Kings Daughter Milk Bank

I seriously cannot brag enough on the ladies that work here. They’re a fantastic group that have went above and beyond. When I did my donation, I never expected anything in return. Honestly I just thought I would send it in and be on my way. I would never know where my donation went or how many babies I would be helping. I was just doing my part to help other babies and help in my grieving process.

I still remember the day I got the info to call the milk bank. It was a Friday afternoon and I was at work, in the cafeteria at that. The person who handled all my milk in the NICU is who set up the contact information for me, all I had to do was call. I couldn’t, I remember being in shock actually when I received the text from her about who and what I needed to do to get in contact with the milk bank. I refused to even think about it. I remember crying thinking how can I give up all of my milk. This was apart of me for my boys. To me it honestly felt like the last thing I had left of them. Now I’m suppose to just donate it? I mean it couldn’t stay in my freezer forever, it couldn’t stay at my MIL freezer forever and it couldn’t stay in the NICU freezer forever. I put it off. I didn’t want to think about it, so I didn’t. A week later I decide to just call and talk to them, they didn’t answer so I left a message. In a way I was relieved, I had the weekend. Monday they called back but I was at work so they left a message. I called back Tuesday and they answered.. I was freaking out on the inside. I asked to speak to Megan, she’s the one who answered. I introduce myself and told her my NICU has gave me her contact info about donating my milk. Naturally the first thing she said was congratulations boy or girl? This is where things always get complicated/awkward. It’s always so weird when I get a congratulations, I’m so use to getting in so sorry. So I proceeded to tell her thank you, twin boys. Then the next awkward statement ALWAYS comes out if everyone’s mouth, and know by no means does it ever mean harm but I’ve got these conversations down lol, oh your hands must be full! Then that’s where I have to break the news, well they actually didn’t make it. Then you hear the instant regret in their voices, then the I’m sorry. So yeah I’ve had a ton of these conversations and I’m sure I always will. It’s just part of it unfortunately. After I tell my story she reassured me how great this is of my to donate. Having a preterm baby means having preterm milk, which is EXACTLY what the NICU needs. These preterm babies need this milk, and I’ve got it. My heart instantly becomes full. Those long hours of pumping and sitting beside my baby’s incubator will be honored with my milk. That’s how she broke it down for me, which I loved!

Now the day comes where I’ve got to go get blood work done to make sure I’m healthy and an able to donate. The whole process was so simple and didn’t take time out of my day at all, which I love since I am running my own company. There are a series of questions you have to answer, family history, medications you’ve taken while you pumped, drinking while you pumped, all the questions. They want to make sure all their bases are covered. With me I had the MMR vaccines on my discharge day, so for a month after the shot they wouldn’t accept any milk. At first that killed me, what do you mean, that’s so much milk! In retrospect I’m thankful I got to save some because it was incredibly hard letting it go.

I’ve said before the cooler sat in my living room floor for so long before I had the courage to open it, then to actually fill it and send it in. Even though I had some left over it still pulled at my heart string to let it go. It got over nighted to the milk bank and by the next day I had a voicemail telling me how much I donated and how they were so thankful. That was back in March and I haven’t heard from them again until a week ago when Megan reaches out to me. I had to come back and let y’all know what they sent me ?? I received it Friday night, I had a long day and knew I was going to have a long weekend. It was memorial day weekend and I was going to have to work all weekend. So getting this Friday was so perfect. I just stood there in the kitchen crying as I was in awe how amazing these ladies where when they didn’t have to be!

This is a certificate showing how much I donated, 371oz. Way more than I thought! They sent me a thoughtful card that they all signed. Then my favorite of all was they made a keepsake necklace out of my breast milk I sent in! How freaking amazing! I had already done something similar for myself before I sent my milk away because I knew I would need a “piece ” of them. So for them to think about this just makes me so happy!

Trekking Unlimited — Mystic Velliyangiri Mountains – TamilNadu, India

My obsession with Velliyangiri Mountains started some 3 years back when I started hearing/reading about this mountain. The trip never materialized and it evaded me for quite some time until Shankar picked up this idea all of a sudden and called me if I am up to it. I latched on to the idea and said “Game ON”.

My cousins (3 of them – Shankar, Vignesh, and Arun) are based out from Coimbatore, closeby to the mountains and 1 of them (Vignesh) have been to this mountain before. So I pretty much do not have to worry about the logistics/planning.

On a perfect early Saturday morning, I boarded a private bus from the ever-busy Silk Board Bus stop from Bangalore and reached Coimbatore by Saturday afternoon around 12 PM. The National Highway (NH48) is a belter which made the 6-hour journey nice and comfortable. Coimbatore disappointed me being super hot and Shankar picked me up from the Gandhipuram bus stand and we went straight to my cousins home before gulping some tender coconut water and a couple of glasses of cold buttermilk. It is a general custom in most parts of Tamilnadu that people provide buttermilk/water for the needy people in the scorching summer heat.

One thing I admire in India is the hospitability that the hosts extend to their guests. In my cousin’s home, they were waiting for my arrival without eating and I was extended a warm welcome, provided an amazing south Indian food and had a good chat until evening to start our journey. In fact, I was treated like their own son which gave me many life lessons making me ponder that sometimes I am chasing the wrong priorities all my life.

After a sumptuous lunch and playing with Papa (I guess Labrador!!!) we then took two bikes and 4 of them totally started from Sundapalayam, Coimbatore to Poondi Temple (Foothills of Velliyangiri Mountain) where the trek starts. The journey was pleasant with farmlands and soothing climate with signboards warning of wild Elephants. The journey goes through Isha Foundation (a popular tourist destination now brimming with foreigners, thanks to the yoga cult that the western world adopted). NO, Not that Wild Wild Country thing!!!!

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Isha Yoga Center, Did not take any pics, as it was all late night ??

I had been to Isha Yoga Center before and hence I skipped visiting the same. If you are planning, I would strongly suggest you to first visit Isha Yoga Center sometime in the evening and have a dip in the swimming pool there and then head towards the Poondi Velliyangiri Andavar Temple (which is 2 KM from there) after visiting the Adiyogi Statue (112 Feet Statue).

Velliyangiri Mountains, for most of the people, is a spiritual trek and is revered as one of the holiest mountains in Hinduism dedicated to Lord Shiva (The Destroyer). Shiva is regarded as one of the supreme beings in Hinduism who creates, protects and transforms the universe.

I will leave it to your judgment on whether you would want to trek this place for your spiritual fulfillment (or) for its sheer beauty, but I would suggest in either case, this place is a must-go and an off-beat and one of the challenging trekking places in Tamil Nadu.

On the top of the mountain is a cave where a natural rock formation of a Shiva Linga (aniconic representation of Lord Shiva) gracing the cave. There are other deities sculpted inside the cave with locals administrating the cave with daily Hindu temple rituals happening throughout the day.

To reach the cave at the top, we would have to technically traverse through seven mountains and the cave is located at an elevation of 1778m (5833 ft) above sea level.

Most of the devotees trek barefoot, but we are also allowed to trek with shoes. One Caveat is women aged above 10 and below 45 are not allowed to trek this hill due to the religious sentiments. The trek is open every year starting February till May end and we can trek both day/night anytime 24 hours a day. I would strongly suggest starting climbing in the evening after 5 PM IST or at night as this place can get extremely hot and dry in the summer.

This hill has historical and mythological significance and there is a story associated with this hill which is quite interesting for history buffs. For Geography Buffs, feel free to skip this section ??

History:

History says that there was a young woman (incarnation of Lord Parvati) who was madly in love with Lord Shiva himself.  She wanted to marry Lord Shiva himself and took an oath that she will die standing in penance if Shiva did not come within the mentioned timeframe before sunrise to tie the wedding knot.

On hearing this, Lord Shiva was mightly pleased and started descending from his holy abode of Mount Kailash (now in Tibet) and started his dart towards the South of India. The other gods, who realized that he might not return if he is married to this woman conspired and created a false sunrise (by lighting huge mounds of camphor) one day before the provided deadline.

Shiva who was just 22 Kilometers away (from where the maiden was — which is today called as Kanyakumari, the tip of South India) started walking back dishearted. Being morose with the feeling of guilt and dejection, it is said that he scaled this mountain in solitary and he sat here in a certain kind of despondency and anger about himself.

The maiden then left her body standing and there stands a shrine dedicated to this maiden at the southern tip of India for her absolute sacrifice, which is also an important tourist destination in India.

Since Shiva himself graced this mountain, this place is called as “Thenkailayam/South Kailash” and is revered by many.

My Experience:

Trek starts at Poondi Velliyangiri Andavar temple where Annadanam (Free Food) is served round the clock by devotees/volunteers. A bamboo stick is available in the base of the temple for a nominal fee (? 30 INR) and I would suggest buying one as this helps downhill unequivocally.

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At Poondi Temple, Start of the Trek, See the Excitement ??

At the entrance, there is a forest officer check post where plastics are checked. They ask all the devotees/trekkers to transfer the items and hence we would suggest you to avoid getting plastics in the first place. Try avoiding plastic mineral water bottles and load yourself with a good water bottle and load them with lots of water with Glucose. (you would thank me later!!).

As said earlier, this trek is a daunting ask for someone with an as sedentary lifestyle as mine and hence you can take cue with my experience in crossing the 7 exciting undulations to reach the summit.

First Hill is probably the toughest and is an energy-sapper. The first hill is full of steps, but steep ones. It takes out all your confidence and was it not been a temple, I would have cussed and foul-mouthed all day long. I still did, but it was all inside my head. I was telling our guys to keep going and not wait for me as I thought I would not make it. For a seasoned guy, the first hill takes close to 45 minutes, but it took more than an hour for us as we took frequent breaks.

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We trekked on a no-moon day and started around 21:00 hours, but to our surprise, it was a serpentine queue. Right throughout the trek, there were mobile phones all around which acted as a source of light in the night hours. I never expected this crowd and was displeased as there were close to 2000 people scaling this mountain at night.

Pat yourself when you reach out to a place called “Vella Vinayagar Kovil”/ “White Ganesh Temple”, as this is technically the first hill that you had summited. There are shops selling soft drinks and beverages like Dry Ginger Tea, Lemon Juice, Butter Milk and other refreshments at the end of the first hill near the temple. Get yourself re-hydrated and let’s start the second one.

I assure you will get a mixed feeling of satisfaction and anxiety peeping in when you know that the first hill is completed and knowing that there are technically 6 more hills to complete.

You are on the second hill when you realize that the steps started to decrease and it will be a combination of steps and plains. It is comparatively easier than the first guy. However, there is a place called “Vazhuku Parai”/”Slippery Rock” where the small steps are carved in a rock. You have to be cognizant during this phase. Head further and at this point, I have started feeling better and my body started responding better for this trek.

End of Second Hill is when we reach “Pambaati Siddhar”/”Snake Charmer” cave. This is where “Paambati Siddhar” is said to have meditated as there is also a freshwater stream nearby.

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Pambatti Sitthar Cave, 2nd Hill ??

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Historically, “Siddhas” refers to the people who were early age wandering adepts that dominated ancient Tamil teaching and philosophy. They were knowledgeable in medicine, science, technology, astronomy, literature, fine arts, music, drama, dance and has documented all their learnings as poems/hymns. They are believed to be capable of defying death by attaining Siddhi and believed to be living in these mountains at a higher level of consciousness in a meditated state.

The third Hill is relatively easy as well and the route is interlaced with tree roots and hard rocks. We can understand that the third hill is completed when we reach “Kai Thatti Sunai”/”Clapping Hands Stream”. Mythology states that this stream’s force increases when one claps their hands, but I will leave it to your imaginations to visit and check that out.

It takes 60-70 minutes to complete the 2nd and 3rd hill together. We lazy bum’s rested in more than one place between the trek, we just rested more often than required and ended up taking close to 3 hours to complete these 3 hills.

The landscape of the mountain changes quickly after the 3rd hill and the lush deciduous thick canopy of forests changes to “Shola” grasslands. Fourth and Fifth hill turned out to be fun and chill as it was all plains. The weather started getting cold and I was enjoying this part of the trek.

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Somewhere between!!!!

There were some shops here as well and we had a nice “Herbal Soup” and “Parutthi Pal”/”Cotton Seeds Milk”.  It took another 45 minutes to 60 minutes to complete this 4th and 5th hill if you trek without any stops.

Some people refer 4th hill as “Vibuthi Malai/Limestone Hill” and en route, we can find “Siddhar Ottar Samadhi/Ottar’s Place” which refers to a state of meditative consciousness At the end of the 5th hill, you can find “Bheeman Kali Urundai/Bheema’s Handful of Food”). Bheema’s Handful of Food is a unique rock in the shape of a huge ball which stands without any support at the end of the 5th mountain.

These names are quite intriguing and interesting providing wide reference to the legendary tale of Mahabharata.

Sixth Hill was a teaser to what awaits in the seventh mountain. All your romantic hillside strolls come to an end. We have to get downhill which is a steep one and then climb up.

This phase is called “Naalu Kaal Malai/Four-Legged Mountain”, where we literally have to sit and crawl with both your hands and legs to get down and hence the name. You can find this place with makeover bamboo shafts and at the end of the 6th hill, we can find “Aandi Sunai/Aandi Stream and “Brahma Theertham/Brahma Pond”. The sixth hill is relatively tough and it would take 45-60 minutes to complete this hill.

I strongly recommend you to have a dip at this pond and I assure you that this one would be a classic. You will feel energized after this dip and the aura would be unmatching. You would feel positive and all that stress and negative things that we had accumulated over the years dissipates as soon as we have a dip.

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Its the 07th Hill, and you can understand it from my lousy photo!!!! No strength to really take a pic!!!!

Don’t feel threatened looking at the 07th hill and this is a final push and the scariest one. This one is damn steep, but at first sight, it would look as if the temple is reachable. It would turn out to be an eternal climb and would frustrate you till the last moment. Make sure you have plenty of Glucose/Water with you as will find this hill tough.

 

We took a lot of rests in the 07th hill and gulped glucose in each halt. After a strenuous 60-70 minutes of trekking, we reached the summit where a huge natural cave which in itself a temple was in our sight.

It was an overall enjoyable and exhausting uphill journey where it took 7 hours for us to reach the summit. We started at 21:00 PM and reached the cave at 03:15 AM. It will not take this long for others and typically for an experienced trekker, it should not take more than 6 hours. Since we were tired and we also rested midway and were immersed in our life discussions, we almost took a break close to 90+ minutes overall and that increased our overall timings.

At the top of the hill, we were welcomed by strong gusty howling winds which were both magical and scary.  The view was mesmerizing and the place was mystical but could definitely find some good vibes around. Being an ardent Shiva admirer and a mountain enthusiast, this place was perfectly laced for me to let my crazy soul unwind. Once again, I felt peace with myself, as with every mountain summits I reach.

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Top of the Hill, but the crowd ??

Since it was a no-moon day and there were so many people around, we had no choice but to climb down fast and reach the base before 10 AM. Otherwise, things can get pretty messy with the summer heat waiting to dehydrate and burn your feet if you are walking barefoot.

If you think that getting down would be a cakewalk compared to walking uphill, think twice. Downhill can get very tricky and more dangerous and if you make one little mistake, you probably can reach downhill must faster, but definitely not alive!!!. This is where you will appreciate the bamboo stick that you bought at the foothills.

We started downhill at 04:00 AM IST and it took another solid 5 hours to reach the foothills.

My downhill experience was mostly playing “High Jump”. I imagined myself being a fisherman, sticking the bamboo stick on each rock and after making sure it is fixed, propelling myself getting down with that support. Each step I took downhill was a jolt to my back and knees and I could hear my legs shouting at me indiscriminately to have a break.

Sipping “Sukku Malli Kaapi/Dry Ginger and Coriander Tea” in the morning wee hours was an absolute bliss which will echo in my mind whenever Velliyangiri comes to my mind.

At the same time, it was magical when we came downhill, as we were able to see the magical sunrise, Bheeman Rice ball, Siruvani Dam, Isha Adiyogi Statue (112 Feet high) which was hiding in the pitch dark when we were climbing uphill.

After reaching downhill, we were again offered Annadanam/Free Food which we gleefully accepted and headed straight to my relation’s home to heal my punctured legs ??

With lots of good memories and profound satisfaction, I guided my way back to Bangalore with these memories unwilling to fade away even in the mundane life ahead.

How do you Get There:

Coimbatore is the nearest city and is well connected by air, rail, and road. From Coimbatore, there are public buses and share autos plying to Iskcon Yoga Center and also to Poondi temple.

By car, you can directly reach the below location:

https://goo.gl/maps/XRkdeFCFLHVc7r6r6

Things to Remember:

  1. Water Bottles. (Although there are natural spring waters in the 2nd,3th, and 06th hill, it is wise to carry the water bottles with water, as the streams cannot be reliable in the summers).
  2. Sleeping Bag/Tent.
  3. Glucose/Chocolates/Energy Bars.
  4. Raincoat (only if you are trekking in the rainy season).
  5. There are no accommodations both at the foothills/at the top of the mountain. However, there are very good accommodations near Isha Yoga Center and in Coimbatore.

Always remember to travel light.

Feel free to throw in your comments and your feedback and I would love to hear from your experiences as well if you have been here.

I would also love to help if you need any help setting up this tour and make this a memorable experience. See you next time and until then Ciao ??

Happy Travelling,

Wanderer.

 

The Cure for FOMO

I don’t know if it’s a cure, but it has been a remedy.

As I have mentioned a few times here before, for many years, I might as well have been living under a rock.  All my years of wanting to travel were not only blocked with my own personal hesitation, but decisions that were made at home, meant that we would never have enough money to go abroad.

This year, in case you haven’t been following along, I took my first international trip.  (Other than a night in Canadia in 1993).

In the nearly five years that I have been on my own, I have had grand aspirations to travel.  Divorce is nearly as expensive as a bad marriage, however, so my dreams of doing what I wanted to do all those years ago have been on hold.  Until now.

In that time, I have been jealous of those in my life who have gotten to travel.  I’ll admit it.  I’m not proud of it.  Living vicariously was no longer enough.  I wanted to go, but somehow, I still couldn’t get it together.  There was always something to come up that would stop me. Someone once told me, “I don’t know that you actually want to travel, or else you would have done it by now.”  That stung.  When other people were building a legacy while they were married, mine left me with two bankruptcies, drained bank accounts, and almost nothing to my name.

They just didn’t understand. What’s worse, for a moment, I believed them. I was comparing myself to them.

This year’s trip almost didn’t happen.  Due to changes in child support, half of my tax return was claimed by the State.  But by then, I had already bought the tickets and all that needed to be done was to pay for the AirBnB.  I had just enough to do it, in spite of concerns about my budget. Fewer day trips.  No Chunnel train.  Sacrifices.

My writing gigs supplemented the rest.  Putting in some extra work was well worth it.  Those fives and tens add up when you let them.

My destination: London and wherever my whims took me.  I was no longer experiencing the Fear Of Missing Out. I was finally getting to do what I had wanted to do for the last 25 years.  I was immersing myself in a foreign city.  Jumping into the deep end to teach myself how to swim.

I don’t want to sound like I’m crowing about my accomplishments, but considering how far I’ve come in five years, I crow a little bit.

One day on the trip was a little difficult, I must admit.  It came about when I was having a little bit of trip burn out.  All the walking, museums, shops, etc. started to blur together.  I watched young couples sitting on benches in the park, about my age when the travel bug first bit me.  The summer of my seventeenth year.  I was those young couples, in love, sitting on park benches, seeing the world.  This day, however, my legs hurt.  I felt like I hadn’t done enough.  Like I had wasted a day.  The FOMO was beginning to bubble up.

That evening, I messaged a friend back who asked if I was going to go to any clubs.  I was tired.  In pain. Burned out, and a little bluesy.  I said I wouldn’t even know where to find a club.  The conversation went to how to find a club.  I started to feel bad, like I wasn’t trying hard enough.  Like I needed to get out there and get my flirt on.

FOMO.

I’ll be honest, I really don’t like clubs all that much.  I’ve tried them, and for the most part I find myself shouting into someone’s ear half the night and pretending I’m not as deaf as I am while trying to read their lips. Lots of nodding and smiling.

I’m not the kind of guy who goes cruising for hookups either, which a lot of that is what clubs are for.  I like to dance, but there is a difference.  And flying solo as I was, I just wasn’t feeling it.  But, I started to feel that FOMO raising its ugly head.  I didn’t want to go to a club, but shouldn’t I?

So, I went on a walk that night.  I hopped on a double decker bus that took me on a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  I write about it here too.  It was a challenge I needed to overcome.

By the time I got home, I was happy again.  Even though I had a few moments of FOMO, I broke through it all and realized it was MY trip.  I wasn’t there for the clubs, or hookups, or any of that. I wasn’t there to live someone else’s vacation.  I was on a journey of my own discovery.  And that is what I did.  It was a low point of the trip, but I bought a souvenir to commemorate it.  A coffee mug from the place where I realized how ridiculous I was being.

I was tested, and I felt something fall away from myself.  Changed by the experience. In all honesty, I think had I taken the trip with another person, it would have changed the nature of the whole experience.

I was comfortable in my own skin, accepting of my faults, my mistakes, my regrets.  My aging body that wasn’t handling uneven streets the way it would have in 1993.  I wasn’t there to chase women.  I wasn’t there to prove anything to anyone.  I was there to be present in the moment. To drink it all in.

I used to think the expression “Wherever you go, there you are,” just meant you couldn’t run away from yourself.  Really, what I discovered was at some point you are always going to be you.  So, you might as well enjoy their company, because it is some pretty good company.  Wherever you go, you will be content if you can just be comfortable in your own skin, whether you run and see all the sights of a distant city, or if you are at home watching a movie on Netflix with your son.  You can’t run away from your demons (you have to face them at some point), but you shouldn’t run from your joy either.

I wasn’t missing out on anything.  Even all those years I lost when I was married couldn’t make me feel like I was missing out on my own life anymore.  I was living it.  I was right there, in that moment, doing exactly what I wanted to do.

I didn’t have FOMO.  I wasn’t missing out on anything.  Even today, I’m not missing out.  I”m right here.  In good company.

“The pathway to salvation is as narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge.”  Sometimes I walk it, and sometimes I fall.  From great heights. On fire. Into a pool of piranhas. But, I do get back up and try to walk it again.

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Footprints in New Orleans – Day 3

Today I went on another tour that I had pre-booked with Cajun Encounters. A swamp tour! This was undoubtedly one of the activities that I had been most looking forward to since booking to come to New Orleans.

The bus was at 10:15am and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll down to the pick-up point. Our driver took us through the French Quarter telling us lots of interesting facts about the history of the area; at one time the French Quarter made up the entirety of New Orleans. The bus took around an hour but it felt much quicker due to our engaging driver pointing out many interesting land marks.

Having arrived at the swamp we were given coloured wristbands and told to wait until our colour was called. Whilst waiting we were able to walk along a decking to look out over the swamp scenery, the view was magnificent and unlike anything I had seen before. A picture was unable to capture even a fraction of the gorgeous vista.

Swamp scenery from decking

Once on the swamp our two hour tour went extremely quickly with out a doubt due to our hilarious tour guide, Sonny, whose name truly encapsulated his character. During the tour we saw much amazing wildlife including alligators, our tour guide got them up close to the boat to feed them.

Alligator being fed next to the boat

Other than alligators, the animal through which the tour was clearly focussed upon we saw many other creatures. This included a snake that the guide got from a tree for us to hold, wild pigs, raccoons and a blue herring. Despite seeing all of the amazing wildlife the backdrop in which they live was the most impressive and astonishing ecosystem that I have ever seen. We glided through the narrow swamp land in our small flat bottomed boat that was easily manoeuvred into sections of the swamp that most boats couldn’t get to.

Wild Pig in swamp land

Snake brought off a tree in the swamp

Swamp land from boat

We arrived back to New Orleans in the late afternoon after our trip so I wandered around parts of the French Quarter that I hadn’t yet explored, stumbling across the building of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, before heading back to the hostel.

Supreme Court of Louisiana

The Folly.

A couple of weeks ago, Tom and I had our first night away from our baby, Hendricks. We had a conference to attend and a black tie dinner, so naturally, the next morning, I wanted to find somewhere to have breakfast. Breakfast is my least favourite meal of the day. At home, I usually just make myself a fruit smoothie, or have something like scrambled eggs on toast. But as we were in the capital, I really wanted to find somewhere super cute so I could write about it. 

The conference we went to and the dinner was at Fishmonger’s Hall on London Bridge. It’s a stunning building and we had such delicious food while we were there! The conference in the morning didn’t start until 10 and I knew where I wanted to go as soon as I knew where the conference was being held! We went to The Folly near Monument and it was bloody gorgeous inside – a dream for anyone who loves Instagram! 

As I’ve said, neither myself or Tom are huge breakfast people, but I can honestly say, I had the best one of my life there! The menu was extensive and is good for healthy items, and there are plenty of things to choose so you can indulge yourself too. I went for the Buttermilk chicken waffle, with sour cream, jalapeños and chilli maple syrup. I wasn’t sure what to expect if I’m honest as I’ve never had sweet and savoury for breakfast before and couldn’t imagine what it was going to look or taste like. 

I needn’t have worried. It was so incredible and I devoured it! I’ve never enjoyed a breakfast so much in my life and I wouldn’t hesitate to have it again. The chicken was so moist, yet had the most amazing crunch to it. The syrup and sour cream helped to cool down the heat from the jalapeños and the waffle was just perfection. It was all so good, that I’m salivating thinking about it. There’s actually nothing better than going out for a meal and really enjoying it, is there? Tom went for the fry up, but after seeing mine come out, I think next time he will go for something different! We both adored the teapots and the fact that they use real tea leaves there. It’s all the little extras that most restaurants fail to do which made it more of an experience, rather than just having something to eat. 

If you’re in London’s financial district and you’re looking for somewhere to eat – then don’t look any further. They have an extensive menu and open at 7am! Tom and I are back in London next month, so we will definitely be going there and I’m already thinking about my next order! 

The most popular vegan street food trucks in the UK and USA

Whether you’re travelling or exploring your local city, food trucks are a great way to taste some of the best street food from around the world. Just about anywhere you go, you can find street food markets and food festivals that make it easy to eat awesome local cuisine without spending a fortune – and now, comparethemarket.com have put together a map of some of the best-loved options in the UK and USA.

Seeing as it even gives you the option of filtering by vegan/veggie food trucks, it seemed only right that I share some of the highlights with you lovely folks. Their choices were selected because they had the most likes on Instagram – so I’ve added a few of my own favourites into the mix as well, because their food kicks ass and they darn well deserve to be here too.

The most-liked vegan food trucks in the UK

greedy khao london vegan street food truck

It won’t come as much surprise to my fellow UK inhabitants that food trucks in London and Brighton made the cut, but Manchester’s Ottö-Men has also been heaped with well-deserved praise.

1. Greedy Khao (London) – If you like authentic, kick-ass Thai food and are looking for a vegan option, this 100% plant-based food truck is a dream come true. Aside from having a killer floral vibe, the Greedy Khao truck serve up Thai food so good you’ll wander if you’ve drifted off and woken up in Bangkok. Find them on Thursdays and Fridays at KERB West India Quay and KERB King’s Cross.

2. The Green Grill (Brighton) – This all-vegan food truck lives and breathes junk food – but does it while making it good for your body, the planet, and animals. Fans rate the vegan mac and cheese highly, along with a Red Devil burger made from a beetroot bun and kidney beans – but there are plenty of other burgers as big as your head to get stuck into, as well as fully loaded vegan hot dogs.

3. The Ottö-Men (Manchester) – Mediterranean and Ottoman cuisines are a unique combination of flavours, and this food truck serves vegan-friendly mezze and wraps all over Manchester. Offering food that’s seasonal, halal and downright delicious, expect falafel and houmous but like you’ve never had it before.

the otto men manchester food truck

4. Happy Maki (Brighton) – You like sushi? You like burritos? How do you feel about sushi burritos? Now make them all vegan. Oh, and for every wrap you buy, a tree gets planted and a child gets fed. It’s so good, it’s actually a bit ridiculous. Happy Maki are all over social media right now and for good reason. Get your butt there to eat vegan takes on a ‘cod’ tartare and avocado mega-maki, hoisin ‘duck’ and other delectable dishes.

5. Earthlings Street Food (Brighton) – On Tuesdays and Thursdays at Sussex Uni and on Fridays at at the Street Diner market, Earthlings dish up varied morsels from cheeseburgers and fries to Malaysian curry. All vegan, all restaurant-quality, what’s not to love?

Other UK vegan food trucks that deserve a mention

Club Mexicana (London) – For totally killer Mexican-inspired street food and other comforting junk goodness, find these guys at three locations all over London and prepare to be wowed. I’ve eaten at their Shoreditch and Camden locations and can’t get enough of their supersized wraps, cheez sticks and nachos.  The joyous burgers and OTT tacos are worth a shout as well.

club mexicana vegan street food

Club Mexicana, London

TFI Vegan (Ipswich) –  Ipswich is not exactly a hub of vegan goodness, which makes it all the more awesome that TFI Vegan exists. If you wind up in this neck of the woods, find them at Ipswich market for all your double cheezburger, ‘chicken’ popper and peanut butter rocky road doughnut needs. Yep.

The most-liked vegan food trucks in the USA

Alright now let me start by saying, there’s tonnes of good stuff missing from this short list of highlights. So in the name of all that is good in the world, please get in touch with your favourites and I will gladly add them here! These are the big hitters that made the Compare the Market top selection, which was decided based on who had the most love on Instagram.

The USA is a big place and it’s had killer vegan food way longer than the UK… so yeah, this is the tip of the iceberg. A few winning options to check out if you’re in California or Texas, but I’d love to extend this list so give me your tips if you have any!

1 – Word of Mouth Truck (Los Angeles, CA) – I got really hungry looking at this page. I mean, I got hungry looking at all of them because everything looks so damn good, but jebus would you look at those sliders. This 100% vegan food truck offer classic treats like buffalo cauliflower wings, and a stellar sweet potato and black bean patty.

2 – VCHOS Truck (Los Angeles, CA) – If you don’t know much about Salvadoran food, it’s time to get to know.  I have it on good authority that the VCHOS truck serves the best pupusas in town, with the vegan-friendly bean pupusas well worth getting in your gob. If you fancying something sweet, try their platano plate, which is caramelised Colombian plantains and mashed beans. This isn’t a totally vegan truck, but the offerings for herbivores are well thought-out and full of flavour.

3 – Four Brothers (Austin, TX) First El Salvador, now Venezuela – Four Brothers offer the best of Venezuelan cuisine from arepas to empanadas, and their Instagram is filled with evidence of just how glorious it all is. Again this isn’t a fully vegan food truck, but there are some great vegan options on the menu.

Other USA vegan food trucks that deserve a mention

v grits vegan food truck

V-Grits (Lousville, KY) – With excellent dish names like the Where Do You Get Your Protein? burger, served up alongside vegan takes on traditional southern favourites – ‘chicken’ and waffles, ‘crab’ cake po-boys and loaded mac & cheese to name a few, you’d be mad to miss V-Grits if you’re in the area. 100% vegan, 100% rad.

Kind Kravings (Wichita, KS) – Not only all vegan, but also all organic and with a huge focus on sustainability, Kind Kravings offer comfort food done right. Cinnamon roll pancakes, biscuits and gravy, a tempeh reuben sandwich and cauliflower tacos are just a few of the cracking options on the menu.

Got other suggestions? Let me know!

My Gal-entine’s Day Girl’s Trip!

I was lucky enough to celebrate “Gal-entine’s Day” (yes, Parks and Rec fans know that this is the day before Valentine’s Day where ladies celebrate their female friendships) with my BFF!

We both have small children and live in different parts of NY, so our time together is sacred and necessary. This year, we decided to go the beautiful Southernmost Beach Resort in stunning Key West, Florida. (I’m not being compensated for this review, I’m just a VERY happy consumer).

This was my BFF’s first time in Key West, and my second. I scoured TripAdvisor for months before deciding to stay at the SoMo Beach Resort instead of The Reach-key west where I stayed two years before.

And let me just say that WOW!- I’m SO GLAD we went with the SoMo Beach Resort, as you can see by my review on TripAdvisor.

 

My friend and I booked a Partial Ocean View Double room. It was clean and well-appointed and the beds were so comfortable, it was the perfect space. The bathrooms had walk-in showers with amazing shampoos and conditioners (that we bought on the way out because they were VERY high quality).

What stood out the most on check-in was the staff who were AMAZING (Samoy and Juan were lovely!) and the sweet note with a cocktail for us. What a nice touch that made us feel so welcome!

So, we checked in and it was raining, so we dumped our stuff and went to the Southernmost Beach Cafe (next door!).

 

After the long (yet stunning) drive from Key Largo, we were ready for lunch and a cocktail. The food at the cafe was well done and portions were generous. We enjoyed a couple cocktails before we spent the afternoon exploring Ernest Hemingway’s House.

The Hemingway House is one of many cool historic sites in Key West and we couldn’t come to the Keys without seeing the Hemingway kitties!

 

My bestie and are self-proclaimed foodies and enjoyed some AWESOME meals.

The best breakfasts we experienced included The Banana Cafe . The croissants were perfection, and who doesn’t adore a bellini with a cup of coffee?

 

Also, one cannot come to Key West without going to have the famous Eggs Benedict from Blue Heaven.  NO FILTER NECESSARY.img_0844

We spent hours walking around and exploring Key West.

 

And more time just chatting, laughing and relaxing.

 

So long story short, do yourself a favor and book a trip to Key West ASAP!

(my husband and I are going in January to renew our wedding vows and enjoy a few days away, and I cannot wait to be back!)

River tales: Stories from Pai, Thailand

Traveling has its ups and downs. What we are looking for in the end is a place we can call home; a place where there is a kitchen, we have our own space and a place where we don’t have to carry all our stuff with us all the time, we can leave our chargers in one place and when you lose something, someone else knows where you might have left it.

In Pai, Thailand, we found this. We lived in a hostel called Pai River Jam and here we have a small community of great people from all over the world. People come and go, as travelers do, but we have had a few constant people here that we have come very close to.

When we spoke about times past here in Pai River Jam, about people we met and the stuff that we have done, someone asked “Who are all these people you speak of? It sounds like you have been here for years and not just a few weeks!” Pai is exactly the kind of place we wanted to avoid at any cost at the beginning of our trip, but now, that we have done all the crazy traveling in strange countries, it feels great to be with our beloved international crowd, people who understand where we come from, what we miss from back home, and a similar cultural point of reference.

We stayed in Pai for a month in total, with a five day break in the middle when we went to Mindful farm south of Pai, but north of Chiang Mai. To read about our time at the Mindful farm, click here

Arrival

Our first day in Pai, we arrived with the bus without having any accommodation reserved, so we found a hostel online, but then when we went to get lunch, I opened the little book I’ve carried around these last seven months, and in the recommendations we got from Matan in Auroville, I see that he has written “Go to Pai River Jam”. If this place is good enough for Matan, it’s 100 % good enough for us, so we canceled our booking (we lost the money we already paid) and made our way down to the river and took a right before the bridge. We are welcomed by Chris and Maxi in the reception and the first thing Chris says after we’ve checked in is “Do you like to paint?” and hands me a big bag full of different markers. On our first night, there was an event at Pai River Jam called River tales. It’s a story telling event or just in general an event where people share music, stories, poems… Anything you would like to share. There were a few guitars, one or two ukuleles, a cajón ( a drumming box) and some people with amazing voices. I am blown away by the skill and talent of the people in the circle. The place is full and people are hanging out everywhere. Someone had the great idea to light a fire in the middle of the circle, even though its 38 degrees outside, but it did add to the atmosphere. Someone starts strumming on a guitar and all of a sudden more people join in, and someone completely freestyles a melody and lyrics and within seconds, there are several harmonies . Spanish, english, french, the lyrics flow with the music and it’s incredible how in sync everyone are. I later asked Chris how long they had practiced before they did this event, he said most of it was completely improvised; “I have never played with these people before”. I have always thought of myself like a musical person with some talent, but compared to these people…. I am waaaay behind. Chris is a story teller and tells stories in song, and he played this one song called “Maria” and we all cried in the end

Wont you follow me,

To find a place a little closer to the sea,

Float away, away away,

Today, today, today, today”

At River tales we made our first friends here in Pai, a German couple, Melissa and Hank, and their friend Selina. They adopted us into their family and from then on, everything was OK. We have a group and a loving family. Melissa and Hank asked us that first day while we were waiting for our burgers from the Burger man, when we arrived in Pai. When we said we litteraly just arrived, Melissa gave a little laugh and said:

“Wow, today must be a great for you then”, referring to the jamming and the vibe that the event brought. Melissa loves Sweden and she and Hank are doing a road trip through the country, so we will see them this summer!

We spent a lot of time on the porch of the Germans Bungalow (which is the fanciest bungalow in Pai River Jam, it has it’s own bathroom), just chilling. Since our own bungalow didn’t have a porch and were too hot in the day to be in, it was greatly appriciated to have a place to hide, when the crowd became too loud.

Pai River Jam

Pai River Jam is located by the river next to Golden House and Giant. It has bungalows, dormitory, camping ground and space to hang your hammock. Prices vary between the seasons, but there are 3 different dorms and 12 bungalows. Most of the bungalows have a small porch with a bench and a hammock, overlooking the lawn/ football field/ yoga area/ parking space that makes up most of Pai river jam. One bungalow has it’s own bathroom, the others share the five bathrooms that are outside the dorms. The big bungalows can host between three to five people, and the small ones are good for two people (or two plus a child). There is no AC (which is something we want to avoid anyway) but there are fans, lamps and electricity. The water in the river is not deep, but still up to my hips in some places.

River party

There is a small “living room” area, where there is surfaces where one can sleep or sit and a swap box. The reception is also the bar, where you can get beer and rum. At the time when we arrived, they also served Kambucha. Oliver, who runs the place, can mostly be found in the bar with Baptiste from France, who have been in Pai for five months I think, and there are almost always people in the bar. Next to the bar is the fire place, in which the River Tales even was held. All walls/ surfaces have beautiful art on them, high grade graffiti, quotes and small decorations. On the stairs up to the living room, they have nailed bottle caps into the wood, making it anti-slippery.

The kitchen is a place where things magically disappear and appear randomly. Maxi once told me that nothing ever disappears in Pai River Jam, it just moves around. There is a fridge, and a small freezer box, a gas stove and a long work bench/ pantry, where the community keep it’s shared items (salt, oil, soy sauce, pepper….) and private items. Usually you got to keep your private items, but as time progressed we shared more and more. If you needed something (like coconut milk for you coffee, or coffee) you could usually borrow a little, but then it is assumed that you, too, will share once you have something someone else needs. The members of the community (but mostly August) provided Pai River Jam with water. 30 seconds walk from the hostel, there are a place that sell 15 liter water containers, and a refill is only 15 baht. We did however also have our own 15 liter container next to our bungalow, for when the water was finished late nights etc. There are always free space somewhere in the area for everyone’s needs, quiet places, lively places and in-between the two-places.

Me and August stayed in four different bungalows. The first two weeks we stayed in a small bungalow by the river, with Baptiste as our only bungalow neighbour. We had a great time those first two weeks in our little bungalow, sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor.

August in our first bungalow

One day we had the bungalow closest the the road, which we didn’t like. For one week we were landlords, sharing the biggest bungalow, with Aldo and Yonathan. The rest of our time we had our own three bed bungalow.

August in our last bungalow

The staff at Pai River Jam is amazing. They keep it so clean and fresh and sometimes when I would enter the kitchen in the morning, I would feel shame that it was so dirty when the staff arrived in the morning, because all they do is clean, and fix, and they should at least be able to enjoy a nice breakfast in a clean kitchen before they begin their day. The first two weeks, I had the habit of getting up early and cleaning the kitchen before I could start making oat porridge and coffee. When people live together like this, it’s very important to clean up after your self, regardless of standards or other bullshit people keep bringing up in defence of their neglecting ways. It takes 2 minutes to do your own dishes… But people became better and better at keeping the place clean, all we had to do was to set an example (and maybe whine a little haha).

Food

Me and August quickly became friends with Charles from Normandy in France. Very naturally, we integrated our shopping and soon we cooked every meal together, going to the market together and doing adventures together. Charles has travelled in Southeast Asia for a while and plan to travel until September or longer.

Charles, me and August

There are two main markets during the day in Pai, and I really enjoy shopping food in markets. Me and Charles went every second day for tofu, potatoes, mangoes, ginger, garlic, and other staple food and special treats. We made amazing food almost every day. At one point I think we served the best food in Pai. Depending on the crew, we cooked for and with different people, and it’s such a nice activity, cooking together, taking your time to perfect the final product. But mostly, we cooked only for the three of us.

Charles and August and Yonathan making food

A few times, we cooked together for the whole community (10-13 people). One time, when the Germans were still here, we made a big meal with tofu, onions and mashed potatoes and a salad. I think we were 10 people and we all ate together. Hank is a chef, so he calculated everything so well, we finished all the food, and everyone had their fill. After that there were more and more family dinners, where people from Israel made shakshuka, Spanish people made tortilla, we have made salads, curries and pasta for large groups of people. Once or twice, some people had taken cooking courses and wanted to practice their new skills, inviting us all to have a taste.

Pai

Pai is filled with restaurants and bars, and they serve everything from inexpensive Thai food, to all the luxurious foods of the west and middle east (due to all the Israelis). There is a night market in which there are four or five Crêpe places, various smoothie and shake stands, lasagna, falafel, cakes and even Italian ice cream. People sell arts and crafts, lots of different crystal jewellery and clothes for all your hippie needs. I don’t know how many times I walked up and down the walking street after dark, or how many times August went and brought food and drinks back from the market for me. Whenever someone was going out of the hostel, they’d ask if anyone needed anything from the outside world. There are multiple Seven Elevens in Pai, and a Tesco, several bakeries and they did actually make good bread. If a french person approves, you know it’s good. There are also several coffee places, and every time August went out in the morning, he brought back coffee for me and Charles.

Most French Person, Thailand.

Many people go to Pai to party, pub crawling and dancing in the bars along the bar-street, walking street or in the Dont Cry bar, which is open all night. We only went outside Pai River Jam to party when some of our friends performed in Boom Bar or in the Jazz house. But even then, we only bought one or two drinks. The drinks in Pai River Jam were better and lots cheaper anyway, we had several Piña Colada nights and a Mojito night with Hank, Melissa and Selina.  

Party night with Selina and Melissa

There are a few pools in Pai. We only went to one, the Fluid Pool, to which entry is free if you stay at Pai River Jam. At the FLuid pool there is a live DJ most days, they serve pool food and drinks and the pool is large enough to swim around if one wants to exercise.

Fluid Pool

So every 100 meters in Pai there is one bike rental place, one restaurant/bar and one tattoo studio. Hank and melissa got a lot of small tattoos, and we met several people who all got tattoos of different size and quality. They are pretty good at tattooing in Pai, and it’s cheap compared to Europe. I also got a tattto, and I paied 2000 baht, which is 40 euros.

Monkey Magic Tattoo studio

Tourism

There are a few tourist attractions around Pai. There is a giant white Buddha, actually there are several, there is the Pai canyon, some caves, hot springs and waterfalls.

My favorite spot outside Pai was along the river, on the path to the Mae Yen Waterfall. The hike to get to the waterfall takes 2,5 hours, if you don’t stop. And that’s after a 6 minute drive to the end of the road. Me, August and Charles went up that river just a few minutes, when the energy was very negative at Pai River Jam, and hung out for hours, with a few beers. Some days later, me and Charles tried to do the hike again, but we had to turn back because it was getting dark.

On the hike to Mae Yen Waterfall

After we came back from the farm, me and Charles tried to do the hike again, staring at 10 in the morning, and we did finally reach the waterfall. Someone told us that it was just a little water in the pool below the waterfall, but if you just climb up the first cliff, there is a deep pool, in which you can dive. I didn’t check how deep it was, but I dove straight down and didn’t touch the bottom. One would think that the water would be cold in these mountain rivers, but I have not encountered really cold water since the Ganga river in Rishikesh in India. August also attempted to do the hike to the waterfall but he never reached the waterfall.

Mae Yen Waterall

Once we went to the Pai Canyon for sunset. It’s a beautiful landscape, 10 minute drive from Pai town. Gato said he felt like an ant, climbing up the beige stones, I felt like we were walking on a glacier.

Once we were supposed to go to some hot springs in the night, but the whole forest was a blaze at this time, so police stopped us and told us to turn around. Instead we went to a place in the river and had a little campfire and live music.

Activities at Pai River Jam

Depending on the crowd, the day, and the motivational level, we spent our days practicing various arts, creating and inventing music, necklaces, bracelets, paintings and bamboo cups and fixing clothes. We had two macramé workshops, where various people shared their skills so that they in turn could teach others. I learned a lot, and now I have developed quite some skill in this field. A few times I brought out all my painting stuff and invited people to practice the art of painting. I believe that everyone can paint, so whenever someone said they couldn’t I had to prove them otherwise. I even sold two of my paintings! At one point, before we left for the farm, Seang Chai (Sunshine) had a huge board in the kitchen on which anyone was invited to paint. Both August and Charles contributed to this masterpiece, as well as a few others, my self included.

But the best and most practiced activity at Pai River Jam was jamming. Almost every day for the month we stayed there, we were playing music in the evenings, or sometimes all through the day.

August, Stefaon, Yonathan and Charles, Jamming from morning til evening

In the beginning of our time we had Chris, who sings and plays like an angel. At the end of our first two weeks in Pai, Chris, Baptiste and Yonathan even played gigs at Boom bar and the Jazz house.

Of course we went to show our support. I have some amazing recordings from some of the jam sessions, and even August got so inspired he picked up a guitar a few times. One night, Aldo had an extensive guitar lesson with August in the kitchen, showing extraordinary patience and dedication. And August sat through it all without flipping out!

Aldo having a guitar lesson with August

My favourite jamming sessions were when Yonathan, Aldo and Thomas played together, inventing future classics such as “What scale are we in” and “I put my wife in the freezer (I think)”. I would sit and sway in a state of bliss, just listening with a huge smile on my face, in amazement of the talent and synchronicity of these musicians.

August playing on Thomas guitar

The time after we came back from the farm, there were an Argentinian family staying in the bungalow we had one week before. The parents, Sophie and Gato, are both street musicians and carried some really cool instruments with them. Their son, Rio, was singing before he can talk, and I watched him try to play drums, ukulele and guitar on multiple occasions. He is 2 and a half years old! When they joined the jamming session they took it to the next level. The atmosphere of these sessions are relaxed and anyone can join in. The instruments are being passed around, and different people take the lead, making sure that the music never stops. If it did stop, Rio would call for more :).

Sophie and Gato in Charles’ Muay Thai Gym

Rio has travelled since he was one years old. Gato and Sophie met traveling, and it was natural for them to continue after they had Rio. This child gives us hope. One day, Gato and Sophie made a hike to a waterfall and left Rio in our care. Everyone in our community helped out, taking care of Rio, giving him fruits and food, and showering him with the hose, playing and dancing with him for a whole day.

It was a great day, and everyone fell in love with this little boy. He tries to communicate with all of us, he has learned to say “hello” and I spoke Swedish with him all the time, and in the end he tried to say “tack tack”, which is a Swedish way of saying thank you. It’s good to be reminded why we need to fix the planet, to be reminded of why we fight.

Rio ?

Those first days (mostly thanks to Selina) we played a lot of Shithead, the card game, with German rules. I think I won twice in two weeks. August, on the other hand, did way better. Of course, we had the rules written down, German style. Our hangout was in the kitchen, where there is a big table in the center.

Yun did a massage course for two days, and she said she needed a lot of practice, to all of our delight! So i got a two hour, full body massage just like that! It was the only massage I got in Thailand! August also got a small one at a later date. You go Yun! One day you’ll be a pro.

The Pai River Jam Festival

One day some of the people decided that we would have a “festival” the next day. So we made a poster and planned a few workshops for the whole day, starting with Yoga at 10. I showed the people my routine, all based upon the sun salutation sequence, the very base of traditional Hatha yoga. Gian Carlo, from Sicily is a yoga teacher, but somehow I did the practice anyway. It was a lot of fun, and the next day we could all feel it in our backs and shoulders.

Acro yoga by Charles and Gato

After Yoga, August and Thomas had a meditation practice, where they explained some about meditation, benefits and techniques etc, and in the end Thomas did a guided meditation. I fell asleep, as at least I do when I relax too much. In the lunch break, Gato and Charles made lunch for all of us, to save time for the rest of us. I love it, eating all together in the shade, on the grass, by the river…

Lunch

After lunch we had a workshop in Ecstatic Dance with Franzie. August went most ecstatic of everyone, and the whole scene was a pleasure to watch. Especially little Rio dancing with Sophie <3. Ecstatic dance is when you just dance like what ever (this is how I always dance), but I understand how this helps some people release themselves from believed judgement of others, and how it is a way to release all kinds of bottled up emotions. Comparison is the thief of joy. Me and Aldo kept the beat on the Cajon and guitar because we both danced so ecstatically we got tired.

Ecstatic dance

The next day, after we had this improvised festival, we had a workshop with Kali, a British woman based in Arambol Goa, in introduction to Tantra. That was also quite interesting. Tantra is about energy, how we are all just energy vibrating on different frequencies and how we can be one with our energy body and experience more, since energy follows intention. As with all these ancient arts, like yoga, sutra, tantra, and even the old rasta ways, breathing plays a big role. Its all about how you breathe, and to what part of your body you draw your breath. We learn all about colonialism, capitals of Europe and how to calculate the square root of bullshit, but we don’t learn how to breathe… Something is terribly wrong with our civilization.

Thomas and Rio

August did another tantric workshop the next day with Kali, where they learned some new meditation techniques.

Muay Thai

Charles is doing Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, and I went with him to practice three times. The gym is called WisarutGym and it’s a family run place, which Charles had found through a documentary. We were mostly alone there, getting a lot of help from the two guys running the gym and it’s a really demanding sport. Once there were a british couple there, the guy has practiced Muay Thai for 20 years, and he is a professional fighter. It was really nice to watch his style. The girl had done karate before, and she was sooo strong, it was a pleasure to watch her fight as well.

Once in my life I did some jujitsu, but there is no boxing in that sport, so this was a completely new experience. On the first day, I was kicking the bag, trying to improve my stance, and I glance over at Charles to see how he did it, and he just kicks the bag with so much force, I get inspired and ram the bag with my lag, and it hurts A LOT. I got a bruise and they were all laughing at me. After the practice I felt so strong, and walked up right with pride all day. One day, Charles held a workshop in Muay Thai where August participated. It was fun to watch, they didn’t have any of the gear they have at the gym, like gloves, bags and punching-things, but they gave everything, in the steaming mid day sun. They all enjoyed it greatly, and Aldo said this is something he could continue doing.

After Muay Thai practice.

Paradise

The daily schedual at Paradise

On our second night we went to a fire show at a place called Paradise. It was the best fire show I have ever seen, with about 10-13 people who juggle with pins on fire, staffs, pojs, swords, drenched in kerosene and a blaze. If you go to Pai, I highly recommend this show, it’s free, but it’s appreciated if you give a donation at the end of it.They perform every Thursday and Sunday. At Paradise, they also provide donation based Yoga every morning at 11:11. The Yoga teacher is named Harry and he is half Swedish half Thai. It’s always fun to meet Swedish people when travelling. When Chris was still around, the fire show would sometimes come to us. This one night, we all wanted to party, and tried to find a place next door where someone had heard that there was a house party. There was no party, so we went back to River Jam, and all of a sudden there are 8 or more people, fire benders, dancing with flames to August´s music. It was quite the night, and we sat there until sunrise.

Yonathan on the Cajón, watching the fire benders

Again, Special interest on the Israeli topic

We have had a special interest in Israel since the beginning of our trip in India, since we have met soooo many people from this country. To read our first Special Interest on the Israeli Topic, read our Auroville Experience post.

Another prominent character during our first days at Pai Rier Jam was Ron, or “Family man”, from Israel. He had been here already for a long time when we show up. He invited us to play a game with him and Chris. For some reason, everyone here spoke English with an Italian accent those first two weeks, and this was allegedly initiated by Ron. He is from Israel but has an Italian spirit in a way. As we have done with every Israeli we have met so far, we asked him about his time in the army. He said he worked with bombs but he couldn’t say much more about this at the time. One day Ron comes to us, looking tired and a little distraught. In the middle of the night his commander had called him, asking him to come back to Israel and the army. Ron explained that all the intense conflicts happen in the summer, no one wants to fight in the winter. And now, his entire unit were going back to Israel to fight for their country, or I don’t know exactly what he is doing now, because he couldn’t tell us. He said he had the choice to say no since he is in Asia, but he said he couldn’t justify being here in Pai, smoking and drinking when all his friends were going back. He said he’d go home for them, his unit, which are like a family to him. I asked him once why he was called Family man, and he said that he wanted a big family “I already miss my future kids”. He is 22 years old and already have a dream and a plan of how to get there. I am always amazed by people like this, like my friend Dorel also, people who just know what they want to do and just goes for it.

Chris and Ron, Maxi in the background

Corruption and Visas

Corruption is present everywhere in Asia, but it is so obvious here in Pai. There is one scooter rental place per 100 meters, and not a single place asks you to present an international drivers license or even a regular drivers license. So the police puts up controls now and then, to catch tourists without an international drivers licence or who carry drugs. In ten minutes they make enough money to go out drinking in the evening. On Friday afternoon they are especially active because it’s right before the weekend. Me and August have not had any problem with police in Pai, because we haven’t rented a scooter for ourselves, but we have been on many other people’s scooters. But if you get caught driving without licence, you have to pay 500 baht or go to jail. If you get caught with drugs you have to pay 25 000 baht or go to jail. 25 000 baht is 500 dollars approximately. If you do go to jail, the fine for posession will only be 5000 baht (130 euros) if you behave.

A few times a month the immigration office of this region comes to Pai. We went there to extend our visa, because we booked our flight back home on the 3d or June, while our visa ended on the 18th of May. The office is by the hospital, not far from the walking street and we spent half a day there, me August and Charles.

When at the immigration we met a guy from Newcastle, UK, and he told us a story of his friend who got caught by the police carrying a little cannabis. This guy did not know he had this on him and started arguing with the police, accusing them of having planted it on him (he later found out that his son had put it in his bag) and he refused to pay the “fine”. They took him to jail in Chiang Mai, a place that should be avoided at any cost, especially at this time of the year, when the heat is unbearable mid day. This guy seems to have a pride so great he won’t give in to any cost, and surely had some troubles making friends, even in the most dire of situations. This guy was so unpopular that the administration forced him to pay because he overstayed his visa, due to him being in jail. At the time we spoke to his friend, he was going to be transferred to Bangkok and deported back to the UK. He had to pay for his own plane ticket, and for the police officer that would accompany him as well as the plane ticket back from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for the officer. I met the guy from Newcastle a while later, and asked for updates on his friend. Two weeks after I heard this story, this guy was still in jail in Bangkok. This is supposed to be the worst prison in Thailand, filled with people who would have been deported but who cannot pay for the ticket. This guy just can’t catch a break or learn the lesson; the lesson being keep your head down and PAY THE BRIBE.

Charles and Gato, and coffee

The art of Fermentation

August and Yonathan did a fermentation course one day, the day me and Charles went to the waterfall. The class was made in a place called Good Life Dacha. The class was on the various ways in which we can make use of helpful bacteria in food processing to make food more healthy. The main focus of the class was kambucha, a healthy “soda” made using sugar and tea. Also in the class was ways to make fermented food items such as sauerkraut and pickles which are also very good for you. The class took place in an amazing location with a huge library and other cool stuff. The guy who had the class was from Ukraine and he was teaching the ways in which his family had done fermentation traditionally. During the day there was discussions around bacteria and fermentation in general and also he showed specifically how he made kambucha and other fermented items. There was also an amazing lunch made up of all the things he had made himself at the place. In the end he provided the means to do fermentation at home. All in all it was an amazing day with lots of inspiration.

Yonathan and August

Camping trip and our last day

Camping

On our second to last day we went camping with Gato, Sophie, Rio, Charles, Yun, Joanna and Gian Carlo on the way to the waterfall. It was raining the whole time, so we made camp next to a place with a roof, which doubles as a donation based shop. We were playing music all through the night and we slept on the floor, almost all together, next to the fire.

Music peace and love

We woke up with the sun and stayed until 10 or so, when we were hungry enough to take action and leave. That last day, when we returned from the camping trip, we ate sooo much food, because we were fasting the day before. Me and August and Charles were hanging out the whole day, and we drank piñja coladas in the evening. This was the first and last time I worked in the bar. The bar is like a whole other world from the kitchen, and Rio came and danced with me behind the bar.

Bar life

On the day of departure (our bus left for Chiang Mai at 2:30 PM) everyone came to the kitchen to hang out. At this time, this was pretty rare, since we’d been scattered around Pai River Jam a lot afer people started to leave. We took a group photo together with Yun’s amazing camera, to “All you need is Love”, and everyone were happy. It was certainly a celebatory athmosphere, when we said our goodbyes. We also found out that Paula and Franzie will be in Berlin at the same time as us, so we will see then again this summer!! Charles and Gian Carlo drove us to the busstation and it was a rather tough good bye. We will probably go to France this fall, to see everyone that we can, spend time with Charles and do a short visit to Brussels before moving down to Spain. The future is so bright you’ve gotta wear shades.

Lots of Love,

Group photo, moments after we left. From left to right, back to front, Baptiste, Charn’e. me, Augusr, Gian Calo, Joanna, frontrow: Paula, Sunshine, Franzie, Charles, Matéo, Gato, front front row: Sophie and Rio and Yun.

August & Linnea

Travel 2019 takeaway

Hi my friend!

It’s been a tiring but an awesome experience this summer before I enter med school. This is not an ordinary blog where I’m going to tell you my journey and experience but the realizations thru those experiences.

Our family is not the type that usually travels alot because my dad was lazy to drive and lives a frugal life while my mom is the opposite. After X+ years my wish to travel became a reality but it wasn’t that instant. We traveled in Boracay, roadtrip in Aklan, Ilo-ilo, and Davao.

I believe there’s a timing for everything. When things aren’t beyond our control we must let it go and not force it to happen instantly. Because we live in the world where we want instant things because everything is almost given to us and also we are actively engaging thru social media and we are easily influenced by what we see on these apps. I admit, I also am easily influence by this behavior. So this travel experience taught me that I have my own story. Don’t forget to not compare my ch 1 to someone’s ch 20.

And while traveling around my home country, I am reminded also to be mindful in the present moment. In addition, everything that I see has a purpose. Look at the picture below:

This is a bat cave and before we get into this sight we were oriented about the importance of these bats on why are they here on our environment. They are not creatures who wants to scare us and be a pest on our fruits but their poop is used as a fertilizer and also they help flowers to pollinate and produce fruits. While we are sleeping, at night when they are awake they do their job.

We can see that it’s up to our perspective. So my friend don’t forget to enjoy and not just be dependent on technology. And if you feel bored, you have a purpose you just don’t go out and explore the world. You’re not born just to exist my friend but just like a bat you have also a contribution that you haven’t yet discover.

Go travel one place at a time.

Procurement in Emergency Situations — Preparing for the Hurricane Season

This article first appeared in Spend Matters http://spendmatters.com/uk/procurement-in-emergency-situations-preparing-for-the-hurricane-season/

Last year the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) organised an intensive two-day workshop on procurement in emergency situations. The event brought together people from around the word, including people who had actively managed procurement through hurricanes, earthquakes and wars, and those who had been active on the ground trying to make sure the right supplies were able to get through. The workshop covered warehousing, supply route, customs, distribution stockpiling, and most importantly the need to maintain adherence to procurement principles and rules, even in an emergency.

Craig Brewin, formerly Head of Commissioning at Slough Council and now Caribbean-based coach and commentator on finance and procurement issues relating to the Americas and the Caribbean, attended the workshop and took note of the main points concerning procurement preparedness. Here is his interesting and sobering commentary.

“In the Caribbean a hurricane may be an emergency, but anything that has a six-month long season should not be seen as unexpected. There has to be a set of rules for procuring in a hurricane, even if the systems and specific processes have to change. This is essential if the proper support is to be obtained from the donor agencies. The declaration of an emergency should prompt a flip to the emergency rules. But there is so much more to emergency procurement than that. So intensive and detailed was last year’s workshop that my write up of it turned into six articles on sperate themes, including preparedness, governance and procurement skill – read about them here. The CDB coverage of the workshop is here.

The unprecedented 2017 season, with its 10 consecutive hurricanes (two hitting land at category five for the first time) did a lot to focus the minds of many people and agencies, with the European Governments now working closely together to ensure a more effective response. This year has already seen a Miami Conference on preparedness, organised by the British Foreign Office for its Overseas Territories.

One year on and the procurement workshop has reconvened in Barbados once again. This time at the University of the West Indies. This year the focus was on logistics, and the workshop was organised to run concurrently with, and was co-located with, a far larger multi-themed “Understanding Risk” Conference, organised by the World Bank’s Caribbean Disaster Risk Management team, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the European Union. If this is sounding like a bit of an industry you need to be aware of the numbers involved. The number of people living in areas that are prone to disaster is increasing, and the number of disasters is increasing too.

We are also facing the slow incremental changes that climate change brings, so as well as disaster response, there is an increasing emphasis on building resilience into the fabric and infrastructure of society. There are key areas of the planet that have to be disaster-ready and disaster-resilient. If these conferences seem expensive to hold, it is it because their payback is greater. The CDB currently spends 10% of its budget on disaster response, and there are many other agencies involved too. Also, as the workshop was reminded, the main purpose is to save lives.

Santiago Ibargüen of PAHO, the Pan America Health Organisation, was back at the workshop again this year and said that he has been involved in emergency after emergency for many years. After each event, they sit down with other agencies to identify the lessons to be learnt, and each time they identify the same main three: better data sharing, control of unwanted donations (which clog up supply lines and take resources to sort) and ease of entry through customs. There are still shipments, we were told, for previous emergencies that never did make it through.

This time the conference had the private sector present in the form of Jenifer Neugent Hill of Tropical Shipping (she had also been at the previous month’s British conference in Miami). She said that you must never forget that most of the resources to provide relief and rebuilding are in the private sector, and they should be a key partner in developing preparedness. To help tackle the customs problem they do ensure that everything they carry in an emergency is properly described.    The Bill of Lading will always say: “for relief purposes – not for resale”. That usually works.

They also know which ships to use as they already match vessels to harbours. They plan in detail, another speaker from Tropical said that their emergency plan looked like a plan for Armageddon, but his first experience of using it demonstrated that there was much more to do.

Frank Cawkwell of the World Food Programme also focused on lessons learnt and the need to continually learn from every experience. Learning is not only drawn from the things that went wrong, but things that went right. Many tropical countries have a diaspora that wants to help, so engaging with them about what is required is all part of the pre-planning. Another example of learning what works came from Frederico Ferreira Pedroso of the World Bank who said that his experience of dealing with the last mile of supply showed that the churches tended to be the most effective distributors and were less likely to be victims of theft.

At lot of the workshop focused on the work of CDEMA and the progress it has made, particularly in procurement over the last year. It introduced a new Procurement Manual in 2018 and has been using a former DFID procurement officer, Martin Brown, to proceduralise their principles and approach, with an array of standard documents and templates. These were made available to delegates. There is also a continued emphasis on Framework agreements, and how these should be used in an emergency situation, and to replenish the strategically placed stockpiles within the region.

The Hurricane season starts on 1st June each year, so it has now officially started. A normal season is expected, which means 9 to 15 named storms, including 4 to 8 hurricanes, and 2 to 4 reaching category three. Storm Andrea has already appeared off the coast of Bermuda. But the region is better prepared than ever.”

High School Graduation Ceremony

My daughter graduated from high school! This involved several days of joyous events with relatives and parties. It also presented me with a bit of a photography quandary.

I initially set about planning how I was going to photograph this occasion from my seat up in the audience of an arena. I have a 70-200mm f/2.8 Sigma lens that I have used for multiple school events but I didn’t think that it would have good enough reach from where I would be seated. So, I looked at what I could rent at a camera store.

A camera store in Austin has a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II Lens for rental. I would be able to rent this for about $80 for the day. With this lens attached to a D750 I would probably be able to get some really good photos from up in the seats. Below is a photo of the lens. It is spec’d at 14.4 in. (365 mm) in length and weighs 118.5 oz. (3360 g); a 7 and a half pound lens, longer than my forearm hanging off of my camera.

Nikon200400f4

I began to stress over this quite a bit. How am I going to get it into the arena? Cameras were allowed, but no tripods, so I would have to hand-hold this by the lens at high-ISO. Also, they only allow clear bags so I would have to find a clear bag to haul this thing into the arena. I was worried that it would be difficult to get a good photo and I spent a lot of time thinking about this and how I would handle the situation.

Finally, the day before graduation came and I headed for the camera shop. They showed me the lens and let me experiment with it. The lens is huge and comes with its own backpack. It’s also very heavy and I hand-held a few photos in the camera store that turned out well enough. So, it seemed like it might work.

But then I began to get emotional. My daughter was graduating from high school and I was going to spend the entire time futzing around with a monster lens instead of watching and experiencing her graduation. I almost teared up thinking about this and I backed out. I handed the lens back and cancelled the rental. And I drove home feeling relieved by my decision.

The next morning I attended graduation, stood when my daughter walked across the stage, and lived the experience.

I then ordered the pictures of the graduation from photographers working the event and have no regrets. Below are my daughter’s graduation photos from the event that I purchased with the copyrights. It cost me about twice what renting the lens would have cost and I have no regrets, just happiness.

30762833_P_0266-Traditional

30762834_W_0102

I really don’t know why I worried myself with this to begin with. I love having a camera and hiking around with it attempting to take nice photos, but sometimes I have to stop myself from letting it get in the way of enjoying life. I have on several occasions left the camera at home and enjoyed a school event with my own eyes and not worried about getting those photos. I am glad that I made that decision here as well.

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Thanks for reading. Now I really need to get out shooting again.

Queer Eye: mastering self-care and wrapping up political critique in a neat little bow

Queer Eye, despite its titular directness, is not about queer perspectives. If we were to time travel back to 2003, and if we were to speak of the original, campy, tolerance-seeking Fab Five, then perhaps the title would better describe the series’ contents. But it’s 2019. All that is produced within this culture of easy-to-binge television, with Netflix at the epicentre, is crafted within the context of a capitalist agenda. Thus when Queer Eye is criticised, which it certainly has been within the LGBTQ+ community, it tends to be for how it leans towards a rather marketable presentation of queer culture, one in which outsiders can dip their toes as they please, for its radicalism and queerness is softened to translate a movement hesitant straight audiences can root for and enjoy.

With series such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, there is certainly growing popularity of this new strand of reality television that simultaneously tempts a heterosexual audience while accessing and exhibiting queer culture. But where the original Fab Five were fighting for tolerance in a society where LGBTQ+ exposure was (and still is) limited, they represented just one version of gay masculinity, one that is now seen as performative and stereotypical; the “bitchy” gay with a quick-witted tongue who rolls off double entendres. Of course, it goes without saying that this personality is just one stereotypical version of gay masculinity, but it was a rather lonesome representation of queer culture in reality television. Perhaps this stereotype was easy for the mainstream to cling onto, and perhaps exposing this one version of gay masculinity generated the rhetoric often exchanged between straight women, who long for a stylish, complimentary and unthreatening ‘gay best friend’. Maybe that is being cynical. Of course, the original Queer Eye did represent a nascent enterprise of queer culture on television, and that is undoubtedly significant. However, although it does contribute to the still small queer reality tv canon, it is easy to see why many members of the LGBTQ+ community were not entirely thrilled at the announcement of its revival, even if the revival inadvertently promised to compete with its parent-show and right its wrongdoings.

Now, a year on from its regeneration and in a world that seems far removed from the political and social specificity of the naughties, Queer Eye exists with an entirely different cultural and political gravity, and this is largely due to how it is consumed. Its first episode voices the nature of this consumption; the new Fab Five, serving as a microcosm for the LGBTQ+ community, apparently no longer need to fight for tolerance but for acceptance, and therein lies an affectation that illuminates its update. Queer Eye now exists within and feeds upon the modern commodification of queer culture. It situates itself on the other side of historical oppression, where tolerance has supposedly been sought and queerness is no longer Other but marketable. Though the optimism of its intention, to shift from seeking tolerance to acceptance, is progressive, we as a culture are simply not there yet. In actuality, transgender persons are unable to fight in the U.S. army and only eighteen states ban conversion therapies on minors for sexual orientation and gender identification. These statistics are plucked from a vast scope of phobia and violence, and are, of course, specific to the United States. There are multiple and various systemic and social oppressions towards the LGBTQ+ community everywhere. You don’t need statistical evidence to see it or experience it.

Queer Eye’s productivity then is its focus on the trivial. If one was to shuffle up and select any of its episodes, it’s pretty safe to expect 45 minutes of beautification, and a gentle, albeit poignant, unpacking of the psychology and emotional baggage of a straight man while, as Laura Penny describes in her 2018 article The Queer Art of Failing Better,  ‘a handsome stranger teaches [him] how to make guacamole’. Queer Eye operates as a leisure activity that unifies a handsome gay man and his straight subject and audience. It is certainly charming television, and I think many of us would be lying if we said that we didn’t love watching Jonathan Van Ness whir around a helpless straight man, fixing his beard. However, it is equally easy to see how cautiously Queer Eye presents queer culture and its underlying political activism, and by the 45-minute mark, everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow.

There are particular moments throughout the series that render deep discomfort, and it’s due to the sanitisation of how the series itself is marketed. It seems that according to executives, a series that follows queer men cannot be popular if it is socially critical, and Queer Eye demonstrates this limitation. In her article, Laura Penny explores an instance in season 1 episode 3 “Dega Don’t” wherein Karamo Brown, as the only black member of the Fab Five, has a conversation with Cory, a police officer, about police brutality and its personal impact on his family. Karamo explains how his son is too frightened to apply for a driving license because of the high risk of violence, or fatality, for his skin colour. When following the motion of dialogue, one begins to see that there is a kind of balancing act, compositionally as Karamo and Cory are sat side-by-side, forward facing in a car pretending to ignore the dashboard camera, and rhetorically, as the balancing slowly seeps into the subject matter. There is an open-armed approach to the subject of police representation, and Cory describes his resentment for how he is seen as violent just because he is a cop, and this, as we are lead to believe, is an apparently comparable trauma to experiencing police brutality. After minutes of shared compassion, Karamo finishes on a ‘we just need to keep talking from both sides and see past our differences’ trope as an antidote to the conversation, and to systemic violence. It is a tense moment that ultimately leads to nothing. It is a balancing act between resisting critical commentary on a state institution and keeping the episode light-hearted. It is wrapping up critique in a neat little bow.

However, there are, of course, many moments that outweigh the like of which I’ve just described, interactions that are genuinely open-minded and capture a sentimentality and unity between straight and queer persons without compromising queer identity. In each episode, there is always a process of coming together, and it is always a far greater distance for the straight man to reach this ‘middle ground’, to a place of queer acceptance, where the Fab Five await, open-armed and cheering his arrival.

Perhaps it is because Queer Eye is so therapeutically positive that its moments of sanitisation and political glazing are evermore concerning. As mentioned before, if Karamo were to rightfully critique systemic racism within police institutions it would entirely shift the tone of the series. Then, perhaps Queer Eye, and more broadly reality television, is not the place for those conversations to be had. Yet if a series is centred around the spread of queer positivity and seeks tolerance and acceptance, and especially regarding how small the queer reality tv canon still is, it does carry a certain responsibility to acknowledge the relational status between its subject and its audience. In other words, queer reality tv is an easy access point to queer culture for straight audiences. But, as the queer television canon grows, beyond the genre of reality television and within, perhaps this will become less of a criticism directed to Queer Eye, for it will carry less responsibility to vocalise politics, because frankly, in amongst the violence regularly inflicted upon the LGBTQ+ community, and in spite of the appropriation of queer culture by faceless corporations, perhaps it is perfectly acceptable for there to be an apolitical space of self-care and makeovers. If Queer Eye is about anything, then, it is precisely that acceptance. If we are to overly criticise Queer Eye I think we actually divorce ourselves from reality, not via the escapism it generates out of its softness but through a cynicism of its absent politics. It is imperfect, but it is also reality tv. It flags a movement in the direction of far politically richer exposure for queer identities in the mainstream, and it’s certainly a wholesome start.

Heart Racing and Feet Bracing: Pre-Travel Anxiety and How to Deal with It

Do I have everything? Did I turn off the stove?
I should check if the door is locked.

Traveling
away from home can be an anxiety-inducing experience. There are countless
things to keep in mind – some of which have the nerve to actually differ per occasion,
like whether or not the fridge should be turned off – and there is, often, very
little time to do it all in. And although it is possible, and maybe even easy,
to work through the whole to-do list in one day, the stress can start months in
advance.

The extent
to which you get stressed will differ per person and per journey. Of course,
someone who travels often will be more used to preparing and packing up than
someone who travels once every few years, and a journey to the other side of
the world calls for more preparation than a trip to the neighboring city does.
Keeping the stress to a minimum is something we can strive for, but getting rid
of it entirely is not always possible – and nor does it have to be. A little
stress, I’ve been told over and over myself, is healthy.

I am a very
anxious person when it comes to traveling. When leaving my university dorm to
go home I always have a list prepared of everything I have to do before I go to
make sure I don’t leave any trash behind or windows open. I take care of all
the tedious little details. In daily life, too, I ascertain that all my chores
and work are clearly in my diary so that I get them done with as little stress
as possible. All this extreme planning has helped me a lot in reducing my tension,
but you can imagine my growing anxiety now that I’m planning to study abroad for
over half a year – on the other side of the world. There are insurances to arrange;
offers to pore over; and high costs to account for. What I’m trying to say is
that it can be a huge burden to prepare for things – far more of a burden than
the actual things often are. Because the to-do list grows and expands until the
paper is full, and every new task you start on takes longer than expected.

So what do
you do about it? The key thing I have found is that you need to be organized. I
realize that that sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s the fundamental rule in
trying not to stress. Knowing what you’re up against will ease your mind (and
your heartrate) enough to actually go up against it. Organization isn’t just
making a to-do list – though that is definitely vital, but it also means that
if you’re not sure about something, you do the necessary research to become
sure. You Google around; you call companies; you ask acquaintances. And to give
you some more advice – and this is something my mom always (ALWAYS) ushers me
to do as well (so I hope you’re happy, Mom) – do not postpone things that you can do right now. Like I said before,
things are always going to be more complicated than you hope. People will take
weeks responding to emails and forms will be filled out incorrectly and it is entirely
up to you to call those people and quadruple-check those forms to then have to sign
and send and wait for them all over again. Doing them right away, or at least
starting on them, will calm your nerves a little. Even if it is just the
knowing that you’ve done all you could. Apart from that golden rule, though,
there are some specific stress-points that should be addressed.

Packing

When
packing, try to compile that list I was talking about, starting from the moment
you decide to go on your trip. There is nothing more annoying than getting all
anxious over an unpacked bag the night before you leave, because that just
takes away from the pre-travel excitement. Bring only the things you’ll really need
– so half whatever you have when you’re done packing – and remember that you’ll
be able to buy anything later on if you do happen to forget something. Just make
sure to have your wallet, passport, and phone.

Culture Shock

If you
haven’t heard of culture shock before, don’t let my bringing it up be a reason
to worry about it. Culture shock is exactly what the term implies: being
heavily affected by your entering a new culture. Of course, it can be
terrifying, but it also extremely awesome to learn about new cultures. If there
is one thing I learned from my introductory course in anthropology, it is that
you should stay open-minded when meeting new people and new cultures. It can be
scary not to understand something, but if other people have learned how to deal
with it, so can you. Taking a moment to realize that can really help. And, of
course, when you’re open to people, those people will be just as open to you.

Still, it
can be really calming to have a personal emergency contact that you can reach out
to when you start feeling queasy because of all the stress – so make sure to
communicate your worries to someone before you go.

Dealing with Strange Currencies (of Money and
Culture)

What can
also be super-useful in reducing the stress of new situations is to already note
down some currency conversions or to print a roadmap from the airport to the
first place you’ll reach that has Wi-Fi – because the Internet may not always
be a given and to find that out too late can suck. If you don’t speak the local language, jotting down some
phrases may also help. Even if it’s just telling them you don’t speak their
language!

The People You’re Leaving Behind

This point
can be a very saddening one, but remember one thing: you’re not really leaving them
behind! Of course, there are plenty people you’ll miss, but that only means
that after your travels you’ll have something to come back to, and someone to listen
to your stories. What with all of today’s technology, it’s incredibly easy to
contact anyone from all over the planet, and it is always possible for those
people to come visit you – or to visit them yourself – if you leave for a very
long time. As for their reactions upon your leaving, try not to fuss about them
too much. If you really want to go on a trip you should stick with that
decision, no matter how astonished some people will be at it. That does not
just apply to people who will miss you and are upset about it, but also to
people who think going away is a bad idea. Listen to their reasoning and take
it into account, but make this decision for yourself – especially if, like me,
you want to work or study abroad for a little while. My own experience with
everyone at home has been more perfect than I could have hoped, but sometimes that
won’t be the case. Just make sure that you’re going away for a good reason (and
that can be just to have fun!) and that if they refuse to accept that it is not
your problem. Leaving is spooky enough as it is, and those anxiety levels don’t
need to rise any further than necessary.

In the end,
if you get completely stressed out and start catastrophizing every aspect of
the journey –no matter how much it sucks, it’s okay. Make sure you have someone
to talk to about it (or even leave a message on this blog and talk to me if you’re
not comfortable talking to the people around you). It can really help in
working through that anxiety. Plus, from what I have found on the topic online,
the fear disintegrates very fast the moment you arrive at your destination. Traveling
is scary, but bridging that fear, I hear, is half the fun.

The Bridal Shower

As you know, this blog is about married life in Los Angeles — with a perpetual flow of coffee. However, those of you that have been reading closely will know that the wedding is actually just ahead of us. With that in mind, the wife-elect (fiancée) had her bridal shower this weekend, and I was there!

I had never attended a bridal shower before. Heck, I did not even know men were allowed to these events! I suppose I was thinking of the bachelorette party. Regardless, I was happy to be invited, and so were my parents. It was an interesting experience, not just because it was co-ed, but also because it was diverse.

Perhaps it is Los Angeles, perhaps it is the times, but my future in-laws’ house was filled with people from all walks of life, which was great! Among the invitees were Judaeo-Christian conservatives, ultraconservatives, classical-liberals, actual liberals, all sexual orientations, Whites, Latinos, Asian, and Black Americans between the ages of 20 and 70 years old.

I personally love these environments, specially when they yield a healthy exchange of dissenting ideas that turn into debates. Alas, the woman of the hour avoids this sort of confrontations at all costs. I guess opposites really do attract — and no, the irony is not lost on me.

At the end of the 2 hour shower-turned-5 hour family get-together, we were exhausted (I literally feel asleep for a few minutes likely due to the Chinese food-induced comma), but glad that we attended. It was fun, and in case you were curious, I did indeed have a cup of coffee in hand the whole time. Cheers!

Tell me, have you ever attended a bridal shower? Do you like debating or do you avoid confrontations like the plague? Does Chinese food make you sleepy, or is it just me?

Thank you so much for visiting my corner of the internet! If you enjoyed this post, please make sure to subscribe for more caffeinated content! Have an awesome day! ???

(Featured Image by: Mr. Ramdolfi)

Our Tito and Tita Life in Siargao

I’m currently writing this while on the plane bound for Korea. Yes, we’ll be in Korea in a few hours! And while I’m thinking of all the Korean skin care products I might buy, plus all the Korean food that we might try (haha), I decided to continue writing about our backpacking trip last year. I’m thinking, Wednesdays could be a good time to share some travel stories. And besides, ang tagal na, hindi ko pa rin tapos i-kwento.

So, just a little background, Darel and I went on a 3-week honeymoon-backpacking trip (few weeks after the wedding) and it was definitely the best 3 weeks of my life. Btw, my latest post about this was our first few days in Siargao, “What? You Didn’t Stay in General Luna, Siargao?” I’ll link the series of blog posts down below. FB memories just reminded me this morning that this time last year, nasa Bacolod pa lang kami after coming from Balesin and Lakawon. Hay. Nakaka-miss ang island life. Anyway, let me continue sharing about what happened when we finally decided to stay in General Luna, Siargao.

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Peaceful morning in San Isidro before travelling to General Luna

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Was able to have a little “me” time too

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Like what I previously mentioned in my latest Siargao blog post, we rented a motorbike to move around the island. Buti na lang talaga marunong si Darel. However, the one we got didn’t include any helmet so we had to be very careful when we traveled via motorbike from San Isidro (we stayed there for 3 days) up to General Luna. Medyo malayo rin. Parang 2 hours ata. Haha. The struggle was real as we tried to keep our bags from falling during the entire travel. Also, napaka-init! Haha. Pero okay na rin yun kesa umuulan.

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We finally made it after a long motorbike ride.  We’re here!! At Siargao Inn

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We booked Siargao Inn for our accommodation in GL. Actually, the night before lang kami naghanap ng matutuluyan. Pahirapan pa nga kasi aside from halos lahat fully booked na, we had no signal in JAFE Resort, San Isidro. JAFE offers free WIFI, pero mahina rin yung signal so buti na lang talaga na-iraos namin yung pagbook ng new resort. Haha. We decided to transfer in GL and stay there for 2 nights kasi mas malapit na dun yung pag island hopping, plus we will go straight to Surigao Del Sur din naman in a few days.

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We tried inquiring in almost every hotel we could think of and lahat puno. Weekend rin kasi nun plus holiday (I think?) Good thing Siargao Inn had an available room! We were so happy kasi the room we got was so big tapos may terrace area pa na may duyan! Pwede pa magpatuyo ng damit kasi may sampayan talaga. Haha. If you’re doing backpacking for 3-weeks, kelangan mo talaga mag laba. So anyway, they even have complimentary drinks and they serve it with a reusable straw. Yehes. Environment friendly. Hahaha.

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We decided to rest for a bit before exploring GL. Ang saya na may beachfront si Siargao Inn kahit na hindi naman talaga naliliguan. Haha. Well, I think ganun ata halos lahat ng beachfront resorts dun kasi generally, rocky talaga ang shores ni Siargao. Also, wala naman talaga kaming plano when we got in GL. We just wanted to check out the famous Cloud 9 and wait for the sunset. Tapos island hopping the next day. Hmm. Bumili rin pala kami ng supplies namin like soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc. Haha. Buti na lang GL is like the main town in Siargao so napaka-raming stores that can cater to all our needs. We don’t know rin kasi if may madadaanan pa ba kami na big town like GL in the next days of our trip.

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How cute is this bulldog? Haha!

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Zoom-in pa natin

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When we finally dropped by Cloud 9 later that day, medyo marami pa ring tao. Lahat gusto mag-surf. Hindi na naming tinry ni Darel kasi aside from injured nga ako, parang nakakalunod na yung dami ng tao itself. Hahaha. I’ve tried surfing in Baler before, and kung doon marami ng tao, mas marami pa sa Siargao! Hahaha. We just stayed for a few minutes to take some photos, then we decided to look for a place where we can have early dinner. Nadaanan pala namin yung Shaka, pero closing hour na pala nila so sabi namin babalik na lang kami the next day. Haha.

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GL is also famous for its vibrant night life and medyo nanibago kami kasi sa San Isidro, sobrang hindi ganun. Like 7pm pa lang dun, sobrang tahimik na. Haha! So habang naghahanap nga kami ng kung saan pwede kumain ng dinner, napaka-rami pa ring tao sa kalsada. Medyo scary din mag-motor sa gabi kasi parang ang dami mong kasabay tapos minsan may mga bigla pang tatawid. We wanted to try Kermit’s food sana pero when we got there, as usual ang daming tao. No available seats. Nag-end up kami sa Trattoria, na sobrang lapit lang din sa Kermit. Haha. Halatang wala na kaming choice.

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Thinking about it, parang graduate na ata talaga kami ni Darel sa night life na yan. Hindi na kami na-eexcite. Tito and tita na talaga. Hahaha. So tinatanong ko yung sarili ko if na-enjoy ba namin ang GL for what it has to offer. Hmm. Honestly, steads lang. Actually mas na-enjoy namin yung next day, the island hopping part. Here are some photos! More about it soon. ??

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If there’s something memorable about our first day in GL, siguro it would be the travel going there (from San Isidro). Ewan ko ba. Kahit medo buwis buhay siya, na-enjoy ko yun. Siguro kasi hindi naman namin normally magagawa yun kung nasa city kami like QC diba. Bukod dun, wala naman kaming motor at wag na umasa si Darel na bibili kami. Hahaha. Isama na rin natin siguro yung pagiging adventurous ko. I cannot imagine doing that backpacking trip without Darel. I mean, yes, doing backpacking trips with friends before was fun, pero mas masaya ‘pag asawa mo na yung kasama mo. Haha. Well, never ko naman na-imagine dati na gagawin namin ‘to ni Darel once na ikasal kami. Somehow parang it just happened. Nung una kasi feeling ko hindi naman sya game. Hahaha.

At this point, I have no idea if we can still do a trip like that. Marami na kasing considerations ngayon like budget, health, responsibilities… well, tingin ko mostly eh sa budget. HAHA. Pero masaya ako and I’m thankful na kahit isang beses lang nagawa namin yun. Pangarap ko sa future masubukan din namin yun with our kid/s eh. Malay natin diba?

I still have a lot of stories and photos about this backpacking trip. Til the next!


Related Posts About This Backpacking Trip:

 

Quick Trip: Big Sky, Montana

Well hello there!

Happy 2019…it has apparently been some time since I have posted on here. Work and life have been really busy this year and honestly, I’ve been feeling kind of uninspired about this space. Most of the trips we’ve been on have been work related, or super fast and focused more on seeing family, so it just didn’t seem worth writing a blog (although I did go to Disney for like 2 days and I feel like it could be a hilarious post, so maybe I’ll write that very much after the fact). Anyway…sometimes ya gotta prioritize other things and that is what this year has looked like.

BUT, I am back because Scott and I just got back from one of my most favorite trips ever! I just have to share it. Plus, I miss writing these posts because they amuse me, and that’s really what counts, right?

Scott and I spent this past weekend in Big Sky, Montana to celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary! Big Sky is around 5.5 hours of drive time from Salt Lake City, so it was a bit of a haul but that’s how we like it. We stopped in Idaho Falls because they have a PANERA yes you guessed it. My obsession hasn’t waned, don’t worry. Also, if you ever drive through Idaho and think “I should stop at the Potato Museum!” just do it. We drove past and thought “We’ll just stop on the way back,” but we drove back on a Sunday and it was CLOSED. Sadness. I saw an advertisement that says they give FREE TATERS to out of staters (heh…rhyming). FREE POTATOES. We missed our shot. I am saddened.

Anyway…we got to Montana in the afternoon and checked into our AMAZING AirBNB! Scott booked us a tiny house because I have  bit of an obsession with tiny homes and have always wanted to stay in one. This AirBNB was top notch. It had all the basics that you want – it was clean, great style, all amenities you could want, but the things that really put it over the top for us were the extremely detailed binder with suggestions of things to do in town, PLUS they had binoculars! We left ours at home and were heading to Yellowstone the next day, so we were really grateful for that! We had expected the AirBNB to be a little more secluded in nature, but it’s actually right next to a main road. That wasn’t an issue for us and made going to the town center a 10 minute drive. But just know that you’re not out in the literal boonies, you do have access to everything you could need.

The first night we just lived it up in our tiny home! My husband is 6’2″ and I was a liiiiitle concerned there would be some spacial issues, but he actually fit quite nicely in the house and really loved it! We went to a grocery store down the street and bought some food to make for dinner and then just on the porch and enjoyed the scenery!

The next day was basically all Yellowstone. As you know, we did the southern loop of Yellowstone back in October of last year, so we were wanting to hit the north loop before we had to renew our parks pass. The west Yellowstone entrance is about 45 minutes away from the tiny house, so not a bad drive! And OH MY GOSH did we have a great time at Yellowstone! If you like baby animals (which…are you breathing?) then this is DEFINITELY the time of the year to come! We saw so. Many. BABIES. And in general, so many animals! After the like third herd of bison that we saw in very close range we decided we shouldn’t stop ever single time. There were just so many! And elk feeding everywhere! But the highlight was definitely seeing a mama black bear and two of her bear cubs. It was truly a wonderful animal experience.

One thing to keep in mind though – the bison seemed to be in a migration of sorts. I’m guessing the weather was getting warm for the first time, their babies are finally able to move about on their own, and they are all ready to get some food. So they were movin and groovin EVERYWHERE.  This is my not very scientific assessment of the situation. All that to say, we got caught in some major traffic because there was a bison herd that just wouldn’t move out of the street for a good 45 minutes. Like not moving. And that happened a few other times that day. So just keep in mind that while the animals are moving you might not be. But that’s nature so like…what do you expect?

A few highlights for the north loop of Yellowstone were obviously the animals, Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt Lodge, and Tower Falls. Also the scenery is a lot more frontier-like in my opinion. I don’t really know what I’m getting at there but that’s just the first way I could think to describe it.

We drove back to the Big Sky area in the evening and we ate at the Lotus Pad for dinner. It was fine, not great. There were a lot of pizza restaurants that I wished I had taken advantage of but there’s always next time.

The next day we went on a couple of hikes! Well, really a hike and a half. We tried to do a hike at Beehive Basin but the elevation is pretty high so there was a lot of lingering snow and some major mud that the already melted snow had left behind. We got maybe halfway and it was just a little too much snow/mud action for us so we turned around. The drive up there is great if you’d like to feel like a peasant, though. Crazy big houses galore. The second hike that we did was much more accessible and it was called Porcupine Creek. A very easy hike but it’s really pretty! Well…if you consider forging a small river easy. There has been a ton of rain and snow melt recently so the rivers and creeks are all a little bigger than usual, and one of the creeks ended up flowing right over the trailhead. My shoes are waterproof so I just walked through water about shin deep. It was also the temperature of a glacier and I lost feeling in my feet for a few seconds but there’s no lasting damage so I would do it again, I guess. But that morning pre-hikes we went to Caliber Coffee, which is a cute little coffee shop that roasts their own beans! I don’t really care about that because I get a mocha every single place I go, therefore most craftsmanship is lost on me, but maybe that’s something you care about. I mostly went there because our host said they have awesome breakfast burritos and she was very correct. So delicious, so cheap. I would eat one every morning if I could.

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Porcupine Creek trail

And that was basically our time in Big Sky! We made a lot of adjustments to make the trip really simple and a true retreat while trying to save some money. For simplicity, I turned off my phone and we didn’t use the TV in the tiny house. There is Wifi and cell service, but it was nice to unplug for the weekend and enjoy being in expansive nature. For food, going grocery shopping felt really expensive at first because the prices are a lot higher than they are in Salt Lake, but it’s also a resort town so eating out is also more expensive. We ate at home for dinner the first night and breakfast the next morning. For dessert I asked Scott to take me to the gas station down the street to buy ice cream (classy). We bought stuff to make sandwiches for Yellowstone so we could just eat wherever/whenever. However, the Roosevelt Lodge did look like it had an amazing restaurant so I would recommend checking that out! I have no idea if it’s good but it’s cute and smelled good so it’s worth a shot. Sorry if I’m wrong.

 

Trying to Get My Hitch On: Part Three

Just to recap, Danny asked me to be Hitch for him. I wasn’t sure about it because I really didn’t know Danny, and I didn’t know his intentions with Kelly. Then, he proposed a deal to me. He said that every time we worked together, he was willing to give me every pretty girl that comes to the register. He was willing to make that sacrifice for his one true love. Danny continued and talked about how his feelings for Kelly were real and authentic, and he just wanted a chance to show her how much she meant him. Romantic, right? So, I decided to be Danny’s Hitch and help him get Kelly. A couple of days passed, and I was working with Kelly again. We were talking a little, and I was trying to bring Danny into the conversation somehow. All of a sudden, this weird dude came to the register and started staring at Kelly. He ended up saying that Kelly was really pretty and asked for her number. Kelly refused, but the guy was persistent. Kelly didn’t know what to do, so I said that she had a boyfriend. The guy apologized and left. Kelly thanked me for the help, and I told her it was no problem. Then, I saw this as an opportunity to shift the conversation. I said that at least there weren’t any creepy guys working at Sheetz, but Kelly replied there was an actual creep that worked at Sheetz. She forgot his name, but she believed that it started with the letter “D.”

Now, it’s time to dive on in to “Trying to Get My Hitch On: Part Three.”

When Kelly told me that there was a creep working at Sheetz that’s name started with the letter “D,” I immediately thought of Danny. Could he really not hide his love for Kelly? Was it really that deep and undying? Why did Danny have to be so weird and awkward with Kelly? I wasn’t even Danny’s hitch for three days, and he was already making my job tough. It just wasn’t fair to me at all because now I had to turn this around for Danny somehow, but I didn’t know how that would be possible at all. I wanted to throw in the towel, but I made a commitment to be Danny’s hitch. When you are bestowed this honor, you’ve got to be able to stand the rain and weather the storm no matter how disastrous it may seem. When you are someone’s hitch, you perform miracles greater than Jesus Christ himself. When you are someone’s hitch, you make the impossible possible. When you are someone’s hitch, you move mountains and create wonders. I knew that I couldn’t give up, and I needed to be Danny’s hitch.

Before I could say anything, Kelly tapped my shoulder and told me that he came in. I was confused because I didn’t think that Danny worked today. I turned around and quickly saw that it was someone else. It wasn’t Danny, but it was Derek! I had completely forgotten about Derek. His name started with a “D” as well. Now, I was good friends with Derek. He was a nice, cool and respectable person, but I knew that he was a little too eager when it came to girls. He would flirt way too much with girls at the register that it got to the point of making girls uncomfortable. There were time where I tried to help him out and tell him that he was coming off way too strong, but he told me that he was just a hopeless romantic. We had a whole conversation about him being a “hopeless romantic,” but that’s another story.

Anyways, it made sense to me that Kelly was referring to Derek instead of Danny. I understood how Derek could easily come off as a creep to Kelly and other girls. There was still hope for Danny after all.

Derek wasted no time in saying hi to Kelly and just complimenting her like crazy. Then, he went to the backroom. Kelly looked at me and said, “You see what I’m talking about?”

I agreed with her, and I asked her if she wanted me to talk to him or anything. She thanked me for offering, but she said that she was just going to keep her distance from Derek and hope Derek’s affection for her will die off.

I really felt bad for Kelly because what she experienced from the weird guy and Derek was harassment. It was unwanted attention that she received, and it made her uncomfortable. She was afraid of saying anything or causing a scene for something that she didn’t need to deal with at work, a place that’s supposed to be a professional environment. I wanted Kelly to say something to Derek or at least give me the opportunity to say something, but I decided to respect her wishes to do it her way. That’s all you can do sometimes.

Anyways, I decided to ask her about Danny, just to make sure that he didn’t come off as a creep to Kelly. She smiled and said, “Oh, Danny is so nice. He’s one of the sweetest people here.”

When she said that, I was thrilled. Danny was still alive and still in the game. It was a miracle. God had answered my prayers for Danny and pulled through for him. Then, it got even better. Kelly asked me if I was going to Applebee’s tomorrow for the store meeting. I didn’t know there was a store meeting, and I wasn’t sure if I could go to it. However, I saw this as a great opportunity for Danny. He could go to Applebee’s, sit next to her and connect with her. This was a good plan. So, I said, “Oh yeah, I’m definitely going to the store meeting. We get some food and get to enjoy each other’s company. Plus, I’m pretty sure Danny’s gonna be there too. You should definitely come, it’s really fun.”

She was convinced by my excitement and decided that she wanted to come to the store meeting. At the end of my shift, I texted Danny and asked him if he was planning on going to the store meeting. He told me that he wasn’t planning on it, but I told him that he needed to come to it because Kelly was gonna be there. He texted me if I was sure, and I assured him that I talked to her about it. I was hyping it up, and I convinced her to come to the store meeting. Danny understood and texted me that he was definitely going to the store meeting tomorrow. I texted him, “Ok good. All you gotta do is find a way to sit next to her and connect with her. You got this.”

Danny understood the plan and texted me that he’ll talk to me tomorrow. I was honestly proud of myself. I thought to myself that I was really doing good as a hitch, and tomorrow at Applebee’s was gonna be a success.

The next day, I was running a little late to the store meeting at Applebee’s because I had a prior engagement. When I made it to Applebee’s, I went into Applebee’s and asked the hostess where Sheetz was. She escorted to the Sheetz table, and it was a long table. I saw Kelly, but I noticed that she wasn’t seated next to Danny. In fact, the seat was empty. Then, I saw that Danny was three seats away from Kelly. How was this possible? How was Danny so close, yet so far away from Kelly? Why was the seat next to Kelly empty? It wasn’t fair at all. This was supposed to be Danny’s moment, but I had let him down.

Kelly waved for me to come over, and I reluctantly came over. She was happy to see me and explained that she saved me a seat next to her. I thanked her, and I just tried not to look in Danny’s direction. I texted him what happened, and he texted, “I don’t know, you tell me. What are we gonna do?”

I had no idea. I was confused and didn’t have an answer. Then, he texted, “Wait, I got it. I know just what to do.”

I asked what he was going to do, but he didn’t respond. I looked down towards him and saw him writing something on a piece of paper. Then, he folded it up and asked the person next to him to pass it down. Everyone was passing it down, and it ended up to me. I couldn’t believe this. What kind of high school thing was this? What did Danny write on this piece of paper? Should I take a look at it as his hitch before giving it to Kelly? Or should I crumble up his little note to Kelly and throw it away? What should I do as Danny’s hitch?

This is the end of “Trying to Get My Hitch On: Part Three”

Be sure to like, share and comment your thoughts of “Trying to Get My Hitch On: Part Three.”

This is a four-part story, and I will be sharing the fourth and final part of “Trying to Get My Hitch On” on Thursday.

 

The Journey To The South (Part One)

When we planned our journey south towards Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) we had a few things to consider

  • trains, not buses
  • daytime, not nightime (we wanted to see Vietnam, not sleep through it)
  • Not too long on the train in one stint

So we decided our first stage would be from Ninh Binh to Dong Hoi, just 8 hours away. When deciding on our first stop we had to consider the points above, but also that the Champions League final was on at 0200 on Sunday morning and Kiwi insisted he had to see it.

The train we were on was not as nice as the first one. It was dirtier, the toilets were horrid (Kraut made a shewee out of a plastic water bottle, it wasn’t a success), and generally just felt like the carriages should have been retired long ago. But the scenery was good, and the local passengers were friendly, even offering us food.

Leaving behind the karst landscape of Ninh Binh, we found ourselves surrounded by rice paddies with and without rice, with and without water. There were buffalo everywhere too. Later on we had hills both sides of us, and closer to Dong Hoi we went through a few short tunnels. Of course, there were also the usual villages and towns, and lots of large Catholic churhes. We guessed they were Catholic as the first missionaries in Vietnam were Portuguese Jesuits in the 16th century.

Dong Hoi is on a few travellers’ itineraries as it is a convenient stop on the way to Phong Na National Park. The park is famous for its caves, and various activites are on offer, including zip lining in one of them. We had thought about staying an extra night so we could make a day trip to the park to visit Paradise Cave (discovered in 2005) but due to

  • suspecting the very touristy nature of the park would be akin to that of Ha Long Bay, and not wanting to share the cave with hundreds of other tourists
  • the high cost involved
  • having seen some nice caves and not feeling an overwhelming need to see another one

we decided against it. So two nights it was. Kiwi asked around and found a place to watch the football (and enjoyed watching Liverpool win) The guesthouse was nice too, so that helped.

Dong Hoi is built on the banks of the Ngat Le river, where it flows into the sea. We spent Sunday morning at the beach, swimming in the warm water, watching the fishermen just offshore, and picking up some of the plastic rubbish that littered the beach. Later on we went for a walk along the river to see what else was going on.

The “War Crime”

The riverbank was a nice place to wander. In addition to the ruins of a church bombed in 1965 by the US of Americans (the ruins are kept as evidence of this “war crime”), we were able to see fishing boats of various sizes and types. There were also some small huts on poles in the river, attached to them were large fishing nets that could be lowered and raised. To reach these huts the locals use small round boats like coracles to paddle out to them.

Continuing along we came to the market. This is primarily a fish market, where fish of all sizes were for sale. The stock was very fresh, we saw some being offloaded from boats. There were also shellfish, crabs, and frogs(!). We didn’t like what we saw them doing to the frogs, and won’t go into detail here. There were also people selling fresh meat, we saw one lady butchering a pig. Actually, the whole market seems to be populated by women, buyers and sellers.

At The Market
At The Market

After lunch (not at the market) we ventured further down the river. We were heading to a bridge which we had seen from the unspectacular bridge near our guesthouse. The bridges are lit up at night, with changing colours from blue to green, orange, purple, etc, and the one we wanted to see a bit closer was a suspension bridge and it looked great lit up. It took us a while to get there, but it was worth it. So having seen it, taken photos, and rest taken, we headed back to our guesthouse with the intention of hailing the first taxi we saw. We didn’t see a taxi. Kudos to Kraut, she did all that walking in jandals!

We liked Dong Hoi. It is a pity more travellers don’t spend time there. The locals were friendly, if not a bit surprised to see us. A lot of them would call out “hello” upon seeing us. This was usually followed by “what is your name?”. We guess this is the stock phrase they learn in school. It wasn’t only kids doing this, adults did it all the time, even those riding past on scooters.

The Boat, The Hut, The Net

The next morning we got the next train. We were lucky as the night before the owners of our guesthouse kindly booked our tickets online, and didn’t charge us more than the website. We got the last two seats together. At the station they announced the train would be on track two, but made us wait next to track one. Once the train had come to a stop we had to walk across track one to the train and step up into the carriage. The platform was on the other side of the train so it was quite a big step.

Most travellers go from the north to Hue (old tombs) or the very touristy Hoi An. Neither really appealed to us so we skipped them.

The scenery was similar to the previous leg, but this time we got some lovely views of the sea and the desserted coastline. There were some great looking beaches with no-one on them. They looked like there was no road access, but imagine a boat anchored just off the beach for a night or two. Don’t tell anyone, they will go and drop plastic. Along the way we also crossed what was the border between North and South Vietnam, as determined after the first Indochina war.

We arrived at our destination, Quang Ngai, at about 1630. We were here because stopping here allowed us to keep to the criteria listed at the top. Before doing anything else we bought tickets on the next day’s train. With that out of the way, we undertook the 700 m walk to our hotel. There isn’t a lot to see in Quang Ngai, apart from the My Lai Memorial, which is 12km away and closes at 1700. On the short walk from the station to our hotel nothing made us wish we were going to be there more than the one night we had booked.

Later on we went out to look for somewhere to get dinner. We walked for an hour, before settling on Lotteria, Vietnam’s half-baked version of McDonalds. We had eaten at another of their stores in Hanoi and it wasn’t very good, but in Quang Ngai there wasn’t any other option. At least, an option that didn’t make us fear spending the next train ride on the toilet. However, the chicken in Kraut’s chicken burger (they do have beef burgers on the menu but they appear to have run out of beef) was raw. It was deep fried, with batter, etc but it was definitely not cooked in the middle. They gave us another one but we weren’t keen to eat it. As far as we knew, Kiwi’s chicken was cooked. We could only hope so, there was another eight hour train ride in the near future.

But we did learn some things in our wanderings:

  • The people of Quang Ngai don’t eat out. There are no restaurants near our hotel. Maybe we walked in the wrong direction, who knows?
  • The people of Quang Ngai drink a lot of coffee. There were more coffee places in Quang Ngai than in Seattle, and that is saying something

We didn’t enjoy Quang Ngai. It was one of those days where you wonder why you bother travelling. But tomorrow is another day. In the morning we went shopping for food for our train ride. The city is charmless, but the people we met were friendly. The fruit was expensive but we can’t live on peanut butter and bread alone, dammit.

Thanks to everyone who is looking at our website. You can follow us on Instagram too.

If anyone has any questions about travelling in Taiwan or Vietnam, feel free to contact us at thekiwiandthekraut@gmail.com

April to June 2019 – Two Months in Lagos Portugal

If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have been to. I am now in Lagos, Portugal and this is an update regarding what I’ve been up to for the last 2 months, and to be honest it hasn’t involved any Roaming about. Ive been enjoying the paradise that is the Algarve coastline. Ill be heading out shortly in an eastward direction to Spain, over the straights of Gibraltar and onto Morocco, but for now back to Lagos…

This is my second visit to Lagos, the first time I visited was in April two years previous and I spent approximately 1 month here. Over the next few years I couldn’t stop thinking about the place so while Roaming the world in 2019, I thought it would be a great opportunity to come back and spend more time here. The town itself is located on the southern coast of Portugal and has an approximate population of 22,000 people though its difficult to get an accurate figure because of the number of European and people from other nations that have become expats or backpackers within Lagos. Its one of the premier tourist towns along the Algarve and is a base for retirees to locate themselves as housing and cost of living is more affordable than where they originally came, most retirees seem to be from the United Kingdom in my experience. There is also the fantastic coastline, weather and wonderful beaches to consider.

To get here If not traveling overland then the easiest way to reach Lagos is Tip Faro airport, Faro a much larger city is to the east and is a two-hour bus ride away. Flights to Faro are very affordable as it’s a major airport for budget airline carriers that are scattered throughout Europe. The bus ride can be a little tedious as most of the road is single lane and you can be held up by traffic, however there is the pleasant coastal scenery and stop offs at some of the other Algarve towns that are located between Faro and Lagos. I checked into a reasonably priced hotel for the week and then headed Marina de Lagos. The marina is very modern and is where yachts and boats are moored,there is a double story complex that is full of bars and restaurants and its a really pleasant place to eat and drink if you want to listen to some live music, do karaoke and watch the sunset over Lagos town. I caught up with a friend there, had a few beers and dinner and then headed back to my hotel for some much-needed sleep. Unfortunately my flight had been delayed by a Portuguese fuel strike.

The first thing Id recommend doing is walking from town along the coastline to the lighthouse. This can either be done by walking all the way along the rugged cliffs overlooking the beaches or if the tide is out then go via the beach though a series of small rock tunnels that is an interconnecting walk along coast. There are nine beaches (I think in total) starting in Lagos itself, Praia Batata, which is at the mouth of the Rio Bensafrim river that runs alongside the city to the Marina de Lagos where all the sailing vessels come in and out of the port. Besides being the starting point for a beach or cliff walk it is also the location for sea kayaking, located there is Forte da Ponta da Bandeira and the beach is the most accessible from town. If the tide is out Id recommend walking along the beach (Praia) to Student beach, you know you when you have found it because of the stone rock arched bridge that overlooks the beach. Unfortunately, you are not able to access the bridge as its privately owned and is used for private parties only. To the right there is a cave to another beach, then another until Praia do Camilo beach. You then need to leave the beach to continue the walk along 20 metre or so cliffs, it’s quite a spectacle.

About 20 minutes later you will reach Ponta da Piedade lighthouse, this features stepper cliff edges and rock formations which can be climbed down though some parts are fenced off as the sandstone coast is crumbling. You can then continue along the wooden walkway to Porto des Mos beach. All of this is very picturesque, crystal clear waters, boats, kayaks and dolphins swimming past. This alone is a reason to come to Lagos. As indicated there are plenty of sea kayak rentals available so if you want to take a look at the cliffs and rock formations its quite easy to go on a guided tour which will take you the same distance as the hike and the added bonus is that you can enter some of the caves that are inaccessible from the beach due to the cliffs being to steep. Personally, I would recommend doing the cliff walk, beach walk and the sea kayak tour to appreciate the coast line in its entirety.

Lagos itself is predominantly made up of white buildings though there are other with vibrant colours such as red, green, yellow, pale blue. The streets within the city centre are cobbled made of white stone which can actually be quite slippery if not careful. There is plenty of restaurants, bars and shopping on hand to please tourists as well as a tent market along the river front. Even though April and May are the quiet season there are still plenty of people about socialising with buskers playing in front of restaurants. Ive actually developed a close friendship with a few buskers that were staying at the hostel I stayed att and they remarked that money earned busking in Lagos is really good. After the first week in a hotel Id moved to this hostel in the centre town where I have a private room for a really cheap price and excellent customer service. I spent a lot of time socialising with people Id met at the hostel.

There were a few events on during my stay in Lagos, one that comes to memory is the Medieval fair over a weekend in late May. There is a castle in Lagos which dates back to the time of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians around 7th to the 3rd century BC and was restored in the 17th century. Today its essentially walls that surround most of the city which adds to the charm of the place, the festival involves dancing performers in medieval dress, barbecue food, lots of different micro brew beer and wine and live music. It was an interesting and somewhat drunken experience and all located in the main square at the front of the Church of Santa Maria built in the 15th century and then rebuilt in the 19th century after the Portuguese Earthquake of 1755 (please refer to my previous blog regarding this earthquake).

To me Lagos is seemingly a retirement village for UK citizens, a spectacular hiking and beach adventure for beachcombers, rest stop for backpackers and expat workers alike but its its also known the rather hedonistic nightlife. As usual when I tend to visit a place somewhere, TIP I frequent one bar to get a better understanding of what goes on and make it my “local” bar. As I’d been in Lagos for two months Ive developed a good friendship with the staff at and English bar (Fools and Horses) which mainly involved watching a lot of football, a lot of lengthy banter with the staff and meeting Portuguese locals and expats that made Lagos and this bar their home, I was very happy with my choice of a local. From there I could head to any number of bars within town, I tended to avoid the nightclubs however there are plenty of them and I was more inclined to hang out with the residence of Lagos than backpacker tourists even though I was a backpacker. Tip and its a pretty obvious one you will always get a better understanding of a place if you hang out with locals. Drugs are also completely de-criminalised in Portugal there is a lot of wild behaviour into the early morning, however I like to stick to beer so didn’t make it out to the 6am closing time like many people.

So apart from some activities such as kayaking, the festival, listening to live music and bars my days usually consisted of being up by 10am, down at the beach till about 3pm regardless of how late at night I was out, siesta till around 7pm, the local bar till about 10pm and onto any number of bars afterwards. I can’t say I’ve had the most adventurous time in Lagos but I certainly has been pleasurable and has given me the time to focus on my blogging, think about what my future potentially holds, self-reflect and make great new friends. In particular I’ve enjoyed hanging out my new busker friends talking music in my local bar, gossip about locals from the bar and meeting up with friends Id met here 2 years ago. When I travel I rarely choose to base myself in a place for an extended period but with its wonderful environment and fantastic people there isn’t to many places I can think of which would be better place to base oneself than Lagos on the Algarve in Portugal.

I have actually thought about moving here long term, rental is relatively moderate for Europe, wages aren’t particularly high (unless you’re a busker which I certainly am not) however the cost of living can be quite low, there is plenty of cash in hand work available and the people live here long term don’t seem to want for much more than a good laugh, friendly people, a roof over their head and the fantastic climate. Being an Australian however and at the age I am now I suspect with Portugal being a Schengen Visa country living in Lagos is not really viable (or legal) long term. It’s a shame really because I really would like to spend much more time here, it has a great local community feel and people genuinely care for each other.

Anyway with sadness I am choosing to leave so now its back to some hardcore backpacking, next is off to Morocco and see what that is all about so tchau for now…..

Christian Dating Advice

Recently, a fellow Christian blogger asked for dating advice. I could — and am about to — spend days writing about the type of man she shouldn’t date. Here’s the man she should, according to Pastor Matt Hagee who provided the following “Six C’s of Masculinity” last Wednesday.

A Confident Man

confident man

Photo: Inc.com

“The first C is confidence. Real men are confident. And in order to be confident, you have to have faith in the right thing. You see, the word confidence means ‘living with faith.’ … Con = with, fideo = faith. So whenever you have confidence, your faith is in something.

man praying

Photo: Coffee with the Lord

“Now, the thing that a real man cannot be confident in is himself because if he’s confident only in himself, he, sooner or later, will fail. A real man has faith in God. That’s where his confidence comes from. And the confidence that he has in God … comes from God’s word, for the Bible tells us that ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’ You cannot have confidence and live in faith unless you hear the word of God. A real man is intimately connected with [the Bible] because this book is the lamp unto your feet, it’s the light unto your path, it’s the compass for your life and your household. It’s your connection with this book that builds your confidence, and your confidence gives you the ability to be the man that God created you to be.

A Committed Man

commitment means 100 percent

“Not only are real men confident, but real men are committed. Now, these C’s build on one another because you can’t have commitment unless you have confidence. And a woman wants a man who is willing to be committed — to her, not an asylum, to her.

“Hebrews 3:14 says:

hebrews 3 14

what the word commitment means

“How long do we hold our confidence? Till the end. What does that mean? That means that real men don’t quit. They endure. Certainly there are times when ‘quit’ looks good, but a confident, committed man just presses on. They don’t quit on their marriage, they don’t quit on their kids, they don’t quit on their God. They endure, and they set an example for others to follow.

“One of the reasons we have a divorce rate past 60 percent in the United States is because we have children who were raised in single-parent households, and they never got to see how marriage was supposed to work. We’ve exchanged commitment for convenience, and the moment that something is inconvenient, we no longer are committed to it. It’s not commitment if it’s always convenient.

old couple stayed committed

Photo: weheartit.com

“The other day, I was having a conversation with a young couple, and they were talking about the struggles in their relationship, and I asked them a question. I said, ‘Do you know how couples make it to their 40th anniversary?’ and the young lady looked at me and said, ‘NO! HOW?’ I looked at him and said, ‘They want to.’ They didn’t stay married 40 years because it was 40 years of convenience. They stayed married 40 years because it was 40 years of commitment. [E]ven when it was hard, they still pressed on.

A Courageous Man

courage

“Not only is a real man confident and committed, but a real man is courageous. He has courage. And courage is not some macho, chauvinistic definition of courage where you deny fear. That’s not courageous, that’s stupid. Courage is a willingness to face your fear, to admit that you have a fear, but you are willing to try [to] overcome that fear. You see, men, by nature, we get very uncomfortable with what we don’t understand, and therefore, we just avoid it rather than face it. But courage is when you’re willing to look at what you don’t understand, what you’re uncomfortable with, and be willing to try. Courage doesn’t always succeed, but courage never quits. …

“David was a courageous man. David was a warrior. David fought a lion. David fought a bear. David fought a giant. David fought many battles. David was a poet. David was a songwriter. David was both confident and sensitive, and what he tells us is that he’s always had to deal with fear. [In Psalm 34:4] he said, ‘I love the lord because he heard me.’ He says, ‘Whenever I faced a giant, and I was filled with fear, I talked to a god who was bigger than the giant, and he overcame my fear.’

A Man Who Gives Good Advice

godly counsel

“Real men are courageous, and real men are a good source of counsel. For every man in this room, I want to challenge you to pay attention to those you associate with. Because who your friends are will determine your future. One of the things that’s lacking in the world we live in is a source of good, godly counsel. Young people need to know who they can turn to when they have questions, and it’s not your responsibility as an experienced generation to say to them, ‘Go figure it out.’ Don’t turn them loose. Take them, show them, teach them. Proverbs 11 says it this way. It says, ‘Where there is no counsel, people fall. But in a multitude of counselors, there is safety.’

“A real man is a godly source of counsel. He can look at a younger man, he can look at a boy, he can look at somebody who needs his experience and expertise and offer it to them. Where does experience and expertise come from? Where does good counsel come from? It comes from those who have lived through what you’re trying to walk through. …

A Man Who’s Concerned About You

a man who's concerned about you

“Not only does a good man offer counsel, he also offers his concern. A real man has feelings. He has passion for his purpose. It’s the intimacy factor. We read in the Bible that Jesus wept. Why? Because he had feelings. He was worried about Mary and Martha. He was sad over the loss of Lazarus. He was willing to engage with his emotional side. Today’s men don’t want to admit they have feelings. And that’s a problem. … When you demonstrate your feelings, you’re showing someone that you actually love them more than you’re worried about yourself. And there is an overwhelming lack of that kind of sacrificial love. We have cheapened the word ‘love’ in our society.

i love you i love you i love you

“The other day, I was listening to my daughter tell all of her friends as they were leaving the school: ‘I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you!’ And that’s fine. It was cute. [But] on the way home, I said, ‘Baby, which one of your friends are you willing to sacrifice for?’

“And she went, ‘Wait, what?’

“I said, you tell them you love them. I said, what are you willing to sacrifice for them? Because … the currency of love is sacrifice. I said because as long as it’s just about how they make you feel, that’s selfish; that’s not sacrifice. And there are a lot of people in some very significant relationships that have to understand that. Your family is not for your gratification, it’s for you to satisfy … [what they need].

A Man Who Communicates

“The sixth C … is communicate. A real man communicates. He’s not afraid to tell somebody how he feels and do it in a way that doesn’t start a fight. … A woman wants a man who will communicate, not dictate. A woman wants a man who will communicate with his children, who will tell them right from wrong, who will show them what to do. …

“[A]s an individual, there may be a lot of things in this world that you cannot have an impact on. But the one place that God gave you influence and impact is in your home. Go be the man that God created you to be.”

Mango Mania!

One night, I had a strange dream. I was walking for miles and miles in a mango orchard. I could see dozens of mangoes hanging on trees. Some were ripe and yellow, some were unripe and green. After walking for a while, I turned left and discovered something like a waterfall. The waterfall not only had water but also mangoes. Out of curiosity, I went ahead to see where did all these mangoes and water flow. I saw a reservoir full of mangoes. The reservoir was spread across acres of land. Suddenly, the road that lead to this reservoir disappeared and there was no way back. I was stuck and was frightened. I woke up startled and was happy to realize that it was a dream. I drank water and gave a thought to what I saw in my dream. The night before, I was lazily lying on my couch, surfing channels. Every time, I switched to a different channel, I saw ads that were related to mangoes. Similar was my experience on social media. Some had visuals of mango icecream, some were about mango based pulpy juices. Some talked about the taste and some about the quality. But, they were all about mangoes. I found out why I had that dream.

I gave it a further thought and realized that cricket, bollywood and mangoes are the three topics that enjoys a unanimous view in India. There might be hardly a few who don’t like mangoes. This makes mangoes and the mango season marketers favourite. Brands devise interesting strategies and introduce new products to harp on the flavour of the season and win the market share. One starts and the other follows.

Summer is about to end and with heavy heart, we will have to bid adieu to mangoes until next year but, before that, how about a quick review of the mango season!

Grandmama’s Cafe, a famous restaurant chain in Mumbai and Pune introduced an all mango menu specially for the mango season.

Same goes with Rajdhani restaurant, which had a mango special thali running through the season.

This trend continued in many restaurants and cafes in India.

For brands that sell mango drinks, this is the season to bring out fresh new campaigns with new endorsements and storylines. Well, even the IPL was not left behind.

Competitors won’t stay silent either.

And some went to the extend of introducing new product lines.

The icecream sellers also jumped on the mango bandwagon.

Look around and you will see mangoes everywhere.

Did you enjoy the mango season? Well, here’s a box full of mangoes waving goodbye until next year.

(Pictures are taken from Google and Instagram)

National Veggie Burger Day

While now you will hear me celebrating many meat dishes, not many people know that I was a vegetarian for 13 years starting in my senior year of high school. It was based on my belief that if we avoided feeding animals grain combinations we could direct them to humans and seriously reduce hunger in the world. My diet wasn’t necessarily healthy, I continued eating dairy and eggs because so many desserts contained them (not kidding). Finally I returned to eating meat when my protest wasn’t solving world hunger. I know, swell role model.

Way back decades ago, meat alternatives were terrible. We had Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) and foul veggie burgers that were sometimes more tasty than cardboard. So I was intrigued when I read about the Impossible Burger. The 100% vegetable protein burger was formulated to taste and act like ground beef. It gets great reviews and was even selected by Burger King to expand their menu. Indeed the mass distribution BK is demanding has put a strain on the company’s production even though they are doing it in a slow stepped manner.

Several local restaurants admitted that they could not get Impossible Burgers from the company and the limited BK rollout does not yet include the New York area. After much searching I discovered a restaurant near Times Square that had it in stock. It is a terrific custom hamburger shop I had tired before. So I went to give it a try.

It was amazing. Ordered medium, there was still a light pink in the center and delicious umami flavor to the patty. I picked at it, ate some of it separately from the other ingredients and even gave it a satisfying sniff. If I had these options years ago, I might still be a vegetarian. With all the concerns about the impact of animal raising on our environment, this could be just the approach. I seldom see the inside of a Burger King but will give their version a try when it arrives here. Do they still give out those paper crowns?

As always you can find more at http://www.walterthinnes.com and on Twitter @walterthinnes.com

A Mermaid Princess…

Little girls dream and act out their fantasies of being mermaids and princesses. I know many of my fond childhood memories involved splashing around in my neighbors pool with my friends Melanie and Monique. We’d act out movies we’d seen, dance horribly to music on the radio and pretend we were mermaids almost constantly.

This was raw mermaid imagination at play, well before Ariel or the mermaid trend of these days took center stage. When I look back, the only Mermaid pop-culture references I can think of were in the cartoon of Peter Pan and the Tom Hank’s movie Splash… The mermaids we became were nothing at all like those adaptations so I’m not sure what inspired us- other than the water.

I don’t recall ever pretending to be a princess, but my youngest daughter definitely did. Her imagination was princess rich, and I loved every second of it. Up until recently, society has loudly delivered the message that such aspirations belong in childhood daydreams and deserve no place in grown-up lives. This is a truly sad thing, don’t you think? I’ll admit, as a parent, I too fell into the whole dream crushing mentality of frankly selling “reality”, responsibility and that most dreams simply don’t pay the bills… And, I mean, it’s true- most dreams don’t pay the bills. That doesn’t mean we have to stop dreaming them though. (lesson learned unideally late.)

This week’s podcast guest, Jessica is all grown up. She’s a single mom. She is a first generation daughter, whose father came from the Dominican Republic. She has grown up learning to work hard and pursue relentlessly. She has responsibilities, hardships and the many  other things we all have. What sets Jessica apart is that she also has dreams, and she fully embraces them. Jessica dreams of owning her own Pastalito food truck. Jessica also dreams of being a mermaid princess. Full of so much energy, life, light and motivation Jessica is pursuing both dreams equally, in her own ways. Check out  episode {37} by following this link to our various listening platforms. As you hear her incredible story, I hope you can find a glimmer of courage to go after your own dreams too…

Celebrating a Love Story

Last weekend I went home for a long awaited celebration; my parents’ pearl wedding anniversary. Thirty years of married life, two children, one grandchild and what appears a happy life together. They’ve had ups and downs but as we sat together celebrating as a family I realised that if I can do the same when I celebrate thirty years of marriage, I’ll be a very lucky woman.

I remember when they renewed their vows for their 20th anniversary and another ten years seemed an age away, but it rolled around soon enough. My parents often joke that they’ve been together for two life sentences but I’m sure for them it doesn’t feel like such a punishment. So, how do you celebrate thirty years of a shared life?

We didn’t do anything too fancy to celebrate. We went out for an early dinner to our local Italian restaurant, just seven of us; Mum, Dad, my brother Joe, his partner, their child, Ethan and myself. We shared three bottles of wine before we went home and played with my niece, Ruby, in the garden. I’m not sure what we looked like, six mildly tipsy adults blowing bubbles for a toddler in the warm Spring sunshine. But it was lovely to feel that family connection. Ruby, my niece, is named for my maternal grandmother who died when my Mum was little, and the grass she was running on is in the garden of my paternal grandparents’ house. The trees that she was running beneath have seen three generations of the same family celebrating in that garden, and I think that’s pretty amazing.

After she’d gone to bed, we stayed up late. Dad lit the chimenea and we all sat wrapped up in blankets drinking far too much for far too long. My brother queued music on Apple Music and we stayed up talking to the sounds of my parents favourite music. It was a beautiful way to celebrate their wedding anniversary and to celebrate the family they have created. Family is something that they have always upheld and something that I have only recently begun to appreciate more fully. Sat in the garden beneath the murky stars, outside the house my grandparents created, its safe to say it was a night I won’t easily remember.

Until next time,

JJR ??

Why I write

This extract from the Facebook page of Mani Ridgley shows how the reality of people’s suffering may be artistically represented through words accompanied by a few visual images.

Even amongst the wild beauty of rural Guatemala, the magnificence of La Ceiba has captivated human imagination for thousands of years. It was the tree of life for ancient Maya, their axis mundi that connected earthly beings with the spiritual realms. Its mystical significance has been passed down through generations of Maya, preserved in narratives that emphasise profound affinities between all elements in the natural world.

Today, these sacred trees stand in the heartlands of extractive capitalism, rooted in the plantations of rich landowners of European descent. The privatisation of land swept Guatemala during the late-1800s coffee boom when the state sold swathes of traditionally Maya territory to wealthy immigrants, many German and British, for coffee production.

Attempts at land redistribution in the 1950s by a democratically elected government were thwarted by a CIA-backed military coup. Today, 65% of land is owned by 2.5% of commercial producers.

The Ceiba trees pictured above stand tall within a vast palm oil plantation in the Polochic Valley. Out of fear or respect for local Maya, plantation owners often leave Ceiba trees standing whilst decimating the surrounding ecosystem.

These palm plantations notoriously suck water away from local villages whilst wrecking the natural equilibrium that once evolved in harmony with indigenous groups. Ironically, private property signs dotted around the plantations remind the local Maya to care for their environment.

The signs also prohibit the impoverished locals from hunting or fishing. To feed their families, they are dependent on employment from the plantation owners. Those ‘lucky’ enough to have a full-time job work 50 hours a week for a minimal wage. In a month, Guatemala will hold national elections, but there is little optimism that government will effect change. Exploiting land and people is common sense for Guatemalan elites.

The future of our planet may depend upon the ancestral Maya understanding of humans being in nature, but for now, at least, it is business as usual.

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=mani%20ridgley&epa=SEARCH_BOX

Below is a wonderful presentation regarding the fact that suffering is a universal condition of the human race until such time as it is realised that the answer to our quandary lies in our own hands.

The Master Within–Roland Brisson, FRC

This is why I write.

Books by Glyn F Ridgley are published by Valley Independent Publishing and are available from Amazon and bookstores around the world

 

 

 

Ethnographic Interview

Written for an Applied Linguistics Master’s Course: Integrating Culture into the Language Curriculum

 

Introduction

     Choosing Janet Tanner*. I had previously met Janet in December 2015 while visiting my husband at her school. She was working with him on the same teaching team. I remember feeling an instant connection with her. She was an open and friendly person, and she reminded me of one of my closest friends. We talked a few times on that first meeting about our plans for the Christmas holiday, and I was interested to hear that she was taking a trip, which her family playfully objected to her doing instead of spending time with them. However, it was not because they observed the Western traditions of the Christmas holiday – her family are Muslim; it was because she would not be taking part in their yearly Christmas tradition of watching too much television and eating too much food while enjoying the time off they got from work and school.

      Though Janet and I come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, I had a feeling that we would share similar views and experiences as teachers, particularly as teachers who are non-Caucasian and who work with teaching staff, and sometimes student groups, that are predominantly Caucasian and/or female. I wanted to know more about her experiences in this regard to see if we shared any common experiences. I was also interested in her experiences as a Muslim woman, particularly as it related to the current social and political climate that exists in a post-9/11 and ISIS society. I felt it was important for me to know how members within this community responded to the ways they were portrayed in the media. As it relates to the purposes of ethnographic research in media studies that Corbett (2003) discusses in his book, I wanted to know how Janet was “decod[ing] the messages broadcast to [her] via television,” to better understand her response to the messages portrayed about Muslims in her effort to either adopt or “resist the dominant viewing positions assumed by mainstream television programmes,” by news broadcasts and by any other media portraying or discussing the Muslim culture (Corbett, 2003, pp. 100-101).

     Introduction to Interview. I met Janet at her school after the students had all gone home for the day. She was working in the office she shares with the other Year 4 teacher, where they plan and prepare lessons for their students. The room was quite small, rectangular in shape, with clean white walls that had a few things hanging on them. The wall to the left of the entrance had a low lying white bookcase that stretched across the entirety of the wall. There were books that filled the two shelves and a few miscellaneous things on top of it. The wall opposite the entrance and the wall to the right had a desk bolted into it where two computers were set up for the teaching team to work on their lesson planning and general teaching tasks. There were a few papers and snacks strewn about the desk – things to help the teachers get through their planning time. It was approximately a quarter to four in the afternoon when I met Janet with a hug at the entrance to this room. The school was generally quiet with all of the children and most of the staff gone, and only the sounds of vacuums and people tidying up at the end of a school day could be heard.

     I sat down in a chair in front of one of the computers at the wall opposite the entrance, and Janet sat in a chair facing the computer against the wall to the right of the entrance (See Appendix 1). The atmosphere was very relaxed and congenial. Before we even started the interview, we caught up with one another, talking about how our days went and about any new things going on in her school or with me and my husband. We sat quite close to one another in the room, swiveling in our chairs occasionally which made our legs either face each other or the desk, movements that depended on our physical comfort more than our emotional one. For most of the interview, it felt like talking to a friend: we made sure to make a lot of eye contact in our exchanges, we smiled and made facial expressions to fit the mood of our thoughts, we laughed and gesticulated with our hands and arms to make our points. It was a very comfortable and engaging setting. By approximately a quarter to five, after having stopped recording the official interview session, we were still chatting away and sharing stories which made the conclusion to our meeting feel more like saying goodbye to a friend.

     Synopsis of Interview. The conversation can be broken down into three main topics of discussion: her family, her school life – in university and in teaching – and her cultural views and opinions about being a Muslim (see Appendix 2 and 3). Each main topic was explored at length, providing me with ample insight as to how her values, beliefs and identity as a Pakistani, Muslim and British woman were shaped by her both her external and internal environments.

     Her family on her father’s side are from Karachi, Pakistan. Her grandfather and grandmother grew up there and married before moving to Nottingham, England. They made the move from Pakistan to England because they wanted to provide a better life for their children (Lines 7-10 in Appendix 3). Her grandfather was a highly influential Pakistani man in the Nottingham community, having built a center for Pakistanis and other immigrant cultures to come together and get help with any difficulties or issues they faced in moving to a new country. He worked as a counsellor at the facility. Her grandmother worked in her own Asian fabrics shop, making clothes for women. Both of her parents grew up in Nottingham, England and were educated in England. All of her extended family are in Nottingham and consequently spend a lot of time together because of their close proximity to each other and because of how much they value family connection.

     Her school life seemed to follow the norm for many people educated in England. Her grade school experiences were very inclusive and positive, where cultural differences were acknowledged, understood and accepted amongst her peers and teachers in school and in her community in general. However, in university, Janet encountered new experiences related to her ethnic and religious background which she related mostly to the differences that those within and without her cultural communities experienced in their own lives (Lines 35-37 in Appendix 3). Additionally, though the majority of her experiences as a Muslim teacher in a school where there are a high number of Muslim students has been generally positive (Lines 40-45 in Appendix 3), she has had some interesting encounters with Muslim parents that illustrate areas of conflict she sometimes faces because of the differences in how she externally represents being Muslim to how others choose to represent themselves (Line 39 in Appendix 3).

     Her cultural views and opinions about being a Muslim had both elements of traditional values and elements of a divergence from them, making her identity within this culture a very interesting and complex one. On the one hand, she expressed the more traditional values of the Muslim religion in terms of her dress, to some extent, her dietary habits and her opinions on family life. (It is important to note that both her Pakistani and Muslim influences have contributed to these values overall.) On the other hand, it was interesting to note that the more “British” influences (or, more generally, Western influences which can diverge from some forms of traditional Muslim practices) have contributed to her being a confident, outspoken woman. She amusingly joked about her Pakistani friends calling her a feminist but did note that her upbringing in the UK and her parent’s focus on education and independence helped contribute to these more British, or Western, ideals of empowerment.

     Analysis of Interview and Points of Interest. The components of the interview that will be critiqued, as they relate to both myself and to Janet, deal mainly with the conversational patterns and style choices embedded within our interaction and how we reacted to them, the presentation of self within the interview and the conversational topics of family life, personal life and the Muslim community portrayed within the media.

     Janet and I are both native English speakers. However, with that in mind, we are both culturally diverse in the ways we may use English to express ourselves and in the ways we may interpret messages expressed in English because of our exposure to other languages in our childhood. Janet, though she does not speak Urdu or Arabic, can understand spoken Urdu and can read Arabic because of her exposure to those languages growing up. As for me, I cannot speak Tagalog, a Filipino language, but I can understand it. I can also understand, speak and read Spanish with mild fluency based on my childhood experiences. However, despite the fact that our interactions within English may have some cultural links to the “variable patterns of social interaction” within the languages we are familiar with (Corbett, 2003, p. 48), we did not have much issue with communicating effectively. Much like Ur’s (1996) comment on interactional talk, our “common sense,” our “cultural knowledge” and our experiences in engaging in different languages with different cultural formats from a young age prevailed in achieving a successful interaction during the interview (Ur, 1996, p. 131).

     In addition to this, Janet and I overlapped in the types of conversational genres we drew on during the interview. The most common genres we engaged in were chat, stories in conversation and second-storying. Though the example given in the Corbett (2003) text deals more with how chat occurs within a family unit, some of the purposes of chat in my interaction with Janet can be identified. The purpose of chat is to “renegotiate and affirm…participant roles” and to reaffirm “solidarity” in an effort to “work out…issues of group identity” (Corbett, 2003, p. 56). During our interview, it was clear to me that Janet and I were negotiating the participant roles of equals, reaffirming our shared opinions and values while supporting ones that we may not share as definitively. We found solidarity in our group identities, despite the fact that our identities diverged in some ways, by noting the foundational values that we shared. For example, Janet and I shared similar stories of established family roles at home visits: each person in the family – men, women and children – were clear on what their roles were and how they worked in conjunction with everyone else. (Lines 14-16 in Appendix 3).

     Stories in conversation was another conversational genre evident in our interview. Though we can see how narratives come into play in the ways that Janet speaks the part of characters within her stories (e.g. Line 15 in Appendix 3), many of her stories were recounts, where she shared the “chronological relations of events…so that the speaker and listener can share a similar reaction to the events related” (Corbett, 2003, p. 57). One particular recount that I found interesting related to her interaction with a lecturer at her university (Lines 35-37 in Appendix 3). The lecturer was an RE (Religious Studies) coordinator for the PGCE Teaching program at Leicester University. During the sessions this lecturer carried out with Janet’s class, she often referred to one of the tables that Janet often sat at as the M-E Table (Minority-Ethnic), that would be able to provide the rest of the student body with more information on Islam, despite the fact that not all of the students at this table practiced that religion. Though I had never experienced an event quite like this based on my own cultural identities, I did have a similar reaction to those events as Janet had: I was shocked, bewildered, and I wanted to do something about it.

     Perhaps the solidarity we shared in her recounts was what led to the final conversational genre evident in our interaction: second-storying, which is done to “reaffirm group identity” as well as to “[identify]…shared common experiences…attitudes and beliefs” (Corbett, 2003, p. 58). Again, though Janet and I come from different religious and cultural backgrounds, we definitely shared similar experiences, attitudes and beliefs with being minorities in predominantly mainstream, Caucasian society (e.g. Lines 48-50 in Appendix 3).

     Presentation of self in the interview was another feature of our conversation that seemed to reveal how our identities overlapped, particularly in how we used language to establish those identities. There have been several studies done to compare how working-class and middle-class people establish their identities in the language that they use (e.g. Bernstein, 1971; Montgomery & Reid-Thomas, 1994; Macaulay, 1991/1995/1996). Though conclusions made by Bernstein (1971) regarding these differences have been highly criticized, many have concluded that, though these speech styles do not completely define how each group uses language, they are representative of a speaker’s “orientation towards communication” (Montgomery & Reid-Thomas, 1994, p. 60). As Corbett (2003) adds to this concept of communicative orientation, “[a]ny speaker can move along a continuum between individual-oriented and community-oriented speech styles, depending on personal inclination, speech situation and the relationship between participants” (Corbett, 2003, p. 124). Following this analysis, I could see how both Janet’s and my style of self-presentation reflected similar foundational values in our complex upbringing: we are both members of a family with immigrant parents or grandparents; we are both advocates for the empowerment that education can provide to people, particularly to women who may not be members of cultures that promote female empowerment; and we are both advocates for integration and inclusion both within the schools where we teach and within our communities. Because of these similarities, we often found ourselves moving between individual-oriented and community-oriented speech as we illustrated “the fluidity of social identification that can occur as real people converse face to face” (Erickson, 1996, p. 292).

     The final aspect of our conversation that most interested me was our conversation on Muslims in the media (Lines 46-51 in Appendix 3). Corbett (2003) discusses the purposes of exploring ethnographic research from the perspective of media and provides many examples of ethnographic media research and what they accomplished (Corbett, 2003, pp. 100-102). Additionally, Gee (2015) provides us with an example of work done by Gagnon (1987) to illustrate how written media, in this case written historical texts, can use “language details [to] lead social activities, identities, and politics, far beyond “giving and getting information”” (Gee, 2015, p. 2). Both of these examples pair well with Janet’s reaction to how Muslims are portrayed in the media. For example, she noted at one point that despite her membership within the Muslim community and despite her positive and loving upbringing within a Muslim family, when she hears the word, jihad, because of the pejorative that it has become in media, the mental image that comes to her mind is one of men “…with their faces covered with weapons on their back” (Line 49 in Appendix 3). She expressed feeling sad and scared about how negatively Muslims are portrayed in today’s media and suggested that Muslims who are active and positive members of any community should reach a point where they are more approachable and open about their beliefs with other cultural communities. In this way, Janet believes that Muslims will be able to, “…show that…you’re Muslim and you’re not that different and it’s fine. To be Muslim” (Line 51 in Appendix 3). Her suggestions parallel effectively with Casanave’s (1992) view that “…in intercultural communication, both sides of the divide should move towards each other” (Casanave, 1992, as cited in Corbett, 2003, p. 71). Janet has effectively illustrated how Muslims can move towards this cultural middle ground, and the only thing left to consider is how other cultures can make that shift as well.

Reflections

     Preparing for and Conducting the Interview. In my initial planning for the interview questions, I felt hesitant and unsure about how Janet would react to how they were phrased. In particular, the example shared in Chapter 6 of Corbett’s (2003) text on how the interview sessions Widdiecombe and Wooffitt (1995) conducted with youth subcultures went awry was significant in the development and evaluation of the interview questions I wanted to ask Janet. Widdiecombe and Wooffitt’s (1995) questions were negatively interpreted by the interviewees because they felt that by answering them, they were essentially agreeing to be categorized in a way that was too simplistic, something these cultural group members were trying to avoid in establishing their personal identities (Corbett, 2003, pp. 129-132). I wanted to make sure that these conversational implicatures did not happen with Janet. With that in mind, I tried to formulate questions that would focus on Janet as a Muslim while also focusing on her as a person in general. I also didn’t want to limit her to only one way of identifying herself culturally with the questions I constructed based on my interpretations and/or experiences with the Muslim culture. I wanted her to define herself on her terms.

     Luckily, I was met with enthusiasm and excitement from Janet when she reviewed the questions I had for her prior to our meeting. She obviously had very strong opinions about her membership within the Muslim community, and during the interview I got the impression that she was passionate about sharing her culture with others. I think that the combination of my sensitivity in framing my questions and her positive reaction to them led to a very open and engaging experience where we learned a lot about each other and found a lot of common ground. I really did feel like I was getting to know her on her terms, not just through the generic vein of what it was like to “be a Muslim in today’s world.”

     Classroom Implications. I primarily teach young learner’s in general education settings, so sometimes it is difficult to consider how to approach culture in a language learning context when that is not the only context in which I teach. However, with that said, I think there would be great opportunities to explore and critically analyze media in a general education classroom of young learners. I think that Gee’s (2015) introductory paragraph and illustration of how written texts convey and reproduce specific cultural, political and/or social perspectives would be a wonderful concept to explore with my students. In particular, I can see how a unit of learning where students explore their cultural values, belief systems, etc. and compare it to how their cultural communities are portrayed in all forms of media can fit into the curriculum I teach.

     Additionally, I think that Corbett (2003) provides some great possibilities for different ethnographic activities that I could modify for the students that I teach. For example, the activity where students create a table to list what food items hold significance for a culture (Corbett, 2003, p. 109) and the activity where students explore negative etiquette across cultures (Corbett, 2003, pp. 110-111) could pair nicely with the aforementioned critical analysis of media portrayal of culture. Students would be provided with opportunities to question their interpretations of different cultures: Why do we think these types of food are significant to these cultures? Does our interpretation align with the values, belief systems, etc. of actual members of these cultural groups? Why would someone be offended if we tried to “imitate” their accents?

     Finally, I think that the views of culture that Moran (2001) defines in his book, Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice, are a good frame of reference for me to use when trying to understand what aspect of culture I am trying to approach in teaching (Moran, 2001, pp. 4-5). His Cultural Knowings Framework, particularly as it is redesigned with Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning Model, would be a great model to follow when planning and teaching culture within a classroom (Moran, 2001, pp. 15-19).

     Overall, the foundational classroom implication for me is to create a learning environment that is inclusive of all cultures represented within it and within the greater community. Students should be provided with enough opportunities to explore differences, not just to note how one culture is different from others, but to reach a point where differences are the norm and where differences are understood and reacted to in appropriate ways, in terms of how we use language, how we work with others in a classroom, how we approach and deal with conflict, among other things. Janet’s comment on her positive experiences within an inclusive environment as a student in grade school and as a teacher in an inclusion-oriented school best concludes my final thoughts:

     I think that there’s only positives that can come out of [an inclusively-oriented] school like [the one I work in] and the school I went to as a child because…you have those conversations with people, and people aren’t alien to you…you’re not gonna feel weird sitting next to some girl on the bus who’s a different skin color to you or has different beliefs to you [because] you teach it, and you teach about inclusivity. (Line 35 in Appendix 3)

Feedback from Janet

     Additional Comments from Janet. I have not received any feedback or additional comments from Janet on this ethnographic report.

References:

Bernstein, B. (1971). Class, codes and control. London, UK: Routledge and Kegan.

Casanave, C. P. (1992). Cultural diversity and socialization: A case study of a hispanic woman in a doctoral program in sociology. In D. E. Murray (Ed.), Diversity as resource: Defining cultural literacy (pp. 148-182). Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Corbett, J. (2003). An intercultural approach to english language teaching. Trowbridge, UK: Cromwell Press Ltd.

Erickson, F. (1996). Ethnographic microanalysis. In S. L. McKay and N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language teaching (pp. 283-306). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Gagnon, P. A. (1987). Democracy’s untold story: What world history books neglect. Washington, D. C.: American Federation of Teachers.

Gee, J.P. (2015). Introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method (2nd Ed.). Florence, KY: Routledge.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Macaulay, R. K. S. (1991). Locating dialect in discourse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Macaulay, R. K. S. (1995/6). Remarkably common eloquence: The aesthetics of an urban dialect. Amsterdam, Netherlands : John Benjamins.

Montgomery, M. & Reid-Thomas, H. (1994). Language and social life. Manchester, UK: British Council. Moran, P. B. (2001). Teaching culture: Perspectives in practice. Boston, MA: Heinle. Widdiecombe, S. & Wooffitt, R. (1995). The language of youth subcultures. New York, NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Appendix 1: Diagram of Interview Room

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Appendix 2: Interview Guide

All highlighted questions were the main ones asked during the interview. With that said, not all of them were asked explicitly as they may have been embedded in the answers given. See the interview transcript for details.

  • General questions about you and your family
    • What was your childhood like? (Hobbies, Friends, etc.)
    • Possible Follow Ups:
      • How do those things compare to what your friends, hobbies, etc. are like now?
  • What types of family functions were or are a regular part of your life?
    • Possible Follow Ups:
      • Why are those functions important to you and your family?
      • Are there any differences in the importance that you and/or other family
        members put on those family gatherings?
  • Where are you originally from?
  • What languages do you know in addition to English?
    • Possible Follow Ups:
      • How well do you speak them?
      • How do they correlate with your values, personality, etc.?
      • Do you use these languages for different purposes in different contexts? If so, how?
  • How being Muslim functions in your personal life
    • How would you describe your participation/membership in the Muslim community?
      • Possible Follow Ups:
        • Why would you describe yourself that way?
        • Are there any practices that you participate in more often in than others?
        • What about being Muslim is significant to you? Why do you feel that way?
    • Does your extended family have varying views to being Muslim than you and/or your immediate family?
      • Possible Follow Ups:
      • How are there interpretations similar/different?
      • How do you and your family negotiate those differences?
    • Can you give me any examples of positive/negative experiences you may have had (with Muslims and/or non-Muslims) that have had a significant impact on the values, beliefs you have now?
    • How did your parents teach you about being Muslim? Did your siblings, if any, react differently to your parents than you? How would they feel if you decided to become a member of a different religion or if you decided not to be religious at all?
  • How bring Muslim functions in your work life
    • How many teachers at the school are practicing Muslims? How are their identities as Muslims similar or different to you?
    • Do you find that your relationship to Muslim students and parents in your school is different to the relationship non-Muslim teachers have with them?
    • Can you share any experiences that relate to how being Muslim has helped/hindered your role as a teacher in your school?
  • Your reactions to how Muslims are portrayed in the media
    • What is your interpretation of/reaction to how Muslims are portrayed in the media
      (news, movies, TV, etc.)?

      • Possible Follow Ups:
      • Why do you think it is this way?
      • What is your reaction to it?
      • How do you wish it would change?
    • Have you or any of your family members had any positive/negative experiences directly related to being Muslim?
    • Are you familiar with the #notinmynameISIS movement? There are several movements going on with Muslims and people who practice Islam reacting against the ISIS movement. Do you have any stance on this? If so, what it is and why do you think/feel that way?
  • Other
    • Outside of being Muslim, how do you define your individual culture – the values, belief systems, etc. that you hold?
      • Possible Follow Ups:
        • What other factors about you define/drive how you define your culture?
        • How do you want people to view you in light of this?
        • Does it matter to you how others view you (strangers and close friends/family)?

Appendix 3: Interview Transcript

Date: Tuesday, March 1st, 2016
Time: 3:45-4:45PM (Approximately)

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Cranberries Help Antibiotics Fight Bacterial Infections

Research conducted at McGill University and INRS has found that a cranberry extract makes bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics, a promising avenue for limiting resistance to these important drugs

The global spread of antibiotic resistance is undermining decades of progress in fighting bacterial infections. Due to the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, we are on the cusp of returning to a pre-antibiotic era in which minor infections can once again become deadly. Therefore, countering the fall in antibiotic efficacy by improving the effectiveness of currently available antibiotics is a crucial goal.

Cranberries are highly sought after for their tangy taste and the antioxidants they contain, but a new study published in the journal Advanced Science provides evidence that they could also help in the fight against bacteria. When treated with molecules derived from cranberries, pathogenic bacteria become more sensitive to lower doses of antibiotics. What’s more, the bacteria don’t develop resistance to the antibiotics, according to the findings by researchers at McGill University and INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique) in Montreal.

Given the popular belief that drinking cranberry juice is helpful against urinary tract infections, the researchers sought to find out more about the berry’s molecular properties by treating various bacteria with a cranberry extract. The bacteria selected for study were those responsible for urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gastro-enteritis (Proteus mirabilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Escherichia coli).

“Normally when we treat bacteria with an antibiotic in the lab, the bacteria eventually acquire resistance over time,” said McGill chemical engineering professor Nathalie Tufenkji, lead author of the study. “But when we simultaneously treated the bacteria with an antibiotic and the cranberry extract, no resistance developed. We were very surprised by this, and we see it as an important opportunity.”

Analyses showed that the cranberry extract increases bacterial sensitivity to antibiotics by acting in two ways. First, it makes the bacterial cell wall more permeable to the antibiotic, and second, it interferes with the mechanism used by the bacteria to pump out the antibiotic. Consequently, the antibiotic penetrates more easily, and the bacteria have a harder time getting rid of it, which explains why the drug is effective at lower doses.

“These are really exciting results,” said coauthor Éric Déziel, a professor of microbiology at INRS. “The activity is generated by molecules called proanthocyanidins. There are several different kinds of proanthocyanidins, and they may work together to deliver this outcome. We’ll need to do more research to determine which ones are most active in synergy with the antibiotic.”

After confirming the activity of the cranberry molecules on bacterial culture, the researchers tested to determine whether the pattern persisted in a preliminary animal model: infected insects. Since the synergistic effect of the extract and the antibiotic was also observed in the insects, further experiments will be conducted to clearly identify the active molecules.

If the results are confirmed in animals, certain classes of antibiotics subject to high levels of resistance could be made useful again by using cranberry extract to boost their potential.

“We are eager to pursue this research further,” Tufenkji said. “Our hope is to reduce the doses of antibiotics required in human and veterinary medicine as part of efforts to combat antibiotic resistance.”

Article by McGill University. Related journal article in Advanced Science. Image by Pixabay.


Source: Natural Blaze

Unsolicited Food Review: Cosmopolitan Vodka Popsicle

Alright. I’m gonna level with you. I had a drink before I started writing this review. I have a low tolerance for alcohol, and now I am being affected by the alcohol. However! The show must go on! Hemingway wrote when he was totally blasted, right? If he can do it, I can soldier through this mild inebriation. Probably.

How does one acquire a vodka popsicle? Well, I got it when I was with my pal at Total Wine the other day. Now, I’m a fan of Total Wine for several reasons. They’ve got a lot of variety, they’ve got expensive birthday cards, and they’ve got weird shit near the front counter that I like to peruse. While my friend was buying the ingredients for a proper Cosmopolitan cocktail, I was admiring what appeared to be the kind of popsicles they used to give us in grade school. You know the ones- the ones where it’s just a plastic tube with some colored sugar ice. The only difference? These beauties have alcohol in them.

Before I rip into this frozen Cosmopolitan, I’d like to share my thoughts on the product’s packaging. First of all, I think branding this as a “skinny” freezer is a pretty obvious clue that this company wants to market to people who are or want to be skinny. They’re taking their chunk of that sweet, sweet diet culture money, and I’m not sure how ethical that is, considering how damaging diet culture is to Americans of all genders. A little social critique in this supposedly humorous food review? You’re welcome.

The ingredient list on the front of the package is quite helpful, as it gives me an excuse to pad this post’s length. The full list is as follows: “Vodka with a splash of Vermouth, natural flavors, artificial sweeteners, FD&C Red #40 and cochineal extract.” The natural flavors and artificial sweeteners should give the ingredient purist pause, as this product was clearly created in some sort of laboratory. Perhaps there was even a mad scientist with crazy hair and a dress with fun little equations on it. I can dream,

Wondering what the history of Red #40 was all about, I did a quick Google search. THIS SHIT COMES FROM “PETROLEUM DISTILLATES AND COAL TARS!” It also caused tumors in the respiratory systems of mice. Maybe I should have reviewed a different color popsicle. Maybe I should see a doctor too. Why am I coughing so much? Is this the end of Merry Jane Writes? (cough) Please… (cough) subscribe… So I can put my subscription count… on my tombstone….

Anyway, cochineal extract comes from a bug that looks like this.

Everything is fine. It’s fine.

When viewing the back of the product’s packaging, I noticed some text meant to further sell the popsicle: “Finally, a low-calorie frozen treat, for adults, that won’t hit your waistline. It CAN however hit the Poolside, Beachside, Barside, and Grillside!” First of all, if you want a low calorie frozen treat for adults, grow the fuck up and freeze a Go-Gurt like the rest of us. Go-Gurt: The Snack for All Ages. (Not sponsored) Second of all… Barside? You’re telling me that I should go to a bar, not order anything, and instead eat a popsicle that I brought? I’m not dignifying this idea with further response.

The text continues with “Made with premium 8-times distilled, charcoal filtered Vodka, this medley of Martini flavors will delight your palette!” These popsicle makers are trying to bamboozle me! They’re trying to trick me into thinking that they didn’t pour in some bottom shelf shit into these plastic pouches. You don’t use the good stuff for an artificially sweetened bug colored popsicle. You just don’t.

I also just found out that the company that makes these popsicles is called Slim Chillers. Is that more of a rap name or a jazz band full of middle-aged white men name? Leave a comment below with your vote.

Now that I’ve rambled for a while, I think it’s time to open this popsicle up. The problem? There’s no goddamn perforated “Tear Here” area at either end of the product. These people want me to use scissors? Do they think I’m some kind of nostalgic freak? We’re living in the 21st century, for God’s sake. Perforate your goddamn packaging!

For scientific purposes, I’m going to once again rely on my five senses to rate this frozen libation.

Sight? It looks like any run-of-the-mill red slushie. Is it important that I think blue slushies are better than red ones? Perhaps.

Sound? The ice is a bit crunchy, as one would expect. Don’t make me hold your hand through this.

Touch? It’s, uh, cold.

What’s the fourth sense? Smell? It smells like cheap vodka that got mixed together with the entirety of the JC Penny perfume department.

Taste? The most important sense there is when it comes to rating food and drink? You want to know what the Cosmopolitan Vodka Martini Skinny Freezer tastes like? I’m not sure if you’re ready. I’m not sure you’ve earned it. Have you dropped by my other posts? Given them a like or two? Are you even subscribed? If not, come back when you are, you absolute scrub.

Taste: Ah fuck, I let the popsicle melt while you I was waiting on you. It should still taste the same, so I’m not worried. The flavor of this popsicle can best be described as “B- Cosmopolitan that you’ll drink solely for the purpose of getting drunk.” It’s definitely sweet, but chemically so. The alcohol flavoring is there, but it isn’t overpowering. All in all, this alcoholic popsicle is alright. Is it good enough to make me forget the packaging’s contribution to a harmful American diet culture that capitalizes people’s insecurities? No.

Now that I’m finishing a blog post while mildly buzzed on a Monday night, I know what being a freshly graduated liberal arts student is like. Cheers!

Cosmopolitan Vodka Martini Skinny Freezer: seven out of ten.

Capture

Each and every moment of our lives are recorded. Each thought, motive and sentiment.

The happy times…

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
Blessed is the man who trusts in You!

Psalm 84:11-12

And those dark and sad days…

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

1 Peter 3:12

God’s Righteous Judgment

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:1-11


But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds” – God’s grace abounds. His righteousness reigns. Grace and righteousness are two sides of the same coin. Righteousness demands judgment to render to each one according to their own deeds. The church is overrun by those who choose to topple the balance as some choose to cling to grace and yet forget God’s justice. Such mentality breeds a church that makes way for lawlessness. We cannot cry for justice and mercy when we think we can easily excuse our own unrighteous deeds. God knows our thoughts – each and every single one of them whether for evil or for good.

Christian, let today be the day to walk in uprightness according to His calling in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Shifen and Jioufen

When you come to Taipei, there are two main places everyone talks about going for a day trip. So, of course, we went to both of them.

Elaine and I left the hostel a little before 9 to begin our trek. Our first stop was Shifen, an old mining town located northeast of Taipei. To get there, we first hopped on the metro, then took a train out to Ruifang. We had some time before the next train to Shifen, so we took advantage of our mini “layover” to explore the town. I got to try a black pepper pork bun, which was delicious, along with some more bubble tea:

From there, we transferred to another train that dropped us off quite literally in the heart of Shifen old town (excuse the bad picture, the railings got very crowded when the trains came in).

We got off the train and walked around the old town. One of the most common activities is to write your wishes on a lantern and then send it off into the sky. They have festivals where they send hundreds up at the same time, but while we were there they were sent up more periodically.

We set off for our next destination – the Shifen waterfall. To get there, you could driver take a scooter, or walk. We chose the old fashioned route, and set off through the forest. We passed a ton of greenery on our way, and crossed over bridges and through open areas.

After 15-20 minutes arrived at the waterfall. It looked like a mini-Niagara falls, and it was beautiful. We found a path that was surprisingly empty, and took advantage of the clear scenery to get some pictures of the waterfall (and ourselves).

We took our time wandering back, stopping at a little swing and enjoying the scenery. We made our way back through the old town and stopped to get some food from a little restaurant by the train station while we waited for the next one to come.

We also tried another Taiwanese “delicacy” – this is a crepe-like pancake, wrapped around ice cream, peanut, and parsley. We saw these all over the place, and finally decided we had to try it.

We traveled back to Ruifang, and from there grabbed a bus to Jioufen.

Jioufen is another mining town, and it’s best known for being the town Spirited Away is based on. I was super excited to visit here, and especially wanted to see the lanterns come on at night.

Elaine and I walked through the old town market, which was a huge passageway limed with shops selling food, candy, and souvenirs. The souvenirs were also more unique – there were handmade items, beyond what you could get at the typical gift shop.

We walked all the way through the market and emerged on the other side. We kept walking and ended up in the residential area with a view of the markets edge and the houses built into the hill. We could also see a temple and the ocean off in the distance.

Eventually, we made our way back to the market where we stopped for food.

By the time we walked back towards the bus stop, the lanterns were all lit! Oddly enough, many of the stands were also closed. We hadn’t expected this, but luckily had done the majority of our shopping on the way in.

It was a full day, but a great one. Both places were super accessible on public transportation, which was awesome. It was easy to see why they’re extremely popular day trips.