On to Paradise

Our taxi ride from Khao Sok National Park to the southern area province of Krabi took us 2.5 hours, that is, with the usual stops along the way we have come to accept by all drivers in Thailand- refreshments and errands they have built into the trip. Rain began to pour in buckets as we came into the city, and when I say pour, brig from Seattle, you’d think I knew what that meant. I’ve quickly come to realize that rain in Thailand is nothing quite like the rain back home. Stepping outside for just a quick second has you drenched from head to toe, and running to the bathroom meant splashing in warm puddles up to my calves. It was quite the experience- warm rain- I wouldn’t have minded it much had I not felt bad for soaking the entire inside of the taxi. We arrived to our Airbnb in Ao among, Krabi, and we were exhausted from the travel and hike earlier that day. We ordered “room service” which was a funny experience in itself, as our Airbnb was just a house amongst other homes and the room service was just delivery from a local restaurant arranged by our gracious host. We had no idea what the surrounding area really looked like, having arrived so late, but we were eager to find out in the morning after a good nights rest.

In the morning we caught a taxi into town- the taxis are here are really just pick up trucks with a cover and benches to sit. Our first observation of the town was the neighborhood surrounding our Airbnb, which was a mixture of really nice small homes and then literally across the street shanty houses made of scrap material. It was very strange and a bit eye opening, as we’d soon come to discover is the apparent theme here in Thailand. 

The town of ao Nong itself is a road along the beach filled with shops and restaurants. We grabbed breakfast and wandered down to the beach. Along the very left hand side were stairs along the cliff that led into the jungle. We followed them to find that they led to the resort on the other side, with a beautiful stretch of beach. We swam out to a cove we saw in the rock and sat inside it for a while, I told kellen I felt like a mermaid lying in the cove letting the waves splash over me. 🙂

After all that hard work, it was obviously time for a massage, which, in Thailand is literally more common than a Starbucks in Seattle. In fact, you can’t walk more than 30 feet it seems without being propositioned for a massage. I found the most picturesque of them all in my opinion, an open air deck lined with mats, and had a back, neck and shoulder massage (this one much less traumatizing than my experience in Bangkok), my toes and nails painted, all for a whopping $9 US dollars. Oh Thailand, I do love you.

After an amazing lunch including some delicious pineapple fried rice, kellen attempted to find a grocery store but came up unsuccessful. I had to rescue him with a tuk tuk, thanks in major part to google translator who helped me explain my situation to the driver. 

The next day we ventured on a tour to see some of the islands just off the coast. It sounds a bit more romantic than it really was, to be honest, as the tour company seems to have a very effective way of jamming as many people as possible into these boats, and providing an “English guide” who barely told us anything that day, haha. Still, we had fun, snorkeling off the boat, seeing the amazing Phi Phi island and watching the curious and quite aggressive monkeys on bamboo island. The guide warned us not to take anything out to this island with us because the monkeys have been known to steal things from tourists, they especially love water bottles. A group of monkeys had obviously stolen a woman’s scarf at some point and were playing tug of war with it, I found this absolutely fascinating and told kellen I could probably watch monkeys all day. 

I was eagerly anticipating our trip to Railey Beach the next day, which is set on the peninsula of Krabi but completely disconnected from the mainland because of cliffs, so you can only access it from long tail boat. This, my friends, is absolutely as romantic as it sounds: Railey beach did NOT disappoint- it is surrounded by limestone cliffs and a lush rainforest. We rented a kayak and explored around the cove on the left hand side, this had to be one of the highlights of the trip so far in my opinion, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. 

We walked along the beach and found what was called the “walking street” which we quickly learned was just the street that takes you to the resorts. Again, a very strange feeling of wealth and poverty as you must walk by lots of shanty houses and tents in order to reach the resorts on the other side. 

We had made a mistake in booking our Airbnb, so we had to leave Saturday morning (we were sad to leave for sure, since the host was absolutely incredible and the Airbnb itself was a whole home to ourselves with a private pool). We had booked one night in Railey, which we didn’t know until we got here but that meant lugging our luggage all the way via long tail boat to the resort. Longtail boats are absolutely an experience in themselves, you have to wade into the water to get on them, maneuver yourself up a rickety ladder, and swing your legs in to get in. So with luggage, you can imagine what a funny experience that was :).

Arriving to our resort had us quickly forgetting the woes of leaving our amazing air bnb- within the first two hours we discovered a path which followed along a cave wall that popped you out onto the most amazing and picturesque beach so far, in my opinion, phranang cave beach. Describing it almost feels like not doing it justice- it was just breathtaking, swimming below a cave wall, watching the drips from the top fall into the water from 500 feet above. 

I had been looking forward to eating at an amazing restaurant called “The Grotto”- which happened to be right on this beach- and was by far our biggest expenditure of the trip, but the food was delicious. 

More monkeys on the way back to our room for the night, not to mention the giant iguana we saw consume another lizard under our table at lunch, we are now snuggled up in our bed listening to the sound of thunderstorm. We leave early for a 9am flight to the north- Chiang Mai- more exciting adventures to come!

Cave Trekking

“You ready for big spider?” Asked our guide. 
“No sir. Thank you. Goodbye”
….Is what I wanted to say but…it was too late. We had already hiked 2.5km through the jungle to the entrance of the cave, and it was time to go in. We strapped on our giant neon green headlamps and followed. 

I wasn’t expecting the length and time we’d be in there. I knew we’d be walking through water at some points, but I had no idea we’d be maneuvering through narrow wedged boulders and swimming through sections. It was dark, there were bats lining the ceilings, and giant spiders on the walls, some bigger than my hand. To say I wasn’t nervous and scared would be a massive lie- I was eagerly anticipating the light at the end of the tunnel (literally). After around 40 minutes trekking through the cave, we finally found that light, and I took a deep breath. It was an experience I won’t ever forget. 

A House that Floats

It’s 10pm and I’m sitting on the dock just outside of our floating lake house anchored in Khao Sok National park. We are surrounded by the jungle, it’s noises, it’s peacefulness. I’ve just taken an evening swim in the warm lake water and stared up at the stars, reflecting on the day’s events. After waking up in our bungalow this morning, early still due to a bit of lingering jet lag I am sure, we packed up and headed to the open air restaurant to connect to wifi and call the kids-I couldn’t wait to tell them about the cave temple monkeys. We discovered they were at their cousin Cohen’s house and wanted absolutely nothing to do with talking to us other than a brief “hi Mom, hi dad!”-a bittersweet feeling for sure. It’s good to know even when we are away they are being loved and cared for so well. 

After breakfast we boarded a van (called “minibus” here in Thailand) and drove into the nearby town to pick up some provisions for the day’s adventure. Our tour guide said he was buying food for us to eat out on the lake, right there from the market. We walked around the market and saw all kinds of interesting and, dare I say, questionable types of foods- the heads of pigs and all other body parts laying out, fish and seafood or all kinds, pink eggs, and other fascinating things to look at. I didn’t have my camera but since this wasn’t really a tourist type market, more of a local one, I would have felt strange taking pictures any way. 

Hopping back in the minibus and a bit more drive, we arrived at the pier for Khao Sok, which was busy with tourists boarding longtail boats to transport to their accommodations around the lake. The boat ride to our lakehouses took us just under an hour, observing the amazing lake and scenery as we went, the turquoise green water and jutted mountains covered in lush jungles and rock face cliffs. I’ve never felt water this warm before, being a Pacific Northwest girl. It is seriously amazing. 

The rest of the day was spent kayaking, swimming, and enjoying food provided by the family who lives here at the lakehouses. Just before dinner our guide took us out on an evening “safari” which had us pulling into coves around the lake and spotting monkeys swinging from the trees. We met a young British couple named Ellie and Mitch, and finished the evening drinking Chang beers on the large floating common area, listening to stories of their traveling adventures through Southeast Asia so far.

Jungle Bungalows

It was another early start to our morning as we headed to the local airport to catch a plane from Bangkok to Surathani. I have discovered that Thai people know how to make a good latte, so naturally I’ve decided I can stay. Kellen’s attempt at ordering a coffee this morning left him with just a shot of espresso, illustrating I believe exactly what being a 6’3″ man in Thailand really feels like:

Navigating to Khao Sok National Park was an experience, since there is no direct transportation, we had to take one bus to the city center, and then a mini bus from there. Signing up for the minibus was literally in a family’s house, which I’m coming to discover is not that uncommon here for businesses- they run them out of their homes, which is just basically an open air living concept with children running around and family life happening right there amongst the business. Being a mom, of course I loved watching the kids and couldn’t help but thinking how different life is here for these children, and yet, oddly the same! I laughed when I watched the Mom tell her little boy, barely 3 maybe, to go sweep, and his tiny little body carrying the big broomstick to complete the task. 

The Minibus was quite the native Thai experience, it certainly wasn’t a bus made for tourists, since all of the other passengers he picked up were local residents. He told us it would be 1 hour to Khao Sok, so we had to laugh when our driver kept stopping to complete random errands along the road- including getting gas, picking out his lunch at the local market, picking up some corn at a different market for later- every stop kellen and I looked at each other and started laughing. So different from back home. The other passengers on the bus kept turning aliens to watch us, they seemed really confused as to how we had ended up there, haha. The one hour trip turned into two thanks to all of our drivers pit stops that provides us extra time to scope out what life is like here- but we eventually made it to the park. 

The place we are staying is called the Smiley Bungalows- it is literally a row stilted bungalow houses lined up inside the jungle. There is a hammock on our porch and an incredible view of the luscious green jungle mountains out in front of us. The room is extremely basic, just two beds and a shower with a hole in the ground that shoots right out onto the ground below, no plumbing hooked up for it. There is a toilet with plumbing, however, which I was relieved to see. 

The “restaurant” here is once again just another family business, and we took no time wasted in ordering another round of phad thai and cashew chicken. 

After lunch, we were told the only activity outside of the national park itself (which we have planned for tomorrow) is the Cave Monkey Temple to feed the monkeys, a local temple and business where monkeys have learned they can get food, so we were off to explore. 

When we arrived, we bought tickets and a bag of peanuts from a young boy and his mother from a tiny shack at the entrance. I grabbed the bag of peanuts and we began walking and I was not prepared in the LEAST for the bombard of monkeys. One big one came running at me, climbed us my legs and literally grabbed the entire bag of peanuts out of my hands. So much for feeding the monkeys, haha! We still got plenty of pictures of them, as they played and foraged for other food leftover by other past tourists. It was such a cool experience and probably one I’ll never forget- being under the tree as they swung in the branches. As we were observing, it began to pour, and it was one of the coolest experiences finding shelter in a cave on the side of a cliff, watching these monkeys play and eat. 

Walking back it began to thunder, so we were happy to be back at the bungalow just in time to see lightning cross the sky in our view from the porch. 

The rest of the evening was spent with some drinks and swinging on the porch swing in the open air bar, talking about life and overlooking the jungle and bungalows from our spot. When we went back to our place, it took no short of 5 minutes for me to fall asleep in the hammock, listening to the sounds of the jungle. 

Tuk Tuk’s and Thai Massage 

After a total of 30+ hours of travel and both of us not feeling great on the airplane, we arrived Bangkok early in the morning hours. We noted how the highway looked very similar to the US, peppered with 7-11’s and even a Harry Davidson shop as we drove in. It was 4am in Bangkok, but as we exited the highway our first glimpse of city life was a table full of local men eating street food- despite the early hour. We quickly realized what we had been told about Bangkok was true, it seems to be a busy, noisy city that rarely sleeps. We, however, made it to our hotel room and crashed since we were beyond exhausted from the long trip. 

The next day we grabbed breakfast at the cafe next door to the hotel, it wasn’t too far from our comfort zone- bacon, eggs, and coffee, but nevertheless, delicious. It was also very apparent quickly how kind the Thai people are, lots of smiles all around. 

We booked a river city guide tour with an agent next to the hotel as well, who even followed the tuk tuk we took to the river to make sure he didn’t make any extra “stops” along the way- a common practice for tuk tuk drivers who get a sort of kick back commission for the customers they bring in. 

We boarded a long tail boat and cruised through the canal, an odd mixture of wealthy homes overlooking over the river and shanty shacks peppering it as well. It was an experience, to say the least, and one kellen and I enjoyed fully as we pondered what life living on this canal would be like. 

Next stop was the Grand Palace, which had Disneyland l-like crowds but nevertheless a must do of Bangkok. We both agreed it was a great one time see. Beautiful architecture and peek into the Buddhist culture and religion. 

After that, it was time for our much anticipated phad thai experience, which we were happy to find at a very non de script hole in the wall restaurant with a sliding glass door and air conditioning, which was a relief from the muggy hot weather outside. 

After lunch and a rest at the hotel, I decided to try my first Thai massage experience and boy….was it an experience! The place was lined with actual twin beds to lay on, and my masseuse performed all kinds of techniques that made me laughing hysterically on the inside- including climbing on the actual bed with me, wrapping her legs around mine and moving my body in all sorts of ways I’mnot really sure if it has been moved before! I kept thinking “this can’t be real” as I tried to suppress laughter followed by the feeling of “oh man that feels good.” At one point, I laid on my stomach and I am not kidding, she actually crouched on my legs and walked up my back. It reminded me of my kids attempts at back massage except she actually knew what she was doing, and despite the awkwardness of it all, it really did feel amazing. It was an experience I certainly won’t forget and I went back to the hotel excited to share the humorous experience with kellen. 

Next up was Khao Son road, which we ended up on eventually but the path we took to get there led us to another area lined with a street market and restaurants. Every other booth seemed to be an open air massage parlor, but since I had already had my experience for the day I opted to pass, haha. 

I was amazed at how cool and adorable I found all the clothing ad jewelry- it really was overwhelming how m-“any things I loved. Kellen tested out his haggling skills on a backpack right away and I couldn’t be more proud of him, haggling feels like a bit of a game that you can win by sticking to your original offer. 

We turned down another road and found a magical restaurant/bar serving happy hour. I was basically in heaven with the giant trees, twinkling lights and 100 Baht pinya coladas (that’s about $3 US). Thailand has not disappointed us so far as the bill for all of our food plus two drinks each that day came to $30. We made our way to Khao SAN road, which I can only describe as a busy street market mixed with a bit of the Las Vegas strip, lit signs illuminating above the bustle of the crowds. I was once again fascinated by all of the vendors, slightly disgusted by the fried insects (I could have gone without seeing a fried spider) and mesmerized by the atmosphere of it all. Negotiating a tuk tuk at the end of the street to take us back to the hotel, we felt like we were getting our bearings on this big city. By the end of the day, kellen was researching buying a vacation home here on the internet, purely or of curiosity but really- who knows where this life will lead? In the meantime, its fun to dream, and there’s no one I’d rather experience this all with than him. 

Rise above

“Rise above, Nicole” my mom always use to say. I feel as if that saying was on repeat in my childhood. I never fully understood it. In church on Sunday we heard “Turn the other cheek”- but…how? And why? It didn’t feel right. In fact, it always felt counterproductive.

They keep warning me it’s coming. They said it will be the hardest thing I’ll face as a parent. I can believe it, because it’s some of the hardest things I’ve faced as an adult.
And I keep thinking…how can I teach them if I haven’t taught myself?

Human condition tells us to react. To fight back. To make the last move. It beckons us to fight the pain we’ve been given with more pain. It whispers lies that tell us if we just create more hurt, it will help heal our own wounds.

In short, human condition is wrong. And not only is it wrong, it is detrimental. Because if we were truly honest with ourselves, healing doesn’t begin while we continue to pursue pain. Wounds don’t close by opening others. Healing begins when we protect those wounds, when we choose to stop the cycle.

It is simple. You have a choice just like most of life comes down to- choices. You can perpetuate a cycle of pain. You can put more hurt out into this world. Or, you can stop it.

This is what I’ll tell them. It won’t make things less painful for them. It won’t make sense in the moment. But it’s my job to help heal their wounds, to hold them through the stinging, to comfort them when their tears fall. And to guide them to be apart of healing a world that is broken.

You were right, mom, and I will tell them too. Rise above, my little ones.

Yo shorty 

Hey hey it’s my birthday! I’m officially the age I will remain forever, since it is a well known fact in our family that all women turn 29 and remain that age for the rest of their lives. Just ask my grandma and she will tell you, she’s been “29 and holding” for my entire 29 years now 😂

I’ve gotta be honest, getting older scares the ish outta me. But then again, there’s perks to it as well. Time is a glorious thing because with it comes experience, opinions, and most of all: the ability and purpose of just freaking loving yourself. For some reason this last one is a toughie but I feel the older I get, the more I can confidently tell myself how cool I am. Gosh darn it, Nicole, YOU ARE COOL! 

In celebration of the big 2-9, I thought I’d reflect on some of my birthday memories thus far. I would like to inform you all that I did call my mom to jog my memory on my childhood birthdays, and her main thoughts came down to that the nurses wanted her to name me Patty (in honor of st Patrick’s day) and also that she remembered being relieved on my 1st birthday that I had survived thus far because she had dropped me pretty hard when I was a baby?!? That explains a few things 😂😂😂

Birthdays of my childhood seem to be a bit of a blur: mostly filled with green, sleepovers, the times my mom bought special lunches for me to take to school (I’m carrying that tradition on with my kids). My 10th Birthday where we stuffed balloons in our shirts to look like boobs and had a dance party in my grandparents basement (we may, or may not have, raided my grandmas makeup cabinet and ruined most of her makeup, but I plead the 5th) my 12th birthday laser tag party, to 14 where my friend who asked me to the 9th grade dance with a build a bear (nailed it, Andy!). Those were some of my favorite birthday memories so far. 

(10th birthday, balloons in shirts, we were so sophisticated)

(12th birthday laser tag party, the second photo depicts the relevance of the Charlie’s Angels reboot at the time, of course) 

And on the reverse side, whatever happens today, don’t worry, I already got my worst birthday out of the way when I turned 16 and failed the drive test because I cut left on a round about. I knew it could only go up from there…
My 21st birthday was naturally celebrated with jagger bombs at the Irish pub in our hometown, followed by what I am told we’re my most rewarding hugs to the people I love ever 😂

Fast forward to my 23rd birthday and I was in labor with my kid. Ok, the labor part kinda sucked- but nothing was better than getting to meet that kid on my birthday 🙂 and my mother never fails to remind me that all throughout the process I never removed my green beer earrings, like the true pseudo-Irish girl I am. 

(A pretty good shot of my awesome earrings) 

Birthdays look a lot different these days, but sharing it with Haden has been some of the very most special memories I could have ever asked for. Experiencing the magic and excitement through his eyes is the best thing I could ever ask for on our special day. 

So cheers, folks, to green beer and lucky clovers and leprechauns and birthday wishes. Maybe if we’re lucky, Haden will finally fly like he’s been wishing for for a few years now 👍🏻😂 

The beginning 

I can still remember the smell of that journal. The one covered in rainbow polka dots and stashed in a memorabilia box in our attic. The one I scribbled my promise to swear off men for at least a year- that was the promise to myself. Men was a questionable term, or relative, I guess you could say. To me, at 29, “boys” would more likely be how I would describe the potential suitors I had sworn off at 15. But, needless to say, I had encountered one too many heart breaks, and I was ready to throw in the metaphorical towel of love or…trying for it at least. 

It always seems to start that way, right? Just when a persons had enough…just when they’ve reached what they believe to be a bottom (but of course with perspective we see it was just a valley)- that’s when in walks the person into their life who is ready to challenge that.

Well, ok, he didn’t walk in. He was there, already. I knew him as the weird kid whose jokes didn’t really make sense. The one who always wore soccer shorts that were just a tad bit too short but he wore them with confidence-i couldn’t blame him for that. 
And so there was me- young, insecure, unwilling to believe that any person of the opposite gender could possibly find me attractive. I sat on that dock out on the lake of the summer camp we both worked at. Minding my own business, when he walks up to me and, as if it should have surprised me with his previously strange behavior, says

“Hey….your sisters hot”
“I…I don’t have a sister?”
“Well….if you did…she’d be hot”

And that was it. I mean….well…what was it really? Since he doesn’t remember those words to this day, all we can assume is that was an attempt at a pick up line that ultimately just confused me. Disbelief that someone would actually hit on me, mixed with just pure confusion, it was strange first romantic encounter, to say the least. 

What began that day as confusing disbelief developed, however, into an innocent and endearing love story between a silly 17 year old boy and a innocent 16 year old girl. She didn’t feel worthy, but somehow, at some point, that boy chose to make it his life mission for her to know that without a single doubt-she absolutely was. 
And so began our love story. To be continued…

Backpacking Europe: Part One: London 

Kellen and I are about to embark on our second big international vacation together- the last one being backpacking through Europe in 2008. Since then, we’ve done a lot of stuff: bought a house, had a few babies, you know, the usual. But Kellen can tell you quickly how many moments in between these past almost ten years I’ve talked about traveling and adventuring with him again. It might seem silly to write about a trip we took almost ten years ago, but honestly, to me, I want to savor every memory of that trip and writing is the best way I have found to relive those memories. Reliving memories has a profound impact on relationships and I can speak from experience when I say that doing so can creates an even tighter bond for marriages. And so, I write 🙂 

I mentioned a few posts ago about asking Kellen to promise me we would backpack through Europe when he told me he wanted to marry me. Traveling wasn’t ever something I was willing to compromise on, and he knew that: hence the reason we took off just shy of our first anniversary and boarded a plane to London. 
We arrived in London in the late afternoon, just in time to hit rush hour on the subway. We likely stunk of sweat and staleness from the airplane ride, so being packed like sardines standing on the London Underground was a smelly and exhausting way to start our trip.  

2008 was just before the explosion of smart phones, so I had everything written in my notebook, including the directions to the hostel which literally included language on how many steps to walk and what to look for. It was Kellen’s first exposure to the hostel world, and the two hostels I had selected were quite the experience. Our entire trip was planned with the book “Europe on a shoestring” and let me tell you: I took the shoestring budget concept to heart. The first hostel was a room packed with bunk beds and other backpackers, and the second with the same- but the added bonus of our shower being in the corner of the room and puke greeting us in the hallway as we found our room. We quickly decided it might be a while before we might get a shower and we counted our minutes before we got to get the heck out of dodge. 

Despite our questionable sleeping arrangements, we still managed to throughly enjoy our time there. We road a double decker bus, had tea at the Queens tea room, watched the guards at Kensington palace, saw the Queens jewels at the Tower of London and even ate pizza overlooking the city at Parliament Hill. Kellen even spotted some foxes on an early morning run: making for the perfect cherry on top for a stereotypical British adventure. 

(Pictures of pictures, a bit ghetto but the best I can do at the moment 😂)

Stay tuned for our time in France and Belgium, coming to a blog post soon 🌎✈️

White Noise

There is white noise all around us. It is so faint we don’t notice-but if we aren’t careful it can consume us. It is the constant opinion of others, the feelings of insecurity, the feeling of inadequacy. It often begins as a tiny hum and quickly turns into what we accept to be truth. 

It is the constant chattering on social media that makes us feel less, or sad, or hurt, or left out. It’s the desire to want more than what we’ve been given. It’s the feeling that nothing will ever be worse than where we are. When really, if we just stopped and looked around, we’d see clearly that what we’ve been given is more than enough.

I am quieting that white noise. Or at least, I am trying. Trying is the best I can do. 

I am speaking the truth to myself in the moments of margin that the white noise previously filled. I am reminding myself of the beauty that comes from the simplicity of each moment. I am choosing to quiet that white noise before it swallows me again, like it has so many times before. I am remembering that without that noise, I can hear the beauty of the earth, the truths in my heart, and the magic of my soul. In the quiet, I know those things.