Saturday, April 22, 2017

Zoe 3 Months and Ezra 3 Years

We've been experiencing the early rains foreigners call "mango rains" that come before rainy season in between humid, scorching days. School has returned to normal after the Khmer New Year holiday and time keeps marching on. Look at these kids!
Can you believe this very-loved baby is 3 months old already?
Both boys love her very much. It's sweet to see a new side of them, that will one day make them good fathers, emerge.
This boy turns 3 this weekend!
He is mischievous, curious, into everything (especially water lately: water hoses, bathroom sprayers, water bottles- and always making a mess) energetic and a sweetheart.

Thinking of the fear that accompanied his birth f(rom being forced to birth in a hospital so far from family and in a culture I had a hard time trusting) I am very thankful for the lesson in trust. Everything went perfectly. Looking back I see many things that worked out perfectly for his birth: the quick, 6-hour labor, the hospital leaving me alone and letting me sign refusal forms and then, this... He was born just a few months before my best friend died, and there's nothing so comforting as rocking a baby through your tears to find hope for the future.

Ezra means "God is my help" and that's what his birth and life so far have taught me. I'm sure I'll also need much more of God's help to raise this curious, energetic boy into adulthood! 😂

We love you, Ezra! Happy birthday!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Khmer New Year 2017

"Mama, take a picture of me with the two babies!"
This past week we've had a break from school for Khmer New Year. It is celebrating the end of harvest and the beginning of rainy season. Since we are almost finished with the paperwork process for Zoe, we needed to stick close to home still.
When you miss Spain and churros...
The people around us have given us lots of fruit, and some build mounds of fruit decorated with twinkling lights in their houses. Monks have walking around waiting for someone to pay them to chant a blessing over their new year.
New Year picnic on top floor balcony.
Monks then take feathers, dip them in water and flick it everywhere. Someone told me it's customary for Khmer to spray people who pass by with water during this holiday. Maybe that's why the kids come in SOAKED several times a day this week. I've tried to keep them dry since the boys have bad coughs and a weird rash, but that means they can't go outside. I've seen several neighbors with water hoses and the neighbor kids with big water guns.
Ezra enjoyed his Easter surprise.
So we have had picnics and races on the top floor where we dry our clothes. Since Khmer New Year also falls on Easter, Ben got the kids a surprise of Danish butter cookies and hot chocolate. They were excited.

Maybe if you are looking for a new chance to resume your January resolutions, you can celebrate Khmer New Year also. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Khmer Curry

There is an argument over who curry really belongs to, the English or the Indian, but today I'm going to show you a completely different version of curry; Khmer.
We started out chopping up lemon grass, turmeric, garlic, and some kind of fragrant leaf that I didn't know the name of, and the person teaching me only knew in Khmer. My friends told me it was Kaffir lime leaf.

We had some dried red peppers soaking while we did this. 

Next we blended up the lemon grass, turmeric, Kafir lime leaf, and garlic with..... roasted peanuts! Then, we blended up the red peppers. These two were kept in separate bowls.
Of course, anything Khmer style has all of the bones. They just chop it up, bone and all. We chose to do a chicken version.
One of the coconut vendors nearby had a machine to extract the juice and oil of  the coconut. We started by boiling a small bag of coconut oil/juice to evaporate the water and leave the coconut oil.
When it had evaporated, she added the blended up mixtures and some curry powder.
When the spices were cooked and fragrant, we added the chicken.
After the chicken was well on its way, we added a big bag of coconut milk, (being sure to discard the brown pulpy part in the bottom of the bag from the husk of the coconut) and let it boil a while.
Last, we added salt, a little teaspoon of sugar and vegetables. It is usually cooked with green beans, sweet potato or pumpkin, and onions. I made it with what we had, so regular potatoes, carrot, onion and green beans.

It is usually eaten over rice or with fresh baguettes from the local bakery. Everybody really liked it and asked if we can make it once a week!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Rain, Rides and Random Tidbits

April is usually the hottest month of the year here, making life miserable for the many who live in the provinces without air conditioning, but this month has been different. Rainy season has started a little bit early! This is good for a little cooler weather, but brings its own challenges with the downstairs of many homes flooding and the deep water making roads dangerous.
The buckets were to catch the water from the leaking pipe.

We have it better than many people, but when it rains hard the drain in the downstairs kitchen bathroom begins flooding the house with black stuff. One cleaning lady, for example, says they live with their bottom floor flooded for half of each year because of the poor drainage. Last Saturday it rained really hard and the kitchen flooded, not only the floor, but the sink drains had black stuff coming up out of them. And worms. Yuck. The worms were trying to crawl out of the sink. I kept washing them back down, but it wouldn't drain until much later when it stopped raining. The drain pipe under the sink chose that day to spring a leak along with one of the faucets. I'm thankful for bleach! Of course, people didn't stop getting hungry, so the dishes piled up until that got fixed. I'm thinking next time I should wash them in the bathroom. Though the water draining might still be a problem. I'm sure we'll figure something out.
You can't quite tell, but everything is covered in water...

Next week everyone has a week off for Khmer New Year. Elias and Ezra have been learning a song in Khmer at school.

Zoe smirking before her embassy appointment.
We had our appointment at the embassy to get Zoe her passport. It went smoothly and they said we should have it soon. On the way home it started raining. Most tuk tuks have canvas flaps that they pull down and velcro to the poles when it rains, but this tuk tuk didn't have them. We got a little wet, but after living in deserts, the rain is still nice. I do wonder if that's why Zoe has a cold today, though I kept her wrapped up in her blanket.
You've got to respect a man who can tune his ukulele while holding a baby.

Talia said they had a monkey fall out of a tree into the pool at their school. She was excited to report that monkeys can, in fact, swim, because he swam to the edge and climbed out.
Elias was proud of a sailboat he drew.

Our neighbors have two sons that are really nice and play with our kids. Their father was telling Benjamin about how school works for them here: His son rides his bicycle through city traffic to school and then pays to park it. Then, each day he must pay his teacher 1,000 riel. That adds up to about $5 a month. That doesn't sound like much, but it is for this country. Teachers only make $200 a month here, and that is after the recent raise from the government. That is barely enough for even a frugal Cambodian to make ends meet. Most people live with their families for this reason, in tall houses like this:
Crazy that you can see at least 7 different houses here. Some have more than one family inside.
If you live in a country where education is free, count your blessings!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ukuleles and Fat Babies

Since Ben learned piano from an early age, and he's just smart in general, picking up new instruments isn't very hard for him. Hauling a piano, even a keyboard, around the world is hardly practical. Something small like a ukulele or a guitar is perfect, though. Ben says that learning on something so small will help make a guitar feel spacious, since the fingering is always challenging with his big hands.
Elias is proud of himself for learning the one string to push down to make a C chord.

There are several sizes of ukulele, at least three. We have the smallest. This one and one a size up have the same fingering but the baritone ukulele is played like a guitar (with four strings.)

The kids love singing along with Ben or trying to play too. Since it is a really cheap instrument, it's a little easier to let them try a few chords. Zoe even likes the music.

Can you tell how big she's getting at two months compared to Talia's doll?
Here it is almost a symbol of affluence and pride to have a fat baby. Cambodians often come up to Zoe and pat her leg or cheek approvingly because she's a chubby baby. Sometimes this cultural desire can have less appealing affects. Some babies here who are formula fed are over-fed on purpose to appease the family's desire for a fat baby.(Being able to afford formula instead of breastfeeding is also a sign of wealth, sadly.) I have seen sumo-wrestler-looking babies that were grotesquely overweight and unable to walk until a later age carried everywhere by a mother. I think a chubby baby looks healthier than a skinny one, but I've never seen it taken to extremes like that before. 

I'm thankful for a healthy baby and music in our home!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cambodian Sickness and Industries

Though I've been sick the past week, I've been following the stories of Soth Rey and leprous indigenous people from the countrysides of Cambodia. Most people I grew up with didn't think that leprosy still existed, (and it doesn't have to,) so seeing the pictures and stories of these heartbreaking diseases leaves you with quite a bit of perspective. (If you haven't heard of Soth Rey's story, or how she is doing now, you can find it clicking the links. If you want to help, go here, but beware the graphic before/after photos.)

This is a definite side of Cambodia: heartbreak. Amidst the smiling faces and generous people there are so many issues left in a country still recovering from a bloody past and struggling to build a middle class. The two largest industries here are textiles and tourism. While the economy has been growing since 1995 when the government changed from a planned economy to  a market-driven economy, any political unrest slows that down. As there are to be elections soon, we will see how it goes this time.

Here's an online photo from the textile section of the Russian Market: One of the famous textiles is the silk Ikat. They remind me of the Guatemalan traditional woven textiles.

Speaking of industries, did you know (according to Google) over 30,000-60,000 tons of cashews a year are grown in Cambodia? The majority are shipped to India and Viet Nam for processing, though. In 2015 (at least) there was a push for support of local farming AND processing to create jobs locally and there's a cashew peeling factory in the Kampong Thom province. Hopefully the job market will continue to grow.

Cashew trees show a completely different part of Cambodia than the city. While we've avoided the country until the baby was born, since people usually get sick from mosquitoes there, perhaps we will get to see more of it soon. (And take a good mosquito repellent.) 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Eating Lotus Blossoms: More Khmer Food and Baby Update

Here are a few more interesting Cambodian/Khmer foods:

This is a lotus blossom. It is sold on the side of the road and eaten in Cambodia. You push the seed out, peel the outside off and eat the white, nutty, middle part. It tastes similar to a peanut.

Do you have an opinion on tempura battered mushrooms?
Ben thinks they taste like fried chicken, Ezra eats the outside and spits out the mushroom, Talia loves them, Elias turns his nose up at them all together, and I like them! The boys like tempura onions (I totally introduced the concept of onion rings to the Cambodians here: they were amazed!) and zucchini, just not mushroom. 

It's a big, flowering, white clump of mushrooms that grow  together- I don't know their name...

Although it looks like a doughnut hole from the outside, with its sugary coating, this is no ordinary doughnut. The inside is stuffed with what tastes like cheesy mashed potatoes in a unique Cambodian spin on things. I think the outside dough is made with rice flour because it is very chewy. The mixture of savory and sweet is a little different. Also sold near it was a flatter-looking version without the sugar coating. That one had a sweet potato filling.

I'm thankful everyone has been well enough to go to school and work this week! Zoe is almost 6 weeks old today. She's very active all day long, here she was trying to tell me something, but she sleeps most of the night only waking to nurse a couple of times. 
I think all of my babies look very similar, but Ezra looked the most like me and got my mom's Swedish roots. The other three got their father's dominant genes. Can you tell who is who?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cambodian Buddhist Funerals and a Stomach Virus

First, something pleasant:

These beautiful orchids grow on our second story balcony. That is the most beautiful spot out of the entire house.
This week we were able to witness a side of Cambodian culture that we haven't seen before: a funeral. The Buddhist approach to death is very different from what is normally witnessed in the States. Sunday we noticed the old lady who lives in a house at the end of the street walking up and down the street assisted by two family members. Then monks started arriving. Her husband had died, supposedly in the night. Very soon afterwards, this tent was going up on the narrow alley that composes our street:
Monks chanting, a recording of a wailing lament and clangy music with drums was played at full volume most of the time after the tent was set up. This particular funeral went until Wednesday, though the people here say it depends on how much money you have. If you have a lot of money, it usually lasts a full week. Every morning during the funeral people would be up preparing for the day and music would start soon after 4 a.m. This would continue throughout the day and then in the evening people would come and eat at the tables set up under the tent. Children would run around playing and people would be socializing until around 10 p.m. Then, on Wednesday, everyone showed up in white clothes (the color of mourning here.) When it was time, the coffin was pulled on a cart with wheels and the people walked in procession holding unopened lotus blossoms and carrying a bowl of something white. Not long afterwards, the tent and tables disappeared and life went on as before.

For us, this week has been full of sickness. Ben and Ezra were home with a stomach virus at the beginning of the week. (Ben commented on the appropriateness of feeling like death and listening to a death chant all. day. long.) Poor Ezra can't catch a break. The vomiting and diarrhea from the beginning of the week has finally lessened but we're keeping an eye on his fluid intake to make sure he stays hydrated. You can tell he doesn't feel well when he lays around, because he's normally a very hyper little guy. He's been lethargic this week and not wanting to eat. Talia has also been home with the same symptoms, but seems to be recovering faster.
Zoe has made it to one month old!
Hopefully everyone will be feeling better soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

If You Need an International Midwife.... and an Update After Zoe's Birth

A lot has happened after Zoe's birth, as I'm sure is normal in families with 4 children abroad. One thing we have had to figure out has been getting Zoe's birth certificate after a home birth. It turns out to be much less complicated than we expected. I'm going to leave that post for Ben to write, as he's been dealing with most of the paperwork and can explain it better.

We, sadly, had to say goodbye to our midwife. She helped by catching Zoe, the way midwives do, but she did more than that. Just being here as another (mostly) sane, English-speaking, fellow mother after one of the most life-impacting times abroad (as birth generally is) made the transition smoother and our lives better. Her sense of humor, (when Ezra drank her mouthwash for one of many examples) adventurous spirit, (showing me parts of Cambodia I haven't been able to visit yet!) helpfulness (she taught me how to make ricotta and other things) and adaptability (Cambodia can be hard, but she didn't complain) make her special. I miss hearing her wise viewpoints on life, but I'm glad she made it safely home. If you'd like a good midwife who is willing to go abroad to help you, I highly recommend Fair Flowers Birth Services.

My sister also came and left. She doesn't like her photo online, but she took photos for us while she was here.We had fun visiting different places around Cambodia, and she especially liked bartering at the market! We miss her a lot, too.
The kids had fun taking pictures with baby Zoe. Now that everyone has gone home, we are figuring out our new normal for routines with 4 children, one of whom needs to be held most of the time right now. So far, the craziest part has been getting breakfast and kids ready for school in the mornings, but even that is smoothing out after a little bit of time.
Ezra has been struggling with breathing issues about once a month. Previously, the doctor refused to give him anything stronger than a saline nebulizing treatment as asthma is difficult to diagnose in children under 5. However, I had done everything he recommended and none of it was working. The worst part of having children is to watch them suffering and not be able to help. When Ezra comes home from school with a runny nose, he usually is struggling to breathe a day or two later. I hate going to the doctor for every little thing, so if we can take care of something at home, we do. When your child is gasping for breath, though, and the saline treatment isn't helping, a doctor is the right option! I'm thankful we have access to healthcare when we need it. This time the doctor decided it was time to have something available for when Ezra has an asthma attack and it gets this bad and gave a prescription for medication to put with the saline in an emergency. Ezra is the only one who has suffered with this so far, and every doctor he's seen expects him to grow out of it as his bronchial tubes mature. Ezra was back to his normal hyper mischief the very next day, so I think it's working, thankfully!
Zoe is growing quickly! She has gained about a pound a week and is curious about everything around her. Her schedule seems to be slowly aligning more with ours as she gets bigger and can sleep for longer periods between nursing. Talia loves having a sister and the boys are still very protective and slightly awed by the smallness of a baby. It's adorable to watch them hold her with little smiles as they exclaim "she's so cuuuuuuuute" every single time! I'm sure when she's old enough to mess with their things this will be a harder sentiment to find, so I want to remember them this way.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Zoe's Birth Story

Last Monday I walked to my last work meeting before maternity leave at 37 weeks 6 days. There, we rode motorcycles down the road to see the new offices we will be in when I get back. The rest of the week, I was to finish up by working at home. Well... I did, but Tuesday I also started getting stronger contractions and losing pieces of the plug. Since the midwife wasn't to arrive until Thursday, I was counting down the hours and asked my family to pray for the baby to wait. 

Just because I can birth by myself doesn't make it optimal and it would  have defeated the whole point of paying the midwife and preparing for the birth if we'd had to go to a hospital. After being forced to use the hospital in Abu Dhabi, one of the good things about being in Cambodia was the freedom to birth at home. The cleaner that Benjamin got to help me haul laundry to the fourth floor to dry while I'm pregnant has told me her stories about birthing in the hospital here. There was nothing natural about it as the doctor took charge making a nurse push the baby out from the top of her stomach while he used a suction machine to pull the baby out from the other side. No wonder she was in so much pain and doesn't know if she wants to have another baby. Unfortunately, when third world countries copy the United States on many things, that usually includes many needless hospital interventions during birth that increase the chances for major abdominal surgery, maternal death and depression from inhibited bonding with the baby. They usually keep these practices long after they've been dismissed by the States.
She's been praying for a little sister for 6 years.
I am convinced that the prayers of my family and friends helped the baby stay put. Diane, my midwife, made it in on Thursday, got to get a good night's sleep that night and the next before I needed her. Friday night as everyone else was asleep my contractions got increasingly stronger. I slept as long as I could, but when I couldn't sleep through them any longer, I knew I would do better to keep myself moving. I washed the rest of the dishes, did a load of laundry, folded a load, hung a load to dry and made pancakes for the kids to have the following Saturday morning. When a contraction would surge, I would stop and let it work and monitor it on the app I had on my phone to know how close together and how long they were lasting. Through the night they were about four minutes apart.
"I think I've found my calling" -Ben
That morning I told Ben I didn't think he would be able to go to the event his school was hosting for the students as we would likely have the baby that day. He was excited. I tried to make sure to drink a lot of water and eat when hungry to keep my energy up and laid down a few minutes to rest. When the contractions wouldn't let me sleep longer than 12 minutes, I started walking again. Birth is one of those special times in life where pain isn't an indication of a problem, but in the beauty of transformation. Each surge of pain means that you are getting closer to your goal, it indicates progress. With the first two births, I had more fear getting in the way of appreciating the journey, then in Abu Dhabi I just wanted to get. that. baby. out. so they wouldn't force me into something I didn't want and since the water broke on that one, everything progressed more quickly. This time was slower, more like Elias' birth, and I could appreciate the process better. I used the time to pray and be thankful for all of the prayers God had answered in this child's conception and development, birth options and so many more things.
Ezra is so proud of his baby sister.
Around 11 a.m. things began to feel differently and I could tell that transition was on the way. Contractions were one minute apart and increasing in intensity. I asked Benjamin to take the kids to my friend's house from work. I knew the kids would like to play with their kids and pets and toys they hadn't seen before and I was just thankful God had provided a family I could trust to let my kids spend time with during the birth. From then, things kept getting more and more intense from the tell-tell nausea and then the beginnings of the pushy feelings and contractions that allowed concentration on nothing but breathing through them. While in this stage, I completely understand why women want a medicated birth. However, I know from experience how much that impacts after the birth and that if I can just get through that part, everything else goes sooooo much smoother.
"I love the baby." -Elias
Baby Zoe came out around 3:30 p.m. with her hand up by her head, so she took a little extra pushing. This time, instead of just rushing to get her out, I tried to let my body do more of the pacing and listen to when it was ready to push. (Your body can birth a baby while your brain is in a coma... just listen to it and you'll know when it's time to push.) Ben and Diane's support made such a difference to me. I knew there were people there who believed in my body's ability to birth and who weren't going to push me into something unless absolutely necessary. They prayed with me when I needed encouragement right before pushing Zoe out. Ben was my balance as I pushed.

Zoe came out healthy and with a strong nursing reflex. She was born at 38 weeks 4 days, (but as developed as a 40 week baby, so maybe my cycle was off.) She was 8 pounds 15 ounces and 22 inches long. I didn't need stitches or have any complications. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the completion of the whole 9 months of anticipation, that the only thing I could do for the first few moments was say "Thank you, God."

I have never known so strongly that God was real, loving and very much concerned with me as much as I have during each birth. I don't know why every single little detail of this birth was answered with "yes, I can do that for you" when so many people struggle with just getting pregnant. I don't understand why I get to have four healthy children with good, uncomplicated births and so many women have to have interventions to live or have their child live. I don't know. I know I don't deserve any of it, but I am so very thankful for it all.

The kids, not to mention Ben, are all so in love with her. We are so happy she's here!