Sunday, December 28, 2008

Family, Fun, and the Flu

Lets face it. We've had some ups and downs this week.

*Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
*Taking care of a baby with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
*Giving the tenacious flu symptoms to many members of our extended family (it's the second time we've started a familydemic. Last time it was pink eye. Sorry about that too).
*Having several people wonder out loud if your family might have acquired some intestinal parasite
*Knowing that the intestinal parasite theory is entirely possible
*Cancelling Christmas dinner because half the family was snowed in and the other half was sick

*Everything I ordered online arrived in time!
*Family, family and more family
*It was my first Christmas morning with Bryce's family and I loved it. Adorable tree, hyper kids, delicious breakfast, lottery tickets...
*Stephanie got some books for Christmas that she's already read so guess who gets to borrow them!?!
*My tiny niece did not get sick and looked adorable in her blessing gown (see Chloe here).
*The holidays seem to be lasting a really long time since I'm not going home in a couple of days. I guess that's what it feels like to live near family. A constant party.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jet Lag

It's really hard to explain jet lag to someone who has never had it. Our kids were surprised by how hard it was to get used to Vietnam time when we left. Maggie spent several nights not sleeping at all and several days crying with exhaustion. We tried to prepare them better for our return trip.

They were obsessed with jet lag on the plane. When we first settled into the second flight we heard Maggie say, "I'm going to get a lot of sleep so I don't get jet lag"

Then somewhere over the Atlantic she leaned forward and asked Bryce, "Do I have jet lag yet?" (It's especially cute because she says it like jet leg).

When we had landed and were taxiing our way into the "not so lovely in the snow" SeaTac Airport Maggie and Titus spent a lot of time chatting to the lady next to them. Titus politely asked her in a sympathetic tone, "Do you have jet lag too?"

The first two days we saw nary a sign of jet lag. We had happy children that slept exactly when expected. Then yesterday they slept in until noon, stayed up crying and fighting until midnight, and are well on their way to sleeping in today. I want to go wake them up but they told me not to. They said they're trying to sleep a lot so that Christmas will come faster.

Last week at this time...

This is what we were doing last week. We didn't know what we were getting into when the people at the hotel suggested we visit a nearby hot springs. It ended up being quite a resort. We were a little disappointed having imagined lounging in a natural rock lined pool overlooking the ocean (I'm not sure why we thought that, but we did). Anyway, to make up for the disappointment we got massages for the kids. The girls doing the massages thought it was hilarious. They said something to Hieu that she had a hard time translating for us. It was something like, "They say your children are... well I don't know the word in English, something like they get whatever they want..."

I told her the word she was looking for was "spoiled". So she learned a new word, the kids got massages, and we ended up enjoying the not so natural hot springs after all. Well worth the $2.50 US we spent.

This is what we're doing this week. We have come back to a world of white. White roads, white sky, white grass. The sun and massages seem a world away (which they are, I suppose). We have spent a lot of time inside since we're seriously lacking in snow gear. But, yesterday, when the sun was shining a wee bit the kids ventured outside to make a snowman. The snow didn't pack so well since it was covered with a layer of ice so they made a snow slide instead. It was a serious blow to hear that there was no way they'd be allowed to slide down the greenhouse roof. We'll try to take them sledding today.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Here we are. Home at last. We arrived to about six inches of snow and then watched another few inches fall last night. So magical and sooo cold. We're making do with some pseudo winter gear and taking a nose dive into the Christmas season. If I can keep my eyes open I'm going to make some gingerbread today with my sisters. Sleep sounds good too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


We finished up our trip to the south by going out to the coast and settling in for a few nights. It turns out we still love the beach. Now we're back in Hanoi and have plans to pack all day tomorrow and catch the midnight flight out. I'm a little intimidated at the prospect...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cu Chi Tunnels

The other day we visited some nearby tunnels that were used during the war by North Vietnamese soldiers. They lived in underground rooms, linked by narrow tunnels, for months at a time while the ground above them was being bombed and gassed constantly.

Titus was especially interested in going to see the tunnels. He has been fascinated to hear about the war here and see how patience and ingenuity overcame modern firepower. We read that mines still kill over 1,000 people a year here, so Titus kept reminding us not to go off the path.

Visiting the tunnels was a macabre mix of tourist activities and the horrible reality of war. We laughed while we squeezed through the tiny entrances and then stood in silence while the guide explained how the Vietnamese booby traps worked. The bamboo spiked pits were the most sobering for me.

I assumed that there would still be some animosity here towards Americans considering the intensity and recent history of the war. But there just isn't any. "It's in the past," some people say. "It was the government." Some people shake their heads in amazement and say "Did you know that the American soldiers didn't even want to come to fight? The government made them." Then the conversation usually turns to the peace they've enjoyed since (no mention of the post-war poverty and struggle) and how they plan to enjoy it for years to come.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


We've headed south for our last week in Vietnam. To the great metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). My first impression is that this town has got it going on! The lights, the traffic, the swanky shops. I'm amazed and overwhelmed.

We spent the afternoon doing some child pleasing activities. A rock climbing wall, a swimming pool, a dinner with food they actually liked, and finally a small amusement park. I don't think they mind that we came after all. Enzo is exhausted. I think we're going to settle in for a quiet night with a movie before we start again tomorrow.

Here is where I publicly admit that we have bought bootlegged movies while here. I feel a little guilty sometimes. But since they usually don't work my guilt is somewhat passified.

Sorry no pictures. I forgot to bring the card reader for my cell phone camera. Dang.

Friday, December 12, 2008


You can tell this sign would be important in an emergency. The guy is obviously in a hurry (look at that stride). I kinda felt like running out the door just looking at this.

This was a fun list of rules to read at a hotel. The second one says, "Do not take with guns, explosive, drug and other banned things, animals and bad-smell food stuff also get no permission." Words to live by in this unfortunate day and age.

It was hard to explain to our friend why we thought this sign was funny. To us it sounded like if you are wearing shorts it's better to just take them off right now before going inside the pagoda.
Luckily none of us were wearing shorts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beginning the Goodbyes

It turns out we're leaving soon. Just as I suspected, way back in September, our departure date seems like its just around the corner. Here we were, just getting into the swing of things, and BAM! Time to go. So, this week we've started saying goodbye... and thank you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ba Vi National Park

We always mean to be an outdoorsy family, but in reality we only go hiking once a year and the last time we slept in the tent was in the old Orchard Park Gardens. That's why we're always surprised to be reminded of Titus' amazing ability to climb any number of steep steps in the name of hiking. He wasn't the least put off by spending two hours in the car each way getting to the park. He jumped out of the car, breathed in the bracing mountain air (it was seriously chilly), and bounded up the trail without a second thought. He might have gone up that mountain twice with the amount of times he kept coming back to encourage his slowpoke Mama. When I finally joined him at the top he sat down, sighed, and said, "Now this is the kind of view we like, right Mag?"
We could see the next mountain top, it's trees, and a bunch of misty clouds that our travel book refered to as atmospheric. Luckily, the kids didn't know we were supposed to be able to view Hanoi from the peak.

Maggie enjoyed the hike at a more relaxing and dreamy pace but was no less enthusiastic. She climbed, danced, climbed, and twirled up to the top. It was a relief to see a little color in her cheeks and sparkle in her eyes. The kids have both taken on a somewhat peaky appearance lately. It might have something to do with their polite refusal to eat anything set in front of them besides french fries and fruit.

Enzo was carried the whole way in Bryce's arms. How we forgot to bring the baby carrier on a designated hike I don't know. The downer for Enzo was him having a blowout and having to get entirely naked in a cold breeze. We told him that not many babies get to have their diapers changed on top of a mountain in front of a tiny temple. He remained, justifiably, sulky and fell asleep as soon as he got warm again.

It was a two hour drive each way that was fraught with its usual near miss collisions, honking, and dust. Our driver was a gregarious fellow that we've been with before who has the amazing ability to fit in everywhere we go. He speaks no English but it still seems like he translates for us because he obviously understands people. I might love him forever because he was really nice and found me a toilet (of sorts) when I had an inopportune bout of sore guts.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Bummer and an Update

The bummer is that our internet access is so funky. Sometimes I can be philosophically impressed that we do get internet access out here, that I'm able to communicate with loved ones half a world away, and even do some Christmas shopping. Then the ugly ethnocentric part of me comes out and I get annoyed that we share our internet cable in the lobby with the entire guest house population (except whoever is staying in room 205, they have their own), I get impatient that things load so slowly, I get mad that I can't get into etsy and order that nightgown that was perfect for Maggie. It seems like there is a mean little elf that has been keeping track of all of the places I usually visit and has put a block on them. I have obviously not been good enough this year and am now being punished. Bryce can access a lot more sites than I can so I guess that shows his behavior. He is inclined to be much more philosophical than I am.

The update is that I haven't seen the mysterious trio again. I mentioned them to Bryce and he suggested that they might have been here with the conference of counseling psychologists that was held at the university this week. Maybe the shoe thing was some way to connect with each other... or their clients. You can never tell with counseling psychologists.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Not So Busy

We've been laying low this week. Recuperating. It has been nice and slow. A little bit hazy even, and I've really enjoyed it. I'll give you some highlights.

Titus reached a new level on pogo sticking. His previous record for consecutive jumps was 402. His new record is 620. He didn't even fall over or trip. He stopped because he was tired. Apparently it's not the legs that get tired. It's the arms.

Our clothes rack broke. I tried to fix it with blue tape but it's still leaning over a lot. I really want it to last just two more weeks.

There are some mysterious men staying at the guest house. There are three of them and I've seen them together twice. The mysterious thing about them is that they do not wear matching shoes. Three men, six different shoes. They are dressed quite nicely otherwise. I'm not sure what it means but I'm keeping my eyes peeled.

I asked Maggie what she wanted for dinner the other night and she said pasta. With red sauce and white cheese sprinkled on top. Somehow conversations like that just make us hungrier.

We have been listening to Christmas music like there's no tomorrow. The kids like the tunes with the chipmunks or the muppets. Totally fine by me.

Now I've gotta go. I'm going to go read "On the Banks of Plum Creek" to Maggie for the third time since we've been here. I wish I had brought more books.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Spring Roll Update

I had another tutorial tonight. This time from the girls who come on Tuesday evenings. We had a little party where we supplied the pizza and they supplied the spring rolls (nem). Very multi-cultural. The spring rolls today included pork, carrots, mushrooms, eggs, bean sprouts, greens (a cilantro/parsley like item), noodles, and onion. They were great.

The girls also showed me how to make the sauce for the spring rolls. Unfortunately, it sounds like I might not be able to make it. It needs to have the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. I might have missed the crucial age by which I need to start practicing. It is made out of fish sauce, water, sugar, lemon juice, garlic, and chiles. Bryce loved it. Lucky for me he’s a decidedly un-picky eater so I can probably try to make it and he’ll eat it even if I fail. I know, he’s quite a guy.

A Cold

There is no denying it. Enzo has quite a cold. It’s very sad to see him coughing his little heart out. Maggie and Titus are both a little sick themselves but manage to handle things with stoic maturity. But this baby…

He has a shy little look he gives me lately where it seems like he’s saying he’d rather just go to sleep on my shoulder, if that’s okay. Laying down seems to make it harder to breathe, and sleep. It’s nice for me, but I know he’d rather just be done with this thing and stop feeling so miserable.

One bummer about this cold (for me) is that it throws quite a disreputable shadow on my mothering abilities. I’m constantly given parenting advice. I live in a seemingly endless stream of well intentioned suggestions (more clothes, less clothes, more sleep, less food… just leave him in Vietnam and we’ll take care of him). Now that he’s obviously sick this is intensified. Only now there is more ammo.

I'm already pretty hard on myself so when someone looks at me as if to say, “Poor American Mama doesn’t know how to take care of her baby…” I can only agree. I spend most of the day wishing I could be sick instead.

I think he seemed a little bit better today. He smiled.

Sightseeing Sunday

On Sunday we went to Hanoi for some shameless sightseeing. We were invited to lunch by this adorable couple. They made truly amazing food.

He is a student in the advanced program who lives in Hanoi. His girlfriend is studying international business and also speaks English. After lunch they took us out to the Ho Chi Minh Complex. He impressed us with his extensive knowledge of Vietnamese history. She impressed us with her patience while Enzo tried repeatedly to eat her sweater. The only bummer was that the day ended early because the Temple of Literature was closed to tourists. We'll have to try again next week.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Night Vision

Before our camera met its untimely demise Bryce and Titus spent a few hours one night experimenting with some settings. When we were uploading pictures the other night I saw them for the first time. I thought they were very cool. I liked this one a lot. It's what the guest house sign might look like to a frog at night.I just like this one because that kid is so dang cute. I know he's hard to see, it was dark, after all, but just look at those cheeks.