Holiday Shopping that makes a difference!

In an effort to put our holiday $’s to good use, we visited the Giving Marketplace at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today.  From handmade jewelry to cranberry-orange chocolate bars to coconut body lotions, various non-profits highlighted their good work and offered their products to purchase, all with proceeds going towards making a difference around the world.

First stop for us was, of course, Theo Chocolate with free samples and an interesting story to be shared.  I have seen their large chocolate bars in the local stores for purchase but had no idea that they were made locally in Fremont (free factory tours!) and that they also support the growers in East Congo enabling a better life.  Win-win!  Theo Chocolate

Alaffia was founded in 2004 to alleviate poverty and empower communities in Togo, West Africa.  Their creamy and fragrant body washes and moisturizing locations were amazing-I took advantages of samples so Thom and I could experience the shea and coconut-based products that are handcrafted to nourish the body and spirit.  Sold!  Someone’s getting an Alaffia gift in their stocking for Christmas.  Shhhh…..  Alaffia

Thom stopped by the Bike Works table to discuss how they promote bicycles as a vehicle for change to empower youth and build resilient communities.  Launched in 1996 by a local Seattle group, volunteers provide services for over 2,000 adults and youth each year.  If you think about it, lack of reliable transportation can have a huge effect on our lives.  By providing a bicycle to someone in need, you can change a life.  Bike Works

If you haven’t checked out the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation yet, go.  There are exhibits that interest adults AND children.  Very interactive and thought-provoking.  In this crazy time where all we can talk about is hate and unrest, it is refreshing to go and see all the good work that this foundation provides to the world.  Taking on the real problems that affect lives, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is tackling the big issues of water, poo, natural disaster response, etc.  Wouldn’t it be cool if our government cared about this as much?  Bill or Melinda Gates for President!!!

wp_20161203_14_53_10_richwp_20161203_14_39_05_rich

As I’ve decided this year to make a difference with my holiday shopping, our annual Christmas PJ’s will come from Sudara, founded in 2005 to assist women in India trying to escape the sex slave trade.  Hundreds of women are trained and provided with a safe work environment to heal and prosper.  I can’t wait to wear my punjammies with pride on Christmas morning.  Sudara

I also want to support small businesses at home.  Instead of driving to the mall and shopping at the big box stores, I’ll be seeking out those little independent stores in Seattle and Boise to fill out my shopping list this year.  Yes, it may cost a bit more but it’s worth it.  Happy shopping and happy holidays to all!

 

 

Holiday Road Tripping

Taking a road trip on the dreaded day before Thanksgiving, declared the WORST travel day of the year by the media and anyone who has ever been silly enough to travel on this day, I keep reminding myself why this journey must take place.  The rainbow at the end of the trip.  Mom.  She’s worth it.  She’s our pot of gold.

capture

Living in Seattle, far away from my family, I haven’t spent a holiday with my Mom and Sister in ages, perhaps 20 years or so.  This is the year to break that spell.  While spending Thanksgiving away from my kids for the first time will be tough, off to Indiana we will go.  Planes, trains and automobiles lay ahead of us today and I’m not just quoting a fav holiday movie title.  LITERALLY, we will Uber, fly, hop on the local C line from Midway to downtown Chicago, drag our asses and luggage through the streets of Chicago to the South Shore Line and tonight at 9 p.m. arrive at South Bend airport where my sister will pick us up, if and when we arrive alive.  Our travel day will take as long to go from Seattle to South Bend as what we experienced travelling back and forth from Seattle to China, which was an easy 14-hour day at most, spent in Business Class being wined and dined with a nap in between and some movies throughout to keep me entertained.  Ahhh…I miss those travel days for sure. 

20161123_074715_li

But, I surely don’t have it as bad as the fellow traveler observed this morning at 7:30 AM at the wine bar at SEATAC sipping a champagne tasting flight while waiting for her journey.  How bad do your relatives have to be in order to do that?  I walked by, did a double take and told Thom to sneak a picture.  WTF!  Not a wee nip to get you going or a gentle hair of the dog to get over a bad night but 3 full glasses of the bubbly for breakfast.  Wow.

Reading news articles about the apprehension many people face over the possibility of interactions with dysfunctional family members, not often seen or heard from but present at the holiday dinner table, always makes me appreciate our family more.   We don’t fight over who cooks the meal or what is included in the menu. Thom and I will both be very happy to just show up and enjoy what is beautifully presented to us by my sis and her husband, both very good cooks.  We will let them have it and instead go see my Mom and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade the morning of Thanksgiving before the big meal.  It will bring back great memories of our time spent in NYC during the holidays, wandering the parade route in 2012, seeing the ginormous balloons up close and personal.  Everyone should do that one time in their lives.  It was special.

We spent this past weekend cooking up an early Thanksgiving feast so that our son and his girlfriend could partake in our family favorites of stuffing, corn casserole, green bean casserole, yeast rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes and, of course, turkey.  A carbolicious buffet that sent me straight into a coma after watching the new Ghostbusters movie with the kids.  Not the best movie I’ve seen lately but at least it didn’t have any embarrassing scenes that weren’t family friendly.  Even at 23, my son is very protective of me and filters what he considers “appropriate” material to watch with his mother.  When I expressed that Sausage Party looked like a fun film, he shuddered and declared that there was NO WAY we should watch that together.  What could be so bad about a film featuring a party where you cook and serve sausages?  In speaking with a co-worker who experienced the film, she had to agree with my son.  Apparently, I was spared an embarrassing and tragic movie-watching experience.

During and after our hectic travel day, I am concentrating on being calm, relaxed and tolerant.  Here’s hoping the Trump supporters and neo-Nazi confederate flag-waving Midwesterners stay out of our paths.  I grew up in Indiana amidst the KKK so I’m just being realistic of that demographic being real, not that I’m saying that of all Hoosiers, though they are a conservative bunch in general.  Blinders on and diligent to avoid politics at all costs this weekend, Thom and I both need at least a brief respite from the despair and terror we experience daily reading Twitter or watching the news.  Now, it’s all about family and love and kindness.  Happy Thanksgiving all!

Boise Charm-Home for the Holidays

FB_20151122_18_35_54_Saved_Picture
Mia and I taking a walk near our cottage in Boise

While we are lucky most of the year to enjoy our beautiful place in Seattle overlooking the water, when we come home for the holidays to our house in Boise, we get to revel in family time and experience the rolling foothills, bitter cold (brrrrr!) and snow.  Seriously, I brought warm clothes but you can’t dress in enough layers to cope with this frozen tundra crap.  And, while Thom is squiring us around town in our cool red Kia that we keep here, the squirrel community has already declined, with more surely to meet their early demise, as seemingly endless supplies of the squirrel population have some freaky death wish to run right in front of our car ALL THE TIME!  In speaking with David Sedaris at his recent Seattle talk at Benroya Hall, we explained our daughter lived in Boise, Idaho, to which he reacted by saying something to the effect that the squirrels were stalking him when he visited Boise and seriously, WTF!  Yep, the squirrels here are plentiful and crazy but Thom may have a personal hand in changing that status.  David, you’ll be safe to return to Boise soon to give an inspiring reading.

Braving the cold at the Bowls fundraiser-Thom & I, James & Hannah and Mia
Braving the cold at the Bowls fundraiser-Thom & I, James & Hannah and Mia

The day after Thanksgiving, we bundled up to go to the Idaho Food Bank’s fundraiser, Bowls, that is a tradition for many Boise families.  People throughout the year decorate bowls and donate them for this event where you spend $10 to buy a bowl and then get soup donated from local restaurants.  Last year, with temps in the 40’s, it was lovely and we lingered, eating our soup outside.  This year, we quickly bought bowls, snagged some soup and ran home to eat.  Still, we participated and all proceeds went to a worthy charity, that raised $39,000 last year at this event. Here’s hoping they exceeded that this year!

cottage
Our cute little cottage

Our social life in Boise differs greatly from Seattle because we are Mia-focused here, soaking up the cutest darling in the world while we can.  To say she is the most intelligent, beautiful child would be a vast understatement.  She loves to dance and play hide and seek with her Gi Gi and Nai Nai.  Mostly on-the-go, sometimes she will consent to sit down to color or read a story.  Before the cold wave hit, we enjoyed the park by our house, creeping and crawling through and under tunnels, going up hills and swinging endlessly.

We rent our cottage in Boise most of the year to short term VRBO clients and it’s so popular we had to book it out to use ourselves while we are here in December. Close to the trails and Hyde Park social scene, I can actually walk to the local office here and work remote.  With only 800 sq ft, it is a bit small if we moved here full time in the future so we are dreaming of an extension that would allow us to have a family room, modern bathroom and fireplace.  I know that clawfoot bathtubs seem romantic and vintage but they are a royal pain to climb in and out of.  Death by clawfoot tub-it could happen.  Give me a multi-head walk in shower…please!  I have to admit I’ve never stepped into the basement where the w/d is located, down a steep set of fold down stairs so that will have to be addressed too in a remodel–no crawling down into creepy space to do laundry for me.  Thom, at this point, is calling me out that I rarely do the laundry and, while that is very true, there may be a time when I have to so plan we must for that rare scenario.

Mia and I enjoying the park
Mia and I enjoying the park

While we don’t have the urban walks, night clubs, professional sports teams and frequent concert opportunities like we do in Seattle, we did enjoy going to a Boise State basketball game last week that they won handily and plan on trying out a jazz club soon.  I found an indie bookstore that was just enchanting in downtown Boise, which is a vibrant place full of shops and restaurants.  They even have a vinyl store that, thankfully, Thom has yet to check out.  The biggest difference is that with the frigid temps, it discourages the long walks that we love so much.  Definitely have to be a gym rat here to stay in shape indoors in the long winter months.  Oh well, you adjust and, while we might not love the weather, we do love our family and they are the first priority come snow or rain.  So, it’s happy holidays, Boise-style, which means enjoying the Idaho Potato Drop (from a crane downtown) to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  Yes, really.  When in Idaho….

Bring on the dragons and vinyl-an urban weekend in Seattle!

Chinese New Year and TET Celebrations in Seattle collided this weekend with far less pollution and far fewer people than last year’s adventure in Shanghai and Hanoi.  While it was awesome to be in a crowd again while visiting the International District, I missed the craziness of the scooters in Hanoi during TET.   I did find my favorite Taiwanese crackers at the Uwajimaya Supermarket and sampled some egg tarts-always tasty but the crust seemed so heavy after the light airy layers of pastry goodness found at the KFC’s in China.  Warm buttery heaven egg custard deliciousness in my hand…ahhhh…I miss it so.

We celebrated CNY and TET with dragons and performances and food
We celebrated CNY and TET with dragons and performances and food

To get everywhere we needed to go, we took advantage of multiple transportation options since we don’t have a car here in Seattle (Enjoy our Kia, little Mia!).  For lunch on Friday with David Axelrod giving a talk at my work, we booked a Zipcar and enjoyed hearing all about David’s journey working with Obama.  His book looks like a winner and I can’t wait to read it.  Thom, hurry up and read, read, read or I’m stealing it.  SERIOUSLY.

I got to ask David the inevitable question–How does HIllary win in 2016?  He felt she got beat by Obama because she was too confident going into the Primaries thinking she was destined to win without too much effort and also she wasn’t as authentic as Obama when campaigning.  This time around, hopefully she will be herself and make history as the first woman President.  I’m here to help her in any way I can.  Go Hillary!

David Axelrod signing his book for me,  Very smart and funny guy.
David Axelrod signing his book for me, Very smart and funny guy.

On Saturday, Thom and I jumped on the Metro Bus first, walked ALOT to get to the International District and then found another bus to go to the SoDo district to explore highly rated Silver Platters for our first vinyl purchases (at least in the last 20 years).  What goes around, comes around and the cool hipster thing to do now is to use the cloud for your music on the go but go retro and use vinyl records at home for a leisurely music experience.  Well, this year Thom got spoiled rotten with a turntable and speaker for his birthday.

New hobby!  After wandering the streets by the stadiums to find a Car2Go, we finally found one after exploring some cool home stores (handmade desks for only $1800.00-what a steal) and finding the main Macrina bakery–it was a high carb day for sure!  Can you say half price day old potato rolls???  We really just went in to use their bathroom after being locked out of the Starbucks facilities in the International District.  Upon asking for the key to the Starbucks ladies room, I was informed that the store had “closed the bathroom for the day”… at 2 p.m.  WTF!!!  Even paying customers were s%#t out of luck, literally.  I get that on a busy day with the CNY festivities that they might not want to clean up hourly but that’s just basic customer service 101.  Shame on them.  Luckily for us, Macrina was awesome–bathrooms AND bakery products.  Win-Win.

Thom's new obsession-Vinyl!  He got the complete package for his birthday.
Thom’s new obsession-Vinyl! He got the complete package for his birthday.

Sunny beautiful skies welcomed us outside to walk the dogs around Seattle Center.  Back home, we found a table at CostPlus World Market that would hold our new turntable and Bose speakers, so we hopped into the closest Prius Zipcar and off we went.  You have to rent it for at least a hour so we grabbed the table and raced to catch the sunset from Kinnear Park that overlooks the city.  Scores of tourists from France and a wedding party were also enjoying the city lights.  Gorgeous!  A must see for tourists and city residents alike.

Sunday dawned a new day and I had to get a start on the week with LOTS of work to do starting at 6 a.m. and continuing pretty much all day.  Why must I be one of “those people” who feel a need to work hard to be the best.  Shame on me. But I’m lucky to have a great career that allows me to take care of my family so work I will.  On Friday, I leave for a journey to the Midwest where I hope to combine work with a visit to see Mom and Becky, snowy roads not withstanding, next weekend.  If thwarted by crappy weather, at least I will get to see my best friend and sister from another mother,  Patti, in Indy and will wind up somehow in Detroit on Monday to work for a week.   Oh boy–Detroit in the middle of winter–what fun.  NOT.  At least my busy weekend was capped off with another incredible sunset-it never gets old and I will be dreaming of returning to it (and Thom and the puppies) as I toil away in Motown.

Another outstanding sunset caps off a busy weekend
Another outstanding sunset caps off a busy weekend

Day One-Starting The New Year Right with a New Outfit Every Day for 30 Days

2015 here I come!  Blue skies dawned in Seattle and I started my 30 Day Challenge.  No, I am totally NOT going on a diet.  Well, unless there is a chocolate/wine diet craze I can tap into.  No??  Okay, well my resolution this year then is to challenge my fashion sense and utilize my closet to the max.  You see, this challenge is all about fashion not flab.  No doubt I’ll be hitting my new gym as well but, while the treadmill is deadly boring, creating a new outfit every day for the next 30 days (NO repeats!) is fun and truly challenging.  Though, with my passion for scarves and necklaces leading to enough inventory to start my own store today (http://decorate-your-neck.myshopify.com),  I not only will not repeat any clothes but also accessories as I style it out new and different every day.

January can be oh so boring and bleak but my outfits will not be.  Even I do not have 30 different pair of shoes so there will be multiple uses there–trust me, I have no room for any additions to my shoe collection.  I will document my styling daily and share to keep me honest on this challenge.  This whole idea came from my lovely daughter Hannah who did something similar, taking selfies daily to share her thrifty pairings.  She and I both LOVE a good deal and frequent the thrift stores looking for brand names at ridiculous prices.  I just shared one big find–a Elizabeth and James shirt for $12 which ended up not fitting me so Hannah got it.  Score!

Along with the challenge, I’ll be denying myself all shopping privileges this month.  Honestly, if I have enough clothes to do 30 different outfits in 30 days, do I really need to buy any more outfits???  NO!  So, I’ll be deleting all those tempting emails screaming 50% off and more during the winter clearance events.  Enough is enough and I need to create fashion greatness out of what I already have and not add to the already cramped living quarters for my clothes in my itsy bitsy closet.  Glad I got in that last order to Banana Republic last week!

While I will coerce my partner in crime, Thom, to take some nice outfit photos along the way, I’ll also be doing some selfie shots on the run as I travel and work long days…just setting up the scene so as to lower expectations around photo quality.  Thom is such a perfectionist on his photos, and, thus, they look stinking good compared to anything I can do.  So, come along with me on my 2015 fashion adventure and let’s see if I can stay true to a fun creative outfit every day in January, no matter what the weather or where I am travelling!

DAY ONE-1/1/2015–Rocking the New Year AND these Gap boyfriend jeans (yes, I paid for the hole in the knee look) along with a classic black l/s t shirt, silver/blue beads from my Shanghai collection of necklaces and a elephant scarf that hits the right exotic note.  I was dreaming of warmer weather today so put on my Cole Haan wedges to let my tootsies breathe.  Soon, the toes can be exposed again!!  Cheers to summer coming sooner than later!

Day One-New Year's Day rocking the ripped jeans and some being.
Day One-New Year’s Day rocking the ripped jeans and some being.

My What A Difference A Year Makes

My what a difference a year makes!  Last year on Christmas Eve, we attended one of the few church services offered in Shanghai after a lovely dinner at Lost Heaven with our son James while our daughter Hannah was pregnant and oh so far away in Boise enjoying a quiet holiday with her husband Mike.  Fast forward to 2014 and a baby has been born changing all our lives forever.  Welcome Mia to your first Christmas Eve with your Nai Nai!

So happy to be with Hannah and Mia and Mike in Boise this year!
So happy to be with Hannah and Mia and Mike in Boise this year!

Hannah graciously shared Mia with us this week so we could get to know our girl.  We also enjoyed staying in the house we bought in Boise but had rarely used.  It’s filled with all our stuff and since we have been waiting for two months for our China accumulated belongs to arrive from literally a slow boat from China, it was really nice and comforting to see the Broadway posters from our NYC life and the Black Keys/One Republic posters from our Seattle life hanging on the walls.  While I try to not care about material things, living out of a suitcase for months on end does grow old at times….. at least until the next adventure comes around!

Nail Nai and Mia enjoying play time
Nail Nai and Mia enjoying play time

Back to Christmas!  This year we are in Boise, it’s snowing hard and we have started new traditions.  When the kids were growing up, I normally worked Christmas Eve, being in retail, and the kids would join me at work to hand out candy canes to everyone and then we would eat out and go to church services, coming home to the new pj’s that the elves had laid out carefully on the their beds.  Now that I have a different type of job, we were able to enjoy volunteering today at Mike’s job, the Idaho Food Bank.  Stuffing frozen green beans into bags so they could be distributed, it was a gentle reminder to once again count our blessings and make sure we find time in our hectic schedule to help others not so fortunate as we are.  Indeed, we are blessed.

WP_20141224_011
James and Thom enjoying new family tradition volunteering at the Idaho Food Bank

 

After quickly wrapping a few gifts, we headed out to dinner (all the meat you can eat!) and then a neighborhood church where the pastor quoted David Brooks from the NY Times so, of course, we loved her.  Home to elf-provided pj’s (tradition lives on in Boise!) and a trip through the snow to our lovely cottage while Hannah and Mike continued the Christmas Eve wrapping of presents tradition that we did for so many years for the kids, I’m enjoying a glass of wine and not feeling too sad that all our gifts are already wrapped.  Sorry kids!

No doubt we miss China and the adventures we had there and the wonderful people we met.  But new adventures await and, while there will be gifts exchanged tomorrow, the biggest gift of all is being all together as a family after a separation last year and celebrating the birth of babies–one many, many years ago and more recently, the smartest most beautiful girl in the world, our Mia.  Merry, merry Christmas to all!

Saigon Eats

I am definitely NOT someone who enjoys going out to restaurants.  Thom and I rarely go out back in Shanghai and can be very happy eating cereal for dinner.  However, we enjoyed sampling the local cuisine in Saigon very much.  There is no lack of LOTS of amazing restaurants in Saigon so off we went to enjoy the bold flavors and diverse selection plus the price is right!  A multi-course meal at a nice place will set you back $40 US or 880,000Dong and that includes the necessary wine to accompany.  Cheap!

Shrimp cracker anyone?
Shrimp cracker anyone?

We learned quickly to plan our excursions outside to include an umbrella as every day the clouds open up in the late afternoon and it dumps lakes onto the crowded streets. Our first full day, we encountered a huge thunderstorm so we managed to just make it across the street from the hotel to at Tandoori, a Middle Eastern place.  We’ve become huge curry fans so we had a bold chicken curry with cheese nan and spicy grilled shrimp with saffron rice. As we watched the scooters navigate the water outside, we dug in first to the crisp veggie samosa with pungent sauces to dip into and practically licked the plates. I would have loved to try a new dessert but no room at the inn regretfully.

Not so the next night! I made sure to reserve room to try the strawberry custard while Thom took on the mango sorbet to end our evening. The Vietnamese restaurant where we went, Hoa Tuc, has a cooking school on the top floor which I read is quite good though we didn’t have time to try it out.  This restaurant was tucked away with many other fine places in the Refinery, where they used to produce Opium and now just produce awesome food.  For the main courses—we tried several out to sample. The coconut milk rice pancakes filled with shrimp and rolled in lettuce leaves, dipped in sauces and eaten with our hands was messily amazing. Are your mouths watering yet??? Then, the mustard leaves rolled with crunchy vegetables inside and a prawn secured on top were next.  They disappeared fast.

Mustard leaves roll with prawn
Mustard leaves roll with prawn

Thom tucked away his barbeque chicken pieces and I had Vietnamese brown rice with green onions and shrimp. I have never had such wonderful rice—it was dark brown, nutty tasting and so moist,having been cooked in a clay pot. I ate every grain. I could eat a bowl of that every day and be very happy and full.

Our last night in Saigon, we tried to get the energy to go out and try another new place but we had been upgraded to a huge suite at the Park Hyatt so we opted for a quiet room service dinner to enjoy our luxurious digs. The food was adequate but sitting in our living room in our robes while we ate was priceless.

 

Room Service after a long day spent walking Saigon Streets=PRICELESS!
Room Service after a long day spent walking Saigon Streets=PRICELESS!