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.


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!



Krabi Escape

12 Aug Boats of Krabi

It’s not everyday that your employer takes you on a luxury beach vacation.  For reasons not totally clear to me,  my modest yet generous school has a tradition of once a year taking their “foreign” (that’s me, the foreigner) staff on a great outing.  Typically it’s not just any outing, but to one of Thailand’s best locations. They put us up in an excellent hotel and feed us well.

This year’s destination was Krabi.  Located in the Southern part of Thailand not far from Phuket, we escaped the joys and pains of teaching life for a few days of beach bliss.

Beaches of Krabi

Our journey notably began around 5am.  A group of sleepy teachers collected for our ride to the airport.  Upon seeing our “coach” for the journey, we wondered in the dark morning hours… what is it? Is it a garbage truck?  It turns out our transportation was a vehicle typically used to transport prisoners.  And so …we loaded in back on the rows of benches and held on for our bumpy ride to the airport.

A quick 2+hours later, we arrived in Krabi.  I was impressed with how smoothly our staff managed to get a herd of sleepy travelers checked in, on and off of an airplane.  In Krabi, we were met by our tour guides, boarded our bus and were soon on our way.

The first stop was to nearby Talin Bay for a little flat water kayaking.  Raised a “Missouri girl” filled with summers of river canoe trips, I happily climbed aboard for a little kayaking adventure. My partner for the journey was Jess, a fellow teacher and “worthy” paddling companion.  We headed through the open waters and soon began the twisty journey through more intimate waterways.  It was fun to weave and bend through the turns, mostly avoiding invading trees and other obstacles.  As skilled as we were, we only wandered away from the group and got lost once… in turn leading a whole array of other kayaking teachers down a false path.  But in no time, we were turned around, rearranged and once again correctly on our way.

Kayaking in Krabi

Next we collected in the waters for our “group crab release.”  In truth I am not totally clear about this part.  It seems there is a shortage of crabs in the area where we kayaked and our tour arranged for us to release crabs back into the water.  It looked like a bit of a bad deal for the crabs.  Each one was tied up individually for a dramatic flair.  We were each handed our individual crab and cut the string releasing it into the water.  That said, to say I didn’t enjoy it would… not be true.

Crab Release

When our winding rowing experience was coming to an end there was nothing to do but head through the open waters and return to land.  My competent companion and I confidently set out for the open waters only to be hit by a wall of wind.  We watched… perhaps one could say….younger, maybe… dare I say stronger… fellow teachers pass us by, digging through the water making their way to the shore.  We rowed with little impact against the more powerful wind and waves.  In our own good time, we made it back.

Soon we were on our way to our hotel.  We quickly arrived at our crisp, inviting destination right on the water. My roommate was former rowing companion, Jess.  In a sea of mostly “20-something” teachers, I was grateful to have a roommate who appreciated the quieter side of beach adventures. The room was welcoming and spacious with an affable balcony and the sea not far in the distance.

Room with a View

The next day I joined members of our Thai administration and the small crew of Chinese teachers from our school for an island adventure.  In the moderately early morning we boarded a speed boat that whisked us away through the collection of neighboring islands.  It was a fresh reminder how good it feels to be on a boat, in the water and feel the fresh sea air.  We arrived at our first island destination with a little time for swimming and sunbathing. It was so GREAT to be back in the ocean.  Ah so good.

The afternoon continued as we hopped from island to island.  We swam.  We snorkeled.  I saw a monkey (note… not very friendly.  Perhaps next time stay away from monkeys…). We ate lunch at a restaurant on a remote island location. And then perfectly delighted with proper exhaustion from a day of swimming, sun and sea air, we raced through the waves back to shore.


When we weren’t perusing the beach or swimming in the ocean, we were… eating.  We were hardly neglected as it seemed one meal had just ended when it was already time to depart to our next dining destination.  We dined on islands, on hilltops overlooking the ocean, in water-filled inlets, and beach-front spots. As most Thai food is filled with sugar, my employer was particularly generous to tend to my no-sugar needs, prearranging specially prepared meal for me in all locations.

One particularly fine meal was the buffet spread at our lovely hotel.  There was freshly barbecued meat of all kinds and vegetables a plenty.  As there was plenty in the buffet I could eat, I asked my employer if I should simply eat off the buffet. She generously replied that I should eat whatever I want.  So I joined my fellow teachers and dove into the lovely food.  One fairly full plate later, one of our wonderful tour guides mentioned that the chef had prepared something especially for me.  Oh dear… I thought and offered my “good trooper” smile.  I was soon served a beautiful dish of food with succulent garlic shrimp, beautiful ginger lemon fish and vegetable soup, and a stunning pad thai dish with a delicate egg served on top.

The food was superb and I did my best to enjoy it.  I shared it with other teachers.  Eventually, I went pleading to other tables in our group as I couldn’t stand to see the lovely food go to waste.  In the end when most of the other teachers had left, I was there… like a child left alone at the dinner table to finish her supper…. trying to make my way through the rest of the fish soup. Ultimately, I simply had to call it quits and gave up.

The next day we had one more luxurious morning at the beach before we packed up our bags and headed out. After we left the hotel, you guessed it… our first stop was lunch.  Soon after we made our way further inland for a quick stop at a tropical forest.  And then… surprise! Another meal.  After some extended bus traveling, we tumbled off the bus only to soon board our airplane for another two hours in flight.

Tropical Forest

It was good to arrive back in Chiang Mai.  I find it’s always good to go away but equally good to come home. We were deposited back to our school campus via our reliable prison transport vehicle.  A good night sleep and sleepy Sunday later, it was back to life as usual.  My unusual usual life that is … in the midst of about 6,000 bustling Thai students… nestled in the spirited city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.



762 Curves to Pai

25 Jul roadtopai

It was kind of a last-minute decision.  A little diversion.  A trip to the near-by mountain town of Pai, Thailand.  I had heard other teachers talk about it and a visiting friend had mentioned it.  So when the idea to go popped into my mind Friday night, it was easy to take a closer look and then hit the road.

After living internationally for four years now, it is still quite something to me to be able to get on a bus, van, train, airplane and discover someplace new.  This weekend it was Pai.

I started at the local bus station earlyish on Saturday morning.  I was told it was a simple thing.  There is a van that runs regularly every hour.  You simply show up and get a ticket.  I had read on a blog post a bit of a warning of the fast driving through the curvy mountain roads.  But you know… when in Thailand.  So I paid my 150 baht (about $5 USD) tossed my fears aside and began my journey.

I sat in the van surrounded by a sea of friendly Thai faces and comfortably began the way.  I felt that little rush of excitement in my stomach when heading out on my own to discover something new.  It was good to get out of Chiang Mai and see some of the surrounding area.  Soon we began to head into the mountains and the fun began.

The mountain roads were what one might expect… hilly and curvy.  Nothing new for mountains. What was a surprise is they kept coming and coming, seemingly endless curves, twists and turns through the hills.  The driver drove safely but also quickly and my innards swished from side to side continuously and repetitively.  Finally, we got a bathroom break mid way.  I got out of the van and tried to find my legs and calm my body a bit.  A fellow weary traveler warned that we had another 50 kilometers of this and so the twisty journey continued.

At this point really, I thought perhaps I could not take any more but I put on my headphones, did my best to breathe and relax the final stretch until finally…we arrived in Pai.  I got off the van and quickly made my way wanting to distance myself from the van and the wretched journey.

We arrived down a skinny dusty street scattered with happy backpackers, tourists and vagabonds making they way on foot and on scooters.  I was immediately enchanted and quickly forgot about the ride there. I talked with a few friendly English-speaking faces to discover that we had arrived in the heart of Pai.  I walked around a bit to get my bearings finding the river as well as the boundaries of the modest town and then quickly went about finding some lunch to settle my body after my twisty journey.

I stopped for lunch at a little place called “Top 5 Cafe“.  It was a modest but inviting place on the main road in the heart of town.  I took in the menu pleased to find a few items that met my needs for simple healthy food.  I ordered a spinach omelette and fresh mint tea to drink.  It arrived quickly and fresh.  I was not disappointed as I gobbled down the tasty, well prepared, simple meal. I took in a bit more of the town until the clouds started to come in which seemed like a good time to find my way to my hotel.

I found a Taxi to drive me about 5 kilometers to my nesting spot for the night, Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort Hotel.  Arriving in the rain I was greeted with typical Thai hospitality, the staff swiftly greeting me at the car door with umbrellas in tow.  As I was escorted to my room, I took in the quiet beauty of my surroundings and the well-manicured space in the midst of the neighboring hills.  My room was an inviting spot for a little R&R and I sunk into the joy of being in a new space and feeling a little spoiled.

As the rain tempered down, I made my way to the hot springs pool and melted into the steamy soothing waters.  Ah.  So good… and enjoyed the time there.  Soon the sun made its way out and I next found my way to the swimming pool and revelled in a little lounging and swimming in the beautiful, unassuming backdrop.

The hotel offered an evening shuttle to and from town so I hopped on board and headed in for dinner.  I dined at a recommended local Thai restaurant Na’s Kitchen.  The owner and chef Na was found busily cooking away in her sizzling kitchen.  Her friendly face and willingness to meet my healthy food requests were greatly appreciated.  In no time at all I dove into my dinner, Thai stir fry with fresh veggies and chicken and fresh ginger tea.

The main walking street transformed into a lively market at night and was filled with an easy number of attentive vendors and shoppers.  This quiet mountain town was the perfect size for a laid back evening stroll.  The market was filled with cute little things and hand-made crafts and clothes. I indulged just a bit in the amazing market prices feeling spoiled by a few simple purchases.  I soon met up with our hotel van and made my way “home” to enjoy the rest of the quiet evening.

The next day was filled with more of the same – appreciating my quiet escape with a hot springs soak and a dip in the pool.  I had purchased a few books at a used book shop in town and pulled them out by the pool like a kid in a candy store.

By early afternoon it was already time to check out.  I returned to the center of town and in the late afternoon began the trek back to Chiang Mai.  A guest I met at my hotel gave me a tip on a “gentler” drive back to Chiang Mai.  The connection led me to a local tour company called Terminal Green. For the same price they offered a van ride back to town with a reputation for taking it easy around the twists and turns.

While in town I discovered printed on a t-shirt “762 curves to Pai.”  And so it is true… there are in fact over 750 twists and turns in the drive from Pai to Chiang Mai.  This explains my feeling of relentless suffering around the never-ending twists and turns.

The ride back it was… better but still left me searching for my stomach and legs for hours after my return.  Pai is a beautiful, easy hippy-like town and a great quick escape. I’m glad that I went. But as for the ride there and back… perhaps next time I will take a plane!



Life in Chiang Mai

17 Jul elephants

It’s a quieter day than usual at the end of my teaching week. It is testing time for students so they are busily (or at least somewhat busily) spending today in a sea of tests. I will meet with my class later today for a 50 minute rendezvous with an end of the quarter English exam.

Life in Chiang Mai continues to be good. Often I enjoy simply being here in the cornucopia of sights, sounds and new experiences. Amidst the sometimes frenzy of activity at school and in Chiang Mai, I also do my best to find some quiet and slow time, a mainstay for me no matter where I am in the world.

Let me tell you a little bit more about the students I teach and my days teaching in Chiang Mai. Many of the classes I teach I assist Thai teachers with their regular English classes. Packed with 40 to 50 moderately interested students, I visit them twice a week to work with them on speaking and listening skills. With a slew of young students, I do my best to stay on my toes and keep them engaged, often turning the lesson of the week into a game or activity. While I have my rewarding days and moments in these classes, it can also be a challenge to teach a large group of students, some of whom would rather be talking with their friends and likely don’t understand what I am saying. But more often than not, the student’s sweet faces and enthusiastic screams of “Teacher Teresa” from across campus make up for the challenges of the day.

I also teach a more focused English class where I am the main teacher and we meet five days a week. These classes are smaller and, gratefully, air-conditioned.  This is my first experience being more of a traditional classroom teacher tending to things like homework, grades and exams. School life is different here in Thailand.  While my class is filled with good kids, it seems there is a more laid back and playful attitude towards school here. At the end of the day, I just to my best to be of service to them and also go with the flow of the priorities of local culture.

Recently a friend made his way through Chiang Mai and we had the opportunity to connect and explore a bit of the city. One of the highlights of the time was a visit to an elephant sanctuary. In theory an elephant sanctuary is a place where elephants who have been abandoned or abused can go as a place of refuge. I am told there is a history of elephants being given as gifts in Southeast Asia which has in part contributed to the neglected elephant population. While you can find many places to see elephants in Thailand, not all of them are created equal. We elected to go someplace that treated them a bit more humanely and let them, within the confines of captivity, mostly be themselves as elephants… no brutal training or special “tricks”. For the most part I found the park we visited to be a humane and descent establishment with just one or two things said that slightly raised my eyebrows.

And what an unexpected opportunity – to be close to, connect with and ride an elephant. It was a bit of a surreal experience… first seeing them and feeding them and then in no time at all being quickly shown and invited to hop on to give it a try.

We spent a modest day there and it was the perfect balance of relaxation and engagement with the elephants. After we fed and learned to ride we took a lunch break. Next, the highlight of the day, we were taken to “meet our elephants,” climb aboard and take a few spins around the grounds.

My friend and I “shared” an elephant, as did the other guests on our mini-elephant trek. We took turns with one person riding on the neck and the other on the back. Our elephant’s name was Mee-nah. She was a big beautiful elephant with a great temperament. Without hesitation, she steadfastly made way with her large body through the wooded terrain, up a few hills.

At the end of the trek the elephants were led by their keepers into the water for a little refreshment. And next we were invited to join them, given brushes and buckets to do a little bathing. My first thought, as any good American girl might think was “what is in that water… and is it safe to get in there?” But after a good minute or two of hesitation… I just got over it and jumped in the water to join in the fun.

At the end of our journey we enjoyed checking out the many pictures they took along the way plus a refreshing lounge in their “hammock garden.” Here are a few pics from the day.

And now, back to the land of teaching.  I am tucked away in my room on campus preparing for my early afternoon test.  I can hear the lunch time screams of the neighboring kindergarden building.  I am finding myself happy for a quieter Friday and the weekend ahead.



Vientiane Diversion

4 Jul Vientiane

Early Morning Tuk Tuk Ride

I began my journey before dawn. As I walked in the dark early morning sky to the entrance of campus, I was relieved to arrive at the gate and find my chariot awaiting. There she was, a local and reliable tuk tuk driver, ready and waiting to take me to the airport. Just a few days earlier I had scheduled my ride for the journey, not quite certain if the message was successfully received in the confusion of speaking English to a Thai ear. “Monday?”….. “No, SUNday….” But there she was.

I was heading to Vientiane, Laos to handle some visa business. It is funny how just a few months earlier from the more refined land of Vienna, Austria, a Thai visa run to a bordering town seemed like perhaps a shady endeavor. After simmering just a few months in the local culture, now more at ease in the land of tuk tuks and unexpected power outages, a visa run to Laos seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.

My route was the well-weathered path of countless travellers before me. I took a flight to the Thailand border town called Udon Thani. From there I took a van to the Thailand/Laos border. After $30 USD, a Laos Visa on arrival, and a quick bus ride across the “Friendship Bridge”, I found myself for the first time in Laos.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a seasoned array of tuk tuk drivers waiting for their regular meal of travellers making their pilgrimage to the Thai Consulate in Vientiane, Laos. I was fortunate to meet a respectable and fair driver who took me and a fellow traveler from New Zealand to the center of town for a modest rate. His coach was like a miniature truck with passenger space in the back. We traveled down the right side of the road, a switch after the left-sided ways of Thailand. We drove exposed to the heat, the wind and dust whipping through my body.

River WalkIn no time, we were deposited along the riverside in Laos. It didn’t take long to get my bearings in this small unassuming little Laos town filled with fellow travellers passing time in town. I quickly drank up the feel of the city noticing it’s collection of French cafés and inviting assortment of local restaurants.

I made my way to my hotel, just a stones throw from the riverfront and in the heart of the tourist and “foreigner-friendly” part of town. I treated myself to a comfy stay at the Ibis hotel in Vientiane. I felt just a little spoiled in my easy modern room with its heavenly bed and pillows that melted away the tensions of traveling.

Basket Maker in VientianeWhile Vientiane is a sleepy little town, I was still charmed by it’s local people and red carpet of expat friendly eateries and restaurants. It was fun to spend a few days exploring the restaurant landscape and enjoying a few happy, healthy and affordable meals in town.

I first made my way to Jahmil’s Indian food for dinner. Tucked away down a little alley and modest and informal in it’s ways, I was a bit hesitant upon my arrival. I walked in feeling like I was walking into someone’s living room wondering if it was indeed okay to come in. My dining company for the evening was a fellow expat, from Canada, and in the early dining hours the only other only guest in the restaurant. We made our way through casual conversation and satisfying curry. A screamingly affordable bill later, I was full and happy and on my way into the steamy Loas evening.

The next morning was an early departure to the Thai consular’s office.  I arrived there joined by three of my fellow teachers also on the journey as well as a substantial collection of others waiting in line. Time passed quickly and soon we were happily receiving our numbers and successfully submitting our paperwork. We were outa there around 10am. Hooray!

VientieneThe rest of the day included restaurants to explore and some heat to escape. Vientiane was holding strong with it’s hot season temperatures, even more so than Chiang Mai. I appreciated the cool respite of my hotel and the occasional HBO film, a decadent “western” treat.
That night I made my way to a great little eatery called Lao Kitchen. Its open-air eating space welcomed me in, but offered no protection from the heat of the day. I was grateful for the competent English of my waitress as I did my best to explain that I cannot eat refined sugar. This request is a bit daunting in Asia.  I am asking that not only sugar is left out, but also fish sauce, soy sauce and any other places where sugar can sneakily hide. As I placed my order she looked at me a bit peculiarly, but did an outstanding job of passing my request along to the kitchen. Amazingly, after I asked to leave pretty much everything out of the red curry stir fry I ordered, what I received was a fresh flavorful dish all for the equivalent of less than $4 USD.

That night I visited the nightly outdoor market gathering along the curve of the mighty Mekong river. Surrounded by a sea of motorbikes and locals shopping for goods and having fun, I appreciated taking in the wide array of clothes, paintings, and local knickknacks. Shortly after I arrived so did the rain. Slowly at first. I took the lead of the locals who literally fled the outdoor market scene with the arrival of the first raindrops. I followed the crowd and literally ran out of there not making it to my hotel before the downpour came.

What a joy it was to appreciate the simple culinary pleasures while handling a little business along the way. Breakfast was next …… I arrived an early bird at Noy’s Fruit Heaven and had my selection of tables as I sat and took in the quiet Vientiane morning. I had to smile when a young Loas boy adjusted the fan near-by so that it would blow in my direction while shooting a smile my way. I appreciated his sweet sensibilities to tend to my needs.

Breakfast was simple but great. A vegetable omelette with a generous portion of watermelon on the side. I took in the morning and the meal appreciating my modest feast. I was surrounded by the daily business of the local family owning and running the business. The grandmother, sneaking in a nap before tending to business and practicing her English. The young boy sheepishly offering me a hello and a few practiced words in English.

Early that afternoon I connected with my fellow teachers and we made our way for the last legs of our journey. We found easy success at the consulate’s office. Within the hour we picked up our passports newly decorated and ready to go. Afterwards, we used our developing negotiating skills to secure a decent rate for the journey across the border. For the first leg of our way, we found room for all four of us in a nice Honda sedan, a real luxury and unexpected coach. Once we arrived at the border we were connected with a mini-van driver who took us the rest of the way to the airport. We sat in the mini-van for ten filled with expats of all shapes and sizes telling their stories and making their complaints along the way.

And in no time at all I was home… or in Chiang Mai… or perhaps a little bit one and the same. I was grateful to return to my comfy little room on the quiet grounds of the school campus. After a somewhat descent night sleep, I awoke on Wednesday morning birthed back into the world of teaching and classrooms bursting with students, a bit of a shock after my brief Vientiane diversion.

And so life continues. A little more settled. A little more adjusted to the somewhat wacky ways of teaching and life in Chiang Mai. Still easing into the heat. Grateful for the relief of intermittent air-conditioning and brief Vientiane diversions.

Giving Up the Fever

20 Jun

givingupthefever2When I do things in life, I tend to do them in a frenzy. At times an urgency overcomes me and I can get lost in it.  The fever.  You know what I’m talking about. That feeling of “got to do it right, got to do it now” that shifts you from a basically happy centered person to something… less than that. Often, it’s not pretty. There is a lot of talk these days about following your passion. But recently I heard some advice that is worth reminding myself of… the importance of being dispassionate.

Shortly before coming to Thailand I headed to the hills of the Black Forest in Germany to attend the Art of Silence Retreat, one of the foundational courses of the Art of Living organization founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  One of the many gems of the retreat was the presence of Sri Sri for one day at the Ashram.  The evening he was there all of us in the course and others at the Ashram gathered in song and celebration and then afterwards, as it seems is typical in his presence, he gave advice and answered questions.  One golden morsel he offered was “be dispassionate” and don’t be “feverish”.

I can think of things daily that fall into the feverish category for me.  Whether I’m feverishly rushing to prepare the next section of class in the midst of teaching, feverishly heading out the door in the morning, or feverishly writing my latest blog post.  Fever it seems is a regular visitor in my life. I am reminded to revisit my feverish ways and explore instead being dispassionate.

Being dispassionate isn’t about not caring or being lazy.  But it does allow for a certain healthy detachment and relinquishing the urgency and fever around the task or issue at hand.  It also supports giving up self-importance and creating a greater space of peace where “whatever” may be is okay.

Being dispassionate and giving up the fever isn’t like going on a diet or going Christmas shopping. You can’t check it off your “to do” list.  It does require paying more attention and bringing some mindfulness or awareness to our daily lives and beginning to notice when we are caught in the fever’s spell.

For me, bringing mindfulness to the fever looks something like this:  I happen to notice that I am feverishly in the midst of something.  I don’t try to change it or correct it. It is more like I simply observe it, notice it. “Hmmm… fever.  Yep, I’m being feverish.  That’s interesting.”  In my experience, simply bringing mindful attention to something dismantles its lock or hold in the moment.  Through persistent practice this pattern and behavior slowly begins to change its shape, like the earth slowly changing shape with the tide.

I will take this dispassionate crusade into my work this week.  Shine a little mindfulness on the frenzy and fever of the day and make way for some healthy dispassion. Dispassion gives us freedom to simply be with whatever we might encounter in the moment and indeed creates space to act in a more relaxed and conscious way.  Dispassion may even bring a little more fun into the situation (for those of us who tend to take things a little too seriously).

If you like, join me this week for a little dispassion exploration.  When you find yourself in a frenzy, bring some awareness to it and simply notice… “huh, frenzy.  Yes, there I go again” and see if you can laugh and smile at yourself a bit.

I imagine practiced dispassion can make for an easier week.  Simply adding a dash of attention in the spirit of giving up the fever.

Getting Around Chiang Mai

14 Jun gettingaround

The conversation often starts something like this… as I approach the red truck, window rolling down and driver, still surprisingly to me, sitting on the right side of the truck… I offer my destination. “Dara” I say. I get a look of uncertainty. I try again, this time adjusting my pronunciation. “Da-RA?” Still a blank look. One more time, this time the “r” I say more like an “l”. “Dala” I offer. Hmmm… getting closer. The driver then says with a local accent the name of my destination… which to me doesn’t sound much different from what I attempted to say. With a still a hint of confusion but some confirmation I hop in the back of the truck to (hopefully) make my way home.

Dara is the name of the school where I teach, named after a Chiang Mai princess. When I leave the red gates of the Dara campus, I typically turn to the red trucks called songtao’s for my transportation. I am not yet ready to get on a scooter, the transportation of choice in Chiang Mai. So for now for me to get around town I rely on songtao’s and tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is essentially a motorbike with an open-air carriage for passengers and functions more like a taxi.  A songtao is less expensive than a tuk-tuk and may shuttle a handful of people typically taking you to your general destination if he is going your way.

Riding in a songtao is not your typical taxi ride. The journey often begins with a negotiation… how much? I am developing a sense of the ins and outs of the price of a songtao ride which in part seems to be determined by: How hot it is outside? Is it raining? Do you have groceries in your hand? Is it nighttime? And also quite simply does the driver feel like taking you?  All of which can increase the cost of the ride. But more often then not it is a simple 20 baht from my school to the center of town, less than a US dollar. After successful communication and negotiation, you hop in the covered back of the truck, typically with a bench on each side for seating, and relax and enjoy the diesel fumes. The other day I hopped in the back of the truck and met a friendly Thai woman transporting among other things her bird in a cage. And so is the colorful world of Chiang Mai.

scooterboyChiang Mai isn’t much of a walking town. Where I live just a few kilometers outside of the heart of the city, sidewalks are typically lined with food stands and goods for sale edging out any hope for pedestrians. I am frequently the lone walker navigating the wrinkled sidewalks. Other teachers tell me that people don’t like to walk in Chiang Mai and that they would take their scooters to go literally to the place next door. I have learned in the current heat of the day, on the edge of the hot season coming into the wet season, it is just a ridiculous idea to walk someplace. I mean it is just crazy hot. I have learned this from experience. Ugh.

Not long ago I was out and about on the opposite side of town on a weekday evening. It wasn’t too late, but after a busy day of teaching it was time to head home. Then it started to rain. We caught a tuk-tuk for an easy ride home. After a bit of negotiation, we hopped in and our tuk-tuk driver put it into high gear and headed for the superhighway. I was in a bit of a shock to be thrust into high speed riding in the rain on this main thorough-way home. After I got over my initial shock and felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall out of the vehicle, I have to admit, it was a bit of a thrill.

chiangmaiToday I joined a “meet-up” group in a walking tour of the old town of Chiang Mai.  It was great to connect with new faces and get more familiar with the city. Afterwards, we had a little lunch at a local Thai eatery called Cooking Love.  Known for their healthy, clean food and recipes, it was a true delight when I mentioned I couldn’t have sugar and what could I eat on the menu his response was “anything.”  They would just leave it out.  Ah, happy Thai food eating for me!!

It is Sunday evening here and I am in the downstairs common area swatting away mosquitos and trying to suck up a little wifi that does not yet make it to my room. The daytime heat is fading away and it seems some rain is blowing in. The evening assortment of cackling insects and creatures have started their nightly serenade. I am here, still getting to know but enjoying the hot mess of Chiang Mai and her world of crazy contradictions.

Traveling the World with Anxiety

1 Jun Chiang Mai

No, Anxiety is not the name of my spouse, best friend or significant other.  This is not the story of how Anxiety and I quit our corporate jobs and headed off happily into the sunset to see the world together.  But, in its own way, Anxiety has been a faithful companion.  When I first shared the idea of traveling the world, Anxiety was… well…hesitant to say the least.  Nevertheless, I put a few belonging in storage, packed up my bags, and Anxiety and I began an adventure together.

“Free spirits” come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  For me, my desire to have adventures and see the world is saddled with my own challenges with anxiety.  At its worst it’s been paralyzing, but in the daily rhythm and play of life it typically ranges from light to moderate.  Frequently present.  Notably there.  Anxiety.

The point is Anxiety (or fill in the blank with your personal flavor of challenge) doesn’t have to be the death sentence or curtain call on a life of travel and adventure.  I am not your typical traveler and I have learned to more peacefully make my way as I weave my life with new experiences, cultures, people, surroundings.  I take things more slowly, I plan things more carefully, and I allow plenty of time to be on my own.  I also make things like spiritual practice and healthy eating a priority no matter where I am in the world.

In truth takings risks and having experiences in new cultures is in itself an antidote for anxiety.  There is something healing about getting out of familiar waters and swimming in a world with a different syncopation from your own.  New and more liberating patterns begin to develop. The more I stretch myself, the more healthy risks I take and new successful experiences I have, the more peaceful this life with Anxiety becomes.

I can still remember my first major breakthrough I had traveling with Anxiety.  I was working and living at a seminar house in Germany.  Every weekend the house was filled with participants attending the workshop of the week.  Being surrounded by so many people on a daily basis sent Anxiety shooting through my spine.  Just the sound of their voices in the morning typically sent my body into intense nervous positioning.  Until one day.  One day I was lying in bed and when I heard the voices of the participants coming down the stairs, rather than be tangled with Anxiety I found I was… excited to hear them.  Glad they were there.  And so began the unfolding of transforming my life traveling with Anxiety.

Still today, four years later, Anxiety and I haven’t yet parted ways.  Anxiety hasn’t willfully gone its own way, packing its bags and going off to India or perhaps returning to the States. It’s still there, sharing my morning cup of tea, questioning my decision-making, planning the events for the week.  Undoubtedly our relationship has softened.  Life with Anxiety is easier, way easier than when we first left the States together four years ago.

There are some things I have learned to count on to soften the daily cry of Anxiety while I am roaming the world.  They are the first things that I pack and have become some of my new companions, ushering in more peace and comfort no matter where I am in the world.

1.  Reiki.  Reiki is one of my daily spiritual practices.  It is something I first discovered over ten years ago on a flier at a yoga studio in New Orleans.  Reiki is a very simple practice of connecting with a healing energy that is deeply relaxing and healing.  I am so grateful that after a nervous or challenging day or moment, I can simply lay my hands on myself and receive Reiki and much of that nervousness is just washed away.  If you’d like to know more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page or feel free to contact me.

2.  Art of Living Practices.  Ten years ago in New Orleans I took a class from an organization called the Art of Living founded by Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  The organization came to New Orleans to assist the people with getting back to life after the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I learned their foundational spiritual tool, the Sudarshan Kriya.  This is now a daily practice and how I nearly always start my day.  It melts away pain, discomfort and anxiety and puts me in a softer, better place.  Recently I attended their second course, The Art of Silence.  The course deepened my understanding and appreciation of their practices and also deepened my own spiritual reservoir creating a space for greater inner, unshakable peace.

3.  Healthy Eating.  It is a priority for me to eat healthy and balanced meals no matter where I am in the world.  I have learned that for me life with Anxiety is exponentially better WITHOUT SUGAR AND CAFFEINE.  Additionally, I find I feel better without eating any added preservatives or chemicals.  I also eat Gluten Free.  This is not easy on the international road, but it makes a big difference and truly is part of what makes this international life “doable” for me.  When arriving to a new country, I do my best to get the lowdown on the food contents there, to sniff out a few healthy restaurants and groceries where I can shop, and then begin to build a healthy food base for myself.

4.  Taking time for myself.  There is so much pressure in life to go, go, go.  But the truth is I feel so much better when I have time for myself.  So I do my best to create and allow for generous portions of time on my own without much on the agenda.

5. Yoga.  I first began practicing yoga in New Orleans almost 15 years ago.  It was my first step in using spiritual practices to soften and heal my personal and physical challenges.  It is something I have taken on the road and try to work into my daily life.  Even just ten or 15 minutes on the mat makes a difference.  Whether I am doing yoga in the fields of France, or in my room in Thailand, yoga is a constant companion and a place I can always come home to. Yoga classes have not always been available on my journey, so I have relied on my own personal yoga practice.  I check out local studios when available.  From time to time, I have also done a yoga class on the web from sites like  My friend Miss Amanda at Inner Lift Yoga also has a great online video.

6.  Chanting with SGI Buddhism.  I began chanting with SGI Buddhism about four years ago.  I was invited to a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the powerful current generated from their chanting.  I was encouraged to try chanting for myself and chant for things I wanted in my life.  Surprisingly they easily flowed into being.  I began a regular chanting practice and it’s as if the current of my life is flowing more abundantly and heartily.  My daily chanting practice brings positive attention to those thing that are on my mind or that I am concerned about.  It softens the edges of my fears and anxiety.  And often it connects me with powerful community as SGI Buddhism meets all over the world.  Whether I am living in Vienna, Austria or visiting family in small town Missouri, I have access to the much appreciated community and support of SGI Buddhism.

7.  Supporting Others.  Finally, I have learned that it’s healthy to take time daily to focus my attention on others.  I mostly do this through my spiritual practices including sending Reiki to others needs or chanting for others.  I also enjoy taking action to support friends and acquaintances on their own personal journeys and adventures in ways that work in my life.  Supporting others rounds out the well-being of my life.

Anxiety and I, we’re not perfect.  We still have our challenges and ups and downs.  But I am so grateful that I “took the leap” and was willing to say “yes” to my sense of adventure rather than just “yes” to Anxiety.  With the support of family, friends and mentors, I followed my delight and inspiration.  It’s not always the easy road.  Often the challenging road.  But traveling the world with Anxiety…well… it has made all the difference.




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