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.

You Let Me Down

Please forgive me for a moment of homesickness.
I knew there would be a time that Thailand would let me down. And I guessed it might be one of the holidays. But I hadn't thought it would be Halloween. Its not really Bangkok's fault. Not at all. In fact, we had an amazing time at a Halloween party just a few days ago. Our Community Liaison folks threw a great bash for the kids. They even let me help out, so I obsessed created a photobooth for the event and it was a huge hit! I am looking at over 200 pictures of adorable kids which I wish I could share, but without permission of the parents it just wouldn't be right. So you get a few shots of my boys instead. One marvelous neighbor of ours donated hundreds of dollars of candy and treats to the cause. And another took pictures at the booth. And other volunteers joined in-I think that was the part I liked the most.
I even got to boss the Marines around for a small shining moment.
And then I got to boss the boss around for a moment too. We needed someone at the spider ring toss, so my man happily stepped in. It doesn't hurt that he is great with kids.
Isn't he wonderful?
We still have lots of Halloween festivities to enjoy this week. I believe my photobooth will be making an appearance at my son's school for their Halloween Bake Sale and Fundraiser. Our neighborhood will have a handful of very enthusiastic trick-or-treaters on wednesday, and we are preparing to make that as special for the kids as possible. And after they go to sleep, we will step down the street to partake in the crazy adult festivities on Soi 11. I'm even thinking of organizing a spooky kids movie night at our house to round off the week. But still, its not the same.
Not at all.
When we lived in Plymouth I looked forward to that evening every year, and the over sixty kids that would stop by our door for candy. I miss it. Oh, how I miss it! My parents would come over to help out so there was always someone at the door while we took our own kids around. We took this seriously. Each year we bagged at least sixty bags of candy and trinkets and still ran out! I miss the chill in the air and the smell of leaves on the ground. I miss visiting our wonderful neighbors, who always had something extra special set aside for our boys. We have great neighbors now too, and six great kids that live in our 'compound.' I just miss the old place. I miss the gentleman next door who would leave lovely boxes full of fall vegetables from his garden at our front door. I miss grilling them on our back deck on cool afternoons, with the sound of the ocean in the background. I miss the neighbor's dog, who passed away after we moved to DC.

 I guess I just cannot deny that there is something so special about Halloween in New England. The weeks leading up to it are filled with cranberry, pumpkin, and all sorts of harvest festivals. Farmers market stocked with pumpkins and apples just begging to be made into pies. Spooky decorations wherever you look. Its not the same here. The nights are becoming cooler, but simply by a degree or two. Not even enough to break out a sweater or *sniff* my boots. A few of the neighbors took notice of our spooky house decorations, and put up a few of their own. But not with the same enthusiasm as our massachusetts neighborhood.

So, sorry Thailand, you scored big points on everything else, but let me down on Halloween. Its not your fault. I'm still totally in awe of you, and can't believe we live in such an amazing place. But you just can't compete with Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA when it comes to a good old-fashioned Halloween.

You can make it up to me over Thanksgiving.

Operation Dharma Drop

Its been AT LEAST a month since I've sent out a Buddha. Seriously, it is time to put on my A-game and resume what I set out to do! So here is the sixth installation of Operation Dharma Drop, going out to some friends back home. I especially love the amulets of Ganesh and Buddha, and think we will have to make our way back to the amulet market sometime to pick up some more.

Life in Bangkok has been enjoyable this October, as the flooding of previous years has not returned. There seems to be a huge amount of tourism, especially for October when weather usually isn't very good. We've had a lot of time with the boys this week, since school is closed for vacation, and have had fun going back to Chatuchak Market for Christmas shopping, hitting the street vendors for delicious food, and a trip back to Siam Ocean World so we could share it with my husband finally!

I think what we like most about this aquarium is how it is really geared for the younger crowd. Not heavy on information, but big on impact when it comes to interesting animals and mind-boggling exhibits. I mean, this sucker is in the BASEMENT of a mall, and has one of those aquariums you walk beneath and watch all the sharks gliding over your head. They have penguins of course, and a 'spa' where you can get your feet nibbled on by tiiiiny little fishies. I haven't tried it because the people participating don't look too thrilled, nor relaxed by the experience. Might be from the hoards of children ogling them and flinging popcorn as they walk by, I dunno.

I am just happy that when we give the boys a choice of what they would like to do, this is what they pick. I couldn't care less about the exhibits, but really enjoy seeing the wonder on their faces. They really are the light of my life!

Babes in Koh Samui

So, I continue with part two of our adventures on Koh Samui. And I'm going to throw in my little tidbits, tips, and TOTALLY unsolicited advice. Don't get me wrong, I think the island is a lovely place to bring your children. The sleaze factor is fairly low, depending on what beach you visit. Its affordable to stay anywhere, eat anywhere. The people are kind. The island is fairly crime-free.

Clutching. Clutching. Trembling. Smiling.
HowEVER. There were a few times my little mom-alert went off, screaming danger! danger! in the back of my mind. Such as the elephant adventures. Ok, lets go there. I am certainly not the greatest parent on earth-yes, I let my kids watch cartoons so I can take a shower. We don't swear, watch violent shows, and we try to demonstrate good morals in front of our boys. But I think we committed a serious parent-FAIL when we permitted our boys to clamber on top of a giant animal and go wandering the forest without first carefully considering the dangers. In fact, I hadn't even given it a second thought until we were halfway through, and I realized they hadn't given us ANY instructions, advised us what to do or not do, and shouldn't we have been asked to sign a waiver or something along those lines? Shouldn't we have seatbelts or something?

My husband had a good laugh when I told him all this later. After I spend 60 minutes in a silent panic, clutching the seat in one hand and squeezing our two-year-old in the other. Har Har.

On the other hand, there are some really fun things to do with kids on Koh Samui. There are night markets where you can sample local dishes and desserts.

You can try what is (probably) the best ice cream on Koh Samui.

If you want to sit on the beach, your best bet with kids is to pick one of the island resorts and spend the day there. For a fee, you get your own beach bed or chairs, use of the beach and pool, and whatever incentives they offer up. We tried Beach Republic the first day and really liked it. We paid 2000 baht, but were given the money back as a credit toward drinks and food. And then we lived like kings for the day-not a bad deal. The last day we tried the breakfast buffet at Nikki Beach-a little more expensive, and not exactly a kid-friendly place, but the service was good and food was great. The beach, not so good.

Getting around is very tricky. Taxis are expensive, so most people rent motorbikes. I'm not a fan of putting my kids on them, so we rented a car to get around the island safely. There are no sidewalks to speak of, so I'm glad we didn't bother with a stroller. Luckily, the island has a pretty fantastic breeze, so the kids didn't get too cranky about walking around in the heat. There are places to eat everywhere, so there is little chance of your kids getting hungry. Our kids may eat thai food, but if your children don't, have no fear. All the restaurants over at the Fisherman's Village offer kid menus.

You can also visit the temples, each of which have some kind of claim to fame, or some sort of oddity or attraction. This one housed the mummified monk, who had predicted his own death and now sits upright, mummified, wearing a nice pair of Ray-bans.

Little Philip and I really were amused by the depictions on the temple too-the fearsome faces clutching their giant golden tongues.

At Big Buddha, kids can climb up the long stairway flanked by dragons to the giant golden Buddha and ring bells and gongs. Its all welcome. You can even pick up a stick and whack at the bells. For boys, that's great entertainment.

Little P even made me kneel before Buddha and "wai" with him before getting to the noisy stuff. Honestly, this break was going so well I paid him the gesture and a silent 'thank you' for such a great family retreat.

And after a small donation is given, you can sign your name or leave a message on the bottom of a clay roof tile, to be part of the temple for evermore. Or until the next hurricane season..

Every evening we retreated to this amazing duplex overlooking Big Budhha Beach. It might just be my favorite part of the whole trip. The second floor was as spacious as the first, and the boys slept comfortably in their own room, far away from the noisy nightlife. My husband and I could take a late-night dip or watch the sun go down over the island.
All in all, I would return to Koh Samui with the kids. Except for the elephants, it gets my mommy-stamp of approval.

Getaway to Koh Samui

Have you missed me?

Believe it or not, I haven't felt like I had anything good to share for quite some time. That could be a good thing, meaning that we are settling in and life is becoming as close to normal as it could possibly be for global nomads like us.

We did, however, get a chance to venture out of Bangkok for a long weekend. Cheap tickets to the lovely island of Koh Samui, and an extremely generous offer of lodging from a high school classmate, and next thing you know we are in paradise. And 'lodging' doesn't even begin the describe the gorgeous place we stayed. I just have to say that if something terrible ever happens to me, or even something small like getting a tooth pulled for example, and I need to go to a happy place in my head? Well, this is the place I will go.

And as for the island? In true Thai fashion it was almost surreal. Sometimes dusty and dirty, sometimes a piece of dirty Vegas on the beach, other times beautiful and mystical, it was a sensory overload. If that makes any sense.

One of the first areas we headed was the Fisherman's Village, because the kids were tired and hungry and it was a sure-fire place to find decent food. So we walked on the beach until we found a restaurant we liked. By then the boys had made new friends with some local kids playing in the surf. Sandy and wet, they were happy to eat some good food.

We didn't have much of a plan for this long weekend, just hoping to renew and refresh a bit. I think getting away from the city, as much as I love Bangkok, was extremely good for all of us. Especially my handsome husband. I was happy to see the stress and exhaustion disappear from his face, and having all the time in the world to explore a new place and have adventures made us ALL feel young again.

Oh but the food! It was hard to decide where to stop for any of our meals!

The next few days we explored the island in our rental car (sooo cheap), stopping at jaw-dropping temples, basking at a resort for the afternoon to be waited on and pampered. And enjoying the sunset from the BBC (Big Buddha Cafe) before returning to Duplex M for another dip in the pool. This shrine, in particular, took my breath away in its gleaming white and golden details.

Every evening we marveled at the gorgeous sunset from our vacation rental. It was peaceful, quiet, spacious. And totally ours for the weekend.

(I can't tell you enough how much I prefer vacation rentals over resorts and hotels. Two floors of privacy, no housekeeping knocking on the door bright and early in the morning, and a view that only the few selected guests ever get to enjoy. In my opinion, its more exclusive than any luxury hotel. But for less.)

Every day was pleasant and breezy, the air was clear, the water gorgeous.

And these were just the first two days.

I also laughed myself silly a few times over this shrine. I know its totally serious, but at first we thought it was some kind of theme park or museum. Then on our second go 'round we thought it might be a restaurant.

As it turns out, its the Quan Yu Koh Samui Shrine. Which, of course, is described all in thai on the sign, so I had to Google it. And I found this little blog article about the guy with the big red head:

Apparently, this fellow will eventually have a body as well. But its good to start somewhere. After all, it would be even more confusing to encounter this place topped by a giant pair of red feet.

Now That's Pinteresting

I should be packing.

I should be packing right now.

Because at 9:45 tomorrow we are boarding a plane to the luxurious island of Koh Samui for a long weekend retreat.

Instead, I am sharing photos of our version of a very popular Pinterest project, and babbling about Chinatown. You see, our nanny thought I was going crazy farang-style when we were walking through Chinatown and I went berserk over finding these wee bags of clear pony beads. So dirt cheap. She says, "what are you going to do with those?" and gave me the look of pretend comprehension when I yammered about suncatchers.

Fast forward a few days later, and now we both agree that we must go back and find more of these beads. She's hoping to make some for herself.

Score a point for the crazy farang.