Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Random news and ramblings

Less than 48 hours from now we'll be on our way back to the U.S. Not permanently, just for a quick vacation. My brother is getting married, and my parents are making a weeklong family reunion out of it. They've rented a house so we can all stay together, and most of us we'll be there all week. I'm so excited I can hardly wait. I'm not looking forward to the flights - the travel time is insane - but I'm excited to see all my family, and for them to see Trea and how much she's changed and grown. She's started to favor Thai over English the last few weeks. Her teachers constantly comment on how quickly she's learned it, and it's fun (but weird) to watch. John's been trying to count the number of words she knows in Thai, and it's somewhere around 150. We're really hoping she'll be able to maintain it after we leave here.

John's Thai is also improving steadily. He'll kill me for posting this, but it's my blog and I'll do what I want. My boss actually mistook him for a Thai the other day. She was in her office, which adjoins the teacher's room, and he was talking to a Thai teacher. My boss told him later she'd thought it had been two Thai teachers talking. Pretty cool if you ask me. He's also getting to where people on the phone don't seem to immediately know he's a farang, which is cool.

As for me, I am picking up a little of the language. So far I've learned my colors and several animal names (giraffe, zebra, hippo, elephant, crocodile, tiger). I can also say drink milk, go potty, put on your shoes, sit down and pay attention. . .very sophisticated vocabulary, I know, but when you're learning Thai primarily from your two-year-old daughter and your three-year-old students, this is what you learn. I'm learning a few other phrases as well, but I really need to put more effort into it. I understand far more than I can say, mostly because my pronunciation is severely lacking. I try to talk to people and they look at me like "huh?" I like talking to Trea's nursery teachers, they're used to piecing together toddler talk so they understand me some of the time! I know I could do better, it's just a matter of committing to the effort. I just wish I knew how long, for sure, we will be here. We're kind of flux right now (again). We need to decide in the next couple of months whether to renew our contracts for another year, or change jobs, or head back to the U.S. Or Taiwan or Korea or whatever (with my husband, you never know). We recently found out that NSA is not offering their Language Enhancement program this year, which probably means John would need more time here before his language was up to translating full time (he's very talented, but even he needs more than a few months of using the language part-time to become fully fluent). We were bummed to hear that. John's trying to decide if he really wants to pursue translating, or if he wants to go back to school or just get a boring 9-to-5 job like a normal person :).

We also recently learned that my job won't allow me to nurse the baby. I would really like to breastfeed as long as possible, but if we stay, that means getting a new job. I'm not really upset about that idea - teaching KG has been a challenge to be honest. I realize there are people out there with endless energy and patience, but I am not one of them. I have a quota of how many hours of tantrums, whining, and pouting I can take in a day. Having a toddler, and soon a newborn, at home, it seems a shame to waste some of my tolerance on other people's kids. I also think I deal with enough vomiting and potty training accidents at home without adding a few each week from school. Don't get me wrong, many of my kids are adorable and I will really miss them. But, I think a change to teaching adults could be a good thing. Maybe I'd get to use some of the grammar or literature I studied in college, instead of being challenged with cut-and-paste projects three times a week.

To make this a reality, though, I actually have to go find this job. There's a university across the street, and I think they occasionally hire farangs. That would be ideal, as long as I could work out a schedule that would let me come home when the baby needed to eat. Universities in general are flexible about teaching schedules, and unlike KG, you don't need to hang around all day, just when you have a class to teach.

So, IF I could get a job, and find a nanny, then we could feasibly stay. . .it's just a really hard decision. Yes it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an adventure; it's also way out of my comfort zone, and while that is growth-promoting it is not always fun. I still don't like cockroaches on my kitchen floor, or getting sick from the food. I miss my family and having friends who speak my language fluently. There are other teachers at school, of course, but it's not the same as having other moms around to talk to. I miss understanding what's going on in church. John and I are trying to decide what to do but we really have mixed emotions about the whole thing. Whenever I'm in the U.S., I miss Thailand, and when I'm in Thailand, I miss the U.S. . . . Anyway, enough rambling for now.

In other news, the "cool season" has finally arrived, with lows in the 60s and highs in the high 70s or low 80s. I was so looking forward to the cool season, and now that it's here, the water is freezing - we have a little electric heater in the bathroom, but it's no match for cold pipes. I've taken to showering in the late afternoon, when the water and the house are the warmest. My students think it's freezing, and have been coming to school bundled up in coats and scarves. One of the ladies in the office even warned us that our car might not start in the morning, because it's "so cold." I wonder what they would think of the places in the U.S. where you have to warm up your car batteries just to start your car. And my boss put shirts on her dogs, on the advice of her vet, so that they don't catch a chill. Maybe the dogs acclimate just like the people do.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a panick attack when I realized I hadn't felt the baby move in over 12 hours. John took me to the hospital, where they did an ultrasound and verified the baby was fine. It was less than $10! And, since they were doing the ultrasound anyway, we asked to know the baby's sex. . .

And they still couldn't tell. The baby was facing my back, with the umbilical cord between its legs and close to the placenta. This kid is determined to be a surprise. We have a boy's name all picked out - no I'm not telling - but I'd welcome suggestions for a girl's name. It doesn't have to be totally exotic, but I don't think it should be super common either. John doesn't really agree with this, but I don't think Chantrea should have a sister named Alice or Jane. Trea will probably go through a stage where she doesn't like her name, and her sister would be jealous that Trea's name is unique while hers would be plain. So, it's got to be a at least a little exotic. Feel free to make suggestions!

And since I probably won't post again soon. . .Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Happy Turkey Day!

I know it's a little late for a Thanksgiving post, but I had to wait until we had finished all of our Thanksgiving celebrations this year. We celebrated Thanksgiving in an unusual but fun way. Thursday, our branch of the Mormon church had a Thanksgiving party. Not that any of the Thai members really know much about Thanksgiving, but it's an excuse for a party, so whatever. They asked John to briefly explain why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Five minutes before we left the house, John turned to me and said,"So, why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?" We stuck with the simple elementary-school kind of explanation. After he was done, one of the guys asked why we eat turkey, and John explained that there were wild turkeys where the Pilgrims lived. Then the guy says, "Why not elephants? You can feed a lot of people with an elephant." I'm sure the Pilgrims would have considered that, had there been any elephants roaming the future New England. We had a light dinner of rice, spicy meat, and fried chicken. Welcome to Thanksgiving, Isaan-style. And brownies for dessert. After dinner we sang karoake, because after all, what's a party without some karoake?

The culminating event was a pinata. A white, vaguely heart-shaped pinata with "Hit me baby" written on one side and "One more time" on the other. There were three Thai women who made quick work of it. The guy who made it explained to John that he'd seen one at a Christmas party in another part of Thailand, only that one was shaped like a sheep. It was even covered with cotton balls to look like a sheep. Apparently it confused some of the Thai kids, who assumed that it was a farang Christmas tradition to beat up sheep. Luckily he corrected that impression.

The best part about Thanksgiving was just being with the Thai members of the church here. They really care about each other, and they've embraced us. They have such a good time when they're together - it doesn't really matter what they're doing, they just take it easy and enjoy it.

Still, you gotta have the opportunity to get completely stuffed at Thanksgiving, so Friday night we went to the Sofitel, our local five-star hotel. It's a French hotel so they don't really know much about Thanksgiving, but they did have turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. And their buffet is always fabulous, a great mix of Japanese, Thai and Western food. We took the missionaries from church with us. One of them is brand new, he'd arrived in Bangkok the day before and Khon Kaen that morning. Being from Twin Falls, Idaho, Thailand is a big change for him, but he's nothing if not enthusiastic. He went estatic over the fruit at the buffet, and tried all the Thai foods and desserts while the rest of us gorged ourselves on Western treats. He was also falling alseep sitting up by 9 pm, but his companion claims he was praying :).

Off topic, but worth sharing, was my class activity on Friday. We'd been discussing careers as our theme for the past two weeks, and Friday's career was chef/baker. The powers that be wanted the kids to do a cooking activity in class, only nothing that required ovens or stoves. Basically they wanted them to make a snack. I suggested we buy cookies and make frosting to make cookie sandwiches, but that was rejected. Instead, the kids each took a slice of buttered bread, spread it with jam, and topped it with an assortment of treats. Toppings included crushed Oreos, yogurt-covered pretzels, seaweed flavored potato chips, gummy bears, and other snacks. Then they ate it. The best part was when my co-teacher turned to me and said, "So, what do you call this snack in America?" The best I could come up with was sandwich, because, frankly, I'd never seen anything remotely resembling these snacks.

Finally, some funny Trea moments. She's been watching a lot of a Baby Einstein video featuring animals. Every time she sees the otters, she says, "Water monkey!" They are kind of playful like monkeys. . . And she thinks the seal is a dinosaur. Lately, when she does something funny, she declares, "Trea funny!" Or sometimes, if John or I really amuse her, she'll say "Daddy funny!" or "Mommy funny!" It's more her tone of voice that's amusing. And last but not least, here's what she looked like going to church this morning.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back from the Dead

It's been a long time since my last post, and I would feel guilty, but I have a great excuse: I've been sick as a dog for pretty much all of that time. The good news is, I'm only sick because I'm pregnant. And, since my first trimester is finally over, the so-called morning sickness (which lasts around the clock for lucky souls like me) is finally beginning to abate.
Don't get me wrong, I'm THRILLED to be having another baby. Trea is so ready to have a little brother or sister, and we are ready (well, as ready as we'll ever be) to have a new baby. In many ways the timing is perfect. I just wasn't planning to become pregnant almost immediately after arriving in a developing country where I don't speak the language. While I expected to explore my new city, I didn't expect to become very familiar with a local private hospital - where I've stayed overnight on two different occasions while they pumped me full of fluids and vitamins. On the plus side, John has learned all sorts of Thai words and euphemisms that wouldn't come up in ordinary conversations. For instance, the Thai euphemism for pregnancy is to say a woman has a stomach, and when they describe morning sickness, they say she's allergic to having a stomach. Which is funny, because all of my morning sickness medications are antihistamines! We've also learned a few other choice medical terms which I won't elaborate on here. Suffice it to say that John's education has been enhanced by having a pregnant wife.

It was actually really funny when I first suspected I was pregnant. I decided to surprise John by taking a pregnancy test and then telling him. With Trea, we were planning on getting pregnant, and we talked about it a lot so it wasn't a surprise at all. So, I go down to the local pharmacy to get a pregnancy test. Only I don't speak Thai, so I start miming a pregnant belly, then rocking a baby in my arms, then pointing to myself and saying "test?" For a moment the guy behind the counter looks at me like I've lost my mind; then I see the light bulb go on as he goes "ooooh, baby" and then he gets THAT SMILE on his face. Anyone who's been pregnant has seen THAT SMILE. It's the "oh, she's pregnant, that's so cute" smile that people give you constantly when you start showing. I do it too. You can't help it, babies are so cute that seeing a pregnant woman just makes you smile in a goofy way. Anyway, I got the test home, waited until John wasn't around, and. . .discovered all the directions were in Thai, and it didn't look remotely like any pregnancy test I'd ever seen. So I had to ask him for help after all. That test was actually negative, as was the one I took a week later. It wasn't until after I'd started vomiting that we actually got a positive pregnancy test, but by then I was pretty dang sure I was pregnant. Or dying. One of the two. We've since had an ultrasound, which confirmed that the baby is healthy and growing, if a little thin. The doctor couldn't tell the baby's gender, so we're still in the dark. I'm kind of tempted to just be surprised, but John would rather know in advance. Since we have a terrible time picking out names, and the ultrasound was only $20, we might spring for another one just to narrow down the name possibilities.

I kept putting off this post because I was going to write this perfect account of everything that's happened since my last post. That will never happen, so now I'm just going to post and say, more details will be forthcoming. I'll just have to incorporate flashbacks into my future posts.

Some highlights from recent months:
  • Our trip to Korat (nearby city), where there is a zoo, a mall, and a Sizzler restaurant
  • The military coup (which had ZERO effect on our daily lives, other than getting us out of school for a day)
  • Finding a fantastic OB, after much searching and desperation
  • Buying a car (a 1992 Honda Civic, nothing fancy, but it beats songtaews)
  • Celebrating Loy Kratong, a major Thai holiday
  • Celebrating Trea's second birthday, a major Jeffery holiday. I can't believe my baby's two!

I can't promise I'll be all that great at posting, since I'm still pretty nauseous most nights - although, whether that's the pregnancy or the school lunch, it's hard to say.

Oh, and to those who have been sweet enough to email me, and I haven't emailed you back - I'm really sorry. I hope to unbury myself soon. I really appreciate the emails, as it's been a bit isolating to be sick in a new place. If you've emailed me, I guarantee you made my day!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Realistically speaking. . .

My friend Julie, who is spending the summer in China, commented in a recent email that she hates it when people paint an overly rosy picture of foreign experiences. She was speaking of her own experiences, of course, but it got me thinking. I have been editing out some of the more colorful details of our lives here. I know it comes as a surprise that there are less than perfect days here, but it can't all be pad thai and mangoes. In the interest of full disclosure, this post will be an entirely upfront account of the past week. Hopefully this will prevent the real estate boom that would have been caused by all of you moving here to experience Thai fire drills.

This week has been a, uh, shall we say, challenging one, to say the least. Monday afternoon I was in the 7-11 with Trea when she grabbed her arm and said "hot." She'd been bit or stung by something, and her arm was swelling. Her arm continued to swell for the next 30 minutes, until I jumped in a songtaew and took her to the doctor. He was a bit worried about it, but didn't think it needed serious treatment. He gave me some cream, some antihistamine and another medication. Then he mentioned that there has been a lot of dengue fever lately. Dengue is transmitted by mosquitoes and can be fatal in some cases. Dengue mosquitoes bite during the day and are common in urban areas. With all the rain we've had lately, breeding conditions are excellent and dengue is a real threat. Especially since the only treatment is "rest and drink lots of fluids." Explain that to a toddler!

Of course, after this incident, Trea spikes a 103 degree fever at 9 pm that night. We don't have a car, the public transportation becomes spotty after 9 pm, and we can't reach any of the four people with cars who have given us their phone numbers just in case this sort of situation arose. Realistically, I know that the chances that Trea has dengue are not high, and that even if she does, it's a tiny percentage of people who die from it. But that's my rational mind. My mommy side is paranoid and already racked with guilt that I brought my innocent, vulnerable little girl to this country when you can get horrible diseases from mosquitoes.

Just as I am imagining the worst, we track down my boss in her office, and she immediately takes us to the hospital (have I mentioned what a great boss I have?) We're in the waiting room when Trea vomits all over herself and me, several times. The funny thing about being a parent, is that you kind of get used to vomit. At least I have. Long story short, the doctor isn't sure what's wrong, but can't diagnose dengue until Trea's had the fever for three days. I'm still not sure why that is, since we read online that dengue is diagnosed by a blood test, but whatever. They give us a fever medication and send us home.

Tuesday, Trea is sick all day, complaining of a sore throat, refusing to eat, and generally being miserable. I've said this before, but there is nothing so miserable as watching your baby be sick and not being able to help at all. She also had her nap completely ruined because, after 30 minutes of trying to get her to fall asleep and finally succeeding, the air conditioning repairmen show up. They were supposed to come Saturday morning, but you know, Tuesday afternoon, Saturday morning, whatever. I can't speak Thai well enough to say come back later, and even if I could, who knows when they would come back. A sick baby is so fun, why not add some exhaustion just to spice things up a little?

Wednesday, Trea's throat is worse, so we go back to the doctor to be checked for strep. No strep, but on the way home, crossing the street, I accidentally step knee-deep into a mudhole in the median. I was a spectacular sight, covered in mud on one leg, mud splashed all over my khaki capris, carrying a baby who is determinedly looking down at her mud-covered mother. If the locals thought farangs were odd before, they're sure of it now.

Wednesday night, Trea can't sleep at all. She's up until midnight, sleeps until 3:45, then is up until 6:30, sleeps until 9, is up until 2:30 in the afternoon. By now John is also sick, so he's home but not much help. I'm threatening to book tickets on the first plane back to the States. John wisely refrained from reminding me that Trea also occasionally got sick in the States. The thing is, when Trea got sick in the States, I understood everything the doctors said, and I had a car to take her to the doctor or hospital in the middle of the night, and I could call my mother and get advice (or just vent about my day). I still call my mother but I have to time it so it's no the middle of the night in Maryland. Minor detail, I know, but there's something about being sick in a strange country that is worse than being sick in familiar surroundings.

Fortunately, Thursday night went smoothly and Trea has steadily improved since then. We've had a quiet weekend trying to recover from the week we've had. Whatever force you believe controls the universe - God or karma or the law of averages - this week has got to be better than the last one!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Never a dull moment

Last Saturday night we had the opportunity to attend a welcome party for new teachers (that would be us and two others). We had some great food (fish stomach soup, anyone?) and some even better karoake. It seems the tradition is for new teachers to sing a karoake number, but I weaseled out of it. I put the focus (and the pressure) on John by suggesting to Mai Yai, the school owner, that he sing in Thai. There's a group called Loso that's been around forever, they are kind of classic rock here, and we have one of their albums. So, Mai Yai got Joke, her daughter to help (little side note: Mai Yai is a nickname which means "big momma," and her kids are Joke, Jick, and Jack. Too funny.) They managed to find the song John knows the best. He totally rocked it. Not only did he have the best voice of all the men, the fact that he sang in Thai blew everyone away. To really get this, you have to understand how sacred karoake is here. I've heard it's like that all over Asia, but here it's huge. And for him to sing a song by this particular group, is like a Thai rocking a rendition of CCR or Elvis or (fill in your quintessential American musical group here). He got through the first line and the Thais started screaming like it was a rock concert. Someone even ran up and gave him flowers halfway through the song. I'd never heard him sing a rock song before, and he was awesome. I realize some of you who know John are wondering how my humble, quiet husband could be hiding this secret rock star persona, but let me assure you, it is there. I wish I'd had a camera. The principal commented that he didn't miss a word. Cliff, one of the farang teachers, asked John if he'd memorized it. Cliff's been married to a Thai woman for five years and has lived here for that entire time, and he admitted he couldn't have read the words fast enough to sing in Thai. I think he couldn't fathom the idea that John might read Thai that well; he sounded a little jealous. John was familiar with the song but he didn't have it memorized, he's just awesome. Apparently word got out, because now his fourth-grade class wants him to sing for them. They could just be trying to get out of word problems in math, though.

I also had a funny encounter with Jick's grandma. Jick lives behind the school and practically next door to us, and her grandmother lives with her. Jick's mother is 60, so her grandma's probably in her 80s. She's diabetic, wheel-chair bound, and not quite all there. They have a live-in care provider for her. I was out for a walk with Trea, and Joke, Jick, Grandma, and the care provider were all outside in the yard. We went over to say hi, and the conversation went like this (in Thai, from what I could surmise):

Joke: Grandma, look at the baby.
Grandma: What baby?
Joke: That baby, the American one.
Grandma: Huh?

A couple moments pass. . .

Grandma: (startled, with great surprise) Farang!
Joke: Yes, Grandma.
Grandma: Who's baby is that? (Hmm, let me think, she's met John, and there's only one farang couple in this neck of the woods, so. . .)
Joke: That's Teacher John's baby.
Grandma: Oh.

Several minutes later. . .
Grandma: Is that farang baby one of the teacher's kids?
Joke: Yes, Grandma, she's Teacher John's daughter.

Grandma then went on to say that John was the handsomest man at the school. Apparently he did a perfect wai when he met her, and then spoke Thai, so she was incredibly impressed with him.

Random thought for the day: the trouble with being culturally sensitive is that usually, no one notices. Unless they've had a lot of experience with foreigners, they just take whatever you're doing for granted. That's the point, I guess, to blend in, but sometimes it's nice for someone to be like hey, you're really adapting.

In other news, John managed to order pizza for the first time. Sounds simple, but ordering a pizza and giving directions in a foreign language can be a bit of a challenge. The giving directions part hit a small snag, but it got here in the end. Another side note: food delivery here is awesome. Not only do McDonald's and KFC deliver, as well as the pizza places, but there's just one number for each company. Want McDonald's? Dial 1211 and your call automatically goes to the closest store. Each company has a four-digit number like that. Why can't American places figure that out?? Maybe Thais are just too used to having food everywhere; you can't walk hardly 100 feet in the city without having a couple of eating options. There's food EVERYWHERE. Thais eat 4 or 5 times a day, and they like variety. I don't know how they stay so skinny!

Finally, a scary incident from last week. I decided to be all motivated and get up early Saturday morning for a jog. I got up at 5:30, left the house shortly thereafter, and had a nice jog in the cool of the morning alongside a nearby stream. I was walking back when I encountered a dog. Now, dogs are everywhere in Thailand, as pets and also strays. Most are passive but some are aggressive. This wasn't just any dog, though; it was a freaking Rottweiler. I've had pet dogs and some pretty big ones, and I'm not usually afraid of them. A rottweiler, in a country where rabies is endemic, is another story. As soon as I saw it I started backing up slowly and the stupid thing lunged at me. I yelled, and the owner came out of a nearby house and called it off. Stupid dog scared me to death. Gives me reason not to work out though.

That's My Girl

Disclaimer: The following post is all parental bragging. If that bothers, offends, or bores you, skip this post.

So, Grandma Jeffery and Grandma Harbertson, (I thought I'd address you directly, since you're probably the only two people still reading), Trea is doing wonderfully. She has adapted with amazing speed. Already she is learning to wai (a Thai custom where you raise your hands, palms together, and bow slightly. You show more or less respect by how low you bow your head, how high you raise your hands, and how long you hold the wai. Thais wai when greeting/saying goodbye, before accepting a gift, and to apologize). Trea hasn't mastered "Sawatdee kaa" yet, which is the greeting phrase for a female speaker, but she wais and says "kaa." She'll also do it before accepting something, if prompted. She also says "aroi," which means delicious, and sometimes repeats random things John says to her in Thai. Mostly, though, she seems to think that Thai is a joke the world is playing on her, and just giggles when she hears it. She does seem to understand some of the things the nursery teachers say to her, and she's learning their names. The other kids are nice to her and they all play together as well as can be expected of toddlers - as in, sometimes they share nicely and "talk" to each other and other times she comes home with scratches from fighting. Mai pen rai (no matter).

She's still a huge celebrity around here. Today I was walking her home in her stroller while the school clubs were meeting. I left her for just a second to talk to John, and the entire soccer club gathered around the stroller to see her. She took it in stride, of course. I guess you get used to attention when random people take your picture at church, at the park, whatever.

To get the full effect of this next anecdote, you need to visualize a songtaow, a pickup truck with two bench seats in the bed, and more or less open sides and back (there's a picture of one on John's blog.) This is our preferred mode of transportation around Khon Kaen, since they're cheap (less than $.25 each, and Trea's free), fairly convenient, and, like a bus, they follow a regular route. That means I don't have to try to explain where I want to go to a tuk-tuk driver, I can just get on and ring the bell when I want off. We were on one of these tonight, riding home, and Trea decided it would be a good idea to lean out the side and frantically wave to all the passing motorcyclists, calling "bye-bye!" and blowing kisses for good measure. Thais, being Thai, just smiled and waved back. Everywhere we go, people giver her food, drinks, flowers, balloons, whatever they've got that might get her attention. I know she's adorable, but it's a little over the top. I'm really a little concerned about what will happen to this child when we go back to America and she's just another kid on the street.

Trea is also learning about rhymes. We read a bedtime story my sister-in-law gave us called Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball. Sometimes we'll pause and Trea will fill in the word. She knows pretty much the whole book. She also knows parts of Goodnight Moon and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? We also read a book called Hippos Go Berserk. It's a counting book, and once all the hippos arrive at the first hippo's house, they go berserk. Trea keeps saying "Serk!" is this really cute, high-pitched voice. I think it's the only part of the book she really likes, because she'll flip back to that page 3 or 4 times and say "Serk!" over and over.

Also, she imitates the sound on, when you enter the site. Wish I could capture it on camera, because it's really funny to hear. She even throws her hands in the air.

We eat a lot of meals at a restaurant near our house, and Trea has become well known there. Sometimes they have Thai music videos on in the back, and she likes to go back there and dance. The Thais think this is hysterical, of course, and everyone is entertained by this little light-haired girl dancing to Thai rock.

Finally, I am really glad that I splurged on Disney princess sheets for her bed. She has Belle, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty on her pillow, and we get her to lay down at night by telling her to give the princesses hugs. She lays down and gives them hugs and kisses (sometimes she tries to feed them snacks, too, which is a little more problematic). She has no idea who they are, because she's never seen any Disney movies, but it works.

Okay, bragging done. Next post will be more normal, I promise.

Friday, July 14, 2006


We had a fire drill at school today. It was not, however, remotely like the fire drills I had in school. First, it's a once-a-semester (sometimes once-a-year) event that has been planned for weeks, and everyone knew it. It's actually been rescheduled a couple of times because "it might rain." It's the rainy season in Thailand; there's a good chance on any given day that it's going to rain. Andy (one of the other farang teachers) suggested he just pull the fire alarm one day. There are two problems with this, it would seem: one, there's no fire alarm, and two, Teacher Jick (my boss) said, "if it's a surprise, the students will walk all over each other." Right, because we wouldn't want to spring a fire drill on anyone, would we?

Anyhow, they finally decided to just do it. To add an element of excitement, the school had the gardener and some of the teachers set small fires throughout the grounds. Yes, you read that right. Real fires. All over the campus. There were three visible from the windows of my classroom. Once the fires were going good and strong, someone in the office played the sound of a siren over the intercom. This caused my co-teacher to run to the windows, scream "fire!" and run to the door yelling for the kids to get down and get out. So much for everyone staying calm. I had 19 three-year-olds belly-crawling out of the classroom with their hands covering their mouths - which was probably necessary, given the smoke that was coming through the windows! Three of the teachers ran around the school yelling "fire!" to practice alerting the students, on the theory that if there ever really WAS a fire, the intercom wouldn't work and we'd have to rely on this method. Let's hope there's not a fire.

Once out of the classroom, sans shoes, we hobbled over to the canteen to meet up with the rest of the school. Then the fire department arrived (on a side note, John said the windshield of the firetruck read "Welcome to Khon Kaen. How nice). One fireman jumped out of the truck and began to hose down a nearby building and the adjacent lawn. This caused a few jokes among the farang teachers about how it was really a yard-watering drill or a power-washing the school drill. He managed to water the lawn pretty well, but I don't think the building got very clean. The water looked slightly brown (this is Thailand, after all, and it would be ridiculous to use clean water to put out a fire).

After we all cheered and applauded the fireman for "saving" us, a local fireman gave a lecture about fire to the students. I didn't understand it because it was all in Thai, but apparently it included the chemical composition of fire extinguishers and an in-detail explanation of why fire burns. I'm sure my KG 1 students were enthralled. Some of them did enjoy the demonstration of fire-extinguishing techniques. The firemen would turn on a propane tank, light the flame, and then allow student volunteers to extinguish the flame using water, fire extinguishers, etc. Very safe. It was probably the only part of the demonstration that got everyone's attention. It did make a couple of my kids cry, but they got over it quickly.

Can't say I feel all that prepared for a fire at school now, but it was a cultural experience for me!

Monday, July 10, 2006

There's a lizard in my kitchen (and why this is a good thing)

John and I decided last week that we really needed to invest in cooking equipment. We did debate this, because with the abundance of cheap take-out, it's not necessary to cook. It will also almost always cost more to cook at home, especially since it will be farang food 90% of the time. But, much as I love not HAVING to cook/grocery shop/do dishes, there are times it's nice to be able to cook familiar foods. And not to brag, but I like my own cooking.

So, off we went to find a stove. Yes, you read that right. A stove is not an automatic in Thailand; many people simply don't cook at all. There are some stoves here with ovens, but they're tricky to use. It's almost all gas heat, which make it difficult, I guess, to evenly and consistently heat an oven. Anyway, much as I would love to be able to bake, it seemed more logical to opt for the standard gas stove. The heat makes baking often sound extremely unappealing! We found a shop selling the stoves, and luckily the owner spoke English. We bought a two-burner "glorified camp stove," as John calls it, plus a large gas can and all the accessories. They even delivered and gave us a ride home in the process. The guy who drove us home helped us carry it in; it amazes me how quickly Thais can take off their shoes. Usually they just wear flip flops, but still, they can slip them off without missing a step.

That night we went shopping for cooking utensils and cookware. I decided my first dish would be fettucine alfredo, only I couldn't find parmesan cheese. Anywhere. Now, before you start thinking "what makes Kristen think she could find parmesan cheese in Thailand?" I have had it before. Only not in this city. I did find goat cheese, but I didn't think that impart quite the flavor I wanted. Oh well, I ended up doing my best to coax whole milk, butter, olive oil, garlic powder and a bit of cheddar cheese into a sauce. It wasn't half bad, with chicken and pasta. Even if it wasn't quite the flavor it would have been with the cheese, there was something incredibly satisfying about digging into a big bowl of pasta I cooked myself. (And since then I've heard that the big Tesco-Lotus - there are two - carries it, but it's in the freezer section with the ice cream and frozen veggies. Go figure.)

On Tuesday night we had the missionaries from our church over, and made chicken with barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and carrot sticks with ranch dressing. John even bought A&W root beer. We had Pepperidge Farm cookies afterwards. Now, I realize that normally this meal would be nothing to blog about, but it's an event here. The missionaries loved it. It's fun to be able to provide a treat from home for them, too.

While cleaning up I found a little gecko in my kitchen. He's so cute. He's tiny but hopefully he'll eat the ants and spiders that insist on invading, and get big and fat. I'd rather have a gecko than ants.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I'm finally arrived

I am finally in Thailand! The flight was borderline horrendous (we were delayed almost four hours leaving LA). A nearly seven hour layover is always a bad thing; an almost seven hour layover in the middle of the night is a worse thing; throw a toddler into the mix and you're just begging for punishment.

But, we made it. Not without some tears and meltdowns and we probably annoyed other passengers on occasion, but oh well. By the time I was 13 hours into the flight I couldn't have cared less if I was annoying anyone else, I just wanted to make my child less distraught at being cooped up STILL. This whole move has been really rough for her. I mean, first we go to a wedding, where we traveled at least an hour a day for six days and lots of strangers talked to her and her sleep schedule was disrupted. Then we got to an entirely new country where she has incredible jetlag and new food and EVERYBODY touches her. It's like she's on display at a petting zoo. On the one hand it's kind of funny, even enjoyable, for her to be so special that people want to talk to her and hold her. But after the fifteenth complete stranger of the day strokes her arm and gets in her face while jabbering in some unintelligible (to her) language . . . she's done. She does seem to be adjusting time-wise so hopefully that will help. And she is acquiring words at a very rapid pace, so I'm sure Thai will come easily for her.

She was completely thrilled to see John; she spotted him before I did and started chanting "Daddy, Daddy." And in the taxi she just kept point to him in amazement and saying "Daddy!" like "he's back!" It was really cute. And John, of course, was thrilled to see us. We stayed the night in a hotel in Bangkok and then flew to Khon Kaen the following day. We went to a town about an hour away Saturday evening for a church area conference. Here we are in this dinky Thai town, and it's a beautiful hotel. I wish we'd had a camera. Staff everywhere to help us, beautiful artwork in the rooms, free movies, free drinks and snacks, breakfast included the next morning. . .and it was $20 a night. Sweet.

There's a lot more to tell but it's getting late and I'm getting tired. Oh, one last thing: Chantrea has a new nickname. Apparently the sound of her name is similar to the words for "short elephant," so that's her new Thai nickname from John's students. Lovely. Hopefully that's just a play on words and has nothing to do with her size! I think I preferred Shoo-shoo!

Monday, June 19, 2006

I'm leaving on a jet plane

Less than 24 hours to go. In fact, in 24 hours, I will be on the plane bound for Thailand, about an hour and a half into the flight. Hopefully Chantrea will be asleep by then!

These last few days have been crazy. Getting completely packed up and ready to go plus preparing to be a bridesmaid in a wedding and also basically being a single parent (although, I have an extremely supportive and helpful family, so it's not like I was really on my own). The wedding was beautiful, the bride was beautiful, everything went smoothly. The bride handed out iterneraries the night before the wedding, so if everything hadn't gone smoothly it would not have been due to lack of planning! It was a long day for little kids, though. The wedding was in Manti, Utah, the luncheon was in Mapleton (about an hour and fifteen minute drive) and the reception in Spanish Fork (near Mapleton). I have never been to a wedding that wasn't a bit of a marathon, though. It's such a big day. I'd love to be from a culture where everyone just eats and drinks and dances for three days. That's my idea of a good time. Still, I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I have one brother still single; he's a great catch so that won't be the case for long.

I am so ready to see John! This is going to be the longest plane ride EVER. . . .

Monday, June 05, 2006

Two weeks till I'm gone

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. First off, I think I have managed to change the settings on my blog so anyone can comment, not just those with blogs. I wondered why some of my readers (or those who claim to be reading) were not commenting; I know you people, and you usually have a lot to say!

I've quit my job in preparation for my move. I still have an amazingly long list of last minute things to do, not the least of which is figure out how to pack my personal possessions and those of my daughter in such a way that I can access everything easily during our trip (and hopefully not exceed the weight limit on our baggage allowance). We're going to a wedding immediately before the trip to Asia, so we have a lot of stuff and a lot of time between leaving here and arriving on the other end. I'm so excited to see John though. In case any of you are considering a separation from your spouse longer than a couple of days, it's not a good idea. Phone calls are just not cutting it.

Chantrea (or Shoo-Shoo, as she's known around here) has two new teeth (her eye teeth) and now weighs 28 pounds. That's pretty good for 19 months. She's also started playing a game she learned from her cousin, where she pretends to be the "tickle monster." She puts her hands up by her face and wiggles her fingers while sneaking up on you. You have to scream and act surprised when she attacks, or she has to do it again. She also demands commentary, in that someone has to be saying "Here comes the tickle monster!" I know it doesn't sound all that funny but it's hysterical to see the little glint in her eye when she thinks she's being soooo scary.

I don't usually do book reviews but I just finished a great one. It's From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe. He's a native of the Paduang tribe in Burma, and this is his memoir/autobiography. He describes his childhood and tribal customs, his years as a university student and later his time as a resistance fighter against the Burmese government. He spent months in the jungle near the Thai border with insurgents. Eventually he was able to smuggle himself into Thailand. With the help of a contact made years before, he immigrated to England, where he later graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in English literature. I love books that describe other cultures and I love stories about people overcoming incredible odds, and this book does both. He describes listening to Aung San Suu Kyi (a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the inspiration for U2's "Walk On") and the adoration the students felt for her, and later meeting her husband and sons. I picked it up at the library just because I've got Southeast Asia on the brain. Definitely worth a read.

Finally, in honor of my soon-to-be new country of residence, a word about the King of Thailand, who just celebrated 60 years on the throne. Truly an amazing man. He was actually born in Boston while both of his parents were students at Harvard. He speaks four languages, plays jazz clarinet, composes his own music, dabbles in horticulture, and has written and translated books. He genuinely seems to regard the Thai people as his children (in that he is responsible for their well-being). The Thai people adore him. The U.S. should be so lucky.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pictures from Thailand

Modern technology is fabulous. John's been in Thailand three days, and already he's emailed me pictures of our new place. I'm kind of upstaging him by posting them here (he hasn't had a chance to put them on his blog yet) but most of the people who read his, don't read mine, and vice versa. I don't have a lot of experience with posting pictures, so they'll probably be all messed up. Oh well. There's two of our room, one of the stairs, one of the downstairs area, and one of the outside of the houses opposite us. I'm assuming ours looks the same. There's air con in both bedrooms, and two bathrooms with hot water (yeah!). Chantrea's room isn't quite as nice - no built in closets, just a very utilitarian metal wardrobe - but she won't notice. It has two twin beds and one of them has siderails. Perfect for a toddler. And then we have an extra bed, in case anyone happens to be in the neighborhood!

Monday, May 08, 2006

John has left the country

I dropped my husband off at National Airport in D.C. this morning, and I won't see him for 6 1/2 weeks. That is a LONG time. And can I just say, D.C. is still intimidating to me, even after living 45 minutes away from it for most of my life? It's just not a city I really love.

I found a flight tracker on the web and I've been following John's flight. He's currently 33,000 feet over Mongolia, about 3 hours from landing in Bangkok. He took a flight from D.C. to JFK this morning, then had a five hour layover before taking off at noon. He's on a direct flight from JFK to Bangkok, going over the North Pole. Pretty cool, huh? Thai Airways had their direct flights on sale so we both booked nonstop flights. The other times I've flown to/from Thailand, I've had to stop in Korea or Taiwan. Taiwan's the far better stopping place, just because it's a more direct route and shaves a couple of hours off your total travel time. But when you're talking about a 14 flight (give or take) from L.A. or San Fran to Taiwan or Korea, and then a layover, followed by a flight to Bangkok, every hour counts! Seoul to Bangkok was like a 6 hour flight, while Taipei to Bangkok was 4 or so. Much better. John was up all night packing, and just not being able to sleep, so by the time we left he was all nervous energy. I'm so excited for him, though. I can't wait to hear all about this new place we'll be living. I was teasing him before he left that I was going to get spoiled sleeping in a bed by myself and not having to share space, and he responded with "And I'll have a whole HOUSE to myself." Which is true. Besides, I'm still up right now because I can't fall asleep in that bed by myself, I'm too used to having someone to cuddle with.

I was thinking the other day about all that's happened in the last year, and it's just been crazy. In the past twelve months (give or take a couple of weeks), I've:
  • Quit my job
  • Gone back to school full-time
  • Graduated from college
  • Moved cross-country
  • Had two more jobs (one of which I currently still have)
  • Lost all my pregnancy weight (yeah!!!)
  • Started a college savings fund for Chantrea
  • Sold our car, and most of our other household belongings

And within the next couple of months, I will pack up and move Chantrea and me to a new country. It's been a good year, though, and we feel good about all the decisions we've made.

I've been studying Thai quite a bit lately as well, and I've finally mastered all 44 consonants. Well, maybe not mastered. The tones are still tricky. And vowel length (how long you hold the vowel) is very important in Thai, and it's hard for me to combine hard tones with short vowels. Still, I've got the basic alphabet. Now, if I can just get all 48 vowels down I'll really be on my way!

I still have a few loose ends to take care of before I leave. I'm waiting on a check from my life insurance company, I cashed out the whole-life policy my dad bought for me when I was a kid. (My dad was a licensed insurance agent, so they had insurance on all of us, just enough to cover burial expenses). John and I have term insurance so I don't need to whole life anymore. Between life insurance and Social Security benefits, I'm still worth a lot more (financially) to John dead than alive, but he gives me a disgusted look whenever I bring that up. And for good reason :). I'm glad we have the insurance though; it makes me feel better knowing that if something were to happen to us, Chantrea's guardians (most likely my brother and his wife) would have plenty of money to raise her, pay for college, a mission, her wedding, whatever. My brother's good with money and investing so he'd make it go a long way. John laughs at me because I worry so much. I insisted that we buy life insurance when Chantrea was just a few months old, and the agent who sold us our policies was surprised that we had contacted them, instead of the other way around. He didn't get many calls from 25-year-old couples. But he did have several stories about couples who never thought they'd need it, and ended up being glad they had it.

John's over China now. A couple more hours and he'll be in Thailand's City of Angels.

Friday, April 28, 2006


The countdown to John's departure has officially begun. Ten days left. We sold the car today. I wanted to so it before he left. We posted it on yesterday, got a call this morning, lady came to see it this afternoon. She liked it, so she and her boyfriend will be by tomorrow to pick it up. We got $1900 for it - that's pretty good for a 1994 Honda Accord with 245,000+ miles on it. Then again, it's a dang good car. Still runs well, minor cosmetic damage. Sweet deal for her and for us. But every little thing brings us that much closer. John's parents are coming into town to spend John's next-to-last weekend with us. I still need to get my passport back from having my name changed, then Chantrea and I need visas. My checklist of things that have to happen before we go is getting shorter almost daily!

On the restaurant front . . .nothing too exciting lately. In case you have ever wondered if the servers make fun of people who mispronounce names of menu items. . .Yes, we do. My favorite of late: the lady who asked for more "pico de grigio" for her chicken. She meant pico de gallo, of course, but it was all I could do not to laugh at her. (For those who may not know, pinot grigio is a white wine). I've also had several tables lately that I really, truly think could not read. They kept asking me the same questions over and over. One guy wouldn't order anything not pictured. It wasn't enough that I described it for him, and he'd seen it advertised on TV (he told me what he was looking for) and it was described on the menu. Oh no. Unless he could see the picture of it ON THE MENU, he was not ordering it. Luckily I found a picture of it for him. Some rude people lately but the money has been good so I can't complain. Speaking of money, the other night I had a party of 9. Nine Italians. It was like Ray Romano's entire family. Seriously, one lady acted exactly like Marie. Everything went well though, I didn't have any other tables for most of it. Dropped the check, the guy handed it to me a few minutes later, I thanked him. Then I checked it. It's standard practice at my restaurant (and many others) to add gratuity to large parties. I had done it here. Unfortunately it's only 15% (some restaurants let you add 17, 18 or even 20%). Apparently they hadn't noticed, because they tipped 20% of the total with the gratuity. It was $187 before the tip, and there was $260 in the check presenter. I walked out the to the lobby but they weren't there, so then I walked outside and they were all standing there. I told them the tip was already included and the guy took some out, still left me a 25% tip. Here's what I don't get, though. This is the second time I have done this, and both times the parties barely said thank you. Are they insulted that I added the gratuity in the first place? Embarassed that they wanted some of it back? Shocked? I mean, I don't expect applause but I would be pretty impressed if a server did that (if by chance I was ever stupid enough to not look at the bill). Especially since I know what lowlifes most servers are. Please, if somebody has a thought about this please share. I'd be very interested.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My friend Zimm did one of these on his blog, so I figured I'd do one too - but not the same one.
They're kind of fun.

1. What time did you get up this morning? 8:30am - I get up when my baby gets up. Luckily she slept in this morning.

2. Diamonds or pearls? Don't really wear jewelry unless it has sentimental value, which is about two pieces.

3. What was the last movie you saw? John rented Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was impressed at how well they condensed a huge book into a movie. The book is still better, but I was impressed at how well they did. As for the theatre, I haven't seen a movie in the theatre since before Chantrea was born - and she's 17 months old.

4. What is your favorite TV show? Amazing Race. Gives me all sorts of ideas about places I want to go someday.

5. What did you have for breakfast? Skipped it - we went to an Orioles game last night (which they won, 4-2) and overindulged in peanuts and hotdogs.

6. What is your middle name? Lee

7. What is your favorite cuisine? Thai or Italian

8. What food do you dislike? Anything with raw onions

9. What is your favorite chip flavor? Not a big chip fan, but I like Doritos

10. What is your favorite CD at the moment? U2's Vertigo - brings back memories of the concert John and I went to. It was our first and so far only trip without the munchkin, and it was a lot of fun.

11. What kind of car do you drive? Honda Accord. A very old, beat up Honda Accord. We're selling it when we move overseas. Anyone want a car with 244,000 miles?

12. Favorite sandwich?I don't know - grilled cheese? Chicken salad is good too.

13. What characteristic do you despise? Selfishness

14. Favorite items of clothing? my yoga pants. Not that I do yoga, but they are very comfy.

15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go? Hmmm. Thailand/Cambodia, then Africa.

16. What color is your bathroom? yellow

17. Favorite brands of clothing? Gap and Old Navy

18. Where would you retire to? Chiang Mai, Thailand

19. Favorite time of day? night

20. What was your most memorable birthday? My 19th birthday was really fun.

21. Where were you born? Omaha, Nebraska

22 Favorite sport to watch? College football

23. Who do you least expect to send this back to you?I'm not sending it to anyone so that doesn't apply

24. Person you expect to send this back first? not applicable

25. What fabric detergent do you use?All

26. Coke or Pepsi? Yuck to both

27. Are you a morning person or a night owl? night owl - definitely a night owl

28. What is your shoe size? 7

29. Do you have any pets? no.

30. Any words of wisdom you'd like to share? I'm not feeling all that wise today.

31. What did you want to be when you were little?A vet, until I figured out that also meant putting animals to sleep.

32. What are you doing today? Playing with my baby, hanging out with my husband - we both have the day off.

33. What state do you live in? Maryland

Thursday, April 13, 2006

At last. . .

I found out last night that I passed my final exam for my senior course (which I've been working on for forever, via Independent Study). I am officially DONE with school. I graduate at the end of the month. I can't put into words how good it feels to finally be done, to know that I actually followed through. And also to know that I'm now at least eligible for the many jobs that require a college degree, and that should I want to pursue a master's degree at some point, I'm done with the BA. That's awesome. My final exam score was not stellar, but having worked in test development for two years, I can tell you there were some major assessment issues with that test anyway. It never would have passed one of my reviews. So it couldn't be that great a measure of my knowledge, anyhow.

On a less exciting note, Chantrea has to have another test tomorrow for her vesicoureterel reflux. She has to have an IV in for 30 minutes, then wait two hours, then another 30 minutes with an IV. I HATE having medical procedures done on my child. I'd rather go through labor and delivery three times without the epidural. She always looks at me like "Why are you letting them do this to me?" Ugh.

The school where John is going to teach has offered me a job. We're still in negotiations but I asked for two or three full days a week. They said they could do three. That way, Chantrea and I will still have two mornings a week that are ours, and I'll have two afternoons a week when she's napping. But, I'll still get the social interaction from working and Chantrea will get to interact with other kids and learn Thai. Perfect! Now if we can just agree on a salary, all will be well.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I know I just posted, but. . .

I decided to do two separate posts, one for my rant about work (see previous post) and one for updates about our family and my own random musings.

My husband has accepted a job offer in Khon Kaen, Thailand ( They've also offered me a job, part-time or full-time, whatever I want, plus free daycare for our daughter. And they are paying our housing and utilities. We'll never get rich in Thailand, but it will be a great experience.

Also, I received my grades on the last three papers of my undergraduate college career, and they were all very good. I was a little worried that I'd forgotten how to write, being out of school for so long, but apparently I can either still write or the professor just didn't care. I have a final exam to take and then I will officially be done with my degree! Yeah! There were a lot of times I almost didn't finish, but now I'm so glad I did. It means a lot more to me now that I have had to struggle for it. And my husband and baby have made sacrifices too, because finishing school has impacted our time together as a family. Still, it feels good to finish what you start.

Random thought: there are a lot of phrases that only make sense within a specific "community." I remember learning about this is my intro to linguistics class, where we discussed my favorite example to date (see this link). It's also true of the community of drinkers. There are a lot of alcoholic drinks with funny names, and until I started serving, I have never heard most of them. When someone asks you for a "fuzzy navel" or a "sex on the beach" or a "screwdriver," it's hard to keep a straight face, especially if you're a Mormon girl who has never had a drink in her life.

On a final, very happy note, I was digging through a closet today and found a pair of jeans from my freshman year of college, and they FIT. Seven years and one baby later, they still fit. It's like the line from First Wive's Club when Bette Midler's character's son asks if her dress is new, and she says, "it's better than new, I haven't been able to fit into it for two years." These jeans may be ratty and out of style, but I've worn them all day.

Customer Education Week

I've decided that every restaurant needs to have a Customer Education Week. It might be helpful if everyone were on the same page when it comes to expectations. Maybe I'm just saying this because I've worked four days in a row, and people tend to get on my nerves more when I work a lot of hours, but still. . . if we laid a few ground rules it might make life easier for everyone. A few suggestions to improve your future dining experiences:

1. Don't expect a server to be able to give stuff away. What makes a customer think that I can substitute lobster bisque for a salad at no charge? A guest asked me this on Friday, and when I informed him that there would be a charge, he said "I'm sure you can work some magic there." Actually, I'm a server, not a magician, and since this soup has to be ordered from the kitchen I can't get it without ordering it through the computer and charging the guest. Even if I could get it, I would be risking problems with my boss. It's not like lettuce and lobster are interchangeable.

2. If having a bunch of servers come out and sing "Happy Birthday" to you with a free slice of cake is important to you on your special day, consider calling ahead. Not all restaurants do this. Mine used to, and doesn't anymore. It has disappointed more than one person.

3. Please hang up your cell phone when ordering. It's rude, and I highly doubt you are paying your server enough to justify the rudeness.

4. Please READ THE MENU. Especially if you think it's cute to have your date order for you. Telling me that you would like to have the tilapia is only the beginning. If you will read the menu, you'll discover a wealth of information needs to be communicated to your server, including the preparation method, the portion size, the side dish, and the salad choice and dressing, if applicable. All of this is on the menu. If you read it, you will avoid a situation that is awkward for everyone, and also avoid tempting me to omit telling you that you have a choice and just ordering you what I think you should have (which would be whatever is most expensive and/or easiest for me).

And just so you know, the custom of a man ordering for his date began back in the days when all servers were men, and a lady could not speak directly to a man to whom she had not been introduced. Since this is no longer a social taboo and I'm a woman, it isn't really necessary for a man to order for his date.

5. It is not generally wise to have small children in a restaurant late at night. I had two children under the age of two in my section at 10:00pm last night. This is not fun for anyone, least of all the child. I can't tell you how many children I have seen asleep in booths in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Get a babysitter, get take out, or get used to eating before 9:00pm.

I wonder if any profession has the same dilemma serving does, in that your employer does not control your income. My boss can control my income to some extent - she determines how much I work, and when, and what section of the restaurant. And a lot of my income depends on how busy the restaurant is. The deciding factor is tips, and that (theorectically) depends on the quality of service that I provide. So when there is a vast difference between what the customer wants (free substitutions, extras, etc) and what I can give, it's a tough spot to be in.

Luckily, the vast majority of my customers are polite, considerate people who tip adequately and make my job enjoyable. Kudos to good restaurant patrons everywhere.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Drunk People Give Great Tips

Had a very a interesting Saturday double. Luckily, the Hermans didn't come in (they did the Saturday before, and I did a less than stellar job as their server, so maybe they gave up on me). The day was going fine, nothing awful and nothing spectacular, when I was seated a family of six people. They proceed to order a bottle of wine, a beer, and two sodas. Then they each ordered an appetizer. This is very quickly racking them up a large check, at least by the standards of the "Crimson Crustacean" where I work. Then, the father decides he doesn't like the wine, so he orders another bottle, this time a Pino Grigio (the first was a white zinfadel). He was super picky about the way I opened the wine, poured the wine, etc. Maybe this is a bad attitude but, you know, it's a two-star restaurant, and these are $18 bottles of wine - I didn't break the cork, I didn't make a loud pop when I opened it, and I didn't spill it. What more do you want from me? Long story short, five of the six of them ordered lobsters, only we didn't have two-pound lobsters so two of them had to get three-pounders, then the father and oldest son ordered desserts and after dinner drinks. After the guy raised a huge stink about having to have a three-pound lobster instead of a two-pound lobster, my manager gave them two of their appetizers for free. It was over $300 still. Total tip? Eighty-five bucks. Not bad. Even if he was a total pain.

On another note, my daughter has been sick all day. All she wanted was to be held and watch Barney. I never thought I'd let a child of mine watch Barney, but what can you do? She loves the songs. Her fever peaked at 103, but we gave her some Tylenol and it came down. I hate having my kid sick. There's nothing as miserable as watching her be miserable and not being able to help her.

Bought luggage for our trip today. Every little thing gets us that much closer.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Saturday double

I worked a double today, which means I arrived at work shortly before noon and left the restaurant well after midnight. But, I made decent money so that makes it worth it, I guess.

This couple came in today, I'll call them the Hermans. The Hermans come in every Saturday afternoon. They have a favorite server and always request her. Unfortunately, she was fired last week. So today they request me. I've waited on them once before and I remembered several of their preferences. What I didn't realize was that the $5 tip on a $30 check last time was not, in fact, indicative of their ability to figure 15%. Today they tipped $5 on $50. There are an amazing number of people in this world who still think that $5 is a decent tip, regardless of what the check amount is. Grrr. They had better not start requesting me, or I may become the worst server in the history of the world for one hour every Saturday.

Other than that, it was a fairly normal day. Usually Saturdays are great fodder for appalling stories about the people who come into the restaurant, but not today. Unless you count the guy who wanted all his drinks made with Hennessy. Strawberry daquiri, with Henessy. Raspberry margarita, Hennessy. Which begs the question, is it still a margarita if there is no tequila? A daquiri with no rum? Hmmm.

Which reminds me of the lady who came in last week and ordered a glass of "burgundy". For those of you who don't know, burgundy is not a category of wine. You can order a glass of white wine or a glass of red wine, or a blush wine, but there is no such thing as a burgundy. It is not necessarily wise of a server to tell this to a guest, however, so I ordered her a Cabernet Sauvignon. Then she asked for ice, which she PUT IN HER WINE.

(Yes, I'm aware that most, if not all, of the people who will ever read this do not drink and have no frame of reference for how appalling this really is, so let me just tell you: you don't put ice in wine, especially red wine. If the wine was supposed to be cold, it would have been chilled. It is gauche to put ice in wine.)

She and her dining companion then proceeded to complain about the lack of options on the menu, order snow crab, ask for extra butter, complain about the butter not being hot enough, and tell me that it was my fault if they got sick from the cold butter. Mind you, at this point it is 11:30 at night and the butter is cold because the kitchen staff put it in the fridge for the night. I didn't realize the butter had actually had a chance to cool off, or I would have gladly warmed it for them. To top it off, they stiffed me completely. But what can you expect from people who put ice in their glass of "burgundy"?

Anyway, on a non-work related note, my husband recently posted his resume on a job board for TESOL jobs in Thailand. And, he got two responses! They are not from schools in our preferred cities (we have a definite idea of where we want to live) but still, it was exciting that they were seeking him out. He is very qualified though. I'm alternately excited to go and scared to go.

Chantrea has started signing "please" and "thank you". It's beyond cute. Sometimes she'll be pointing to something she wants and I'll say "what do you say?" She then signs "please" and "thank you" in rapid succession, like "whatever, just give it to me and I'll do whatever you want." But, at least we are establishing a good habit, right?


Friday, March 03, 2006

Getting Started

I've wanted a blog for a long time, but couldn't think of a name and never seemed to have the time to start. I've finally decided on a name that wasn't too lame or too limited to circumstances - I didn't want anything that incorporated my current occupation or location since they are bound to change soon. But sleep deprivation, that seems to be a constant theme in my life. Maybe it's because I seem need a lot of sleep, or maybe I just don't sleep soundly, or maybe I'm just a chronic worrier. Or some combination thereof. I've already taken my generic Tylenol pm so I'm just waiting for it to kick in. I could seriously get addicted to that stuff, but I only take it when I've had a particularly stressful night at work or when I have to work the next day and don't think I'll be able to sleep. Since my sleep schedule is all out of whack, I don't feel tired and I have to work a double tomorrow (Sat), I need a decent night's sleep tonight. And just to warn the five people who may be planning to read this blog on a regular basis, there will be a lot of ranting and raving about my job. I'm a server in a restaurant and this blog will probably be the forum for venting my frustrations about people who are uneducated, rude, messy, overly demanding, smell bad or just don't tip. So be forewarned.