sunrise in a cup

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Four months into our three year Hyderabad tour and dust is settling. Last week we finally had the house painted and I’ve hung most of our artwork. (Home tour forthcoming!) I do my best to plot out each of my days with a rough schedule to stay rooted on a healthy and productive track. I fill in my day planner (Moleskine forever!) with weekly recurrences like teaching conversational English to a Japanese friend on Wednesdays and yoga classes both Friday and Saturday mornings. I still meet with the writer’s group I established while in Phnom Penh, via Skype now that two of the three of us have moved away. Checking in every couple of weeks feels good and keeps us all hammering away at our projects. But let’s be honest, that leaves a whole lot of empty space on those big white pages of my appointment book. I have to admit that since arriving here I have had a hard time getting back into the groove, finding a schedule I can stick to.  It is disheartening to realize how easily my time slips away if I don’t actively try to contain it in some way.

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Hyderabad is shaping up to be one of those places where you turn into a homesteader whether you like it or not. Snakes and I happen to enjoy those aspects of life and are embracing the wide open weekends, filling them in with an ambitious rooftop gardening project, composting, cheese making, bread baking, kraut and kimchi fermenting, yogurt making and of course, dinner parties. I just finished the invitations for our annual Valentines celebration, which has been dormant for the last two years. This will be our sixth Valentines party in the last nine years. I can’t wait to share more details!

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A couple weekends ago, I awoke my juicer from the far reaches of kitchen cupboard hibernation. I’d been craving a zesty morning tonic with which to start my day. I didn’t want to take the time to prepare coffee since its too easy to get distracted while I wait, checking the news, packing Colette’s lunch or sorting dishes from the previous night. I wanted something that I could grab from the fridge with minimal sleepy-headed effort and take with me to my yoga/writing space. I like to get up there before too much has run through my head.

This turmeric tonic fit the bill perfectly. I found the blueprint for the recipe on David Leibovitz’s site and have tweaked it to swap limes for lemons and carrot juice for seltzer. This way you can forego the addition of any extra sweetener since carrots are naturally so sweet. The ones that are in season now, these technicolor Indian red carrots, are especially sweet. My driver told me the Indians use them primarily in baked goods.

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I like to prep a few days worth of the juice and tonic and store it in jars in the refrigerator. I keep them separate since the other two members of my family enjoy a morning glass of carrot juice but are not (yet) convinced of the superior health benefits and flavor boost offered by a shock of turmeric, ginger and lime. If you try it out, keep in mind it’s recommended to add a few grinds of fresh black pepper to aid in the absorption of all that good stuff. Although juicing can be time consuming and messy, things go twice as fast with me prepping and my trusty side-kick feeding our ingredients through the chute.


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I’ve been enjoying this for around two weeks now and can report that it is a wonderfully energizing start to each day. I actually find myself looking forward to it first thing upon waking. And maybe just a placebo effect, but I swear I feel less creaky and cranky in the mornings!

What are your morning rituals? I’d love to hear.

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dsc_0800That’s me, blowing off the thick blanket of dust and inactivity that has settled on this space and cracking open the spine of this little old blog once again. Nearly two years have passed since my last entry and lately I find myself tripping over images and stories that I’d like to share with all of you and my future self. I’ll do my best to weave in updates on what else I’ve been up to this whole time (hint: lots of reading and writing and moving!) We are in India now. The final days of the Sankrathi festival are upon us; this is a 5,000 year old Hindu celebration to mark the arrival of longer days, good harvest and the start of an auspicious six month stretch. Vendors sell colorful lightweight kites from tables along the roadside for around fifteen cents each, which are flown from rooftops all over the country. Celebrants also create these stunning Rangolis (the gorgeous designs I’ve photographed and shared throughout this post) in the street in front of their homes from chalk and colored rice flour. Rangolis are believed to attract good spirits into ones home, especially on these auspicious occasions. Our neighborhood had a rich competition between many residents. Of course I want to learn how to do this now.


We landed in Hyderabad, India in early October of 2018. It was so difficult for me to leave Cambodia which left such an impression on my heart. Colette and I have been back twice already since we packed out in July. The first time, on our way from the US to India, we flew west with a stopover to grab our buddy, The Bonecrusher whom we’d boarded with a pet sitter in Phnom Penh. And the second time to visit all of our dear friends, just recently over the New Year. It was a wonderful time and despite the fact there are endless places on this earth to explore, I suspect I will always long to return. But, onward we must press.

The Bushbaby has settled into school well and Snakes is happy with his position at the Consulate. (Thanking our lucky stars that those working in Consular Affairs will continue to receive a paycheck for now. But sending out wishes of resolution to DC so others can feel the security and calm that comes with receiving a salary they’ve worked for, but I digress.) I, too, have been hired at the Consulate, but will be in security clearance limbo for anywhere from 12-18 months, longer if this shutdown continues. In the meantime, I will immerse myself in the never ending task of reinvention and mad creativity to see if I can rustle up some contribution to the coffers beyond managing the house in DC.


I never thought I’d say it in this lifetime but our “gated community” has been the source of such great pleasure. We are located as close to the school as possible since it was our number one priority that Colette not have a massive bus commute. (Alas… gone are the days of her gobbling toast and jam while I brush through her long blonde hair in the back of our tuktuk…) She still has a half hour on the bus, but she seems to enjoy it. She and her friends play a game, counting how many men they spot peeing on the side of the road. Maybe it’s my country girl roots, but that has never phased me in the least. Growing up with three girls in our one bathroom house, most men were expected to relieve themselves al fresco!


But back to the wonders of life in a walled compound…my morning walks with Bonesy continue as we are protected from the packs of street dogs with whom I’ve heard many others have problems. The air quality is the most breathable of all the big cities of India, registering in the 140s which is considered only moderately unhealthy. It’s always worse after the citywide firework displays around festival times. But most days, from dawn til dusk, I have my doors and windows thrown wide open. After the intense heat of tropical Cambodia it is wonderful to feel a chill in the mornings.


But the absolute very best cherry-on-top thing about our home for the next few years is the sense of freedom, independence and community my seven year old girl has been granted. There are multiple families with girls her age, they all roam in and out of our homes, requesting snacks, filling water bottles, snagging the walkie-talkies or going all in for a water fight with the hose. One pair of sisters has become a fixture around here. The youngest is in Colette’s class and those two are thick as thieves. The big sister is a year older and helps to lend some sense to these wild and curious imps. The three balance each other well and are in constant radio communication with their high powered walkie-talkies. (Christmas gifts from grandparents! Thank you again!!) I love that these kids are always out on their scooters, picnics slung over a shoulder, clattering over the speed bumps in search of adventure.


I will be updating more often, as I already have a few posts I am eager to share. In early December, I spent two weeks in Pune at the Iyengar Centenary Celebration, hosted our FIFTH annual gingerbread house party, my path of seeking and finding an Iyengar yoga studio and community in Hyderabad and my luscious start to each morning… freshly juiced red carrots spiked with turmeric, ginger and lime. Good things are on the horizon, I do believe these Rangolis are already stepping up to the plate with their magic! I sure hope you all feel some of it too. Talk soon!! xo


PS- could someone please cover DC in these???



Snakes passed a landmark birthday back in early July, one that deserved to be celebrated beyond the usual night on the town. (Look- it even merits a blog post!) He was hesitant because we’d both had a stressful and difficult year, but I pushed back, insisting that this was exactly why we had to pause and honor this time. I reminded him of a decade earlier when we threw a party for his fortieth in our Detroit backyard, “The Circus in the Hood”. We had an intern staying with us, working with Snakes at The Detroit News. As luck would have it, this intern also happened to be an accomplished juggler. We hired a local bluegrass band and a friend to tend bar. When the band took breaks, the juggling show would begin. We talked about it for years after.

Our social circles have changed almost entirely since then but we shot off a few hopeful emails to some old friends who were around for The Circus in the Hood.  Incredibly, one couple accepted. They flew in from Detroit to help mark the occasion. I decided that a dinner cruise would provide an solid framework around which I could create a beautiful meal and memorable experience for Snakes and our guests.


Boat rentals are available at the riverside for around $30/hour. They have an upper and lower deck, in case of rain showers.  I figured we could use the lower deck as our staging and prep area as well. The captain cruises south to where the Tonle Sap joins forces with the Mekong and putters along until the party decides it’s time to head back up stream. I reserved one for the evening and set to the details.

First I went on line to seek out pretty, lightweight melamine tableware and cups. World Market came through with the beauties pictured above. I found the gold foil placemats at a local market; each is a different design. The price was far too high at a dollar a piece but after some shrewd bargaining on my part, I was able to get four for that price. The candles are from Amazon, LED lights that flicker through the wax casing. Our friends from Detroit carried with them the battery powered string lights that are seen in the background. I am confident we will use all of these things many times over.


A friend who manages some local hotels recommended a couple of assistants who had experience working in food service. I was thrilled to have two extra sets of professional hands to help this all come together. I planned the menu with some input from Snakes. There were a few items he insisted on having, shrimp cocktail was one. Again, our traveling friends came to the rescue with some fresh and zippy horseradish carried across the Pacific to make the cocktail sauce complete.

We started with a white sangria, spiked with St. Germain Liquour and Grand Marnier. I swapped the recommended berries and peaches for local fruits instead, fresh mango and lychee. It was not a decision I regret.


I served bruschetta with lemon feta dip topped with those insanely addictive sweet hot cherry peppers from Trader Joe’s, a staple on my consumables shipment shopping list. I also made one of my oldest stand-bys and crowd pleasers, caramelized onion dip with kettle chips. It cannot, it will not be resisted. We all kicked back with our drinks in hand and a full moon rising over the Mekong as the captain pulled up the anchor and cast off. It was a beautiful evening, straight out of a story book.

Soon we switched over to champagne and shrimp cocktail which had both been waiting below on ice. The waiters brought them up and topped off glasses. Snakes took the opportunity to make a quick toast and thank all of our friends for joining us.




The sun went down as quickly as the champagne and the city sparkled from the river banks. We moved to the table and settled in for the salad course. I prepared a classic caesar since the greens needed to be fairly hearty and amenable to a little travel and humidity. Nothing fancy, but a homemade garlicky Caesar is popular for good reason. I had my helpers dress the greens just before service. Then they uncorked bottles of wine and placed them on the tables, refilling as needed.

The entree came next. I had poached red snapper in olive oil with fennel and tomatoes in my big Le Creuset dutch oven. It held it’s heat nicely in the heavy cast iron. I prepared this recipe once before when we hosted a giant gourmet picnic years ago on Belle Isle, a city park in Detroit, where we were mistaken for an art installation. But that’s another story. The point is, this recipe is delicious and it travels well. I paired it with an off-the-cuff green bean and potato salad with roasted tomatoes, dressed with a caper dijon vinaigrette.



Just as we were finishing up storm clouds began grumbling in the distance and a light rain sent us all to the lower deck. It was a perfect change of scenery by then, like shifting dinner party guests into the living room at home to relax with dessert and coffee after the meal. Though, cheese and dessert were yet to come, nothing so civilized as coffee was brewing.

Snakes opened presents while I served the cheese course and Sauternes. The ukuleles came out (I think we had three on board) along with a bottle of Four Roses bourbon.




Finally we sang happy birthday with uke accompaniment and a sparkler light show. The last and entirely unnecessary course was slightly tortured key lime bars. They’d gotten tossed around the cooler and squashed into their cellophane a few times too many. I doubt anyone noticed, I barely did. By then we were all merrily singing and strumming our way down the Mekong, headed back to shore.

***Photo credits go to the incomparable Mike G., an ideal dinner guest and a phenomenal photographer.



waking with the city


Each morning, as the neighborhood birds, beetles and lizards begin their chatter and I am merely one precious hour shy of a satisfying night’s sleep, the newest member of our family shakes the sleep from his head, tags jingling with pride and enthusiasm. He clears his throat and emits a high pitched whine which rides the airwaves up the stairways and through thick hardwood doors.  The hum of air conditioners does little to tamp the tone that jolts me from my dreams and doesn’t cease until my feet hit the floor. Good morning 5am!


In November, we adopted a street dog. Bonecrusher or Bones for short, named by the Bushbaby after hearing a euphemism for Dengue fever, the local mosquito born illness. He’s a great dog, considering he’d never been walked on a leash nor set paw in a house before arriving at our door. The guy has never once had an accident. And most importantly, he’s incredibly gentle with Colette and her friends. He patiently tolerates the tutus, headbands and big snuggly hugs.

It hasn’t been love at first sight as it was for me when I first met MY dog, Banjo, rest his legendary soul. But I’ve realized that Bones isn’t MY dog. He’s our family’s dog, and more specifically- Colette’s. So like any tender-hearted mama, I love him more all the time when I see how much joy he brings my lady. But back to that daily wake up call…

I strap on my sneaks and am out the door by half past five. If I’ve managed to prepare myself the night before, my iPhone is charged and loaded with my current favorite podcasts (The Daily from NYT, The 10 Minute Writers Workshop, Civics 101, Hidden Brain, and the usual suspects: TAL, TED, Lore and RadioLab). There’s no need to grab clean up bags since the streets and shrubs are full of them.

Some mornings I am nearly cross-eyed by the injustice of it all. Why can’t I be nestled into bed next to my husband at this obscene hour? Why can’t I get up on my own terms? Enjoy a coffee, check the news, putter around the house a bit. Banjo never did this to me! By the time all of these questions have been chased from my head by some riveting interview (or simply, Shankar Vedantam’s voice!) piping through my headphones, I’m hitting my stride on the riverwalk.


A variety of exercise groups mark my progress along the route. The first park I cross is Independence Monument where groups of men play a version of hacky sack. They lob a beanbag the size of a baseball back and forth using only their agile and dexterous feet. Other duos whack birdies to and fro in spirited games of badminton.

Next I cross over toward the riverwalk and through the throngs of well-fed pigeons that congregate in front of the palace. Bones is a keen hunter and will leap 3 feet in the air trying to sink his teeth into these plump little tarts. Last week he actually got one and I had to jerk him back in an effort to save the thing from his jaws of death. I may or may not have succeeded.


Onward to the riverfront where speakers blast Cambodian pop music to a group of early risers who clap and high-step to the tinny beat. Incense from a nearby pagoda, fried noodles from street vendors and sewer gases from the Mekong crowd the narrow passageways of my nostrils. I switch to mouth breathing and taste it all now too.



Further down the walkway an instructor guides a group of yogis through sun salutations. Around the next bend, a tai chi class is in progress. Unified in white, they swoop swords in graceful arcs and some mornings snap red fans open with a quick flick of the wrist and a loud POP!


I continue to the end of the path where a cluster of passenger boats is docked, resting from the night before and awaiting their sunset cruise assignments. I glance at my Fitbit to check my steps and the time. If I have some to spare, I climb down the concrete stairs etched into the side of the retaining wall to the river’s edge. It’s pretty ripe down there, but I enjoy the change of perspective and elevated heart rate that comes with sprinting back up the two flights to the street level, usually chased by stray dogs. There are around 10 sets of these double flight stairways that I shoot to accomplish, but usually only manage half that before my olfactories are overwhelmed.


Heading toward home now, the sun inches higher and intensifies. We take a slightly different route down a new section of the path, in front of nice hotels and restaurants. I peek through the fences, twined with fuchsia bougainvillea, into courtyards where gardeners take great care. The path ends near a ferry launch where motos stream like minnows off the decks. Almost all are loaded to the gills, families of five sardined onto that seat built for two, darting through the morning traffic, on their way to schools or markets.

I’m home in 15 minutes and patting my buddy on the head, thanking him for waking me in time to experience another colorful morning in Phnom Penh.

IMG_2592***all photos were taken with my “ancient” (4 year old-ha!) iPhone 5***



Siem Reap Food Tours


While in Siem Reap, we semi-splurged for a guided food tour. At $75 per adult and half that price for kids, it was a little spendy by Cambodian standards, but food tourists that we are- we were excited by the prospect. I realize this sounds like a gluttounous crawl from roadside cafe to street vendor to kimchi pub burger, packing ourselves full of far more than is prudent or humane, but as suspected, one’s guide makes all the difference. I had a poolside conversation with a fellow traveler who’d just returned from a “culinary tour” herself. She groaned with overindulgence while the other members of her family slowly digested their lion’s shares in the comfort of the room’s AC. “Don’t do it,” she moaned, clutching her belly in regret. “It’s just TOO much.”

Despite her graphic warning, we carried on with our plans. When I’d made reservations the week before, I felt confident in our choice. The tour’s organizer informed me that this would be a “private” tour because we had a Bushbaby along and assured us that they could alter the plan as necessary to make sure she (or we!) weren’t too overwhelmed.

Her partner, Steven, a Scottish chef with knowledge surpassed only by his curiosity, picked us up at our hotel; tuktuk stocked with a cooler full of water and wet wipes. My first request was for coffee since our hotel’s machine was broken and instant was their unfortunate solution. We loaded in to our transportation for the day and bumped off in search of breakfast.


We wound through the main parts of downtown, passing by organic juice and smoothie cafes and vegan bakeries. I’ll admit my brow furrowed when I detected freshly brewed coffee beckoning and we kept on rolling by. I wondered if he hadn’t heard me or taken my request with the urgency I’d intended.  Lucky for us all, we soon arrived at our first stop, the Cambodian version of a diner.

It was nondescript from the street view with a cafeteria atmosphere inside. All of the tables were occupied. One gentleman, just there for a coffee, invited us to join him with a wave of his hand. Bowls of fresh noodles and pork steeping in an herbal broth were passed through a small window at the back of the room to the waitresses who delivered them to the hungry diners. The morning’s nourishment was balanced alongside the convivial spirit of the morning rush. We ordered three bowls, since there was no menu, and three strong iced coffees, served with sweetened condensed milk. Divine!

Once we’d had our fill, we set off for the markets. I knew that between the heat, the smells and the crowds (not to mention the tangle of freshly skinned snakes, still writhing with nerve impulses), this would be a tough segment for our girl. When the tattered canopies or low ceilings bumped her from the safe haven of her dad’s shoulders, she stuck close and muscled through.



Our guide was the wealth of information that I had been craving since arriving in Cambodia months before. He offered insight into the way the food culture has transformed during the past 4-5 decades from the strong colonial influence of refined french preparations stripped to one of survival through foraging. Fishweed- from the marshes, used to lend a fishy depth of flavor to soups and salads. Multiple types of basil, all with their own uses. Lotus root, galangal, kefir lime, water convulvulus. So many others with names and flavors equally unfamiliar. Still other curiosities like giant goopy buckets of sugarcane sap with a similar extraction process to that of maple syrup. And you’ll know it when you smell it, Prahok, a fermented fish paste that is distinctively unique to Cambodian cuisine.

One prahok master sold at least 10 different types, each one aged for varying lengths of time and chopped to varying consistencies, producing flavors and odors so complex and unusual that the uninitiated chef or diner may prefer fasting. (My one experience with prahok was when my housekeeper/cook prepared a dish that overtook our kitchen with the odor of a gangrenous wet dog. IT WAS EXTREME! I had the Daisy troop over on that particular day and they carried on dramatically horrified about what we were having for dinner that night.) Our guide, Steven, assured us that with the right balance of acid, salt and sweet, prahok could unlock a magical umami balance and elevate a simple dish beyond your palate’s imagination. But if the cook was heavy handed with one or more ingredient and the scales were tipped too far in any direction… prepare for the assault.

As we passed through the market, Steven gathered random items for us to snack on and assembled a couple of generous bags filled with herbs, fresh pork belly, starfruit, winged beans and more to offer the families we were going to visit at their homes in the neighboring villages later that afternoon.



On the ride out of town, the landscape opened up to rice fields and stilted family compounds. We stopped at one of the many which had a roadside grill selling sausage stuffed frogs and a prahok mixture steamed in a banana leaf. Our guide expertly supplemented this with a dab of mango salad, sliced cucumbers and an omelet he’d picked up at the market. He chose this particular spot due to the fact that a litter of puppies was born just 3 weeks earlier. Colette was delighted to play and watch them tussle. She opted for a nibble on a Lara bar I expertly supplemented from my own bag of tricks.

The next stop was at the family compound of multi-generational rice noodle makers. They’ve been using exactly this same “machinery” for centuries. I didn’t catch the entire process enough to explain in much detail.  Below is the grinder, the press and boiling water and finally the hands with the muscle memory required to loop the delicate noodles into silky nests arranged neatly in the baskets headed to market.




Next we passed by a family farm where they were proud to share their dedication to self-reliance and sustainability along with a generous splash of sake straight from the still. Our guide translated with good humor and a skill to make what could’ve felt awkwardly intrusive seem more like a visit to your grandma’s place in the sticks. This country mouse felt right at home.

As the tour wrapped up, our final stop was at a cafe in the village center to sample what this region is known for, at least nationally if not beyond. Rice noodles in a prahok-spiked coconut milk broth served along side an overgrown bowl of foraged herbs and long beans meant to be snapped off and added to your bowl. It was a sublime balance of sweet and savory with a hint of lime anchored by that luscious depth of flavor as Steven had promised. I felt a timelessness to this ancient dish and a connection to these kind and generous people from whom it had come, a metaphor for the delicate balance of connection we all seek to the past, present and future.




Last weekend my 43rd birthday coincided with the Cambodian national water festival AND the super moon! This holiday marks the end of the rains and the beginning of fishing season. Phnom Penh is flooded with over a million visitors from the provinces and the city transforms into a festival of celebration. The Tonle Sap river plays host to hundreds of long boats zipping down the waterway. With both Snakes and the Bushbaby free from work and school, we decided to pack our overnight bags and head up the river instead, away from the crowds and visit Siem Reap.



We left before dawn on Thursday. The drive took us around 5 hours. Had it not been for google maps and their suspect directions, we’d have made it even sooner. (Note to self and others tasked with navigation while driving in Cambodia: if map suggests turning down a two track path, there’s most likely a much better route. Thankful we have 4-wheel drive and a sense of humor and adventure.)

There is a huge variety of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, catering to every single budget. I chose a lower-mid range (Tanei Resort, near the big circus tent) since we were going to be staying for five nights. It was one of the many new developments on the outskirts of the central city. A fabulous pool with a shallow end for kids, spacious, clean rooms and a private outdoor rain shower were highlights that drew me in. The food was fine, the instant coffee less so, but none of that mattered with the wealth of options available in town.

The week before, I had reserved a spot for us on the Siem Reap Food Tour. (A separate  post which is forthcoming.) It’s run by a couple who got a mention in a 36 hours NYT article a while back for their fantastic and super informative tour of the markets and a surrounding village. They were happy to cater to the fact that we had our Bushbaby along and switched things up as necessary. If you are interested in food, culture and the delicious ways in which they inform one another, steeping in one big ancient pot, this tour is worth every penny.


Although the tour operators offered us tons of suggestions and dining advice, we had no problems finding great food and interesting shopping. It was fun to wind through the markets- which I found to be stocked differently than ones we’ve visited in Phnom Penh- nicer choices of fabrics for the ubiquitous though necessary breezy dresses and much better cuts. Colette was thrilled to find a talented henna-master Nepalese lady nestled into a stall of the night market. She couldn’t wait to return to school this week to show it off.


We rose early each day with the neighborhood roosters and set off for the temples. Visiting Bayon and Ta Prohm one morning and Angkor another. The midday heat makes visiting temples in the afternoon a real test of one’s constitution. With the gorgeous pool back at the hotel beckoning and the knowledge that we will be returning multiple times in the coming years, it made it easy to honor that voice in our heads that kept insisting that this was actually meant to be a “vacation”. No need for a self-imposed death march. Back to the pool, let’s order up some frosty drinks!




In the wee wee hours of my birthday morning, I left solo to catch the sun rising over Angkor. It was fun to be up and chugging through the silvery cool air of morning. Once I arrived at the temple those moments of peace and solitude were gone. There were hundreds of others eager to sop up that same experience. Tripod photographers had staked out all the best vantage points so I snapped a few shots and carried on exploring. I put my camera away for a good part of the morning, reminding myself to be present and sometimes expand my perspective beyond the Nikon’s viewfinder or an Instagram composition. With all of the frustration and grief in our world right now, it felt good to get lost in these ancient corridors, at liberty to stop and meditate when the mood struck.  It was a solid start to my new year. I was so ready for the last one to end.




tuktuk Halloween


dsc_1140This weekend I volunteered our house for the annual Phnom Penh Tuktuk Halloween. This family event attracts over 400 trick-or-treaters each year. Residents and businesses sign up to be included on the route that winds through the BKK neighborhood. One kind neighbor translates all of that information into a map which is then distributed by a local coffee shop. Expats and Cambodians alike come out in swarms clogging up the streets with their spider-webby spooked out tuktuks.

Participants whose houses are not on the route are asked to donate bags of candy to help defray the cost of supplying treats to such a large crowd. I ordered a generous amount through the pouch and kept my fingers crossed that all of the US candies and chocolates would arrive in time. And they did! We had more than enough to allow even the occasional overly-zealous fistfuls to go unnoticed.


I didn’t have much in the budget for decorations but that didn’t matter.  It’s my philosophy that the less you spend, the more you tap your creativity. It was with this philosophy that I started clicking through pinterest and finally settled on making a bunch of disembodied mummy hands from masking tape. I sat with the Bushbaby during after school chill out time, wrapping my left hand, sticky side away from my skin, then rewrapping with sticky side down to seal it off. After, I gently nipped through enough to loosen and remove glove, then taped the incision, and a mummy hand was born! I thought they were effectively creepy without entering into “stuff of nightmares” territory. Total cost at 60 cents a roll came in under 10 bucks.


Colette decided early on that she wanted to be a witch. I picked up a yard of slinky (cool) fabric from a market for $3 and zipped it up into a breezy dress. We tattered the hemline to “make it look like the gators got me while out collecting spell ingredients from the swamps.” I bought her lovely handmade broom from a street vendor for $2. My costume was thrown together in an instant but ended up being the thread that tied our family together. Once Colette saw my face, she changed her mind about the classic witch make-up and opted for a “day of the dead” version instead.



Snakes and she took off for trick-or-treat rounds with friends and I stayed behind to pass out candy. The good stuff went pretty quickly, but we had plenty of hard candy backups to replenish the bowl. (Sorry late comers!) After an hour my duo was back to rest for a few before heading out on the final leg. Colette carried on with friends but Snakes stayed behind with me this time, defying the steamy Cambodian climate from keeping him from his beloved gorilla suit.




Although he lost a few pounds in water weight, the gorilla’s cameo was a success. But isn’t it always? I wish you all a safe and happy Halloween!

crab market and beyond

As I mentioned in the last post, our family would be perfectly content to fritter away an occasional weekend at the Veranda Resort in Kep with nary a concern for what might lie beyond. Though in the event of a longer stay, like our second visit, curiosity got the best of us and we loaded in to our trusty land cruiser, Old Yeller, to do some exploring.


The main attraction in Kep is the crab market. Shown above, it is located directly on the Gulf of Thailand, with fishermen/crabbers (?) dragging in their haul by the basketful. There’s a collection of restaurants stretching down the boardwalk serving massive plates of grilled fresh crab for around $5. The market itself boasts an array of seafood, sold by the kilo, and packaged into coolers for safe transport back home. Buyers crowd in to inspect the catch and haggle for the best prices.




This region is also known for its peppercorns. They were widely regarded as some of the world’s best before the devastating collapse of the country decades ago. Kampot peppercorn farms are making a comeback and reclaiming their place on the culinary scene. Vendors sell little bags of dried black, red and white ones and bundles of fresh green ones, still on the stalks. There are farms in the area open to visitors. I’m sure we’ll visit on a future visit and stock up for holiday care packages!


We had also read about a nearby temple, Wat Kiri Sela, in our Lonely Planet guide. It’s a 30 minute drive from where we were staying in Kep, near the town of Kompong Trach. It was the final weekend of the Cambodian religious holiday, Pchum Ben, Day of the Ancestors. We were thrilled to have this opportunity to visit a temple during a holy time and light sticks of incense, offering prayers for our ancestors.


The doorway to the Wat is carved into the foot of a giant limestone karst (a new word for me- bigger than rock, smaller than a mountain). A disco buddha with colorful blinking lights flashes his garish welcome. Once visitors descend into the caves, a well trodden path leads you to a central opening, surrounded on all sides by the karst formations reaching skyward. The air is sweet and hazy with incense.

Around the perimeter are endless caverns, passageways and free-standing altars to explore, with multiple shrines throughout waiting silently for worshippers to pass and offer their prayers, food, or money or add to the firework bouquets of incense. As one might expect with food involved, the monkeys weren’t far behind.



We bought a bundle of incense from one of the entrepreneurial local kids. Colette loved to catch the candle’s flame and wait to see it glowing before she’d blow it out and tuck it in next to the others. We said prayers for Grammy and she whispered that she’d really like a pitbull puppy or a kitten or a snail. It was a memorable experience for us all and has piqued my interest to explore temples closer to the city. And a visit to the Wat capitol of the world, Siem Reap, is in our near future (my November birthday!) I can’t wait!




weekends (and worlds) away


A three hour drive south of the our home in Phnom Penh is Kep, a quiet crabbing village on the Gulf of Thailand. Up until the 70s, it was a thriving resort town frequented by the French and Cambodian elite looking for a break from the city. Though very little of that opulence remains, many resorts and cafes have sprung up in recent years. We hope to make it a semi regular respite for ourselves, visiting on the off months when not much else is planned. It’s affordable and a quick and interesting drive (if traffic is in your favor).



We’ve visited twice now, both times to the same resort, La Veranda. Built in stages, it is a collection of villas and spacious hotel rooms each with their own private and generous veranda, interconnected through a series of winding wooden walkways nestled in to the side of the tropical forested hills. There’s a fantastic restaurant, coffee bar, library and spa. Once you’re settled in, there’s really no reason to leave. A choice of two gorgeous pools with entirely different vibes, make it a nice escape for both couples and families. And then, for those of us traveling with littles? There’s “The Happy Hut”.


Staffed from 9-5, kids over 3 years are welcome to pop in and get their Gods-eye on while parents lounge at the pool with frosty drinks or duck into the spa. Since they consider themselves an “eco-friendly” lodge, nearly all of the craft materials used are natural, recycled or repurposed. Our girl can’t get enough. Every morning at the (free) breakfast she impatiently waits for the little hand to hit 9. “Is it time yet??!? What do you want me to surprise you with?”

Then down the maze of pathways we wander, debating the merits of one more painted shell sun catcher or maybe a laminated monkey mask for her wannabe primatologist father….big decisions when you’re 5. We arrive at the Happy Hut where the ladies are waiting to greet her.



Our first visit was for just one overnight. We never left the compound until we were booted at the noon check-out time, stretching it to the last possible minute with Colette crafting and Snakes getting one final 4-hands massage. Normally we prefer to explore while in a new area, but we were absolutely content to stay put.

The restaurant has a menu heavy with fresh, local seafood. (It’s less than a half mile to the bustling crab market which we passed through on our way out of town. But more on that later.) The comfortable space is open to the breezes, facing the sun setting over the Gulf. Reasonably priced food with some splurge worthy items, like decent bottles of wine.


They offer room service or delivery of food and drinks anywhere on the compound so if the restaurant isn’t your thing there’s a tranquil infinity pool and bar where you can take your nightcap and/or dessert. Any time is a fine one for their selection of sorbets and gelato. Not a bad deal at under $100/night.


On our return trip, we stayed for two nights. This allowed us to go on some daytime adventures which I’ll fill you in on tomorrow!


P.S. Dear readers- Thank you for your kindness and all of the words of encouragement regarding the death of my mom. As expected, life moves on. I’m doing my best to live a good and decent life, curiosity on high, seeking beauty every day and rooting for the underdogs.

finding peace

We arrived in Phnom Penh in late July. It began as one of the softest landings we’ve had. The trans-Pacific flight was predictably brutal but our excitement overshadowed all of that. We went to temporary housing for ten days, happy to have an immediate internet connection and access to two refreshing swimming pools. The Bushbaby had recently hit her stride back in the States with cannonballs and independent swimming and she was eager to continue in this 90 degree heat.


Things went smoothly as we moved into our beautiful home in a great, walkable neighborhood, a ten minute tuk tuk ride from the embassy in one direction, 10 minutes to Colette’s school in the other. All of our household things met us at our new place the day we moved in, having traveled from Chile back in March. Snakes’ new truck had even made it here unscathed. I was amazed at our good fortune.

13920213_10153543233431710_5492241385250318703_oI snapped some quick “before” shots so I could do my favorite presto-change-o blog post to welcome you all into our new home once I got things sorted. We were humming along, Snakes adjusting to his new position, me and the Bushbaby unpacking and organizing things. I felt like we had finally shaken the wicked jet lag which had taken nearly two weeks!

And then….

I received an urgent text from my sister to call her immediately. Aw, I thought, her 12 year old family dog, a sweet old lady, weimy-mix had been up and down with health issues recently and I feared the worst. I signed in to skype and dialed her up, ready to listen to dog stories and offer comfort to my niece and nephew. But I was wrong. It was our mom. And she was dead.

This all happened a month ago, and now as I glance at the date- I realize it’s to the day. Nothing can ever prepare you for this. My mom was healthy. I HAD JUST SEEN HER. She was turning 70 in October. She was vibrant and creative and strong and funny. She was the lady you wanted to have a glass of wine with and brainstorm about everything, if you could only stop laughing long enough to jot some things down. She was my best friend. She was so many people’s best friend.



Snakes got out of bed and onto the phone with his boss. We are given an allowance from the State Department for one bereavement ticket. The cost for my family to fly the next day to Michigan from Cambodia is something I’d rather not discuss, but I couldn’t understand the idea of doing this alone. I desperately needed those two with me for the 23 hour flight back home. This is why we have credit cards, right?

My sister and her family had gotten in a day before us from Colorado and started with the funeral arrangements. I admired her so greatly for finding the strength to discuss embalming and select appropriate casket-wear. I still couldn’t understand what it meant that our mom was dead. I stumbled through her house, running into her everywhere. Tripping over her shoes in the hallway, picking up her jacket that kept falling from it’s hook when I walked by. I looked at the tomatoes arranged on the windowsill in her kitchen and wondered if she’d bought them. I ate one whole. I put all of her clothes on, step-sistered my size tens into her size eights and wrapped myself up in her scarves. I slathered myself with her expensive face creams. I searched her lipsticks for a kiss she may have left behind. I replayed one of the many many many messages I have from her on my phone. “Hi Dollface! It’s your mommy!….”

Snakes took the kids out to movies, breakfasts, Lake Michigan and anywhere else in a 30 mile radius that seemed remotely like fun. My sister and I pressed on the best that we could. She went to the florist to commission a big tangle of wildflowers to be draped across her casket. Absolutely NO carnations!! Stop on the roadside for Queen Anne’s lace if you have to. She dropped the clothes at the funeral home. She touched up the electric yellow fingernail polish that had chipped from my mom’s nails. She met my mom’s hairstylist and dear friend who had offered to style her hair one last time. I wish I could say she was beautiful, but there is no beauty in the unexpected death of your mother.


I spent my time organizing an after service luncheon in my mom’s garden. A neighbor had generously offered to have it catered, but for any of you that know me or have been following my blog- you know I couldn’t sit by while ham buns happened. Not while I was still drawing breath. I resolved to honor my mom in the only way I knew, throw a party. I hadn’t slept in days and the jet lag had me running on fumes. About the only thing I was capable of was chopping and whisking.

Snakes did a pulled pork. I threw together a tangy dijon potato and green bean salad, broccoli slaw, a giant pile of crudite with my mom’s famous blue cheese dressing. I juiced bags of citrus for carafes of grapefruit-forward margaritas. Girlfriends from Detroit brought lemon bars, a rhubarb blueberry pistachio crisp, coconut corn muffins with pineapple butter and chocolate chip cookies. When I tired in the kitchen, I went outside to string up these bamboo fans I’d found in one of the markets in Phnom Penh the day before we’d left.


Everyone came back here after the funeral service. We played Loretta Lynn and BB King and Lucinda Williams. We drank margs, toasted to my beautiful mommy and watched her grandkids chase each other through her yard. This should’ve been her 70th birthday party. I kept imagining it was. That any minute she’d walk around the monster rose of sharon bush and squeal with laughter. I’d hand her a drink and give her a huge squeeze. She’d marvel at the Willy Wonka “lollipops” hanging from the trees, wheels already turning on how she’d fashion them into an elaborate mural on her dining room wall. I’d kiss her on both cheeks and look into the smiling eyes that are my own. I’d tell her what an incredible lady she is, how greatly I admire and love her. How much she inspires me every single day. All of these people would. All of these people who’s lives she’s touched, here in her backyard. What fun!!  All of these people eager to line up, raise their glass and share a laugh.


I don’t know how to begin to handle this grief and this loss I feel.  It’s a dark cloud that follows me everywhere and I know once I slow down it is going to consume me. I keep moving forward. I know I can’t outrun it and I will eventually need to turn around, brace myself and step into it with as much grace as I can muster.