Saturday, January 7, 2012

While we were gone... another garden update!

Dudes!   Check this out! 

The garden went mad while we were gone! 

The tomato plants are giant and bushy and covered in fruit!

This is seriously more bok choy than I care to think what to do with!
And I like bok choy!
And the pea plants have peas all over too!

The wee tomatoes are all green still... I'm hoping and assuming we'll
see them go red?  How long does it usually take for a tomato to go from
green to red? 

Cilantro, basil and more bok choy!

I'm not sure what our gardener/guard was thinking... he really planted these beds FULL, and he's letting it all grow.  Maybe he plans on selling some?  I'd be ok with that!  I do want to use some of the bok choy though, and I really hope to use the tomatoes as well- assuming they will turn red.  :)  Heck, really, we should eat some part of all of it.  I just have to remember some lunch time or dinner time to go out there and pick something to eat instead of just looking in the fridge!

Now... we brought back some watermelon seeds from our holiday... do I dare hand them over? :)  Watermelons for everyone!  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Rethinking the ideal vacation

It's the last night of a three week vacation.  Beni is, thankfully, sleeping, and Joel and I are thinking of heading to bed soon as well, seeing as we have a very early wake-up call in the morning.

The last few days of this vacation have found me thinking about redefining an ideal vacation.  Things have changed, and more things are going to have to change in the future... here's what I'm thinking:

Because of living the lifestyle we live (doing the expat teacher thing), it is very normal that at each break in the school year (fall break, winter holidays, spring break and summer break) we take a trip.  Everyone we know does this.  It's what you do.  It's a major perk of choosing this lifestyle, because of course, I realize, most average families, can't afford to take vacations 4 times a year.

Until now, I have been the person who always wants to leave for these vacations as soon as is possible, without breaking any rules.  If there is an evening flight on the last day of school, let's take it!  Next morning?  Ok!  I have also always wanted to come back as late as possible- well, always just the day before going back to work.

But now, I'm re-thinking this.  The reason? Well, this vacation was three weeks long, and I hate to admit it, but it was just too long.  Oh, it kills me to say that.  But it was.  It was too long away from home.  It was too many locations and too many flights (we spent time in Bali, Lombok, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur, which over the course of three weeks, meant 7 flights total, 4 different hotels and one stay at a friend's house).  By week two we all came down with a stomach bug (which of course could have happened at any time, but, was just bad timing), and we honestly kind of suffered through our third location.  We've spent the last two days in Kuala Lumpur at a friend's house, and while it's been truly lovely, Beni has been showing us again and again, that she is just. ready. to. be. home.   We've had temper tantrums, general unpleasantness, just... not cool.  Of course, it could be other things causing it all, but mostly, it just seems like she's over being away.

As I said, we spent time in 4 different hotels.  One of them we were in for only a night as we transitioned from one location to another.  The others we were in for 4-6 days.  During this vacation, Joel and I have watched a good 10+ movies.  Why?  Well, Beni goes to bed between 7 and 8.  We were staying in hotels.  When she went to bed, we were stuck in the room (no baby-snatching incidents for us, thanks!), and we had to be relatively quiet because, well, she's sleeping.  So we stocked up on dvds and most nights after she fell asleep, we watched a dvd on my laptop, listening to it on headphones.  It wasn't bad, but, it wasn't exactly ideal either.  The couple of nights we tried to just quietly watch tv, it would wake her up (too much light and noise),  and well, there just wasn't much else for us to do.  I suppose we could have tried to play some board games or something by candle light- but we didn't plan for anything like that.  So we were stuck watching movies.  And when we were sick, we pretty much all went to bed within a couple hours of each other (yep, that was me, asleep before 10pm on New Year's Eve!).

There are several things that we plan on amending on future vacations... firstly, because we have another baby on the way, we'll need bigger rooms anyway.  We'll need rooms with two beds at the minimum, or more likely, suites with adjoining rooms (like a bedroom and a living room type thing).  Us adults just need some space after the kids go to bed, and we'll all need more room to sleep.

But thinking about this has made us question whether hotels are even the best place to stay once you have a toddler and baby (or more?).  We're thinking maybe it's time to transition from a couple weeks in hotels on the beach to like, a cabin on a lake.  You know, like, a cabin with several bedrooms, a living room, a to live and be and whatnot, even when the kids are sleeping.  Depending on finances this, of course, also dictates where we might choose to vacation.  I'm not sure we could afford a cabin or house in any of the places we vacationed on this holiday.  Maybe we just need to do more research.  I think (and feel free to tell me if I'm wrong) that 3 weeks in the same house in one location could probably work for everyone, which could mean we could still make use of all our vacation time!

When it comes down to it, vacations have just changed.  I did mange to read a book on this vacation- but I probably got some extra leeway/time between coming down with traveler's tummy for a good week + and being pregnant.  But certainly, gone are the days of spending all day next to the pool reading.  I remember vacations when I might have read two or three books in a week! Sigh.  Not anymore.

Don't get me wrong, things are changing, and we need to figure out managing the changes, but it's still good.  Aside from the stomach bug, we had some lovely days on the beach.  Beni got to try surfing with her dad for the first time (possibly more exciting for dad than Beni, but cool anyway).  BeniBeni the world now, and watching her take it all in is amazing.  And of course, it's great that we get to do it with her.

All that said, there is just no denying, that it is all so very different now, than how it was before!

What about you?  How do you vacation with your kids?  Have you found an "ideal" vacation?          


Saturday, December 10, 2011

20 minute shampoo? Yes, please!

The last time I attempted getting my hair done in Asia, was when I was living in Shanghai in October 2003.  My hair was a mess, and I needed serious color and a cut.  My roommates and I went to a very expensive salon, and expected, well, a fairly good outcome.  My roommates did ok.  I, however, ended up coming out looking like a banana- the skin of a banana.  At first, they tried to give me highlights, but somehow they bleached me in such big chunks and so badly, that when they combed my hair out afterward, it literally looked STRIPED (horizontally, not vertically!).  And the color was awful.  The only answer was to simply bleach it all- which is what they did.  But somehow it still ended up yellow, instead of, say, blond.  It was AWFUL.  I wish I had a picture... I just spent a few minutes scouring my files, but I don't have one.  The next time I had my hair done was back in the States at Christmas 2003, and although they did their best, for some reason, after whatever they did, when I went back to China, my hair turned orange in parts!  I did find a picture of that... you can notice the orange along the side of my forehead on the left of the picture, and at my ends on both sides of my hair.  It was weird. 

Eventually I got all that orange cut off, or colored out, and I spent a few more years very blond- until I had a baby.  Well, actually, I went darker before that, but when Beni was 6 mos old, I decided I was done with coloring my hair for the meantime.  It's just not maintenance I want to deal with!  

So fast forward, because I'm getting lost in the point of my story... oh yes.  So here I am, now, in Laos, and it had been about 6 mos since my last haircut.  Now, I pretty much get a bob of some sort every time I cut my hair, so, letting it grow out for 6 mos doesn't necessarily look horrible.  But my hair is very thin, and the longer it gets the more useless it is.  So, I was dying for a haircut.  It was just driving me crazy! 

So I asked my SIL for a recommendation on where to go, and I booked an appointment, hoping for the best!

Now, when I was living in Shanghai, I remember people always saying that they would go get their hair washed and dried just for the massage.  I don't recall getting any massage at that expensive salon in Shanghai, and since I never dared set foot in another salon while I lived there, I never experienced this.  

Well, today, I had a 20 minute shampoo.  I got to lay down on this almost fully reclined chair- like a leather office chair, except, it's reclined, and has a foot rest- and rest my head on a slightly slanted back headrest, while the shampooer soaped me up twice, massaged with the shampoo in my hair for a good 10-15 minutes, and then did a conditioner as well, and massaged a while longer.  I love head massages, and she got my neck too, so it was WONDERFUL.  

After that, I went and sat in the chair, and the stylist asked what I wanted.  I said, about chin length, a bit longer in front than in back, and slightly layered, just to add some oomph.  And this is what I got: 

  Chin length, slightly longer in front than back, a slightly layered around the bottom for oomph! 

Of course, I didn't have any color done, and I am happy with that- I'm enjoying the ease of being natural in that sense these days, not having to worry about roots and whatnot.  Skipping the color definitely took a lot of the fear out of this experience.  But, I tend to be a weenie about my hair.  It's very thin and not that impressive, so I like to keep things simple and easy.  I'm NOT a do my hair every day kind of person, and I need a haircut that looks good without having to be "done".  So, I'm always a little anxious going into a haircut, especially with a new stylist, and even more so when language might be an issue.  But alas, it wasn't.  

And the best part?   It only cost me $15!  

So I'm thinking, I won't be shy about going to get my hair cut anymore here!  Between the head massage and how well she cut it... I'm in! :)

Have you ever had a haircut or color nightmare?     

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Past due... October break, part II

It happened so long ago, you might not even remember that I forgot to write the second part of this report.  I covered our first three days at the resort on the lake, and then left it.  Well, there is a good reason for this.  Mamma is pregnant.  Yes, yes, it's all very exciting. I'm far enough along and we've seen the baby doing well.  So why did being pregnant stop me from posting about the rest of this trip?  

The truth is, the whole trip was colored by early pregnancy for me.  For those of you that haven't been pregnant before, the first trimester can have all kinds of sucky symptoms- from the best known morning sickness to fatigue, food cravings and aversions, and a whole slew of other things too.  For most of this trip, I have to say, I felt pretty crappy.  I couldn't get my hands on food that made me feel good.  While pregnant I really like to eat a big breakfast, preferably with a few eggs to get a good dose of protein in.  But all the eggs we had on this trip were heavily overcooked, over-salted and drenched in oil.  It did not make for a good start to the day for me.  I spent a lot of time laying around with stomach aches, feeling sleepy, just wanting to sleep for days.  I also read a lot.  

But the city of Vang Vieng was an interesting little place.  A back-packer, tourist town, it was full of roadside shops selling the same stuff (t-shirts, hats, sunglasses and flip flops plus other souvenir-type crap) one after another, restaurants serving the same food (some Lao food, and then bad renditions of sandwiches, pizzas, and a few other "western" dishes), and sweaty, under-dressed, drunk or hungover young travelers planning or recovering from a tubing trip down the river (you float the river in inner-tubes, and river-front bars pull you in and serve you strong drinks along the way).  One thing that I enjoyed was the fact that for some reason- who knows why!- almost all the restaurants in Vang Vieng play FRIENDS (on their TVs).  We also saw quite a few playing American Dad or Family Guy, but almost 80% had FRIENDS going on a non-stop loop.  Since I always loved FRIENDS (and since we don't get any American sitcom re-runs on TV here), it was a nice to just sit one afternoon and watch a few episodes over lunch.  

Our time in Vang Vieng wasn't too exciting... we mostly spent our days walking around town, finding food, planning naps, going for another walk, and then taking another nap, or picking up the next meal.  Except on the first afternoon, when we just arrived.  We arrived in Vang Vieng on the day of boat racing.  And our hotel was hosting a big ole party.  And it was LOUD.  And it was stinky (lots of meat cooking on open fires, plus so many people, and other random smells- also, hi, I'm pregnant, everything stinks).  And there were SO MANY PEOPLE.  And, we had the little bungalow closest to the river, which means closest to the people and the most of the noise (well, actually, my BIL/SIL were originally put in the bungalow that had the band's speakers on the porch- they requested a room change!).  So, the few pictures I took in Vang Vieng were all taken on that first afternoon, before I escaped it all to get a massage. :) So here they are, finally!       

People watching race watching

So many people, on both sides of the river- boat racing is a BIG deal for the Lao! 

The backdrop was beautiful.  The change of scenery was one
thing I definitely appreciated about Vang Vieng. 

Stinky meat smoke blowing right onto our porch.  Awesome. 

Little guy enjoying meat on a stick.  He was drooling all over himself. 

Beni holding court.  Once we arrived quite a few people gave up watching
 the races and watched us instead.  Also, see the pool in the background?
  This pic was taken before the kids decided they were allowed to jump in.
  By the end of the day, the water was literally BROWN from all the kids
 swimming in their clothes.  We never did go in, as it never cleared
 in the three days we were there.  :(

So, that's it.  Being pregnant, and tired and nauseous and stomach-achy definitely made me not take pictures. :)  Sorry about that.  Maybe now that the news is out though, I'll start posting more often again now!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gardening fail

On the left, bok choy, on the right sweet peas

A closer look at the rows of peas

On the left, some cilantro and basil, on the right tomatoes
So, you might say to yourself.... "FAIL?  That doesn't look like a fail!"  Well, I admit the truth- *I* failed completely as the gardener.  I would forget to go out there to water.  I didn't even know how often I should be watering.  I wasn't using enough or the right kind of fertilizer.  And ultimately, I just didn't care enough.

So why is the garden full of beautiful plants?  Because of our guard.  When we went away for October break, I asked him to look after the garden while we were gone.  He not only took on looking after it, but he cleaned up the beds, planted more plants and basically, made the whole thing thrive.  Everything would be dead if it had been left up to me.

So... I don't know... maybe I need to face the fact that I am more of a farmer's market girl.  Even back in the old days, I would have been the school teacher, or the local doula or something and people would have paid me in food- and that is how I would have stayed fed.  Cause this gardening thing- just doesn't seem to come naturally to me.  But thankfully, the guard, he's into it.  I'm going to pick some of that bok choy soon- I think it's looking ready to eat.  And I'll make sure to tell him he can help himself to what he's growing as well.  If he clears it all out, he deserves it!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award!

Liene over at Femme au Foyer awarded me with the Stylish Blogger Award for my parenting style!  What an honor!  Thanks, Liene!

Now, I've never thought of myself as stylish (in any way!), and I feel like I'm still fairly new to this parenting thing, but, I'll let you know what has gotten me where I am... My seven points of parenting style!

1. Parenting style has got to come down, first and foremost, to doing what feels right, and doing it with confidence.  I don't know where I got this confidence- maybe it grew out of wanting to be a mother for such a long time.  Whatever it was that built my confidence to mother, I have to credit said confidence with giving me any style I might have!

2. Beyond confidence there are some tools that lend to my style of parenting.  One of my favorite parenting tools, which helps keep my kid close, helps my kid experience the world from a nicer perspective, and keeps my hands free to get stuff done while still being close to my kid- it's the Ergo!  We got our Ergo as a hand me down, so we didn't have the choice in color (ours is black and maroon)- but ooooh....if I did... they have some lovely colors and patterns out now!  Go check it out! :)

3. A big part of my parenting style is about keeping my kid close- during the day and night.  Beni sleeps in a toddler bed next to our bed these days at the beginning of the night, and ends up in our bed at some point.  To keep your kid close at night, I highly recommend, first off all, getting a kind sized bed (yes, for real!), and also, maybe a co-sleeper.  We had the Original Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper when Beni was tiny.  I'll admit I wasn't actually that good about using it, because I liked her to be *right* next to me... but if you can't see yourself having your kid in your bed- get a co-sleeper.

4. A major reason to keep your kid close day and night?  To make breastfeeding easier!  For me, breastfeeding is far more than a way to feed my child- it is a parenting choice.  It is a promise to my child that I will be there for her, that I will offer her comfort, that she can count on me- that she can indeed depend on me- for nourishment, for love, for safety.  I was lucky enough to have an amazingly easy time of breastfeeding (still am!), and didn't need many props or aides.  But, a good nursing bra (Bravado Body Silk Seamless is my fave!) and some reusable nursing pads (Bamboobies are far more absorbent and invisible under clothes than any other pad I tried!) are great things to have!

5. An absolutely invaluable part of my parenting style (and probably something that contributes to my confidence) is surrounding myself with a supportive community.  I do this online (especially considering living abroad!), in person and through books.  Online I have joined several message boards, places where I can ask for help, offer help, and share stories of parenting in general.  In person, I have gone to La Leche League meetings (click the link, find a meeting near you!) and to a local natural birth/natural parenting group in my home town.  Through books I have found my greatest source of support, like-mindedness and good information in the Dr. Sears Library.  The Baby Book was my first Dr. Sears book, and where I fell in love.  The Vaccine Book gave me insight and helped me make informed decisions about which vaccines to get and when.  The Discipline Book and The Baby Sleep Book are helping me through some rough spots along the way.  Parenting can be a tough gig, and having people you can turn to to ask for help goes a long way- whether it is in person, online or in a book.

6.  I would not be able to do what I do, any of it, without the support of my husband.  We don't always agree on parenting paths- though we usually agree on the goal.  But, more often than not, he supports the choices I make, and walks along with me on whatever path I've chosen- even when it doesn't seem like the easiest way to go.

7.  The last piece of my parenting style can be none other than love.  I try in every decision I make, to keep love at the center of it.  When my 18 mos old is throwing a tantrum, or not sleeping, or not eating, or climbing on me for the 10th time in 10 minutes, I try (and honestly don't always succeed, I'm only human) to keep love in sight.  I try to remember that she is a little person, trying to find her way in a big world that can be scary, intimidating, and confusing.  When she's taken a seat on my last nerve, I try to pull back, turn some love on myself, and remember, that I too am only a person, not always able to stay in control.  When it feels like she needs more of me than I can give, or when I just don't know if I have what she needs.... I try to remember love.  Because in the end, at the heart of it all, love is probably what will get us through.                

Now... in the spirit of love... I pass on the Stylish Blogger Award to just one blogger whose style I admire!

Mook at Hello Latvia has got style (not just parenting, but like, for real).  I admire her strong sense of style, which is obvious and constant in her clothes, her home, her writing.  Here's to you, Mook!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Break, part 1

OK, I know this is long overdue, and the truth is, I just don't have that much energy to put into doing these posts any justice.  So they will be mostly pictures.  

I will tell you- driving a few hours north in Lao was interesting.  I guess I'm just too used to good roads.  The roads between here and there were basically like the roads all over Vientiane- at times drive-able, at times, you feel like you might as well be off-roading.  I had to drive the whole way because there is no other way to do this drive other than a very jerky, start stop, go, go, slow down, brake hard for hidden potholes, etc... I get car sick, and it's especially the stop-start thing that gets me.  There was no hope for me on this ride, unless I was behind the wheel.  On the way home, Joel and I decided that our car would be just fine for a road trip "back home", but it is not cut out to road trip in Lao.  I can't even tell you how many times we bottomed out the car, how many times the shocks, or suspension, or whatever it is that is supposed to keep your ride smooth slammed loudly against itself, and seriously left me wondering if, like in a cartoon, our tires weren't just going to go rolling off in every direction.  But we made it, in one piece, without any issues- well, except a leaking air conditioner and a wet purse, but we handled that! 

Our first stop was a resort on a lake.  It's a new place, only open about 6 months.  This was evident in how nice and new the little bungalows were.  It was also evident in a few things that seemed just a touch lacking.  But, overall, it was a wonderful, peaceful, quiet place to be.  We enjoyed three days and nights seriously just chilling out.  It was good.   

So here is the story in pictures.  Enjoy! 

The view from our balcony.  Can't complain.  The terrain around Vientiane is very flat,
but we were sort of in the mountains where we were.  It was beautiful! 

More beautiful landscape

One of the big draws of this place was that they offered water sports including
jet-skis, wake boarding behind the jet-ski, and kite surfing.  This is a view of the town
from the jet-ski.  Joel and I took a sunset cruise around the lake that was very nice!

It was like a tropical Venice... 

The Blue Lagoon resort (where we stayed)

On the right is the restaurant/bar, and eating areas, on the left the bungalows

View of our bungalow from eating area.  

Gorgeous girl had a lovely time.  

The only complaint- the resort sits between the village and a main port the locals use.
This means lots of local boats went by in front of the resort every day- and they have VERY loud motors.
So loud the bungalows would vibrate and the babies would cry.  The resort is planning on fixing this. 

The eating area and dock from our balcony. 

See those shades in the distance.  That was the resort's beach.  It was ok.  Only problem?
No access to the water!  The beach had a wall of rocks surrounding it, which pretty much
dropped off within a few feet.  Worst part for us?  No easy water access for water babies!

Joel was in heaven getting to go wake boarding a couple times a day! 

My BIL and SIL going for a cruise on the jet-ski

The water was ok... except as I said, no area with a clean/sandy bottom.  I went in
once, and then got attacked by a tree/roots, and because we watch too many
cop shows, I was sure the tree would also be a dead body, and it cut me, so that was enough
for me.  Beni went swimming a couple times though, which was ok, because Joel held her the whole time. :) 

So, that is it!  That was the best of our three days there!  

The worst was the breakfast.  The resort (owned and run by French guys) only had a local cook who knew how to cook eggs one way- overcooked, fried in deep oil, with lots of salt.  As someone who likes to eat a big breakfast (and likes my eggs slightly under-cooked), I struggled for three days.  They did have a few other good dishes for lunch and dinner, even veggie dishes which made me happy....but even so, after three days, I was feeling rough.  The worst part I guess was that the resort was on an island in the middle of the lake, so there was no other option other than to eat the food they served.  But, at least I could eat.  So really, it was ok.  Except I also spent a lot of time in the bathroom, so maybe it wasn't so ok. time we go, we'll bring more snacks. :)    

Monday, October 24, 2011

The things we're missing out on...

OK, yes, I have pictures to share of our trip to Vang Vieng, but, I have been extremely lazy about getting down to business and writing that post!  Sorry!  I will do it soon!

But for now, I'm moved to write about something else.  There is something that comes over me nearly every autumn.  It has a lot to do with facebook.  I see pictures of my friends and their kids at pumpkin patches, dressed up for Halloween, carving pumpkins, outside with rosy cheeks running around in piles of leaves... I'm not going to lie, it makes me nostalgic, and it makes me miss home.

And now that Beni is here, it makes me wonder what we're missing out on by not being there.

Growing up in Michigan, as I did, means life revolves around the seasons because it can't not.  Maybe not quite to the extent that it did 100 years ago, because heating and housing and cars make a big difference, but....when it's summer and hot and the land is producing juicy fruits, and the water is warm you go swimming and you indulge in fresh food straight from the garden (or farmer's market)- you make the most of it, because you know it won't last.  Autumn comes and you enjoy the changing leaves, the pumpkins and apples, going for walks wearing a sweatshirt and a scarf around your neck.  Winter arrives, and it's time to play in the snow... whether sledding, or skiing or building a snowman- and enjoying thawing out when you come inside with a cup of hot chocolate.  And when spring finally arrives (after what seems like a lifetime of freezing temps) you watch nature come back to life- flowers bloom, trees bud and eventually sprout leaves, the grass turns lush and green again, you head outside for walks, maybe carrying an umbrella just in case, waiting for the day you can plant your garden, or when the farmer's market finally opens again.  When the seasons change so drastically, you can't ignore them.  And you can't not make the most of every season, because you know they only last so long.

Now, don't get me wrong- I could stand a place that had a proper winter with snow and all, but I would like it much better if it only last like 2 months- December and January- plenty for me! Alas, I don't know of any places that have a true winter which is that short.  Ah well. Until now, avoiding winter has been reason enough for me to choose warm places to live, even if it means no real seasons.  And even if it means missing out on traditions, and enjoying the special things that come with each season.

But kids change everything, don't they?  I'm sad now that Beni is missing out on pumpkin patches and hay rides, carving pumpkins, and maybe even Halloween (haven't been a big fan of Halloween since I was a kid myself- but Beni would be really cute dressed up, wouldn't she?).

I've seen some people try to recreate these traditions while living abroad- but sometimes it just doesn't work out.  I mean, Halloween in one compound with a handful of kids and a handful of houses to go to is ok.... but not the same as wandering a neighborhood all night surrounded by hundreds of other kids running around in costumes dragging pillow cases full of candy with them.  We could potentially pick up some pumpkins here, although I haven't seen any big orange ones (they are kind of squat and greenish), and we could even carve it- but it's just not quite the same when we'd be the only house as far as we know that had a pumpkin on the front stoop.  What's missing is the sense of community.... the chill in the air... the turning leaves... the hot apple cider and warm donuts!

That said, I have organized a couple very successful Thanksgivings while living abroad.  But, that is because Thanksgiving (the modern version of it) is the best holiday- it only takes being surrounded by people you love and care for, and some good food.  It helps if you can get your hands on some of the traditional ones- and in most places finding meat and potatoes isn't that hard.

It's October 24th today (Beni's 18 mos birthday, by the way!), and we spent the afternoon in the pool.  We had to wait until afternoon because midday was TOO HOT to be outside.  So thoughts of pumpkins and hot apple cider are far from my mind (until I see those darn pictures on facebook!).

Now I realize, one might argue, that even though Beni is missing out on such traditions from back home, she's gaining a lot of other knowledge and experience where she is.  I can't deny that, but I also don't think it's quite the same.  Sure, she's going to have a completely different perspective on the world someday if she remembers all of this- but, I don't know, there is no personal connection to any of it here.  We have no investment in Lao or its culture and tradition.  Even if we do embrace and join in while we're here (which I can't say we've done)- when we leave, in all likelihood, we'll leave it all behind.  And that is probably because so much of it is so very foreign to us, based in principles we don't know or identify with.  So does that mean we're all missing out in the end after all?

What's your favorite tradition for this time of year???          

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hitting the wall

There's a thing that happens when you move to a new place- in my case I'm talking about moving to a new country, but, I'm sure this might also happen just moving to a new city in your same country.  My guess though, is that you would at least have to move to a new region, a place that has a new/different culture.  

When you first arrive, you're excited, and everything is new and interesting.  You find things you like right away, and things that maybe you don't, but you find appreciation for almost everything (whether you like it or not).  Like in a new relationship, you find the little quirks of your new home endearing.

After about a month, or three, or six (generally) however, something happens.  All these little things start to wear on you a bit.  Again, like in a relationship, suddenly, that quirky little habit you used to find so endearing starts to make you absolutely crazy.  You hit the wall.

I've hit the wall.

I really like living in Lao.  I love our house.  I like our little neighborhood.  I love living down the street from family.  I enjoy Vientiane as a city.  I'm still quite happy with the shopping and food situation.

But the dogs, the driving and the "falang" have pushed me not over the edge, but into the wall.  Hard.

The dog situation is just out of control here.  The stupid beasts are everywhere.  And they are fricking stupid. They lay in the middle of the road, and watch your car approaching as though you were driving straight through the living room into their dog bed.  They bark at you and chase you for no reason.  They are just stupid dogs.  And they are stupid looking.  There are so many dogs here that have a normal sized body, and a normal sized head, but have like 2 in legs.  My SIL told me that apparently the locals don't believe in spaying and neutering because they believe it takes away the dog's spirit- and everything here revolves around pleasing the spirits.  We had a poisonous snake in our yard, and our guard didn't kill it, he threw it into the empty lot across the street.  Sigh.  So anyway...the locals don't believe in fixing dogs, or leashes or fences, so the stupid inbred dogs are everywhere being stupid, looking stupid and acting stupid.

I know I wrote about the driving already, but honestly it's like people set out to drive with the littlest amount of common sense possible.  I mean, they're not just driving fast or being assholes on the road just for fun or personal gain....they are just being STUPID.  I almost got in a car accident the other day because of a car that sat watching me approach for hours (ok, seconds), and then pulled out in front of me just as I was near enough to hit her.  I had to slam on my brakes and because it was raining, I screeched and skidded along, but thankfully stopped in time.  Driving here can be fun in that video game kind of way, but, right now, it's just pushed me to the wall.

Falang means foreigner.  When Beni and I go for walks, we hear falang being called out by pretty much every child old enough to speak, and at least every fifth adult as well.  I really want to go for walks because I want to be healthy and get out of the house and not just sit on my butt all day... but I'm getting kind of tired of feeling like a freak show.  And it stinks because, in town, there are loads of foreigners, and no one says anything, besides to offer you a tuk-tuk.  But out here, in our neighborhood, we're three of only a few foreigners, and therefore we attract attention.  And people are not mean about it.  They yell out "falang" to let everyone know that there is something to look at- and then they all stare.  And most of the time they will also smile and say hi, so they are being friendly.  But there is something about the being watched part of it all that has just pushed me straight into the wall.

The good news is, tomorrow we go on a road trip.  We're headed north about 3-4 hours to a town called Vang Vieng.  We'll spend three days and nights at a resort outside the city on a lake that offers water sports (yay for my husband getting to do something he loves!), and then we'll head into Vang Vieng itself for a few days there as well.

Usually when one hits the wall, it's a good idea to get out of the country, and to some place that feels more like home, although it doesn't have to be home.  We are not choosing that route this time, but hopefully just the change of pace, the fact that we'll be together all week, and relaxing will be enough to get me past this wall.  Because that is the other good news- the wall just has to be gotten over or around, and things move forward and ones gets to go back to loving their new home.  I know I'll be feeling fully happy about being here again soon, especially since I mostly really am still happy.  But hopefully the dogs and the driving and the falang will start rolling off my back again soon.

We'll be back in a week, hopefully with a few pictures of a different part of Lao to share!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Local, easy, healthy, yummy lunch

OK, so I won't be winning any awards for photography or food styling...but I was HUNGRY when I took this picture, so it was a quick snap so I could EAT! :)

I just wanted to share what is one of my favorite lunches recently.  I find myself making it quite often, because it's quick, easy, reasonably healthy and delicious!

I finally gave in and we bought a rice cooker- mostly because of the burners that can't be controlled to go low enough not to burn my rice when cooking in a pot.  So, first step when making this lunch- rinse rice and through it in the cooker.

Next I tear apart and rinse the bok choy.  I do make sure to separately rinse each leaf, because they are often dirty at the bottom, and I missed that one caterpillar that one time... ew.  This is the probably the step of making this meal that takes the most time.

While I'm rinsing, I rinse off my tomato (or tomatoes, in the case of using the cherry tomatoes today- usually I just use one whole one), and then dice it (or cut into halves today).

When I'm ready to cook I throw the tomatoes on a pan with a touch of sesame oil and some other taste-less oil.  I throw the bok choy in the wok with a couple crushed garlic cloves and some oil.  I throw the bok choy in wet, as it adds some moisture to the whole thing.  Once the greens start reducing I throw in a shot of soy sauce and about a tsp of sugar as well.  I let it cook for another few seconds, and then it's done.  As for the tomatoes- once they've sort of melted in the pan, I push them to one side and throw in my one or two eggs (depending on my appetite that day).  Sometimes I scrambled them first, and sometimes I scramble them in the pan with chopsticks.  Once the egg cooks, I mix it all up together, and throw some soy sauce on there too- just a little bit.

That's it!  It's all done!

As far as I know this is Chinese food (which I say because I first ate it, and learned to cook it while living in Shanghai)- but, given what simple dishes they are, I'm guessing they might be common throughout Asia just because of available ingredients.  I really like that I can get all these ingredients locally, cheaply, and like I said before..... all delicious!

Oh, and Beni has never actually eaten egg before.  I've tried to give it to her, but she's always spit it out.  Well today, she was eating just the rice from this meal, but I decided to offer her some egg, and she was gobbling it up!  It's probably because it had the soy sauce on it, and she loves salty things... but either way, I'm glad for her being willing to gobble up some protein!  (Beni = total carbaholic!)

What's you fave quick, easy, local food recently?