LIFE: MARIANNE

Mari and I met in Thailand almost three years ago. When she reached a high milestone this summer--one year in one home in one city--she called me to help her document the occasion. Her home, "The Shalom Home" is as delightful and welcoming as she is and it was a joy to be able to visualize it. Happy one year, Mari.

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CHIANG MAI, THAILAND • NATWAT HOME CAFÉ

Katie and I had discussed trying this place for months, she'd been driving by multiple times each week but never actually stopping. Once we tried the food, we were sold. Therefore, this year for my 25th birthday we sat down with the owners to discuss a special dinner (they're usually only open for lunch) menu and BAM: instant to-do.

The garden backyard of the restaurant is beautiful no matter the time of day, with hanging moss plants and plenty of beautiful greenery. It was just golden hour when we arrived, so we took advantage of the situation to take some very sit-com-esque pictures before we ate.

The interior of Natwat is simple, wood metal, but not too industrial. A blue cushioned bench lines one side of the dining room and the location where our dinner table was set. Katie bought orange flowers at the market to decorate and accent the sweet summer vibe perfectly.

The menu was nothing but delicious. There was chicken cordon bleu and a honey mustard chicken and brie burger to choose from for a main course, grilled vegetables or a walnut-arugula salad, and the freshest of sides: spinach parmesan mashed potatoes, homemade thyme gnocchi with sautéed tomatoes... And this comes after we'd already been blown away by their brunch menu and fancy drink selection.

We ate our fill (literally) before dessert: Emily (our fondant queen and cake decorating whiz) created a beautiful cake to look like a latté, art and all. There were little salted caramel brownie mugs for each guest to go along with the chocolate and caramel buttercream of the latté cake. I can't begin to describe how great this cake was and how sad I will be when the leftovers are finally gone from my refrigerator.

I have the best coworkers. It's obvious from these photos, no? Been fortunate enough to spend a year here with them, some gone already and maybe others to come soon, and they did a swell job of helping me kick off year twenty-five! Don't know what I did to deserve such a great little community here!

COOKOUT: JULY 4TH

Just because we're in Thailand doesn't mean we don't celebrate our home's birth! This year Katie and I threw a Fourth of July party to end all Fourth of July parties. We began the day going to the pool to get in some sun and swim a little, but when we got back to our house, the real Americans in us came out.

A few friends of ours were getting ready to head home, so Katie went all out and made home made Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets. We'd had a friend bring the sauce from America, so we were good to go on that end. We set up a few tables in our car park, unstacked a lot of chairs and had the works: burgers straight off the grill, hotdogs, watermelon, all the fixin's and all the sides.

More Rollaroasters made it for later, when we tried to roast marshmallows over the dying grill coals. Katelyn set up an archery range for entertainment, and we still have the target hanging with our laundry.

We miss you America, but we're really glad you've been able to reach plenty of the world. Wouldn't be fourth of july without hamburgers and red, white and blue. We may have missed the fireworks, but freedom was ringing here in Chiang Mai.