Dear Mom,

I just finished my first semester of grad school (what?!). Up until now, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even had a chance to think about how far I am from home.

Now that I have some space to breathe and reflect, I’m surprised by the reality of February…that I’ve been here for over 5 months, that by some miracle of God I’ve advanced to intermediate Arabic, that I’ve settled into a cookie on plate with orange hi res CROPnew apartment in the center of Jerusalem, that I haven’t even scratched the surface of my year-in-Jerusalem to-do list. And my calendar is already filling up for the next few weeks of my “break.”

Things are good here, but I miss home. Living abroad has its way of sucking time away into something unrecognizable. Or is that just part of getting older? The seasons are different here and the lack of markers for time that I’m used to—like the smell of our fireplace and pumpkin-spice coffee drinks at this time of year—draw the passage of time into something like a vortex. I can’t explain.

But I am marking the end of my first semester with sweetness and reflection. My trip to Portugal was a great start, a true vacation filled with indulgence and relaxation.

Since I’ve returned, I’ve celebrated my new apartment (and its shiny oven!) by honoring the sweets of Portugal by making my own baked goods like crispy oat, orange and poppy cookies. I had almost forgotten how fun it is to mix ingredients in a bowl and watch them transform under dry heat.

Hope you’re staying warm in snowy Birmingham!