Category: Travel

Wanna Get Away? I can get on board with that!

#HousewifeInsights | ashleycrist.com

Michael and I just got back from an early-anniversary cruise.

I like cruises because they’re almost like going on a technology and internet detox.

The second day we were at sea I ran over to the gift shop onboard and ended up buying one of those grocery list note pads with magnets on the back to journal (it was all they had and I forgot my own journal). Then we spent the day outside, watching the ocean, reading, talking, and journaling.

It was good to just have some intentionally restful time. And it made me realize I need to be better about placing myself in environments of quiet and in nature on a regular basis.

On our Alaskan cruise last year, there was an onboard naturalist who acted almost like a tour guide, narrating over the ship’s intercom at various times. During one of his lectures he said studies have found that the further man gets away from nature, the more prone he is to psychological disorder. I don’t know if that’s actually been scientifically proven, but there is something about riding my bike through a wooded trail, or walking barefoot through the grass, or sitting quietly on a boat in the middle of the ocean that completely restores my soul.

The first stop was in Roatan. I booked an excursion separately from the cruise beforehand to spend the day on a privately owned island named, Little French Key. We we’re picked up outside the port gate along with another sweet, older couple who were also spending the day on the island. They were actually American expats living in Saudi Arabia. Being expats at one time ourselves, we had LOTS and LOTS to talk about on the car ride there. For the rest of the cruise, anytime we ran into them they’d say, “How are our kids doing?” Hah, so sweet.

Little French Key was perfect. The beaches were pretty and quiet, hammocks were everywhere, and they had a small petting zoo with jaguars, monkeys, and tropical birds. You could ride horses around the island, snorkel or just hang out at the bar all day.

The coral reef nearby is part of the second largest reef barrier system in the world. I bought this waterproof case for our camera so I could take pictures underwater while were snorkeling: DicaPac WP410 (10.5×16.0cm) Small Zoom Alfa Waterproof Digital Camera Case with Optical Lens (Clear). Best thing ever. Worked great while we were under the water.

Our second stop was in Cozumel. Six years ago, we spent our honeymoon in Rivera Maya and Playa Del Carmen. Cozumel is about a 45 minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen. We didn’t visit the island during our honeymoon though, so this was actually our first time there. Through the ship we booked an excursion to swim with dolphins and manatees!

Ok, so I’m a happy cryer. I get weepy during all those little special life moments or when I see things that are really beautiful. Like when Michael and I got married, I cried. When I saw my niece for the first time on the ultra-sound monitor, I cried. When I finally saw the Taj Mahal in person, I cried. When I saw dolphins bouncing around through the water literally right in front of me, I totally freaking cried. Like Hootie-And-The-Blowfish-“even-dolphins-make-me-cry” cry.

These are such amazing animals. We worked with a trainer and an eight year old dolphin named, Luke. Luke pushed us from behind our feet on a boogie board, pulled us through the water doing a belly swim, played patty-cake, gave kisses and did a ton of other tricks.

Ok really ya’ll… I know I’m an animal freak, but in heaven, I’m totally going to have dolphins at my place. Such, such beautiful animals. I just love them! <3 <3 <3

We had really awesome table mates during the evenings [that I failed to get pictures of]. There was one couple from Puerto Rico, a son and a mother from Switzerland, and another gentleman who escaped communist Czechoslovakia on foot with his three year old son back in the eighties. That’s one of my favorite parts about traveling, you get to meet so many incredible people and hear so many incredible stories.

Sadly, vacation ended pretty abruptly after we returned. We got a call from Charlotte’s boarding kennel the morning we arrived back in Ft. Lauderdale. She had a bit of a nasty run in with an older, grouchier dog. They took her to the vet and put on antibiotics for the two wounds she received during the scuffle. Not happy about that at all… Actually, it’s the exact reason why I dread taking her to a kennel in the first place, but the facility has continued to handle it well. Just feel guilty for putting Charlotte in a situation where she was hurt 🙁

So we’re back now and I’m re-learning that rest IS DEFINITELY intentional and I can’t just veg out if I want to really, really process what’s going on in my heart. Still do not have all my health stuff figured out at the moment and I have more appointments scheduled in the following weeks, but I did get some perspective and feel hopeful I’m headed in the right direction. More on that later 🙂

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Creating purpose

Donald Miller recently shared a really good post called “What Are the 3 Things That Create a Meaningful Life?

He starts off with a quote from psychologist Viktor Frankl: “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”

Any spouse of a working expatriate knows this is true.

You’ll distract yourself with shopping, eating, or vegging out in front of a TV or computer — all because you’re not only uncomfortable, you feel like you don’t have a purpose anymore.

There was one instance when Michael flew back to the US for a week while I stayed behind in Delhi. Absolute worst week of my life. Without Michael there, the full weight of my lack of purpose in Delhi hit me like a ton of bricks. Who did I get up for every morning? Who did I do dishes for? Who did I wash and iron clothes for? What was I doing in Delhi?

Who needed me in that big, chaotic, foreign city?

I remember when Michael finally got back to the apartment, all I could do was cry. Some of it was because I missed him, but most of it was out of desperate awareness that without Michael, I truly had no reason to be in India. NOT a healthy realization to have.

And it triggered a season of depression and insomnia that I have not experienced before or since.

Obviously I learned A TON from that experience, but the most important lesson was my need to intentionally seek out opportunities to express my talents and skills.

So after we moved back to the States I literally craved creative opportunities. It felt like the artistic part of me had been stifled for a year and a half and I was hungry for new and challenging things to put my hands to.

So I made stuff:

(Glitter Adventure’s Exploding Box Instructions)

And I painted:

20140320-DSC_0011(Crafts by Amanda White Cherry Blossom Tree Painting)

And I built stuff:

(Shanty-2-Chic DIY Wood Storage Crate Instructions)

(The Family Handyman’s Cutting Board Rack)

And I decorated (obviously after painting some more):
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And I made wreathes:

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Look at my face. Pure ECSTASY.

And I made candles:
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And I taught myself how to knit:

(Left: “Rosa” Knit Scarf Pattern by Anne Schulz on Ravelry)
(Right: “Thick Ribbed Hat” Knit Pattern by Brooke Snow on Ravelry)

And I started to finally find creative ways to display and store our keepsakes:

(Left: Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop: “How-to: Photo Transfer to Wood”)
(Right: Kayla Danelle’s blog post: “Keeping Your Cards”)

And I painted some more again:

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And I built some more stuff:

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And you know what? I felt alive. I felt myself growing. I felt like I mattered. I felt like I had something to offer that was unique and represented a little bit of who I am.

I don’t think it’s just because I’m a “creative” or “artsy” person. I think e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is born with a need to build, imagine, and create. It’s empowering to be able to make something beautiful or useful.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection is a really lousy and suffocating goal to force on yourself. (And trust me, I am a type-a, anal retentive perfectionist, so I know what it’s like to make excuses that you’re not good enough to try something new because you’re scared to try and fail.)

Every single project I have completed so far has at least one or two mistakes. Unless it was something I knew would bug the absolute living daylights out of me every time I looked at it, I just moved on. I did not allow myself to equate mistakes with failing.

I want to excel at whatever I try, but sometimes the most excellent goal to have is to simply finish what you started and enjoy the process of learning something new.

I have no idea what our lives will look like once we’re living in Mexico City (which is totally happening and a little scary), but I at least feel better about finding ways to add value during our time there.

I recently joined a knitting group for expat women that meets twice a month in the D.F. area, so I’m excited about that. The verdict is still out on bringing the miter saw, but I do know they have Home Depot in the city. Either way, it sounds like I’ll still be able to find all sorts of creative trouble to get into during round two of living abroad. 🙂

The itch (be careful what you wish for!)

In late September Michael and I visited Mexico City for a few weeks.

There are parts about traveling that I like and other parts that I don’t. I don’t really like airports. I get really stressed out going through security because no matter how many times I do it, it feels like there’s always something I’m doing wrong or forgetting. But once I get on the plane I’m fine and don’t really have any problems. And then again after we arrive in a new place I’m generally on the anxious-side rather than excited. Mostly because I’m in an unfamiliar environment and I usually don’t have a chance right away to process everything.

When we were in Delhi, Michael and I wanted to get out of the city as much as we could because we were so uncomfortable there, so leaving and seeing other “nicer” places helped us. Our vacations were literally so we could vacate the “concrete jungle” and breathe.

But now that we’re living in a place we actually enjoy, having to leave our apartment feels like an interruption – not a relief.

So anyways, Michael went ahead and flew down to Mexico City and I hung back with Charlotte. We’ve been apart for longer than two weeks before, so I felt comfortable being by myself while he was gone. Only a few days had passed by and Michael called and asked about me joining him in Mexico City. Even though I missed Michael, I wasn’t really looking forward to leaving. I didn’t want to go through all the hassles at the airport or travel to a new place. I wanted to be a home-body and enjoy the fall weather and snuggle with my doggie. But we figured it would be as good an opportunity as any for me to see what Mexico City was like so I went. (see my footnote below)

…And I actually really, really enjoyed my time.

It was nothing at all like our first trips to Delhi. During the day I walked to a nearby Starbucks and ordered coffee and a pastry. In the evenings Michael and I walked to different restaurants all over the area, and almost everywhere you looked there was an artistic statue or monument. Over the weekend, we walked through an area known as the Zócalo and booked a tour to see Teotihuacán. During the week, Michael worked a later shift so we could check out different museums and sites before he went into work. There was so much to see and do that it really felt like when we went to Madrid or Rome. It was that nice.

I guess after everything you hear on the news and then just based on my experience with Delhi, I really wasn’t expecting that. I figured I’d go down there, check a few things out and not really want to go back. But I was wrong.

And now I’ve got the itch.

I felt a level of confidence and empowerment in Mexico City that I never experienced the entire time we lived in India. And that surprised me. I’m not saying that if we had the opportunity to move there that I wouldn’t go through culture shock or have a hard time with things. But I think I learned a lot about what I value and what I need to thrive in the place I live.

Compared to living in Delhi, there would be some big areas of improvement in Mexico City:
– Being in the same time zone
– Being able to fly home in less than 24 hours
– Being able to speak Spanish
– Being able to go for walks by myself or with Charlotte
– Being able to find things at the grocery store that aren’t expired or chalk full of weevils (or smell like stale lysol because they’ve been sitting on the shelf for only God knows how long).
– Being able to goto a decent museum or concert for a date night
– Being able to sit in a park and not be gawked at
– And most importantly: THEY HAVE COSTCOS!

We did experience SOME of those things in Delhi, and I’ve already gone round and round with myself about why I never felt motivated enough try more. But that was just it, the entire culture wore me out. I felt like it was a constant battle living in Delhi and I (we) never had the energy to deal with any more of India’s “unique” experiences.

We still don’t talked about traveling as much now that we actually like where we live. And we go back and forth on whether either of us would be willing to ever do another LTA again after how rough Delhi was. On the one hand I’m pretty sure I could handle living just about anywhere now, but on the other hand, I don’t know that I want to be locked in to testing that theory for another two years to find out…

But Mexico City is different than Delhi in a lot of ways. A lot of really good ways. And you never know what a little time at home can do to change your mind.

——

Update: At the time of writing this post, Michael and I had no idea whether or not he would be given an offer to move to Mexico City for a work assignment. Obviously, as most of you know by now, in the past few weeks Michael’s name was been submitted for a work assignment in Mexico City. There is still a long road of paperwork ahead of us and it’s always a possibility things could fall through, but we are fairly confident we’ll be calling Mexico City home before long. We need prayers for this process to go smoothly and not to drag out the same way it did with Michael’s assignment in India. Also, prayers to find a strong, spirit-filled community in the city and near our future home are definitely appreciated! Thank you!

A belated post from our anniversary in Alaska

In June Michael and I went on a seven-night Alaskan cruise for our five year anniversary. Coming back from India, it was an awesome way to hit the reset button and enjoy a part of the world largely untouched by man.

The pictures we took will not do Alaska justice. Everywhere you looked there was something spectacular to see: humpback whales, mountains, bald eagles, waterfalls, sea lions, icebergs the size of semi trucks and as bright blue as the sky. The air was some of the purest on earth – so pure, people actually experience giddiness after breathing it for extended periods of time.

Every evening for dinner we sat with the sweetest group of people. They all had military backgrounds and had travelled the world. We have stayed in touched with them since the cruise. My heart was so full by the end of our trip. Just a really, really refreshing experience.

After making our way through Tracy’s Arm Fjord, the naturalist on board asked passengers to write a haiku or short poem to summarize their experience that day. Later on he was reading a few of the submissions, and one passenger wrote a single sentence to describe the fjord and glacier. All it said was: “Today, I found my soul.”

My heart was totally wrecked.

How marvelous and beautiful our God is… He fashioned this world in so much love and it’s his delight to watch us enjoy it.

Anyhow, pictures! You want to see pictures!

This first batch of pictures is from our first and second day on the cruise (click the images to see them in full size):

Whale watching in Juneau:

Hike to Mendenhall Glacier and pictures from downtown Juneau:

Skagway and White Pass Mountain Train Ride:

Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier:

Ketchikan, Victoria and Seattle:


Cock Roaches, Cows And A Whole Lotta’ Color

We’re moving back home in less than three weeks. In less than three weeks… Seems hard to believe.

While we’ve lived in Delhi, we have intentionally avoided travelling very much inside of India. We know there are a lot of people who have a higher tolerance (or call it grace) for this place, and some who even love it. But Michael and I are not those people, so whenever we’ve had an opportunity to get out of the country, we’ve taken it. Of the ten cities we have visited since we moved here, only two of them have been in India. (1. Mussorie (India), 2. Phuket (Thailand), 3. Rome (Italy), 4. Naples (Italy), 5. San Diego (US), 6. Singapore, 7. Chiang Mai (Thailand), 8. Madrid (Spain), 9. Toledo (Spain), 10. Jaipur (India))

But after my last visit to the US and getting back into Delhi, we wanted to visit one more place in India before coming home and so we booked a trip to Goa.

Whenever Michael and I plan to go somewhere we try to think about what kind of trip we want it to be. Do we want to rest? Do we want to do a lot of sight-seeing? Or do we want to do a really awesome mixture of both? But for some reason, whether we were in Mussorie, Agra, or Jaipur, we have always struggled to find a balance between relaxing and enjoying the change in scenery.

I think it has something to do with the constant mesh of positive and negative in India. Any other place we’ve been, the “undesirable” things are hidden. You know that they’re still there, but since you can’t see them, you just forget about them and it’s easy to enjoy your time. But in India it’s all out in the open. You can tower over the city in a 5-star hotel and be looking down at a slum right next door. The good and the bad live side by side together.

We walked everywhere while we were in Goa. To get to the beach from our hotel, we had to walk little ways through town. Every day we passed these guys who sat idly on the wall of a guest house:

Taxi Driver: “Taxiiii?”
Us: “No thanks.”
Taxi Driver: “Want to goto market?”
Us: “Uh… no.”

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Up ahead we’d walk through the smoke of someone’s burning trash or something. Further on we’d pass this woman holding her baby, squatting along the road behind next to a laid out blue tarp with an assortment of fruit:

“Heeellloh, madam, come and have a look. Try my watermelon!”

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When we reached the main road that runs through town, we would again be approached by taxi wallas as we waited for a gap in the traffic of mopeds, bicycles, buses, cars, dogs and cows.

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We’d cross safely and continue walking down another street lined with vendors on either side the rest of the way to the beach. Every minute or so a water truck or two-wheeler came whizzing past and honked so that we would have to quickly move over:

“Yes, what’s your price?”
“This way madame, just come inside my shop.”
“Yes, this way.”
“Looking for nice quality pashminas?”
“Come and have a look my friend!”

Walking the "gauntlet" to the beach.
Walking the “gauntlet” to the beach.

Trailing behind a couple of cows the rest of the way, we see this snake charmer who, after watching him “charm” some unlucky de-fanged cobra, tried taking us for a mere seven hundred rupees (that’s about fourteen US dollars). He’s settled instead for a hundred.

This way to paradise...
This way to paradise…

After all that, we’d make it to Candolim beach.

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Candolim isn’t as busy or popular as Calangute, but it still attracts a decent-sized crowd.

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Wednesday morning, we were making this same walk to the beach, except in addition to the usual routine of shop hawkers and taxi wallas, we were greeted by children armed with bags of colored powders. When they saw the two of us headed in the their direction they all started shouting and coming towards us: “Happy Holi!!! Happy Holi!!” And never missing an opportunity to make a rupee or two they start in with the bribes: “Ten rupees, or color! Ten rupees or you color!”

Awh, what the heck.

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So the we spent the rest of the morning sporting our “beards of many colors” in pink, yellow, purple and green. (And yes, that was a nerdy biblical reference to Joseph’s coat of many colors).

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After a good scrubbing with castor oil and soap later on, we went out to dinner. In the middle of enjoying fried prawns, steak and tandoori chicken, we sat back and watched a cow attempt to come inside the front door of the restaurant. This went on for a while until he had enough of being yelled at and hit with a switch.

It was another moment where Michael and I just looked at each other and said, “Only in India!” I mean really.. How many places can you be enjoying shrimp and steak and get interrupted by waiters shouting to shoo away some garbage-eating cow?

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The second night in Goa, I had a craving for something sweet so we stopped by the hotel buffet downstairs. It was expensive, but we agreed to only do it once and to at least eat enough desserts to make it worth our while. I was going back up for a second helping of tiramisu when out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Scurrying across the table, there he was: a cock roach.

Here we are, staying in a four star hotel and I’m staring down at a cock roach twitching his little antennae around in between the platter of orange sponge cakes and bowl of gulab jamun. I couldn’t decide if I was more disgusted or disappointed. The gulab jamun was so good. Almost worth still going for it and getting another helping. But, I’ve always had a weak stomach when it comes to stuff like that…

I had trouble enjoying the free breakfast buffet the following morning too… Especially after watching a waiter wave one of those tennis racket bug-zappers directly over the food and visualizing the charred remains of fruit flies and gnats pepper the chocolate croissants.

In India, it’s all out there in the open: the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the clean and the disgusting, the honest and the dishonest. There is no compartmentalizing your positive experiences into one neat little box and then putting your negative experiences into another box. Everything gets thrown into the mix and you can’t separate the end result. You just have to take it or leave it for what it is.

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Incredibly, in less than three weeks this stranger than fiction story will come to an end… And as for this last trip to Goa, it seems like a the perfect way to summarize our good and bad, up and down, forwards and backwards time in India!

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tiger Kingdom

Michael and I just got back from a few days in Chiang Mai. This was our second trip to Thailand and we totally loved it. We quickly settled into our own routine of eating, drinking coffee, shopping, eating some more, drinking more coffee, shopping the night bazaar, going to sleep, and repeating it all the next day.

We decided to stay at this cute little mom and pop “resort” a short ways north of town and right off the river. It got good reviews on TripAdvisor and it was cheap… like we’re talking less than $60 a night cheap. When we arrived I was so glad we picked this place. It had an awesome little upstairs balcony with a view of the Ping River. And the grounds were beautiful. It was so nice having breakfast outside every morning surrounded by so much greenery and quiet.

Our room at the Lanna Mantra.

It was pretty easy getting around town. The Old City (which is literally the “old” city of Chiang Mai and still surrounded by the original moat and walls) is shaped in a nearly perfect square, making it almost impossible to ever be truly lost. Because of that and how “normal” the traffic is, we saw foreigners everywhere buzzing around on mopeds. But for those, like us, who don’t feel so confident sporting around town on scooters, there are plenty of auto rickshaws (like what you find in Bangkok) and covered red trucks that will take you from point A to point B.

Michael grabbing an auto rickshaw.
Tha Phae Gate
Tha Phae Gate Entrance to the Old City in Chiang Mai.

Thursday we took a shuttle to a place called “Tiger Kingdom”. If you look it up on the internet, it gets pretty mixed reviews. Basically it’s a place set up by the zoo to breed and keep tigers until they find a place for them to be kept in an actual exhibit. To generate revenue, they’ve open up the facilities so you actually get to touch and take pictures with the tigers. It’s not an ideal system, but with the threat of extinction, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to get so close to such an amazing animal.

Michael and I spent time in the smallest exhibit with the baby tigers and afterwards walked through the rest of the park. It was a neat experience, but I think overall we were a little disappointed. It might have been a little more enjoyable if we were able to spend more one-on-one time with a trained care-taker and the tigers. But hey! At least we can say we cuddled with a baby Bengal Tiger. How many people can say they’ve done that?

Tiger Kingdom
Michael and I at Tiger Kingdom petting a baby Bengal Tiger.

Chiang Mai is also a coffee-lover’s paradise. If you walk for five minutes and don’t see a coffee shop, you’re not in Chiang Mai. In fact, you might want to check to see if you’re even in Thailand. Thais love coffee and they take it seriously. They like it strong and they like it bitter. Most places roast their own beans, which are grown by various tribes along the slopes of the mountains just outside the city.

Ristra8to Latte Art
Michael’s flat white mocha at Ristr8to.

We found one coffee shop called “Ristr8to” that was actually run by a trained “Master Barista”. In 2011 he won 6th place in the World Latte Art Championship and for every order he personally grinds, presses, pours and designs the latte art for each cup. He imports beans from all over the world and each cup is served with an informational card explaining the roast, region, grade, and processing technique used for the beans you selected.

When Michael ordered an espresso the owner took the time to come over to our table to ask when Michael would like to drink it so that he could prepare it fresh. He gave Michael a warm shot of water to “rinse his pallet” and explained how to cup the expresso and what characteristics to look for. This guy was legit! When we came back later on during the week, he gave us a list of home espresso machines he recommended and offered some really good advice for pulling our own espresso at home. Why can’t places like this exist in the US?????

Almost every night we went to the night market. During the week the night market to the East of the city opens around 6pm and lasts until midnight. Both sides of the street are lined with stall after stall after stall of vendors selling high-quality knock-offs. We saw tons of Loui Viutton and Coach purses, North Face backpacks, Tiffany jewelry, Beats headphones, pirated movies, Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. And these weren’t the cheap, fake counterfeits where you could tell the difference. They all had the identical logos and look of an authentic brand. So real, that most stalls had signs posted that no pictures were allowed.

Standing outside Chiang Mai’s local night market.

For those of you who know Michael and I, it’s probably not a surprise we didn’t buy from any of those vendors, but it was still pretty incredible seeing so much authentic-looking counterfeit merchandise just out there in the open like that.

The Saturday and Sunday night markets are just as fun if not more so. We could only make it to the Saturday one since we weren’t in town quite a week and were leaving Sunday, but it was a really neat experience. They definitely had a lot more of the local handicrafts and wares verses what we saw at the weekday night market.

The abundance of chemical-free hand-made soaps, celedon ceramics, silks, clean air, and the world-famous Thai smile are just a few of the hundred other things I loved about Chiang Mai – but the food… Oh man, the food!

Salad Concept
Having lunch at an expat favorite: Salad Concept.

Who doesn’t sing the praises of Thai food? I think it’s their belief in “balancing” flavors that ensures every meal turns out tasting like heaven in your mouth. And salad! I could eat salad, drink smoothies, put ice in my water and not worry about paying for it later. Such a contrast to India…

Like the last time we visited Phuket, we left Chiang Mai feeling refreshed and charmed by this beautiful little Southeast Asian country. So thankful for places like Thailand. I hope we get more opportunities to go back in the future.

Michael and I outside our hotel: The Lanna Mantra.

 

Singapore

Singapore Skyline
View of Singapore’s skyline from Marina Bay.

Michael and I just got back from Singapore this past Sunday.

I liked Singapore. In so many ways it’s a complete 180〫from Delhi. For it’s size and population density, there’s hardly any traffic or pollution. And the amount of greenery is amazing.

It’s really impressive to see how they’ve made the most of the limited space and resources they have.

But for all the things I liked about Singapore, I enjoyed the time we spent with a couple of our friends the most.

It made me think about the value that relationships have, and how without relationships, our lives are incredibly empty.

Dinner and dessert with some friends.

No matter whether we’re in a pristine a city like Singapore or a chaotic scramble like Delhi, life is only meaningful when it’s lived out in relationship with Jesus and those around us.

I confess, I’ve left Jesus out of a lot of my traveling experiences. So despite how much I’ve enjoyed all the places we’ve been able to visit, without Him, I’ve only been appreciating them at a superficial level.

But Jesus is more alive than any man and the only one who truly knows how to live life to the fullest. If He’s not the focus, what’s the point?

If I really want my heart to be fully alive and living in the present, I need be in relationship with the Lord and invite Him into my experiences abroad.

Michelangelo’s Tragedy and the Sistine Chapel

Cappella Sistina
Entrance to the Sistine Chapel.
(No pictures were allowed inside.)

While Michael and I were on our tour of the Vatican, our guide spent some time talking about the history behind the Sistine Chapel and the famed artist, Michelangelo, who painted it.

You can read on your own a more detailed account of what happened, according to Michelangelo, but I’ll just quickly relate the story here.

It goes something like this: At the time, the Pope’s conclave was in need of some refreshing and so he asks the famed fresco painter, Raphael, who he should commission to paint the chapel.

Raphael recommends Michelangelo – who was known more for his sculpting than painting.

Raphael’s hope was that if Michelangelo botched the painting of the chapel, Raphael’s own work would achieve greater recognition, meanwhile Michelangelo’s reputation as an artist would be ruined.

The Pope listens to Raphael’s recommendation and tells Michelangelo that he wants him to paint the chapel. But Michelangelo is hesitant and declines the Pope’s initial request because he believed he was only a sculpture, and not a painter.

But the Pope is insistent, and so some 500 years later, we have Michelangelo’s famously-painted ceiling and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

When our tour guide was done telling this story, she asked a couple of incredibly powerful questions: “Just think, what if the whole time Michelangelo knew that he was more than just a sculptor and that he was a painter too? How many more Sistine Chapel’s would we have in existence today?”

Those questions got me thinking: How much is lost when we chain down our identities to what we believe we can or can’t do?

Then I began applying our guide’s questions a little differently to everyday life: What if I knew I was more than just a wife or a cook? What if that homeless man knew he was more than a homeless man? What if the kid who didn’t make the basketball team knew he was more than just a basketball player?

What if our identities weren’t wrapped up in our beliefs about ourselves?

What if we let ourselves be, as Mother Teresa once said, “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world”?

Historians have since gone back and said Michelangelo’s account of how he came to paint the Sistine Chapel is probably untrue, and that there’s no external evidence to suggest that Raphael had any plans to underhand Michelangelo.

But even if the story’s not true, don’t you think it’s sad that Michelangelo wrote it down as though it was? Don’t you think it says something about how Michelangelo viewed himself?

It makes me wonder too, where was the voice of truth in Michelangelo’s life? Who did he have in his life that could have encouraged more of his talents in painting as well as sculpting?

The Pietà
The Pietà by Michelangelo, inside St. Peter’s Basilica

No one can deny that Michelangelo was genius. And whether or not he painted a million more Sistine Chapels if had he considered himself a painter, doesn’t take away from all the other masterpieces he created.

But the tragedy of Michelangelo does not lie in his accomplishments or lack of accomplishments.The tragedy of Michelangelo is that he believed a lie that his painting skills were inferior and not worth investing in.

I’m not saying either that everyone’s a Michelangelo waiting to happen. There are just some skills we stink at, and we’d be fooling ourselves not to admit that. (We’ve all seen American Idol and what happens when people don’t have an accurate perception of their abilities).

But sometimes we’re actually closing doors to greater things when we mistakingly believe we don’t posses a certain skill or quality. And that’s a tragedy.

Many of us today have been believing a lie that we don’t have anything to offer the world. But Paul says in Romans that creation is groaning, waiting for the sons of man to be fully revealed.

And not only is all of creation groaning, but Jesus is yearning for us to walk in the fullness of His design too.

Living out the fullness of who He created us to be brings joy to the world, and glory to the One who meticulously sculpted and fashioned you before the world began.

Wonderful Counselor

We’re home from our month-long trip in Albuquerque and still waiting to hear back on the official offer for Michael’s long-term assignment to India. So far all parties have agreed to the position and Michael’s interview went well. All that’s left now is for headquarters in Sweden to review the proposal and the contract will be sent to the U.S. By August fifteenth we should expect the proposal to arrive, which might impact when we actually move or it might not. But until we hear different, September first is still our “D-Day” for India.

It’s been a rough time since we’ve been home. For me, the drive back was long and from the get-go, it seems like one thing after another has piled up. Everything from my aloe vera randomly dying to finding out my Grandma P’s condition has become extremely poor. But the majority of concerns are family-related and it has me asking a lot of questions about how ready I am to be away from them for a year or more.

I’ve always struggled with carrying worry that isn’t necessarily inside my boundary realm, so I’ve been having a hard time feeling guilty about moving away to India. A lot of the thoughts I’ve been wrestling with deal with abandonment: “Am I abandoning my family? Are we abandoning our family? Will I regret not taking advantage of being so close to them in the states?” Eventually, I shift my inward thoughts to God and approach Him with these questions.

So, the Wonderful Counselor listens and we work through it together.

Starting with… Where does my realm of control end and His begin? David says in Psalm 16:6: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…” So I must remember that in all things God helps set healthy and “pleasant” boundaries in my life. Worrying for my family does not affect their situation one way or the other. And it says to God that I do not trust him to preserve their well-being. I cannot add or subtract one hair from my own head by worrying – much less someone else’s head! God loves my family beyond comprehension. Can I tell God how to love them better? Will my worrying do a better job for them than the methods God is presently using?

Then I think: Is “abandon” even an accurate word? It’s not like I own my family. God does. They’re not “mine”. They’re God’s. Only Jesus can truly be held personally responsible for every individual on the face of this planet. Being in Houston may grant me more physical access to my family; but it does not necessarily grant me access to their hearts, cares or concerns. How can I abandon what I never owned?

Guy walking on glass at River City Market

Despite these talks, my emotions have been getting ahead of me occasionally, and I still have more to process. But I will say that the last couple days have allowed me to focus on walking this out in the present-tense. I’ve been letting myself just experience the full realm of feelings attached with moving to a foreign place. And it’s been good. It’s almost like I woke up one day and was like, “Oh my gosh. We’re moving to India.” Then I got butterflies. We’re really moving to India. Ok. I can do this.

God is with us and with our family at the same time. And I look to my Savior for an example of how to maintain peace in the midst of my worries. Jesus knew he was responsible for the salvation of the whole world, but he found time to sleep on a boat during a storm and have dinner with sinners and tax collectors. He told his disciples “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is it’s own trouble.” (Matt 6:34) He did nothing apart from what He saw the Father doing (Jn 5:19) and was content to do His will.

(Haha.. gosh. If this past year has been anything at all, it’s been one big lesson in contentment. I wonder what I’ve learned?)

I never want to forget that no matter how stressful this transition might get – it’s for a reason and it’s all just apart of the Adventure God has invited us to go on.

Are you in a season of waiting or rest right now? How have you been intentional during this time and what advice can you give others?

Passing Time

We’ve basically been in India-mode for the past couple weeks. Which means the most exciting thing in the world could happen right this instant and we would only be minimally interested: “What’s that? Grandma’s going sky-diving this weekend? Oh. That’s nice.”


Staying focused in any capacity has been a real challenge. Our minds just aren’t living in the present – they’re thinking about the next few months and after. I feel especially bad for Michael because the work he’s currently doing here in Albuquerque is actually what he originally started out doing when he became an employee for Sprint. Really tedious and drawn out stuff. Not only that, but he has endure it for twelve hours a day, three days in a row. If either of us is eager to get things moving along with India, it’s got to be him.


But that’s not to say it’s been any easier for me to sit in the hotel room making five-categoried to-do lists and researching expatriate information all day. In between forgetting my Kindle at the gym (sucked, but found it), seeing Xmen: First Class (awful), then seeing Super 8 (wasn’t awful, but wasn’t the best), seeing our first road runner (looked nothing like the cartoon), reading (of course), making new social icons (as displayed in the sidebar), and working on a friendship bracelets (totally rockin’); we find ourselves twiddling our thumbs, anxiously waiting to get back home.


Thankfully, it will only be one more week before Michael will be back in Kansas City and less than that for me. Part of me wants to feel bummed that we weren’t able to travel around more here in New Mexico. But another part of me is still pretty content with the little things we’ve been able to see and do so far. Like so:

Chicken & Dumplings?
Parmesan Garlic Chicken?
Parmesan Garlic Chicken with noodles AND homemade Alfredo Sauce?

Wait a minute…
Spaghetti?
Chicken Fried Rice?

I think I’m beginning to notice a trend here…
Orange Chicken?
Turkey Cheeseburgers?

I guess I should have warned you that this post was mainly written to display my incredible hotel cooking prowess. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less satisfied with how we’ve spent our time in Albuquerque – so it’s not entirely off-track. You’ve gotta eat, right?

I also FINALLY completed the latest friendship bracelet I’ve been working on. I ran out of thread mid-bracelet and it quickly became a macramé nightmare trying to extend the strings. But alls well that ends well. After I started it, I asked God who I should give it to and I felt like he told me to make it for a friend’s daughter. I put it in the post yesterday and it should hopefully be delivered by Tuesday.

Still reading my latest book, The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel by Margaret George. It’s my second historical fiction by George and I’ve got to say, I’m not really enjoying it as much as her other novel. Too much emphasis on romance and I don’t entirely care for her portrayal of Cleopatra’s character. But that’s the trouble with historical fiction; you don’t always wind up agreeing with character interpretation.


Four days and counting until I make the twelve-hour drive back home – then it’s sista’ sista’ time for an entire week. Let the cheesy hair metal/80s music begin!

What’s the longest amount of time you’ve had to spend in a hotel? How did you pass the time? 
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