All this time

IMG_8172I’m deciding to just jump back in over here. No microphone tapping, no apologies, no excuses. There’s too much to share, personally, professionally and of course my foreign service/expat blogger duty to let you in on my perspective of life in Santiago.


I seriously considered shuttering and bulldozing this blog and starting fresh. It’s been nearly a year. I’ve said it before, here I’m saying it again. I love this online community and my piecemeal scrapbook. So onward I will press.


Quickly, the biggest events nutshell: Right around the time that my adventurous in-laws and our niece arrived for a 3 week visit back in February, the 8 month wait for my security clearance ended. I’ve been working full time at the embassy ever since as a roving OMS (Office Management Specialist). (I am infinitely grateful for the paycheck but my creative side itches non stop for a good scratch.) Snakes went for a temporary assignment to Guayaquil, Ecuador for the month of March, during which time my dear auntie came for 2 weeks to help out. Some of our favorites from A-100 currently posted in Suriname came down for a long Father’s day weekend. And finally, we took our R&R to the states for nearly all of August where we attended a family reunion in northern Michigan and spent the Bushbaby’s 4th birthday with family in Pennsylvania. (R&R tickets have since been revoked; we were the last family at post to receive this benefit having been paneled JUST before they decided to take them away. What luck!) Ideally I will flesh all of this out with stories and photos, but not making any promises. Now then… back to the present.


For weeks now, nay months! leading up to Halloween the only thing I heard from La resident Princesa was that she and her crew were all planning to dress as Elsa for the festivities. I shook my head, smelled the defeat closing in, knowing that my annual fantasy as a costume designer was nearly snuffed out. Throwing my Hail Mary, I suggested that she and I head to the fabric markets and carefully select the most sparkly, shimmering icy blue fabrics our money could buy. Mama could fashion them into the fanciest Elsa gown that Santiago has ever seen! Tears. THIS was met with tears. It MUST be purchased through the computer screen or it just will not do!IMG_8096

I realize how this sounds- that I wasn’t allowed to make my daughter’s costume from scratch. I know plenty of parents would rejoice in this good fortune, dialing it in to Amazon, shelling out the 30 bucks and checking it off the list. Perhaps you’re wondering how I allow my 4 yo to dictate such orders to her own mother. To that I say, I’m working full time now and I’ve learned to choose my battles.

Even so, I couldn’t shake the image of myself curled up on the sofa, sewing project in hand, tacking ancient bits of chandelier crystals I’ve been dragging around for years, yearning for such a debut on the intricate bodice of an ice queen costume. With less than a week to go and Snakes out of town, Colette and I were enjoying a movie night. Making a dinner of popcorn and milkshakes while watching “How to Train Your Dragon”.

I casually mentioned how cool I thought the blonde little rough and tumble character, Astrid is. How much of a resemblance I found between her and my own little hooligan snuggled in next to me. Hmmmm. Seed planted….. Ten minutes later, my heart soared when she turned to me and said, “Mama, I don’t want to be Elsa. I want to be a Viking Warrior.”I casually mentionbed

I hopped to it in the coming days. Any blocks of time which presented themselves were spent punching holes, slicing scraps of leather to fringe, stringing up skulls and setting rivets. Between Snakes and his cabinet of curiosities and my leather studio, we had a respectable arsenal of raw materials. In the end, she only wore it to one of the 3 parties she attended but I’ll chalk it up as a victory for viking warriors and creatively oppressed office workers everywhere.

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el poof de peru

IMG_5996As mentioned in the last post, we recently spent a long weekend with a dear friend in Lima. Seemed like a shame to get all the way there and not make it out of the capitol, but such is travel with a tot. Plus, our schedules were fairly taxed back in Santiago with holiday commitments so a long weekend was really all we had to spare.

Our friend lives in the Miraflores neighborhood which is perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean. We passed our mornings sipping flawless Peruvian coffee and looking out at the hazy horizon. I hear this is close to the number one complaint of those posted in Lima, the incessantly overcast skies. We were lucky enough to have the clouds break to blue a couple of afternoons during our stay. Though there for a short time, I didn’t mind the grey at all. I love that dreamy, muted palette.IMG_5726IMG_5684 IMG_5716 IMG_5700

I knew that the kitchens of Lima were highly respected in the worldwide “food scene”, but figured this was more of a play for tourism than an integral part of their culture. SO INCREDIBLY WRONG. Markets were bursting with table after table of reasonably priced organic fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, sprouts, coffee, chocolate. You name it, they had 5 different varieties. The thing that really stuck with me was that it didn’t seem like it was totally geared toward wealthy “food-y” expats (and priced accordingly). In my limited time to observe, there seemed to be a fairly decent mix of shoppers. IMG_5665 IMG_5661It was nearly torture to not give into my urge to fill every pocket, shoe and empty carry-on with multi colored heirloom beans and delicacies like quinoa flakes, cacao nibs, maca powder and adzuki sprouts. Lima is a food loving dietitian’s paradise. Oh, and from there we went to the craft markets. Could my heart stand another surge of this colorful and delicious inspiration?

IMG_5916Apparently not. Snakes! Grab the defibrillators and hand me the wallet! The Peruvian textiles had my mind spinning with projects more quickly than the money could change hands. If it wasn’t hand-woven, vibrantly dyed wools, it was baby alpaca snugglies and yarns. On previous visits, my girlfriend had ferreted out a few vendors who actually sold some of the fabrics raw by the meter instead of already committed to cushion covers or blankets. The ones we fell for had a salvaged edge on either side of the 12″ width. Perfect for an ottoman! IMG_5918After some quick calculations and conversions in my head, I bought around 5 meters. At six bucks a meter, it was taking shape within a reasonable budget. The next step was to figure out what to use for the stuffing. Something sturdy, preferably eco-friendly, maybe recycled/repurposed and ideally free. I read a few tutorials on line which all suggested buying a giant bag of beanbag filler from Walmart. WHAT??!? That didn’t check any of my boxes. “A giant bag of beanbag filler from Walmart”- just typing (then retyping) those words makes me feel filthy and evil, like those words and I just strangled a pod of dolphins in the great Pacific trash vortex.

So I didn’t go that route because I don’t need that on my conscience. I remembered from my super brief stint as an embassy worker back in September the insane amount of paper shredding that’s done daily. After checking with the appropriate officials, I was allowed to remove a big bag of fluffy shred from the recycling bin. IMG_5992It worked out perfectly! Moderately lightweight, very firm and if I ever need a handful or two of extra stuffing to fluff her back up, I have a good source. I made an inner box cushion from old fabrics to lend structure and keep things more contained. Zipped it all together on the machine and hand stitched the final seam. I am pleased with how it came together so quickly and simply. My Peruvian poof and other “big” purchase, a thick wool blanket turned rug, are perfectly vibrant reminders of our quick but memorable visit to Lima.IMG_5994 IMG_1828


tradition ambition


Seems like I’m just rolling from holiday to holiday here on the blog and to be perfectly honest, that’s fairly reflective of life in real time. I’m always composing blog posts in my head, but as you see, they rarely make it to the screen.  Halloween faded quickly into a pre-birthday, weekend-long yoga intensive at my local (and incredibly gorgeous) Iyengar yoga studio with Manouso Manos. Despite the hefty dose of inspiration, my mid-November birthday found me introspective and angsty, as usual.

I was hired at the embassy back in August as a sort of roving girl Friday. Over 4 months later, I am still waiting for the security clearance. Our tour may be over by the time I actually start the job. In the meantime, I hosted a holiday craft market in our home since I wasn’t hearing many solid details about the embassy’s Christmas bazaar. Both events came together beautifully in the end, more on these later.

We took advantage of a long weekend in early December to visit a friend in Lima, Peru.  From the dramatic Pacific cliffside condos to their endless selections of artisan textiles and farmers markets, my mind and belly still hum with inspiration. Heirloom beans, grains, sprouts, veggies, fruits and seafood are abundant and affordable. Sorry for the teaser, but again (and I promise!!), more on this later.

(Instead of backtracking too much, I’m working to tie the above topics into “real time” projects with accompanying posts. Don’t worry, I’ll save you the navel gazing birthday blues!)


Fast forward to the more recent past: Last weekend we hosted a gingerbread house decorating party for the Bushbaby and 3 of her buddies. Neither of us had done this before. My experience was limited to incredibly fond but distant memories of my Aunt Jayne’s annual contribution to the Christmas party at my grandparent’s. I can remember a collective trembling anticipation as my cousins, sister and I watched their arrival from the warmth of our grandma’s kitchen. The masterpiece perched on her extended arms as she and my uncle navigated the icy driveway. I called her the other day and she had a good laugh, reminding me of her “adobe years” when she couldn’t get the roof to stay upright. Of course in my memory, it was always on the level of Christmas miracle . A house made entirely from giant cookie parts and covered in sweets!? And WE GET TO EAT THIS?!? Imagine that.

Fast forward thirty-five years.


Snakes found a basic recipe on line and last Monday we began the weeklong evening bake-a-thon. By Friday night we had amassed enough pieces to build 4 houses. Armed with pastry bags full of sticky royal icing, we got to work. Just before midnight our project finally seemed like it would be a success. Sounds like a huge undertaking, but like anything, the more you do it, the more proficient you become. And let’s be honest, it’s really all about the decorating. As long as your structure is relatively sturdy, you’re in business.IMG_5867

Of course their dedication to decoration was inversely proportional to the amount of decoration consumed. After about 20 minutes, they sprung from the table and ran in circles around the house, taking turns chasing each other on the scooter, balance bike and plasma car. The parents had a surprisingly relaxed time finishing things up despite the fever pitch of chaos rising around us.


Before things ran too far off the rails, I fed everyone a quick and simple grilled cheese lunch and soon after they were off with their own masterpieces in tow. IMG_5905


Snakes was horrified when later that evening I snapped a chunk of gingerbread from the facade. “You’ve got to be kidding me!! After all of that work! You’re just tearing in like a hungry bear. You have zero self control.” Since I can’t really argue with that last bit, especially when it comes to baked goods, I need to know. Should the house rest, undisturbed for days of admiration by all who pass? Or are we at immediate liberty to see this Christmas miracle through to it’s crumbly spicy end? When is it appropriate to hungry bear it on in to your child’s masterpiece?

pink enough

IMG_5494Despite our best efforts to encourage a more interesting and unique costume, our 3 year old Bushbaby was bitten by the pink princess sparkle fairy bug and she has got the fever. Turns out that she has a mind of her own with a strong will to match.  I was really hoping to trump last year’s Debbie Harry by following up with a wild haired, shawl draped Stevie Nicks. Thinking maybe this could be the start of a decade long series of 80s rock icons?! Annie Lennox? Tina Turner? Now this has potential. In reality, the window for imposing your own Halloween fantasies is a narrow one. Foolish of me to think I’d be choosing her costumes going forward. And the fairy did turn out pretty cute.

I knew last year would be hard to beat on many fronts. Halloween on Capitol Hill is a unique treat. Jack-o-lanterns flicker from every porch as swarms of bees, fairies, pirates and superheroes buzz from one brownstone to the next. The evening air carries just the right amount of chill to remind you of the seasons changing but with any luck makes no demands for a costume-altering coat over top.  It’ll always feel strange to me south of the equator, especially this time of year, so filled with traditions and memories of growing up in the chilly midwest. In the southern hemisphere, the mercury rises as we head into the holidays.IMG_5462Up until the last possible moment she wavered between pink sparkle fairy and the ubiquitous Ice Queen, Elsa. I feared that after all of my work on her homemade costume she’d insist on a scratchy old princess dress. Tragedy for a mom who actually enjoys this sort of thing. In my experience, there are so few opportunities for EFMs (spouses of foreign service officers) to shine and costume making just happens to be a tiny source of pride for this one.IMG_5445

I used mostly things I had kicking around the studio or that the Bushbaby had in her closet. We picked up the unapologetically pink flowers at our neighborhood’s equivalent of a dollar store. I tacked them to an old pink tank top and a pair of shoes she no longer wears since they’re not pink. I made the wings by bending and twisting some wire into shape and securing fabric around the edges with a crude whipstitch. I added the glitter when after showing them to my girl with pride sparkling in my eyes, she looked at me and said, “They’re not pink enough.”IMG_5503 The embassy did a tremendous job hosting a trick or treat party. There were nearly a hundred kids roaming the halls, filling their sacks one generous fistful of candy at a time. Offices replaced bulbs with red or black lights, piped in scary music and draped the cubicles with black gauzy fabrics and spider webs. It was just spooky enough to feel transformative. We rode the elevator to the top floor then circled our way back down to the basement.

IMG_5513 IMG_5526 After she filled her sack so full she could no longer carry it, we decided to take the party outside with a few other friends. They tore around the embassy grounds in a sugary blur. These memories we are making may lack the time worn traditions that I yearn to create for her but I know they’ll be happy ones. And now I’ve got a whole year ahead of us to talk her into how much fun it would be to channel Stevie for 2015.IMG_5549


down south

10405353_762981263763225_4960403498973053471_n Just back from a week in the rugged south of Chile. We booked the trip a few months ago when Snakes signed up to run the Patagonia Marathon. Though there were less arduous options, he decided to tackle the ultra, a 64K course (a hair under 40 miles) that wound itself through the foothills of the Torres Del Paine National Park. No words can relay the scenery, my photos will try. He’d been training for the past few months despite the thick smog and drizzle that inhabits (and inhibits) Santiago in the winter months.IMG_4618

We flew into Punta Arenas, a port city that sits along the Strait of Magellan. It’s about as far south as you can go on the mainland continent. We picked up the car and drove north for two hours along the “fin del mundo” highway before reaching our first destination, Puerto Natales. This gusty little town serves as a jumping off point for hikers to grab supplies and fill their bellies before setting off for adventures in the icy beyond. We’d been following the forecast for weeks in preparation, our teeth chattering their disappointment. Overcast, drizzly, snow showers, high winds predicted for every day of our week long visit. I hoped that Snakes would at least have “cooperative” weather for his 7 hour run. (Still can’t wrap my head around that.) I’m pleased to report, they were gloriously wrong. Brisk and invigorating, yes, but perfectly sunny every single day but one! What luck. IMG_5161 We started our first full day rising with the sun and joining a boat ride to nearby glaciers. Bushbaby would’ve preferred to stay back and spend the day at the swirly slide we’d discovered in town upon arrival.  Both Snakes and I were nervous we’d over estimated our daughter’s patience for things like a day long boat excursion. There’s a fine line to walk when yearning to explore a place where you may never have the opportunity to return and placating a 3 year old, all while respecting your fellow travelers. I’m glad we took the chance. IMG_5173IMG_5180IMG_5181 We chugged out into the river, pausing to admire a colony of penguin-like birds living in the rock ledges and retreating glaciers. In the cozy space below deck we played “UNO” while sipping hot tea offered by the tour organizers. After 3 hours or so, the boat tied off at a remote little dock to allow us an hour and a half long hike to stretch our legs, explore the lichen covered terrain and join the others for a photo op with the glacier. IMG_5227IMG_5230


Our guide told us that just 10 years ago the glacier in the background of this picture extended all the way up to that rock. From where we are posed, visitors could reach back and touch it. The hike back to the boat was a little more difficult for the Bushbaby, but with a horseyback ride from mom and a few football carries and sack-o-potato holds by dad we all made it back to the boat in one piece.

As we settled back into our seats with grumbling bellies and a shiver in our bones we hoped for the best, since the appeal of UNO had long worn off. Regrettably, I’ve never been one of those amazing moms who travels with multiple courses of snacks and refreshments in my bag. We had some super salty airline peanuts since we’d already eaten our orange, so all was not lost. I noticed one of the crew moving carefully down the aisle with a full trey of what I figured was apple juice. No sooner did I look over at Snakes and say, “Wouldn’t that be amazing if that was whiskey? But of course it’s apple juice.” and 2 very generous glasses of whiskey poured over “glacial ice” were plunked down in front of us.

“Apple juice!!!” Coco was elated to quench her peanutty thirst. Luckily the guy showed back up with juice of some sort before she lost it. We were all teetering at this point and mommy’s whiskey was a welcome reprieve. IMG_5251

The final stop was for a hearty meatlovers lunch at a bucolic farm right along the waterway. Their main source of income must’ve been catering to travelers such as ourselves passing through every afternoon. Nothing existed in any direction except their modest farm with sheep, a hoop house and a blazing churrascaria attached to a room filled with tables and chairs. IMG_5290IMG_5267


I hadn’t meant for this post to carry on for so long, but I guess it’s worth stating the obvious and saying that it has been a while. As usual, I’ve missed this. After lunch we all cozied back into the boat and returned to our starting point. IMG_5255

We had a four hour drive ahead of us the next day into the heart of Torres Del Paine national park. Our lodge was the ending point of the marathon which was taking place the day after. I was relieved we’d broken it up into a two day trip since after only four hours in the car I was having flashbacks from our vacation in Namibia, after which we’d sworn to reign in our vacation ambitions. IMG_5309 IMG_5315 IMG_5320

We settled into the lodge and scoped out the finish line. There was a 100K trail marathon (or something equally as terrifying) that was finishing up that afternoon. Snakes jammed his pack full of “goos” and laid out his gear for his departure time of 5am. They picked him and the other ultra runners up and drove them for two hours in the opposite direction, so they could spend the next 6-7 running back. There was very little race support in this remote locale, I imagined he could just stop and drink from rivers when the urge struck.

The bushbaby and I got a little more sleep then spent our morning poking around the horse stables and checking out the preparations for the post-race festivities, a massive lamb barbecue.  Around the time we were expecting our guy to cross the finish line, we settled in to cheer the other runners in and wait for ours.



Snakes did it. He finished his final (or so he says..) ultra marathon. He was wrung out with exhaustion as you can imagine, but invigorated from the sense of accomplishment. He even managed to rally the next day to join us ladies for a horse ride and capture the below image which may actually inspire me to do holiday cards this year! Thank you all for reading and bearing with me as I work to resurrect one of my dearest creative outlets. IMG_5396IMG_5404

some home work- before & after

IMG_3877After 3 months of our arrival, I’ve finally gotten our place together enough to share some pictures. **TONS of photos to follow, I apologize if you’re working with a super slow internet.** We are just entering into fall with cooler nights and low 70s sunny days. Sometimes a little hazy and though there’s talk about the terrible pollution, thankfully none of us have had any respiratory issues. In our neighborhood, this sort of apartment building is common, surrounded by window boxes which are spilling over with all sorts of flowering plants, tropicals and herbs. Our boxes have some existing geraniums, but beyond that they could use some TLC. The Bushbaby and I have set up a little composting area in one of them for finely ground juicer scraps. She loves to dig in and surprise the worms with lunch.

IMG_3875The doormen are out early each morning, mopping the walks and tidying up after fallen leaves. The grounds for our building are immaculate. There’s a family of cats who live in our complex. Though indolent with sunshine, they slink beneath the rosemary bushes when a certain curious toddler approaches. Not a bad life for a bunch of strays.

One of my favorite things about “all this moving business” (as my grandmother would’ve said with her brows furrowed, shaking her head) is that I am allowed to rearrange, dream up new ways to camouflage and gussy up our government issued furnishings to make this house a home. My budget was very minimal, as in nonexistent. That whole buying a row house in DC thing tends to put a little strain on a one paycheck family. I NEED A JOB!!! But enough talking. Before and after photos are so much fun.

The apartment is half of the floor, split down the center by the entrance hall. To the left is the kitchen and living space, to the right are the 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms and straight ahead is the office. When we arrived there was only the mirror in this area.IMG_4553IMG_4554The living room, to the left leads to the dining room and sitting area which lead to the kitchen, and back through to the half bath and entrance hall. IMG_3658 IMG_4551IMG_3656 IMG_4545IMG_3672 IMG_4552 IMG_4548 IMG_4549IMG_4546

Onward to the dining room and sitting area-IMG_3650 IMG_4536 IMG_4540 IMG_4542 IMG_4498 IMG_4483 IMG_4491IMG_4490IMG_4508 IMG_4503I covered the couches with the IKEA Ektorp slip covers. I spent a few hours one Saturday afternoon recovering the dining chairs with a hearty upholstery fabric I picked up last summer at a DC yard sale. The cushion covers on the sofa are from fabrics I bought in Luanda.

The kitchen’s not much to look at, it wasn’t bad to start. White, basic and with a good layout, gas stove top(!!) and plenty of counter space. It has a built-in breakfast nook and tons of cabinets. IMG_3660IMG_4556 IMG_4560As far as the rest of the house, I’ve got the Bushbaby’s room in good order but the others still need a little love. Started out impossibly dull but with a roll of washi tape, a pair of scissors and a level to make a grid, we ended up with a pretty fun space for our senorita!IMG_3639IMG_4522IMG_4525IMG_4511IMG_4515IMG_4518IMG_4532I’m so pleased with how the polkadot wall turned out. Even though we are allowed to paint in our apartments, we are required to turn them back to beige when we’re leaving. As much as I love color, it sounds like another major hassle during transfer time. I actually cut the washi tape pieces into circles, about half way through I wished I’d have cut them into little raindrops instead. Always next time. The whole project took a couple of hours and since someone is currently in a “sticker phase”, I had a very committed little helper. It’s cute, right?

bus to wonderland

IMG_4128Last week we hopped a bus from the city center to Valparaiso, a coastal town just an hour and a half drive from Santiago. You may recognize it from recent news when the worst wildfires in the region’s history swept through the hills only a week ago. We considered canceling but decided that since the fires were controlled, the city could use our tourist dollars now more than ever.  I am so pleased that we stayed the course.

We have elected to go car free for now and are determined to make the most of public transportation options. We paid $10 for two round trip bus tickets, as Bushbabies ride for free. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and checked into the Fauna Hotel in the Cerro Alegre neighborhood. The top floor housed their restaurant which boasted one of the most impressive collections of succulents that I’ve ever had the pleasure to dine with. And then there was the view beyond.IMG_4081

The hotel was situated on a footpath which connected the street to a funicular, which means we were steps away from two very different neighborhoods. The funicular station had recently been renovated and had a HUGE (and pretty steep!) slide that took you from the arrival platform to the plaza below. My first impression of this jaw-dropping place was that of a magical but dangerous playground. Predictably Snakes and the Bushbaby nearly wore out the seats of their pants.IMG_4014IMG_3995IMG_4384We hired a city guide, Perro Tours, to take us off the beaten path and fill us in on the history and reason behind all of this astounding public art. (I’m not sure I ever got an entirely comprehensive answer.) He told us that much of it is the result of a recent festival of Chilean and Latin American street artists who came to the city to transform neighborhoods into open air galleries. Every corner you turn, every alleyway you peek into, every implausible staircase leads to yet another public square covered in bright mosaics or splashes of mouthwatering colors. I adore (and suspect will crave) this accessibility! Imagine if every time you left home your path was rainbow colored and lined with murals. Pure magic, right? Or would it be like everything remarkable thing that we eventually take for granted?  In time would you fail to notice?

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We returned to Santiago Friday afternoon, after a brief two night stay. There is so much more to explore. My mind still drifts through that seaside wonderland and with any luck will continue to do so until we have the good fortune to return.