Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How to Make Eating In More Like Eating Out

Spicing Up Eating In

My husband and son are amazing cooks and I've been a SAHM for years off and on, and as a result we've always eaten most of our meals at home. When we moved to Fiji we didn't really have much choice as the options for eating out were somewhat limited. The chief difference between meals at home "Before" and meals at home now is we don't really have a choice now. It's really interesting how putting something out of reach makes it all the more desirable, too. Here are a couple of ideas to make eating in just as good an experience as it is for your wallet and waistline.

The first thing to ask yourself is "Why do I want to eat out anyway?" I know exactly why I want to eat out!
  • No shopping for food (shopping in Fiji is a WHOLE other blog post!) 
  • No prepping food
  • No schlepping the food (to the dining room table and back to the sink)
  • No cleanup
  • Wait Staff!
  • Interaction with friends
  • Distractions for the kids
  • Variety in the dishes and in the meal (Appetizers! Everyone gets their favorites! Desserts!)
Whew! That's a tall order for a dinner at home. Never fear, though, it can be achieved.

The Meal: There are a couple of things that you can't get away from: If you're going to eat a homemade meal at home, you're going to have to shop, prep, and schlep the food some. You can cut down on this step by planning to serve a meal you've prepared earlier in the day or earlier in the week. In fact, if you're a fan of Once A Month Cooking (freezer cooking), you may have prepped the meal a whole month ago. Using a slow cooker is another way to cut down some on the meal prep so you can focus on your day instead of on the stove.  I'll mention cooking circles later in this article as a way of adding variety to your meals.

Plate the Food in the Kitchen: Of course we're used to placing all the serving dishes on the table and passing them around, but chances are you have a pretty good idea how much everyone is going to take. Go ahead and plate the food before it leaves the kitchen. This will also result in less to clear away from the table after the meal.

Hire a Waiter: Kids love to role play, and giving them the role of waiter for a night may be all you need to give your tootsies a rest for the evening. If they're too young or if you'd like to keep the family gathered around the table for the meal, have a waiter's station set up near the dining room table. This can be a card table put up just for the night, or you can use the kitchen counter. At the waiter's station have a pitcher of water, extra napkins, silverware, and anything else that usually has you popping up and down like Jack in the Box during dinner.

A Table Full of Friends: It's true, it is easier to decide with friends to head for the nearest restaurant after the rugby sevens game. Having said that, it's much more rewarding to have everyone over for dinner instead. There's no check to worry about splitting at the end of the meal, there's no fisheye from the waiter when you're lingering over dessert at the end of the evening. What this does take is planning. You can plan the entire meal in advance and set a date to get together, or if you issued an impromptu invitation you can stretch a meal by adding a quick soup or salad and more side dishes. Soups are really easy to make in bulk and freeze, my go-to bagged salads aren't an option here in Fiji but may be an option where you are.

Interaction or Distraction? One of the biggest benefits to having the whole family at the table is the relationships it builds, but sometimes after both of you have been at home all day long the last thing you want is to interact more. Enter the board game, the book of puzzles, the coloring book, whatever you think would distract your family members while still allowing you to interact. I'm a personal fan of board games over dinner because the pause for turns keeps everyone involved while the game keeps your mind off more pressing issues, like the lack of job, job interviews, bills, etc. If you want to spend some quality time with your spouse, letting the kids read or play with a book of puzzles or a coloring book is a good way to distract them while the two of you talk. I don't like glowing screens or battery operated gizmos and gadgets at the table though. They are a little too effective at distracting kids.

Variety: What does a regular meal look like at your house?  Is it a one-pot dinner?  Is it one meat and two vegetables? Time to change it up a little bit.  The easiest thing to do is add courses to the meal. Start with a soup, salad, or an easy appetizer.  Plan to serve dessert and get some mint to garnish even the simplest after dinner sweet.  If you love lingering over coffee at a restaurant, preload the coffee press before dinner and have one of the kids add boiling water as soon as you start cleanup.

Another way to add variety to your meals is to join a cooking circle.  Different cooking clubs operate in different ways, but in general you prepare one meal in bulk, package it, and freeze it.  Keep one prepped meal for yourself and exchange the other prepacked meal with the members of your cooking circle.  You get three new to you homemade takeout meals that can be thawed out and served any time.  Eating out at home could be a great time to serve that cooking circle meal.

Have a potluck: invite everyone you know over or just a select few, have everyone bring a different dish! Presto variety-o, cue the conversations, the kids have new friends to play with, everybody wins!

More Ways to Spice It Up:
  • Dress Up - If you wouldn't get groceries in what you're wearing you probably don't need to be sitting down to the table for an Eating Out Dinner In.  You will feel better if you take a quick minute to change into something that you feel good in. 
  • Clean up - Either clean as you make the meal or fill the sink with hot soapy water and do a quick rinse when dishes come off the table. That way once the meal is done there's little or no work to do, just like when you eat out. If you're one of the lucky ones in Fiji to have a dishwasher, make sure it's empty before dinner and then fill it up after the meal, turn it on before you go to bed. 
  • Change the lighting - Ever notice that when the lower the lighting at a restaurant the higher the bill?  You can recreate some of that high priced atmosphere at home by pulling out the candles, or unscrewing a light bulb or two.  
  • Add music - Play the radio or turn the stereo up loud enough so you can hear it at the table
  • Eat Outside - Ok, it's September in the Southern Hemisphere here and our days have been chilly and wet, so I'm not a huge fan of this one right now, but once it warms up you can bet I'm going to set up the back porch like an outdoor cafe.  
What would you do to make an evening in as much or more fun as an evening out?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I want to help but I don't want to intrude

How to Help a Friend That's Having Trouble

"We’ve created new “family” in the way of friends who are also geographical orphans, but there is still a pause that happens before we think about imposing on a friend. Some of these “family” friendships are new and possibly tenuous relationships that may only exist because we are all in the same boat. Without a deeper connection, it is easy to overstep boundaries and so, in most cases, we choose not to impose. We’d rather be alone and keep those friendships rather than potentially lose our only sources of local support. We need to save those requests in case of an emergency; not for a daily pick-me-up." 

I recently read this passage on an expat blog Knocked Up Abroad and it's really resonated for me. I also found these two articles very useful:

On Depression: For Many, Life as an Accompanying Spouse Comes at a Great Cost
General Preparation for Life Abroad: The 9 Essential Questions that Every Expat Partner Must Ask

Here are some tips that I figured I'd pass on based on my own experiences being unemployed, and experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (thankfully not a problem here!)

While there are a lot of ways you may have heard about helping an unemployed friend out professionally (recommending your friend on, proofreading resumes and cover letters, forwarding job leads) there are a number of things you can do to help out the whole family.

First of all, do not pull away or assume “If they need anything, they'll call.” Instead, let your friend know that you're still around, and if at all possible, make a specific offer of help. Seriously, be detailed in your offer. Don't say "We should lunch," instead ask "Can we meet for coffee on Friday at 10?" Don't put the burden of figuring out the logistics on the person who is already struggling. 

Even if your friend has funds to make it through to the next job, it's likely that the family is scaling way back on eating out, family activities, and purchases. This is your chance to:
  • Let them know you're thinking of them. It's cheesy, but sometimes just a funny photo sent on facebook or a card mailed to their home can be a massive lift. In our most recent move a postcard reappeared years after friend sent it. It was originally sent ages ago while I was in a rough patch. I think I smiled as much seeing it the second time as I did the first time. Your words of love and support mean a lot. 
  • Exercise together. This can be as simple as going for a walk together, or you might purchase a pass or a voucher for a number of workouts. Years ago a friend bought me a month long pass to Bikram Yoga. Because it was a gift I felt I should use it, and my near daily practice of Bikram Yoga that cold Kansas February really helped get me out of a winter funk.  
  • Offer to take the kids to and from activities, especially if you have children participating in the same activities. This is especially helpful if you have children on any kind of travel team. In addition to the cost of traveling to compete in another town, there may be hotel room and meal expenses involved that can be hard for the unemployed family to bear.
  • Invite the children in the family or even the whole family to come with you on outings. If you have a trip planned to a resort or theme park, ask if Johnny and Jenny can come with your family. Let your friend know that you don't expect them to cover the cost of the tickets and whatever you do, don't ask within earshot of the children.
  • Have your friend over for dinner. If your friend has scaled way back on eating out, this can be a welcome break from meal prep and a good chance to socialize, and may even help out with the family's budget. A lot of expat families travel in and out of the country a lot, being stuck in one country means they may not have access to duty free liquor or favorites from home. Dinner with your family can be a good time to share your stash of imported treats and know it will be appreciated. 
  • Drop off a meal or even just flowers. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of dealing with the situation the simple things at home - like flowers on the table - don't get refreshed. Here in Fiji flowers are cheap and easy to obtain and they can be a real mood boost. A heat-and-eat meal can be a lifesaver at the end of the day. 
  • Schedule a playdate for the kids or offer to babysit on a moment's notice. A scheduled playdate gives the kids and the parents a date to look forward to, but a voucher for babysitting may be even more valuable as it frees the parent up to go to an interview or a networking event. If you are able to, feed the kids while you have them. It's one less thing for your friends to think about when they pick their kids up.
  • Declutter. I know this sounds strange, but go ahead and clean out the closets and the basement. It's something you were planning to do anyway, but instead of taking everything directly to a donation point, call up your friend and ask if they are interested in anything you're donating. An old smartphone may be an incredible boon to your friend, and new-to-them video games and toys might be great for the kids.
Here are couple more ways to help, but keep in mind that there are lots of things you can do. Let your relationship with your friend and her family be your guide.
  • Offer to help with garage saling, packing, anything related to the house and home. As the recipient sometimes it's easier to refocus a specific request than it is to come up with something to ask for.  
  • Be honest. If your friend asks you for your opinion on their situation or CV or really anything, offer it as gently as possible, but honestly. It's so much easier to hear a negative review from a friend, and it is possible that you may be the first and only person to pass something on.
  • Listen. One of the hardest things some people face when out of work is the loss of the daily companionship during the workday. If you're asked for help or advice, by all means offer it, but realize that sometimes your friends may just want you to listen.
  • Be dependable - if you offer a favor or a physical item, don't rescind the offer or change it at the last moment. Your friend may have lined up other things based on your offer, the loss of your support can leave your friend in worse shape than before your offer. 
In short - step forward, offer gently, check in as often as you feel comfortable, be dependable. Situations don't usually develop overnight and your support long after the first news breaks is appreciated. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sinuses and Ants

Don't let perfect get in the way of good enough.  Writing this now because it's helpful, but won't be pretty.
Neti pots help here in Fiji if you have headaches triggered by changing pressure. I've seen them at the Sports City pharmacy, will keep an eye out for more.
Borax is available at Cost-U-More, can be put down across doorways and anyplace you have tons of Ants, works as a deterrent

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Here's to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

Fiji is far away from everything. I really feel it on days like this when I'd rather be in a small town in Northeast Tennessee than in the tropics. My friend Sam Jones is dying. To me, she has always been the embodiment of a strong woman. It's been a honor to know her, to become a stronger woman because of her advice and encouragement, and to see her raise strong women of her own.

Today I light a virtual candle in honor of Sam Jones as she prepares for the next step in her journey.

My candle is from earlier this year during Cyclone Zena when we used sea urchin shells on top of candles to keep the flames from going out in the wind. As the storm approached with only the glow of the shells lighting our meal I was entranced by the patterns coming though the shells. Similarly, the light shining through Sam has left an incredible imprint on the world she is leaving.

Dear Sam, I've learned so much from you. I love you and I'm incredibly thankful to have known you.

And just like I did when I learned of her cancer last year, I think I'm going to go cry now.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Fiji Sale Groups

After two years with much of our stuff in storage I'm finally able to unpack and consolidate and realize that in some cases we have THREE of the same item (the Fiji household, the NY household, and the stuff that was in storage) I've heard that it's pretty easy to sell via Facebook, so I started joining sales groups. There are plenty to choose from! Here are the ones I've found. There are some that have the same names but are completely different groups. Happy Sales! 

  1. Best Deals Fijiwide
  2. Buy and Sell Fiji Importz
  3. Buy and Sell in Bula Style
  4. Buy And Sell in Fiji
  5. Buy and Sell in Fiji
  6. Buy and Sell in Fiji
  7. Buy and Sell in Fiji (Musical Instruments)
  8. Buy and Sell in Suva Central
  9. Buy N Sell (Fiji) 
  10. Buy N Sell in Suva
  11. Buying and Selling in Fiji
  12. Ebay Online (Fiji) 
  13. Fiji Buyers and Sellers
  14. Fiji Classifieds (Free)
  15. Fiji Computers and Mobile Phones
  16. Fiji Facebook Market
  17. Fiji for Free
  18. Fiji Shop
  19. Fiji Zone (Hot Online Sales)
  20. Fijian Trader
  21. Fiji's Best Deals - Buy or Sell
  22. Fiji's Clothes and Shoes (2nd Hand)
  23.  Free Ads, Buying & Selling Fiji
  24. Freecycle Suva Group
  25. Garage Sale Suva to Nausori
  26. Genuine Traders Fiji
  27. iPhone, Samsung HTC (Spidey)
  28.  iPhones Samsung HTC 
  29. Men, Women, Kids, Houseware 2nd-hand Items for Sale
  30. Mobile Buy and Sale Fiji
  31. Mobile Fones 4 Sale
  32. Mobile phones 4 sale (spidey)
  33. New n Second Hand Clothes, Bags, and Accessories for Sale
  34. Online Bargains - Fiji Islands
  35. Plus Size Lewas Nadi
  36. Plus Size Queens
  37. Suva Expats Market
  38. Totally Mums
  39. TradeMe Fiji

Monday, July 4, 2016

4th of July in Fiji is the middle of winter

Overnight the weather went from cool and sunny to rainy and cold (by Fiji standards). After a weekend with no sunshine I wanted to celebrate USA's Independence Day, but mimosas didn't sound so good without bright sunshine. In talking to a friend about winters we'd experienced I mentioned how cold and wet my winter in Germany was, and how much we enjoyed Glühwein at the December Weihnachtsmarkt. Aha! There's my celebratory drink. I pulled a classic recipe off the web, and Fijified it.

German Glühwein aka Mulled wine

2 cups mandarin orange juice (probably about 8 Fiji mandarins)
1/2 cup white sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
10 whole cloves
3 (750 milliliter) bottles DRY red wine
1 (3 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Zest of one orange (optional - helpful if the beverage is too sweet)
1 cup orange juice (optional - helpful if the beverage is too sweet)


In a saucepan, combine the orange juice, sugar, and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer. Remove the membranes from the peel of both halves of an orange. Push the cloves into the outside of the orange peel, and place the studded peel in the simmering water.

Continue simmering for 30 minutes, until thick and syrupy.

Pour in the wine, and heat until steaming but not simmering. Remove the clove-studded orange halves. Serve hot in mugs or glasses that have been preheated in warm water (cold glasses will break.)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fijiterian Chili

Growing up in Texas I turned my nose up at chili that had beans in it. Then, life happened. I went from hardly eating beans at all (yes Dad, I know you tried HARD to get me to eat frijoles, I guess I wasn't ready for it) to trying to get 4 ounces of beans in every meal. Yeah. Ain't life a kicker?

July in Fiji is the middle of winter, and I found myself wanting to nest and snuggle up with a warm bowl of chili. I fiddled around with some vegetarian recipes until I came up with this one. It uses unsweetened chocolate - 2 ounces of Abuelita's if you can find it, otherwise any unsweetened cocoa powder will do, just add in some cinnamon. Since I can't find Abuelita's here, the recipe just has unsweetened cocoa powder listed.  

Fijiterian Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin/jeera
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cubed (or a pound of browned and drained beef mince)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 (10 oz) can Ro*Tel tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cubes vegetable bouillon
1 cup water
2 (15 oz) cans of your favorite beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup corn starch (optional)
1 cup cold water (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in uncovered pressure cooker over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery, green bell peppers, and garlic. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the diced eggplant. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes.

Mix the tomatoes into the pot. Season chili with chili powder, cocoa powder, and bouillon cubes. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans. Add one cup water.

Close cover securely; place pressure regulator on vent pipe. Bring pressure cooker to full pressure over high heat. Reduce heat to medium high; cook for 30 minutes. Pressure regulator should maintain a slow steady rocking motion; adjust heat if necessary.

Remove pressure cooker from heat; use quick-release following manufacturer's instructions or allow pressure to drop on its own.

Open cooker and add corn. If chili is thin, add 1/4 cup corn starch mixed with cold water. If chili is too thick, add water to thin. Stir to blend and heat through before serving.

My recommendation? Make it today and put it in the fridge, serve it tomorrow. The flavors just get better overnight. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Daily Debrief

About two weeks ago I needed a combination therapy/cup of coffee/put-on-your-big-girl-panties conversation, so I called up a friend who's been in Fiji for a long time and has ridden out the waves with grace and poise. Sweetheart that she is, she met me that very afternoon for a long talk.

While all of our conversation was helpful, the biggest gift that she gave me was some structure to my journaling. I'm a big believer in writing and try to do it regularly, but although I've used prompts I don't tend to stick with them. Enter (fanfare please) The Daily Debrief.

Written first thing in the morning each day, the debrief has three main parts - good things, bad things, and intentions.

  • Good things (5) has overall mood and is ranked by benefit and enjoyment. Strive for five -- even after a rough day there are five good things to look back on.
  • Bad Things (3 or less) can be skipped after good days. A key point here is to LIMIT the number of bad things written about and also to acknowledge mistakes
  • Intentions (1-3) are the priorities for the day, the attitude adjustment to facing the world, the change to behaviors so mistakes don't happen again. This section is also limited to just 3 intentions for the day. This avoids analysis paralysis as well as that sense of guilt if the to-do list doesn't go to-done at the end of the day. 

I've been doing this fairly regularly for the last two weeks and it's been wonderful for me. There's something about seeing my worries in writing that makes them more manageable. I've been surprised by how few worries we actually have -- even though the ones we have are big ones -- and even after the roughest days how much there is to be thankful for in our lives. Simply getting it all out has definitely helped calm my mind. The very act of thinking about what I want to do next has helped me focus my time and be more productive.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keep the boredom at bay

Summers growing up were long and hot. We didn't have a TV and the city pool didn't open until 3PM, so I learned at an early age that I needed to be good at entertaining myself. This has served me well over the years as I've had anywhere from a few hours of downtime to entire months. Here's a short list of things I've fallen back at different times on to keep my mind and body active:

- visit museums, libraries, galleries. Prep for the visit by reading up about what you're going to see. After the visit research questions you had and things of interest that you learned about on the outing
- take a local tour - none scheduled? Ask around, often there are people with specialties in the most surprising things that would be happy to show you what they know
- join organizations, like a library book club
- start an organization, like a geocache club
- check facebook events for things happening near you
- reconnect with old friends either in person or via phone
- ask a new friend out for coffee
- walk or bike around your current location
- plan meals with new recipes or special ingredients, make an outing out of finding ingredients, photograph each step of the meal prep
- go for body work - massage, facial, pedicure, etc.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Can't work, but this isn't exactly working

For most of us we have no choice - we must bring home a paycheck or the bills don't get paid. But there are some of us who have to cool our heels, some less voluntarily than others. When I moved to Fiji I became one of them. My visa is a resident visa - pretty much the only thing I am allowed to do is reside in this country. 

There is something that I am allowed to do, and luckily it comes to me as easily as breathing - I can connect people.  

I've written previously about the different international organizations here in Suva for new arrivals like myself. One of them is Suva University Partners and Spouses International - SUPASI. Today I sat down for the chat portion of "Shut Up and Write!" and one of the SUPASI members asked who he should contact to start a local chapter of Operação Nariz Vermelho (Operation Red Nose) here in Fiji. Completely and totally by chance the former organizer of the Corona Fiji trolley volunteers had just sat down next to us. I introduced the two of them and they exchanged contact info. 


I'm super excited! These are both such super organizations and seeing reps from each one trade info and ideas is so cool. 

Corona Fiji raises money for the Colonial War Memorial Hospital here in Suva through raffles, cash donations, and in kind donations from its members. The members then take the in-kind donations of toys, toiletries, new and gently used baby, children, and women's clothing by its members and stock a rolling cart. Each Friday morning 5 volunteers roll the trolley stocked with these donated items around the maternity, antenatal and paediatric wards. The items are priced at pennies on the dollar of their actual worth, many only $1FJD or so. All the proceeds are donated back to CWM in the form of much needed medical equipment or non-medical items. 

Operation Red Nose goal is to bring joy to hospitalized children, their families, and the health professionals that care for them through visits from "Doctor Clown." This was started in 2002 in Portugal after its founder Beatrize Quintella read an article about Clown Doctors visiting American children. The Clown Doctors of Operation Red Nose have a heart on their nose - a red nose of infinite generosity. 

I can't work for pay, I'm even super limited in how I volunteer my time, but I am super excited about how the people I bring together spark ideas. Together we're making things happen and I love it. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

If you really want to know someone, take away their wifi

My home internet has been spotty since Cyclone Winston in late February. (I also have mold everywhere, but that's a whole different story)

I've heard it said that if you really want to know someone you should travel with them. To that, I would add, spend some time with them when you have spotty/slow internet.

In case you're wondering, I get cranky without my internet.

This concludes our special post, which is a replacement for the post that didn't upload and then disappeared.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Most Dangerous Writing App

Matt Young posted a link to The Most Dangerous Writing App in our Shut Up and Write! Suva facebook group. Not sure why I didn't click on it before, but I did tonight and figured I can do anything for five minutes.  Following is what five minutes inside my brain looks like: 

What do I do how do I type how does this work? One two three four five
dunno what if someone talks to me oh this is interesting and holy crap five minutes is a super long time oh shit how do I keep my fingers moving for this long? No countdown timer. 
got nothing
although I do think I want to try making this into a blog post. It's certainly interesting. 
I wish I had hit 100 words this fast using other methods!!! 
One thing about this is it's just a brain dump, it's not actually real content
and why the hell did I set it for five solid minutes and not like one minute
I can feel my hands cramp up. 
I really need a five second counter to know how long I've been staring at my screen..
what if my control C doesn't work and I lose everything? 
and seriously - 155 words? how is this even possible? I had to knock out 2000 words and it took me a week
of course, that article actually made some sense
I don't know how much sense this makes, but I've been doing it for three minutes now....
five seconds or I lose everything. I need a longer lag. 
ok, the screen went white
and I guess I now know what hardcore mode is --- you truly DO lose everything if you stop. 
I'm down to one minute now
I can do this. 
basic writing - beginning, middle, end
I started this just to see what it was like
and now the tap is opened and I'm going to run out of time. 
the cure to writer's block truly IS to start writing. What an experience this has been! 
Not that this entry is worth anything, but hey, my heart rate is up, my brain is moving things around. Nice. 
1610c 315w 63wpm

Not sure if I want to do it again.... but ...... it's certainly been an experience!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Heartbreak, Fiji Style

Looks like I fell well and truly in love with Fiji in 2013. And on this day three years later Fiji has tried to break my heart. Winston, maternal and child health and mortality, the frequent comings and goings that are part and parcel of expat life. I don't know that my heart can take too many more days like this. Although today I did witness that even when horrible things happen we don't have to go through it alone.

I love Fiji. I miss the US. And yet today showed me that my roots are digging in deeper each and every day.

In the end it's a good thing to have roots, right? Even if they pull at your heart sometimes?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fair, Medium, Deep, Brown, Black?

I'm 50 shades of I'm not sure what to call my skin color. My arms are the darkest because I'm almost always sleeveless here, my bum is the lightest because it's always covered. In between I'm at least 50 different shades. I'm a little worried about the quantity of sun exposure I've gotten this last year, but not exactly sure what I can do about it other than cover up and stay in the shade. I try to swim three times a week, and I'm really good about using sunblock on my face and wearing a rash guard for sun protection. As hot as it's been lately I'm starting to wonder what the evening hours are at the pool! 

It's really interesting to me to hear my skin tone discussed. Growing up in the US I've always thought of myself as having dark skin, but here I'm regularly told that I'm very fair. At coffee one day one woman said that I was white. I think she was referring more to my cultural and mental perspectives rather than the tone of my skin, but it's still so surprising to hear myself discussed and referred to in this way. 

So, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, does skin color fall into the same category?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My computer ate it

I reflected. I posted. It disappeared. I'm still counting it.

Good night world. See you in the morning.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Momentum of the seasons

I have a couple of things I'm looking forward to working on in 2016. I'm in the Southern Hemisphere and it's the middle of summer here. The heat and humidity slow things down, and being in the tropics there's no spring coming up to launch everything forward. The mindset is different, and I'm finding that fascinating because before I lived here it really felt that every day was like another. Perspective definitely changes when you move somewhere.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What were you talking about today?

What do I write about when I have nothing to write about? Well, the advice I was once given was to write about what I was talking about. So, here goes nothing.

Today's conversations covered a range of topics, including how to get a job in Fiji as a trailing spouse. Get your CV up to date, meet lots of people, let everyone know you want a job, read the paper, especially the Saturday classifieds (yeah, read the paper, crazy number of people I know found their job in the newspaper. Total throwback) and be prepared to wait a year for your visa after you do the whole interview/job offer thing.

Adding structure to your day: It helps me if I have people to meet that will be working on a common goal together. Enter Shut Up and Write! and parenting bookclub among other things.

Finding meaning in life without a job. This one makes me a little nuts. We trailing spouses put all this time and energy into our educations and our professional development and then end up packing up everything and moving-over and over for the luckiest of us. Our circle of influence shrinks down to our family and the friends we make. All our finances get chucked in one hat, the one our partner is holding. It's a little unnerving, even when in rock solid relationships. Add in today's conversation about accidental deaths and extramarital expat activities and that search for meaning coupled with an unsure future can be pretty hard to work through.  

A trip to the bank yielded an interesting conversation about how to prove one's identity when in transition. I need to follow up with the Fiji Women's Crisis Center about they help women get back on their feet financially. I'm so used to everything being available online in the US. You show up, provide your social security number, answer a couple of questions, and boom, you're in business. Yeah, not so much here. That's probably a whole 'nother post right there.

By the way, travel insurance to the US is about 5 times what it costs for the same coverage when traveling in New Zealand. Dear USA, I love you, you'll always be my home, but please figure out the healthcare system. Especially as I age I worry more about ending up in the doctor's office when I go home, and it's something we just can't afford without having insurance.

Let's see, what else. Ah, two more conversations about diversity and travel.  I feel like I've known people who had far more diversity of experience although they never had a passport than some who've traveled the world, but stayed firmly in their comfort zone. I guess this is one blessing of being from a mixed background - there's not a ready made comfort zone for me, no matter what I do I have to stretch and adapt to the situation around me. Not going to lie, that's wearing at times, but I do love the increased understanding I've gained as a result of it. Even so, plenty of stuff would have been easier on the body and the psyche if I'd just read a book on the topic instead of living it.

There were a couple other discussions in the course of the day, but none of them jump out at me. So yeah, there you have it. Another blog post in the can. Now to write some followup emails. G'night all. See you on the other side.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Working our way down the staying healthy in the tropics list, next up is FEET

Feet have skin, so of course they’re susceptible to all the stuff your skin can get like fungus, sunburn, infection, coral scrapes, boils, all the good stuff I talked about in yesterday's post. Every time I take a shower, in addition to a thorough soapy scrub on all my creases and pieces, I lather up my fingers and interlace them with my toes, making sure that the toes get a good soaping between and around each digit. Rinse well with clean water, and if you really want to keep dry you can dry off with a hair dryer and dust everything with some talcum powder or corn starch.

Skin treated? Ok, let’s talk about the stuff under the skin. You’re more likely to wear open-toed loose shoes with little or no support – think sandals and flip flops, which means you get to add in problems like aching feet and lower leg pain from lack of support. It gets better. If you keep on wearing those flip flops aka jandals aka slippers even once you start to hurt, you can develop pesky knee, hip and back pain.

What happens is that most of us have been wearing closed toe shoes our whole lives, and then we move to places like Fiji or the Virgin Islands and put on a pair of flimsy rubber shoes with loose straps. Flipflops are open in the back, so your foot is more likely to slide around. The toes clench up trying to keep the shoe on our foot (which is what leads to a lot of the muscle and tendon strains), which changes our gait (joint pain!) plus we turn into instant klutzes because we’re trying to walk in a shoe that’s doing its best to fall off the whole time. Add in rainy days and slippery tile and it’s a miracle we’ve survived long enough to write (or read) this post.

What’s the bad stuff that can happen? Well, here’s a partial list (I'm not a doctor, if you are in pain, go see a medical professional. If you're curious, keep reading):
• Achilles Tendonitis (Pain along the back of your foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes; with tendinitis, pain may be mild and worsen gradually
• Calf Strains (pain ranging from mild ache to moderate pain when using your calf, difficulty in rising up on your toes or pushing off from your feet)
• Metatarsalgia (pain that occurs in the front section of the foot, often where the second, third and fourth toes meet the ball of the foot)
• Morton’s Neuroma (nerve damage! May feel tingly, or burning, or numbness at the front of the foot, maybe a feeling there is something INSIDE the ball of the foot, could also feel like there’s something in the shoe or a sock is bunched up)
• Plantar Fasciitis (sounds like PLAN-ter fash-ee-EYE-tus, usually shows up as pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel. This is a weird one, it tends to hurt most after you’ve been resting)
• Shin Splints (the front of your lower leg hurts)

Go ahead. Ask me how I know all this….(experience is what you call it when you recognize a mistake the second time you make it)

Couple of things can help a lot:
• Choose a shoe with a strap around the back
• Find a shoe with an arch support
• Get a shoe that has a stiffer sole (flip but no flop)
• If you’re gonna wear the shoes anyway, try to wear them only for short times.

Last up, assuming that you’re wearing good shoes with a nice arch support and a strap around the back, chances are you’re going to want to show those tootsies off. There’s some stuff you can do to keep your pedicures a little safer.
• Choose a clean salon. Look around, Ask the staff about how they disinfect their footbath and tools between customers. If you can, watch the staff with a customer AND see what they do before the next customer sits down. If you have any doubts whatsoever, walk away. I’ve heard some people suggest that you bring your own pedicure tools, but unless you’ve got an autoclave at home, chances are you’re better off with a clean salon and well trained staff than trying to clean them at home.
• This may seem weird, but protect your legs! When you remove hair from your legs, you create micro cuts and you thin the skin that is going to go into the bath. By not shaving, waxing or using a depilatory cream 24 hours before your pedicure you keep your skin intact and better able to keep junk out of your system.
• I know it’s tempting, but don’t let the staff cut your cuticles or use a razor on calluses. It takes longer, but a pumice stone or foot file will scrape away the dead skin and not cut into your healthy skin.

That's all for today's reflection. May your feet carry you everywhere you want to go! 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Keeping your skin healthy


Did anyone mention the number that humidity can do on your skin and hair? I'm not just talking frizz, I'm talking fungus, I'm talking about hair falling out.

If you're into pain, try a pair of cheap sandals, they have any S&M Dom beat.

A day fishing can turn into a day broiling if you don't take a hat.

That gorgeous hotel balcony may be a landing strip for divebombing mosquitoes.

It's awesome here.... but you'll have a way better time if you take a few precautions.

And I can tell already this is going to take me a couple of days to write out this series.


SUN Chances are you know about sunburns and sunblock is either the first thing you throw in your bag when you pack or you pick up a bottle of sunblock at your first stop. Couple of things here: SLATHER the stuff on if you're going to wear it and REAPPLY OFTEN, but if you're living here you might want to consider covering up instead of sunblocking. Hats, long sleeve shirts, long pants. Your call. Linen is way more comfortable than polyester, and there are great tropical prints all over that you can easily have sewn into the design of your choice. Don't forget a pair of sunglasses, although they're more likely to mark you as a non-local/tourist. Another option is just to stay in the shade.

FUNGUS Stuff is gonna grow on you. It ain't fun to think about, but it's going to happen. Accept it. When you have an itch around your neck, under your arm, under your breasts, in the crease between your thighs and your groin, Bingo! You just won a round of antifungal or antibiotic treatment. The good news is that the pharmacies are happy to help and you'll have plenty of choices of what to apply. Show them what you've got (I recommend a photo rather than a striptease) or describe the symptoms and listen to the directions! It's the strangest thing, but Selsun GOLD (not the blue dandruff treatment) can be used as an ointment. There are a bunch of other ones out there, but what you need will depend on what you've got.

While I did say it's going to happen to you sooner or later, you can make it less likely to happen by bathing daily with soap and water, taking care to scrub every body crease and then rinsing well. Use clean dry towels when you step out of the shower, and consider using a hair dryer on the cool setting to dry those creases and pieces. A dusting of talcum powder or cornstarch can help dry things up, too.

Not sweating in the first place helps a lot, too - wear loose fitting cool clothing. This is the real reason why everyone runs around in Bula shirts and loose pants - we really do need air flow to all our pieces and parts!

Seriously, protect your skin. If you get a mosquito bite DON'T SCRATCH IT! It may be driving you crazy, but you don't want the stuff growing on your skin to get into your system. If you get a blister, watch it. If your skin is broken for any reason - a cut, a scrape, a scratch, a blister, a scratched mosquito bite, you name it - treat it. Generally this is going to be an antibiotic or antiseptic ointment and a band-aid, but certain skin breaks may need special treatment.  

Coral Cuts / Reef Cuts

Coral is alive. When you scrape yourself on the reef, you end up with the exoskeletons of these creatures under your skin. Yup, that's animal protein and calcium deposits right there. Then there are nematocysts in some corals that sting. Open wounds in the water mean any gunk in the open ocean can swim right into your system, too. Yuck, right? Well, it's the price we pay for the awesome snorkeling and scuba diving here, so I'm careful, but I'm also in the water every chance I get.

• If you get beat up by the reef, first off remove any dead skin around the wound. Clean the wound. Like more than you ever thought you should and longer than you think it needs. Really.
• Rinse the wound with an antiseptic wash.
• Apply an antibiotic ointment.
• Check your wound at least twice daily. At the first sign of any infection, see a doctor. Yeah. Not kidding there.

I think this is it for today's post. I've got lots more to say about staying healthy here, but this is it for now.

In general, whenever you walk in the house wash your hands. It's also a good idea to leave your shoes at the door and slip into a pair of slippers at home. Keep all the junk out of the house and out of your system.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Anticipate, Participate, Reflect

As we were planning our first trip to New Zealand last October Lyn Hatton said that there were three parts to every holiday experience: Anticipation, Participation, Reflection.

I think I do a pretty good job with the anticipation part, I definitely do my best to earn the participation points, I'm not so hot at that last one.


So today I start my new goal: reflect for 20 minutes a day... and away we go!

Well, there's a little more to it than that. I also want to write more, so I'm not counting it as a reflection unless I get something down in writing.

I also know that I write stuff all over the place. You can find some of these musings on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on TripAdvisor, and at Island Life. I've done some guest posts other places, too. I'm going to try to be better about including all of that in one spot, but sometimes I just can't do that because of the nature of the platform.

So. That's it. That's my reflection for the start of the year. I guess it's a goal, which is more on the anticipation side. But it's all connected, right?

(oh, and more of my pics on Instagram these days than twitter)