Oh Camera, Why Do You Forsake Me?

I finished twelve wallets, taking pics along the way to show how they are constructed. Nice pictures, taken outside in the two days of sun we had here in Portland. And then when Monday afternoon came around, it was time to upload those pictures and list the wallets on Etsy, write a post about the new wallets. But do you see those new bright red, burnt orange, or black wallets? No.

My camera is refusing to connect with my computer. The same computer/camera combo I’ve used for the past year has decided they aren’t talking to each other and there isn’t a thing I can do about it.

So now I’m trying to decide… buy a card reader or buy a new camera? It certainly won’t take the same quality pictures as my son’s hefty photographer’s camera, but anything is better than the pictures that come off the iPhone.

I think I’ll have my son re-take photos on this cloudy day, instead of in the warm sun, and then debate a little longer. Camera or card reader?

Finding the time and the money to mother.

Since last November when I started working two jobs to make the ends meet, it’s been almost as hard on my 13-year-old daughter as it has been on me. The long hours and the inattention when I am home make her feel a bit neglected: “You always say ‘Sorry, but I have to work.'”

She’s right; these days I spend most of my time working. On top of the PR job and the school job, I also head up a twice-monthly writing group and a monthly brunch club with friends. I’m still working intermittently on my book about our adventures in Vietnam. Add in friends and blog and laundry and, God forbid, sleep and there’s no time for anything, especially the mothering that I had so prided myself in.

All the work will, in the end, provide for me to return to the orphanages in Vietnam and my kids to have summer vacations with family afar. There’s a pay-off in the end, but in the meanwhile our trio isn’t as tight as it used to be. I don’t have the time to sit and watch movies, go for a walk or hang out at the mall. But sometimes I just have to have a break.

So that’s what we did.

Audrey and Lily watching the pendulum swing

On Saturday, we invited Audrey’s friend along to join us at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, a celebration of all that is cocoa-based. We tasted all sorts of chocolates and caramels and truffles, drank a bit of sipping chocolate and just sat around enjoying the serenity that can happen in a crowded plaza. The girls went their way for a while and I went mine, finding our way together again before too long and pleased to be together.

There was something lovely about being out of the house, away from work and just enjoying being with my daughter and her friend. Something that I haven’t had in what seems like a very, very long time. Being an attentive mother has taken a back seat and I don’t like it. I find myself stressed out too often, frustrated by the tiniest things, frustrated by myself.

I don’t know what to do to fix it though. If I quit a job, we’re back to not being able to make ends meet, but I’ll get to be the mother I want to be. My daughter will be happy to only see me at home, not in the halls at her school. And yet, for so long we’ve struggled that I don’t want to do it again.

Decision-making is never easy; either is parenting.


How is it that no matter where you are life does not go according to plans?

Our time has been cut short by more than a week; a week that we were going to spend traveling around the country. Unfortunately when our visas were renewed, they only gave us until the 12th. I will finish work on the 1oth, head to Hanoi, then leave the country. I’m so frustrated I could scream. Not only for the limited time, but for the lack of travel we’ve been able to do. Each time we’ve planned to go to Ha Long bay, a storm has rolled in, cancelling our plans. Then there’s the surprise vacation, mid-week. I will have Tuesday-Thursday off this week, just enough to not really go anywhere. We’ll head to the beach and hope for some fun, but I’m fighting a cold and grumpy as all get out.

I was given no warning of the days off, the money lost. And I’ve got three kids who’ve seen more of the inside of a dorm building that they’ve seen of Vietnam. Quite frustrating.

Hopefully on Saturday we will be able to get to Tam Coc, but I’m afraid that Ha Long Bay and Sa Pa will not be seen this time. And my plans for Da Lat are sinking fast. I have obligations to get to Tam Ky and we may just have to do that instead.

Us versus Them

Living out in Thanh Hoa, we see the same pale faces over and over again–the three of us plus one of the Kaplan teachers. That’s it. We never run into other Westerners at the supermarket or walking the streets of Thanh Hoa. And even though we know we look vastly different, we have stopped feeling vastly different. Familiar faces wave hello. We know where to get banh mi, how to get to the shopping center, who has the best fruit drinks and more. Each of us have begun to feel like we fit in somehow, that this place is our home in a unique sort of way.

Which makes it truly shocking when we disembark from the train in Ha Noi to face Westerners seemingly everywhere. When we arrived last night, we saw more than a dozen pale-skinned people like ourselves just in the train station. Checking in with the hotel, Americans passed by talking about how nice it is that everyone speaks English and I wanted to yell at them: “Only because you’re in tourism central. You should check out the real Viet Nam!”

On our way to get the fruit drinks we love so much, we managed to merge into a group of Australians coming around the corner. Loud and beligerent and distinctly new to Viet Nam. “Nothing worse than a bunch of drunk Aussies,” Stuart muttered for only us to hear and we laughed loud enough to prove our own Western tendencies.

We’re glad to find a donuts and pizza in Ha Noi, yet find ourselves frustrated with other Westerners clamoring for KFC. We know only the smallest bits of the language, yet belittle others for distancing themselves from the culture. We each complain about all the tourists in the Old Quarter, but this, too, is where we come each visit.

It’s hypocritical, I know. But it’s true that we feel a connection to this country, these people, that cannot be explained easily or readily. Maybe what we really want is for others to appreciate the beauty, depth and culture that exists outside the hop-skip-jump travel that keeps our fellow Westerners isolated from the realities of Viet Nam.

Kitchenware–Vietnamese style

So certain niceties of life in America are missing here. One that’s come into clear focus here is the absence of kitchen tools. There are no mixing bowls; I use an empty saucepan. No measuring spoons, only a large spoon that I guess by. No one-cup or half-cup measure; instead I use a glass cup that looks like it might be about the same on one cup. We had no grater until yesterday when I found a handmade version at the market. Obviously made by hammering a nail into a piece of metal at an angle, then attaching that to a couple of sticks, it’s a primitive version of the one I have at home. But after trying to make hashbrowns last week by slicing into the potato then using the peeler/knife/bottle opener to make thin slices resembling grated potato… Well, I knew it was something I needed. The holes are a bit small, but I am hoping to be able to expand them a bit with the tip of the knife. The same knife I use to make holes in cans since I don’t have a can opener either. See, it really is the basics that you never even consider as luxuries. Those are the things I wish I had. A spatula. A can opener. Or one of the three blenders we have back at the house in Oregon. I sure will appreciate them when we return.

This is a photo of our kitchen now, complete with granite countertops, a shelf for dishes and another two shelves for food stuff. The sink is tiny, but it’s a real sink for washing dishes and includes a filter for the drain and a drying area to the right. Granted, the faucet isn’t firmly attached and swivels in every direction. But it’s so much better than what we had before.

Look at that lovely counter space! And a real sink!