Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Seeds of Ideas

Kellyann and Steve were probably both right in connecting my current lack of purpose to the transition from a very busy structured time back to the reality of my sparsely structured life.  But I do think I’m making a little progress in figuring out what to do next.
I will soon start giving piano lessons to 8-year-old Margalen, the daughter of the woman who used to clean our house.  Although I play the piano, I haven’t a clue as to how to teach someone, especially a child, to play.  We will be learning together.  The next step will be to come up with a reasonably priced piano so she has a way to practice.  But first maybe we’ll try a few lessons and see how she likes it.
I’m most excited about another idea having to do with reading.  Sometimes when we show up to read to the younger children at the shelter, some of our “graduates” look longingly at the reading room.  I think they miss sitting in that circle.  So I’m thinking of starting a book club for the kids who can no longer come to the Thursday night read-alouds.  I’m also considering a book club for the mothers of these children, some of whom really enjoy reading.
I’ve run these ideas by our coordinator at The Reading Connection and she is totally supportive, to the point of helping me figure out how to get the books.  I’m trying to recruit another volunteer or two.  But basically a book club simply requires the members to read the book and then show up to talk about it, so there shouldn’t be much work for anyone.
Do you have book suggestions for 4-6-graders?  How about moms living in a shelter for victims of domestic violence?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Best meal of the day

I can never understand anyone who says “I don’t eat breakfast.”  For me it’s the best meal of the day.
I especially look forward to the egg days, which alternate between oatmeal.  Those are not just any eggs.  They are Polyface eggs from happy pasture-raised chickens who lay happy eggs.  Their yolks are an intense yellow and they stand up in pan instead of just running to the edges.
My two (medium) eggs fried in a little olive oil and a couple of pieces of homemade whole-wheat challah are definitely worth waking up for.  
I hope my cholesterol count never suggests greatly restricting my egg intake because they are one of the best foods around as far as I’m concerned.
Even Jake enjoys licking the plate when I am finished.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What next?

I think I must be mildly depressed because I am sleeping a lot.  All of a sudden I need a greater purpose in life and one is not forthcoming.
It suddenly hit me last night when a woman who just turned 70 asked me what I was doing with myself in retirement.  I trotted out the usual litany of playing music with people, reading the the shelter kids, doing yoga, Blogging and then I realized there was a big void.
I’ve gotten the house to the point where I no longer need to be researching things like painters or packing up boxes.  I seem to have relegated care of the yard to Mr. Sotha and his team of immigrants.
And there are no more trips on the immediate horizon.  So that translates into a lot of reading time.  Or it could be exercise time.  Or...
Ever since I retired I have thought about doing something more substantial, but have never really pursued finding that something.  
I had a dream last night that perhaps illustrates the role I would like to play.  I was in charge of my old office staff.  They seemed to all be involved in a football game while I was making them new jerseys.  Go figure!
I don’t particularly care if I get paid, but I know for a fact that I don’t want to do the typical volunteer jobs of answering the phone or stuffing envelopes.  Instead I would like to do something that allows me to plan, manage, organize -- the things I’m good at.  It would be great if it involved animals, or at least people.  Ideally my efforts would improve the world in some way.  How’s that for dreaming?
Got any ideas?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lemonade and Fried Green Tomatoes

I had a late morning date to play Edward Elgar’s Chanson de Nuit with my cellist friend Chris, who lives just opposite DC’s Eastern Market.  I worried about parking because Saturday is a busy day at the market, but a space nearby suddenly materialized.
It was pretty good for a first run-through of the piece we will play for the piano group a week from tomorrow.  As we played his wire-haired terrier listened attentively with one eye out the front window to check out who was passing by.  The front door slammed open and shut a few times as his young son and a neighbor girl prepared to set up a lemonade stand.  After 45 minutes or so, we decided we had made as much progress as we could in one session.
I headed up the street and was instantly accosted by two young boys hawking lemonade as Chris’s son was returning home for a refill.  Only 50 cents they said.  As I offered a dollar to the young dark-haired girl, she asked without a smile, “Do you want change?”  An older boy of perhaps 11 immediately assured her that I did.  As I saw her fishing through a cloth bag of coins, I realized most of them were pennies, so I asked for only a quarter, telling her she could keep the rest as a (50%) tip.
I couldn’t pass up the chance to have a crab cake for lunch, so I got in line at the popular restaurant The Market Lunch, which does a booming business in pancakes until 12 noon and then crab cakes take over.  They were short-handed so it was a long wait, but well worth it when I bit into that mostly crab cake with the cocktail sauce.  
But I had also been persuaded to get a side of fried green tomatoes, something I had always wanted to try.  They came with a pink sauce that was just about perfect. 
After music, lemonade, and my deep-fried lunch, I headed home and a nap seemed like a great idea.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Exotic Fruit

Fruit is probably my favorite part of eating.  There are not many types I don’t like.
While in Thailand, I greatly missed grapefruit and oranges.  But instead there were so many varieties of fruit that we never see here.  Like
and Longan
It made me wonder why we don’t grow these fruits here in the US, where we must have an appropriate climate.  If I like mangosteens so much, I’m sure others would also like them.
But instead most every market here has the same dozen or so varieties of fruit.
I was encouraged to see a kefir lime tree for sale in the local Thai market (Duangrat).  But nowhere have I found the other exotic fruits I grew to love while in Thailand.  Maybe they are available in California, the state of fruits and vegetables.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


You may have noticed I didn’t mention any difficulty in getting around on the trip.  That’s because I really didn’t have any to speak of.  Sometimes people walked slower than usual or waited for me to catch up, but walking was not a problem.  Sometimes I chose not to take a strenuous hike and just sat and read while the others explored. 
I did take my cool cane (neon blue with kiwi stripes) along just because I knew there would be a lot of walking and uneven surfaces can be a problem for stability.  So I hauled it in and out of public transportation, never once leaving it behind.  It was a godsend.  It also had a practical use in rescuing David's shirt from the monkey who was trying to steal it at Erawan Park.
People just naturally have a soft spot for someone with a cane, or so it seems.  On a several occasions I was offered the VIP line for first class/pregnant/disabled people -- the line that is infinitely shorter than the other one for all the regular people.  Sometimes I took the offer, other times I chose to wait with everyone else.
So I’m now back home working with my PT Jennifer on how to strengthen those weak muscles and alter my gait process so perhaps on my next trip the cool cane can stay at home.
It turns out I really don’t like feeling like an invalid or someone who needs special treatment.  There may be a time in my life when I will be more accepting of that status, but it’s not yet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


One of the nice surprises waiting for us when we got home was a package from Lithuania.  It was the new futon cover, which I hoped would receive a more positive reception than its predecessor.
Several months ago I posted a picture of the one with the big red flowers.  It was a popular Marimekko print that made a bold statement.  But it was just a little too bold for the space and didn’t go well with the light yellow walls.
The Bemz Company had agreed to take the big-red-flower cover back with a full refund, which I thought was very accommodating of them.  So I packed it up and mailed it back to Lithuania, where they are made.  
I wanted to make sure we were going to like the next one.  A guy named Ben in Customer Service sent me enough samples to include all the colors in Spinning Multi, our next choice.  I placed the order before we went on our trip.
In my jet-lagged state last night, I managed to put the new cover on the futon.  Everyone, including Jake, approves.  It’s still big and bold, but it’s no longer red flowers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Resetting my body clock

We are definitely creatures of habit.  That might explain why our bodies complain about being being dropped halfway around the world where day is night and night is day.
I always feel like I’m walking through a fog for a few days after a big time change like this one.  I managed to unpack, do my laundry, make a trip to the grocery store, and go to choir practice today, but every one of those things took an extreme effort.  Mid-afternoon I lay down for a nap and had a hard time getting up.  I keep reminding myself that the first day back is always the worst.
If the rule of thumb holds true, it will take me 11 days to fully adjust to the 11 hour time difference.  
Maybe I should just take Jake’s approach and sleep all the time.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not my fault

That seems to be the theme of today. Although I think I will actually make it home later today.

I had a relatively good night's sleep at the Westin Hotel. I caught an early morning airport shuttle over to LAX, thinking I would just hop on AA0076 and be home at 5:40 pm. But that was far too logical. The American Airlines person informed me that I had no ticket because I had missed my UA flight yesterday (my original flight that took off when I was somewhere over the Pacific). Her calls to Cathay Pacific went answered while I watched the minutes tick by. It quickly became apparent that I would miss that flight for lack of a ticket.

The Cathay Pacific people finally showed up (in a different terminal) around 9:30. They of course said the AA people should have given me a ticket based on what I showed them. They then put me on a UA flight leaving at 1:00. The only compensation they were willing to offer me was a $20 food voucher usable only in their terminal, which wouldn't do me any good since UA is in a different terminal.

My husband's reaction was that I should be pressing someone to do something for me since I have been so inconvenienced. But truthfully my only goal right now is to get home, even if it is now 9:10 pm tonight. He did offer to pick me up at Dulles. I can't wait to see Jake, who has now been retrieved from "Camp Adams".

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:World Way,Los Angeles,United States

Not quite home

Despite my begging and pleading, Cathay Pacific could not get me on a flight home on Sunday, the day I arrived back in the US. But instead they gave me a night in the Westin Hotel and a voucher for food, which I have already exceeded by eating the most expensive chicken Caeser salad in history. I couldn't bear to throw out my leftovers, so I rummaged around for a plastic bag and found one so I can bring my lunch on what will inevitably be a flight without meal service. (Never underestimate the worth of a plastic bag.)

So instead of arriving at 00:23 on Monday, it will now be 17:45, a mere 17 hours later. It's a good thing I had no plans for Monday. This way my husband, who is arriving at 07:45 (don't even ask why we were booked on different flights), can retrieve Jake and maybe even go to the grocery store. He may run out of steam before retrieving me at Dulles.

It is nice to be back in a world of English and potable water...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:W Century Blvd,Los Angeles,United States

Farewell dinner and then...

Brock saved the best for last (in terms of food). He had scouted out a really fancy hotel with French influence and a Burmese chef.

The tasting menu gave us ample portions of fish cakes, shrimp lemongrass salad, beef curry, chicken satay (sauté?), shredded pork, and a beautiful fruit salad with ice cream for dessert. We had wine with dinner, a first on this trip. It was all over too soon. And then we were taking a red truck taxi back to the Parasol Hotel.

It was an early morning as we got up at the crack of dawn for our flight to Bangkok. It was when we got to Bangkok and our flight to Hong Kong was delayed that we knew we were in trouble. We arrived in HK just as our flight was leaving. So Cathay Pacific gave us a hotel room and vouchers for a delightful dinner at Cafe Aficionado.

The downside to this little glitch is the fact that I will now get home 17 hours after I would have otherwise. That part sucks!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, August 20, 2010

Last day

By day 10 of a vacation my clothes are usually pretty much all in need of washing. But here in Chiang Mai we discovered the Parasol Hotel laundry service at 80 baht (less than $3) a kilo. So everything is washed and even our underwear is ironed.

Brock wisely didn't schedule anything for our last day. Instead we went to the "hardware store" market where we found some of the cooking supplies we had grown to love. Brock helped Rachel choose a skillet and knives at a fraction of the cost at home.

Then David and I went on an adventure to the Gem Gallery, reputed to be largest jewelry factory and store in SE Asia. I was in search of a black star sapphire pendant and I found numerous choices in a wide range of prices. David said "happy anniversary" as we handed over the AmEx card.

After a lunch of our beloved khao soi, which we managed to order on our own, I spent some time scouting out the local souvenir shops and wondering just how much room that expansion zipper in my 22" suitcase would buy.

Tonight our farewell dinner will be a very special tasting menu, which will certainly send us away with a good taste of Thailand. We are already scheming about our next trip after this very special vacation.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Phra Pok Klao,Sri Phum,Thailand

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Final cooking class

Just last night the novelty of Thai food started to wane a bit and there was talk of hamburgers and pizza. We never seem to be satisfied, do we?

So today as we returned to cooking class with the lovely Meow, we already knew it was an all-day affair. We had 4 new people in our class who were making many things we were not.

We tried to opt out for drinking iced coffee at the market figuring we had done that part yesterday. But instead Meow gave each of us a grocery list and some money and we did the shopping for the things we would make. The vendors were greatly amused at our attempts to communicate and that Thai lesson of last week seemed so distant. But we still managed to find everything we needed for the day's cooking.

First we made pad sie eu, a wide-noodle dish with chicken and basil. For our second dish, we had requested something out of the ordinary: frog with garlic. Brock saw the slaughter (in the market) of our 8 or so frogs and described it in graphic detail. Here is a before and after picture. And yes, they do taste rather like chicken.

Our third dish was a lovely fruit salad with hot peppers.

The fourth dish, khao soi, was perhaps our favorite. It made good use of the red curry paste we had made yesterday.

But by this time we we quite satiated, hot, and tired and so we helped ourselves to a nap while the other students worked on their next dishes. We actually decided to forego our last 2 dishes in the interest of some down time and another massage. Definitely a wise decision. (There are 30 baht to the dollar.)

I will always look at my name tag from Meow's class and remember her humor, like the instruction to think of our previous disappointing lovers as we smashed our garlic.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Phra Pok Klao,Sri Phum,Thailand

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cooking in Chiang Mai

We spent much of today learning how to make 6 Thai dishes with a witty young woman named Meow, which happens to mean "cat" in Thai.

First there was a trip to the market. This was by far the cleanest and most modern of the markets we have visited.

Our dishes included chicken with holy basil, steamed spring rolls, tom yum soup, yellow curry, chicken with cashew nuts (which had to be flamed), and mango with sticky rice.

It was a lot of cooking and eating, but we got to relax in between courses.

After cooking class, we went up a mountain outside of Chiang Mai to see the Doi Suthep wat. It was somewhat surreal to hear the monks doing their evening chanting while we gazed out at the city below us.

I am hoping to get a second wind so I can enjoy then night market and dinner from street venders.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Phra Pok Klao,Sri Phum,Thailand

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thai train

Although the train to Chiang Mai left over an hour late, it was actually pretty impressive. It was clean, there was toilet paper, and they brought around food. Here's the view across the aisle from me last night.

We rode past lots and lots of rice paddies.

We arrived around noon and in the absence of a car from the Parasol Hotel, where we are staying, we took public transportation which is like a covered pick-up truck with two benches.

We had a typical soup of the north for lunch, which hopefully we will learn how to make in our cooking classes.

Since it decided to rain hard his afternoon, we all opted for a Thai massage, which is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It's a lot of stretching and deep tissue work with the massage therapist on the low bed with you. She uses no oil or cream, but a lot of pressure. The strange thing is you wear clothes they provide, so there is no need for draping. The cost for an hour was a little over $6. Totally amazing!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Phra Pok Klao,Sri Phum,Thailand

Monday, August 16, 2010

Erawan Falls

Just so you know all is not nirvana on this trip, here are four little vignettes of "challenges":

On Sunday before we left Bangkok, Brock almost got arrested. A motorcycle cop pulled him over and accused him of throwing a cigarette butt out of the cab, an unpardonable crime for foreigners. Being totally innocent, he refused to get out of the cab and was calling the tourist police when the cop decided to let him go. Apparently it's a scam that usually ends up with a bribe being paid to the cop.

I hopped on the bus from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi expecting a bathroom of some sort. But as we got underway I realized there was none for the two-hour trip. I told myself I could hold it, but every bump made me realize it was futile. Without going into details, I will tell you I figured out how to solve the problem without stopping the bus or humiliating myself. Brock is sworn to secrecy, but will forever have good blackmail material.

Today we visited Erawan Falls, a most extraordinary national park near the Burmese border. I was sitting there dangling my feet in the water letting the fish nibble and guarding everyone else's stuff while they swam when a bold monkey jumped down and stole David's shirt despite my protests. A girl from the Netherlands was able to retrieve it from where he dropped it.

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

Rachel spent much of today looking for a bathroom. Brock has been very responsive to cries of "EP" (emergency poop).

We sitting on an overnight train, waiting to pull out for Chiang Mai. What an adventure!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Thanon Rong Mueang,Rong Mueang,Thailand