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Belief Embraces All Differences

Posted by on Nov 20, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 0 comments

Belief embraces all differences was stolen from my meditation this morning but very timely, don’t you think?

I am sure when Oprah and Deepak put together this meditation series they had no idea that another series of terrorists attacks would rock Europe and the debate would open up across the world about how to best protect ourselves from these attacks.

I can’t help but being drawn into this debate as I am sure most of the world also is. No matter how we personally feel there is a reason to be afraid and the desire to protect our families. I let myself be pulled into a Facebook debate yesterday. Luckily I didn’t comment, but I did “like” several comments that agreed with my point of view. What I reflected on for the rest of evening and when I awoke this morning is how angry we are at each other for our different beliefs.  What I am fairly certain of is that there isn’t a “right” way. Only history will tell us if those decisions and judgements we make now are the right ones.

Anyway – back to the meditation and the timeliness of it; Oprah opened by saying, “This is what I know for sure, we are all more alike than different.” Isn’t that the truth? No matter how different our beliefs are we are still alike in that fact that we love our families, we work hard and we care about those around us.  I wish we could focus on that and not on our fear.  Deepak followed up with “Humanity is one family. We can’t be us vs. them.”  The lesson and what we were asked to reflect on is to not focus on our differences, but how alike we really are.

What I know for sure is that we aren’t going to change anyone’s mind by debating these issues over FB, but we need to have face to face conversations with those who believe differently and be respectful when listening to their answers.  I tested that on my visit to the US this summer having many conversations with a family member whose beliefs were very different than mine. I can honestly say that these conversations didn’t change my views, but it opened up a new way to view them. I found myself having a much deeper and greater respect for my family member, and an understanding for his views.

Unfortunately Oprah didn’t pay me to promote the meditation series but if you are looking for a way to learn to meditate by focusing on how to make positive changes in your life, I recommend giving the meditations a try. We are just finishing up our second series which is called, Become What You Believe. The focus is on setting goals and believing that they will happen. It is actually much deeper but it is my mini explanation.

We started our meditation by doing many YouTube guided meditations and happened upon Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude, a series which changed my life. This one is about forgiveness, and if you have been harboring anger towards anyone or just want to be more grateful, I can highly recommend this one.

As you go through your day today try to take the time to listen and remember that we all came from the same place and have the same basic needs.  Our legacy will be how we  manage our differences.

We’re Back

Posted by on Nov 13, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 4 comments

Back in Hai Phong.

After months of travel, seeing family and friends and then welcoming groups of people to see some of “our” Viet Nam, we are now back into the routine of living life as an expat.

It was a little surreal getting on my bicycle, riding to the market and trying once again to barter my way into a good vegetable price. Ôi trời ơi, can we handle this for another year?

I felt really strong leaving the USA knowing that our time here is halfway done and we will start the process of moving back sometime next year. It was easy to feel good about being on the other side, (of the world) while surrounded by friends and family, but now it is just us once again. Reality is setting in. My good intentions about diving back into English classes, volunteering my time and trying to deepen my connections to the wonderful people I have met here are limping along slowly as I look at the photos of my granddaughters from my visit with them and the weekly photo updates from my daughter showing off her beautiful belly as she grows my grandson.

Oh – well, things move on. I came home to see the new house which is being built right across the little alley that runs to our home. The alley is only about 5 feet wide, just barely room for the motorbike to pass. That being said I do sometimes see one the of small taxis going down to the cul-du-sac (if you can call it that) which is the end of our street in our new home. I was only in this house about one month before I returned to Seattle, so it is still pretty new to me.

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Our house on the right, new construction on the left.

We had our first guests to our new house right after we returned. It was much different then the spacious apartment I was able to let them use before. This time we borrowed mattresses which were placed on the floor. The cooler temperatures heated up so my brother-in-law and his wife had to move their mattress into the air conditioned living room floor for the 2 nights they slept here.  I wanted them to get a real feel of what life is like for us in Viet Nam – and they did. The second morning of their visit the construction started at 5 am, with lots of banging and heavy equipment as well as the voices of the 20 or so workers that started that day.  Luckily for them they headed off of Saigon, while my husband and I sat around and watched the construction for most of the day.

When I finally opened the drapes to look outside, this is what I saw.

When I finally opened the drapes to look outside, this is what I saw.

My motto is “things are different here” which they are. It is much easier to just accept the differences and try not to change things. This is not my country, nor is it up to me to try to enforce my values and beliefs. I had the hardest lesson of all this week.

I have heard that accidents are the number one cause of death in Viet Nam. Not too surprising when you see the motorbikes, bicycles, cars and trucks all trying to squeeze onto the too small roads. Motorbikes are the hardest hit. We recently saw a young woman lying on the side walk, unconscious. A victim of a hit and run, a driver swerved into her knocking her bike over and her head hit the pavement hard. Yesterday was the hardest though. I was biking through the most dangerous roundabout in Hai Phong during lunch time. The same time as all of the children are heading home from school for lunch. The roundabout is dangerous because it is the main arterial for the trucks. Few stop when the light is red, so the onslaught of bicycles and motorbikes have to “swim” their way through the truck traffic. One motorcycle driver was not lucky. He must of been sideswiped by another motorbike or car and fell over in front of truck. It is a sight I will never forget, and one I hope to never see again.

I have seen accidents in the US before that are really bad and you know that there had been a loss of life. What is different here is that they didn’t cover the body, and this poor young man was there for everyone, including the many school children, to view. As I was stopped at the accident I could see the police bringing up a woman to the body, my heart fell as I realized this was most likely his mother, or perhaps a family member to ID him.

Life is different here. Today I am thankful for the respect we give to the deceased  and the respect we give to the many motorists that are passing by when we cover the body. Those poor children who rode by and were stopped at the scene as I was, must of shared my nightmares. Since this happened on Veterans Day I couldn’t help but think of all of our service men and women who have seen too many similar sights.   You have to cope, but it sure isn’t easy.

Drive slowly my friends and children. Getting there a few moments earlier isn’t worth the risk. Save money and forget that second drink.  Value what you have.

Peace and love from Hai Phong, Viet Nam.

Dawn

Where in the heck is Victor, ID???

Posted by on Oct 17, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 2 comments

Every time I drive over the pass into Victor I have this sense of coming home. Not just because my son and his family live there; although that certainly helps, but the beauty of the community, the warm and friendly people who live there and the outdoor lifestyle makes me want to keep on returning.

I probably would of never been to Victor if my son hadn’t fallen in love with a beautiful young lady and her daughter from Victor. Once he was hooked, he made the valley his home. I can’t say I blame him, my daughter-in-law and her daughter also charmed me right from the start, and now we have Teagan, our first granddaughter and the wonderful bonus of her big sister Addi.

I can hardly explain the beauty of the area, but I will try.  Victor is home to just over 1200 people. The stunning valley sits at 6207 feet above sea level and averages 216 days of sunshine each year. When you are up high in the surrounding mountains as I was on this last visit you can see just how vast and flat this valley is. A perfect place to play for those of us who enjoy outdoor sports. Plenty of trails for hiking and biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

On this trip I was invited by my daughter-in-law’s family to go 4 wheeling up in the mountains.  We left from their home and drove the 4 wheelers the 2 miles to the trail head and then we were off.  Up and up we went and the views of the valley and the Tetons got better and better. We went up for well over and hour and the only other 4 wheeler we saw was parked, probably left by some hunters who had hiked in farther from the trail.

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Getting ready to hit the road, and then the trail.

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Looking out over the valley

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We found a temporary shelter built in the woods – can you see it?

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Enjoying the view from up top

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Trying to keep up with the more experienced drivers.

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Yes – you had better clear the road, this grandma is coming through.

Once we got to the top, besides the incredible views I got to learn something new.  Did you know that spiders “fly” their webs to look for greener pastures?  We saw hundreds of flying webs. The spiders floated with their webs through the air looking for a new tree to alight on. It’s called ballooning, or kiting. The spider will climb as high as it can, stand up on raised legs and release several silk threads into the air. They automatically form a triangular shaped parachute which carries the spider away on the winds.

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flying spider web – this photo is from the University of Milwaukee – https://www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/spider_flight.cfm

My son and his family live slightly out of town surrounded by open space. When walking with my granddaughters we saw a moose on his way to the river. That evening I slept with the window open (love the cool air after months of A/C in Vietnam) and I could hear the coyotes yapping. It is such a spooky sound. Not long after I heard a cow mooing and tried not to think about what might be happening out there.

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Another wild animal out on the range.

The moose were really active on this visit.  We saw several, even one eating the red twig dogwood in a parking lot. I always see at least one, but ending up seeing 4 or 5 on this visit, as well as a herd of elk and some deer. I haven’t seen a bear there yet, although my daughter in law saw one outside their home.  I think any time of year is a good time to visit Victor – in the summer they have a Saturday Farmers Market, and Music on Main on Thursday evening.  In the winter they take advantage of the cold weather to have an ice sculpture exhibit and contest. With the ski resorts nearby, hiking, fishing, golfing and many wonderful restaurants in town, we are never lacking for something to do.

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There are many cabins to rent through AirBNB and Homeaway and is a much more affordable option than Jackson. Driggs is only 8 miles away and a slightly bigger with a large grocery store, although the Victor Market has almost everything you could want, and many more options you don’t need but they look so darn good. Victor is also under 30 miles from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and closer to Targhe Ski Resort.  Yellowstone is a day trip, a week is never long enough to do everything I want to do.

To get to Victor from Seattle there are several options.  Drive – depending on your stops you can do this in one long day, driving on I-90 or heading to Walla Walla and onto Boise.  For those of us who don’t want to drive that far there is also the option to fly into Jackson and drive the 30 miles west over the pass; fly into Idaho Falls and drive one hour east; but the way that I have found the cheapest and best use of my time is the direct flight from Seattle to Boise and renting a car for the 5 hour drive northeast.

This Expat has made good use of her time back in the USA. We are now counting down the days until we head back to Vietnam. Trying hard not to think of leaving our family and friends once again, but looking forward to getting back to work.

Alone in Hai Phong

Posted by on Sep 16, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 0 comments

The hardest thing I have ever done was spend 2 plus weeks alone in Vietnam. So far away from friends and family and not speaking the language. Even though I knew how lonely it is, I left my husband for what I thought was 4 weeks, but it has stretched on and on. Here are some of John’s ramblings . . .

Miscellaneous ramblings on one day and the alone factor
September 2, 2015 5:30pm

On the rooftop terrace after an early dinner. I made my special recipe burrito and I have to admit, quite delicioso. Now a Padron Aniversario and a little writing. Rain is falling but the makeshift roof over the terrace is keeping me dry (for now). And so I write…

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Made it through my birthday week (August 27th), without going insane. Dawn left the week before to go home to visit. It was a trip well deserved and needed. At the time when we were planning her trip we were planning on me being back just after mid-September, now it looks like almost mid-October before I can get back. Not good. That’s the only problem with having great marriage and being so in love with your spouse who happens to be your best friend. When we are apart, it doesn’t leave me with much but me, myself and I. Yes there is work, and reading, my music and TV. Thank goodness for Netlflix and Amazong… and of course the daily Skyping with Dawn and sometimes my mom and brothers and the kids… (not frequent enough). And there is exercise and our Koi fish and an occasional gecko friend to surprise me. None of them are quite as enjoyable without that my friend and lover to share them with. The little things, the little routines, just knowing she is with me or nearby and the big things, the hugs and kisses, the talks and walks, the exploring… all I miss dearly right now. The solitude of a life so far apart at the moment, can make each moment almost unbearable and silence almost deafening.

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enjoying some sunset rays on the rooftop

Cool breeze and 80 degrees… than goodness for small favors.
Only have 38 more days to go… piece of cake, yeah right.
So a day in the life in Vietnam… by myself.
Not a typical day is a Vietnamese holiday, National Day; so quiet day at home catching up on my project work.

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Next door to our home is a shop where they host funerals. These wagons are ready to roll.

Rise and shine at 6 (not sure if its age or what but sleeping in is a rarity anymore. 7 is a luxury sleep in.

First coffee, a must. After coffee is poured, Skype with Dawn, have to have coffee first to wake up. Get caught up on her day, makes me miss her more but she can make me smile and laugh and I need that more than ever now.

Breakfast, the usual… yogurt with granola, and bananas and oh yes a little bit of cinnamon and honey on top. I do miss the occasional “big” breakfast, pass the bacon please!

Since I left my power cord in my office yesterday, I need to go there first this morning before I can work. Taxi or cycle. Made the right decision to bike it, need to keep exercising, good for the body and soul. Important ingredient in maintaining my sanity.

Nice pace, not much traffic being a holiday. Traffic meaning about a million motorbikes. Around the lake once and then a route that takes me off of any main road and through a couple of small neighborhoods. Met a horse (see photo), named him Trigger (okay so not very original). Quite a few wild horses roam around the area but this one was a bit healthier and bigger than most. After a couple of pics I continued through a nice little neighborhood on a narrow street getting a frequent “hello”, especially from the kids; and if someone stares at me, I just say hello… xin chao (sin chow),, and they usually at least smile or xin chao me back . My mission in life for now… make people smile at the friendly token American.

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Trigger taking a stroll around the lake

The villages here are all different sizes, all different in feel but mostly small tight knit commune like neighborhoods, kinda like you would find in the average U.S. city with neighborhood housing developments except these developments are typically on the lower income side with lots of little shops that double as homes and lots of little roadside stands the sell everything from cigarettes to food, fruit and vegetable to the occasional street barber. They may be lower income on average, but they are generally clean and well taken care of.

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neighborhood fruit stand

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lake side garden

Thursday, Sept 10
Even when busy with work, I still miss Dawn. As hard as I try to stay positive and not let myself get so melancholy, that lonesome cloud creeps in, disables my automatic busy, reasonably happy mode, and puts me into the seemingly slow motion “woes me” mode. No pity part necessary, that’s going on in my head and heart. Ahh for sleep, my escape from the loneliness.

Under 30 days now and counting… oh how time goes by soooooo slow when you want it to dissolve into right now.

September 12, the day after 9/11

do you remember where we were? Together, that’s where we were. Where we belong… together.
I love you from the bottom of my heart, with all of my hear (oh – I remember, sitting in our bed, you were shaving and I was watching with disbelief what was happening. Slowly the kids came in and sat and watched the tv with us.)

Some people, maybe most, if they are lucky during their lifetime…get a glorious slice of life, of real living, of real love.

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BV – Before Vietnam

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Overlooking the rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam

And somehow I, quite undeservingly so, managed to find you and with you and because of you, I have found much more than my share of living. So much more than I could have every hoped for or imagined.

I am happy, beyond happy, sitting at this crazy and uncertain table of life; you have served me with the simplest and most pure, the most beautiful and wondrous… recipe of love.

I am grateful.

Back in the USA – Family, Friends and Fresh Starts

Posted by on Sep 7, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 0 comments


It is so, so good to be back home for a visit. My first week was a whirl of parties and reunions but now I am up in Port Townsend for a visit with my parents at their timeshare.

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Sammamish Nights

I love Puget Sound. Every summer growing up we would climb aboard my grandfather’s boat, a remodeled Navy Gig. During WW2 boats like the one my grandfather ended up were used to ferry naval officers from the shore to the boats. My grandfather was one of those guys that could fix anything. He replaced the engine with a diesel engine, made the interior into a narrow but working galley complete with a wood stove, added two bedrooms, one of which doubled for a bathroom. We would spend a week or so digging clams, picking oysters up off the beach and slowly chugging our way from Hoods Head to Mats Mats Bay. We had our favorite swimming holes where the incoming tide would race over the warm sand pushing up the water temperatures enough to make it bearable. If we were really lucky we would be with him at the end of their trip and come back through the locks, heading through Lake Union and then onto Lake Washington.

It is sooo quiet where we are staying.  At night I can sleep with the window open and all I hear is the rain falling and/or the wind blowing. Much different than the roosters, barking dogs and honking horns that I am used to now.

Being in the Northwest means lots of hikes and walks and I am certainly getting all my steps in. My Aunt, my Mom and me, walked down to the beach and back up the steep grade to the condo. The next day we walked to Port Townsend – a five mile hike through Old Fort Townsend State Park and along the Larry Scott Trail into town. My 81 year old mom kicked my butt on the walk, although she occasionally got a little confused on which way to go.

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Trying to remember where the trail is.

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My appreciation for the beauty of the Northwest continues to grow when I am away.  I am working my way through all of the parks in Sammamish and spending much quality time with my family and friends.

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My sister and I visiting her son at his work.

Fresh starts mean that we get to celebrate the soon-to-be newest member of our family. Grandson #1 is on his way.

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Celebrating our soon to be grandson.

I got a good laugh with one of my nephews told his dad, “it isn’t illegal to wear socks with sandals. I did and I didn’t get arrested.” I have learned to ignore my adult children when they make fun of my sock clad feet. I feel perfectly happy and my toes are warm.

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#sockswithsandals

Finding My Spiritual Side

Posted by on Aug 4, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 0 comments

For the last 30, well maybe 40 years, I have been trying to come to terms with my spirituality. First I was Christian, and then searching which lead me to being an atheist, a term I was really uncomfortable with. I don’t like that label – I think the word is ugly and cruel at best and doesn’t really sum up my beliefs and who I am.

I believe that everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, or not.  Religion should not be in our schools or our government, if so which religion do you choose?  Is conservative christian our chosen religion? What if the population changes and the majority have different beliefs? You can choose to send your children to a school that offers religious training, but it shouldn’t be forced on those that believe differently, as it is in some countries. Our country is about freedom and about religious choice.

I was raised in a very Christian household. My Christian mentor would have to be my grandmother. On her headstone it says “Gentle Christian” which is the best way to describe her. In my memory she was never judgemental, allowed a lot of questions and shouldered her hardships with love and compassion. She died when I was 15, and not surprisingly both my older sister and I named one of our daughters after her.

My grandmother and grandfather with their boat

My grandmother and grandfather with their boat, the Vamoose.

Grandma painting the trim

Love this photo of grandma painting the trim – she was fearless

Grandma with Darrin and Denise

I couldn’t find a photo of me with my grandmother (not with me in Vietnam), but here is a photo of her with my younger brother and sister.

After my grandmother passed away from cancer I did some soul searching. My sister used this time to try many different types of churches researching her way to finding her spiritual soul. She visited all dominations, everything from Quakers to Morman. I read the bible – all the way through. I admit to quickly skimming the many chapters of who begat who, but loved reading the stories in the not so simplified version I got in Sunday School.

After reading through the stories I became a disbeliever in the god of the bible. I didn’t want to follow someone who was so harsh. I didn’t find a lot of love and understanding and this was reflected in many of the people I met at the time. Timing is everything and for whatever reason the Christians I bumped into were people of judgement. After talking to them I often felt that their message was, “It is my way or the highway” and if you don’t believe 100% there isn’t room for you. I did meet people who reminded me of my grandmother. Her gentle soul reflected in the kindness of their eyes and the wisdom they shared with me, but they were far and inbetween and not enough to make me want to throw myself down the Christian highway.

For 30 years I went back and forth, always wanting to be proved wrong but never hearing anything that would make me want to participate in Christianity again. I missed the rituals, particularly around the holidays. I missed the music we sang – those beautiful hymns.  I missed sharing this with my family. I would roll my eyes when my parents asked me to please attend the Christmas Eve service, but secretly wanted to go to relive those favorite memories from my childhood, and to share that with my children.

I got to the point in my mid 40’s where I didn’t want to do Christmas at all.  I hated that it had become a season of buying, not giving. When we told our six kids that were weren’t going to do gifts anymore at Christmas I was surprised at how quickly they took this on (except for the youngest who still enjoyed the unwrapping).  Unfortunately because our extended family is so large this made holidays a little more stressful when we were all together.  I started to get judgemental at all the money that they were spending on each other, which in turn depressed me because I didn’t want to be that person, to in turn judge others for their beliefs.

Having so much time on my hands now has given me even more time to reflect, to study, to read.  Meditation is something that both my husband and I have latched onto and have been practicing that for about 4 months now (not claiming to be experts here). A few months ago a friend recommended a book to me by Thich Nhat Hanh, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment.  A few weeks later I happened to notice a meditation series sponsored by Oprah, but given by Deepak Chopra, which I quickly signed up for.

The message is similar, being grateful and living in the moment. It sounds simple but it takes time and practice. Much of the message that Deepak and Oprah give is a blend of Christianity and Buddhism.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a famous and practicing Buddhist from Vietnam.  I am not sure where this journey will take me but I feel so much more at peace.  I have no plans to turn into a Buddhist, but I love the message of loving yourself and those around you.  Sounds a lot like my earlier upbringing. I will continue searching for my spirituality but I think that we should be always doing that, no matter how we believe. I am lucky that my life partner is also enjoying the teachings that go along with this journey and that we get to go there together.

John, his wife, Dawn and their bulldog, Bubba walk the trail in Kirkland on the Eastside Rail Corridor

Starting out on our journey.