Monday, October 17, 2016

Our Decision to Homeschool

Ever since I met a real live homeschooler years ago - and discovered that no, they weren't all crazy or religious fundamentalists - I have wished that I could have the time (and money) to do the same with my daughter. This homeschooler I mention has since become a good friend of mine. I have great respect for Deb and her fantastic family. Her children, now adults pursuing their own creative and inspiring lives, are testament to what she gave them as a homeschool mom.

This opportunity in Chile affords me just such a chance.

(source: )

I only have one child. Working long hours in my previous job - while fulfilling in many ways - didn't allow me the time I craved with my daughter while she was young. The first seven years are the most important for forming the mind. As a librarian, it was my job to share this information along with my arsenal of early childhood tips and activities. But the sadly I didn't often have the time or energy to walk the walk with my own child.

Being a working parent is not easy. Especially if you want to do well as both a parent and a professional. In Chile, I am still a working parent. However, being my own boss this time around, I have much more flexibility. 

Homeschooling will mean less time to work on personal projects during the daylight hours; it will mean trying to eke out moments of quiet in the early and late hours when Oli is in bed. But it also means that I get to be right beside her as she discovers and learns, marvels and wonders over the things she sees and experiences. It means giving Oli the opportunity to lead as she learns; we can go as in depth as she craves. It means that the world will be her classroom.

Choosing to homeschool will not make my life easier but I truly believe that it will make it more fulfilling. And I will never regret the time spent with my daughter.

A Visual Emotional Guide to Overseas Relocation

Ok, let me be honest here. Moving to another country is a bit brutal.

Not only do you have to figure out what to do with all your stuff before you can go, but you also need to figure out how the stuff you are keeping is going to get to where you're going. Then once there, you need to figure out transportation, housing, visas, schooling for your child, work, phones, internet, and about a million other nuances that there's no way to predict in advance.

As I mentioned before, part of the reason we chose Chile was because we have family. Mark's sister Luz and her family have been super accommodating and helpful in our transition. Even with our support network (including my parents and sister whom I can facetime with whenever I need to whine), I still find myself experiencing a variety of emotions on nearly a daily basis.

Here follows a visual guide to what you can expect when you move your family to a foreign country...(my daughter has credits to the photos)...


Hey, everything's a adventure, right? OMG, I get to eat, travel, write, explore, eat, learn, be with my kid all the time, have quality time with my hubby, oh and did I mention eat? How cool am I? I'm living the expat writing dream!


Ok, my brain is officially on overdrive...there is so much to think about. And in Spanish! All the time. That means that at any given moment, I'm practicing in my head the next seven things I'll need to say. That means getting used to those vacant looks of confusion whenever I say something incorrectly. That means craving time alone with my ipad to watch Stranger Things and veg out in my own tongue.


We tip the grocery baggers here? And I have to pay that guy who just waved at me in the parking lot to tell me I had plenty of space to back-up? You eat mayonnaise with what? Wait, those things are crazy! I'm in culture shock.


I have to wait in how many lines to get that done?


Oh gawd, the pollen! Why did I come here in spring? I'm allergic to everything and now I have a sinus infection. I can't even hear out of my left ear I'm so congested.


This is the ticket! This is what it's all about...learning new things and sharing my adventures on my blog. Then tweeting, facebooking, instagramming, emailing...and so forth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just Smile and Nod

What is it like to live in a country whose language isn't your own?

Well, let me tell you...

Imagine you are watching a movie and the audio keep cutting out. When the sound is functioning, you understand what is going on and can hazard guesses as to what will happen next or where the action will logically flow next. When the sound drops, you have to guess what's happening based on facial expressions, hand gestures, bodily movement. But when the audio cuts out during one scene and returns during another, you find yourself mentally scrambling to find the context so you'll understand just what in the hell the characters are talking about.

Sometimes you understand 100% of what is going on and sometimes you are lost.

 When all else fails, just smile and nod.

That's how it is for me in Chile. Luckily I have a decent grasp of the Spanish language. But even so, there are times when I find my brain turning off, so to speak, and my thoughts wondering. I think those must be mental breaks that I subconsciously give myself - because anyone who's been in a foreign country knows: thinking or translating another language is exhausting!

My experience with Spanish began almost 17 years ago when I first met Mark. I took two years of Spanish in college but the classroom setting wasn't very helpful for my learning style. It wasn't until I studied abroad in Granada, Spain that I began to really speak Spanish. Total immersion is the secret. It was a little daunting, I'll admit, but if something isn't a little challenging, then where is the excitement in that?

In Spain, I attended the Universidad de Granada and took Spanish language classes in Spanish with no English translation - nada. I went on every planned excursion and also traveled on my own and with friends. My friend, Lauren, and I made a deal with each other - whenever we went out together, we would take turns speaking. This buddy system really helped boost our confidence. We were there to help each other out but at the same time, we gave each other the practice we needed. I highly recommend this approach to anyone studying abroad.

 El Centro de Lenguas Modernas, Granada (Photo Credit)

I continued my experience with the Spanish language through Mark. Being around Spanish-speakers helps tune one's ear to the language. After awhile you are able to identify common sounds and phrases and yes, even curse words. When my mother-in-law visited or when we went to Chile, of course, I got more practice. This periodic experience was helpful but I'm in no way fluent because of this.

"Semi-fluent" would be the best term for someone like me. Fluency means accuracy of expression, both in writing and speaking. When I speak Spanish, I'm sure I sound like a cave woman. I drop my verb endings, mix tenses, and sometimes grunt when I can't think of a word. As for reading and writing, my Spanish is so-so. The plus is that when I need to write in Spanish, I usually have time to think about what I want to say and even look stuff up. When talking, there is an immediacy which means sloppy Spanish.

Anyway - no pasa nada - don't worry about it. I'll learn more and get better as the days pass.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cafe Panache and the 10th Street Supper Club

Back in August, we had reason to be in downtown Greeley. Feeling peckish, we wandered into Cafe Panache off of 10th Street. It was cozy and dark but welcoming all the same. Mismatched chairs sidled up to ornate wooden tables. In the back, the chef was in full sight behind the counter, whipping up crepes savory and sweet. We ordered the special of the day, watermelon gazpacho, and two savory crepes - turkey pesto and sage chicken - to share alongside espresso granitas. Everything was delicious.

It was also our good fortune that day to notice a poster pasted onto the window for the 10th Street Supper Club. Mark brought a small flier over to our table and the chef, who served us, encouraged us to come.

Founded just over a year ago, the 10th Street Supper Club was the creation of neighboring businesses - Cafe Panache and owner Chef Roger Brindisi, and the Cranford Cove Tea House and owner, Aaron Wooten. The idea behind the supper club was to create a seasonally-inspired tasting menu that would be offered one night only. The limited number of seats must be reserved in advance and guests would be treated to a multiple course meal above and beyond casual cafe fare.

My tattered flier

The upcoming dinner was inspired by one of America's favorite summer past-times, grilling out. So of course, we bought two dinner and wine pairing seats for the 8pm seating. Luckily, my wonderful mother was able to watch Oli for us and the two of them made the night into a fun sleepover. 

Meanwhile, Mark and I dressed up for our special date night, prepped the new camera, and made sure we had ink in our pens.
Mark greeting Chef Roger in the Tea House

We arrived around 7:45pm and were welcomed into the Tea House. There were four community tables from which to choose. We grabbed the last two seats at one table and introduced ourselves around the table. The other early arrivals were mostly Greeley professionals from varied fields from finance to local government. About two thirds of the guests had attended the Super Club before and only a handful were new to the experience.

Aaron answers questions about the meal

Once everyone arrived, the feast began. As the first plate was served, Aaron explained that we were in for a culinary treat - a world tour of grilling. He introduced his fellow Super Club organizers, Roger from Panache, Tony - a level three sommelier, and Chef Toryus Thompson - the designer of  the night's menu.

Tony moved from table to table, filling champagne glasses with a nice dry cidery bubbly (Andre Brut) while Aaron and Roger served an amuse-bouche* skewer of chicken hearts drizzled over top with a tangy cilantro sauce drizzled and cilantro garnish. Now, I'll admit, the idea of chicken hearts didn't really appeal to me. I have here-to-fore never eaten organ meat. But, as this was a special occasion, I decided to give them a try. After all, my personal mantra is "Try everything twice." Turns out they were pretty tasty. I wasn't overly thrilled with the valvy-texture, but that's a personal thing and I can definitely say that Chef Toryus made chicken hearts quite delicious.

*An amuse-bouche is a small bite served before the meal and isn't considered an hors d'oeuvre. Rather, it is a gift from a chef to "amuse the mouth," a term taken from French Culinary tradition. It is meant to treat guests to a preview of the chef's skill and tastes and is typically not on the menu.

 Amuse-bouche: chicken hearts with cilantro sauce

Chef Toryus describes the amuse-bouche. "Pretty much within hours of giving the humans fire, there was a world-wide tailgate party."

While we ate, Aaron gave us a little historical perspective. "Skewered meat goes far back into the recesses of human history. Ancient peoples used geothermal-heated waters for cooking meat on sticks. In fact, in our own country's history, Lewis and Clarke ate skewered meat on sticks, using hot springs discovered along their route. At one point outside Jackson, Wyoming, the Corps of Discovery were forced to eat a couple of their dogs that way." (While fact-checking this, I discovered that dogs were eaten on numerous occasions by the expedition.)

Moving onto Japan, 3rd level Sommelier, Tony, made the rounds with a bottle of chilled sake. Enter Sake from the Black Dot series, is a boutique sake curated by musician Richie Hawtin. Fermented primarily in cedar for 6 weeks, the Black Dot series goes one step further and allows the sake to mature in oak. This makes for a complex flavor that is "masculine on the palate." To me, the sake had a floral taste, but what do I know?

The first course continued the theme of skewered food, but departed in that it was vegetarian. In Japan, skewered food is called Yakitori. Our veggie yakitori of rolled carrot, zucchini, sweet pepper, mushroom, red onion, and tofu was served over a bed of smoked basmati rice, topped with a honey soy glaze. This glaze was amazing! It perfectly suited the dish and made me wish there was more than one skewer on my dish.

Aaron serving the yakitori

First course: Yakitori over smoked rice

The second course began with Tequila Sunrises made with mezcal. In the event you don't know, mezcal is like tequila, except for the worm which mezcal has and tequila doesn't. Mezcal is made from the fermented mash of the agave plant and has a strong smoky flavor. Regarding mezcal, there is a saying from Mexico which goes something like this: "Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todos bein, tambien" (translation: For anything bad, mezcal. For anything good, [mezcal] also).

Luckily, there were no worms in my glass because that would have knocked me on my rear for the rest of the evening. As it was, the drink was very strong and I found that I could not finish it.

Soon after toasting our mezcal sunrises, the second course was served. Continuing south of the border for culinary inspiration, we were served zesty barbacoa tacos. Shredded beef and pineapple spooned over white corn torillas, these were likewise pretty spicy. A lime-coconut aoili added an additional layer of zest. Looking around the room, I concluded that this was a favorite dish so far.

Plating the tacos with Panache 

  The beef was smoked for 10 hours prior to the service.

For the third course, we were treated to a nice glass of Lady of the Mandrake Cabernet Sauvignon. Although I love to try new things, I must admit, there's nothing quite like a decent glass of tinto. Tony explained that the robust red fruits played well with the dark roasted brisket that we were about to be served. And boy, was he right!
Tony extolling on the virtues of red wine
Plating the brisket on wooden trenchers

I was in love with this course!

Returning to the US with the third course, Texas brisket was served alongside beans and a deconstructed potato salad. The Kansas City barbeque sauce was the perfect complement to the plate. I don't think I've had brisket this delicious in a long while. I probably could have eaten three portions of that succulent treat! Even though I thought the beans were a little dry, that couldn't distract me from how good this course was. My table-mates all agreed that this was utterly scrumptious (there's some professional lingo for you).

The final course was served with what Tony referred to as his "favorite mistake of the 19th century." This sweet wine is made by mixing the current year's fresh grape juice with the previous year's cognac. The result is a fresh, bright wine with an underlying heady sweetness. Very very good.

I'm in full agreement with Tony on this one.

At this point, I was feeling on the verge of overflowing with drinks and food. But alas, there was one more course to be served. Dessert was grilled peach served over a basil shortcake, topped with sweet cream, mint garnish and a mango gastrique. Holy Peaches! Even though I was certifiably almost ready to pop, I practically licked my plate clean. The sweet wine perfectly complemented this decadent finale. For the first few moments after being served this dish, the room was practically silent as all the guests savored the final treat. It was a hit all around. What a way to finish the evening. 

Peaches right off the grill

Holy peaches!

If I had to rate this evening on a scale of 1-10, I would certainly give these folks a 9. Everything was delicious and satisfying, with only a few minor technical errors such as killer mezcal and dry beans. There was more than enough food and drinks to whet my appetite. The company was likewise pleasant and the atmosphere cozy and comfortable. I would highly recommend both restaurants and the 10th Street Super Club.

The hosts toast to an evening well done.