There is a guest at our house right now. Well, officially she is a guest but she is more like family. My friend P'Aew from Thailand arrived two days before the Fourth of July, on the third stop of her trip. She had spent about three weeks in the New York City area, and about two weeks in Tampa, Fla., and now will spend about two weeks in Minnesota with us.

We have a long history together, having first met in Chicago at the big airline's corporate headquarters. She was employed at Thai Airways International at the time, and had come with a colleague to our airline for a training course. I had already developed an interest in Thailand and its culture, and in fact was already booked to make my first visit there about two months later. So, of course, when I found that there were people from Bangkok visiting our building, I wanted to meet them.

The interline training course, as it was called, had somewhere around 30 attendees. I love to entertain, so I invited the whole group to my place (also conveniently located in our building) for dinner one evening. One thing led to another, and when she was leaving at the end of that week, she said to be sure to let them know when I was coming to Thailand. I did that; it was almost 35 years ago.

Until he got too ill to travel, P'Aew and her spouse, Chandram, used to come to visit every year. Their last trip was five years ago, so it was about time, I thought. But it didn't take long to step back into our usual routine: we walk early in the morning, shop for things on her list to fill her suitcases, eat, visit with many friends, she checks out the flowers and plants, and if the season is right (as it is this trip), she plants anything new that needs to go into the ground or a container. And we cook.

On her first visit to Minnesota (which was business-related), before either of her sons came here for school, I had planned our eating-out map and itinerary. We followed my plan for about three meals, and that was enough. "Let's cook at home," she said.

So we went to the grocery store, bought what she needed, and that was my first lesson in Thai cooking. She cooked, and I stood right at hand to get things she might need. More important, I stood with a yellow legal pad and pen in hand and wrote down everything. Over the years, those cooking lessons have really helped me learn about Thai food and ingredients. Of course it doesn't seem to matter what I make, it never turns out quite as good as hers. But, it is still pretty tasty, I guess, because people do eat it.

One place at which we did eat out once on each trip, however, was the big city's well-known seafood restaurant. It became the place for an annual birthday celebration for one of her sons (he stayed in Minnesota for over 18 years total!). Along with birthday events, there were also high school and college graduations to celebrate. Sometimes other family members came too for the special events, so there would be a small crowd - from Thailand - gathered in Minnesota for the occasion.

Things change over the years. Her husband died, and it has taken a couple of years after that before she could take the time to make the trip alone. And the events that are happening here change too, since there are no more graduations to attend, and no son's birthday celebrations. So this year we had a different kind of celebration.

Since she arrived right before the Fourth of July, I suggested that she ride with me in the annual parade in my old St. Paul neighborhood. She readily agreed.

I thought I had a Thai flag that she could wave as we rode along, but I must have been mistaken because I could not find it. Undaunted, she quickly found a U.S. flag for her and one for the dignitary who would be riding in the back of the car. She soon found a spot to mount the flag, however, because she wanted to take photos of the crowd, many of the people who were taking pictures of us. I prefer to think they were photographing the car, but in reality they were likely snapping our riding dignitary, Chris Coleman, the mayor of St. Paul. Having him as our passenger secured us a spot close to the front of the parade.

One thing that happens periodically on both sides of these trips (ours to Thailand and theirs here) is the need for extra space in our bags. Somehow we both manage to buy more than will fit into the luggage we brought along. Sure enough, that has happened again this time. So my biggest suitcase is going home with her, and will be handily awaiting us for when we need it coming back this next winter!

When we were in Thailand in February, we talked about this trip and did some planning such as dates here and at the other two stops she made. At that time she labeled it as her "farewell tour." She thought maybe she was getting too old to make such a long trip again. But now we are making plans for when she comes back next time, so we are looking forward to more good times here in the future.