Trials of a “Trailing Spouse”

The expat life offers many delights but one element I’ve found challenging? Being stuck in the role of a “trailing spouse.” Yes it’s 2015. And yes, this term is still used widely.

Maybe it’s just my ego (I don’t necessarily excel at taking the back seat) but I think it’s more than that. It’s something to do with a sense of self and career being an integral part of identity and–sure–ego.

I find the term “trailing spouse” off putting because it suggests my sole career–and identity–is being a spouse (and a trailing one at that!). I loved this blog post on The Trailing Spouse Identity Project about the challenges of life, career, and identity as a trailing spouse, and how to stay positive and seize the opportunities it presents. The author astutely explains what I’ve struggled to convey:

What we do for a living is an inherent and (un)conscious factor in how we value ourselves— whether we judge it in terms of contribution to society or the money we make. When I stopped work I lost the measuring unit or reference point for judging the value of ‘me’.

Love this post and plan to start following the Time of Tea blog – check it out!

And shine on!

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Hen Gap Lai Ha Noi!

Fabulous impression of Hanoi.

Hà Nội Sống

IMG_3771

Hanoians are famous for nostalgia. Being the great storytellers that they are, there are myriad poems, paintings, folk tales and other art forms depicting the sentimental beauty attached to this city. Despite – or sometimes because of – the drastic modernisation witnessed over the past few decades, there remains a pride in the certainty that Hanoi is, and always has been, a city of unsurpassed charm and romance.

From the moment I arrived in April 2013 I, too, found this charm impossible to resist. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of aspects of life in this city that irritate me. Truth be told, there are moments when I have wondered what it is with the sprawling suburbs, crowded streets, temperamental weather and questionable driving techniques that allows this city to still be considered charming. In the end, however, Hanoi is a good seductress: she woos with imagery and flirts…

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Memorial Day Weekend in Saigon: Honoring History

Reflections

Growing up in Minnesota, we’d always spend Memorial Day Monday at my mother’s family’s cemetery plot, placing American flags on the graves of our family members who served their country in WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War.

This year, we happened to find ourselves in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, a bustling metropolis where scores of soldiers lost their lives during the Vietnam War. (Post to follow on our comings-and-goings). It was an odd feeling for this American to visit HCMC on Memorial Day weekend and I spent a lot of time reflecting on how much has changed in the last 40 years since the fall of Saigon.

Our stay this time took us to the grounds of the U.S. Consulate, where U.S. Marines fell defending the former American Embassy, and to the Cu Chi tunnels, site of some of the most brutal fighting in Vietnam and countless lives lost on both sides.

For those Americans who have visited Normandy, you know how profoundly moving, unsettling, and humbling it can be to visit a place overseas where Americans gave their lives in service to our country. On this Memorial Day, I honor all those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial HCMC   IMG_2083

And I Bid You Goodnight…

Grateful_Dead_-_Steal_Your_Face

Thanks to the genius advice of a friend, our new bedtime routine has been drastically improved as of late. After we read a book and say prayers, we watch this video:

It makes me so happy because it brings me back to my Grateful Dead fueled high school days (lucky for all of you I don’t have any high school pics here in Hanoi). Better yet, it reminds me of my dad every night. He loved talking about his 17 live Dead shows and transferring his love of music – but especially the Dead – to his kids. I hope to give the same to my girls.

Shine on!

Rainy Day Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup & Curry Condiments

It’s a gray, rainy day in Hanoi and all I can think about is digging into my leftovers from last night’s dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup & Curry Condiments. The perfect rainy day meal!

Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa) is one of my all-time favorites, and this recipe will explain why. Her squash soup is easy to make, healthy, and simple, but with a twist on the old standard (without being too fussy). The curry and apples add a surprising flavor and I love the condiments: scallions, cashews, bananas, and toasted coconut. I like to pair this with a good crusty baguette and a big glass of Chardonnay. Delicious!

I must admit, I have a soft spot for Ina because she started her career as a Program Examiner at the White House Office of Management and Budget, just like me. There’s hope for me yet!

MK Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

MK’s a big fan of the Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Butternut Squash Soup – this was her third bowl                          

You can follow Ina’s blog here.

Hanoi Sreet Food, Volume I: bún đậu

Hanoi is a street food lover’s dream come true. Plenty of tasty (rất ngon in Vietnamese) options for under a buck. I’m a hesitant street food consumer (I think I’ve seen too much strolling the streets of Hanoi for the past 1.5 years) but there’s one dish I adore: bún đậu.

Before we get to the food, let me set the stage. Actually, let’s let Anthony Bourdain do it. As Bourdain said in his Parts Unknown episode on Vietnam: “All of the things I need for happiness: Low plastic stool, check. Tiny little plastic table, check. Something delicious in a bowl, check.”

Bun Dau

If you’re an Anthony Bourdain fan like me, you may have seen his episode on Vietnam. In a Conde Nast Traveler article from last year, Bourdain said his first trip to Vietnam changed his life. I’d have to agree with him (although my first trip will be two years-long!). One of the biggest gamechangers: fresh tofu. I’ll never go back to packaged tofu from Trader Joe’s – go fresh or go home.

My favorite? Bún đậu with mắm tôm. Bún (rice noodles), fried tofu, herbs, mắm tôm (fermented shrimp paste), red chilies. Every time I ask for mắm tôm , I’m met with a look of shock, and a follow-up comment of “foreigners don’t like mắm tôm .” Don’t get me wrong, the stuff is stinky. But it tastes so good with the plain noodles and tofu – it balances the neutral flavors and makes bún đậu even more delcious.

The best part? The vibe. I love running across the street to my local bún đậu vendor. She carries her restaurant on her shoulders (pot, ingredients, plates, chop sticks, stools, etc.), sets up shop, and cooks for people on their lunch breaks. I love watching her prepare the food while I wait.

Better yet? Eating this delicious lunch will only cost you 15,000 VND (about $0.70), or 20,000 VND for takeaway.

Bun Dao 2My favorite bún đậu lady, just across the street from my apartment

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#TBT – Bali

IMG_1649Sanur Beach, Bali, Indonesia

One month ago today I was relaxing on beach in Bali, palms swaying, bikes and paddle boards cruising past, Bintang in my hand, Angelique the Sacred Cow mooing in the background. Welcome to Sanur, Bali, a lovely mix of Balinese chill, beach, yoga, and not too many tourists. Frankly, there were few cultural activities on this trip. It was a whole lot of relaxing with family and friends, active outdoor activities, and good food and drinks.

IMG_7190The master sandcastle builders taking a break

We had heard mixed things about Bali – people seemed to either love it or hate it. We were nervous it might be overrun with backpackers and tourists, so we looked around for somewhere that was chill, but not so remote that there was nothing to do off the hotel grounds. Sanur was the perfect mix – only 30ish minutes from the Denpasar airport in southeast Bali, but without the crowds of Jimbaran Bay and Kuta. We found a great, quiet villa on AirBNB only steps from restaurants and shops, and a short walk from the beach. It was perfect.

I traveled with my husband, daughters, and mom, so this was definitely a family vacation. Vacations with two small kids are active, schlepping kids, stuff, and strollers. So we took it easy and did stuff the kids would like – sandcastles, ocean swims, pool frolicking, and feeding the koi that inhabited our villa’s ponds.

IMG_7202Villa koi pond

IMG_1641Luckily, there were plenty of opportunities for fun, outdoor fitness in Sanur. For less than $4.00/day, we rented a bike with kid seat – no deposit, no credit card, just pedaled off and told her I’d return it in a few days. Perfect for quick trips to the beach and chill cruises down the beachside bike path.The fitness highlight was the  Power of Now Oasis yoga studio, and incredible open-air, bamboo building right on the beach. (It’s also home to Angelique the sacred cow, who was a big hit with R and MK.) The coolest yoga studio I’ve ever seen. We took two excellent 90 minute vinyasa classes and one kids’ yoga class with Riley. In between schlepping and yoga, we cruised around on the stand up paddle (SUP) we rented at the Rip Curl School of Surf.

IMG_7281         Tree pose in the garden

IMG_1635Power of Now Oasis          

One of the best parts of the trip was daily breakfast at the villa. We were lucky to have two amazing helpers who made breakfast every morning, from traditional Balinese breakfast of fried rice to omelets, and chocolate crepes, we started each day off right. And the juice! Fresh squeezed orange juice every day. Delicious.

My favorite lunch spot was Malaika Secret Garden Delicious, healthy, organic food in an ideal location – a breezy open air building on the beach (just down the path from the yoga studio).

We had a great dinner at The Glass House, Australian and Asian cuisine inspired by the fresh seafood in Sanur. Cute atmosphere, kid-friendly, delicious food, good wine, and great service.

Another night we ventured up to the Ubud for a date night. The Balinese food at Bebek TebaSari Resto was good, but even better was the delightful ambiance: seated in a private thatched-roof hut perched above a beautiful koi pond, nestled amongst the rice paddies. A truly special place. I felt like I was in the Bali I imagined.

 IMG_1657  View from our private bamboo hut

We had a great time on the Sanur beaches, but these were not the best beaches I’ve seen. I must admit, the beaches in Thailand, Hawaii, and the Caribbean are much nicer than the beaches we visited in Bali. But Bali has a certain je ne sais quoi. There’s something special about Sanur. The backdrop of smiling local people, lapping waves, indigo textiles, and Hindu and Buddhist traditions made for a memorable visit.  My girls thought the huge rainbow that appeared on our way back to the airport was a fitting end to the trip.