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Bangkok, Thailand

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After traveling all day from Phuket, we arrived in Bangkok around sunset, checked into our hostel and went for a walk. The humidity filled our lungs and lay on our skin like a fine mist. Vendors had closed up for the night, yet energy from the day could still be felt. A large rat hurried across the alley way, cheeks full of treasures, and a middle aged man lay sleeping in the doorway of an abandoned building. Many homes like these, lined the streets – kitchens spilling out onto the sidewalks for lack of room inside.

Morning came quickly, and with it, an eagerness to explore and feel the pulse of the city. Just outside our hostel, a lady sat resting, taking a break from her heavy load.

The streets smelled of curry, fresh noodles and frying bananas.

We passed through the Chatuchak market, where the creatures and I drank freshly squeezed fruit juice…Emma tried corn (because corn is considered a fruit here), I had watermelon, Aidan had guava and Mycah had orange. All jolly delicious and oh so fresh!

Market stalls were filled with everything one can imagine…as usual, the creatures and I were instantly drawn to the books. Though we didn’t buy any, we had a blast and a half sorting through stacks where fingers had once paged, their readers completely intoxicated with interest…or boredom, each one having it’s own personal story to tell in addition to the words in its pages.

Some stores overflowed with bright collections of brass,

and others of things that many here see as treasures and good luck charms for homes and businesses.

It’s always interesting to discover what people in different countries much on as snacks. In Bangkok, some popular items are peanuts, corn and sweet potatoes, washed down with the delicious traditional Thai tea.

Also shark fin soup and bird nest soup, both of which we will never taste.

Of course there’s always stinky Durian, the fruit that ‘tastes like heaven but smells like hell.”

Our personal favorites are fried bananas,

and fresh fruits.

Pomegranates are plentiful and the juice is so delicious.

As evening approached, vendors with more ‘dinner like’ menus began setting up, which brought on an entirely new buffet of goodies. Dried Squid anyone?

Small cooking areas line the streets and alley ways, and smell of vegetable soup, dim sum and grilled fish and meat, mix with the already thick aromas of fresh cut pineapple, lime and lemongrass.

On our second day we ventured into Chinatown, which was a fascinating congested craziness of cars, tuktuks and people – all of which have no personal bubble. The closer the better. While walking around we walked passed our truck, noticed we had a lock on the tire for parking in the wrong spot – even though we saw no signs, and ignored it all and continued exploring. We figured we had a convenient spot and what was done was done and we would deal with it later.

I suggested that we find some bolt cutters or a little saw and remove it ourselves but the creatures wouldn’t hear of it for some reason. After lunch, further exploring, a pleasant tuktuk ride to the police station and 700 baht ($25) later, we were free once again.

Streets and sidewalks overflow with people involved in all sorts of busy city like activity, like collecting ice outside restaurants,

shopping for ingredients for the days meals,

preparing fish to sell on the street,

and later, selling things on hooks with potent smells which were neither pleasant nor unpleasant – just a warm dinner kind of smell.

Bangkok is a wonderful city with a smorgasbord of things to see, smell and taste. People are happy and happy to see you. They love to try their English and wait eagerly for positive response.

What an adventure!

Elephants!

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I LOVE elephants! As a family, we love elephants. Maybe it’s because I’m from Africa and their blood runs through my veins, maybe it’s because they stir up fond memories of childhood or maybe it’s because they are my brothers favorite animal and it’s just one more connection I have with him, but no matter the reason, I love to be in their presence.

We have avoided all touristy elephant activities here in Thailand, because they are so abused and unhappy. Constantly chained, hit with sharp hooks till they bleed, forced to give rides in the heat and on the hot roads, and often stand for hours – absolutely bored out of their minds.

Mahouts are elephant trainers, who train elephants for the sake of profit, and their technique is to beat them into submission. A bullhook is the weapon of choice, and is inserted into the delicate skin around the ears. We’ve also seen many puncture wounds on their foreheads and faces from being scraped and stabbed into submission. Thailand uses twice as many elephants for tourism than any other country, and in 2016, about 3000 elephants were observed and only 200 of them were found to be in healthy conditions and environment.

As a family, we decided that even though we love these beautiful pachyderms, we would not support this cruelty in any form. I told Danny that if ever he received a phonemail saying I was in jail, it would be because I snuck out in the night with some bolt cutters and set them all free.

We were so excited to read about an elephant retirement park, where a group has made it their mission to purchase/beg for/steal abused elephants, and provide for them a place where they can live freely, be loved, and spend their days being elephants…eating, bathing, sleeping, being social with each other and pooping. We were surprised to find that this park is only 10 minutes from our house, and just had to go visit!

Elephant Retirement Park Phuket is a magical place! (When visiting make sure you go to this exact park with this exact name because many places call themselves sanctuaries but they are not) Their policies in their treatment of the elephants is extremely strict, allowing absolutely no riding, chaining or beating of any kind. A veterinarian whose job I covet, is there every day, and tourists and volunteers can pay to come spend time with the elephants, feeding, bathing and walking along side them, and all profits go to their needs and care. Because these elephants were once trained to be puppets for their mahouts, they are all tame and friendly and would not survive if set back out into the wild. This one took a liking to Danny and kissed him on the cheek.

After arriving at the Park, we walked around and got to know each of the 9 elephants. They do have a loose rope around their necks, but it does not hurt them in any way and is gently used only when they need to lead them places in emergencies etc. One of the elephants is old and completely blind and needs to be guided wherever she goes. Only one out of the 9 elephants was in a pen, because she was sick and was being closely monitored and cared for.

Danny and I adopted another daughter while there…her name is Jarjar, and she is such a sweetheart. Her father is the park manager and she was our ‘tour guide’ for the day.

After making friends with our new elephant family, we began preparing their lunch, which consisted of finger bananas (skin on),

as well as balls of rice mixed with bananas and mangoes. The twins were elbow deep in the mixture!

The balls looked and smelled so appetizing so I tasted one (much to the creatures dismay) and found it to be quite delicious.

I think I could enjoy being an elephant.

We carried the food to the elephants and they were happy to oblige and relieve us of our loads.

It’s easy to recognize personality in these guys – some being more mischievous than others – some a little more shy. One thing they had in common though, was their love for food! One banana at a time was not an option. Three or four rolled up in their cute little big trunks was about right.

They love to be hugged, patted and stroked, and we gave them all the love we could and received plenty in return.

After feeding time we watched as cute little baby ‘Pinky’ came to play in the water from a hose with her Momma. She is quite a handful and full of energy and mischief – constantly trying to pull out tent pegs and and hoses.

If I could somehow have an elephant as a support animal I’d take it everywhere with me on adventures around the world! I can just imagine one on scuba gear and on airplane and boat rides.

The fun really began when we gave the elephants mud baths. They LOVE mud baths, and we did too. Note that they are not being restrained or tied up – just standing willingly, and enjoying every second of it.

I had fun writing ‘Wash me” on an elephants butt! Check that off my bucket list!

After a mud fight with the locals, we were thoroughly muddy and were finally ready to head to the water hole…luckily this one didn’t have hippo’s and crocs in it!!

There’s not much more exhilarating than bathing with an elephant. They are playful, love to lift their trunks and splash in the water, and love to be scrubbed with brushes.

These Asian elephants are much smaller than African elephants, and also have considerably smaller ears. Asian elephants weigh on average about 6 tons, where as the African elephants average 9 tons.

Elephant skin is about one inch thick, so we didn’t have to worry about scrubbing too hard and hurting them.

We spent quite some time cleaning these Sweethearts,

and afterwards…..

they rolled in the sand!
What a beautiful, peaceful setting!

Though I loved every part of our time there, and will be returning to volunteer and learn all I can, the most wonderful part, was knowing that my brother, the elephant lover that he is, was right by my side the entire time.

5 Islands!

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Thailand is well known for it’s many gorgeous islands, or ‘Koh’, as the Thai pronounce it. We figured we’d hop on a high speed power boat and check out 5 more of them.

Our first stop was Hong Island.

Koh Hong is part of the National Marine Park and we reached it within about 20 minutes after leaving Ao Nang here in Phuket. We snorkeled around, surrounded by rocky outcroppings and dense jungle, and were the proud owners of jelly fish stings all over our bodies.

Since we are seasoned sailors, we’ll take a little sting with our snorkel any day and still have smiles on our faces!

Since the rainy season is upon us, the visibility wasn’t great, but it felt so good to be in the beautiful water surrounded by breathtaking scenery – it is, after all, our natural habitat.

Our next stop was a fascinating island called Koh Panyee.

The interesting thing about this place is that it’s a floating island, with a little under 1500 villagers who live there permanently. The island consists of hundreds of huts, restaurants, houses and shacks, all built on stilts, with vertical limestone cliffs as a dramatic backdrop.

The village has its own mosque, school and health center, and the sole industry once was fishing and now half the locals service the overflowing tourism industry.

Pearl farming has become another huge source of income for this Muslim village, and as we strolled through the maze of shops and wooden corridors and docks, we were met by hundreds of store owners offering beautiful strands in all shades of white, cream, pink, blue, grey and green. Mycah especially took a liking to the pink.

We came across a sign, listing Panyee Island Rules, and number 3 especially caught our eye. “Do not bring alcohol to Koypanyee. If (so) the violation is (fine) 1 goat and 5,000 baht’ ($150). I can only assume that a goat would be instantly sacrificed and prepared for consumption, because I didn’t see a single blade of grass on the entire island.

Many homes were extremely run down, but the overall feel was one of happiness and love.

I’d love to return to Panyee and spend an entire day photographing its quaint personality and people.

Our third stop was Khao Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island.

It is known as James Bond Island because it was one of the locations for the filming of the 1974 James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.

We enjoyed climbing around small caves, meandering through limestone pillars and stalactites and stalagmites.

The gorgeous rock formations are sprinkled with prickly pear cactus, shrubs, grasses and evergreens.

We once again boarded our trusty vessel, and made our way to our next location…

Phang Nga Bay is also known as Phang Nga National Park, and is sprawling with interesting rock formations and mangrove forests, and is a kayakers playground. I lay resting my back up against Danny, and enjoyed the relaxing ride…

We gently glided through caves that shaded us from the heat of the day, and under low lying entryways that open up into big beautiful limestone chimneys. Just as we exited a huge cave, a fruit boat was bobbing about, selling fresh local fruit to all who were interested.

The mangrove forest was magical with its raised roots, beautiful reflections and abundant life.

Birds flew in and out of muds nests and rock hideaways, reef fish scattered below us and ambulatory fish (mudskippers) perched on tree limbs as we passed by, then excitedly scuttled to the water and disappeared into the darkness below.

Our final stop in the late afternoon was by an Island called Panak.
Have you ever taken drenched sand at the beach and let it drip through your hand to create a funky Dr Seuss looking castle? Koh Panak reminded me of those castles…like sand had dripped, dried, fossilized, freezing in time.

I could imagine that at any moment the sun would melt the dripping masses and we’d see them calve like glaciers into the ocean.

What a fascinating place! I know that if we had access to a boat that we could navigate on our own here, we would be island hopping 24/7. There are an endless buffet of places to explore, and they are all so incredibly beautiful!

Catching up…

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I have been feeling a bit off for a while, but seem to be pulling through and am eager to write once again. I have some catching up to do…

Having Aundrea here with us has been so much fun. She is such a beautiful soul, full of light and goodness.

The waves have picked up slightly since it’s the rainy season, which provides a fantastic playground.

One can not get too much beach time in…

Fun times!

The creatures finally said farewell to friends and family in Hawaii, and returned to us, while Jude continued on to Alaska for the fishing season. Emma returned with a spiffy new hair cut, which is gorgeous on her!

One of the wonderful things about living in Thailand, is the constant supply of cheap, fresh fruit.

I have never seen lychee this big before!

We buy them in big big beautiful bunches, and the fruit is so plump and juicy!

Mycah and I took a Thai cooking class together from the same place I took my last one – The Brass Wok.

This time we learned how to make some delicious soups and Pad Thai.

I absolutely love learning about cooking and then coming home and preparing delicious meals for my family. There has been a steady, open ended request for mango sticky rice, which I have now perfected, and love making.

Mango season is at its peak right now, so I periodically go to the fruit market and return with 10 kilo’s of mangoes at a a time so I can cube them and freeze some for when mangoes are out of season. I made a huge bowl of mango salsa the other day, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Also some lychee freezer jam which is now neatly stacked in containers in the freezer. Mango jam is next…

While Aundrea is here we thought we’d take advantage of inexpensive dental care and get het wisdom teeth out in preparation for her mission. She had 3 wisdom teeth – one of which was impacted and the total cost was $360. I have kept her in good supply of jello and popsicles, which she has gladly devoured, and has healed up well.

Aidan had braces installed and for his braces and adjustments for the year, it is a total of under $800. The dental work is first class, as well as the facility.

We stopped by a market where baskets are made and sold, as well as dried fruits, vegetables, nuts etc. The little Thai grandma there, who we call, Mama, fell in love with Aundrea and asked if she could keep her. We truly love these beautiful people.

When Aundrea arrived I asked her what she’d really like to do here, and she mentioned that she’d like to get a fish pedicure. We fulfilled that desire and she loved it.

We have gone on some fantastic adventures, which I will write about in upcoming blogs, and in our down time we have enjoyed the pool (Aundrea has spent hours in it),

eaten at fantastic places,

watched Danny and Aidan get some intense body boarding in,

and spent lots of time at the gym. Our ‘pet’ otter has shown his face a few times,

and so have the wild pigs.

As for Jude, she has been working on a gill netting boat and absolutely loves it. In the last two weeks they have caught 30 000lbs of salmon, one octopus which she was able to set free, and she’s had jelly fish in the eye once, which she said, ‘stung like a mother,’ and she’s been slapped in the face by salmon more times than she can count. In about 3 weeks, she will begin working on a Seiner fishing boat. We hope to see her this fall, and miss her terribly.

As for the rest of the creatures, Ashley and Mike are so sweet and madly involve as newly weds, and are moving to Florida soon. Jake and Jordan are in Florida with their beautiful momma, Stephanie, and doing wonderfully. Kjira has become the queen at long boarding and can be found either working, long boarding around Idaho Falls or home bandaging her road rash! Hunter and Nonna continue to be amazing parents to the most beautiful grand baby in the world! Our precious Zailyn…

Jonathan continues to work for Tesla, building batteries and loving it, Mycah and the twins are working hard at school and loving Thailand, and Aundrea heads back to the US in 2 days, where she will work till Fall then go to BYUI until she goes on a mission for our church in about April of 2019.
We continue to try save up for a catamaran so we can return to the ocean, and until then, Danny flies periodically and we are loving Thailand. I will write soon about some of our recent adventures…

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.