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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Next Step: 2018-2019

It's been a while. I know.

I left Cambodia with the children at the end of April trying to get home in time for my sister's first baby shower and hopefully before the baby came. I made it! It was a miraculous time, but that's not my story to tell.

Ben finished his principal job and detoured through Germany and Turkey, Greece, and France on his way home doing research for his doctorate... but that's not my story to tell either.

I balanced working part time, raising 4 kids, coping with Grave's disease, and seeing as much family and friends as I could until he got home at the end of July.

Now, you're all caught up and I can move on to The Next Step:
Here's a clue:

At this point (you know how plans go, right?) we plan to RV through part of the States and end up in Mexico after hurricane season.

Where in Mexico? Who knows. Everywhere? That's the luxury of an RV, go where there's a place to set up camp and you're home.

I'll update you more on life in an RV soon, but until then do you have any thoughts about a family of 6 in a 31 foot RV traveling through Mexico? I'm sure we've heard most of them already from family, but you're welcome to leave more in the comments below. :)

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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

I Wish You Could Have Met My Papa

I wish you could have met my Papa. He's one of the people who held the world together with silent kindness when it seemed it would otherwise implode. He grew up poor, and turned that into a way to help others. When he was six, his dad died in a freak accident. He was forced to go find work in the neighboring farms. Because French was his native language, he had trouble in school and the teachers didn't like him. After his third attempt at first grade, he found better things to do; but, he was one of the most intelligent men I ever met! As soon as he was old enough, he joined the air force. It meant food, clothes, and a salary. There, he used his intelligence to work on airplanes.

He stuck by my grandmother for around 50 years through mental illness and more, raising seven kids in the process. At the ripe age of 74, four years after my grandmother's death, he brought GrandMary into our family and stayed by her until she passed away . He left a trail of good deeds behind him. You can hear the admiration in his children's memories:

"Once there was a little girl who was very poor and had very bad teeth. She was so ashamed to talk to anybody. One day Papa saved up some cash and gave it to her mom and told her he wanted to get her teeth fixed and he would pay for it. So she took her daughter to the dentist and paid what he gave her as a down and brought the remaining to Papa. He wrote her out a check for the  rest  of the bill and  paid in full. Soon after she began to thank him as her friend  and he would always smile and be happy she was smiling too. Papa did this so many times before.  He was a professional lay-up-treasure-in-heaven-man."

"I've seen him pay for a lady's new teeth after pulling out the old.  He bought a lady's glasses one time. When we were little, we never had a lot, but we always bought groceries for someone who had less than us, and he had a knack for finding those people. We always gave a little old lady a ride to church and back home. Dad always had  compassion on someone hurting and always reached out to make a difference. Two times he took some poor folk's car home and sanded it and painted it like new. He left deep footprints in the sand everywhere he went.  My Dad was the best example anyone could have to learn humility, compassion, kindness."

My Papa was a peace maker, many times to his own detriment. He listened more than he spoke and he gave more than he took. He had 87 years shaping him into the beautiful soul I looked up to. When leukemia finally took him, these were the words that felt right: "There’s peace in the ending of a life well-lived. Sorrow, but less anguish. Tears, but without torment. I miss you so much, already, Papa."

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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

3 Recommended Restaurants for Families in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Part 1


Lot369 is a little pricey compared to other restaurants in Phnom Penh, but by looking at their menu, you can see why. Some of that money goes into paying a fair wage, plus they offer foods that are hard-to-find in other restaurants. When compared to restaurants in the U.S., it is still extremely affordable. Here are some of the options:

Here is a coconut milk, turmeric latte from Lot369, as they were out of cashew milk. It's great to see non-caffeinated warm drinks available.
We saw the lemongrass and ginger kombucha; but there were several other flavors.

Lot369 has vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options. They have an environmentally-sustainable mindset. They had re-usable coffee cups for sale if you wanted a drink to go, bamboo straws and recycled plates and cups. The furniture was made from pallets. We chose to eat in the upstairs room, because it was connected to......

The all-too-rare-in-Cambodia kid's playroom! It was amazing to sit and talk with Benjamin while the kids were enthralled with new-to-them toys for a good while. Going on dates in an international setting with kids can be tricky, so this was a great find! They have kids-eat-free day on Thursday, so we’ll have to try it again.

At Kilik bakery and cafe, you can buy the drink of your choice, averaging at $2 and receive two pastries free. In addition, they bring a free cup of iced/hot Jasmin tea. This means we can order two drinks for adults and one or two (they are BIG) for the kids to share, and get enough pastries for everyone! With the tea thrown in, it's a great deal. Our favorite pastries include chocolate croissants, apple bread, banana bread, berry filled pastries and cupcakes. They have recently started offering sandwiches as well, so we can get out of there with lunch for under $10. (That's insane with a family of 6). Plus, the staff is friendly and competent, and there is comfortable seating. Kilik also has an air-conditioned meeting room closed off  from the main seating area if you need that kind of space.


The Cyclo cafe was an interesting place. They have several seating options, including an outside area up stairs.

It was almost part museum, part cafe. The boys enjoyed modeling the rickshaw. This is a really fancy rickshaw compared to the ones we see near the riverside that are often a beaten up red or green color, or like this one.

Cyclo cafe has many drinks around $2, and they are a good size, too. This was a framed Cambodian stringed instrument. it is similar to the one played here. In the bathroom, there were these sprouting seeds. They are similar to these avocado seed sprouts, but I couldn't tell if they were for sure. What's your best guess?

So, if you are looking for a sustainable variety of food, great value, or a cultural experience, these places are a great place to take a break and recharge with family. We hope you try them and enjoy them as much as we have!

(This is not a sponsored post. We only share it because our first month in Cambodia, we pretty much lived off of peanut butter because we couldn't 1)find food, and 2)find our way back home from said food, and 3) it was frustrating to find affordable options that were good for a family of our size, hygienic and tasty.)