Category Archives: Travel

Top Reasons to Go Abroad


You step outside your comfort zone. – While I was abroad in Argentina, I was terribly lonely. I would call home often, in tears, bemoaning my lack of friends, poor classes, and my host mother’s terrible cooking. But when my mom offered to fly me home early, I resisted. Some inexplicable force inside of me insisted that I stay and see the journey through to the end. There were many nights spent alone watching movies and drinking Malbec, but given the chance, I’d do it all over again. It was worth it just for the growing pains (and all the other reasons I’m about to list).

La Guía T - Don't leave home without it.

You learn how to navigate (without a GPS). – Unless you’re from New York, Boston, DC, or Chicago, it’s unlikely that you’ve had to decipher a maze of mass transit maps to get from point A to point B each day. Living in Buenos Aires helped me become an expert navigator. Over the course of six months, I gradually figured out which type of transit was the quickest, cheapest, and safest at any given time of day. Navigating without a car necessitated a Guía T (the Buenos Aires bus bible), a pocket full of change (buses didn’t accept bills or cards), a good pair of walking shoes, and the ability to “deal” in extremely claustrophobic situations. I also had to adapt quickly to unexpected change. Case example: On a midnight ride home from a friends’ flat, my bus driver pulled over and got out to make a call at a pay phone. When he returned, I asked him, “Sir, are we going to get moving?” He promptly replied, “No! I’m done driving for the night.” Aghast, I de-boarded and ran as fast as I could to the nearest well-lit street corner to hail a cab (you’re not supposed to hail cabs in BsAs, but I wasn’t about to walk home at that hour). Then my cab driver proceeded to yell at me, “What the heck are you doing out alone at this hour of the night? In this neighborhood? And hailing a cab???” I told him my story, he cursed under his breath, and then asked me where he was taking me. Thank goodness for nice cabbies driving in dark neighborhoods.

In Argentina, I cost more than a bottle of Malbec.

You  learn to appreciate your home country. – Things I desperately missed about America while I was abroad were as follows: pepper shakers on restaurant tables, beds long enough to contain my giant legs, affordable toiletries, refrigerated milk, wireless home internet, peanut butter, spicy food (thank you Mexico!), and stores that sold tall pants. For those of you who have traveled abroad, what did you miss? (Leave me a comment!)
You learn to speak a new language (i.e., you become a more capable global citizen). Whether you’re a life-long linguist or you don’t speak a word outside of English, going abroad, you’re bound to learn hundreds of new words and expressions that will not only serve you while traveling, but that will also lead to a better understanding of your native tongue. Not to mention, the slang that you pick-up abroad is down-right entertaining. Some of my favorite Spanish expressions that I’ve heard so far are:  Qué pijo! – Hostia! – En una boca cerrada no entran moscas. – Hablando del Rey de Roma… – Que te folle un pez! – La madre que me parió!

Hiking in Cataluña with my future husband

You meet interesting people who will change your life for the better. – As many of you already know, I met my husband while working abroad in Spain. That pretty much seals the deal for me on why going abroad is worthwhile, but if you need more evidence, three of my best friends to this day are students that I met while they were doing an exchange program in America. Two of them traveled all the way from Germany for my wedding (shout out to Jan and Flo). The third is traveling all the way from Argentina (by way of Ireland) to visit me in DC next month (shout out to Caro). If that’s not dedicated friendship, then I don’t know what is!

Making coca leaf tea in the Oruro market

You learn to respect others and their chosen way of life. – While I was in Bolivia with an Argentine mission group, I spent a lot of time working to rebuild a school just outside of Oruro. At night, the temperature would drop below freezing, and there wouldn’t be any heat. We’d wake up in the morning stiff from the cold. To warm us up, the people would brew an herbal tea made from coca leaves grown locally. After we finished our work on the schoolhouse, the townspeople performed a religious ceremony to bless the building and offer thanks to the pachamama (Mother Earth) for the gifts she had bestowed upon them. Among the offerings that they burned were coca leaves. Being a part of this community for a short period of time and observing this sacred ceremony helped me to understand how central the coca leaf is in Andean culture. The Western media often perpetuate a stigma about coca leaves (which are submitted to a rigorous transformation process in order to create the narcotic cocaine). Farmers are portrayed as drug traffickers and the religious and healing properties of the herb  are lost in cultural (mis)translation. Without this experience, I may not have ever known about the positive uses of this herb.

A lame self-portrait at Iguazú Falls

You do a little soul-searching and get to know yourself better. – As an extrovert living abroad, I quickly learned that I didn’t like to travel alone. Who wants to take pictures of monuments with no people in front of them? Who wants a vast collection of mediocre self-portraits taken by random passersby? Not I! I want pictures of friends and family making goofy faces in front of monuments and landscapes. For me, the people create the memories of place.
You amass lots of fun stories to recount at cocktail parties later in life. – The inspiration for this post actually blossomed out of a recent conversation between a colleague and I at a faculty holiday gathering. We discussed the merits of traveling abroad and our future plans to do more of it. I also recently discovered that my boss’ son will be going abroad on the same program that I attended. You never know how your experiences will serve you or others later in life. What has your experience been with travel or study abroad? Why do you think it’s important? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Wedding in Paradise

After a week in Zihuatanejo, we were ready for the grande finale: the wedding of our close friends, Sandra Sotelo-Miller and Tom Simmons. Sandra’s father’s family is from Zihuatanejo, so it was very special to celebrate their marriage in the village where she had her roots. The couple rehearsed their vows on Playa la Ropa in front of La Perla restaurant…

Los novios durante el ensayo

While the betrothed rehearsed, we found other ways of amusing ourselves…

Totem pole!

The rehearsal dinner food was excellent – tiritas de atún, guacamole, and parillada de mariscos y carnes – but the real topper was the 75-year old (Sandra, correct me if I’m off on this!) bottle of tequila brought by one of Sandra’s aunts. We sipped it during dinner and toasted the lovely couple with it. I’ll choose that over champagne any day!

Gustavo Sotelo, in his element

When we arrived at the wedding the following evening, we were greeted by the bride and groom. Judith (Tom’s brother-in-law’s mother) had painted colorful portraits of the gringo and the chilanga and set them by the entrance…

Portraits of the bride and groom hand-painted by Judith

Sandra and Tom had worked hard to plan a beach wedding, but sadly, the rain gods weren’t cooperating.

La lluvia amenaza

Luckily, they were able to have the ceremony under a palapa overlooking the beach, so we were still surrounding by the majestic views and soothing sounds of the ocean. But we were much more captivated by the beauty of the ceremony unfolding in front of us…

La ceremonia

The party decorations were colorful and vibrant, just like our favorite newlyweds!

Las flores flotando en la pileta

Each table was named for a place that Sandra and Tom had visited (they are avid travelers).

Table decorations at the reception (Tom's sister Shannon did all the stationary)

After a long day of getting dressed and worrying about the weather, followed by GETTING MARRIED, greeting all of their eager guests, and listening to toasts made by relatives, the couple seemed ecstatic to finally hit the dance floor.

La primera danza

A Simmons family gathering wouldn’t be complete without some kind of performance, and Patrick, Jason, Elisa, and Shannon delivered. They had prepared a song about Tom and Sandra’s future life together and sang it to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night.”

Los hermanos de Tom prepararon una canción especial para los novios

Then “tía Sandra” was honored by her two nieces, Ingrid and Galia, who had prepared dances for her…

Galia baila

And then the pool party ensued (led by the life-of-the-party bride and groom, of course!)…

Bridesmaids in the pool always makes for a good reception party

When the mariachis arrived around 3 a.m., we all climbed out and continued to dance the night away. It was the perfect ending to a perfect wedding. Congratulations to Sandra y Tom. Two of our favorite people in the world. We wish you well in your future life together. A huevo!!!

Los mariachis serenaron a los recién casados

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¡Hola from Zihua!

Christian and I took our (second) honeymoon to Zihuatanejo last week. This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the overwhelming generosity of Bart Cousins and Missy and David Boone. Thank you!!!

We stayed at The Tides resort. Upon arriving and taking note of the flowers tucked neatly into the toilet paper rolls, we realized that this would be the nicest hotel we’d ever stay in.

Soft and scented!

They also had palapas lining the beach front where you could lounge and raise a little orange flag if you needed something, such as a deliciously fresh michelada.

Lounging under a palapa

In Mexico, a michelada is made with fresh lime juice, beer, and salt.

We swam in the ocean…

That's not our boat.

And met the local residents…

Sarah greets Juan

And of course, ate a lot of food.

Scallop ceviche

Parrillada de mariscos, a.k.a. "Los misterios del mar"

Huevos motuleños (eggs with ham, plantains, black beans, tortilla, and ranchera sauce)

Frutas tropicales y jugo de mango

Tacos de queso oaxaca y huitlacoche

Tiritas de atún (tuna ceviche)

Early on in our stay, Hurricane Beatrice paid us a visit. We got heavy rains, but not much else. Luckily, there were marble backgammon boards built into the bar. So we kept busy!

A friendly game of backgammon to pass the time

Hurricane Beatrice left some beautiful skylines in her wake…

¡Adiós Beatriz!

But that’s not all…Sarah tried to go for a swim the morning after and was terrified to be warned to “get out of the water, ahora” by Eduardo, the head of hotel security. Apparently, the local crocodile population particularly enjoys a swim across the bay after heavy rains. Sarah’s worst fears about swimming in open water were confirmed, and she steered clear of the ocean for several days. Thankfully, The Tides had some really nice pools.

Crocodiles? WTF?!

Our Spanish skills helped us to quickly befriend the hotel staff, and we reaped the benefits. Israel, the gardener, brought us some fresh coconut water on the beach.

Agua fresca de coco

We ended our stay with a spectacular sunset and a gorgeous wedding between our two best friends, Sandra Sotelo-Miller and Tom Simmons.

I should be a postcard photographer.

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Eating Our Way through Texas

Recently, my mom and my grandma visited Austin. We had such a fun time touring the city and of course, sampling the local cuisine…

Our first stop was The Mighty Cone trailer on South Congress Ave. I ordered a shrimp cone, but Mom and Grandma opted for the “classic” Hot and Crunchy Chicken Cones – chicken breaded in sesame seeds, almonds, chili arbol flakes, sea salt, sugar, and corn flakes, topped with mango slaw and chipotle aioli, then wrapped in a warm tortilla. While they weren’t the easiest things to eat (at one point Grandma confused the cone with the tortilla and took a bite out of both), they sure were tasty. Mom was glad to have checked the iconic food trailer off her Austin bucket list (she had wanted to try a “the chicken cone place” ever since I sent her the recipe, which was featured in Food & Wine).

Mom and Grandma enjoying their first Mighty Cone

The next day we went to Fredericksburg and shopped around. We were in awe of all the culinary novelties at Der Kuchen Laden – a kitchen store located in what was formerly the Fredericksburg Hospital (weird, right?). And then we went on a hunt for the perfect Christmas ornament for Mom’s friend Debbie. We finally settled on one, but I can’t reveal it here, just in case Debbie is reading along!

In the courtyard outside Der Kuchen Laden

For lunch, we went to Rather Sweet Bakery and Café, where Christian and I dined no less than three times on our honeymoon (yes, it’s that good). Mom and I saw Rebecca Rather – the Ina Garten of Texas – in the courtyard!

A cup of watermelon gazpacho at Rather Sweet

After touring the Japanese peace garden at the Museum of the Pacific War, we decided to give our feet a rest and get some coffee at the Java Ranch, where they “don’t dial 911″… (only in Texas!)

Don't mess with Java Ranch

Feeling a bit adventurous, we drove out to Becker Vineyards for an afternoon wine tasting. Mom tasted a Viognier for the first time, and Grandma sampled some of the lighter red grapes, like the Prairie Rotie and the Claret.

Outside the Becker Vineyard tasting room

To finish the day, we feasted at the recently-renovated Fredericksburg Herb Farm, that featured a new dining room, an expanded spa, and a B&B. It was totally different from when Christian and I had lunched there during our honeymoon, but the food was still decadent!

Housemade ciabatta with chive butter at the Herb Farm

Three Generations of Bastron women at the Herb Farm

The following day we toured the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was a poor year for wildflowers, due to the fact that we’ve had very little rain. But it was still fun to tour the grounds and to “hunt” for bluebonnets.

Hunting for bluebonnets at the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center

Our grand finale was a southern brunch at Olivia Restaurant. Their chef, James Holmes, was recently featured in Food & Wine. Little did Mom and Grandma know that they would be dining at not one, but two Food & Wine-acclaimed Austin restaurants that week. We Bastron women have a talent for sniffing out good food, wherever we are.

Olivia Benedict: braised flatiron beef, poached farm eggs, hollandaise, biscuit

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10 Things I Love about My Mother

  1. She’s more stylish than I’ll ever be.– I’ve never had the privilege of peaking into a movie star’s closest, but I’m pretty sure that the next best thing is my mom’s. It’s highly likely that she has a more impressive shoe collection than Jennifer Anniston (“I never throw anything away,” she claims), and her clothes are considerably more “hip” than mine. I still call her to ask about fashion advice, wondering what to wear to an interview or to a beach wedding. She’ll frequently say things like, “They’re showing a lot of short dresses right now.” And I’m like…did she really just say that? Despite being up on the latest trends, my mom’s not showy or high brow. Her sense of style is tasteful, fun-loving, and well…just good.

    Dressed to impress!

  2. Her mac and cheese tastes like heaven. – The recipe hasn’t changed for as long as I can remember. And frankly, there isn’t really a recipe. My mom just uses whatever pasta and cheeses we have in the house at the time (of course, it’s every good cook’s job to have substantial amounts of cream and butter on hand at all times). Even with the recent mac and cheese craze going around the restaurant scene, I never order it off a menu because I am 100% certain that it will never taste as good as my mother’s. Ever. Hers is hot, gooey, fattening comfort food. When we were kids she used to make it every time my dad had to work late (he claimed to dislike mac and cheese because he had to eat it so much as a kid). Now, she makes it every time I come home for a visit, and she’ll make my dad a sandwich instead. But on occasion, I catch him sneaking a spoonful of Mom’s mac and cheese. No one can resist its power.

    MMMMMac and Cheese

  3. Her laugh is priceless. – It’s one of those amazing laughs that’s not only unique-sounding, but always genuine. I don’t even think she knows how to “pretend laugh.” Going hand-in-hand with her youthful, boisterous laugh is her love of clean jokes. I’ve never heard someone laugh so hard at some of the most innocent jokes in all my life. Sure, she likes a dirty joke every now and then, as long as it’s good. But it’s a true testament to her solid sense of humor that she can laugh wholeheartedly at the following: “So a duck walks into a drugstore, and buys some lip balm. The cashier asks, ‘Cash or credit?’ And the duck responds, ‘Just put it on my bill.'” 🙂
  4. She has a frog collection. – There’s literally a room in our house filled with frogs (not real ones, decorative ones), and miraculously, it’s not creepy. They all sort of gaze up at you from their perch on the windowsill and seem to ask, “Why am I dressed like this?” But my mom loves them. She actively shops to expand her frog collection. I love it when she finds something at a craft store and exclaims, “Oh, how cute! Look at this one!” As if we’re all going to gather around and nod eagerly in approval. What’s really cute is the fact that she thinks they’recute. Oh, and the frogs have definitely invaded the rest of the house and the yard over the years. She even has a Christmas tree dedicated completely to frog ornaments. My favorite is the light-up Santa Claus frog that sits on our doorstep welcoming (or warning?) passersby during the holiday season.

    "The Frog Lady lives here."

  5. She puts others before herself. – Whether it’s driving through blizzard conditions to a tennis match or standing in the snow during a golf meet (yes, we Minnesotans are hardcore), my mom goes to great lengths to show love and support for her kids. I’m a 26-year-old married woman, and I still receive care packages filled with snack food and family pictures on every major (and minor) holiday. Now that all her kids have moved away from the nest, she spends a lot of her time volunteering. The Legal Aid Society, the YMCA, the Zumbro Valley Medical Society, and the P.E.O. are just a few of the organizations that are lucky to have my mom’s “can do” attitude and cheery demeanor.
  6. She loves the outdoors (not to be confused with camping).– My mom typically walks once a day for about 3 miles, and on the weekends, she’ll walk even farther. I know she walks to stay fit, but she also loves the wildflowers, the fresh air, and the pretty houses. Sub-zero temps don’t stop her; that’s why God created snow boots and down coats.

    Walking on the beach in Punta Mita

  7. She’s a bookworm. – Thank goodness for whoever invented the Kindle, otherwise we’d have run out of shelf space by 2012. My mom’s a voracious reader. She burns through a book a week, and these are thick books…sans pictures. She’s even in a book club. I had always heard about those, but now I can attest to their existence because I know someone who is actually in one. You go Mom!
  8. Her chocolate chip cookies are better than your mom’s (no, really they are). – People around town ask for them by name. “Are those Mary Harper’s chocolate chip cookies? I’m on a diet, but I’ll have one if they’re Mary’s cookies.” Coaches, coworkers, neighbors, friends, teachers, roommates, and total strangers at holiday parties go ga-ga for her chocolate chip cookies. You may think you’ve had the best, but you haven’t, I assure you. People special request these for parties if they know my mom’s invited. Some coaches have even been known to act upset with my mom if she doesn’t bake a batch for a tennis match or a golf meet. “How dareshe keep all the chocolately goodness to herself?!” I get such a kick out of it because it’s not like the recipe is a big secret or anything. She shares it with anyone who asks for it, but every time someone tries to make the cookies, they never come out as good as my mom’s. I guess she’s got a special talent. I hope it’s genetic.

    She's not making cookies in this picture, but she's still a pro at work.

  9. She should have been a travel agent. – We have a virtual library of travel books and magazines that are left over from the various trips we’ve taken as a family. Each has a plethora of earmarked pages and highlighted text. No matter where we go, she always seems to find the most off-the-beaten-path, quaint, yet luxurious place to stay. My mom likes to travel in comfort, but she’s not extravagant. She’s literally the Four Seasons’ worst nightmare, because she’s an expert at finding hotels or B&B’s that are in the same exclusive area but of a much greater value than said resort.

    Mom scouting out B&B's for our wedding guests

  10. Her word is as good as gold. – One of the greatest values that my mom instilled upon me as a child was commitment. Often I would promise to spend an afternoon with a friend, but then a more exciting opportunity would come along (e.g., hanging out with a cute boy), and I’d want to cancel plans with my friend. But my mom would always say, “You made a commitment, and you must honor it. How would you feel if a friend canceled plans on you only to spend time with someone else?” The same would go for clubs or teams that I had joined. During my freshman year of college – finally free of the parental grasp – I was put to the ultimate test. My boyfriend wanted to fly me to some distant island to spend the Easter break with his family. But we would have to leave Thursday, and I would miss golf practice. It was as if I could hear the words coming from my mother’s mouth, “You made a commitment to your team.” I told my boyfriend, “Sorry, I’ve got practice.” He was flabbergasted, claiming that he skipped class to travel all the time. Needless to say, it didn’t work out between us.

What do you love about your Mother? Please share your stories in the “comments” section. Happy Mother’s Day!!!

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