Food, Mexico

Talkin’ Tacos

I’m cutting up my first melon of the season, which makes me pretty happy. Except that I didn’t grow it. But, I did buy seeds for four different types of cantaloupe. So, come July/August, I hope to have some homegrown. That remains to be seen.

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I drove by this sketchy little Mexican restaurant the other day while passing through a small town in southwest Missouri. Delivering t-shirts takes me in a lot of interesting directions. But, I saw the sign and thought: I have to try it.

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It just so happened that one of my friends was going to be in town and wanted to have lunch. Word to the wise: don’t ever give me the choice of where we’ll eat unless you are feeling adventurous.You know how sometimes you just know when someone gets you? Yeah, that’s Christina for me. I think she might be my oldest friend. We started out in children’s church together and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s like the little sister I never had.

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And, she was happy to go to the Mexican dive with me. I knew it was authentic when we walked in and sat down and one of the other customers whistled loudly to a man, who dashed out from the back to bring us menus and three different types of “salsa”, which I titled hot, hotter, and hottest. Apparently, whistling is the secret signal for new customers.

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We took a while to order, mostly because the entire menu was in Spanish and because we were busy catching up. Finally, we got around to figuring out what we wanted. So, what did Christina order? Tacos de la lengua. And in case you haven’t brushed up on your Spanish lately, that translates to “tongue tacos”, as in beef tongue cut up and wrapped in a tortilla, and topped with a generous portion of cilantro and onions.

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So, three hours (yes, we literally talked for three hours) and three tongue tacos later, we wrapped up lunch. I knew we were best friends for a reason.

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Religion, Travel

Where’d You Come From?

I’ve been embroidering hats for days now. That’s basically all I do. Answer emails and embroider. Which isn’t a bad gig, all considered. I think I’ve embroidered this RTMG logo close to 1000 times. In fact, I’m sure of it.

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One question I always get asked by people when I go somewhere: where are you from? And, the follow-up question: so what’s Arkansas like? Well, in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth (our corner of the state, at least). I mean, I’m probably just slightly biased, seeing how it’s been my home for 23 years now. But, I’m pretty sure there’s some truth to my statement.

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There are two pictures of Arkansas that I can paint though. My best option is the quaint, quiet Southern charm. Like the fact that every Sunday, my grandpa stands up at the pulpit to preach at our small Baptist church.

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Or, the fact that I am part of the 6th generation in our family to go to that small Baptist church. Or that we currently have farm fresh eggs in our fridge. That my parents were taught by the same teachers that taught me in school. That our family farm is over 100 years old. That we live in a place with a stretch of blue skies and fields with cows grazing in them. That’s the Arkansas that I like to tell people about.

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But, what about hillbillies and do you wear shoes? Well, there’s that Arkansas too. Like the fact that there’s currently a piece of exercise equipment on the front porch (very temporarily, but still: exercise equipment outside = the ultimate redneck). Or, that I saw this guy in traffic the other day.

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Or the fact that my mom was driving home from work last week and saw a drunk driver. On a horse. Apparently, a woman had a little too much to drink and decided to saddle up and head to town. Later, driving by, there was a wreck. I guess she got confused on which way she was going and ran into a car that was driving slowly by. A drunken horse wreck. Yep, I guess that’s Arkansas too.

When I came by this wreck, I saw one of the guys on the local fire department directing traffic. And I said: I hope he’s at church on Sunday (because in Arkansas, you go to church with everyone in town) so that I can get the whole story. But, lo and behold, who showed up on the front porch on Saturday morning? The same guy. Because in Arkansas, people stop by for a visit without telling you they’re coming. I love that about small towns. No need to call and see if you’ll be home. You’ll be there. So, I got all the details I needed about the drunk lady on the horse. Lesson learned: don’t drink and ride. Oh, Arkansas, I gotta love ya!

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Farm, Food, Garden

Cabbage Patch Kid

I’ve had a few people ask me since I’ve been home if I’m going to continue to write. And, I’ve thought about it. And, I think I will. Mostly because yesterday was the first day of Spring and we’re starting a garden. In a wagon.

We'll see if they sprout!

Actually, I’m going to keep writing because I like it. And because I feel like I have stories that I want to tell. Whether those stories are interesting enough to read, I’m not sure yet. But, I guess we’ll see.

First seeds of the season

First seeds of the season

Let’s get back to that wagon though. I love to plant things. And, I love to eat things that are good for you. So, a garden is obvious, right? Last year, I went a little overboard and got 8 blueberry plants, 10 raspberry plants, and 6 fruit trees (2 each of pear, apple and peach). The raspberries went crazy and the blueberries fizzled.

Queen Anne yellow and Latham red raspberries

Queen Anne yellow and Latham red raspberries

I also wanted to do sweet potatoes for the first time. There’s that wagon again.

Part of our sweet potato harvest

Part of our sweet potato harvest

This year, we (I) decided it is time to expand. So, my dad got the plow and is graciously working the ground so that I can have a field of melon mounds. And a few more rows of sweet potatoes. And some corn. And a cabbage patch.

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Remember those huge cabbages from Korea I showed you? We bought seeds! Just call me the Cabbage Patch Kid.

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Asia, Food, Travel

Tea & Tongues

I’m finally coming out of the fog that is jet lag. I have been on a time zone that is nearly 12 hours our opposite for about three weeks now, so it’s a little difficult to switch back over. People always ask me what jet lag feels like. So, let me explain it. Right now, in Cambodia/Laos/Thailand, it is 1 in the morning (in Beijing, it’s midnight). So, imagine eating a meal like you would have for lunch (today, mine was chilaquiles. Think: chicken, tortillas, enchilada sauce, and eggs) at midnight, then staying up all night and eating a dinner meal for breakfast, then going to sleep and trying to sleep for 8 hours (which would be daytime there/nighttime here). I’m confused. And, so are you. So, jet lag feels like confusion. Which it is. It is your body’s response to flip-flopping your schedule. You are mentally wrestling with your physiological responses. Your body says it’s time to sleep and you have to make your brain say: I’m not sleeping now.

So, did I mention I found something “Made in America” in China? Glad to know they import something from us.

It said: A True American Tradition

It said: A True American Tradition

China is weird. I didn’t tell many stories from there mostly because I didn’t have good access to a lot of the sites I frequent. The VPN allowed a little bit of access, but connections were difficult. The government censorship is crazy there. There were microphones in all the taxis, monitoring what you were saying. Secret police are common and there are cameras everywhere. I know this all sounds hyper-paranoid. But, it is real. So, we had to watch what we said and did. I didn’t really believe that was true before I went, but once you are there, the truth of it kinda sits on you. It’s a silent restraint and you can feel it. That’s the best way I can describe it.

But, enough of that, let’s talk about the duck tongues. Having dinner with friends is fun. I really like it when they order and I don’t have to choose because I dislike decisions and because you always end up getting something more authentic that way. Peking duck is famous in Beijing, so it was a must. My friend, Sammy, took us to have it and unbeknownst to us, ordered an appetizer. Sometimes, I’ve learned you just shouldn’t ask questions. Just eat it and enjoy it and move on. But, I can never do that. We were presented what looked like meat with cucumbers. So, I asked what it was. A pile of duck tongues. I was, then, told how to eat them (because there is a small bone to navigate around and delicately spit out).

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I ate a bunch of them, because I could tell she had ordered these very specifically and wanted us to have them. They really weren’t that bad. Except I kept thinking of the Aflac commercials and it kinda gave me the heebies. But, if you could get around the fact of what it was, the taste was pretty good.

As we were dining, Sammy imparted some knowledge about Chinese cuisine. She said: in America, you can afford to eat only the choice pieces of meat. But, in China, we have to utilize every part of the animal. To me, this makes it easier to appreciate eating these dishes. I’ve never given any thought to the fact that for my whole life, I’ve eaten only the “best” parts of the animal and discarded the rest. I’ve never appreciated the fact that I can choose what I eat. Until now, when I’ve sat and eaten a dozen duck tongues with a girl who has eaten things like this out of necessity for her whole life.

Sammy also treated us to afternoon tea. With the prettiest tea set I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Kinda makes you forget about all the tongues you just ate. Kinda.

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Asia, Travel

Where Am I?

I’m embarrassing sometimes. (I’ll leave you the creative freedom to interpret what “sometimes” constitutes) Jake deals with my embarrassing moments like a trooper though. Like when he wakes up from a nap on the plane and finds me marching in place in the aisle, in front of all the other passengers. In my defense, I read in a magazine article that you need 5 minutes of walking for every hour of sitting and it had been three hours and I needed 15 minutes of walking and where was I supposed to walk? You understand the dilemma. So, I marched in place and did a bunch of over-exaggerated stretching. I also happened to be wearing my “I ❤️ Yoga” shirt (just because my “I’d Rather Be Sleeping” shirt accidentally got packed) so I’m sure people thought I was a freak. But, after 12 hours on a plane with no sleep, I really didn’t care what anyone thought.

At the airport, I had high hopes that we might change our flight to an earlier one. However, the nice lady at the desk informed us that it was Spring Break and flights were packed. Then, she goes on to tell me about her niece that does yoga and how she did a plank with a five year old standing on her for a long time… I tuned out and made a mental note to quit wearing this shirt. I tuned back in to realize we were gonna be stuck in the airport all day and I needed sleep.

I have a long history of sleeping in airports. Again, my need for sleep will trump any possibility of embarrassment every time. My first time to do this was at the airport in Hawaii after an overnight flight. Except you couldn’t lay on the floor there because it was open air, so there were pigeons everywhere. And all the seats had armrests, making it impossible to lay flat. So, I was finally able to commandeer a three foot “bench” made for two people to sit on and I slept there. Keep in mind, I’m about 5’6″. There’s a picture of that one that Jake was so kind to take, but I’ll leave it to your imagination. Other memorable ventures: when I slept in the Korean airport, but it was too bright, so I had to use a sleep mask with sunglasses on over it to block out the light (yep, Jake got a picture of that one too) and when I went to sleep in Dusseldorf, Germany and woke up to two Swedish toddlers standing over me, looking at me oddly and babbling in Swedish. There are so many more stories, but back to where I was before. Chicago. Need sleep.

At this point, it is late morning, so basically everyone else in the airport is decently rested and dressed and up going about their lives. I look like day old toast at this point. Jake tells me that I can’t lay out on the floor to sleep. When I ask why, he informs me that #1: it’s embarrassing and #2: that people don’t know we’ve just gotten off of a twelve hour flight, so that makes it socially unacceptable to look like a hobo and #3: that there is nowhere to sleep. Well, I bypassed #1 and #2 and went to #3 and thought: where there’s a will, there’s a way. So, we went to some obscure gate that wasn’t boarding soon and I set up shop. At first, I laid down using my backpack as a pillow. But that wasn’t comfortable. So I crawled over to my carryon suitcase and found a cardigan I could roll up to sleep on. But, then, I laid down again and was too cold. So, I crawled back over to my bag and found my blue pea coat, so I threw that over me as a blanket and put on another cardigan to add some warmth. I was sleeping by a huge window, so I had to put on a sleep mask to block out the light. I picked a spot far enough away from Jake so that he could still see me, but could claim not to know me (which he did.) See, I’m thoughtful!

Then, I passed out. Like the deepest, hardest sleep. I came out of this coma to hear people talking to each other in Mandarin. It was at that point, in my haze, that anxiety seized my heart. We were still in China. I had just dreamed that we had flown back to the States. I stood up and tried to shake the sleep off and realized that we, in fact, weren’t back in China. We were at the boarding gate for the Chicago to Beijing flight. The place we’d just come from. What a cruel joke.

Jake informed me that I had been sleeping for four hours and that we were about to board our flight and that I looked like a mess and I had sheet marks on my face. Which, if you’re not sleeping in a bed with sheets, can you have sheet marks? What does one call them if you’re sleeping on a floor using a cardigan as a pillow? Cardigan marks? As I got my wits together and trudged to our gate, I was reminded again by all of the frat boys in sombreros, loudly speaking Spanglish, that it was Spring Break week and this flight would be packed. And it was. Oh, the joys of modern day travel.

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Asia, History, Travel

Strawberries & Strangers

I’m over this whole censorship thing. No access to Facebook. Instagram: nope. Snapchat: that’s out too. But, ever heard of a VPN? Yeah, me either. I have no idea what it stands for, all I know is it allows me to break through the Great Firewall. So, I’m currently binge watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix while enjoying the very best strawberries I’ve ever tasted, picked fresh at a strawberry farm yesterday. Take that, China!

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So, let me do a Brittney highlight of China for you. These strawberries are amazing. I’m so serious. I didn’t even know strawberries could taste this way. I’ve been going on about them for about a day and a half now, so I’m just slightly obsessed. They’re grown in a greenhouse, totally organic and grown to their peak ripeness. Which we never get in the stores. Don’t even get me started on that though.

You cannot imagine what this place smelled like. Glorious!

You cannot imagine what this place smelled like. Glorious!

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We went out to the Great Wall, which was quite a feat. We went to take a train, but that was sold out. So we had to find the bus station and rely only on the occasional English sign to tell us where to go. I expected there to be a lot of tourists. And there were. They were just tourists from elsewhere in China. So, on our bus, you guessed it. I’m the only white girl. I’m getting kinda used to the staring.

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There were a few other “western” looking tourists once we got out to the Wall. But, still not many. We got lost again, then I had to find a bathroom. Not so glamorous as my last bathroom post, right?

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After my bathroom break, we continued down a path to find a bus back where we came from. And on the way, we ran into a group of four Chinese people trying to hand Jake their camera. We were confused at first. The guy was motioning like he wanted Jake to take a picture. So, Jake took the camera and the guy proceeded to come stand by me. For a picture. He didn’t want pictures with his friends. He wanted a picture with me. A stranger. Not only on his camera, but his friends wanted to take our picture with theirs too. After that, they decided since Jake was already set, they’d all gather around me for a group shot.

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But wait, it wasn’t over yet. The girl in the group wanted a single shot of just me and her. Because you don’t go to the Great Wall to get a picture of the Great Wall. You go to get a picture with an American tourist. Yeah, I’m still trying to figure that one out too.

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Asia, Travel

Blonde Beijinger

Jake hired us a race car driver to take us to the airport. I mean, I don’t know if Thailand has NASCAR, but if they did, he’d be qualified. I was sitting happily in the backseat, eating my fruit (you can get a bag of cut, ready to eat fruit for around 60 cents), when Jake starts questioning the cab driver about taking the expressway. I (as usual) have no idea where we are or what time our flight leaves, so I gave this zero thought. But, Jake apparently thought the driver was trying to get out of paying the toll on the highway and taking the longer route through the city. After some arguing about him making us late, the faster route was settled on. And when I say faster, I mean much faster. This guy was taking corners and changing across three lanes of traffic at the same time. I’m thinking Jake’s arguing brought this situation on us and he was just trying to prove a point. Needless to say, we got there with time to spare.

Now we’re in China. And I have yet to see another blonde person. I got on the subway this morning and a girl looked at me, whispered something to her friend, who then gawked around another passenger to get a look. I’m wondering what the Mandarin word for white girl is? And also, how to pronounce where we’re going.

Say that five times fast

Say that five times fast

Actually, when we got here last night, I was getting quite a few stares too. But, I’m thinking that was because I was wearing yoga pant capris, a mint green long sleeve shirt under a Navajo inspired red and cream cardigan, with moccasins and a bright pink headband. It was classy, let me assure you. (In my defense, when we got to the airport, it was cold, so I grabbed the first things I came to in my bag and put them on)

After we got to our hotel room, we went out in search of food and found this little noodle bar. I went in and asked if they spoke English or had an English menu. To which I got a response in Mandarin. I’ll take that as a no. But, they had a menu with pictures (next best thing), so I got a big bowl of beef noodle soup for $4. Which I messily slopped down with chopsticks. And I wonder why people stare.

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