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get out! {on making friends in a new place}

2014-01-06-DSC_4706edit After living in many places over the past few years, there are a few things I try to remind myself when trying to make friends in a new place:

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1. Just do it!  I might not feel like it, but I push myself out of my house.  The longer you wait the harder it is.  It is necessary to meet people and make friends if you ever want to feel at home!  I never regret going out and meeting people, sometimes the hardest part is simply getting past the front door.

2014-01-06-DSC_47052. Smile.  A smile communicates in any language.  No matter what else you do or don’t do, smiling is so important (especially here in southeast Asia)

2014-01-06-DSC_47083. Be bold.  Just go for it.  If someone seems friendly and receptive, I stop and try to talk to them.  I use as much of the local language as I can, which brings me to…

2014-01-06-DSC_47104. Do what you can.  You might not know much of the language, but I’ve found that if I use the few words I know, people are generally very happy for my attempt and are excited that I’m even trying.  If you run out of things to say, or can’t understand them anymore, that’s okay!  Just smile, use sign language and come back later.

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5. Prepare the kids for what we’ll do and say.  Have them practice saying the greeting, smiling, etc..

2014-01-06-DSC_46976. Give back.  If someone gives us something, like fruit for the kids, we like to try and go back a few days later with something for them.  Reciprocal giving is a big thing here in southeast Asia, and almost guarantees that you’ll have a friend if you join in.  2014-01-06-DSC_4696

7. Don’t give up.  There are times I go out and can’t seem to talk to anyone, or I make mistakes and feel stupid.  It’s ok.  Just try again another day.2014-01-06-DSC_47138. It takes time.  This is the most important thing for me to remember.  In the past, I’ve gotten discouraged when, after a couple of months I don’t have any close friends yet, or not enough friends, or I’m not happy with how much I can say or do.  I have to remind myself that even making friends in my own language and country takes time, but making friends in a different language and country and culture takes WAY more time.  Just be patient and do what you can.

Thankfully, everyone we’ve met here has been super friendly and welcoming!  The pictures above are all of our new neighbors right down the path from our house.

What do you feel is key for meeting people?  Have you made any new friends lately?

dirty clothes, dirty washer

The next thing demanding our attention was the growing pile of dirty laundry.  2014-01-04-DSC_4759First, we took our laundry to have it washed at the “laundry service”.  While, it only cost $7.50 per kilo of laundry, we did the math and realized that in the long run it would be cheaper to buy a washing machine and do our own laundry at home.2014-01-04-IMG_4231There was an “antique” Hitachi washer in the outside ‘squatty’ bathroom, but we were told it was manual and had to be washed and spun by hand.  We took a peek and saw that it was in fact, a twin tub washer.  We’ve had a twin tub before and knew that although they are more work than an automatic, they are not quite manual.   We had told ourselves that we would never buy one again, but this one was free and they do get the job done.  2014-01-04-IMG_4234The first thing we saw was the dirt.  The lid was missing, and the machine looked to have been neglected for a few years.  But that didn’t stop us.

2014-01-04-IMG_4233We started scrubbing and spraying, trying our best to get it to a somewhat cleaner state.  We found an old toothbrush lying around, which we put to good use.2014-01-04-IMG_4232We eventually decided it was good enough and declared it clean.  In reality, we couldn’t seem to get the rest of the dirt off.  We figured if we couldn’t scrub it off it probably wouldn’t get on our clothes when we washed them.  The next day, I did my first load while Ryan was at work, only to discover that the spinner didn’t work!  Oops, I guess we should’ve tested that out before we spent a few hours cleaning it up.  Thankfully, my mechanically minded husband was able to fix it in only a few minutes, by taking the back of the machine and discovering that the lid safety switch was loose and wasn’t allowing it to engage…. or something like that.

2014-01-04-DSC_5396So, back it went, to it’s corner in the squatty toilet bathroom, ready to roll.

2014-01-04-DSC_3810We were able to start doing our own laundry!  After being gloomy, cloudy and cold for a few days the sun finally showed its face and dried the laundry in just a couple of hours.2014-01-04-DSC_3806Meanwhile, the girls have begun discovering their love for the outdoors.  This is the first yard we’ve had in years.  Here they are watching Mr. Snail leave his slimy trails behind.

2014-01-04-P1340835-LargeHave you ever had any challenging laundry situations at home or traveling?  What’s your laundry routine like?  

where's the sink?

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So, like I said before, we were a little surprised when we walked into the bathroom and discovered that there was no sink.  The tap just ran onto the floor, making this Asian wet style bathroom always wet.  After a few days, of washing our hands while getting our pants and feet wet at the same time, it got pretty old.  DSC_3823

So, we started with this.  A basin on top of a stool on top of a stool.  Pretty cool, hey?  Pros – it kept the water off the floor… sort of.  Cons, it wasn’t quite high enough, so water still splashed around, and the kids couldn’t reach the tap.  So, I was still constantly in the bathroom, helping everyone wash their hands.  We lived with it like that for a while, until Ryan came up with another idea.DSC_4603He bought some cinder blocks and put them as a platform under the tall red stool. DSC_4593

That put the basin at a better height, and freed up the little stool for standing on.  Perfect?  Far from it.  At least it’s functional and working for now.  DSC_4594

Yay for independent hand washing!  Well, at least until the basin gets too full and has to be dumped into the toilet.DSC_4811

We also managed to squeeze a large basin between the “sink platform” and the step to use as a tub.  With the temperatures plummeting, and the voltage in our house too low to support the electric hot water heater, we had to find a way to bathe without getting hypothermia.  So, we heat a big pot of water on the stove and it makes a lovely bath for the girls.  There’s also a chance that adults in our home have bathed in this tub out of desperation.DSC_5328

We found this groovy pink metal vanity in another room and decided it would work lovely in the bathroom. (Maybe lovely is too strong of a word?)DSC_5329Bonus: you can sit on the toilet and get fixed up! It’s easier with the seat cover down, though.

Have you done any bathroom upgrades lately?  What would you do if you had running water, but no sink?  Do you have any other ideas for us?  Leave a note in the comments.

new house: first impressions

We pulled up to our new home, and it looked great.  We had seen pictures, and thought that it would be pretty close to move in ready.
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However, there was a bit of work to do.
20131108-IMG_4247First things first, we setup the girls’ room as soon as we arrived, so that they could sleep in somewhat familiar surroundings.  We decided to bring their bedding, rug and curtains and even a few wall hangings to help it feel like home.
20131108-IMG_4229The second morning, our place looked like this.  We’re so glad we made a last minute decision to bring the kitchen table.
20131108-DSC_3898We were expecting the house would be reasonably clean but, there was a lot of work to do.  Above is a gecko skeleton in one of the door jams.  There were hundreds of spiders, cobwebs and ants everywhere.
20131108-IMG_4243Another surprise – no sinks in the house!  The bathroom faucet runs onto the floor.
20131108-IMG_4264-EditAnother challenge was not having a kitchen inside the house.  I had been told it wasn’t connected to the house, but I guess I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to see into the house or hear the girls from the kitchen.
20131108-4P1340833-LargeOpening the kitchen cabinets for the first time was a bit scary.  The kitchen is not sealed at all (see the gap between the wall and roof?), so it was a refuge for many bugs.  It didn’t appear to have been used much in the past few years.

So, we were a bit surprised, overwhelmed, and cold… for the first 3 days the sun didn’t shine and it rained constantly.  Ryan kept telling me that we’d make it work and things would seem better soon.  So we adjusted our expectations and got to work cleaning and making some adaptations.

Have you moved recently?  Did you have any surprises at your new house?

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.

the long way

After almost two years teaching English in Bangkok, we decided to look for something different.  So, when we found a job opening in a rural town in Northern Laos, we were interested.  The position was for an eco-tourism company whose goal is to help the community and villages around it through their business.  That really excited us, so to make a long story short, we took the job.

But, before I talk about our new home, I need to tell you how we physically got here.  It was no simple task.  Of course we could’ve taken a couple of flights to get here, but after hearing you couldn’t get much here, we decided to bring a lot of our stuff from Bangkok along with us.  So, we came the long way.  We stayed in a few places along the way to make the trip easier on our family.

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We started planning a couple months in advance how to get our family and our things there without losing our sanity.

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We decided to hire a truck to take our things to the Thai/Lao border. We planned to meet it there to take our things across.  While the truck drove off with our belongings, we closed up our rental house, and made our way up to the airport.

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First, we took a flight up to Northern Thailand where we spent one night.

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The next morning, we went to the bus station to catch a bus to the border town.  Unfortunately, we missed the 9am bus by 5 minutes.  So, we settled in with some snacks and boarded the 10am bus after taking both girls to use the dirty squatty toilet bathrooms.  That’s a “how to” for another time!

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We arrived at the border town and took a tuktuk to our hotel, where we planned to stay one night before crossing into Laos.

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Plans changed, however, when we got a call that our house in Laos wasn’t ready for us.  The people living in it hadn’t moved out yet.  So, we booked 2 extra nights in the hotel and had a chance to catch our breath after the craziness of packing and moving. We explored around the little border town and enjoyed some beautiful scenery.

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We followed a sign for a lookout, but ended up on a muddy dead end.

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As we looked at Laos, just across the river.  We wondered what our new life would be like over there.

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Finally, the day came to cross the river, along with all of our belongings.  The moving truck met us at the landing with all 24 pieces that they’d picked up in Bangkok (yay!).  They took our stuff on one long tail boat, and we rode across on another.

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After getting our visas stamped in and getting taken by some opportunistic porters, we made it to the top of the hill, where a truck was waiting to take our belongings home.

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We had been thinking that we would take a bus, but the truck cab looked roomy enough for our family of 4, so we all hopped in.

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The drive through the mountains was stunning, but unfortunately, one of the girls’ tummies didn’t enjoy it so much! Finally, after 6 days of travel, and 7+ modes of transportation, we arrived at our new home and began the task of unpacking and setting up… which proved to be a little more work than we expected.