When It's All Said and Done - Skillful Cook
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When It's All Said and Done

Young boy wearing a helmet.

What was the best thing about the year?

Okay, what!? How am I supposed to answer that? There were so many incredible things about this year that I will always remember with happy feelings.

Like riding the motorcycle. Gosh, I loved that little thing. The traffic was horrendous, and I'm confident that my lungs are absolutely coated in exhaust from a year of sitting in traffic behind those diesel-pumping Jeepneys. But oh, what a JOY to just buzz around on that little thing. Bjork didn't love it because he actually had to swerve around the stray dogs, weave in and out between cars, and generally focus on keeping us both alive. But I just got to sit back and enjoy the views and the hot wind in my wet hair. It was a highlight, for sure.

Another highlight: mango papaya smoothies. All of our kitchen appliances were pretty cheap being that we bought them to use for just a year, but holy blender. Somehow I bought the best blender I've ever owned in all my life, which perfectly complimented the world's largest and sweetest papayas and mangoes sold by the fruit lady on our street. I'm confident that the mangoes and the papayas in the Philippines come straight from heaven. There's no other way to explain the juicy sweetness that becomes some kind of magical creaminess when you blend it. Ughhh.

And then, the kids. Knowing and loving them, and being known and loved by them in return, and seeing miracles worked in their lives. What a privilege. And if I talk too much about that I will cry.

I have a kid highlight video that I'll show you sometime soon, because that needs its own post.

Collage of images of children.

Would you have done anything differently?

Yes. Most importantly, I would choose a quieter, more private place to live. Both Bjork and I loved the apartment we lived in and we were so grateful to everyone who helped us out by searching out different places to live, borrowing us furniture, arranging our lease all before we even arrived in Cebu. It just makes my heart mushy to think of all the people who went to all that work just to find us a home. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And to trade our experience living there would mean that we would have never met our sweet neighbors and their cute kiddos. There were truly so many joys of living in that little sauna.

But even with those things, being the semi-introverted, quiet-loving Minnesotans that we are, sometimes it was plain old stressful to live in and amongst the neighborhood chaos of the Philippines. Karaoke, dogs, roosters, parades (?), and babies crying right outside our windows were the soundtrack of the year. If I could do it again, I would choose to live farther out of the city in a community that was more private and protected from the vibrant and always-going street life.

Collage of children.

What was the worst part of the year?

Sleep. Er, lack of sleep. From about September to March, I just didn't sleep well. I'm sort of an anxious person to begin with, so constant dog barking and other night noises just made me crazy-jumpy and not relaxed. And when I didn't sleep more than a few hours, everything became super dramatic, emotional, and generally unmanageable. Know what I mean? I seriously have a whole new appreciation for all you new moms and a whole new dread of ever having a baby. Mehhh.

Besides having nice raccoon eyes all the time from the lack of sleep, it was really hard not having many friends. While we made some really incredible friends in our last few months in Cebu who did fun things with us like motorcycle trips and Filipino karaoke, the first few months were sort of lonely.

Also, leaving the orphanage. I briefly considered staying just so we could avoid the tears and the goodbye with the kids.

Collage of children.

Would you do it again?

Yes. And No. If you asked me in February to go back and do it again I don't think I would have made it. This was a really, really hard year. Living away from your family and friends, from your familiar, is just a challenging thing. I wasn't at my best in a lot of ways this year - physically, emotionally, socially, sleep-ially, and all that affected our year. So in that way, no. If I truly knew how hard it would be, I'm not sure I would do it again.

But on the other hand, YES! Duh. I would do it again. Knowing what I know now, the year could have been a lot more sustainable. I would have sought out friends right away. I would have forced myself to exercise more, even though it was annoying as all get out to drive for 30 minutes to get the gym. I would have been easier on myself about the blog. I went to Target this week and saw the lovely variety of ready-to-use produce and thought, how did I have a food blog in the Philippines? Good grief. It was harder than I even realized when I was doing it.

And honestly, when it's all said and done, this year was about the 80 kids living at the orphanage who were and still are waiting for families. To think about missing all those important moments, the Christmas Eves, the birthdays, the graduations, the joy, love, and laughter? It makes it pretty easy to say yes, I would do it all over again. In a heartbeat.

Collage of children.

What's it like to be back at home?

It's amazing. I sleep like a baby in our big fluffy bed, which I simply cannot get over. I love that thing. I can drink coffee again without feeling sick since it's actually a tiny bit chilly in the morning. We can get groceries and put them in the trunk. No more balancing grocery bags on my legs while riding motorcycle through Cebu City! It's so convenient. You can buy lettuce, TRIPLE WASHED, and eat it straight from the bag. !!! And I am so proud to say that in our stranger interactions, everyone has been so helpful and friendly. The systems, the efficiency, the resources we have... thank you, America! And our friends and family? We have laughed more in three days than we did in a month in Cebu. Hahahahahahaha! <— see? Yep.

Along with that, though, I'm continually trying to work out my love for these basic luxuries with the realities of poverty that we saw this year. That one's going to take a while. Or the rest of my life, maybe. Our house, which I have always seen as a medium-cute fixer upper, now feels like a fancy hotel. And I don't want that to fade because when looking at our big world, that's reality. We have so much.

The one thought that I keep having is: nothing has changed. I mean, my friends have all had precious babies, my little brother is almost as tall as me, and there's a new line of frozen burritos at the grocery store. But honestly, it's shocking to me how much is still the same. We have experienced something so different and changed in a lot of ways that we probably don't even realize, so to come back to the same house, with the same furniture in the same places, and the same broken doorknob, the same lady walking the same dog in the same park, just feels a little bit off. It feels like we should put the garbage can in a new place or rearrange the kitchen just to represent that we are not the same people who lived here before we left.

Collage of children.

If you are curious about anything else, just because, or because you have had or will have an experience living abroad, feel free to leave your Qs in the comments! I love hearing from you all about your experiences, too!

I say it all the time, but really. Thanks for following along this year, and even now as I continue to kinda come down slowly from the experience and process everything from the other side of the ocean. U R cool.

On a food note, my sister gave me the scone recipe! Weee! Tomorrow, maybe?

Filed Under: Living Abroad

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    I loved hearing about your year in the Philippines, and I love the honesty of this post. How on earth DID you maintain this blog for the past year?! Incredible. Also, I’m looking forward to scones!

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    First…..Welcome Home!!!! I love the hontesy of this post. Not only were changing the lives of those children, you were helping and changing so many lives through your blog and Food Blogger Pro. The 2 of you are so special. I have said it before, I’m so thankful that our paths in life crossed:)

    I’m curious were you live MN. My brother-in-law and family live in Bemidji. Hw works at the University.

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for sharing your ‘decompression’ post so honestly. I’m still loving those adorable faces and understand how you would have wanted to stay! I am really looking forward to the scones post. Thank your sister for me, please.

    I’ve been wanting to ask this question – are you looking for a teaching job for next school year?

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Ah yes! Thanks for asking! I’m actually planning to post about what’s next for me and POY by the end of the week. 🙂

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    Is it possible to adopt children from your orphanage? If so, what would you recommend as step 1? We’re there certain organizations with whom the orphanage partnered? I would take anyone of those kids! I say 1 now b/c I am holding my FIFTH as I type, but maybe more?
    Thanks a ton,
    P.S. The fam is loving the recipes I’ve gotten from POY. To quote my spouse: “So far, she’s batting a thousand.” This was after successful recipe #5, the Thai curry.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      That’s so sweet about the recipes! thanks Jodi! And as far as adoption goes, there is an FAQ page about adoption on the orphanage website that might be helpful! 🙂

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a beautiful, honest, well thought-out post, Lindsay! Thank you for sharing it the parts about not even knowing how HARD things were until you were back, and wondering how you even pulled off what you pulled off…I have had things and situations like that in life, and you look back on it all and just thank your lucky stars you made it through 🙂

    Welcome home!

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    what a great post…how wonderful for the kids at the orphanage to have you guys there with them for a full year. I truly truly applaud you guys. the hearts you touched forever…and continue to touch through your writing and photos.

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, I love how honest this post is. It was so great to hear about the ups and downs of your year. I spent a month in the Dominican Republic doing physical therapy at a children’s hospital and it was truly life changing. I can’t even imagine how much a year would have affected me. Welcome home!

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love your honesty in this post and I loved reading your thoughts. The good and the bad. Really awesome post and very inspiring!
    Welcome home!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for being honest, Lindsay. Apparently you are made of clay, like the rest of us. That living situation really does sound tough. I’m amazed that you kept the blog going with such a sweet, upbeat, loving tone despite your lack of sleep. And amazed you didn’t get really sick from that!

  10. Skillful Cook Logo


    Your blog has been such an inspiration to me, thank you!! I can relate to your feelings of everything is the same yet you aren’t. I went through a major change recently that lasted two years (endured an injury). When it was over (never over, but over as far as medical treatment, etc) I wanted to somehow make a mark in my home to signify that I am different (in a good way!). I ended up repainting the living room, dining room and kitchen of our loft. Hung new curtains and rearranged the furniture. It may sound trivial, but this symbolizes a new path my life has taken. I’m no longer the person I was before and now my loft is fresh and new – just like me 🙂 Perhaps a trip to Home Depot might also help you… 🙂


  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’ve been following a Skillful Cook for a while now, before you left on your trip. It’s hard to believe a year has already passed. It makes me realize how much more I wanted to complete in a year. Your posts are always inspiring to read. Honest, real, relatable. Congratulations on the continued success of your blog and on completing a year of service abroad. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for you guys.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a lovely and inspiring post.

    Having spent 4 years overseas in my 20’s, I flinch when I hear my fellow English peeps moaning about the economy/weather/poverty/politics of this country. If only they would climb out of their bubble for a few months and see how the majority of this planets inhabitants live, perhaps they’d appreciate more the luxury they are surrounded by.

    Janie x

    PS I’m still reeling that you were away for a whole year – it totally flew by!

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    I did a (short) mission trip last summer and one of the things that really hit me hard when I got back home was how amazing my house is. My house with its stained carpet, broken fence, leaky faucets, and noisy ceiling fans is a luxury in this world. My house is not large or fancy by American standards, but after meeting families that live in one room homes smaller than my bathroom….well, it just has a way of putting life into perspective.

    Thank you for sharing your story. For me it has been a great reminder of what’s really important in life.

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    Your post reminded me of the time when our daughter returned from a YWAM DTS, where she spent 8 months between Germany, Egypt, and Nepal. It was hard, exhilarating, exhausting, and life changing for her — a piece of her heart remains there. We read the book Re-Entry just before she returned and she read it too. It helped us all. It can be tricky weaving a life changing experience into moving forward with life. Give yourself grace and time.

    It is obvious you made a real difference in the lives of those sweet faces. Well done.

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    It is apparent in this candid visualization of your time in Cebu that you gained much and grew more. While there, you made an ever lasting impression and left it in the hearts of those you touched. Well done.

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a beautiful post! You do such a good job expressing what you are going through. I can’t imagine the mixture of emotions that you have been going through the past few days. And those kids. . .your pictures get me every time!

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a wonderful post. I only found your blog recently, but will be going back and reading more. I also know what you mean about “nothing has changed.” I’ve been through a couple of life-changing experiences myself and have been surprised on some level that I was even recognizable to others. Not that my appearance had really changed – or not that much. I just felt so different that surely I looked different? Anyway, best wishes on getting used to home again.

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    My favourite post on Skillful Cook! Being an immigrant myself it’s always interesting to hear other people’s experiences on living abroad. Especially North Americans. Yes, we have it ALL in America and still I’m always amazed with the amount of people “depressed” and unhappy. We have it all, guys! We are beyond blessed!!! Welcome home Lindsay and enjoy your sleep! LOL . Before babies come. LOL. That was funny.

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    Such a wonderful post. When I stumbled upon your blog re. mango smoothies, I had no idea that you are (now were) in the Philippines (my country of birth).
    I came back to read your ‘About’ section to find out more about you. I admire what you and your husband did for the orphans in my country. I even want to personally thank you. 🙂
    If you didn’t live there and did all those, I probably would have dismissed your blog and say ‘Oh, it’s just another one of those food blogs.’ But yours is NOT. Keep it up and welcome back to Minnesota. 🙂

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    Ahhh yes, you will need a few deep breaths in the coming days, months, just getting back to “your” normal.
    It’s such a wonderful thing what the both of you have done this past year.
    Your words are always so heartfelt. Don’t know if I wrote that right, but that’s what my head says. ha
    Take care you two.

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    When I read your post I felt like I’m there beside you and we’re having this conversation. So heartfelt.