Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's A Wrap

My wrapped vase.
I used my pie-crust making skills to add scallop detail to the top of the vase.
I made this plate two weeks ago.  
My collection.  The two plates that I made last week are the deep blue ones on the upper left side of the photo. I tried to take close up photos of them but I couldn't get rid of the glare from the flash and the edges looked very uneven (more so than they actually are!). The plates look much better from a distance.  
This is the one piece that I made using glazes not from the blue/aquamarine/teal palette.  
Not bad for a beginner if I do say so myself!

We had a lot going on here today.  I went to a luncheon to celebrate a friend's birthday and there were several women there that I met for the first time - another expansion of my circle of friends.  Caitlynne had netball after school but I couldn't help out because the birthday lunch ran very long. Netball training finished while I was drinking coffee and eating cake. Both of the kids have basketball this afternoon and Caitlynne usually goes to a Zumba class on Tuesday and Thursday nights so she will be out of the house for that. The best part is that I do not have to drive anyone anywhere.  All of these activities are either at school or somewhere else in Nichada so the kids can ride their bikes to and from and mom is released from chauffeur duty!

Kevin is not aging well.  For the last two months, he has been having a tingling/pins & needles feeling in his left leg several times a day.  He finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with having a bulging disk in his lower back.  The RX is for him to do core exercises to increase his muscle strength around the disk (I guess his six pack abs aren't enough in this case! Ha!) and to take anti-inflammatory medicine (Motrin or Advil) in the morning and at night.  He also decided to reduce his running to every 3rd day until he starts to feel better.  Kind of a bummer for him but it seems like if he makes some changes, he can get relief. 

More worrisome to me were the three growths that he had removed from his stomach & back yesterday.  They were of pretty significant size - two required 5 stitches to close and the other required 3 stitches.  The doctor seemed to think they were basal cell carcinoma but still sent them to the lab for testing and (we hope) confirmation of that diagnosis.  Kevin had several basal cell growths removed about this time last year so it is a little unnerving to us that even more appeared this year.  He has been very careful with protecting his skin with lotion and covering up when he is outside so maybe the cells are growing from earlier exposures? It is so important for everyone to have an annual dermatological "head to toe" exam.  Any suspicious growths can be removed immediately or observed over time for changes in appearance, growth, etc. My public service announcement for the day. 

Have a great Thursday and enjoy the last day of May 2012!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


It is that time of year again... the summer transfer season has arrived in Bangkok! This time of year is always difficult for those who live either a corporate ex-pat life or are part of the foreign service.  So many people are coming and going.  There is a huge turnover at this Embassy during the summer - last year about 200 new families arrived over the three month period and I am sure an equally significant number departed. Kevin is losing a fairly large group from his office and there will be a lot of new people for him to get to know when we return in early August. Some of our friends are moving back to the U.S. while others are moving on to another foreign assignment. We have friends going to Kuwait, Japan, Beijing, England, India, Colombia, Dubai... the list goes on and on.  We truly have a very international group of friends!  If only we were independently wealthy and could fly around the world and visit everyone!

School ends next Friday and most families (those moving as well as those going on vacation) have booked flights out of Bangkok early Saturday morning. There will be a mass exodus from Nichada!  One of Christopher's very good friends (an "attached at the hip" kind of friend) is moving back to the U.S. and they are leaving immediately after school ends next Friday. I am dreading that departure the most.  Fortunately, Christopher's friend and his family are moving to a small town in Connecticut that is not too far from my parents' home so we are planning a day trip over to visit them in early July. 

It is never easy to say good-bye to friends and, for me, it seems to get harder and harder as each transfer cycle approaches.  I realize, from past moves, how easy it is to lose touch with friends over distance and time.  So, not only am I saying, "good-bye" to friends here but I also mourn for friendships lost since our moves to & from Australia and Miami.  While I am not a huge Facebook user, it is an excellent way to stay connected and in contact with people from all different phases of our lives.  Probably the only good thing about this time of year is that we are invited to quite a few going away parties.  For once, our social calendar is just as booked as the kids'.  It helps to have so many events to go to - less time to be sad and mopey!  I am meeting a lot of new (to me) people who live in Nichada, have kids at ISB or work at the Embassy and, although we are losing friends, we are gaining some as well.

I finished glazing the remaining two ceramic pieces that I made last week and the instructor was going to fire them last night & into today.  They need to cool for a while so I will pick them up tomorrow morning.  I did bring my wrapped vase and a plate home but I will spare you the photos until tomorrow! The instructor is thinking about offering a pottery class for the Fall 2012 session.  The potter's wheel is not working quite right and she needs to make sure that it will be repaired before she can finalize the class so we shall see.  She had me the minute she said, "potter's wheel" - how totally cool would it be to use one of those!  I am already thinking about what I would make.  The potter's wheel opens up an entirely new line of pieces that could be made... pitchers, deep bowls, ginger jars... I wouldn't know where to begin.

Last night was our final netball training for the season.  We just played four 10 minute games on half court but it was still a good workout and I wasn't a bit sore this morning. I even scored 4 or 5 points over the course of the night.  We rotate positions for each game and I dread when I have to play one of the positions (goal attack and goal shooter) that do the shooting (aka point scoring). I totally stink at shooting but last night I did pretty well (or at least held my own) which gives me a small, teensy-tiny, itty-bitty, miniscule glimmer of hope that I can continue to improve with enough practice.  The middle school girls train tomorrow and then they will be finished as well.  We are only losing one or two of the adult players to moves out of Bangkok and will try and recruit a few more so we can field two teams and start playing again in early September.  Next week, in typical Aussie/Kiwi/Brit tradition, we are going out for drinks to celebrate a successful "season".  Love those ladies!

Have a great Wednesday!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dinner Group - Take 2

Last night we had the second get together of our dinner group.  I was in charge of appetizers and made traditional sweet and sour meatballs.
I had a recipe for "Blue Sky Potatoes" that I clipped from (I think) Southern Living a few months ago and thought this would be the perfect time to try it out.  I have no idea why this dish is called "Sky Blue Potatoes".

The recipe called for red potatoes but I couldn't find them here and used new potatoes instead. First I cut the potatoes in half, tossed in olive oil and roasted until the skins were crisp. 
Very carefully, I scooped out the insides of the potatoes and combined the insides with sour cream, crumbled blue cheese, chopped parsley, chopped red onion and crumbled bacon.  The recipe called for one cup of crumbled blue cheese but since it has such a strong flavor (and not everyone is a fan), I only used 1/2 cup.  
The potato skins were then re-filled and garnished with more parsley and crumbled bacon. The new potatoes were definitely too small to use for this recipe - the filling was very heavy and potato skins were not sturdy enough to hold it well.  The recipe turned out very well otherwise but I wouldn't make it again unless I could find red potatoes. 
The photo below is so gross.  This is the amount of fat I collected after cooking the meatballs and the bacon.  I was shocked at how much there was.  
For dinner, our hosts served spicy red enchiladas, milder green enchiladas, coconut lime rice and black bean & corn salsa.  For dessert, we had "blondies" and homemade apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. I love having friends that can cook and bake well! Beverages included wine, beer and margaritas. Everything was delicious and it was so much fun to see our friends and catch up with them before we all go our separate ways for the summer.  Although we all live in Nichada (not more than 1 mile - MAX - from each other) and our kids go to ISB together, I rarely see these friends while I am out and about.  During baseball and basketball season we see each other a lot because we each (four couples) have one son about the same age and we end up either on the same basketball/baseball team or playing against each other.  Other than that, our paths just never cross.  

We did not make it over to Ko Kret this weekend as we had planned.  Yesterday was busy with basketball, running errands and cooking for the dinner group.  We went to Mass downtown this morning and thought we would go to Ko Kret in the afternoon. However, the minute we got home from Mass, I walked upstairs and crawled into bed for a 2 hour nap.  I cannot take late nights at all and need to catch up on my sleep ASAP or I end up sick.  

Christopher had a great day of basketball yesterday and his team won their game with a score of 43-25.   I overheard the opposing team's coach tell his players at halftime that "you guys still haven't found an answer for Chris".  When he is "on", he plays amazingly well but when he is "off", he really should just warm the bench.  There is no in-between for him.  Fortunately, the "on" days outnumber the "off" days which makes our home a very happy place! 

Have a great Sunday!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Little Scare

After netball training with the girls yesterday afternoon, my left ankle was incredibly sore. Not muscle sore but bone sore and it hurt to put any kind of pressure on it.  I could barely walk. Of course, I always think the absolute worst and convinced myself that I had a stress fracture.  This wouldn't surprise me at all given that, for the last ten months, I have been pounding out 100+ miles a month on concrete, quite possibly the worst running surface EVER.  There is no "give" in concrete and when I run on concrete, my body (joints, muscles, bones, etc.) absorb all of the impact when my feet hit the ground.   In contrast, pavement and the earth (trail running) are more yielding & softer surfaces and the additional cushioning helps absorb the impact of my feet hitting the ground.  In Nichada, the roads and the path around the lake are concrete and the sidewalks are made out of concrete bricks so there is no other option but to run on concrete!  

I took Sonder for his late evening walk and my ankle was still very sore when we left the house.  However, by the time we reached the end of our street, it felt fine and continued to feel fine for the rest of our 45 minute walk.  This gave me hope that it might just be a sore or tight muscle.  Out came the Advil and ice.  I did a lot of stretching - flexing and rotating my ankle - before bed and whenever I woke up during the night.  The ankle was stiff this morning when I first woke up but it felt fine by the time I got dressed and went downstairs for coffee.  I took today as an unscheduled rest day from running - just in case.   The only injury I have ever had (at least one that prevented me from running) was when I pulled a groin muscle while doing yoga about two years ago.  I couldn't run or walk for 4 weeks and was miserable.  To avoid injury, I am very careful about increasing my mileage, I try not to overdo any speed work, and I also make sure I stretch, stretch and stretch some more after my runs. Hopefully, the soreness was the result of a turn or twist during netball and won't escalate into anything more.  Fingers crossed.

We had our last official ceramics class Monday evening.  I say "official" because we all still have a couple of pieces to glaze and then fire for the second time so we will meet again next week to finish up.  I brought my picture frame home Monday night.  I glazed the frame in aquamarine and used my standard paisley/fish pattern.  The edges are a bit uneven but, hey, that is what makes it a unique, handcrafted piece.  

Kevin arrived home from Tokyo late last night and he will have a few days to rest and relax before he leaves again.  The Embassy is closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday (but the kids are in school) so I expect him to golf with his usual Embassy group.  He had a great game last week - he thought his best game ever - and has high hopes for a repeat performance.  Both of the kids have plans for this evening so Kevin and I might go to the driving range and then have a drink at the restaurant that is on-site.

No matter how much I practice, my golf still stinks - but I do have fun.  The driving range we go to most often has a large pond directly in front of and extending the entire length of the hitting bays.  Whenever we go, it is so embarrassing for me (and probably Kevin too) because 7 out of every 10 balls I hit end up in the pond.  With a big splash.  I just cannot hit them high and far enough to make it over.  About 10 minutes after I begin to hit, EVERYONE is looking down my way wondering, "who the heck is putting all of their shots into the water?!?".  Yeah, that would be me.  There have been times when I hit 6 or 7 shots in a row into the water and then I start laughing so hard at what people must think (most likely, "give it up!") that I can't even take a swing.  Even worse is that the driving range is right outside of Nichada and there are always several people we know who are fortunate enough to witness my lack of skill.  I tell myself that my purpose in golf is to make other people look good. VERY VERY good.  And, in that respect, I am a huge success!  I took lessons when we lived in Australia and, depending on what our Fall looks like, I might give lessons another go while we are here.  At this point, it can't hurt.  Plus, the golf pro is the same guy who has to retrieve all of my missed shots from the pond so he has a vested interested in helping me get better.

Christopher this morning.
Giving "thumbs up" to his breakfast of leftover pizza and a glass of milk.  Certainly not the breakfast of champions but at least he ate something before school (which is usually not the case).
Caitlynne recently.
Caitlynne's school softball team and their coach with their 3rd place tournament medals.
Caitlynne has three babysitting jobs lined up for the weekend.  She loves the families that she sits for and she doesn't mind missing out on a few social activities in order to babysit. Lady GaGa is in Bangkok tonight and a few of Caitlynne's friends are going so I think it will be a quiet night in Nichada anyway. Caitlynne and I talked about possibly going to the show but never came to a final decision.  Everyone I know who is going has "standing" tickets and having to stand for the entire concert with (most likely) a not so great view of the stage does not appeal to me AT ALL.  Of course, tickets for proper seats were selling for hundreds of dollars so that wouldn't have been a viable option even if we decided to go.  

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ko Kret

Last weekend, we took what should have been a short drive down to the Chao Phraya river in hopes of catching a ferry over to the island of Ko Kret.  Ko Kret was formed in 1722 when a navigation channel was dug to bypass a loop in the river. Given its location - in the middle of a major river in a country that is barely above sea level - Ko Kret floods early and floods a lot.  In fact, last Fall, Ko Kret was under knee-high water well before there was even a threat of Bangkok flooding.    The island is about 15 kilometers north of Bangkok and is only reachable by ferry from the Wat Sanam Nau Pier.  This pier is very close to Nichada - just 15 minutes to the West - and it seemed like a great destination for a Sunday afternoon activity.  
I thought I had a pretty good idea of where the pier was but, alas, it was not to be found.  The Thai names on the street signs did not correspond to the English street names on my map, the fork in the road (where we were to go left) never materialized and the road dead ended exactly where the map showed it should "T".  As usual, there was not one sign in English to be found.  Along the river's edge and also in the vicinity of the pier, was a large temple and a popular "wet" market (fish, poultry, meat, fruits and vegetables, etc.) - the car, motobike and pedestrian traffic in and around that area on Sunday was insane.  We couldn't find the pier and we couldn't find a place to park so we turned around and went home without even a glimpse of the river.  There is no such thing as going out for a leisurely Sunday drive in Bangkok, that is for sure.  We learned our lesson and hired a driver to take us there this weekend.  I will pay close attention to the route he takes there and back so we will be able to drive ourselves if we ever want to go again.  
The photo below is an aerial view of Ko Kret.  This photo was taken from an area just to the southwest of the island.  
If you click to enlarge the photo below, Nichada is directly East of Ko Kret - just beyond the edge of the map and right off the thick yellow line (Route 304 - Chaengwatthana). So close but so far away.
The Mon are an an ethnic group from Burma that dominated central Thailand between the 6th and 10th centuries and members of the Mon tribe have a very old and well established settlement on Ko Kret.  Although the Mon are Buddhists and have lived on Ko Kret for many generations, they have maintained their own traditions and cultures. The Mon are skilled potters and craftsmen and the main industry on Ko Kret is pottery. In fact, the Mon selected to settle on Ko Kret because of the high quality of the local clay available. The Mon produce pieces of pottery in the distinctive kwan arman style (baked, unglazed clay carved with intricate patterns), which dates back many centuries. Many regard the pottery produced by the Mon as the most beautiful of all unglazed pottery available in Thailand.

Ko Kret is not a large island at all.   There are no paved roads or cars so people get around by walking and riding bicycles or motorcycles on paths.  A concrete path rings the edge of the island and it takes about 90 minutes to walk on it around the entire island.  Ko Kret's population lives in several small and very rustic villages on the island. I couldn't find any information as to whether or not electricity and running water are available on the island.  While I would expect them to be available, I am sure access is very limited and service is probably not the most consistent.  A few temples, the pottery workshops and a market for local products and souvenirs are the main tourist attractions.  There are a few banana plantations on the island and some organic farming is also done here.  

We have had a few storms (or the threat of storms) this week and I hope the weather will hold for the weekend so we can get to the island and have a good look around.  

It has been a busy but quiet week.  Kevin has been in Tokyo and will return late tonight. Say Jon and the rest of the babies in his "house" are still in quarantine so I have taken care of random toddlers when I have gone the last two weeks.  I can't wait to see him and hope to get out there tomorrow if possible.  The kids have been preparing for final exams so there has not been a lot of homework or projects assigned.  Basketball (for both Cailtynne and Christopher) is going well and there are only two weeks remaining in this Spring session.  Netball (for Caitlynne and I) is heaps of fun.  I play with the adult women Tuesday nights and help train the middle school girls on Thursday afternoons.  I am nowhere near a good player but I have a lot more confidence in my ability and feel like I understand how to play the game better than when I played in Australia.  The numbers for both the teams have been low because of all of the end of the year activities but we still manage to get some semblance of a game in.  The woman who is coaching both the teams plans to do some recruiting and advertising for our Fall session which should help fill the teams.

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Count Down!

One month until we begin our trek back "home" to the East Coast for the summer! Yay! Although there is a ton of stuff that I need to get ready before then, I am counting on my excitement to get me through all of the stress of planning and packing.  I get very overwhelmed when I start to think about how much I have to do before we leave so I have been making a lot of lists to keep myself organized (and sane).

School finishes on June 8th but we won't leave for the U.S. right away.  The kids asked to stay here for a couple of weeks so they could hang out with their friends and "decompress". We will leave Bangkok on June 21st and our first stop will be in Seattle to visit with Kevin's brother and his family for four days.  We have never been to Seattle and are looking forward to exploring the city (and visiting some of the brew pubs!).  From Seattle, we fly to Virginia and will split our time there between Kevin's mom (in Gainesville) and my brother and SIL (in Fairfax).  We all love being back in Fairfax and visiting with our family and friends. We still own a home there and do a few drive-bys and "remember whens" whenever we are in town. Christopher was 5 years old when we moved from that house to Australia so I am not quite sure what he remembers, if anything. Caitlynne has a group of friends that she went through Pre-School and Kindergarten with and she always spends a few days with them.  In the past, they went to the park or the pool together but, over the years, their meet-ups have morphed into shopping trips at the mall, going to the movies or getting manicures/pedicures. I get to see a lot of my "mom" friends and we usually have a fun girls' night out and spend some time lounging at the pool with a drink (or two).  I miss Virginia and my friends so much! 

We will spend the week of 4th of July in NY at my parents' home.  The kids have already started to make meal requests of my mom!  There are a few delicious meals that she makes that I cannot duplicate so we save them for our visits to NY.  It will also be wonderful to have a genuine NY bagel again!  We will drive back to Virginia and then Kevin will return to Bangkok for two weeks.  However, he has a conference in Williamsburg, VA the last week of July/first week of August so he will return to the U.S. for that and then we will all meet up in Northern Virginia and fly back here together. Lots of frequent flyer miles for him this summer! In mid-July, some family friends from Miami will be driving North for their vacations and we will try to meet up with them when they pass through Virginia.  We did this last year right before we left and it was so much fun.  

Christopher, Caitlynne and I are going to Miami later in July so Christopher can participate in a basketball camp at University of Miami.  He attended this camp several times when we lived in Miami and had a great time while learning a lot of new skills. Before we moved last year, I promised that if he wanted to attend this year, I would make it happen.  So, off we shall go!  It actually isn't all that much of a hardship as we will visit with friends (and even some family) that we otherwise would not have gotten to see.  I suspect that we will do a little shopping in Miami as well.  After our trip to Miami, we will return to VA to stay until we fly to Bangkok on August 6th.  School begins on August 13th and I hope that will be sufficient time for us to recover from jet lag and get ready for the start of school.

Whew!  I am tired just writing out all of the trip details!  It will be a busy 7 weeks and we will certainly be on the move but it is definitely worth the effort.  Since we are not taking Sonder with us (PeePorn will stay here with him), it  is so much easier for me to plan travel, activities & side trips and not worry about dog walking, feedings, dog-friendly hotels, etc.

Speaking of Sonder...I have been worried about him as he is still quite depressed over Simpson's death.  He eats very little and mopes around a lot of the day.  If a dog can be melancholy, he is.  Just look at this face...
In light of our upcoming trip and our extended absence, I have been trying to think of something that he can bond with so he won't be too lonely during our time away from him.  I know that getting another dog would probably help him a lot but that is something I can't deal with right now.  We will definitely get another dog when we move back to the U.S. but it is too much to think about getting one here.  I found one of old Caitlynne's stuffed animals and am trying to get Sonder attached to it.  He paid it no attention until last week when he at laid next to it and gave it the briefest of cuddles. Small steps!  
Have a great Tuesday!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Then And Now

WARNING!  Photo overload ahead!

May 18, 1996.  ACK!  We are so young!
May 18, 2012
I won't get all mushy on you but we have had a fabulous 16 years together and I love Kevin very much!  He is a wonderful husband & father and the kids and I are very blessed that he is ours.  

We had a great evening out to celebrate our anniversary.  The restaurant was excellent (drinks, food & service) and the views were amazing.  If you are ever in Bangkok, a visit to the Moon Bar & Vertigo at the Banyan Tree Hotel for drinks and/or dinner should definitely be on your "to do" list! Kevin and I are both very uncomfortable with heights (how he managed to sky dive is beyond me!) and being so high & exposed was a little unnerving at first.  However, the set up of the rooftop is such that you never feel like you are on the "edge"  (although it sure looks that way in some of the photos below) and we relaxed very quickly and enjoyed the evening.  

We began with drinks at the Moon Bar and enjoyed the view.  You can see the Chao Praya river in the top of the photo below.
Please excuse my hair in the photo below.  It looks like I am getting ready to take flight!
The green space in the photo below is Lumpini Park, one of the very few parks in Bangkok.
The photo below shows the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (golf course, horse racing, etc).
The rooftop of the Banyan Tree Hotel was essentially split in half - on one side was the Moon Bar and Vertigo (the restaurant where we ate) was on the other side.  The photo below was taken from our table in Vertigo and looking across to the Moon Bar at dusk.
Our table in Vertigo for dinner.
Happily settled at said table.
Looking out over Western Bangkok.
My appetizer - layered tomato, avocado, tuna tartare, sour cream and salmon roe. The greens on top of the roe were tiny four leaf clover-like plants.
Kevin's Caesar salad.
Night falling over Bangkok.
Looking from our table in the restaurant over to the Moon Bar as it gets darker.
Kevin's entree - scallops, asparagus and sweet potato mash served over a creamy coconut lime sauce. Amazing!
My entree - braised beef short rib over polenta and grilled root vegetables.  Delicious!
More night photos.  Just as it got dark, a large storm front moved across the northern edge of Bangkok and we were treated to a spectacular lightning show.  Fortunately, the rain held off for us.  

The Chao Praya river is in the upper right corner in the photo below.
We did have coffee and dessert (a Thai version of Tiramisu) but I forgot to take photos. Oops!  I think the wine was starting to affect me by then.  We hired a driver for the evening so we left the restaurant, settled in the car and enjoyed the ride home.

Today is Kevin's birthday but the kids have basketball in the early afternoon, he is golfing in the late afternoon and the kids have a dance at school tonight so we decided we will celebrate tomorrow instead.  

Have a great Saturday!