Friday, December 30, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We had a lovely Christmas at home this year. Jack got several days off work, and it was wonderful having some extra time with him. He and Leo had fun setting up elaborate train tracks configurations down the hallway, around the coffee table, and underneath Lincoln Log bridges. 

We visited the National Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and also had some friends over. On Christmas day we opened presents, listened to a wonderful Christmas program at church, and then returned home for a nap. Our friends, the Huntsmans, came over that evening for a big dinner. Leo had fun hanging out with their three little girls, and playing with all his new toys. 

We also saw some very cool Christmas lights in our area. There is a great website that lists all the addresses of the decorated houses, and even has photos. Our two favorites had all the lights synchronized to music... they were very cool! Leo was mesmerized by all the flashing lights.

We also saw the "ICE" show at the Gaylord Hotel. It's a massive set of ice sculptures created by a team of artists from China. This year's theme was the Madagascar movie. Everyone has to put on heavy parkas before going into the bubble because it's FREEZING in there. It was pretty impressive, and Leo particularly enjoyed the giant ice slides.  Can you believe all those figures are made of ice?

We missed spending time with our extended families this year, but it was so nice to be at home. Mandi created a "Christmas Book" this year. It's full of stories and scriptures and we read one every night leading up to Christmas. It really helped us feel the spirit of Christmas, and kept us focused on Christ. We are so grateful for his perfect life, and for his great sacrifice for us. It's wonderful to celebrate his miraculous birth this time of year.  We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


We just returned from a two week trip to Thailand. We took over 400 photos, so I am going to attempt a "brief" overview of all the amazing things we did and saw...

We arrived in Bangkok after two long flights- 14 hours from LA to Tokyo, and 6 hours from Tokyo to Bangkok. Leo did great on both of the long flights, and slept for the entire second flight. The airport in Bangkok is clean, modern and filled with orchids. We took a taxi to downtown (about 30 minutes away) to our friends' home. (the Crawfords)  They live in a huge high rise building that has huge, very modern apartments, with large  balconies on 3 sides. They even have a pool and semi-indoor playground area.  From their building it is easy to walk to the metro, or take a taxi.

For our first day of sightseeing we went to the Grand Palace, a walled complex of the former Palace and some Buddhist Wats (temples). Leo fell asleep in the taxi and he slept for the 20 minute ride to the Grand Palace.  Taxis are so cheap there- our 20 minute ride cost about $4.

The Grand Palace was incredible. The intricacy of the designs and the mosaics made of mirrored tiles were unbelievable. I had seen photos of them before, but seeing them in person was so different. All I can say is Wow!  We were there about an hour, walking around. It was very hot and humid, so we were ready to cool down after that.
We took a boat ride up the river, in a traditional long boat. The motor on the back of the boat looked like it was ripped right out of a car, and then McGuiver'ed to work on a boat. You see a lot of stuff like that here. I love the ingenuity and creativity.  They sure know how to make do with what they have.  It was about 20 degrees cooler on the river, and the breeze really helped us cool off. We also got to see how all the houses that line the river are still flooded. There are huge pumps everywhere, furiously pumping water out of the streets and into the river.  What a mess!  It looks like most of those small houses and huts will have to be rebuilt. They have been under 2-3 feet of water for several months now. It was very sad to see all of their belongings piled up on the roofs, or on stilts. It's hard to imagine loosing all you have, when you already have so little. 

 We also walked through an outdoor market, where locals buy their meat and produce, or get a bite to eat.  It was a colorful and exciting thing to see.

This vendor sold every kind of dried seafood. There were some very interesting things...  and the smell was a little overwhelming.

The next day I went to a Thai cooking school for a half-day of instruction. It was so much fun!  We started by going to the market where they showed us the different fruits and vegetables and spices. Then we were in a small class room for a demonstration, then moved to the kitchen where we each had a station and cooked the dish we just learned. I had a blast, and learned so much. The food was delicious, and I can't wait to make more of it when i get home!

That night we swam in the pool and then Jack and I went for a couples massage. The massages are amazing there, and so cheap!  $10 for an hour!  (It cost about $80 at home!)  

We flew up to Chiang Mai, which is about an hour flight, and spent 3 days there. We stayed at Rimping Village- a  boutique hotel made up of little villas around a courtyard, pool, and a massive Banyan tree. Everything was lovely.The hotel had some bikes, so we rode a few blocks to a restaurant for lunch. (One of the bikes had a baby seat in the back, so it was perfect for Leo.)

We went for a walk and stopped at the market to buy some fruit.  The fruit here is wonderful-  and there is so much variety. We love the pineapple, mango, papaya, and watermelon... but it's been fun to try new ones like Dragon Fruit, and Longan. But neither of us has been brave enough to try the Durian or Jack Fruit. The smell of them is revolting, and I can't imagine getting close enough to actually take a bite...

Later that evening we took a walk to the Night Bazaar, which was just a few blocks from our hotel.  There were lots of fun things to see and buy.  Leo zonked out in the stroller, but we had fun walking around.

The next day we went to the Elephant farm which was about 40 min away. We saw a cool elephant show with lots of tricks and got to see the elephants bathing in the river. The park was beautiful- its in the mountains, and there are tons of trees and flowers. It was lovely. And Leo really enjoyed the elephants. When we were on the bridge one of the elephants came over and put his trunk through the railing, and touched Leo in his stroller. He was startled at first, but then thought it was kind of cool. (see the short video below)

We even got to ride an elephant! It was a half-hour ride, which was very bumpy and felt like riding a very slow roller coaster. Leo kept pointing to the elephants ahead of us and behind us, saying "elephant"...  and I kept trying to tell him that he was ON an elephant...  but I don't know if he really got it. Oh well. We got some great photos, and even if he doesn't remember this day, we will have the photos and lots of stories to tell him. At the end of the ride, I guess all the swaying back and forth got the better of Leo, and he started falling asleep. (It was way past naptime) He couldn't even hold his head up- it was so cute.

That evening we took a Tuk-Tuk to a Khantoke dinner and show. We sat on the floor, and ate traditional northern Thai foods, which was all delicious! The show was amazing, and it was fun to see all the dancers, costumes, and hear the drums and music.  Leo ran all over the place before the show started, but luckily he was interested in the show enough to sit down and watch. (which meant we could actually watch too!). We left about 9, and as we were leaving they were lighting these giant paper lanterns and releasing them into the night sky. It was a pretty incredible sight to see them floating off into the darkness. They looked like a new constellation glittering from the dark sky.

We rode our TukTuk back to the hotel, with a sleepy little Leo on our laps. What an amazing day. I will never forget the incredible things we've done today, and how much fun we had riding an elephant, eating dinner on the floor, and zipping along the highway in a Tuk Tuk with the wind in our hair.  It was an amazing day!

In Chiang Mai I decided to try a Thai Massage. They are very different than a regular massage (what they call an "Oil Massage"). You wear some loose cotton clothing while they massage your muscles and stretch your limbs. It felt like a combination of massage, yoga, and a chiropractic adjustment. I kept thinking "Oh, I didn't know my arm could bend like that..."  At one point I was sitting up, and she was working on my back. All of a sudden she rolled me backwards and I was suspended in the air with my back arched, balanced on her shins! (I still can't figure out how she got me up there!)  The whole thing was very cool, but bizarre too. She stretched my back, neck, arms and legs in ways I never thought possible, and it felt great. I didn't have a touch of soreness the next day, which tells me she really knew what she was doing.  I walked back to the hotel, totally relaxed and feeling loose. 

We visited several Wats in Chiang Mai. The architecture is amazing. It's so intricate and beautiful.

Our last day in Chiang Mai we arranged for a car to pick us up and take us the Wat at the top of the mountain. The traffic was terrible getting out of the city, but the drive up the mountain was beautiful. She dropped us off and we took the cable car up to the top. We walked around the Wat and other buildings. They were beautiful! And because of the King's birthday there were some stunning displays of flowers. They were very impressive, and I took lots of photos.  Of course, because it was a holiday weekend, the entire place was packed!    The photo below (of the flowers)... you need to click on it and look at the detail. All that green stuff-- those are leaves folded into amazing shapes and forms. They were incredible! 

We took the cable car back down, and waited for our driver to pick us back up. It was around lunch time so we got some food from some street vendors. A cup of strawberries, two pieces of fried chicken, and some spicy meatballs on a skewer.  She picked us up a few minutes later and we started our drive down the mountain. Leo was very sleepy, and was starting to fall asleep on my lap. He wanted a bottle of milk, but I hesitated to give it to him because he just had a full juice. Well, I did give him the milk, hoping that it would put him to sleep. The road was very curvy, and Leo was looking very sleepy when all of a sudden....   bleghhhhhhhh.    He vomited 12 ounces of milk/juice all over me. It was all over him, all over Sleepy G, and all down my shirt. I cupped my hands around the liquid, trying to keep it contained, and Jack yelled at the driver to pull over.  What a mess!  We used about 100 baby wipes to clean ourselves off, and luckily we had our suitcases in the trunk so we could change our shirts. But poor Sleepy G was dripping wet. So gross! We tied him up in a bag until we could wash him.  Poor little Leo. A full tummy and curvy mountain roads do not mix well!  Luckily, he felt fine after that. We stopped at a Silk factory and got to see how they make silk. It was fascinating. And it was fun to see all the different colors of silk lined up on the shelf. Beautiful!

From there we drove to the airport, and got dropped off for our 5:30 flight. We had some dinner at a restaurant, and the food was really good, which is always surprising for an airport.  It was an hour flight back to Bangkok. We dropped Leo off at the Crawfords so they could watch him for a couple of days while Jack and I had a little getaway. We flew down to Krabi, which is in southern Thailand, on the western shore of the Andaman Sea. This is a very touristy area, and the coast is lined with huge hotels and fancy beach resorts. But on the opposite side of the street are small local restaurants, tourist shops, massage shops, and shanty towns where the locals live.

Along the coast there are dozens of islands with high-cliffed sides, which are really just large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea.  Apparently there are 154 of these islands in the Andaman Sea, but only a handful are populated.

 We are staying at the Nakamanda Resort. The resort is made up of dozens of little villas that cover the sloping hillside down to the water. There are lovely fountains, ponds,palm trees, orchids, jasmine, and every sort of tropical plant. It is an amazingly beautiful setting. And our villa was incredible.  Everything was dark teak wood, with a soapstone tiled bathroom and steam shower. There is a large bathtub with skylight above and on either side- pools of water with water lillies growing in them. Our king-size bed looked out a large window with a view of the tropical gardens.  Just outside our room was an outdoor terrace with a large lounging cushion and pillows, with a ceiling fan overhead. This is definitley the nicest place we have ever stayed. And the service was amazing! We spent lots of time at the pool, reading our books, taking leisurely naps, and walking on the beach.  It was heavenly.

For our second day in Krabi we went scuba diving. The boat took us out to the Phi Phi islands, which took about 2 hours to get to. We did two different dives, off some coral reefs next to some of the islands. The dives were great. We loved seeing all the different shapes of coral. The colors were not as vibrant as those we saw in Belize, but lovely nonetheless. We also loved the neon colored fish.  Our second dive was by another island nearby, and was about an hour long. It is so cool to be under the water, and to see all the fish and coral up close.  We saw a sea turtle, and a Black Tipped Reef shark. 

We showered and then headed out for dinner, determined to find some authentic food.  We found the most hole-in-the-wall place, with only locals eating there, and sat down. We ordered 3 things that we haven't tried before, and they were all amazing!  We had a papaya salad-  unripe papaya is shreaded and covered with a sweet, spicy vinagrette and roasted peanuts. Yum!  And we had some sort of creamy coconut milk curry, and a whole fish that was deep fried with minced shallots, green onions, and an amazing sauce.  We loved all of it.  And our tolerance for spiciness seems to have increased since being here.  (It's a good thing too- because everything is delicious!) The Thais are masters at balancing sweet, spicy, and sour in their cooking. All the ingredients are fresh and it's been so fun to try new dishes every day. 

We flew back to Bangkok and picked up Leo. Then we flew home, with an overnight layover in Japan, which was fun.   It was a VERY long flight after that, but we are so glad to be home now.

Now we're just trying to adjust to the time change, and sleep during the night, instead of being wide awake...


We made our yearly pilgrimage to California for Thankgiving. We camped at the beach with my extended family and had a great time, as ususal. The weather was pretty warm, and sunny. We enjoyed taking bike rides, walking along the beach, and exploring the tide pools.

Leo had a great time splashing in the water, playing in the sand, and hanging out with his cousin Bridger.