Christmas in Bangkok

From our far away home to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Celebrating in Bangkok was surprisingly no different than celebrating back in the great US of A. Of course, we missed our family and friends so much, but once the Christmas cards started arriving we felt very loved and not forgotten.

My hun labored for weeks to decorate the house in a way that would delight the kids and get us into the spirit of the holidays. Luckily, several of our neighbors did as well, and the effect at night was really cheerful and festive. I LOVE our neighborhood and our neighbors, I can't say that enough. All of us do our own thing most of the time, but we still have a little time and consideration for each other. It appears that, for the second time, we have fallen into a great place with some great people.

A few days before Christmas we had a lot of preparations to do; parties to attend, gifts to buy or prepare, donations to be made, and a wonderful houseguest to keep us company. So to create gifts baskets for our neighborhood guards, we hopped the klong shuttle down to my favorite basket shop over by Wat Saket. For 15baht it drops you right by the Wat and my shop is a mere five minute walk from that. plus, as long as you don't mind the smell, the boats are a fun ride for the kids. Just remember to shower and change when you get home. That water is pee-yew!

Christmas Eve we ate cookies, watched The Grinch, and read "The Night Before Christmas" from a book given to me as a child from my dear Aunt Priscilla and her family. We still read it every Christmas Eve as a tradition. Then the cookies, milk and a carrot were set out..

And I might have snuck down to see what Santa did. This is what I saw:

Or I should say, this is what Nate saw, because he went into full-body joy mode at exactly 6:25 the next morning. Behold, this is what ecstasy looks like on a two-year-old:


 You might want to take a closer look to get the full effect of what happened here:

Yup, that is what happens when Santa comes to town. Full body shock, sudden intake of breath, and frozen look of joy and surprise. You can't fake this folks. This is why I love a child's second or third Christmas. Its priceless.
There were a LOT of great surprises on that morning. Street hockey set, Legos, clothes, and action figures. Our supply of Red Sox hats and Patriots shirts was replenished. Gorgeous clothes, accessories and cosmetics, and gifts for our fantastic nanny and houseguest. (Santa doesn't leave anyone out, dontcha know?)

The best part was that it was gorgeous weather, so we could take the fun outside and play with most of it already.  Which is totally necessary after you pump your kids with bacon and baked french toast with syrup and put them in a room full of brand new toys and noisemakers.
 What is also pleasant about living in Bangkok during Christmas is how Thais embrace all holidays with welcoming arms. No one gets offended by religious differences-if it involves eating and partying and celebrating, they love it. Why not? So we also went out with our Santa hats on a few nights earlier to check out the spectacular holiday lights on our own little independent foot tour.

Taking the BTS to Rachdamri, we walked up to Central World and along the skywalk to see the gorgeous lights and giant Christmas trees. And to get little P into the spirit, we brought a ton of candy canes with us and told him to give them out to any kids we saw.

My little man loved doing that, running up to kids, wishing them a Merry Christmas, and handing them a candy. He's sweet like that.

So now we head into the next batch of fun; New Years Eve, then Little P's sixth birthday, and at last an anniversary escape to Krabi for the whole family. I can't wait to see what January brings. The birthday party is just two weeks away, and I am full of plans and projects to make it the best "Little Artists" party ever! (Not to mention someone goes back to school in just a week!)

Krabi is going to be incredible too-its a remote, picturesque island with very few drivable roads and some of the most spectacular beaches. The kind I used to dream we would spend our honeymoon on. Hey, its only 12 years later, better late than never! And I know someone who got his first set of fins and a snorkel and is ready to use them.

This Happened

I see that we have a lot to catch up on. I wanted to. Buut. The events in Connecticut hit all of us hard, and I wasn't feeling chatty. Each day since the shooting I am so much more aware of how beautiful my boys' smiles are, how amazing their little hands feel when they are holding mine as we walk down the street, and what an amazing gift each little life is to all of us. All children. Mine, yours, strangers, it is no difference to me right now. There is just such a feeling of loss, and sorrow for those people who will never laugh with theirs again.

So I'll keep it simple and plain. This is what happened.

Twice a year the Embassy holds an award ceremony.
We all went.

This happened.
At last.

Someone met Santa. And liked him.

Someone brought this tasty snack over our house.
We thought it only fitting to share it with others.

And then this happened.
This too.
Yes it did.

We also went for a walk around town to see the Christmas lights. And came upon a rock concert.
So, of course, this happened.

Spontaneous dancing, like only kids can do.

Thankful Thursday; Dharma Drop Edition Part 2

I'm getting better about sending these out now-for a few months I was getting a bit lazy. Or I wanted to keep the goods for myself. But that's not the point of the Dharma Drop, is it.
This one goes out to some good friends of ours, and it includes a silkscreen print on thai silk that is supposed to bring the bearer wealth and prosperity. And a whole bunch of thai snacks guaranteed to delight and surprise them. Because it may say "Extra Barbeque Flavor", but it still tastes like seaweed and fish to me! haha.
I would have something interesting to say right now, except I just spent the past two hours painting props for my son's sixth birthday party, and talking out loud to myself. Does anyone else do that?
So instead, I leave you with this adorable shot of Natester last night at the celebration of the King's Birthday at Benjakiti Park. We had a wonderful, but quiet time. There was a candlelight ceremony, music and dance, and lots of fireworks.
And dese wabbits.

A Perfect Day

Some days just turn out to be perfect. Some days you might just wake up and say "lets go to a park." And on a day like that you might take a taxi to Rotfi Park, somewhere out by Chatuchak Market. When you get there, you might spend 80 baht to rent a few bikes for the day, because if you follow the trail of people when you arrive, you might discover them all at a bike rental stand.
On a perfect sort of day, you might find yourself doing something you hadn't expected. Like riding bicycles through a gorgeous park where you are the only farang family around. You might spend less than three dollars to pedal around and enjoy a slight breeze. And your toddler might grin from ear to ear at the sensation of such speed.
There might be dozens of teenagers riding around you in groups, smiling and calling "hey boy!" to your five year old when he rushes ahead. And try as you might to get him to slow down, he may not want to.
He may want to ride around the park three or four times, in fact. Now that would be a perfect day.

On a perfect day, you might be delighted to discover a butterfly sanctuary in that park. Free. How perfect would that be? You might watch your boys marvel at the bright butterflies swooping around them. You might have so much fun without hardly spending a dime. And you didn't even plan any of this at all. It just turned out to be totally perfect.

Loi Kratong 2012

 Happy post-Loi Kratong! What a wonderful experience we had that evening. One of the things I admire most about Thai culture is their desire to laugh off their troubles and disagreements, and not let anger or resentment fester. Accidents are met with smiles or chuckles or a joke, instead of anger and shouting or snapping. I find that they don't like to hold grudges or harbor resentment, and really like to find satisfaction in the way things already are. On last full moon of November an amazing celebration is held that encourages just such feelings, and we got to be a part of it for the first time ever.

Loi actually means "float" and Kratong is the pretty flower arrangement that is set with one candle to honor Buddha and three sticks of incense, lit and set on the nearest body of water or river. Its meant to honor the river goddess, and if you wish, you can release it to her along with any bad feelings, guilt, or good wishes. I don't know much about the holiday, except it is HUGE in Bangkok-every park and standing room along the Chao Praya are packed with people setting afloat their kratong. Its a beautiful sight to see, and very uplifting if you choose to participate.

Little P was very excited to join the festivities, as I had found him a Thai outfit to wear, and they had a fantastic workshop in school that day where each student made their own kratong. I picked up a shirt for Nate as well, and then an EXTREMELY generous neighbor gave me one of her old outfits too. You KNOW how much I love dress-up, right?

So we went out together for a fantastic thai feast at our favorite restaurant, Suda, and walked around the corner to lovely Benjakiti Park (where I run every morning). The moon was just starting to peek out of the clouds, and there were dozens of tables of kratongs for sale along the way. Most made from banana tree and leaves, others from bread. Children were playing with sparklers, and the water was already spotted with tiny little lights.

My favorite moment was actually when Little P held the kratong he had made and prepared to set it afloat. He's been suffering terrible nightmares this week, so he asked the river goddess to take his bad dreams away. I was so impressed that he took the celebration seriously, and understood its meaning. Not bad for a boy who farted audibly about two minutes later...

We set out a family one as well, and then sat back to enjoy the serenity and feel like we had released some of our problems and worries to the water. I think its just amazing that this culture takes any opportunity to increase positive feelings and release the negative. I wish I could take some of that back home to the States and spread it around, because now I realize how quick we are to judge each other, snap at another person, or not control our tempers. It seems like many Americans take pride in holding a grudge, or like to state to the world that they never forget those who cross them. There is little encouragement to forgive, to use kindness to pave over stressful times, or to laugh and make light of problems.

I'm guilty of all this too, I confess. But since coming to this city I have felt such gentleness and happiness becoming more of my nature, and have embraced it. This place, as chaotic as it is, may actually be bringing peace to me.

So there you have it, all our transgressions and anger, floating away-along with a few fingernail clippings from Nate and a few baht, because that is supposed to help somehow.

So to all our friends and family, we wish you lots of peace this holiday season! I hope you set your troubles aside and embrace the Thai in you. Love your family, be grateful for what you have, and be glad of who you are inside. That's really all that counts.

Thankful Thursday; Dharma Drop Edition

When I first came up with the idea of surprising family and friends back home with a Buddha, it began with a short list of people. People who were thoughtful, yet quirky enough to get a chuckle from it. The list started to grow after we arrived in Bangkok, and in hindsight I wanted to thank so many people who had shown us kindness over the years, or extended a hand of help, or performed a random act of kindness. The friends out in Washington State who let us take over their lives for a week, the neighbors who quickly became part of our family, the best friends who NEVER forget a birthday, the list goes and goes....
After all, its easier to remember those who have wronged or slighted us. However, its just my nature to think more about the people who have brought happiness to me. Its how I survive. The small things, no matter how small, have made all the difference. Sometimes I feel like a dope when I say something kind about someone, and am told "I can't believe you are so nice, after what she/he did/said" and to be totally honest I probably forgot. The bad stuff always gets shelved in the back of my mind and forgotten, but the good stuff? I like to think back on it all the time. That box of veggies that used to mysteriously appear on my doorstep or the day I discovered someone had powerwashed the crud off my deck? Still reliving those days.
All. the. time.
So here I am, on Dharma Drop number eight or nine, and have made barely a dent in my list of future recipients. So for all the people who have been so kind I am deeply thankful. I'm thankful that at my age the list of people I still owe a hug or favor is big, really big. And I really really hope I get to repay everyone on that list someway, somehow. And trust me, there is little chance I'm going to leave anyone out, though it make take years.
Take this week, for instance. I'm sending an elephant teapot to this woman who has a vast collection in her restaurant. We moved to a little seaside community some time ago, and parked our butts in her breakfast shop one sunday and became dear friends. She sincerely cared for us and our family, was always there to lift our spirits and offer help. And was just a genuine good person, a bright spot when times were dark. So this one goes to her, so she may know we have not forgotten her caring nature.

VERY Old Bowls, So They Say

So, you heard all about the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, and my not-so-horrible dress fiasco. But did I tell you about an excursion we went on to the monk bowl workshop? Nope. Upstaged and passed-over by dress, wine and fluff as usual!
Well, we did. And this is one of those experiences that I wish the boys were a weeeee bit older to be able to understand what was happening before their eyes. There are so many practices, skills, and services that have disappeared from the planet with time. Progression of society, whatever. There are no monk bowl craftsmen anymore, since you can go to Big C (the equivalent of Walmart or Target) and get a cheap plastic bowl to donate your alms in.
There is just one shop left. So they say. In all of Bangkok. And that's where we went one Saturday morning with a CLO tour, led by a wonderful volunteer. (I really hope to do that someday myself!)
We departed on foot from the Giant Swing and after two turns found ourselves walking single-file down a very narrow street. Little houses flanked either side of this village, their doorways wide open and the people inside watching tv or doing their daily chores. No one seemed too concerned that a troop of 12 farangs were strolling by suddenly. Even though I would barely call this soi and alley, it was still wide enough for a motorcycle or skooter to slowly go by every now and then.
The shop was small and unassuming. We knew we had reached it by the huge pile of bowls, or Bart, stacked outside in wait of being polished. If you're curious about the shop, you can visit the website here: which has a little explanation if how the village came to be and how the bart are made. Little P is such a hands-on kid, before we could stop him, he was seated on a stool and tapping one of the bowls with an awl of some kind.
She also showed him how to tap the outside with a little hammer to make the patterns you find on the more ornamental bowls. We were actually having so much fun watching him, that all the available bowls were sold out before we had a chance to pick one!

I was glad we watched and waited, however, as the salesman discussed the bowls with one of the people on our tour. She had taken her bowl out of the bag and was happily examining it. "How old?" she asked. There was a long pause, and the man answered, "very old." She was hoping for something much more specific, so after much pestering he finally told her it was VERY old, 100 years old, in fact.

The funny thing is that you can't really tell if he was telling the truth at all, as you can laquer the old bowls or repolish them to look like new. However, I am pretty certain that if we stopped by that shop this weekend we would find a whole new batch of "VERY old" bowls. But that's just the sceptic in me.

Natezilla, on the other hand, wanted no part of the photo opportunity. And it was treacherously close to nap time. So we begged him to cooperate and bribed him with a lollipop to check out this dude. And that's the best we got.

Happy Birthday To the US Marine Corps

Also subtitled "My Dress Drama" which wasn't exactly a drama, but more a learning experience. I have to admit that a year ago a few DS wives who had been posted overseas introduced me to the nearly worldwide Embassy event of the Marine Corps birthday ball, and ever since I had been overjoyed and eagerly anticipating it. I absolutely adore dressing up (hate makeup) and wearing beautiful things, and I also love showing off my handsome arm candy of a husband. He, being the wonderful man that he is, also has no objection to dancing the night away with me and good friends!

Add to that the possibility of having clothes custom-made for us in this amazing city? I was lost, totally and hopelessly lost, to the chance of having my dream gown made. Just for moi. So as soon as we settled in, I started looking for a dressmaker. And when I found her, I began the uncomfortable dealings of negotiating price, design, and fabric with her and settled on this:
Okay, so maybe I am no Kate Beckinsale, but I've been running my sweet ass off nearly five times a week in this crazy humidity and heat, and I wasn't afraid to show off. The only problem was that Miss Dressmaker might have misunderstood my request to cover up an old shoulder tattoo.
Because somehow I ended up with this:
And the back looked very stiff and bridal partyish like this:
So, I smilingly paid for the gown, took it home, cried like a baby, and then bought a cheap backup dress. Silly, I know. But somehow "vavavavoom" had translated into something completely frumpalicious. And I am TERRIBLE about asking things to be changed. And Miss Dressmaker was so visibly delighted with her work that I couldn't possibly bring it back and go all farang on her.
So I took matters into my own hands.
But not right away.
The prospect of taking scissors to an expensive dress made me feel ill, so I did put it off for almost a week. Until the day of the Ball, to be honest. So around the time other attendees were getting their hair done and getting their nails polished, I was staring at the inner workings of a formal gown, chewing on my lip, and praying I didn't screw up too badly.
Long story short, I removed the "poof", took in the bunchy breast, and rid the dress of its awful bridesmaid back by making it come down in a nice 'v.' And then our amazing nanny took one look at it, and stated that I need some kind of pin and accent to finish the look, and she was completely right. Lo and behold, I happened to have some old thrift-store brooch that was perfect.
And there you have it. A beautiful evening, with wonderful people, and our superb Marines. I'm already looking forward to next year.
Perhaps I might buy something off the rack next time.

Thankful Thursday

Today I'm thankful for so many things-a roof over our heads, good food on the table, and a life that is exciting and unique. But after my date-night last night, and all that we talked about over a fantastic dinner at Ana Garden (and a few pitchers of beer), I am thankful to have a life that is extraordinary, to feel special to my family and friends, and thankful to be so deeply loved and adored by my three guys. For, when you feel so loved, you pass that feeling on to others. And I know for certain I return that love to my family, my amazing husband who is making me extra-proud this week, and will continue to make our two golden boys feel special and adored. See that face? That smile is perpetually on his face. Because right now, even in this troubled world, this little guy knows nothing but love, and happiness and security. He only knows that he is extremely special. And endlessly adored. And we're going to keep building on that.

The Kind of Shopping I Love

Is Christmas shopping. Its true. And I love buying things for people that are unique or handmade. So I thought I would share some of the nifty things you can pick up if you ever visit Bangkok. And I am just getting started-last weekend we returned to Chinatown and explored Sampeng road and I talked to my hun about finding a shop other than Jim Thompson that sold real thai silk. So there are a lot more things for me to explore, but right now I am stocking up on the Christmas gifts to send back to the States.

Like these sensual flowy wood carvings. I can't get enough of them. At Chatuchuk Market you can hardly walk ten feet without passing a shop full of them. Some are flowery, some have elephants, and there is a whole lotta Buddha. For a mere $15 you can pick up a small panel to decorate your home, or pay more for something larger and carved from teak. My favorite shop specializes in the real teak carvings, and the shopkeeper sells some of his own creations that feature thai dancers and gold accents. I plan on going back to pick out some of those for myself!

I also found a shop that has hand-embroidered wall hangings, table cloths and bedspreads that will give you a fairly good price if you buy more than one item at a time. When it comes to bargaining, that is usually my approach. With things already so affordable, I just don't feel right trying to get a steal unless I'm working on getting two or three items from the shop. Its worked out well for me, and if the shopkeeper doesn't want to play, I don't feel bad just walking away.

So when these pretty fabrics caught my eye, I went in and grabbed a few pieces. Intended originally as a gift, I have to admit that I won't be able to be parted from this hand-stitched elephant bedspread. Its so bohemian and pretty, I want to look at it every day.


Then there are the nickknack shops that sell glittery and gilded home decor. Originally I shied away from them because I thought it would all be expensive, but it turns out I was wrong.

These pedestal/bowls were just about twenty dollars apiece, no bargaining allowed. I went back a week later and bought a second one so we would have a set. I think they would look amazing around Christmas with an arrangement of greens and some pillar candles. Yet they are still so very Thai.

And then I thought these were super cool. Simple one- or two-color silkscreen prints of thai motifs, for just 50 baht each. Again, I went back a week later and bought almost a dozen of them to send to friends or throw in my Buddha boxes. And I'm keeping a few to frame and put around our house as well. No one needs to know, except you, reader, that they only cost about $1.50!

As inexpensive as they are, I think they make a fantastic souvenir because most of them tell a story or have some significance in thai culture. Like this monster from thai folklore, or this battle scene that depicts King Rama. I'll look up the story before we hang these on the wall, it should be interesting!

I wish I could show more, but with November arriving tomorrow, I'll be gift-wrapping and sending off batches of gifts to our family very soon, and I wouldn't want to spoil their surprises. I just hope they don't mind getting something unusual this year. It has been SO MUCH FUN searching for gifts.

I even stumbled upon the information that my nanny's brother is the founder and designer of a very popular line of shirts, so we snapped up a bunch of those as well! I just guess it IS a small world after all.