Ack! Earthquake in Chile!…and I live here.

Sweet BeJeezus, that was scary!!

I’m not talking the “normal” kind of earthquake scary either … the kind I knew before today. After living in the SF Bay Area for over 29 years, I thought I was pretty accustomed to feeling the ground move every so often.

But no matter how accustomed you think you are … nothing prepares you for 2+ minutes of NON-STOP 8.8 ground movement and subsequent shaking, thundering, crashing and breaking that occurs with it.

Obviously we were in bed, G and I… and actually I had just gotten into bed after a bathroom break (TMI). I was commending myself and my dog for breaking the 3am barrier – i.e. the dog has stopped waking us up in the mornings whining from boredom. It was 3:15 am, baby was tired and we had a full day of wedding planning ahead of us…I closed my eyes, ready to enter my sweet lull.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand cue in the earth rolling … like riding a wave, I imagine. Except being from an earthquake zone (SF Bay Area) one always first determines if the quake is going to stay put or suddenly get all agro on you.
In the most abrasive of manners I jolt G up with “It’s an earthquake.” He sits up with me to proceed with the analysis: is this going to roll along like this or is this going get ugly?

OH. And then it truly got UUUUUUUUUUUUGLY. Now, mind you, at this point we’ve been rolling along with the wave for a good 30 seconds and as each 15-second interval ticked by, the once-rolling motion proceeded to turn into sharp movements, jolting us back and forth. We live on the 11th floor, the topmost floor of our building, and since buildings in Chile are “earthquake ready,” on the top floor you tend to feel each and every roll and jab TIMES TWENTY. And the thing is, the quake didn’t stop… it didn’t ease up or roll into a slow sweep… it not only kept going but it kept getting STRONGER AND STRONGER as each second, then MINUTE, ticked by. One by one I could hear things from other rooms crash to the floor; glass breaking, water splashing; thud, thud, crash, thud, shatter…and alongside those noises you hear the immense, RAW POWER of this monstrous earthquake that’s taking you on this SOOOOOO-unsolicited ride.

I was at the door frame, holding on until my fingers hurt … G was across from me in the bedroom holding our TV in place so that it wouldn’t fall on our puppy below (who by they way, was FREAKING OUT.) I remember thinking “it’s going to stop… it’s going to stop, it HAS TO STOP, it’s been so long” and realizing that the quake just kept going and going and getting stronger and stronger. At which point I seriously, cross-my-heart-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye thought to myself “Oh my God, I’m going to die in this earthquake. This building is going to fall and we’re going to die.” And NEVER, EVER have I had a thought like that, where for a second it was this peaceful-type realization that “this is it.”

And then, of course, thank God, it did stop. And that’s when the panic set in.

Our mom’s live in the next “comuna” over, each in her own apartment but in the same building. Once I realized we were ok, all I could think about was my mom and her insane fear of earthquakes … and the fact that she was alone. Quickly, G and I got dressed, grabbed the dog, ran down eleven flights of stairs IN THE DARK, dove into the car and raced through disabled stop lights to get to our moms’ homes. Our moms where upset, of course, but once we got there and everyone was gathered outside, there was a sense of security. Unfortunately that security didn’t lend itself to the other issue at hand: mobile phone connections and land lines were collapsed and G’s kids were outside Santiago with their mom. For more than two hours G tried to get through just to make sure his kids were ok–> and NOTHING. No calls were getting through. He finally decided to drive the hour and a half drive to where they were – not that he had clear directions on how to get there (he was working off memory). 40 minutes later he calls me to tell me that he can’t get through… the roads were closed due to collapsed overpass pedestrian walkways and crumbled pavement that ran for stretches at a time. I can’t imagine the torture he was going through not knowing if his kids were ok …and it was torture for me to know there was nothing I could do to help… [Update: his kids ARE ok and yes, he was able to talk to them. They’re shaken and freaked out, but ok.] In the end he came back to my mom’s apartment … by then, none of us had eaten for over 12 hours and we certainly hadn’t slept. But the sun was up. It was morning. Electricity was back at my mom’s house. Those three things combined brought some feeling of security back. So we packed up our dog, his things, my mom (who came over to help clean up) and we headed back home, ready to face the mess that we briefly saw on our way out at 4 am.

Considering how fierce the earthquake was and how intense it felt, I’m surprised we didn’t have more damage. At most we lost some cool picture frames. At best we have a crack going down the wall of our apartment’s foyer to forever remind us of this atrocious event. We have friends here in Chile who live waaaaaaaaaay higher up than we do and the damage to their apartments was far worse … not so much in terms of structure (like I said, Chilean buildings are “earthquake ready” thank God) but in terms of stuff thrown everywhere! We were spared, I think. In more ways than one.

The table in the front foyer, as you walk into the apartment. Plant and picture frames on the ground; area rug soaked. The crashing of this vase to the floor was not a welcome sound during the ‘rolling-with-the-homies’ episode.



The scene as we walked in to the dining room/living room area. Picture frames, meet the floor. Charmed, I’m sure.

This was a fun sight … our yet-to-be-thoroughly-paid tv toppled over. That’s the center table leaning in to kiss it hello. [Btw, we now know the tv is fine. And she’s ok!]



And my office… which actually, now that I think about it, kind of always looks like this. Maybe slightly less messy.

In the end, my review for “Earthquake Chile 2010” is a big, fat, thumbs down. Please don’t ever let me/us have to go through another 2.5 minute event that has us literally holding on for dear life. I’d like to take a “pass” on the aftershocks that continue to shake the city (and the country for that matter), most of which feel as if they’re 5-6 points, given how high up we are. But on the other hand, I was amazed at how the Chilean people came to one another’s aid in this crisis – even if it’s to merely ask “hey, how are you?” (Which, by the way, is precisely what our neighbors did after the shaking stopped.) There’s security in talking about what you went through and a feeling of safety in knowing that others went through the same thing. And I do have to say that the outpouring of concern and well wishers on my Facebook page was humbling. While I would rather never again have to go through what we went through at approximately 3:30 am Chilean time today, it serves to remind me how forever grateful I am… and in this case, I’m grateful that we survived.

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Me lately

I’ve never looked or felt frumpier. You know those new moms that you see walking down the street and you think to yourself “Geez sister, pull yourself together. A little eye make up would work wonders on you right about now. And while you’re at it, pull that scrunchie out of your hair.” I’m on the receiving end of that. For the first time in my entire adult life, the roots of my hair are over two inches out. In fact, my hair is about two months overdue for even a haircut! … ask any of my close friends if that’s normal for me and they would assure you that you’re talking about someone else. I was formally known as the persnickety old aunt-type who liked to point out when someone needed to hit the hair salon STAT. I felt like I was offering a public service, really. Well the irony is that now, I’m that person I used to call out. Oh life, how you mock me! (and while we’re on the topic, hi uni-brow!)
And don’t get me started on my nails, both hands and toes…or the fact that I haven’t dressed up and worn any type of heels in daaaaaaaaaaays (to be read, “months”).

In a way, I am a new mom with the arrival of Obi-wan Kenobi on the 12th of this month. And I’m not sure having a puppy is all it’s cracked up to be. First of all, he surely hates me. I’m not sure why he doesn’t like me but he’s taking to growling at me (the mean kind, not the playful kind I keep reading about) and, of course, he’s taking to biting me. Let’s add that to the fact that I spend about 8 hours a day cleaning his waste so that he’s not running around in filth, making sure he has clean water, trying to remember to feed him every six hours, attempting to keep him clean, trying to train him to be a proper dog in a few months AND all the while waking up at 3 am EVERY morning because of his cries/whines. Of course I get myself out of bed and play with him and cuddle him as much as I can so that he feels secure and loved…And the thanks I get for all that? Bites and growls. Forgive me if for the time being I’m not quite understanding the whole “man’s/woman’s best friend” bit. I’m not saying that getting him was a mistake because I do have faith that things will get better. When he’s a little older and outgrows this stage he’s in, coupled with being able to take him outside so he can run free and mingle with other dogs (he doesn’t have all his shots as of yet) I really do believe that life will be pleasant. That’s part of what motivates me to keep training him, to keep teaching him right from wrong, to keep trying to make him a happy, well adjusted dog. But right now it’s no picnic. In fact, it’s downright dreadful.

I’m allergic to him, did I mention that? Yeah, I break out into hives whenever I hold him. I was having breathing issues too for a bit but then started taking Allegra AND we bought an air purifier with HEPA filter so things on the respiratory end are much more pleasant. For the hives I’m using a cortisone cream but unfortunately I can only apply it for a week … that means until today since a week ago I went to the doctor for said prescriptions that enable me to be near our puppy. Here’s a pic I took yesterday … this is WITH the cortisone cream. Though in its defense, I did initially fail to apply it to this region …

In case you haven’t noticed the tone of this post, I’m feeling slightly depressed and glum. This is why I closed comments on this particular entry. There’s no need to tell me that you relate to me, that you understand or that you’re sorry. Also there’s no need to tell me I need to snap out of it and stop feeling sorry for myself. I know all of the above and really, do appreciate any sentiment or time taken to express that sentiment. I’m really writing this because I simply just.felt.like.writing. After all, it’s one of my 2010 proposals/resolutions so I thought it to be quite appropriate.

My wedding is in less than two months and I feel like things are wrapping up nicely. Summer is coming to an official end here in Chile so I hope that means that vendors are finally going to be responsive and available. Though here’s a typical story… in November G and I went to the place where we want to get our cake and they told us that we were seriously too early to begin planning for the cake and that we should come back in February or March. All righty. So I called yesterday to ask about going in for the tasting and after answering the “when is your wedding” question, I’m met with:
“Oh honey, you should have come in a while ago! We’re taking orders already for next year! What are you waiting for?”

FML and F-them.

Needless to say we’re going this weekend.

But I have to say, despite all the planning and all the hoopla surrounding me in regards to weddings (two friends here are getting married in a couple of weeks, within a week of one another), I continue to feel like my own personal wedding is this event I’m planning in general and that I’m just attending as a guest. Like my own party I guess, but nothing major. In part I’m thankful for this feeling because it means I’m not stressing over details. Another part of me feels as if I’m cheating myself though! For myself personally, I pretty much have nothing. I don’t have a bouquet, I don’t have shoes, I don’t have “something blue” and I don’t have accessories. Yeah I have a dress and yeah, I like that dress, but it’s certainly not the over-the-moon sentiment I thought I’d have about my dress. It’s nice, I like it, I guess I look ok in it and that’s about it. Something tells me that’s NOT NORMAL!!!

The only constant is G and how much I love him and how much I love our life together. There’s no one in this world I’d rather be with and no one who could make this depressive, blue state I’m in even remotely worth treading through. But all that other blue stuff makes me kind of numb… similar to the affect my skin has with the cortisone cream.

In general, sometimes my life in Chile feels like it’s smothered in cortisone cream. I walk around not really being a part of this society and culture. I guess that sounds weird to those who don’t know how the stuff works. It’s more of a personal observation, I guess. I have a lot of them because when you don’t really integrate well in a society, you mostly live in your head… which later results in diarrhea of the fingers on a keyboard within a blog entry.

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I’m a Citizen … hear me Roar!

My country tis of thee… Good LORD did I have a patriotic week last week!!

As some of you may already know, I became a U.S. Citizen last Thursday, after many, many months of waiting and weaving through bureaucratic mazes, it finally happened!
In the simplest of forms, here’s what’s involved:

1) somehow you become a Temporary Resident of the US and you get a nifty card that says so. (I was young so not sure how it officially happens)

2) After a year (I think) you get your permanent residency and you get another nifty card to replace your old one. (Incidentally, this is how I lived for years – Permanent residency and living life, paying taxes, going to school, working etc, etc. The only thing I couldn’t do was vote.)

3) Apply to become a citizen after 5 years living as a permanent resident. Send a check for about $800 million dollars. Just kidding, it’s close to $700 – and then you wait.

4) A letter arrives asking for your finger prints. The FBI wants to see what’s up.

5) Another month passes and a letter arrives telling you they want to test you on American history and civics and “interview” you. Of the 1 million questions I studied, they asked me 6. Yes, just 6. Supposedly it’s 10 but if you get 6 right in a row, they stop “due to time constraints.”

6) Another month passes and you get a letter with your appointment date and information on where to take your Oath as US Citizen. Yay!!

Obviously there are people who wait months and months, if not years, to get from #3 to #6, but I gather that since I lived in the U.S. for so long and am, of course, and upstanding citizen, my wait proved to be shorter. And I thank you, U.S. Government!

The ceremony was held at the Masonic Temple in San Francisco (which kind of makes you wonder if all that jazz in “National Treasure” holds true) and there were 1,275 people from 109 countries there to take their oaths as U.S. citizens. It bothers me to say that many of these people could barely speak English … this really bothered me though it’s a topic best left to another post by another blogger all together. I’ll just leave it at that.

We were seated in an auditorium facing a stage. Like this:

And there were many of us in the crowd:

And we listened to all kinds of people talk about what it means to become a citizen, social responsiblity, government regulations, etc. This was done by an officer and colleagues of the local USCIS office in San Francisco.

We watched videos about Ellis Island, which talked about how the U.S. was founded on, created by and run by immigrants:

Then we took our Oath as U.S. citizens… one by one, each country represented was called out. I stood up proudly when Chile was called and waited as countries ranging from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan were called and their soon-to-be former citizens stood up. Once everyone was standing, we were asked to raise our right hand and say the oath which automatically made us U.S. Citizens.

Once we entered the auditorium, we were given U.S. flags which we all waved once the Oath was read:

We then sang the National Anthem (which I never sang so proudly before) and recited the pledge of allegiance. I’m sad to say that many, many people around me didn’t know the words to either … but I’m not the one who calls the shots on who gets to become a citizen and who doesn’t. All I can say is that I know the words to both and recited them loudly and proudly! Following this, we saw a video of President Obama welcoming us as Citizens of the U.S.

After all that, our official certificates proclaiming that we were U.S. Citizens where handed to us:

My story to get here is something out of a movie – a type of Sundance-nominated indie film. Not many people know it but suffice to say that this moment captured in the last picture above is a culmination of years and generations of sacrifice. And I’m happy to say that I’m one of the few people in my family who can claim to have the prestigious title of U.S. Citizen (out of over 60 family members, five of us are citizens of the United States). And I don’t feel that I’m cheating my country (the U.S.) by becoming a citizen later in life, because I know that I’m a model citizen, with hopes and dreams, and one who works honestly and who works hard. I know my country’s history, its language, symbols and customs more than I know that of Chile’s, the country of my birth.

I’ve never been so proud to be an American and I’ve never been more accepting of leaving my Chilean citizenship behind. For years, I completely associated myself with being Chilean, even when I had been a permanent resident of the U.S. for years and years. Now I know that any success I find here in Chile will be directly attributed to the successes I had in the U.S. I got into one of the best business schools in Chile – why? I’m willing to bet it has to do with my U.S based work experience and education. After all, that’s what sets me apart here in Chile… so nothing short of a FAT thank you is appropriate for the U.S.

And as much as it means the world to me to be a citizen of the United States, it means more to me that my children will, by default, also be U.S. Citizens. The opportunities I can extend to them because of all this are priceless. No matter where we live, I will teach them to be proud of their heritage, both Chilean and American. I will teach them to strive for that American Dream, just as I was taught to do many years ago… the same striving that has brought me much happiness and success today.

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Slacker

Can we talk about my lack of planning ahead?

I’m leaving to go home tonight because thankfully, I’m finally going to become a U.S. Citizen! Yay!! My Naturalization Oath Ceremony takes place in San Francisco this coming Thursday and like any good employee, I’m hopping a plane back to Chile the following day. It’s bad enough that when I’m out of the “office” and in another country I feel completely disconnected and this is going to be the case from Tuesday – Friday of this week. Good of me to then be responsible and hop a plane back following the ceremony.

Oh except that it JUST occurred to me that the second I become a U.S. Citizen, my green card is going to be taken away (replaced by an official document that states I am a U.S. Citizen) … and I won’t YET have a U.S. Passport … so I ask myself, how on Earth is this going to work out? And why didn’t I plan ahead and do all my researching about this before TODAY, the day I’m leaving?

Can I leave the U.S. without a green card? Even if I show my document stating I’m a citizen, won’t there be an issue with me being a US Citizen traveling with a Chilean passport? I’m so confused!! Will the airport people not care? Will they call INS on me? Ack!!

I have no idea what’s going to happen. All I know is that after I enter the U.S. and take my Oath, I won’t have the correct travel documents to return to Chile. For all I know, I CAN leave…but then what if I can’t? What currently looks like a week-long stay in CA can quickly turn into a one-month wait for my U.S. passport to be processed.

Can I cry at my lack of organization and forethought??? Please?

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The dog post (introducing Obi-wan)

G and I have found ourselves welcoming a little bundle of joy and thankfully it’s not a result of me being pregnant and carrying a human life for nine months. No, no. Contrary to that nightmare, we’re excited that in about a month we’ll be welcoming a little English Bulldog puppy into our urban dwelling here in Santiago.

Everyone, say hello to Obi-Wan Kenobi.


I mean, he’s pint-sized and I’m not exaggerating when I say that in several pictures I have with him, he makes my hands look like ginormous man-hands. It happens when you’re all of 28 days old, as he was in this pic above.

Chile is quite the dog lovers country. In fact, in that sense I truly equate Santiago with New York City, where everyone has a dog and most housing is dog-friendly because, truly, there is no other option than to accept the furry friends. (I say this because San Francisco was certainly not a dog lover’s city…not unless you owned your place.) The difference I see between Santiago and New York in this sense is that in NYC I see dogs as more personalized, where most dogs truly do ‘match’ their owners and where dogs are pretty much divas in their own right in some way, shape or form. In Santiago, well, that’s not so much the case.

Isabelle Allende wrote an exaggerated version of dogs in Chile in her memoir “My Invented Country.” She writes:

“In our house, as in every Chilean home, there were animals. Dogs are acquired in different ways: inherited, received as a gift, picked up after they’ve been run over but not killed, or because they followed a child home from school, after which there’s not a chance of throwing them out. This has always been the case and I hope it never changes. I don’t know a single normal Chilean who ever bought a dog; the only people who do that are the fanatics of the Kennel Club, but no one takes them seriously. Almost all the dogs in Chile are called Blackie, whatever their color, and cats bear the generic names of Puss or Kitty.”

Note that G and I are automatically not considered “normal Chileans” in Allende’s mind since we’re actually purchasing Obi-wan…Obviously it’s her memoir, her nostalgic view of what she remembers Chile to be like and of course that gives way to the almost ridiculous exaggeration describing dog acquisition as noted above. I do agree that most Chileans don’t buy their dogs and that yes, they are somehow “adopted” or become part of the family in a very seamless, more organic way than how Obi-wan Kenobi will come to us. And usually when this happens, the dogs aren’t 100% of a certain breed but rather, a mix of one breed with another. Though I do know that the opposite has become more and more true: one family who has a certain breed (more likely than not, a poodle) finds another family friend with the same breed (and opposite sex), mates them and wa-la!! – a litter is born! These are then either ‘sold’ or simply given away to friends and neighbors. Those are the two ways that Chileans typically welcome dogs into their home and as such, there has certainly been a deviation from what Isabel Allende remembers. I personally think that the first method is noble, generous and humane and that the second method is ever-so-slightly irresponsible. The whole notion of giving a dog as a gift to people who aren’t prepared to have a dog just blows my mind … but that’s six of one and half a dozen of another, as a friend’s grandmom would say.

G and I have met with the same question over and over again when we tell friends about Obi-wan. They (mostly the Chileans) ask “Why a Bulldog? They’re so ugly and weird looking.” Of course my initial thought – IN MY HEAD, mind you – is “and a poodle isn’t?” Oh and Chileans just HEART their poodles! I’ve always loved dogs but now that we’re actually getting one, I’ve taken to noticing other people’s dogs more and more. And what I’ve noticed, at least on the surface and quite superficially, is that Chileans love Poodles, Dachshunds and Maltese. In other words, Chileans are partial to little dogs. This makes sense given that there are so many apartment buildings in this city and how cruel would it be to have, say, a German Shepard or even a Labrador in an apartment? But I find the question “why a Bulldog” kind of ridiculous.

Unlike perhaps half of the dog-owning population in Chile (or more!), G and I have researched this breed extensively and we’ve determined that a bulldog makes complete and total sense for our lifestyle – both now and in the future. (Do you expect less from someone who puts most things in Power Point?) Bullies are perfect for apartments because they don’t require too much exercise (once a day for about 20 minutes), docile, friendly, good with kids and other pets, ridiculously loyal and hello – of all breeds, is one of the few with MINIMAL BARKING (G’s nightmare dog is a small one who “yaps”). Of course their snoring makes up for the fact that they rarely bark but, hey – we think that’s super cute! Obi-wan has been thought out and we truly believe he reflects us, our lifestyle and that he will be an integral part of our lives and who we are as a couple. We’re looking for a pet, a companion, a friend and a dog who’s “one of us.” Obi-wan fits the bill. We like that we can’t find a bulldog around every corner and we like the fact that Obi-wan is considered “different.” It already makes us love him more.

Bulldog puppies are cute – few people can argue that. But so are adult bulldogs! I mean look at this muffin excited about pool time (p.s. Bulldogs can’t really swim so all the pools have to have very shallow water.) He’s so excited, he’s snorting!! Hahaha!

If all goes according to plan, G and I can welcome Obi-wan by the third week of February … and yes, I already foresee boring you with silly posts about him – our apologies in advance but you’ve been warned. Until then, I’ll leave you with some Obi-wan cuteness to take with you …

(Obi’s on the right, with a brother or sister on the left)

Rawwwrrrrr!!

And finally …having a hear-to-heart

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Wedding Planning Chilean Style

Oh Chile.

You are many great things but I have to say, the least of all is efficient. Chilean people are many great things, the least of all, is responsive (especially when they should be!)

Take for example the vendors I’m TRYING to work with (because I can’t actually say I AM working with them) to get my wedding even slightly organized. Let me preface this with stating that the wedding industry in Chile is in diapers when compared to that of the U.S. Things that are a standard option in my world (i.e wedding coordinators or “day of” coordinators) are an anomaly here. Forget about the ideology of “anything goes” and personalization for one’s wedding. Out the window here! Weddings and wedding options are like pre-packaged services that remind me of the houses in the movie “Edward Scissorhands.”

See this? …. In my world this = Yawn.

But this is exactly how I can best describe the options brides and grooms have for planning a wedding. Everything from the dress to the flowers to the decorations in general are whittled down to Option A, B, C or the “fancy” D (which is never all that fancy or different anyway!) So if there’s a bride like me, for example, who grew up elsewhere, who saw different kinds of weddings and receptions where it’s ALL ABOUT personalization, you come to this town and think “color me bland” and then break down and cry.

…After the meltdown, you realize that you just have to get creative and above all else, you have to CHASE.THESE.VENDORS.DOWN. We chose our wedding venue because of the space, the food and the amazing wine. We’re all about feeding our peeps great food and having them drink amazing Chilean wine. However, the decorations offered at our venue are, at best, so boring you want to gouge your eyes out. See an example of another wedding at this same venue (note: ACTUAL event picture follows:)

I hope I didn’t lose you in the blandness. Now, for those of you out there who are OK with this, I think that’s awesome. It’s awesome because YOU are ok with it. But G and I are outside-box thinkers, at least for Chilean standards, and this is definitely not ok with us. So we decided to search for companies who could take the decorative ambiance switch and turn it up about 20 notches.

We found one which we noticed had done pretty good work, both creative and fun, as far as we could tell. So we went to their office and explained our general ideas to them. They then showed us an array of events they had done in the past year, and when all was said and done, we agreed that they would send us a proposal within the week. One week passed, then two. I called. Had to remind the lady of who I was… then I was told we would get the proposal within 48 hours. One day passed, two, three – until another week passed. We emailed. Another day passed. THEN we got an email with a lame excuse (of course), saying they’d get us something “as soon as possible.” Pray tell, what does that EVEN mean in Chilean standards? This email was followed by the actual proposal, all of 30 minutes later mind you, but it was obvious that they had merely removed one couple’s name in the document and replaced it with ours. It was so bad that I actually had to create a power point presentation, detailing each area of the venue, with example pictures of the kind of decorations we want and send it back to them asking “Can you do any of this? Can we meet this week? Does X day work for you?.” What happened? NO RESPONSE. Three days passed and I had to call and believe it or not, I had to REMIND the lady of WHEN my wedding was taking place and when I told her April 17th, she replied with “Oh dear, yes well we’ve got to start working on this.”
#@#*&!%#!!! YA THINK?!!!!

I won’t keep detailing what a nightmare this has been but let me just say that the coordinator at the venue itself has had a similar attitude… don’t get me started on how much information he’s promised us and we still haven’t received! Just yesterday I had to email him again, reminding him of the info he promised to get us, telling him we’d be on holiday on x,y,z days and that following that, I’d be in the States on other days and that PS – after that, it was February. As I’m writing this blog, the coordinator finally responded to my email with this (and I’m only SLIGHTLY paraphrasing here):

“Dear A & G,
A thousand apologies for not responding sooner but the truth is that I’ve had to travel a lot and I simply haven’t had enough time on my hands. I have a series of outstanding emails I need to respond to and I promise, without fail, I will get you the information promised to you by end of day.”

And on that note, let’s talk wedding invitation vendor: those designing and printing our wedding invitations. The same company who informed us that they are on vacation the ENTIRE MONTH OF FEBRUARY. The same ones who we keep and keep and keep chasing to get us the proofs ASAP so that we can have our invites so that WE CAN SEND THEM OUT IN FEBRUARY given that the response deadline is March 1st!

And um… did I mention that we’ve paid all these vendors a pretty hefty deposit?

In the end though, I will say that not 100% of the vendors we’ve dealt with so far have been as irresponsible and UNRESPONSIVE as this. Our photographer has been amazing since day one, even reserving our wedding date before we paid her the deposit. In fact, her price includes an engagement session, actual wedding and a post-wedding session and she’s been the ultimate communicator since we met. We have our engagement session scheduled for next week and she’s been so amazingly helpful with questions G and I have had and just overall, she rocks our world. Not to mention her style of photography is EXACTLY what G and I have always thought of when we pictured our wedding shots. Grateful, grateful, grateful! And the cherry on top is that now she’s even managed to find us a potential “day-of” coordinator!! Oh sweet, little, chocolate covered photog!
Also, our band has literally rocked our world! They kept their appointment with us, came to our house, pulled out a contract and detailed from A to Z exactly what they need from us and what we can expect from them. They have been constant communictors as well, which trust me, is so important to us. Sound standard to you? Well, my experience has been that THIS type of business practice is a novelty in Chile.

What can I say? I’m frustrated. I’m scared that the laissez-faire attitude of most Chilean vendors will absolutely RUIN most of what G and I have worked so hard to accomplish and reach (hello? Those who know, remember the evil ex stories). What do they care? To them it’s standard and all about $$$. Well, you’d THINK it’s all about money but even THAT doesn’t seem to motivate most of them. Why are they even in this business if they don’t have the motivation to help couple’s plan their “dream” event?

But I’m not even asking for that miracle at this point. Right now, at this very moment, all I want is responsive, sympathetic vendors…the equivalent of just getting a hug and hearing the words “Everything will be ok.”

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My competitive landscape in Chile

My competitive pool is much smaller in Chile.

Granted, this is perhaps directly correlated to the fact that Chile has a population of about 16,758,114, of which, about 85% is urban dwelling… i.e. the majority of them are crowding my space here in Santiago.

But I spent days wondering, how many of these 16+ million are in the same competition pool with me? I’m not going to say that I’m schooled in what the AVERAGE Chilean person, man and woman, aspires to because I’m sure it varies from person to person and social bracket to social bracket. All I can really base my assumptions on are family members, either close to me or not, as I observe what they accomplish in life and what they set as priorities.

Back home in CA I’m from a very, VERY competitive landscape. We’re talking Silicon Valley, Sand Hill Road: the venture capitalist mecca of the world, Stanford University, Nasa Ames Research Center, UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Financial District all within a good 60 miles from one another. And I lived (and grew up) right smack-dab in the middle of that. On top of that, I was also living in the DIRECT outskirts of one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., where, according to this year’s Forbes report, San Francisco comes in as the 4th most expensive city in the U.S., following NYC, LA and White Plains, NY.

It comes as no surprise (to me at least) that my high school graduating class consisted of sons and daughters of bank owners, hedge fund owners, partners of VC firms, notable investors, reputable doctors and lawyers, etc, etc, what have you. And that was the crowd that surrounded me in a PUBLIC school of the area… I can’t begin to imagine the company kept at the local private schools!

The competition I felt throughout my years in California was fierce. Seriously, something I wonder if many Chileans can understand. Right now, couples I know are purchasing homes that cost upwards of $2 million DOLLARS. Yeah. Couples that are between 31-35 purchasing homes or even ASPIRING to purchase homes in that price range. And even if we never dreamed of doing such things, we still have/had a pretty skewed view of what it meant to be successful. Ok, so MAYBE not a house worth millions of dollars but a two bedroom apartment/townhouse/flat that costs ALMOST $1 million. Trust me, this is NORMAL where I’m from because unfortunately that’s our reality. We either strive to make it or … we keep striving to make it (fortunately I don’t have friends who are quitters.) And I believe that we ALL went through a kind of crisis between the ages of 27-30 when we felt like we’d accomplished only a fraction of what we set out to accomplish and we held our heads in hands because we felt like we were ‘lagging behind’ when compared to our peers.

When I lived in CA I had decided that I didn’t need to live in Hillsborough or Marin County or even in San Francisco itself. Perhaps it was because I felt overwhelmed by the ridiculous competition and I knew that if I wanted to be in that race I had to keep on studying and add another degree to the arsenal. Unfortunately (or not) where I’m from, every other person has a Masters degree of some sort and it was quickly becoming a state of Bachelors = high school diploma. The only exception to this rule that I personally saw was with innovative people who created either a new service or a new technology (and in Silicon Valley, trust me there were many!) I didn’t find myself to be particularly creative – not in a core-shaking kind of way – and I certainly didn’t attend a top-tier university and the combination of both of those ‘setbacks’ made me feel that the ONLY way I could remain in the competitive game was to keep studying… but then again, choosing to study resulted in another set of suffocating avenues I had to weave through. Primarily, which school, what to study and PRAY TELL how would I pay for it!!??

But now I’m here in Chile … something that I hadn’t planned on years ago when I was mapping out the would-be actions I wanted to take to arrive at the life I wanted to have. In fact, during high school, college and as I entered the work force, all my decisions were based on living my life in the U.S., just as I had been for as long as I could remember. My frame of reference was that which I noted above and yes, I would adapt myself accordingly (perhaps in a fashion I now see as “settling” when compared to what my peers were setting out to accomplish) but my life would reflect SOME aspect of what was the “norm” around me. Said norm being where even over achievers fade into the background in the highly competitive environment.

All of the above brings me to this: I’m starting classes at a business school here in Santiago in April and I decided to focus on Marketing. Whereas in the States I would have probably chosen an MBA program due to the competition around me, here I feel that I already have an edge given that my undergrad degree is from a U.S. university so I decided to do something I was actually interested in. And so I sit back and think that all my prepping in an UBER competitive landscape in CA is going to serve me well here in Chile. I speak fluent English and Spanish, I work in a multi-national company where I manage an entire region, I have an undergrad degree from the U.S. and now I’m going to work hard for a Masters in Chile. I’m already wired to be an agro competitor, no holds bar, the “I-will-not-allow-you-to-be-better-than-me-without-a-fight” kind of mentality that I HAD TO HAVE growing up where I did. I don’t think it will be easy to charge ahead and become a leader of some sort here in Chile and I know I have a LOT of things to learn before I become one.

But I can say I do believe, 100%, that my competition pool here is much, much smaller than it was in the SF Bay Area. My mentality and focus hasn’t changed, my environment has … and it will be interesting to see what I accomplish and learn because of that.

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Common Denominators among Gringas (the Love post)

The other day I went with a friend to meet a girl who will be moving to Chile later in the year. This girl is currently finishing her studies and is visiting her fiancee in Chile at the moment on a trip that is just about to end. She had been invited to my Chilean bday celebration on Tuesday but given that it’s her last week here, she politely declined. The next day when I touched base with her about meeting up for coffee before she left Chile, she apologized for not being able to go, stating that since it was her last week here, she wanted to fully enjoy her time with her fiancee.

All I could think was: “Sister, you’re preaching to the choir.”

Since that exchange, I’ve been thinking about what gringas with Chilean significant others have in common. Sure, we have many, many ties that bind given our similar life situations (in most cases) but what really hits home with me is the passionate, all-consuming, one extreme-to-the-next kind of relationship that exists between a gringa and her Chilean sig other during the time we live apart. It’s a far less extreme version of what I merely imagine military wives go through. Of course our version is comparable to a walk in a rose garden considering military wives say goodbye for months on end and live IN FEAR that their husbands/boyfriends won’t return! … yes of course, our version of long-distance-relationships is much rosier.

However while we’re living it, it truly feels like nothing in the world is more painful, more unfair or more never-ending than the constant goodbye’s we have to endure. You basically live your life not from day-to-day but rather, from one visit to the next. It’s like deciding to sleep through two, three, four months between and you finally wake up for about a week’s worth of time, just to go back to your zombie like state following the torturous, heart-wrenching goodbye (done at the airport).

Oh, the goodbye at the airport. If I EVER have to go through one of those again, shoot me first. I can’t tell you how many times the crew at SFO and SCL saw me bawling, waiting until the very last second to cross immigration (in Santiago) or leave through the sliding glass doors (in San Francisco). Memories of sitting on the plane, crying and crying and crying and just thinking “Get up, get up right now and screw it all, just go be with him.”

The sad reality of life apart was this: I’d get back home after having been in Chile (or was left alone after he’d come to San Francisco), a happy, busy and idealistic time with G, quickly followed by about three days of depression. Crawling into bed, either eating too much or eating too little, watching sad movies worthy of wrist-slitting (think P.S. I Love You.) We’d talk constantly, excessively, as if I couldn’t get from one minute to the next without having him on the line. Yes, from here it sounds a little Lifetime movie dramatic but it was just like that. Empty, painful and all consuming. Then, as if in auto mode, I would just … deal. I would wake up, get ready for work, commute, work, eat, happy hour, go home, sleep, repeat (happy hour was replaced by gym or going straight home on other nights. Of course a session of Skype with G was a must, no matter what I did after work.) We just learned to deal with the emptiness, the missing and longing, the loneliness and the monotony of living your life as if single. And that’s one of the worst parts too. You have this person who is THE person, THE love of your life, THE ONE … and yet, you’re apart. So you go everywhere alone and worse, people just keep seeing you as you, alone.

And then… the day you’ve been waiting for FOR MONTHS ON END, finally arrives and you are once again reunited … but then … it’s weird. It’s almost like you need a day or two to readjust to having this person LIVE, right there next to you. I remember being so shy and nervous when I was finally with G again and would jokingly say “Um I need you behind a screen so I can be myself.” Well, it was half jokingly really, which now that I think of it, is so sad! But it makes sense since we spent more time apart than we did together and though this made it so easy to really get to know each other, it made for actual together time awkward in the beginning!

Well, we know how my personal story with G ends in the anecdote unfolded above (happily), but the point is that in discussing our gringa stories with one another we all have the following common denominators:

– having our hearts ripped out (at the airport) when one trip came to an end
– moving along our daily life (apart) in auto mode
– relying on all forms of technology to keep our relationships alive
– having the in-between dates from one trip to another go by in a blur and only focusing on the next time we’d be together
– living momentary awkwardness when we were finally reunited
– having the most amazing time of our lives with the person we love fit into just a mere few days (or if we were lucky, a few weeks!)

Repeat.

And I’d like to take this opportunity to say: when the time comes to end that sad cycle of living apart and coming together, it takes one bold and bad-ass gringa to pick up and move to another country in search of life, laughs and adventure next to the man she loves.

But that, folks, is a story for another time.

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Happy Birthday to me

The 3rd anniversary of my 30th birthday was the best birthday celebration I can remember having since back in the day when my mom used to rent out the second floor of the local Round Table Pizza where I’d have endless options of pizza slices to choose from and I could run around playing video games with family friends (those were the days!) I remember I’d sport a foofy dress, socks with ruffles and white patent leather shoes. (Actually I think I may still have that outfit!)

Yesterday was my birthday: the first one I spent here living in Chile AND the first one I celebrated with Gonzalo (last year at this time we lived apart.) And if there’s ever any doubt as to why I would pick up my life in San Francisco and move to South America for the love of my life, let me tell you, yesterday – from beginning to end – reminded me [and anyone else who questions it] why.


The minute the clock read 12:00 midnight on January 5th, G jumped up to hug me and wish me the best birthday ever, to tell me how happy he was that we could be together and to tell me how much he loved me. Then he ran away … outside and down to his car to get me my presents. Awwww … and when I saw him coming I was most stoked about a card I saw in his hand, mainly because in Chile, cards are not the norm. Random, I know, but as G’s company is the official importer of Hallmark products into Chile, he told me of some crazy statistic that indicates that Americans buy about 8 cards a year (pp), the British buy about 15 cards a year (pp) and Chileans average about 1.5 cards a year per person! I expect no less from him though since 1) he imports Hallmark product into Chile and 2) he’s detail-oriented like that and he’d never show up sans card.

In the first gift were the cutest beach towels I’ve ever rec’d. Two of them and they’re mine – all mine!! Pink and purple and girly and fabulous!! Just like me (minus the pink and purple). For a split second I was confused as to why he’d chosen beach towels but then I remembered that we go to Pil’s apartment to use her pool in this ridiculously hot summer and I’m always complaining about not having large towels. Obviously then I was even more stoked! (It’s the little things that do it for me.)

Then I proceeded to open the second gift in front of me, and I’m not gonna lie… it truly made me wonder if he knew me AT ALL. For a second I imagined he thought we was about to marry Florence Henderson. I didn’t proceed to pull out necessarily the ugliest purse known to man, per se, but I will say that it’s got to be the blandest purse to grace the Earth. Poor muffin … I thought to myself “Oh well, he tried” … but then he told me that while he was purchasing it, he was telling the sales lady that I’d return it anyway. She apparently insisted that no, this purse was just “great” and that I was “sure to love it.” And he just smiled and shook his head and said “No la conoce.” (You don’t know her.) Yes, I too wonder why in the heck he’d buy it in the first place, but I think it’s because he wants me to have a new purse, so with this one, I can go back and get the one I like. A+ for effort, my sweet little muffin pants! BRAV-O!

Then I reached for the card … and aside from OF COURSE being the best birthday card a woman could ever receive (in the same manner that most moms think their kid is the most genius of all genius little kids out there) inside was a print-out of an apartment he rented on the beach … a five day getaway to one of the best beach areas in Chile. Knowing how much I love the ocean (even though I lived near one for almost my entire life, I took that for granted, I now realize) and how much I love seafood and all things related to the sea … by far, the best gift ever, from the best person ever.

Later, after we woke up, and he made me breakfast before he left for work… after I rec’d a call from the front desk of our apartment building alerting me to the delivery of a dozen roses … after eating half the chocolates in the box I rec’d while he was at the office (moo!)… after all that, it was time for my “romantic birthday dinner” – or so I thought.

Let me just preface this little paragraph by stating that G could never – NEVER – work as a double agent. I was on to him as early as Sunday – two whole days before my birthday. I knew something was up. Mainly it was because almost everyone I know here in Chile, except for about 3 people, wished me a very ‘by the way’ type of ‘happy birthday.’ Those who usually called me insistently on my bdays in years past, called all of once…and there were still others who called yesterday who previously had NEVER called before (would send happy bday emails instead.) And when I asked G what the name of the restaurant was called so that I could Google it, I found that there were various sites stating that the restaurant was closed (something he brushed off as pure fabrication when I pointed this out to him.)

Oh I knew something was up … but I was surprised – and nervous! – to see that he had pulled together as many people as he could from my new Chilean life to celebrate my 3 to the 3 over drinks and apps (and a waffle dessert…) Nervous because I tend to feel that way with groups of people who are together to celebrate me. Mainly this happens because I freak out over not being able to talk to them all as much as I’d like! And I was surprised because it was the first time I truly realized that I really did have a life here in Chile. I really do know people – great people – and they all wanted to come out and celebrate my birthday with me. My Chilean friends, my gringa friends, my family, alongside my fiancee – all of them were there to wish me a very happy birthday. :o) My friend who had just arrived from a very long trip just the day before, my friend who helped G plan a good chunk of it, to my friends who are preggers and can’t even drink cocktails, to my favorite cousins who trekked to a part of the city they never hang out in, and to the friend who lives at the other end of Santiago – all were there! And I was grateful for all of it.

Cut to me five months ago and I never thought I’d see the Chilean day when I would walk into a bar in Santiago and find a table full of people waiting to celebrate me! In the end, I know it was the sweetest thing G could have ever done for me to celebrate my bday because I know he did it to show me that I was ok here and that I really did have a life (outside of him) here. And that gift, my fellow bloggers and blog readers, is worth its weight in gold.

My “Gringuita” Friends (adore them!)



Including G’s partner-in-crime



My cousins (who traveled from afar!) and their boyfriends



…and a group shot following the waffle incident

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First trip to the clinica in 2010

What new year would be complete without a trip to the urgent care clinic?

This post will be short and brief and is only intended to give mad props to Clinica Santa Maria since I had quite a pleasant experience there from 11 p.m. to approximately 1 a.m. as I was waiting for test results and medication to snap me out of my state of misery.

Going to the urgent care clinic is never supposed to be comfortable and pleasant by the mere nature of the word “urgent.” But somehow this clinic pulled it off and trust me, it was daunting enough to deal with my issue in a “foreign” country. I spent all day debating about what to do … for whatever reason, everything in Santiago either seems harder than it needs to be or is made harder because I create all kinds of ‘what-if’ worst-case scenarios in my head. G and I actually got into a quasi-fight over this exact thing because it was making me hesitate to go to the clinic in the first place. Ultimately he won that argument, I went, I saw, I was impressed and I was made whole again (thanks to $40 USD worth of 500 mg antibiotics.)

Well, now 2010 can officially begin, folks!

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