Finding the Extra in the Ordinary

Growing up I was always scared. Didn’t really know why. I just was. Maybe it was the white kid-black neighborhood story. Maybe it was the traumatic stories my family had shared with me growing up. Or maybe I was just a wimp. 

In a large tree on the property I grew up in, my father built a three-story tree house. Not sure whether the house helped cultivate my imagination or whether my imagination simply used it as fuel. Either way, the tree house made it easy for me to stay tucked away in our property and rarely venture out into the neighborhood. Basically, at a young age I feared traveling. 

Considering the amount of countries I’ve traveled to by my current age I find that beginning strangely… 


Now that I have returned to my old neighborhood to live and am free from the fear of traveling I have found countless wonders and beauty painted across historic East Oak Lane. From charming houses to striking back streets, there is no end to the extraordinary. 

I believe this is the case with ALL places. If we step outside our fear and really look at the world around us, wherever that may be, than we will be able to find the extra in the ordinary. 

Won’t you join me? 


Want to make an impact? Live faithfully. 

The small children cheered when they saw him. Some pulled at his clothes, some simply hugged whatever body part they could grasp. It was a remarkable contrast. Here stood a middle-aged plump white man from the United Kingdom surrounded by a horde of small dark-skinned Ugandan boys and girls. Despite their differences, the villagers welcomed Roy as if he was family. He had been there many times before, so in some respects, he was like family. 

Roy had a regular job as an engineer. He spent most of his time managing his fellow engineers and trying to hit deadlines. But twice a year he left that behind and visited a small village in Uganda to help with whatever was needed. Some times it was to simply bring coveted resources like food and shoes. Other times it was to help build a house or water irrigation facilities. He did whatever was asked of him each time he returned. He still traveled to other places with his wife and child but he always saved time for his Ugandan family. 

I have a similar experience each year, however, the contrasts are more understated. I don’t travel to Uganda. And many of the children I encounter have closer backgrounds to that of my own. But the story is based on the same reason… to serve. 

In upstate Pennsylvania, miles from the New York border, sits a vast stretch of land where magic happens. It’s a summer camp called Camp Iroquoina. I take a trip there every year. It is traveling at its finest. Now, some would not see summer camp as traveling. And most would definitely not put a trip to Uganda and a trip to Hallstead, PA in the same category. But why not? Before we pass judgment, let’s think about our thoughts on travel and impact. 

In the world of traveling, especially when it comes to blogs and social media, we tend to give more legitimacy to the crazier people and the wilder landscapes. It’s understandable – we crave to see what we haven’t before. The places and people are new and exciting. 

“What kind of animal is that!!!!?”

“Wow! Is that guy really wearing that!?”

“Wouldn’t it be great to go there?”

These are the sights and experiences that drive our enthusiasm. The “Wow-factor”. It captivates us. And there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be enthralled. To be completely overwhelmed with new things. It is fascinating and exciting and travel pushes us in extraordinary ways. But then we come home and continue with our lives. Many of the things we saw will continue on in our lives but only through our memories. We enjoyed the time traveled and it has made an impact on us, but we have not necessarily made an impact on the places weve traveled TO. 

In the world of education, kids love memorable moments. When a baseball player or famous author comes to your school and gives some inspiring speech it’s a very inspiring moment. But in terms of its impact, it pales in comparison to the person who interacts with the children every day. It is the regular day-to-day encounters that truly shapes hearts and minds. Thus the example of my yearly trip to Camp Iroquoina. 

Every year I go to camp and see God use me in amazing ways. Through collegial bonds and bonds with campers I see the lasting impact of consistency. Like Roy in Uganda, every time I return to those sacred grounds in upstate PA, it is a joyous and exciting reunion. It is beyond moving to see how just being consistent, and living faithfully can have the greatest impact on others’ lives. 

It was that thought of consistency that someone once told me when I was a camper at Camp Iroquoina. At the time, I was discouraged and downtrodden. The world around me seemed dark and doubtful. But a counselor told me something that gave me hope. 

“Never underestimate the power of living faithfully.” 

I didn’t know why at the time but the words gave me peace. It showed me a slice of life that God holds for us which does not depend on our works, or ambitions, or even our travels. It was a calm, confident, yet powerful idea. Live a consistent and faithful life, and thro that it, you will make an impact on the people of this world. 

Those Ugandan children did not run to Roy because he was famous or because he threw out gold coins to the villagers. They ran to him because he was faithful to them. He showed up time and time again to meet their needs. Where is it that you can live more faithfully? I would encourage you to re-examine the things you thought made the biggest impact and ask yourself where you can be more faithful. Because when you are full of faith, you are full of life… no matter where you are in the world. 

A Whisper Called Home

“You will have 5 sons! 5 SONS!!! Hee hee hee”, shouted the elderly Emirati man. My wife calls him Baba. She wasn’t pregnant yet but he was so adamant, in a cute way, that we encouraged his predictions. It helped that Baba had far more wrinkles than teeth. It also endeared him to us the way he walked quickly but intentionally despite that fact that he had lost a foot. He was like an aged Arab pirate. 

Baba had grown up in a time before the United Arab Emirates were the Emirates. He was a pre-Emirati. As a Bedouin boy, he developed in a time when people lived in thickly weaved tents and worked primarily after the sun went down. They traveled continuously, basing their moves strategically on water and other coveted resources. Baba had seen life. A difficult, calloused, sun scorched life that many can’t even imagine. And now, Baba stood in one of the newest hospitals in the world, with stunning architecture and glass walls 6-stories high, enjoying the cool refrigerated air whistling through the halls of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. 

The home he once knew is now gone. The closest he may come to experiencing that life is when there is a cultural festival and the government breaks out their Emirati package of activities and props. Falcons, henna, cane and hair dancing, basket weaving, pearl diving, and many other Emirati customs are paraded around in remembrance of their past life, their past home. But that home is gone. They do not live in tents any longer, they live in the new world. Their homes are now apartments on the 30th floor of state-of-the-art high rises. Or they live in mansions. Walled-off compounds with 10, 15, or 20 rooms, all tiled with marble or ornate cedar. Generously cooled at all times of the year. How odd it must be to know you can never return to the home where you grew up. To the life where you were raised. 

Interesting enough, I met many expats while traveling abroad who live a similar story, except there’s is one of choice. I met one family who have been abroad for over ten years. When they first moved abroad they took regular trips home to see family and friends. But with each passing year they had fewer and fewer family and friends to go home to. Before long, they had little reason to return home at all… so they didn’t. When others traveled home for the holidays, this family went to Disneyland Tokyo, or Paris, or Shanghai (FYI – there are Disneylands EVERYWHERE). 

When I asked the family whether or not they had a “home” somewhere, they replied very honestly. 


Some of the reasons for this disconnect from the world they had once lived is because people live their lives despite whether you are there or not. The constant traveler is a novel thing. Much like an old traveling salesman, they swing into town on a whirlwind of excitement, sporting stories, gifts, and wares from around the world. They captivate with their tales of indigenous people’s from far corners of the globe. They impress with their seemingly endless knowledge of foreign cultures and world politics.  But then they leave, and life continues as it did before. 

When I first left Philadelphia and began the adventure of Abu Dhabi and beyond, it was a marvel. It was captivating and impressive and stretched me in so many ways. It was as Gandalf had said to told Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. 

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

The travelers life is an adventurous one, yes, but all too often it lacks a certain something. After a while, if you are listening to the pinings of your soul, you might begin to hear the mighty whisper of constancy. Despite the tremendous allure of a life lived on the long and winding path, with nothing but a backpack and a walking stick, there is a greater call to make an impact in a place you call home. 

This week, my wife and I made that choice and signed the dotted line. We bought a house. While I may still be the Freckled Traveler, I am most certainly not a Freckled wanderer. My roots have been dug and my home – of stone, and wood, and earth – has now been cemented alongside my resolve. I always knew that, like Baba, my Bedouin days of wandering from one source to another would pass, and a new generation would emerge. Like Abu Dhabi, the old Bedouin ways of my life are far gone, only to be referenced through picture and embellished story. Bittersweet as that may be, the new life that grows from the roots of my new home, I know, will bring far greater joy than the past sights of the passing horizon. 

True Country: A different Virginia story. 

“Here’s what you gotta do. Turn on the shower as hot as possible. Stick your head under there and all that stuff will come right out. I’ve done it.” 
It was a gross image. Stuff coming right out. 

I didn’t know what “stuff” but I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to see “it” coming out. Especially since I was currently having breakfast. I wasn’t a part of this conversation, I was simply sitting at a table near by,but it was still gross. 

The woman who was speaking was a waitress at the Waffle House in Norfolk, Virginia. She was talking to an elderly gentlemen who evidently had some “stuff” that was causing discomfort. He sat there across the counter from the woman listening intently and openly. She leaned over the counter toward him with a genuine desire to help. It was touching. Here in this small diner in eastern Virginia two people were having a simple conversation. What probably wasn’t on their mind was their skin color. 

The waitress was white. The elderly gentleman was black. In that moment, however, they were just two people engaged in a calm conversation about solving a problem. 

Most of us know about the racial tensions going on in parts of our country, especially Virginia. But knowing there’s tension does nothing to solve it. Pointing out how we are different does not ease that tension. Vilifying one another only widens the divide. There are many of those who wish to use a knife to heal wounds initially inflicted by the knife. Wouldn’t we rather  heal with what is truly needed? Time and stitches. 

We all have “stuff” in our heads and hearts that makes us uncomfortable. Right now in the U.S., the discomfort palpable. It is driving many people to takes steps in anger and vitriol. We think that our anger will help us find peace. We think it will help drain the stuff. But it won’t. A hot shower probably won’t fix it either. Honestly, I don’t know what would fix it. Other than the saving grace and power of Christ I can’t see what would ease the deep and painful hurts that so many of my brothers and sisters have felt and experienced. 

What I do know is that if we want to make progress towards healing, we must be willing to sit across a counter from those who are different than us and talk about the “stuff”… gross or not. 

The Quiet Nicaraguan and La Lengua of Joy

La Rocha is a quiet man. Not quiet in how he held his tongue, rather quiet in his demeanor. How someone can speak openly and yet still carry such a reserved way baffles me. His words are quick and to the point, always thoughtful and insightful but rarely playful. That is until, he begins to speak in Spanish. Then his words are anything but reserved. 

The second he breaks in to Spanish, his visage transforms from quiet listener to mischievous and abundantly playful. His jokes are quick witted and numerous. It’s as if he was just waiting to strike. Like a verbal Spanish cobra. Except instead of venom, he infects with laughter. 

It’s delightful. 

And it’s all in Spanish. 

Lucky for me I know Spanish or I may have missed this complete change in personality. 

La Rocha is from Central America. Nicaragua to be exact. He is short. Central American kind of short. His underwhelming physical stature might be the reason why his demeanor seems so gentle and understated. I’ve seen small people with big personalities before. And I’ve seen big people with small personalities. What’s most surprising about La Rocha is that it shouldn’t surprise me at all. It shouldn’t surprise me that his most dynamic traits manifest themselves in his native tongue. We all do this. 

I’ve taught tons of students and met many adults who have showed similar traits. They are reserved at first, almost timid, but get them in their “zone” and it’s a new day. This was how it was for La Rocha. 

But why should I care about “zones”?

We are surrounded by people everyday. Many of them we know pretty well. But do we? We might know one side of them but do we know them in theirzone“? This isn’t the superficial rant about not judging a book by its cover. I think it’s an ok analogy but books are much simpler than people. People are complex. And complex systems perform uniquely in certain situations. 

We all have environments in which we are comfortable. What makes us really comfortable is when we can speak our native tongue. For some that might be another language altogether. Spanish. French. Philadelphian – it’s a language, trust me. 

For others their zone might be with a certain group of people – friends, family, teammates. Then there are those whose zone is in a certain place. This might be their home or even a bar or restaurant where “everyone knows their name”. 

If we want to understand others we can ask some questions and have some conversations and that’s all well and good. But if we want to make an impact on others and really see people at their truest then it  is important to find out and meet them in their zone. That is when authentic relationships are forged. And while we’re at it we might even find our own zone along the way. 

Over the past decade God has allowed me to travel the world – from Europe and Africa to Asia and the Middle East. I am extremely grateful. Having seen countless wonders, now that I’m home in Philadelphia, one thing stands true. 

None of those places mean anything, 

They were beautiful and stunning and sublime but they in the end the are here then they are not. As the writer in Ecclesiastes would say, they are a “chasing after the wind”. Pursuing such wonders will bring no lasting joy. 

What does bring joy? People. 

It is the relationships we form with people along the way that have had and will have the most eternal significance. 

The Freckled Traveler Returns… Just in Time

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”

What if the quote ended there?

What if Rocky Balboa had walked away after stating just how difficult life can be? 

It would be soooooo depressing. 

If that was all life was than it WOULD be depressing. But that’s only half of reality. There’s another side.

In creating this world God allows it to be difficult. He allows it to be hard. A lot of the times we are the ones making it hard but it remains hard nonetheless. Life is tough. We know this. 

Moving home has been tough. Joyous but tough. Politically, socially, mentally, physically. It’s tough on all sides. We were thrust back into the complicated mix of so many issues and conflicts – familial, local, national. Living abroad allows you to insulate yourself in a way. You can pick and choose your difficulties like you would the platters at an Abu Dhabi Friday brunch.  But when you get home you find that the problems don’t avoid you. They punch you right in the face. And they do it again and again and again. Soon enough you begin to wonder the same thing that many people ask you when you moved home, “Why did you come back?!!!?”

And the next question that arises in your mind is usually, “Do I really want to deal with all of this? Shouldn’t I just go back to where it was easy?” 

But that doesn’t solve anything. 

Avoiding the issues also stops us from realizing the other half of God’s reality…

That there is hope. 

Much like Rocky’s words, life starts with truth but finishes with hope if you have enough faith and perseverance. That faith is a choice. And life is all about choices. I chose to move back to Philadelphia. Back to the USA. We moved back to be near family, yes, but that’s not all. 

We moved back because when we turn on the news or listen to the struggles our friends, family, and neighbors face, we want to fight. We want to step into the ring and go to battle. We have faith that our perseverance and our struggle is not in vain. 

Living abroad, when someone asked me where I’m from, I would proudly say Philly. The city of cheesesteaks and Rocky. A city of fighters. A city full of people who take Rocky’s words to heart. Because in the end…

“It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Walking in the Great John McShain’s Footsteps, As Far as the Eye Can See

The moment was surreal. 

The bells from St. Mary’s Cathedral rang out over Killarney National Park. Up ahead a woman walked her small dog. A family of four cycled down the path. A couple stood to the side studying the park map, planning their course of action. The flowers in the gardens to the right swayed gently in the midday breeze. Far off to the left, the gold and hunter fields let out onto the deep shimmering waters of Kenmare lake. Just beyond the lake climbed the forests hugging Shehy mountains. 

It was an exquisite moment. Every bit of it made possible because of my great uncle John McShain. 

Ever since I can remember I have heard tales of my famous great uncle John McShain. How he was the son of an Irish immigrant who had come from next to nothing. How he continued his father’s business and had become the “Man Who Built Washington”. How he had been a man of generosity in wealth, faith, and spirit. How he had used his wisdom, wits, and work ethic to take care of his family, his church, and his community. And how he had bought a sprawling estate in Ireland where he spent the waning hours of his life. But all of the tales I had heard were just stories. That was until I stepped through the “Golden Gates of Killarney” on Wednesday morning, June 28th, 2017. 

Harry O’Donoghue met my wife, child, and I at the front door of Killarney House. The house was right in the middle of Killarney city, situated in Kerry County, Ireland. Harry was the butler, groundskeeper, house manager – basically, he was anything the house needed him to be. He had served at Killarney House all his life, just as his father and grandfather had before him. He was a tall man but never overbearing He was slightly hunched over from decades of faithful work. He had an easy smile and a confidence about him. A confidence that can only come from seeing the ebb and flow of life at a manor such as this. He showed a fondness for the McShains. 

“They were a good family. Took care of the house. Took care of the church. Nice people.” 

Valerie O’Sullivan, an energetic photographer from the local newspaper Killarney Today, showed up and offered a few more details of John McShain and the house. 

This July will be the grand opening of the house to the public. Last August they had opened the grounds and gardens, to the locals’ delight. Killarney House, known by many as the “Golden Gates”, had been a mystery to many for well over three centuries. 

The Earl of Kenmare had originally owned the estate which spanned over 8000 acres of southwest Kerry. The myth then grew to epic proportions when Queen Victoria visited the house in the late 19th century. But by the time John McShain, my great uncle, purchased the estate in the late 1950s, the house was in deep disrepair. The original estate, pictured below, had burned down leaving only the smaller, but still impressive, manor stables. 

John and his wife Mary set about renovating the house and the gardens, bringing beauty and vigor once more to the luscious grounds. Eventually, John and his wife bequeathed much of the land to the state to be joined with the nearby Muckross estate. They sold some of the land, but the majority of it, nearly 8500 acres, they gave free of charge for the public’s enjoyment. They only asked to stay on in their later years. John passed away in 1989. After Mary died in 1998, their daughter Sister Pauline McShain – our Aunt “Polly” – then gave the remaining house and gardens to the Irish government to make available to the public.  

Nearly a decade and a half after that act of generosity, on July 3rd, the Killarney House itself will finally join the gardens in welcoming every Kerry man, woman, and traveler that wishes to see the Killarney’s most coveted grounds. 

It was these thoughts that filled my mind as I walked through the house. Thanks to the likes of Harry O’Donoghue and Pat Dawson, the overseer of the whole project, the house was shaping up nicely. They had done a spectacular job in restoring and refurbishing many of the original furniture and decor which brought the house to such high esteem. Crystal chandeliers. Decadent curtains. Chests, dressers, and drawing tables of the finest wood. The dining room table could host 14 people. 

We walked through the car tunnel where Harry laughed. He shared how people used to know the McShains were coming out because they would hear the gates opening. This was a big deal because the family car was a Rolls Royce. This was at a time in Ireland when cars themselves were scarce. One of the locals, John Kearney, told us of how he used to have fun dreaming and planning of how they would steal the Rolls Royce and go for a joy ride. 

We finished our tour of the house and walked out to the gardens in the rear of the house. I looked out over the acres of green, and the lakes further down, the mountains careening off into the distance. I asked Harry, “How much of this was ours?”

“As far as the eye can see”, he replied. 


I couldn’t comprehend it. I could comprehend ANY of it. 


“As far as the eye can see”

All of this had been ours. And now it wasn’t. I wasn’t bitter. On the contrary, I was filled with great joy. 

I looked at the families walking down the paths, and the couples taking photos by th flower beds, and the old man sitting quietly on the park bench, and I thought – McShains made this possible. 

It inspired me. 

It inspires me now. It drives me to create, to build, to care for and love my fellow man. To leave something behind for others’ enjoyment. 

John McShain was a brilliant man who continued the works of his father and left an even greater legacy. He became one of the richest men in the U.S. and Ireland. But through it all he maintained his humility and his regard for others. Even more, through all of his success he never forgot God, the one who made it all possible. He maintained his faith until the end. 

St Mary’s Cathedral- where John and Mary spent many a Sunday

John McShain built a legacy, one that I hope to continue. That is why I think Pat Dawson’s words perfectly summed up my experience walking in John McShains footsteps. 

“Ireland has put a lot of work into  your great Uncle’s house, rest assured, the McShain’s legacy will go on forever. ”

Correct you are Pat. The legacy goes on, in Ireland and in the United States, in name and in deed, because of John’s work and the generations of McShains to come. 

Photo courtesy of Valerie O’Sullivan, Killarney Today

Thank you to Harry O’Donoghue and Pat Dawson for their diligent work on the Killarney House and Gardens. Thank you to Valerie O’Sullivan for cataloging the restoration process. Thank you to Aunt Pauline McShain for such a model of courage and wisdom in our family. And thank you to John and Mary McShain for creating a legacy of diligence, success, and faith for our family to continue. 

London – A Marching Town

The crowd of men stormed past the bar. Was it a mob? It looked like a mob? There were police men following them. It must be a mob? 

It all happened so quickly. One minute we were eating lunch at The Sugarloaf Pub, the next we were shielding our little one as men ran frantically into and out of the establishment. What was all this chaos about? But just before I constructed a barrier of wooden tables and chairs the storm of men subsided and calm restored itself to the small English street. 

“What was all that about?!?” I asked the barman. 

“Footballers against extremism march”, he replied. 

A march?! How exciting! 

“They’re marching from London Bridge to Trafalgar Square and back again.” 

It started to click. 

I looked back into my memories of the last few chaotic moments and things started to clarify. The men were walking with excitement yes, but not of an ill sort. And the policemen were gentle escorts, walking calmly at the back of the group, ensuring safe passage. As for the men running frantically into and out of the bar? 

They were running to the bathroom. Marching gets certain things moving. 

I hadn’t seen a march in well over four years, not since I moved to the UAE. Marches were unheard of there. 

Part of it was that most people were content. They had jobs and purpose and provisions. Another part was that the leaders of the UAE made wise choices. But mostly, Abu Dhabi’s streets just weren’t that walkable. 

Yes, you could walk in Abu Dhabi, but it wasn’t easy. Large highways and eight lane city roads made biking or walking anywhere a challenge. The streets were large, not intimate, and they were also major thoroughfares. If you closed one road down you would have to go miles around to get where you needed to go. 

It’s one of those intangibles. Something that draws you into a place. A city where you can walk everywhere invites exploration. London invites an adventurers mind. They even advertise many walking tours. The Charles Dickens walking tour. Jack the Ripper walking tour. Southwark walking tour. The Michael Jackson Moon-walking tour. Ok the last one I made up. But nonetheless, London is a walkable city. 

That’s why it shouldn’t be strange to see a group of men gather together to walk from one end of London to the other in support of a cause they believe. When you care about something, you want to take to the streets, and London makes it easy to take to its streets, whatever the “why” for walking. 

From Zayed to Zayed: Everything Comes Full Square in the Final Days of Abu Dhabi

The darkness behind Sheikh Zayed Stadium made the lights streaming from the top of the colonnade that much more dazzling. Maybe it just felt that way because it was the final time I’d see it.

Four years ago I had looked up at those same lights in confusion as I tried to find a way into the stadium. Gaelic Football season was about to start and that night was the first practice. Lucky for me a friendly lad named Gary Tracey invited me into his car and we swung around the other side into the back gate, and into a world of football I’d never before experienced. 

I thought back to that night with fondness. How different of a man I was. I had just gotten to Abu Dhabi not a few days prior and already I was wandering around roman-esque structures in search of a game I had no reason playing. Everything was new and exciting. I was a single man with few cares and a myriad of opportunities. The adventure had just begun. 

Now, close to four years later I stand in a similar situation. In the twilight of one adventure and on the cusp of a new one. By happenstance we were placed in an apartment building for our last week in the UAE that stands not 500 meters from the stadium and fields where I spent so much time. 

What a perfect way to end our time here. Sometimes it felt like my life was a quadrangle rotating simply between the four points of home, work, church, and the football pitches. And now, with work at an end, the apartment cleaned and cleared, and the last church service attended, I stand at the final point once again. God is quite a poet. 

The UAE was unified by Sheikh Zayed. The Emiratis refer to him as Father Zayed, in honor of his unifying vision and charismatic leadership that brought together a group of Bedouin tribes in the Arabian peninsula and turned them into the United Arab Emirates. How poetic it is that this stadium, named after him, in a place called Zayed Sports City, which was the initial spark that connected me to my first group in Abu Dhabi, would also hold my final moments as well. 

That spark has led to a lightning storm of change within me and those around me. Relationships. School events. Service to my church community. Awards. Championships. Honors. Milestones. Marriages. Births. Deaths. 


All of which began in the shadow of Sheikh Zayed. 

But with all things, good and bad, they must come to an end. My time in the UAE is over. The next chapter about to begin. 

It has been a thrilling adventure. I am blessed to have lived it. I am blessed to have been a blessing to others. However, there is one final moment I long for. As my flight leaves the runway this evening and I look out over the lights of Abu Dhabi one last time, I hope to hear the small whisper in the silence of my soul…

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

P. S. The adventure continues… in the next coming weeks stayed tuned for posts on my experiences while My family and I travel through the U.K. and Ireland. Also stayed tuned for the FreckledTraveler’s insights and adventures in the good ole USA. 

The Weirdest Meal You Never Ordered – Brunch in Abu Dhabi 

It was nice to be one of those people for a change. You know the ones. They come out around 12 pm every Friday. Standing by the street with one arm raised toward the sky. Its almost as if in triumph, like they know the victory to come. They are adorned in bright colors and decadent jewelry, to match the feast in which they are preparing.

They are, of course, the brunch goers. Or for the sake of shear mummery, the Brunchians. And this Friday, we were one of them.

With a 7-month-old infant, any excursion out into the world is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Sitting still and allowing us to eat more than 5 bites of our dinner is an accomplishment worth celebrating. This day, however… we had booked the nanny.

Brunchians unite!

Brunches in Abu Dhabi vary in duration and cuisine but they all have one thing in common. IMG_9669Food. And lots of it. Some specialize in seafood, some Mexican, some are meat lovers’ dreams and veggie lovers’ nightmares. Many offer a wide mix. And mix is what people do.

They are a lot like a buffet, except these tend to have a chef standing there for every food. Lobster tail… YOU get a chef! Sushi station… YOU get a chef! Ice cream dipped in nitrous… YOU GET A CHEF!

It’s a lot like Oprah (minus the cars).

What is fascinating is how all of those things are combined in one meal… and on one plate usually. People throw out any regard for what does or does not mix to satisfy their numerous and decadent cravings.

Jerry Seinfeld describes this eclectic buffet mentality perfectly in a recent comedy set on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The momentary result of such decadence is a very content palate. The final result of willingly sacrificing your digestive system to such vast arrays of flavors might not be so pleasant. But in the end, sometimes you have to throw it all on the plate and simply join the Brunchians.



Light Up the Lanterns – Last Night in Vietnam in 3 Minutes (Video Tour)

Vietnam holds a special place in my heart. That is largely in part to the enchanting old world feel of a small town called Hoi An in the center of the country. That small town is made even more charming at night when they light up the many colorful lanterns that adorn the facades of the small two story river cafes and stores. What you end up with is this…

Care to read about some more of my Vietnam adventures?  Read on here.

Kuala Lumpur = 2 towers+2 parks+1 famous cartoonist

Looking up at the two spires towering into the sky, I was more drawn to the bridge halfway up which connected them. The building was impressive, but it wasn’t magical – as the name “patronus” towers would suggest. The real name was Petronas, as in Petronas Oil and Gas Malaysia.

What WAS magical was the park found just behind. It’s rolling hills and varied foliage led one to believe they had just stepped through the wardrobe into the jungles of Malaysia. Then the thunder rolled in and the sudden downpour drove us under a nearby pavilion where we were able to watch and smell the park come alive, while the city faded out of view.

The next day welcomed another Malaysian landscape, only this time it was through the eyes of one who lived the jungle life. We met him at the museum. It had only been open two days. We were its 25th visitor. The Cartoon and Comic Museum was tucked away in the folds of the Botanical Gardens. It felt special.

img_9346The walls of the museum were covered in work of local comics, cartoonists, and illustrators. Some drawings depicted political satire, others seemed to represent the 60s itself – feathered bangs and big collars. The cartoons that intrigued me most were also the most jubilant. Their subject was of a little naked boy playing childish games with palm fronds and wicker baskets. Even more intriguing was that the little naked boy was standing next to me.

His name was Lat, he was in his mid-fifties, and they were his cartoons. Lat is a pretty big deal in Malaysia. So much so that upon arriving home to Abu Dhabi, a friend of mine from Malaysia was in utter disbelief that I had met him. His drawings were a big deal too. They struck a chord with many of his fellow Malaysians. They had grown up in the houses depicted in his drawings. They had lived the cartoon.

With each of his storied descriptions, the pictures began to take shape in my mind. The naked baby being whipped around on a palm frond by his older brother wasnt just a comic, it was real. Lat grew up in a different Malaysia than the one we had toured the past two days. The pictures he drew weren’t of skyscrapers and mega malls but of small wooden Malay huts which were built on stilts to avoid both weather and wildlife. He wasn’t even 60 and his life had become an exhibit in a museum. It was fascinating to hear him speak of the changes.

We wandered out into the botanical gardens in awe of the beautiful story we had just heard. We marveled at this garden oasis in the midst of a booming city in a small corner of Southeast Asia. How strange it must be to grow up in a world that disappears right before your eyes. To draw your life in passing and then to watch it poster the walls of a museum, giving perspective to passing tourists. Surreal.

We walked the winding paths of the park, pondering the city, a mix of old and new, hibiscus and highrises. I for one favored the former.

As we prepared to leave the park I tilted my head and looked at the horizon everso. At the right angle the trees seemed to hide the unfinished business of man. The construction and the traffic and the bustling cars were shielded, and what your eyes were left with were two towers and creation itself.

That was Kuala Lumpur.

The Vietnamese are Trying to Steal My Child: Day 4 in Vietnam

Her seasoned hands reached for the child longingly. Her wrinkled mouth opened wide in what was meant to be a smile, demonstrating her rotten teeth. She clapped loudly for the baby’s attention, as if the loud sound would disarm the mother of her apprehensions. 

Worst case scenario was she picked up Eva and tossed her into the nearby canal. Morbid yes. But these are the thoughts of a new parent venturing through the small streets of central Vietnam with a six-month-old baby. 

Best case scenario? 

Jury’s still out on a best case. 

The story is a familiar one.  Restaurant, cafe, or random dark alley, everyone wants to steal our child. I gather it is mostly because our daughter is cute as a button and smiles at everyone with a pulse. They all have their reasons. Some have been more forthcoming in their motive. 

“She has face of foreigner.”, said one cafe owner. “She have white face.”

Thank you… I guess. 

Others say she reminds them of their children. One said that, even though moments before they had said they don’t have any children. Language barrier maybe? One grandma suggested her grandson and Eva get married. 

There has been upwards  of 40 different people whom we have met that have either held or tried to hold our child. It has pushed us, far more than the smells or spices we’ve encountered so far.  It has forced us to think deeply about our child’s needs and our own fears as parents. Traveling pushes people to grow. Traveling with a child in SE Asia should be no different. 

Who is this man?

Through it all, with any and all of these accounts, it has been a lesson in two things…

1. Community

The majority of the people we’ve met have the most genuine and heartfelt desires in wanting to hold our child. They see this precious little girl and it evokes the fondest of emotions. 

Compassion. Joy. Love. 

These are all emotions based out of their ideas of community. They have the perspective that your child is everyone’s child. That for the  benefit of the babe and the parents they each have a role in loving and caring for the whole family. 

They tell us to cover her head as we walk down the street if the sun comes out. They hold her to give mom and dad a break for a bit. Or they want to show to everyone around the beautiful joy of life so evident in a newborn baby’s eyes. They care for her as if she were theirs, because in part, she is. The second she enters their world she has become part of their community. It’s a beautiful thing. 

2. Relaxation

While we love the idea of community it is also scary. Very scary. Willingly handing your child to someone you met minutes before takes a mountain of courage. It also takes a motherly intuition that I do not possess. For this I defer to the wife in all aspects of Vietnamese community child sharing. 

In the end though, the more arms that hold our child the more relaxed we have become. Our assurance in Gods protection and the people’s overall desire to keep our child safe and cared for has grown immensely in the last week. 

My own mother speaks much of how relaxed she was with me, the ninth child, compared with the apprehensions she had with her firstborn child. Being relaxed takes time. It takes small steps of courage to find the patience and peace necessary to put the ‘joy and love of your life’ into a stranger’s arms. It also takes a strong wife who will not hesitate to say ‘No, thank you’, if she doesn’t feel comfortable with someone holding her baby – like she did with the rotten tooth woman at the beginning of this post. 

Whether it is community or comfort, traveling with our child has been immeasurably joyful. And so far, we’re pretty sure no one has tried to steal our child… yet. 

Dry Shoulders and Warm Hearts: Day 3 in Vietnam 

The rain fell in droves and we had not yet purchased our conical hats. The rain we expected. This was ‘Nam. I’ve seen Forest Gump. However, the fact that we had lasted 4 days without buying the prototypical hats worn by Vietnamese rice farmers?

 That was shocking. 

We had gone in search of a lunch spot, to satisfy both our hunger and our need to be out of the rain. When we saw the small house with its tiny table and chain link fence for a wall we almost walked by – thankfully, for our heads and our hearts, we didn’t. 

The “Restaurant” had two options: 

1) Chicken and Rice

2) Noodles and Pork

The venerable old woman got up from her bed inside her house, where she was watching television on a set bought in the 60’s, and greeted us warmly. Despite the lack of options it still took us a moment to decide what we would have. Should we get two chicken and one pork, or one chicken and two pork? Maybe they should have just had one item on the menu. 

When our host delivered the plates  we carved into them, marveling at the flavor and at our humble surroundings. Only in a small village like Hoi An, could you experience such contrast. We soaked it in as we sat in our small plastic red chairs. 

During our meal, the man of the house had stayed put in his chair mere feet away, carefully guarding their table of wares and… hats!!!

As the rain was still falling, we jumped at the chance to retain our dryness as well as a keepsake from such an experience. Of course, we purchased the largest hat he had. If not for the novelty than simply to keep our shoulders dry. In the end, we walked away with a dry upper torso and an extremely warm feeling, thanks in full to the unlikely restaurant and its two gracious hosts.