On the beach

Ann mentioned in the last post that we were apart for a bit. Want to know where I am? Does this give you a hint?

090123 Pattaya

Will you believe I'm here to work, not play? Seriously. C'mon, you gotta believe me.

It Feels Like Home

Well I (Ann) finally feel like I am home. Why? Thanks for asking! I was able to make cookies yesterday. If you have ever heard my husband talk about my cookies you know that he married me for them. I had not been able to make cookies for the last 4 months, so I knew that he was needing some. We also have a rule in the house when we are apart there must be cookies around. Since he was leaving for a couple weeks, I knew I needed to send some with him. So last Thursday I decided to try to make them. This is my post about making cookies in our new country.

Here is the recipe I used:

3/4 c butter-flavored Crisco
1 1/4 c brown sugar
2 Tb milk
2 Tb vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 ts salt
3/4 ts baking soda
1 1/2 c dark chocolate chips

I had brought from the States butter-flavored Crisco sticks, dark chocolate chips, and a 9x13 baking pan. So I needed to find everything else locally.

First we had to go shopping for the ingredients. I had milk, eggs, flour and salt on hand. We had to find brown sugar, vanilla, and baking soda. On our first trip we found brown sugar and baking powder at one store. On our second trip to a different store we found sodium bicarbonate, which is another name for baking soda, and vanilla. We also bought a mixing bowl to mix everything in. So now we have everything.

By this time it is Tuesday of the following week. I first looked at the oven. How do I turn it on? James, do you know how? No, then lets call someone. Ok, we have learned how to do that. But everything is in Celsius so what temperature is that?

By Wednesday I am set to make the cookies. I measure everything first. Why are there chunks in the brown sugar? The molasses was not totally mixed in. I had to sift the brown sugar and the flour. When I crack the eggs, I had to crack them over a bowl to make sure they are ok, since they are not refrigerated. I was finally able to get everything mixed and ready. Now for cooking. How hot is the oven? 170 looks about right to me. But there is no timer on this stove, so I guess on that, too. The first batch was a guessing and timing game, but I finished it and decided to double the next one.

Finally over 7 dozen cookies are ready to eat and enjoy.

Now we are home!!!

What is it? Water heater

Our 3rd "What is it?" was also a bit challenging, as some but not all of our commenters got it right. When we moved in, we didn't have any hot water in our kitchen sink--we still don't in our bathroom sinks. This picture is the hot water heater and tank for the kitchen sink; there's no concept of a central hot water heater supplying the entire house around here.

So, if you're the one responsible for washing dishes at your house, you're probably thinking, "Dude! That's barely enough water to fill up the sink!" Yep, that's about right. We wash dishes one sinkful at a time. But at least we have hot water now and don't have to boil water to wash the dishes. That's a blessing.

090111 Kitchen

Hmm, that's different.

A Yellow and White Flower

Being tropical, it shouldn't surprise you that there are many very beautiful plants and flowers in Thailand. Although there are not many plants and flowers in our yard--it is a rental after all--our neighborhood is full of beauty. Emmy and I have decided to try and capture this beauty, so this is the first of many flower posts.

090116 Yellow white flower

What is it? There's white powder in here

Ok, here's the latest round of "What is it?" Once again my only clue is that it's in the kitchen. As always, leave a comment with your guess.

090111 Kitchen

Hmm, that's different.

Definition: Conundrum

Last week we made a rookie mistake: We left an empty cup of koolaid on the kitchen table. By morning: ants everywhere. They're these little bittie ants, the smallest ones I've ever seen. We had in 'em in the dining room, the living room, and the kids' bathroom. We weren't having any luck getting rid of them.

Not long after that, I spotted a gecko on the living room wall, a small gecko. It scampered away quickly, and I lost track of it. Until this morning. I was sweeping in the living room and suddenly I swept that gecko out into the middle of the room. It froze, so Jacen trapped it under a bowl. That's when we realized we hadn't seen any ants the last 2 or 3 days.

You see the connection? Geckos eat ants (and other bugs). So long as the gecko lives in the living room, no ants. But so long as the gecko lives in the living room, well, there's a gecko living (and pooping) in the living room. Hence the conundrum.

Ann, of course, solved the conundrum. She tossed the gecko out on its ear. I managed to get a picture of the little guy before she did. (The fuzzy stuff on its foot is dust, the reason I was sweeping in the first place.)

090118 Living room gecko

Sorry the picture isn't better. Once Ann buys me a nice macro lens...

Definition: Disconcerting

We went to a Home Pro store tonight; it's kinda like a Home Depot or a Lowe's Home Improvement store. When we went in, there were like 8 employees in their happy orange uniforms standing around and waiting for customers; they wai'd us (the Thai way of bowing) as we pushed through the throng. Everywhere we went, there were more employees, most of whom were standing around and looking at us with pleading expressions that begged for a chance to help us. In a Home Depot in the States, it usually takes me 10 or 15 minutes to get someone to help; not here. I swear, there must have been 150 employees in that store, and if we were lucky, there were 10 people shopping. It was totally disconcerting. We didn't buy anything. But it was a really nice store.

What is it? Water bottle holder and dispenser

It seems our 2nd "What is it?" was more difficult, but not impossible, as someone guessed what the metal wire dealy was. We have tapwater coming from the faucets, but not even the local people will drink it. So we have to get bottled water. The cheapest way to do it is to have a company deliver the bottles to the house. We put empty bottles by the front gate in the morning (with money attached to them) and by the evening we have full bottles of water. It cost 22 Baht (about 60 cents) for each refill. To get the water out of the bottles, we use our water bottle holder and dispenser. It's a bit of a pain, and more than a little water has made it onto the floor, but at least we have clean water for drinking and coffee and cooking! We count that as a blessing.

090111 Kitchen

Hmm, that's different.

My Thai House: The Right Half of the Kitchen

Ok, you've already seen the living room and the dining room, so we're moving on to the kitchen. Many Thais don't have kitchens at all (remember, it's often cheaper to eat out than to cook in), and those that do either have small kitchens or (sometimes) outdoor kitchens. So in the grand scheme of things, we're blessed to have a fairly decent-sized kitchen. It's still small by our standards, but it works. Yes, the fridge and the stove are small. Yes, the cabinets are low, and I bang my head. Yes, the counters are way too short for me (they're even too short for Ann). But they are sufficient; in fact, they are more than sufficient. So we're grateful for what we do have.

The picture below is one-half of the kitchen. It has the fridge, the stove, and some counter space. The right door goes to the center of the house; the left to the outside. The funny part is the small sliding glass window, which heads into the dining room. I don't really know why it's there, except maybe to pass food to the table. I do know that one day I stood in the dining room, slid the window order, and hollered in to Ann that I wanted a hamburger and fries, and that did NOT work.

090111 Kitchen

What is it? A white, box thingy

Here's the next installment of "What is it?" The only clue I'm giving is that it's in the kitchen. Put your guesses and hypotheses in the comments section.

090111 Kitchen

The Daily Battle: Dust

To live here in Chiang Mai is to constantly fight dust. It's a very fine, powdery kind of dust, and it comes in every day and gets on everything. One of my goals is to sweep and mop at least one room a day. At least it's easy to sweep and mop, because we have these beautiful wooden floors. There are no carpets in our house, nor in any of the houses we've been in so far.

Definition: Irony

Ann and I spent 40 Baht (about 70 cents) for dinner (2 pork sausages on a stick with some cabbage), and then we spent 180 Baht (about 5 dollars) for a Venti Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino.

What is it? Yep, it's a shoe rack

Ok, apparently our first "What is it?" was way too easy, cause everyone guessed right. In Thailand, they don't wear their shoes into the house or the office. I suppose it has to do with all the dust and dirt that tends to accumulate as we walk around. In any case, shoes are left outside or put on racks, and then we go barefoot or wear other inside-only shoes in the house. So this is what our shoe rack normally looks like. We all have flip-flops, too, but we leave those on the front porch.

090110 Living Room

Hmm, that's different.

My Thai House: The Stove

Much like the fridge, the stove is rather small by US standards. Hopefully the coffee mug will give you some perspective as to how small it is. The burners are gas; the oven electric.

090111 Kitchen

Hmm, that's different.

My Thai House: The Fridge

Thais don't cook at lot at home; it's generally cheaper to eat out than to cook in. We've heard that many Thai houses don't even have a kitchen. Our house does have a kitchen; in fact, the landlord knocked out a wall to make it even bigger. But many things in the kitchen are still smaller than we're used to. Case in point #1: the refrigerator.

090111 Kitchen

Notice of the cabinets above the fridge; yeah, I've banged my 6'1" head on them more than once.

What is it? A metal wire dealy

When we arrived, we found this work of art in our kitchen, sitting on the floor. What is it?

090111 Kitchen

Office 2008 for Mac Podcast

We have a TV. But all the channels are in Thai. So we use iTunes and subscribe to a bunch of video podcasts. It's not exactly the same as cable TV, but it works. One of the more interesting podcasts I found was the Office 2008 for Mac podcast. I've found these short show to be quite informative, typically teaching me stuff I didn't know you could do in Office. So fire up your copy of iTunes and do a search for Office 2008 for Mac.

What video podcasts do you subscribe to?

My Thai House: Distinguishing Characteristics

I think there are two things that are highlights or distinguishing characteristics of our new house. The first is the windows. There are many large windows and all have screens. These serve to allow as much of a breeze as possible to flow through the house. It's a tropical climate here, after all.

090110 Living Room

The second is the floor. The entire floor, except the bathrooms and kitchen, have this nice, dark wooden paneling floor. Even the stairs have it. It's really quite beautiful. It's also easy to sweep and mop, which have to be done regularly (lots of dust during the dry season).

What is it? Not a magazine rack

Ann had a great idea while driving yesterday. (Yes, in fact, much to my surprise Ann *does* remember how to drive a stick, and she did quite well, even driving on the main highway near our house.) Instead of telling you everything we are experiencing here in sunny Thailand, we're going to occasionally let you guess.

We brought a couple boxes of books with us to Thailand, so when we began to look around our new house, we immediately wondered if there were any bookshelves. I quickly found this piece of furniture in the living room near the front door. I thought it was a small bookshelf, until I looked closer at the lower shelves. They are angled, reminding me of the magazine shelves at a library.

So, what is it? Leave your guesses, good, bad, or ugly, in the comments section. I'll wait a few days and then reveal the answer.

090110 Living Room

(To avoid some rabbit trails, the power cord you see behind it is neither connected nor related to the furniture.)

My Thai House: We have a Hilux

Yeah, I've never heard of a Hilux before either. It's a Toyota. The inside is laid out a lot like my old Sienna van. Well, except that everything that's supposed to be on the left side is on the right side and vice versa. It seats 5 and has a cover over the bed. It has a turbo charger and will definitely get up and go; I've already had it up to 105. Hah! Got you, that's km/hr, which is only 65 mph. And it's a diesel.

That's all the good news. The bad news is that it's kinda big. Now I know what you're thinking, "It's a truck; big is good." I hear you. But this is Thailand. And there are mopeds everywhere. And the roads are often narrow. And traffic rules and road signs are more like suggestions than requirements. A smaller, more nimbler vehicle would be a bit less risky.

Still, we're extremely glad to have any sort of vehicle. Chiang Mai doesn't have any sorta mass transit system; no buses, no subways, no trains. Yes, they have tuk-tuks and song-tows, but these are more like taxis, and they pretty much hang around the downtown area. And we live out in the suburbs. So we need a vehicle to get around, and we've very grateful to have one.

090118 Front yard

My Thai House: Our garbage...uh...box?

We don't have garbage cans in our neighborhood. There is a method for putting the trash out, it's just not in a can, but rather, well, in a box-like-sorta-thing build into our gate wall. You open this box from the inside and put the trash bags in--cardboard is kept separate--and then someone comes, opens the box from the outside, and hauls off the trash. The cost of trash pickup is determined by the amount of trash we have. We have to buy these specially-marked bags and use them; they won't pick up any other bags.

090118 Front yard

My Thai House: Gated driveway

The side and back yards are walled in, but the front yard has a metal fence, which includes a sliding gate for the driveway. We open and close this whenever we come or go. There's a spot for a padlock as well. Note the bell and the mailbox on the post.

090118 Front yard

Hmm, now that's different.

I feel like a child

On the one hand, I'm feeling immensely proud of myself. Someone had given us directions to a CarreFour store, so we set out to find it. We had never been that direction before, but we still found it, no problem. Granted, it was pretty much a straight shot to get there, no fancy navigating required. Still, we did something on our own.

On the other hand, I feel like a child. We walk up and down the food aisles and look at all the stuff they're selling, and honestly, I don't know what it is. I don't know what it's made of, what to make with it, how to cook with it, nothing. Even when they give English subtitles, and they often do, I'm still clueless. It's like starting life all over again.

So what's a CarreFour store like? This one is pretty new, and it's really nice, similar to Target, I suppose, but way nicer and fancier. I really liked it, and I suspect we'll go back frequently.

My Thai House: the front door

I've never had a front door like this, a three-part deal. They first part is the double, wooden doors, which both open wide and have these connectors at the bottom, which connect to the house to keep them open. The second part is a pair of screen doors. A/C is so expensive, so there are large, screened windows everywhere. It's nice this time of year. The third part is a set of nice curtains, which is where you get privacy when you want it.

090107 Front door

Hmm, now that's different.

A pineapple cost how much?

Yeah, we bought a whole, fresh pineapple yesterday for $0.20. It was yummy in pineapple chicken stirfry and as fresh fruit.

My Thai House: The front yard

Ok, this should be the first of many posts about our new house. Since we're now in a new country, I've started a new Flickr site, where you can see pictures of our new house.

090107 Front of house

Driving around town

A friend came to take us around town and show us where to go to get some shopping done. And they wanted me to get used to driving here. Did I mention they drive on the wrong side of the road here? Did I mention they put the steering wheel on the wrong side, too? Did I mention it's been about 5 years since I've driven a stick? Did I mention I've never driven a stick left-handed?

Well, anyhow, off we went. We drove around all afternoon, and I didn't kill a single moped driver. That's a good start. I did drive on the wrong side of the road once, but fortunately it was while we were still in our neighborhood and no one else was around. You want to know what I did all day long? I turned on the windshield wipers whenever I went left or right. The truck is a little Toyota, so it looks the same as our Sienna, but the deal on the steering column that has the wipers and the one that has the turning signal are reversed. So every time I changed lanes or turned, I turned the wipers on. I think that's going to take a while to get used to. Otherwise, I guess I did ok.

There are bunches of mopeds here. And they don't observe any traffic rules. They ride in between the lanes while the cars are driving in the lanes. They weave in and out of lanes without signaling or checking to see where the cars are. At a light, they all drive up to the front of the line and zoom off like a swarm of bees when the light goes green. It's crazy. No wonder there are so many accidents with mopeds. I've been discouraged from buying and driving a moped, and now I know why. I think I'll listen to the advice I've been given.

Our shopping was, by-and-large, successful. We got a lot of stuff we need. Shopping's not necessarily so hard--once you know where the right stores are--but it's really time consuming, because you go to this store to get the best beef, and this other store to get the best coffee, and this other part of town to get computer parts, and so on. It takes a long time to get what you need. They have some Wal-Mart-like stores--we went to a Tesco Lotus, which was pleasant--but many items are better found somewhere else.

In some ways, it's like being in the Middle Ages. You know how some medieval town markets grouped merchants together? The gem-sellers were here, the silver merchants were there, the leather products were somewhere else. It's like that here. So when we looking for some computer accessories, we went to the computer part of town. There were (at least) three mini-malls in a row, all full of little stores selling computer stuff. It's pretty cool--if only my wife would give me more time to look around! But we got a mouse pad, a surge-spike protector, and looked at a UPS--the power goes out randomly around here, I'm told.

Overall, it was a successful day shopping!


Getting net access was really easy, mostly because a friend had an account and modem already setup and waiting for us. It's an ADSL connection, so I plugged it into the phone line, added Time Capsule, connected the iMac, turned on and secured the wireless network, and finally added Ann's laptop. Easy as pie.

Curious about my connection speed, another friend directed me to speedtest.org. Connecting to their Atlanta server, I'm getting 1750 kbps up and 580 down. Not good, but not bad. We tested a video Skype to my folks back home, and that worked pretty well, which surprised and pleased me. So far so good.


I read a security article a while back about a company who wanted to install stress-measuring devices at the security checkpoints in airports. The idea was that a genuine bad guy who is trying to smuggle a bomb or something onto a plane would be really stressed out when going through security, and these devices would be able to detect this stress, thus leading (so they claimed) to his capture. If the airports we went through had had this system, it would have flagged me as a bad guy. Visualize the four of us going through security...

Ok, where's the passports? Put the right boarding pass in each one. Take your coats off, kids, and put them here. Now take your shoes off and put them here. Ok, get these carry-ons onto the belt. What? All electronic devices must be taken out? Oh, jeez, I've got a Time Capsule and a Wii in there. Which bags where they in? Where's the keys? That's right, I put my keys and watch and ring in my coat pocket. Oh no! I already put my coat through the scanner. Ann, here, hold the passports. Now you go first to make sure no one scarfs our stuff on the other side. Ok, kids, hand me your bags. Now you two go through the scanner. Put the carry-on bags through the scanner. Put the personal bags through. Put the laptop and camera through. What? Why didn't you make it through the scanner, kids? Oh! Duh. I forgot the iPod in its little case on your belt. Sorry, mister-who-is-in-line-right-behind-me, I'll get all these bags through any minute now. (Really, didn't you see all our stuff? You shoulda chosen the other line, I think.) Ok, kids, back through the scanner. There, is that all the bags? Did I forget something? My turn through. Wait, where's my passport? Doh, I gave that to Ann, and she's on the other side. Oh, that lady on the other side of the doorframe has it. Whew. Thank you. Oh oh! Why is there a red light on that machine scanning our bags? Sure, I don't mind. You can take my daughter's bag over there and give it an extra special scan. Yes, I'd be very glad to stand exactly right here and not move and not reach out and grab the bag while you search it. Oh. Sigh. A water bottle from the last flight. I guess we forgot to take that out. I'm really sorry. Yes, it's totally our mistake, and we won't make it again. Yes, please feel free to re-scan the bag. Ok, so do we have all our stuff? Count the bags again. Count the kids again. Everyone get your shoes on. C'mon, let's move out of the way of the other passengers. Ok, let's repack Time Capsule and the Wii. Who's got the passports and boarding tickets? Where's my watch and ring again? Exhale. We made it. Now, where's our gate?

We did this in Norfolk, LA, and Bangkok. It was easily the most stressful part of the trip.

Details, details, details

I consider myself to be reasonably organized person. We've been preparing for months to get ready to move overseas. We've had list after list of all the things we needed to do for this move. And yet, somehow, inexplicably, when it came down to the last week, we still had a million things to do. Actually, it was about 60 things to do, yet it sure feels like a million when the deadline of an airplane departure to Thailand is breathing down your neck. Get the van ready to sell. Buy a couple last minute birthday gifts for Jacen--we do arrive on the day of his birthday after all--and a belt for me. Send thank you notes. Call a friend. Pay off a bill. Get enough cash for the trip. Repack the bags one last time. And so on. Somehow we got done on time. Barely. I can't quite imagine doing this and being unorganized.