Preparing to Live Abroad by Going with the Flow

When I grow up, I want to become the Postmistress of Castrojeriz, Spain.

Imagine a job where you come in Monday-Friday from 9:30-10am.  You get to enjoy a bit of "office" camaraderie, interact with a few local residents, help out struggling tourists who want to send a postcard from their Camino route, and then go home in time to have a proper breakfast and really start the day.

Of course, if you are a tourist--or, for that matter, a resident--who needs the post office to be open beyond 30 minutes in the morning, these hours could be a bit frustrating.  And--gasp!--what if I needed something on the weekend?  Then, I might be missing the Chicago-area suburbs with their 24-hour grocery stores, Saturday hours for the post office, etc.

We have had enough adventures with European ideas of public services to know that all will not be smooth sailing if and when we finally do move there.  In fact, in just about every country we are contemplating living in, we've had some memorab…

Coffee, Cream, and Culture

In our second two-month stay in Montreal last fall, my French teacher Nicolas--who came from the beautiful 7th arrondissement of Paris--was talking about the relative merits of different coffee shops right around our school.  Someone in class then asked him whether one would ask for a cappuccino if someone wanted coffee with cream in France.  Nicolas responded that, in fact, either Italian cappuccino or cafe latte would be understood, along with the more French cafe au lait, but that there is another French name we could use, for a better coffee drink.  He asked if anyone in class knew what that might be.  I did.

As a side note: Although our French classes were quite international, because so many of the students in class were still quite young (Will and I were both the oldest students in our respective classes, sometimes by 10+ years), they had not traveled as much as old fogies like us.  That being the case, I always tried to temper my enthusiasm in speaking about world travel with…

When Your "Home Sweet Home" Becomes Your Albatross

Lest we seem ungrateful, let me just say at the outset that I often cherish our home.  When the afternoon sun hits our west-facing windows during summer dinner parties, or when Will and I sit out on our balcony to watch the sun set, or when I see our dog Katie sprawled out on the granite in front of our living room fireplace, I'm filled with a sense of contentment and--especially if we have actually cleaned the living room--even a certain amount of home-pride.  But...

The fact is, it's not because we love our home that we opted to stay in Chicago when there were offers a couple of years ago for Will to move out west for his career.  Sure, I have a tenured teaching position here, but that wasn't the only reason either.  In addition to whatever other reasons, the truth is that our home is something of an obstacle to an ideal "sabbatical life."

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In May 2006, we sold our Chicago bungalow and went to live in England for Will's ex-pat assignment …

Hosting Dinner Parties: Our Favorite Indoor Activity!

In our "About Us" page, we promised that we wouldn't write too much about things like cooking dinner together.  This particular entry is going to make a liar out of that promise, but hopefully the occasional such posts will be forgiven...

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The subtitle for this blog identifies "Biking, Hiking, Eating, Traveling and Other Adventures" as the focus of Our Sabbatical Life.  While the rest are more outdoorsy activities, we find the sole indoor-oriented activity of EATING at least as important as any one of the rest.  (In fact, for me at least, food might be more critical than the ALL the rest combined!)

One of the ways we get the most out of our eating pleasure?: Hosting dinner parties.  We also like brunches and lunches and cocktail hours and weekend house parties too, but perhaps our preferred form of entertaining might be to have 2-4 extra people over for a long dinner that involves plenty of food, drinks, and wide-ranging conversation.

Why We Might Miss French Toast If We Move to France

We love France, and that is probably the country we would most likely move to when we next become temporary expats.  Part of the appeal of France--aside from the fact that we are already in the process of learning to speak the language--is the food.  We are fans of French cuisine!

But... as we realized again yesterday at breakfast, we are going to miss American-style brunch.  We've mentioned this before, and it bears repeating.  The U.S.--especially in larger cities like Chicago--produces some of the best, most creative, and imaginative brunches in the world (though, yes, we're have had some pleasant surprises on that front, as in this post on Montreal brunch scene).

In part, this American culinary success might be owing to the melange of cultures (again, in the larger cities) in the U.S. that allow a fruitful cross-pollination of influences from Mexican, Korean, Italian, Chinese, Caribbean, Thailand, Peru, Indian, etc.  We will definitely miss this ability to pick and choose…

A Weekend in the Country Leads to Reflections on Old Friendships

I wrote recently about our love of both the country and the city.  In many ways, our last two weekends illustrate that perfectly.  After a short jaunt in Milwaukee the previous weekend at a downtown hotel, we returned to Wisconsin for a brief weekend outing in the "country," north of Milwaukee.

After a long friendship carried out over many years of dining out at various Chicago-area BYO restaurants, our little "Supper Club" (comprised of three couples) found fewer opportunities to get together in recent years as new professional obligations and opportunities--including our own long absence from the Chicago area during our "gap year"--meant that we could not see each other as often or as conveniently.  That is all the more reason why these occasional weekend retreats at the Wisconsin vacation home of our friends became such special occasions for catching up.

As it gets darker outside, the highlight of these weekends starts with our host firing up a pile o…

April in...Milwaukee?!

It's no Paris, and it was most definitely waaaaycolder than we'd have liked, but we still had a most "rewarding" weekend in Milwaukee!
Travel Hacking for a Reward Night

So, the backstory is that we signed up for an IHG hotel-branded credit card through Chase a couple of years ago when they ran a special with sign-up bonus points that we could not refuse.  (Ok, yes, we really could have "refused" them, but the deal seemed pretty good, all in all.)  Over the almost two years we've had this card, we enjoyed several "free" nights at IHG hotels from points we either accumulated through credit card purchases or were gifted through the sign-up bonus.

One of the nicest perks of this particular card--which charges a relatively modest $49 annual fee--is a free "anniversary" night reward granted on the renewal date.  Just recently, IHG changed their policy such that any future anniversary nights awarded after March 31, 2018, were only good for …

Green Acres, Or Big Cities?

Whenever Will and I are discussing locations for where we want to vacation, to settle down, or to retire eventually, we're reminded of the 60s sitcom--which we both saw in later re-runs--about a New York City couple (played by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor) who moves to a rural area so that the husband could indulge his love of "fresh air" and learn to farm.  Incidentally, I'd always been struck, even as a child, with the (catchy) theme song's patriarchalism: "[He:] You are my wife.  [She:] Good-bye, city life.  [They together:] Green Acres, we are there!"

It's not quite that bad with us since we both love "fresh air" and Times Square (right above, or, for that matter, Chicago's Daley Plaza, pictured below), but it's true that each of us has a decided preference for either places of "natural" beauty or those of "cultural" charm.

Will is much more outdoorsy--camping, skiing, swimming, paddle-boarding; in contrast, …

Exploring the Appeal of Living Abroad

We tell family and friends that we are thinking about living in a foreign country for a year or longer--perhaps even retiring abroad someday!--and they are puzzled.  Why leave the convenience of living in a country where we have our closest relatives and friends, customs of a country we spent a lifetime becoming familiar with, benefits of a country that we have paid taxes for?
They're right, of course, to raise concerns.  But we are also considering the upside of living abroad, something we plan to pursue at some point.

Learning a New Language

We know that most people are petrified about the idea of not understanding their surroundings and not being understood by others.  We're not exactly looking forward to communication barriers either.

However, we actually LIKE the idea of learning a new language.  Admittedly we are not fluent in any language other than English (despite our months in Montreal taking classes).  But we do have a smattering of languages: Will knows some Japane…

Sabbatical Pleasure Readings: International Murder Mysteries

During our second two-month stay in Montreal last fall, Will and I enjoyed visiting two of Quebec Eastern Township villages identified by Louise Penny as part of her inspiration for her Inspector Armand Gamache series, set in quaint and adorable (and extraordinarily murderous...) fictional town of Three Pines, Quebec. 

As Will and I are also people who took the obligatory photo of the "Three Pines" Welcome sign--and, yes, drove to visit these towns expressly for the purpose of visiting the Three Pines inspirations--we are reminded of the ways in which part of our recent travels have mixed overall pleasure in visiting beautiful locales with the more specific thrill of actually being places mentioned in some of our favorite international murder mystery series.

We are all familiar with the term "food porn." Those pictures of luxuriously appointed kitchens or extravagantly beautiful dishes of drool-worthy food are everywhere these days--and all making us swoon with d…

Remembering the Camino, Part 6: Packing List and Some Useful Advice

So, you want to walk to Santiago de Compostela, huh?

Having curated this blog since its creation a bit more than a year ago, I know that Will's packing list for last spring's coast-to-coast bike ride is one that people have stumbled upon and returned to.  Clearly, there are readers out there--beyond our circle of friends and family, and outside the U.S.!--who are looking for some pointers for an undertaking such as a cross-country roughing-it ride.

Since our camino walk was 5 years ago, we have less-detailed instructions on what to bring and how to pack.  However, we do still have some ideas that we want to share here.

Clothes for walking:

2 pairs of convertible pants/shorts (or, for women, possibly pants/capris)

2-3 short sleeved fast-drying shirts.1 long sleeve fast-drying shirt and/or 1 collared shirt that could double for both walking (sun protection!) and for dressing up.2-3 pairs of wool hiking socks, with plenty of cushion (to start).2-3 pairs of fast-drying lightweight u…