around town, I always knew the cruel fact: It wasn’t enough. There’s no way to fully integrate into a host country’s culture without a deep dive into the language.

Since arriving in Chile, we’ve encountered less English than in any of our other four postings. Suddenly, learning the language feels urgent. It was actually a big reason we moved here. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish. Now I just feel like I need to learn Spanish.

In general, I am an eager, inhibition-free language learner. I embrace mistakes and laugh at myself. I pay attention to the language around me and try to adopt it. A total grammar dork, I love identifying false cognates. “Estoy embarazada” does NOT mean “I’m embarrassed,” for example. (Yep, I said that to my fifth graders last semester.)

Tony and I took three weeks of intensive Spanish during the semester break, but it feels like nothing stuck. Now we have a hard-core tutor coming over once a week with piles of vocabulary and grammar assignments. Still, I know what I have to do. Get out of the apartment and talk to Chileans! Why is that so scary?

Barely able to babble in Spanish, I feel caught in a frustrating cycle: I can’t learn Spanish until I am forced to use it, but I’m too nervous to put myself in situations where I’m forced to use it.

Today, I finally decided to stop being such a wuss. I decided it would be best to immerse myself in an activity which I know well. Then I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. I would already understand the concepts, so I would only have to learn the Spanish vocabulary. I rolled up my yoga mat and walked to the nearby studio, Yogashala.

On the way there, I practiced saying in Spanish, “Can I try a class, please?” So far, I only know present-tense verbs, but I knew they would ask about my yoga background and physical issues. I had an answer for them: “I practice yoga many years, but now I have a bad knee.”

I was so nervous.

As I explore Santiago, I am discovering that you can’t guess what lies behind the fence in many neighborhoods. From the street, Yoga Shala looks like a three-story house. I rang the bell and was buzzed through the gate into a tranquil, shady courtyard with a bamboo-lined flagstone path. I entered the building and greeted the receptionist. In Spanish, she asked me to leave my shoes outside on the shelf. (I understood! I understood!) After ditching my Chacos, I recited my practiced phrase about trying a class. She said si, told me the price (6,000 pesos, or about $9 U.S.), asked for my Chilean ID number, and then directed me to the room. Whew! I felt immensely proud to have come this far.

About 10 people had already staked out spots in the room, so I followed their lead by unrolling my mat and grabbing a cushion and folded blanket from the cubbies on the wall. I whispered hola to the woman next to me, but we were obviously meant to stay quiet, so I spent the next few minutes trying to relax and prepare for class.

I glanced around the room. Caribiners clipped stretchy bands with plastic handles to one wall, while the opposite wall featured horizontal barres, like you see in a ballet classroom. The shelves and cubbies were filled with yoga props, including several racks of folded chairs. I don’t have much experience with Iyengar yoga, which is famous for its use of whatever it takes to correct your alignment, so that realization suddenly merged with my language anxiety, and I felt my face go warm with stress.

When the teacher, Polly, arrived, she scoped out the room and identified the newcomers. She gestured to a man and asked if he had ever come to the studio before. No, he hadn’t. Then she asked his name. Felipe. OK, now it was my turn, and I was totally ready! She asked if it was my first time at the studio. Instead of responding, primera vez, which means “first time,” I said, primavera vez, which means “spring time.” Polly looked a little confused, but she must have made the leap because she calmly asked for my name and then began the class.

Polly talked a lot. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but mostly I just used the environmental cues (that’s education-speak for “copy what the other kids are doing”). We started in a cross-legged sitting position with our hands in namaste. We chanted “om” three times, and then she led a choral-response chant in Spanish that I couldn’t follow.

Once we started moving into asanas, Polly’s directions were pretty clear. She would model a sequence first and then talk us through it. I found I could understand many of the directions, especially when she used the sanskrit names for the poses. However, the Spanish names sounded familiar, too: downward dog was el perro, and child’s pose was el niño. I was feeling pretty optimistic.

Then, as I lay down on two wooden blocks – one under my head and one under my torso, Polly said, “Sharon, blahdeblahdeblah.” I sat up to see what she meant, and she huffed a bit in frustration. In English, she said, “Move your block directly under your shoulder blades to open your chest.”

From that point on, she occasionally switched to perfect English to correct my form. I thought at first she might be annoyed to do so, but she soon softened and served up encouragement in both Spanish and English. At the end of class, we chatted a bit. I told her I would love to use as little English as possible in future classes, and she agreed to help me build my yoga vocabulary. “I only spoke English because I told you to do something, and you didn’t do it,” she laughed. (Story of my life.)

I realized the yoga lexis set includes body parts and directional words, as well as a few basic verbs. For example, I understood the Spanish instructions when she told us to lower our arms to transition out of Warrior or to make sure our legs were straight in Revolved Triangle or to lie down for Savasana.

Sometimes I think about young, crazy, risk-taker Sharon. She wouldn’t have balked at a yoga class in a foreign language. What changed? Why does 50-year-old Sharon have to muster up so much courage? It’s yoga, for god’s sake. I was pretty much guaranteed a kind, compassionate group of people.

Anyway, I feel great that I did it, physically, emotionally, and linguistically. My goal for next time is to strike up a conversation with another member of the class. I’ll practice some key phrases ahead of time, but she will probably say something I don’t understand. And we’ll laugh. And I’ll learn. And that’s what it’s all about.

From Asia to South America: Making new memories with an old friend

As I prepared to write about last weekend’s visit from our friend Nikki, I took a minute to reminisce. We worked with Nikki at Vientiane International School in 2009-10, and she quickly became part of our family. In fact, we enjoyed weekly “family night” dinners at local restaurants in Vientiane with Nikki and another friend, Carol. One of our favorite outings was to this kooky place: Khouvieng Country.

Nikki now works at Lincoln, an international school in Buenos Aires, just a short flight away. What a treat to have her come play for the weekend!

We had booked a cooking class, in part because Nikki’s fiancé, Jon, is an avid cook. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his trip to Chile to visit his ailing grandmother in Canada. (She is feeling much better – whew!) Tony had scheduled an English Department retreat at our apartment, so he couldn’t participate in the cooking class.

Nikki and I joined a family from the States, who were traveling in Chile, for a daylong cooking class with Felipe at Uncorked. We met at Mercado Central, the city’s famous fish market.

The National Geographic book, Food Journeys of a Lifetime, included Mercado Central in its list of “Top 10 Food Markets.” An excerpt:

Under a wrought-iron, art nouveau canopy dating from 1872, this animated fish market groans with an extraordinary shoal of sea creatures, from barnacles to giant squid, many unlabeled, untranslatable, or unknown outside Chile. Marvel at the fishmongers’ speed and skill. If the thought of identifying and preparing the fish is too much, onsite restaurants offer local dishes like paila marina (Chilean bouillabaisse).

Felipe shared some information about the market’s history and architecture, warned us about paying tourist prices at the popular seafood restaurants, and pointed to the type of fish we would prepare at our class: Spanish hake, or merluza.

From Mercado Central, we crossed the street to stroll through a flower market and on to La Vega Central. I never tire of this place. Piles of produce pop with color, and I revel in the buzz of busy vendors and harried shoppers. Felipe purchased fish, meat, tomatoes, and other ingredients while the rest of us snapped photos and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. The crowds swelled as we explored. Nikki and I agreed this was a place best visited in the early morning, before most Chileans rise and shine.

Nikki excitedly purchased some pickles.

After the market tour, we hailed a couple taxis for a ride to the cooking class venue, located in a residential area. From the street, the two-story house resembles its neighbors. Inside, however, the foyer opens into a bright spacious kitchen with an island equipped with two cooktops. We sat on stools around the island while Felipe issued instructions. We helped a bit with the chopping and mixing. Most of the prep work had been done before our arrival. My kind of cooking!

We kicked off the afternoon with a mango sour, perfectly measured and shaken by Nikki and Gracie.

My pathetic contribution to our meal involved rolling out and cutting the dough for churrascas, a traditional Chilean bread. They turned out a little deformed but tasty. We ate them with pebre, a typical Chilean salsa. At the request of our finicky group, Felipe patiently made three versions: normal, one with no spices, and one with no cilantro.

Nikki hates cilantro!

Our first savory dish was crudo de res, a concoction of raw minced beef with spices, relish, and peppers. Felipe spread a little homemade mayo on the plate. Chileans love mayonnaise!

Felipe poured glasses of pinot noir from the Chilean winery Leyda, which I am adding to my list of local favorites.

The main course was a delicious piece of fish topped with tomatoes, cheese, olives, and sausage. It was served on a bed of humita en olla, a corn-based paste.

For this wine pairing, we sipped Leyda chardonnay. I’m not usually a chardy fan, but this one worked perfectly with the fish.

For dessert, a little German influence came into play with the kuchen de zapallo camote en arandanos en chancaca, a long name for a little pumpkin tart with blueberries. Delish!

Overall, we enjoyed a lot of laughs, some tasty drinks, a bit of tipsiness, and delicious food. Could I replicate these dishes at home? Most likely, no. The “recipes” we took home were obviously written by someone who generally makes them from memory. Some don’t even have measurements, and the humita en olla recipe includes instructions like “thresh the corn.” What does that even mean? When you’re as clueless in the kitchen as I am, specificity is key.

Obviously, this day was designed for entertainment first and education second, which was fine with me!

On Sunday, I took Nikki on the gondola up Cerro San Cristobal, a Santiago “don’t miss experience” in my opinion. Of course, we enjoyed a mote con huesillo after greeting la virgen at the top.

I felt a little guilty about not being a better tour guide, but frankly, it felt great to just hang out on the balcony and catch up. Thanks for making the trip, Nikki!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 5 – Parents Visit!

After United Airlines fixed their computer system and delivered my parents to Chile a day late (Jan. 24), we hit the ground running!

Or not … The first order of business for my mother after an international flight is always a foot massage. Reduces ankle swelling, she says. So I led them on a quick tour of our school – The International School Nido de Aguilas – before heading down the hill to Sala Ananta, a lovely Thai spa.

School is pretty different with no students around!

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped at the neighborhood supermarket, where my mom went bananas over this giant corn. Husked, it didn’t look very appealing. Not sure how the locals eat this, but I doubt they gnaw on the humongous cob.

The next day, Wednesday, we drove about an hour to Casablanca Valley to visit the Emiliana organic winery for a tour and tasting. I had been there in late August (see that post here), when the weather was cold and dreary and the vines were naked. On this visit, the sun shone brightly, and rows of lush leafy grapevines displayed plump bunches of grapes. We had the same friendly and informative tour guide as last time – Ramon.

At the tasting, we were served two whites (2016 Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc and 2016 Novas Gran Reserva Chardonnay) and two reds (2014 Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere-Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 COYAM). Tony, not much of a wine connoisseur, said, “Watch me mix all mine together and make a rosé!”

Afterwards, we drove next door to the Tiraziš winery for lunch at House-Casa del Vino. Remembering the lip-smacking pink ravioli I enjoyed on my first visit, I ordered it again and was not disappointed.

On Thursday, we all boarded city bus 517 to check out La Vega Central produce market. As predicted, my mom went bonkers over the giant corn and bought another ear (with healthier looking kernels than last time). We stocked up on peaches, strawberries, mangoes, apricots, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. Like me, my mother gets giddy over fruit or vegetables she’s never seen. So we bought a pepino dulce and some physalis.

I didn’t get a picture of the pepino dulce, which translates to “sweet cucumber” but lacks the crisp crunch of the more common veggie by that name. The outside, greenish-yellow with purple stripes, looked more like a small eggplant, and the inside was soft and pale yellow. Mom and I agreed the flavor was icky. Thumbs down.

The physalis looks like a tiny tomato in a dry husk and tastes like a cross between a tomato and a kiwi. Thumbs up. Here’s a photo of one I encountered earlier this year as a garnish on my ice cream.

We spotted this guy selling produce outside the market. Mom tried to explain that we lived in Michigan, but I don’t think he realized the word on his shirt was a place.

Mom was pretty confident that we could eat the dried peaches the same way we would eat a dried apricot, but I knew they were meant to be reconstituted in a traditional drink (see mote con huesillos, below). I think I won that argument.

A few market shots taken by my dad …

After a big salad for lunch at home, we ventured forth again. Time to tackle the hill! We took the gondola up Cerro San Cristobal, and although I have done this countless times, I always underestimate how many steps lead from the gondola station to the very top. But we did it!

Most of the way up, we paused at the church.

People leave fascinating prayer offerings at the small chapel.

Smoky haze from forest fires limited the view of Santiago.

The Virgin Mary statue is the cake topper.

The reward was another “first” for all of us: a traditional Chilean summertime drink called mote con huesillo. Mote is cooked husked wheat, and huesillos are dried peaches. Those ingredients are added to a sweet sugary liquid. After our sweaty little hike, the drink was refreshing and surprisingly yummy. The wheat adds a strange chewy experience to what otherwise tastes like syrupy fruit juice.

We took the old funicular back down the hill to Barrio Bellavista and caught a taxi home. Dinner was at one of our favorite restaurants, Tiramisu. Mom and Dad enjoyed their first pisco sours, Chile’s delicious signature cocktail.

I really wanted to take my parents to the coast, but they didn’t want to bother with staying overnight. I also wanted my artsy mom to see the murals of Valparaiso, but it’s a hilly city best seen on foot and she has a wonky hip that precludes taking long precarious walks. Friends had warned me that traffic was out of control at the shore, where holiday-goers from Chile and Argentina flocked to frolic in the surf. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about how to make this day special without overdoing it, and I think it worked out!

On Friday, we drove just under two hours to Valparaiso and parked at the Ibis Hotel, which also houses the metro station. We left the car and rode the metro a short distance to Viña del Mar, a resort town on the Pacific coast.

The walk was longer than intended, but we ultimately arrived at Tierra de Fuego, a beachside restaurant. (Every mistake is a learning opportunity, right? For future reference, get off at the Miramar stop, which is closer to the beach.) After lunch, we hopped across fiery sand to stick our toes in the icy water. Glorious!

Mom insisted on picking up a piece of driftwood as a souvenir, but then she left it at our apartment when she returned to the States, much to the chagrin of Tony.

We returned to Valparaiso by metro and walked a short distance to the El Peral funicular, which took us up 52 meters to Plaza Yugoslavia on the hill called Cerro Allegre. I didn’t want to make my mom walk too much, but she was lured by the art on the walls and the artsy products in the shops. We strolled a bit and then rode the funicular back down and drove back to Santiago.

On Saturday, we spent the whole day at Los Dominicos, an artisans market spotlighting arts and handicrafts from all regions of Chile. Mom was in Heaven. Tony bailed after about 30 minutes. Dad and I had fun … for the first few hours. Finally, just as Dad and I were about to sneak away, my mom experienced the ultimate shopping buzz-kill: She ran out of cash, and the vendor wouldn’t take a credit card. But do you think that stopped her? Heck, no! My dad and I walked out of the market, across the plaza in sweltering heat, and down the metro stairs so I could withdraw money from my peso account. We’re such enablers.

For their last day in Santiago, we took a quick driving tour through some historic parts of town, including Plaza de Armas, and then stopped for lunch in Barrio Italia at a quaint restaurant called Le Jardinera.

And, just like that, they were gone. My dad always says, “Fish and houseguests start to stink after a week.” So I guess it’s just as well they didn’t extend their stay. Still, I miss them already and hope they come back soon!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 4

Mucho calor. Mucho, mucho, mucho calor. And the Dents have no aire acondicionado. It’s often cooler outside than it is in our apartment, so that’s where we spend a lot of time. I’m not complaining! I keep thinking back in horror to July, when we landed here in Chile and froze our buns off. I’ll take calor over frio any day.

This week included more bike riding on our beloved hill, Cerro San Cristobal, and more intense Spanish classes. The course moved at such a quick pace that we really couldn’t keep up. Friday was our last day, but I plan to dig through the materials again and refresh my memory once the dust settles. My parents visit this week, and then I’m heading out of town for a few days. So for now, the Spanish books are shelved.

Our staycation has lost a little steam. Initially, we tried to poke around the city a bit every day, but I found myself more often than not sitting on the balcony with a book and a cold drink the last few days. (a) It is stinking hot! (b) I’m on vacation! I don’t know why I feel the need to justify being lazy during my break … I guess it’s because I so rarely kick back and chill when there’s the option to do something active. However, I have to admit I kind of like this balance of exercising, learning, exploring, and relaxing.

La Moneda – Changing of the Guards
We did manage to play tourists on Wednesday with a visit to Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of the Chilean presidency, for the changing of the guard. Our friend, Caira, arrived a bit early and secured a shady spot right at the railing. It didn’t stay shady for long, but it was nice to have a front-row view.

Smart people watched from the shade, but it was harder to see the action.

The parade, music, and ceremony were typical of changings of the guard around the world.

A dash of Chilean flair came in the form of flags hanging from the trumpets and happy street dogs yapping playfully at the horses and weaving through the marching band.

After the ceremony, we met up with a few more friends for breakfast at The Blue Jar. When Caira mentioned Craig’s recent birthday dinner (see previous post), the waitress perked up and later brought him a plate of brownies with candles.

Random Wanderings
One morning, we walked about 20 minutes to the Parque de las Esculturas, a sculpture park next to the Mapocho River. Unfortunately, it was closed for clean-up following a jazz festival. Anticlimactic … but it made me feel grateful to live in a city that has jazz festivals in a sculpture garden!

On our way home, we passed an antique show in the plaza of Palacio Falabella, which houses the offices of the Providencia municipality. We stopped to check it out. Santiago is a ghost town on Sundays, so we were among a handful of browsers. Many of the vendors sprawled out on their antique furniture for a snooze. Nobody even tried to get our attention.

We peeked in the door of the mansion, where someone was leading a tour in Spanish. The place was gorgeous, but we weren’t sure if we were even allowed inside, so we decided to do a little research and return another day.

To see what it looks like when it’s not blocked by an antique show, here’s an image I found on the website for Closer Magazine.

Summer Reading
Fellow bookclubber Beth told me about bookbub, which sends a daily email with deals on amazon kindle books. I may have gone on a book bender, but it’s pretty forgivable when the books are mostly free or under a couple bucks.

I finished My Invented Country by Isabel Allende, which gave me a whole new perspective on Chile. I appreciated that she fully embraces her tendency to mesh reality with her imagination.

Now I’ve switched gears. Just read a bookbub freebie, Gone the Next by Ben Rehder, a light little mystery, and I’m having trouble putting down another freebie, Maids of Misfortune, by M. Louisa Locke, which so far seems to be a mashup of historical fiction, mystery, feminist literature, and humor. All good!

Sigh…
Life threw us a few curveballs this week.

First, forest fires are burning out of control in the hills around Santiago. The air is thick with smoke, and the air quality is reminiscent of our time in New Delhi. That kept us inside more than usual. I feel anxious for the residents of the burning areas, human and otherwise. After seeing an online plea, Tony and I will deliver bottled water to the firefighters at a station near school this afternoon.

Secondly, our cat, Ella, fell ill. Usually extremely vocal and playful, she stopped eating, talking, and interacting with us. We took her to the vet clinic, where they diagnosed a severe bladder infection. She had to stay there for the weekend, but the vet says we can pick her up today.

Third, we got word from our property manager that our Michigan lake house is leaking. Apparently, water is seeping in to the basement, despite the recent foundation work that cleared out our savings account. All we can do is hope Foundation Systems of Michigan will follow up and honestly respond to our concerns.

Finally, my parents were scheduled to arrive for a weeklong visit today, but United Airlines canceled all flights last night after the computer system crashed. Fingers crossed, they’ll make it here tomorrow.

So… Rats. Rats. Rats.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to playing with my parents if/when they get here! And we’re still on vacation for another two weeks. So I’m still smiling!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 3

We had another wonderful week, but we are finding ourselves getting a little lazier and lazier every day. The mercury creeps into the 90s, and we don’t have air conditioning. There’s a lot of napping, and we’re both spending too much time on our computers. What happened to our plan to meditate and practice yoga every day? That has happened exactly zero times since our summer break started.

Today, we set a goal to ride our bikes every day this week. Let’s see if we can make that happen.

Also, our Spanish classes have gotten pretty intense. It would behoove us to get our butts out of the house to practice with some real Chilenos.

Here is a roundup of the staycation fun we enjoyed this week:

Movie al Fresco
The annual Festival de Cine Wikén 2017 filled the nearby park – Parque Bicentenario – with moviegoers, including us. Monday evening, we walked from our apartment with friends and paused at a funky wine bar for a cheese platter and wine, but we got so distracted, we had to take a taxi for the last stretch to the park in order to arrive before the movie started. After picking up our tickets at the “will call” window, we found our seats and settled in. I kicked off my sandals and put on some socks, a pashmina and a scarf to keep me comfy in the cool evening breeze. Because of our barely on-time arrival, Tony and I didn’t scope out the food and drink vendors this time, but Wikén is definitely on my radar for next year. We saw the film “Captain Fantastic,” which was wholly entertaining and thought-provoking. A few times, I forced myself to look away from the gigantic screen to notice the mountains, the city, the sky. I felt really lucky. I meant to take a picture, but I forgot. So, here’s one from the neighborhood website.

Our Second Favorite Santiago Cerro
Our best touristy outing this week occurred Wednesday. We took the metro to The Blue Jar (which Brie and I discovered on our Hop On Hop Off bus adventure). They served a simple breakfast of a soft boiled egg (mine came in this quirky guinea pig egg cup), toast, avocado, juice and coffee.

I got a call in the middle of breakfast from a massage therapist who was waiting at my house for me. I had already rescheduled once, and now I had forgotten my appointment altogether! I’m such a moron. Anyway, she very kindly agreed to reschedule again for the next day.

We then metro-ed two stops back to explore Cerro Santa Lucia. Buses and cars zoomed by under the pedestrian bridge to the hill. You would never suspect such a lush oasis in the middle of the gritty city center. The rocky cerro (hill) got a facelift at the end of the 19th century when Santiago Mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna launched a series of urban improvements, including development of the 629-meter park. Tony and I signed a visitor’s log and then began the climb to the top. A network of paths and stairways crisscrossed the hill, leading us to shady nooks and plazas with sculptures, fountains, manicured gardens, and ivy-draped stone walls. At the top, we got a 360-degree view of Santiago.

You can see Cerro San Cristobal in the distance.
That’s our usual cerro.

The next day, as planned, I stayed home and waited for Taralee, a massage therapist from the U.S. living here in Chile. I’m so glad she was willing to reschedule after I blew her off. The massage was dreamy!

Hanging Out
In addition to the movie in the park, we enjoyed a few fun social outings this week.
Thursday, we met friends for dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, Tiramisu.
Friday, we celebrated “Old New Year,” a tradition from the Russian Orthodox Church, with my colleague Samantha and her husband, Misha, who is from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Saturday, my friend Craig came back to town after spending Christmas with his family in the States, so we wished him a happy birthday with a gathering at the traditional Chilean restaurant Doña Tina.

Summer Reading
Otherwise, I’ve been reading like crazy, which is such a treat! I curl up on the balcony sofa with Ella and my kindle and let myself get distracted by the squawking parakeets darting through the trees.
So far this holiday, I’ve read:
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)
The Neruda Case, by Roberto Ampuero (Historical fiction that takes place near Santiago and includes poet Pablo Neruda as one of the main characters.)
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (I love everything she writes!)
The Serialist by David Gordon (Is anyone else frustrated about the free book choices on amazon prime? Meh.)
Candide by Voltaire (This is Tony’s favorite book of all time, so I thought I should read it.)
And now, I’m devouring My Invented Country by Isabel Allende.

My parents visit one week from tomorrow!

Santiago Summer Staycation – First 2 Weeks

It’s January. It’s January. It’s January.

I have to keep telling myself that because it’s almost 90 degrees F outside today with gorgeous blue skies and a gentle breeze. I’m sitting on our balcony sofa, listening to the neighbor kids playing in their pool. School is on summer break for seven weeks. It should be July.

But it’s January.

We made no plans for this vacation, other than enrolling in Spanish classes. Although I get pangs of jealousy when I see friends on Facebook frolicking at beaches in Asia, hiking in southern Chile, or hanging out with family wherever home is, I am cherishing this time as a way to really get to know our home, our neighborhood, and our city.

Here’s what we’ve done so far as tourists in our new hometown:

We like to move it, move it.
Every day, we either take a long walk or hit the bike trails – or both. Sometimes we stroll through our residential neighborhood, occasionally stumbling upon a café we hadn’t seen before or a hidden little park. Sometimes we join the throngs of commuters and tourists in the busier parts of town, window shopping and stopping for ice cream or beer. We bike up Cerro San Cristobal several times a week with Tony going for distance and me going for time (we both beat our personal records yesterday!). On one of our bike rides, I was determined to reach the mountains. They looked so close! But after a very long time on a trail along the man-made Canal San Carlos, the mountains continued to elude us. (“They don’t even look any closer,” Tony said, as we finally turned around to head home.)

In addition to our walks and bike rides, Tony and I continue to sweat our booties off twice a week in our neighborhood park, Plaza Las Lilas, with trainers Anton and Andrea. Here, Anton helps me with my form as I struggle with the suspension training exercises.

Hop On Hop Off.
My friend Brie and I spent Dec. 27 exploring Santiago with the Turistik Hop On Hop Off Bus. Maybe a bit overpriced, the tour nevertheless featured well-marked stops and an informative audio tour in English (as well as Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French).

We first hopped off in Bellavista to catch the funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. As I mentioned, Tony and I cycle that hill regularly, but Brie had never been there and I had never ridden the funicular. So up we went after a short wait in line at the Pio Nono station, which was inaugurated in 1925.

At the top, 820 meters above sea level, several painted crosses line the path up to the statue of Mary, but I couldn’t find any information online about who painted them.

I never get tired of this.

The funicular station at the top.

Heading back down.

As soon as we exited the funicular station at the bottom, we saw the Turistik bus approaching and we hopped back on. Our next stop for disembarking came at Plaza de Armas, the original city center established by Santiago founder Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. I look forward to coming back here to tour the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, the Central Post Office, and the former Royal Palace, which now houses the National History Museum.

At the base of this Christmas tree, there was a life-sized nativity scene. Tourists kept inserting themselves in it for photos, which just seemed wrong.

Among many vendors in the plaza’s park, this photographer snapped pictured of kids posing in costumes on the stuffed horses. Soooo tempting…

Again, it was easy peasy to catch the bus, but we hopped off after a few blocks at Plaza de la Constitución to see the Moneda Palace. The palace was originally a colonial mint; “moneda” is Spanish for coin. It served as the presidential residence for a short time. During the military coup of 1973, troops surrounded and bombarded the palace, where President Allende ultimately took his own life after broadcasting his last speech to the country. Moneda Palace presently serves as the seat of the president and houses several government offices. I’ve since learned about the changing of the guard at the palace, so I’ll be sure to return for that.

By now, Brie and I were getting peckish. Google Maps showed us a nearby restaurant, The Blue Jar, which turned out to be a great choice. We had a nice lunch and even ran into a family from school, who were also touring the city.

Back on the bus, we felt too hot and tired to hop off again, but we both felt the tour offered us a glimpse of Santiago’s hot spots. I’m looking forward to a longer linger.

Masters of public transportation – sort of.
Jonesing for some cherries, I decided we should visit La Vega Central Market. In my quest to master public transportation, I also decided we would take the bus. It was so easy! There’s a bus stop right at the corner of our block. We each have a rechargeable Bip! card, which works on the bus and metro (and, weirdly, even lets me make copies at school), so we caught the turquoise 517, found seats, and cruised straight to the market.

We have also bopped all over town on the metro, with only one peculiar experience. We were waiting for a train, and when it arrived a few people got on and the others in front of us made a solid blockade so nobody else could get by, even though there was plenty of room still on the train. The next train arrived, and it happened again! The third time, we walked around them and boarded the car, which was crowded but not packed. Perplexed, we tossed around some theories … Maybe they were waiting for a train with open seats so they could sit down? Maybe there had been some announcement in Spanish that we didn’t understand?

Anyway, we prepared to exit at our station, but the train zipped right past it.

At the next stop, we jumped off and rode the escalator to street level feeling completely confused. On the walk home, we paused at the pet store to buy cat food. One lady there speaks English, so we told our story and asked why the train didn’t stop at Cristobal Colon. She explained that during certain hours, this metro line runs express trains – red and green – that stop at alternate stations, so you have to get on the green train to stop at Cristobal Colon.
“That’s confusing,” I said.
“It is to us, too,” she said.
“Why do you think those people were blocking us?” I asked.
She shrugged. “There are just people like that, I guess.”
So, mystery partially solved.

Soaring over Santiago.
The same day we bused to the market, we met up with friends, Stella and Ian, and their kids, Mane and Berlin, to master yet another mode of transportation at one of our favorite places in the city. Yes, you guessed it, we were heading back to Cerro San Cristobal, our urban mountain. I have walked, biked, and funicular-ed up this hill, but there was still one way to reach the top that I hadn’t tried: the newly reopened Teleférico Parque Metropolitano, or gondola lift. The gondola opened in 1980, but a series of mechanical malfunctions in 2008 and 2009 shut it down. After an expensive renovation, the system reopened in November.

I stood in a short line to buy tickets, and then we all climbed into a gondola for the 2-kilometer ride.

Without a doubt, the gondola offered the best views of Santiago.

Despite many previous visits to this hill, I had never entered the tiny chapel at the base of the Virgin Mary statue. The little girls and I ran up the steps and sat on the benches in the chapel for a few minutes until the other adults showed up. We tried to figure out the Spanish Bible verses painted on the walls. I can see how this would be a peaceful place of prayer if you weren’t accompanied by two giggly goofballs.

So much museum, so little time!
On Friday, Tony and I took the metro to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Everything was labeled in Spanish, but the English-language audio tour was excellent. In fact, it was so informative that we lost track of time and had to rush through most of the museum or risk being late for our Spanish class. We realize now that this place would take most of a day to appreciate. We’ll be back.

Estudiamos español.
We started Spanish classes on Tuesday at the Goethe Institut, just a 15-minute walk from our apartment. It may seem odd to study Spanish at a German organization, but we had heard good things about the teachers there. In my fantasy world, our class would include fun, outgoing professionals who lived in Santiago and wanted to be our new best friends. In reality, the group comprises mostly shy Chinese businessmen and a couple shy Asian students. However, the teachers really are great, and I already feel more confident using Spanish in our daily life.

Spanish is essential in this city. Here’s an example. Tony took our car to Portillo, the Toyota dealership, Friday morning for routine maintenance. He picked it up Friday evening. On Saturday afternoon, we decided to drive across town to our favorite supermarket. On the highway, a motorcyclist honked and gestured at the back passenger-side tire. I looked in the sideview mirror, and the tire did seem wobbly … but I had never looked at it that way before so I had no basis for comparison. We decided to skip shopping and drive straight to Portillo instead. When another driver honked and pointed, we worried that we shouldn’t continue on the wobbly tire. Tony pulled in to a gas station, and we pondered our options. Obviously, the mechanic at Portillo had screwed up. I wanted them to come fix the problem. I used google translate to write a text, which Tony sent to his contact there, Jorge. He never responded. I called a couple Spanish-speaking friends, who all recommended an English-speaking mechanic, Julio. I called him and interrupted a family party. He was very kind but said he was heading out of town after the gathering. I beseeched him to call Portillo for us, which he did. They refused to send help! Julio must have sensed our desperation because he offered to fix our tire on his way out of town, two hours later. As we waited, feeling guilty and stupid, Tony decided to take a stab at solving the problem himself. He pulled out the car’s manual, figured out the complicated jack, took off the tire and re-attached it – properly this time. I texted Julio to say he didn’t need to come, but thanks anyway, and we resumed our shopping expedition.

So you may be saying, “Well, hey, you got out of that pickle without using Spanish!” But the thing is, I want to be fluent enough to storm into the Portillo office and go bananas on them. I mean, they freakin’ attached the tire wrong! It could have flown off the car in the middle of the highway. And then they refused to help us? Are you kidding me? For now, I can only speak in present tense, and I pretty much only know the vocabulary for describing my family members. But I promise you this: Whether it takes months or even years, I will eventually give Portillo a piece of my mind in Spanish.

Anywho… the staycation continues, and we have plenty of fun on our Santiago bucket list, including a visit from my parents just two weeks from today!

Going Chileno on New Year’s Eve (yellow underpants and all)

The other day, I was reading a book on the balcony when I got a call from Tony. He was out for a walk, looking for a place to get a haircut.

“I am at the Tobalaba metro stop and there are a bunch of stalls selling yellow underwear,” he said. “What is that all about?”

I love this kind of stuff! “Take a picture,” I begged, but he had already walked too far to turn back.

I immediately got online and found out that wearing yellow underwear is just one of many strange New Year’s Eve rituals in Chile. Right then and there, I vowed to do them all. I spent a couple hours researching until I realized all the websites were saying the same thing. The traditions are pretty straightforward, but I struggled to find out the origins. Maybe nobody knows. (Side note: One of the most interesting articles I read about Chilean NYE traditions was unexpectedly found in The China Post.)

Yesterday morning, we made a quick trip to our nearest supermarket to load up on the fixin’s for our traditional Chileno New Year’s Eve. Then we headed out for a bike ride. After all, it’s summer! The ride gave me an opportunity to kick off our celebration, though.

Chile NYE Ritual #1: Wear new clothes!
For Christmas, we gave each other clothes, so this was an easy one. Tony wore his new Adidas T-shirt. I wore my new bike shirt with pockets in the back. That meant I could ride with my phone and pause for a selfie at the top of Cerro san Cristobal.

My new bike shirt pockets meant we could also stop at a street corner on the way home to buy our yellow underwear, and I would have an easy way to transport them home. Apparently, it’s important that your yellow underwear is a gift, so Tony and I parked our bikes in the shade and took turns purchasing panties for each other. You know he loved that, right? This makeshift underpants shop had a surprisingly good selection, but the sizes were whacked. Tony got me size large, and I bought him XXL. Hmmm… maybe they were children’s sizes.

Chile NYE Ritual #2: Wear yellow underwear!
This is what we bought.

Let’s pretend this is me wearing them.

(Ok, I really got that photo from the Daily Mail‘s article about NYE traditions around the world. Don’t worry, I will not post pictures of us in our yellow undies.)

We both stuffed our booties into our respective tiny underpants for the rest of the evening. Why? Some websites claimed the tradition was based on finding love on New Year’s Eve. Others said it was simply a way to garner good luck. There’s actually a website called The Underwear Expert, and it claims yellow underwear is meant to bring happiness and prosperity. Works for me.

Chile NYE Ritual #3: Take your luggage for a walk!
I was pretty psyched to hear about this one. Chile actually has a tradition that promotes travel. How cool is that? If you’re itching to hit the road and hope for an adventure or two in the coming year, you’re supposed to take an empty suitcase for a walk around the block. I’m so there.

Chile NYE Ritual #4: Put money in your shoe!
Legend has it that a luca note (1,000 Chilean pesos or $1.50) in your right shoe will multiply and bring wealth over the next year. I’m sure you’re meant to put the money in your shoe while you’re out partying and painting the town red, but our money and our shoes just sat there all night while we watched Netflix on the balcony. I hope the tradition still pays off.

Chile NYE Ritual #5: Eat 12 grapes!
Officially, you’re supposed to eat one grape for each stroke of the clock at midnight. The grapes represent the months in the coming year, and you make a wish as you eat each one. Obviously, I didn’t wait till midnight to gobble the grapes, but I did take my time and make a wish on each one. I couldn’t find any history behind this ritual, except that it started in Spain. Some websites claim that the flavor of your grape determines the sweetness or sourness of the corresponding month.

Tony doesn’t eat fruit, so he wished on 12 grape-flavored Skittles. He told me this morning his January wish already started coming true. “I wished I would have Skittles every day in January,” he said.

Chile NYE Ritual #6: Eat lentils!
I had to laugh at the supermarket when I realized all the lentil soup was sold out. I was not the only lazy NYE reveler. It was too late for me to buy lentils, soak them, and figure out how to cook them. Not my wheelhouse. Fortunately, I found a packet of instant lentils. My research uncovered various explanations for why lentils might bring luck and good fortune. Several websites claimed lentils look like coins and therefore symbolize money. Another noted the tradition emigrated from Europe, where people would eat a hearty lentil dish to stay warm in the harsh winter. Hardly necessary in sunny Santiago these days! But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Chile NYE Ritual #7: Put a gold ring in your champagne glass!
Prosperity comes to those who drink their New Year’s toast with a gold ring in the glass of bubbly. We plonked our wedding rings (washed first, of course) into the flutes of cheap sparkling Moscato. Our toast came a few hours early, but I’m sure it had the same effect.

Fireworks and all-night dance parties didn’t make the cut for us this year. Also, a local tradition is to eat fish soup for lunch at the central market as a hangover remedy. I did finish off most of that aforementioned Moscato by myself, but I chose to skip the soup ritual. (“If I were hungover, the last thing I’d eat is fish soup,” Tony said. I must concur.)

After all that, the Dents are looking forward to a pretty fantastic 2017. Bring on the health, wealth, and happiness!

Feliz año nuevo, everyone! Any interesting NYE traditions in your home?

Christmases Past and Present

After more than 16 years of living overseas, I often struggle to remember where we went or what we did for any given holiday. Fortunately, I started this blog to act as my memory (a little too late, unfortunately). Sometimes I find it useful to touch base with the Ghost of Christmas Past. In 2012, I recapped all the holiday breaks since our move overseas in “Twelve Years of Christmas.”

Here’s an update.

During our years in India, we had three weeks off between semesters.
2013-14: We visited my sister, Megan, and her family in Seoul, Korea. Check out those posts here. Then we popped by Koh Chang, Thailand on our way home. Check out those posts here.
2014-15: We explored Jordan. Check out those posts here.
2015-16: We traveled to Florida to hang out with my parents and my sister Kate’s family. On our way home, we spent some time in Dubai. Check out those posts here.

In July, we moved to Santiago, Chile. In this hemisphere, our summer break comes in December, which is really messing with our minds! With seven weeks off school between semesters, we didn’t want to head to Michigan like we usually do in the real summer; it’s winter there. Too busy settling in to our new city, home, and jobs, we never made any plans. And so, for this first summer/winter break, we have hunkered down for a Santiago staycation.

So far, so good!