Resilience & Lemonade


One of the main components of resilience is to make sure that you stay in control of what you can control and let go of anything else that you cannot control. I learned that when I kept putting on weight whenever we moved out of a host country and came back to the U.S. and moved again to another country. After 50, I decided that the only things I could control were my body and my mind, and that allowed me to lose 25 pounds.

This time, my move is quite different; it is not what we call, in our jargon, a PCS (permanent change of station). It is not permanent – at least I hope so. But I do have orders. Orders to leave my home, leave my husband without saying goodbye, leave for an undetermined number of months with a tiny carry-on. This time, I am an evacuee from China. I don’t know about your kids, but when I was a kid, never in my wildest dreams nor nightmares, I would have thought that one day, I would define myself as “I am an evacuee … from China.”

Like for other difficult situations, you always think that only others than you will get impacted. The tsunami is not for me, nor the earthquake, nor the C-section, nor the house on fire – this clearly only happens in the movies or in faraway countries. When I followed a seminar to be prepared for a medical evacuation, I didn’t think it was for me – my health is great. And then, one day, I had to be medically evacuated … because accidents happen. And when you give birth naturally to your first baby, you cannot imagine that you might ever require a C-section for the second baby. When the earthquake shakes your building and you are in the shower with shampoo in your eyes, it’s hard to remember the numerous training sessions: do I shelter in place or get out of my building as fast as possible? Those who were not naked in their shower ran outside … and I am still here to write this.

The sense of “it’s for the others” applies to countries, not only individuals. In Beijing, they thought “it’s only in Wuhan”; in the West, they thought “it’s only in China”; in the United States, they thought “it’s only in Italy”; in Wisconsin, they think “it’s only in New York”.

In Beijing, China, we felt safe. China is a very – very – safe place; maybe because the people are nice, maybe because of all the surveillance cameras, or both. I don’t want to know why; all I know is that as an individual I feel very safe in China, I feel safe to take the metro at any time, I feel safe to walk in the streets at night. I do not feel safe to do this in most large cities in the West.

Who could have predicted that a sudden virus would change all our lives? It used to be the lives of all people living in China, and many questions arising for expatriates like us who do have a choice to shelter somewhere else. But now, our plight is being shared by the entire planet in epic proportions. When you are young, you are taught that sharing is a good value … with many exceptions!

There’s a proverb in the United States that I like very much because it’s so positive: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Turn the negative in positive, in other words, find the silver lining(s).

So rather than dwelling on the separation from my husband, not being in my home – some 6,922 miles away, having to adapt to a new job, and finding that where I am now is not any sanitarily safer than where I was – get out of the rolling wave just to be smacked and engulfed again by another giant wave that takes you, breathless, in a spin, like being in a washing machine, I need to see that my situation is not as bad as many others and that it has silver linings.

Others don’t have a shelter, a job, food on the table, they have to cancel their wedding, can’t see their baby being born, can’t go to funerals, can’t visit their elderly relatives, others are bankrupt, endure domestic violence, don’t have internet to follow online classes, will fail their school year, and the list goes on.

My Lemonade

After all my pain was swallowed, I started to count my silver linings:

  • We are posted in China for the standard Foreign Service three-year tour so when we say goodbye, we say goodbye to family and friends for three years, even four years sometimes. This sudden move gives me the opportunity to see family and friends after only 18 months of separation. These strange times also allow me to see them more than once and see many more of them.
  • My mother-in-law had to move to assisted living the day Wuhan was locked down and my sudden move made me the first respondent when my husband could not be there. I helped her move and feel comfortable in her new home. I advocated for her to ensure she received proper care. I was able to thank in person the people that had helped her.
  • My employer found me a very interesting new position in Washington, D.C. I am now in a section where I learn and stretch every day, surrounded by smart people who are nice also.
  • I have been evacuated at a good time when Beijing is still extremely cold while Washington, D.C. has a milder climate this March and I was able to enjoy the cherry blossoms and the magnolias in bloom.
  • Besides making lemons out of lemonade, it is proven that you can build resilience by helping others that are less fortunate than you. I now have more time to dedicate to my volunteering activities.
  • I finally made time to take some online classes.
  • I am discovering the uplifting world of TED talks.
  • And the list goes on …

I would have added that Washington, D.C. is a great place because all the Smithsonian museums are free, but measures of social distancing were enforced before I could even visit one of them!

Yesterday is history,

Tomorrow is a mystery, but

Today is a gift.

That is why it is called the present.

Enjoy it!

Back in the US – Crazy Food. Part Two: the “Healthy” Kind, or Not.

Part One was about fast-food.

Novelties for foreigners and Americans who have lived overseas for a while.

We were posted overseas for eight years back-to-back (Africa, Mexico, Asia, Europe – I know Mexico is not a continent), never having participated in language training. We took home leave three years ago, but lived like tourists so did not fully appreciate all the novelties. Perhaps these novelties did not even exist three years ago during our last home leave. Here is a small sample of the foods that have been marketed recently to make people buy more of what they don’t need, often disguised as healthy – and most often not.

We finally resettled in the United States, and as for each move, I dedicated myself to exploring the neighborhood and its resources. I do not like wasting my time shopping, but wish to make sure I discover the best quality and deals of my neighborhood. In a new country I always visit the surrounding supermarkets so that I can narrow down where to shop for what, and the same applies to the U.S. For example, good beef cuts are hard to find in supermarkets in Budapest or very expensive at the butcher, but Metro (a Costco-style place) offers good quality beef at reasonable prices.

While searching for the best fish, meat, vegetables, and fruits, I discovered many new food offerings that flabbergasted me. It is possible that long time American residents will have not noticed either because when you shop, you usually know what you want and look just for that so you might have not noticed the weird new offerings. They exist in every single aisle. You can eat them or drink them. They pretend to be healthy or not, and are, or not. From milk to chips, trail mix snacks to vegetarian burgers, welcome to new foods. Including pork rinds and pork crackling …

We knew that besides cow milk, you could have goat milk – so last century. To care for the lactose intolerant and vegan crowds, marketers packaged soy milk and rice milk. Even almond milk and coconut milk existed three years ago. You can now add cashew milk, almond-cashew milk, hazelnut milk, and my discovery of the day: quinoa milk and hemp milk. Hemp is a seed. It is not the marijuana drug. It does come from the plant species Cannabis sativa hence some confusion.

Asian food
Sea vegetable flakes ‘agar agar’ – Kombu the vegetable of the sea” features a happy fish dubbed “Sea Snax”. Its expiration date is in 15 months from now. How many preservatives and chemicals do you need to add to this ‘snax’ to achieve such a longevity.

Remember when Ramen noodles were the cheap meal for students – at $0.99 a pack? Now you can go organic on your Ramen with the Koyo brand, or fancy with the Lotus Foods brand which proposes Forbidden rice ramen noodles, Jade pearl ramen noodles, millet and brown rice ramen noodles. Not the same price at all.

I love ‘pho’ (pronounce ‘fuh’), the legendary Vietnamese light soup. I discovered kits to prepare it yourself. But did they need to come flavored? “Zesty ginger,” “garlic goodness” or “shiitake mushroom?” I can add the ginger, garlic and mushroom myself! I just needed the right blend of spices. The Happy Pho brand which offers the kit also makes the noodles out of brown rice.

Seaweed has become a fashionable snack these days. They used to be a favorite of Japanese people and it seemed that it would be hard to penetrate the American market. Ah – but someone had the idea to make seaweed “American” by injecting them with a good dose of “Texas BBQ flavor!” And why not propose a sea salt flavor as well since sea salt is so popular these days that you can even find it in chocolate. To remain in Asia, seaweed is also proposed with a sriracha flavor – just in case seaweed alone had an unpleasant taste …

At the Good Fortune Asian store in Little Vietnam/Eden Center, I found a drink called Essence of Chicken with Cordyceps extract near black-skinned chickens. As adventurous as I am, I didn’t dare try. The names for herbal teas made me laugh. Besides the common Relax, Cholesterol, or Immune, there were the less romantic Menopause and PMS! The produce section was very colorful with cucumbers that look like crocodiles, round white or purple eggplants smaller than a tennis ball, taro, and the unusual yampi and ratalu, both deformed roots.

Chips and Crunchy Snacks
With The Better Chip brand, we can indulge in chips (typically unhealthy) that are supposedly healthy because they are made with beets or spinach & kale, radish & chia, chipotle or jalapeño – whatever is in fashion. Not only the photo makes you believe you will eat pure beet, there is even a magnifier to show you the rings inside of a fresh purple beet. Its number one ingredient is whole grain masa flour – not beet – are you disappointed? Before you switch from crackers (‘bad-unhealthy’) to veggie chips (must be good since it’s veggie), check the facts. For the recommended serving size of one ounce (28 grams) these veggie chips bring 140 calories and 8g of fat when evil crackers bring 120 calories and only 3.5g of fat (Triscuit for example). Which one is evil?

Chips can also be made out of beans instead of potatoes, and the first ingredient is beans (yeah!), then rice and oil. Alas it does contain 7 grams of fat per serving and still 140 calories.

On this ever expanding healthy snacking (oxymoron intended) market the brand Hi I’m Skinny is a “new healthy alternative to snack food.” Instead of chips they propose sticks in healthy options: quinoa, sweet potato, and ‘superfood’ described as ‘mean & green’ in case you have no clue what a superfood might be (I remain clueless). Unfortunately, per serving size of one ounce (28g), you will get 140 calories, 8 grams of fat, 2g of protein and a tiny gram of fibers (Quinoa Sea Salt version). I’m staying with my evil regular cracker!

All is good in pork. Indeed, this ‘snout to tail’ commitment to use the entire animal is a great incentive for ranchers to raise their animals in a better environment. Delicacies such as pig ears, easy to find in Asia or on the markets of central Europe, is now modernly packaged in several flavors: the ubiquitous sea salt & pepper, maple bacon, or BBQ (no jalapeño yet). If I say pork rinds (skins) or pork cracking (fried-out pork fat with attached skin), it sounds very unhealthy and fattening. Yet, for the same amount of our earlier veggie chips you ‘only’ get 160 calories – not that big of a difference.

I knew of brownies and chocolate chip cookies that we don’t bake anymore, we purchase them in a box. I did not know the same could be possible with pies. A pie seems like a messy snack to give a child. Not with Nature’s Path proposing toaster pastries (filling is inside the dough) in many different flavors from Granny apple pie to wildberry acai and chocolate for example.

Mac & Cheese

A Kraft packet costs less than $1 (even in DC), supermarket brands cost half. But if you cannot boil water and add pasta, milk, and orange powder like it says on the package, Whole Foods has prepackaged the easy already-cooked version for $6.49 per serving!!! At this price you cannot even use a microwave since it is presented in an aluminum dish.


The brand Dreaming Cow proposes yogurts made with milk from barn-free, grass-fed cows and these yogurts only have natural ingredients (whole milk, agave nectar, pure vanilla extract and live active cultures for the vanilla-agave flavor) and 92 calories/4oz, 2 more than a low-fat Dannon Activia fruit yogurt. The non-fat Activia Light yogurt boasting only 60 calories needs to incorporate many ‘horrors’ to give it some taste: non-fat milk, blueberry puree, water, modified food starch, inulin, acacia gum, modified corn starch, kosher gelatin, carmine, pectin, sucralose, calcium lactate, malic acid, milk calcium, acesulfame potassium, and xanthan gum.

Vegan friendly

September 2017, I discover “pluots”. As the name indicates clearly, it is the contraction – and combination – of plums and apricots. Not called “aprum” because it tastes more like a plum than an apricot!

For vegans and vegetarians who need their “meat fix,” marketers do wonders. Vegan burgers made of beans or soy are well-known. Now they manage to imitate to perfection the look and texture of meat balls, sausages, or breast of chicken. The brand Gardein proposes “chick’n scallopini.” The photo is great, the ingredients much less apetizing: water, soy, protein isolate, expeller pressed canola oil, methylcellulose, organic vinegar, tapioca starch, yeast, cane sugar, potato starch, … color added, …

Unfortunately, when you want to drink something as natural as raw cow’s milk, the producer needs to label it for cats and dogs because State authorities have decided that humans can’t have it! Can you smell the power of lobbies behind all this?

The list goes on and on, with marketers always eager to sell more processed food, when at the end of the day, if you wish to stay healthy, you just need to go “around” the supermarket, it is where the fresh food is, counter-clockwise in many supermarkets: produce, cheese, meat, and fish.

PS – I discovered all these new offerings while shopping for ideas to match with my new habits to successfully control my weight; read more in my post about Weight Loss. This post will have many sequels to help people lose weight, even after 50, and for free.

BKK Tip in Budapest – The 5/30

The BKK ticket 5/30 (“öt harminc”) cost 4,550 forints for 5 periods of 24 hours and is valid for 30 days. We find it more flexible than the weekly pass (4,900 forints) which gives you transportation rights for seven consecutive days. The 5/30 does not bear any ID number and is therefore transferrable, unlike the pass.

Here are some examples on how we use it:

  • Husband travels a lot, finishes his monthly pass and needs 3 days in Budapest before his next travel. Use 3 days and keep 2 for when he returns – then repurchases a monthly pass
  • Visitor comes for 10 days but some days you take them visiting by car, and some days they wish to rest at home. The 5/30 would be probably a better option than the bi-weekly pass (6,900 forints)
  • Visitor comes 2 days and then another visitor comes 2 days within 30 days. They can use the same pass, a much better option than individual tickets.
  • Since it works for 24 hours, if you start your ticket in the afternoon to visit a museum and then go the next morning to the Gellért spa, and then return home, you have used public transport both days with only one ticket!

When you purchase this ticket, it comes as a long strip of six tickets (the front one shows the validity date, followed by five tickets), fold it as an accordion to display only the front one which you show to the inspectors in the metro or the driver in the bus. When you start your first journey, just circle the day and the time on the first ticket (the second of the accordion) and this initiates your first 24 hours. This is the part that you present in case of a control. Always keep the strip intact.

BKK Tip in Budapest – The Plus Seven

I buy often a “+7” BKK transport ticket which is not very well known even by the clerks themselves. And yet it is so practical.

The scenario is the following: your monthly pass is about to expire and you will be on holidays in a week. What do you do? Buy a monthly pass that will not be used for a large part of its validity? Buy a weekly pass which costs HUF 4,900?

The better answer is: buy a “Kiegészitö heti Budapest-bérlet természetes személyeknek“, which is just a 1-week supplement to a monthly pass and cost only HUF 2,450.

The trick is to do it the very same day of the expiration of your monthly pass, at any hour, and with a clerk (impossible to buy with automatic machines) who will replace your monthly pass by this one-week supplement pass. I advise also to write down the name and price of this great ticket because some clerks are not familiar with this request, especially coming from a foreigner.

The Liebster Award

The Liebster Award is given by bloggers to bloggers, and it is designed to promote blogs with smaller followings (under 200).

liebsterawardThe Rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Answer questions from the nominator.
  • Nominate 11 blogs with a smaller following (under 200 followers).
  • Create 11 questions for your nominees.
  • Let the bloggers know they have been nominated.

Thank you very much to MJ who nominated me to the Liebster Award.This award would be an honor. To be nominated already motivates me to write more. I know I’ve been very silent lately, too busy having many great experiences in Hungary that I now have to blog about! Thank you again for your thoughtfulness.

MJ’s questions to me:


  • How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? Between 20 and 30.
  • What are your values and are you being true to them? Don’t do to others what you do not wish them to do to you. Reliability & loyalty.
  • Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing? Getting older I do more and more only what I believe in.
  • Where you would like to live if you have a choice to choose? I will probably live in at least 2 countries, if not 3 depending on seasons – at retirement time. Until them I live where my husband’s employer sends us.
  • Are you making decisions for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you? Self determination!
  • What do you love? Have any of your recent actions openly expressed this love? I love good food and being fit. I cook more and walk more (10 000 steps a day)
  • Are you holding on to something you need to let go of? I have too many belongings and trying to reduce them.
  • If you achieved all of your life’s goals how would you feel? How can you feel that along the way? I would feel 100 years old! I have many goals !!!
  • Which is worse, failing or never trying? Never trying.
  • What cuisine you’ve tried and liked that often lingers in your mind? So many: thai, vietnamese, french, italian, mexican, pakistani, senegalese, hungarian. I love to eat!
  • When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing? Just now because you asked!

My nominations (I am new to the blogosphere so I don’t know enough blogs to reach 11 with under 200 followers – not all mention how many they have so I might have nominated people who have too many …):

My questions to nominees:

1 – Where would you like to live and why?
2 – Where would you like to travel the most and why?
3 – Where don’t you wish to go and why?
4 – Besides blogging what other creative activities do you have?
5 – Do you have a favorite color? Is is the same as 10 years ago?
6 – Is there one book that you will always remember?
7 – Would you become vegetarian if you had to kill your own meat?
8 – Are you more mountain/ski or beach/swim?
9 – Are all your life goals really achievable?
10 – What is the activity you would like to do for a living (perhaps already doing it)?
11 – Do you like learning new languages?







Foods of Different Cultures

And Victoria will hopefully soon tell us all about bouye, ditakh, mad, bissap, and the wonderful lemon pie she knows so well how to make.

Life as a Third Culture Kid

As a TCK, you get to taste many different cuisines that come from different countries. Food is life ! Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and I love tasting new foods. It’s probably what I look forward to the most when I travel, or when I move to somewhere new ! The dishes that I am posting are either creations of mine, of my family, or from a neat restaurant.

#1 – Paella

This first dish here is a Paella. It is a dish that is originally from Spain. It takes a long time to cook, and many ingredients are needed too. This is a picture I took of my dad’s Paella. He had lived in Spain when he was younger, and he learned how to make this dish. Many people say that his Paella is one of the best ! My dad is a perfectionist when he cooks…

View original post 1,565 more words

Culture shock – the reason behind the title

I just started this blog. Four days ago. It almost failed to be published because I didn’t know how to call it. Any excuse is good when you are a writer at heart who doesn’t write. I have been thinking about this blog for a year at least, since I have always written and wanted to update myself to a new age of communication.

How to capture everything I want to publish in a title? Especially when I don’t even know exactly what I will publish. Procrastination is evil. So I thought about what would be in that blog, what would make it interesting. Seven years ago I started a second career, following my husband also starting his second career. Why did we join the Foreign Service? He joined, I followed, reinventing myself in each country.

Note to self: in a future post, describe all my different jobs paid and unpaid ever since we joined the Department of State – it might help the spouses debating whether or not to give up their career to become a ‘follower’.

So, why did we join the Foreign Service? The short answer is:

  • all our money was used to travel anyways, so why not get paid to travel?
  • we love to learn about different cultures and living in a country would help us live a culture instead of just touching the surface of it
  • we are foodies, my husband is a great cook so living in different countries sounded very appealing from this perspective as well
  • we are raising two kids; with the globalization of the world they would be stronger, more accepting of differences and integrate better if they had this experience under their belts

In the end it was all about Culture. But when you move to a different country, even next door, you receive a Culture Shock. The online Oxford Dictionary defines culture shock as ‘disorientation experienced when suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture or way of life.’  Indeed moving to a new country confronts you to different everything: people, language, landscape, food, weather, dress codes, public transport, religion, customs, smells, sounds, animals … Depending on past experience and character it could lead to homesickness, misunderstanding, dependence feeling, boredom, anger … or exhilaration and creativity!

Cultural orientation experts will tell you that your culture shock will develop in four phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery.

In the Honeymoon phase the differences are not a challenge, you thrive on them, you love your new country, and you are fascinated by all your discoveries. Depending on the country and the person, this phase lasts one to four months.

In the Frustration phase differences become a problem and cause anxiety and anger. At work you have passed the 100-day grace period where you could find excuses for not knowing things. Two months could be a holiday, after this you may become homesick or friend sick.

In the Adjustment phase reason speaks to your heart. You have moved to this new country for one year, four years or more – you can’t spend this big chunk of your life miserable! What made you angry for six months could have its advantages too. You push your paradigms to ‘new normal.’ Perhaps you have learned the language and this has helped you better understand the culture and be more welcome among locals.

In the Mastery phase, without being completely assimilated you act like a local, almost feel like one. You embrace the differences and you adopt part of the host culture. If you are very successful at this phase you might experience a reverse culture shock when you return to your home land.

Hence the subtitle under my blog name: Culture Shock – Staying in the Honeymoon Phase. This is a second career, it needs to be all fun by adopting a positive attitude at all times. We may reach the Mastery Phase but we have pledged to skip the frustration and adjustment phases. Have you noticed? These two phases don’t deserve cap letters!

This is over 660 words, more than I need for my 500 words-a-day challenge. More on this at