vacation brain + other things

vacation brain. you guys know what I'm talking about, right? when you let yourself relax so much that your mind even slows down. and then it starts to tell you things it normally wouldn't: go ahead, skip the mascara. coffee? dessert? drinks at lunch? why not, you're on vacation. messy hair, glasses, and umbrellas.... sounds like it's time for a photo shoot. oh, and don't bother checking your exposure. look at this cool temple/statue/building/grafitti/cat! take its picture. in fact, why not take pictures of everything! there's room on the memory card.

[on Railay beach one morning after breakfast... Husband and our friend Hundey who met us in Kuala Lumpur and traveled to Thailand with us this last time. yes, they are wearing matching tank tops.]

sure, you have a great time while you're at it. but then you come home and realize you have a bajillion pictures to go through and edit and write blog posts about. and you get a little overwhelmed because you've never really been great at just posting as you go, and with one vacation after another for 4 months [I know, #firstworldproblems] you suddenly realize it's practically september and you have photos and stories from june. but also from last weekend.

I'm trying to process all these things. but also to enjoy the time I'm spending back here in the states. I'm trying to figure out what to start sharing, and get back into my groove.

but still be on vacation. because, technically, I am still on vacation.

which makes this next part sound really crazy: do you guys remember when I [kindof] participated in Jenni's blog every day in may? well... she's sharing a new challenge for september: blogtember. thankfully, this one skips weekends and doesn't start until after the holiday, so maybe I'll make it a better than 50% completion rate this time. [or, let's be honest, maybe not] but a few of the topics on her list I really want to try writing about. and somehow mix that in with all the other stuff I need to write.

this should be interesting.


six things

back when I was in Chicago, Chelsea from Lost in Travels tagged me in a "six things you should know about me" post and left some questions for me to answer. I'm not always the best at doing these kinds of things [or figuring out who to tag] but hurray for me- I did it! since I've been on the road for a while, it's taken a bit to get this posted... and especially for one reason you'll see in a minute.

1. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I went through a lot of phases, but the earliest thing I clearly remember was in kindergarten. most girls had dreams of ballerinas and princesses, but I was a little entrepreneur. I wanted to own an ice cream store. one that was shaped like an ice cream cone. and I have proof:

yes, I literally waited until I was back at my parents house to write this post so I could dig that out of the basement and take a picture. we couldn't find the original - the sprinkles were definitely rainbow though. oh, and the head on the cone is my face poking out the window of the store to take someone's order. don't ask me how you can have a building literally shaped like an ice cream cone, but that's what I wanted.

2. What is your biggest pet peeve?
I think what revs me up most often is grammatical stuff- when someone makes improper use of your/you're or says "suppose to/use to" instead of "supposed to/used to". [though obviously I don't follow all the rules of grammar myself.]

3. What is your biggest fear?
that I'll never figure out what I'm doing with my life, and I'm just wasting time. or maybe, that I'll never be ok with not knowing exactly what I should do. I'm afraid that I'll try something [writing a book, starting a photography business, taking this blog seriously] and fail. but mostly I'm afraid I'll be too afraid to try... so I've been trying to start trying. if that makes sense.

4. Would you rather be rich and stressed? Or poor and happy?
this one I can answer from actual experience [or close to it.] before we moved to Taiwan, I was in a high-paying but very stressful job. for some people it may not have seemed so bad. but my personality and tendency to get emotionally involved in things made it really rough for me. I had good days, I had good coworkers, and I was actually pretty darn good at what I was doing. but to be completely honest... I was miserable inside.

now, I don't have a job. I'm not sure we were what qualifies as "rich" before, and we definitely aren't "poor" now. but our total income was reduced by about 75% when we moved abroad. that sounds extreme, but the cost of living in New Jersey vs Taiwan is so different [and our housing is now provided by the school] that we aren't really strapped for cash.

we have less money because I don't work, but I have more time. more time to cook healthy meals, time to exercise, time to write, time to relax, time to spend with Husband... basically time to do the things that make me happy. and I can say with absolute certainty that I am happier now, and would much rather live this way.

5. Why did you start blogging? Do you still do it for the same reasons?
it actually took me a while to figure it out, but the reason I started blogging is... I love to write. in my past blog lives I may have lost my way a bit and blogged more for pageviews and pinterest hits [I think all bloggers struggle with that sometimes.] I occasionally wonder what my blog would be like if I had a posting schedule and sponsors and "took things seriously"... if I would be able to find the right balance. I think it would be hard to stay true to myself because I would want to be "successful" or more popular than I am now.

even though a big part of this blog is to keep family + friends updated on our expat adventures, I still love to write. and I try to only blog when I want to write, because I want to write, and want to write what I love, and to write what is honest.

6. What makes you the happiest?
Husband, he's the best. [kittens are a close second.]


Thanks so much to Chelsea for tagging me, and to my cousin for snapping these photos in Chicago.

I'm going to tag Phyllis, Carin, Yelle, Adriana, Allison, and Danielle, and ask them to pick six of the below questions to answer:

1. Where did you travel on your all-time favorite vacation?
2. If you could fix one big problem in the world, what would it be and why?
3. Name a book you've read that has made a huge impact on your life.
4. What is the one thing you never leave home without?
5. A decade ago, where were you and what were you doing with your life?
6. What is your favorite blog to follow at the moment?
7. How many countries have you traveled to? How many of the 50 states?
8. Which room of your apartment/house would you redecorate if you had an unlimited budget?
9. Describe the best meal you've ever eaten.

have fun, ladies!


jars of sand

greetings from the west coast of Michigan, here are some more iPhone photos. because I haven't even hooked my camera up to my computer since the day after I landed back in the states.

for the past month, I've been hopping all over the globe. my itinerary is starting to read like the location lists you see on the windows of stores and restaurants: Taipei. Bangkok. Detroit. Chicago. coming back to the states has been a mishmash of friends and family, catching up and taking off, and trying to assimilate childhood memories with the realities of adulthood.

this week I am in a place where I spent many a childhood summer: Ludington. camping at the state park, swimming in Lake Hamlin, swinging on the beach playground, scarfing down ice cream cones at House of Flavors, climbing up and running down sand dunes, hiking to the Big Sable Point lighthouse, splashing in Lake Michigan, and walking the pier every night at sunset... memories at every turn. we aren't doing everything we used to [thanks, lactose intolerance] but nighttime dips in the hot tub and the Michigan craft beer + wine festival make up for it.

[by the way- if you've never been to the west coast of the mitten, you should go. summer or fall are best. and I'm going to throw in a shameless plug that my parents now own a condo on the marina here, with a view of the lighthouse and the lake. AND if you email me, I will hook you up to rent from them.]

I'm finding that the older I get and the more I travel, I am amassing a list of places that feel like home. Ludington is one of those places. Taiwan is one of those places. New York, Railay, East Lansing... all over the globe, everywhere I go, I'm leaving little pieces of my heart behind.

it can get a little confusing. the other day I was writing an email. my friend was concerned I might love being back in the states so much that I would "accidentally miss" my flight to Taiwan, where she is. I literally typed "I'm having tons of fun at home, but... I'll definitely be coming back home." meaning Michigan the first time, and Taiwan the second.

maybe that's more of an expat problem. or maybe I've always had a little bit of wanderlust, and falling in love with all these places is my way of collecting jars of sand to sit on my metaphysical mantle.


and then I found five dollars.

you know how sometimes when people tell a story they will add "and then I found five dollars" at the end to make the story sound better/cooler/more interesting or just to be funny? well... 

while I was in Chicago, one afternoon my cousin and I wandered around doing touristy things. I had never been to the bean and I know it's cheesy but you have to do it [full post on bean visit later.] so I was really excited that I had finally seen the bean, and feeling pretty awesome from our post-bean nachos + wine in Millennium Park, and just being in Chicago and life in general. and then I found five dollars. 



hello, Chicago

I rolled into Chicago tonight to the sound of Sufjan Stevens. it only seemed right.

see you in a few. 


reverse culture shock

when we moved to Taiwan, we definitely experienced some culture shock. Taiwan is fairly westernized... but it's still Asia. at first everything was new and exciting - the city, the food, the scooting. then we started to get homesick. sometimes it was just a thing we would miss [our family or bacon], sometimes it was frustration with the language barrier [like when our scooters were towed], and sometimes it was one of those things we like to call an "F Taiwan" moment [what do you mean Husband has to teach on Christmas?!?] but then... you just get used to it. we still have moments where things are exciting or annoying, but for the most part life in Taiwan just seems normal.

so now, coming back to the states, I am going through reverse culture shock.

things that used to be normal when I lived in the states now seem completely weird. driving a car, having to pay attention to speed limits. having cable tv with more than 3 English channels. having a working cellphone. using American currency. not immediately being drenched in sweat from heat + humidity the moment I step outside. seeing signs in English, hearing commercials in English... it's kindof a sensory overload sometimes.

one of the strangest things? grocery shopping. I can go to one store and get everything. not five stores, one. for  ev-er-y-thing. I can get a whole cart full of stuff because instead of having to wedge it in the footspace/under the seat of my scooter, it can fit in the trunk of a car. and the selection! so much green stuff, so much gluten free stuff, so much Mexican stuff! Reese's cups! and HOLY COW look at all this cereal!

Target! I may have to save that topic for its own post, but let me say I went to Target 5 times in the first week I was back.

and it's wierd but awesome that I can walk into any Target or grocery store and find my favorite brand of nailpolish. I'm actually a little peeved because essie decides that now they will carry mint candy apple in all stores. but my bottle is cooler because of all places I found it in Taiwan. or at least that's what I tell myself.

anyway, I finally have decent topcoat/basecoat again. and maybe a new color or two [or three...]

something else weird about being back in the states? moving back into my old bedroom. I mean, technically I've lived in 3 of the 4 bedrooms in my parents house... but the room I'm in now was my most recent room. [maybe this isn't something exclusive to returning expats, but it sure is surreal]

by the way, this is Ernie. I got him when I was very small, and as you can see, he's been loved on a lot. [that yellow stuff on his right chest used to be a print of a rubber duckie] you know how most kids will have that one stuffed animal they always have to have with them and keep it a little longer than a child really needs to be carrying around? baby Ernie was mine.

I remember clearly my first day of preschool, I smuggled Ernie in my backpack. we had to leave our bags on hooks in the hall so periodically I would sneak out to check on him. knowing me, I probably didn't zip the bag all the way so he could still breathe.

the first time I remember being away from Ernie was when my Nana Ruhl was in Florida having back surgery. I sent him to her to keep her company in the hospital while she recovered. as a thank you, Nana stitched him on some new pupils for his eyes. [they were felt circles originally and had come loose.]

I've found a few other treasures in my old room. this is one of my bestest best friends and I many many years ago. [I'm the blonde on the right, Katie is the one with the ponytail and high kick] I think we were at someone's birthday party at Cesarland [the Little Caesar's with the indoor playground... man that place was awesome!]

I also have to share this gem, because I realized it was taken TWENTY YEARS AGO. that's right. my baby brother Eric [in the awesome dinosaur sweater on the right] just turned 21. does this mean I'm an adult now? wait... don't answer that. 

anyway, my sister Kelsey is in the middle and I'm the one on the left rocking the plaid vest/turtleneck combo. as my friend Danielle would say "this is before Jamie grew into her ears" but for some reason this photo doesn't embarrass me anymore. 

in fact, I kindof love it.


touring Ayutthaya : temple cats + taxi drivers

last time I went to Thailand I wrote an entire post on cats. this post doesn't have much to do with cats, at least not directly, but I didn't get a picture with our taxi driver so I figured... why not?

last time we stayed in Bangkok we didn't have much time to tour around. coming back, we knew we wanted to get up north of the city to see the ruins of Ayutthaya. there are a lot of ways to get there -trains, buses, boats - but a friend of ours recommended hiring a cab for the day.

Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand [then Siam], but it was sacked and burned in 1767 when it was invaded by the Burmese army. there are at least a dozen separate ruined Wats [temples/monestaries] spread out through the area. to get between them some people will rent bikes or cars, take tour buses, or in our case: private taxis.

we asked the concierge at our hotel to book a driver and he was ours for the entire day. we left at 7am to beat the heat and the crowds. our taxi took us an hour north of the city, drove us to all the various temple ruins in Ayutthaya we wanted to see [he would just hang out and chat with the other cab drivers while we did our sightseeing], stopped at a friends place for lunch, took us back to Bangkok to see the Royal Palace, and dropped us at our hotel around 4 pm.

all of this for the low low price of 2500 baht [about $80 US]

we really lucked out with our driver. I wish I had his card so I could tell you all to call him if you go to Bangkok, that's how highly I would recommend him. Mr Mongkol was his name. he was not a crazy driver, spoke very good English, and made great conversation. he even loaned us small bills for buying snacks when the street vendors at the temple wouldn't take our 1000.

Mr Mongkol grew up in the farming country to the north of Bangkok, one of ten kids in a poor family. he was not university educated, but learned English on his own time to put himself ahead in life. he married a "city girl", moved to Bangkok, and had three children. he was very proud to tell us that all three went to university. one of his daughters works at a bank, the other is a school teacher. his son will graduate university next year.

and for twenty-six years he's been driving a taxi.

I'll share all the photos of the temple ruins with you [not just the cats] but I really wanted to share the story of Mr Mongkol. it was an incredible day of sightseeing and having someone like him as our driver really made it the great experience that it was. meeting him and hearing his story makes me feel - first - thankful for where I come from and the opportunities I've had, but also that no matter where on the globe you go, humans are human. [and, well... cats are cats.]


disqus for dummies: how to comment using disqus

you guys. I have a confession to make. I tried out disqus a few months ago and didn't really get it. so I switched back to blogger comments. but lately, more and more of the blogs I follow [and even NPR] have been using disqus and I've been commenting using it and... I GET IT.

I want to make it clear that I LOVE getting comments [who doesn't?] but realize I am not the best at responding. I read somewhere that if you have you blogger profile set up with your email public then people can respond directly to your comments by email, but of course just responding to a comment on a blogger site won't notify anyone but the blog author of the response. so for a while I tried to be good about responding but then realized no one even knew I was responding [unless they checked back and let's be honest - most people don't] and so I haven't been making as much of an effort.

but with disqus, when people reply to your comment you get an email notification. so that you can have - get this - actual conversations in your comments. not only that, but it keeps track of all your comments you've made across sites. remember that pot roast recipe you commented on because you wanted to try but darn it you can't remember which blog it was from? check your disqus profile for your comment history and you'll find it in a snap. you can also change your notifications to only pop up on disqus if you don't want them in your email. sounds pretty cool, right?

so, I've made the switch back. to make things even easier... I'm going to explain how to use disqus, so those of you who don't know what it is or use it currently can still keep in on the conversation.

first: sign up for an account. it's super easy and takes about five seconds, and you can do it right in the comments section below. click on your choice of twitter, facebook, google accounts or simply enter your email.

if you don't want to make an account, you have the option to comment as a "guest". just check the box. you won't get email responses to your comments, obviously, but you will be able to comment without logging in.

then: once you are logged in your profile picture will pop up [if you signed in with a social media account] or you can add your own picture. leave your comment. when someone responds, you will get an email with their comment which you can read and even respond to directly through the email if you like.

now: test it out! create an account and leave a comment below and I will respond so you can see how easy it is to use. [I promise, I'm not exaggerating.]

I hope this post was informative [but not too infomercial] and you will enjoy using disqus on my site and elsewhere. if you already use it... tell me what your thoughts are and why you like/dislike it. [and if you're wondering if you might want to install it on your site: it's super easy and completely free!]


accidental vacation

this past week I accidentally went on vacation.

I mean... I was on vacation in Thailand - intentionally - then flew back to the states for a two month vacation. but then I arrived home and the natural evolution of things had me reaching less and less for my camera and my laptop. [part of that may be the inconsistent internet access] even though my phone is a real phone again for the the first time in a year I keep forgetting to use it. I'm not constantly checking facebook, instagram, bloglovin, whatever.

it's been nice, actually. even if I didn't mean to check out.

I've been running on dirt roads and through suburbia, eating lots and lots of bacon [extra crispy], adventuring with my family, shopping for clothes that fit American-shaped bodies, fighting with my parents' internet, drinking gluten-free beers, cuddling with my kittens, talking Pokemon with my nephews, and receiving phone calls from voices I've never heard before.

being home is both awesome and surreal. [reverse culture shock? it's a real thing.] for now I'm just going to take it easy and let the stories come as they will. you'll be seeing Taipei and Bangkok mixed in with Detroit and Lake Michigan. my apologies in advance if the globe-hopping causes any confusion, but I've got so much to say about every corner of the world right now.

now, where do I start? 

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