Sunday, November 25, 2012

The family actually cleans up!

Our friend Ashley Allen (from Katy) came over again a few weeks ago and did our family pictures again.  It was great seeing her and catching up.  As usual she made our crew look pretty good, all things considered!

A giant thanks to Ashley for traveling, shooting photos, and making us giggle.  We can't wait to see you in Texas!

Here's the video of many of the pictures.  There were so many, that I had to edit out over half!  Thanks Ashley!

Being thankful

Since we moved to Europe/United Kingdom, our Thankgsiving holidays have checked the box but haven't been over the top great.

Until this year.

This year we hosted a Thanksgiving holiday that included people from seven different countries, about 40 years age difference between the youngest adult to the oldest adult, and an array of different occupations.  Most had never participated in an American Thanksgiving.  I don't think anyone was disappointed in the array of food or drink.

Appreciating that we were short on space, Scott hired in a couple servers to help, and an entire Thanksgivings-worth of serving ware.  The feast was all homemade.  The turkey was so large that it wouldn't fit in our oven whole and had to be quartered to cook.  The best part:  the rental dishes didn't have to be washed.  They were stacked and picked up the very next morning.  I am wondering why we can't have rental dishes everyday!

We had such a great time with all of these new found friends.  It is indeed another reason I am sad to be leaving.

Below is a picture of what we started with.  In the midst of eating, drinking and socializing, I failed to get a picture of all of our guests.  I have it in my mind though as one of our best ex-pat holidays.

As Thanksgiving does, it reminded me of the things I am thankful for.  I am thankful for this opportunity to live abroad with my family, to experience other cultures, other people, and other ways of life.  I am thankful my kids have had the opportunity to see so much and understand that different is quite okay, and in many cases better.  I am thankful the friendships we have developed over here, both at work and socially.  It is bittersweet to have this particular holiday as our last in England.  Having said that, I am thankful to have plans to return to our ranch and see our friends and family in a few short weeks...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thai food everywhere!

Scott and I decided to take advantage of being "close" to the Far East and visit Thailand.  Michelle has been phenomenal with the kids, so it was nice to be able to comfortably leave them with someone other than my mom for an extended period of time to go somewhere "close" and exotic.  The "close" part ended up being as "close" as 12 hours on a jet can be.  We spoiled ourselves and upgraded to business which made it not quite as bad as it would have been without the more comfortable chairs and the ability to sleep for a few hours.

Once we arrived, the trip was completely worth the travel!  We spent several days in Bangkok doing everything from the river tour in a long-tail boat, to visiting a snake farm, to eating street food (and befriending the local who ran the...street place), to the highlight of Bangkok: taking a Thai cooking lesson from a local.  While all of the city that we saw was unbelievable to see and experience, by far, our favorite part was going to the local market with our cooking teacher, seeing the live frogs, eels, turtles, and various other creatures, shopping Thai-style and then cooking in her home some authentic Thai food.  It was deliciously fresh and proper Thai spice!!  We did enjoy the hustle and bustle of Bangkok but we were admittedly ready to leave after 3.5 days in the craziness.

Next, we flew down to Phuket.  It was unbelievably beautiful with the small rocky islands out in the sea, the rugged mountains, the magnificent rain forests, and of course the cascading waterfalls.  We stayed for the first 3 nights at an amazing place called the Pavilions.  I have stayed in a few swanky places, but this place beat them all.  It was so hilly that to go from our villa to the restaurant or bar, we needed to call for one of the employees to come pick us up in the golf cart.  It was warm (read: pretty hot), but our private and secluded pool was perfect to cool off in.  Really, if I could live there, I would've loved it!  Perhaps the second highlight of the trip was one night, four people came to our room and set up a barbecue poolside and the chef cooked all kinds of delicious meats, fish, prawns (the size of lobster), and more.  A-m-a-z-i-n-g.  Those who know us well will see the pattern of our favorite things involving really good food...

We did other things besides eat of course.  We went on an eco-adventure which was wild.  It included climbing and zip-lining through the rain forest.  I think the longest zip line we did was 400 meters, which took about 45 seconds to go down.  Exhilarating.  We also were able to see the Gibbons rehabilitation site which was heart warming.  To know that the monkeys are shot from the tops of the trees so that the babies can be used for tourist traps was sad, but it was nice to see the volunteers rescuing these monkeys and training them to be monkeys so that they can be released into the rain forest.  And of course the trip to the rain forest also included playing with the (giant) Asian elephants.  They were massive!
Our last night we stayed on Naka Island at a beautiful resort that is basically the only thing on the island.  It was nice and fun to stay in a hotel where you had to take a five minute speed boat ride just to get to it.  I will be honest and say that the "Tsunami Meeting Point" sign had me a little worried.  Fortunately it wasn't needed.

Overall, the trip to Thailand was a once in a life time adventure for us.  The food was amazing, the country was really beautiful, the sunsets the best I have ever seen, and the Thai people were gracious, pleasant, curious, warm and friendly.  We never went anywhere that we weren't greeted with a smile and a slight bow of the head.  Of course, if I was lucky enough to eat Thai food everyday, I dare say I would be as happy, pleasant and laid back as they were! 

Video highlights:

Honorable mention:

The street food is going to be good and spicy if tissues are on the table...

A "little" unexpected surprise at the snake farm for Scott.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween 2012

As soon as we returned from the trip, we went and bought some pumpkins.  The kids spent about a half hour designing what their pumpkins would look like.  Here's the final outcomes:

We had loads of kids come to trick or treat.  Our kids of course hit the jackpot with candy and then they had fun passing out the candy to the late-comers.  Michelle also had her first Halloween.  I think she enjoyed it as much as the kids!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A tour of Eastern Europe with Mom and KC

Mom and KC came back for a visit in October.  It was great seeing them since we hadn't seen them since last Christmas.  They were here for a few days before we left on our great adventure!

Of course while in London, we had an obligatory pub crawl, which was fun and resulted in us getting free t-shirts (I think KC could have just gone on home at that point, he was so happy).  Mom and KC took Caden to the Eye of London and got some great visuals of London.  It is such a beautiful city.  It is giant and spread out but never lacking anything interesting to see no matter where you might be standing. Our next stop was Berlin.  The city was far more interesting that I thought it would be.  Between seeing checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, riding our bikes inbetween the "no-man's land" of the Wall, and seeing various beautiful buildings, we also had time to eat some great food and the kids of course were excited about the indoor swimming pool.  Michelle was kind enough to take the kids swimming while the four of us took a bicycle tour.  The information the local gave us was fascinating.  For example, Hitler only won the election by 35% of the popular vote.  The aristrocrats gave him the votes to bump him to a minimum of 50% so that he could be in power.  I was also unaware that the same group (Hitler plus the aristocrats) took the poor and labourers and put them in "labor camps".  Hitler was smart enough to know he didn't need to outright kill them, because the conditions they were living in were sufficient to insure the people would live no more than 3-4 years.  Millions of Germans died in the manner according to our local guide.  Another gem I learned: outside of the large Berlin public library is a hole in the ground with a covered window that you can look into and see basically a cellar-style library with only empty shelves.  The quote next to it remarks something along the lines of "first they burn the books [of the Jews], next they burn the people".  Hmmmmm.... Seems to be good food for thought for our country...

We also happened to be there for the Festival of Lights.  The night shows were amazing!  Berlin turned out to be a favorite for Scott and I.

After Berlin, we went to Budapest.  What a beautiful city!  It certainly made us adjust our rankings of favorite European cities as it bumped its way into the top three.  With the towering palaces, the castles, the 4100 caves (under all of Hungary), the thermal baths, the open city squares, and the cheap food, we were in heaven!  The kids had a blast, which means the adults had a blast.  A must see for any one touring through Europe.

We decided to go through Vienna (our favorite European city) for the night so that Mom and KC could see it.  It was cold there, but again we think there may not be a more beautiful city in Europe...

Finally the highlight was Dubrovnik.  We spent four days sunning on the beach, touring the old world city center, and generally drinking too much beer.  The city is incredible as it sits on rocks and cliffs up the side of the mountain.  Just a few miles away is the country border with Bosnia.  Dubrovnik was warm, the people were kind, and the beer was cold. (-:  The only down side we experienced was the flight back to London from Dubrovnik.  Scott and I fly an often silly amount, but neither of us had ever experienced continuous and extremely turbulent flight for 2-plus hours.  The flight attendants were even a bit ill from the incredible bumpiness.  Mom and KC's bags neither one made it back to London on the return trip, but we're hopeful they have received all their baggage by now!  All in all, an incredible adventure for all of us as well as the children.  We're looking forward to the next one!

Here's the video highlights:

And of course the honorable mentions!

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin...

The somewhat angry king and queen?!?

The very cool memorial to the Holocaust victims in Berlin...

The purple man sunbathing in Dubrovnik?