New Country, New Things

There are many, many things about Santiago and Chile and the Southern Hemisphere that are different than our American lifestyle.  Too many things to list, in fact.  One of the misnomers of traveling is the idea that you simply “translate” your life in your new country.  But in fact, you cannot simply translate your life. New money, new history, new language, new customs, new toilets, new flushing directions in toilets, new food, new spaces…the list is possibly endless.  Here’s what you can count on in your new country–they may not do ANYTHING in the same way you do it.

Top Three Bizarre things about life in Chile (so far):

1. Stray dogs.  Santiago is completely FULL of stray dogs.  They are in the street, lying on the sidewalk, in the parks, outside restaurants, EVERYWHERE.  Most of the them are unneutered males and all of them, without exception so far, are non aggressive, sleepy, dazed dogs.  They kind of beg but give up easily.  These dogs are so omnipresent they even have a special name for them: quiltro. Someone explained to us that in fact they aren’t really stray dogs. People who live in the country have dogs that they let roam around their property but when people move to the city they keep up the practice. So, many of these dogs really belong to someone, they just let them roam the streets of Santiago. Hmm.  After almost five weeks of living here they don’t bother us at all anymore.  Well, almost…

2. Nescafe.  Chileans are not fond of drip coffee or espresso. They love their instant coffee.  You can find it virtually anywhere whereas finding a “real” coffee shop can be pretty difficult.  We are lucky. We sniffed out a “real” espresso stand/coffee shop directly across the street from our school.  Needless to say, we are now over caffeinated as we try and make-up for our first two weeks of Nescafe-only-mornings.  We are also quite popular at our language school as we’ve shared the good news about the availability of real coffee with all the Europeans who look utterly dazed and confused every morning.

3. Food. Yes, food. Now, I realize that I’m a food snob/foodie/food guru/naturalist/etc.  But still. And I do not exaggerate here, it is nearly impossible to find good food here.  I’m not talking about eating out. I’m talking about grocery stores and rituals and customs.  We have yet to find juice that does not have sugar added or even color added.  Organic meat? Cannot locate. Plain Greek yogurt with no sugar added? Nada.  On our first night Josh went out and bought pre-formed hamburger patties. The ingredient list was 20 items long. The food movement Continue reading


What We Miss

Besides the obvious–friends & family–we miss other things that may surprise people.

1. WORK. The great American or Adult fantasy is often to not work. I know because I’ve had this fantasy ever since I started my career after college. Maybe it’s unique to Americans (or, as a few Chileans have suggested to me, United Statesians) because we have such dismal time off policies. We have amazing work ethic but a lackluster life ethic (thank you Audra). But the reality of having a massive chunk of time off is that one often feels unanchored, unproductive, and unhappy. Of course, our “work” here is learning Spanish and being good and productive students–besides the obvious constant and important job of parenting three small children. But…no “work.” This phenomenon is hardest on my husband who truly enjoys his career & has struggled here in Chile to make sense of his time and days and to feel productive. It is a blessing for him to know a bit what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom–that while I have work I also sometimes feel unanchored and unproductive. What a wake up call to realize how reliant we are on work and others to help us feel valuable. Josh has spent some time with colleagues here in Santiago just talking through some ideas and he always comes home vibrant and refreshed. What a gift to realize how much you love your work. It makes me realize even more how smart companies are to offer sabbaticals!

2. SPACE. We have a lovely apartment that is grand and spacious compared to most here in Santiago. But it is still teeny tiny compared to our Western rural American life. Specifically, our kitchen here is unmotivating. We eat out a lot. We don’t cook interesting or inspired dishes. Food has been demoted to almost a necessity. And we compensate by eating ridiculous amounts of sweets and drinking far too much coffee. We also have almost NO personal space when out in public. Side note: And every time I get on the metro my face itches. And I have to scream at myself (in my head, of course) DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE! Because we are packed into the metro and I’m holding on to bars and railings and am absolutely covered in germs. WTF.

3. BEING A PART. Even though we are out and about amongst the people here in Santiago, we never really feel A PART of the city or the people. We are, and feel like, foreigners who don’t really get it or know what’s going on. For example, we see signs and advertisements for things but never stop to fully translate them. At home in the States information is just absorbed because we see-read-know in an instant. As a foreigner, this does not happen. We miss 99% of the opportunities here. This helps me to see how helpful it would be to offer information in other languages at home–not to discourage people from learning English but to include them in our community. I don’t believe anyone likes being a foreigner and not being a part of the community.

We’ve reached the hysterical stage of our adventure. The stage when we laugh at ourselves (ok, to be honest, AND Chileans) all day long and think–and sometimes say to each other–“what the fuck?”, and then smile and nod some more because we have NO IDEA what these people are saying. Yes. You read that right. In the protected environment of our school we understand everything. And even out and about I can read, I can write and I can speak Spanish and actually accomplish things. But, um, when they speak to me….? No clue.

Oh well.


To be clear, here are the stages of culture shock:
1. Sit on couch and cry
2. Grimace and get through the day/moment/minute/week (pretend you’re not secretly counting down the days until you can go home and resume your typical American life)
3. Everything is hysterical

I’ll let you know what the next stage is when we figure it out.




A Typical Day

Our life here in Santiago is different than our life in Yakima, Washington. For many reasons–both obvious and not.

Monday-Friday we are all in “school.”

We get up around 7:00am and are out the door by 8:15am.  Thank God this apartment came with a “normal” coffee machine. Chileans love their Nescafe; we, decidedly, do not. We have about a half mile walk to the kids’ jardin infantil “Tamborcito” and so we load up in our double stroller–which often becomes a triple stroller with one additional child sitting on the front.  We get a lot of curious looks from Chileans everyday. Three children. Sometimes I “wear” Lennox but she always pulls her pudgy little baby arm out of the carrier and waves at all of the pour souls stuck in traffic (or tacos, as they say in Chile).

After we drop off the kids to their respective classes, we walk back about a half mile to our Spanish Immersion school, ECELA. We have conversation class from 9:00-10:45 and then grammar class from 11:00-12:45. The best instructors teach solely in Spanish using a wide variety of synonyms and pantomiming to make sure all of us understand the concepts.  On Fridays we have only conversation which is from 9:00-12:45 with a small break. In our three weeks of school we’ve had several different teachers and now have a few favorites. We’re mulling over taking a few private lessons in the afternoons–if our brains don’t explode.  Most of the time when we’re in school we feel wicked smart. Then we leave school and try and interact with Chileans. Ha!  When people speak at normal speeds we can almost understand 30% of what they’re saying. Ok, maybe 35%.  The entire process can be demoralizing.  But then I recall that when we landed in Santiago four weeks ago–FOUR WEEKS!–I didn’t speak Spanish well enough to get out of the airport.

Language school is exhausting. Bone tired. Want to cry tired.  Feeling desperate tired.  I don’t remember the last time I used my brain in this way. And FOR SURE the last time I did use my brain this way my brain was much, much younger.  I am concentrating so hard in school and when I’m doing day-to-day things like ordering a coffee. Getting a haircut or going grocery shopping requires not just an acute concentration on language but also on culture and custom. Everything is different. And yet, everything that really matters is the same.  But sometimes it is very hard to recognize the latter.

We pick up the kids after lunch and head home for naps. The kids are as exhausted as we are. New environment, language, culture, food, teachers, friends…there is a lot to absorb here.  I took a nap today that was simply delicious. I deserved it.

Too many days after naps (ver 4:30) we just play in the apartment because gearing up again and taking three small children out into the city just seems too hard.  We do have a nice green space just a block from the apartment where the kids marvel at a huge fountain–our own mini Bellagio sin music.

We have found a good babysitter who watches the kids 2-3 times a week so we can have “date night” and explore the city. News flash–small children are not good tourists.  We are also leaving them at school longer hours one day a week to have some adult time. This is good for everyone.

When Saturday morning rolls around we drag our bodies out of bed and sit on the couch and drink far too much coffee.  We have language-culture-city hangovers.  All we really want to do is relax (and check out) but we usually get out and about at least for part of the day.

Such is life in Santiago, Chile. Five more weeks of sabbatical!





Language Barriers_1 (because, duh, there will be many more “episodes” to post)

One of the BEST things about traveling is the language barrier.  For example, when I lived in Paris 1999-2000 there came a moment when I spoke French so well that I really could communicate with anyone. Anyone!  It really was a fine moment in my life.  I had such confidence.  My sweet French roommate Estelle, who contributed greatly to my French learning since she refused to speak English with me (EVER), invited me to go with her to Poitiers, France to visit her grandmother. Now, this is her beloved grandmother. Who she speaks of every single day. This grandmother lived on a working farm where Estelle’s uncles also worked alongside many hired hands.  When we arrived I could tell right away that everyone was really excited that Estelle was there and that she brought her American roommate with her.  They were so curious about me and American culture and American life.  Grandma showed us around the farm, around the house, before we all sat down at three long picnic tables off the kitchen.  Everyone came in from the fields for this lovely lunch with Estelle and her American roommate.  And I had center stage. CENTER!  They asked me about movie stars.  And guns.  And politics.  And Bill Clinton’s escapades.  And then we turned towards calmer waters; what was my own grandmother like? Where did she live? What did she do?  I remarked that many, many things are similar in America.  Everyone was listening to me with rapt attention. They were all slowly eating while I spoke in my magnificent French, “for instance, my grandmother also has freezers like grandma here in France….freezers full of…” (now, I’ll just digress here a moment to tell you a secret–lots of words in French are the same in English, just spoken with a French accent.  Lots of words that end in –ion or –ive for instance. So, because I was so advanced in my French at this moment, I dug around in my brain for the word for food that you freeze. Preservatives. That must be it. Now, back to the story…) …”freezers full of preservatives!” SILENCE.  “Preservatives!”  ODDLY SILENT AND NO EATING.  “PRESERVATIVES!” I now notice that Estelle is bright red and is slowly shaking her head, “non” to me.  Meanwhile I’m thinking, what is wrong with these people?  One of Estelle’s uncles then asks me, in beautiful French, “do they work better that way?” And it is then that I realize that I have been shouting–SHOUTING–“condoms!” “condoms!” “CONDOMS!” at these utterly divine French people.  Needless to say I think the fine people of Poitiers are still laughing about that funny little American who insisted her grandmother had freezers full of condoms.  And, for the record, my own grandmother LOVED that story.   Language barriers.

So, here we are in 2014 and I still haven’t learned much. I scheduled to get my hair cut and colored yesterday and instead of preparing my vocabulary ahead of said adventure, I took a nap. A NAP!  Now, my Spanish is absolutely shit compared to my French and so I didn’t enter the salon with any bravado. In fact, I was quite sheepish because I realized while on the way to the salon I didn’t even know how to say “cut” in Spanish.  Or specific colors to describe the kind of highlights I wanted. Or layers. Or not too short. Or shorter.  Or darker. Or lighter. Or really even WTF are you doing to my head?  So…I did in fact get highlights and a haircut. But…you could say it wasn’t a typical salon experience for me. mmmm.  Not exactly.







Wanderlust: How I Became a Traveler

People often ask, how did this travel thing begin? Why do you want to travel? Where have you been before? The answer is pretty straightforward. Although I was raised by parents who didn’t have the means to travel my mother had a baby brother and a baby sister who were famous in my household for their international exploits.  This aunt and uncle seemed mythical to me as I grew up–popping in to visit us from around the world where they were studying, traveling, biking, living.  (My uncle lives in Kyoto, Japan and my aunt lived in New Zealand until she died).  I grew up just kind of assuming that I would, at the very least, backpack Europe during college. Taking a backpacking trip seemed obligatory to me as part of my college experience.  And it was.   Except my “one obligatory backpack Europe trip” turned into many, many adventures (and cost me lots and lots of money plus interest as many, many almost all of these adventures were financed).  The summer between my sophomore and junior year of college my childhood best friend Carmen and I took off for 2 months of train travel across Europe with nothing but our backpacks, passports and good American attitudes.  I have more stories from that trip than can fit on this blog and so I’ll keep most of them to myself, for now.  They are typical American backpacking stories and they are extraordinary backpacking stories. But after that first trip, I was hooked.  Like a hormone-driven teenager, I could not get enough--travel, that is.

The following January, I found a cheap ticket from Seattle to Paris ($350 rt) and took off for Paris solo during winter break.  The following March was my 21st birthday and my mom and I celebrated with a vacation to Wales where my (previously mentioned) baby aunt lived.  The following summer I studied abroad with an ASU honors college program for 6 weeks in London, Edinburgh and Dublin.  During our three day weekends I traveled to Wales again, to Glasgow (where my baby aunt had attended veterinarian school and had some good friends who hosted me), to Galway, and, against my professors’ wishes, to Belfast (alone, during July, the month of  the “troubles”).  When the program ended, I backpacked around Eastern Europe.  The following summer I spent A MONTH driving around Ireland and Northern Ireland and that next fall I found myself studying at La Sorbonne in Paris.  I WAS HOOKED.  Seriously.  But here is why I love traveling: cultural capital. Information. Steep learning curves. Perspective. FOOD. PEOPLE. LIFE.

To date, my adventures:

Mexico (duh)

Canada (double duh)



France (favorite)









Czech Republic




Northern Ireland


Turkey (second favorite)

New Zealand

Puerto Rico (just foreign enough to count)


Hong Kong


South Africa


Where next?

My bestie Robin and I have decided that we are going to celebrate our 20 year friendversary (friendship anniversary–why should we only celebrate romantic anniversaries?) by kicking off an annual “girls trip” somewhere fantastically foreign.  Our inaugural trip will also coincide with our 40th birthdays–only a month apart–in the spring of 2016.   Where should we go?




Cajón del Maipo

Last weekend we were invited by our new friend Francisco (Josh has a Yakima-based colleague who employs Francisco, a Chilean, to do design work for machines that Josh often sells as complimentary equipment to Giro machines) to spend time with him and his family in Cajón del Maipo—a place worthy of its fame and reputation. We were delighted—both in an escape from the city and the chance to speak lots of Spanish! He traded cars around and he and his girlfriend Jimena even managed to pick up all five of us including all three children in their bulky, big, un-easy American car seats and drive us out to his parent’s home. Now. His parents live on a golden little piece of property that is surrounded by rising hills that look somewhat like Santa Barbara, CA and the outskirts of Phoenix. But somehow prettier and more sensual. They even have a swimming pool and a little yurt separate from the main house where we slept. It was fantastic. It was lovely. It was the kind of weekend that I know we will talk about for the rest of our lives. We were gobbled up by this family. Francisco and his sister (a pediatric neurologist) have yet to bless their parents with grandchildren. Francisco’s mother LOVES children. Before retiring, Christina ran a daycare. She marvels in children. She is warm and loving and funny and everything a foreigner like me wants when I’m struggling to feel like my children are safe and secure. Francisco’s father LOVES children. Victor teased Francisco all weekend about his great need for grandchildren; that all he had left were his dogs. He would take Carter’s hand and they would go and look at the orchard, at the garden, at the pool. Our three children were loved on by the spirit of all grandmas and grandpas from the world over last weekend.

And we needed that. And so did they.

And we needed the wine and the food—THE FOOD!—and the conversation. We had a typically late Chilean BBQ dinner that started at 8:30pm and lasted until far past 10. I even managed to joke and be a bit of myself in Spanish during dinner. Oh, what joy that is! When we finally all got ready to go to bed, Christina asked me what time our kids normally get up in the morning? 6:30. And I said it with regret. Yes, I did. Because I knew this sweet grandma-wanna-be was NOT going to be pleased to get up at that hour. And indeed she proceeded to show me where all of the food was for breakfast so I could help myself in the morning.

We slept in the yurt. Kind of. Those kids. Too excited to be sleeping all in one big room. Big kids in one big bed together. Giggling and carrying on until much, much too late. And of course they made me a liar. They were up at 5:30. FIVE thirty.

And so we boiled some water, drank our Nescafe (Chileans LOVE their instant coffee; we do NOT) and tried to keep the kids quiet and entertained in our yurt. Around 7 I ventured out to the main house and hit the kitchen for cereal bars for the kids and hard boiled eggs for me and Josh. At 8:00 we ventured into the house and sat at the nicely laid breakfast table and had bread, honey, and hard boiled eggs all the while insisting the kids whisper. EVERYONE else in the WHOLE ENTIRE house was STILL ASLEEP.

When Christina got up around 9:00 she asked me what I wanted for breakfast. Because I had not yet learned to speak in the past tense—this was Sunday, I’d learn it at language school Monday—nor did I know how to say “already” I could not, for the life of me, explain to her that I had already eaten breakfast. TWO TIMES.

And so. We had eggs for breakfast For the third time. And I loved them.

Later that day we drove up into the mountains and experienced the awe of the Andes that people always talk about. Francisco’s father Victor had somehow received a special pass to drive up into a normally closed area where there were no people, no traffic, no houses, just a long straight road straight up a canyon that seemed to go forever. There were herds of goat and sheep, guarded by dogs but no people. There was the constant muddy river flowing beside the gravel road. The Andes are barren, dramatic, and shocking mountains that seem to rise straight up from the floor with no warning, no foothills. They angle upwards in dangerous and awesome ways. The colors of the rocks are breathtaking. These aren’t my mountains. They aren’t my husband’s. We are children born of the Colorado Rockies and the lush Washington Cascades. And still. These mountains are so severe and desolate and incredible. We saw Andean Condors—several—and could not believe how massive they were. We stumbled upon a ghost town with one lone tree and terrace upon terrace of beautifully made stone staircases that led nowhere. I was quite taken by the staircases. I marveled at them. They were so beautifully made and were literally all that was left of what must have been a village built for workers—long since departed. Christina had, of course, packed a delicious picnic lunch and we ate under the unforgiving skies of the South American sunshine, shifting to stay in the shade of the tree.

We slept all the way back to Christina and Victor’s. And then we all swam in the chilly pool in the late afternoon sun and smiled long and slow smiles. And I wanted to hold that weekend in my mind forever. And I hope I do.







A Rant. A Shift.

So, here’s the deal, I’ve traveled before. And by travel, I mean, TRAVEL.   20 countries? 30? I’m not sure. But I’ve been out and about in the world before and so my complete and utter cavalier attitude about our trip to Santiago? Warranted, right? I’ll also freely admit that every time some asshole friend of ours would suggest we were biting off more than we could chew I’d get even MORE cavalier and MORE certain it would all be fine. Your doubts are like a dare to me.

But, so, I can be humble. I can admit when I’m wrong.

We had three surprisingly easy flights: Yakima-Seattle-Dallas-Santiago.   Our kids are 15 months, 4 and 5.5 years old and they were CHAMPIONS. They never screamed, slept most of the 10 hour flight to Santiago and were, in general, great sports. Our first clue that Chileans love children is when we were ushered through a VIP line for passport control ahead of hundreds of other weary travelers. Seriously. The government agent GUSHED over our kids. If she had stickers or suckers she would have handed them out. Have you ever gone through passport control anywhere ever and had them be more than stern and unpleasant looking? Me neither.

Grabbed our bags, our kids, found our van, got to our apartment and snacked and slept.

Then we looked around a bit. And I slowly began to disintegrate. And by disintegrate I mean uncharacteristic, debilitating anxiety. I couldn’t stay in the apartment; I couldn’t leave the apartment; my kids aren’t safe; we’re ruining our kids; how can we live here; I can’t sleep; I’m starving; the food is gross; where is all the good fucking food?; there’s going to be an earthquake; why won’t the kids behave? Is this what culture shock feels like? Is it because of my advanced age, as my husband has humorously suggested? I’m no longer some freewheeling 20something hitchhiking in Turkey. WHAT IS THIS FEELING?

The apartment is in a very undesirable part of town. Noisy, dirty, poor, lots of construction, tiny sidewalks and ridiculously fast traffic. Reasonable for me to have some anxiety, right? Have you ever met my 5yo son? The one who can be standing perfectly still and all of a sudden he is sprawled on the ground four feet away because, well, because he’s a puppy-boy and his feet got in the way or there was a grasshopper or …? And here we are walking down narrow sidewalks with no barrier to extremely fast traffic and he doesn’t understand why his mother is losing her shit mind about him not holding her hand.

Or our daughter Quin. Oh, lovely Quin. Boundaries you say? Let me push them. And the mellowest baby in the world who takes two naps and goes to bed with no crying, no fussing? Not sure where she disappeared to. So, we’ve had some rough moments with our otherwise darling children.

The apartment is small. Ok, we can live with that. But it is also UNSAFE for our kids. Here’s something I never thought of before Santiago…how unsafe is an 11th story balcony to three adventurous children? Or big bedroom windows with no screens that open up to…AIR 11 floors up? Especially when we need to open said windows as it gets hotter and hotter and hotter here in spring-summer Santiago? Yeah, you can see why it is reasonable for me to have some anxiety.

These past 10 days have been surreal. The layers of culture shock are many: jet lag, enormous city, different language, different culture, tiny apartment, new schools, bus, metro, walking, walking, walking, dog poop everywhere, eating out almost every dinner (because we’re not creative enough to cook in our teeny, tiny, miniscule kitchen), grocery shopping (where I’ve found ONE gluten free thing), upset kids and whacked out (yeah, that’s the best descriptor I could come up with) parents. I walk around all day wondering what is wrong with me. Here I am in Santiago feeling like I need to be medicated because all of a sudden keeping my children safe and alive seems ENORMOUS. And I’m supposed to relax long enough to LEARN SPANISH and ENJOY MYSELF?


The best three hours of the day are in our Spanish immersion school where I have discovered I LOVE learning. And guess what, Spanish is similar to French. Our kids are in a lovely daycare a 15 minute walk away and they are adjusting well. Of course, I bawled like a baby the first day I dropped them off until I realized they were safe and happy.

Most importantly, Chileans are friendly and interested in us. Every day someone stops to talk with us, to learn about us, to help us. EVERYONE loves our kids. I have slowly repeated “estoy aprendiendo espanol” everywhere I go prior to muddling out a half English, half Spanish sentence. People are so willing to help and correct my sentences and repeat and repeat and repeat when necessary. They have a twinkle in their eye as I slowly state my needs or interests. Almost every word that comes out of my mouth though seems to first form itself in French, then English, and then finally Spanish.   And we LOVE SPANISH and the kids are starting to speak it organically.

We are solution oriented. We’ve found a new, much larger apartment with a balcony and windows that have safety nets (common here in Santiago) and is in a much nicer neighborhood and walking distance to both schools.   Next week we will not walk 15 minutes, take a bus for 15 minutes, then walk another 15 minutes to school every morning and every afternoon (yeah, ok, so I also underestimated the stress of commuting).   I’m ok with the fact that I’m not a badass traveler anymore; it’s ok that I want to be in a shiny part of town where we all feel safer and happier.

We are laughing again. My husband is all of a sudden really funny again. My kids are endearing again. I’m sleeping. We just ordered sushi for delivery again (baby steps). My husband and I sit and do homework together every night. It’s kind of cute. We are embracing being the village idiots. We are living inside Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day (please read it if you love me). We just calculated that if all five of us in our Spanish class were let loose in the city that together we’d manage to speak Spanish almost as well as a small child, maybe not a school aged child, but for sure a preschooler.

Sushi is here. Spanish homework after. And tomorrow will be even better.