Shit! That wasn’t a pep talk!

After I droned on yesterday about mattresses, I left feeling like maybe I sounded a bit preachy. It was NOT meant to be preachy. It was in fact, quite the opposite. It was more of a self-realization of making a lot of tough and shit choices in life and their consequences.

I think many of us, if given the chance, would go back and do something different in our lives that would alter the course we’ve landed on. I think a lot of times, having walked a certain path, we forget we can forge new ones. So, if my last entry seemed motivational, it wasn’t really meant to be, unless you found it motivational, then YAY!!  It was one of those aha moments you have when you’re driving along.


Mattresses are Expensive

During my lunch hour, I ran out to one of the local mattress stores to purchase a new double-size mattress for my oldest son.  I was able to obtain the same size mattress for my younger son through a process which included the circle of life and no more room.  I had done my research; the cheapest and crappiest mattress I could get would run me about $260, but an average, sleepable mattress would cost me around $450.  I swallowed hard and walked in.

I’d been thinking a lot about mattresses, not because I’m crazy (I am crazy, but not because of literal mattresses, figurative mattresses – yes), but because awhile back I had my own mattress adjusted to be more firm.  The mattress had originally set me back about $2200, and after another convoluted process that included sleep apnea testing, a stay in the hospital, and finally coming to the actualization it was my bed that was keeping me awake, I took the mattress back to the maker and had them firm it up.  They did this at no charge to me, but we were without a bed for about a week.

My significant other is not a fan of my mattress.  I can’t remember why.  We decided we would eventually get a king-size bed.  It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t expect it’ll happen for awhile because MATTRESSES ARE EXPENSIVE.

During a recent pity party I threw for myself, I realized mattresses are a good metaphor for life.  Life is expensive.  The choices we make are expensive, either monetarily, physically, or emotionally.  Things that seem comfortable and wonderful on the sales floor end up being a literal pain in the ass later.  Sometimes we learn to live with the mattress and make it work with feather beds or excess pillows and comforters.  Other times we sleep on the couch or find another bed in the house to sleep in.  The catch in all of this is, we can always buy another mattress.  It might be incredibly expensive (divorce) and painful (having your kids for only 50% of the time), and it might not be easy (“I’ve had this mattress forever!  I was probably conceived on this mattress!  I’m not getting rid of it”).  The choice is always there, though.  How much are we willing to invest?  How much pain are we willing to suffer for the betterment of ourselves?

The phrase “you made your bed and now you’re going to lie in it,” rings so true, but damn it, you can make another bed.  Sometimes the bed requires a lot of commitment and investment – new sheets, a comforter, pillows, a mattress pad, and a room to put it in.  If that’s what you want, you can do it.  You can prepare the bed with the finest materials or go with whatever you can find cheap on Amazon.  You might have to let go of the largest room in the house with the adjacent bathroom and walk-in closet.  The point is, we have choices.  We are not stuck forever.  You might be stuck until you can come up with the right emotional, physical, or fiscal capital, but you are not stuck.  You may feel like concrete has been placed on all feet of your mattress frame, but you can move that piece of metal, even an inch at a time, if need be.  Sometimes rearranging the room might help until the purchase can be made.  If you’re not happy, think of ways to make it better before climbing onto that problematic mattress every night (don’t think about it while on the mattress – damn it get some sleep!!).

A new mattress isn’t going to be the key to a new and completely content life.  Planning for it and making goals might help you chip away at the filth that’s begun to fill it up in the meantime.  And, all of this is easier said than done.  Old mattresses can be comfortable.  They’re hard to get rid of.  Don’t beat yourself up over not doing the right thing when you’re not mentally able to do it.  When the time comes, you’ll know.  It won’t be easy then, either.

We all invest in things that eventually need change.  Something will click and the mattress will be off to the landfill or kicked to the curb.



Midwest Map Girl in Laos Pt 4

Preserving Land and Resources

The villagers in rural parts of Laos are a self-sustaining people.  TABI (The Agricultural and Biodiversity Initiative) and pFALUPAM (participatory Forest and Agricultural Land Use Planning Allocation Management) are working together in order to engage and educate villages on various types of land use, such as crop rotation and slash/burn methods.  It’s a pretty intensive process – maps are used to identify current land use based on satellite imagery.  Area used by the villagers are then sectioned off based on geography and are assigned a proposed land use pattern.  Workers from TABI and pFALUPAM spend weeks at a time in the field gathering information about the village, villagers, and the areas they use to provide for themselves.  The group tries to reach at least 7 areas per village so the soil and biodiversity of the area has a chance to replenish itself, making the villagers more successful and sustainable over time.

After our meeting this morning, I got to visit a village in the Chomphet district.  Below are some pictures I captured along the way:

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Midwest Map Girl in Laos Pt 3

Party at night, y’all

As I mentioned in my first post, the City of Vientiane doesn’t really catch its game ’til after the sun goes down.  I could not believe the amount of food – there is food EVERYWHERE.  I’m not just talking about restaurants and bars – I’m talking about food stands with fresh produce, street carts with fruit smoothies (very popular here), entire streets lined with vendors selling whatever skewered meat you can imagine.  The smell of food combined with the smell of charcoal grills used to cook the food was beyond words.

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Midwest Map Girl in Laos Pt 2

My first full day in Laos was a busy one.  The day was highlighted by a trip to the Theun-Hinboun Power Company, nestled in the valley of the Nam Kading National Biodiversity Conservation Area.  The trip was a little over 4 hours on one of the craziest roads I’ve been on – pretty much a two-lane highway with the villagers’ shops and homes within feet of the road.  There we tanker trucks, motorcycles, kids on bikes, cattle, goats, cars, trucks, and SUVs.  As night fell, children could be seen in the ditches catching frogs to be sold at their family’s shop the next day.  There was a lot of burning to clear dead grass and weeds in preparation for the rainy season.

The meeting included a number of people from many organizations, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the World Wildlife Fund, and representatives of the hydropower company.  The goal of the  meeting was to discuss the relocation of the villagers displaced by the reservoir powering the hydro dam, getting them set up with a functional land use pattern that allowed the villagers to have their own land, as well as access to the public lands from which they gather the resources they need.  Although the meeting was held in traditional Lao, I fully believe it was one of the more productive meetings I have ever been to.

The ride back was as exciting as the ride there.  Since we had arrived late the evening prior, I did not get to appreciate the amazing views of the mountains or the winding road we had to take in and out of the valley.  The road was full of tight blind curves, slow-moving tankers, trucks that had overheated, large boulders in the middle of the road, and random patches of gravel and roadwork.  When we got to the top, we had a chance to stop and take some pictures of the breathtaking scenery.

Above:  children at their family’s shop along the road; live fish in a barrel; fried fish.

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Midwest Map Girl in Laos


The sun sets on my first night in Laos.  From the balcony of my hotel room, I smell the charcoal and meat cooking at the home below me.  To my right, there’s a rooster crowing.  The weather is warm and humid; the air is thick with smog.  Nights are when this city comes alive.  Food vendors, ex-pats, locals, and street vendors gather on every open  sidewalk in the city.  There is a night market along the Mekong River selling everything from toys to knock-off clothing and shoes.  In a place where you don’t the language, it feels incredibly quiet despite all the excitement around you.