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Cuppa tea then?

3 weeks in England

rain 11 °C
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Mike and I spent the last 3 weeks in England, the mother land. I was very excited to have the opportunity to learn to speak English, as opposed to American English, and to have cream teas. I think I learned more English slang than ‘proper’ English, but that was fun too! If you aren’t privy, cream tea consists of 2 warm scones, a pot of jam, a pot of clotted cream, and of course tea. My initial reaction: “clotted” cream? …my only association to the word clot is through science courses – as in blood clot. Eeeek! Clotted cream has nothing to do with blood, thankfully. It’s a sticky and slightly sweet, thick cream. Put that on your warm scone along with the jam and voila, a very tasty snack! Wash down with hot tea (with milk) and repeat as often as possible for maximum weight gain! I’ve packed on a few lbs in this fashion – but I think the fish & chips, sausages and real ale have something to do with that, too. No bother, a waist is a terrible thing to mind, especially when faced with 5 weeks of Vietnam’s nauseating culinary offerings.

We were hosted most graciously by Mike’s family – the first week with Jim and Sandra, his parents, the second week with Melanie and Paul, his sister and brother-in-law, and a few days at Grandma Jean’s followed by a few days in London. I think benevolence and hospitality are in the water in the UK – I felt so at home everywhere we went! Mike’s mom hand-made a bag for my yoga mat during the week we were yachting and touring ancient sites (and ancient PUBS!) with Mel and Paul.

Everyone cooked for us, which was really fantastic, and they even put up with my egg-eating. =) …for those who don’t know, I eat eggs probably 5 breakfasts per week. Especially since traveling over the last 5 months – seems you can always find eggs for breakie, though you may not want to eat them (see Koh Samet entry!). I thought a Christmas Cracker was something you eat, or maybe slang for Santa Claus, but Mike’s mom put me wise to the English custom over Christmas dinner, which we ate on October 18th. A cracker looks like a huge piece of taffy, twisted paper at both ends, except it’s wrapped in foil papers of all different Christmas-y colors. Everyone at the table has a cracker in front of their dinner plate. You hold one end in your right hand like you’re passing a baton to the person at your left, and they grab the other end with their left hand. You grab the other end of the person’s to your right, and so on around the table. Then everyone pulls them apart at the same time and they explode. Not like with dynamite or C4, just a little pop and you open it up. Inside, you get a paper crown, which everyone instantly dons, a joke on a little piece of paper, and a small trinket or toy – mine was a fingernail brush! That’ll come in handy for sand removal (the war on sand continues!). It was so much fun! I hear the previous year was a bit more fun – the fire department came and everything…someone lit the dining room carpet and hallway on fire with an out-of-control candle. Our families are going to get along great, I have a feeling!

It was, of course raining a bit during our stay. Seems like every time we tried to leave whatever house we were in, it would rain. Insert standard response here: Cuppa tea then? Seriously, I love all the tea drinking that goes on. ….and all the ale drinking for that matter (thanks Mel and Paul!). If taking the browns to the superbowl is a challenge for you, HAVE ANOTHER PINT OF ALE! It really, really, reallyreallyreallyreally works! I never knew it was possible to ‘let one fly’ with a man on deck…the human is a multitalented beast. Poop spelled backwards is poop! Anyway, we ate like kings, drank like sailors, and slept like it was going out of style.

While in London, we saw all the sights, and for Mike’s birthday, his parents treated us to a show. We saw Wicked last Wednesday night, and it was superb. If you like the story of the Wizard of Oz, you’ll probably like this. The production was incredible as was the singing, dancing and costumes.

There’s so much to tell, I’m sure I’ve left out many details…..and the jet lag is squashing my little brain into a ball and hurling it repeatedly at the inside of my skull. …..thud…….thud…thud……. Why does jet lag erase my memory? I packed my bag this morning to go from Saigon to Mui Ne Beach (we’re now in Vietnam), and I don’t remember doing it. I open my mouth to talk, and the words don’t go together…can’t complete…..sentence! I’m tired but I can’t sleep, I’m poor but I’m kind, I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah….shit, channeling Alanis Morissette again.

Last night as we sat talking with my friend Candy in our room on the 921st floor of Madam Cuc’s Guesthouse and Guiness Book of World Records’ title holder for the world’s longest and most treacherous spiral staircase, I remembered walking into the oldest cathedral in England, which is in Chester. Chester is also birthplace to a most handsome, kind, bright, graceful and tall guy we all know and love – Mike! The cathedral has quite a few stained glass windows, my favorite being the section of mostly blue glass just inside the entryway. It was exquisite with daylight – ok, cloud cover – illuminating the panes. The stone work in that building is incredible – quite cold (temperature) inside as are most Catholic and/or old churches I’ve been into, but with a feeling that you can only get from a place that’s been standing for 1000 years, and has been filled with those carrying in their hearts a similar feeling of reverence and a corresponding want for peace and harmony. After my liberation from the organized religion of my distant past, my spiritual views are now inclusive rather than exclusive, which has made for an abundant experience of all spiritually-rich places, be they cathedral, temple, shrine or pagoda.

Posted by kmpossible 06:45 Archived in England Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Illinois...

...where the men are men and the goats are scared!

all seasons in one day 21 °C
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Ah Illinois...land of corn...and fast food. Eating at my Dad's was a highlight to the trip - he cooked chicken in the smoker (a 6 hour process), venison steaks on the grill (from a deer my Dad shot last spring), and served up as much beer as you could drink. Aside from that, the only food options in Galesburg where we stayed were fast food joints and bars - deep fried appetizers, french fries, burgers, etc. No wonder folks in that area seem to be expanding well beyond a conceivable waistline. I often wondered why I get sick every time I go back to Illinois, and I think I've cracked it. It's the unhealthy food! I'm convinced. Aside from at my Dad's, I barely glimpsed a fresh, un-fried vegetable crossing my plate, or feedbag, during meals. Even breakfast was a challenge - I had to order eggs and toast ala carte in order to avoid getting 2 pancakes, 2 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 strips of bacon, a "mammoth muffin", toast, AND hash browns. It's obviously cheap to eat this way, as the big breakfast was only about five bucks...and getting more for less must be a good thing, right? Not exactly. Just ask your heart after eating all that...well, fat. "I'll take the big breakfast....and....hmmmm...well, yes, a cardiac surgeon."

I'm absolutely terrified at the changes in the landscape in the nearly 10 years since my departure from the "Bible Belt", where religious zealotry is rivaled only in, well, any other extremist, narrow minded religious community. But I digress. There are no more hedgerows or fences between fields for that matter, and virtually no trees whatsoever in/near the fields, as they've all been ripped out in order to enslave more of the tortured topsoil to the almighty Corn. It's a big problem. A monoculture is a bad idea, no matter what variety - it encourages disease among the species, depletes the soil (and/or other resources) of certain necessary nutrients, and then requires tons of chemicals to feed it and keep it pest free. ...for the interested reader: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (more info here: http://www.michaelpollan.com/omnivore.php). Where have all the animals gone? To the factory farms, that's where - another large monoculture, requiring antibiotics in order to live, and passing on disease to us.

I got to catch up with my friends Monita and Jamie Jo while I was in Illinois - here's a photo from our night out...good times!
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We wrangled up some cold beers at a bar called Crappy's North (!) and sat around a big table with my dad, Mike, and some other people I went to high school with, whom I haven't seen in over 10 years, including Larua Jean Cheline (now Johnson) and Money (his real name is Mike). The band actually finished it's set with Free Bird...I thought they were joking until several folks pulled out their Bics. There's a lot of that going on in Illinois, nicknames, I mean. Scruffy & Bits, Meathead, Moose, Horndog, and HarleyJon to name a few. What a bunch of characters! It was great to catch up with the folks from school, and also friends of the family who came to Dad's on Saturday night - quite a few motorcycles arrived! Also, my sister, her husband and their 2 girls visited, as did my grandma, and my mom came out for a while as well - a good time was had by all.

Posted by kmpossible 08:09 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

2 Weeks in San Francisco

...with 2 dear friends...

sunny 23 °C
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September 9 - 22nd were spent in San Francisco. After 8 hours of food poisoning on the flight from Tokyo, I was ready to relax and catch up with friends in the city. Things didn't exactly work out as I had envisioned them.

I did get to see and catch up with many friends in SF, but the relaxing didn't really come to fruition until the last weekend, when we went to the Zen House (big sigh) in Russian River...more on that in a minute. Recovering from food poisoning in conjunction with jet lag was a new and unimagined hell that I would never wish on anyone. Late in the day for about the first 5 days, my head would start to get very heavy, my thoughts raced, my heart raced, and my eye lids felt like they were made of lead. It felt like I was starting to fall asleep, even though I was walking around, riding in a car, or sitting down to dinner. It was nearly impossible to carry on a conversation (as you know if you saw me during those first few days!)...I was conversationally impaired, to say the least.

Here's a photo from a night out in the city.
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On top of trying to get well, I was trying to work out the logistics of getting my house sitter out of my apartment. The place was in such a state...you wouldn't believe it. If you were house sitting, would you not tidy up a bit when the owners came home? ...me too...I guess not everyone would, as I found out. There was stuff everywhere, boxes yet to be unpacked (after 3 months??), cat hair EVERYWHERE, a broken knob on the shower, smoke detector dangling off the wall with battery removed, wine stains on the carpet, a huge pile of baking soda in the bottom of the oven, a pile of dirty dishes, and all the furniture/pictures had been rearranged into a very un-feng shui configuration. Again, I try to put myself into another's shoes: if you were house sitting would you: rearrange the furniture? Move the wall hangings? Break stuff and not tell anyone? Not pay rent? Avoid talking with the owners? Avoid picking the owners up at the airport WITH THEIR OWN VEHICLE? Let your cat scratch and ruin the sofas? Myself, I answered no to all these questions, as I'm sure you did too. So you can understand my incredulity at this behavior. We offered the apartment/house sit at a huge discount because we were requiring a bit of work on the house sitter's part: communication over email to let us know that everything is ok, and water the plants. The response was HUGE on Craigslist, so I was able to re-rent/arrange a house sitter very quickly. ...instead of relaxing and catching up with the friends I didn't get to see. I'm still pissed (can you tell?) about the whole ordeal, but I am happy for the time I did get to spend with my friends.

During this sub-optimal home coming, Mike and I stayed with our dear friends, Peter and Brent (and their dog, Leo), in their lovely home in San Francisco. They were our saving grace - fed us, encouraged us to imbibe some lovely wine, and invited us to their Zen House in Guerneville (Russian River) to relax at the end of our stay in SF. These two have a knack for creating peaceful space...I never get such good rest as the rest I get at Zen House. They also both happen to be fantastic cooks, so we ate like kings. I contributed by making red velvet cupcakes - 5 each over the course of 3 days. Yes, there were tears on the last day when I had eaten my 5 already and tried to take one of Peter's. I think I raised some feathers with that one! ;-) The weekend was certainly the high point of our return. Sitting in the hot tub late at night telling stories and looking up at the stars between the redwood trees...can you think of a more peaceful evening? ...thanks a million guys, I love you!

Posted by kmpossible 10:41 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Thai Fruit/Vegetable Carving & Zen in Koh Samui

...an older entry that I forgot to post!

sunny 33 °C
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Mike and I took a Thai fruit and vegetable carving class at SITCA, the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts before we left Koh Samui. It’s a 3-class series, each session 3 hours long. The first lesson was carving a watermelon into a flower pattern. It was a little stressful because if you cut at the wrong angle, your petals will fall off! Our charismatic instructor, Thim, has incredibly strong and steady hands…she carved a turnip into a flower in about 5 minutes! Next was the cantaloupe flower, and the third day was veggie carvings, plate decorating and garnishes. What fun!!!

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Finished_product.jpg

As you can tell, we haven’t had much wind here on Samui. Also, the beach where we’re staying is pretty narrow, so it’s tough to launch/land the kites safely. I’m the proud owner of a new waist harness, and I’m chomping the bit to get a good run on it…it just doesn’t feel really safe here, and that’s intimidating. Maybe Koh Samet will have some broader beaches and steady, howling wind!

We’ve visited a couple different Wats since arriving here. The Wat Big Buddha is located at the northeastern tip of Koh Samui, and you can see it from our hotel poking up above the trees. It’s 12 meters high and gold!

Big_Buddha.jpg

I got to pray just before the monks started their chants, which was very moving. I came down from looking at the Big Buddha, and at the bottom there are several smaller shrines.

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I was trying to get a closer look at one of them, which had several small, square cushions on the raised floor in front of a beautiful gold reclining Buddha. One of the monks up on the platform motioned me to one of the cushions, so I took off my shoes and climbed up. As I got closer to the Buddha, I felt a very warm, vibrating sensation fill my body. As I sat down on my heels I closed my eyes and let the scent of sandalwood incense fill my nose. I folded my hands, palms up, in my lap, and said a few words in my head, and then my mind went completely blank. I was totally overwhelmed by the heat in my body and the feeling of fullness, gratitude and love. Placing my hands palms together at my heart, I bowed forward all the way to the floor. I wish I were a poet so I could explain the fullness and beauty of these moments…it was incredible, the energy of this place of prayer and reverence. I felt a similar feeling when I was in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2000. I think religions are like fingers on a hand…they all lead to the same source. We all want the same things right? Love, peace, happiness? In this place, in the dim light of late afternoon, I felt like part of the whole, completely connected.

Posted by kmpossible 20:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Koh Samet...

...hotter than Koh Samui!

sunny 33 °C
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This is just a short entry to let everyone know that we're burning alive here on Koh Samet. I feel like an ant under a magnifying glass...it's hot as hell! But I'm loving it.... There's just a small dirt trail through the middle of the island. We walked about half the length of the island yesterday...of course it was at the hottest point of the afternoon! Getting back to the airconditioned room was such a treat.

There seems to be very little, if any, wireless here, and we're too far to walk to the internet cafe, so this will probably be my only entry until we get back to Bangkok next Friday. We rented an ATV today to get around..I'm driving, and it's sooooo fun! It's a little weird getting used to driving on the left hand side of the road, but I'm adjusting quickly. Good thing, or we'd be roadkill by now.

We're staying at the Samet Ville Resort near the southern end of the island, on the east coast. It's a cute room with AC and hot water, but the restaurant is pretty bad. Breakfast was not good - it's included in the price of the room, but we've decided to go out in search of better vittles in the future. Today, what we found was not any better...and I'm HUNGRY! =( Oh well...maybe we'll stick to crap-jam and marj on toast with a bitter cup of nescafe, and get a hearty lunch. I'm almost certain it's impossible to starve over the course of a week. I complain, but the dinner we had last night was actually quite tasty. I'm in search of a beach BBQ for dinner tonight...fish on the beach + Singha = happy KimPossible...wish me luck!

If you're looking for seclusion, Koh Samet seems the place to get it. We walked all the way to the next beach north of us yesterday on a very rocky & beautiful coastline and didn't see a single person or boat. There are loads of lovely outlook points all around the western coastline, which is mostly cliffs, it seems, though we haven't explored the entire length yet due to the heat/lack of sunscreen yesterday!

Pics to come...I'll email out a block of Koh Samui pictures when we arrive in Bangkok. Also, if you have any requests for goods from Thailand, this is your last chance! I'll be doing a bit of shopping in Bangkok, since we have a pretty heafty weight limit on our bags for the flight to San Francisco.

I'm sending you hugs right now!!! Muaaaa!

Posted by kmpossible 23:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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