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Trip to the US

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This past month has been action packed and finally, I sit to write all about it…

Our trip was divided into 3 segments which took place in California, Utah and Nebraska. Danny had run out of pages in his passport, so we first flew to LA where he could take care of the passport issue. It felt great to be back in California where we could spend time with Mom and Dad. They are such beautiful people, filled with warmth and love, and being with them is such a great treat. The temperature was about 20 degrees cooler than Thailand, and far less humid, so we felt chilled much of the time. I wanted to walk the beach one evening, and it was so freezing!

The evening light was beautiful though, and we lasted about ten minutes before heading in for hot chocolate and a warm meal.

On our drive to and fro LAX, I sat back and admired the gorgeous rich color of the hillsides. Beautiful blue skies, rich green trees and shrubs, and golden rolling hills. This is truly a beautiful place where one could easily become lost in the beauty that surrounds.

The initial primary reason for our trip was for Aundrea HS graduation. It’s so hard to believe that our sweet Aundrea has graduated!

Aundrea is an amazing example of all that is good and pure in the world. She has a sweetness about her that is unmatched, and a sense of humor and spunk that keeps us laughing. She may be small in stature, but her huge heart, smarts and integrity makes her a giant in the world of goodness and beautiful people.
Ashley and Mike joined us for a couple dinners and for graduation, and as always, it was wonderful spending time with them too.

Aundrea has returned to Phuket with us for a month, then she’ll be returning and working till college starts in the Fall. Her plan is to study Physical Therapy. We are so proud of you and love you so much, Aundrea.

Kjira and my mom also met up with us in Utah, as we stayed at our beautiful sister and brother in laws home. It was so good to hold Kjira in my arms. Though she is my first born and the same height as me at this point, she will always be my baby and have a place in my arms.

Aidan is so proud of Kjira, because she has also taken up long boarding. She showed us her skills, and she is quite impressive. Even with a sprained wrist and ankle, she carved up and down the streets at impressive speeds. It definitely made me feel like I am missing something in my life…maybe long boarding is in my future?

Our third and final leg of the trip took us to Denver, where we rented a car and drove to see our baby(…and her parents). The last time Danny saw Zailyn, was when she was a week old, and due to video’s on the Marco Polo app and FaceTime, she recognized him and kept going to him for hugs and kisses. She LOVES her Oupa!

We played at the park,

Picked flowers,

Our favorite time was picnicking

and running through the sprinkler park.

Even though her lips turned blue and she was shivering, she kept wanting to go back for more.

She cuddled up with Oupa afterward and warmed up enough go see a beautiful train.

Our next adventure was so go for ice cream, and Zailyn loved it!

Every time she fell asleep in my arms I fought back tears and kissed her sweet face over and over again. She is such an Angel,

and Hunter and Nonna are amazing parents.

Saying ‘see you soon’ to our baby, and Hunter and Nonna, was painful! We sat outside on the grass and played as long as we could.

We love you with out whole hearts, Baby Z. Forever and ever!

Cooking Class!

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I love cooking. I almost always cook everything from scratch and love trying new recipes. I especially love using ingredients I have difficulty pronouncing in all sorts of countries, and my favorite part is serving it to my family and watching their reactions. I really can’t impress Danny much because he eats fancy gourmet meals while flying private jets for a living, but usually Jude will close her eyes after placing food in her mouth and say, ‘I’m so happy right now…’. Emma loves to cook too, and will ask questions about the recipe and ingredients, Mycah is usually complimentary then speechless as she eats and Aidan keeps making comments about how I’m a food Goddess. I love watching them feast and enjoy their meal. It thrills me.I signed up for a Thai Cooking Class with a local company called The Brass Wok, and had the time my life. Pui was the chef/instructor, and Pascal and Nicole, originally from Belgium, were the other students.

We began by purchasing fresh ingredients at a farmers market down the road, where I learned so much about the mystery produce I’ve been wondering about the past few weeks.

Since traditional Thai food is quite spicy, meals are served with several fresh vegetables which can be enjoyed between bites of the spicier dishes, to cool the mouth down.

Nuts, pods and leaves that most would pass by outside, suspecting them to be weeds or poisonous, are eaten here regardless of their taste. One of their favorites, is called stinky bean, and not only does it stink, but the aftertaste is especially disgusting.

Nothing is left to go to waste…once bananas are harvested, the tree trunks are chopped and prepared for stir fry.

Bamboo shoots are harvested and chopped up.

Skin is peeled off pig heads and cooked.

I learned about so many different kinds of eggplant. Two new kinds I hadn’t known about, are the purple 2 inch variety,

and the marble sized green variety.

I learned about a different kind of ginger,

and a different kind of cilantro that looks completely different but tastes very much like the kind we are used to seeing in most stores.

Century Eggs, or Pidan, was also something new to me. Duck eggs stained pink on the outside to mark them as century eggs, are covered in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for several weeks to months. The yolk turns dark green/grey/black in color, with a creamy consistency, while the white becomes a dark brown translucent jelly.

When she cut it open I immediately decided that there was no way I was putting that in my mouth, but when I saw Pascal and Nicole reach for it, I had a strange experience….to my horror, I watched my hand reach forward and take a piece and place it in my mouth, at which point I instantly swallowed! The flavor that remained on my tongue was a mixture of salt and a geyser in Yellowstone.

The smell of curry spices at market was overwhelming,

as was the pungent fishy aroma of squid,

live hermits,

and dead crabs.

Rows and rows of mushrooms,

chillies,

and fresh meat.

I loved the energy there, the pride and excitement of selling that which people have grown and harvested, and the conversation between friends who frequent each others stalls.

We watched people make rice noodles,

while others roasted peanuts.

On our way from market to the cooking studio, Pui showed us where the best fried bananas are sold,

where the best chili dip can be found,

and what Thai fast food looks like.

At the studio we made green curry paste from scratch, cooked green curry with chicken and rice noodles,

As well as laam,

and mango sticky rice.

Our day was full of laughter and learning, and when it all ended we sat with full bellies, loaded bags of food to take home, recipes in hand to reproduce to impress our families.

I loved every second of it, and I can’t wait for everyone to come home so I can once again see their smiles as they taste the fresh flavors of garlic, lime and curry spice.

Old Phuket Town

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Dating back to the 16th century, Phuket has a fascinating history in tin mining, mined by Sea Gypsies, Indians, Malays, Eurasians, Chinese and Siamese. By the 18th century, most of the mining was done by Hokkien Chinese, who were mainly responsible in building the old part of Phuket City.

Two different styles of building stand out: the Sino-Portuguese style shop-house,

And the Sino Colonial style, mansion buildings.

I strolled through tiny shops filled with coins, old post cards, photos, rocks and crafts,

as well as herb and spice stores, overflowing with the thick aroma of cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. I watched the owner carefully measure out herbs to help a customers stomach troubles.

Walls were lined with well worn drawers, a bounty of treasures and potions to cure what ails you – each neatly label with red ink.

I could spend hours sorting and smelling and admiring all that surrounded.

Kewpie Dolls became popular in Germany in 1912, and when I was a little girl in South Africa I had one of my own. I preferred playing in the dirt with cars or climbing trees and building forts, but I did love my Kewpie doll. I found a store with several, as well as old tin wind up toys and hundreds of comic books and match box cars.

As I meandered past collections of belts for sale,

beautiful soaps, dried flowers and lotions,

and ancient brass work decorating stores with hand woven textiles,

the delicious smell of freshly baked bread, caramelized banana and breakfast roti filled the air.

I turned a corner and came across a small packed cafe where the smell was coming from.

Bowls of roti dough sat ready to be rolled and cooked, and hot roti’s were quickly prepared for customers to devour. Sold filled with egg, sausage, bananas and cinnamon sugar, with a slight drizzle of condensed milk over the top. On that same street, walls of alley ways were brightly painted with art work.

Colors carefully picked as creative ideas became reality on walls.

Some buildings with cracked paint and exposed brick were decorated in artists expressions.

I wondered who held the cans and paint brushes, and what their stories are…

when their artistic journeys began, and how far they’d come in reaching their goals.

I love graffiti. Perhaps one day I will take color to a wall or a car on a train track…

I love finding the quiet spaces – places unfrequented.

My mind wanders, creative thought flows through me and my wild imagination takes over.

I tell myself to write it all down, but soon something else catches my eye and I am taken away to another fascinating place.

I am completely drawn in by patterns,

texture and color.

And all I want to do is make a quilt, knit a sweater, draw a picture and take photographs.

I love this place. I love the simplicity, the history and the present. I love the traditions and the smiles.

Singapore and beyond

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The visa on arrival here in Thailand is good for 30 days. This means that until we are able to acquire other visas, we must make a ‘visa run’ every 30 days – traveling somewhere outside of Thailand, and upon re-entry receive another 30 day visa.Danny recently had a work trip to Singapore, so while he was there I joined him for a couple of days, and was incredibly impressed by the cleanliness and beauty of the city.

Streets, parking lots and sidewalks were clean and well kept. All those we came in contact with were friendly, courteous and helpful, and the style and architecture of all that surrounded was aesthetically incredible.

I’m not a city girl, but Singapore is one that I could return to several times…for a visit.

Our room was on the twelfth floor, which gave us a far reaching view of the sprawling city.

The view became especially impressive once night time arrived…

I was impressed by how efficiently the city runs – all is orderly, efficient, easy to use and understand, and adds concerning being friendly, helpful and clean, are constantly shown on billboards around the city. We went to a movie while there, and purchased our tickets at an electronic contraption rather than a ticket counter. I mentioned to Danny that places like Singapore make much of the US seem like it’s been left in the dark ages.

These bicycles are well kept and found everywhere through the city for people to use, and a great amount of shopping is done in brightly lit shopping malls and grocery store under ground – reducing traffic on the streets. It’s all quite impressive.

When I returned home, the twins and I had 5 days remaining to get them ready for their trip to Hawaii. They have been planning this trip for quite some time and are paying for their own tickets. It is amazing to witness my babies plan and prepare for a trip – independently, and doing an amazing job at it. What impressive young travelers!

When we dropped them off, I was determined not to cry, and held back tears till they were no longer in sight. Their journey took them to Beijing, China, for an 18 layover, during which time they checked into a hotel that Danny booked for them on points, pigged out in the Executive lounge to their hearts content, then finally made their way back to the airport when it was time and continued on to Oahu, then Kona. They dealt with and took care of lost luggage and emerged to greet their sisters in Hawaii with big smiles and giant hugs. Jude and Mycah placed lei’s around their necks and were so excited to be reunited with them. I’m so proud of them all. (Of course, I didn’t doubt the twins could do it, or I wouldn’t have allowed them to go!)

Aidan said the greatest part about the trip was that the airline dubbed him as the man in charge and labeled Emma as his minor. That extra 5 minutes of age has finally given him some superiority over her, and I have no doubt he’ll ever let her forget it!

Two days after Aidan and Emma left, Danny departed on a 10 day trip, which leaves me as a solo sailer for the first time in my entire existence! That’s right… for the very first time in my life, I have no creatures or husband around! I plan on spending my time reading, writing, exploring, photographing, taking Thai cooking classes, relaxing on the beach and painting the town red. Phuket will never be the same again!

Island hopping in Thailand

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Danny left on another of his work trips, and the girls are in Hawaii, so the twins and I decided it was time for an adventure. We signed up to check out Khai Island, Monkey Bay, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le, Maya Bay. With our snorkel gear, GoPro’s and backpacks in hand, we jumped into our trusted rental truck, and headed to Rassada Harbour. About a kilometer before arriving, traffic slowed down drastically, as a sangha (group of monks) were working their way through the village, collecting offerings and giving blessings.

Each carried a patra, or alms bowl, which is used to collect alms (money or food) from supporters.The alms bowl has symbolic significance with Buddha.

Legend states that Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree, and a young women presented him with a gold bowl filled with rice, thinking he was the divinity of the tree. He then divided the rice into 49 portions, one for each day until he would be enlightened, and threw the precious bowl into the river. This legend, combined with its humble uses, has made the alms bowl (sometimes called the begging bowl) a symbol of Buddha’s teachings on non attachment.

The vinaya states that monks may use bowls made of iron or clay, but nothing else.

We parked the truck, unloaded our goods and worked our way through the chickens and vendors to the boats.

The harbor was packed with dilapidated fishing boats in all colors, shapes and sizes.

Rusty vessels were overflowing with hard plastic buoys, barrels and buckets. Lines lay coiled like garden hoses, ready for action, and well used nets draped the sides like heavy gowns ready to be laundered.

The smell of fish and oil hung in the thick, humid air, coagulating with sweat, dirty water and stink mud. Men strained as they pulled lines, others groaned softly carrying loads on naked shoulders, while yet other sat and watched as the morning droned on.

Harbors are magical places filled with constant action to feast ones eyes on, and overflowing with delicious treats for rats to gorge themselves to their hearts content. Men take pride in their boats. It’s a place where more hours are spent than at home with their wives, it’s where their dreams come true, hearts are broken, and where tall drunken tales of massive catches and beautiful mermaids abound. One just never knows what tomorrow will bring…

The boat ride from Phuket to Khai Island was wonderful. The feel of sea salt and wind in my hair always brings a smile to my face. We waded through beautiful blue waters then immersed our bodies in the salty brine in search of reef and fish. We usually try to avoid outings with this type of company because it ends up being a tourist traffic jam, but we left them all on shore with their beer, sunscreen and sunglasses, and joined the marine life who we have more in common with.

Visibility wasn’t great but we had fun exploring, and periodically found ourselves surrounded with huge schools of small reef fish, and a protective damselfish pecked at my hand as I passed by her eggs. When our 90 minutes were up, we pulled ourselves from the water and made our way back to the boat to continue on to Maya Bay.

Before boarding I met a wonderful couple from Australia. We shared quick introductions, chatted momentarily and exchanged information, then continued on as newly made friends with promises to visit. I have no doubt that we some day will.
Maya Bay was as spectacular as I’d imagined, and being there with Aidan and Emma was fantastic. They are the perfect adventurers – spontaneous, observant and humorous.

Ko Phi Phi Le, or Maya Bay, is where the movie, The Beach, was filmed, which makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations. The island was packed with 100’s of Chinese, and small groups of Russians, Germans and a smorgasbord of other nationalities. We had to quickly take photos as areas cleared out and before other boats and selfie taking groups arrived.

The island is made up of steep limestone hills on three sides, providing shelter to the 250 meter long beach.

Over the last couple of years there has been talk of closing this beach temporarily to give it a rest from the constant flow of tourists, and after reopening allowing only 2000 bodies a day to enter. Presently about 4000 enter a day, which translates to 1.2 million tourists every 6 months (77 % foreign), which equals about 362 million bhat for the Marine National Park.

En route to Phi Phi Don, where we were served lunch, we motored through beautiful areas of calypso pools.

The water was so clear that we could see the texture and color of reef 30 feet below us.

Cliffs dripped with stalactites and texture resembling honeycomb. Birds flew in and out of tiny holes and bushes held fast to the hillsides in a bright pallet of a thousand greens. I realize I’ve said it before, and have no doubt I’ll say it many more times in my life…It just doesn’t get any prettier than this! Surely Heaven couldn’t be more beautiful.

Phi Phi Don was a tangled mess of boats, buildings, souvenir shops and ice cream vendors. The only thing I photographed of interest was a beautiful woman working diligently, scooping ice cream for sweating tourists as they gathered, compared photos on small screens and smeared aloe on bright red sunburn.

Birds Nest Soup (Yan wo) is highly prized in Chinese culture, due to its rarity, high nutrition and unmatched flavor. We stopped at an area where these nest are retrieved, and were impressed by the web of precarious bamboo structures suspended as if in thin air.

The heaviest harvested nests are from Swiftlets, both black-nest swiftest, and white. They are said to be rich in calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Most nests are built in about 35 days during breeding season by male swiftlets. The shallow cup shaped nests are made up of woven strands of bird saliva, which harden cemented into place, and are sold for up to $2000 (US dollars) per kilogram. The quality of the nest depends on the type of bird and its diet.

Ao Ling was our final stop – otherwise known as Monkey Bay. Due to low tide and high reef we weren’t able to reach shore, but watched the cute little guys from the boat.

At first just a couple long tailed macaque’s showed up, but with in a minute several others climbed down from rock and brush.

Several babies scurried along, just as curious about us as we were about them. I chuckled as I thought about adventures with friends, family and monkey’s in Panama. I also remember my sisters hair being pulled by a monkey in South Africa. So many fun monkey memories!

Thailand is such an incredibly beautiful country, and our adventures here have only just begun! I’m excited to see what’s around the next corner, and will let you know what I find.

Fishing village, Khok Kloi District

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We were curious to drive north to the Sarasin Bridge that connects Phuket to mainland Thailand, Phang Nga Province.

Phuket is 48 km (29 miles) long and 21 km (13 miles) wide, and is the largest of all the Thailand islands, surrounded by the Andaman Sea. Saphan Sarasin was the first bridge built that linked Phuket Island to the mainland and was named after a Thai Chinese politician, measuring 700m in length. It was built in 1967 to replace the ferry which was then the only connection to the mainland.

We made our way along the west coast into the Khok Kloi District and came across a tiny fishing village. Fishing boats and hand made crab pots lined the beach, which was long and open with a calm blue sea spilling onto its fine white sand sand.

Not a soul was in site along the tranquil shore, which continued on for miles in either direction.

Out on a substantial pier, stood a fisherman, ready with net in hand as he read the water and watched for fish.

It was obvious that he knew what he was doing, and had mostly likely spent most of his life patiently waiting for the right time to cast. I loved his face. This, was his life.

I wished I was fluent in Thai so I could sit with him and listen to his life story.

This place…the village where few ever set foot, is an entire world to some. When they lay to rest at night their dreams are of tomorrows catch or of sea turtles laying eggs in the sand. What a beautiful existence.

I have no doubt that they have their fair share of stressors, but I love to think of the pureness and simplicity of it all. Part of why I love to travel so much is because I love having the honor of catching glimpses of these lives and places. It is often here, where the world is nothing but ocean and sky, that I feel closest to God.

Read more at: http://www.phuket.com/phuket-magazine/sarasin-bridge.htm?cid=ch:OTH:001

Songkran…every country should have one!

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Yesterday was Songkran, which is the Thai New Year, and we have decided that it is our new favorite holiday. On this day, everyone in Thailand spends the day in a huge water fight, and it was epic!
My morning began just as all my mornings do – with an hour bike ride beginning at 6am. When I returned I looked out across the back yard and noticed this beautiful scene…prayer and offerings made in a picturesque setting.

Everyone in the house was still asleep so I got the pickup ready for the days adventures: 3 big tubs filled with water and water guns!

When everyone was ready, we set out to see just what Songkran was all about.

The celebration of is one that embraces goodwill, love, compassion, and thankfulness, using water as the means of expression. The word Songkran is from Sanskrit, meaning to move or step forward. The first day of Songkran takes place when the sun moves from Pisces into Aries, which marks the New Year’s Day according to the Buddhist calendar.

It didn’t take long for us to find the chaos…people lined the streets with buckets of colored baby powder paste which they smeared on each others faces.

Others congregated around huge tubs of water and garden hoses…

As we approached they’d signal for us to slow down so they could have a water fight with Aidan and Emma in the back of the truck.

Some dressed up in colorful wigs,

Some stood on top of water tank trucks in masks,

Young and old,

Regardless of race or social standing…

Everyone was free game!

Some groups filled their tubs with ice and water, and it was during those dumpings that I’d hear Aidan squeal as ice cold water ran down his back.

Emma got thoroughly smeared in baby powder paste at one point.

From the beginning of our adventure to the very end, the twins were completely drenched.

I love this photo, showing the older lady in the back, laughing hard at the scene before her, as others dumped and sprayed us as we passed by. She was just about to be hit with water from the creatures guns.

We loved the energy and happiness which was everywhere.

We also loved the craziness and spontineity in the air.

We are so glad that we were able to take part in this amazing celebration. Next year we hope more of the creatures can be with us – and of course, any of you who’d like to join! You’re guaranteed to have a blast and a half!!!