WHEN IN: HANOI

Thursday, March 19, 2015

lychees-in-vietnam

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best-bar-in-hanoi Lucky for me, the New York Times’ updated 36 Hours in Hanoi was published the week before I was in Vietnam.  I leaned heavily on this as a source of dining recommendations and was not disappointed.

Dinner at State-Run Food Shop No. 37 was by far my best meal in Vietnam.  There was sauteed morning glory and pumpkin with garlic and all manner of goodness.

Dinner was followed by drinks at Tadioto which has a moody, cool vibe with oversized modern art paintings and dark walls.  Mango cocktails were delicious.

My final recommendation is lychees — from a street vendor, on the breakfast buffet or in a cocktail.  Eat the lychees.  All of the lychees.

LANDED: VIETNAM

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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Hanoi-skyline

 

I was supposed to spend today in Ha Long Bay.  Or at least that’s what I wanted to do.

The past year has held some pretty incredible peak life experiences – swimming with whale sharks, hiking the Ko’olau Trail, an afternoon sipping red wine in front of the Eiffel Tower, exploring Istanbul.  Thinking back on it, 2014 held an incredible string of wishful pins turned into reality.

Beautiful scenery aside, this has been important.  The act of calling forth images on computer screens into reality involves being so bold as to ask for beauty and the willingness to petition the universe for an experience.  Ask for what you want, see what the universe will arrange – that was a theme for 2014.  I’ve been astounded, nearly embarrassed, by the grandiosity of the result.  And beyond peak life experiences, there are parallels in professional life, relationships, goals.  Ask.  Really, give it a try.

I had the intention of setting into motion another pin-worthy adventure recently in Vietnam.  But, I didn’t.  I very much wanted to venture to Ha long Bay, but the night before I thought the better of it.  Saturday isn’t necessarily a weekend during work travel so I hung back at my Hanoi hotel in case anything work related popped up.  And it did.  A lunch meeting about upcoming work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And then a three hour walk around the city with a South African friend and a colleague who lived in Vietnam for two years.

My colleague provided a primer on Vietnamese history and culture and then there was conversation of the war and POW MIAs.  We walked past the “Hanoi Hilton” – the jail where prisoners of war were held – then towards the Metropole hotel, the only safe place to go out on a Friday night in the 90s.  As was common at the time, the hotel served as my organization’s office space during that period.  The Metropole was also the temporary location of the U.S. embassy before relations were normalized.  I walked through the lobby, a beautifully preserved French colonial parlor with dark wood and white walls and woven rattan fans.  Guests partook in chocolate hour and I counted seven types of chocolate fondue.  We saw the Opera House and noted the French influence on the nearby architecture.  We visited what used to be a cathedral, the only functional element of which is the clock at the top.

We went to an outdoor café for lunch where we ate green papaya salad, then made our own spring rolls and talked about development and poverty and politics. We got coconut popsicles then walked around the lake.  After reading this, I wondered out loud if this might be what Afghanistan is like in forty years.  We talked about the kind of change that is possible in a generation — from war and devastation to peace and infrastructure and life expectancy exceeding 70 years.    We witnessed possibility.  It wasn’t Ha Long Bay, but it was an afternoon that I won’t soon forget.

BY FOOT: PICACHO NATIONAL PARK, HONDURAS

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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If you’re in Tegucigalpa and want to see sweeping city views, you go to Parque Naciones Unidas El Picacho.  An expat friend picked me up from my hotel on Saturday afternoon and we drove up to Parque Naciones Unidas El Picacho.  The park is home to a statue reminiscent of the Christ the Redeemer in Rio (but on a much smaller scale) and includes a zoo and replicas of Mayan ruins.  The panoramas are unparalelled, but residents come here for a much simpler reason:  to be outside.

In many areas of the capital city it simply isn’t safe to walk around outside.  I found this hard to believe, but confirmed it with my friend who said that when he leaves his house he walks directly to his car and drives away.  Their family goes to parks like Picacho when they want to spend time outside with the kids.  Honduras has the unfortunate title of “highest murder rate in the world” according to the UN.  I knew next to nothing about violence in Latin America before I went to Honduras for the first time and I wrote off friends’ murmurings about safety as exaggerated and overly fearful.  Unfortunately, I was misguided and the security situation in Honduras is real.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to write about this.  I am not an expert in Latin American politics and my understanding of violence in Honduras is extremely limited.  I am often asked if I get scared when I travel and my answer is an emphatic no. Traveling has afforded me many of the richest experiences of my life and as I travel to some off-the-beaten path locations, I am careful about the stories I tell when I get home.  I’ve come to realize that mine might be the only perspective informing the point-of-view of the person I am speaking with.  My singular experience becomes someone’s universal perception of the place.  This is a risk and it’s why I hesitate to tell this side of the story.  But, pictures of poolside palms and mountain panoramas don’t tell the whole story and it felt disingenuous to leave the account here.  I expect I will be back in Honduras in the next few months and I look forward to my next visit.  Looking beyond the instagram frame, the situation is certainly more complex, a bit messier and less edited, but isn’t that what reality always looks like?



[ For more information on Picacho, check here and here. ]

SUNDAY MORNING

Sunday, March 8, 2015

sunday-morning

The countdown is on:  less than two weeks until the first day of Spring.  The forecast today is 65 and sunny and with the clocks rolling forward an hour last night, I’m quite hopeful that warmer days are here to stay.  We’ve spent the weekend renovating our laundry room, but today we’re looking to get out of the house and enjoy the weather.  Let the thaw begin!

 

In case you are looking for a little reading with your morning cup of coffee:

– “How to make mornings better, faster, and more fun”

Porridge Elevated — More herehere and here.

– Speaking of Honduras, a lost city discovered in the Honduran rain forest.

– The next great American woman runner?

– A lovely bathroom.

– The best gluten free pasta and sauce pairings.

– “Spelling Light Phenomena

– Trying skin food and a humidifier in an attempt to kick the dry skin.

– “Fewer Women Run Big Companies than Men Named John”

– And on that note, today is International Women’s Day.  If you’re looking to learn more or lend your voice, look here, here, here and here.

 

And, in case you missed it here:

A winter escape to Honduras and the requisite souvenir shopping.

HONDURAS: DAY TRIPS FROM TEGUCIGALPA

Thursday, March 5, 2015

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In December I spent a Saturday afternoon in Santa Lucía, a sleepy hillside town just outside of Tegucigalpa.  My visit was fortuitous:  I visited Santa Lucía on the day of Saint Lucia.   This immediately called to mind the Saint Lucia dress I had for my American Girl doll and the great Halloween of 1992(ish) on which date my American Girl doll and I wore matching Saint Lucia costumes, mine  complete with a battery operated candlelit headpiece.

That afternoon in Santa Lucía the weather was perfect and we walked around the cobblestone streets admiring the views and browsing shops.  I wandered into a small pottery studio and was somewhat surprised when no shopkeeper appeared to greet us.  A friend walked out and searched for the owner who reluctantly appeared a few minutes later.  I gathered a few items that I wanted to purchase — a couple of bowls and a wind chime — and then brought them to the young fellow.  He looked at me awkwardly, then held up each item individually confirming my intent to purchase.  He set the items down, then looked at me queerly and wandered out of the store to find newspaper to wrap up my purchases.  I asked my friend if the items were not intended for sale or if I had unintentionally done something to offend the fellow, so as to account for his odd behavior.  She said no, but then confirmed with the shopkeeper when he returned.  The conversation took place in Spanish so I understood exactly none of it.  My friend told me that the shopkeeper said that we’d done nothing wrong, but he asked her to tell me that I really shouldn’t buy the items from him because there was a town known for its (much better) pottery just down the road.  He was 100% sincere which just made me more intent to purchase the subpar pottery.  From then on, I referred to him at the underdog potter.

In January, I found my way to that town just down the road with the superior pottery.  This place is know as Valle de Ángeles and it is just eight kilometers past Santa Lucía.  The town is lovely with more handicraft shops than any tourist could possibly frequent in one visit.  I picked up a hand embroidered weekend bag, pottery and maracas for my niece and nephew.  If you are looking to get out of Tegucigalpa and pick up some souvenirs, this is the place to go.  Even so,  I do still recommend a visit to see the underdog potter in Santa Lucía .

LANDED: HONDURAS

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

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Just before Christmas I popped down to Honduras for a few days and then made a return visit last week.  I was there for about a week and the trip was a lovely respite from winter.  There are few things to know when visiting Honduras:

First, the takeoff and landing.  Tegucigalpa is situated in the mountains and thus the pilot must do a bit of maneuvering to get the plane landed safely on the runway.  I am not an uneasy passenger, but will admit that the descent is quite alarming — especially as the jet nearly skims roof tops and light poles just before landing on one of the shortest commercial runways in the world.  As far as airports are concerned, TGU holds several impressive superlatives including “most dangerous” and “most thrilling” in the world.  Nervous flyers, be forewarned.

Second, I ate my weight in anafre.  Should you find yourself in Honduras, I suggest that you do the same.  Anafre is a molten bowl of beans and cheese served in a fancy clay pot that holds hot coals — sort of like Honduran fondue.  This is a traditional appetizer that is universally available even if not listed on a restaurant’s menu and I took it upon myself to try the anafre at nearly every restaurant I visited.   This one was particularly nice.

Third, if you are looking for a hotel in Tegucigalpa, try the Honduras Maya hotel.  The views are gorgeous, the ceviche is delicious and the beds are cozy.

SUNDAY MORNING

Sunday, March 1, 2015

coffee-in-honduras

I flew in late Tuesday night from Honduras.  Snow started falling a couple of hours before I landed, so I hustled through customs and ran to the gate of an earlier flight to try to make it home before the snow brought air travel to a grinding hault.  Unfortunately, I picked up some sort of unstoppable cold in Honduras, so I’ve been laying low and drinking lots of tea in an effort to shake it.  Here’s to a quiet Sunday and easing into the week ahead.

 

 In case you are looking for a little reading with your morning cup of coffee:

– Did you hear that Matthew McConaughey will play Caballo Blanco in the new Born to Run movie?

– Where to eat:  DC’s Innovative Restaurant Scene

– I just bought a 10 pound bag of quinoa, so I am going to be cooking my way through these recipes.

– This week’s snow day beauty trial: at-home gel sans uv lamp.  I bought this perfectly neutral light gray polish and this topcoat — no base coat necessary.  Review so far:  this might be my favorite polish brush I’ve ever used.

– After these sunset cocktails in Sedona, we headed to this restaurant.  (Courtesy of Sunset magazine’s Sedona travel guide)

Wrinkly dog burritos (!)

–  Ann Lamott on living a satisfying life:

“I learned that opening myself to my own love and to life’s tough loveliness was not only the most delicious, amazing thing on Earth but it was also quantum. It would radiate out to a cold, hungry world. Beautiful moments heal, as do real cocoa, Pete Seeger, a walk on old fire roads. All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby—to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled. Who knew?”

 

And, in case you missed it here:

– The most helpful career advice I’ve heard in quite a while.

– Thoughts from a long run in Santa Monica.

– And, hiking in Sedona.

CAREER ADVICE: TAKE YOUR LICKS

Friday, February 27, 2015

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Since we’re on the topic of professional discontent, job changes and career trajectory, I thought I’d share an article that resonated deeply at the time when I wrote this and this.  It’s a short piece by Amy Poehler on a summer she spent scooping ice cream as a teenager.  You can read it here.

In the midst of her narrative there are two bits of career advice that I have reminded myself of time and again and have passed on to others who are navigating professional growth, changes and setbacks.

 

First:

“I wasn’t sure yet that I wanted to be an actor. I was planning to go to Boston College as an English major and maybe become a teacher, like both of my parents. But when I stood in the dining room and demanded attention I was reminded of things I already secretly knew about myself. I wasn’t shy, I liked to be looked at, and making people laugh released a certain kind of hot lava into my body that made me feel like a queen.”

Stated another way, what do you secretly know about yourself and what makes you feel like you have lava pulsing through your veins?

 

Second:

“I quit when the summer ended. I had started forgetting to charge for whipped cream. I was failing to use the ice scoop. A customer told me I was banging the drum “too hard.” She was right. I was angry; I wanted to be gone. It’s important to know when it’s time to turn in your kazoo.”

Stated another way, know when it’s time to exit.

 

I find the story simplistic and relatable, yet challenging and confronting.  What I love about this piece is the theme of honesty with ourselves – acknowledging what we already know to be true about who we are, working to define then enact our passions, having the self-awareness to know when to leave, and knowing where our time is best spent and our presence is best suited.

I think what Amy Poehler is really advising is authenticity and the courage to pursue what we come to know to be true about ourselves.  The title is instructive here, as the hard work of becoming who we truly are and aligning our professional trajectory with our true selves will never be easy.  But, the cost of inertia — of mindlessly or disingenuously pressing on – is far higher.  So I agree with Amy:  go ahead, take your licks.

LONG RUN: SANTA MONICA

Monday, February 23, 2015

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I wrote this not long after our trip to Sedona when I was still feeling wrapped up in the same head space.  I was on the brink of something new professionally, but at the same time walking through the challenges that so often accompany life’s transitions.  This particular weekend  in Santa Monica was important in deciding where one thing would end and another would begin.   Now, from the other side, the weekend reminds me of the ways that running serves and accompanies us as we navigate change and uncertainty.

Recently, I have not wanted to run.  Last week the winds finally changed and I found myself lacing up, eager to get out the hotel door.  I landed at LAX on Saturday afternoon, greeted by sunshine and temperatures in the low 80s.  I dropped my bags at the hotel, enjoyed lunch on the veranda and then went out to run a few miles.

The next few days were really, really tough. That ever volatile combination of stress and frustration and self-imposed pressure combusted on Monday afternoon leaving me feeling at once shaky in the aftermath of a confrontational conversation and relieved for having said what needed to said.

With Tuesday morning came an important professional commitment.  I woke up early to prepare and was greeted by entirely too much of the emotion of the previous day.  As if reaching out to an old friend, I grabbed my running shoes and ran out the door.  I ran to Venice Beach, then I ran back to the Santa Monica pier and walked onto the beach.

The run was so hard — perfectly hard, I suppose.  My breath was heavy, so were my legs and so were my thoughts.  Disproportionate in difficulty to distance or level of exertion, the run perfectly mirrored the state of my heart and head – discombobulated, trying to find my breath, on the brink of exhaustion.

I stood at the shoreline for a few minutes, watching the waves.  I took in a big inhale of the salty air and thought about the day ahead.  I could see my hotel in the distance; it looked small.  I began to catch my breath and with it came the smallest sliver of perspective about the day ahead.

As I walked back up the beach to the boardwalk, I realized I wasn’t thinking about yesterday anymore.  Somewhere in the miles behind me, my mind’s vice grip on yesterday’s events had loosened and I’d let them go.

I turned back towards the hotel; internally I turned and faced the day ahead.  I consciously decided to replace my stress with hopeful expectation, then I ran back to the hotel and into a day much better than I could have imagined.

As for running, it feels so good to be back.  Seems I had almost forgotten about the power of our sport – the ability to move oneself from one point to another, the ability to create space and adjust one’s outlook.  Space to be and to think, forward movement and perspective – here’s to lacing up and letting go.

TRAVEL TIP: SIP SELECTIVELY

Friday, February 20, 2015

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Truth be told, I am not much for mixed drinks.  There are, of course, exceptions.  For instance, when Ryan and I travel, we scout out the nicest hotel around, then dress up and casually swing by for a sunset cocktail.

It is my personal belief that if you are going to spend $16 and 1,000 calories on a beverage, it should be sipped in one hell of a location.  And by location, I mean both the venue and the view.  Do not compromise on either.  Additionally, the beverage should represent all that is well and good about the location in which you are sipping.   Typically, 5 star resorts have the haute version of local cocktails and the presentation alone is often worth the splurge.  In this case, a prickly pear margarita nestled between red rock faces in Sedona at the Enchantment Resort.

The experience always feels fancy, but without the pressure (or price) of dinner.  Plus, it gives one the excuse to poke around and see, hypothetically speaking, just how nice the pool is.  Once the sun has fallen below the horizon, be sure to have a dinner reservation off property at a place you’ve been looking forward to.  Then, transition out of your foray into thousand-dollar-a-night luxury by moonrise.

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