Archive for March, 2014

Fun’s almost over

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marlborough light

Unfortunately, we had to leave New Zealand on Friday. Wow – what a great relaxing vacation – it was just wonderful! From there, we flew to Bangkok for a few days. It’s 180 degrees different from New Zealand – hot and busy, but also fun!

Our last few days in Blenheim were great. On Wednesday, we made the beautiful 1.5 hour drive down the east coast to Kaikoura, a lovely little seaside town. The big attraction there are the seal colonies – it was so fun to pull over on the side of the road to watch the pups! We also took a walk off the highway up to a waterfall; in the winter, the seal pups play there, but alas, we were too early in the season to see them so we had to be content with watching them play on the rocks on the beach instead. The waterfall and short walk to it was also nice – it reminded me of the rainforest in Costa Rica. After a nice lunch, we headed home in time for grilled pork chops and a nice bottle of wine for dinner.

The rest of our time in Marlborough we just spent relaxing – reading, a little shopping, watched a couple of movies – and I finished my jigsaw puzzle.

Friday was spent traveling all day from Bleinheim to Auckland, then our 11 hour trip to Bangkok. Here we are staying at the lovely Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the river – such a beautiful place. I love having breakfast at the cafe overlooking the river and watching the boats go up and down. We’ve also found a couple of neat little restaurants nearby that we have enjoyed. I really like this part of town – I feel like there is more to see and do within walking distance of the hotel. And I found a nice little affordable spa a few blocks away that I have visited a couple of times!

Tongue Thai










Yesterday morning we rented a longboat for a two hour trip around the canals – fascinating. Lots of crazy places and small temples along the way. I felt a bit like a peeping tom, as we drove past the little river houses and watched the people go about their daily routine of washing clothes, sweeping, bathing the dog, brushing their teeth, shopping at the little floating markets going by their homes. A different life. And it’s interesting to see a fancy hotel and then next to it a little shanty of a house. So much wealth and then so much poverty.

Canal Art - Red Man









Bangkok Canal










Laundry Day - Bangkok Canal










This has been a fabulous vacation and it’s not completely over yet!

Can we do this every day?

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Seal in Queen Charlotte Sound

This has got to be the most relaxing vacation ever! We’ve spent the last week just visiting wineries, grilling great steaks, reading, watching movies, and enjoying the sights. I also have a jigsaw puzzle out on the table.


Yesterday was a real treat. We drove to Picton (about 25 minutes away) and took a tour through the Queen Charlotte Sound. It was gorgeous. We saw seals, little blue penguins swimming, cool birds, and Hector dolphins – including a mother and her calf! We docked for an hour on one of the islands where we hiked to the very top for fabulous views – it was such a clear day we could even see the North Island. The islands are filled with beautiful bird calls – we pulled into one bay just to listen to them. The Department of Conservancy has made several of the islands pest-free and are trying to revive or reintroduce native species to them. A lovely day with nature and fresh air.

Queen Charlotte Sound










Saturday we drove to nearby Havelock, famous for its green-lipped mussels. Yum!

The Mussel Pot in Havelock










Sunday was a big day here at Brookby Ridge – harvest day for the pinot noir grapes. We moseyed through the small vineyard and watched the pickers hand-pick the purple grapes. I talked with some of them, mostly young girls from Taiwan or Malaysia who come to work. They pile the grapes into green plastic flats, which are then loaded onto a tractor and taken down the hill where an 18-wheeler waits for them. It’s quite a production. Brookby, the resident black Lab, was beside himself, while Totty, the 16 year-old Terrier mix was content to ride alongside Mary Jo on a mule.


Vineyard owner Mary Jo with Totty













Grape pickers at day's end











After watching for a bit, we went to the Sunday farmers’ market in town – fun to see all the organic produce and it’s good people-watching, too.

After that, we went to the aviation museum, a neat collection of WWI-era planes and memorabilia owned by Peter Jackson of “Lord of the Rings” fame. We both really enjoyed it more than we expected to!

We’ve enjoyed several of the wineries here. Some of our favorites have been Gibson Bridge, Huia, Rock Ferry, Highland, and Fromm. There are hundreds in the area, so it’s a bit hard to choose! We had a wonderful lunch at the much-touted Herzog Vineyard – a lovely garden setting.

We’ve been so lucky with the weather – knock on wood. When we arrived, it was rainy and chilly but the sun came out the next day and it’s just been perfect every day.

You may remember that John had a crown fall off while we were in Koi Samui on our last R&R. Well, guess what? This time, I pulled one off while eating a piece of bread (darn carbs). So – no R&R is complete without a trip to see a local dentist!

Here’s a parting shot of John playing with Brookby in the olive grove behind the cabin.

John and Brookby

Heaven on earth

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

New Zealand Full Moon

After a whirlwind of a day trying to get ready to leave, we took off from Islamabad Friday night and flew to Bangkok. After a 12-hour layover (thank goodness for day rooms and massages), we took off for an 11-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand…a three-hour layover then on to Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough on the South Island.

It was rainy when we arrived. We made our way to Brookby Cottage, a little cottage on a small working vineyard. Host Richard and black Lab Brookby welcomed us and got us settled in our digs. Amazingly, the view of the vineyards below and mountains in the distance (eerily reminiscent of the Golan Heights) looks just like advertised. And quiet. Complete privacy. Wonderful. Thanks to our friends Carolyn and Konstantin for sharing this lovely find with us!

It was Sunday by the time we arrived at the cottage. After a quick look around, we made a run into town for groceries. We were exhausted – so much so that I slept until Monday afternoon at 2PM – and probably would have slept more if John hadn’t made me get up! We read on the back porch most of the afternoon, then watched a gorgeous full moon come up over the hill.

Tuesday (today) we drove into town to get a local phone, then made a 30-minute drive to Picton, a pretty little town on the edge of the Sound. We had lunch, then took a windy mountainous road home. An hour and a half to get back, with lots of switchbacks and crazy incredible views of the Sound. Back in Blenheim, we stopped at a vineyard for a tasting, then ran by the grocery store on our way home. The rest of the afternoon we’ve been reading and working a jigsaw puzzle with a glass of wine.

The week leading up to the trip was pretty hectic. I worked all day last Sunday, writing employee reviews, and continued to work on them throughout the week. Made it to the gym each morning – even tried a spinning class last Sunday morning, which I really liked.

I went to the MFA one afternoon with my new manager for introductions. Thursday, the NIV team met with the U.S. Education Foundation of Pakistan – a great group that’s paid for by the Department of State and who works primarily to tout U.S. universities to young Pakistani students.

Spring in Islamabad

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Rawal Lake, Islamabad

Saturday was a gorgeous day in Islamabad, and the perfect weather for an outing with my photography class to Rawal Lake. Around the lake there is a big park, with an amusement park, picnic areas, vendors, beggars, an aviary, boats to rent – you name it.We walked around for a couple of hours taking photos. We were certainly the object of curiosity from the locals!

Last week started off well last Sunday – a much needed trip to the spa, something I’d been putting off for quite a while. Afterward I went to work for a few hours, while John entertained his gaming crew at our house. I joined in after work – the last folks didn’t leave until 9 PM, after eight hours, so I think they all had fun!

Friday night, John and I went to the Canada Club to see a theater production of scenes from Neil Simon plays. We howled with laughter – especially fun to see some of our Embassy colleagues enjoy their roles. It was a very professionally done production and we really had fun – so much so that we stayed for a late night dinner with friends afterwards.

Saturday morning I worked for a while, then John and I went to Bridget’s for a truck art and jewelry show. It was fun to browse the goods and visit with friends. Alas, we came home empty handed this trip. In the evening we found a different pizza delivery that was very good and watched a few episodes of “House of Cards.”

Sunday I put my nose to the grindstone. After a fun spinning class at the gym, I worked on my annual review, and then knocked out two of my five employees’ reviews. It’s the time of year that everyone hates!

Last week, John made balloon animals at a party our Marines sponsored for a local orphanage – he was quite the hit! Here’s a photo:

Balloon Animals by John

On a very sad note, a wonderful man passed away this week. Ray Von Bobo of Hope, Arkansas, the father of my bestie Mike Bobo and his wonderful sisters Charlotte and Sheila. Ray Von led a full life and he’ll be missed. RIP, Ray Von.

18 and Counting

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Happy anniversary!

John and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary on Monday! We went out for sushi to celebrate. It really is hard to believe we’ve been together that long! We sure have had a lot of fun and look forward to many more!



I took my Spanish test Wednesday night and am still waiting for the results. Normally they tell you at the end of the test, but because this format was a bit different, they told me I would not get my score at the end. I expected to have heard by now, but I haven’t! It’s agony. I felt like it went better than the first test, but it was still on the telephone (not DVC) and there’s just nothing like face-to-face. So, I think it could go either way. Hopefully I will know something soon!

Meanwhile, it feels great to not study, or not feel guilty about not studying!

We braved a thunderstorm and went to dinner with Howie and Petit Thursday night, along with Mike L. – we were all together in Tel Aviv and here in Pakistan. We had a great Thai meal and Jack did an awesome magic trick. After spending every tour of ours with Petit, it’s going to be so strange not to have her here or at our next post!

With Mike L., Howie and Petit









Friday was Consular Leadership Day, so we closed up shop and spent the day at the DCM’s residence. It’s a good day to recharge your batteries; we did team-building exercises and things like that. One highlight was listening to three young Pakistanis who had gone to the U.S. as part of a U.S. government-funded program for international visitors. They had traveled all over the U.S. for three weeks, meeting with folks in their field of technology and social media. It was fun to listen to their impressions of Americans – overall very positive. They especially commented on the openness of American society and how friendly people are.

At the end of the day, a bunch of us went to Brad’s for a happy hour. John joined in, then we moved on to a going-away party for Petit and Howie. Our intention was just to drop by, but when we left at midnight we were some of the last people there! Fun party!

Saturday my photography class took a field trip to Saidpur Village, the original little village before they build Islamabad. It was a lovely outing. To be basically in the middle of Islamabad, it feels isolated and rather primitive, including tiny walking paths through the “commercial center” that includes butchers, barbers, and tailors. As I was photographing, one vendor thought I would likely enjoy him cutting the head off a live chicken – I ran away but heard the squawk and subsequent THUNK behind me. The people are shy but don’t mind being photographed since it’s become something of a tourist attraction.

Reading the Paper



Saidpur Village


































The distemper we found in that one poor little kitty last week seems to have (so far) been isolated. We’ve gotten most of the rest of them vaccinated. Reeses, the one with the respiratory infection, seems to be doing fine and is back on our compound. Hopefully they will all go back to being fat, happy and lazy again!