Month: December 2014

Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

The first stop on our Christmas Vacation was Unawatuna, Sri Lanka.  Unawatuna, pronounced just as it is written una-wa-tuna, is a small beach town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.  Nearly all of our teacher friends who recommended Sri Lanka to us, said we had to spend time in Unawatuna! Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 6.08.39 AMWe heard it was the perfect spot to swim, lay on the beach, drink out of coconuts, and relax. IMG_5011 Unawatuna delivered on all of those promises and a few more that we weren’t expecting, like monkeys coming out from the jungle and checking us out during our breakfast. IMG_5005 We chose to stay at an Airbnb that was located “upstairs” in Unawatuna, a short Tuk Tuk ride up the hill from the beach into the jungle.   Our view was amazing, we were surrounded by jungle with a view of the Indian Ocean off in the distance.  So with a view like that, we spent as much time as possible sitting out on the deck and soaking in all the greenery that we have been desperately missing since we live in the desert.  On our second morning in Unawatuna, a brown adult male monkey decided to come and check out what we were up to while we ate breakfast on the deck. He swung his way from tree to tree and hopped right up onto the deck railing.  Even though the camera was sitting right on the table, Mitch was too excited by our visitor to snap any pictures.  The monkey stared at us for a few seconds before climbing the post on the deck to go to our friend’s Lauren and Adam’s deck to say hello to them as well.  Lauren and Adam were clearly aware that a monkey was nearby, as once the monkey started to make his way up to their deck, I began yelling like a crazy person: “MONKEY, MONKEY, LAUREN, MONKEY, ADAM, ADAM, ADAM, MONKEY.”  The nice part about my crazy yelling is that Adam reciprocated my crazed enthusiasm by answering with “MONKEY, MONKEY, HOLY SHIT, I SEE A MONKEY!” IMG_5004 After Mr. Monkey made his way across Adam and Lauren’s deck, I had composed myself enough to snap a couple of pictures, but none of them would truly do justice for how close this buddy had come to investigate what we were up to. Once he was at a safe distance from us, we heard a bunch of crashing in some nearby trees.  Soon after, Mrs. Monkey and her three babies emerged and followed him from tree-to-tree making their way deeper into the jungle. IMG_4994 The beaches here are great, the views are beautiful, but sometimes it’s an unexpected breakfast guest that makes the trip worth it.

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Pupoli

Meet Pupoli.

IMG_5076Pupoli walks up and down the beach in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka selling fruit to the tourists on a daily basis. He sold us a mango and then later in the day, another. After the second piece of fruit he asked if we minded that he sat with us and took a little break. Pupoli began telling us about his country and his village. He told us about his wife and his two children. He asked us about our life and wanted to know why we had chosen to come to Sri Lanka on vacation. Before long our conversation turned 10 years back to December 26, 2004. The day Pupoli’s life came unraveled.

On December 26, 2004 a Tsunami spread across the Indian ocean killing 230,000 people, 30,000 Sri Lankans, and Pupoli’s mother, wife, and 3 year old daughter. In 2004 Pupoli owned a restaurant on the beach in Unawatuna. He was working that morning when he noticed something was wrong with the ocean, the water had disappeared. It had receded much further than the range of normal. Pupoli didn’t know what was happening but he knew something was wrong and he knew he needed to get away from the water and get to high ground. So he ran. He was running up the hill when the wave hit. He watched his people and his town get swept away below him. His restaurant was demolished, and when he made it to his home, he realized that his family was gone. Despite his efforts to find them, they had been swept out to sea, never to be located.

Pupoli tried, along with many other Sri Lankans, to rebuild his business. However, since the deed to the land had been swept away with the rest of his life, he had no way to claim the property as his own. Thus, the government sold the land to someone else.

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Pupoli has since remarried and has a 6 year old and a 1.5 year old. He sells fruit to the tourists on the beach to try and support his family.

Mitch’s Monday Happy Hour – December 22

At Happy Hour this week, we are meeting on the beach of Unawatuna on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.  As I type this, my toes are buried in the sand of one of the coolest beaches i’ve ever been too.  The best part though . . . .I’m actually drinking a beer!

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Yummmmm! Ice . . . . cold . . . . beer!

For the first time since we’ve started meeting for our weekly Happy Hours, I’m sipping on a frosty mug of Lion Lager.  It’s Sri Lanka’s #1 beer and brewed locally here on the island.  A bottle costs about 200 Sri Lankan Rupees (equivalent to $1.50 in the US).  It’s a great beer, and so awesome to be able to walk into a bar and have a few drinks.

The last week has been busy for us, as we wrapped up things at school before our 2 1/2 week Christmas break, and traveling to Sri Lanka for the first leg of our holiday.  Here’s a few things from the past week:

  • School this week has been a ton of fun!  At our school, we openly celebrate Christmas and everything associated with it.    We were excited that our school celebrates it, because they truly made it feel like the holidays around here.  They had a huge Christmas tree in the school office, we sang Christmas songs in class, made crafts of Santa Claus and lots of other things to remind us that it was Christmas time.  The best part was at a school assembly on the last day of school before the break.  The entire elementary school (about 1,000 kids and faculty) all sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to start the day.  It gave me goosebumps and was so festive!
  • Christmas is a season full of miracles, and one of them happened while I was packing my back for our vacation.  As much as it upsets Rachel (now) and my family (when I was a kid), I have always been known to start packing my bag the day we leave for our trip.  Sometimes it can be a bit stressful, but I always seem to complete the task and haven’t missed a flight yet because of it.  Well this week, much to the surprise of my wife, I started packing my bag the day BEFORE our trip!  When she saw me stuffing t-shirts and board shorts into my bag 32 hours before our flight, she nearly fell to the floor.  I didn’t complete the job until the next day, about an hour before we left for the airport, but I thought it was a pretty big deal that I started packing so early.
  • We arrived in Sri Lanka on Friday morning, and have are having an awesome time!  We are currently in the town of Unawatuna, which is a super chill beach town.  The beaches are incredible, the beer is cold, and the atmosphere is just what we needed to start the first leg of our Christmas break vacation.  We’ve already had so many cool experiences in just the first few days here, and we can’t wait to share them with everyone.  Stay tuned over the next few days/weeks as we share our stories with you.

Cheers,
-Mitch

Sri Lanka & The Maldives

As I am writing this post we are leaving in 10 hours with a couple of super awesome friends, and headed to Colombo, Sri Lanka.  After we spend 12 days in Sri Lanka we will hop on another plane and head down to the Maldives. Pinch me, I am pretty sure I am dreaming! When we decided to move to the Middle East I immediately started looking up plane tickets from Kuwait City to anywhere I could think of that would be within an 8 hour plane ride. Before we even left the states I made a list of my dream travel destinations and both Sri Lanka and the Maldives made that list.  Once we arrived in Kuwait and started talking to returning teachers, who have traveled a ton, we kept hearing how awesome Sri Lanka was.  So the deal was sealed and the plane tickets were purchased.  Since we were going to be so close to the Maldives we decided to add that on to our trip as well. Sri Lanka is an island off the southeast corner of India. sri lanka 1 Our plan when we get to Sri Lanka is relax on the beach, check out some temples, and head to a national park where we hope to spot elephants and leopards while out on safari.  If those three goals are achieved I will leave Sri Lanka a very happy lady. After our Sri Lankan adventure we will head 470 miles away to the Maldives which is a conglomeration of 1,190 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Maldives 1The Maldives basis for tourism is the fact that they are made up of some pretty spectacular islands.  The Maldives is a water destination.  The plans are to swim, snorkel, and maybe head out on a submarine.  So many activities of the Maldives are based around water because so much of the islands are literally a small step away from the water.  The Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with the highest point being below eight feet over sea level.  maldives 2 So there you have it, the plans on our first overseas Christmas.  The only thing that is helping my homesickness over not being with our family for the holidays is knowing we get to go and explore these destinations, that weren’t even in the realm of possibility in our old life style. I am so grateful for a supportive spouse, awesome friends to travel with, a family that understands our love for exploring, and FaceTime!

Dubai Marina

We have been to the city of Dubai twice now and both times we have stayed in the Dubai Marina area.  We stayed there the first time pretty much by chance, and the second time because I refused to stay anywhere else because I absolutely love it there!  The Marina area is awesome, it is as if we stepped out of the Middle East and stepped into Chicago.  It has the same tall buildings with awesome water access that you get when you are in Chicago.

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Chicago last summer with Sarah, Heidi, Katie and Laura…Miss you Ladies!

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Dubai

The Marina is built on a two mile stretch of man made canals surrounded by tons of high rise apartment building, restaurants, shopping, and best off all: walking paths!

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The Marina is right near the Palm Jumeira, which is a series of man made islands in the shape of a palm tree. At the top of the palm tree is the Atlantis resort where I took my infamous leap of faith 🙂 The UAE is currently in the process of building another series of man made islands but this time they will be in the shape of a map of the world.

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One other selling point on the Marina for me is that awesome little M on the map. The Marina has a metro stop right next to it, making basically everything in Dubai just a short train ride away.

One thing we have been majorly missing in our Kuwaiti life is access to outdoor space.  We do not have sidewalks, parks, or green space near us in Kuwait, so the accessibility of the outdoor space in the Dubai Marina is luxurious to us.  When staying in the Marina area we could roll out of bed in the morning and go for a walk, go out for brunch, run into the mall, or go for a bike ride.  In our short little weekend jaunt to Dubai we did exactly that on both mornings while we were there.  The only time we left the Marina area was when we went to the Rugby 7’s Tournament and when we went to the Irish Village for live music and dancing. (more on the 7’s and the Irish Village later)

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When adulthood and childhood collide….adult size big wheels.

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Niamh and Mitch

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Jooles

I love so many things about this city: the diversity, the amenities, the cleanliness, the metro, the legal alcohol, but more than anything else that I have found in Dubai, I love the Marina!

IMG_4842With a view like this, can you guess where I will be staying the next time we are in Dubai?

Mitch’s Monday Happy Hour – December 15

If we were gathering for Happy Hour this week, we would be gathering at my favorite bar in Minnesota . . . . The Corner Bar in Bemidji!  I’d order a big juicy cheeseburger with fried onions and side of cheese balls. (one time I went to the Corner Bar and ordered my favorite “bar burger” twice in one day, for lunch & dinner!)  To drink, we’d have a big ass pitcher of Labatt Blue in honor of all of our Canadian followers! (Hello Mrs. Sanford!) It’s been another great week here in the desert.

The winter temperatures have settled in (75 degrees everyday) as the countdown to Christmas has officially begun! We have one more week of work, before our Winter Break, and our two and a half week vacation to Sri Lanka & the Maldives.  The date tells us that Christmas is coming, however it feels like September around here. Occasionally we will see some Christmas lights on a house or holiday decorations at a store, but it definitely doesn’t feel like Christmas is only a couple of weeks away.

  • Last weekend was jam packed with Holiday parties!  On Thursday night we hung out with some friends here in our apartment building.  They threw an awesome party, and it felt so festive. They had a super nice Christmas tree, ugly sweaters, and even egg nog!  On Friday night, we had our school Holiday party where about 150 of us gathered for a fun evening.  It was an outdoor party, with a social hour, dinner, and dancing.  They catered-in dinner from our favorite Lebanese restaurant, and it was soooo good! It was a great way to get everyone together from all of the different schools in our school system to celebrate the holidays and see everyone before they depart on their vacations.  The last holiday party we had was on Saturday afternoon, and was hosted by one of my fellow umpires from the Little League Baseball program that I’ve been working with.  It was fun to spend the afternoon outside, standing around a charcoal grill with some big slabs of meat working towards perfection.  It was a crazy busy weekend running around to all of the parties, but it sure makes us thankful for all the friends we have made here, and it was great to celebrate the holidays with them!
  • This weekend, I also officiated my first high school basketball game.  The boys varsity team at our school had a scrimmage game, and the head coach asked if I would ref the game.  It was great to be back on the court again, and I had a ton of fun. I was hoping to get involved during the regular season too, however it sounds like it’s going to be nearly impossible for me to get involved with the local association. I still had a great time, and told the coach that I’m always open to ref if they need someone.

Cheers, Mitch

The World’s Greatest Cookie

We had to travel nearly 8,000 miles from the lakes of Minnesota to the desert of Kuwait, in order to find THE greatest cookie IN THE WORLD!  Come to find out though, the cookie is actually from Australia!  This post is sure to make your mouth water . . . so quick . . . . go grab a big glass of milk before reading on!

Introducing the Tim Tam!

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We were only in Kuwait for about 12 hours before we were introduced to Mr. Tim Tam.  We were just getting settled into our new home when we heard a knock at our front door. It was our next door neighbors who were stopping by to introduce themselves and welcome us to Kuwait.  They brought us a house-warming gift: Tim Tams!  They asked if we had ever had them before, and we explained that we hadn’t even heard of them. Our neighbor is from Australia, and she began telling us about how popular they were back home and how everyone just loves them.  We accepted their kind gesture and considered ourselves so lucky to be living next door to such awesome people.

We immediately busted open the pack and couldn’t wait to judge for ourselves the quality of the cookies.  Let me tell you . . . OMG!  Hands down, they were the best little cookie i’ve ever had!  As I sit here at the computer, I’m completely speechless on how to describe them, they would just melt in your mouth. So after a quick google search, here’s what I found: “A Tim Tam is composed of two layers of chocolate malt biscuit, separated by a light chocolate cream filling, and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate.” (thanks wikipedia!)  The only bummer about the Tim Tam . . . . there’s only 11 cookies in each pack!  So with every purchase, we know that one of us is going to get screwed by only getting 5 cookies, while the other person gets 6!

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Photo courtesy of http://www.bandt.com.au

Just when we thought the Tim Tam couldn’t get any better, we discovered that he has a few friends. Including:

  • Double Coat
  • Chewy Carmel
  • White Chocolate
  • Turkish Delight
  • Dark Chocolate Rum & Raisin
  • Dark Chocolate Mint
  • Honeycomb
  • Double Chocolate Vanilla
  • Chocolate Orange
  • Dark Chocolate Classic

We’ve tried the Carmel Tim Tams and the Double Dipped Tim Tams. Both are great, but I still prefer the original!

After a few weeks of enjoying this Aussie cookie of goodness, I discovered the Tim Tam Slam.  This is where you bite off opposite ends of the cookie, put one side in your coffee and the other end in your mouth. Then your slurp up your coffee through the cookie. The heat from your beverage slowly melts the chocolate of the cookie, and you end up with a chocolate/coffee concoction that tastes great.

Here’s the good news for all you folks back in the States: They’re for sale in the US by Pepperidge Farm and mainly available at Target. Apparently they are not as good as the original Tim Tams, but they are worth a try if you are looking for a sweet treat.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.buzzfeed.com

I’m going to leave you today with 7 Fun Facts about a Tim Tam that I found on Buzzfeed:

  1. Australians eat 45 million packs of Tim Tams a year.
  2. Tim Tams went on the market in 1964, 50 years ago! (why I haven’t I heard of these)
  3. They are named after a horse who won the Kentucky Derby in 1958.
  4. The chocolate used to coat the Tim Tams is supposed to have a slight carmel taste.
  5. There is a cheese flavored Tim Tam available in Indonesia (yuck!)
  6. The Tim Tam factory in Sydney, Australia produces 3,000 cookies a minute.
  7. One in every two Australian households contains a pack of Tim Tams.

Mitch’s Monday Happy Hour – December 8

Cheers, let’s go to happy hour!  If we were back home, we’d meet at Buffalo Wild Wings. I’d be drinking a big ass glass of Blue Moon on tap with 12 boneless buffalo wings! (1/2 mild & 1/2 parmesan garlic if you were wondering).  Holy smokes, my mouth is watering so much right now!  I’ve been craving Buffalo Wild Wings for the last 3 months.  Here’s what’s going on with us this week:

  • We had an absolute blast last weekend in Dubai for the Rugby 7s tournament!  It was a quick trip, but a great way to re-energize before these next two weeks of work prior to Christmas Break.  We went with some great friends and had a ton of fun meeting and celebrating our weekend with people from all over the world.  We also got a good dose of beer and pork ribs (both of which are prohibited here in Kuwait) during our vacation.  It was awesome!  We’ll post more info and pictures from our weekend soon.  In the meantime, here is a quick pic of the main stadium at the tournament.
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The picture looked good on my iPhone 4 when I took it over the weekend. However now that I am sober, I’m realizing that my sight must have been a bit blurry from all of the Heinekens I was drinking.

  • I used to hate Mondays. It was that stupid day after Sunday, that would ruin every weekend. However in Kuwait, I think it’s my new favorite day of the week!  Our work week here is Sunday-Thursday, so it no longer ruins our weekends anymore. I also like it because it’s the day our maid comes! Her name is Lily and she comes once a week. We leave for work and our house is a complete disaster.  When we get home . . . . VIOLA!!! All of our dishes, laundry, ironing, cleaning, and everything else is done. It is so fun to drive home from work on Mondays, with the anticipation of walking into a spotless apartment!
  • For the last couple of months, Rachel has been teaching an iMovie Club to a group of students at school. The school offers a ton of different after school activities for kids, and they meet once a week. She basically taught them how to use iMovie on Apple devices, and showed them some tricks and tips they could use to make some fun videos. She had a great group of about 10 kids from grades 3-5.  Apparently she was the only one who didn’t own the new iPhone 6, and the kids couldn’t believe that her antique phone (iPhone 5) still worked because it was soooo old!
  • For about the last month, I’ve been searching for a jar of Miracle Whip (mayonnaise).  Everyday for lunch I my wife makes me turkey sandwiches with Miracle Whip.  Not only is it my favorite, it is also the ONLY kind that I like.  When we first moved here in August, we found some at one of the grocery stores.  However since then, I haven’t found it anywhere!  I’ve tried a couple of different “local” brands, and they taste almost sour or something. NASTY!  We’re slowly realizing that when you see a product you like at the grocery store, it’s best to buy about a dozen of them because you never know if they will ever have it again. In case you are wondering, I still haven’t found another jar of Miracle Whip, therefore I have no idea what i’m eating for lunch tomorrow!

I’m still daydreaming of a Blue Moon and boneless chicken wings from Buffalo Wild Wings! See you guys next week.

Living vs. Vacation

I love to travel.

I love experiencing new things.

I love getting to know other cultures.

I love seeing all the different forms of beauty all across the world.

I am spending this year traveling.  I have the opportunity to experience a culture in a way that I never have had the chance to do before, full immersion.  I am living in the Middle East.  I am not on vacation.

I have realized in my few short months here in Kuwait that there is a significant difference in traveling for vacation and traveling by living in a new country.

When you are on vacation you stay in the most beautiful areas; a beach resort, a mountain chalet, a tree house in the rain forest.  When you are living somewhere, you stay with the locals.  We live in an apartment; not on the beach or with ski in/ski out capabilities.   Just a regular 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment.

When you are on vacation you get a surface level understanding of a new culture; they wear dishdashas here, or the Mosque plays a beautiful call to prayer.  When you live somewhere you have the opportunity to talk with people and have discussions about their culture.  You learn about Allah, Haram, what is being sang when the call to prayer goes out, and how they feel about stereotypes within the American culture.

When you are on vacation life is a party.  You are in a constant staying of eating, drinking, exploring, and just all around being happy.  I have never woken up on vacation with my crabby pants on.  While you are living in a place you get up, go to work, have stupid fights with your spouse, miss your family like crazy, and have days of just plain old waking up on the wrong side of the bed.  We are experiencing all the typical emotions of life, we just happen to be on this side of the world.

When you are on vacation you go.  You go exploring, you go to the beach, you go out to dinner, you go on a hike, you just go.  When you live somewhere you can’t go all the time at that pace.  You binge watch Homeland, you lay in bed and read a book on a lazy Saturday morning, you work on your Pinterest boards, you clean out your refrigerator, and you go grocery shopping.

When you are on vacation some place you check out the touristy places.  You read Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor and learn what are the “must see places.”  When you live somewhere you get to the local fruit stand, the awesome Thai place with only four tables in it, or the market that would never make its way into a guide book but is so amazing.

While I am so so happy in the life we have right now I have to remind myself from time that I am not on vacation. I need to let myself be OK with the idea that our life here isn’t going to be a constant vacation but rather a slow travel where we dig deep, form relationships, and truly live while we are here in Kuwait.