Part of the excitement of living somewhere else is knowing life will be different and unexpected. Things that may normally be easy may be harder and you may face new challenges on a minor or massive scale. For me, the thrill comes in figuring out how to solve these problems no matter how big or small. I love using my brain to master my surroundings, or as it usually goes, just to make life easier. Living in the same place year after year allows one to accumulate stuff, stuff that makes the day to day predictable and more efficient. When you move to the other side of the world (or even embark on a long trip), however, all those little things that allowed you to move throughout your day without a second thought become big absences when piled together. While I wouldn’t want to completely replicate my comfortable Minnesota-life here in Kazakhstan, I am often faced with the challenge of how to make do when your taken for granted comforts are gone. This requires some entertaining resourcefulness.
My biggest challenge is improvising ingredients while cooking. Two weeks ago, I had yet to look for brown sugar at the supermarket, but really wanted to try this Korean beef rice bowl recipe which called for it. Instead, I used sugar and “pancake syrup.” While the recipe was a bit too sweet for my overall tastes, the combination did the trick! (I will be trying the recipe again, but with less sugar. And I found brown sugar last week—Woo!).
This week, I wanted to switch my workout from focusing on my core and lower body to upper body. Normally at home I’d pull out my weights and jump to it. But alas, it did not seem sensible to fill my suitcase with weights during the big move (and I stand by this decision). However, I really needed something heavy to challenge my arms so I headed to the kitchen. We don’t really have a stocked pantry like at home (normally I’d go for some heavy canned goods), but we do have giant tubs of peanut butter! The giant 2.5 pound tubs! While the weight was perfect, I must admit, they were a bit awkward to hold while flailing my arms about. And I craved peanut butter the rest of the day. The point is, I did some on-the-spot problem solving and was satisfied for another day.
And even if we have something on hand, it doesn’t mean I’m going to use it for its conventional purpose. We have a pair of mini-cocottes (teeny tiny casserole-type dishes with lids), which we will never use for their intended role. Instead, one is now our sugar bowl for tea/coffee time, and I often use the other for portion-controlled snacking.
There is something gratifying about reusing and re-purposing objects, aside from saving them from the trash/recycling. For me, I really think it’s the problem-solving factor—maybe I watched too much MacGyver growing up. I also think it’s the reminder that we don’t need all the things we think we need. I know that after my three-month backpacking trip around Europe I wanted to come home and purge almost everything I owned; I did so much with so little for months! These challenges remind me that if I’m going to buy something, it should be essential and should be able to pull double-duty once in my house. While there are obviously exceptions to these rules, it does help me learn how to do more with less and still be happy.