Christmas at Home: Week 250


I was really looking forward to having Christmas in Manassas at my parent’s house. It had been five years since I’d been home for Christmas and the first one in which all of us ‘kids’ had moved out of the house.

The house hadn’t changed too much, but it felt different not having my brother shuffle out of the room at 2pm wrapped in a blue robe.


It was also a lot more tranquil in the morning. My sister is infamously grumpy when she wakes up for work or school.

My hair. I HATE my hair. Uggh. UGGGHHH! Why can’t I find my comb? Everything disappears in this stupid house!

It’s a bit masochistic, but I could’ve handled a few more of her guttural morning salutations.


The only thing that hadn’t really changed was my sister’s dogged love for wacky decorations. It didn’t help that she had picked up temp work at a year-round Christmas store. She took home all the broken ornaments and repaired them with hot glue and glitter.


I had helped my mom to decorate the tree, but it didn’t quite feel complete until my sister anchored a giant paper vulture to the top of the tree. Then it really felt like I was home.


Día de las Velitas: Week 248

Dia de las Velitas celebration in Buga, Colombia

Día de las Velitas, Day of the Candles, is an important holiday in Colombia that celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. While some cities like Medellin and Villa de Leyva hold massive public displays, it is the kind of holiday that is best enjoyed in the barrios far away from the commercial centers.

While in Buga, Barret and I were invited to a family event in Divino Niño, a working-class neighborhood with pink and yellow candy-striped curbs. It was the eve of Día de las Velitas, which officially is December 7th, but the night before is often when the largest neighborhood celebrations take place.

The small candle shop across the road was doing business long into the night. The store to the right was closed, but the shopkeeper sat outside with his family and the stereo equipment he had bought for his wife.

He’d had been so proud of the present he’d given that it was played at full volume for two straight days. It drove the neighbors crazy but they reluctantly endured it. After an hour of sitting across the road, my ears were ringing.

From our curbside couch, Barret and I watched families stroll up and down the streets and motorcyclists dodge fireworks as they wound through the neighborhood. All the sidewalks for miles around were lined with faroles, paper lanterns.

Culebra firework being set off on Dia de las Velitas: Buga, Colombia

The BBQ in front of us was roasting up the last of the chicken when a culebra was rolled out in the middle of the road. The firework is named after a snake because it’s a long string of explosives that happens to begin very loudly and finish even louder. The anticipation of the finale chased most sensible people inside.

At the end of the night Barret and I caught a taxi back to Buga Hostel. The closer we got to the center of town and the basilica, the fewer decorations there were. By the time we stepped out of the taxi, the neighborhood was silent. If there hadn’t been a few burnt out faroles on the sidewalk, the few other travelers in the hostel would have thought that I’d just made up the whole holiday.

About: Día de las Velitas

Faroles lining the streets for Dia de las Velitas: Buga, Colombia

Thanksgiving in Manizales: Week 246

Brownie ice cream popsicle dipped in dark chocolate from Pop Shop: Manizales, Colombia

Colombia has so many holidays that people sometimes forget the reason they don’t have to go to work. Because I’m distracted by the profusion of holidays here, I often forget to celebrate, let alone remember, holidays in the US.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that tends to slip under my radar, but it didn’t this year because one of my friends hosted a party. I really enjoyed cooking some traditional food and sharing it with people who were experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time.

In honor of the holiday, I decided to make a list of things I am thankful to have in Manizales:

– Friends: They’re awesome.

– Students: They keep my life interesting.

– Granadillas: My favorite tropical fruit.

– Arepas de choclo: The US equivalent would be a sweet cornbread in the shape of a pancake.

– Chuzos: My favorite late night grill in Cable.

– The view from my apartment: Love my volcano vista!

– Netflix: It works in Colombia and the Spanish shows are great language practice.

– Edilberto: The elderly neighborhood watchman always greets me by saying, “Mi preciosa, como amaneciste?” And then he kisses my cheek.

– Pop Shop: Last, but not least, I am thankful that a delicious ice cream shop opened up near my house in Cable. Lulu! Cocolimonada! Chocolate en chocolate! Yum!

Cocolimonada popsicle from Pop Shop: Manizales, Colombia

About: Pop Shop

About: Chuzos

El Día de Amor y Amistad: Week 236

Entrance to the restaurant Masala for el Dia de Amor y Amistad: Manizales, Colombia

For the last few weeks I’d been noticing an accumulation of heart-shaped chocolate boxes in the supermarket. I hadn’t known the reason until Barret and I were invited to a special dinner for el Día de Amor y Amistad.

El Día de Amor y Amistad (Love and Friendship Day) took place on a Friday and the main thoroughfare of Santander was packed. Since the holiday is also a celebration of friendship, there were tons of couples and groups of friends.

Every restaurant along Santander had some sort of decoration, even the little arepa shops. Barret and I caught a taxi from the main street and headed to Milan. Although it’s a much quieter neighborhood than Cable, it is known for its number of restaurants.

Masala is my favorite restaurant in Milan and it is also the only Nepali/Thai restaurant in all of Manizales. It’s delicious on an ordinary evening, but it’s even better during special events. The reason being is that Samata, the owner and chef, creates special menus that are only feasible for large numbers of customers.

While Barret and I nibbled on watermelon and mint salad, a musician in a red suit strolled between the tables with a saxophone. Celine Dion was on heavy rotation.

I also came to realize that el Día de Amor y Amistad was not just for lovers and friends, but for entrepreneurs. DSLR digital cameras are not a common sight in Colombia, so special events are perfect for photographers who want to earn some money. There were two different couples that came into Masala to take photos of the ambiance and of anyone who tipped a few bucks and wrote down their email address.

After our delicious candlelit dinner, Barret and I slipped out and met a friend for a coffee. Celebrating love and friendship- what a good start to the weekend.

How to get to Masala: Calle 77 #19A-18, Milan

Guest blog: Pig-Pickin’ with Penny

At the Pig-Pickin in Virginia

Blog reader Penny (aka Mom) goes into the heart of Tea Party country for a neighborhood Pig-Pickin’. While not necessary, I recommend reading this post with the voice of a BBC announcer. My mom is the only person I know that could (and has) made the question “are you in a hurry to pound some meat,” sound positively dainty.


Delicious parallels begged to be drawn between Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ theme and our October 2013 invite to a  ‘Pig-Pickin’. Most readers would recognize the presence of certain essential elements in both: the one chosen pig, the bonfire, and two opposing groups of guests, Democrats and Republicans.

But herein lies the current problem: whether to define the radical Tea Party supporters as Republican – or to acknowledge a created schism within the ranks of the Republicans, so viewing the Tea Party as a parasitic graft and independent of conventional Republican ideology. The host of ‘Pig Pickin’ was a masterful diplomat. With warmth and hospitality he negotiated his way through the gathering of incongruous persons and the hostile mud of the barbecue area.

The modern version however of the outcome was decidedly cheerful. A six day duration of falling rain failed to dampen the spirited barbecue celebration of Columbus Day. Politics was cast aside as everyone’s attention became focused on ‘Piggy’ who shared billing with boat rides, fishing, live music, a giant bonfire, hush puppies, coleslaw, beer, soda and cider. Baked beans were also on the menu. Never mind that the enormous cast iron pot in which they were warming tumbled into the fire. Scraped up and herded back into the pot the baked beans tasted … woodsy perhaps.

“In my opinion the Tea Party is not unlike the Nazis taking away the people’s freedom.” Clearly the man next to whom I was seated was not the guest who had earlier arrived in a car sprouting slogans in support of extremists running for government in Virginia. Consider one such extremist, Jackson, running for lieutenant governor who warns against yoga by asserting, “Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. Satan is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to…”

I was curious about my dining companion’s comparison of the Tea Party; here was a man who’d been born and raised in Germany in the 1940s, the son of a German soldier on the front, solely acquainted with his father by having but three telephone conversations with him. I wanted to ask more. I really did. But after downing two beers I felt I could hear my mother admonishing me.

“Never discuss sex, religion or politics. And never go out without a fresh handkerchief and money in your purse.” For the most part, useless advice by present day standards. And then our table conversation shifted to safer ground: native Virginia plants and shrubs, the convenience of Dulles airport and future highway projects within the area.

The giant bonfire which was lit rapidly became a fluttery fire before extinguishing itself. A steady deluge of rain had converted the mountain of timber into an island unto itself. The Occoquan River had wrapped its watery arms around the wood, obliging the lighter of the fire to wade towards the pile with unusual hope and determination.

And yet the congenial spirit of the evening prevailed as we came together for Columbus Day. The holiday is after all not just about remembering Christopher Columbus, but about taking time to reflect upon who we are and what we can achieve together.

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