Photoessay: Holidays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Did you know? I’m from Pittsburgh. You probably already know that, maybe thanks to me gushing about the city in this post. On Christmas day I arrived home with two big suitcases, a ten month old puppy and a visitor from Korea, who may or may not be a long-term boyfriend that I’ve been keeping secret because that’s my personal life. The week or so following Christmas was absolutely packed with events: multiple days of “Christmas”, a birthday and birthday party, dinners and cousins and shopping trips, a visit to the famous Fallingwater house, what felt like no sleep and not enough coffee to combat my exhaustion. New Years Eve, New Years Day, an airport goodbye, meeting my little brother’s boyfriend (AHHH he’s not ten anymore!), my cousin’s birthday, and now mass amounts of snow have followed the holiday insanity, keeping up the insanity. It never ends. But I took a lot of pictures!

So for now, while I take a breather and set up my schedule this January in preparation for European adventures, I’ll share with you some photographs I’ve taken these past days. I’ll preface it with just one more comment: it’s been everything you’d imagine winter is and then some. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and settle in, now.

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Christmas morning breakfast, the day after Christmas. I had to rectify my gluten intake after so long in Korea, primarily through the consumption of too many Christmas eggs.
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Christmas cookies also required.
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Mary looking adorable, as usual.
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A pancake trying to look as adorable as Mary, and it’s kind of working.
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My boyfriend did the first puzzle of his life and is now completely addicted.
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Downtown Pittsburgh looking gorgeous. In the winter, PPG Plaza turns into an ice skating rink with this Christmas tree as the centerpiece.
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I don’t know why I never noticed the beautiful, old-timey architecture directly next to more modern gems until I already had moved away from Pittsburgh.
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Christmas without puppies? Now that’s just wrong.
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A trip to Phipps Conservatory was a great way to spend an evening. The building is entirely LEED approved (also known as a “green” building) and has cool exhibits year-round. If you don’t like plants, you’ll still like the glass sculptures hidden around all of the gardens (though they’re a seasonal installment) and maybe also the miniature volcano that you can make erupt.
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Acrobats. Failed acrobats.
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My birthday was lovely and filled with friends and delicious cake!
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Then the snowstorms arrived in full force.
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A trip to Fallingwater to see the architectural genius that is this house. The freezing temperatures made me want to cuddle up next to the fireplace in there and never, ever come out.
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Hi Mary, you’re still adorable and kind of weird!
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I became a little enchanted with winter photography this past week or so…
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New Years Eve dinner at a fancy restaurant was a nice treat. Thanks Mom and Dad! (Too bad I was so cranky and exhausted by this evening that I cried because I didn’t want to wear high heels and the patriarchy. LOL.)
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We celebrated my one-week-delayed kind-of-my-twin cousin’s birthday, too.
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Need another reason to visit Pittsburgh? Hofbrauhaus.
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The snow is so gorgeous when you’re bundled up and warm.

The whirlwind is finally coming to a pause, so expect a few more posts coming up soon and don’t forget to enter into the giveaway, which ends on Wednesday night EST. Unless you don’t like free stuff, in which case, WHO ARE YOU?! I hope everyone has had a good first week of January! Don’t break your resolutions, just yet! 🙂

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Have you had a busy couple of weeks, too, or were your holidays more relaxing than mine? What do you think of all that snow?

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Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home

If I had to pick a favorite holiday, I’d stop for a moment on Easter, because of the copious amounts of chocolate involved, then I’d debate over Christmas and the great times with family and gifts and hot chocolate, but eventually, I’d conclude that Thanksgiving, with all of the aromas and haste, rows of seats and unearthly amounts of incredible food, is definitely it. Something about the big table, mixture of gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes and the fact that it’s usually not terribly cold, not just yet. So yes, after serious though, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Hands down.

One of the sacrifices that expats and long-term travelers, study abroaders and other world explorers all make is missing family events. Sometimes they are birthdays, graduations, unexpected funerals or just regular, annual holidays. As the missing family member abroad, I often try to Skype in for parties, send messages and generally just let my family know that I wish I could be there for the event. It’s never quite the same, but it’s something. And once a year, that event I’ve missed is Thanksgiving.

Three years ago, after my semester abroad had ended in Buenos Aires, I spent a month traversing the country and visiting every city I could get myself to. I made a choice to miss Thanksgiving in exchange for the adventures, a choice I wouldn’t take back. But not being there for the turkey, the stuffing, the family shenanigans and occasional mishaps was hard. Three years ago, in a mountain city of Argentina with friends I’d only met a week prior, we came together and did our best to celebrate. Me and Zoe, an American working in Bariloche, cut and boiled potatoes, prepared a casserole and readied chicken to be baked. Someone else would bring the pie. Ironically, the Argentines showed up, saw our cooking attempts and immediately fixed everything; turning up the heat on the potatoes and slicing open the chicken to cut cooking time in half.

Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.
Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.

We ate and laughed, and though the food was good, we enjoyed the holiday more for the people. But just as the smiling faces of friends were comforting to me, they were also a reminder of exactly what I was missing.

Almost two years ago, I signed my contract to move to Korea and teach English. On Thanksgiving, last year, I worked. The foreigners in town chose the following Saturday to get together and have potluck style Thanksgiving dinner. Two homemade pumpkin pies arrived, mashed potatoes were devoured (before I even got any!) and chickens were roasted, turkey hadn’t made its way into town. We had all of the classic fixings of Thanksgiving, aside from Turkey, and we stuffed ourselves to the breaking point in true Thanksgiving tradition. As the night wore on, it developed into singing and merriment which had to be taken outside. A long line of foreigners poured into the streets of this small Korean town, celebrating their holiday, like a single bit of sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

Last year's Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.
Last year’s Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.

A week ago, I labored over a cutting board, slicing carrots into strips, peeling ginger with my fingers and adding clove after clove of garlic to the mixture. The end result was far from pretty, but finger-licking good and I dutifully carried my Tupperware containers to the annual foreigner’s Thanksgiving potluck. We packed ourselves into the tiny apartment, ate a strange mix of foods including spicy pasta, bacon mac and cheese and roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes had been promised but not delivered, stuffing arrived almost an hour late and gravy was nowhere to be found. Pumpkin pie, store bought but a god-send nonetheless, was delivered several hours after we’d finished our food. Wine was consumed, ice cream was spilled and space was tight and cramped; what last year had felt very Thanksgiving-like, this year felt nothing of the sort.

The food was good, though, and the laughter was still there. What was supposed to be a Thanksgiving potluck was more of a strange miscellaneous potluck drinking-fest with pumpkin pie and stuffing. I had my fun, I enjoyed spending time with my friends, but at the end of the night, I wasn’t hesitant to go home. More than any year before, this Thanksgiving reminded me, painfully so, of what I was missing. Of what I’d given up to live abroad, teach and earn money in another culture and expand my horizons.

My five months in Argentina, one month of it backpacking and my year and a half of life and work in Korea are experiences that could never be replicated at home. They’ve brought me trials and lessons, laughter and new ways of thinking. My brain expanded to accommodate new languages, faces and customs. I’ve grown as a person and become more confident, daring and content with what I already have. But I haven’t lived as an expat without sacrifice; missing my favorite holiday and the family that go with it are a price I pay. Missing Thanksgiving three years running is part of that cost.

Is it worth it?

Yes.

Do I miss my family and mashed potatoes?

More than they’ll ever know.

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Have you missed holidays while traveling or living abroad? What do you miss the most from Thanksgiving? Is there one holiday you refuse to miss?

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