expat life

another book: a cup of culture

Looking for a last-minute Christmas present? I highly recommend the book A Cup of Culture, now available on Amazon (both paperback and Kindle versions) — and not just because I wrote part of it! The book is a wonderful collection of essays written by expats about life in a different culture. What ties everything together is food: each essay has some food component, and recipes are included. What’s not to love?

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Some friends and family members of mine have already received their own copies of A Cup of Culture, and they’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have (that or they’re all really good liars…). It is a fun read about life overseas — and sometimes in some pretty strange places — and the different culinary experiences people have there. Unlike the last book to which I contributed, this one really will appeal to a wide range of readers.

If you read it, let me know what you think!

it’s been a minute

… since I actually wrote something here. Sorry about that.

I am sitting in the corner of one of my favorite coffee shops, wondering how to write a post that will bring my blog back to life. Or really what to write in such a post. There is so much to say I don’t know where to start, even if being in the coffee shop inspires me to write. The couple at the table to the right of me is speaking Serbian, and hearing them distracts me from my eavesdropping on the Italian ladies discussing their dinner plans. True story. We’re surrounded by people from all over and although I’m glad I have a smattering of French, I sometimes think the bits and pieces I know of other languages end up being just as helpful.

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We are now well into our second year living in Brussels: I really can’t believe it has been fourteen months (and counting) since our Belgian adventure began. I’m not sure if the honeymoon phase ever really left because I am constantly discovering new things and enjoying it all — almost. There are definitely some things of which I am decidedly not a fan, but as frustrating as they can be, I’m able to remind myself that I’ll only be here a couple more years, and then they don’t bother me quite so much. Usually.

I had grand plans of keeping this more up to date when we moved to Brussels, thinking that a dark, damp winter, combined with a husband working long hours would leave me with plenty of time to write posts I could put out later, when life was busier. But I didn’t anticipate how busy I would be during that dark, damp winter and those long, husband-less days. For one thing, we’ve had a steady stream of visitors, and even if a visitor or two wasn’t at our apartment, there has almost always been at least one on the horizon, which of course meant preparing and planning.

For another, we’ve really tried to embrace life in Western Europe and have been doing a lot of traveling — while that gives me lots of fodder for the blog, the planning and the executing of these trips takes up a lot of time and energy… And I’m not always up for recounting everything right away, as much as I should. Some trips I hope to highlight on here include lots of wine tourism to Alsace, Champagne, Burgundy, and Germany’s Mosel Valley.

We also took two very big trips recently: back to the States for some family time and (as you may have seen on the last snapshot sunday) all the way to Hawaii for the wedding of some friends. The travel for that trip in particular was brutal — and made much worse by United Airlines’ incompetence — but our time with friends in Hawaii was truly magical.

My professional life has also taken a turn for the more exciting: in addition to freelance projects (including a chapter in another book! More on that soon because really, it’s a great book!), I started a full time, work-in-an-office position last spring that has kept me very busy and also makes me want to have a break from my computer when I get home. And so the blog suffers. But here’s to hoping my blogging drive continues as the days are indeed getting darker and I’m more likely to want to be curled up and writing somewhere cozy…

the 14 of 2014: new neighbors

Life as an expat is invariably full of ups and downs, and it is the people who really make the difference when it comes to how those ups and downs impact one’s overall life experience. As we’re nearing the end of our second tour, I’ve realized what a gift making a true friend is, particularly in this lifestyle. As someone who has a fur baby but not a human one, I am often on the outside, and keenly feel the cliques that are rooted in having children of a similar age. There are some really nice people here but as the only spouse at post without either kids and or a job, I am perhaps more aware of how cliquey these cliques can be than they are themselves.

So when we finally received new neighbors in the final apartment in our building, after it had been empty for months, I was excited for the possibilities of making a new friend (as I always am when a new person comes to post, but wouldn’t it be so nice to have a friend living right next door?!). We were away when our new neighbors moved in, but I managed to catch up with the wife and her daughter a few days later, as I went over to introduce myself, welcome them to post, and give the girl a box of the incredibly popular Serbian cookie, Plasma.

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flowers from a brunch we hosted for some newcomers

We bonded over the quirks of our apartments and I told her to feel free to call me up for anything she might need, no matter how big or small. To my delight, she actually did! When I offer to help, I really mean it, and I was thrilled that she took my offer at face value. I like to be helpful and I really love living here so I particularly like to help people get settled in and learn about what a great place we get to live in here in Belgrade.

One of their first weekends here, her sister was in town, and Grant was gone, so I spent the majority of each weekend day with my new neighbors, checking out downtown, shopping, and just hanging out. Needless to say, Grant and I feel very lucky such a great family moved in next door, and we always love whatever time we spend with them. Sometimes, I feel like I’m back in college, like when I get a late-night text for a meeting in the hallway leading to the garage so we can exchange garlic/olive oil/flower/that thing one of us borrowed, where we inevitably stand, whispering, for much longer than the quick exchange required.

I am grateful for every friend I have made in this life, and particularly when I realize how unlikely it is that I would have met any of these wonderful people if my life had gone in a different direction, and I am so happy such a nice, fun family moved in right next door. Given the chance, I will still complain about not living downtown, but I feel much less like doing so now that we have friends living a couple feet away!

the 13 of 2013: bagels

In 2013, I learned to make bagels from scratch.  This may seem like an insignificant accomplishment to many Americans, but trust me, this was a big deal. When living abroad, other than friends and family, food is the big thing that people tend to miss. The US is really the only place in the world where bagels are actually bagels. Sometimes I see signs advertising bagels, only to be disappointed when the “bagel” is just a roll with a hole in the middle. But now I can make my own!

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coffee morning highlights

Happy weekend! Doing anything interesting? I’ve been having a lovely, lazy Saturday, following a busy week. After spending all of Thursday in the kitchen, baking (cinnamon rolls, bagels, mini quiche, coffee cake, acorn cakelets, brownies), I hosted a coffee morning on Friday. It was a lot of fun, and there were a couple of highlights I found to be particular to the Foreign Service and/or life as an expat:

  • Bagels. Yes, I made bagels. As anyone who has been out of the US for an extended period of time knows, bagels are only available in the States. I have no idea why, but it is true. I’ve seen them advertised elsewhere — here in Belgrade, in Budapest, for example — but whatever those things were, they weren’t bagels as we know them. Needless to say, the bagels were a big hit.
  • Slip covers. After a lot of thinking and weeks of research, we got slip covers to out on our State Department-issued Drexel Heritage couch and loveseat. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, we had the green and gold ones. The fabric options for the Drexel Heritage furniture are notoriously bad and most certainly not neutral. While I didn’t find these to be particularly offensive, they made our already light-deprived downstairs look even darker. But now we have light beige/oat colored furniture, thanks to Ikea’s Ektorp line, and what a difference they’ve made! Almost all of yesterday’s attendees commented on them, and most we’re very eager to find out where I had found them. The fit isn’t perfect, but it is good enough and I finally feel like we’re putting our own stamp on things
  • One of our new rugs.This one is in our living area, and it is both gorgeous and unique. And we got it here. Not Uzbekistan; here, in Belgrade. I have a post-in-progress about buying it, so look for that soon.

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