weekend adventures: kayaking

A couple weeks ago our company planned an outing for the Women’s Day national holiday.  The plans included a short kayak and then lunch at the confluence of the two main rivers here.  The rivers run through the National Protected Area, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  Since we have our two girls, we didn’t plan on kayaking, but instead to go ahead to the camp and wait for the others there.  However, we got caught up in the excitement and at the last minute decided that we could indeed, as a family of four, join the kayaking trip.  It is dry season so the river wasn’t too swift.

2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-9 2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-5After a rough start with a few minutes of solid crying from Elise over her makeshift life vest, and one of Talia’s floaties deflating, we had an awesome time.  The girls especially loved the mild rapids and squealed and laughed each time we went through them.  Ryan is a awesome steerer and paddler, so I was able to just paddle as much as I could without worrying about it.

2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-12This is the only picture of us, and unfortunately, you can’t even see the girls who were both sitting between us.  Once we got to the camp, we enjoyed some time in the river and the stunning views.2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2 2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-3 2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos 2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-8The kids were fed lunch before the others, which consisted of grilled fish, sticky rice and fruit.2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-6 2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-7Open wide, fish.  Yummy herbs coming in!2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-10 2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-4

2014-03-27 kayaking by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-11When the adults got around to eating, our lunch also included some greens as well as spicy pickled greens.  The pickled greens are like a local sauerkraut or kimchi.  I couldn’t get enough of them!

We had such a great time, and now we’re considering buying some legit child life vests in Thailand or the US so that we can do it again sometime but with a little more peace of mind.

Been on any exciting trips with your family recently?

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two ingredient laundry detergent

2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos

I started making my own detergent over a year ago because we use cloth diapers and the only detergents available here in Asia are highly perfumed and seem to add a strong smell to my laundry but not actually clean very well.  Plus, cloth diapers can get buildup if washed with detergent containing a bunch of fragrances and other chemicals.  So, I looked up some recipes and found the ingredients and have been making my own detergent ever since.2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2

The recipe only calls for 3 ingredients: washing soda, castile soap, and borax.  However, when I opened up the trunk containing my supplies, I realized the borax had run out.  I certainly haven’t seen any here in our tiny town in Northern Laos, so I thought I’d just try it without.  That’s how my two ingredient laundry detergent was born.

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At the time, we didn’t have internet hooked up in our house yet, so I guessed on the amounts.2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2

I grated the bar of soap.2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2

Added 2 cups of washing soda (one in place of the borax).2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2

And mixed it up.2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2I also guessed on the amount used to wash a load of laundry.  I used 1 tablespoon. 2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2So, how does it work?  It seems to work fine.  I have to heat a small amount of water to dissolve the soap before pouring into the freezing cold load of laundry.  The next batch I think I’ll blend into a fine powder in the blender.  But, the clothes come out smelling… well… like nothing!  They seem to be getting clean, so I’ll stick with my formula for now.2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2We’ve done what we can to improve our laundry system.  Ryan rigged up some shelves to hang up in the laundry room to keep my laundry stuff off the dirty wet floor.2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-22014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-13 All the bathrooms in the house drain onto the floor of the laundry room and down the squatty toilet in the floor.  I’m thinking my laundry room once served as the only bathroom for the house.  By the way, I’m scrubbing window screens in the photo, not using the toilet! 2014-03-07 two ingredient laundry detergent by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2And that’s as good as it’s going to get… for now.

Here are a couple links with more info and detailed recipes:

homemade natural laundry detergent made easy – Apparently not every recipe calls for borax.  Maybe I’m fine without it!

homemade laundry detergent – the price breakdown comes out to $0.05 per load!

What do you use to wash your clothes?  Have you ever made your own detergent?

fun in the yard

Although there have been a lot of challenges in this house, the best thing about it has been having a yard for the kids to play in.  While we did have a nice park in our neighborhood in Bangkok, it is so much better to have grass, plants, dirt and trees surrounding your own house, instead of concrete.

2014-02-25 DSC_3806At first, these two city girls didn’t really know how to interact with nature.  They’d sit on a stool and watch a snail leave his slimy tracks.2014-02-25 DSC_3908

But it didn’t take long before they were collecting sticks, rocks and other treasures, and chasing butterflies around the yard. 2014-02-25 DSC_3912I find they are so much happier when they get a couple of hours outside to run around, explore, and soak up some free vitamin D.2014-02-25 DSC_3930We even have a small patch of sidewalk that makes a good place for chalk drawings. 2014-02-25 DSC_40152014-02-25 DSC_4030Daddy has come up with a few fun games, like attaching an old faucet to a long piece of wood.2014-02-25 DSC_4020and setting up a station to practice badminton skills.2014-02-25 DSC_4026 2014-02-25 DSC_4389The neighbors chickens like hanging out in our yard about as much as we do. 2014-02-25 DSC_5196This clothesline Ryan strung up for the girls kept them busy for days.2014-02-25 DSC_5868A couple of dishes and wooden stools make a great makeshift kitchen.2014-02-25 DSC_58662014-02-25 DSC_5701But the best, is when the neighbors come over to play.  It’s great to see the girls building confidence, interacting with new people, and learning to communicate.  Here they are making elaborate chalk drawings on scrap wood, and themselves!2014-02-25 DSC_5705

What do your kids like to do outside?  Any idea what kind of toys I could provide for the neighbor kids to play with when they come over?  I don’t think the chalk is going to hold up for long!

a new addition

pregnancy announcement

I’m excited to announce that we’re expecting a baby mid August!  Though it adds some extra challenges to life here, we’re thrilled to welcome a new member to our family.  I had about six weeks of morning sickness.  Now I’m into my second trimester, and am feeling much better and ready to get back to normal life, or keep trying to figure out what normal life is here.

We waited to announce the pregnancy until we could get to see a doctor and hear a heartbeat.  Normally, this is simple, right?  Schedule your appointment with your choice of doctor or midwife, and then show up on that day.  Well, in our town the medical care is sketchy at best. So, we choose to go across the border to Thailand for any medical needs.  And while I’ve had some great experiences with medical care in Bangkok, I’ve never done anything in Chiang Rai, a much smaller city in the north.  There is no easy way to book an appointment, as far as I’m aware, so we just showed up.  I’m a research junkie and so read a few online forums to figure out which hospital to go to.  A couple people said that the public hospital had the best equipment and prices, so since we speak Thai, we felt that was a good choice.IMG_5573

Boy, was I wrong!  I wish I could have taken some pictures to capture the chaos in that place.  I did find the above picture online that shows some of it.  There were hundreds… probably thousands of people sitting in waiting rooms, waiting for their turn, waiting to pay bills, waiting for family members.  The hospital itself was a bit of a maze and the hallways and free spaces were lined with patients in wheelchairs or lying unattended on gurneys who looked like they might be on their last breath.  It was a bit disturbing, but we pressed on, anxious to find the news we had come for.

After finding the appropriate department and room, we were then faced with the challenge of getting the information we had come for.  First, they wanted me to take a urine test to prove I was pregnant.  I finally talked them into listening for the heartbeat and they found it loud and clear.  However, they still didn’t seem convinced, and wanted me to follow their protocol to have a blood test done to really prove I was pregnant.  I was not comfortable having any needles poked into me in this hospital, so tried to convince them to do a quick ultrasound to check on the baby.  After much discussion among themselves and waiting for nearly 45 minutes, I was finally approached by a technician to ask why I wanted an ultrasound.  He then tried to convince me that I was too early at 13 weeks to see much or get an accurate measurement.  I assured him that I’ve done this before, and asked if we could just try and see.

After having a bit of trouble, he did finally locate the baby.  He began trying to take a measurement, but he was zoomed in so far I think he was measuring a cross section of the baby’s big toe.  At this point, we started wondering what kind of training this guy had even had.  He finally called in another person who showed him how to zoom out and take a measurement from head to toe.  With her help, he was able to get an accurate measurement.  Later we wondered if this guy was even an ultrasound tech, or if they volunteered him for the job since he spoke a few words of English.  The nurse even ended up having to show him the button to print a picture of the ultrasound.  In the end,  we were thrilled with the good news we obtained there and that we got out of there without contracting any major disease (unless the incubation period is more than two weeks!)  Two lessons learned: don’t trust forums and good equipment doesn’t necessarily mean competent staff.

2014-02-12DSC_5577Once that was done, we had a few days to enjoy the pool…

2014-02-12DSC_5528relax…

2014-02-12DSC_5592and eat some delicious meals, which certainly contributed to the sudden growth of the baby bump!

We plan to go back and try a private hospital for another checkup in a couple months.  Then, we plan go back to the US for the birth this summer.  Medical care isn’t great here, and I’m not really up for an unassisted home birth, even though Ryan thinks he can pull it off.  Thailand has good options for medical, but that would mean being there for at least two months while we had the baby and did his or her paperwork, or we could just go home and be with friends and family and also go to a couple family weddings.  Win win!

Have you had any crazy hospital experiences?  I’d love to hear about it.

(photo source)

a tale of two beds (bed 1)

2014-01-29IMG_4247So after day two, the girls’ room looked like this.  It was a good start, but we knew we wanted to get Talia’s mattress off the floor.  It’s not just because it’s our culture to have a bed frame, but because it would keep her bedding cleaner, and would also keep her much warmer during the cold months.  I’m pretty sure we learned that from Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild.2014-01-29IMGSo, we had this beauty of a bed sitting in our entryway.  I wish I had taken some closeups of the details.  The bed was about a foot too wide for a standard twin mattress, and too narrow for a double.  Besides that, it was super dirty and had been half devoured by termites. So, after getting permission to remodel the bed, Ryan got to work.2014-01-29DSC_3835

First, he took off the beautiful headboard that consisted of a laminate panel, a mirror and  lockable cubbies.2014-01-29DSC_3920Then, he took the frame apart, evicted the termites, and cut it to the right width.  2014-01-29DSC_3879Some of the pieces were unusable, but there was still enough to work with.  He just wasn’t going to be able to recreate that sweet headboard.2014-01-29DSC_3922 2014-01-29DSC_3966Thankfully, he had the use of some power tools from work to make the bed a little less rustic.  The original craftsman hadn’t even bothered to sand it.  The picnic table has turned out to be a good work bench.  2014-01-29DSC_3950Talia got in on the bed-making and enjoyed being Daddy’s helper.2014-01-29DSC_4862After assembling it all in the outdoor kitchen, he took it apart and reassembled it in Talia’s room.  He made the new headboard simple and to resemble the bed Talia had in Bangkok.  Much to his delight, she noticed the similarity all on her own.

2014-01-29DSC_5496So, now the girls’ room is the coziest, most set up space in the whole house.  They even have some pictures on their walls.2014-01-29DSC_5497

We still have the laminate and mirror left over from the headboard.  Any ideas on how we could re-purpose them?

10 tips for traveling with little kids {what we do}

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I, by no means, have learned everything about traveling smoothly with little ones, but I thought I’d share what has worked for us over the years.  We’ve been traveling internationally since Talia was 8 months old. Now Talia is 4.5 and Elise is 2 and we have clocked a lot of flight time and stayed in too many hotels to count.

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1. First of all (and I’m still trying to learn this one): don’t expect everything to go smoothly or you will be disappointed.  I find if I prepare myself for some difficulty or inconvenience, it’s much easier to handle.

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2. Spend a lot of time talking about it with your kids and answering questions before hand.  My oldest always has lots of questions.  If she knows what the general plan is, she does much better with the trip and is able to be a more of a help.

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3. If possible, schedule travel times around nap times.  We like to try to arrive at our hotel in time for an afternoon nap.  Obviously, this isn’t always possible and sometimes timezones make afternoon meaningless.
4. When we can, we like to break up a long trip into a few short days.  It can be somewhat less tiring and allows time to do a few fun things along the way.

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5. Always pack activities and healthy snacks for the trip.

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7. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in Asia, extra bedding is often hard to come by in hotels, so we pack our own bedding for the kids.  We use a kidco peapod until our child is out of their crib, and then a small inflatable mattress.

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8. Get creative.  We’ve gotten pretty good through the years at rearranging our hotel room to give each child their own space.

2013-01-01-41629. Turn on the white noise.  We have an app for that.
10. We make sure to pack the kids’ ”security item”: stuffed animals and blankets.  It helps them feel comfortable to have their familiar items.

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Last resort: the tablet.  Our ipad has saved us on a number of occasions when the kids are so overtired and are completely miserable, unhappy, or beyond the point of reason.  A game or show can save everyone’s sanity.
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How do you travel with little ones?  I’d love to hear what works for you!  Leave me a note in the comments.