Thursday, January 24, 2019

Donna Rose

May has always been a special month in my family because so many of the matriarchal figures shared that month as their birthday month.

My grandmother
My great-aunt who was practically another grandmother
my mom
a cousin ironically named June.

It always felt really special to share that month with people who were so important to me.

When I was born, my great aunt turned 50. We always kept up with each other's age that way. Her name was Donna Rose.

When my mom's parents took turns working day and night shift, Donna was one of the people who helped raise her.

She was the kind of person who always took care of other people. 

In our recent move to El Paso, I finally got to empty some boxes out of storage that were too special to move with us around the world. There were so many things in there that reminded me of Donna. A quilt from when I was a baby, then one from when I was a little girl, one from when I liked tigers best, another from when purple and yellow were my favorite colors. One from when I got married and she made one for my husband. One from when I had my first baby and she made her one too... no wonder her hands started giving out. I have the recipe book she put together for me when I got married and a collage of all of the pictures she had of me with family members. Finding all of these things reminded me how much she made me feel loved.

She was my first Sunday School teacher, baby sitter, and person to tell me I was definitely old enough to start wearing deodorant.

She made us grilled cheese sandwiches by lining up cheese-filled bread on a cookie tray and cooking them in the oven. When I asked my mom why she made it that way instead of on the stove, she said "probably because she came from a family of 8 kids, and cooking them on the stove would take too long."

We shared a love of bright colors, good stories, and all sorts of good recipes.

After the oldest child in her family was born, 9 years passed before her parents had any more children. Then, Donna was born. Her 9 year old brother was less than impressed with her ousting him from the only-child category and teased her a lot. 

She never was very self-confident. If you wanted to see self-sacrifice in action, though, she was definitely one to learn from.

I miss her so much.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Unscripted: El Paso, Texas

The theme of this blog has always been the "unscripted" way life tends to happen.

You may, for example, be doing an RV trip to Mexico and all of the sudden life converges, and BAM, you settle down in El Paso. You know, theoretically.

That's what happened to us. I was dealing with Graves' disease, working part-time, homeschooling 3 kids, and nursing the baby while Ben was working on his doctorate, dealing with RV hauling/setting up/repair, and then got a job as a live-class ,online teacher.

Sounds fun, right? Know what's even more fun? Keeping the kids from going crazy in an RV while it's cold and rainy outside and your husband is teaching an online class and SERIOUSLY needs them to stay quiet. I'm sure most people would be great at this, ;) but for me it was a struggle.
Zoe enjoyed playing mini golf for her 2nd birthday.

Ben and I had previously looked at settling in El Paso because it checks a lot of boxes: bilingual/multilingual community, very close to Mexico, dual-language schools, cultural events, universities/colleges, fourth largest city in Texas, mild winters, decent cost of living... you get the point.
Elias is taking apart a lawnmower that doesn't work.

We arrived in El Paso after Ben got hired as an online teacher. My part-time contract job was complete soon after. As we discussed options for me to find another job, Ben decided it was time to enroll the kids in the dual-language program in El Paso so that I could also work teaching Spanish online. Within what felt like a week in November, everything fell into place: the kids started school, we found a house we loved with a yard we could rent, I was hired to teach online, and Ben found a church he liked. It felt like something had exploded, but, in a good way.

We were able to see family for winter break.

So, for now, and probably at least until Ben is done with his doctorate and gets settled with whatever he wants to DO with the doctorate afterwards, we are in El Paso, and it feels nice to be back in Texas after 9 years abroad. There are so many things that are new to us again: Libraries! Public parks! Supermarkets! Local phone calls! A working postal service! I think my favorite things so far have been my mailbox, backyard with grass, and a clothesline... and it's nice to be able to drive and see family when we need to, though it is a full day of driving. I love teaching Spanish!
Monkeys in the backyard...

We like that it's closer to Ben's dad, and that he drives through on business occasionally.
We have pecan trees!

My family jokes that we found the furthest possible place to still be in Texas but still be about 12 hours away from them. At least we're in a closer time zone, though. It's crazy how big Texas is!

I didn't have a 3 and a 7 for Ben's birthday, so I used a 4 and a 7...

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Choke Canyon State Park, RV Trip 2018

"Look Talia, a dragonfly!" except it ended up being 2 dragonflies copulating.

Before arriving in Choke Canyon, some important things happened that impacted our stay: On our way to Mississippi (or from? I don't remember now) to see Ben's family, we stopped in Louisiana. The place we stayed had a concrete pad, but with dirt and grass growing on top. This wouldn't have been a problem but for a couple of issues: The starter went out on the truck and it rained a lot. The truck was stuck on the marshy pad and there was nothing to do but for Ben to get under it and fix it. It was super tight and finicky for his beefy hands, but he got it replaced laying on his back in the marsh and after the sun went down and lighting wasn't great and it rained the whole time. The truck starting the next morning was a wonderful sound.
Choke Canyon Reservoir

Choke Canyon National Park is beautiful. It is in Calliham, near Three Rivers, Texas. We appreciated the many trails, showers with good water pressure and hot water, and the friendly staff. And that's just the surface. While we were here our truck messed up again, so we were pretty stuck in the park for almost a month. We used our bicycles to explore all of the trails and to check out the reservoir, basketball courts, and to spot wild animals.
Using downtime to knit my sister's birthday present

Ben thinks the foul conditions of the truck repair lead to a bolt not getting screwed in tight enough. Supposedly it wiggled loose in all of the travel and shorted out the computer. We ended up needing batteries as well. Not fun, but necessary. Because we were park hosts here, we were able to stay for free in exchange for Ben counting cars at differing hours each evening. This could have been extra expensive if we were also paying for a site. I'm thankful for the timing of the issue.
Elias at the basketball court

If you're going to be stuck somewhere, this is a great place to be, minus the distance from any sort of store. I was thankful I had things like lentils and rice in the pantry to cook with, but we really missed eggs for breakfast. Ben figured out how to order groceries from Jet, but still, eggs weren't an option. With the wild turkeys around the park we joked about finding some eggs scavenging, but I'm pretty sure that's a good way to get a fine.
Wild javelinas

The weather was really nice all the way up to the last week and a half that we were there, then it got really cold and rainy. That was the week the kids and I went to my parent's house for my cousin's wedding. It was really nice to be in the States when something like that happened so that we could be with family.
So many butterflies here

Walking on the trails, we saw trees covered in cocoons. They were everywhere. Of course, this meant there were also butterflies everywhere. One evening when we went to play on the badminton/tennis/basketball court they were so thick in the air we couldn't even throw the basketball or it would knock them down.
Butterfly-friendly flowers like Lantana have encouraged the many butterflies

One of the kids' favorite activities at the campsite was to have a bonfire and roast hotdogs and marshmallows. They would spend hours collecting twigs and trash from the campsites and burn it just to watch it disappear.
How to roast marshmallows without a stick

I was thankful we had invested in a RV washer. The downside of these campsites was the lack of sewer/gray water hookups. Instead, you needed a tank with wheels that would attach to a hitch to empty the tanks into, or else you'd have to take the whole camper to the dump station and empty the tanks. As the truck was in the shop and a fine of $500 was the penalty for dumping gray water on the ground, sometimes it was a challenge to keep them empty. Thankfully, since Ben was a park host, he was allowed to take some classes that let him drive a park vehicle: a gator and a van. This was really helpful. It also allowed him to not get eaten up by the millions of helicopter-sized mosquitoes that were thick in the air every evening when he went to count cars.
There's a lot of laundry with 6 people

While we enjoyed our time here, we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got the truck back and could travel to the next location.
Deer are abundant in this park

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Magnolia Beach, RV Trip 2018

Ben heard about a beach where you can boondock (park an RV with no electricity or water hookup) for free on the Gulf area of Texas. It was ideal because it had free showers, picnic tables, and sea shell-packed beaches instead of sand the truck would sink into.

The wind from the sea was really strong.

The kids liked throwing things for the sea gulls to catch.

Of course, investigating cool rocks and shells was fun.

And searching for crabs: there were many!

But the favorite thing to do was to get on the edge of the waves and let them bounce them up and down.

Since it was tropical storm season, it rained every thirty minutes off and on, but this beach is in a bay that the storm wasn’t actually coming through. On our last day there, however, the flash flood warnings and tornado warnings were constant.

We made it out without mishaps.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

February, Life Changes, Cambodia 2018

Not long ago a friend of mine was telling me how he didn't know how sick he was until he finally felt good one day after getting treatment for the previously unknown diabetes. I think this is how humans are, generally. We cope and adapt to new environments and body needs for energy and children, until we can't. Then we finally get help.

This blog post has been a long time coming; you could possibly say a lot longer than the month and a half I've been figuring out what was the problem. I've had these symptoms for a long time:

Inability to sit still with constant pressure to get something done.
Anxiety, depression, anger
Rapid heartbeat (to the point I could no longer run without feeling like I would pass out.)
Difficulty sleeping.

Finally, all of the different, seemingly unrelated, symptoms came together in a way that makes sense. I don't usually go to the doctor unless I HAVE to. I went to the doctor this time because sometimes when I picked Zoe up, my side muscle would snap, like a giant rubber band feeling, and I would almost drop her. I also asked at the last minute if we could check the thyroid as another member of my family had seen issues with that. So we scanned the abdomen and the thyroid. The abdominal scan came back normal and I haven't had the issue that pushed me to go to the doctor in the first place reoccur. The thyroid was enlarged to different degrees on both sides. The blood work confirmed that there was a problem. The doctor at the clinic sent me to get a biopsy at a bigger hospital.

We went to the hospital to get a biopsy, but the doctor refused to do it. He said he wasn't convinced that there was a mass to biopsy and since there were so many blood vessels, it could cause a problem. They re-did the scans and the blood work. I have hyperthyroidism and a swollen thyroid, but no cancer. The doctor assumed that it is Graves' disease: an auto-immune disorder where the body attacks the thyroid and makes it produce too much hormone, and sometimes attacks the tissue behind the eyes. The doctor who casually threw out the Graves' diagnosis (no test, but almost all hyperthyroidism is caused by Graves') gave some conflicting information however: don't eat things like shellfish and sea weed because of the high iodine, but do use iodized salt. What!? So I went back to the clinic where they can do a simple test for the iodine and see if I actually need to avoid it or not. 

I don't understand why no doctor here has even mentioned the connection the thyroid has to the diet beside this one iodine issue. There seems to be a lot of online diet claims for thyroid, (mostly hypothoroidism,) and mostly not by people who have any credentials to be talking about it. So, there's a lot of research to do.
I have to wean Zoe to get medication to suppress the thyroid. Zoe does not like that at all. She won't take milk from a bottle of any sort or temperature. Since she's only 1, she still needs milk, so I'm trying to figure that out. She's eating pretty good during the day time, but starting the night weaning is not something I look forward to. Until then, I'm to take medicine to slow down my heart... but the side effects include things like weight gain and depression. So far I've felt better, though, and if the heart rate isn't controlled it can lead to an enlarged heart and eventual failure.
In a way, I'm just relieved to know what's behind all of the things I've been feeling, but haven't been able to name.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Zoe Turns 1, January Adventures in Cambodia 2018

January was a month when a lot of things hit at once. I know I can usually eek out a blog post between the kids, and the part time job, and the house work, and the Bible study, and the homeschool, and the working out, but this time it just wasn't happening. But that's for another post. Today I want to celebrate the good things that happened this January.

On the top of that list, is our sweet Zoe turning 1!!!

I remember when our first child turned 1 and had a party with lots of relatives and gifts. By the fourth child you realize that 1) you don't really need that much stuff and 2) they're not going to remember it anyway. There's always the drawback of missing family while abroad, however.

We tried this astringent tasting fruit at the market again.

We found a really cool place with a great swimming pool and playground where you can go for free if you buy food. That’s why Talia has rosy cheeks here, she’s a water baby who will stay in the pool until you make her get out!

The playground was really nice too.

It’s next to a golf driving range, so everything is covered with a net roof to catch stray balls.

The kids really enjoyed it and slept for a good 2 hours when we got home! Ben was at an Environmental Summit in Singapore for five days because the group of students needed the principal along for the trip abroad, so napping children meant more sanity for me!

Ben came home really impressed by Singapore! It was clean!

It had great museums.

And he especially liked the Singaporean chicken and rice!

I’m glad he’s back home!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Winter Break Shenanigans: New Year in Cambodia 2018

Winter break in Cambodia has been a mixture of busy and relaxing.

The kids got money from Grammy this December. They’ve been talking about learning ukulele, so it was the perfect time to get one. (It’s also a small enough instrument to fit in the luggage.)

We put a rear-facing car seat in the tuktuk. Sometimes she likes it and sometimes she screams. It’s a good thing to get used to.

The kids have been out of school for almost two weeks now. They enjoyed getting things like French toast for breakfast since we’re usually too busy for that (and it has too much sugar! Here, Ezra is licking the powdered sugar spoon.)

It wasn’t all sugar, though, Ben made this awesome supper of chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and asparagus one evening! Delicious!

We were able to take the kids to Kid City for the first time! The older ones loved Clip ‘n Climb and Zoe enjoyed Toddler Town.

We visited the “park” and since there were no play places, the kids invented their own. We enjoyed being in the green!

Friday, December 8, 2017

6 Years with Elias

It’s hard to believe that this guy....

Used to be this sweet little answered prayer!

For his 6th birthday, Talia and I filled ice cream cones with white vanilla cake batter and sprinkles!

His class was really excited to eat them.

Especially frosted with chocolate icing and sprinkles.

For home, Talia and I experimented with turning yellow cake batter (with sprinkles) into a tie-dye cake.

Elias loves all the colors, so sprinkles and tie-dye seemed appropriate.

It turned out fairly well!

Cutting into it was pretty impressive for him. His “wow!” made me smile.

It was really fun, we might have to do it again sometime.

We are thankful for six years with Elias. His stubbornness, silliness and sweetness are his defining marks. He has really taken off in reading this year! He loves his baby sister in the sweetest way. He has adjusted to school and not had any trouble going this year. He’s always teaching me new things he learned from Khmer class. We are glad he’s part of our family.