Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quiet Times

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas Day and enjoyed the company of family and/or friends!

Kevin and I had a holiday function downtown Friday night so we celebrated Christopher's birthday on Christmas Eve with this delicious ice cream cake...
Christmas morning seemed to be strangely calm.  Even the crazy dog mellowed out for a few minutes.    
We opened our gifts and then had a huge breakfast!

The biggest disappointment of the day was realizing that Christopher's new Kindle Fire cannot stream video or music unless the device is physically located in the U.S.  UGH! UGH! and UGH!  He can download books and reading material from Thailand so the device is not completely useless but he was really looking forward to being able to watch movies and some tv shows.  I spent a few very frustrating hours trying to get him set up before I (what else?!?) used google ("using Kindle Fire overseas") and found out the cause of our problem.  I have found several blogs and chats discussing this issue and there are some "jail breakers" I am trying but I haven't had any luck yet.

My biggest hope is that I can somehow get our Virtual Private Network in sync with the Kindle so the streaming function works.  I tried using the VPN a few times and, once, for a VERY brief moment, we were able to stream a video so I know it can be done. Since the Government of Thailand monitors and blocks a great deal of internet traffic, we set up a VPN in our home.  Basically, although we are in Bangkok, the VPN service assigns us an IP address that is based in San Francisco so it appears that is where our computer & wireless router are physically located. Using the VPN allows us to stream radio stations, movies and television through our computer and the iPad. Without the VPN, these would all be blocked by the Government.  Another benefit is using the VPN for certain on-line retailers. For example, Macy's does not recognize our Thai IP address and won't let me place an order on-line, even when I use our APO address (which is just like shipping to an address in the CONUS). However, if I log on to the Macy's website using the VPN, I can place an order and have it sent to our APO address because they see me as being in San Francisco. Anyway, please keep your fingers crossed that we can get this straightened out. Also, if anyone has any suggestions, please pass them on.

We went to Mass on Christmas evening which was a novelty for us. On the last Sunday of each month, a priest comes from our church downtown to say a Mass out in Nichada. This year, we were lucky that Christmas happened to fall on the last Sunday so we did not have to trek downtown. However, going to 5:00 Mass meant that I got a late start on dinner. We didn't eat  until almost 8 pm but it was so good that no one really complained.

After the craziness that was our Christmas, we are enjoying rest and relaxation! Kevin has been to the driving range several times and he went to golf yesterday with a group from work. The kids have been all over Nichada with their friends - riding bikes, swimming and having a lot of sleepovers. We are going to the beach tomorrow and will return January 2nd.

If I cannot post again until we return, I hope you all have a very safe, happy and healthy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Preparations

A photo of the "birthday" tree that I managed to locate...
Although it is a little small & the ornaments aren't the greatest, it serves its purpose.  

With the kids' birthdays wrapped up, I now need to begin to focus on preparing for Christmas.  Less than a day left (in this part of the world)!  I still have all of the gift wrapping to do but Kevin can help with most of that today.  I did realize yesterday morning that I needed to come up with some kind of a menu for the weekend.  For the last few years, my parents and my sister, her husband and their son joined us in Miami for Christmas so I always had a crowd to cook for over the holidays.  

For Christmas Eve dinner, I traditionally make cioppino (a seafood & fish stew originating in San Francisco - so incredibly delicious) and serve it with sour dough bread and a green salad.  My recipe makes quite a large amount which usually isn't a problem because we always had many guests to feed - and it makes great leftovers. However, this year it will be just the four of us and I really don't feel like going through all of the trouble of making it - there is a lot of chopping of vegetables & cleaning of seafood/fish involved, which my dad always does. Instead, I think we will have a very low key dinner with hamburgers from the grill and a green salad.  

Christmas morning, I usually make a big breakfast with a selection of breakfast casseroles, quiche, muffins,  bacon, sausages, etc.  This year, again because it will be just the four of us, we will have less elaborate fare - waffles with bacon, sausages and fruit salad.  I will make a buffalo chicken dip and serve with tortilla chips, carrots and celery for a early and lite lunch.  

Christmas dinner will be a roasted turkey breast, stuffing, glazed carrots, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes and goat cheese grits. I was able to find some cranberry sauce at the market so we will have that and gravy as well. I plan to make a lemon meringue pie and, if I can track down a can of evaporated milk, a pumpkin pie. Kevin might make sugar cookies with the kids today if we finish with Caitlynne's braces and can get our act together.     

Whew!  Now, I am not only very hungry but also very tired thinking about all of the cooking I will be doing over the next couple of days! I was able to find all of the ingredients I needed (except for the evaporated milk) but this is probably the most expensive Christmas dinner I have ever made.  Most of the dairy products (cheese, cream, sour cream, etc.) in Thailand are imported from Australia and New Zealand and are incredibly pricey. The recipe for the buffalo chicken dip  I am making called for 6 oz. of Greek yogurt, for which I paid just under $9.00!  Yikes!  Note to self:  only dairy-free dishes for next year's dinner!

I am now 85 miles into my transcontinental run and approaching Ashland, VA! It has cooled down a tiny bit (yesterday morning it was 77 degrees) and the humidity has lessened so I have been able to get some great runs in. I am debating running a 10K (called a mini-marathon here) downtown in mid-February. My main concern is the logistics of driving there, parking and then getting home. The 10K is being run under the "umbrella" of the Bangkok Marathon and there will also be a Half Marathon and a 5K that day. So, a lot of craziness will be added to the already horrible mess that is Bangkok traffic. The start time for the marathon is 3:00 AM, for the half marathon it is 5:00 am and the 10K starts at 5:45 am. I am not sure if the early start times are necessary because of the heat or to reduce the impact of road closures on traffic. I am going to ask around and see if there is anyone from Nichada who plans to run the 10K and maybe I can tag along with them. I really would like to see how a race is put on here. 

I hope all of your Christmas preparations are going well!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Frogs and Snails and Puppy-dogs' Tails...

That's what little boys are made of!

Then (and this was pretty much how he was for his first 17 months!)...
 And now...
Thank goodness he is much happier these days.

Happy 12th Birthday Christopher!

Wrap Up

With the kids off from school and trying to get ready for their birthdays and Christmas, it has been hard for me to find time to sit down and write for the blog. Today I will do a wrap up of our activities from last weekend and this week.

After the hoopla of Caitlynne's friends sleeping over Friday night, the house seemed much quieter on Saturday. Saturday afternoon, Caitlynne went downtown with some friends to go shopping in a mall that just opened. The mall, called Terminal 21, is so incredibly over the top!  In fact, I am not going to try to even begin to describe it but will provide you with this link (http://www.bangkok.com/shopping-mall/terminal21.htm) to a website which details this very unique shopping experience. Caitlynne, being the shopping princess that she is, absolutely loved it. She reported that there was a good mix of high end and low end stores, a lot of places to eat and great opportunities to people watch.  However, her absolute favorite part of the mall was the ladies' bathroom. Apparently, there is no toilet paper - your bottom is washed and then blown dry with warm air without you ever lifting your bottom off the heated toilet seat. Hmm... not what I would have expected but I guess this feature fits right in with the mall's extravagance. Anyway, I hope we all will be able to get down to take a look at the mall sometime over the holiday break. Not sure if we will venture into the bathrooms or not.

Christopher had a scrimmage baseball game Saturday afternoon. His travel team was playing the travel team that will be going to compete in Manila in early January. He played really well and had three great hits - two doubles and one single. I was very surprised at how well he pitched because I don't think he has pitched a ball since the season in Miami ended last May.  While I love watching him play and it is nice to sit in the stands and chat with the other parents, baseball games are SO long! This game ended at 3 hours (8 innings) and wasn't even played by the book (they used a 5 run limit or once through the batting order per inning per team) so who knows how long it would have gone on without those limits! Quite a change from basketball when we would be in and out of the gym in just over an hour!  

Caitlynne and Christopher have been spending quite a bit of time with their friends that are still in town. They are doing a lot of bike riding, having sleep overs, etc. It is nice that about 99% of their friends also live in Nichada so they can just hop on their bikes and meet up, either at someone's home or somewhere in between.  

This week we also had a consultation with the orthodontist about braces for Caitlynne. We knew that she was going to need them at some point but really wanted to wait until we moved here as it is much cheaper to have braces put on in Bangkok than in the U.S. Well, it might be cheaper but it is still pretty expensive! She had a mold made after her consultation and will go in Saturday for the braces to be put on... I just hope that it is not too painful for her and won't upset her Christmas spirit!          

Kevin returned from D.C. very early Tuesday morning. He thinks that he should not have to travel for a little while so it will be nice for us to get back in a "family" routine.  

I saw this tree when I was driving the kids to the local mall the other day... 
It looked so much like a poinsettia (but tree sized).  

I also took some photos of some of the other flora that is now blooming around Nichada.           
A holiday arrangement of poinsettias with a water lotus.
Have a great Thursday!

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Can This Be?!?

Happy Birthday, Caitlynne!  

Thirteen years ago today, at 5:40 pm, Caitlynne Rose was born.  ACK!!! I am now the mother of a teenager!  Turning 25 didn't bother me. Turning 30 didn't bother me. Even turning 40 didn't bother me. However, for some strange reason, having a child who is a TEENAGER just makes me feel so old.  

And now...
She had a few friends over Friday night for pizza, cake and a sleepover. They watched movies and, while there was a lot of chattering and giggling, everyone settled down shortly after midnight and went to sleep.  
Kevin returns very late tonight so we will celebrate her birthday properly tomorrow.     

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Olympics

ISB Middle School Olympics that is! All of the middle school students (grades 6, 7 and 8) were split into four teams (red, yellow, blue and green) for the competitions. The Opening Ceremonies began at 7.30 am, the Games commenced shortly thereafter and, after taking a short break for lunch, events continued until 2.00 pm. Whew, it was a LONG (and hot) day for all of these kids!  

The Opening Ceremonies...  
The Flag bearers lining up in preparation for their entrance. A student carried a flag for each country that is represented at the school. 
Christopher was chosen to carry the flag for Ireland!
 Caitlynne on the bleachers with her friends.
All of the countries lined up in the gym.
A traditional Thai dance was performed.  
Everyone moved outside for the torch relay around the track and the lighting of the Olympic Flame.
Christopher at the start line for the one mile run.
 And they are off!
One more lap to go!
Caitlynne and her friends warming up for the basketball tournament.
Stretching is always very important. Her team (three boys, two girls) won their first two games and then lost the third.
Christopher at the start for the 100 meter dash - he placed 1st in his heat! He also came in 1st for the softball throw and ran on the relay team but I left before they finished that event.  
Tomorrow is an early dismissal to begin our 3 week winter break. It seems that most ex-pats go abroad for the winter and summer breaks - either back to the U.S., to Europe or to South America. It is already much quieter around Nichada and there wasn't a lot of traffic on my way to school this morning. We will stay in Bangkok until just after Christmas. Since both of the kids' birthdays are next week, it seemed  easier to stay here and let them do their birthday "thing"  with whatever friends are still in town. I am going to plan a few activities around town for us next week as there is still a lot that we haven't seen or done in Bangkok. Now that the flood waters have receded and we have our car, we can get around to most places quite easily. 

After Christmas, we are going to a small town, Cha-am, on the West Coast of the Gulf of Thailand for almost a week. Cha-am looks to be about a two hour drive for us and it will be good to have our own car so we can do a bit of exploring on the way down and around that area. We have heard great things about this town and are really looking forward to seeing another part of Thailand. 

Have a great Thursday!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Transcontinental Run

This is what I saw when I finished my run this morning about 5 miles away from Glendale, Virginia (in Henrico County)...
You are probably thinking, "WHAT?!?.  Isn't she supposed to be in Bangkok?".  

Every New Year, I make an exercise (well, really just a running) goal. Last year it was to run 1,250 miles (I ran just over 1,500). This year was to run 1,200 miles (I should end up right at 1,250) and to strength train (seriously this time - which I have done). For 2012, I am having a very hard time trying to come up with a goal that will not only challenge me (and is doable with sufficient effort) but will keep me interested & enthusiastic for the year. Quite honestly, just meeting mileage quotas every month is not all that exciting. Also, I have been told that it is horribly hot and humid here in March and April so I don't know if I will even be able to continue to run my current mileage once it gets into those months.   

So, for a PORTION of my 2012 fitness goal (more to come on the rest later), I am going to participate in a Transcontinental Run across the United States. I found an organization that designed a transcontinental virtual trip across the United States. Each time I run and enter my mileage online, it is added to my total and I can see (literally) exactly what I would see if I had been traveling from Yorktown, Virginia to Florence, Oregon. There are also maps that track my progress across the U.S.  It is a very cool program and (hopefully) will keep me motivated to get out and run. It is also really neat to see photos of the actual place where I am at each point in the run. My plan is to sit down at the beginning of each month and pick an end point for that month and then run enough to meet that goal. Hopefully, that will give me some flexibility with running (or not) during the hotter months here and when we are traveling. This will be the first time in a LONG time that I have not had a specific quota to run each month and it will be interesting to see how I cope. I sort of cheated and began the run on December 1st so I am already 50+ miles into my journey.  

I found an editorial in the Bangkok Post archives debating whether or not "Farangs" (Westerners) could ever really understand "Thainess". In the comments section, someone posted a list of "Ways of Knowing if you have Thai-ness or not.".  A few of them were so true that I had to post... 

You look four ways before crossing a one way street.

You wake up in the morning and realize that you have nowhere to go and all day to get there.

When driving a car you'll start using every free inch of the road.

You flash your 4 indicator lights when driving straight on at an intersection.

Have a great day!

Monday, December 12, 2011

All Decked Out!

Wow, a second post for today! 

When you have a bright pink golf cart, how can you NOT decorate it with anything but PURPLE?!?  Woo Hoo!  
Obviously, this was a Caitlynne/Kristen venture and I wonder what Kevin will think... Christopher was not thrilled.  At all.

Here is a photo of the kids together at the dance on Saturday night.
Lastly, a quick YAY for the NY Giants on their win in Dallas last night! Great game and great comeback by NY! For a (long) while there, it wasn't looking too good. Next week, NY hosts Washington - always an interesting match-up in this home. It is probably a good thing that Kevin will not be here as certain fans have been known to get a little heated.

Well, enjoy your day, I am heading off to bed in a little while. 

Cold Weather

I went out to walk the dogs early this morning and was about halfway down the block when I realized that I was FREEZING! I had to go back to the house and grab a sweatshirt before continuing. It was only 69 degrees but, after all of the hot weather we have had lately, it felt so cold!  My blood must be so thin. I don't know what I am going to do when we move back to D.C. and I have to deal with the cold and snowy mid-Atlantic Coast winters. I will probably hibernate from October through April. As I walked the dogs through Nichada, I noticed all of the guards were bundled up much more than I. They all had hats on and zipped their jackets right up to their chins. I was kind of bummed that it was not a running day for me as I am sure I would have had a great run without the heat and humidity. I hope the cooler weather holds through the rest of the week.   

We had a busy week and weekend...
Christopher had his Winter Choir and Strings Concert Thursday night at school. The vocal music program for the middle school at ISB is very strong - there are 6th, 7th and 8th grade choirs, an all girls choir and an all boys music ensemble. Christopher takes choir as an elective class and I don't think he minds it too much but I know he would rather have an extra class of P.E. instead. If he had chosen to play an instrument, he would have to practice every day and would also be in band (or strings or orchestra) so I think he is of the opinion that choir is the lesser of two evils.    

Saturday night both Caitlynne and Christopher went to the Middle School "Snow Ball". This "fancy dance" has been the topic of conversation at school and in our home for the past several weeks (months?) as it is THE big social event before the winter break. Caitlynne and her friends had their hair and nails done and got all dressed up. The boys don't seem to get as excited. Christopher was going to wear a pair of shorts and a polo shirt until, with great protest from him, I made him change into khakis and a nice shirt. He did wear his running shoes which I didn't notice until I saw some photos on Facebook. 

Caitlynne and a few of her friends...
Christopher and his friends...
Caitlynne and some more of her friends...
While they were at the dance, Kevin and I went downtown to the Four Seasons for his office Holiday party. Most of the larger and well known hotels are located in the area surrounding the Embassy and they were all decked out with white lights, wreaths, decorated trees, etc.  Everything looked so festive and it was very easy to get in the holiday spirit. The hotel was totally deserted though...probably one of the unfortunate after effects of the flooding. We had a nice time and it was definitely my kind of party as we were home by 10:30 pm. Kevin left for D.C. very early Sunday morning. He will be gone a little over a week this time - he had a suitcase packed full of holiday gifts for our families and will return with a few presents for the kids that, for one reason or another, I couldn't get mailed here through the APO or the diplomatic pouch. 

Christopher had baseball practice yesterday morning and Caitlynne had her assessments for softball in the late afternoon. I mixed up the times and she missed the session with the 7th grade girls so she had to play with the 8th - 12th grade girls. If it were me, I would have been very intimidated but she held her own and did very well, especially for never having played softball before. Kevin is going to coach Caitlynne's team and will be an assistant for Christopher's travel team. The travel team is preparing for a tournament in Perth, Australia during the last week in March. I think we are all going to go as some good friends from Alice Springs will be relocating there after the New Year so we will be able to visit with them.

Have a great Monday and a great week!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Safe Return

Kevin returned safe and sound to Bangkok earlier today. Instead of his usual travel to the U.S. or around Asia, this trip took him to Kabul, Afghanistan for a week. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to post anything on here about him being there until he returned safely. I was pretty anxious about him going on this trip and had some upsetting dreams the few days before he left...VERY unusual for me. I promised myself not to read the news while he was gone but that vow quickly fell flat. The last time I did not read or watch the news for a few days (I cannot remember why), Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait (in 1992). And, yes, this (then) recent college graduate with a degree in International Relations and a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies looked very ridiculous by not knowing ANYTHING about it until well after the fact! I remember reading the Washington Post a few days later and thinking, "wow, how on earth did I miss THAT?!?".  Never again. I am officially a news junkie. Anyway, Kevin said it was an interesting experience and I am looking forward to hearing about it over dinner this evening.  

Sadly, shortly after Kevin's flight for Bangkok (via Dubai) left Afghanistan yesterday afternoon, I was on CNN and one of the  international news headlines was "Dozens Killed in Kabul Bomb Explosion". I cannot imagine living in that type of environment on a daily basis and really feel for those who do (and their families), especially our U.S. military personnel and civilians who are there trying to make a difference.

Today was my last Thai Cooking Class! It is hard to believe that this was our fourth and last class. Today, we learned how to make different Thai salads. Of the six salads we were going to learn to make, PeePorn has made three of them for us - Pomelo Salad, Papaya Salad (Som Tum), and Minced Chicken Salad (Laab Gai). I had never even heard of the other three salads on the list - Banana Blossom Salad, Lemongrass Salad with Prawns and Wing Bean Salad - so it really was a great learning opportunity.  The end results were AMAZING!

As in the prior classes, the instructor (Danielle) had us (there were four students today) prep all of the ingredients for all of the dishes right away. Before we arrive, Danielle figures out the total amount of each ingredient that we will need for all of the recipes and sets everything out for us. The prep work - chopping, slicing, and dicing - took a tremendous amount of time and energy.  I think my arm will be quite sore after peeling and slicing almost 200 grams of shallots and 200 grams of garlic. For the first hour or so, we were all very busy chopping and weighing the ingredients.  

After the prep work was finished (yay!), we each began a recipe and worked on it for a few steps and then we rotated around to work on the other dishes.  Generally, this was how each class was run. It was a little chaotic working on one recipe for a little while, turning it over to someone and moving on to take over another recipe from someone else. Of course, being the control and organizational freak that I am, I had a really hard time with this "rotation" method and did not like it one bit. I wanted to work on one recipe only and make MY dish. I was able to do that for the first class but, after that, Danielle made sure to move me along. I imagine my report card would read, "does not cooperate well with others in team efforts". So true. Anyway, I did learn to adjust to the situation and now realize the benefit of this type of teaching as everyone had a chance to experience and learn about different ingredients and techniques.  

The first item we needed to make was a roasted chili paste which was used as a base for several of the dressings for the salads.   
We used a mortar and pestle quite frequently (as does PeePorn). The photo below is roasted rice after being ground to a fine flour.
The photo below shows one of the students shredding the papaya for the Som Tum Salad.
My work station.  I just finished mincing chicken breasts to be used in the Laab Gai (Minced Chicken Salad).  
The photo below is of lemongrass steeping in water for lemongrass tea. Since only a very small portion of the lemongrass stalk can be used to cook with (most of the stalk is very tough and fibrous), the "waste" is made into tea.  
One of the salads we made totally won the "wow" award today. A couple of months ago, I posted this photo...
If you remember, this is a banana blossom with the bananas emerging as they ripen. Today, for the Banana Blossom Salad, we began with a very young banana blossom (much smaller and  with no fully developed bananas). First, we peeled the outermost purple leaves away as they are quite bitter and not used in the dish. Underneath the purple leaves, the leaves are white and those are what are used in the salad. We peeled the white leaves away and soaked them in lime juice & water (to prevent from turning brown). In the photo below, the white stringy things on the cutting board are the baby bananas that are developing in between each layer of leaves.   They tasted like banana peel and were discarded.
The leaves were then thinly sliced and tossed with the dressing to make this delicious salad. A few of the purple outermost leaves were used for garnish.  
It was definitely a unique Thai dish!  And quite delicious.

The photo below is the Wing Bean Salad. I embarrassed myself several times by calling it Wing Nut Salad!
The photo below shows the ingredients for the Pomelo Salad right before tossing.
Pomelo Salad, ready to be served...
The photo below is of the Laab Gai (Minced Chicken Salad). Of all of the salads we made today, this was probably my least favorite. It just seemed a bit boring.
The Lemongrass With Prawns was another "new" salad for me. Lemongrass is so fibrous and "woody" that I couldn't imagine it being used, raw, as the main ingredient in a salad. However, the lemongrass is peeled and then so thinly sliced that it is very easy to chew.    
The 6th salad we made today was my absolute favorite, Som Tum (Papaya Salad). Before adding the shredded papaya, we lightly bruised the ingredients in the pestle.
Som Tum is typically made to order on an individual basis so you can specify the number of chilies you want added. I added only part of one chili and it was still a bit too spicy for me to enjoy. But I managed!
The table set for our lunch.
The Lemongrass Tea with ice and mint.
 My plate.
After the delicious gourmet lunch I had today, would you believe I had a bowl of cereal for dinner?  

Have a great Wednesday!