Tuesday, February 4, 2020

2019 Christmas Card Challenge

To celebrate the fact that we finally announced who won last year's challenge, it is with joyous pomp and circumstance that we hereby proclaim the opening of the 2019 Christmas Card Challenge.

Listen, we're capable of taking better photos than this, but we choose not to share them.

This year, as with all previous years, the cards have been hung at random with a single piece of tightly rolled masking tape adhered to the middle of each card. As we are no longer in Thailand, where the humidity turns every adhesive into construction-grade cement, we hope for an exciting, speedy event, with lots of losers off the top. I cannot describe the pleasure in hearing a card flop to the ground. It is truly magical.

Best of luck to you and yours,

Jane and Phil
The Christmas Card Challenge:

Monday, February 3, 2020

2018 Christmas Card Challenge Winners!!!!

And the winners of the fifth annual Jane and Phil Christmas Card Challenge are:

The Alameda relatives!

Hanging in glory up there on the Thai wall.

Now, a word about this win. It actually happened back in June 2019. Devotees of our family know that we were in the midst of a PCS during that time, otherwise known as hauling a** out of Bangkok for our next post in Budapest with a summer-long pitstop in America. Phil was alone in Bangkok when the deciding card fell. I asked him to send me a photo. He did, and I never did anything with it. 

Fortunately, wonderfully, I was able to find the photo on my phone last week. I wasn't actually able to download it anymore, due to the content having expired, or something like that. I chose the next best option, screenshotting it so I could prove up on the blog. I cropped out some of the screenshot, but left the little icons at the bottom as evidence. 

Many congratulations to the champions of the 2018 Christmas Card Challenge. Your winnings, as is typical for us, will arrive later than expected, if expected, and unexpectedly, if unexpected. 

For a look back at how the 2018 Challenge began, click HERE. To fall down a rabbit hole of Christmas Card Challenges, start HERE.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Boy, it is hard to sit down and write. The amount of backlog I need to work through on the blog is a real deterrent. I've heard that the best way to start writing is to start writing. To that end, I spent the last half hour composing a treatise on the business aspect of celebrity gossip, and its similarities to international diplomacy. Unfortunately for you, that is not what you'll be reading today. Instead, you get to read another "Lately" post that will be mostly photos with comments. I think that will set a nice foundation for everything else, and will be more fun for you. 

What I really hope to do, what I plan to do, is go back and fill in the blanks on our residence in Thailand. Rather than file things out of order, I think I'll backdate the posts to fit where they're supposed to fit chronologically. I'd ultimately like to turn this blog into a nice, readable history for our family. Recently, The Kid has told me a few times that he "can't remember that" when we talk about things he's done and seen. That bums me out. So, I'm going to force myself to sit down in front of this laptop and bang out some posts to make sure he has a reference of all the cool things that Phil's hard work, and wanderlust have birthed. On your end, that means you'll have to do some snooping if you want to see the things from our Thailand life that you haven't seen. Listen, a little exploring is good every now and then. It helps you hone your research skills, should you ever get really into celebrity gossip to the point that you're writing your magnum opus on it.

Lately, as in the past month or so,

We had our first, and so far only, snowstorm in Budapest. I made this snowman by myself. This is how I spend my time instead of working on any of my other, meaningful projects.

Parliament was pretty after the snow, but it's pretty anyway, so I don't think we can credit the snow.

We've been learning about Central European winter, and the creepy (at night), depressing (during the day) fog that it brings.

One of us attended The Nutcracker ballet, while the child and dog were at home with a babysitter, and the breadwinner was working in...Bosnia? I want to say Bosnia. The dancing was great. The sets were beautiful. The ballet was staged in three acts for some reason. Why three? Why not two? Is it really necessary to have two intermissions for The Nutcracker? The Erkel theatre is the temporary home of Budapest culture, while the Opera House undergoes renovations. It was fine.

We took the train to Austria. This is the station in Budapest. Pretty grand.

My sister, Anne, sent an outstanding fudge recipe, plus all the ingredients to make it. I originally intended to share it with friends, but it never left the house.

We celebrated HanukkAdvent. I made perfect latkes for the first time ever. I didn't write down the recipe, so it will never happen again.

The weather was rainy in the days before Christmas. Parliament looks pretty in the rain, but, again, I don't think it's the rain doing the work.

Phil performed his annual parental duty of hurriedly putting crap together on Christmas Eve.

He did a good job

I made the traditional Christmas morning breakfast of Ebleskivers...
...and overnight blueberry french toast.

On Boxing Day, we joined a thousand other people who also spontaneously decided to go walking in Normafa in the Buda hills. The wind was blowing, and it was very cold. Some of us don't tolerate cold well, and made it an unpleasant walk for the others. Once we were back in the car, sitting in the sunshine, I was a lot nicer.

We visited Memento Park, an open air museum with communist statues from around Hungary. The Kid volunteered to hold Bella's leash, which was mostly okay.  

That's it. That's all you get for now. Believe me when I say I have much more for you, including some cool shots from Memento Park, and plenty of the Parliament. Keep an eye out for backdated posts. Or don't. It's a new year. You do you. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Season's Greetings From...


A view of the Parliament building in downtown Pest.

Hopefully you're already aware that we've moved, and are living in Budapest. In case you are not aware, we've moved from Bangkok and are living in Budapest. We're working our way through the alphabet, post-wise: Athens, Bangkok, Budapest. We have a long way to go, although Phil is responsible for the office in Zagreb, so he’s already going from A to Z. 

Budapest is a city in the north of central Hungary that straddles the Danube River. It used to be two separate cities, Buda and Pest, but over time, they crawled into each other’s territory, so now it’s one big conglomerate. The correct pronunciation of the city is “Booduh Peshht,” with a “shhh” sound on the “pest” instead of a “pesstt” sound, like the sound of the word for what I’m being right now as I’m correcting your incorrect pronunciation. 

To be honest, I’m not sure the locals really care about your pronunciation. Or your presence. Or your existence, at all. Neither unfriendly, nor overly-eager, most people here just seem to want to politely mind their own business. It’s a relatively quiet city, especially for those of us in the Buda ‘burbs. There are a plethora of super nice playgrounds, and plenty of greenspace for the adult crowd, too. We’re still working our way around the main sites. We’re helped in that by the fact that the US Embassy is smack in the middle of a heavily-touristed square. The Embassy building itself features as part of the tour, but only from the outside. Sorry, normals. 

We’re finally starting to really settle into our living space. It took a while to sort out our furniture situation with the folks at housing. There’s actually still a giant unassembled wardrobe in the hallway. It’s starting to come together. Not the wardrobe. 

We have a massive backlog of photos and stories from the past...well, two years, if we’re being honest. There are still a few things I want to document from our final few months in Bangkok--our trips outside of Bangkok being the primary subjects. I also need to catch up on the things we’ve been doing since we landed here in September, including all of my baking. I can bake again. I'm back in the oven, baby! Baking was impossible in Bangkok. I know a few people who were able to do it, but I don’t understand how, unless it was through magic. I could see that. 

Until our next marathon catch up session, wishing you a lovely holiday season.

St. Stephen's Basilica, with Christmas market, in downtown Pest.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On Home Leave

We're currently on home leave. It's been an extended home leave for the three of us who are unemployed, and a regular home leave for our benefactor. He's going to HQ this weekend for a month of training and "consultations," which refers to meetings with higher-ups, and time used to do all the crap you have to do before they export you again. We both have to renew our driver licenses in person, which is what I've been most looking forward to on this home leave. What's more American than the DMV?

We've been up to all sorts of things since we've been here, to the point that I've spent no time on the blog, and in fact forgot to renew the domain name in time. Big thanks to my sister, Kate, who let me know that it had expired. And thanks to everyone else who didn't attempt to purchase it. I'm sure it was a close call.

I have been sporadically instagramming some of our adventures from my new phone. It's a Samsung, so the photos are slightly better quality than the off-brand phone I was using before. Solid content, really. 

Here's a cultural thing I'd sort of forgotten--the sheer volume of sugar cereal options. Also, Oreo flavors. Yikes, man.

We miss all of our friends in Thailand. We are happy to be with our friends here. We're grieving the loss of Thai mangoes. We're enjoying the U.S. nectarines. We're glad to be away from the constant noise and traffic of Bangkok. We're not thrilled to be in a nation that gets off on widespread gun ownership. There are tradeoffs in the foreign service lifestyle. They're often on stark display during home leave. We're mostly enjoying the ride, and looking forward to our upcoming experiences. For now, more Oreos.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Bangkok Graffiti

When I was a kid, I couldn't decide on a favorite color. When people asked, I'd say, "Rainbow." Part of that is probably a deep-seated issue with commitment, but I also just really love color. When we'd drive around, one of my favorite things to do was look at colorful graffiti. The majority of it was crappy little tags, and misspelled profanities. Who knew four letter words could be so difficult? Every once in a while, there'd be a really great graffiti piece to make all the rest worthwhile.

I don't pretend to have any actual knowledge of graffiti, because I'm too busy pretending to know about street art. I have a completely uninformed interest in both, primarily based on the fact that they are often colorful, and I really love color (see above). I know there is a difference between graffiti and street art, but if you asked me to explain it, I'd be lost. I also don't know the terminology, or the writers/artists. I am a fraud.

Nonetheless, it turns out that I can still pick out the good stuff. Bella and I went for a walk along the canal today to see if there was any new paint. Boy, howdy. A famous (infamous?) graffiti writer/artist from Brooklyn is currently showing some of his works in a gallery exhibition in Bangkok. I guess he and his also-famous buds had some time and paint, because they left an awesome back to back piece along the canal wall. I wasn't able to capture the full effect, and I also missed an entire panel on one end, but here it is!

"Got the Urge," by UFO907, CHIP7, and the MAYHEM crew:


I couldn't have written this post without the guys' clear signature tags that my ignorant enthusiast eyeballs were able to decipher; Google, for telling me how big of a deal they are; Bangkok's big, ugly walls that are ripe for painting; and the graffiti writers/artists who turn ugly into rainbow. Thanks, everybody!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Return to Khao Lak

Well, it's been a bit, hasn't it? I'm still sitting here with a backlog of Thailand posts, and our time in the country is evaporating. I'm going to try to bang these out quickly. "Please excuse typos," is one of my least favorite email signature lines, but please excuse typos. I want to get this done. 

In January, Auntie Kate came to visit, and we all flew to Khao Lak. We were in Khao Lak last May, but wanted to return to go scuba diving at one of the top dive sites in the world. As luck would have it, I did some undetermined bad thing to my ear, maybe while diving in Hawaii, and still have unresolved issues with it. I was not able to dive. Phil was still able to go, and assured me that it was only in his Top 2 favorite dives, with piles of coral, and cascading "fish waterfalls," so I probably didn't miss much. He didn't take any underwater photos, and obviously neither did I, but if you want to see what he saw, you can google "Richelieu Rock," and think condolingly of me. 

We all really enjoyed the beach this time around, and we all, minus the child, were stung by bluebottles at least once. Those two things don't seem compatible, but a good beach can compensate for a lot. 

We stayed at the Centara resort. It's family-friendly, and the breakfast buffet is great. They had a little waffle bar for kids. I made one for my kid for me. Centara also has a nice spa. Kate wanted to do a sister spa day, so she booked an appointment for us. It was supposed to be the "New Year, New You" package. It turned out to be a couples massage. It was interesting.

Here are three photos of the Khao Lak light beacon in front of the resort. You don't need three photos, but you're getting them.

On our last full day in Khao Lak, we went to the Sea Turtle Conservation Center. The center is run by the Royal Thai Navy, with assistance from volunteers and donations. It was founded in the '90s, though the original turtle conservation program was created by Queen Sirikit in the late 1970s. The goal is to increase sea turtle populations in Thailand. They do this by providing a protected environment for hatchlings, and by rehabilitating injured turtles. They have lots of pools with turtles, most of which will be released into the wild.

This is not a real turtle.

These are real turtles.

These are older, real turtles.

These are volunteers cleaning a turtle. 

Like most coastal areas in Phang Nga province, the base was inundated during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. There is a boat memorial at the entrance to the turtle conservation center.

The names of the tsunami victims are written on the plaque.

The naval base was fairly easy to access. It was a short, pretty drive from the checkpoint to the turtle conservation center. The center itself is not too large, but has plenty of turtles to see. My favorite were the really old, rehab turtles. When they came up for air in the pools, they made a really loud "shhhppppoooooooosh" sound, similar to the "whoosh" noises that horses make on land, except underwater. It was so cool.

We spent our last night on the beach, enjoying low tide, and sunset lighting. Kate and I played in the waves, until it started to get a little too dark, and a little too creepy-seaweed-touching-my-foot-y. We had a great time.

Our first trip to Khao Lak was in the off season. A lot of shops were closed. I was worried that the crowds would be unbearable when we returned during the high season, but it was surprisingly not too bad. I think Khao Lak still hasn't hit the big radar yet, or not in the same way that Phuket has. I'm worried it will soon. They just filmed The Bachelor there. So help me, if The Bachelor is what ruins Khao Lak...