Autumn is upon us! In Bangkok, Fall doesn't have the same impact it had in the States. There are no orchards to visit for apple-picking. The leaves don't change and fall. The air doesn't get crisp or cooler. But that's all ok. I can survive without that for a few years. However, I was delighted to send my little boy to his first year of school (which began in August, but I still consider it an Autumn event.)
So, raise your hand if you thought you had done a fantastic job raising your kids, only to feel like a miserable failure by the shortcomings pointed out when they went to school? Nothing huge, but any criticism really gets magnified when it is regarding your children. I'm smarting a little bit lately from things that have been said, and have been working hard with my Bean to help him settle into school.
Problem 1: He's a storyteller.
So, it is clear that the Bean doesn't like to waste time re-hashing his day. Especially if that day contains some exploits of a nature that might get him reprimanded. So, a few weeks into school I felt completely in the dark. I didn't know who his friends were. I didn't know if he was learning anything. I didn't know if he was happy or not, because all I ever got from him was an "I don't remember." On his teacher's side, she had heard all sorts of crazy tales from him. That he NEVER went to preschool. (Three years) That he couldn't read or write. (LIAR) That he had an older sister. (Not that I am aware of) When I finally pieced together what was happening, I had to do something fast. Our communications needed to be improved.
The solution was to prepare for his return from school every day and separate him from all the kids that tend to be at our house in the afternoon (cool house, yayuh!). We sit down every single day with a small snack as soon as he steps off the bus, and he gets my undivided attention. No matter what. And I ask him specific questions, instead of open-ended ones that he can brush off with a yes or no. If he admits to being naughty, I don't punish him. We discuss it briefly, and then I ask him how he would do things differently next time. So far, this approach has helped him to open up a bit more and tell me about his day, except it is still peppered with fiction from time to time.
Problem 2: He likes to do things his own way.
Getting 20 kids to follow along in class is a feat that I could never accomplish in a million years-this is why it is so important for our educators to be knowledgeable and well-educated themselves. They know the tricks. I have much respect for that. So, to help his teacher, we are going to practice at home how to follow directions and learn that life is more rewarding if you focus on the task at hand and tackle it when you are asked to. Bean hasn't really been in trouble much, but I can tell from his teacher that he is one of the stronger or more challenging personalities in the class. And frankly, I raised him to be that way. Sorry, teach!
My solution was to draw this "Follow Directions!" board, where he can keep track with stickers each time he does something I ask him to immediately. So, instead of zoning out or whining that he has something HE wants to do, instead of what I have asked him to do, Bean snaps to it. Then is rewarded with a sticker, and down the road he gets to pick an activity when he completes the board. I'm just trying to give him an incentive for cooperating quickly, and hopefully he will try to please his teacher or parents in the future instead of railing against us for negative attention. Its a basic lesson, right?
Problem 3: I am so DONE with diapers.
So. Done.
And the little one is two. You don't need to hear about potty-training. I'm just going to say it must happen. Now. Not later.
Aaaaaand behold its another incentive board. Same story. Do the doody, get a sticker. End of story.
So its only a matter of time before my whole house has papers taped to the walls. The "I can put the toilet seat down" incentive board. The "I left my shoes at the door" board. The "Don't butt grownups in the crotch with your forehead" board. And for me, perhaps the "I didn't spend money on fabric today" board?

So, stay tuned for more of my drama, and some Bangkok adventures. There have been a few, but with the latest news surrounding a certain film, I had no desire to type or put my thoughts down. I was disturbed beyond words. The protests in Pakistan are horrific, and bring me back to terrible times not so long ago. I am deeply grateful to be in Bangkok now, and next post I will elaborate on why, and what I have learned about people in this city that makes me so stupidly happy. Until then, let me tell you our helper introduced me to these snacks called "mieng kham" and its my favorite thai snack eVER. You take this leaf and wrap it around toasted coconut, lime, ginger, peanuts and dried shrimp. It is so silly sweet good I ask her to pick me up a pack whenever she's over by the marketplace.

It Will Get Better

The past week has been horrific. Truly horrific. I watched the news unfold into terrible scenes of smoke, fury, and violence. Sitting safe and sound in our calm little oasis, I was suddenly shaken into such a state of sadness for my fellow foreign service members all over the middle east and north africa. And I thought over and over the past week how fortunate we are to be here in Bangkok. I'm sure my friends in Cairo were once grateful to receive an assignment there too. I don't take anything for granted anymore.

We have laid low the past week, the kids going to school and playdates as usual. Me, waiting and hoping to hear from my husband every day, as he had a few weeks of training to complete back in D.C. I say a few, casually, but it was really a month. A stinkin' lonely. month.

Our supernanny tried to keep our spirits up, and took me exploring through Chinatown so I could drool over the fabrics. Store after store of lace, batiks, and here and there some decent cottons. Notions and sewing supplies! It was heaven.

I loved the back-soi markets, filled with everything imaginable and everything you might see in an Oriental Trading catalog. Funny. For 20baht a piece, we filled up on ridiculous sunglasses, and I grabbed beads and crafty things for projects I saw on Pinterest. We melted beads last weekend to make suncatchers and things like that. Yes, we actually DO the things I pin from time to time!

You could walk all day down these alleys, and I'm excited to go back by myself sometime to hunt down more, and to pick out fabric for my gown for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

For about $70 you could also pick up one of those amazing headdresses or headwhachamacallums that you see the thai dancers wear, or for dollars apiece you can stock up on pearly hairpins and other sparkly stuff.

Another day I stepped out to look at ball gowns, thinking that might be a cheerful thing to do. And then I took my little Bean out on a mommy-son date night to make sure he was getting all the attention he needed from me. Its not always easy compensating for a parent being away-sometimes you don't realize the kids are hurting until they start acting out. But I've been doing this a long time, so I catch it fast.

I had a lot of alone-time too. When Nate was napping or after the kids were put to bed I hid in the office and worked on making it into my little studio. The brightly colored fabrics and hand-dyed yarn make me happy, and having a room to spread it about has made me feel more creative than ever.

I even framed some of my favorites.

 I pulled out old projects that had stalled or had stumped me, and found new ways to finish them. Like these adorable twirly skirts.

And I prepared Buddha for another adventure.

Operation Dharma Drop: The Hand Version

I used to be a huge fan of East Asian art. Long long ago, to be honest.  On free-student-wednesdays I used to stop by the exhibit they had at the Museum of Fina Arts. What a beautiful place! But I can remember how I loved looking at different interpretations of Buddha and jotting down what I felt. My favorites were (of course) the soft, sensual androgynous depictions-the eyes that didn't need to be wide open to see, limbs that didn't need muscles to support, raiment that fell so casually into perfection. I found it all extremely evocative, one of the perfect examples of art projecting a message without saying a single word. (I am all force and fire, so it was calming to me.)

In the temples here, most Buddhas sitting are positioned with their hands meeting lightly on their laps, or in some cases one hand is directed towards the ground. There are meanings to the position of Buddha's hands (called mudra), whether it is a reminder of his commitment to achieving the truth or enlightenment, protection, or simply meditation and seeking a connection with one's spirituality. So, with all that meaning just in his fingertips, its no surprise you can find a hand in every souvenir stand in Bangkok.

In particular the mudra of blessing is very popular, and when I was seeking the right Buddha for my next Drop, it came to mind. The person I am sending it to deserves a blessing or boon, even though he is already rich in so many ways; talented, beautiful family, wonderful personality. He's a person who has always been there for me, keeps his promises, and is a perfect example of perseverance and hard work. So I'm sending him and his family blessings from Bangkok. It would be a blessing for the rest of us if there were more people in the world like him.

Thankful Thursday

Its hard to narrow down all the things I am grateful for to just one at a time. But a conversation I had earlier about parenthood had me thinking about it this morning. Of course I am thankful for my children, but I'm also thankful to be made into a mother. I get to teach and nurture and shape two amazing boys, but they also shape and nurture me.

Before I ever had children I was a great deal more judgmental. I thought I knew it all. These boys change so much and sometimes they totally shake up my world so that what I thought I knew turns up to be totally upside down.

I'm thankful for becoming a mother because now I find it easier to laugh. And for the first time I understand what happy tears really are.

I'm thankful for becoming a mother because its like the fountain of youth. Going through all these beginnings all over again, experiencing wonder all over again, letting the simple fill your life all over again.

Like the simple joys of
  • playing in costumes and laughing because you have a tail that wiggles
  • not wondering if its socially appropriate to hug someone or not
  • bubbles
  • having your mother for once say yes to that little dimestore toy when she usually says no
  • putting sprinkles on anything; homemade popsicles, pancakes, chopped fruit
  • playing in someone else's shoes, eSPECIALLY if they're way too large.

A Walk in the Park

Last week we said farewell to my husband for almost a month. I can't complain, because I know some dear friends persevering through much worse. However, the last year spoiled us real good with all that wonderful togetherness. I can't wait to get it back again.
Sunday I wanted to get the boys out and about, partly to stretch our legs, and partly to stop my overthinking things and clear my head.
So we hopped the BTS to Asok Station and walked down to Benjakiti Park (not to be confused with Benjasiri!) because I was curious about how safe, clean, and comfortable it might be for future running. The park was quiet. Clean. And very closely patrolled.
The view was peaceful, even though it was in the heart of a city.
The boys brought bread to feed the fish. We picked flowers. And then threw them.
The grounds crew stopped their work for lunch, and in the shade one of them picked up some beautiful kind of string instrument and began to play.
There were swan boats, which I promised we would try when their daddy came back.
Eventually the mid-day heat drove us back home.

Before and After: Living Room Edition

During our months at the 'Oakhood' I waited impatiently for notification of our housing assignment. I had seen photos our friends were receiving of their future accommodations overseas. Some were good. Some were really good. And some made me shake my head and shout at my husband, "why, why are you torturing me?!"
Knowing we were going to get something in the city, I tried to keep my expectations low so I wouldn't be disappointed. Because if you really want to know the truth, it broke my heart a little to pack up our little ranch home and move. I missed the rooms that I painstakingly decorated. The nursery in white and brown with the little birds. Our bedroom with its enormous bed and mother-of-pearl decorations. I tried to be cool and tell our family and friends what a horrid decorator I was, but in honesty every little detail and photograph hung on those walls was carefully selected by me. Over almost seven years. And then it was all boxed up and stored away. So here's the truth.
Living in a furnished apartment wasn't that bad. But I missed adding my own touches to our space. Missed it so much.
So much that, when these photos of our next home arrived, I had a little Pinterest frenzy over what to do with all. that. space.
So fast forward three months of waiting, some temporary housing, and finally. At last I could make this place our own.
First came the fabric. I ordered some cheapo slipcovers because it turned out our furniture and carpeting was like, four tones of flesh. Eww. I selected bright prints to cheer up the room, and broke out my sewing machine as soon as it arrived.
But alas, the pedal to my machine was not here yet.
So I cursed waited some more.
Luckily, with our next shipment came the rest of my sewing supplies, all our wall decorations, family photos, and furniture.
And this is what we have so far:

 A few lamp changes, some pictures on the wall, and some cheerful slipcovers (after I finally got the pedal and all my thread!)

More changes to come, for sure, but I am wide open to suggestions! Those curtains, I can't even begin to tell you how much I dislike them. Again, a strange yellowy fleshtone with a few stains for added charm. Luckily, we are in Bangkok after all, where I can find pretty much anything on the cheap.
Well, anything except 96" curtain panels.

I Braved a Kickboxing Night. And Enjoyed It!

So this happened a week ago. It got pushed aside by school schedules, playdates, job applications, and one epic haircut. However, it is an adventure that needs to be shared. If you get a week in Bangkok, I won't blame you for skipping the muay thai matches in favor of other nightlife. But if you spend any time in this city you MUST experience this. I can't stress it enough.

I was anticipating some kind of UFC experience where two dudes with mohawks and scars and bulging muscles pound the crap out of each other with awful club music playing in the background.

Oh noooo nooo newwwwwwww that was not the scene at all.

We were ushered into this rustic tin-roof arena with mostly farang in the front seats. The score boards were absolutely antique. Behind us in a box were musicians that played cymbals, drums and some crazy horn whenever the fighters came out. But this was serious.

First, let us establish that ladies MAY NOT touch the fighting area. You really wouldn't want to mess with the testicular powers contained within. That's some serious man-stuff. Downright sacred. So I held back. And ordered a cold beer.

Before each match began, the two fighters performed an elaborate ritual called the "wai khru" that was part prayer, part tribute to their trainers, part dance. Some were short and sweet, some more elaborate or showy. One pretty boy, who was cheered by a throng of schoolgirls, taunted his opponent three or four times by pantomiming firing an arrow at him. The affable opponent spoiled his mojo by playing along with a little knee jab in the air each time and the audience all had a good laugh. Again, this is thai culture. Always that sense of humor peeking through.

I apologize for the terrible photos, but I turned off my flash during the matches out of respect. Not that there were any signs telling me to do so, but I didn't know. Nobody wants to be the bad farang.

After the formalities were over each time, the fighters faced off and held nothing back from the start. I was not shocked by the violence, not grossed out, none of that. The fighters were skilled beyond belief. The fights were a wonder to watch, after all, kickboxers in thailand aspire to fight at Lumpini Stadium. These were the best of the best. And although some of them were barely over 120 pounds, they were deadly. Precise even. Not being at ALL experienced in the martial arts, I can't find the words to describe it. Except skilled. Very very skilled.

During each match, the fighters' families, trainers, girrrrrlfriends etc were ushered to their respective corner to urge them on. I enjoyed sneaking a peak at them from time to time, wondering what it must be like to see your brother or son doing this. (Note old-fashioned scoreboard in the upper left corner. And Coca-cola, hey!)

Around the seventh match we snuck out, but really quite in awe at what we had seen. I found myself reliving some of the fights in my head through last week, so I really hope we get a chance to go back. A lot of people found it hilarious that we went to watch some kickboxing on our 'date night' but it was really a great deal more thrilling than anything we would have done back home.

Hey, if you get the chance to do something like this, take it. You might just enjoy yourself.