Friday, December 27, 2013

The Best of...

Here is a present for all my readers.  Below you'll find a list of services that make my life easier while living abroad. 
On top of most Expats' list is staying connected with loved ones back home.**

Vonage is a phone service that works over the internet.  Before leaving the U.S. we transferred our U.S. number to Vonage, so we were able to keep the phone number all our friends and family already knew.  The number has been traveling with us to many countries throughout a few continents.  Check Vonage's World Plan, that allows you to call over 60 countries around the world in addition to calls State side.

Free way to video chat or call home.  The only problem, your contacts have to have the software installed in their computers or cellphones and they have to be online to receive your calls, which can be challenging when you're talking about older folks.  You can also buy Skype credit and call any phone number around the world.  Some friends also use MagicJack.

Not every cable provider has TV shows and movies in English, so we bought an Apple TV which worked wonderfully during our last post in Latin America.  It's great for downloading kids' shows and cartoons in English, at least it makes their life easier when you first arrive and feel immersed in a strange culture.  A few comforts from home won't hurt.  You will need to make an apple id and link your credit card to your account.  Then you just buy or rent movies and tv shows for a few dollars and enjoy american television wherever you are.  Netflix is another option but it doesn't work in every country.

Everyone loves Amazon, and it ships internationally

Excellent source for all beauty, toiletries and pharmacy needs.  I have enjoyed their quick service for years.

Snapfish is great for sending Holiday Greeting cards every year.  I have always ordered the cards through them but this year I went a step further and had them deliver the cards directly to my loved ones.  Great service every year!

Apple's itunes has excellent language instruction podcasts.  Once you download itunes into your computer you will be able to access all of the Podcasts.  Whichever language you'll need to deal with, there is a podcast that will teach you in easy 5 minute sessions, words of the day, survival phrases or even advance lessons,,,,for FREE! I've been subscribed to Italianpod101 since I learned I was coming to Rome.  Great video podcast for building vocabulary.

Alright, those were the tips of the day.  Arrivederci!

** image source:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Old, New and Borrowed Traditions

"It is useful to study different traditions in order to be free of attachment to any one way of expressing what is beyond expression. (x)” Ravi Ravindra, The Wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

During my life as an #expat I have worked hard to keep my family traditions alive, mainly for the sake
of my children.  Many of our traditions are culinary.  When I first got married, my mother in-law gave me a crash course on the dishes dear to her heart in order for her baby, my husband, to continue enjoying the family recipes.  I spent my first #Christmas as a married woman in her kitchen as  she taught me how to make her Anisette cookies.  I just finished making this year's batch, Merry Christmas Irma, I hope you saw the boys struggle making your cookies, you made it look so easy!

During our life overseas, I have celebrated foreign holidays and traditions that now have become my own.  There is no Christmas without a "Pan de Jamon", a Venezuelan Christmas bread stuffed with ham, bacon raisins and olives.  Many times I have also gathered with friends to celebrate Chinese New Year.  One of my expats friends never has her act together in order to mail #Christmas cards, so she always sends Happy Chinese New Year's cards in lieu of the Christmas ones.   Carnavales, celebrated in February in many Southamerican countries, was an easy one to adopt since it always meant traveling to the beach and enjoying the warm weather.

New Tradition: La Befana brings sweets to the children on January 6th.
On our first weekend in Italy we went to Piazza Navona, a buzzling square downtown #Rome that has forever been home of the most important Christmas market in the city.  We were puzzled to see as part of the Christmas decorations sold in the square, a witch, which for us was synonymous of #Halloween.  Come to find out, it was not a witch but the #Befana, an old lady that brings sweets to the children on January 6th and places them in their stockings.  If the children are naughty she brings coal; in the old days she really brought coal, but nowadays she brings coals made out of sugar.  Either way, it didn't take long for my children to demand we adopt the Befana tradition and there I was, buying candy like any other Italian mom, to stuff their stockings on the 6th.

For all the old, new and borrowed traditions, my favorite one will always be Christmas. This year the welcome drink for my guests (as my family is far away) will be a #Peruvian #PiscoSour and believe me, it's much better than a Margarita.  The recipe is as easy as 3, 2, 1.  Here it goes:

Peruvian Pisco Sour:

3 parts of Pisco (peruvian aguardiente)*
2 parts of simple syrup
1 part of lime juice

Mix ingredients in the blender with enough ice to double the volume of the liquid in the blender.
Crush the ice in the blender for a few seconds.  Add one egg white (yeah yeah yeah, organic, free range, bla bla bla) and blend on high for one minute.  This will give it a pretty foam to which you can add a few Angostura Bitters drops. One glass will put you in a very festive mood, enjoy!

*Italian grappa can be used instead of Pisco.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

This post is a short one, just to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, may the birth of Jesus bring joy to all, but specially to those in need.  Have a wonderful Holiday Season and thank you for reading me!

Warm Regards,

Gaby Around the World

P.S. For for more of my photographs of this wonderful city and more, please visit

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real Pancakes, Real Food!!

“There is hardship in everything except eating pancakes.” Charles H. Spurgeon

For our first assignment #overseas we were allowed to ship a certain amount of consumables.  This fact alone convinced me we were going to a real hardship post, a place where you could not even find the essentials.  I shipped cereal boxes, #pancake mix, can after can of olive oil, I basically bought half of Costco....

After a few weeks all my edible #consumables were stale, as high humidity was also a characteristic of this place.  This was a blessing in disguise because it steered me away from processed foods and forced me to cook from scratch.  If you wanted pizza without a curry topping, you had to make it yourself.  If you wanted NY #bagels...  My husband gave me a book called "The Best Bagels Are Made at Home", hint hint.

Of course you were able to find eggs, milk, flour, and fruits and vegetables were plentiful in the jungle-like weather of Southeast Asia.  So, I made my own pizza, my own bagels, and of course pancakes from scratch.  I never again worried about shipping consumables, I just consume what is available and enjoy the discovery that comes with going local.


 2 cups of flour
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk *
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons melted butter **
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 bananas cut into small pieces
2/3 cup walnuts

Mix dry ingredients.  Separately, mix wet ingredients.  Wisk dry into wet.  Mix well, let it rest for 15 minutes.  Make #pancakes on a frying pan or griddle.  If you want to keep the pancakes warm, put the platter where you'll serve them in the oven with the temperature on the lowest setting.  Place the pancakes that are ready in the platter and back in the oven until all your pancakes are ready for the table.  Beware, they are delicious!

Breakfast this morning!
*I never found buttermilk outside the U.S. so I just substitute with yogurt or milk with a few drops of lemon or lime (after 5 minutes it thickens enough to be used as buttermilk).  Both options are probably healthier.

** If you want to cut back on the butter, substitute it with apple sauce.  Tip learned from a health conscious Mexican friend.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Things to Do in Bologna. Recipe: Torta Barozzi style...

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”  Charles M. Schulz

We recently traveled to #Bologna, the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region.  Back home, we learned about the bountifulness of the region listening to chef Mario Batalli, who highlighted the importance of Emilia-Romagna as a pillar of Italian food.  And why exactly is that?  Because in this region you find the birth places of #BalsamicVinegar, #Parmesan cheese (the King of all cheeses), Spaghetti Bolognese (which in Bologna is called Tagliatelle al Ragu), #Mortadella....

Apparently, all yummy food comes from Emilia-Romagna, and as seekers of yummy food, we took a long weekend to explore and eat our way through food heaven.

Years ago we had taken a tour with Italian Days Food Experience (Ranked #1 in Tripadvisor for activities in Bologna).  If you are a foodie, I highly recommend it.  This time, we contacted Alessandro from Italian Days Food Experience, and he recommended a stay at the B&B "Corte D'Aibo".  This country side B&B is just what we were looking for, peaceful, relaxing but with a five star restaurant and it's own wine production line.  Many of the ingredients used in their kitchen come from their land.  Needless to say, it's a true farm to table experience.

Breakfast there was simple but delicious.  In #Italy, #breakfast consists mostly of a sweet treat and coffee.  They had more than that, but we fell in love with a chocolate/coffee/almond cake that was out of this world.  Yours truly, was able to get the recipe from the kitchen manager.  After researching a bit about the recipe, I learned that it has been around since 1887, and it's been patented, hence the Torta Barozzi STYLE, and not just Torta Barozzi, as I don't have the money to fight a law suit ;).  Here it goes:

Torta Barozzi Style (gluten free!)

100 grams of sugar
100 grams of butter, softened
100 grams of baking dark chocolate, melted
100 grams of toasted ground almonds
1 tablespoon of ground coffee
1 expresso coffee (a shot)
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites, beaten

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boil.  In a bowl, mix the sugar and the egg yolk until you get a creamy consistency, then add the ground coffee, the shot of expresso and the melted chocolate/butter mixture.  In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer until they form peaks.  Incorporate the other ingredients gently, mixing from bottom to the top.   Add the toasted ground almonds.

Put batter in a rectangular pan lined with wax paper.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in a 360º F oven or until a toothpick comes out clean.

I can't wait to try it at home!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Home Base

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” Louisa May Alcott

Defining #home is a hard task for me.  I've had so many! Somehow, I've felt home in every single one of my assignments.  If you ask me where home is, right now it's #Rome, where I hand my hat and my heart every night.  But home can also be where my mom is....or where I own a house.

I was OK with my vague and complicated definition of home until my kids started to grow older.  I once asked my three year old where was he from and he responded: "China".  Of course, we were living living in China at the time.  I gave him a second chance to answer my question and he responded he was English.  Not quite the right answer.  I told him, he spoke English but that he was American.  At that point we realized it was probably wise to spend some time back in the U.S., so we moved back for a couple of years, bought a house and set our own home base.

Ever since we established our #homebase, it has been easier to answer to people when asked where home is for us.  Frankly, it's been easier to answer that question to ourselves  A friend of mine who grew up as a TCK (third culture kid) told me she considers herself Spaniard even though she doesn't hold a Spanish passport, because it is there where her parents bough a house to where they would go back year after year, for the summer breaks and holidays.  

Enjoying some baseball during our vacation back home.
I have been going back to my home base in Virginia at least once a year.  We visit with friends, eat at our neighborhood restaurants and shop at our local Whole Foods.  It has grounded us.  We know this #expat life comes with an expiration date, and eventually we will go back home.  It's good to have a home to go back to.

I know #repatriation is not easy (I've been reading about it) but that is material for another whole post.  Until then, Arrivederci!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Get Out to See the Sights

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” Marc Riboud

In my article "The Most Stressful Times", I mentioned that in order to take a break from the stressful part of having moved to a new city (finding a house, hooking up your internet, trying to figure out traffic patterns...) you should take a day off and go see the sights.  Every city has something magical, something that will amaze you.  So get out and let yourself be surprised by your new surroundings.  I did that yesterday and here are some shots of what I encountered...

Sea Nymph, Fountain of Neptune, Piazza Navona, Rome.
Campo De' Fiori, open market in the center of Rome.

If these steps could tell you stories....

National Archives, Rome

And of course food, who can resist to italian food?  Not me!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Recipe Thief - Making Connections Through Food

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” Michael Pollan

Pizza Romana by the Slice, Pizza Al Taglio
I must confess, I didn’t know how to #cook when I got married.  My husband on the other hand is a great cook and his passion for food is contagious.  He’s the grandson of #Italian immigrants and food and cooking are just part of his DNA.

When you are miles away from your country, your own kitchen may be the only source for the food to which you are accustomed.  Trying to find ingredients can prove to be a very challenging task.  Do not become demoralized, try to play with substitutions (you may come up with a great twist on your favorite recipe) and don’t be afraid to ask around, someone in your circle may know where to find what you’re missing.

One of the great aspects of being part of an #International community is learning from each other.  Cooking is a great way to connect with people.   Throughout the years I not only learned how to cook, I also collected recipes from friends around the world.  I put them all in a little binder that I carry with me in my suitcase when I move, for fear of loosing all those pieces of my life.  Almost all my recipes start with a friend’s name: Kelly’s Artichoke Dip, Marilia’s Brazilian Cheese Bread, Kim’s Pita Bread, Martha’s Cuban beans.  Some recipes were happily shared, in order to get others I had to use every persuasive argument I know (I just couldn’t bear the thought of not eating a particular dish once I moved away). And every time I make one of those recipes I think of my friends and the time we spent together in this adventure called Expat living.

Love my international friends for all they have to teach me!
 Do you like to cook?  Why not host a cooking class?  Start small, with only a few friends.  You can even start a cooking club.  The last page of my binder is the recipe for Sushi Rolls (maki), obtained at a #cooking class taught by one of my #Japanese friends, an excellent cook and a great teacher.

Eating with friends is appreciated in all cultures; some traditions are more ritualistic others more relaxed.  Food is also a great way to learn more about your host country. Give it a try!  Or how they say here in Italy: MANGIA, MANGIA!!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Word About the Holidays (specially the ones away from home)

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukkah' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukkah!' or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the wall!” Dave Barry

As a family we've made the conscious or maybe not so conscious decision of staying put for the holidays.  So, wherever we called home for a period of time, we just made the Holidays work for us.

Thanksgiving 2013, dinner prepared for last minute guests.  Not bad at all.
I have a big extended family and growing up we always gathered in my home to celebrate Christmas.  My husband too comes from a large family and Holidays were a time to get together and celebrate.  When we got married and moved away from our families the first end of the year approached and we faced the grand dilemma: What should we do for the Holidays this year?  I had bought a fake 5 feet tall tree just in case I wouldn't find anything in the mainly Buddhist country where we had been sent.  I was glad a bought that tree because it was used to celebrate our first Christmas as expats.

That first Christmas we spent it with other singles and childless couples.  After dinner we played Charades and had a good time.  It did feel more like a cocktail party than a Holiday party.  I wasn't really pleased, but that's what happened.

After we had kids maintaining our traditions became more important.  We bought a better tree and started getting together with other families with children.  Christmas became more of what I remember growing up.  The difference was that we didn't have blood ties, we were an expat family.

Once you move away from home, you will meet others that are in the same situation.  They will relate to what you are going through.  Very strong friendships are formed and spending the Holidays with your Expat Extended Family can be a wonderful thing.  If you add to that the avoidance of having to deal with the family issues all families have, it can be a very attractive option.  If there's nothing planned, invite people to your home. They are going to be so glad to be invited they won't care if the plates don't match.  Believe me, the holiday cheer will spread.

Our not so perfect 2012 Xmas tree.
If you are moving just before the holidays, make sure you pack in your suitcase the items that will make your new place more holiday-ready.  I went to Target and bought some foam holiday signs (yes, you always have to watch the weight of your suitcases).  I also packed scissors, scotch tape and wrapping paper.  I shipped holiday candy and presents for my children ahead of time.

There's been times when we've had Chinese food for Thanksgiving, but as long as there was pumpkin pie, we were thankful for being healthy, having a loving family and for experiencing life overseas.  Have a wonderful Holiday Season!  Peace Out.

Have you spent a holiday away from home?  Do you have any tips on how to make them better for your kids?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Most Stressful Times

 “It is not the destination where you end up but the mishaps and memories you create along the way!” Penelope Riley, Travel Absurdities

Long time #expats know the routine: you've taken a job that will require you to #relocate.  A few avid  travelers take pleasure imagining the possibilities and enjoy having to face the unknown but for most people, it's very hard to deal with change, to loose control over your environment and have to relearn to perform the most mundane tasks like buying food or taking a cab.

Some of the most #stressful life events (after death and serious illness) are those involving change: a relocation, a new job, a change in responsibilities, a new school, change in living conditions...  Hello!! once you've accepted your overseas assignment you and your family will face these stressful situations all at once and all of you at the same time.

Give it time.  The kids will make friends and you will figure out your commute. I've been in Italy for almost a year now and I can honestly say, that I am over the settling period and I'm having a blast.  I've made friends, the kids are really happy at school and my husband is also comfortable with his daily life.

There is so much to see in your new country!  If you are having a bad day, pretend you are a tourist and go out to see the sights, take some photos to send back home to your loved ones.  Join a tour, learn a bit about the culture.  It helps tremendously to learn a few phrases of the language of your host country.  In most places folks will be happy that you at least tried to say a few pleasantries in their language.

Be patient with your spouse and your children as they are too in adjustment mode.  If you have elementary age kids, try to go to school and participate as much as you can.  You will meet people, arrange play-dates for them and help them make friends.  If you have teenagers, it may be more difficult to help create friendships but some efforts can be made to introduce them to others in the same situation.  I've learned that most international schools are great at making the new students feel welcome.  They will find many other expats and TCKs (third culture kids) who know what it feels to be the new kid in town.

Once, I volunteered to help a new family who had just arrived to China a week before Christmas.  It was their first time living overseas and of course China is not the easiest of postings.  It took them a long time to be ready to explore and stop longing for their lives back home (oh Target, if you only knew how much you were missed).   By the time this family ended their four year tour, they all loved the lives they had built in China and up until now, we get together and talk with nostalgia about our time there.

We all adjust, each person just takes their own time to do it.  Good luck!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Ready for the Big Move....

 “One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller

At  this point you know you #move is coming, arrangements have been made and the packers are scheduled to come next week.  What can you do to make your pack-out run smoothly?  Here are some tips that I have applied myself or that I have learned from fellow travelers:
Move #6. I was becoming a pro at this.  Of course it rained that day!
  • Do some organizing before the movers arrive.  Get rid of all the excess, donate, sell, recycle.  I know a friend that was surprised to unpack her filled garbage can at her new post.  I also know people that have paid excess weight fees only to throw away stuff once they receive their shipment at their new home.
  • Try to recruit some helpers, as much as you think you can do it alone, every time I've moved, the packing company has sent a crew to my house and believe me, you won't be able to be in all the rooms at the same time.
  • If you have small children, try to organize play dates or someone's help during the day(s) of your pack-out.
  • Are you moving to a place where you don't speak the language?  Save yourself some time by color coordinating your move.  Buy stickers of different color and assign each room of your hose a color.  My room is pink, kitchen is get it.  As the packer go through the house you will place the stickers on the boxes according to your color plan.  Once you get to your destination, you can tell the packers to place all the boxes with yellow stickers in the kitchen, all the boxes with pink stickers in your daughter's new room, etc.  It will be easier for you on the other end and even the children can participate and help.
  • Some folks travel to their destination to look for a house before the actual move.  If you are in that situation, make sure you take tons of pictures and measurements, if possible, so you can decide if certain furniture will even fit in your new home before shipping it.   I've found that it is useless to ship curtains as they never work from house to house.
  • Think about what will make you and your children happy the first few weeks in your new location.  I carry my recipe book in my suitcase.  Initially I feared all my recipes will be lost.  But I was also able to make some comforting and familiar food for my family if the day was particularly difficult.  Does your kid have a special blanket or toy?  Make sure it doesn't get packed so you can carry it with you.
  • I carry one of two framed pictures (preferable light or small ones) with me so I can place them in my new house and make it instantly homier.
  • Once you get to your new destination, don't rush, there is time.  I know people that have a few unopened boxes at the end or their tour.  Take it easy on yourself!
During my last move, I had to be back in the States for five months while my husband learned a new language for our future assignment.  I survived the first two months out of #suitcases.  Then we received a small air #shipment of 400 pounds, and lived the following three months out of that portion of my belongings.  By the end of that short stay back home, I realized I had not really missed the 20 foot containers that were in transit somewhere in the world.  Yes, my options were limited sometimes, but you manage.  It makes you realize that we don't need so much stuff to be happy.

Hope this helped.  Good luck with the move!!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You're a Different Person Every Time You Go Out...

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  Marcel Proust

I didn't get it the first time I heard it: "You are a different person every time you go out" but in fact, it's true!

The first time we set out into our new overseas life I was in my twenties, we were newlyweds embarking into an adventure.  What can be better than that; we were young and ready to take life by the horns.  In preparation for our move I created an extensive spreadsheet labeling the contents of each box I packed.  The packers had it easy with me that time.

During our first assignment overseas I got pregnant and came back home to give birth to our wonderful son.  This child was flying to south east Asia when he was only six weeks old.  Talk about third culture kid (TCK)!

For our second assignment I was a new mom and expecting our second child.  Needless to say, I didn't pack anything myself and let the packers earn their money.  We were assigned to Venezuela, where I gave birth to TCK #2.  Our time in Caracas was all about diapers, bottles, pacifiers and teletubbies.

During our third posting our oldest was ready for pre-school.  We received a report card for the first time.  We were officially parents of school aged children.

I have been a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a part-timer, a volunteer, I have worked in translation, finance, procurement and in public relations to name a few.

As we progressed in our life, back in the good old U.S. of A. our parents were getting older.  Every time we came back on vacation or for short stays, it was increasingly difficult to leave them behind.  There were issues we had to take care of that weren't a concern before.

Being an expat comes with many benefits.  If you have a passion for traveling you get to not only visit places most people only dream of, you actually get to live in them, immersed in the culture, learning, always learning: tolerance, open mindedness, patience, problem solving, language skills.

You also loose the conveniences of being home, of knowing what to do and where to go.  A level of comfort you can only have in the place where you fully belong.

But beware, once you've been out, once you've learned to live in a different society and you repatriate, you will be a different person when you come back.  Yes, you will look at your hometown and wonder why things aren't done differently, or what the big deal about a certain issue is.  You will be out of the loop regarding pop-culture (who's that actor? what is Glee again?). Your non-traveling friends won't be able to relate.

Yes, you are a different person every time you go out.  Time will take care of that.  You will be forever changed by your overseas experience.  Are you ready?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My First Post Ever...

Red Vespa, Lazio, Italy

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" Augustine of Hippo

Hello! Welcome to my first post!  

I have been traveling the world for over 15 years.  Every country in which I've lived or visited has been a brand new adventure and challenge.  I have enjoyed my time in each place and at the end of all my tours (mostly three year gigs) I have come to the realization that I would have been happy staying put in that particular country for the rest of my life.  That has never been an option, but this realization makes me believe that after some time in each country I have fully adapted and that I may have something to say to those who are traveling or living abroad for the first time.

Here I will post about my experiences, the good ones and the bad ones and share my insights, ideas and lessons learned.

I love food, so I will talk about that, maybe a recipe or two, certainly suggestions of restaurants or dishes you must try.  Discovering a new culture can be fun when you approach it from a fascinating angle like its food or traditions.

Another passion of mine is photography so I will include some of my work on that field.  Some sights are just breathtaking and will stay with me forever.  I look forward to sharing my photographs with you.

I want to tell you all that lots of soft skills are needed when facing and new system, one that you don't know but need to navigate in order to eat, shop, relocate and basically survive.  I hope you enjoy my insights, as I tell the stories of Gaby Around the World.

Peace out...