Two years and 11 days ago…

Our lives were so different. I was a suburban mom of two busy sports kids trying to balance a part-time job that I loved at a toystore. Tyler was just becoming a teenager – when we thought he was just starting to look “like a young man” he was really on the teetering edge of still being a kid. Caroline would still have been in elementary school – our Little Miss Sunshine was broken-hearted to leave all her friends and family behind. We took a risk – a big one. But I’m oh so glad we did.

Living in HCMC these past two years has been an experience I cannot begin to describe. I feel like all four of us have lived completely new and separate lives than we did back in Portland. I almost feel like we have dual identities…do we?!? Caroline, who was once my dedicated gymnast and softball player, now shines on the stage and has a leading role in the school production; she has also learned to play the piano, does ACRO, and is team captain of her school football (soccer) team (we have finally all succombed to calling it football). She is still our Little Miss Sunshine and amazes us all still every day in all that she takes on and excels in doing. She is not afraid of navigating International airports, using foreign currency, learning new languages, taking on new hobbies (scuba diving and archery), and has recently admitted to me that she would like to stay here through High School. GASP! No….not my baby girl who begged and cried to stay home in Portland. She would never give up her gymnastics team or softball…would she?!?!

Tyler…the changes in this guy are immeasurable. Sure he’s gone through all of the teenage boy physical changes – grown about 6 inches, has a much deeper voice, takes 1/2 hour showers and his clothes smell just as bad as Barry’s at the end of the day. But his outlook and approach to everything here has taken a complete 180. Ironically, when we moved here, it was Tyler we were most worred about adapting to all of the changes. When he, in fact, adapted quicker than any of us. After a brief bout of anxiety of entering a new school, wearing a uniform, new friends…he slid right in. It was almost two years ago exactly, when he left for his first class trip to Dalat for the week, when I handed him his passport on his 13th birthday (both of us choking back tears) and told him to go and make new friends and have new experiences. This was only 3 weeks after we had arrived here. He came back a new kid. To this day, he still has the same core group of friends he made that week. Just yesterday I gave him money for him to go downtown with his friends and actually shop on his own for clothes. We are not talking about the Nike store people. For those of you who know Tyler well – you know This.Is.Huge. He came home with two pairs of pants and a new hoodie for his class trip to Hong Kong this week. While they were out, they made reservations at a well-known pizza place for lunch. He is quite confident in navigating busy downtown HCMC – the taxis and ubers. He buys gifts for his girlfriend, and will randomly come home with a kitchen “gadget” he thinks I need, or something for Caroline or mention something he thinks “that dad would like”. What the what?!? He spent hours the other day online looking at flights for us for Spring Break saying “you cannot book these until you talk to me about it”. He is confident he will study abroad for college and has no intention of going back to the US for high school. We call him our airport expert and speed walker. When we want to get through Immigration quickly anywhere – we send in Tyler.  Want a taxi – send in Tyler. Need foreign currency calculated – ask Tyler. Want to know how many hours it takes from here to there – ask Tyler. He has become a true International kid and I could not be more proud of him. Yes…he still misses baseball; but has come to accept that it just isn’t in the cards for him here. He recently was asked to join the “Athletics Squad” at school to compete in Track & Field events for the city championships.  We are extremely proud of him, and I know it makes him happy to still be recognized as an athlete although he hasn’t been part of a team in a while.

Those of you who know Barry know that he is pretty passionate about what he enjoys doing – that includes work, coaching, working out, finding and making new healthy recipes, and oh yah…work. He loves it here. He loves his job, the people, the culture, learning Vietnamese, eating local, shopping local etc…I could go on and on. But yes – we all have our challenges here, and so does he. He spends many, many hours in the car each week visiting hot factories; his job completely changed here going from basically a “desk job” to actively traveling to his factories every day and interacting with the factory managers along with his uppers at Nike. He is also the one to “entertain” visitors from WHQ now rather than being the one “entertained.” He works hard, long and hot days and weeks…and it’s been a big adjustment for all of us. His determintation and commitment to his job never cease to amaze me….and I’ve never seen him go to bed earlier in all the 20 years that I’ve known him. 😉

As for me…mom-truth: some days I do feel lost. Some days I wonder “where do I belong in all of this?” I miss my old job – my old co-workers and friends – my car – my house – my school volunteer work – my neighbors – and of course, my family. It is sometimes surreal to think that we have created this whole new life and house here several thousands of miles away from “home”. Not only are the physical and environmental aspects different; but also so is my mentality and outlook on life. I have a much slower pace of living here. I ride my bike to the store and pretty much everywhere I need to go. I sometimes take long leisurely walks with Ziggy in the compound along the river enjoying the sunshine and flowers and palm trees; and some afternoons I spend in the air conditioning reading my latest book. I average about 4-5 books/week. I treasure and sometimes linger on old memories of managing the toy store and being a buyer; and I dream of one day again going to the New York Toy Fair as a buyer, a store owner or manager, or a sales rep. But I also have new dreams – dreams of using my passion of the Engligh language and books to become a book editor or simply even an ARC reviewer or beta reader (book-geek lingo). Maybe I’ll be a bookstore buyer when we return? Or even a bookstore owner? Or novelist? I don’t know. But what I do know is this….we took a risk. We left our comfort zones. We left dreams and goals behind. But we have also created new ones. We have discovered so much more about ourselves and the opportunities that are out there for all of us. 2018 is going to be an amazing year of new adventures, experiences, travels and story-telling. I can already feel it. Take a risk my friends – it’s so worth it. XO

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home?

I am not going to lie and say that this past Summer was easy. We were home for 8 weeks, 3 of which Barry was with us. We spent a week in Sunriver, Caroline had a week of zoo camp, we had 17 appointments between 3 of us, spent a week in Colorado, an over-night road trip to Seattle, a day at the beach and the mountain, and 2 trips to Top Golf….just to name a few activities. I am still tired thinking about it all again. We saw family, cousins, godfathers, friends from High School, friends from College, old co-workers (even one from France), old neighbors, expat friends, and of course much QT with our closest of friends and sisters. Phew….

Emotions were high this Summer for all of us. Caroline & I were ecstatic to be home to the familiarity and our friends and family; but of course we missed Barry…and our Vietnam peeps. Tyler was not too thrilled to be home as he missed his girlfriend – life of a 14 year old. As excited as I was to drive a car again – the Portland traffic and our busy days soon wore on me. I realized I was not as focused as I once was behind the wheel – thus came the parking ticket and being pulled over once. Woops! By our last week in Portland, I did not want to drive even a mile down the road. I found myself content at our townhome and poolside at the club across the street. I was craving the “easy” way of expat life. What I once missed desperately in my car and the freedom of driving was soon forgotten; and I found myself missing my bike back in Vietnam.

If anyone says that expat life is easy they are lying. You miss home, yet you are constantly pulled in different directions once home. You worry about am I spending enough time with that person? or have I connected with this person? or things as trivial as do I have enough contacts to last me a year? It is draining.

The longer we are in Vietnam, the more I ask myself “where is home?” Is it where all these familiar faces are? Or is it where my bed, my belongings, my dogs, and my people are?!? Those people that really get the roller-coaster of expat life. I still don’t have that answer. And maybe that’s what expat life is all about…experiencing different “homes” here and there, and living to share experiences and stories about it all. Is it hard? Yes. Do I regret doing it? Absolutely not. It’s the places and faces below who help remind us where home truly is…and it will always be there waiting. XO

 

 

 

 

Oh Japan…

So first off, I have to say that if you are going to visit Japan that you should go during the Cherry Blossom season. The cherry blossoms (or Sakura as the Japanese call them) become an event in themselves. People of all ages – moms with kids, business men in suits, teenagers – all come together to celebrate the Sakura. There are tarps and make-shift tables and chairs set out for people to picnic on and just sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. There are drink vendors – and I mean wine, beer and champagne – and food vendors that would put the county fair food to shame. Every map you see has official “Cherry Blossom Sites” listed on it; and in souvenir shops you can buy everything “Sakura” from candles to keychains. We had to check it out for ourselves, although it was pretty hard to miss! Tokyo did it up big. Kyoto is more of a smaller “big city” and the whole city feels like a fairy-tale.

I have to say that one of my most favorite things in Japan were the Japanese girls. I’m talking about those tween, teenager, early 20’s girls. They are in a word…adorable. They dress alike, look alike, smile alike, laugh alike, and all in all just look like they love every single thing about life. They hold hands and tell secrets, and have no problem whatsoever waving hi to others (especially Caroline) and giggling at boys (especially Tyler). They were a breath of fresh air to watch and experience in every city we visited.

One thing I could not get over seeing in Japan was CANDY! OMG – it was everywhere. Candy shops, home-made candy, imported candy, candy machines, game machines with candy prizes, and the largest candy and chocolates I have ever seen. Of course…the kids loved it.

It’s true what they say about everything being little and “cute” in Japan. Maybe that’s why the Japanese girls loved Caroline so much???

One thing I just don’t get about Japan is their fascination with weird and random animated characters. We could not go anywhere without a funny picture, statue, or sign placed in the oddest spot to provide some comic relief on the busy and serious streets of Tokyo.

There are sooo many unique traits and characteristics of Japan that I could write a short book on it. Instead, I will just give you my David Letterman’s Top 10 list: 10) perfectly packaged bags; 9) cats are everything and are everywhere – especially fat and happy ones; 8) everyone smiles – like all the time (or else they are sleeping – anywhere); 7) lanterns provide the best light; 6) there are no trash bins anywhere – and somehow it’s one of the cleanest cities in the world; 5) Americans can be picked out of a crowd of thousands bc there are only about a handful; 4) their bathrooms and toilets rule; 3) girls and women always have their compacts out applying powder and lipstick; 2) you will get bowed at for just walking through the door; and finally #1) know your train and subway systems. Oh…and take note…the first two pictures below are NOT the way to the Kensai International Airport which flies to HCMC.   XOXO

 

They’re back….

What a difference a year makes. Wow. Just wow. Almost a year ago I anxiously dropped TP off at BIS on his 13th birthday – a mere few weeks after we had arrived in HCMC – for a week long class trip to Dalat, VN. I handed his passport over to him with his suitcase packed, and reluctantly hugged and kissed him goodbye. There were tears in both of our eyes.

This year was a whole different story. Well, first of all, Barry drew the short straw to get TP to school by 5am on Monday. So, I had to say my goodbyes at home. He was packed – had his passport in hand – and gave me a quick hug and mumbled “bye mom” before he was out the door and off to catch a flight to Thac Ba Lake via Hanoi. Based on the pics posted on their trip blog, you would have thought he was dropped into an episode of “Lost”. He trekked, biked, rafted, mountain climbed, kayaked and caved his way through the week. I received a few texts from him throughout the week saying “today was fine”, “having fun”, “Can I have a burger when I get home?” Those of you who know TP well, know food was on the fore-front of his mind towards the end of the week. 😉 He enjoyed every minute of it though – said it was “Way better than last year” and from the pictures, you can tell how these trips help build bonds between new and old friends. Even though he said he “only took one shower but he jumped into the Lake once too” and wore the same outfit for 3 days…I gladly welcomed him back home with open arms.

Caroline….oh sweet Caroline. The house is definitely not the same without this girl around. She was more excited than ever for her class trip to Madagui, VN. She had almost a 4 hour bus ride to her destination and (gasp) she did not bring one electronic device with her. Although they did not capture as many pictures of her, she rock-climbed (of course the toughest wall), zip-lined over waters with alligators!, built a bamboo raft with her team (love the pics of all the rafts coming apart and the kids’ faces!), rafted down the river, swam, and her favorite – archery. She told me proudly how her team won their competition – I was not surprised. 😉 We weren’t in the car for two minutes on our way home when she told me about how she had entered the Talent Show to sing. As she told the story about how one of the counselors was behind her dancing crazy making the kids laugh – but she thought they were laughing at her – she got tears in her eyes and said “and then I won. I did so good even though I ran off the stage crying. I didn’t even use any background music.” Oh those precious moments when you know your child has to persevere though the tough times, and then you see the smile and pride when they actually are rewarded for that perseverance.

Something that we value highly at BIS is their commitment to Community Service. Both Tyler & Caroline spent a good part of one of their days making, cards, baskets, fans, and Tyler even sewed! for those less fortunate then us. It is a blessing that they experience this first-hand at BIS, not just on their class trips, but every week at school. Proud of the kids they’re becoming. Proud of both of their enthusiasm and growth. Despite how homesick they get, or how much they miss 5 Guys Burgers or OGA or their friends and family back home, they both have dug their heels in and made the best of everything here. Just show up. Do the work. Be kind. Appreciate the little things. XO

It’s a whole New Year…

So we’ve made it a whole year…hard to believe. The top pics are of Caroline & Tyler on the first day of school this past August. The bottom ones are from early January – can’t even believe how much they both have grown, especially TP! Oh my…we are in the height of the teenage years with that one. He is almost 14 going on 18 for sure. And C…well, she is just keeps on going with anything that’s handed her way. Sure we’ve all had our share of tears, tantrums, homesickness, frustrations, and heartache; but then there have been ALL the lessons and adventures behind it all…..

Last January I would have said we were deer caught in headlights…well except maybe Barry. We all took risks, jumped in with our eyes closed and hoped we landed in the right place. Luckily, that philosophy seemed to work well for us – by May we were all settled into routine with friends, activities, and our house here finally felt like “a home”. It seemed almost as soon as we were feeling comfortable Summer had quickly approached.

This Summer was one I don’t think any of us will every forget….so full of fun memories with our close friends and family. We did everything from Seattle to Sunriver to Vegas to Vintage trailer parks, and both TP & C even got in Wyldlife and zoo camp! The last week of our home leave was very emotional and tough to say the least….the time had finally come to pack up our house of 13 years and send it all to storage. As the moving truck pulled away, we did as well with 6 suitcases and 2 crates packed full of US goodies to help us through the next 9 months back in HCMC. We left with heavy hearts and some tears, but with oh so many memorable moments had with those dear to us.

I didn’t truly believe that the start of school and Fall would be as tough on some of us as it was. Caroline had her share of anxiety starting at Secondary School and missing her friends and family back home; and me…well I was just in a funk. The rainy season was upon us here – and those who know me well, know I can NOT stand the grey and rainy skies! My neck injury flared back up after a race I ran, and I hurt my back playing tennis in late September. October seemed to come and go in a fog. C & I especially missed the Fall back home and all of our usual family traditions. But, as usual we picked up our heads and made the best of everything here….T to Singapore for baseball two times; C to Phuket, Thailand for soccer, a family trip to HoiAn over Fall break, and many fun memories made here in between with new friends, and some familiar faces from Nike back home!

Needless to say, this holiday season was a bit different and challenging for all of us. Even the boys both broke down at one point in December and said “we should have gone home”. It was tough at times, but once again…our adventures along the way helped distract us all from what we were missing about home, and we’ve had some experiences here that I know will impact all of us for many years to come. I look back at this year and am amazed about all we have been through, experienced, and seen. The kids each have grown tremendously both physically and socially. We jump in…we take risks…we appreciate what we have….we keep going. Life is short. Cheers to more adventures in 2017! XOXO

First month back…

It’s been almost 5 weeks since we left Portland. How can that be?? It seems so much longer – only because we have already experienced so much yet again. We all arrived here in a state of shock, along with being jet-lagged, with the emptying of our house. It was rented within days, and the new tenants are already in and settled. Such a surreal thought to have someone else living in the home we have been in for 14 years!

Tyler jumped right back into his routine here without a hitch. He was out and about with his friends as soon as we returned, has already made one trip to Singapore for baseball, is back working at the Bike Shop one afternoon/week, and back putting in extra work with Spanish and with his swim coach. He is determined to “not be the new rookie swimmer” in PE class this year! Our house is constantly full of boys – and it is a joy to watch him develop such strong friendships with kids from all over…of course there are some girls mixed in there too. 😉

Caroline had a bit more of a rocky start back here. She had a fantastic Summer home with friends and family, and hated the thought of leaving that and our house behind. Add starting “Secondary” (Middle School) to all of that, and we had one sad, emotional, anxious preteen girl on our hands! It was a first for us having to take her to see a doctor for her insomnia/anxiety and was just heartbreaking as a parent. I found myself sending her motivational quotes every day at school – something I always did for Tyler when he was struggling with his own anxiety last year. It was like they had switched bodies. You would never guess this from our Little Miss Sunshine. Luckily, as the weeks passed and she got resettled here, she made a huge comeback. She celebrated her birthday here by baking her own cake, and then at a fabulous 3D Museum with friends. Talk about selfie/picture haven for tween girls!! Just in the last 10 days or so, she has learned that she made the Phuket Soccer team, so we’ll be headed to Thailand for Thanksgiving; AND she was the only Year 7 student to be selected for the school show “Beauty & the Beast”. This show is for students up through Year 13, so we were thrilled – as was she. She can hardly wait for rehearsals to start tomorrow after school!!

As for Barry & I….well, he continues to put in looooong days at work; but has just picked up playing in a men’s softball league every Sunday. I guess you could say it is his own little taste of baseball out here. I am back at tennis, yoga, and riding my bike anywhere it will take me. I’m still taking it all in here and continue to be amazed at the every day craziness this life and city bring. We were lucky to have an old Nike friend visit us last week and hope to have many more visitors this coming year (hint hint!). It’s still as hot and humid here as ever…and the rains come still pretty much every afternoon. But, I just keep telling myself….it never rains forever. XO

Summertime….

Summer. Home leave. These two have become synonymous for us the past couple of months. The thing I don’t understand is what exactly do they mean by “home leave”?! Where is “home” now? Do they mean leave as in “go home”….or “this is now your home and it’s time to leave?” It seems all of us asked ourselves that question many times this Summer. Home has become somewhere where all of our personal belongings are – where pictures hang on the wall, and our dogs run through the house – where my recipes are loose in the kitchen, flowers bloom in the yard, and we can all easily find all of our favorite things. Although we have all had an amazing Summer in Portland – we all found ourselves wanting to “go back home.” We miss our dogs. We miss the feeling of being settled. We miss routine that creates stability and comfort.

I do know that what I will miss the most once we get on that plane tomorrow is: FAMILY – hugs and security with our sisters and the bonds between our children; close friends who have known us for years and years who we have been through ups and downs with; driving a car – even if it’s just to the market and back for milk, or bread, or ice cream at 10pm – or all of those in one stop; American radio – I will have to be re-introduced to Top 40 radio all over again by Caroline’s friends in the car again in 2017; live news and sports events; an hour drive to the beach – or mountain – or less than that to one of our sister’s houses; early morning walks in the clear, crisp Portland air with views of the mountain ranges. I could go on but it’s honestly the little things that we find we miss the most.

This Summer was everything we expected it to be – fun, fast, lots of time with friends and family, and full of goodbyes….yet again. The goodbyes were much easier this time around. I guess we’re all growing, adapting, and accepting the idea that whether it’s “Summer” or “home leave” that some things will always be the same – those true friendships never fade, and family is always there for you. We are sooo thankful for all of those people who helped make our time in Portland SO memorable. Here are some of my favorite moments…. XOXO