Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Delight of My First Real Snowstorm in 5 Years

I've been waiting 5 years for a day like today. Last night, just as I was about to leave work, I spied few big beautiful fluffy snowflakes starting to fall from the sky, so I called the kids over to the window to see. Their gleeful grins and shouts of delight matched my own--the first snow of the year is a magical moment, one that I haven't been able to experience since 2010.

The snow started to fall more thickly as I drove home, flakes obscuring my view and whizzing past the windshield like stars past the Milennium Falcon, and yet I couldn't keep the smile off of my face. Finally, my favorite season is here--winter!

This morning when I woke up, I rushed to my bedroom window to find the scene below transformed, wiped clean, made perfect by the snow. So many times in the years I was away from home I'd dreamed of being able to have that exact moment of waking up to find the world outside blanketed in white, and experiencing it now I felt like a little kid again, made giddy by the snow.

Like Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), snow and I have a history that goes WAY back. Some of my life's biggest moments have happened in the snow, including the day I was born. Maybe that's why I feel such a deep connection with snow, but all I know is that it fills my heart with a joy few other things do.

So during those 5 years that I was living in Europe without snow, I tried to appreciate the winter walks on the beach in the sun, or the days I could go outside in no more than just a sweater. But really, my soul was aching for a day like today.

A day where I went downstairs to make myself a hot beverage and found my mom stuffing a turkey and baking Christmas cookies. One where I spent the whole morning in the kitchen with her, licking batter-filled beaters and eating cookies fresh out of the oven. One where I watched the snow fall outside the cozy kitchen, measuring it as the day went on (16 in or 41cm by the time it stopped). One where we were snowed in and felt no pressing need to leave the snug warm house all day long.

I'd been nervous in the past few weeks, anticipating the cold of my first real winter since 2010. But I'd completely forgotten the delight that winter brings, the enjoyment of putting up Christmas lights and drinking hot cocoa and sledding and skiing and building snowmen and spending quality time inside with family.

It's so cliché, but for me it's absolutely true--winter is the most wonderful time of the year, and right now I'm so glad to be at home in this winter wonderland.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Snapshots of Autumns Past and Autumn Present

I've already talked in here about how overly interested I am in autumn colors. Even though those are totally gone here now, I haven't quite gotten over wanting to look at them. The other day, while looking at old photos, I kept going back to the ones that featured beautiful fall scenes in various places I've been in the world, and I really wanted to share (mostly because my wanderlust is pretty epic right now and the only cure seems to be reminding myself of my awesome past travels). But since there are so many lovely autumn vistas from such different points in time, with about a million stories to go along with them, I started to feel overwhelmed about trying to write a blog post that could do them all justice! As I just don't have the ganas to do that at the moment, and since I'd also like to give an idea of how my life is going right now, I'm just going to let you all look at the pretty fall pictures while I give a written snapshot of my lately.

Bermeo, Basque Country (Spain)

Recently, I've been:

Reading: El Príncipe Caspian (Prince Caspian), of the Narnia series, en español. I read all these books when I was a kid and really loved them, so when I found a copy of one in Spanish at the local used bookstore, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to relive old times while also brushing up on my castellano (necessary now that I'm a Spanish teacher)! I don't get a lot of other opportunities to stretch my Spanish vocabulary these days, so I'm glad I'll always have books to help me out.

Somewhere in the Highlands (Scotland)

Listening to: I'm almost embarrassed to admit this...the Frozen soundtrack, en français. What, it's empowering to sing along to Liberée, delivrée as I drive to work, and at least I'm not forgetting all the French I once knew! Can't help being a #languagenerd4life (plus, you know, a regular nerd as well).

Denali National Park, Alaska (USA)

Worrying about: How to get good, cheap health insurance in the States. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but after living in Europe for 5 years I've become used to not paying an arm and a leg to maintain my health. This is one of the things that drives me craziest about America, that nobody seems to have figured this out here yet. Yes, Obamacare is trying to make things better, but even that is confusing and kind of a mess. Help?

Vigo, Galicia (Spain)

Trying to: Properly equip myself for the coming winter. I have to spend several hours outside every day now for work, and while we've had suerte with the weather so far, the forecast says it may snow sometime in the next week. On the one hand, YAY pretty snow, on the other, OH NO I don't have any good boots and wet frozen feet are the worst. Boo.

Stratford-Upon-Avon (England)

Watching: Jane the Virgin. The reintroduction of Netflix into my life has brought a sudden burst of knowledge about currently popular TV shows. While in Europe, I barely watched TV and never had any idea about what the good new shows were, but now that I'm back and consumerism has invaded my life, I've become addicted to shows like Jane the Virgin. I feel both silly that I'm so into a dramatic telenovela and at the same time completely invested in what crazy incidents next week's show will bring. At least one of the characters only speaks in Spanish, so I'm technically practicing?

Bayona, Galicia (Spain)

Eating: Kielbasa. I've been very into Polish things lately, after my second visit to the country this past summer. It was a nice way to connect with my roots, as I, like so many Illinoisians, have a certain amount of Polish ancestry. Since that is a common ethnicity in this area, there are a fair number of traditional Polish goods in the grocery stores here. So I've been stuffing my face to my heart's content with kielbasa (Polish sausage) and not thinking twice about it.

Porto (Portugal)

Craving: real bread, good coffee, tortilla española, crunchy müesli, and a million more things! There is just nowhere around here that can make a baguette that tastes anything like actual bread. American sliced bread is just so...sugary! I'd really love a crusty slice of fresh warm baguette with some beurre salé spread on top. Oh, that's another thing...good butter! We always want what we can't have, I know. Last year at this time I desperately wanted a piece of real deep-dish pizza. Now all I can think about is quality European food made with fresh ingredients. C'est la vie. 

Cañones do Sil, Galicia (Spain)

Missing: My friends over on the other side of the pond. I have good friends here too, of course, but a lot of Americans just don't identify with my stories about voyaging through Europe and speaking foreign languages, and I miss seeing the people that I shared good times with over there. I don't know when I'll be back on that continent again, unfortunately, but maybe I can convince some of them to come visit me over here?

Reykjavik (Iceland)

Wishing: I could figure out how to validate my Master's from abroad in the United States. I swear to god, if this process were any less organized or streamlined, I would think I was back in Spain! None of it makes any sense and every time I try to figure anything out I get super overwhelmed by the inconsistent and unclear information and have to stop before I start hyperventilating. Fun fun.

Saint-Malo, Bretagne (France)

Planning: Some fun personalized gifts for Christmas. Yes, already! Creating interesting gifts takes time, and I am nothing if not a perfectionist. I just hope I can get them all done before the big day. Only 38 days to go!

Munich, Bavaria (Germany)

Grateful: I have my family around to support me during this transition period. Without them, I'd be in serious trouble, so I can't thank them enough for helping me get on my feet while I adjust to being back in the States.

Munich, Bavaria (Germany)

Waiting for: The pretty snow to come and cover up all the ugly bare trees and dead grass. Yes, the snow will be cold and wet and a pain to clean off my car before work in the dark, but it will improve the outdoor aesthetic so much! Plus, then it'll be possible to go snowboarding and make snowmen and all those other wonderful winter activities!

Passau, Bavaria (Germany)

Excited about: A Thanksgiving trip to visit my sister in West Virginia. Of course, I've been there many times before, but I'm really excited to have a chance to do even the most miniscule amount of traveling. It will be so nice to break routine for a few days and see some new scenery, as well as spend time with family!

Salzburg (Austria)

Loving: Having access to a car again. Freedom! It's so wonderful to not have to beg your friends to take you places, or try to figure out cheap public transportation options to get anywhere, or walk dozens of kilometers with heavy groceries in hand.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria (Germany)

Wanting: A new camera. I'm thinking about finally taking the plunge and buying myself a nice DSLR camera sometime soon, once I save up enough money. I'm excited to play with all the fun settings and to finally be able to take the pictures I've been trying to force my point-and-shoot to take for years!

El Escorial, Madrid (Spain)

Hoping: I can squeeze some more travels in sometime between now and the end of May (when the school year finishes). I spend half my time nowadays drooling over other people's travel pictures, and I feel like if I don't get out somewhere new in the next few months, I'll burst!

Phoenix, Arizona (USA)

Feeling: Saddened by all the violence happening lately around the world. While it's hard to imagine terrorists attacking France, a country so near to my heart, it is also hard to know that there are other attacks every day around the world being ignored by the media. It's also scary to think that all this terrorism may only beget more violence and retaliations, more families torn apart, more blood thoughtlessly shed. I wish it were easier for us as humans to overcome our differences in race, religion, language, and nationality. I wish it were easier to forgive the mistakes of the past. But I fear that things may only get worse, and that makes me very sad.

How is your lately?

Friday, November 6, 2015

In Which I Am Mildly Obsessed With Fall Colors

One of the things I really missed while I was living in Spain was experiencing four distinct seasons a year. Everywhere I lived, there seemed to be only two seasons--summer and winter, with hardly a buffer in-between. And while spring and fall did exist there, I never noticed them as much as I did when living in the United States. I think part of missing fall had to do with the absence of leaves turning--in Spain, many trees are trimmed of leaves before they have a chance to fall, so I didn't get to experience those bright reds, oranges and yellows that I craved.

Have I mentioned yet how much I love bright colors? I mean, I know I'm not the only one to get excited about the leaves turning and it being FALL and PUMPKINS etc etc. But I think my interest in pretty autumn leaves may be slightly beyond that of a normal person...i.e. in the past few weeks I've gone on multiple bike rides PER WEEK out into the countryside with the express purpose of photographing fall leaves. And while this is really great for my physique, I fear that it may also be bordering on mild obsession.

But hey, instead of putting it that way let's just say that I'm gaining a passion for bike riding and photography! And while I ignore the fact that there is at least one person I can think of out there picturing me almost swerving into traffic and swearing at cars in French because I was a typical gas-guzzling American who hated sustainability and exercise and hadn't ridden a bike since I was 10 years old was unused to biking as a serious means of transportation, let's check out some of the photos I was so excited about taking!

Luckily, we've had quite the Indian summer this year, so I had a lot of sunny days to go out on my bike. As I write this, we're in the middle of a week of weather in the 70's F (mid-20's C) in November, which is insane for this part of the country. When I was a kid, we always used to have to go trick-or-treating in snowpants! I came back here to get to experience seasons again, and I am confused. What is happening to the fall chilliness? El Niño and global warming, I'm looking at you! I guess I'm not complaining, due to weirdly being now more used to crazy heat than crazy cold due to my time in Madrid, but still...this is strange. 

Also luckily, there is a nice bike trail that runs near my house, so going out involves neither dangerous traffic nor swearing! I have to say, I'm immensely grateful for that, because I am still not the steadiest person on a bike. Let's just say that trying to take pictures of leaves while still riding was not my brightest idea ever. #fail

And in case you're wondering, no, none of the photos featured here are my taking-photos-while-riding-and-almost-falling-off-my-bike-into-a-ravine ones. I'll just keep the atrociousness of those photos to myself, thank you very much! I have learned my lesson--first stop the bike, then take pictures.

Another thing I have to say I'm happy about is to even have access to a bike again, after so many years with only my own two feet as my main means of transport (even if my awkwardness+a bike is just a recipe for disaster). It's kind of crazy how excited I get about little things like having my very own bike to go places with, but I marvel at just how much further I can get in such a short amount of time on a bicycle. Silly? Yes. But still true. 

The last of the pretty leaves are just about to fall off the trees, so soon my commute to work in the morning will be that much less interesting, AND I'll have one less excuse to get out and exercise (as if freezing temperatures, snow, and the sun setting by 5 pm weren't reasons enough to stay inside getting fat all winter long). If you couldn't tell, I'm feeling rather sad that autumn is on its way out and winter is knocking at our doors. I haven't had a real winter in over 4 years, and I'm just sliiiightly apprehensive about once again dealing with ice and snow and temperatures of -25ºC (-10ºF). And did I mention living in near-constant darkness due to the sun setting so early? Damn you, daylight savings time!

It looks like today was probably the last "nice" day of the year, so I've got to get used to more grey skies and try to get myself amped up about the nice things about winter (that I actually do love), like snow angels and sledding and snowboarding and ice skating. I've just been spoiled by these nice temperatures, and did I say already that I'm not used to the cold anymore? Even on these 70ºF (20ºC) days, I have this compulsion to wear a light jacket, and my fellow Americans think I'm nuts. Maybe I've been around Spanish people too long and feel that I must dress for the season rather than the actual weather? Or maybe I'm just paranoid about getting cold since it happens to me so easily. Clearly, this bodes well for the winter ahead.

Whatever my issue is, get used to the cold and dark and ice and snow I must, and so I will (try)! 

But that doesn't mean that I can't return to look at these pretty fall photos every once in awhile to remind myself of beautiful bright-colored leaves seen on sunny days from my precarious perch atop my bike.

¡Feliz otoño a todos!