Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Have a New Blog (again) -

As you can tell, I haven't posted to this site in quite some time. Initially, I had created a new blog to document my repatriation experience.

It fizzled.

Then I created a blog to document my experience as a new dad (this blog).

It fizzled.

Finally, I decided I needed to get a little more serious about this writing thing and decided I would use my recently completed trip to Mt. Everest Base Camp as the catalyst to that writing. Pretty much every new post on the new site deals with the trek (at least to this point), though once the Everest trip is documented, future posts may include such riveting topics as life as a "Floridian," new travels and adventures, fondly thinking back to my life as an expat in India, life with a spirited toddler, or pretty much any other topic I deem fit.

I have to admit, my writing is a little rusty and it's even more adverb-happy than it used to be. But like all things, with a little practice, it's bound to improve. I hope.

So if you're interested in Mt Everest or just my life in general, feel free to check out the new site:

What's different this time? I paid for the URL, so I'm hoping that small outlay in cash is motivation to keep writing. Well, that and the fact that I actually enjoy it when I do it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Casual Visitor

I'm going to admit it, we had extremely low expectations for Orlando when we moved here. Sometimes that's not a bad thing. Like most people, we assumed it was full of tourists excited about Disney or the other theme parks, generally making our lives a crowded, miserable mess. But here's the thing, we live a solid 45 minute drive from Disney. By solid 45 minutes, I mean 45 minutes at full highway speeds with the distance to prove it. As a result, other than a billboard near the house that always seems to be advertising whatever seasonal event is going on at Universal Studios, you'd have no idea you were 45 minutes from the theme park capital of the world. That's a good thing.

The other good thing about being 45 minutes from the theme park capital of the world is that, of the 55 million tourists that make their way to Central Florida each year, we actually know a few. In addition to the friends and family that have made their way to Orlando for the sole (or at least that's what they tell us) purpose of visiting us, there's nearly as many people that we've been able to connect with that are here for their own personal, non Luth-related purposes. Many of those people have been kind enough to take a day or evening from their vacation plans. Last night was such a night.

Since these friends were staying on property at Disney and didn't have access to transportation that wasn't attached to a single rail, we made the 45 minute trek down toward the parks. Of course, since I'm pretty much a theme park neophyte (and am quite comfortable keeping it that way) I'm not terribly well-versed in where to meet people. My only idea was to meet at Downtown Disney, a collection of shops and restaurants that require no park admission. Thankfully, my friends' three energetic kids (ten, seven, and four) had other another idea - the pool at their hotel. Shortly before leaving the house, I received a text with the change of locale and a request that I bring beer. You see, this friend of mine is a craft beer distributor that had been stuck with the likes of Heineken and Budweiser for the previous few days, not that there's anything wrong with that. But his refined taste buds were ready for a change.

I quickly loaded a small cooler while Lindsay made final baby preparations, got the daughter situated in the car, and we were off for Disney.

There are friends in life, regardless of how far you may drift apart - I think it had been five years since we had seen them - that always hold a special place. For us, the Strickmakers are such a couple/family. They had basically adopted me as a pitiful bachelor in Chicago, graciously inviting me to dinner once a week (making sure I got at least one home-cooked meal per week) and pretty much came along for the ride when Lindsay and I met. They ended up moving to California to chase Hollywood dreams (I still blame Reese Witherspoon for stealing my friend's career), then back home to Ohio to join the family business, starting a family right around the time we got married, and finally settling in Nashville a couple years later. We stuck around Chicago, spent 2.5 years in India, moved to Orlando, and started a family when their three kids were all older than three. Slightly different time tracks and slightly different geographies.

Last week when he called, I had to admit I was excited to see them. Outside Kurt yet again trying to rationalize his unintentional roast of me at my rehearsal dinner nearly ten years ago, it was a pretty perfect night. For reference, last night's exchange went something like this:


Kurt:"No, what I really meant to say were ordinary."
Me: "I think the word I have burned into my mind was 'average' or 'exceedingly average'. But ordinary pretty much gets to the same outcome."
Kurt: "Yeah, was that you were 'ordinary' but that Lindsay was 'extraordinary.'


Mind you, this took far longer than three exchanges but far less time than the actual toast had lasted at the rehearsal. While I can't fault his logic (he hit the nail on the head), it's safe to assume that if smartphones and YouTube existed in 2003, this groomsmen speech would have, at a minimum, seven figures worth of hits. While he was giving this speech, I vividly remember his pregnant wife (who undoubtedly had a clearer head than most) giving him the 'hook' with her eyes, only to have him go on and on about the average, ordinary groom sitting before him.

Regardless, we had a great time, sitting next to a pool, catching up with old friends, introducing our daughter to them, meeting the cool little people they've brought into the world (including the celebration of their youngest's fourth birthday), and enjoying a craft beer or two.

Orlando likely isn't where we'll live forever, but one of the great things about living in Orlando is the casual visit. Rather than forcing ourselves to pick and choose which friends we're going to spend increasingly limited weekends with throughout the year, we're able to drop in and reconnect when they're one of the 55 million. Not a bad deal at all.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Baby Stay Asleep

One month ago I left for a two week combination trip; three nights in New Orleans for a bachelor party JazzFest, followed by a five hour layover in Orlando, then a ten day work trip to India. Two nights before that trip, to which friends and co-workers alike agreed "what kind of new mother let's her husband do that kind of thing" (Answer:An awesome one), we tried a new contraption in the infant's bed.

Based on mild some digestive and/or acid reflux types of issues, we had the little one sleeping on a wedge that was placed under the sheet in her crib. The issue was that she would very quickly wiggle her way down and either restlessly sleep on the horizontal plane or get her feet stuck in the slats in the crib, inevitably waking herself up. A solution a friend recommended (everyone always has a recommendation, which I guess I do now as well which is kind of the point of this post) was a thing called a "Baby Stay Asleep". I'm going to be honest, it looks like some sort of baby restraining device more fit for a mental institution (albeit a very low-risk institution as there is only velcro and no straps and buckles).

It's a fitted sheet that has a velcro harness like contraption sewed to it, so the baby can't slide around and bumpers on the side so the kid can't roll over (or at least that's what their advertisement says, though I would think the velcro harness serves that purpose as well).

I felt bad the first night we placed her in it. I felt a lot better the next morning when I realized I hadn't been awakened. Seven hours of bliss. She had gone, at most, five hours in the crib prior to this. Over the next two weeks, while I was gone and as she went back to work (when Lauren hit 12 weeks old), the Baby Stay Asleep continued to work its wonders. In the month that we've used it, she's woken up before 6am a grand total of one time. Part of this may be the fact that she's aging and I'm sure we're creating an issue for the time that comes when it's no longer socially acceptable to velcro strap your child to a bed; however, for the time being, who cares? Our baby stays asleep with the Baby Stay Asleep.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's Mango Season!

The northern Indian tourist season runs roughly from the festivals of October through sometime in March when the heat arrives. I’d highly recommend visiting the country during that temperate part of the year. However, when traveling for work, one doesn’t necessarily get to choose the month which is how I ended up traveling in May. The forecast called for a very consistent 108 degrees through the first few days of the trip. At least it was a dry heat. Don’t laugh. That’s really a thing. I’ll take the dry extreme heat of Delhi in May over the sultry heat and humidity offered in the late summer as the monsoon hits. If you’ve experienced both, you would agree. Just promise me you’ll never laugh at someone when they say, “it was a dry heat.” It’s a thing.

So what makes India worth visiting in May? That’s an easy one: mangoes. After living through multiple mango seasons in India, I’ve learned a few things about myself. First, bless the Ecuadorian’s hearts but the crap mangoes they export for sale at Publix in Orlando are just that. Crap. I’ll never eat another mango that isn’t Indian. I’ve heard a region of Pakistan has the world’s best mangoes; in the spirit of not starting an international conflict over who has the better mangoes, let’s just say the Indian mangoes are good enough to make you never want to have a mango produced in another region. Second, there is no fruit season I look forward to more than Indian mango season. I once lived in a world where honeycrisp apple season in the US was the most anticipated of the year. That world is dead to me. Long live Indian mango season. Third, it’s a little strange that I’ve actually put this much thought into my favorite fruit seasons. For what it’s worth, Florida strawberry season comes in a distant third behind mangoes and honeycrisps.

I doubt the mangoes will be enough to entice you to visit in India in May; however, this might: once you suffer through the 108 degree heat of the middle of the day, the breezes that accompany the 95 degree nights seem downright comfortable.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Return to India

My first assignment in India ended in April 2005. I didn’t return to the country until November 2009 for a short trip to find an apartment for our two year assignment. Suffice to say, much had changed in those four-and-a-half years. Highways had been built. The Delhi Metro had opened. Gurgaon had exploded into far more than a few multi-national offices, a luxury golf course, and garish malls.

My second assignment in India ended in December 2011. I was budgeted to travel back three times in 2012 but as those budgets dried, I didn’t return. Earlier this spring, an opportunity arose to accompany business leaders I had been supporting. Needless to say, I jumped at it.

Not nearly as much had changed between visits as I experienced in 2009. My trusty driver Kailash greeted me at the airport just as he had done dozens of times during my assignment. Even though the arrival process is far less scarring at Delhi’s sparkling Terminal 3 as it was at the old airport, it’s always reassuring to see a familiar face smiling on the opposite side of the steel divider when emerging through the green customs aisle.

After passing through the toll booth on NH8 that creates the border between Delhi and Haryana, I remarked to Kailash that it didn’t appear much had changed in Gurgaon. On cue, a new public transit system, a nearly finished Rapid Metro, appeared on my left just past Ambience Mall.

The next morning on the ride to work, I experienced a strange sensation: a road free of potholes. Kailash explained that the roads had improved and quickly gave credit to these infrastructure improvements  on the fact the elections were near. However, it seemed that nearly every main artery in Gurgaon had improved so much so that the suspension on the increased number of German sedans had a chance of survival.

What else had changed in India? The exchange rate. In 2010 and 2011 the rate hovered at or around INR 45 to the American dollar. With this exchange rate, I would try and coach the wife to “pretend” the rate was 40:1 to justify a purchase. In other words, it would seem more expensive and if she still really wanted an item (usually some sort of pashmina or scarf) at the higher price, it was a good purchase. She quickly caught on to this little game and instead used an exchange rate of 50:1, making items seem cheaper than they really were. Fast forward to 2013 and the exchange rate is now nearly INR 55 to the dollar. Needless to say, I still used the 50:1 rule when purchasing but can only imagine what the number would have been in Lindsay’s head and how many additional purchases that may have lead to. The fine folks at Anokhi and her other regular haunts surely regret her missing this trip (nearly as much as I did).

Whether it be driving between familiar places or seeing people in the office and the professional and personal memories flooding back from those two years of my life, this first trip felt like I was returning home. In fact, I got more nostalgic for my former expat life than when I return to Chicago, though I’m sure this has absolutely nothing to do with the considerable time required to return to India as well as the comparative frequency of trips to those former homes.

The hardest part of leaving India, which I’m sure will come as no surprise to those that know me, was parting ways with my trusty driver Kailash. I’m sure Indian work colleagues (not to mention friends that get sick of hearing my stories) think I have an abnormally close relationship with my driver. When I found out I was returning to India, the first note I sent was to request his service. For two years, he was a trusted part of our family. He made my life immeasurably easier, was always on time, and always made me laugh. There’s not much more an expat can ask of a driver. When my bags were loaded on a cart and as I made my way toward the terminal, I looked back a couple times as he drove away. Each time, he was looking back at me, smiling and wildly waving good bye.

I’d like to think another spring dust storm kicked up as I presented my itinerary to the friendly man with a gun at the airport door, but it may have had something to do with leaving a friend. For what it’s worth, I think Kailash thinks of Lindsay and I in much the same regard. From what I could tell based on our conversations during the week, I’m pretty sure he skipped going to his home village for some weddings based on my trip. When I learned this, I asked why he would sacrifice this. His response, “Sir, they are only friends. Not best friends.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Diagnosis: Temperamental

After numerous trips to the doctor with queries about stomach issues, colic, and acid reflux, we had a second doctor in the practice take a look at little Lauren today. His professional opinion and diagnosis? After Lindsay regurgitated Lauren's entire medical history (which in nine weeks is far longer than my own personal medical history over the past 20 years - yep, I'm one of those many people with health insurance that subsidizes all the other people that actually use the group policy), the doctor came to a startling conclusion and diagnosis: It might just be possible that we have a "temperamental" child.

While I'm sure there's a reason for her discomfort and we'll obviously continue to try different things to figure out the cause, it was actually a little refreshing to hear a diagnosis so simple as that. And how has Lauren reacted to the news? Sleep. Finally. It's the first evening in recent memory that we've had time to clean up the house, get somewhat organized, and write a little bit. Of course, as I type this, she's sleeping with a bit of a smirk on her face as if to say, "enjoy it while you can, buddy, but be warned; because when it goes bad, it's going to go BAD."

She's actually been fairly decent at sleeping in the night. Sure, she still gets up at least once at a time that a normal person would consider ill-opportune, but for the most part during the middle of the night she basically wakes up, gets changed, eats, stays upright long enough so as to not get the hiccups, and dutifully falls back asleep. It could be a lot worse. And it is, during the days. I was under the impression that the only cohort that sleeps longer than infants is college students. While it might be the case, not with my infant. It's one of the many times I've heard the phrase, "every baby is different," over the past 63 days.

Regardless, tonight marks the night we're changing sleeping arrangements. For the first seven weeks, Lauren slept in the pack-and-play next to our bed, which if not for the University of South Florida (located in Tampa) would be the most misnamed noun in the world as it neither easily packs nor seems like a cool place to play. I traveled for business during the eighth week. Lindsay took that opportunity to move Lauren to the nursery and moved herself to the guest room that shares a Jack-and-Jill bathroom with the nursery. Baby steps but steps none the less. When I got home, we stayed in the guest room; partially because it was convenient and partially because while I was away the baby monitor had broken (Lindsay claims she held it next to her iPhone and the monitor "scrambled"; I have no way to confirm or refute this story as she had already contacted the manufacturer and arranged for a new one to be sent up on receipt of the new one). Whatever the case, we didn't have a monitor so we remained in the guest room. Last night, the monitor showed up (OK, in the spirit of full disclosure, it actually showed up like 3 days ago but I was simply too lazy to open it and get it set up until now; like I said, Lauren can be a little high maintenance), so we had one "final" night in the guest room (which was one of her better nights, including a nearly 7 hour window between feeds, which only added to our confidence as new parents and that Lauren (yeah, that's right, Lauren) was ready to be on her own).

Let's just hope the little temperamental one feels the same way.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Plight of Late Night Feedings

Since I'm working and Lindsay's a saint, she's agreed to do the lone "middle of the night" feeding during the week if I do the bookend feedings adjacent to that crappy middle of the night feeding. It's a fair enough deal (perhaps too fair). Lately, I've found it to be downright comfortable. Why? For once, I'm not complaining about the late start time of live sporting events in the Eastern time zone.

At Lauren's current pace (and her requirement to stay vertical for 30 minutes after feeding to stave off supposed reflux), the entire process takes about an hour from the start of the feed until the time she can realistically be put back down. NCAA tournament games have been lasting until well past midnight which means I can delay that last feeding until 11:00pm or 11:30 to still catch the end of the games guilt free.

Tonight, we're only a few minutes from the start of the US/Mexico World Cup qualifier and she's closing in on four hours. I find myself glancing over her way saying, "stay asleep...stay asleep" so I have an excuse to stay up to watch the game (again, guilt free). In ordinary infant-rearing situations, it would be completely irresponsible for me to forgo an hour of sleep to watch a game if she had already been fed. However, if I know I have to be awake at some point during the game, there's really no point in trying to catch a quick nap, is there? Plus, I can always use the "I was trying to extend the amount of time she could go between feedings" excuse in the event I'm overtired the next day.

Let's just say if you're a dude that lives in the Eastern time zone and anyone ever gives you the choice of months to have an infant in the house, you could do a lot worse than March. Anyway, I need to run...fine, you caught me: I need to make sure I've got a beer in hand for the start of the match.

Quick addendum - Before going outside to get that beer that you want to have in hand for the start of the match, make sure your wife hasn't set the house alarm. On the bright side, Lauren slept through it (Lindsay awoke slightly to very confused). Of course, I might be a little tired. Upon opening the door to get to my beer fridge, I heard an alarm and my initial thought was, "what idiot just set off their house alarm."