3 Pieces of a Perfect Bangkok Experience

I'm asked from time to time for advice on how to do Bangkok (twice this week!). Well, how to travel Thailand in general, but since the city is an urban mess of 6 million people, intimidating traffic and an unwieldy language, Bangkok is really what needs the most advice.

Plus Bangkok has my heart, it really does. It's massive and sprawling and filled with life. It's fragrant in every good and nasty way your nose can handle. There is extreme luxury and devastating poverty, as well as a red lit underbelly that can make your stomach turn. The real name of Bangkok isn't even Bangkok, that's just the name of one neighborhood that's a whole lot easier than the full name:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn

Even if Ayutthaya and Vishnukarn mean nothing to you, the fact remains: Bangkok is a great city, the city of angels, a grand capital, abounding in wealth, happiness, like a heavenly abode.
I heart it.

But sadly, if you just show up in Bangkok and wander around, you'll probably not like it very much (because you know, traffic, poverty, scammers, etc.)

So here are my favorite things to recommend to people:

1. Wats (Buddhist temples): You can't leave Bangkok without seeing GOLD. There are more wats in Bangkok than Mormon chapels in Utah, and they are a whole lot more gilded with gold and spectacle. If you wander around long enough, you'll probably just bump into one, but I highly recommend going to at least one of the big ones:

-The Grand Palace (Wat Prakaew/Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The first time I went, I was literally brought to my knees at the grandeur of the jade Buddha (and the mountain of gold upon which he sits).
-Wat Po (Reclining Buddha). The biggest Buddha in town.
-Wat Arun. The wat you can climb for a view of the river.
-Wat Saket (Golden Mountain). The wat you can climb in circles for a different view.

This link has all these, plus others, and a handy map marking them all: http://www.bangkok.com/magazine/10-temples.htm

2. Markets/shopping: My preference is for dinky neighborhood markets selling the seconds from the Abercrombie and Hollister factories nearby (among other things), or markets on college campuses (They seemed to always have the coolest clothes) but they are a little hard to find unless you're really wandering. Markets are most active in the afternoon and evening, but there are ones open earlier too. The further you get out tourist-town (Kao San/Sukhumvit/Patpong) the cooler stuff you'll find
Chatujak Market is a massive market sort of on the outskirts of town. It's only open on the weekend, and the morning is actually better.

-The Lumphini Night Bazaar used to be my favorite to recommend, due to its proximity to my favorite park, Suan Lumphini, but it's gone now, and most of the vendors have moved over to Asiatique, which is cool, but obviously built by a developer. It's right on the river, there's a ferris wheel, shops, and food, so you can't really go wrong, but sadly it feels almost like it could be a southern California outdoor mall.

A lot of markets are conveniently located at subway/skytrain stops, my favorite being Victory Monument. It's massive, with indoor and outdoor shops and food all around a giant roundabout. This is also where you can catch a van/minibus to outside of Bangkok if you are persistent enough to figure it out. The market at On Nut station is smaller but still great.

Beyond these, walking up Sukhumvit, between 3 and about 30, there are tons of shops, and Kao San Road, of course, where all the backpackers congregate.

I actually haven't actually been to most of the markets in this link, but they look rad and I will go next time I'm in BKK: http://bk.asia-city.com/shopping/article/bangkok-night-markets

3. Touristy things you pay for:
Ancient City is not very easily accessible, but there are usually people advertising tours there anywhere there are hotels. It's cheaper still to take the Skytrain to Bang Na and then a taxi from there. It is my number one favorite thing to recommend if people can't spend too much time outside the city or beaches. Basically it's a 300+ acre park with full scale recreations of famous places around Thailand. You can bike around or rent a golf cart, climb all over everything. It's a blast.

Other things I've done and enjoyed:
-Thai cooking class. There are lots offered, I've never heard a bad review. Thai food is the best.
-Thai Massage. Hard to go 50 feet without running into a massage place. Not all are created equal, sadly. I have gotten a lot of really crappy massages and haven't been able to figure out how best to identify which ones are legit. Something about the way they posture, like the most casual they are, the worse the massage is. I took a week-long Thai massage class that was awesome.
-Muay Thai fight. Okay I've never actually been but it does look awesome, and I will one of these days
-Cultural performance. I've been to a few and they are usually really pretty cool. Thai music and dance is something else and these are a good way to experience it.
-River Cruise. I've done just one and it was very cheesy, but at night is quite a magical view from the Chao Praya river

Beyond these, I must advise everyone going to Thailand to prepare to EAT STREET FOOD. Don't be nervous. It's amazing and clean and the very best thing about the country. [Some recommendations of what to ask for: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/14-mouth-watering-thai-street-foods-you-ll-love/]

Remaining tips:

Where to stay? 
This one's totally based on preference. I usually stay in the Sukhumvit area (between streets 10 and 25 or so) because I know it best and it's super central and easy to get on public transportation to anywhere else. Most backpackers stay near Kao San Road, which is across the river. I've been over there and it's just fine. If you're going for posh, there are some luxury places on the river. A little less convenient to get to, but plenty posh to make up for it. The good and bad of Bangkok is that everything awesome is all spread out, so no hotel is close to everything. 

Getting around
I usually take a taxi from the airport to your hotel at first, it's just easier. They'll ask if you want to go surface streets or take the toll way (tang duan) and it's worth the toll for the speed. There is a public transportation option, but I don't know much about it. I'm always tired and disoriented when I land. 

After that, the skytrain (BTS) and subway (MRT) are super easy and go most places. It's pretty cheap and all stops are posted and announced in English. (Guide here: https://www.off-the-path.com/en/getting-around-bangkok-a-transportation-guide/)

For short trips, or getting from the Skytrain down a long road, I recommend trying out motorcycle taxis (Guide here: http://www.iamwannee.com/a-guide-to-bangkok-motorcycle-taxis/). Generally stay away from tuk tuks. They are loud, expensive, and seems like most of the time are trying to rip you off. 

If you're feeling adventurous, I love taking the canal boats (Klongs). They are crowded and confusing and the water is actually pretty gross, but there is something seriously wonderful. And they can be waaaay faster than other modes of transportation. No traffic jams! (Basic guide here: http://www.bangkok.com/attraction-waterway/)

Just outside Bangkok
There aren't really any good beaches. Pattaya isn't so far but it's gross. Hua Hin is where people I know have gone. If you want really amazing beaches, you've got to go all the way down south, more than a day trip from Bangkok.

Other quick trips I recommend are:
  1.  Kanchanaburi and the Bridge Over the River Kwai. There are some cool waterfalls 
  2. Ayuttaya. It's got cool ruins
  3. Lopburi. Lots of monkeys


3 Celebrity Couple Crushes

Can't we just be friends, or neighbors?

1. John Krazinski and Emily Blunt
Ask Jimmy Kimmel, they make any party more fun. They seem just that right mix of ambitious, laid-back, fun, and serious.

2. Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis
The fact that they are married to each other makes me think he must be as smart as she is and she must be as funny as he is. They are so cool.

3. Tim and Faith
For real though, are they not the greatest?


My Jamie

I don't know how to keep up with this kid, literally on a minute to minute basis and more generally, recording his little life.

MAN ALIVE, my child is adorable. It is amazing how many times a day I watch him with total crazy eyes, dumbfounded at the little fireworks going off in my soul. I just luuuurrrrrve him (you know, when I'm not dead tired or pulling my hair out).

Some things I want to remember someday:
  • Any time he wants to go somewhere, he'll whine "goooiing! going!" If he wants you to come, he'll pull you with a "coming! coming!"
  • He likes having blocks and toys shoved in his shirt
  • He likes having pillows chucked at his face, kind of hard
  • He is increasingly obsessed with Lambie, which is cute but also awful, dirty and I realize, precarious. We have multiple to switch out as needed
  • He is most snuggly right when he wakes up
  • He loves Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry
  • He loves playing with cars, trucks, trains, and things that go. And balls
  • He is obsessed with Nannie
  • His cheeks are the perfect combination of warm, soft, and springy. They are my #1 favorite thing about him
  • His S words often leave off the first letter (i.e. swing is wing, spoon is poon)
  • I am more often momma than mommy or mom
  • He took immediately to my dad, even though they don't see each other much 
  • He has a love/hate relationship with the Rumba (more like obsessed/terrified)
  • His best dance moves are a little shimmy, a spin, and jumping (he actually gets air!)
  • The most common comment I get when we are out and about is "he is all boy"
  • He is hit and miss with naps. I spend a lot of time driving around with him asleep in the car. Sucky nap days are when I feel the worst about myself as a mom
  • His favorite toys that are not toys are a hammer, screwdriver and measuring tape
  • Porter is a natural dad. He is as delighted as I am at Jamie's antics
  • He's good at blowing kisses and giving high fives, but especially like pounding knuckles, which he does even to himself, it sounds like 'bunnit'
  • He hasn't been around tiny babies much, but the few times he has he has been gentle and wide-eyed
  • His surprise/confused face is awesome
  • He is especially ticklish in his thighs and neck (the itsy bitsy spider gets them all)
  • He always laughs at us when we pray over a meal
  • Almost any bad mood is fixed by a few minutes playing outside
  • When I cry, he wipes my tears and starts crying
  • When Porter and I kiss near him, he will always run up and try to get it on the action
  • He eats pretty good, mostly. He'll be a bottomless pit for a few days then eat barely anything for a few days
  • HE IS MY BABY, no matter how big he gets
'Photo Dump


3 Best Scenes in Age of Adaline

I was sick a while back and, as is custom, used my stuffy nose and sore throat as carte blanche for watching a lot of movies. I had heard mostly all awful things about The Age of Adeline, a sappy fantastical movie about a woman who doesn't age, so spends her time alone, lovely and interesting. I think Blake Lively, while surely a bit pretentious and obnoxiously perfect, is actually quite lovely and seems to be relatively grounded for how beautiful and celebrity she is. And she did great as Adeline, who was beautiful and grounded and who made me cry because I was sick and the story was sentimental and lovely.

Three best moments:

1. It's New Year's Eve and Jenny goes to meet her old blind friend, who thinks she is old too, Jenny and Ellis lock eyes and in slow motion just LOOK. STARE. Time stops. THEY FALL IN LOVE IN A MOMENT. It's breathtaking.

2. When Jenny meets Ellis' dad, William, it turns out she had known him years before and she had disappeared when they gotten too close. He sees her, freaks, and everyone tried to play it off as not the awkwardness that it was. Harrison Ford is stricken and vulnerable and moving as this man who sees someone he loved so much walk in the door.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkR_E8jw6qE

3. At the end of the movie, Jenny gets hit by a car and finally decides to tell Ellis her secret about not ever aging. When her 85-year-old daughter comes to visit her in the hospital and introduces herself to Ellis as Jenny's grandmother, Jenny smiles and tells her daughter that Ellis knows. Ellen Burstyn gets beautifully emotional, as one would when your mother looks 28 and you're looking into retirement homes and you've been holding onto this secret forever. Also, if you've encouraged your mother all her life to open up and LOVE already. "He knows." She is visibly relieved of so much worry, and hugs Ellis, who is understandably still reeling.

Link: https://youtu.be/Jxs8p22Pq_Y

Give it a chance.


How Great the Goodness of God (Three Great Goods)

At church a while back the Sunday School lesson was called How Great the Goodness of God. I think it covered one of the first ways God is so great, but it got me thinking about others:

1. God has perfect love

A concept that is pretty hard to understand. Feeling true love from my parents (I seriously lucked out in that department), I get it on some level. Finding the love of my life helped me understand a little bit more. Having a baby seriously leveled me up in understanding unconditional love. But when I think about God, love is overwhelmingly the characteristic I think of.

My grandpa used to tell this story that feels almost too special to share on the internet (but I'll share what I can). He was sick with cancer, so sick doctors asked him if he wanted to die at home or at the hospital. The family had a big fast for him, with lots of prayers and a special blessing (I was 2 at the time, not super helpful, I'm sure). And he was healed. Like 100% of his cancer was gone in a matter of days, doctors were scratching their heads healed. But healing isn't the memorable part, though he did live another 25 years. He recounts this experience he had praying so sincerely (with the gravity someone being sent home to die can only muster) and feeling an intense and all-consuming love. In the last years of my grandpa's life he told a lot of the same stories on repeat so I heard the experience regularly and even in his recounting of it, I could feel the reality my grandpa was feeling even in recounting the experience and felt an extension of that love every time I heard the story. I've heard other similar brushes with death (or life, as it were) or touches with heaven that recount similar explosions of love.

2. God has perfect understanding

Meaning we don't have to explain ourselves so much. Nor do we need to judge or make excuses for anyone else. God knows are hearts, He knows our personal experiences, our losses and fears, our greatest joys. He knows when we've acted out of weakness and when we're doing our best, and when we know better and are justifying things to ourselves.

The great lesson from all this understanding is not that God is planning a big fat 'Gotcha!' when it comes to judgment, or that there is any chance of God sneering at us, rubbing our faults in our noses, but rather that all this understanding adds up to complete and total mercy. We've got a listening ear when we are going through hard things that no one gets, and a generous and loving perspective when we just really kind of suck at life.

Research shows that what drives shame and furthermore what drives the downward spiral of sadness and poor decision-making is a lack of connection with others. We're hard-wired to feel connected and when we feel alone and misunderstood, we go haywire and bad feels worse. God's perfect understanding is an antidote to this lack of connection. It is our tether to our self-worth and inherent value.

3. God is perfectly beautiful

He has created beauty, including imperfections. I understand why people don't get into religion. I get why people don't believe in my religion, but I look at the world around me and the experience of human life and it is impossible for me to not believe in a higher power. It's not the science of how humans work that makes me believe, it's poetry and sunrises and best friends and intimacy and music and intuition and all these things that make us human. There is a lot of ugliness and hate in the world (feels like especially so lately), but in thinking about that ugliness, I've been drawn toward all these sparks of beauty. In them I feel God.


3 Ways to Enjoy German Christmas Markets

A couple months ago Trish told me she and her best friend Pat wanted to watch Jamie and could Porter and I go out of town for a week or so? Yes, my mother-in-law is the best person on the planet, and yes I realize how lucky I am.

Throw in the stand-by connection and the world was very seriously our oyster. I went to the Christmas market in Prague like 10 years ago and it was so magical. I has been on my mind lately, so we Googled 'Best Christmas Markets in Germany', picked a couple and hoped there would be space on the plane (there was). 

1. Big town
We chose Cologne for its proximity to Frankfurt (the airport we had to fly into), and that it boasted six different Christmas Markets AND an unreal cathedral. The cathedral was, in fact, unreal. Very Pillars of the Earth and Gothic looking. We stayed in a simple, but very adorable little inn that everyone kept taking pictures of. (Sidenote: They did not have shampoo. I did not pack shampoo, nor did I buy shampoo. My hair did not appreciate any of this.)

The train lets you out right by the cathedral, which is right by the river, and the cutest parts of the town (and most of the Christmas Markets), so we didn't venture far from that area. We arrived on a Thursday morning and thought it was a bit crowded until we saw what Friday and Saturday looked like. Shoulder to shoulder packed, everywhere. It was insane. Sure, vendors came from all over Europe (most notable/delicious, a Nougaterie (fresh nougat maker) from France and sausage maker from southern Italy). There were candles and wood carvings and adorable German things everywhere. Cheap brats and hashbrowns with applesauce and people lingering and being generally festive. Pretzels for days. It was awesome. One market had an ice rink with a portion dedicated to what looked like ice bocce. In another town we barely stopped in (Mainz), there was a nativity pyramid a full story high.

2. Small town

After Cologne we stayed just one night in a town called Cochem, which is in the Mosel Valley (the wine region) and spend an afternoon in Koblenz, where the Mosel and Rhine converge. We took the train along the Rhine while listening to Rick Steve's Best of the Rhine, which was a play by play of cute towns and castle along our way. The Christmas Market in Cochem was much smaller (though I did end up buying most of my stuff there... because choices are too much for me), but the town was adorable and quaint and the perfect opposite to Cologne's busyness. Added bonus, the town had its very own castle, where there was a live nativity.

3 Religious

Porter and I noted that we both had the idea that Germany is very secular, along with much of Europe. Maybe it's just that the Christmas spirit is especially difficult to dampen, but I was surprised at how religious many places felt. Even among the shops, there was a lot of care taken to display religious items well. During the live nativity, there were several times where the group broke out into Christmas hymns. It all felt very much like worship and not just tradition. 

Of course we were total geeks about FaceTiming with Jamie. The connection was awful but it was encouraging to see him having such a good time at Auntie Pat and Unc Floyd's house.

Isn't my Porter handsome?


Three thoughts on waste

We've been in major house project mode lately. Our bathroom was finished a few days before Christmas and now we are diving deep into weatherization (and by we, I really mean Porter. He's the muscle behind most projects, which I am whole-heartedly grateful to him for). A few months ago we did an Energy Assessment, offered at a steep discount due to Anacortes' participation on the Community Energy Challenge. A guy came out for FIVE HOURS and tested every nook and cranny of our house using lasers and infrared and a giant fan hooked up to the the door to tell us where all the house leaks are. He suited up in a hazmat suit for the crawlspace (see below). Our house is more than 100 years old, so there was no surprise that there's a lot of leaks. Also, it's freezing outside, and often very cold and drafty inside so the report was 16 pages of validation for me wanted to keep the heat on. (I married a heat miser, did you know?)

So last week Porter ripped out all the insulation in the attic in preparation for blowing cellulose, which is more eco-friendly and has a higher warmth per inch factor. We borrowed a truck from a friend in the ward (I use friend loosely. I barely know her, but I ran into her at the gas station the night before, mentioned I was looking for a truck, and she offered hers. We're friends now.), and I made several trips to the dump, which led me to two observations:

1. Going to the Dump is weirdly fun.
Maybe it's because I don't do a lot of full body physical labor in my day-to-day life, but jumping up and down on insulation batts to make them fit, then chucking them out into a pile is enjoyable. I wasn't dumping anything stinky or gross, which I'm sure helped (I did have gloves and a face mask to keep the glass shards from getting me too bad...). It was like the summer I sold firewood out of a truck at a campground at Snoqualmie Pass. There's just something rugged and physical about it that feels good.

2. Experiencing the Dump is super depressing.
I'd been to the Bellevue Transfer Station before, and that's a different kind of depressing. There, you dump your stuff into a hole and it smells awful. At my local dump, it's just a giant warehouse, and they have you back in a make a pile, so there are a dozen trucks all at different angles in the open warehouse. You can see all the stuff out in piles and bags on bags on bags. What's worse, I made two trips, maybe one hour apart, and between the first and second trips, the entire warehouse had been cleared and there were all new piles of garbage. And a garbage plow waiting in the wings ready to clear again. SO MUCH CRAP! And this is a tiiny fraction of the waste made by my community, county, state, country, WORLD. Mountains (or rather, deep, toxic holes) full of garbage just rotting and stinking and getting into water and soil and acid rain... I'm not recycling evangelist, but going to the dump is getting me there.

Then on Friday, we blew insulation, which looks like a big machine on our front porch loading up and breaking up blocks of cellulose fiber, which are piped up through a tube into the attic, where Porter was holding the hose. Cellulose insulation - in blocks it looks like cement, once blown it looks like volcanic ash - what it's made of is predominantly post-consumer waste material. I guess it's mostly newspaper, but I definitely ID'd the following: a plastic Safeway shopping bag, a blue Stamp Out Hunger (NALC) food drive bag, and Victoria's Secret tissue paper (it's a very distinctive shade of pink). It was surprisingly cool and inspiring to see the same type of stuff I recycle used to make my house warmer.

And it IS warmer! Noticeably so. Porter and I worried that we'd spend all this time and money insulating the attic and we'd wonder about the difference. NOT SO. Immediately it feels warmer.

Just a few big projects to go...


Three Stories on Aging Love

Most love stories focus on the beginning, maybe on the demise of love. I've recently become aware of how much I love hearing about love in its old age. Three examples:

1. Modern Love, The Race Grows Sweeter, podcast read by Mary Chapin Carpenter 
I love Modern Love about 75% of the time and love the podcast, where actors read the essays and then the authors discuss them, about 50% of the time. This one was a slam dunk and made me tear up while cleaning my bathroom. It's about a woman who finds love in old age. Mary Chapin Carpenter does a beautiful reading, and talks in the podcast of how much she loves 'old love' (enough to write a song about it).  A quote:
OLD LOVE is different. In our 70s and 80s, we had been through enough of life’s ups and downs to know who we were, and we had learned to compromise. We knew something about death because we had seen loved ones die. The finish line was drawing closer. Why not have one last blossoming of the heart?
I was no longer so pretty, but I was not so neurotic either. I had survived loss and mistakes and ill-considered decisions; if this relationship failed, I’d survive that too. And unlike other men I’d been with, Sam was a grown-up, unafraid of intimacy, who joyfully explored what life had to offer. We followed our hearts and gambled, and for a few years we had a bit of heaven on earth.

2. My Young Man, by Kate Rusby 

I sing Kate Rusby to Jamie as lullabyes a lot. Her songs are beautiful stories and her range is in my wheelhouse. This wonderful song is a woman singing of her aging husband, who is now frail and needy, and how much she still loves and needs him. 

Listen to it.

My young man wears a frown

With his eyes all closed and his head bowed down,
My young man never sleeps.
The rain it falls upon his back
The dust before his eyes is black,
Oft the times, oft the times my young man weeps.

My young man wears a coat,
Once, long ago, a bonnie coat
Which my young man wore with pride.
Now I dress the coat all on his back,
For love for him I will not lack,
But to see it now, that collier's coat, I can't abide.

My young man, where's he gone?
Once in his eyes my whole world shone
Now my young man he looks away.
Man and wife we used to be
Now he's like a child upon my knee
And in my arms I help my young man through the day.

A young girl no more am I
But I shall not weep and I will not cry,
For my young man needs me still.
If someone's watching up above
You'll see how much my dear I love,
So leave him here, I need him now and always will.
Oh if someone's watching up above
You'll see how much my dear I love,
And If he must go, let your best angels keep him well

3. The Notebook
I watched the Notebook on Halloween (classic Halloween movie. . .) for the first time in years and I was reminded that however charming (and steamy!) Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams were portraying young love, the real story and true tearjerker was the James Garner/Gena Rowlands telling of old love. What happens when one person outlasts the other, how do they need need and take care of each other. It's inspiring. And the scene where Gena Rowlands remembers and then forgets, James Garner's face is utterly heartbreaking.  I can't find it on YouTube, but I did find this one, which is also sweet.

3 Pieces of a Perfect Thanksgiving

Brian and Heather told us months ago they were thinking of driving down to Utah for Thanksgiving and that they realized they could fit both their family and ours in their van. Squeezing four children and four adults into a van for a 14 hour drive through the middle of the night was enough of a taunt that we took them up on it, but decided to fly home to compensate. It was such a great trip! Here's the recipe for how to make a perfect Thanksgiving:

1. Family. All the family if possible.

Two brothers and their families are already living in Utah, my parents just moved there, so we figured we'd have four out of five kids there for the holiday. Kelsie and Jake live in Florida now so it's a bit of a haul for them and I don't expect them to make it west as often as they do. But they got a great deal and made it happen. On top of that, Trish was able to fly standby to come out for a couple days over the break so even Porter had all his family too. Sometimes when we all get together it's fun in theory but actually really crowded and frustrating, but this time there was enough space between everyone and the houses were laid out in such a way that it didn't feel like nonstop chaos. I LOVE MY FAMILY. We played an elaborate version of a white elephant game one night that was giggly fun. It was SO great to see Jamie play with his cousins. Bonus: I got to meet up with FOUR friends who feel like family. That's holiday efficiency right there.

2. Festivities
Games. Going to see lights at temple square. Taking snowy walks. Eating a Thanksgiving feast. Eating leftovers. Eating pie. Sitting around listening to the guitar. Christmas decorations. Breakfast out at Kneader's.

3. My parents
Okay, most people don't have this as an option, but my parents are really the best. They moved earlier this year and even though it's not like I saw them tons before they moved, I really underestimated how much I had been missing them. I feel so so so lucky to have two models of unconditional love. They are tireless, generous, and talented.

Lucky me!