What’s Cookin’ in Chiang Mai

31 Jan Tomsumsoup

Wow, it’s been quite a week here in Chiang Mai.  Earlier this week we had an unexpected “Chiang Mai version” of winter. The temperature dropped down to about 50 F.  This was quite a shock to the system after months of temperatures in the 80s and 90s.  I heard it was even recording-breaking cold! We had a few days of good “bundling-up”, some cold (and one wet) morning rides to work, and one day you could even see your breath (the kids at school of course loved this!). I even broke out a short down winter coat and my wool long underwear from Germany!  “What’s all the fuss?  That’s not that cold!” you might think?  It seems at least part of it is the tropical humid weather makes the cold even colder, an icy cold that shoots straight through you. Also, buildings here have no insulation and no heat.  Plus, your body is used to (at least somewhat on my part) hot weather! For a few days, there were many empty seats in classrooms and students bundled in fleece blankets and fuzzy animal hats.  As much as I complain about the heat, I am glad to have things back to “normal” today with pleasant blue skies and a comfortable 81 degrees.

Things are a bit crazy at work lately.  In part because we are preparing for the annual NP Fair, put on by the Native English Program at my school.  For the teachers this has us creating booths for the fair as well as preparing students for song and dance performance extravaganza.  As the end of the years is winding in, it is inevitable that teachers are a bit exhausted (I personally am…) and students are… well, let’s just say… less interested in paying attention and listening.  But like it or not, here it all comes and the crazy dance continues of life and teaching in Chiang Mai.

Tom Yum Soup

The beginnings of Tom Yum Soup

This weekend I treated myself to a Thai Cooking Class.  It was something I was hesitant to do with all of my food sensitivities. More and more it is challenging for me to eat here… but I thought perhaps if I cooked the food I could at least control what goes into it and learn a bit more about Thai food and culture.

I chose the Thai Farm Cooking School in part because they use organic ingredients they grow at their farm and also because of their popularity and high rating.  Plus you they pick you up, take you to their farm out of the city – always nice to have a little break from Chiang Mai and some new scenery for the day.  You cook I think… six different dishes… and get a selection to choose from.

curry paste

Curry Paste

Overall, it was a great day! The other folks in the class were all really personable and it was fun to spend some time and talk with an assortment of people with their own travel experiences and stories to tell.  And I learned a lot about Thai Food!  I was able to make most of the foods with some adjustments.  With these adjustments (mostly no adding anything that included sugar), some dishes tasted okay… and some in earnest were completely flat.  This class helped me to get clear that most Thai dishes simply rely on the MANY sugary sauces for their good taste.  A bit of a bummer for me, but also an eye-opener to the extent of the high sugar content of the food here.

curry

Chicken Curry

One of the highlights of the day was making our own curry paste.  We each had our own impressive mortar bowl and pestle. We added the curry ingredients and pounded away for a considerable amount of time until our paste looked like “peanut butter” as we were told. This was the basis for the curry we made later, a dish that still tasted pretty good even though I left out all of the sugary sauces used to complete the dish.

Overall they did a great job of being patient with me and adapting to my food needs and requests.  I would recommend them for someone with food sensitivities as they seem pretty adept to it.  However, the inevitable truth is that many of the dishes just don’t taste that great when you have to leave out some of the main ingredients…

That said, I now know what many of the “foreign” veggies are that I see in the supermarket and also know what they are used for – which is great!!  And I feel more informed about some basic Thai food and dishes.

Today at the JJs Organic Market, one of the regular weekly markets here in Chiang Mai, I ran into an American woman who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years and also happens to be an organic growing expert.  One of my concerns here in Chiang Mai is that you don’t REALLY know what is organic and what isn’t – even at an “organic” market.  It was such a relief to chat with her a bit about finding organic food in Chiang Mai.  One of the challenges here, as she pointed out, is that it’s hard to really get the truth about things.  Someone may say something has no pesticides but you can’t count on the fact that they are telling the truth… which makes it difficult to eat healthy.  She pointed me towards some growers at the market she worked with personally who she could confirm are organic growers.  She also gave me some simple tips like if the veggies look kind of “bad” that is a good sign that they are grown organically.  Bug bites, for example, she suggests are a good sign when looking for organic food.

She also warned that many street markets use harsh pesticides including formaldehyde!  I do my best to stay away from traditionally grown veggies here as I know harsh pesticides are used… but had no idea about the formaldehyde!  And so the adventure of healthy eating on the international landscape continues!

I have just a little sunny day weekend left and look forward to a Thai Massage later today as the weekend sneaks away and a new workweek soon begins.

How are things in your neck of the woods?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Cool Times in Chiang Mai

17 Jan IMG_20160116_113455

It’s been a busy, good week here in Chiang Mai.  Our final quarter of school is in full uproar and the craziness and shenanigans of teaching life in Thailand continue.  It’s been great to have some time in Chiang Mai with wonderful cooler weather and I am doing my best to soak it all up while it’s here!

My school has its annual English fair coming up in February which has me playing a new role with my students and in the classroom – singer and choreographer.  Yes, that’s right.  Each of our classes will sing and perform a song in English at the fair.  It’s a bit of a big deal with professional microphones, a giant stage and music. My class will be performing “Ain’t no mountain high enough!” which is fun.  We’ve started learning the words this week, no small task for 10 year-old Thai speakers.  As the recorded music was too fast for them at first, I found myself turning off the stereo and singing to my students.  It was a trip… and… kind of fun, too.  This coming week we begin… the dancing which in earnest will be nothing too fancy as they are still simply learning the song and time is ticking away.

It’s been a much needed good chill weekend. Lately, with just the buzz of teaching and my upcoming transitions on my mind I am requiring more down time just to come back to neutral.  I did a little exploring in Chiang Mai yesterday and found my way to Wat Sri Suphan also known as “The Silver Temple.”  It was a casual peruse.  I arrived late morning and couldn’t help but feel the eyes on me as I walked around.  I was one of just a few visitors at the time and noticeably felt my “farang-ness” (the word for foreigner here) as I explored the temple.  The highlight is the silver temple which I admired, but only from the outside as I wasn’t allowed to go in because… no women were allowed (there was a sign there stating this).

There is much on my mind lately considering what is next along with my typical on-set of anxiety in the face of uncertainty.  Timely enough, I am participating in a positive, invigorating 12-Day Challenge led by Reiki Master and Intuitive Guide, Maureen O’Shaughnessy.  Maureen is really a feel good person and her coaching and interactions leave me feeling better. The challenge is all about refocusing our lens and changing our perspective.  She offers tips and wise guidance that provide a daily pick-me up.  After just a few days, I already feel better, more relaxed and at ease.  She offered some wisdom in response to my concerns with anxiety and what is next for me.  She said that safety and security exist within us and not our circumstances and to shift from anxiety about the future to curiosity.  I thought this was a really powerful and freeing perspective and am letting this soak in a bit as I navigate the waters of “what is next for me.”

Sunday evening has sunk in and the weekend is slipping away.  Good night for now and as always feel free to write.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Happy, Healthy New Year

9 Jan

I can feel it.  It’s a whole new year.  It may be 2016 to many of us, but here in Thailand the year is 2559 (that’s in Buddha years). It’s hard to believe that it’s January as I sit comfortably warm in my apartment with the golden sun and shiny blue sky making its regular appearance.  Yes, it’s the best time of year to be in Chiang Mai.  The cool mornings do a world of good to cool off bodies and buildings before the still steady heat of the afternoon makes its arrival.  This time of year is called “cold season.” I am surprised at the temperature range that happens now from day to day… lately morning lows are about 13 degrees C (mid-50s F) and afternoon highs nearing 30C/86F.  Because this is a tropical climate, the humidity shoots the damp cold right through you.  I understand now why the markets have been selling gloves, scarves and winter coats… it’s for those chilly morning scooter rides.  You won’t get frostbite here but in the mornings it does feel… cold…ish… in it’s own kind of way.

It feels like it’s been a busy time for me lately.  The holiday break passed by quickly.  It was a good time of personal exploration as well as some healthy R&R and sightseeing around Chiang Mai.

School has started back up again in full swing filled with the final quarter lessons and the standard assortment of extra activities.  Upon returning to school reality hit me like a brick wall, now fully realizing that this school year is slipping away in just a few short months (along with my Thai Visa…).  As I plan to depart at the end of the school year, I am now more diligently focused on tending to what might be next.

Children's Day

Children’s Day

I have also been focused intently on handling quite a variety of health-related issues.  I have felt a “push” lately to pay deeper attention to some new and long-term health issues and kick it up a notch.  I am learning more day to day about tending to the details important for me in truly sowing a life of good health. It isn’t always easy doing this in a foreign country – with different practices, customs and expectations.  It can take some extra effort and patience but I am finding that with a little creativity and some persistence, I can care for my health using natural methods at a high standard.

Recently I made a move away from grains and have been eating grain-free. The good news of this exploration is it has invited more vegetables into my life. Veggies for breakfast, veggies for lunch, veggies for dinner. The truth is, without gluten, sugar and grains… veggies are just about the best thing going.  I have enjoyed integrating more vegetables as both a source of protein and carbohydrates.  It’s an adjustment but it’s been fun expanding my veggie regiment and trying some new things… new recipes, trips to the Sunday Organic Market at JJs

"TLT" - Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

“TLT” – Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

Of course I love food, so it is truly one of my favorite past-times having healthy, simple food that works for me.  I am often collecting new healthy recipes on pinterest.  If this strikes your fancy, you can check it out here.  Just today I tried a new simple combination inspired by the BLT… it’s a lettuce wrap with organic tempeh (from the local farmers market,wrapped in banana leaves), tomato, avacado, and quinoa.  I fried up the tempeh in a little organic coconut oil, assembled the goodies and topped it off with a simple sauce I made from yogurt, a dab of organic salsa and a squirt of lime.  Not a bad easy treat for a lazy Saturday afternoon lunch.

How about your New Year?  How is life unfolding?  Any great discoveries or healthy adventures to share?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Merry Christmas Thai-Style

24 Dec maryandjoseph

It’s a warm balmy almost Christmas here in Chiang Mai.  It’s the morning of Christmas eve and I am lounging in my bed reveling in my end of the quarter relaxation/exhaustion.  I have to admit I was a little… surprised.. at the Christmas blow-out, extravaganza put on my school.  If you don’t know, I work at a Thai school in Chiang Mai that hosts over 6,000 students.  It is Christian in nature, founded by missionaries, in the midst of a very buddhist country with a mostly buddhist student population.  Despite the Buddhist ways of this country, it has to be said that Christmas, in one form or another, has made its way to Thailand.  And without question, it has arrived in full decadent Thai splendor here at my school.DaraChristmasTrees

We started off with a little department Christmas party.  Innocent enough.  A little gift giving.  A little eating.  A few days later they upped the ante as our foreign teacher staff (about 30 or so) was invited… hmmm, perhaps strongly encouraged…  to sing a Christmas carol at the evening service celebration.  It was painless enough.  A little “Silent Night” with some smiling and candle lighting.  We made it virtually unscathed and the Christmas evening celebration continued.

After the Thai service was complete, we continued on to dinner.  There was a full stage and tables set up under the stars and a blast of karoke-style performances and dancing.  I have to acknowledge that the speaker system set up right by our table that night was… a little loud…as is the tendency here and was a bit overwhelming for my perhaps less indoctrinated Western ears. The evening continued… a feast of food served, a giant raffle with maybe hundreds of presents and prizes given away to staff. The raffle went on for hours. The trick is if you are not present, you don’t win your prize.  And there were big prizes like televisions and a refrigerator. I was fortunate to win a modest envelop of cash early in the evening which freed me up for a not-too-late Christmas celebration escape.

ChristmasbandAnd the celebration continues… the last day of school, December 23, began with a school-wide ceremony/presentation in the center of campus eventually followed by the annual Christmas parade.  It was innocent enough.  Some students were dressed up in costumes and marched around the campus.  We, the foreign staff also marched in the parade throwing candy to more than enthusiastic children.

After the parade we were invited to join our classrooms where they had a little Christmas party with their homeroom teacher. They ate pizza and cookies and candy and played while we spent a little more Christmas time together.  Some students sweetly presented gifts as the celebration continued.

I have to admit it was a bit of fun… and it was A LOT of Christmas.  Shockingly so. I had to laugh at the extremity of it.  Just the previous year I was in Vienna, Austria,  a Catholic country known for its celebration of Christmas.  And while, no one does Christmas like Vienna, I have to say this enthusiastic school nestled in the northlands of this Buddhist country gave Vienna a run for their money….in their own Thai style and fashion, of course.darachristmas

When our responsibilities as foreign teachers were complete for the day,  the campus continued to rock in Christmas celebration. There was a full on Christmas blast in the kindergarden area of campus, more games and celebration until… at last… the day was complete.  Ah.

I happily wrapped up my Christmas self and made my way home.  I packed up the quarter’s work in preparation for a new term to soon begin and sighed a bit of relief.

And now, I have a wonderful glorious break.  Not a bad little sprawl of about 10 days or so.  Ten days that I plan to enjoy, restore, relax.  And then January 4th, we do it all again.  But not for long as the Thai school year is quickly slipping by coming to completion.

And so from my state of post-Christmas celebration but pre-Christmas exhaustion, I am wishing you a big Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Thailand.  May it truly be a time of enthusiasm, grace, and peace in your world wherever you may be.

 

“Home” for the Holidays

12 Dec loy-krathong-Thailand

Greetings from Chiang Mai!  It’s been a while since I’ve written.  It’s been a strange and somewhat busy and challenging time for me these past weeks. Life, school and teaching keep buzzing by and I… I just had to take a break, or step back or something.  It seems that life is moving and changing in important ways and I am just doing my best just to roll with the waves.

I’ve had one big shift in my life.  I took a leap and moved off campus.  If you didn’t know, for the past 7 months I have been living on the campus where I teach.  In many ways this has been great.  It provided a safe place to land and a good place of support.  But as the months went on I started gettin’ that itch… for something a little different.  I started snooping around on-line sites looking at the many condo listings available.  I had a particular list of desires that, for the most part I wasn’t willing to compromise on.  I didn’t give up and finally… with the help of Indigo Chiang Mai Real Estate… I found something that I am really happy with. Hooray!

In truth, when push came to shove, moving off campus was a little daunting for me… leaving the comfort and security of the mother ship.  It was the quickest move I’ve ever had.  With a friend and her car to help, it literally took us about ten minutes to move all of my stuff in.  Gypsy life has its benefits.

A bathtub!

A bathtub!

After living in a great, but small room on campus with only a community kitchen downstairs… there are many delights I am now experiencing in my new space.  I have a kitchen!  It’s not fancy, but there’s a sink and a stove and it’s stocked with plenty of dishes and pans. This is not typical in Chiang Mai budget accommodations. It’s really great to cook in the comfort of my own space again. Also I have tons of great light! Which is wonderful since my campus room, while snug and private, was so dark that even my plant couldn’t survive in there. I had to put him out in the hall to give him any hope of receiving some real sunlight.  This had me thinking, if my plant couldn’t live in that dark room… imagine the impact it had on me!  Additionally, I now have a bathtub.  Not an easy thing to find in Chiang Mai…  and it’s not some scrawny bathtub, but a real bathtub where I can easily stretch out my legs.  Yippee!!

My happy plant hanging out near the sunshine

My happy plant hanging out near the sunshine

My plant and I are now both happy.  It was funny to notice how nervous I was moving out on my own.  But when I thought about it I realized that it has been about ten years since I last rented an apartment on my own. Over my past 5 years of international living, this is the first time I have rented a place and lived on my own.  So a new experience for me!  The last apartment that I rented “all by myself” was my modest but appreciated basement apartment that I departed suddenly with the flooding of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Since then I have lived with another, rented space in someone’s home, house-sat, visited and cohabitated… in a wide array of circumstances and locations.  I must say, it’s a nice treat to have a little corner of my own for a bit.

Living the "high" life... thankfully, on the 2nd floor

Living the “high” life… thankfully, on the 2nd floor

I am in one of the many high-rise condos flooding the city of Chiang Mai.  It is a little on the outskirts of town, quiet and laid back.  As I am… afraid of heights…. I am happy to say that I am on the 2nd floor.  A few days ago I visited someone who lives on the top, 15th floor.  He has sort of the “penthouse” apartment.  To get to his space you pass through a glass door onto an open air balcony before entering the apartment.  Just this little passage was enough to send my heart racing.  “Good thing I am on the 2nd floor” I thought!

At school we are now wrapping up the 3rd quarter.  It’s breezed on by with many holidays and activities flooding the schedule.  I have done my best to keep my go with the flow attitude required for any happiness or sanity in Thailand.  This week we are finishing up oral exams and the end of the week students will take their final test.  After tests we have just a few days of classes filled with some holiday celebrations until, happily, we are free for a healthy break.  Yes!

Some of my beautiful students all dressed up for a traditional dance

My beautiful students all dressed up for a traditional dance

Before you know it, the school year will be complete. Students take their end-of-the-year tests in first days of March.  Teachers stick around for a few weeks after to complete some administrative work… and then we are finished in mid-March!

It’s hard to believe the holidays are just around the corner.  I see pictures of folks in sweaters and scarves on Facebook and remind myself… oh, that’s right… it’s December.  While evenings and mornings are a bit cooler now, the days still typically get up into the high 80s or low 90s at mid-day.  But the terrible heat has softened quite a bit and truthfully the weather now feels just great.

With that, I will say good-bye for now.  I am enjoying a leisurely Saturday afternoon in my light, open space.  With the holidays coming, I am feeling grateful for a little “home” of my own.  How are these times and holidays unfolding for you? It’s always great to hear from you!

Featured image:  The lanterns lighting up the sky from the beautiful full moon celebration Loy Krathong.  It’s celebrated on November 25 and a highlight of the holiday season in Thailand.  It was a beautiful sight to see!

Reiki Giveaway

22 Nov Flowers of Thailand

Do you know about Reiki?  Perhaps you are a friend or family member and have heard me talk about Reiki or received a treatment from me over the years. Maybe you’ve heard Reiki mentioned in the media, a movie, or casually mentioned by a friend.  Reiki has been a part of my life for over ten years now.  I stumbled upon it quite accidentally, but it’s now such an integral part of my world for me it’s akin to breathing.  I just can’t imagine life without it.

Reiki has been a big part of my international journey that has now expanded over nearly five years and seven countries.  My first big international leap was into the safe… yet unpredictable… haven in Wettenbostel, Germany where I was graciously met and supported by a team of Reiki Masters running a seminar house.  A Reiki Master from the Netherlands generously hosted me for a month at her home near Amsterdam. A Reiki connection introduced me to the wonderful work exchange site helpx.net.  Also, a Reiki friend made a connection which led me to spend 7 months in Vienna, Austria. Along the way I have given and received Reiki treatments and met new folks in the international Reiki community.flowers of thailand

My home base Reiki Master and teacher, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, has truly been my co-pilot on this journey endlessly giving of herself, her time and her wisdom to assist me on this twisty and at times challenging international odyssey.  And I can’t forget my committed network of Reiki friends in New Orleans and beyond, all of us united in Reiki and support for one another.

What is Reiki you might ask?  In its essence it is a simple and transformative tool that supports healing. It is my faithful companion after a long day or anxious moment.  It is my go-to place when I feel a little cold coming on. It is the first place I turn when a friend or family member is sick or challenged in some way.  And most of all, for me Reiki is a journey that I am learning to lean into… one day at a time… and (sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly) watch my life unfold from a deep and transformative place.

flowersofthailandHawayo Takata, the Japanese-American woman who spread Reiki beyond Japan is known for saying that she wanted Reiki to be as common as taking an aspirin.   Indeed, Reiki is the first place I turn when I have a headache (a rare thing for me with my regular Reiki practice).

Reiki healing takes on all shapes and sizes, from slow, quiet change and restoration to the more dramatic and “miraculous”.  I met a Reiki Master who rid herself of cancer through her Reiki journey.  I have felt a friend’s dislocated rib snap back into place under my hands during a Reiki treatment after a fall in a bathtub.  I have moved through a virus in two days time that had others down for weeks.  And I have quietly soothed, softened and nurtured my own panic and anxiety after a troubling day or moment.

With the healing path of Reiki, the best practice (and indeed an important part of the journey and its lessons) is to let go of expectations and simply… experience what is there for you…. whatever it may be.

Are you curious about Reiki?  If so, I would love to share it with you.  I am giving away two 60-minute distant Reiki treatments.  What is a distant treatment?  The practice of Reiki is traditionally offered in two ways, hands-on and distantly. A hands on treatment, learned in the First Degree Reiki class, includes the gentle laying on of hands and direct contact with the hands and the client’s body.  A distant treatment, learned in 2nd Degree Reiki, is a tool that allows the practitioner to send the Reiki energy anywhere regardless of time and space.

Curious?  Interested but skeptical?  Would you like to try it?  If you’d like to be considered, simply write me a note through the contact form on this blog.  Let me know, in just a sentence or two or at length if you are inspired, why you would like a Reiki treatment.  I will allow two weeks from the posting of this blog for people to write and then choose two folks to receive a distant Reiki treatment.  I will contact you via email if you are chosen and we can work out the details.

If you’d like to learn more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page with more details about Reiki treatments as well as some quality Reiki links.

Thanks for reading.  It would be my pleasure to share a little Reiki with you and in some way support your journey the way Reiki and the people of Reiki have supported mine.

 

Featured photos – the colors and flowers of Thailand.  I am amazed how color is popping everywhere no matter what time of year it is.  Here it is in November and while friends and family are starting to bundle up for the winter, we are here surrounded by sun and vibrant color.

 

Between a Backpacker and an Expat

16 Oct Offerings

It’s not exactly a rock and a hard place, but when it comes to my 40-something self living in Chiang Mai , I am definitely caught between a backpacker and an expat. I am a bit of an odd demographic here. There is a bountiful farang (the Thai word for foreigner) community and culture here with a bevy of condos blossoming to prove it.  For the most part you have your young 20-something backpackers, exploring the world post-college.  Some of them are here teaching English, others just passing through. Then you have your expat community — retirees from western cultures around the globe here to make the most out of their retirement money and experience.  Some expats have lived in Chiang Mai for decades, before the injection of western culture and increased tourism giving rise to cars and condos, traffic and pollution.

Chiang Mai

Growing Chiang Mai

And then there’s me.  The 40-something.  I am somewhat of a novelty here amongst farangs in Chiang Mai. Generally speaking, 40 somethings aren’t out roaming the globe and, for the most part, they aren’t living in Chiang Mai.  They are perhaps at home with their families, or mid-career building towards retirement – at which point maybe they will retire in Chiang Mai.  But not me.  Here I am nearing my fifth year of international living.  And with all its bounty and blessings, undoubtedly I face my times of discouragement, loneliness, and feeling disconnected.

But today I am sitting in a lovely studio condo, on a comfy bed dressed in white sheets and comforter with the coolish air and light coming in as the mountains of Chiang Mai are outstretched before me.  I am on just a bit of a break.  A brief escape to the other side of town and a venture away from my regular room and life on the campus where I live and work.  Just this little bit of time and space is… restoring.  This small slice of privacy and comfort in the midst of the bustle of Chiang Mai’s Nimmanhaemin Road and the mountains just outside my window is, well, at least a bit of the pleasure of this journey and an earnest delight.

A Room with a View

My View!

As I explore this area of town I continue to wander around on foot, one of the few doing so in the city.  It is not a walking community.  The only other company I tend to have in my walking ways are periodic tourists and the monks, found in abundance here dressed in orange robes, occasionally making their way from one place to the next.  At least part of the reason no one walks here is because… it’s really hot.  The other day I was at the bank, not a far stretch away from where I live.  I accidentally forgot my wallet and had to leave, walk home and walk back only to return sweaty and steamy from the reasonably short journey.  It may not seem that hot out for the day, but when you actually begin to move… that’s when the reality of the heat sets in.  I choose not to ride a motor bike for now in part for safety reasons.  But the truth is, walking is not a guarantee either.  Sidewalks are either non-existent or mostly occupied by street vendors of all shapes and sizes.  It’s not unusual to have to weave through dips, cracks and potholes or walk along the side of the road cautiously sharing space with the motorbikes buzzing by.

My Walking Companions the Monks

The Monks – My Walking Companions

Of course being here is not without it’s charms.  Not long ago I joined a meet-up group and we headed up to the near-by and much beloved Doi-Suthep mountain to its revered temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Historically and even today folks pilgrimage on foot up the mountain, passing through the 5 stages of enlightenment along the way.  We, however, took the accelerated route and cruised comfortably in an air-conditioned Honda sedan.  As a regular traveler in the back of songthaews and tuk tuks, I have a new appreciation for the modern automobile with its little luxuries like seat belts and was grateful for the ride. We skipped past a few stages of enlightenment, hitting only the highlights, and without breaking a sweat we arrived at the end of our journey, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

The Road To Doi Suthep

The Road to Doi Suthep

 

Enchanted Break

Enchanted Break

 

View on the Way to Doi Suthep

 

On the Way to Doi Suthep

On the Way to Doi Suthep

 

We arrived initially greeted by the entourage of vendors selling their foods, crafts and wares to interested tourists.  Before entering I had to rent a skirt as I forgot and wore shorts, which is not acceptable when visiting the temples.  We took a quick walk in and I was… enchanted and appreciative of being there.  Gold and bounty and beauty.  Reverence and something honorable, pristine and truly lovely… even amidst of the bustle of the crowd.  We wandered around the inside of the temple. I took a moment to get a blessing from one of the monks as he tied a string around my wrist like a bracelet.  We took in the scenery overlooking Chiang Mai.

Stairs Doi Suthep

300 Steps to Doi Suthep

 

InsideDoiSuthep

Inside the Temple

 

InsideTemple2

Inside the Temple

 

templeview

At Doi Suthep

 

ViewDoiSuthep

The View from Doi Suthep

Soon it was time to leave and we quickly shuffled back down the mountain and enjoyed lunch together.  I was thrilled at our lunch location which was The Royal Project Restaurant.  The Royal Project is the monarchy’s special collection of organic food and product, sold in select stores and used to prepare food for the restaurant.  I always appreciate quality food and with the help of my Thai host was able to order a healthy meal that worked for me.  We also took a quick peek in the on-site market featuring Royal Project products.  I purchased just a few things including Butterfly Pea Tea made from a local flower.  When brewed it is a dark purple and our host said he drinks it every day for his health.

Inside the Royal Project Restaurant

Inside the Royal Project Restaurant

 

Dining at the Royal Project.

Dining at the Royal Project.

I have just a few more days of break before returning to school and work next week.  I am doing my best to soak up the rest and relaxation, the mountains and the quite before resubmerged in the land of 6,000+ students.

How about you?  Backpackers, retirees and in-betweeners alike, what stories do you have to tell?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Good-bye for now from my mountain-side mini-break!

 

 

 

 

 

My Big Lessons in Healthy Eating

30 Sep biglessons

It’s a quiet evening in my small on-campus abode. We are just days away from the end of the first semester and subsequent break. You can feel the winding down and impending relief from some time off or time away.   In earnest, I am relieved to have some down time to simply “be at home.”  In these past nearly 5 years of international exploration, I haven’t lost my appetite or need to cultivate time and space to be at home.

Some of my most important lessons from these recent traveling years have revolved around “home life” — working and cleaning rooms at the Seminar Haus in Germany and Les Battees in France, assisting with preparing and serving food for guests, and of course who could forget cleaning up the kitchen after Seminar Haus meals extraordinaire… an experience I will never forget.

I am grateful for all of it. Despite my recent nomadic tendencies, these experiences have helped me come home to me – learning to cultivate, care for and nurture myself in the many small and needed ways that foster feeling “at home.” I am most appreciative that these lessons took place in the context of the pristine French countryside and amongst the windmill sprinkled potato fields of Germany.


Healthy Eating Habits Have Changed My Life!

The biggest lesson I have learned and continue to learn is the importance of healthy eating habits for my health and well-being. It’s just undeniable. What I eat makes a HUGE difference in how I feel. And I am so grateful to have this lesson and experience.

I would like to share the healthy eating habits that make the biggest difference for me. These are things I learned from personal experience, my own reading and investigation, as well as guidance and information from a trusted mentor. Changing my diet literally changed my life and it’s information I want to pass on.

Of course I am not a doctor, so this is not professional advice, but honest to goodness experience from the front lines of my journey to wellness.

If you’re struggling with health, mood or anxiety issues or maybe you just want to feel better, I urge you to read below and consider for yourself how diet changes might change your life for the better.

  1. I feel my best when I eat some protein, healthy carbs and healthy fat at every meal, three meals a day. For me often this means a little meat, perhaps some organic brown rice, some fresh veggies cooked in organic coconut oil. Recently I am exploring non-grain carbohydrates including root veggies as a part of my diet. I look for whole healthy fats including (when available) organic butter and ghee, olive oil, nuts. I try to eat about 20 grams of protein per meal as recommended by one of my favorite resources, Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons.
  1. Hydrate.  This one is so powerful. So many days have been turned around for me simply because I stopped and took some time to drink water. Drinking water is my super-power and one of the first places I turn when I feel off. When I feel bad, even if I “think” I already drank enough water… I drink some more.
  1. Sugar is not an option. If you read my blog you know that sugar just doesn’t work for me. But the truth is, I didn’t know this until I cut sugar out of my diet. Once my system was clean and sugar free I got clear just how severely sugar was affecting my body, mind and mood. Thank God I understand that now! It is a challenge to stay sugar free while traveling, but for me it’s just non-negotiable. Life with sugar doesn’t work for me and I am not willing to “do that to myself”. I have been sugar free for over ten years now. Over the years I have experimented with natural sweet options like honey and agave nectar. I have come to understand that even those natural sweets tilt my mind, body and mood in a negative direction and I am better without them. That goes for dried fruits as well as some super-sweet fruits. I eat fruits in moderation and pay attention to what’s working for my body. I also stay away from foods that turn into sugar as I have learned these make me feel awful as well. This includes potatoes and white rice. Sweet potatoes aren’t great for me either. No alcohol as well.
  1. Absolutely no processed foods or artificial ingredients. Really. I mean it. I have learned this the hard way, trying foods that have just a little bit of this or a little bit of that and then feeling awful. If it isn’t natural or I don’t recognize it, I don’t buy or consume it. If it’s not natural it just doesn’t work for me. Incidentally, this includes citric acid. Despite its friendly “natural sounding” name, most citric acid is not sourced from citrus and is sketchy at best.
  1. Quality matters. Wow, I have learned this lesson big time here in Chiang Mai. Living in Thailand and other places internationally, there is often not access to the same quality organic products we know and love in the States. To save a little money and also sheer lack of access, I have purchased food items here that are typically not a problem for me only to end up feeling terrible afterwards. Items like almond butter, peanut butter, black beans, nuts, oils, spices.  While the ingredient list looks innocent enough there is one big difference…quality. If it’s not high quality, I just don’t feel well. After this experience I am more committed than ever to eating organic EVERYTHING because… it matters. Eating organic has nothing at all to do with being trendy, extravagant or picky and has everything to do with not putting genetically altered, poisoned or low quality foods in your body. Bottom line.
  1. Listen to your body. I have received a lot of great information from my mentor, books and blogs that have served as a great starting point for food health. Information is the beginning. But from there I have had to learn to pay attention to my body. Hmmm… I feel weird, what did I eat? I feel a little off today, what might make me feel better or balanced? Listening to my body is the refinement of my roadmap to health.
  1. Are you “Hangry?” I love this word. Do you know what I’m talking about?   Those times when you get irrationally angry but really you just need a little food in your body? This is the lesson I learned most clearly on the road. If I don’t eat quality food regularly, say every 5 hours or so, my blood sugar drops and I get ANGRY. I have also learned that really… it’s not my fault, it’s a physiological reaction and I just need to get some protein in my body. This was a challenge for me when I was in France as we wouldn’t eat dinner until later. My body and mood would fling off the charts and I am thinking “what is WRONG with me!” With the wise advice from my mentor, I tried simply getting a little protein a few hours before dinner. This dramatically helped me to more happily make it until meal-time. A spoonful of almond butter, a handful of almonds, pre-made mini-quiches… just a little simple hit of protein makes a big difference.
  1. I eat meat. I tried eating vegetarian for a few years and still remember the day that came to and end. I was in the kitchen of the Seminar Haus in Germany, apparently with my cheeks sunken in looking a little gaunt, and my host there (a vegetarian by the way) said “I think you need to eat some meat.” I did and… I felt a lot better. While I don’t knock vegetarian diet and lifestyle, my body feels so much better when I have meat in my diet. I have since learned from a vegan friend of a high quality B vitamin recommended for folks not eating meat… and perhaps that would make a difference for me. But for now, for my health, I am sticking with meat in my diet.
  1. Protein rich veggies. That doesn’t mean I want to eat meat all the time. But I still need to get my 20 grams of protein at mealtime, not an easy feat without meat. As lately I have been reacting to legumes I buy here in Chiang Mai, I am looking into protein rich veggies. The tops I have found so far include peas, mushrooms, leafy greens, and broccoli.
  1. No Caffeine. I kicked the caffeine habit over ten years ago. I was a coffee-a-day girl and a regular at the local coffee house. I was at the beginning of my health metamorphosis and tried cutting out caffeine. While I felt a little crazy at first, after I got past the “withdrawal” phase I learned that… caffeine makes me crazy! Really, I feel just awful when I get even a little caffeine. So we are happily and likely eternally parted.
  1. Gluten Free. I feel better when I don’t eat wheat. It makes sense when you read that wheat today is very different from its original genetic make-up. For the most part, I eat organic brown rice products (rice and pasta), quinoa and millet. Watch out for “Gluten Free” products as most of them are filled with nasty cheap products that won’t do your body any good. Read the labels! I don’t eat bread. And lately I am exploring cutting out or reducing my grain intake by replacing it with veggies high in carbohydrates. All of these choices are because I feel better when I don’t eat these things. How about you?

Whew! Thanks for sticking with me on this long but important feast of healthy eating habits. I share this so thoroughly because for me… it all really matters. If you are struggling with health issues in any way… whether emotional, physical or both… take a look at your diet. Over the years I am AMAZED at the impact the wrong food can have on my body and mood and I am so grateful for what I have learned along the way. And the journey continues!

While earnestly this way of eating can be a challenge when eating out and living abroad, it is 100% worth it to me. Caring for myself with quality food and sometimes simply finding the food…has become part of the adventure and the journey.

If this is new to you, such diet adjustments may seem limiting or daunting. But the truth is, so much of the food in our supermarkets and restaurants are filled with non-food things. In many ways I am grateful to my body because it’s given me a road map back to simple, clean healthy eating. And enjoyment wise – nothing beats lovely, well prepared, organic whole foods.

Well, night-time is approaching Chiang Mai. I am listening to the regularly scheduled evening howl of the free-roaming dogs found throughout Thailand. Every night about this time they unite in packs in a somewhat impressive howling chorus.

Good night from the land of Chiang Mai where I continue my journey of health, happiness and being at home.

How about you, how are you nurturing your health, well-being and “being at homeness” lately? Any stories or words of wisdom to share? Would love to hear from you!

This is Thailand

17 Sep Out and about in Chiang Mai... the view from the back of my songthaew

It’s been a not too busy workday, thankfully nearing the end of the week. We are closing in on the end of the semester in Thailand and will soon enjoy a well-deserved break.  As you may have noticed, the school year in Thailand starts at the beginning of May, still thickly entrenched in hot season.  It then cruises on through rainy season (still hot, but some relief with the rain) until the end of September.  We then get a few weeks hiatus until we come back to do it all again.

While it seems the teachers are more weary and the students more distracted, the end of the semester has brought with it a few unexpected but appreciated breaks.  A class cancelation here, an unexpected day off there. I am told the school where I teach, while well-respected, is known as “the fun school.”  In some countries this may not be the best of reputations… but in Thailand, with its loose ways and less serious bend towards academics, it seems it is a good thing.  It is not unusual to see traditionally dressed students adorned in make-up and flowers missing class for a dance rehearsal or a whole day of class cancelations for a celebration or event.

There is a phrase that I have heard many times from other foreigners living in Thailand.  It casually goes… “well… this is Thailand…(T.I.T.)”  And in this phrase, especially if you’ve spent any time here, you begin to understand or at least accept its wavy ways.  At times anything goes and the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. It’s not unusual to find a crooked mismatch of information and reality that to the “foreign western mind” might insight… frustration.  But the lesson is… to go with the flow… and to “get”… even if you don’t really get it… that… well “this is Thailand…”

A simple example of this is a Saturday afternoon just a few weeks ago.  The foreign elementary teachers, myself included, worked a hard, hot Saturday at an English camp for select students.  After a decent, but undeniably hot and funky day of work, we returned to our on-campus abodes only the find… there was no running water.  If ever there was a time that I wanted running water, coated by a full layer of grime and sweat from the day, it was then.  But you know what… this is Thailand.  And, this happens… and has happened on several occasions.  The water goes out, electricity, wifi… you name it.  The trick is to try not to let it get to you… and go with the flow.

In this circumstance… we did just that.  Our room water may have been off, but mother nature thankfully was providing us with a shower of her own.  While many things are unreliable in Thailand, during rainy season an afternoon shower is something you can often count on.  With the “faucet” turned on, I took my showering outside and just stood (fully clothed, mind you) in the rain and let the water cool me down, rinse me off.  I was soon joined by other teachers, a few attempting to actually shampoo their hair in the rain… which had a few complications of its own.  But we did it… and in truth, while definitely not what I would have “wanted” or planned… it was really kind of freeing and refreshing and set me in a better place for the rest of the day.

It’s mid-September and the idea is more fully and easily settling in that… Thailand is hot.  I was told before arriving that it was “summer here all year long”… but I didn’t really get it.  Arriving in May to a shockingly stifling heat, I was relieved when the rainy season crept it.  With a few cooler days, I innocently thought that heat was over.  But, while it’s much better now then when I arrived in May, a steamy morning or hot afternoon is never far away.

I recently taught “seasons” as a lesson for one of my classes.  It was worthwhile to note that Thai students have no experience of the four seasons.  While “spring, summer, winter and fall” may be the seasons to “us” and the ones taught in the English books… here in Thailand they know them as hot season, rainy season, and cold season.  The four seasons are really just a concept we teach them about.  Speaking of which, did you know that in Thailand it’s the year 2558?… Their calendar is based on Buddhism and is known as B.E. which stands for Buddha Era.

Wow, well here I am truly a world away.  Not without my western comforts of course.  A fancy mall and movie theater down the street, air conditioning in my room where I stay, near western quality grocery stores.  The internet too brings a good dose of “home” wherever I am in the world.  But still, as I wander around this busy campus where I work and live I am undeniably a world away.  With my sometimes frantic western ways, it’s still at least a little surprise to see the many easy smiling faces of the house keepers and other staff riding their bicycles around campus while I am often lost in my own thoughts or hurried business.  A lesson to learn? Perhaps….and Indeed.

With that said, how are things in whatever hemisphere you are occupying?  It’s always good to hear from you!

So long for now from my quiet campus home.  I am soaking in some of my favorite “western comforts” until I get up and do it all again tomorrow!

 

All is well

23 Aug Sports Day

It’s a hot-ish Sunday afternoon.  I am tucked in the comfort of my room for one, my smallish “home” on campus, appreciating the golden silence.

Silence is not something that comes easily here, a bustling campus of 6000+ students from pre-kindergarden through high school, a campus often filled with after-school and weekend activities.  But today there is a distinguishable crispness to the silence that I can’t help but enjoy.

I think in part the silence is due to Friday’s festivities, Sports Day.  A much-loved day filled with cheering, cheerleading, and racing competitions, the entire school was peaked with excitement.  With so many students, they don’t all fit on campus for the event.  The younger students stayed here for their celebration, and the middle and high schools went separately to different stadiums located in Chiang Mai.

Sportsday

Sports day is quite a big deal and students spent weeks preparing their cheers and parade.  While the heat of the day was bit much for this teacher, it didn’t seem to damper the spirits and enthusiasm of the students.

And here I am just a few days later basking in the quiet.  Kind of like the weekend after Mardi Gras.  It seems folks are taking a break.

Being in Chiang Mai and teaching here brings out many of the joys and challenges of living and working in a foreign country.  Thailand is by far the most “different” culture I have lived in so far with its combination of flow and freedom partnered paradoxically with a flavor of obedience and tradition.  There is an unexpected combination of both disregard for law and the unpredictable fervent use of laws which it seems are always changing. That said… in many ways I like it here and… I am also challenged by it which is part of what keeps life interesting.

Life in the classroom is no different.  My classes are filled with bright, spirited enthusiastic students.  Of the more than 200 students I teach in total, I can hardly think of a one that I don’t like and appreciate in some way. There is a fun, joy and playfulness to school life here and a surprising amount of independence for the students throughout the course of the day.

The flip side of this that pushes and pulls at my more serious tendencies and my desire for more rule and order is the lighthearted approach to learning.  School it seems is more “fun” and learning perhaps is secondary.  With much of this I too can be lighthearted and go with the flow but have to admit it can be disheartening when time and time again I see an enthusiastic, bright-eyed student come to say hello.  When I ask them “How are you…” quite often I get a panicked look on their face and a response of… “my name is…..”  or  “I am … years old.”  And so it goes.

This enthusiasm also burns through classroom behavior.  The students in my classes are not “bad” in any way. They don’t have poor attitudes with me or consistently cause problems.  But they do get excited beyond decibels that I have ever experienced before and they do like to talk and this frequently freely flies throughout the class.  After being here for nearly four months, I have done some nips and tucks in my classroom management strategies and have experienced some success and improvement.  But there is an element of behavior that I believe is mostly cultural that runs free in the classroom.  At times the sheer level of noise is a challenge for me or speaking in a class where the students have a tendency to converse loudly and freely to one another while I am talking.  I am practicing giving up my “shoulds” about how things should be and doing my best to manage what I can in the classroom, tune into the way things are here and ride the wave.  And so the journey and the learning continues…

Thailand has received some international attention lately for the unexpected and devastating bombing in Bangkok.  I have kept an eye on the news of late paying attention for updates and new information that would offer a reliable hint to the motivation and perhaps larger climate here in Thailand.  As I am in the north of Thailand, I feel geographically removed from any imminent danger and can’t help but continue to feel safe in Chiang Mai.  As I learned from my time in South Korea, when unrest arises it is best to stay calm, pay attention, and keep an eye on the local response to the circumstances.  But for me at this time in Chiang Mai, all is well.

Thanks for reading!  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

 

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