Sunday, January 29, 2017

My Refugee Story

Today I wish to share with you a chapter from the book I'm writing about my time overseas. As the granddaughter of an Irish immigrant who came to America to find work at the age of 17, and the wife of a man who left his home in Lithuania at the same age, to move to a foreign country to pursue his dream of playing basketball, without knowing a soul, I know first hand there is nothing more beautiful, and more sacred to the core values of America than the hope of the American Dream. 

With that said, I don't remember a time in recent history that my heart has been filled with more sadness than is today. The mortification I feel having our President implement such a horrific law is only outweighed by the shame of seeing so many of my fellow countrymen not stand up for what's right because it simply doesn't affect them personally. Although I doubt this article will have any bearing on the beliefs of the opposite side, I need to share it for myself today as a reminder to not keep silent and to always speak up for those who can't.

It was my yearly ritual as soon as I made it to my new cities. Operation 1: Find the nearest Zara (even if it’s a plane ride away). Operation 2: Locate the best grocery store. Operation 3: Join a gym. Over the years my gym experiences have never lacked their share of comedic anecdotes. Whether it was the underground basement in Vilnius,  my amazing meathead personal trainer in Poland, or watching the women in full burkas on the elliptical in Bursa, joining a gym overseas has always provided some comedy. 

The first day usually includes me trying to convert kilograms into pounds, kilometers per hour into miles per hour and so on (and being gravely disappointed when the end number is NOT what I had in mind). My first day at my new gym in Giresun, Turkey was no different. Mid hating-my-life-two-minutes-into-the-treadmill, I was approached by the gym’s trainer. He asked to speak with me when I was done with my workout. FML, I thought. This has happened before. In every gym there’s always a trainer who comes up to me asking if I want to sign up for personal training lessons (because, come in, what fits the basketball wife cliche more than demanding a personal trainer). The rest of my workout, I brainstormed ideas of how to reject his offer. The truth is, I hate personal trainers. With a few rare exceptions, I’ve always had terrible experiences. The gym is a place I like to go to escape, not to make small talk while I’m struggling breathing. I’d tell him I’d think about it, that I’d get back to him… Or maybe the truth, that my best friend was a trainer and I liked to do her workouts on my own. 

After my workout I found him in the front desk on my way out. I waved, hoping he had forgotten about his plan to lure me into his training program. He stood right up and walked over to me. Shit. He introduced himself as “Mustafa”, a name that immediately  brought me to a smirk while reminiscing of “The Lion King”. “Nice to meet you, Mustafa”. He asked me where I was from and seemed excited when I told him America. “I’m a UN refugee from Iraq, I was wondering if you had any connections with someone in America that could help get me there”. I was immediately thrown off. I'd never met a refugee or an asylum seeker,  I wanted to just hug him and try to help.

Never have I felt like a bigger narcissistic asshole. Here I am worrying about rejecting his non-existent offer to train me, and turns out the guy is a UN refugee, fleeing persecution in his home country. I could really use someone to punch me in the face right about now. 

He didn't initially share his personal story, but we eventually learned of it through another basketball wife, who was an attorney and would do what she could to help him. He worked in his family’s convenience store in Baghdad when a terrorist group (who he now believes was the early stages of ISIS) came in, robbed him, and threatened to kill his entire family. The next day they were all on planes out of the country. His sister ended up in Denmark, and he had come to Turkey, in hopes that it would be a waiting place until he could reach the USA. 


I spent the remainder of my gym days in Giresun getting to know Mustafa and wishing there was more I could do for him. I eventually learned he was just 23, much younger than he looked, and my heart sank that there was nothing I could do.  There couldn’t be a worse time to be a UN refugee amidst the current climate where ISIS using the UN refugee path as a way to harbor terrorists had created a culture of immigrant hysteria in America. Our attorney friend knew it was in his best interest to suggest he find a backup plan. She was realistic and honest in saying that although he had officially been granted UN Refugee status, there was no way he would make it to America, he'd need to look elsewhere. She was right.

As our time in Giresun came to an end, all of us girls loved Mustafa and felt devastated that we couldn't help him. I often find myself thinking about him and wondering how he's doing. He was the first person I thought of when I read of Trump's Immigration Ban, which included his homeland of Iraq and I would be both embarrassed and ashamed if I had to face him today.

I'm not sure how so many can turn a blind eye to those who need it most. When did American pride outweigh having a conscience for those suffering in the rest of the world? I feel LUCKY to have been born in America, but I also realize this was never a choice I made, rather a luxury I was given. These poor children in Syria never asked to be born in the heart of a war-stricken nation, must they suffer because they were not granted the same luxury of being born American? 

 I hope as a nation we can open our hearts to feel compassion for those of different backgrounds, races, and religions than our own. I know there are many more Mustafas out there who need us and I for one refuse to be silent for them. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Not So Basic: Kale Salad With Blackened Salmon

With each new year and new city overseas, the ultimate question always remains: which of my normal American groceries will I not be able to find? In Turkey, there were several, while in Italy and Lithuania I could find almost anything. However, grocery shopping in Spain has been beyond my wildest dreams. I knew the stars were aligning in the produce aisle for me this year when I could find one of my favorite ingredients that I yearn for every season abroad: kale. I know, this is disappointing to most, as the majority of expats I know miss things like ranch and bbq sauce. I love kale and use it in so many recipes. Here is my absolute favorite salad, the only one my husband will specifically request. Weekly. I usually serve it with a piece of blackened salmon, but we often eat it alone as well. 

Consider this a double whammy, because not only is this the best kale salad you'll ever eat, this is the best piece of salmon you'll ever make as well. Do you ever go out to eat and wonder why your salmon at home isn't as good as in the restaurants? Butter. There's no avoiding it, the only way to a crispy outside and moist (when will we come up with a new word for this?!) inside is using a little butter. When used in moderation (I'm lookin at you Paula Dean), butter actually has health benefits so don't worry, this isn't going to set back your New Year's resolution. 

Ingredients: 

For the Salad:
One bag of kale ribbons (or cut your own)
1 Mango, diced
1 Red onion, thinly cliced
1 Avocado, diced
1/2 Cucumber, peeled and diced
1 Handful Cherry tomatoes

For the Dressing:
5 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 Lemon, juiced

For the Salmon:
2 Salmon Filets
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped
1 Garlic clove, minced
1/2 Lemon, juiced
Blackening Seasoning (homemade or store bought)

To make the dressing: whisk together all ingredients until thickened. Add salt & pepper.


Assemble the Salad: I once read a kale salad recipe that required you to massage the kale ribbons for  a minute with your hands before assembling your salad. It's said to change the color of the leaves and take away the bitterness. I'm not sure if that's the reason or if it's just proper manners to give the kale a nice rub down on it's final seconds of life, but nonetheless I continue to massage the kale and suggest you do the same. When you notice the leaves getting greener, add the remaining ingredients and toss with the dressing.

Cook up that Salmon: Combine butter, garlic, cilantro, and lemon juice and roll butter into a log form. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in the fridge for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, season your salmon filets with blackening seasoning. I can't ever find this overseas so I make my own by sprinkling on the following: cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, salt and pepper. Heat your skillet to medium-high and when hot, add a sliver of your flavored butter. Place salmon in skillet, skin side up and cook for about 3.5-4 minutes depending on thickness and your preferences. Flip the salmon over and top each piece with a spoon full of the butter mixture. As the butter melts off the fish, take a spoon and continuously spoon the hot butter back on top of each piece of salmon. Cook for an additional 3.5-4 minutes, or longer for thicker pieces. Assemble on top of salad.
You can check the sides to see how much longer each piece will need





Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Harry Potter Pilgrimage in Porto, Portugal


Portugal has long been on my list of places to visit, so I was pretty stoked to see we would be in driving distance this season. D had a bye-week last month so we decided to finally make the trip. 

A few days before leaving, he dropped the ultimate bomb on me. "You know there's some sort of connection with Porto and Harry Potter, right?" Um. No, I'm sorry. If I knew this, I would've obviously hitchhiked there on day 2 of moving to Spain. What could possibly connect the British superstar that is JK Rowling with Portugal's second city? I immediately googled it and found out that JK lived in Porto while writing the beginning of The Sorcerer's Stone. She drew a ton of her inspiration for the novel from the city.  I have already done one Harry Potter pilgrimage of sorts in Scotland where I got to see several cafe's JK frequented to write the series, so I wouldn't call myself a Harry Potter Pilgrimage Veteran, but actually, yes I am 100% that. 

The  nerd inside of me could not have been more thrilled. I immediately contacted fellow members of HP Nation, knowing only they would share my sheer jubilation and began obsessing over the trip.

D spent the entirety of the 2.5 hour trip to Porto listening to me read aloud every possible article I could find about Harry Potter and it's Porto connection. When we finally made it into the city, I was immediately blown away by how gorgeous and unique the buildings were. They were covered in the most beautiful, colorful tiles and looked like something out of a movie. For over 500 years, the Portuguese have used azulejos, or painted tiles, on the walls of their churches and buildings. You can see these throughout the city and it's a gorgeous tradition that makes you feel like shit that your house is painted in Benjamin Moore. 
Azulejos covering a Church
Okay, but can we make this a thing in America?
After living overseas for the past five years and doing my fair share of traveling, nothing is more sacred to me than cities that haven't been completely warped into tourist traps. You know, the ones that don't have Starbucks yet (gasp!).  Some of my favorite cities are ones that are not necessarily popular tourist destinations and really maintain their authenticity: Ljubljana, Slovenia and Vilnius, Lithuania, for example. Portugal's tourism market is growing at a rapid rate, with the capital, Lisbon being the main city for tourists. Porto is second in line, and on the rise, but still far from a tourist mecca. It feels real and rugged, and I absolutely love that. 
My favorite storefront!
Our first stop in the city was, as usual, to feed the beast. Food is often the only thing that keeps D going on our excursions and I fully use it to my advantage to get him to comply with my often odd and lengthy list of things to see. I read about Porto's famous sandwich, the Francesinha, and it sounded like the fattest thing I'd ever heard of, so naturally I knew D would go for it. This monstrosity of a sandwich is made up of ham, sausage, steak, and cheese, in between two pieces of bread and smothered with a tomato-beer sauce. I like to consider myself a pretty health-conscious eater so when I do have a cheat meal, I always evaluate whether something's worth the calories. This one did not pass my calorie to goodness ratio, but you should definitely give it a try if you're ever in Porto. 
Literally just gained 5 lbs while looking at this picture

After self-inducing ourself into a food coma, we wobbled our way over to the Livraria Lello Bookstore. It is said that JK Rowling used this bookstore and it's amazing windey staircase as inspiration for Hogwart's Grand Staircase. This gothic bookstore was built in 1906 and is the type of place that makes you want to cry when you realize that in today's world, not even Barnes & Nobles can stay in business and people read solely off of small electronic devices. I love bookstores, and this has to be one of the coolest ones I've ever been in.
No, I wasn't pretending I was walking up to my Gryffindor dormitory here, why would you assume that? 
After the bookstore, we crossed the street and headed towards the Clerigos Tower. This is the church tower of the Porto's first Baroque Church and was built in the 1700s. From the top, you have the most incredible view of Porto's Old Town.
From the tower, we checked out the Porto Train Station which is hands down the most gorgeous train station I've ever seen. Covered in blue and white tiles, you could easily miss your train connection while gazing at all the beauty in the lobby.
From there, we went to see the Porto Cathedral, another supposed inspiration site for JK Rowling. The cathedral's cloisters are also covered in azulejos and the gothic arches and vaults had me feeling like Hermoine could pop up behind me holding her "Defense Against the Dark Arts" textbook at any given moment.
That evening, I let D have a minor break from Harry Potter activities, and we booked a tour at one of the Port Wine Caves. I must preface this by saying I despise Port wine but felt it would be somewhat of a travesty to come all the way to Porto and not check out their most famous export. Unsurprisingly, the port wine is just as terrible in Porto as it is in America, but learning about the production was really neat. Watching a Portuguese live band play during the tasting also helped make it a bit more palatable, but I still couldn't help thinking I was drinking liquid migraine. 
After the cave tour, we had potentially one of the best meals of our lives at a small Tapas joint, Jimao Tapas & Vinhos. I cannot recommend this place enough if you ever find yourself in Porto.
The Harry Potter Pilgrimage continued on Day 2 where we visited Cafe Majestic, a stunning, regal cafe from the 1920s where JK Rowling used to frequent while writing Sorcerer's Stone. I'd highly recommend a stop-in for a coffee, but the high prices will make you feel like you should at least be entitled to breathe in some of JK's oxygen trapped in a mason jar. This service is unavailable and frankly, a missed business opportunity if you ask me. 
There was only one stop on my HP tour that I had yet to fulfill. Porto is home to the University of Porto where every student beyond their freshman year is required to wear a black cape as a uniform. JK Rowling modeled the Hogwart's uniform after the University of Porto students. I kept my eyes peeled all weekend for these students and was getting pretty anxious one hadn't turned up. As we were walking down a random street on our way out of town, D poked me and said "did you see her?!" I was clearly daydreaming and missed my chance at a caped student! Immediately I turned around and snapped this photo from the back. Probably for the best, as I would've 100% asked to pose in a picture with her and D would've died inside of sheer embarrassment. JK was clearly ahead of her time in the fashion world, as capes are now a chic wardrobe must have. I'll never forgive myself for not packing my black Zara cape and regardless of the weather the next time I visit, I promise you I won't take it off.
Besides it's incredible beauty and history, Porto has so much to offer. The entire city is like a living, walking, Etsy store. Streets are filled with the cutest shops selling unique, handcrafted goods. It was truly a hipster's paradise. 
Ready to move in effective immediately
Our last stop before heading back to Santiago was to Foz do Douro. Foz is the gorgeous seafront part of Porto lined with beautiful white pergulas and old, almost Victorian looking homes. The Florida girl in me can't help but love a good beach and I felt a little at home looking at the Atlantic Ocean from the other side.
Even if you aren't a Harry Potter loyalist (no judgement but this is a severe character defect), Porto should absolutely be on your must-visit list. This city is full of culture, history, beauty, great food.. and did I mention, Harry Potter?!
Porto by Night









Monday, December 12, 2016

The Easiest Dinner You're Not Making: Baked Whole Fish!



I was reluctant to start sharing recipes on my blog, for two main reasons. The first being that I'm absolutely awful at giving recipes. Every time someone asks me how I make something, I cringe. I can be extremely ADD in the kitchen, throwing things together and having no idea how it happened in the end. My idea of a recipe includes a lot of "some" and "a bit of" and little tangible measurements like "cups" and "tablespoons". In fact, I don't even own a set of measuring cups. The second reason I have no business food blogging is that as we move every year into someone else's kitchen, I'm usually left working with whatever plates, utensils and pots and pans they've left available to me. Do not be mistaken, they are never glamorous and I usually struggle to find any two things in the kitchen that actually came from the same collection. So here is my forewarning, my pictures are from my iPhone and I would never pick out the heinous plates and tablewear you will see in the subsequent photos. (Side note: If you do want to look at a real, professional, fabulous food blog with gorgeous photos, you should check out my sister-in-laws here.

The best type of meals are the ones that look super impressive to your guests, but actually take little to no effort whatsoever. I'm a huge seafood fan, we eat fish in our house at least 3-4 times/week. However, up until our move to Spain, I was always too intimidated to prepare a whole fish. In our town in Northwest Spain, in what is called the Galician region, seafood is King. You can get incredible quality seafood for really great prices. My new favorite easy dinner meal here is Baked Whole Dorada, a whole white fish that also goes by Dorade and Sea Bream. I think Dorada is only available on this side of the Atlantic, so a whole Sea Bass or any flaky white fish would also do. Served with your veggie of choice, I use zucchini here but asparagus and potatoes are also great (the potatoes will need to cook a bit longer ahead of time). I typically prefer the fish left completely whole, with the head on, but struggled to communicate that to the woman working in the seafood department so you can do as you wish. 

Ingredients:

2 Whole Dorada Fish, ask them to clean it and butterfly it for you (or do it yourself if you're into that)
1/4 cup olive oil + 1 tbsp for drizzling
A head of garlic
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Parsley
1 Lemon, sliced thin
1 Lemon, juiced
1 Cup, cherry tomatoes
1 Zucchini, sliced or a bundle of Asparagus
1/4 Cup white wine (+ more for you to drink while preparing)

Directions:
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (200 C) 
  • In a blender or food processor, blend olive oil, lemon juice, 3 sprigs rosemary, 3 sprigs thyme,  1/4 cup of parsley, 3 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper into a paste
  • Pat your fish dry with a paper towel and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper
  • Score (slash across the skin) each side of the fish a few times.
  • Rub mixture all over your whole fish, the outsides and inside. Stuff each fish with 2-3 slices of lemon, a couple springs of the fresh herbs, and a few cloves of sliced garlic. Leave in fridge for 2 hours to marinate (if you're pressed for time, you can go ahead and cook it, but I recommend marinating)
  • Lay fish on a piece of parchment paper and scatter cherry tomatoes and your vegetable of choice around the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, whole garlic cloves and a few sprigs of herbs. Pour in white wine.

  • Cook fish for 15-20 minutes depending on your preference, taking the fish out about half way through to baste with the white wine sauce. Depending on your oven, you may want to turn it up to 450 for the last few minutes or so to crisp up the skin.
  • Serve with pan sauce spooned on top of fish
     
Other Variations of this Recipe:
  • The first time I cooked this, I omitted the rub and just drizzled each fish with olive oil and laid the herbs in the middle. It was also delicious if you're in a rush and don't have time to make the marinade!
  • Add black olives and fresh mint and serve with tzatziki to make a greek style fish
    My first attempt at a whole fish, with the head left on.
    If serving with potatoes, let them bake first for 20 or so minutes before adding the fish
I couldn't have been more wrong about the complexity of cooking a whole fish and it has now become an easy weekday staple in our house! Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Life Lately!

My past four New Year's Resolution lists have all included the desire to write more, and sensibly each year I seem to write less and less. Between running my own business, attempting to learn two languages and feeding an XL human full-time, I rarely have down time here to sit and blog but again, I will attempt to do better this year!

Spain has been amazing so far! The food, the people, the culture, I absolutely love it all. Since my erratic brain seems to jump from subject to subject, here are some highlights (and lowlights) from our past two (I can't believe it) months here!
  • This is the first year we've joined a team that one of our friends currently played on and this has been such a blessing. Four years ago during our first season abroad I met Indre, the twenty year old girlfriend of one of D's Lithuanian teammates when we played in Vilnius. She was my first friend on the team and we have stayed close ever since. I am SO excited that her now husband is one of D's teammates again this year! She has been so helpful to me, driving me everywhere, introducing me to the best places, babysitting Tucker, forcing me to join her in Spanish Class.. the list goes on and on but she's just an all-around rockstar of a friend. I love her and am so grateful for her!
  • Aside from Indre, I'm equally obsessed with all the other wives and girlfriends on the team. There are seven of us that are here full time including two other Americans, a Swede, and a bunch of Spanish girls. We hang out all the time and it's so much fun being on a team with so many awesome gals to hang out with.
    The girls on Thanksgiving!
  • This is also the first year where the majority of the team lives in the same building! This has been super fun and convenient as we can walk to each other's houses to hang out. It's also terrifying as I often look like a blind, homeless, crystal meth addict when I take Tucker out in the mornings. So far no run-ins but it's bound to happen.
  • Speaking of our apartment building, it has one extremely odd characteristic. We live on the second floor of our building, but our laundry room is separate, on the fourth floor attic. It's not a communal space, as every person in the building has their own locked room on this floor specifically for laundry. You're only allowed to use the room between 10 am-10 pm and it makes doing laundry an even bigger pain in the ass than it is already. The room is huge and obviously extremely creepy and I am 100% positive it's inhabited by one of the monsters from Stranger Things. The good news is, I could easily through a few air-mattresses in there and rent the place out on Airbnb. Will keep you updated.
  • The hardest thing to adjust to so far has been our change in schedule here. DD and I usually have the sleeping patterns of an 80 year old couple: early to bed, early to rise, but we've had to drastically change that this season. The Spaniards are definitely in no rush to get their days started, and D's "morning" practice is usually at 11:45. His evening practices start around 7-7:30 and he often doesn't get home until after 10. This forces us to eat dinner around 10:30-11 and then we stay up for a few hours so that we don't gain 300 lbs. Additionally, grocery stores are all closed on Sundays, which of course I never remember until it's Saturday evening and I'm staring at an empty fridge. 
  • I'll be the first to admit my Spanish is not progressing the way I had hoped. After taking Spanish for several years growing up (and learning the colors, months and days of the week over and over again), I thought it would be pretty easy to get back into.  I had no idea how much more difficult it would be to try to throw a third language in the mix whilst learning Lithuanian. It's so hard for me to switch my brain into Spanish when my brain speaks English, and then Lithuanian first. I spend most of the time in my class wondering why on earth some of my classmates possibly consider themselves "beginners" when they are able to carry out full blown conversations with our non-English speaking teacher for ten minutes. I'm bitter...and jealous.. and wish they would bump up to the advanced class where they belong while my adorable, gay little chorizo of a Spanish teacher teaches me how to say the colors and order wine. Until then, I'll continue to be devastated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening when I pull up to my class and the building isn't engulfed in flames.
  • We had an amazing Thanksgiving at one of D's teammates houses. Cooking for 20 people, most of them being oversized and eating for 2, is never an easy task, but through a foreign country into the mix and shit really hits the fan. Between translating recipe terms into Spanish, converting recipes with cups into grams, and having to substitute at least 2-3 ingredients in every dish, it can be a bit of a nightmare. It's all worth it when you get to experience a bunch of European's First Thanksgivings, where they spend the evening asking questions like "so I don't get it.. you just eat? That's the holiday" and "wow this is weird", regarding sweet potato casserole. 
  • This is the first year I won't be going home for an early Christmas with my family. My heart will be so heavy being away from them but my Mama always does the best job of making sure we all feel together, regardless of how far apart we may actually be. Christmas will come a day late for me this year when three of my best friends head to Spain to visit! I cannot wait!
  • Speaking of Christmas, I can't tell you how nice it is to see Christmas decorations out in stores and hear songs playing in public places! Living in Turkey last year, December felt like any other month. It's definitely Christmastime in Santiago and I'm pretty stoked about it. D even had the honors of turning on the Christmas lights at the Mall here, which was hilarious because apparently Santa's elf didn't get the memo that he didn't speak Spanish and kept trying to give him the microphone in front of the crowd to make a speech :) 

More updates to come! Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Viva Espana!

The offseason is always an extremely stressful time and this year was no different. When our season ended in early May, we headed to Lithuania for about a month to visit family and renovate an investment property we purchased. From there, we headed to the states for the remainder of the summer, which turned out to be much longer than we expected.

Every Summer, D communicates back and forth with his agent who is speaking with various teams on his behalf. There is never a perfect situation, with each offer comes multiple compromises. We always sit down and prioritize which aspects of a contract are most important to us: the basketball situation, team financial stability, the city, money, the league, etc, and always have to give up at least one, often more, of these elements. Each year the market changes and the economic status of countries all over Europe trickle down to their basketball teams as well. In the past, we've been lucky enough to typically sign our contracts very early in the Summer, which allows us to relax and prepare for our new team while enjoying time with family. Unfortunately this year, we were far from prepared for how long we would have to wait. D's agent came to us with a few different options, but each lacked in some major areas in which we felt were priorities. We continued to reject offers and pray that new ones would transpire.

In addition to weighing out the normal components of different teams and their pros and cons, the current state of security in the world adds so much more depth to this process. After spending last season in Turkey, making so many phone calls to my mom to assure her I was safe amongst all the terrorist plots, and feeling the horror over the Summer when the Istanbul Airport, a place that was practically my second home last season,  was the victim of an ISIS attack, safety and security was a new layer to add to the already extensive list of things to consider. To be honest, I felt very safe in our city in Turkey last year, and can't tell you how frustrating it was to constantly hear from friends, family, and often strangers, alike about how I shouldn't, and couldn't possibly go back. I was open to returning to Turkey this season, if it was in a city where I felt comfortable, but it's hard to reassure people who haven't been there and don't know anything about the situation, that I would be okay. 

Safety did play a factor in our negotiations, however, and I did have limits to where I would feel comfortable living, and D respected that. The weeks kept passing and with each deal that would pass, my anxiety and fear would only multiply. Every time I would feel sorry for myself and the fact that  we didn't have a job yet,  I would re-read the blog of my friend Kelly who is undergoing a bone marrow transplant for her leukemia (you should really read it here), and immediately want to punch myself in the face for failing to realize how trivial my problems were. We needed to stay positive, control the things we could and surrender to God the things we couldn't. Towards the end of September, we made the tough decision to switch agents, a move that was really hard for D, as he has been loyal to his first and only agent since beginning his professional career. 

Fast forward to two weeks ago, we were prepping for Hurricane Matthew to hit my mom's house in South Florida when we got a call from D's new agent that there was an offer in for Turkey that we would be happy with. They would want D there soon so we would need to pack immediately. Adding "pack your life up into two suitcases" to hurricane prep is less than ideal, believe it or not, but we welcomed the thought of a new opportunity. After stressing back and forth about the move, but feeling relieved that we would finally be heading back to Europe, the deal ended up falling through at the last minute. 

A few days later, D's agent contacted us about a potential offer in Spain. Spain has always been tip top on our bucket list of places to play, but it can be really difficult to break into the Spanish ACB League as it's full of European super-stars and guys that have already made names for themselves in the country. To make the situation even more desirable, one of D's best Lithuanian friends (who's wife is one of my absolute favorite people alive), was on the team and she had already told me great things about the management and the city. Honestly, I blew off the idea of going there, thinking it would ultimately be too good to be true, and just leave us disappointed in the end. After several days of back and forth, we were beginning to lose hope that it would happen until last Thursday where we were surprised with a signed contract in our inbox, followed by a phone call from D's agent telling us to prepare to leave that evening. In the past five seasons, this was definitely our quickest turnaround time, with just 6 hours separating our contract signing and our flight takeoff in Miami.

After telling friends and family about our new opportunity, and hearing so many respond with how much they had been praying for us and for something to happen, it was so clear to me that all of the support and love we are surrounded with directly influenced God's plan for us this season. I can't tell you how much it means to us to have the support of so many people, even when we know you have so many bigger, and more significant, issues to focus on.

We arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain last Friday, and it's been a whirlwind ever since. D left the day after we arrived, to travel with the team to an away game in Barcelona. Normally, I'd be a bit apprehensive about being alone in a new city, but I was so lucky that my close friend, Indre, was here to make me feel at home and introduce me to my new city. We had a fabulous weekend exploring the city, it's Old Town and local markets, shopping malls and parks. I am so grateful to have her here and so excited to keep getting to know the other wives here, who have been so much fun already. 

Santiago is such an amazing city, and after exploring, I was frankly surprised I had never heard of it. Located in Northwest Spain, just above Portugal, it is most famous for their massive Cathedral that is the central core of the city. The Cathedral is the burial place of St. James, the apostle, and the end point of a long pilgrimage done by hundreds of thousands of people each year, from the Middle ages until the present. On any given day, you can walk into the Old Town and see Christian Pilgrims, from all over, ending their several hundred mile journey, on foot, and arriving here to their final destination, to pay homage to St. James. 

I've spent the past week getting our apartment together, meeting new friends, beginning my Spanish lessons, and drinking more 2 euro a bottle wine and eating more jamon than I am proud to admit. I'm so excited for what this season has in store, and just so thankful that we have another year on this journey! 
Mercado de Abastos de Santiago
Old Town, Santiago



Friday, May 6, 2016

Georgia....?



My life is a series of amazing ideas that are born in my brain and don't always come to fruition. My husband, bless his heart, has had to humor me through a lot of my ideas, and I have to say I've gotten us into some pretty interesting situations in these past four years of living abroad.

Needless to say, he was less than shocked when he woke up a couple weeks ago and I told him to pack his bags for Georgia. He had two days off and I couldn't possibly live three hours from the border of an unconquered country for a year without visiting it. After coming up blank to all of his questions-- what would we do in Georgia, what type of food would we eat, and finally- can you actually tell me one thing about Georgia, we hit the road and were on our way.

A two and a half hour drive delivered us to the border of Georgia and Turkey where we would soon come to our first surprise of the trip. After being used to living in the EU and easily crossing through borders with our car,  it kind of slipped our mind that we weren't in Kansas anymore. We'd have to leave our car here and fend for ourself on the other side. Anyone who truly knows D and myself realize that we have our fair share of opposite personality traits. I'm a more go-with-the-flow and wing it kinda girl while D has to have things planned out to precision. The thought of him not knowing this major flaw in our travel plans didn't sit to well with the big guy. We checked out the map and realized we weren't far from our destination, just 15 minutes from Batumi, and figured we could take a bus or a taxi once we crossed the border.

As we parked and stepped into the border patrol, a second issue crossed my mind, how would I smuggle my little chihuahua into the country? Sure, I had all of his paperwork with me and up to date, but its not uncommon for border control agents over here to give you a hard time over nothing and deny my little Mexican angel entry. Georgia would be Tucker's 8th country, and he is surely no stranger to being smuggled illegally across a border. I threw him in his carrier and draped my leather jacket on top of him and we were good to go. I only had one near heart attack when a young girl decided to run over and point to him as my passport was being checked by an agent, but my death stare worked on her and she turned around and ran away.

Welp.. we're in Georgia. Now what. A young guy approached us, asking if we needed a taxi and we took him up on his offer. In retrospect, this wasn't the best idea and when we questioned him as to why his car lacked a taxi sign, he stole one off another car, thinking this would somehow put us at ease. We reluctantly climbed in the car for what would be a very strange 15 minute drive. Goats, sheep, cows and all kinds of livestock in the middle of the streets, zero signs of civilization. I truly felt like I had gone back in time 50 years. Where the fuck are we and why did I think this was a good idea. To make matters worse, the taxi driver started making some very sketchy phone calls and I became 100% certain we were about to be robbed or sold into the Georgian sex trade. I blamed D for taking his Louis Vuitton duffle bag, thinking we would be safer with something a bit more discreet. 10 minutes in we started seeing some signs of life in the city and soon pulled up to our hotel. Luckily for us, the taxi driver's frantic calls to his fellow mobster friends went unanswered and thus his plan to rob us went out the window, so we got out of the car as fast as humanly possible and ran into the hotel. Not a great start, Georgia.
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After checking into our hotel room and seeing the huge casino downstairs, a Google search taught me that Batumi was the "Las Vegas" of Georgia. Neither D nor I like to gamble but I was hoping this would also mean there would be girls in fabulous clothing and tons of great restaurants. So we went upstairs to change and I researched an authentic Georgian restaurant for us to try.

I wish I could say the walk to the restaurant was a turning point in the evening, but this would be a complete lie. Apparently Google Maps took us through the hood of Batumi and I was about ready to just write this idea down as an L in the books. As we came close to the restaurant, we pulled out my phone to figure out exactly which door it was, and a Georgian taxi driver pointed us in the right direction. "Wow the people are so nice here", I said, desperately clinging to any positive thing I could actually say so that I didn't have to claim defeat out loud. 



Our luck, and our lives as a whole, were about to change, as we took our first bite of Khachapuri. Good God. This heavenly dish consists of a ton of melted cheese, topped with butter and an egg, wrapped in a dough that tasted just like Napoleon pizza crust. How have I possibly lived 27 years without this. Finally, this trip was starting to shape up. No matter what happened now, it was worth it. 

After stuffing ourselves with cheesy goodness and Georgian beer, the trip totally took a 360. We walked a few blocks and found ourselves in the middle of a gorgeous plaza with some really unique architecture and neat coffee shops and bars. We took a seat outside one of the bars and ordered some wine when we were surprised to hear Americans at the table next to us. I obviously had to know why on Earth another American was in Batumi at this time and I insisted on getting their life stories. I yelled across to them and learned they were PeaceCorps members and one of the girls was even from Florida! Minutes later we would realize that they were also FSU graduates and they immediately recognized D from watching FSU Basketball. I have had several of these crazy small world moments living overseas, but sitting in a wine bar in Batumi, Georgia, meeting a table of people who graduated college with us and knew D by name, this had to be one of the weirdest. 


After drinks, we walked around Batumi Boulevard, a beautiful street along the waterfront covered in hotels, shops, and neat sculptures and architecture. We then went up to a rooftop bar where we would have our second weird encounter of the evening. As we were sitting and talking at the bar, a guy approached us and asked if were American. After going back and forth for a bit, he told us he was an American, living just 20 minutes away from where we lived last season in Italy. Really small world. He worked for NATO and was moving to Georgia in a few months and educated us a lot about the country and culture that we were so ignorant to. He delighted us by saying Georgia had one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, and made me feel less than stupid for fearing for my life hours earlier. It almost made me doubt the fact that my taxi driver attempted to kidnap us, but this fact I was actually sure of.

The next day we spent walking around the city and I was definitely taken back by how unique it was. Regardless of how different European cities can be, at the end of the day they all have so many similarities. Georgia was unlike anywhere I've ever been before. A lot of streets and stores we walked into felt like I was taking a step back in time. D said it reminded him of Lithuania when he was growing up. I don't think I've ever seen a place with such drastic disparities between buildings. On one side of the street there would be a fabulous, European looking plaza and directly across the street would be a tattered old dilapidated building that reminded me of the Soviet Union that I'd only seen on TV. 
These two drastically different buildings were right next to one another

Later that day, we took a much safer, hotel-recommended taxi, back to the border, smuggled back in the Chihuahua and crossed back over to the country we've called home these past 8 months. Although our time in Georgia was short, it was definitely a trip for the books. I'm so grateful for my travel parter, his openness to my crazy ideas, and the hilarious memories we're creating together.