Fourteen Thousand Miles Away Isn’t So Far: Keeping Close with My Mom from Vietnam

A post by writer Gwen Bellinger. Gwen is the daughter of my good friend Susan. I asked her to write us a piece about living away from her mom, far away, and the challenges, insights, and joys it brings:

You’ll be fine,” my mom says over the phone. Or maybe it was on Skype, or Facechat, or in person during one of my visits to the United States. I can’t remember because she’s said it to me so many times over the last few years.

I don’t live in the same country as my mom, nor do we talk everyday, so sometimes I feel guilty dominating our conversations with self-doubt or rambles about boys. She never seems to mind being used as an emotional crutch. In fact, I believe our relationship has grown stronger in the last years, maybe not despite the distance, but because of it.

Having lived abroad (or at least in another time zone) for six years now, I’ve navigated the majority of my twenties with a lot of physical distance from my mother. My current location is Vietnam.

Last year I lived in South America, and before that, India. As a “digital nomad,” someone who makes a living by working online, I can literally be anywhere as long as I have access to a computer and internet. It’s a brave new working world, one my mom still doesn’t understand, but at least she stopped calling me unemployed. I haven’t lived at home for ten years now, and for the majority of that time I was not within driving distance (or even the same continent).

So what does that mean for my relationship with my mom?

Well, there are definitely times the distance bothers me. Sometimes this is due to nostalgia. I teared up in public last month when a friend left me a voice recording and I could hear the overwhelmingly chirp of cicadas in the background. It made me think of my unexpected visited to North Carolina a year ago in the thick humidity of July, the last time I saw my grandmother. Sometimes I crave banana pudding and BBQ sandwiches and going to the gym with my mom.

Other times I miss my mom taking care of me. Once, I got brutal food poisoning in India and spent a week moaning on my hard mattress, in so much pain I couldn’t even watch TV, and running to the bathroom to expel liquids so vile I’m ashamed (and shocked) my body was able to produce them. I was miserable. There was nothing I wanted more than to have my mom dote on me.

Often I miss her emotional support. As I have transitioned from my early 20s to my late 20s, the decisions I need to make have become bigger and weightier. Part of that is just having more options and needing to think more seriously about the future. In college, my “big” decisions were if I would live in the dorms or in an apartment and where to go for spring break. Now I need to decide if I should give up my freelance writing career for a lucrative position in China. “Big decisions” involve moving in with boys and career paths.

Mothers have invaluable life experience, are devoted to your best interest, and know you better than anyone. They can slip into roles of life coaches or therapists but are better because they don’t charge by the hour.

It’s times like these I miss my mom most of all, if nothing else, just to have her tell me, “you’ll be fine.”

And yet, the independence of living abroad has made me a much stronger adult. While I usually call to talk out difficult decisions with my mom, the consequences of my choices are ones I must bear alone. While a good Skype cry once or twice when I first moved to India were great cathartic releases, ultimately I was the one who took on those challenges without much handholding. When things got hard, I couldn’t retreat home for a weekend. I had to get resourceful.


Likewise, family time has become something sacred. There isn’t much of it, so it means really taking advantage of it while I have it. My parents have an excuse to travel to odd places. They’ve visited me in Chicago, Budapest, Prague, India, and Buenos Aires. These trips mean being able to share something a little outside the usual with my family and show them different sides of myself. In Argentina, I served as the translator. In India, I became a traffic controller to get them across the crazy streets. In every country, I have to find the best bakery for my mom.

As much as I miss the “routine” of going to the gym or lunch with my mom, or chatting in the living room, I still think the distance has helped, rather than hindered, our relationship. We value the time we have, and we make our conversations and communication count. She’s given me the emotional (and physical) distance to experiment with adulthood, and find the best path for myself. It’s nice though, that technology has given me the possibility to always pick up the phone, and have someone at the other end tell me I’ll be fine.

Gwendolyn Bellinger is a freelance writer, editor, and English teacher, currently working abroad while exploring the world. Originally from Hillsborough, North Carolina, she has worked and written her away across 60 countries. She currently lives in Beijing and works as a college counselor at Due West Education while continuing to offer some writing and editing services on the side.

You can read more about Gwen’s adventures at or inquire about her services at


Let Go of Emotional Eating: A Book Giveaway


As a young mother, I can remember the girls screaming over a toy and me rushing to the cupboard and breaking open the Halloween candy. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to handle my emotional eating much better than I did in my days of raging hormones. I still love Halloween candy though and am working to keep my hands out of our basket of leftover treats this year.

I found Arlene B. Englander’s new book to be fascinating and filled with practical tips. Here’s what the publisher has to say about Let Go of Emotional Eating and Love Your Food: 

Written by a Columbia University trained psychotherapist and former emotional overeater, the book offers psychologically sound techniques for recognizing the symptoms of emotional overeating and methods for addressing it in ways that are both effective and enjoyable.

Diets don’t work for people who eat through their emotions. Instead, learning to recognize the stressors that lead to emotional eating and to address those tensions through other methods besides eating is the goal. When we handle stress well away from the table, we’re free to relax and really savor our food when we choose to eat.
Proven techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are presented in an innovative, easy-to-remember way. Englander walks readers through table techniques designed to make mindful eating easier, habitual, and ultimately second-nature.

Allowing for both fun foods and healthy foods, Englander’s approach emphasizes eating healthfully and being aware of best practices and the behavioral objectives of coping with stress, exercising regularly, mindful eating, good nutrition and hydration, and controlling overeating situations. She addresses late-night eating, parties, vacation, and other situations where overindulging may be a risk. She concludes with a prescription that is meant to last so that readers can love their food for a lifetime.

Giveaway: The publisher is offering a copy of Let Go of Emotional Eating to one lucky Friend for the Ride winner. For a chance to win, please enter a comment by November 25. U.S. only. Thanks!

Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA, has been a licensed psychotherapist for over twenty five years. She trained at Columbia University and is currently in private practice in North Palm Beach, Florida where she specializes in treating persons coping with eating disorders, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, grief and stress (personal and work-related). Love Your Food® is her non–dieting, psychologically-oriented program for compulsive overeaters in which clients learn to eat whatever they like, but stop just at the point of satisfaction without overeating.

Ms. Englander developed many of her theories about stress management while working at Cancer Care, Inc. where she counseled thousands of patients and families dealing with advanced cancer. She subsequently developed stress management programs for use in hospitals, law firms, and other settings. As Director of Community Education at the Holliswood Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital in New York City, which was renowned for its eating disorders program, her responsibilities included the production of educational seminars, often attended by audiences of as many as 500 professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and guidance counselors.

Aside from her professional training and experience, Ms. Englander is also personally familiar with the issue of eating disorders, as she is a former compulsive overeater.

You can read more about her work on her website here.



The Ladies Room Door Art Series: Part Forty-six

Reader Diane writes: “I found these interesting doors at a craft brewery in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, Canada. I love the rustic old doors and the modern concept, mixing old with new. And of course the cleanliness message!”

Back on the home front, I snapped these festive signs at the Carolina Cafe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Susan found these doors in Blue Hill, Maine. A nice reference to both boating and anatomy!

I stumbled upon this door at the 108 Churton Street Boutique in Hillsborough. My aunt called her small bathroom the “powder room.” Such a lovely expression.

And I like this simple W at MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza Restaurant In Charlottesville, Virginia.

I found this door at Green Bean Baby Boutique in Charlottesville. The owner is a former teacher, and she used this quote in her classroom. Daughter Kath and I visited the boutique to pick out some outfits for Grandchild Number Three, a boy, who is now FIVE days late!

Bulls decorate the stall doors at the Durham Bulls Ballpark in Durham, North Carolina. The doors are actually a deep blue, but the lighting wasn’t great for photography.

Here’s pretty script on the ladies room door at The Egg and I in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

I wondered about offering the restaurant my painting of Humpty and his friend dancing without fear on that old wall in the rain.

This Carolina blue and white W graces the door of the ladies room at He’s Not Here, a funky college bar in Chapel Hill.

And that’s it for this edition of our ladies room door art series. Keep your eyes peeled on your way to the potty. Thanks!


Ancient Goddesses and Festive Birds: The Papier-mâché of Joanne Ivey

When I was a girl, my favorite projects in art class were papier-mâché. I loved using soggy strips of newspaper to create new forms. Once the papier- mâché dried, it was so much fun to add bright colors with paint. I remember making a sun and a puppet and a cake with chocolate frosting.

But I’ve never seen papier-mâché with such whimsy and grace as the work of my new artist friend, Joanne Ivey. After Joanne showed her creations to my art group, I asked her to share them with Friend for the Ride.

Here are three female figures Joanne created, all to be featured in her upcoming art show, Boxes and Birds, in Hillsborough this month.

Joanne writes: The female figures in the show are modeled after idols and goddesses from ancient Mediterranean cultures. I have long been inspired by these simple, sometime crude, forms that were made during a time when maybe women were more well respected and revered.

Over centuries the paint on the original pieces has faded or been erased. In making them anew, I’ve tried to give them some attitude and verve. I’ve tried to make the figures in a way that I want to see them.

The show will also include Joanne’s festive birds. Love these creatures! They’ve got attitude and verve too.



I asked Joanne to tell us a bit about her life as an artist:

From an early age I have been committed to making and surrounding myself with art. I studied painting for many years, but over 20 years ago I began to experiment with papier mâché.  It seemed to offer all of the possibilities that I was looking for to create the work I envisioned.

The versatility and plasticity of the medium were the initial appeal, but now I think that environmental considerations are important as well. Making the papier mâché sculpture offers another way of thinking and working before applying the paint, so it’s the best of both worlds.

Boxes and Birds opens Friday, October 26, from six PM to nine PM at the Skylight Gallery in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  The show features Joanne Ivey’s Painted Papier-mâché Sculpture and Assemblages by Julia Adams Scheurich.

The Skylight Gallery is located above Antonia’s Restaurant in downtown Hillsborough at the corner of N. Churton and King St.

You can read more about The Skylight Gallery here.


Please Help: A Menopause Survey


Sharon Hartnett, a practitioner in holistic healing methods, and Dev Steiger, a researcher, are conducting a survey on the multi-faceted experience of menopause. I received a letter a few weeks ago from Dev:

Dear Barbara,

I appreciate your writing about the lack of information, the reticence of women to seek answers, and the things that women face as we transition into a new time of life.

We are conducting a survey on the physical, emotional, and spiritual experience of menopause. Given how long women are living, we need support and useful information to thrive in a chapter of our lives that is as long as our childbearing years.

Our goal is to collect data and share the information, so all women can benefit from the collective knowledge, experience, and wisdom of other women.

Dev and Sharon would love your input and asked if I would share the link on Friend for the Ride. PLEASE help in this important research by completing the survey. It’s fun to take and asks some really intriguing and insightful questions.

Thank you to Dev and Sharon for your important work! We look forward to reading the results.



Menopause T-shirts: A Giveaway!

Here on Friend for the Ride, I work to help the world understand and appreciate the challenges of menopause. These great t-shirts designed by  Avaeh Kristopher do  that too.Take it away, Avaeh and thanks for your generous giveaway!

My family & friends and I often joke about various subjects, but there is one in particular that only a few of us can actually comment on with authority without being called out on with a loud and cranky barrage of  “What’dya know about it?” And that topic is menopause LOL  🙂

I’m a firm believer in optimism and the power of positive thinking and the use of humor as a way to keep yourself out of the dumps (and I can be a bit snarky from time to time – I rationalize that by thinking it’s a sign of a smart mind… or smart mouth).

So for years now I have made jokes about menopause, and then one day my daughter suggested I put these on a book or a t-shirt… so after a time and a lot of cajoling I followed her advice. I made 2 coloring books first and now a few shirts. So here are some of my favorite sayings about “the big M” emblazoned on a few t-shirts on Amazon for women everywhere to get a good laugh, or at least a giggle, out of. My favorite so far has to be : “I’m not crazy, I’m just hormonal as hell”

I hope you guys enjoy them.

Giveaway: Avaeh is giving away a t-shirt to one U.S. winner. For a chance to win, please enter a comment before November 1. The winner will make a selection from the Amazon website (below). Thanks, Avaeh!

The Amazon link to the t-shirts is here.

The Amazon link to Avaeh’s coloring books is here.


Avaeh tells us more about herself:  I’ve led many lives while here on this planet – child, friend, partner, parent – but I’ve always been an artist too. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to draw, craft, and sketch. I have always had pets and love being in the great outdoors. My friends call me a hippie, and that’s okay with me – I take it as a great compliment. I am definitely not the conventional or corporate type – I am much more of a free spirit who enjoys a good joke, colorful language, and insightful conversations over high heels and the newest trends in fashion. Give me a t-shirt, jeans, and some comfortable shoes any day over all of that, and I’ll be as happy as can be. 



Thanks to Nicholas: The Power of New

(I wasn’t able to embed the video, but here’s the link.)

Soon after I started painting, I discovered Nicholas Wilton. He’s a generous artist who posts great advice on painting, especially on the approach an artist takes to his or her work.

When I first watched the video, I applied it immediately to my art. I’m a new artist, but I already feel myself needing to be wary of what’s too comfortable. Too easy.

But then I watched the video again.

What else can I change up? Switch out.  Do in the exact opposite way that I always have.

  • Breathing. Well actually, I have been breathing all these years, but I’ve resisted the idea that I can sleep better, think better, react better, if I focus on breath and breathing techniques. I’m taking a mindfulness class at SunStone Wellnes led by Denise DeForest Pastoor. I’m beginning to understand the power of focusing on breath.
  • I bought a rust-colored sweater at the Loft outlet store the other day. Rust is not a color I’m drawn to, but I like my new sweater. I hate cold weather, but this year, I’m trying to get my clothes ready ahead of time so the cold doesn’t shock me so.


  • Cliff has gotten me on a kick of eating banana peppers on sandwiches. I don’t think I ever tasted a banana peppers before this year. Talk about a mid-day pick me up!


What about you? Have you switched things up lately? Were you happy with the results?

And speaking of changing things up, here’s one of my recent paintings. SOME of the blueberries decide they’re tired of being blue. My friend Susan bought my painting at a charity auction. She’s changing to brighter colors in her kitchen.

Three cheers for the power of new! Thanks, Nicholas.