Fare You Well, Fitbit

Those of you who follow my blog might recall that I’ve become something of a Fitbit Fanatic. (As addictions go, it’s a positive one, but an addiction nevertheless.) So you can imagine my despair when — gasp! — I lost my beloved Fitbit last weekend.

I had traveled south to lovely Hoi An, Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage site full of ancient pagodas, lanterns, rice paddies, and beautiful river and ocean views, to enjoy a few days of R& R with my brother. It was one of my favorite kind of vacations – family, fitness, food, and frolicking – and the Fitbit was seeing lots of action.

IMG_2553

Our last hurrah. On Cua Dai beach in Hoi An, Vietnam (Fitbit attached to my shoe)

After a long day that included running, walking (11,000 steps by 9:00 am!), and biking (16,000 steps at lunch!), I decided to relax with a massage. I “forgot” to remove my Fitbit (can’t miss that extra step or two!) so halfway through, the masseuse removed it from my arm and left in on the table. I thought nothing of it, until I returned to my room and realized I had the bracelet, but no Fitbit. After a rather unpleasant ten minutes searching through used towels and sheets in the therapy room, I realized the Fitbit was gone. I nearly started crying – how could I lose my Fitbit? And on a banner steps day?!

But after a few days of reflection I’ve realized it’s merely a thing and it doesn’t matter if I can’t track my steps, I still know I’m active. Plus, I just ordered the new Fitbit Charge (an upgrade from my previous Fitbit Flex)…

As Jerry might have said, Fare You Well, Fitbit!

Shine on!

Taking Hanoi Fashion by Storm

Pret-a-porteaSweets, coffee, champagne, and fashion? Sounds like my kind of Saturday afternoon! Last week, I went to Pret-a-Portea at the Intercontinental Hotel Westlake. Each month, Chula – the whimsy fashion house preferred by Hanoi expats – partners with the Intercon to host an afternoon tea and fashion show featuring an up-and-coming Hanoi designer.

Last week, the event featured Wephobia Studio, a cool new line designed by two young and adorable Vietnamese women. It was the first time I’d heard of Wephobia and I loved it. Their clothes are chic, simple, menswear-inspired, with an Asian vibe. I loved everything. I especially loved the classic black and white, interchangeable pieces. When I spoke to the designers after the show, I was surprised to learn that their flagship store was in my neighborhood – conveniently located on my walk home from work. Needless to stay, I popped in after work last week and picked up a few items!

Wephobia    Photo credit: Wephobia

IMG_2430

After Wephobia, Chula displayed some of their latest creations. Chula is created by a Spanish couple, Laura and Diego, who make fun, eye-catching silk dresses that are more art than fashion. Each dress is unique and made to order. If you’re an expat in Hanoi, you’re sure to see Chula dresses galore throughout the city. I have two – one black dress with a skull and cross bone theme, and one turquoise dress with a wave. I absolutely love them – fun, completely unique, and comfortable to wear.

IMG_2439             IMG_2436

In between the fashion shows, we enjoyed delicious, fashion-themed nibbles. From red chocolate lipstick, to a pink chocolate pump, the Intercon went above and beyond. The highlight? Midway through the event, the Hanoi sky erupted into a massive storm – thunder, high winds, palm trees blowing every which way. I was happy to be stuck inside the lovely Intercon with friends observing beautiful Hanoi fashion.

IMG_2432     The Spread

Shine on!

Cupcakes for Idiots (i.e. How to Look Like a Super Mom at Your Daughter’s 2nd Birthday Party)

IMG_7813

I love to cook but I’m no baker. I don’t like exact measurements. I’m not very good at remembering to set the kitchen timer. Needless to say, my attempts at baking usually end up misshapen, burned, or raw in the middle (or some combination thereof). I’m usually pretty impressed with myself if I can successful make brownies from a Duncan Hines mix. But this year, for some crazy reason, I decided I was going to be a super mom and make homemade cupcakes for my daughter’s second birthday. And not just any cupcakes. Elmo cupcakes!

So what is a non-baker to do?

Step 1. Order Elmo baking cups and icing decorations from Amazon.

Step 2. Order even more obnoxious Elmo-themed decorations to distract from the quality of homemade baked goods.

Step 3. Google “perfect simple vanilla cupcakes.”

Step 4. Buy ingredients in advance to avoid winging it the day of (“Do I really need baking powder? Baking soda’s fine, right?”

Step 5. Try not to swear too loudly in front of children while baking cupcakes.

Step 6. Listen for kitchen timer and don’t get creative.

Step 7. Actually let cupcakes cool before impatiently spreading frosting on top.

Step 8. Put Elmo icing decoration on top to look like Super Mom-professional baker.

Step 9. Serve bubbles to parents (kids don’t care as long as there’s lots of sugar).

IMG_7814

Seriously though, this Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from Glorious Treats ROCKED. And the Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting was to die for.

At the end of the day, all that matters is my little pumpkin liked her Elmo birthday party and blew out her two candles. And for now, she thinks I’m a super mom no matter what.

IMG_7821         IMG_7823

Shine on!

Saigon Sights – Historical Wanderings in HCMC

Last month, my husband’s soccer team had a game in Ho Cho Minh City, and — as is my habit — I seized upon the opportunity for a family excursion.  The game was HOT for my midwest genes, but the post-game feast hit the spot.  A Southern Vietnamese extravaganza, complete with fresh and fried spring rolls, vegetables, shrimp, sweet rice desserts, and…Budweiser, some of which is now made in Vietnam (who knew?).

Soccer Cheerleaders

HCMC is a thriving, rapidly-changing metropolis growing on top of a lush cityscape full of tree-lined streets and tidy parks. This trip, I mostly glimpsed HCMC life in between tourist spots, but I loved what I saw. I hope to return for leisurely days strolling the streets, sitting in the parks, and sipping coffee as the city flows past. (Hopefully when it’s not quite so hot!)

It was Memorial Day weekend, and throughout the my stay, I couldn’t help but think about the historical significance of the city — and the transformative power of the passage of time. These thoughts stayed with me throughout the weekend as we visited some of HCMC’s historic sites.

IMG_1703 IMG_1702

Cu Chi Tunnels

I didn’t want to travel all the way to HCMC without a boat ride on the Saigon River and a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, leading me to discover Les Rives Luxury Cu Chi Tunnels Speedboat Tour. I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Les Rives picked us up at 7:00 am at our hotel and drove us to the river, where we boarded our boat. The boat was lovely – the charm of a small Mekong delta riverboat but with a smart, modern layout. As we cruised up the Saigon River, we enjoyed lovely vistas of riverboats, fishermen, barges, bridges, homes, and water hyacinths as far as the eye could see.

IMG_1675    IMG_2100

IMG_2099

IMG_7748    IMG_7743

IMG_2108After about an hour, we reached the entrance to the Cu Chi tunnels. Only a short walk from the dock, our tour guide started with a brief history of the tunnels, explaining that they were first built during the French resistance movement and later expanded during the Vietnam war. At the end of the conflict, there were tunnels running over 70 miles.

Today, the tunnels are a war memorial run by the Government of Vietnam. Amazingly, many of the tunnels remain and are now open for tourists. According to our guide, the tunnels have been expanded to accommodate larger tourists, which is pretty incredible give how small they remain (see below – those are my feet).

IMG_2111          IMG_2113

IMG_2131

Reunification Palace

I’d heard a visit to the Reunification Reunification Palace HCMCPalace was a must-do in HCMC, but I was skeptical. Unnecessarily so. It was time well spent. We enjoyed a leisurely tour of the grounds, complete with Southern Vietnamese tanks, airplanes, and beautiful old trees–a strange dichotomy–and the palace. I’m not normally a huge fan of modern architecture this was fabulous. It was amazing to walk through the huge, open, breezy hallways where so much history unfolded. Seeing the palace featured in this image of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the gates at the fall of Saigon, which I’d seen in so many Vietnamese history books, was profound.

IMG_2803

Reunification Palace HCMC

You’d think being an American would attract negative attention, but that just wasn’t the case. Fellow Vietnamese tourists so were friendly that we spent part of the tour mobbed by Vietnamese tourists trying to take pictures of us – not the museum! They were far more interested in my daughters’ curly blonde hair than the historical sites. Wow. What a difference 40 years can make.

IMG_2212

Next up? Saigon Snacks – A Weekend in HCMC

Friday Inspiration

Reading this article from Parenting Magazine was just the inspiration I needed on this Friday morning.

Have you heard of PowerToFly? I’m so inspired by this company and the women who founded it. You may have read Katharine Zaleski’s open letter in Fortune Magazine “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with” that went viral on social media.

While dealing with the issues common to all working parents, she took action and helped found a company to help other working women. I love the concept! As Katharine wrote in her letter:

By enabling women to work from home, women could be valued for their productivity and not time spent sitting in an office or at a bar bonding afterwards. Mothers could have a third option that would allow them to either remain in the workforce or be a part of it even from areas with few job options.

Genius, huh? And there’s even research to back up this approach:

All the tools exist for remote work – Slack, Jira, Skype, Trello, Google Docs. Research shows remote workers can be more productive. Furthermore, millennials – with or without kids – want that flexibility, a Harvard study found.

This is the future and I’m thankful for trailblazers like these women who are making it happen for the rest of us! Shine on!

IMG_1584Multi-tasking in the air

Check out the PowerToFly website and app for flexible tech opportunities and resources for working women.

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…

View original post 494 more words

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

Living it Up in Luang Prabang: Part 3, Food

I’ve already set the scene and shared my favorite frolicking adventures, but now it’s time for my favorite: the food.

Having spent the past two years living in Southeast Asia, I’ve eaten a lot of good food, but I have to say, the food in Laos is some of my favorite. Hanoi has some good go-to food options (namely bún đậu and chả cá) but by and large food in Hanoi can be a bit lacking in punch. I’m a spicy kind of girl – I like my food to have a little kick. And after 18 million nem ran (spring rolls), I was ready for something different.

Enter Laos.

Best snack? The crispy, sesame coated Mekong River Weed. Frankly, I’d rather not think about the source of this delicious snack. But suffice it to say, it’s similar to a crispy seawood, lightly fried then sprinkled with sesame seeds and a dash of spicy goodness. And you can dip it in an array of tasty dips (jeow).

Best staple? Sticky rice. White or brown – both delicious. And cooked in beautiful handmade baskets – it’s like opening a little gift every time you sit down to a meal. Appropriate for early morning alms-giving to the monks and pairs great with just about everything. My husband’s favorite main accompaniment: lemongrass stuffed with seasoned pork or chicken.

Best drink? The awesome fruit shakes sold from the stands near the night market. And, of course, Lao Dark beer. Lots of Lao Dark Beer.

The local food is certainly a highlight but we found a few good international restaurants too. Here’s a summary of our favorite Luang Prabang restaurants:

Coconut Garden

Our first stop was a return trip to the Coconut Garden, sister restaurant of L’Elephant–a beautiful, tasty, but less kid-friendly spot. We’d eaten at Coconut Garden twice on our last trip and had loved the chill, outdoor garden vibe and mix of local and western food options.

Tamarind

This meal was the highlight of the trip. We got there early in order to avoid ruining others’ meals with our loud children. The TripAdvisor recommendations were great and highlights were the watermelon chilli granita aperitif, Laos sampler, stir-fried pumpkin, and lemongrass skewers. Bonus? Great gourmet Laos goodies to bring home, like coconut tamarind spread, ginger tea, and chilli salt.

IMG_1916             IMG_1919

          The spread at Tamarind

Ock Pop Tok

Don’t miss this delightful oasis a few miles outside of town. On the banks of the Mekong, with freshly died silk blowing in the breeze, you can’t beat the vibe. I had the Living Land Salad – lettuce with beetroot, apple, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and a creamy balsamic dressing. It was delicious and definitely not something I’d find in Hanoi. The Lao Dark was delicious (as always), as was the post-meal cappuccino.

IMG_7609Enjoying a quiet moment on the banks of the Mekong

Indigo Cafe

My daughter and I stumbled across this gem of a cafe as we were trying to escape the heat. What a find! Cute cafe vibe with good coffees, smoothies, and an extensive menu that includes lots of veggie and vegan options. A good sandwich can be hard to come by in Southeast Asia and I was pleased to enjoy a veggie sandwich on good, fresh bread. The cafe is on the bottom floor of a hotel of the same name, and attached to an adorable store. I found a cute, reasonably priced locally made indigo pillow case and this awesome hat ($3!).

Pizza Phan Luang

Don’t miss this off-the-beaten path restaurant. And by off-the-beaten-path, I mean you have to cross the Nam Khan River via a creaky bamboo suspension bridge (see photos below).

IMG_7648IMG_7649

Once you cross the bridge and climb the steep staircase to the top of the river bank, walk about 1/4 mile and you’ll find Pizza Phan Luang on the left hand side, down a narrow corridor. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a quaint garden pizza cafe, complete with a wood fire pizza oven, romantic candles, and relaxed outdoor vibe. The pizza was the best I’ve had in Southeast Asia (although, admittedly, this ain’t Manhattan).

Have I whet your appetite?

Shine on!

Way to go, Facebook!

#Facebook #like

I was psyched to see Sheryl Sandberg’s announcement that Facebook now has new standards on benefits for its largest contractors and vendors, including paid parental leave:

Today, I am pleased to announce that we are implementing a new set of standards on benefits for contractors and vendors who support Facebook in the US and do a substantial amount of work with us. These benefits include a $15 minimum wage, minimum 15 paid days off for holidays, sick time and vacation, and for those workers who don’t receive paid parental leave, a $4,000 new child benefit for new parents. This will give both women and men the flexibility to take paid parental leave, an important step for stronger families and healthier children. 

Why is this so important? Because, according to this report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The United States is the only high-income country, and one of only eight countries in the world (Heymann and McNeill 2013), that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns.” I won’t go into paternity leave or shared parental leave, but suffice it to say, it’s no better.

It’s great to see a U.S. company leading the charge on changing parental work policies – not because they’re forced to, but because it’s good for their employees AND for their business.

Bravo! Shine on!

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!