Friday, December 15, 2017

Lately, and The Day the Phone Stood Still

You need a quick update of our lives. Contrary to what the title of this post suggests, I'm not going to start with the Lately. I'm going to start by telling you about my phone. I could change the title to reflect this, but it flows better the way it is. 

The Day the Phone Stood Still

A few weeks ago, I saw a notification pop up on my mobile. It said something about updating my wireless whatever. As a rule, I respond to technological updates with either apathy or paranoia. I ignored it for a few days, before I eventually realized that it really had been issued by my phone manufacturer. "No harm there," I thought. 

Well, the software engineers made a little whoopsie in coding the update. Everyone with my particular model of phone who installed the update got locked out. The phone repeatedly asked for a password, and declined all of them. The company's patch, while they scrambled to find a solution, was to tell their customers to complete a factory reset of their phones. That caused some bad feelings. 

Long story short, I was one of the people who decided not to wait for a solution. Fortunately, I'd copied all of my photos from July-September to my computer. Unfortunately, I lost everything after that point. Fortunately, Google automatically uploads my photos to my account. Unfortunately, they are not high resolution. Fortunately, I don't need high resolution for the blog. 

What you need to understand is that this story doesn't matter to you, and there's no reason for me to have told it.

One of the photos that was lost to the ravages of technology, yet also saved by the ravages of technology.


It's been a long time since we've given you a Lately. Let's do it.

Phil's enjoying work. The workload is bigger here, but is still basically 9-5. He hasn't had to travel as much so far, but he has been to Chiang Mai a few times, and was able to fly to London to help with the new embassy there. 

The Kid is getting taller, and it's weird. He babbles all the time now. He's currently babbling while he should be napping. I'd tell him to shut up and sleep, but then he'd know for sure that I'm sitting out here. 

Bella is doing what she always does, and she's doing it better than anyone else ever has.

I'm slowly getting our house in order, making friends, and meticulously documenting all the weird health complaints I've had into a document titled, "Everything Wrong With Me Daily." It may not be useful, but it is cathartic.

Here are some other things that are going on:

I bought a plant.

Bella found a good place to sleep.

We walked underneath these electrical wires and didn't die.

It rained on the pool.

I bought another plant.

I bought three more plants. 

Phil's family came to visit.

We went to the old capital, Ayutthaya. I took more pictures, and will show you later.

It rained and the street flooded.

I forgot about sweet potatoes, and found them a few months later.

I put up Halloween decorations.

I got sick on Halloween, and the decorations taunted me.

Thailand celebrated Loy Krathong, the full moon festival.

And we got to see the after-effects of all the krathong (rafts) they floated down the canal.

My mom came to visit.

We went to the late king's crematorium.

The Greece sponsored booth at a YMCA fundraiser was 90% Greek Mexican food products.

We decorated for Thanksgiving, then celebrated at a buffet.

Bella found a good place to sleep.

Thai strawberry season began.

I made and burned a pecan pie.

We found a new pizza place through a mommy Facebook group.

And those mommies knew what they were talking about.

Bella found a good place to sleep.

It rained on December.

I made a puffy omelette (souffle, in chef world).

We walked around the city a lot. 

When people live in exciting places, I usually assume they're doing exciting things. I think this post is a good reminder for all of us that Expats--They're Just Like Us! (except that I probably make a better puffy omelette than you, and that's not gloating, it's just reality). 

Hope you are all happy and well, and enjoying December!

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Jane and Phil Apartment Tour: Bangkok

What does our new house look like?

Before our stuff came, it looked like this:

After our stuff came, it looked like this:

When it's relatively organized, it looks like this:

But, let me start from the front door, and take you on an abbreviated e-tour.

This is our entryway. The cupboards to the left have shelves for shoes. They're slanted at an angle for that purpose. It's super inconvenient for storing anything other than shoes. I do it anyway, but I swear more than I would otherwise.

This is our living room and dining room. All of the furniture was landlord provided, with a few exceptions. The embassy provided the bookcases, which I haven't finished organizing, so cool it with your internal criticisms. They also provided the lamps, and the carpets. We're on the waiting list for a recliner, but I don't think it will happen. Most overseas housing is furnished, usually by the embassy. A few places are unfurnished, and it's a huge bummer for the people at those posts. Our friends had to make a costly investment in furniture for their latest European post. 

This is our kitchen. It's much smaller than the one we had in Athens. It's better not to compare your housing assignment to others, including your past homes, unless your current house is way better. If it is better, rub it in everyone's face.

The storage/counter space in our kitchen is limited. We don't have a dishwashing machine, but I am a dishwashing machine, and I'm incredible. Tap water in Bangkok meets all international health standards when it leaves the plant. By the time it gets to the house, it's been through a lot. The embassy provides filtered water for us. We use the filtered water for drinking and cooking. We use the tap water for everything else. We haven't died yet, so that's encouraging. The range is fueled by a propane tank (!) on the back balcony. 

Here's the back balcony. It's connected to the kitchen, and to the maid's entrance, which is a separate door from the main entrance. A lot of people (with money) in Bangkok have a live-in maid. The apartments in this building have separate maid's quarters, which consist of a very small bedroom and bathroom, off of this balcony.

This is the bathroom. The toilet is just out of frame to the right. There's a drain in the floor for the shower. There is no hot water. I don't know where you'd hang a towel. 
This is the bedroom. We've packed it full of our storage. It looks accommodating, but you could probably fit a full-sized bed in there, and nothing else. We've decided that this is where we'll put the bad guests.

We have no plans to hire a live-in maid. Our neighbor recommended a wonderful woman who comes to our house once a week to clean. The idea of a stranger coming into my house to clean up my messes while I watch was so triggering for my social anxiety, that I stayed up late the night before her first day, and made sure everything was as organized as possible for her. It was sort of like pre-gaming, but with housework. Within minutes of her first day, she had completely diffused my nervousness. She's great, and I like her a lot. I still have to do some pre-clean before her visits, but I'm hoping to wean myself of that entirely in another month or two. Baby steps.

Here's one of the spacious, indoor bedrooms. This is where we'll put the good guests. I moved one of the twins from the other room into this room, and made one giant bed. It's fun.

This is The Kid's room. It's a work in progress, and he couldn't care less about my efforts. Toddler room decor is a thankless task.

This is the grand bedroom, with the other twin from Kid's room. It's the lightest room in the house.

Here is one of the bathrooms. We have five, if you count that grim one with the shower on the wall. I never in my life imagined I'd be living in a place with five bathrooms. I can't go back to the real world after this. Three of the bathrooms have tubs and showers. The fourth is a nice water closet off the entryway. The fifth one is the grim one.

Housing can be one of the most contentious things about the foreign service lifestyle, both in the broader community, and within families. Most posts allow you to list your preferences, but the final decision is left to the housing board. Sometimes, you don't find out where you're living, until you're a month away from living there. Sometimes, you have to move after you've already arrived at post. It can be hard to plan ahead when you're not sure what your housing situation is going to be. People become really nasty over what they do and don't get.  I guess it's understandable, but I think sometimes we all need to knock it off with the sense of entitlement. There are people with genuine cause for concern, and then there are just whiners. If you choose this lifestyle, steer clear of the latter, and try to avoid becoming one yourself. 

Overall, we're happy with our housing. We're in a great location. We have killer amenities. We have plenty of space. We're safe. We have shelter. And we have four great bathrooms (plus one grim one)!  

You can't argue with that view.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Card Challenge 2017: The Year of the Double Duel

The holidays are upon us. For you, that means finding a light, well-balanced, sticky card in the hope that when we tape it to our wall at the beginning of the year, it will outlast the others.

Yes, The Christmas Card Challenge truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

You may be wondering who won last year's Challenge. The truth is, we all lost. I stuck the cards on the wall, per usual, and waited for them to fall. None of them did. Eventually, we had to move. I wanted to leave the cards up, and require the next tenants to keep a live feed on the wall at all times, to ensure it was above-board, but I was vetoed. Instead, I packed up the cards, and hauled them to Bangkok. I was initially planning to tape the cards to the wall as soon as we arrived, using the original tape, which I saved by fastidiously covering each piece with a little bit of wax paper. I packed the cards in my carry-on luggage for that purpose. 

I didn't get around to it until last week.

The good news is that you all received a new lease on contest life, with a fresh piece of tape. The bad news is that one of you has already fallen. The best news is that we will be running two simultaneous Christmas card challenges in 2018. 

Cannot wait to crown the 2016 and 2017 Christmas Card Challenge champions. Let the games begin!

The 2016 contestants in Bangkok, before one took the fall.
HERE's a succinct overview of The Challenge, for those who need a reminder.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Leftovers: Home Leave

We spent the entire month of July on vacation. It felt wealthy. Phil's required to take home leave in order to "undergo reorientation and re-exposure" to the United States. I'm not making that up, that's actually in State Department regulations. 3 FAM 3431.1. I'm a lawyer.

When Phil finishes two years worth of continuous work overseas (or one year, if he's in a really crappy place), and is heading immediately to another international post, he has to pop back home for at least 20 days to make sure he stays American (my words). I'm not required to go with him, but I do it anyway, because it's convenient. 

You might laugh at the idea of an American having to reintegrate to American culture. I did, too, but I'm starting to understand it. Culture shock works all ways, even when the culture was yours to begin with. It was actually a pretty interesting experience to return stateside, so I'll save it for a time when I feel like writing better. Today, I no write real good, k?

Phil and I both got new phones at the start of our home leave. It embarrasses me to admit this, but I didn't realize I still had the protective film on my camera until the end of our trip (and yet, I kept wondering why all my photos were turning out a little hazy). See if you can figure out when I figured it out.

Annual rice krispie flags. Kate helped me this year. I just get better and better at these, don't I?

We started out at home in Utah for the Fourth of July. We participated in the neighborhood parade, with an awesome carousel wagon float that my sister designed. It would have worked beautifully, if one of the foam board horses hadn't done a bunk and flipped upside down in the first 10 yards. After the fourth, my sisters, mom, and I went to our extended family's property in Wyoming. You don't need to know where.

Bella in the window in Wyoming.

This cat, who my niece named "Cat," showed up on the property during our first evening. She stayed outside, lurking, until we came out, then harassed us until we gave her love and attention. She eventually won over every member of our party, though none of us could personally adopt her. My mom and sister took her to a local vet, who was unable to find a microchip, but agreed that she was a family cat, and had probably been dumped by said family. My aunt, a devoted reader of this humble publication, very kindly agreed to provide food and board. Cat's been roaming my aunt's neighborhood since then--happily, we assume, because there are way more people to harass where she is now.

The property.

On the road.

We came back from Wyoming, and attended the opening of my cousin's bakery. Our grandma used to host an annual grandgirls Christmas party, and baking was a big feature of it. We all loved baking with Grandma, but Jorden baked with her year-round. Shortly after Grandma died, Jorden purchased a food truck. She sold a lot of goods, but got tired of hauling herself around. She found a permanent location this year, and is absolutely crushing it at Poppies Bakery & Cafe. I'm so proud of her, and so angry that I can't eat here more often. It's good. It ought to be. Jorden has years of experience.

You can find Poppies in Salt Lake City at 1751 S 1100 E. You can check out her goods on instagram @poppiesbakeryslc. HERE's her website. She does custom orders.

At this point in our home leave, Phil and I split up to take on Arizona and California, respectively. He got to see the Grand Canyon, and I got to see my California relatives. I also made a triumphant return to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my kid, my sister, my niece, and another cousin. We had a blast.

The jellies are the most photogenic. You can barely tell that there's a protective film on my camera lens.

These aren't jellies, but I decided to break it up a bit.

I sat in this room for a long time. It's like a lava lamp, but with fish.

There's a seal in this picture. The first person who tells me where it is gets a prize. I don't know what the prize is yet. TBD.

We stayed with our great aunt and uncle in their Bay Area home. I love it there, because of them. It's my third home.

I also like the street art. We all remember that I once wrote an "A" graded paper on street art and the law, right? Should I just publish that thing on here, so we can all crow over how smart I am about street art and law?

After Calizona, Phil and I went to Wyoming again, with Anne and Brandon. We took a guided whitewater tour of the Snake River. I can't show you that, because I wasn't willing to pay the $20 personal use fee for the pro photos they took. Anne and I had been down the Snake twice before on a family trip. This one went a little better, because the dude in back did 99% of the work, so the oars were more like props for us. It's so much more fun when you get to ride without the work. My river rat family members would probably oar-smack me if they read that. I didn't mean it, fam (I did mean it).

We took the 8am trip because it was the cheapest. It was also cold. We wore wetsuits. Phil looked like an assassin.

Brandon wore the short suit, and went into the water, twice, on purpose.

I might as well tell you now, since you're going to find out in a second anyway, but it was en route to this Wyoming trip that I discovered the plastic on my camera.

Much nicer, don't you think?

Anne and Brandon like to play board games. We don't do that in our household, and I'm not going to point fingers at the wet blanket, but it's not me, The Kid, or Bella. The only time we play is when we're with Anne and Brandon. They brought Betrayal at House on the Hill.

This is an intense, blurry action shot of the final ten minutes of the game, which came down to the two engineers debating the rules. They both eventually stood up. It was civil, calm, and rational. I like it when board games end with violence.

I'm tired of writing, so here are the rest of our photos, with short commentary in the captions.

Phil eating a skillet cookie. I can't remember how to spell the name of the dessert at this particular place, but it's pronounced fuhzookie. It is one cookie, one skillet, and a whole bunch of spoons. The original Hunger Games.

Anne and I took a few night walks with the dogs. This is Kate's dog, Charlie. There were some rogue fireworks, and he was a little tense. 

Phil's sister invited us to Albion basin to look at the wildflowers.

She knows most of the names of the plants, so she gave us a quick, guided tour. It was cool.

I went to Park City for lunch with my mom and sisters. It was rainy.

One of our last meals was at Bruges Waffles and Frites. Delicious.

This is the last of the leftover posts from our pre-Thailand days. I'll try to get you up to speed on Thailand soon. You should definitely view that "soon" in the context of my usual timeframe. It is not the common usage of the word.