Monthly Food Budget in Colombia

Something ultra important to me when I settle into a new place is food. Duh, right? While good restaurants in close proximity are a perk, having grocery stores and markets that are close by and affordable is KEY in order to create a solid monthly food budget.

Within a one block radius, there are three food stores. One is called D1 (De uno), another is Carulla, and the last is a local fruit, veggie, and meat market. Carulla is on the higher end with whole food type prices, so…I have tended to avoid it, though they are good for having specialty items or imported goods that other stores typically don’t have.

Since I started shopping, I’ve been sticking with D1 which is comparable to Aldi: super economical, easy, and you can be in-and-out fairly quick. There I buy eggs, pasta, crackers, nut mixes, tuna and other items that are non-perishable. For my fruit and veggie haul, I stopped in at the local joint, which proved to be a fantastic decision.

The D1 haul (which included buying olive oil, a tooth brush and splurging on some almond milk) cost me $40,150 Colombian Pesos (COP)[$13.74]. The fruit and veggie haul cost me $30,214 COP ($10.34 USD). Everything totalled up to: 70,364 COP or $24.08 USD.

img_8987.jpg

I bought this food a little over a week ago and I still have enough for 8 more meals, minimum, This all will total up to about 2 weeks of supply. Not bad, right?

The longevity of this haul has been elongated slightly because I have definitely had meals out. That is a comfort that will be hard to avoid while settling in a new place and making new friends.  

Nonetheless, I think I can do even better next time since I won’t have to buy staple items. Also, as I hone in on more specific meals I want to make, as well as the things I can and can’t eat (had a bad experience with Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) the yellow spiky fruit in the picture) I’ll be able to have a more precise idea of my budget.

As it stands, (if I do my math right) my grocery budget in Colombia may cost me little more than $50 USD per month. If I include going out for meals 2-3 times a week, at an average of $6 per meal ($18/week). My monthly food budget in Colombia is about $122. That is the low side of what I spent on groceries per month back at home… I shudder to think how much I ended up spending on meals out.

There you have it! A little glimpse into my day-to-day expenses in Colombia. Have any questions? Want to know what things are and what I cook? Comment below!

Cheers,

Alaina

 

*Images at the top are stock images found on google with permission for reuse. I do not claim the rights to these photos.

*Image of food and special guest, Emma the Cat, is mine.

The Reality Behind Travel

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Behind all the “grammable” moments, the gorgeous album of photos uploaded to Facebook, the amazing snaps and instastories blasted out for the world to see, the reality of traveling is a sobering one.

First, let me start by stating that I recognize how lucky I am to have earned opportunities to travel and to live abroad in different countries. I know a lot of people look at that with a mixture of incredulity, awe, and probably a bit of envy. A lot of people want me to share photos and videos so they can live vicariously through me. I get that. I do that. However, it’s a slippery slope when you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Even as I’m here, settling into a bustling, beautiful city in Colombia, I see my friends and my family and people I knew at some point having meals together, going to parks, playing games, getting engaged, married, having babies… all together. I feel envious. I feel sad. And I feel utterly alone.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m not alone. I also understand that these 2D experiences I’m seeing are teeming with loads of challenging nuances that I cannot detect.  And currently, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the first stages of culture shock.

I’ve settled in to a beautiful house with nice people and two cats. I have a space to call my own, a place to store my food, a neighborhood to frequent. I have a launching pad from which I can go discover this city, this country, and this part of the world. It is wonderful relief.

With that relief, the ability to relax, a number of things fade: my survival instincts, the excitement of walking around a new city, re-navigating a language I love, discovering the subtleties of this culture, learning of things to try, places to see, etc. As this “honeymoon” stage melts away, room develops for homesickness, exhaustion, frustration, feelings of isolation and being stuck, even scared, and sadness.

I wouldn’t change this decision if I had to make it 50 more times. But like all things in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes just going to the store is the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a blanket with some mac and cheese and watch your favorite show. Sometimes things are going to suck, even if you’re in paradise.

So I guess, what I’m trying to communicate is that, while I post pretty photos and share nice stories about my experience, keep in mind that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Sure, revel in those moments with me, but please don’t lose sight of the magic of your own experience while you do. I’m going to remind myself of the same thing, especially in tougher moments like these.

You see the picture at the top of this page? My feet resting on a window sill that overlooks a gorgeous patio, lush with tropicalish flowers, blue skies in the background, reeking of tranquility. Well, shortly before taking that, as I ambled my gawky way into the hammock, I fell straight backwards, smashed my head into the bed so hard one of the wooden slats went crashing to the floor, scaring the cat so bad that it flew from its resting spot on my suitcase with her nails out, tearing up the fabric as she dashed away.

All rainbows and butterflies and shit, right?

Not exactly.

And good thing!

An Ill Nation: We’re Sick, We’re Sad and I’m Heartbroken and Mad

For years now, I’ve made the habit of listening to the news in the morning. While I lived in Spain, the NPR app was a way for me to stay in the loop with my country and its happenings. To feel more connected with my people soothed my homesickness. It provided comfort, even though what seemed like every other week I would tune in and hear about another shooting, another suicide, another senseless waste of life.

I will never forget the morning I woke up to a dreamy day in early June, in a gorgeous rustic hotel in a rural Spanish town. I was rousing from this piece of bliss when I tuned in to listen to the news while I got ready for the day. My heart fell through the floor as live updates of the Pulse shooting came streaming through. People searching for their friends and loved ones. Planning meeting points. Mothers in the street, unsure if their babies were in there. Havoc. Panic. I’ve never felt so impotent, heartbroken, and angry. My tears were not going to give life back to my brothers and sisters maimed by a sick, sad individual with a high-capacity gun.

I will never forget this morning in early June either. I put on my sunglasses as I drove down the road calmly. I turned on the radio and heard David Green reading about accolades and praise Anthony Bourdain has received. My heart sunk. Then he said it, “He was 61.” That’s too young, I thought frantically. Please no. Please no. The segment ended there so I quickly grabbed my phone to check…how?

Apparent suicide.

F*CKKK! Damnit!

I’ve never yelled profanity so loud in my life. I scared myself and probably the person next to me at the light who looked over alarmed.

Another loss. A knife cut through my chest in the same way it did when I heard about my cousin’s husband’s mother, my friend’s brother… the same it always does when beautiful souls depart us too soon at the hands of this plague. I angry cried all the way to work. I’m sad. I’m pissed. Another person who I revere and wholeheartedly admire… just gone. We opened the week with Kate Spade and we’re closing it with Anthony Bourdain. My heart is broken. I refuse to accept these types of events as commonplace in our news cycles.

Mass shootings, suicides…these things seem unrelated, but they’re not. I believe they are symptoms. Our country is ill. Many of us are ill. We are divided, we are extreme, we live in a culture of violence and shame. It isn’t any wonder more and more of us are battling with mental health issues. Our environment breeds this. How many more people will we lose as a result of this illness?

As a society, we are in desperate need of healing. How? I don’t know. I think, though, we must begin to talk about it where can. Begin where we have control— at home with yourself, with your partner, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your team, your church, your tribe, your school, your community.

It’s Pride weekend here in Milwaukee, and many places around the world. So many of my fellow queers battle with mental health because there is a wave of violence and shaming that overwhelms being OK with oneself. I hope during this time of celebrating who we are, we find space for transparent discussion.

I am queer and have struggled immensely with depression, and now battle anxiety daily. I have told my partner, my friends, my family, my colleagues– everyone I interact with on a daily basis is aware. And it’s not luck that they’re there and they’re supportive of me. It’s love.

I invite anyone who needs to talk to reach out to me. Let’s take it all out from under the rug. I love you, you beautiful human and your wonderful heart. Let us celebrate and discuss.

Rest easy, all who have been lost to this plague.

With all of my heart,

Alaina

5 of My Favorite Spanish Foods

When I first arrived to Spain, I wasn’t sure what to eat or how to eat or how to shop for myself. It was if entering into a new society suddenly wiped my mind clear of all the things I had learned after living by myself for five years. I’m already indecisive enough as it is, so add in a warehouse store like Carrefour (a European version of a target market more or less) filled with brands, fruits, cheeses, meat hanging from the ceiling and beer I had never encountered before, I was más perdida que un pedo en un jacuzzi— aka, I was completely lost. (If you understand Spanish or looked that phrase up haha excellent). My roommate accompanied me and was exasperated at the fact that I had no idea what to buy. She kept asking me with increasing insistence, “Pues, ¿Qué comes?” and I kept saying “No sé!” Had I had the capacity to express myself more fully I would have said something like “Tia, dejáme aquí… no me puedes meter prisa que ya estoy agobiada” which basically means, “Dude- leave me here- I’m overwhelmed AF.” But instead she watched me flail in the aisles as I went around and picked up a loaf of bread, a half kilo of turkey and ham without knowing what the heck a kilo equated to, some tortilla chips, ketchup, mayonnaise, two types of mustard, barbecue sauce, a jar of salsa, and a 12 pack of Estrella Damm because it was on sale. Her eyes turned to plates when she saw the number of condiments in my basket– “¿En serio?” she laughed at me, “Eres muy americana.”

My bread molded before I could even use a quarter of it, the turkey and ham went bad because I got sick of eating it and I finished the beers after about two days. Over the next few weeks I observed what my Spanish roommates ate. Being students, they all had mothers back in their pueblos that prepared them a freezer full of tappers which contained pasta with meat sauce, rice with rabbit and veggies, an assortment of different types of soups and stews and seafood paella to name a few. Nearly every meal was accompanied by picos, little tiny pieces of hard bread that we’d probably find in some sort of chex mix. Soon I, too, became a pico feign.  For breakfast they’d drink Colacao, which is like Nesquik, or powdered instant coffee with cookies or little muffins. Dinner was always late and light: a salad or some tuna with onions and tomatoes.

I was in a serious phase of adjustment, so adding cooking then dishes and balancing my roommates’ schedules in order to do so was not on the top of my priority list. So, I ate out… A LOT. And that is how I became very  well acquainted with some of my favorite Spanish dishes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was totally spoiled in that I was growing my Spanish palate in arguably one of the best gastronomic strongholds of Spain. In just a few short months, my reliance on condiments and hot sauce completely vanished. Spain’s salty, savory, FRESH, simplistic yet full-bodied cuisine redefined my definition of satisfied.

 

My very first attempt at making Bacaloa Dorado ca.2014

1. Bacaloa Dorado

Golden Cod in English, this dish is eaten quite often in Extremadura. It’s traditionally a Portuguese dish, and is made of eggs, onion, cod, and fried potatoes (not french fries). For me, it was comfort food. I found out pretty soon that it’s super easy to make, too.

 

 

 

 

2. Jamón, Lomo, Chorizo 

Jamón del bueno with nice blurry finger 🙂

Although I don’t eat much meat here, I can’t get over the Spanish cured meats. Give me a bandeja of any of these and I’m one happy camper. Chorizo is chorizo. It’s less spicy than the Mexican chorizo we’re accustomed to and has a smokier flavor because it’s made with Pimentón or paprika. Pimentón de La Vera is a specialty from the province of Cáceres, located in the north of Extremadura.  Lomo is cured tenderloin. SO GOOD.  Jamón is cured ham leg and the best ham comes from Extremadura because they’re raised in open fields and feed on the bellotas or acorns from the Holm oak trees strewn across the region. My Spanish mom sent me some lomo and jamón for my birthday and I cried. These are no joke, folks.

 

 

Utter joy

3. Huevos Rotos

My mouth became a geyser each time I saw a plate of huevos rotos go by. It literally translates to Broken Eggs– even the name is awesome, right? This is another comfort selection as it consists of a bed of fries, topped with Jamón and two over easy eggs. That’s it. Simply delicious. Another version I often enjoyed swapped Jamón for gulas, which are little sea worms. Before you get totally grossed out, if you’re in Spain– try them! They’re also amazing  sauteed in garlic and olive oil (Gulas al ajillo)–YUM.

 

 

4. Tortilla de Patata con Salmorejo

Missing the Tortilla but it’s garnished with egg and ham bits…and features two more of my favorite things: olives and beer

Ah yes, the famous Tortilla de Patata or Spanish Omelette. Spain converted me into an egg lover. I love all the eggs in all the different shapes and forms they come in. One of my favorites for sure is the classic Tortilla de Patatas–but for me it has to be on the runnier side and it’s even better when it can be plopped into a cold, shallow bowl of Salmorejo.  This is another version of ‘cold tomato soup’ that’s similar to Gazpacho (which I also love). While Gazpacho contains pepino (cucumber), pimientos (peppers), Salmorejo does not. It’s slightly thicker because it uses more bread followed by fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt.

 

5. Tapas 

I realize “Tapas” is the broadest thing I could list here and it sort of seems like cheating. But for me, it’s the epitome of why I LOVE Spanish food.

Tapas which literally means lid, became a cultural staple after it was mandatory to serve food with alcoholic beverages (why isn’t this a thing everywhere still behooves me). The principle behind Tapas consists of two of my favorite things: snacking and sharing. Here I described how Tapas is a way of life–it’s representative of the family-style, communal approach to eating. It stirs up conversation and it brings you closer together as you truly bond over a shared meal.

Creative tapa made in honor of the Gay Pride Festival, Los Palomos, in Badajoz

 

This list could go on for days but that would be somewhat masochistic. It’s a good thing I have all of the recipes to my favorite Spanish foods AND I just started working part time at Milwaukee’s only authentic Spanish Tapa restaurant, MOVIDA, so I can satiate my cravings until I move back. 

If you behave nice and tell me what your favorite Spanish food is in the comments, maybe in the future I’ll treat you to Part II: My Favorite Spanish Foods. I’ll be sure to include cheeses and even some recipes!

So, dime (tell me)– have you lived in or traveled to Spain? If so, ¿cuál es tu comida favorita? If you haven’t, which one of my favorite Spanish foods sounds most appealing to you? Share in the comments! 

Amor Pacense

badajoz

 

Sagrada tierra

de barro,

Tierra modesta

de riquezas.

Tierra de conquistadores

y de marquesas.

Gente del mundo

gente de pueblo

suelo estable

terreno cercano

de almas llanas.

 

Tierra confiada

que casquivanos

dejan tirada por no ver

lo bueno que brota.

Tierra musical

que no da la nota.

 

Tierra fértil, tierra sutil,

mi tiempo contigo no fue fútil.

Tierra maja,

te salí de naja.

Perdóname, tierra bella,

he pisado en ti

pero en mí

siguen tus huellas.

5 Things I’ve Learned at my Office Job

1. Being on Time Matters

In this culture timeliness corresponds to responsibility and reliability. People notice and it does have an impact… even when you think it shouldn’t, it does. Ugh. This has been the hardest thing for me to reconcile.  If you know me (I’ve WAY gotten better!) I’m notoriously late… so trying to remedy this habit I’ve felt like a tired dog tied to a bicycle.

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2. Once you start making the coffee, you can’t stop.

You become the pillar upon which the mood is set in the morning. You must not crumble.

Coffee
Coffee is King

3. Your birthday, your treat

Yup– that’s right. You bring the birthday treat. I find this is remarkably odd, but I suppose this is common place. During elementary school, the birthday girl or boy would bring in treats for the whole class. And in Spain, same thing– el cumpleañero brings the cake. (Full disclosure: I broke tradition).

4. The Hierarchy is Real

*Eye roll*

5. Everyone feels the same about working

Even if people like their jobs and are content with their responsibilities everyone pretty much agrees that it’s not healthy or necessary to be there for 40+ hours a week. If it’s necessary, there’s clearly a personnel or organization issue. I’m going to be bold and go ahead and say it: anyone saying otherwise is operating  under the false pretense that they appear “hard-working” and “dedicated”– I call bullshit. I’m thinking about starting a petition for incorporating a three day weekend into every month that doesn’t already have one. This is phase one of the initiative to transition to towards working a four day, 32 hour week all of the time… Or maybe I could just keep heavily advocating for 6 hour work days. Happier people=more productivity=more $$– win- win, right?

shenanigans
Comment “Siesta” when you get it

 

Do any of these sound familiar to you? What things have you learned at your office job? Can I get a “hell yeah” in the comments below if you agree with my sentiments regarding working hours?

3 Coping Tools for Moving Back Home (& other big life changes)

When I landed on U.S. soil again in June of 2016, I began to weep subconsciously. I had no real thought in my head and didn’t quite understand intellectually why I became overcome with sobs as I stared out at the Logan Airport Tarmac. I didn’t question it though– I didn’t ask, why am I crying? Because I knew in my bones I’d be here for awhile…My time in Spain had come to an end, for now. The tears, though, were equal parts happy and sad. At this point, I didn’t fully understand the process that I was about to go through for the next year plus. But I did know this much,

“This is going to hurt later.”

I reveled being back in the U.S. with my sister and family in Massachusetts, then with family and friend back in Wisconsin. I was in the honey moon phase of transition and had yet to confront any of the impending consequences of my decision: complete change of lifestyle, a breakup, a change of career.

Those are massive things to tackle all at once, and would subsequently explain why I kept myself completely numb to all of it for a solid three months. I don’t recommend this coping mechanism because it all caught up to me fast and hard. I am no expert, but after suffering for months, I’m going to try to explain the do’s and don’ts of coping with massive life changes.

(Note: Each experience is unique and everyone copes in their own way. Maybe these will apply to you, maybe not. Either way, I sincerely hope it helps you or someone in your life.)

1. DON’T: Say you’re fine. 

You’re not. You’re not fine. And that’s OK! Saying your fine is a way of condemning yourself from being wounded– don’t judge yourself so harshly. It’s OK to hurt. In fact, it’s wonderful. I truly believe suffering is an opportunity for growth. So, breathe, feel it, learn from it and grow.

DO: Talk to Someone

I can’t stress this one enough. Talking to someone to sort out all of the mess that is accruing inside of you is paramount to finding peace. I like to imagine that as we go we get poked and we try to cope and compensate for that– then what ends up happening over time is that portion gets curled up really really tight. Eventually this coil becomes detrimental to us– talking through things helps us unravel these coils and untangle the mess, providing clarity and a real, constructive path forward.

2. DON’T: Try Dating

This, of course, depends on you and your last relationship but even anything over six months merits a break from dating after a breakup. How long that break depends on a ton of different factors. But overall, it’s important to process the loss and just focus on you for awhile. Feel. Process. Dating is just a distraction from dealing with things.

DO: Spend Quality Time with Friends, Family, and By Yourselftacos

Find out more about yourself, reflect on things you could improve about yourself so that you can be the partner you want to be in the future, learn to love yourself fully. How though? Treat yo’self! Regardless of what happened, you must be kind to yourself— reconnect with the things you truly love doing. One of my favorite moments from this portion of my recovery was going out for tacos with a book then catching a flick at the Milwaukee Film Festival. Despite my mistakes, I loved myself that night. I did things I loved doing, for me and no one else. After continuing to practice this over the next year, instead of “despite my mistakes” it became in spite of my mistakes, I love myself. And the more I loved myself, the more I was able to feel the love and support my friends and family give to me. Focus on this rather than the love lost. Hold on to this rather than humans that no longer can or wish to be in your life. There are so many beautiful souls around (including your own)– relish those, soak up the time with them.

3. DON’T: Compare

This, I believe, independent of big life changes, is a principal source of suffering in our world. The grass is ALWAYS greener. We tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses… memorializing the good moments, choosing to ignore the bad… those of which that actually propelled the change. I do this often. I struggle with it immensely and always have. I think of my life in Spain: the flexibility of schedule I had, never needing a car, engaging with students all the time, etc.. and I get envious I don’t have that anymore. But then I have to stop myself and think– but I desired some sort of rigidity that would help me become more disciplined. I hated being dependent on others in order to go explore other parts of Spain for which a car was necessary. I ached for moments alone, to work in silence and in solitude. These are things I wanted to change and informed my decision to take a step along a different path. So, it’s quite silly, isn’t it? It’s human, though.

DO: Practice Gratitude

So what I do when I find myself comparing, whatever it may be, I focus on three things I’m grateful for but then I also recognize one “bad” thing in my current situation. The three help the angst that bubbles up in my chest calm, then I try to see the “bad” thing as  something that is providing me with the opportunity to improve on myself.  Some days I have to do this more often than others, but overall it seems to be helping. I feel joyful more often and more consistently than I have since I was a little curly headed tornado child.

trees
Me being serene af in some trees

If anything I hope this serves as a reminder to be mindful, grateful, and to forgive and love yourself. You’re doing alright.

Have you experienced a big life change recently? What are some things you do to cope with it? Share in the comments below!

 

 

5 Ways to Make Cubicle Life More Bearable

From Classroom to Cubicle

I swore to my mother I’d never ever work in a cubicle. I’d never become an “office bitch”. Well, you know what they say… never say never.

Alas, here I am… in rural Wisconsin working for a corporation inside a 5 X 10 cubicle staring at a computer screen for the better part of 8 hours. And you know what? It’s not that bad. And I’ve realized being an “office bitch” is a choice, not an eventuality.

It took me nearly a year to adjust to the change. I went from a varied, inconsistent schedule, tons of talking, walking, and face time with humans to a set 8 hour schedule five days a week, lots of time on my own, and more than 6 hours of face time with a screen. After adjusting, however, I’ve been able to start incorporating the things I really missed about my prior lifestyle and have began truly relishing the perks. These five things make cubicle life exorbitantly more bearable:

  1. Make Friends with your Coworkers

    I’m not saving the best for last on this one. When I first began this job, I kept to myself for the most part. I was getting to know the position, beginning to understand the limits of the space, the relationships swirling around me, and establishing an organization method and workflow. I was in a cubicle in a high traffic area, so exposure to coworkers was forced and constant.  It was also slightly removed from the “core” department pod. I thought I was O.K. with this– I was not. As time went on I realized (with the help of my brilliant mother) that this excess “alone time” and stress of unwanted presence over my shoulder was a huge source of anxiety for me. Luckily, when a coworker retired I was able to make a change to a cubicle that allowed me to determine my own face time and actually included me in the department pod. Since that switch, I’ve been able to build on my relationships with my coworkers at my own pace, in my own way. I consider myself lucky to work with a team of cool, interesting humans that I genuinely enjoy being around. But even if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t take particularly well to people in your pod or your department, even just finding one human to befriend makes a world of a difference. After all, attending work is only different from attending school because of the formal pretenses that hover over an office space. It’s all bologna. Break through that and open up to

    Get up Stand up

    your coworkers a bit– learn about their lives, become invested and soon that unbearable small talk becomes profound, worthy conversation. And Wall-ah! even those weekly conversations about your weekend plans gives you some relief during an otherwise mundane day.

  2. Get up and MOVE

    There are enough studies to prove that sitting for 40 hours a week causes illness and shortened life expectancy. I think that much science calls for stand-up desks to become a standard design in offices throughout the country. I knew myself well enough that I would have gone insane within a week had I been forced into sitting ALL DAY– absolutely not. So, it was one of the first things I requested when I was hired. In a 40 hour week, I’d say I spend probably half of it standing, able to move, stretch my legs and even dance some. Aside from that, when I need to use the restroom, rather than go straight to the bathroom I force myself to extend the trip down the hall, or up the stairs and do a loop. If this is going to get you in trouble at your work– to be blunt– F that place. You should be permitted to take reasonable body and brain breaks throughout the day. (There’s also enough studies out there that explain how this leads to increases in productivity and happiness. It’s a no-brainer. While I’m at my desk, I’ll do a few different exercises: squats, tricep dips, split lunges, isometric arms pulls (like the prayer one, where you put your palms together and push for like 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off) and some other ones.  Kill two birds with one stone and do wall-sits while talking to coworkers! This makes the day go by faster, and it just makes you feel better overall. Try it.

  3. Go outside whenever you have the chance: Vitamin D is Key

    Taking full advantage of my break 🙂

    I’m a sun child. I need it. I think everyone who lives in the North suffers from (or far South depending on the hemisphere) some degree of seasonable depression. Being inside all day during beautiful summer days is ROUGH. There’s no denying it. We’re all like dogs, salivating for that clock to strike so we can run outside and enjoy the weather. In the winter, it’s even more brutal as the majority of people enter work when its dark and leave when its dark. This is when you need to combine moving with moving outside. On your lunch break– take a lunch break, man– go outside and sit in the sun. In the winter, go outside even for 5 minutes if the sun is out. Take advantage of every moment you can. The only thing that kept me alive this winter was my schedule. I start at 7 and finish at 3:30– so it’d be dark when I went into work, but I’d get one last sliver of that warmer afternoon sun beaming through my window on the commute home. If you’re lucky enough to be able to move around your office area, take your laptop outside and work, even for 20 minutes. (I realize this might not be feasible or desirable for some people depending on their locations, but at your discretion, of course).

  4. Listen to music, podcasts, Ted Talks, radio… anything!

    This seems pretty obvious, right? Music, at least. Some days, however, I become really restless and bored with the daily routine. For whatever reason I just don’t want to listen… so then what?  To satiate my desire to learn and keep discovering new things, I listen to NPR, TED Talks and some random podcasts that have been suggested to me. So far, I haven’t been loyal to one in particular except maybe Hidden Brain, This American Life or Radio Lab. If you’re trying to maintain a language like me, I highly suggest tuning into radio.garden— on here you can gain access to local radio stations around the world. I listen to the ones in Badajoz, Spain quite often. There was a stretch of time I got lost in the vortex of Tiny Desk Concerts which was a lot of fun– I discovered some really excellent bands on there. Guys, the point is: the internet is your oyster. Use it wisely.

  5. Capitalize on your schedule

    Use the time you have efficiently. Organize. Get your work done and then do a little extra. Then have time to work on professional and personal development. What do I mean? Read articles related to your field. I follow a bunch of marketing groups on Linkedin and receive a lot of articles that are interesting and relevant to my job. These give me ideas, fuel, and inspiration. Even if you don’t think you have time to do things like this, I guarantee you could if you get yourself organized and prioritize your work appropriately. Of course there will be days in which you’re a complete space case– it happens to the best of us. Just make sure it’s not the majority of the time. Overall, doing this makes me a way happier and grateful worker… at the end of the day, it’s up to me and my own organization to be able to capitalize on this.

 

Originally I had these sort of ordered in my head thinking, if some people incorporate this one, or this one they’ll be better off, but after writing them all out I’m realizing a balance of all of them is truly what makes cubicle work bearable. I hope you’ve come to the same conclusion after reading this; and well, if you didn’t, I hope you do while trying to employ these. I hope this eases your angst, your restlessness and improves your quality of life in at least some small way!

 

Thanks for reading! Do you already do some of these things? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve suggested? What kinds of things do you do to make Cubicle Life more bearable?  Share in the comments below!

Food, Family and more Food: The Spanish Christmas

 

Plaza España, Badajoz
Massive budgets are set aside each year to adorn the cities with lights.

 

Chrismas in Spain, or rather December in Spain, referred to as Las Navidades, is a month full of family, friends and overall debauchery. The people are absolutely giddy over vacation, presents, company Christmas parties, family time, and of course, drinks and wine.

I’ve just finished my second Christmas in Spain and it was nothing short of a seam bursting, family-filled, joyously exhausting buffet for three weeks. Yes, three weeks. Okay, maybe the buffet part is a bit of an exaggeration but with the richness of all the food, drink, and dessert one meal could easily stay with you for two days. And for those who cannot help themselves (me) when trays of shrimp,  plates of Iberian ham, blocks of sheep cheese, Extremadura’s very own Torta del Casar, and baskets of bread are laid out in front of them it’s a recipe for some intestinal hardships in the following days.

Nochebuena

The Spanish don’t generally celebrate December 25th the way we often do in the U.S. The 25th is Jesus’ birthday, and the 24th is what’s called Nochebuena. Or affectionately (and after experiencing it twice, I must say, accurately) translated by my students, The Good Night. The Good Night, or Christmas Eve, is celebrated most traditionally with getting dressed up, going out to bars with family and friends to get a solid holiday buzz, then attending a big family dinner around nine or ten.

Primos
Some of the spread

I say big for two reasons: Generally, many Spanish families still retain a massive amount of people due to the population boom in the 50’s and 60’s so it’s quite common that people from my generation have at least five aunts or uncles, all of whom have a spouse and one to three children. Last year, there was 35 of us packed into one 10 by 25 room; And two, because you know what I mentioned above about the trays of shrimp and all that? Yeah, well, those are just the appetizers. After this comes the main course, of course.  This year we were treated with roasted red peppers stuffed with cod and drizzled with a tomato and red pepper sauce. We also had pork loin fillets with an apple chutney sauce. So rich. Muy rico.

Dessert consisted of champagne and red fruit slush (a bit on the acidic side, but so tasty), chocolates, the traditional turrón, and of course, unas copas. A classic gin and tonic with herbs and mixed berries (my favorite) or rum and coke is had to ease the digestion. After dinner many people continue the party by going out all night. I couldn’t because of the indigestion I was suffering, unfortunately.

On the 25th, Maria’s family and I celebrated with a few gifts in the morning. I repeated relentlessly that I did not want anything this year. Last year they were far too generous with me. I’m also trying simplifying my life and minimize the amount of things I have… So unable to go without not giving me anything, Maria’s mom gifted me an “Adventure Package” for use in and around Europe that I can do with one other person. She’s truly one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.

Napping with home comforts

Sticking to my theme of gifting experiences, I gave her and her family a paleta de bellota (a cured ham leg that is fed naturally on acorns).

After the gift opening I slept on the couch to rest up for the lunch. Yes, hardly twelve hours later everyone gets back together and eats MORE. Much of what we ate was a composite of leftovers from the night before and ham. Indigestion or not, I cannot say no to the jamón.

Nochevieja

After the 25th things settle down for a few days, but soon after there is Nochevieja or New Years Eve. My experience for new years is a party with friends, maybe family, lots of alcohol and appetizers. The Spanish version of New Years Eve is family orientated. There is a big dinner, with much of the same things we see at the Christmas dinner, and the twelve grapes. They celebrate with their family until midnight and as the bells ring in the new year, everyone shoves twelve grapes in their mouth. Why Spaniards eat 12 grapes on New Years still escapes me, but it’s tradition– so why question it, right? I’ve received many different responses to this question ranging from grapes represent good health and fertility so consuming them to start is a good omen to why not start the year off with a little competition?

I was served 12 PEELED seedless grapes. This is a thing that is sold in the market. Peeled grapes. It should have been unsurprising since Spaniards peel everything. I was often viewed with confusion and pity as I crunched into apples with their skin intact.

Cena de Nochevieja

I digress. The other thing that is surely not forgotten is red undergarments. If you have forgotten, it’s essentially as bad as toasting without touching the table… because as they say “Quien no apoya, no folla”,  which roughly translates to, “Who doesn’t touch the table with their glass, doesn’t fuck.” I love Spanish. If you’re not wearing red underwear, well you’re not going to get lucky. It’s as simple as that. I was told the origins of this tradition are rooted in the Toreo aspect of the culture. What attracts un toro? That red cape… same goes for a mate. Or the alternative: What do Spanish people look sexiest in? Red, of course. Alright– that might be a bit of personal opinion, but I think most could agree. Some people believe it also needs to be gifted to you in order for it to count.

The next day is usually filled with nursing the massive resaca (hangover) and avoiding any type of New Years Resolutions until at least the next day.

Los Reyes Magos

After Nochevieja, Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) come to town on the 6th of January. This is traditionally the big gift giving day for Spaniards. Celebrating Santa Clause and exchanging gifts is somewhat of an Americanism that has slowly diffused into the culture over the last decade. Two days of gifts? The kids certainly aren’t complaining. During the evening of the fifth, there’s a large parade in which the Three Kings arrive and chuck hard candies out into the gobs of people lined up to see them. I stopped by before I made my way to soccer practice and little did I know I’d see my life flash before my eyes. An elderly woman dove into the back of my legs in order to retrieve a few caramelos. I fell forward into a woman and was stopped from certain death by a farola (streetlight).  I’ve never seen such agility out of a woman over 65 years of age. I’ve never seen such… passion. We’ll call it that, because after she grabbed the candy she turned and gave them to an adorable little girl bouncing in the arms of her mother. I didn’t receive a perdón ni nada but after seeing that niña‘s face light up, she was forgiven.

The following day, the sixth, is (in my experience) reserved for immediate family. Maybe someone else will stop by mid morning, but generally it mirrored much of what my Christmas Day looked like in the United States. Gift giving, playing with said gifts in our pajamas most of the day, a big brunch, naps, a movie– intimate and relaxed. The next day, most people returned to work and school so it made for a nice transition into la vuelta a la rutina (the return to the routine).

While it was difficult to spend Christmas away from my family, I was so so lucky to be included into a wonderful family– my Spanish family. Skyping always eased some of the yearning I felt for my own kin…but they made sure I never felt like I didn’t belong, and that’s something that permeates my overall experience in Spain.

 

¡Gracias for reading! Have you experienced the holidays in Spain? What was your experience like? What about another culture? How are traditions and routines similar or different? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

*Note: This was written in January of 2016 and was meant to be published then. Here it is, at last... Christmas in July.

One & a Half Years Later

Hello again:

I’m back. A lot has transpired in the last year and a half. Last time I wrote I was 25, still living in Spain and working as a teacher. I am now 26 (almost 27), living in Milwaukee and working as a Public Relations Coordinator/Writer.  I still teach on the side ( I guess I love it or something– who knew). I’m not sure what it says about me that my resolutions haven’t changed much from one year to the next. I’m still trying to read 20 books (I’m on book 7, so I need to step it up)…But last year I made it to 14, not too shabby. The only one that has changed is “Study a Masters”…while it is certainly a goal of mine, it isn’t a yearly resolution. I’d still like to learn a song. I’m just not sure if guitar is the right instrument for me. We’ll see. There’s no rush just yet.

Aside from that, I’ve made a lot of progress as far as self-discipline and writing goes. It has been about changing my perspective on things that I want to accomplish. I try not to think of the work it is to get the momentum going and instead focus on that feeling of accomplishment after it all, then the subsequent ability to really embrace myself afterwards. Writing has been extremely cathartic, as well. It has been necessary. I’ve come to think of it as converting my pain into fuel for projects I’ve been aching to start and finish for years. So far, so good. I’ve got quite a bit more to go, and the ideas don’t stop coming (which is wonderful and overwhelming all at once) but I think I’ve enough pieces of my heart, enough tears of joy, enough blows to the stomach to keep this train moving forward.

Me one year ago                                        Me today

Personally, I’ve really rediscovered myself in the last year and a half and that has been incredibly grounding. As much as I’m still mourning big changes, recovering from months of intense anxiety and riding waves of gut wrenching sadness, in these moments of realization, I couldn’t be more thankful that I’ve made the decisions I have. I listened to my gut, and according to my mother, that will never lead me astray. Again, so far, so good. I’m positive the universe has been conspiring for quite some time for things to work out even better than I could have imagined. For now (and always), I’m simply trying to enjoy the journey, every day, with whom I am with, where ever I am…. always growing, always discovering.

In the meantime, I’m going to use this again. I’ll try to write less like I’m writing to my journal and more in creative non-fiction, journalistic, anecdotal styles regarding topics that an audience might actually care to read. Until I find that sweet spot, I appreciate any readers, any suggestions, and just any interaction.

It’s good to be back. Cheers.

How have you changed in the last year and a half? Have you gone through any big transformations? How are you coping with reality these days? Let me know in the comments below.