Tag Archives: Zulu

What will you be grateful for today?

I chatted to Mike over breakfast for a good 45 minutes this morning. In one respect, at least, this three-hour time difference serves us well. Mike can get up at 6am (or, often, before) and make coffee and get breakfast. I am up at 9am having just finished mine, and we both at the same level of “awakedness” and being ready to embrace the day. Consequently, we have much more substantial conversations over a virtual breakfast table when we’re separated by the equator than we do when we’re living in the same house.

At home our morning routine for the past six months has involved Mike bringing a plate of fruit and a cup of tea up with him when he re-enters our bedroom to shower and get ready for work at 7am. I work on waking up while he’s in the shower, and our conversation usually consists of little more than me telling him about anything wacky I dreamed about the night before and asking him what he has planned for the day while he’s getting dressed.

No, wait, sometimes Mike also looks at me sharing my fresh mango with Zulu (who has been sitting patiently by the side of the bed waiting for just this moment) and shakes his head. Then Mike tells Zulu that he’s the luckiest dog in Laos and better nourished than many of the country’s children. Sadly – even though that little mutt’s diet consists mostly of dog food, fruit, empty yogurt containers, and the odd piece of cheese – this last statement is probably true.

Today, however, Mike and I covered all sorts of substantial topics in the early morning hours – recent allegations of deceptive marketing practices by Nestle of infant formula to mothers in Laos, boundaries in committed relationships around spending time alone with people of the opposite gender, and the more prosaic how we are both faring on this fine Tuesday morning.

“I don’t know,” I said, when Mike asked that last question. “I haven’t figured out yet what sort of day this is going to be.”

“What do you mean?” Mike asked.

“Well, every day is different at the moment,” I said. “Yesterday was a great day. We saw whales out to sea during breakfast. I had coffee with a friend in Lennox and spent too much money buying gourmet ice cream to bring home (purely as a present for my hard working mama, of course). There was a lovely sunset. I was happy. But two days ago many of these things also happened and I was definitely not happy. So every day is a bit of a puzzle at the moment mood-wise and I haven’t yet figured out which way today is going to swing.”

“Well, I command you to make today a good day by banishing negative thinking,” Mike said.

“You command me?” I said.

“Yes,” Mike said, flashing the particularly guileless and genuine grin I often see when he knows full well that he’s tap dancing on thin ice. “Because I am your husband and when I decree things then it’s your job to make them happen.”

Mike usually only says things like this when he’s safely out of striking distance – whatever else he might be, he’s not dumb.

“So, what are three things you are going to be grateful for today?” he asked while I was still glaring at him via skype video and flirting with the notion of playing right into his hands by rising to the bait.

“That’s changing the game,” I said. “The positive psychology exercise is to identify three good things that have already happened that day and their causes.”

“I’m a game-changer,” he said. “So, three things…?”

“OK,” I said, thinking about the upcoming day. “Tash is coming tonight to stay for five nights!”

“Good one,” Mike said, sighing only a little at the thought of missing out on that fun. “What else?”

“I can see trees tossing in the breeze out of every window,” I said. “Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, rainy or clear, it’s so beautiful up here.”

“And number three?” Mike asked.

I had a third one, I know I did, but now (a whole two hours later) I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. Never mind, now that I’ve started thinking about it there are plenty of things I could tack onto that list – not least of which is the fact that there are two cartons of gourmet ice cream in the freezer.

All the positive thinking and gratitude exercises in the world wont ensure a decent mood, of course, but they are one good place to start. What about you? What helps get your day off to a good start? What three things will you be grateful for today?

Advertisements

The pursuit of happiness (Part 1)

Yesterday I was dragged away from my work by a positive storm of barking. Zulu might only be two dogs long and one dog high, but when he puts his mind to it he has the bark of a German Shepherd on steroids. Yesterday he was clearly very unhappy about something.

“What’s going on?” I asked, as I reached the front of our house and found my neighbor, Barbara, already there.

“Oh,” she said, laughing. “It’s a big, scary, toad. He’s not the world’s bravest dog, is he?”

She was right about the big part – the toad was enormous; it could barely heave its bulk along the pavement. She was also right about the brave part. Zulu was prancing around it, frantic, trying to decide whether he could take it. The closest he got to it was nudging it with his nose once or twice.

“Leave it!” I told Zulu sternly, herding the toad into the drain with a shovel before he could decide he really did want to kill it (not that I was all that concerned for the toad, I must admit, but I’ve heard that they’re poisonous for dogs).

Once in the culvert the toad made for the covered part of the drain and disappeared underneath cement. Zulu shot me a reproachful look and set to work, apparently determined to dig it out again.

“It’s gone,” I tried to tell my puppy after fifteen minutes of chatting to Barbara and watching him try to extricate the toad. He left few avenues unexplored. He climbed into the culvert, right into the dirty running water, and shoved his nose as far as it would go down that mucky drain. He tried to dig up the sheltering concrete and, failing that, to chew it to pieces. He backed away and set up a quiet ambush at the mouth of the drain, tip of his tail wagging gently, apparently hopeful that if he stayed there quietly for long enough the toad would venture out again of its own accord. Then he tried all of these things again. And again.

“Oh well,” Barbara said, “he’s happy.”

He was, too. Watching him I felt a little wistful. If only I could get so absorbed in the adventure of hunting toads or get so unabashedly excited every time I saw someone who had ever been the least bit nice to me (Sidenote: this last trait is mildly problematic as Mike and I are pretty much convinced that any would-be robbers just need to stick their hands through the gate and pet his head nicely before letting themselves in and he’ll escort them, tail wagging all the way, right to the front door). No, Zulu might not be especially brave or particularly discriminating in his choice of friends, but he sure is a happy little dog. If only the puzzle of happiness was as easy to put together for people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness since I started a consulting project requiring me to write a distance-learning course for masters students on wellbeing and resilience. What is it that makes us happy or sad? What influences how satisfied we feel with our lives?

Some of this seems to come down to genes. A number of researchers have come to the conclusion that happiness is about 50% genetic, 40% intentional, and 10% circumstantial.

If this is accurate, it means that about half of our predisposition toward happiness is coded into our genes and pretty much outside our control. Circumstances (health, marriage, work) can also be tough for us to change (although often not impossible). But what is really surprising here is that circumstances don’t seem to account for as much happiness as we might think, either for good or for bad. On the one hand that means that buying an expensive new car doesn’t seem to boost happiness for long.  On the other hand, it means that when things go awry we often re-orient fairly quickly.

No, the really surprising finding that has so far emerged from the happiness and wellbeing research is that we do have a lot of control over how happy are. We may have been gifted a genetic “set-point” but we can move that set point up or down significantly.

In a previous post, happiness and the mango tree rains, I discussed one psychologist’s take on what makes us happy. Martin Seligman argues that there are three important components to happiness:

  • Pleasure: The “smiley face” piece that makes us feel good.
  • Engagement: The depth of our involvement in our family, work, romance, and hobbies.
  • Meaning: Using personal strengths to serve some larger end.

Pleasure, Seligman argues, is the least important component of happiness. In the quest for a happy and satisfied life he insists that engagement and meaning are far more important. Somewhat to his chagrin (given that he was a life-long academic and a born intellectual) Seligman also admitted that research suggests that, “cerebral virtues – curiosity, love of learning – are less strongly tied to happiness than interpersonal virtues like kindness, gratitude, and capacity for love.”

With more research being conducted on this topic all the time, it is increasingly clear that there are things we can do (ways of thinking and behaving) that can significantly boost our happiness. We can probably guess some of the things that Seligman would prescribe as “happiness boosters” but what about you? What do you think boosts people’s happiness? What increases yours?

Come back in a couple of days to read more about things we can do to boost our happiness. I’ll also post some links to follow if you’re interesting in learning more about this topic.

In the meantime, have a happy weekend!

Ten things I learned this weekend

1.  Many people hold very strong views on circumcision. More than 30 people commented on my facebook status: “To circumcise or not to circumcise, that is the question. Thoughts?” Several more sent me private emails on the topic.

2.  The white mushrooms we buy from the lady down the street who sells vegetables off a tarp on the pavement are enoki mushrooms – originally Japanese and highly prized (and priced) by Western specialty food stores. We can buy a whole plastic bag for 60 cents.

3.  Don’t cook enoki mushrooms for longer than five minutes or they go tough and chewy.

4.  You can grill Japanese eggplant in a toaster oven.

5.  Commercial tomato-based pasta sauces must have enormous amounts of salt in them because when you make it from scratch it takes more salt than I think is reasonable to make it taste good.

6.  The neighbors are feeding Zulu pork ribs, which might be the reason why he is spending half his time whining at their door, begging them to let him in.

7.  Osama bin Laden is dead. While I do not mourn that fact, the sight of the midnight celebratory cheering and flag waving on the streets in the US also makes me a bit uncomfortable.

8.  The lovely afternoon storms we’ve been having that break the back of the heat of the day are worryingly early. Several years ago when a similarly premature rainy spell hit Laos many farmers planted their rice early, only to watch the seedlings sprout and then die when those early rains stopped.

9.  The Shinta Mani hotel has the best pool in Luang Prabang. It was the setting for today’s perfect swim – the water was just cool enough, we had it all to ourselves, and all you can see in almost every direction from pool level are the green mountains encircling Luang Prabang.

10.  If someone is going to take a photo taken of me when I’m six months pregnant and wearing a bikini it’s really best for everyone concerned when 80% of my body is underwater.

P.S. And discussing the pregnancy photos Mike took outside the front of our house this afternoon:

Lisa: “I look really pregnant in photo 590.”

Mike: “You look really pissed off in 593. Actually, you look really pissed off at me in a lot of these photos.”

Lisa: “I wasn’t pissed off at you. Really. I was more worried about the fact that when you told me to think about how excited I am about the baby it made it harder to smile nicely for the camera.”

Dead cats, working elephants, new schools, and other tidbits from Laos

It’s a public holiday here in Laos, so Mike and I are celebrating by working together at the kitchen table. Yeah, we really know how to do public holidays in style.

Actually, one of us does, anyway. Mike let me sleep in until nearly eight this morning and then woke me up with a tray loaded with cheesy scrambled eggs, grilled tomato, mango, dragonfruit, and half a cup of coffee (I’m just easing back into coffee after going off it overnight the minute I was afflicted with pregnancy nausea). So we had breakfast in bed together before we set up our two laptops downstairs and started typing away like disciplined little nerds.

Though if I really were a die hard nerd I’d be working on my consultancy, drafting the next chapter for this distance learning course instead of having spent the last hour perusing my email and google reader, looking at photos we’ve taken this last week, and now writing a blog post.

But this next chapter, you see, is on Wellbeing Economics (how and whether governments and managers should be paying attention to improving their citizens and employees wellbeing) and I feel clueless. So since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I should put off the hard work of getting less clueless until after lunch when I’ll be hot, and sleepy, and cranky because my back (which decided yesterday for no apparent reason that it wanted to really start hurting) is getting worse and worse throughout the day.

Yup, I’m a smart one all right.

But, today, instead of doing the smart thing I’m going to do the fun one and show you some of the things we’ve seen here in Laos this past week. I really wish I had a photo of what I saw yesterday afternoon but, alas, I was without camera when I took Zulu down the street to buy some Japanese eggplants from the woman who sells vegetables from a tarp on the sidewalk.

She had eggplants all right, and right beside the eggplants was a basket with two dead cats in it. The cats were crawling with flies, which the woman helpfully waved off with a coconut fond when she saw how interested I was in the cats. The flies rose up in a thick, dark, cloud, then promptly settled over all of the vegetables. I made sure to wash the eggplants thoroughly.

That was a first for me. I regularly see this woman selling birds (that’s what Zulu’s so interested in in the photo above), rats (sometimes dead, sometimes live), and occasionally dead bats tied in handy bunches. But I’ve never seen whole kitties for sale before.

So here are some images we did take this week of life here in Laos:

Palm tree at sunset from the deck of our house

Zulu, doing his new favourite thing (bringing a big clump of dirt into the house and chewing it to bits)

What Zulu lacks in leg length, he makes up for in ear size

Mike at a cafe on the Mekong on his birthday

Lanterns hanging above the Mekong

Checking out the construction around town on Saturday morning

Building roads and drains, the hard way

Burning rubbish around town – it’s going to get smokier and smokier throughout March as the farmers burn the rice fields after harvest

Rice fields on the way out to Phonxai

The brand new school that we went to see in progress together just two weeks ago – finished now and standing proudly beside the old school

The village surrounding the school

A working elephant alongside the road out to Phonxai

Is International Woman’s Day a holiday where you are? How have you celebrated it? And what cool things have you seen in the past week?

Puppy lessons in parenthood (2)

It’s lunchtime in the McWolfe household of (temporarily) seven. Chaos is reigning. The three and six year old are loudly demanding their lunch, Mike is trying to finish his before he has to go back to the office. The baby’s been strapped in his stroller. Zulu is meandering around hopefully.

Mike and I watch as Zulu wanders over to the baby in the stroller.

“Awww…” we say fondly as our little dog sniffs nicely at the baby’s toes, then moves upwards to the baby’s hands – exploring ever so gently and sweetly.

“Good dog, good boy, nice gentle licking, good kissing of the baby,” we both praise him proudly, then pause as Zulu turns to trot away, tail wagging, and with something long and yellow hanging from his snout.

“What’s that in his…” Mike and I say in unison, just as the baby’s mother – from the kitchen – calls out, “the baby has banana!”

Zulu flicks his head back and the banana disappears.

“Awwww, Zulu!” we say in an entirely different tone, staring at our unrepentant puppy. “You stealer of baby food! You furry little thief! You should be ashamed of yourself – we are ashamed of you!”

“Welcome to parenthood,” says the mother in the kitchen.

Zulu playing nicely with another baby – the puppy next door

…And playing less nicely with the puppy next door

…And playing less nicely still

…And this was the end of that particular play session

Puppy lessons in parenting – resource guarding

It’s been a while since I updated you about our little chew monster (aka kea-puppy, shark mouth, demon dog, and Zulu) so here’s a puppy post.

We had a “clueless parents faced with a defiant toddler” moment this week. Zulu is, on the whole, a sweet and friendly dog. He adores people and when we walk him he looks up at the passerbys, wagging his little tail, clearly curious as to why they’re not stopping to shower him with affection and attention. He takes himself off to the toilet outside. He doesn’t chew on the furniture, our shoes, or destroy our trash can. We must admit that he is, overall, an excellent puppy.

Except…

Two things, really. First, he doesn’t chew on the furniture, but he still loves chewing on us. The minute we sit on the floor he’ll climb (or, more frequently, leap) into our laps then immediately start chomping on our hands and arms. As he is now significantly bigger and stronger than he was when we bought him home this can really hurt. We’ve tried all sorts of things, but so far nothing’s worked except coming to love-fests armed with a chew toy to substitute for our more delicate fingers.

Incidentally, the vet we found here suggested we cut off or file down his canines to render this puppy biting less painful – apparently that’s standard practice here. Puppy lovers never fear, that’s one practice we won’t be adopting.

The second issue is potentially more serious.

On Saturday our neighbor bought over a treat for him – a big, meaty, raw, bone.

How did Zulu show his thanks for this unexpected bounty? By jumping up, ripping the gift out of her hands (plastic bag that it was still wrapped in and all) then scurrying off with his prize.

When Mike went to unwrap it for him he was rewarded with a growl. A serious, “I’m not messing around here” growl. And it was when I heard this and said we should take the bone away for a little while to show him who was boss that the trouble really started. When we went near him with his new bone our sweet, lovable, affectionate puppy was transformed into a snarling, growling, hellion who did his best to bite us – really bite us – and twice succeeded.

I did some research online while Mike engaged in a battle of wills with Zulu over the bone and was deluged with contradictory advice regarding how to deal with this behaviour.

Some sites said that a puppy who growls over his bone is confused about his place in the pack and is trying to dominate us. We should, these sites said, pin him to the floor, smack him for being aggressive with us, and take away his treat.

Some sites said that he wasn’t trying to dominate us at all, merely instinctively guarding something he thought was very valuable. Punishing him harshly for resource guarding, these sites said, was only likely to make him guard more fiercely and earlier in the future as he’ll have learned that we (unpredictable owners that we are) tend to swoop in and take away his treats with no warning. Instead of punishing him this time we should work on gradually teaching him to let us give and take away at will less valuable items – toys, smaller treats, etc – and work up to things like raw bones.

“What do you think?” Mike asked me, washing the blood off his hands – the fruit of his latest “I can take your bone away because I am your pack master” foray.

“I don’t know,” I sighed, watching our recalcitrant puppy, who was crouched under the stairs keeping surly eyes on us even while he chewed away furiously.

“I guess this is like parenting,” Mike said. “People tell you different things and sometimes they conflict and in the end you just have to trust your instincts.”

“What do your instincts say?” I asked.

“Smack him,” Mike said. “Smack him hard for trying to bite us, and keep taking it away until he learns.”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully. “I was that puppy that smacking never did any good for. It never made me sorry that I’d done something, it just made me sorry that I got caught. And it made me angry.”

“Yeah.” This time Mike sighed. “I bet you were that puppy.”

So, puppy lovers out there, any thoughts on this? I think we have a strategy in place we both feel good about now but I’m curious about your experiences with your dogs guarding their food. Oh, and any advice on how to stop Zulu from chasing chickens that are unwise enough to wander onto this property also welcome.

Until next time, here’s a look at Zulu in action the other day…

Singular moments and nuanced epics

We’re back in Laos – we arrived yesterday towing a mixture of emotions in our wake. I’m a bit sick of every experience and transition bringing both good and bad with it. What happened to the days when I felt sheer, unadulterated, joy at something? Or even pure happiness?

Who am I kidding, I rarely do unadulterated anything. Possibly the closest I’ve ever come to unadulterated joy was finishing my end of year exams when I was sixteen and realizing that I wouldn’t have to study for eight, heavenly, weeks. And I do taste pure happiness now but it’s in tiny moments, like this morning at 5:30am when Mike heroically got up to deal with our whining puppy (who’d already woken the whole house at midnight and had to be installed in our room to settle him down again). Mike opened the door to his crate and Zulu shot out – a golden blur propelled by a wagging tail – and promptly scooted under our bed. There he settled down to eat a snotty tissue and pretend he couldn’t see Mike on his hands and knees, commanding him to come out. For some reason I found the sight of Mike, kneeling on the wooden floor in his pajamas and trying to look stern, hysterically funny. It was a small, light, bubble of pure happiness that was all the more startling for having formed in pre-dawn darkness.

It’s in tiny moments like these – moments that often last no longer than a couple of seconds – when I feel a singular something. Big, epic, things like moving countries or getting married or returning to Laos never bring singular emotions. They are magnifying glasses, enlarging both the good and the bad. And so it has been with this return.

The good has been great. Stepping off the plane to find Luang Prabang crisp and cool was a wonderful shock. Mike had told me that the weather this time of year would bring relief, but back in June I had no framework for understanding this. I’ve never lived anywhere so overtly tropical where the weather really does change drastically from an unrelenting steamy to a clean and edgy chilly.

Seeing Zulu so excited to see us that he peed himself, and so mystified to have us back that he didn’t try to chew on us with his sharp little teeth for eleven whole minutes after we walked in the door, was gratifying.

And dining last night at one of my favorite restaurants here, Tamarind, was gastronomically celestial. The monks were halfway through their evening chanting as we arrived, snagged the last free table, and waited for our feast, and what a feast it was. Lemongrass stalks stuffed with ground chicken and herbs and then grilled. Blackened pork wrapped in bamboo and served with a tart tamarind dipping sauce. Green beans seasoned with oyster sauce and fresh chili, so crisp they squeaked between my teeth. A glass of lime juice with a lemongrass-stalk straw. A creamy pumpkin and coconut soup. A dipping platter of smoky eggplant, tart salsa, sesame-studded dried riverweed, and something I’ve learned the hard way to stay away from – a paste made of buffalo, chilli, and jam. Oh, I almost forgot the sticky rice served in woven baskets. I love the sensuousness of those warm, fat, grains between my fingers and the tactile communality of eating mostly with our hands.

Yes, the good here is great. But there is always, always, the other hand with epic adventures. And on this other hand are moment like the one last night, when I went to wash my cold face before bed and realized anew that we have no running hot water anywhere but the shower (when the wall mounted hot water heater isn’t playing up). And when our neighbors play their radio yesterday afternoon much more loudly than I think is strictly neighborly, for hours. And when our unsettled puppy wakes up at midnight and refuses to stop crying. And, right now, when I’m busy typing this and an electric saw starts grinding away on metal about twenty feet away.

Oh yes, we are back in Laos and it is a mixed bag. But, then again, that’s pretty much adult life I suppose.

Other parts of adult life are unpacking after a trip, and filing, and completing paperwork, and cleaning up the office, and invoicing clients, and feeding myself instead of just trusting that my Mum will throw lunch together, so I better go. But, first, what about you? When is the last time you felt an uncomplicated emotion?

A mishmash of chocolate, cashew, and pineapple

I’ve quit cloudy Ballina for cloudy Melbourne for a little while. I know people all over the country are hating the almost constant grey and frequent rain here at the moment – it’s ruining many a crop and a holiday. But I must say I will take cloudy and rainy over bright and sunny most of the time now, my foot is just so much happier when the temperature stays under eighty degrees. I really don’t think the happiness of my right foot trumps entire wheat crops and thousands of beach vacations, but me being miserable about the rain alongside everyone else isn’t exactly going to help, either. So I am reveling in the unusual rainy coolness of this season in Australia even when it means (as it did yesterday) that I get absolutly soaked walking home from the shops when I go out without an umbrella.

Mike flies in tomorrow leaving our friend Chloe to take care of Zulu (who Mike described in his most recent email as a “manic, chew-monster, bounding, bat-of-out-hell, kea-shark, puppy.”). There is no such things as a kea shark, in case you’re wondering. A kea is a large alpine parrot found in New Zealand. They are very smart, very mischeivous, very curioous, and very determined – the sort of bird that rips all the rubber off the windscreen wipers of cars when they’re bored. They get bored a lot. Zulu can be a bit like a kea, one with very sharp teeth. We are anticipating not only that Chloe will feed and care for our little chewing machine, but will also have somehow transformed him into a perfectly obedient, relatively-docile, dog by the time we get back. One who never chews on us, or yips and moans when we put the hated leash on him and then runs under the ant pantry to sulk and refuses to come out unless bribed with meat. One who sits, stays, lies down, and drops things on command, every single time and without delay.  

Chloe’s cool. I have faith that she can work this miracle.      

So in lieu of a coherent update today I offer two things. One, I just ate a chocolate, cashew nut, and pineapple muffin. You wouldn’t think those three things would work together, but they do. And, two, for those of you who are writers, go on over to Dani Shapiro’s blog and read this week’s piece called On Practice.

“Discipline,” she says. “–if I were to think of a physical manifestation of it–would look like a very tense person.  Gritted teeth.  Furrowed brow.  Squinting eyes.  Focusing hard.  Practice, on the other hand, requires a kid of looseness.  Writing from a softer, more porous, interior place.  A forgiving place.”

It’s a neat, short, piece that shifted (for today, anyway) how I think about writing and has encouraged me to be a bit more gentle with myself. Not that I needed that sort of encouragement this week, perhaps, given that I’m spending more time eating chocolate muffins than writing at the moment. But January will undoubtedly come, and with it my time to focus on draft three of this next book.

Have a great weekend. I’ll be celebrating Tristan and Amber’s wedding (hooray) and then heading to Tamania for a mini getaway with Mike on Tuesday. So see you next week from Tasmania.

Thanksgiving in Laos

Happy thanksgiving to all of my American friends, and to anyone else who has decided to adopt the holiday – it’s one worth adopting I reckon (for the food, if nothing else). Mike’s been up in the field for the last two days, but I celebrated Thanksgiving with friends here who generously opened their backyard to all of the Americans in town, and their spouses.

The food was glorious and very Little House on the Prairie. The turkeys had been alive and flapping around the host’s bathroom until the day before the feast. Someone scoured an entirely different city for a box of sweet potatoes (rarer than gold here, for some reason) and transported them up tenderly by bus for the sweet potato casserole. The woman who made the green bean casserole was lamenting the fact that she had had to make it with real green beans instead of canned – “it just doesn’t taste the same”. And the deserts. Oh yum. There was pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and some chocolate cream thing on top of oreo cookies that is not at all a traditional Thanksgiving desert but which I dreamed about last night. I am so in love with Thanksgiving food.

It was warm and sunny and we ate under a tent in the backyard with extra shading provided by nearby palm trees a giant umbrella mounted on the back of the truck. It was a lovely break in a busy week, but at 3pm sharp I sighed, got up, walked home, and got back to work.

Poor Zulu has spent significant time this week begging me to stop typing and play with him, and a great deal more time curled up in the corner next to me, sleeping. He’s about twice as big as he was when we brought him home and he’s currently at that charming stage of puppyhood where he is gaining in strength and speed, but has not yet learned not to bite us playfully with his razor sharp teeth. He has learned the commands “come” and “sit”, but only obeys them when he feels like it. When he’s wandering somewhere he shouldn’t be wandering, sniffing something he should not be sniffing, he never feels like it. In other words he resembles nothing more than a furry four-legged toddler with the mouth of an angry shark.

Zulu, however, will get more attention this weekend because the resilience report is almost done – I think, I hope.

I’ve learned a couple of things during this process.

I don’t enjoy working to a deadline and trying to write fast. I can do it, it is probably even be good for me, but I don’t enjoy it while I’m doing it.

I get frustrated and insecure when I write first drafts that I think are merely decent, and not amazing. Then I can start to wonder if I’m actually certifiably dumb, and feel like a failure and a fraud of a human being. I realize that this is all probably rather far from rational, but sometimes I can’t snap myself out of it for ages (a whole day, maybe two… sometimes even three). This is a real problem, because my first drafts are rarely amazing.

I must talk about wanting to drown myself in the Mekong more than I realize because my patient husband, after listening to me vent about the report draft last Friday night after I’d spent five straight days working on it asked, “OK, what else are you feeling? Do you want to drown yourself in the Mekong?”

“No!” I said, shocked, then, “I hadn’t quite gotten to that stage, but now that you mention it…”

Most of these lessons are not exactly new lessons, so I don’t know why I continue to feel surprised when I am ambushed by this sort of ickiness during certain phases of working on a big project.

So, back to Thanksgiving, I am thankful that this report is almost wrapped, and that it looks as if it’s shaping up to be a piece of work to be proud of. And that’s just one thing I am thankful for. Here are some others: I’m thankful that Mike’s coming home tonight, for family and friends, for relative health, for running water, food, money, and the sense that life means something important that stretches beyond the here and now. I’m thankful for the adventure of living here, and for the view from the bamboo bridge we crossed this week to get to a restaurant over the Khan. Life is good.

A friend of mine (hi, Lynne) asked an interesting question on her facebook status today? What is something that you’ve experienced this year that you’re surprised to find yourself thankful for? Do share…

New moon dawn

“What are you writing about for the blog?” Mike asked.

“Um,” I said. “I started out by writing about how it’s a full moon because I found that cool photo you took of the full moon over the temple. Then I wrote about how you were doing the grocery shopping on a bicycle. Then I wrote about the dog.”

Mike looked at me blankly.

“That’s totally random,” he said.

“I know,” I said, a bit defensive. “I’m having a hard time getting my head back in blogging territory after the last week of being only in resilience report territory.”

“You should call it Lisa Gets Her Groove Back,” Mike said.

“But I haven’t gotten it back,” I pointed out. “I’m still firmly in the Lisa Is Random zone.”

“Yeah, Mike said. “Maybe you’ll get it back next week.”

Maybe.

In the meantime here are the Lisa Is Random offerings:

It’s a full moon here tonight, so tomorrow morning the monks will get double (or triple?) their regular offerings of sticky rice and other food. Apparently it’s particularly auspicious to offer alms to the monks when the moon is full. Vendors line the streets for a couple of days before-hand selling incense and little cones made out of leaves topped with orange flowers. I think those are for the temple offerings, the food given to the monks is made by women who rise before dawn to prepare it and then venture out to gain merit for their families. If you go out here at dawn you’ll see women (usually) kneeling alongside the road at various points in the town, waiting to make their silent offerings to the monks as they file past.

On a full moon dawns there are so many people making offerings to the monks that they are each followed by a young boy carrying another pot to store their loot – sort of the Buddhist equivalent of an altar boy, I guess.

But all of that is tomorrow, and today Mike is out doing the grocery shopping by bicycle. We are without vehicle this weekend (sometimes we can borrow an organization vehicle and pay mileage, but this weekend they’re all out in the projects). We have now not owned a vehicle of any sort since the first week of June, which bothers me not at all. We will buy a motorcycle in January, but I’m in no hurry. I have a love/hate relationships with motorcycles. They are undoubtedly good fun, but I am also scared of them. Whenever Mike makes fun of me for this I point out that in comparison to being scared of flying, or being hit by lightening, or being eaten by sharks, it is perfectly rational to be scared of having a motorcycle accident. Given Mike’s respect for logical and reason you would think this would stop him making fun of me. No.

By the way, I am a little bit scared of being eaten by sharks, but not much. Really. Except when I am swimming in the ocean I am much more scared of motorcycles than sharks.

So Mike’s ridden off on his bicycle (with a helmet on) and I am puppy sitting.

Zulu has already woken us up before seven this morning. He has ripped a newspaper to shreds, chewed the leg of his toy puppy wide open, refused to eat his breakfast until we warmed it up, and moaned piteously whenever we left the room (and anytime we entered the kitchen). He has stuck his nose in a tiled corner and licked it furiously for ten minutes. He is, as Mike pointed out this morning, “a stinky puppy,” and later today he will be getting a thorough bath with jasmine rice scented puppy shampoo, which he will loathe.

He has also wagged his tail furiously in greeting whenever we reappear from somewhere, rolled over so that we can scratch his belly, climbed into my lap and looked up at me as if he had just entered doggie heaven, and taken himself outside to the toilet. I think we’ll keep him.

That’s it from me for now. Maybe I’ll get my groove back next week, maybe not. But I’ll see you then.

PS, This is what Zulu looks like most of the time…