Author: Expat Alien

TCK, Global Nomad, Expat, Traveler writing about what is and what has been

My Burma memories in photos

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I am re-posting from Eclectic Global Nomad

I was wandering around the National Gallery of Art the other day and stumbled across the exhibit “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860.” Since I was born in Burma was immediately interested. I walked right in without reading any of the preamble and just started looking around. Many of the photographs were from Amarapura, the capital from 1842 to 1859 under King Tharrawaddy which is now part of Mandalay.

After the Anglo-Burmese war of 1852, the British annexed a part of Burma. This was the second of three wars. The third war in 1885 resulted in the British taking over the entire country. In 1855 Lord Dalhausie, the governor general of India, went on a political visit to Burma.

'The East Gopuram of the Great Pagoda' 1858, Linnaeus Tripe

- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/burma-memories-photos/2014/10/14#sthash.1VzbRUPr.dpuf

Will I miss my porch?

porchIt is a lovely sunny fall day. As I was sitting on my porch having my morning coffee I thought, “I will miss this”. I will miss my porch and my view. But will I?

I write about places I have lived and I love reconnecting with old friends but have I ever actually missed anyplace?

It has been hard to leave places but the hard part was saying goodbye to friends. It wasn’t the city or the house. When I arrived at my new home in my new city I never wished I was back where I came from.

I am a person who lives in the present. Being a TCK forces you to do that. I become so involved in my new place, trying to fit in, meet new people, find my way around, understand language and culture, I don’t have time to pine for the past.

When I left Colombia I cried all the way from Bogota to Miami. By the time I got to London I was living my new life. Eating gammon steak, gawking at the Beefeaters, loving the theater. When I finally arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, my final destination, I was in such culture shock all my energy went into survival. How to cope in such a strange place. There were no familiar things to relate to, nothing to compare. I had to immerse myself in the present.

The reality is you can’t go back. The unique set of circumstances that made up your life in that point of time will not be the same. Everything will have changed. The city, the people, the house. The experience will be different. After leaving Mexico I went back a couple of times to visit. My neighbors had moved, my friends had moved on, the city had grown. I saw some familiar sites but I was now a visitor, a tourist. The whole dynamic had changed.

I left Minnesota 25 years ago. Since then I have lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, and Virginia. I have lived in 12 different apartments. I don’t miss any of them. I see this move as going back to the future. I don’t expect it to be anything like my previous life in Minnesota. I will be learning about a new place and meeting new people. Some of it will be familiar but much of it will not be. I don’t expect it to be. I don’t want it to be.

When I first moved to Minnesota I didn’t know anything about Third Culture Kids. I was fresh out of college where I had a difficult time adapting to my home country. I didn’t understand why people reacted to me the way they did. When I went for job interviews in Minneapolis, I thought I would bring something special to the table. I clearly could get along with all kinds of people, I was well educated, I was smart. But when the interview was over they would say, “Are you going to finally settle down and stay in one place for a while?”. I didn’t understand the question. What difference did it make?

As I adjusted to Minnesota culture I realized that it was another foreign country. Most people had lived there their whole lives, few people had done much traveling. Although it was a progressive state, many people were conservative. I learned to bury my past even deeper and watched a lot of TV so I would have something to talk to people about.

When we left Moscow, we went to Minnesota and tried to find work. It was right after 9/11 and people were scared. When they saw on my resume that I had lived overseas for the past 9 years, they didn’t want anything to do with me. That is how I ended up in Washington DC.

Minnesota is a much more diverse place these days with large Liberian and Hmong populations. I am also armed with the fact that I know much more about myself. I know how to use my TCK-ness to an advantage without scaring people off. I know I will still be different and there will be people who think I’m odd but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Plus I have lived in the same place for the past 12 years so that should show them I can stick it out.

Starting over at my age in never easy, but who said life is easy?

I might miss my sunny porch on dark winter days…. but probably not.

 

Babies Abroad

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While living in Moscow during the 90’s I got pregnant and went to the US to have my baby. I retuned when he was seven weeks old.

On arrival at the airport after traveling for 15 hours, we were ushered to the head of the line at passport control and breezed through customs. My husband showed up about 10 minutes later saying he had a flat tire. So we took a taxi to the tire repair shop and waited for it to be fixed before finally getting home.

The apartment was a horrible mess. Boxes everywhere. Our previous landlords had kicked us out of our last apartment mainly because our one year lease was up but also because we had moved some of the books they left in the living room. They didn’t want us to touch any of their stuff. Go figure. So on to apartment number 4.

The new apartment had no furniture except for a couple of chairs in the living room and a crib for the baby so we had to sleep on the floor.  Luckily there were armoires so we could at least unpack stuff. I spent the first three days doing nothing but unpacking and taking care of my child. It finally got to a point where I could tolerate it. Unfortunately the washer started acting up so there was laundry up the wazoo.

I breast fed my baby for six months and then I had to go back to work so I switched to formula. I found one that didn’t make him sick and managed to get a regular supply at the children’s department store, Detsky Mir. After a few months they ran out. I went to every store I could think of looking for formula. Sometimes I could find it at a kiosk on the street. I was then forced to switch to a different brand and hoped he could tolerate it. Luckily he did but that brand disappeared as well. We did make it through until he went off the formula but there were times when I thought I would have to beg somebody to ship me some.

I’m sure some of you thinking – formula? Ugh. She could have made her own or pumped. Ugh. I had plenty of other problems to deal with so it just wasn’t an option. I never considered it. But he survived and grew into a healthy child.

A large healthy child. I used cloth diapers until he grew out of them and then I switched to paper. He got so big I had trouble finding diapers to fit him. I went through the same drill as with the formula, hitting every store I could think of. I finally connected with a woman who knew of a place where I could get extra large diapers.

She gave me an address in a Soviet apartment block. The entrance was around the back and downstairs into the basement. A very large man in a leather coat guarded the door. I felt like a criminal. Inside was a large room with a man sitting at a small desk in the entranceway. Boxes of diapers were piled high in the back. He had what I was looking for and I bought a large box to keep me going for a while. Sometimes he would be out and I would either have to go back on the prowl or buy a smaller size. Potty training didn’t come soon enough.

By the time we left Moscow, six years later I could have purchased any formula and any diaper I wanted easily. My timing was off.

By the time I left, they had Ikea. Civilization had arrived.

 

 

Why Write?

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Somebody recently told me I am a terrible writer and I will never be good at it. So then I had a mini existential crisis. I couldn’t write anything. I thought maybe I should just stop. Why do I do it?

I never considered myself a literary genius and would never deem to compare myself to great writers. But what makes a great writer? In English class we learn that prose full of beautiful words and images is great writing. I spent years studying English and Spanish literature analyzing books and poems. What was the author saying? What did it all really mean? What did the images represent? The writing was beautiful and sometimes the stories were interesting. But I have to admit I did and still do skip over a lot of the wordy prose to get to the content.

When I was in the fourth grade I started reading biographies of famous musicians. I read about Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Hayden. I was intrigued by their lives, where they came from, how they became who they were. My fourth grade English teacher didn’t like it. She though I should be reading Little Women. She told me I could not check out any more books until I had finished reading Little Women. Of course I read it but it was boring. Who cared about a bunch of women looking for a husband? I was nine years old.

As I got older I grew to appreciate the classics and at one point I was a voracious reader of anything and everything. When I lived in Africa if there was a book lying around, I would read it. Didn’t matter what it was. But my first love was history. Books about real people and real places.

After I had my child I stopped reading. I tried to read for a while but I kept picking up books that did not hold my interest. I read picture books, books about fantastical explorers, Harry Potter but not much else.

The truth is a lot of writing is not very good. A lot of books aren’t worth reading. They are boring or don’t make sense. I used to think I had to finish a book I started. I don’t anymore. If it doesn’t hold my interest I don’t bother.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been wowed by great prose and beautiful images. One of the reasons I like Gertrude Stein so much is the way she plays around with words. I can’t sit down and read a whole book by her but it is fun to pick one up from time to time and read a paragraph or a chapter.

Writing, like any art, is subjective. People like different genres and styles. I used to be a painter and some people liked my art and some hated it. I never cared because I always did art for myself. I never aspired to fame or fortune in that area. I went from painting to drawing to needlework. I make art because I love the creative process.

The same has been for my writing. I started out writing poetry in the seventh grade. I wrote dark poems about death and the meaning of life and the futility of it all. The tumultuous teens. It was a release that helped me muddle through. Journaling also helped me maintain my sanity and keep things in perspective. I did it for myself.

Writing my book was a difficult emotional process for me. It brought out joy, fear, disappointment, grief, and love. It was never about great writing. I hoped to convey a message and tell a story and inform.

And that is why I do it. And I will continue to do it.

 

Snapshots from the District

WWI Memorial

WWI Memorial

Every time I wander around Washington, DC, I discover something new. Yesterday was no exception.

President’s Park is just west of the White House in front of the Executive Office Building. The First Division Monument is the focal point of the park. On top of the column is the Winged Victory. this monument was erected in 1924 and honors the brave soldiers who fought in World War I.

It was a beautiful day, here are some of my snapshots.

The Corcoran Gallery

The Corcoran Gallery

 

 

Red Cross

Red Cross

Organization of American States

Organization of American States

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

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Tourists

Tourists

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Museum of Natural History

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The Capitol

The Capitol

On the move

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I like to re-arrange the furniture.  It is one thing that keeps me sane.  But my problem is deeper than that.

In the end, many TCKs develop a migratory instinct that controls their lives.  Along with their chronic rootlessness is a feeling of restlessness: “Here, where I am today, is temporary.  But as soon as I finish my schooling, get a job, or purchase a home.  I’ll settle down.”  Somehow the settling down never quite happens.  The present is never enough — something always seems lacking.  An unrealistic attachment to the past, or a persistent expectation that the next place will finally be home, can lead to this inner restlessness that keeps the TCK always moving.”  from Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken

I have finished school.  I have a job.  I purchased a home.  I have a child.  I am settled down. Or am I?

I re-arrange the furniture.  I plan long elaborate trips all over the world.  I pour over airline timetables.  I read travelogues.

I lived in Russia for many years with the landlady’s furniture or no furniture at all.  It drove me crazy.  I would complain to my husband – “When are we going to be able to buy some decent furniture that is comfortable and just be in one place for a while?”  I dreamed of living in a comfortable place that was my own where I could just RELAX.

I still dream about it. It is always someplace cozy and small and it is raining outside.

Truth is, I hate the rain.  I find it confining.

I have moved 29 times, across town and across the world. It is a pain to move. Deciding what to throw out and what to keep. Purging. I find myself wanting to just throw everything out. When I left Russia 12 years ago we had six suitcases. I moved again eight years ago and even though I threw out half of what I had I still ended up with a truck full. Over the past eight years I have accumulated more stuff. It is the longest I have ever lived in one place and even though I try to clear things out from time to time, I still have way too much stuff.

I am on the move again. Move number 30. What was I thinking?

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I have been re-reading “Hidden Immigrants’ by Linda Bell. In this book she interviews people like me who grew up overseas constantly moving. In one section she explores roots – Here Are My Roots. Most of us are not joiners. We don’t get really involved with local communities. We don’t identify with “place”. Where we are is always temporary. Our roots are in our friends and family.

Going back to Switzerland earlier this year felt like going “home” because I re-connected with so many wonderful old friends. People who had similar backgrounds. We didn’t have to explain who we were or where we were from.

“What ties do they feel are important as they enter mid-life?

The answer is people – friends, and often old friends….For it is those old friendships that validate their childhood, reaffirm those places for them and tell them something about who they were at that time. People are real –better than pictures, better than memories. Even if they only connect with these people once a year, or see them very occasionally at school reunions, or write or call them infrequently, these connection are the bedrock of their past.”—Linda Bell

I guess I am having my own flavor of mid-life crisis. I am heading to my roots. I’m going to spend time with family and old friends. This will take me to another city in another part of the country. A needed change and a new adventure.

So the moving process begins.

Stay tuned.

 

Brand New Expat 1953

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I found this letter in an old scrapbook. My family was living in Rangoon, Burma. The letter is from my mother to a friend in Iowa.

 

February 15, 1953

Dear Mildred:

I’m sorry not to have written you sooner – I have thought of you so many times. I would like to tell you so much about Burma and our life her, but it is hard to condense all these new experiences and decide which might be the most interesting.

First, I think you might like to know what your home is like. We are fortunate in having a good-sized brick house, which is rented from a Burmese woman. It has 20 ft. ceilings, ceiling fans, concrete floors, and every piece of wood in the whole house from rafters to coffee table is of beautiful teakwood. Due to the high ceiling, fans and brick walls we hope to be as comfortable as is possible here during the humid hot season, which is just now beginning. To help run our household we have a cook who is indispensible, for he does the marketing, acts as interpreter since he speaks excellent English as well as four or five other languages, and he miraculously runs the temperamental kerosene stove! There are very few Burmese who work as house servants and our cook is Indian. He is a Hindu and does not eat beef, but does not object to cooking it for us. Then we have a sweeper who does the cleaning with includes scrubbing the concrete floor and waxing all the furniture at least once a week o prevent mildew. Then since babysitters are unheard of here as such, we have a nanny who lives with us and, besides babysitting, takes care of light laundry, helps me with mending and sewing and is a most pleasant person to have around. She is a young, pretty woman and a good Baptist. I usually take her with me when I drive so that she can interpret for me if the car should break down or if we should become lost (I’ still learning my way around the city).

Now, as Mother keeps asking, you might be wondering what I do with my new “life of leisure”. Well, everything is not perfect and leisurely even with so much help, believe me. Since many people in this part of the world do not have the same ideas of sanitation as we do, I have to constantly check on the kitchen to be sure the water is boiled before placed in the refrigerator for drinking, to remind the dishwasher to use soap, to see that clean dishtowels regularly replace dirty ones, etc. Our help is very fine, and they do everything to make us comfortable, but they often don’t realize how particular we must be to avoid becoming sick. One day I found nanny straining freshly boiled drinking water through a very dirty napkin into a pitcher! Language differences sometimes cause confusion – such as the time Bill asked our cook to get a mess of lime to mark out our new badminton court, and the cook appeared later with 3.5 lbs. of fresh green limes! Needless to say we are still drinking limeade. But, all in all, our household is very pleasant and as much like it would be in America as we can make it under the circumstances. I manage to keep busy – I am trying to learn to speak Burmese, I keep all the household accounts, of course, and do most of the meal planning, attend meetings of several organizations, read as much as possible, go out socially, some, and write letters. It doesn’t sound like much, I guess, but time is passing very quickly.

Our two boys both go to school from 8:30 to noon every day except Thursday and Sunday. Their school is English-speaking, but children rom all nationalities are represented. Some are learning English as they go to school. Our boys have very good friends who are Chinese, French, Dutch, and Burmese – some of whom speak no English at all. But neither race nor language is any barrier to their friendships – an example from which we all might profit.

Rangoon is a most colorful and interesting city with large Chinese and Indian populations as well as the pleasant, friendly Burmese. The city is dominated by one very tall gold-roofed pagoda which is a most interesting place to visit besides being a landmark for Rangoon and one of the outstanding pagodas in this part of the world. One climbs hundreds of steps to the top where there are many statues of Buddha of different sizes, colors and positions. The roof or dome of the pagoda is pure gold leaf and it has many valuable gems sealed inside. We enjoyed the long climb to the top almost as much as the worship center, for the stairs are lined with little shops where everything one can imagine is sold – Burmese, drums, ankle bracelets, cymbals, flowers, lacquer ware, Ivory combs, flutes made of bamboo, brassware, toys, etc, etc. Once Bill and I wanted to buy a delightful-sounding Burmese gong, and since one bargains over the price of most everything here we started bargaining. The merchant asked 15 rupees, we offered 6 and finally after much haggling got it for 8 rupees – very pleased with our bargain. When we got home one of our servants pointed out the price mark written in Burmese – 5 rupees!! But we had had fun anyway, and you can be sure we learned how to read Burmese numbers that very day.

We are at the moment thoroughly enjoying our Iowa news since the monthly ship from New York came in this week. We got about a month supply of newspapers. We get all our letters in about 10 days, but the magazines and papers take about 6 weeks.

We really like it here in Rangoon and are so glad we had the opportunity to come. It is a joy to find that these people halfway around the world are just as human as Americans are, and that it is as easy to become good friends with Asians as it is with Iowans. This is one thing that gives me a renewed faith in the world.

Love and the TCK

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I just finished reading My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Luisa was born in Berlin of an American father and an Italian mother. Her parents divorced and she lived her grade school years in Boston and her high school years in Berlin. She ended up in New York City, mainly for her career as a cookbook editor. In New York she fell in love with a man named Sam. Sam was nice and easy to be with and had an extended family in New York who included Luisa in all that they did.

This is where she ran into trouble. She loved New York, she had friends, she had an amazing career, and she had a great boyfriend but something was missing. She felt unsettled. One night she asked Sam if he would ever consider moving to Europe. He immediately said no and volunteered that he didn’t even like traveling. Huge red flag.

As a cross cultural TCK she went through all the confusion, uncertainty, itchy feet feelings we all have. She was pulled in different directions. She went through depression. She knew she should move on but had trouble finding her way. Intellectually it made sense to stay in New York and marry this man but it just didn’t feel right.

I won’t tell you how Luisa resolves her problem but I do recommend her book, especially if you like food. It is full of beautiful descriptions of the food she eats and cooks and each chapter ends with a recipe.

Boston

However, I will tell you about a similar experience I had. When I was in college in Boston, I fell in love. I mean the real kind of love where you are gaga most of the time and happy and everything you do together is meaningful. I met Chris at a dance at Simmons the first week I was there. He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before. I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that. He taught me a lot about America and its history. Or at least his view of it. He also showed me everything there was is to see in the Boston area and more. And he loved to dance.

His father was sent to America from Germany at the beginning of WWII with his entire inheritance to get away from the war. Chris’ father spent all his money getting a PhD at Harvard and he taught philosophy at MIT. His family was killed in the war.

Chris’ maternal grandparents fled Belarus during the Russian revolution and went to Paris. His mother grew up in Paris and when she was 19 they immigrated to the USA. She spoke English with a French accent. Her father had died by the time I met her but I met her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian. Chris grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English. The family lived in Europe when his father was on sabbatical but other than that he had done no traveling and had no desire to go anyplace. He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life. And actually it was suburban Boston that he wanted to live in, not far from his parents.

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Of course things were not always perfect but I felt very close to Chris. I was never afraid to talk to him about anything. We were very open with each other about everything. If we were feeling smothered we said so and would take a break for a couple of days. We rarely fought. I almost always got whatever I wanted. I felt totally secure and adored. I reveled in it. I had my 21st birthday that summer and we had a wild party where neighbors were threatening to call the police – I think maybe they did show up at one point – and people were asleep on my couch the next morning. Chris cleaned the house and by the time I got up you never would have known there had been a party. It all seemed too good to be true.

One night that summer Chris asked me to marry him. I said yes.

The following Christmas I returned to Nigeria to see my parents and I met a guy named Peter who was studying at the University of Ibadan. He was funny and quick witted. We shared the traveling bug and a variety of experiences that come from living overseas. He made me realize how boxed in I had become by being with Chris. I had been living in a safe, predictable, all-American environment with few challenges and little true excitement. I can’t say it was boring because I wasn’t bored but it was maybe too normal. Normal is good sometimes but not all the time. At least not for me. Meeting Peter triggered a lot of feelings and I realized marrying Chris meant chopping off a part of myself.

Could I spend the rest of my life living in Boston and going to the in-laws on Sundays for dinner? Could I live without seeing more of the world? Could I live with a man who didn’t understand my story? It made me feel one-dimensional. So in the end I ran away and broke his heart.

Funnily enough he did move to Texas and traveled to Asia for work, although he said he didn’t enjoy it. He returned to suburban Boston and lived out his life there. There was a time in my life when I had some regrets. I wondered how different my life would have been had I stayed and married him. My life hasn’t been easy or safe but when all is said and done I think I made the right decision for me.

College Bound

The Kremlin, Moscow

The Kremlin, Moscow

My son was born in the US state of Minnesota. We were living in Russia at the time. Our first challenge was getting him a passport. We took a bunch of photos of him lying on a white bedspread. He would not be still so we had to work fast. We came up with a few we thought might work and went off to submit our forms. They were rejected. The photos were no good. They had a place in the building where we could try again. I held him up over my head so I wasn’t in the photo and more pictures were taken. Finally we came up with one they accepted. My thought was, he would look completely different in a couple of months so what difference did it make?

At seven weeks I boarded a plane bound for Moscow. It was a 12 hour flight with a layover in Amsterdam. Luckily he slept most of the way and the real up side was he proved to be a ticket to the head of the line at customs. Easiest arrival I ever had.

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Over the next six years I dragged him all over Europe. At eight months we went to visit a friend in Finland. We took him with us to see the movie Braveheart and he slept right through it. At 10 months we visited family in the US. At 18 months we went to Helsinki. Later we spent time in France, Italy, Switzerland and Holland. We took a road trip across the Rockies to California. At one point we were sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It was late and we were enjoying a nice meal. There were two men at the table next to us. One of them leaned over and asked, “does your son always sleep at restaurants?”. I looked over and he was fast asleep with his head on the table. My answer was, “Yes he can sleep anywhere”. And he did.

The electric train in St Petersburg

The electric train in St Petersburg

I had some challenging plane trips during his terrible two period but otherwise he was a good traveler.

My childhood was much the same so I didn’t really think anything of it. Children might not remember the details of their early travels but they absorb the experience. They understand they are in an unfamiliar place and need to act differently. They hear people speaking different languages. They learn all kinds of things. I can vividly remember being six in a hotel room in Tokyo and seeing television for the first time. What struck me was I could not understand it. They were speaking a language I did not understand. I grew up speaking five languages, how could it be that there were more?

On a Carousel in Paris

On a Carousel in Paris

 

So my child learned to adapt and adjust and deal with things he found unpleasant. He went to a Russian school and hated it because he was the “different” one. When he returned to the US and went to school, again he knew he was the “different” one.

 

“Although the length of time needed for someone to become a true TCK can’t be precisely defined, the time when it happens can. It must occur during the developmental years – from birth to eighteen years of age. We recognize that a cross-cultural experience affects adults as well as children. The difference for the TCK, however, is that this cross-cultural experience occurs during the years when that child’s sense of identity, relationships with others, and view of the world are being formed in the most basic ways…… no one is ever a “former” third culture kid. TCKs simply move on to being adult third culture kids because their lives grow out of the roots planted in and watered by the third culture experience.”

From Third Culture Kids by David C Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

After returning the US, my son had other challenges – adjusting to five different schools, his parents’ divorce, and his father’s death. His experience in Russia and traveling around Europe gave him unique tools to cope with these things. His father’s family was Russian and he now embraces his heritage with a balanced view. He knows the hardships that people endure there but he also knows about their rich culture and has memories of the wonderful people who helped care for him.

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

 

 

Now, as he goes off to college he will have new challenges to face. My main challenge in college was adjusting to my passport country and people I knew little about. My son is better prepared for the transition. He is comfortable with diversity and a wide range of people. He will do well.

 

 

Baked Pork Chops Smothered in Tomato and Onion

 

 

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Baked Pork Chops

3 pork loin chops, boneless

½ red onion, sliced

13 oz (390 g) crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon basil (use fresh if you have it)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup chicken stock or bouillon

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Heat the butter in a frying pan. When pan is hot, add the pork chops and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side just to brown the outside.

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Remove the chops and put them in a glass baking dish. Cover the chops with the tomatoes and the onions. Add basil, salt and pepper. Pour the stock over everything.

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Cover tightly with tin foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour. They should be very tender.

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