Friday, September 29, 2017

Is it Really October?!

 Well, almost anyway!  As it usually does when things get busy, time has flown by since I last posted in May. It's gone so fast that when I checked the date of my last post, I felt a bit shocked. Wowsa.
   We have had so much happen since then. The kids finished their school year in Manila a week early as we went through the usual routine of purging and packing up the house. I am so glad the State Department moves us to help with some of the stress. I'm pretty laid back with the whole process now. I will say, that the moving company in Manila was as careful with our possessions as I knew they would be. In true Filipino style, they took time to wrap every item carefully before placing them in the box. I'm a little excited/anxious to see the mountain of packing paper we'll have when we finally unpack everything in Belgium. They were also amazing with an exact-o-knife and cardboard. They crafted a cardboard desk and chairs to work from as soon as they arrived in our apartment and many of our items were packaged in custom fit boxes. Dan and I were cracking up.
     Our home leave this year lasted about four weeks. As usual, we didn't get to spend as much time with everyone as we'd like, but we still felt blessed to be back in the states with family. We were all freezing to death for the first couple of weeks, especially at night. Manila's temperature never dropped below eighty (like, ever) so the chilly desert nights in Utah felt cold.
     Our favorite events in Utah were our visits with family and cousins, Logan's first EFY, Walmart (Seriously, when you haven't had one for two years, it's heaven!), driving though canyons with cousins and finding snow in June, riding in the back of Grandpa's truck, my beautiful niece's wedding, a fun trip with friends, an emergency room visit for Logan (maybe not a favorite, but definitely memorable), Fourth of July with family, and the simple feeling of being home. Dan and I have been blessed to have so much family and we love spending time with them.
   In Utah, we purchased a new van (our old one was sold in Manila) so we were able to drive it across the southern part of the United States to Washington DC. We drove through Colorado, New Mexico (past Albuquerque and Billy the Kid's grave), Texas (with a quick stop at my brother's house and the Alamo), New Orleans, Alabama (Finally!), and Savannah, Georgia before arriving in DC. I wish I had more time to talk about our visits with everyone, but we crammed so much into the trip it would take a while. I'll just say that we loved every second we were able to spend with family and friends! One of the hardest/best parts of living a "Nomad" life is number of friends we've accumulated in so many different places. It's wonderful to know so many fantastic people, but I always feel sad about not being able to give more time to everyone. I guess in a way, that's just how life and time are. Whenever we move away from friends, they still hold a place in our hearts. I think it was Maya Angelou who said something like, "You may not always remember a person's name, or what they did, but you will never forget the way they made you feel." (I may be way off on that quote, btw). From my experience, I believe that's true.

   Anyway, moving on. We arrived in DC mid-July and stayed our first night with our good friends from Manila. They left just after us and came straight to DC, so it was really fun to see them so soon. The next morning we moved into our new place in Falls Church. Our kids love our apartment complex because there are so many other foreign service kids here. They've all adjusted pretty well. I think Logan had the hardest time saying good-bye. He had some great friends in Manila. That's the hardest part of this life-style. We spent the rest of our summer visiting museums, zoos, libraries, our pool, and escaping the mid-day heat of Virginia while Dan went through various trainings. Most of the kids ran into friends they met at past posts. Finally, on September fifth, everyone started school (9th, 7th, 5th and 3rd) and I started French language training full-time with Dan.
    I wasn't really sure what to expect from language training, but I can say that I seriously underestimated how hard it would be. We have class from 8 to 3 everyday with hours of homework each night. If you can imagine trying to cram strange new words into your brain continuously while at the same time attempting to form rudimentary sentences with those same words without saying something ridiculous or even obscene (by accident of course ... hee hee) for hours on end and then waking up the next morning to do it all over again all week, that's pretty much what we do. We finished our first month (which covered enough words to fill an inch-thick book) and are starting our new section on Monday. I am planning a major review this weekend!
   The hardest adjustment has been having Dan and I both gone all day. It's new for us. It's been a month now though and things have really started to even out. The kids have stepped up. Logan gets up every morning for seminary (a religion class our church has for high school students) at six and is out the door at six-fifteen. He hasn't complained even once. I've been so proud of him. The other kids too have just been so supportive. I feel blessed.  Dan and I have the unique situation of going to and from work together (although our classes are different). We've had to divide our past duties differently. I miss being home and feeling like I have everything in complete control, but I love how letting go of some things I used to hold on tightly to has helped myself and everyone in my family grow.

I guess that's all for today! I'll be in touch again so soon. We are planning some fun autumn activities. It's our first autumn in four years, so it must be celebrated! :) Here are a few pics from our trip:


Saying good-bye to this view was not easy. Forty-six floors up!


Logan's thoughtful spot.


Our "Manila" family picture!


 While in Utah we were able to get most of my large family together one place! I love this shot. 


My shot of the eclipse here in Falls Church.


Linc looking up.

We were lucky to have visitors during the eclipse. Logan and Adam got to hang out together.



 A shot from Billy the Kid's grave

 Ellie turned nine!


Lola's happy in her new dog park. BTW, just so you know, dogs get jet-lag too, 
and it's pretty dang funny!

At the Alamo!


Man was it h-o-o-o-t-t-t-t.


Love these crazies!

 Old Town in Albuquerque.



I thought this old church was so beautiful.


My dad, enjoying watching all his kids and grandkids together.

Sisters!




We love our cousins.





 Love!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Bangkok, Thailand

    It's been a while! My family has been caught up with all of our "last month at post" to-do lists and I haven't had time to write. I'll catch up on all of that later this week though because right now I want to focus on the amazing trip to Thailand we were able to squeeze in over spring break. Sometimes you just have to take off and travel. It always energizes Dan and me. We love it. Thailand definitely did not disappoint. The only sad thing about the trip was our lack of time to visit Chang Mai and see an elephant preserve there. We also opted to spend the last day of our trip at an aquarium instead of traveling to Ayutthaya to see temple ruins, but I'll talk more about that in a minute.

I guess I'll just post a rough itinerary of what we did in Bangkok and then get straight to my pictures. I have to say, right off the bat, that if you like to take pretty pictures, Bangkok is the place for you. It was incredibly beautiful.  I clicked away like there was no tomorrow.

    We arrived in the evening on Thai Air and headed straight to our hotel (The Royal Princess Lan Luang) late in the evening. We weren't sure we liked our hotel at first. The location wasn't ideal, but the price was good. In the end, we were really happy we stayed there. They had a great complimentary breakfast and a number of different restaurants to choose from (a bit pricy) right in the building. But my favorite thing about our hotel was a small, local buddist temple we discovered just up the street. We noticed it from our balcony and made time to walk over the day before we left and it was so special. Very different from all the fancy, touristy locations there were to see. (Though lets be honest, those were pretty spectacular too.) Also, we had the good luck of being in Bangkok over Thai New Year and witnessed the COOLEST New Years tradition I have ever seen. Everyone hit the streets with buckets of water and water guns and held spontaneous city-wide water fights. No joke, if you walk around outside on New Years Day in Bangkok, you'd better be prepared to get soaked. (Pics of that coming!) It was really fun.

    So, for our fist day, we spent time getting acclimated and searching for long pants for everyone. We failed to bring our own and the main temple we wanted to see (The Grand Palace) required all visitors to wear pants and shirts with sleeves.  You'd think a simple things like finding pants would be easy right? Yeah, not so much. Bangkok's climate is hotter than Manila's so pants were not easy to find. We went to the huge MBK mall and spent hours looking through booths and shops before finally finding what we needed. It was a lot of fun though. I found the most comfortable pair of pants in the world. I wish I could wear them outside everyday and I would if they weren't covered in purple elephants and shaped like something from a circus. The kids and I spent the afternoon at our hotel recovering and swimming while Dan took the scariest motorcycle ride of his life to visit a tailor he'd heard good things about and was fitted for a suit. I think he had a bad run-in with a taxi driver too. In our five days there we had at least three taxi drivers try to cheat us. It was almost funny. Just make sure they use the meters. They will try to cover them up and charge you a lot more, or they will take you to the places they recommend instead of where you want to go. It's all about commissions for many of them.

    On our second day we arranged a tour through our hotel to see the floating markets, elephants and a fun place called Tiger World. (Owen's favorite!) The floating markets were packed with people and though it was very commercial, it was spectacular and unique and I would do again in a heart beat. It was such a fun experience to sit in a long skinny boat and go up down rivers packed with vendors. If we saw something we liked, our boat driver would pull over and give us time to make our purchases. There were many food vendors paddling around as we shopped. Some advise I'd give if you ever go is to be prepared to spend a little money there, and to have your driver stop at places you aren't interested in. I am sure they also get a commission or something for taking you to certain shops. We got very good at smiling and saying "No, thank you!"
      After the Floating Markets we went to see elephants at 'Elephant Farm' and I would not recommend it at all. We didn't stay long and I don't have pictures to post. The elephants there were chained and they used pokers. Next time we will go to an actual sanctuary. My advise about seeing elephants? Do your own research. I told our tour guide we wanted a humane place and he said it was, but I guess the word "humane" is interpreted differently to some people. That's about all I'll say about that.
     Tiger World was incredible. The facilities were large and clean and the animals looked to be really well taken care of. Being up close with the tigers was so cool (and terrifying!). My younger kids were only allowed to go in with the baby tigers, while my oldest son, husband and I were able to get close to a "Medium" one. The large tigers were off limits, lol.

    On day three we donned our new "fancy pants" and took a lovely river-tour that dropped us near the Grand Palace. It was so incredibly hot and crowded, but the colors and architecture were breath-taking. It was hard to get a picture that wasn't photobombed by someone (part of the charm), and we did have to deal with people shamelessly cutting in line at the drinking fountains (More charm, right?), but really, I'm so glad we made it. You can't see Bangkok without seeing the Grand Palace.
After the Grand Palace (and a quick stop at a conveniently located Baskin Robins just outside the palace gates) our entire family crammed into one Tuk-Tuk and traveled a short distance to the beautiful Wat Pho temple. It was less crowded than the Grand Palace, but still had plenty of visitors. Wat Pho is the residence of the large reclining Buddha. He was huge and being renovated while we were there.
We ended day three with another dip in our hotel pool and some food from the hotel's Japanese restaurant.

For our last full day (as I mentioned before) my husband and I debated whether to travel an hour to the temple ruins in Ayutthaya, or to stay in the city and visit an aquarium. Our hotel was happy to arrange a tour, but we felt like our kids were a bit templed-out, and it was very hot, so in the end we opted for the enormous, some-what pricy, air-conditioned aquarium located in the bottom of the Siam Paragon Mall in downtown Bangkok. Apparently its the largest aquarium in south-east Asia and it did not disappoint. Sorry, ruined temples, we will have to see you another time! After the aquarium we made our way to the quaint, local temple I mentioned before and on the way home found ourselves caught-up in the middle of a water fight. Our kids were apprehensive at first, but it didn't take long for them to get into the New Year spirit.

That was about it. Bangkok was an incredible experience. The Thai people are friendly, fun, and full of pride for their culture. I loved hearing the nasally language and music, and all of the color and beauty of the Buddhist temples was something I will never forget. Here are some of our favorite pics from our trip!


Floating Market:









Tiger World:
















The Grand Palace:

















Wat Pho:




















River Tour:








Bangkok Ocean World:












Local Temple:





New Year's Water Fight:





A Lightening View From Our Balcony