So much writing to do, so little time

Most of you probably know that I spent some time with my kids in Vietnam a few years ago, but if you don’t, you can see the brief recap in this little video (I made for a continuing education course):

I knew I wanted to write about it even before we left the country because what we were doing was different from most families, let alone single-parent families. I blogged it all and took copious notes then started writing the book in 2008.

I went for it with gusto, writing at night, forming a critique group. I really was going to write a book, I thought. Then life got a bit derailed and I  questioned my ability to write, my parenting choices, the audacity (not to mention hubris) to pen a memoir. I gave up completely.

But when I returned to Portland last summer, the writing group I’d started back when I first began writing the book was still plugging along and still encouraging me to get back in the saddle and finish this damn book. Several months later, I gave in and started editing the 60k+ words I’d managed to get onto paper.

I’d originally written it all in present tense and was absolutely sure that’s what I wanted. Then one reader after another mentioned that the tense bothered them, took them out of the story. Instead of making all the changes that would be required to put it in past tense, I simply quit working on it.

Now I’m back at it, spending weeknights at a local pub, making the edits my critique group encourages. Wondering how seven years have passed since I first began.







This weekend I got the chance to really sink into it at a family friend’s cabin at the beach.  As of this morning, I have 28,662 words written, edited and ready for the To-Print file.  This makes me ridiculously happy. Happy enough to head down to the water, even amid the wind and rain, to catch a little break.

It’s so nice to be excited about the book once more and I’m ever grateful to Michele, Steve, Natalie, Jaymee and Prado for supporting this project since the beginning. XO.


I -heart- this city

Coming back to Portland last July was one of the easier decisions I have had to make. I had everything worked out so well. Or at least I thought I did.

It wasn’t the easiest return after all with the house, job, boyfriend, home-life, etc. all disappearing beneath me as I landed back in Portland.

Six months later, life is settling into place and I’m loving my job at Fabric Depot. I work with some of the nicest, most understanding people I’ve had the pleasure of spending eight hours a day with. My daughter and I are getting settled (ever so slowly) in our new apartment. My son is busy traveling the globe and I’m getting ready to kick off all sorts of fun plans for 2015-16.

I have to thank Portland for my happiness these days. We’re stuck in the middle of winter and yet there are days like today when I get the opportunity to join my  good friend in the sky and see this city I love so much from a whole other perspective.


I’m sort of awed when I see it like this, a city with so many memories, hopes, and friends. I’m so very, very happy to be home.

Nothing works like I expect.

At the beginning of February, I’d just lost/quit my job at the school and I was eager to put more effort into my book project and into my work at a local PR agency. My part-time job in social media had potential, I figured. Life had been so stressful working the two jobs on top of the solo parenting, holidays, birthdays and friendships. It felt like a new beginning to be free of that job and it was a perfect moment to celebrate the lunar new year. We had friends over and ate pho and hoa qua dam and banana flower salad. We exchanged gifts in red boxes and toasted to the Year of the Cat with lemongrass and coconut sake.

A week later things started to fall apart.

Audrey had first noticed a wet spot on Stuart’s floor a month earlier, but we chalked it up as a mystery–maybe a spilled drink, a footprint still wet from the shower. None of us really cared. When she noticed it again, the floorboards were already starting to buckle. The water had been seeping in through the cement walls that abut the soil on the southwest side of the house. A downspout, never connected, and a disjointed driveway had combined forces to funnel rain into the area around Stuart’s room. The cement became saturated, then leaked into the room. Up through the floor and in through the walls. Moving his bed away from the wall, we suddenly realized this was a much bigger problem than we’d thought.
Stachybotrys Chartarum is bad--very, very bad.

So, Stuart started sleeping on the couch, waiting for the contractor to come and fix the walls, replace the flooring. But the couch is a small IKEA version, too small for him and too uncomfortable to sleep on night after night. He hadn’t been feeling well for months and adding in the back pain from limited sleep positions was too much for him. Instead, he slept with the door open on the longer couch in his own room. I didn’t want him on the bed.

Two weeks went by before the contractor finally came to take a look. Then it was worse news. It wasn’t just in the area that we could see and it was the bad kind of mold. Two entire walls and all the flooring had to be removed. Disturbing the mold made it even worse and within just a couple of hours of their arrival and dismantling of the wall, I knew we had to leave. My lungs ached. My head was pounding. I picked up the kids from school, we came home to pack a couple sets of clothes and headed out. A friend had offered to let us stay until the house was breathing-friendly again and I took him up on the offer.

Five weeks after our harried arrival, we are still at his house.

Well, Audrey and I are here. Stuart has been staying with his own friends, making it to school by himself and behaving like the adult he technically is. He is feeling a million times better, away from the deadly black mold that had infiltrated his room. Thirty-five days later, the room is still being de-humidified. The floor is bare cement, the wall are covered with insulation, awaiting complete dryness before they are covered with sheetrock. Nearly everything that was in Stuart’s room is now in the living room; one mattress is in the upstairs dining room. The other leans against the wall of the living room. It’s complete and utter chaos, and there is no end in sight yet.

So we stay here and his home has become our home. I cook dinner for everyone and make sure the kids get off to school before starting my PR agency work. It’s become the new norm and, to be honest, I like it. But it isn’t going to stay this way for long. I have to find more work. I have to get us into our own place. He’s been kind enough to let us stay indefinitely, but I worry that the patience will wear thin and I’d like to leave on a good note, not with anyone being angry or exasperated. But there’s just no telling.

In this month of craziness, we have enjoyed ourselves though. We had a surprise snow day.

The girls, mine and his, have learned to like each other.

I got a new-to-me desk (borrowed from Stuart’s room) set up at the friend’s house.

And we’ve learned to really enjoy being together whenever we can. With Stuart living elsewhere, it’s given both kids the opportunity to miss each other, to truly appreciate each other. They see one another at school and share lunch a time or two each week.

And I have realized what it means to have a best friend, someone who is there for me (and my kids) no matter what, and I am incredibly grateful.


In the last few days before we left Thanh Hoa last September, I asked Mr. Thanh to help me with some shopping. I really wanted a hammock. They are all over Vietnam, in all sorts of styles. In Hanoi, street vendors try to sell them to the Westerners–“Silk. Very nice. You buy only $20.” I never took them up on the offer because one, I think they were lying about the silk part and two, I wanted the green one with a stand.

the streets of Thanh Hoa

Mr. Thanh drove me on his motorbike from one shop to another, our helmets perched, unbuckled, on our heads. We finally found a shop that carried them and Mr. Thanh asked the price. 250,000 VND. A good chunk of change in those parts. I couldn’t bargain with any grace, so I asked Mr. Thanh if he would ask her to take 150,000 VND. I remember he looked a little worried; they talked back and forth for a bit and he asked if I’d pay 200,000 VND. Of course, I would. So we exchanged cash for hammock and I climbed on to the back of his bike again, holding the hammock to my chest.

“Sorry, Miss Teresa,” he yelled to me.
Continue reading “Hammock”

traveling close to home

The chaos of summer has struck for certain these days. We are in and out of town like crazy. I had the pleasure of spending four days at a beach cabin with a good friend of mine.

Then a week later I joined him for three days of camping at the Prineville Reservoir.

Just yesterday, the three of us returned from a beach trip with my sisters.

You wouldn’t guess by looking at us, or our children, that we’re related at all. We look, talk, eat, parent, and simply live our lives different from each other. The kids did well enough this trip, too, though there are always inane arguments when you have cousins together. Especially with the three girls: 12, 11, and 9. It was mostly good though and the girls had fun wearing big sunglasses, looking chic, playing board games and roaming the sand.

We had a mini-dance party (which always makes me happy):

We lit the last of the fireworks from the 4th of July celebration:

And overall, everyone had a good time despite our differences. I think that’s part of what makes family interesting, though, are those differences. The three of us were raised in the same house, by the same parents and we’re each unique. I wonder sometimes how it will be with my own two. I can see how they differ, yet they get on so much better than my sisters and I did as teens. I can hope for less bumps in the road to their adult friendship, but there’s some relieve in knowing that how a kid turns out isn’t all in how the parents are. There’s s much more to it and it makes me intrigued to watch my children become adults (something that is happening faster than I’d thought possible). It makes me grateful for our little family and for all the family members who are a part of our lives.

Heading South to Familiar Territory

I’ve been trying to update this page for some time now with pictures, but rarely can I get on and even more rarely can I upload pictures. What a shame. So what’s been happening?

Last Sunday we went to the beach with students from the first year: Giang, Giang and Thanh all came, the last two bringing along their families as well. The group of us took a taxi out to Sam Son beach and hung out for hours with Audrey getting a new kite, courtesy of Giang (her former tutor) and playing in the water. I wish I’d had more time to chat with the students but Audrey wouldn’t go into the ocean alone and neither Zach nor Stuart would join her swimming. Too bad, boys, because the water was great. So nice and warm with no crabs or rocks to step on. The big group of us headed out on cyclos after dark to enjoy dinner at a seafood restaurant. And of course, the kids had to play with their food. Crab claws were the hit of the party to be sure.

My other student Ha had her baby on Wednesday-woohoo! Nearly two weeks overdue she was more than ready. I’ll head over next week for a quick peak, but since I’m still fighting a bit of a cold, it has to wait.

And tonight we head south to Tam Ky. We’ll be there tomorrow, early afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing Mrs. Hanh again and hope that some of the volunteers stick around so I can talk to them about the kids. After our quick jaunt there, we’ll head off to Nha Trang (another 10 hours on the train). The plan is to be there for about two days then head back to Thanh Hoa on a 21-hour train ride. Me and three kids…should be entertaining!

Floating around Tam Coc

Thanks to the kindness of my student Chinh, we were able to hitch a bus down to Ninh Binh and a cab ride out to Tam Coc. She has always lived within an hour’s drive of the beauty that is Tam Coc, but had never been. It was my pleasure to bring her along for the ride.

Chinh, Audrey and I as we take off down the river, a woman paddling behind Chinh in the boat.
Limestone karsts fill the area surrounding Tam Coc and Ninh Binh. The local goats call them home.
This is my dream retirement right here. Someday.
Stuart and Zach take the river in their own boat, fending off the hard sell by pointing out they were just kids. In the other boat, I got suckered into buying a t-shirt and table cloth.
Thumbs up for Tam Coc with friends and family!

Good Night and Good Luck

Last Friday was the last day for the A2 class; they’ll be taking the TOEFL-iBT in just a couple more weeks. As a way to celebrate the end of their studies and the final push toward their test, we went out to dinner as a group. Our original dinner with the students had been at a restaurant that prominently features goat meat (called “The Most Goat”) and we’d been secretly hoping we’d return there, but the students chose another restaurant, practically a stone’s throw from our dormitory.

Built over a small (possibly man-made) lake, the restaurant consists of a dozen huts perched in the water. It’s a quaint setting with palm-leaf thatch roofs that shade your view of the other diners and definitely gives it that oh-so-tropical feeling. Thang and Chinh made sure to order some food that the kids would eat (chicken, always chicken) and took care of the rest of the food. After about a 20 minute wait, it started coming out. First the bits of pineapple and cucumbers. Then nem… these little sausage style rolls of pork skin, meat and spices that are wrapped in banana leaves. They are actually pretty tasty if you can avoid thinking of skin while you chew.

Snails taste just as good as they look.

Next came the snails and after trying them I am completely perplexed by the Western notion of these as some sort of delicacy. They are chewy and thick and covered with a thin layer of mucus. It looked a bit like mildewed cartilage wrapped in nasal discharge and, personally, I’m not sure they tasted much better than that either. Yeah, definitely not a fan of the snails. It took forever to chew it up and get it down my gullet. Stuart tried, as well, and liked it just about as much. Audrey wouldn’t even come near the stuff.

Audrey got pretty creative with chopsticks and a disembodied chicken head.

But she did eat some chicken and rice. Chinh was nice enough to take it off the bones for us, not always an easy task, and find the best bits every time. We had both lemongrass chicken and grilled chicken, but they were vastly different. The lemongrass chicken came with mostly leftover bits of the bird. Rib pieces, tails, sections of the neck. Nothing with any meat and everything that made me feel like a neanderthal while chewing on it. Needless to say not much of it was eaten. Audrey found the head in there, though, nicely fried up, and was somehow able to get past the “ew” factor of plunging a chopstick in and made a little puppet. Oh my.

And I got my palm “read” by the Vietnamese teacher. Supposedly, I have a good Luck Line, meaning that I will travel abroad often (not often enough yet!). My Study Line is strong and shows that I will continue to learn and get more education (if I can ever afford it). My Love Line though is, as she put it, difficult. She said that your left hand is your love/romance hand and wanted to take a look at that to see if she could get a better answer, but the best that she could come up with after much inspection was that my love life is “complicated.” I think non-existent may be a better word for it, but it still got a good laugh. And then she measured the thickness of my hand, which isn’t so thick, and decided that I will never be rich (I was already quite sure of that) and that sometimes I will struggle financially (oh yeah, like every day). Audrey got the advice to exercise as her Health Line was a little weak and that she would get a Master’s degree someday. I can only hope.

After the palm reading and eating as much of the meat (including squid and fish, along with the snails, chicken and pork skin sausages), we headed out for karaoke. Well, the kids went home and most of the students went out to, as they call it, carry-oh-kay. I enjoyed myself as they belted out Vietnamese love songs and joined in for a mediocre rendition of “Let it Be.”

Thanks so much to everyone in the class who was there and for those who couldn’t be. I had a great time teaching you all and wish our time together could have been more than these quick seven weeks. The best of luck to you all! -Co Teresa

Even though I rarely sing at karaoke, I am going to miss these moments of craziness.
As always, the men brought out the shot glasses and got started right away. After several tries, they stopped asking me and moved on to trying to convince Stuart to give it a try.
Stuart finally got them to stop asking if he wanted a shot of Vodka by pouring it down his back. The burn on his skin was enough to convince him that it probably isn't so healthy going down one's throat, either.
Picking through the bits of meat to find the edible-to-us parts.
Just a handful of the A2 students: Na, Duc, Phuong, Chinh, Dan, Chien, Cuong and Chinh.