Some of our friends here have vehicles. We don’t and 99.9% of the time, I am happy about it. From the outside looking in, it appears that all drivers have a death wish. The stop lights are different. The lines on the road are merely a suggestion, and pedestrians jump out in traffic whenever and wherever they please. Parking also seems like a nightmare. Just sitting at a stoplight on a 3 lane road, drivers will line up 7 abreast waiting for the stoplight to change drag racing style. For these and many other reasons, I have no desire to drive in this city.
Taxis also scare me because it feels like voluntarily locking yourself in a small room with a strange man, a strange man with whom I can barely communicate. Taxis are only good if you can actually communicate with the driver where you want to go.
Buses also make me nervous because there is no written map or schedule…like… at all. The buses just exist and you have to be a local to know where in the world they go! So if I get on a bus, how am I to know that I will get to where I need to go? Even if I can read the final destination of the bus, it is likely that I have no clue where it is. So I find that the bus is also not a good transportation option for me.
Because of this, I am hoofin’ it… a lot. I don’t mind! I have lost the pounds that I packed on over the summer, but additionally (and more importantly) I get to learn about the city in ways that I wouldn’t if I was always whizzing past. I can peer into shop windows and find new treasures. So what if a trip that would take 20 minutes by car takes me an hour on foot.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes the journey is the thing and not the destination.
Christmas is about much more than the decorations that may or may not be up in my apartment. It is about more than what is in the stockings. It is about celebrating a birth that brought tidings of comfort and joy.
My husband and I are trying to celebrate while we are far from friends and family, and it is difficult to remember that Christmas is even coming, let alone the reason that we celebrate. To help me focus on “the reason for the season,” I made a countdown calendar. I am reading a John Piper book, and I made Christmas cookies.
There are, no doubt, millions of cookie recipes, but this one continues to be one of my favorites. It is chock full of white chocolate, which I hate. Maybe this is one of the reasons that it is one of my favorite cookies. If it can transform an ingredient that I loathe into something that I love, it has to be good. Seriously, if you walked up to me and handed me a piece of white chocolate, I would either throw it in the trash or save it for this recipe. I am not neutral on white chocolate. In high school I did a research paper on the history of chocolate and declared that white chocolate is NOT chocolate.
Moving past my extreme dislike for white chocolate, these cookies are beyond great. Over the years that I have been making this recipe, everyone has loved them and asks me for the recipe. That is always a good sign.
Lesson Learned: It is good to try new things, but it is never bad to stick with a good thing (as long as it is these white chocolate raspberry cookies).
You decide where home is. Yes, the house of my parents will always be a special home to me, but my new apartment in a strange city can be home too. I can also be at home sitting in a trendy coffee shop in a new part of town . As I sat here studying language and trying to write sentences using the possessive form, I was listening to Christmas music. Faith Hill’s O Holy Night started to play, and I felt at home listening to the beauty of her voice and the words of the song. “…His power and glory evermore proclaim.”
It helped I am sure that I was drinking the best latte that I have had since… I can’t remember.
Lesson Learned: To quote a famous Disney character, “Home is where your rump rests.”
I have always had a Christmas tree, even when I lived alone in Michigan. My extreme desire to decorate to the hilt must be one of the many qualities that I inherited from my mother. After years of living on my own, I had amassed a decent collection of Christmas decorations, but since the big move, we have had to start from scratch. We begin with one 3 ft tree, 3 strands of lights and 6 tiny ornaments. Most countries in Central Asia do not even celebrate Christmas, so I am grateful to have a tree at all. Sometimes, I just sit and stare at it, and it gives me joy.
Celebrating the holidays away from family and friends can be a little lonely and sad, but we have so much to be grateful for. Now, I am trying to develop ways to make Christmas on our own special and memorable. For instance, maybe we will get lunch out at a nice restaurant on Christmas Day. Maybe I can find a fun Christmas craft for my husband and I to do… or maybe not. 🙂
Lesson Learned: It is okay to celebrate in a new way.
I am cooking with greater and greater regularity, and I am learning that despite being in a big city and attempting fairly basic recipes, cooking is simply more difficult in a foreign country. Between converting measurements and finding the ingredients that I am used to, I have learned to celebrate little victories.
Victory #1: I spent nearly a half hour trying to take a 1,000 gram block of margarine and, without using a scale, divide it into butter stick size chunks. I was so confused by the time that I was done, that I am not sure that I will be able to replicate the process in the future. I might need to break down and get a kitchen scale…
Victory #2: While preparing to spend Thanksgiving with some local ex-pats, I had to hunt down some ingredients. Making a pecan pie was out of the question since I have not seen pecans anywhere, so I settled for a Derby pie with walnuts. Additionally, I needed something resembling celery for stuffing along with other assorted ingredients. I got myself together, hopped on the train and headed to one of the bigger bazaars. 2 1/2 hours later, I had 8 of the 12 ingredients that I needed, and I was happy about it.
Victory #3: I finally broke down and asked some people if corn starch and cocoa powder existed here, and to my relief those ingredients are here… sometimes. Yesterday I went to a new supermarket and had to ask two people to direct me to the corn starch. I got potato starch in the absence of corn starch, but you know what? I still consider that victory.
Lesson Learned: Be happy about the little things.