Tuesday, November 29, 2016

giving back.

growing up in a middle class American family i didn't realize how good i had it.

i always went to private schools and there were always people with more.

as a teenager it seemed that what we had was never enough.


as an adult i've become much more aware of the realities of life.

i suppose this happens to everyone when the bills must be paid out of your own bank account.

now having traveled to 39 countries, i've come to realize exactly how much i have and how much i am thankful for.

spending time in asia and north africa quickly opens your eyes to the circumstance of millions of people around the world.

as americans, we have enough.

more than enough.

while i know that there are many in the US in need, the need is truly much greater in other parts of the world.

in laos, three quarters of people earn less than $2 a day.

traveling in laos this summer, caitlin and i were privileged to meet an american man named michael sebastian. caitlin and i were shopping in a store and found him sitting on the floor reviewing english with a small group of workers from the shop. he gave up his life in america to serve the needs of the students of laos.

they need to learn english. so he teaches them.

they need a place to live. so he houses them.

they need someone to help guide them forward. so he counsels them.

michael asked if we wanted to come to his advanced english class that evening. we later called him to make arrangements to attend and he sent two students on motorbikes to pick us up and bring us to his home. (my first time on a bike!)

the evening class was full of boys, likely ages 15-25, who were all hoping to become proficient in english and better their lives. they asked us questions about where we were from and michael googled both new york and savannah to show them pictures. in a tv show one of them had heard of hell's kitchen and wanted to know if it was beautiful. (kind of an odd question!) they were impressed by the live oak trees of savannah. (questioning is that real?)

we were particularly taken with one student, her, 2nd row with his arms around the guys on either side of him, who michael has helped earn a scholarship to a united world college school in the netherlands. he had come home for the summer and was back in english class to share his story with the others. it didn't hurt that he had quite the charming personality and winning smile. this opportunity will change his life and without michael it wouldn't have been possible.

so with this in mind, i'd like to help michael continue to fund his program. his ability to help these students depends completely on donations from people like you and me.

i plan to donate and i hope you will too. our 90 minutes with michael and his students were the highlight of our month long asian adventure and it's not an experience you can find in a travel guide.

with each year that passes i continue to realize that buying more things doesn't provide happiness. but giving of ourselves, through both time and money, does.

i have enough.

more than enough.

now i'd like to try and better the lives of some of the truly less fortunate.

will you join me?

find more information at this Go Fund Me page i've set up.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

pumpkin: every shape and size.

you may know of my love of all things pumpkin.

so when i read about the world's largest pumpkin festival i was intrigued.

when i saw this catchphrase i knew it was something i wanted to do while living in europe.

so in early october caitlin and i flew to stuttgart, germany. we stayed just outside of the city center.

the stars, from top to bottom:
ludwigsburg, the wilhelma zoo, our hotel,
and the central train station
the first sign that something was amiss was that the guy at the hotel had never heard of this festival.

i mean, wouldn't everyone in a 30 minute range of the world's largest pumpkin festival know that this is one of the biggest events around?

regardless, we headed out saturday morning, making the requisite stop at starbucks before hopping on the train for a 20 minute ride north of the city.

we weren't exactly sure where to find the entrance to this festival and that was probably another clue that the world's largest pumpkin festival might not live up to expectations. (the world's largest festival would be hard to miss right?)

eventually figuring out the entrance, we paid the fee and headed into the park. the festival is held on the grounds of the ludwigsburg palace and we ended up with a lovely fall day.

all varieties of pumpkins start to appear upon entering the grounds and even more as you move behind the palace.

there are huge crates of every variety of pumpkin.

in colors and shapes i didn't even knew existed.

"black little" pumpkins.
love them so much.

one super looooong squash

this year's theme was 'circus'.

the carving of various pumpkins was awesome.

this pumpkin set a world record. grown in Belgium it weighs 1190.5 kg! that's over 2500 pounds!


there was food available at the festival for purchase and samples of seasoned pumpkin seeds to be had. i envisioned stall after stall of samples of different pumpkin-y things.

that was, in fact, not the case.

there were a couple places to order off a menu and that was about it.

we shared some pumpkin soup.

and drank pumpkin prosecco.
which was really just really sweet prosecco.

the pumpkin fest was lovely. it's just not really that big. so to go into it thinking it's the world's largest pumpkin festival makes it a bit of a let down.

somewhere i saw something that said "world's largest pumpkin exhibition" and this, this makes sense. because i would agree that there is probably no other place displaying quite so many different varieties of pumpkin.

world's largest festival? not so much.

so, should you go?

if you're within range of making this a day trip then i'd say, yes, yes you should make an effort to spend a few hours here.

do you need to fly to stuttgart and make a weekend of it?

probably not.

it's a good thing that caitlin is always willing to check out these strange festivals with me.

(this was better than the nut festival!)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

temple time: cambodia

just when i thought i had written all the major posts about asia, i discovered that i neglected the time we spent in cambodia.

so, back to asia we go.

after our island time on phu quoc, we flew to siem reap, cambodia.

country #4 of our summer asian adventure.

away from the cooler breezes of the water, we found ourselves back in the summertime heat.

we had arranged airport pickup with our hotel and a tuktuk driver waited for us. a tuktuk with your luggage is an odd experience. we were thankful our luggage actually stayed in the tuktuk with us for the 30 minute ride back to the hotel.

we stayed just outside of the main part of town and it worked out pretty well. the staff was amazing and worked very hard to take care of us.

they arranged a tuktuk driver to take us around to the temples the following day. our leaving was delayed a bit by a flat tire and having to go and buy our tickets before going to the temple. we fretted about missing the sunrise. getting up at 4 am after a 1 am bedtime only to miss the sunrise would have sucked. majorly.

when we finally arrived at angkor wat we really had no idea where the best place to wait would be. we decided to remain outside the complex where plenty of others were waiting. this turned out to be okay and we were able to capture several images with the reflection of the towers in the water.

once the sun rose we wandered inside and looked around a bit. it's quite large and on our own everything felt a bit repetitive. so perhaps using a guide would have been a good idea, if only to point us to the most important historical pieces and to focus our attention.

we completed the 'big' tour that day, without returning to our hotel for breakfast. we spent a couple hours wandering around the various temples. i enjoyed them a lot, but it was so hot and the temples do start to look the same. given the heat, i wouldn't have wanted to be stuck with a guide who felt it necessary to show us many details. there is little shade and a lot of steps. for this reason, we didn't stay too long and attempted to move quickly around the temples.

this blog post does a much better job showing the individual temples and sharing info about them than i could. so click away if you are interested in specifics.

on our second full day we took a bike tour through the cambodian countryside. again it was hot. and the bikes were not comfortable. but we did see some cool stuff, our favorite being the basketweaver we met. we got to watch her work and do a little weaving on one of her projects.

those bottles...hold gasoline.
welcome to a gas station in siem reap.

there were still some temples to see, so on the following day we headed out on the 'little' tour of temples. we hadn't seen the tomb raider temple (a la angelina jolie/lara croft) and that was on the must see list. it was the same story as the first day. hot. so we quickly moved through the various temples. i even blew off our driver's attempt to give us a little information when we stopped at the first temple. we wanted to be fast and stay out of the heat.

despite the heat, cambodia was lovely.

it's a shame that many of the temples have fallen into disrepair. there is some evidence that maybe they're working on it a bit. however, with millions of tourists climbing about the temples every year one has to wonder how much longer the structures will survive.

we stayed here. i recommend it!

the front desk team was adorable and helped us make a plan to get our gel nails refilled. (despite the fact that around the world you can get gel nails done, usually by an asian woman, we found it quite difficult to find a place in asia to fill the gel nails.)

we ate here. and here. both were really great. two of our favorite meals in asia.

i'm hungry just looking at this picture

we also ate here. also solid. and a nice relief from asian cuisine.

traveler's tips:

we completed our cambodian visas online in advance of arriving. we printed them out and were able to skip the line at immigration and go straight to passport control. i would recommend this to other travelers as well.

if you intend to spend multiple days at the temples, go ahead and buy the three day pass in advance. the tickets are valid from 5 pm the day before.

it appears that prices are going up in february 2017.

this post is linked up with weekend travel inspiration.

Monday, November 14, 2016


totally stealing from kristen's post over at see you in a porridge for this update. thought it was a super cute idea and would be nice to share an update of sorts that is not related to traveling.

feeling pretty good. happy that we're actually having a fall season here in milan. we've had lots of sunny days with crisp temperatures. makes it super nice to enjoy an american style latte from my neighborhood coffee shop.

laughing about all the snl skits from this weekend and the biden/obama memes about trump. there's really nothing to do but laugh at this point.

wanting to buy one of these bags to replace my beloved carry on bag. just can't decide which size i should go with.

listening to so many podcasts. i try to keep up with this american life and modern love but my favorite is criminal. i've also been trying to listen to reply all, note to self, and even this podcast about law and order called these are their stories.

working on organizing learning2 in warsaw. i'm so excited to have been brought aboard the team to help plan and organize for this year. i'm organizing the pre-conference and teacher workshops for this year's conference.

reading "the good girl" by mary kubica. i've joined a book club through meet up of young professional women and this is the book for their next meeting. my goal for this year was to read 80 books. i'm over 100! whoa! caitlin has been reading a lot this year too and that really pushed me to read more as well. i'm also reading the global expatriate's guide to investing by andrew hallam. i do try to save but it appears i'm about two million from being able to retire. #awesome

watching everything. at least that's what it feels like. i watched all of the crown on netflix. as a fan of the british royal family, i loved this. i'm also watching the new series on nbc, this is us. it is so good! you should check it out.

hoping my mom loves her birthday present. her birthday is this wednesday. happy birthday mom! (think she'll read this before she actually gets her gift? hmmm....)

eating far too much. i've been baking a bit again. i've made delicious chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, and sugar cookies in recent weeks. alas, i've had to give them all away because my pants are just starting to fit after my summer of indulgence in the us. somehow i've still eaten too many.

drinking lots of wine. i went to the alba truffle festival for the 6th year this past weekend. lots of wine samples. lots.

excited to be headed home to the states for the holidays. won't be too much longer!

linking up with some other bloggers on this post! check out kristin and kristen at their links!

Stuff, Things, etc.