Low ‘n’ Slow

Feb ’18 in V-town — another cold snap, a work trip, and making time for down time.

By Dave

Filed in: Expat Life, Laos

After a fun-filled, adventure-packed four months with family and friends visiting from the States, it was time to lay low for a bit — it seems “a bit” quickly turned into the entire month of February, and then some.

I can’t remember the last time Lori and I took less than 100 pics between all our devices (both phones and my camera) — certainly not since Noe’s been on the scene. As for AwayGoWe for the month of February, just this one post with thirty-some-odd pics. The last time we posted just one entry for a month was nearly two years ago, in May 2016. And the time before — May 2015. To put that in perspective, we posted 13 entries this last December. But, perhaps the most exciting thing about posting this particular post is that I’m posting it TODAY. I believe it’s the first time ever, in the eight-year history of AwayGoWe that I’m actually…caught up to the present!

Admittedly, it’ll be nice not having so many posts hanging over my head, but that also means we’re not out and about exploring. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for that, and we’ve got some fun and exciting adventures coming down the pike. But for now, it’s all about laying low and taking it slow.

Among the three of us, that’s hardest for Noe, by far. He’s at that stage where everything is go-go-go. His energy seems boundless and he’s all about exploring and testing us and everything around him. Mommy and daddy’s energy, these days is anything but boundless, but we manage. And as long as the Mister isn’t hungry, or sleepy, or antsy (all which constitute a good portion of our time with him each day), he’s a lot of fun. This 19/20 month period with Noe has been both the most difficult and most rewarding so far. He may push our buttons constantly and push us to the brink, but at the same time he’s the most talkative, affectionate, thoughtful, curious, playful, and generally the most fun yet.

One particular development in the past month that’s taken a lot of getting used is his sudden heightened awareness of the world around him. He’s quick to point out to us if we leave something laying around that we shouldn’t have (tools, phones, beer…), quickly finds one of us in the house, grabs our arm to lead us to the forbidden object in question, then points emphatically at it, repeating “UH OH! UH OH! UH OH!”

Thank you, Noe. You go play while daddy puts his meat clever back in the kitchen…

He’s also very interested in whatever either of us are doing, which can make it hard to get anything done while the Mister is around.

We used to fight it a lot, but pretty much given up forcing it — and honestly, we’re better for it, as it encourages us to devote more time to just playing with Noe without an agenda on the weekends, which is good for Noe, but also good for us too. He does eventually get tired of us in favor for playing or “reading” by himself in his “house,” and when he does, that’s the time we get a bit done.

It’s that time of the month again! Weight and height, Mister.

 

“PHOOWA!”

Down time means barbecue time, and barbecue time is always time well spent, particularly when the weather is this pleasant.

Seems we’re getting some new neighbors three doors down. Zoning laws? We don’t need no stinkin’ ZONING LAWS!

The women are riding scooters in their pajamas and the dogs are dressed like women, which can only mean one thing — yet ANOTHER cold snap. The THIRD in as many months. Lori and I remember very few periods this time last year where the highs dipped below 80F and the lows below 65F. But here we are, yet again, with mornings in the low 50s and highs in the upper 60s.

Noe’s discovered the joys of zippering, which makes cold snaps that much more challenging. And yep, he is wearing shorts (and socks with in his sandals) with his hoodie — he was born in the PacNW, after all.

 

More Lego pics. Nearly every day since introducing these in late January (we hid all of his Christmas gifts and are slowly bringing them out over the course of the year), he has Lego time. At some point during the day or in the evening after school, he’ll find me and say, “WAYGO.” I’ll reply, “Lego PLEASE?” He’ll reply, “WAYGO FO-FO-FO” while brushing his hand with his chest (FO-FO-FO = por favor, and the chest thing is baby sign language — both compliments of Lori (he still uses far more Spanish and baby signing than English, but daddy’s working on that…). I tell him, “Okay, go sit down and wait in the comfy space,” and he’ll run off while I go into the very Not-For-Babies closet and retrieve his Duplo blocks. Then we’ll play for an hour or so (basically me making things and him stacking blocks, then taking apart everything I make to add to his stack).

So what do you do in Vientiane when it’s “cold” and you don’t want to go anywhere? You make food. A lot of food. I really enjoy eating out, but with all our guests that’s all we’ve been doing. So, it’s been nice to have opportunities to be back in the kitchen. We hadn’t had spaghetti in a while, so that sounded good. We didn’t have any meatballs or sausage on hand, so I made my own bolognese from scratch, a recipe I’ve been slowly building on since my long, lantern-lit evenings alone in Mozambique over a decade ago.

But why stop there? I picked up some baking tins and put together a bunch of ready-made dinners for the freezer. My favorites these days are homemade chicken and cheese enchiladas and baked ziti lasagna. I used to do meatloaf too, but I’m not a big fan of pork meatloaf, and ground beef is too expensive to use on something as yawn-inducing as frozen meatloaf.

For the past year now, I’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies every other week on average for Lori (and…me). I used to make a lot of bread products in Belize and Mozambique, but hadn’t done anything like that in Laos. I had ambitions of learning how to make a good Tuscan Rustica, but the time involved was hard for me to justify. We had a number of monkey bananas on hand, so I thought, why not figure out a good recipe for banana bread.

A week later, we had extra zucchini, so I thought, why not some zucchini bread. The first loaf was pretty good, but there were aspects of the recipe I wasn’t 100% happy with. I’m aiming for the perfect balance between healthy and sweet, and crumbly and spongy, playing with different ratios of baking soda, sugar, and eggs, and incorporating different ratios of grains and seeds (all-purpose, wheat and rye flour, and flax seed). Getting there.

On one particularly chilly morning (Yes! Low 50s feels cold in a drafty concrete house with wood floors, no insulation, and no heating) I was sipping my coffee and minding my own business when I noticed Noe walking around the room with a purpose. After flipping through a handful of his books and selecting one, he collected his blankie and sippy cup, then marched over to the big chair, threw everything up on the cushion, hoisted himself up, carefully wrapped his blankie around his legs, carefully placed his cup next to him, and proceeded to pass the time.

Lori moved into a new office during this time, only to find her new desk was already occupied.

Apparently a voracious creature of some size had taken up residence in her new desk to wait out the cold snap. That there is a heavy-duty rubberized lid on a Rubbermaid snack container. Our friends use these to protect food from critters in their cabin in Tahoe and recommended them to us. They may work in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada but are apparently not Laos-proof. Oddly enough, it’s like the creature got about halfway, decided the contents inside were not worth the effort involved and moved on. But it didn’t stop there! The next day, Lori arrived at work only to find her headphone cord chewed through in multiple places. Honestly, who (or what…) does that???

For the second February in a row, we found ourselves in the middle of a number of minor (and mysterious) Buddhist festivals not publicized to we falang — increased monk movement and loudspeaker activity in the neighborhood, and amplified chanting that went on for an entire weekend.

But that paled in comparison to the big Dog on the block, so to speak. You guessed it — Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year (and Vietnamese Tết) celebrations are quite different here than among the Chinese and Vietnamese diaspora in the Pacific Northwest. For one, the celebrations in the States tend to center on the cultural and traditional aspects, with lots of public performances, music, dancing, firecrackers, and food. In Laos, it’s red lanterns and loud, boozy parties, and more red lanterns and parties, punctuated by a teeth-gritting dose of drunk teens launching professional-grade fireworks from their backyards. Pretty much Lao New Year (Pi Mai) with Chinese lanterns in lieu of super soakers.

We’re deep in the dry season now and that means MOSQUITOES. In the rainy season, no problem. Lots of mosquito habitat to go around. But in the dry season, they gravitate to homes, looking for standing water in toilets, drains, and drainage moats. They don’t bother Lori, but gladly feed on me, particularly at night when I’m most vulnerable and defenseless. After weeks of smothering myself in repellant, cowering under the covers, or waking in the middle of the night with a face covered in bites, I took action.

I dragged my feet for a long time on putting up a net because I wasn’t going to steal Noe’s net and I didn’t want to go out and buy another. Then, it dawned on me that we already had one — I put up a bug net canopy as a decorative touch over our comfy/pillow area in the main room of the house, but hadn’t thought about it as an actual, functional bed net (which it most certainly is). I disassembled the frame, washed and treated the net with Permethrin, then reassembled it all over our bed. It’s been up now for a couple of weeks and not a single bite from a mosquito since. Success!

By the time the weekend rolled around we decided it was time for a date night — Lao massage, burgers, a quick stop at an outdoor performance, and a final stop at a newly opened Irish bar downtown.

We were devastated when we learned that our favorite burger joint, Sputnik, had closed. Then, several months later, it reopened in a different part of town (Ban Haysok, across from the old cinema-turned-parking lot). The ambience isn’t quite the same, but they’ve got some good Belgian beer on tap for a great price. Win some, lose some, I guess.

 

Passport photos in five minutes…for your pint size business traveler!

Tully’s, the newest pub in town. They certainly don’t make ’em like this from scratch in the States.

Lori was called away for three days in mid-February for a work trip up north to the middle of nowhere. Noe and I have accompanied Lori on her four previous work trips while we’ve been in Laos, but after all the traveling we’ve been doing lately, I didn’t want to mess with the logistics and just wanted to be home. Consequently, Lori and Noe had their first nights away from each other since Noe was born.

I won’t say it was easy. I wasn’t expecting it to be a cakewalk, but I was expecting it to be easier than it was. After all, I’m the one who spends entire days alone with the guy (Lori has yet to do that totally alone for an 8-10 hour stretch). But, as we quickly discovered, 20 months is quite possibly the WORST age for throwing this on your child. A few months younger and Noe would have been clueless. A few months older and he might have been able to comprehend a bit better my explanations to him. All that seemed clear to him was that mommy was not here, things were weird, and it wasn’t clear if or when she was returning. The first night was a rough one. Noe was up at 2am, 4am, and then, 5:30 for good. The first two were pretty bad night terrors which took about an hour each to calm him and then get myself back to sleep. At 5:30, he ended up in our bed, but by then, he was over trying to sleep.

As if that weren’t bad enough, he came down with a fever and I got the flu.

Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to Lori’s return on Wednesday night. Lori had just texted to tell me she was on her way to the airport and I had just set Noe down for dinner when the unfathomable happened — the flash of lightening and crash of thunder.

Wha…? In the middle of dry season? That hadn’t happened in four months! This can’t be good.

Then, the wind kicked up. Then, it REALLY kicked up — more than I think I’ve ever seen it do in Laos.

All our windows started rattling, the doors slamming, I watched in shock as all of our outdoor cleaning and gardening supplies, one by one, skidded down the side of the house and into the back yard. There were loud crashes all over the neighborhood of signs and pieces of fence falling, gates slamming, and metal roofs of food shacks being blown off. I raced outside to secure the windows, bring in the clothes, and take down the hanging plants. And just as I was leaving the house, the skies opened up and dropped what seemed like a month of rain all at once.

And what was Noe doing this whole time? Sitting buckled in his high chair and stuffing his face, seemingly oblivious to the havoc around him.

After securing the house, I texted Lori to give her a weather update and inform her that her flight would probably be delayed into Vientiane. She texted back and told me she was boarding — not exactly what you want to hear from your wife minutes prior to a twenty-minute inbound flight into a pretty intense weather event. But sure enough, ten minutes later, she texted to say that the departure had been pushed back and everyone had been sent back to the waiting area.

A couple hours later, following a white-knuckled ride on the trailing end of the storm, Lori was back home, safe and exhausted.

Pulled-pork eggs benedict breakfast at Timeline Cafe.

A little Mekong time at a newly opened river bar run by a Thai couple with a love for Leo beer and James Taylor.

 

 

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