Saturday, July 31, 2010


Living away from my home country isn't easy, but it's not hard either. When I think of how long we have "survived" and thrived as a family I am a little surprised myself. So much of our daily challenges are made bearable by our friends who live here. No one has family here, so we make our own. Friends who are single, friends without kids, friends who are our parents age, even our house help become a little part of what makes our village and raises our children (thanks Hilary, don't hate me Grandma). To me, the friends we make here make our existence joyous. They "get it," they can commiserate and what's best they can make it all better with a shoulder to lean on or an offer to help and more importantly an ear to listen!

I appreciate America more than ever and oh how I appreciate Utah. I miss the conveniences and the cleanliness and the beauty. I miss not being surrounded by poverty. I miss our families. I miss our friends back home. I miss the massive amount of CHOICE that America offers and the ability to tailor my life. I miss picking tomatoes out of the garden and Nate misses mowing the lawn. I miss painting my walls and watering the grass and tending to my home. Dare I say I even miss laundry. I never get to smell the fresh warm clothes as they come out of the dryer fluffy and soft (but I don't miss folding them! Not. One. Bit.) I miss Mexican food. I miss laying down in thick green grass. I miss the late setting sun. I miss chatting with the neighbors in the cul-de-sac. I miss cooking and baking. I miss shopping. I miss the sno cone shack. I miss days corn and Utah peaches and rupes root beer ice cream. I miss the mountains of Utah and the potato fields of Idaho. I miss the genuine simplicity of everyday life and the community of America.

To be honest, I miss almost everything and there are days that I would be happy to pack up and move home and give up the phenomenal private school, the amazing inexpensive spa services and maids and nannies and driver and cook and cheap nights out at amazing 5 star restaurants. I would quickly hop on a plane and forget about ever seeing the Great Wall of China or the cities in Japan and Vietnam or the beaches of Thailand and Bali or the warmth and hospitality of the Philippines. But those days are just that: days. Bad days, where I have clearly spent more time trying to make this place fit into my view of what it should be as opposed to just going with the flow of what it is. It's usually after I have had a dozen shop girls following me around trying to "help" or hearing the words "out of stock" one too many times in a day or sitting in traffic for 45 minutes to just go 6 miles or after a load of over-bleached laundry. But guess what, those things happen every day! I have heard that living abroad will either make you or break you. It breaks a lot of people. I hope it will make me. I hope it will make my boys and make my family. I think, so far, that it has.

I am happy here. I actually love it here! I am involved here and I am invested in my own happiness here. I can make a difference and I am grateful for being able to leave a footprint here. As an expat we live among so many cultures not just Filipinos. It's a beautiful thing where our children don't have a negative racial cultural divide and I don't think we could give them a better gift. I love our ability to travel and albeit the experiences are sometimes a bit comical, I still wouldn't trade it. I love that our children have ridden elephants and been to major historical sights. I love the relationship I have built with my husband here. It's been forged with steel by overcoming the challenges of every day life. Life isn't perfect here, it's not perfect anywhere. But it's pretty darn good. To be honest, when the time comes to venture "home" wherever that may be, I will be scared because to us, this IS home. It may not be the country of our birth (well, 3 out of 4 of us) or where our citizenship is but for now, this is IT! So I vow to try to "Keep calm and carry on," to make a consorted effort every day to appreciate what I have here to remember how lucky I am to come from where I do. After all this life doesn't happen to everyone.

Friday, July 16, 2010

loving these boys

A few updates around the May household:

Every month our boys just get more fun. They interact more positively (Finnley beats up on Holden less-yes you read that right) and are a joy to be around. I finally feel like life in manageable again. Yes, it took THAT long to get it together and yes, I even have help. Maybe that was why there was such a learning curve, I wasn't thrown into the fire like most new mothers.

Finnley is constantly wanting to come along wherever we go and I'm sad to say we are usually running from place to place and the convenience of leaving him at home regularly wins out. So when he does come in the car or out to the store he is thrilled. He is always bringing us his shoes and pulling us out the door. He has just started with a very long drawn out "no noooooo" and when he shakes his head no, his entire body gets into the action from his shoulders to his hips. Although no also means yes so confirming what he actually means is a chore. He uses both Tagalog and English words so once again that can prove confusing for us all. One moment it's a dog and the next it's an aso. Tonight while reading a book he said "thas not ah duck." It WAS a duck so again...not sure if he means it IS or IS NOT. He calls me "Mama" but when he wants someone to come here is said like an Italian "MA!" with his palm facing down waving his fingers towards himself like we do to shoo something away in the States, that is "come here" in the Philippines. Never does Da (Daddy) come out in a normal volume, it is shouted from the rooftops, "DA!!!!" He says "shower," and calls Holden "Kuya"(older brother) but it comes out more like "Oooohyah." Carol our nanny is called "Roll" and Ed our driver he calls "Lolo" (Grandpa) and I think he actually likes being called that!
He loves to wear my tennis arm band, he also is a gem at clearing the table. Who knew you could teach tricks at such a young age!

SOMEONE is missing a couple of teeth. Holden had one upper incisor just hanging there but he refused to pull it out. So the other day I asked to take a look at it and flicked it out with my finger. That left the other one just hanging all on it's own and looked to be at about the same level of stability. He moaned and weeped and carried on about us taking it out but I was a little afraid he might swallow it in the night so we persisted. After a flick and a tearing sound (ICK!) it was out too. He looks so different and I might add cute. His little toothless lisp makes us beg him to say things like kisses or toothbrushes and one I came up with the other day; aesthetic. It's adorable but we have to make sure he doesn't catch us giggling because he was quite sensitive about how he looked for a few days.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Usually we head back to the good old US of A in July but we decided that this year we wanted to stick around for the summer so we headed to Vietnam for a week over the 4th of July.

That, in itself, was kind of a strange feeling. Being in a communist country (although they consider themselves socialist) on a day that we celebrate our freedom. Something we as a nation try, many times too often, to impart on others. To be in a country where there was such a recent war, that we lost. All of these things put together made for a bit of an odd feeling. It was definitely the most out of our comfort zone we have been in a country. Everything seemed a bit strange, a bit off and a bit uncomfortable. Much of it, of course, was due to our own perceptions and preconceived notions. It was an interesting study of ourselves if nothing else.

I am from the West. I am from Idaho and in Idaho, and I think the rest of the Western States, we are a friendly bunch. We smile and we assume that a smile is universal. If someone smiles at me, I smile back. It makes you feel good. I also live in the Philippines. The land of the happiest most smiley people on earth. I realize it's not that way everywhere and I can tell you that in Vietnam it is certainly NOT the case. I finally quit trying to smile at people because all we got were blank stares. Even the children, who are usually a hit in Asia, could rarely conjure up a grin from anyone. So very very strange and out of place to us.

We started in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and stayed at a beautiful converted French villa on the Saigon river. Don't get any grand images in your head, there wasn't clean fresh clear water like the Snake River back home. It was more like the dirty Pasig River here in Manila but it was pretty neat all the same watching the tug boats pull large barges of cargo and dirt up and down. The kids loved it and anymore that's all that matters! The hotel had a great feel and it was a nice place to rest in between fighting the traffic and crowds of the city. Motorbikes in HCMC are INSANE. There are thousands of them packing things around. Beds, refrigerators, rugs, huge hunks of ice, glass windows, huge flower arrangements and more were just of the few things we saw being delivered on motorbikes.

We were able to visit Reunification Palace which was the sight for the fall of Saigon which ended of the Vietnam War or as they call it the American War when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates. It is left largely the same way it was on that day so it's eerie especially the war rooms underneath the palace. We tried to visit the war museum but found it closed at the time we were near. It is operated by the Vietnamese government, the museum was opened in September 1975 as the The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government [of South Vietnam]. Later it was known as the Museum of American War Crimes, then as the War Crimes Museum until as recently as 1993. Its current name follows liberalization in Vietnam and the normalization of relations with the United States, but apparently the museum does not attempt to be politically balanced. Understandable I suppose.

We had some amazing food and found out that Pho (a noodle dish that is basically the National food) is pronounced pho as in fee-fi-FO-fum in the north and pho as in that bad four-letter word that starts with an "F" in the south. Important because if you order with the wrong word they have NO idea what you are talking about.

After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City we hoped a plane for the 2 hour flight north to Hanoi. Hanoi has a very French feel and I enjoyed it much more than the south although we were more happy with the food in the south.

We attended a water puppet show. In ancient Vietnam, the rural Vietnamese believed that spirits controlled all aspect of their lives, from the kitchen to the rice paddies. The Vietnamese devised water puppetry as a way to satisfy these spirits, and as a form of entertainment, using what natural medium they could find in their environment. In ancient times, the ponds and flooded rice paddies after harvest were the stage for these impromptu shows. Currently the show is performed in waist deep water and the puppeteers stand behind bamboo screens. Once again, this was a huge hit with the kids who also enjoyed the local music and instruments that went along with the puppets.

We explored the French Quarter fully and enjoyed our opera suite at the Sofitel before heading to Halong Bay where we chartered a private boat to see the thousands of limestone islands jutting out of the water. It was stunning. The temperature is rumored to be between 15-25 celcius yet on the day we were there is was 40! That's 104 for the record! Finnley broke out with the horrific rash, and then while chilling in his diaper, complete white trash style, he proceeded to projectile vomit all over. After the 4 hours it took us to get there, we cut the caves and the trip short and headed back to shore to get him in some aircon and back in the van for the long ride back to Hanoi.

Glad we went, but sorry to have had to cut it short! The ride to and from Halong Bay was amazing in itself. To see rice field after rice field full of conical shaped hats bent at the waist working away with the most basic of equipment that hasn't changed for hundreds of years was amazing. I couldn't help but think of the many potato fields back home and how young a country we come from where farming techniques have become so progressive with huge machines in contrast to the basics in rice farming.

More sightseeing and wandering the following day found us some wooden puppets to bring home and a few gifts for our next trip to America. We headed to the airport the following day and Finn graced us yet again with vomit in the taxi ride. We gifted the driver with an extra $16 for cleaning services and you have never seen a man more happy to have someone puke in his car!

Back to Ho Chi Minh and then a 2 hour layover before heading back to Manila. It was a great trip all in, but not anywhere near our favorite. We were very homesick for America knowing our families were all together celebrating without us. I have learned that travelling is actually hard work. Especially with children or husbands that may have picky food preferences. Or moms who have high expectations. It's not all fun and games and sometimes its pretty stressful. We aren't heading to the beaches of Hawaii or Mexico and most of it is 2nd and 3rd world country kind of stuff. Sometimes its awkward with language and accent barriers and sometimes it feels unsafe and uncomfortable, but it's always ok to feel that way. What more we travel frequently and I feel like we have the right to judge our vacations. Not because we don't appreciate each and every one of them. We are blessed and we know it. We choose to go to these places because they are different and because not a lot of people in the world get to see such places. We choose to take our children regardless of how hard it is because we want them to experience it in their own way and we like to be with them. I have also learned that I don't have to see everything, and we may miss the most important sight there is to see just so that we can spend an afternoon in the swimming pool because vacations to hard places must involve a certain level of chilling out. I have learned that there is nothing more uncomfortable to ME than being in a country that doesn't have McDonalds. Regardless of your views on the golden arches, it's a comforting symbol of America and it makes me feel safe. Strange? I know. But it's true. So don't judge me for writing about my travels "warts and all" because there has to be good with bad and awkward with comfortable and judgements with wisdom for us to learn. We gain a new knowledge about ourselves with every trip we take just as much as we learn about the places we visit. Yet again, I am amazed at how blessed we are to be on this adventure.

The beach...again, but not as good. Not good at all!

Nate was in Ireland for work for a week and right after he got back we had tickets to Malaysia. Malaysia is kind of far away and after his long trip and my week alone with the boys we were pretty much NOT in the mood for a long trip. Did I mention that Finnley due to his new trick of crib escaping had moved to the bottom bunk and made this transition by celebrations at 3 am every morning by making his way into my bedroom to invite me to join in his newly found freedom. So, yes, again we weren't in the mood for a long trip but Nate already had the time off and wanted to get away someplace near. Enter Cebu. It's just a short 45 minute flight away. There is a Shangrila. How bad can it be?


We had come from the dream beach vacation and this utopia we had come from made our new beach vacation look like Brooklyn. Yeah, Brooklyn is ok, but it's no Manhattan. There were bugs everywhere. You couldn't sit anywhere without having to swipe your arm constantly. Unless you were IN the pool, you were being bothered by the darn bugs. I know this sounds silly and kind of spoiled but seriously, the bugs! We had fly bites on us. Where do flies bite? Apparently in the Philippines. The food was ehh, the service not that swell but we could have made a go at having a good time if it weren't for those darn bugs!

Heading home, the flight was on time, everything was good and then we got to Manila. And circled and circled and circled. Almost 30 minutes of circling. Not a good sign. Due to a massive storm which had since cleared we were not cleared for landing because none of the flights from Manila had been able to leave and the airport had too much traffic. Running out of fuel we were diverted to Clark airport about and 2 hours away. This airport just happened to be where that massive storm was headed. I know this because we flew through it. The sky went from blue to black. Black, not grey. We were like a plastic toy plane in the hands of a 2 year old. Shocked to this day that the oxygen masks didn't fall from the compartment above us. Holden clearly shaken with phrases like, we are going to crash to the ground or be struck by lightening were encouraging for everyone.

As soon as we landed we called our driver who was waiting at the Manila airport and asked him to rush to Clark and pick us up as none of us were staying on that plane. His response: I have no money for gas or road tolls. UGH! Arrange for him to get cash from our saving grace friend Tarryn and he was on his way, mind you getting to Clark can take anywhere from and hour and a half to three hours depending on traffic and weather. Oh joy!

So we sat and sat and sat on the plane waiting to get off. The captain made no announcement. The crew made no announcement. No one gave us any indication of what was going on. By this time, we had left Cebu at 2:30. The kids had last eaten about noon and it was now 7:30 and we had been sitting in the plane on the runway for 3+ hours and guess what? There was no food. I hadn't packed food for the 45 minute flight minus a pack of mentos, the airline had sold out of food within 15 minutes of landing (Filipinos LOVE their food) and there was NO FOOD. Holden had a fever and the chills and was wrapped up in the only blanket like thing I had, a pink scarf, and we were all freezing and it was pouring outside. Sheets of rain, shaking the plane as it sat there on the runway among all of the other jumbo jets and small prop planes. You can picture this, right? The misery. The lack of announcements. The anxiety. The cranky children. It was like the 3 hour tour of Gilligan's island.

Finally they wheel the stairs over to our plane, bring on a representative to talk to those people who have requested to get off the plane. She explains to each of the 10 people that we won't have our luggage as the plan will eventually be going back to Manila and we can collect our baggage there. Fine fine fine, just get us off the plane! Still no announcement from the crew and no one on the plane has a clue what is going on except those wanting off the death trap. We head down the metal stairs in the middle of the rain and wind and into the back of a delivery truck and taken to the terminal. From there we grab a taxi to the nearest hotel with a restaurant as our driver has informed us he is still 3 hours away. Seriously, how? HOW? Luckily he had no idea where he was and showed up a mere hour later but wait, the nightmare isn't over. We pile into the car to find that there are NO car seats. He had taken them out to make room for our luggage. You know that ONE duffel bag we had taken to Cebu when he dropped us off a few short days earlier. Yes. Brilliant. In a 8 seater SUV he had made room for that one duffel bag. So the entire way back home I cling to Finnley like I have his life in my hands, because really, I do. Our nine hour journey ended as we made it home at midnight.

Holden made us promise we would never go back to "that place" (Cebu) because really how can the kid separate that beach vacation from that flight. And I say Amen to that kid, I'm never going back either.

Here are some photos of the good points, clearly there were a few! :)

Yep, I am totally that mom who puts her kids in matching swimmers. Matching SPEEDOS, because swim trunks are just so uncool here. :)

Chillin in the raft that someone left behind. Staying dry and bug free!

I see heisman here. You?