Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The Candlelight Ceremony
Dearest Friends,

While our friend Teri was busy wrangling all the younger boys into a Tiger Cub scout group, my friend Laura and I were doing our best to handle all the little girls from kindergarten up through 8th grade in a one-size-fits-all brownie/girl scout troop. Needless to say, we had to make a lot of compromises when it came to, well, pretty much everything! Fortunately, the Girl Scout officials were pretty flexible regarding  troops like ours, out in the middle of the jungle somewhere. I guess they had to be. Who was gonna come check up on us?

I don't know how many badges the girls actually earned, but I'm pretty sure they must have earned one for crafts. We were really, really good at crafts!  We can thank HearthSong for that.  HearthSong, at that time, was a fairly new catalog that specialized in educational toys and such. Before we moved to Indonesia, Lex had spotted something like a cooking club in their catalog, where each month they would send your child a package that contained an apron or some child-sized cooking utensils, along with instructions and recipes for several different things you could learn to make using those tools. Unbeknownst to her, I arranged to have all twelve kits sent to me at once before we left for Indonesia, then doled them out to her one per month all year long. She had so much fun with them that, the following summer, I did the same thing with their craft of the month kits. Then I checked to see what kind of supplies were needed for each craft, and purchased enough extras for us to teach the crafts to all of our little Girl Scouts. The main one I remember required us to cut hundreds of long thin triangles from various magazine pages, which we then rolled up around a toothpick, creating colorful beads that we made necklaces and bracelets out of.

Our Christmas Party
Another thing we were pretty good at was parties. Even when we were doing something utilitarian like a beach clean-up, it somehow ended up turning into a party. And, though we may not have toed the line when it came to all the G.S. rules and regulations, I think the girls got a lot out of it nonetheless. I know I certainly did.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Dearest Friends,

One of the things our Alexis loved most about life on the company compound was the many opportunities for "dressing up." Not only did they have a couple of official school plays each year, there were also lots of classroom skits as well.

And then, of course, there was always Halloween. While on home-leave, I happened to stumble across that phenomenal book pictured above. Turns out Jane Asher, former model/girlfriend to Paul McCartney, and sister to Peter Asher (singer?manager?), was one very creative mama! Anyway, the book seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was kind of like giving crack to an addict, as far as Alexis was concerned, and made a whole lot of work for her poor mama! That book is where Lex got the idea for her Can-Can-Girl costume that Halloween...

and where Austin got the idea for his Headless Horseman.

Building shoulders for the Headless Horseman

One of the new couples on the compound, Carol and Alan, must have shared our daughter's enthusiasm, for they got right into the spirit of things, and blew us all away with their costumes for the Halloween Hash (that trek through the jungle I mentioned a while back)...

while I did my best to just blend into the background.

Come to think of it though, Alexis didn't really care whether she had an official excuse to dress up or not...

Family Movie Night in the multi-purpose room.
 finding that often, it was even more fun to have the only beautiful costume around!

Friday, February 24, 2012


Dearest Friends,

One day during our vacation in Phuket, we took a side trip to the Phi Phi Islands. Years later I wrote this little story about our adventures there, which was published in the Wish You Were Here column of the Austin American Statesman:


We lived in Indonesia when our children were young, and one of our first vacations from there was to Phuket, Thailand. It included a day trip to the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced Pee Pee, much to the delight of our kids). A water bus took us to the main island, where a tropical buffet had been set up beneath the palm trees.

Next we were loaded onto several small boats, and paddled out to an uninhabited island. They first took us to the Viking Cave, where bamboo scaffolding was set up for the harvesting of birds' nests (a valuable delicacy destined for bird's nest soup). We were then dropped off at a private beach.

As we picked out a spot to spread our towels, the kids ran off to try out their new snorkels. Once we were settled, we scanned the water for them. "Uh, dear? Notice anything unusual?" asked my husband. As a matter of fact, I did. At least half the women weren't wearing tops. He then pointed to a few of them who were standing in a circle, chest deep in the water, and had been tossing a volleyball back and forth to one another. "What's that ruckus?"

It appeared that the women had been distracted from their game by the sight of a snorkel that kept circling around them, like a shark around his supper. Several times they called out "Hey, you! What are you doing?" When they got no response, one of them finally reached out and put her thumb over the top of the snorkel, forcing the swimmer up for air. Who popped up, gasping and choking? Our 7-year-old son, Austin!

To this day, he still claims he was merely studying the fish.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Dearest Friends,

Up to this point, we had only taken the kids to Singapore and Penang -- both places were we never strayed too far from our hotel or resort, and where we seemed mostly to be surrounded by other expats. During the fall school break of our second year, however, we decided to be a little more adventurous. We took the kids to Thailand! Our destination was Phuket (no, that's not an F sound, it's poo-ket').

Of course, we were still in a nice hotel filled with tourists (we had to ease them into the real world gradually) but Thailand as a whole was much more, well, raw, than anywhere else we had ever been. The poverty was less hidden, the disparity between cultures more obvious, and the people weren't nearly as happy and easy-going as the Indonesians -- or maybe they just weren't nearly as adept at hiding their dislike of all these foreign intruders.

On the other hand, there was magnificent beauty to behold, and so much history to be absorbed. I'll share a bit of that with you tomorrow, along with a funny story that somehow made it into the newspaper here in the states, when we head over to Phi Phi Island (again, not an F sound).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Our new house, which...

unbeknownst to us...

came with a kitty!

It also came with a fancy, home-built barbecue pit, which we never really figured out how to use.

Miss Becky had a new toy in the new house -- the amazing Miracle Piano! You hooked it up to your computer and learned how to play the piano by shooting ducks and such in little video games. I got pretty good at playing Ode To Joy, but that was about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Dearest Friends,

After more than a year in Sumatra, I still wasn't crazy about having staff, but I had learned to live with it. And, if I had to have a housekeeper, there could have been none better than our Asnah. What a jewel she was! My kids adored her, and I think she was pretty crazy about them, too. Because I didn't want them turning into spoiled brats who expected to be waited upon, the rule at our house had always been that Asnah could dust and mop in their bedrooms, but she was not to pick up after them or make their beds. That was their job. It wasn't until years later that one of them admitted to her picking up their toys all the time, and keeping it their little secret!

Asnah, Mrs., and Fatima
Another special person, who came into our lives that second year, was Fatima -- the baking lady! I still hadn't hired a cook, like most everyone else had, but when I heard about Fatima (that was her name wasn't it?) I just couldn't resist. You see, so much of what we take for granted in our supermarkets here just wasn't available over there, and therefore had to be made from scratch. Not just cakes, cookies, and pastries, but also pizza crusts, tortillas, even dinner rolls. Fatima could make all of these, and more!  I think she had a pretty long waiting list of prospective clients, but she happened to be best buds with our Asnah, who must have told her I was easy to work for (a patsy, in fact) so she squeezed me into her schedule. She came to our house every other Friday, if I remember correctly -- the very best days of the whole month, for not only were the aromas emanating from our kitchen beyond delicious, her presence always meant getting pizza for dinner that evening (a night off from cooking for mom!) and waking up to her sumptuous cinnamon rolls the next morning. Oh my my. Those cinnamon rolls.

One day that fall, Asnah came to me in tears, mumbling something about a terrible accident. A car accident? Had someone been hurt? Killed! "Oh no Mrs., a laundry accident!" As I mentioned before, our washing machine was a piece of crap, and it must not have dispensed all the bleach properly when she did a load of whites, for the color load that went in afterwards came out covered in white splotches. Compared to the horror I had been envisioning, this was not a big deal, but poor Asnah was so distraught, I thought I'd never get her calmed down!

After supper that evening, we were supposed to go up to the school yard to play volleyball with the older kids. John and I both decided it would be rather humorous if our whole family showed up clad in our polka-dotted clothes. We did get some good laughs out of it, but one woman actually said,"If she were my maid, she'd be out on her ass right now." I felt like telling her,"Well, if I were your maid, I'd probably bleach your clothes on purpose!" Jeez, people. Sometimes, you just gotta know when to laugh!

Sunday, February 19, 2012


September 25, 1992

Dear Folks,

Sorry for the time lag between letters, but it's been a zoo around here. Thank goodness though, we've finally moved!!! That's not to say that P.T. Arun has done any of the painting or repairs they promised, or even that we have any furniture (they wouldn't just let us bring the furniture from the other house -- that's class 3 furniture, and it can't go in a class 2 house, of course), but we are living in it, nonetheless! Our new phone extension is 1246 (house #66) if anyone is interested. My dilemma now is whether to rush like crazy and get things hung on the walls before the girls come to play Shanghai here next week, or wait until Carolyn gets here at Christmas, to tell me how to do it right! (besides, knowing John, he will rearrange the furniture at least 10 more times before he's satisfied with it) Speaking of Shanghai, have any of you played it since I left? Last night one of my friends had all of us gals over for a "Ladies Night Out" party (her husband is on the night shift this week). We all had to come dressed in PJs or loungewear, and we played Shanghai and acted silly. Great fun, especially since I happened to have a brand new ensemble I could wear (thanks Twit!). Just wish I had taken my camera -- there was blackmail material at that party! I'm also relearning how to play Mah Jong with a few of the ladies, but it's nothing like the Chinese version that I used to play. Now I play like all the little Jewish ladies in NY and Florida.

We had Austin's Batman birthday party last Saturday. I changed plans at the last minute, what with the move being in progress, and opted for a swimming party up at the snack bar. This year it was NO GIRLS ALLOWED (other than Mom and big sister), and everyone had to bring a water gun. Of course, his gun was the biggest and the best, thanks again to Uncle Twit. John told Austin he made a big mistake not inviting girls, because they make the very best targets!

That same evening we went to a big shrimp boil in honor of Danny Reeh's 36th birthday. Umm-Umm-Good! Unfortunately for Danny, the very next day he took his family to the beach and got stabbed in the foot by a stingray or something, in water that was only up to his ankles! He was in agony for about 4 hours. Good thing I didn't know about this a couple of weeks ago when we had our big Beach Day for the kids. They were out there most of the day taking sailboat and boogey board rides. I was nervous enough as it was!

Ms. Patti, our official cowgirl, bought a wee horse locally, and brought it to the beach that day, to let the kids ride it.
School seems to be going pretty well for the kids. Austin is usually bubbling over about something almost every day when he gets home. He learned how to draw a rocket in art, and now spends hours working on them. Alexis gave him some of those fancy template rulers for his birthday, and he's usually spread out on the terrazzo floor with giant sheets of butcher paper, working on some new design. He's also having great fun being a Tiger Cub Scout. I'm so happy that one of the new moms came prepared with all the supplies for doing that. Luckily for Alexis (not so lucky for me) they've started a new after school sports program for the older kids twice a week, then on Thursday evenings they make their parents come up and play games with the kids. We just finished several weeks of volleyball, and Lex just loved it that she was better at it than me. If she thought I was bad at that, just wait til she sees me playing soccer next week!

Guess that's about all the news for now, except that we are now able to special order certain fruits and vegetables from Jakarta, and they bring them in each Friday on the company plane. Last week we had fresh asparagus, mushrooms and strawberries for the first time in over a year, and it was WONDERFUL! Which means it probably won't last. Well, take care everyone, and write soon. We're off to Singapore this afternoon to take Alexis to the orthodontist (Austin opted to stay with a buddy). MEXICAN food for dinner tonight!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Dearest Friends,

One of the most critical deciding factors, as to whether we would accept this gig in Sumatra, was medical care. It was one thing to put our own lives at risk (as we did our first time overseas, with no real doctor or hospital anywhere close to us), quite another when it came to our kids. We never would have agreed to the move had not Danny and Peggy assured us that, with Doc Connolly in attendance, we had absolutely no cause for worry. I figured they should know, since their youngest probably had to be stitched up or x-rayed on a regular basis!

Doc Connolly today -- Lord of the Manor
Turns out, they were absolutely right. I think the best way to describe our Doc would be to tell you to picture Doc Martin, if you've ever watched that British TV series -- only picture him better looking, and without the Asperger's. Doc Connolly was not a warm, fuzzy kind of doctor. He was a very British, somewhat brusque fellow, who wasn't about to put up with any nonsense. I must admit to feeling rather intimidated on the few occasions that I had to take my kids to see him. I kept expecting him to whip out a ruler and whack me on the knuckles, if I didn't pay close enough attention to his instructions and had to ask him to repeat something. That was ok though, because the only thing that really mattered was, I'd trust him with our lives -- literally!

Away from work, he could be quite a lot of fun, but that was the problem, I suppose. The poor man was never really away from work! He was on-call 24/7, and since all his friends were also his patients, it was a bit impossible for him to avoid us, and our incessant need for reassurance on this or that little thing.

The cricket party was just too fun, and a chance to see a whole other side of our Doc. He was absolutely crazy about those two boys of his (as was everyone else), and was always in rare form when they were there, on holiday from university. I didn't have a clue what was going on in the cricket match, but enjoyed dressing up all in white, and wearing a big floppy hat. (If only I had some pictures!) The two main things I remember about the party at "The Cricketeer Arms" afterwards were a fabulous tomato-cheese tart made by Mrs. Connolly (would give anything for that recipe), and the sight of everyone gathered 'round the Connolly boys and their chums, as they danced and "strutted" to that Right Said Fred song, I'm Too Sexy. What a hoot!

Sometime later I had to go see Doc Connolly for one thing or another, and he seemed, well, a bit frazzled. Worn out, I guess. So I asked him,"Doc, when are you going to retire to that country manse we've heard so much about. Haven't you had enough of this yet?" "Well, to be perfectly honest, there are two very important things standing between me and retirement. Perhaps you met them when they were here recently?"