Thursday, September 28, 2017

Surprized by Home

Sometimes I laugh about what connects me to my new homeland even when I’m back here in the States.  As I sat down to write today, I looked out the window.  I saw a dog come around the corner of a building.  My initial thought was  that it was a stray.  Pretty much all dogs that come around the corner of buildings where I’m from are strays.  But here, of corse, that almost never happens.  Turns out, it was a dog that was on a long, thin leash.  Her master was only a few yards behind.  Things like that just click with me sometimes.

We’ve been back in our birth land for about 4 months — long enough to have the initial shockers wear off.  Things like driving rules, clothing norms, social expectations, are becoming second nature again.  But, there are still moments when something trips in my mind and I’m back across the ocean.

The other day, we heard someone shooting off fireworks.  Even though we’ve been away from the unrest — and even in our area it has calmed down — my first reaction was to question in my heart, ‘was that tear gas or fireworks?’  I wonder if I’ll ever hear fireworks the same again.

In the city we’re visiting now, there are lots of people from South Asia.  There are also lots of people from other areas of the world who cover their heads in public.  Every time I see these people, I feel like I need to apologize for my jeans and t-shirt or lack of headgear.  It feels strange to walk among these folks and not seek to fit into their cultures the way I would back home.  I guess I’m still not so comfortable in my American skin.

We had a chance to eat some delicious Indian food the other day.  I found myself trying to place it.  What region did the cook come from?  What style of curry did they use?  I never used to understand this, or care.  I just loved tasty curries.  I also made some chai for friends recently.  As they exclaimed on how good it tasted, I found myself wanting to apologize.  I hadn’t used nearly enough sugar for guest’s tea!  It was tasty to their palate, but it would never have gone off well back home!

Chris and I moved into a small apartment for a few months.  As we were deciding how to set it up, we came close to taking out a small table and chairs in one corner and using a floor mat for dinner instead.  It would have given us more space, but we ended up not doing it only because we didn’t want to have to move a table down from the third story.

So, we continue on here.  Not quite home in either place.  Not quite comfortable with either culture.  It’s just part of it and I’m glad to call both places ‘Home.’

The mountains I'm missing.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Jet Lag Is Awesome

It’s 5:05 AM.  I’m awake.  I love jet lag.  No, really!  We just crossed the ocean for the 8th time in 5 years.  We started doing this when our boys were 3 and 1 1/2 and I was expecting Lu.  Jet lag was brutal back then.  It was a slow, painful suffering that didn’t quite finish you off but kept you on the verge of a mental or emotional breakdown for about 2 weeks.  That’s because we were completely switching over.  Our day was becoming our night and vice versa.  Our kids, however, couldn’t see this logically.  Their little bodies told them that night was day and wanted a drink, a snack, a toy, a good fit and crying session, right in the middle of the night.  We would spend the majority of the night trying to get one child to bed only to have the other one wake with a different request.

There was no chance for our bodies to adjust before our kids’ bodies adjusted.  That meant that we spent our nights trying to get them to sleep and our days trying to keep them awake.  They would whine and fall apart when we were trying to get our bearings in a new place or reconnect with our family after months apart.  It was their night and they wanted to sleep.  Every interaction and experience was intensified with one little truth.  Jet Lag.

Also, jet lag was coupled with the fact that I usually had absolutely no sleep for about 48 hours every time we made that crossing.  I had 2-3 small children that needed lots of attention and help during those long flights.  They would usually complain quite a bit, need me to walk the isle with them when I was just about to nod off to sleep, or scream every time the plane took off or descended because of the pressure in their ears.  We dealt with spilled drinks all over their only clothes for the next 24 hours, changing dirty diapers in the airplane restroom -- if you’ve ever struggled managing your own toilet in one of those closets, imagine changing a blowout with a squirmy toddler!  Then there were the all-out fits in the airports.  I can remember trips where every airport was a new meltdown.  We had to spank kids in some of the world’s most prestigious airport bathrooms.  Chris would manage the carry-ons while I tried to keep 3 toddlers from losing it in front of foreign dignitaries and security personnel.  Always an adventure!

So, ‘Why do you love jet lag?’ you may be asking me.  Well, for the first time, I’m experiencing what most people mean when they say “jet lag.”  We just had the first ocean crossing without a single meltdown.  We just had the first ocean crossing where I wasn’t changing diapers.  We just had the first ocean crossing where all my kids kept their drinks in their cups and not on their clothes -- even though I was prepared with changes of clothes this time because of previous experience!  I actually got about 4 total hours of sleep in that 48 hours.  I think some people would complain about that number, but I was rejoicing.  International travel is really no big deal when your kids can quietly watch movies and will take a nap when you tell them to.  So, we arrived to Chris’ parents’ open arms tired, but happy.  Not the emotionally distraught and sleep deprived wretch I’ve felt like on previous occasions.

We arrived in the morning and pushed through, trying to stay awake until night time so our bodies could switch.  We made it until 7 PM.  Then, I lay me down to sleep knowing that I probably had a long night ahead of me.  At 2 AM I woke up to use the bathroom and didn’t hear any noise coming from the kids’ room.  I laid down again, figuring I wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep, only to wake up at 5:30 to the sound of the kids happily playing in their bedroom.

WHAT?  Oh, maybe Grandma and Grandpa woke up and were spending time with them.  We went in.  Nope.  Our kids were playing by themselves . . . entertaining themselves . . . on purpose!  As Abe said, “I thought I’d go and snuggle Grandpa, but I didn’t want to disturb him.”  Didn’t want to disturb him??  Who are these paramount examples of childhood servant hearts?  They’re mine!!!  Jed and Abe and Lucy managed midnight bathroom trips, finding blankets that had gotten lost, changing beds to make everyone more comfortable, and entertaining themselves in the early morning without waking any of the adults.  Then, they played happily through the day with minimal incident and fell contentedly back to sleep again last night.  I’d say we’re in a new phase, but that’s an understatement.  I feel like we’ve inadvertently slipped into another level of the multiverse.

So, this time, I’ve been groggy starting around 2 PM.  I’ve wished I could nap and made myself stay awake.  I’ve woken in the night and had trouble falling back to sleep.  This is jet lag.  Jet lag is awesome.  I am completely thrilled at this realization.

Abe after our first jet lag experience.

Friday, May 19, 2017

All God's Critters

We just finished hosting a group of American (U.S. and Canada) veterinarians.  They came to help us treat some of the animals in villages near our hometown.  Spending time with these vets and realizing that we will be coming back to the States soon, got me thinking about perceptions of animals around the world.  I grew up on a farm.  Our animals all had a purpose.  The livestock was for meat.  We had horses that were for recreation -- we went riding a lot.  We had a dog to keep watch.  We had cats to keep down the bird/rat/mouse population.  None of these animals were allowed in our house.  All of them served their purpose.  I enjoyed playing with my dog, cats, and horse -- they were companions to me -- but I knew that if they got sick, they would die.  We didn’t have a lot of money for expensive vet bills.  We would take care of them as best we could and then let go of them when they were ready to go.  I got used to the fact of death through them.  I also got used to the facts of life through them, too.  We had a front row seat for reproduction and birth.  These things weren’t covered up from us, they were just a part of God’s plan.  We took good care of our animals.  I remember hauling warm water from the house when temperatures dropped in the winter.  I remember buying good feed so they could be strong and healthy.  But, they weren’t coddled.

So, now, when I see and hear how some pets are treated, it’s hard for me to relate.  I’m glad that people have these animal relationships, as I had as a girl, but I don’t have any experience with house pets.  It’s something I’m still learning about.  Most of the vets on our trip came from small animal practice, where pets are part of the family.  They have offices that are no-fear zones, special supplements, expensive medical interventions, etc.  This relatively new position of a pet as part of the family permeates most of their day-to-day work.  So, they get off the plane to a land where animals are something else entirely.  I thought I’d just give you a picture of the contrasts between animals in my passport country and animals in my new home.

Cows: This word might bring images of beautiful bovines, heavy with milk, strong steers ready to be steaks and hamburgers, or large herds roaming the hills.  For many in this country, cows are a sacred animal.  This means that no one is allowed to kill a cow.  If a person accidentally hits a cow on the road (which can easily happen as they roam freely, eating piles of garbage left in the gutters and taking naps in the middle of a highway, shaded by a tree) it can be a very difficult experience.  Even for people who don’t believe that cows are sacred, they still have to revere cows because of the laws.  Most people do enjoy milk and soft cheese and families keep cows to enrich their diets with dairy.

Pigs:  Nonexistent.  Pigs are an unclean source of meat here, so there is no such thing as bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops, etc.  And, since there’s really no other major use for the animal, we never see them.  If my friends here heard that some friends back home actually keep pigs as pets, they’d probably be mortified.

Dogs:  Man’s best friend.  Or, in our new culture, a dirty animal.  Dogs are considered unclean where we’re from, and for good reason.  Almost all the dogs are street dogs.  They are sick, disease and parasite infested, and mean.  There are often tales of street dogs attacking young children.  People go out for their morning walks carrying a stick. Also, there are the shepherd dogs and watch dogs.  These dogs are kept specifically to protect.  Two shepherd dogs can bring down a bear or a leopard.  So, if you walk too close to a flock protected by these dogs, they will attack to protect the flock.  Chris still has a pair of jeans that bear the marks of a dog doing his job -- thankfully, the jeans were loose or Chris would have those marks on his calf!

Cats:  These are also strays.  Occasionally people might keep one as a pet, but they usually have lice or fleas.  They also like to fight.  It’s not so fun to be woken by the sound of a cat fight in your yard!

Monkeys:  Cute and funny zoo creatures?  Or savage, pack animals!  Monkeys are no joke!  They wander in bands in many areas.  They bully small children and steal from any open window.  They are also disease carriers.  Some people here feed them, but many wish there was a way to get rid of them.

Sheep and Goats:  Great for wool or milk, these also play a major staple in the meat department here.  Without beef or pork, mutton and goat meat are in high demand in non-vegetarian communities.  This was a meat I used to not enjoy at all.  It has a flavor that’s reminiscent of the 4-H barn.  But, our neighbors know ways to prepare and season it so that it’s super-tasty.  I will miss spiced mutton during the next few months.

Horses:  Large, regal, strong animals lived on my farm when I was a girl.  But the horses found here are small, skinny, and worked hard.  They usually have sores from the hard labor and look like they need another few flakes of hay every day.  A few people take pretty good care of their animals, but if you are struggling to feed your kids rice and veggies and lentils every day, your horse is a means to make money, not a status symbol. 

So, I guess it just depends on where you’re from.  In this part of the world, animals are everything from revered to utilitarian to a nuisance.  It’s much like back home.  It’s just that the categories are a bit different.  Many pet owners in the western world would probably be shocked at the treatment of animals in this part of the world, but then, I would hope they’d be shocked at the treatment of many humans, too.  I guess my challenge would be to look around your home -- as I look around my own -- and find any of God’s creatures, human or otherwise, that need better love and care.  God told us to care for His creatures.  It’s a big job.

Here's one of those cows I talked about.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Coming . . . and Leaving . . . Home

I’m sure that you can relate to the joy and excitement we all feel to see all our family and friends, eat our favorite foods, sit in a lazyboy chair, play at a clean, free park, and many more things.  It might surprise some of you that it also comes with trepidation.  Birthplace visits are so amazing -- especially when you have a niece and nephew that you’ve been waiting over a year to meet!!  But they’re also challenging.  We want to fit all our friends and family into this short time.  Always, during the visit, there are reminders that it won’t be forever and that the goodbyes are coming.  The stress of the transition hits in many ways as we remember our home over here, are met face-to-face with culture differences, realize that people have moved on without us (and we without them), and that we actually enjoy parts of our new home more than we enjoy parts of our old home.

I discover as we prepare for these transitions, like I’m doing now, that I am preparing both physically and emotionally at the same time.  As I organize shelves, purge things, start to pack clothes and books we’ll need, I’m also unpacking ideas about what to expect when we arrive on Western soil.  What are some of the things I’m mentally preparing for these days?  Glad you asked.
  • Comfort.  This comes in so many forms, it’s hard to nail it down.  One might be the aforementioned lazyboy chair.  Another might be a shower curtain so the bathroom floor isn’t soaked after a shower.  Another might be heating in the bathroom.  Not so important in June, when we arrive, but can you imagine in January when we return?
  • Tables.  In our home, we eat most meals around a plastic tablecloth on the floor.  It is just the easiest way and most common way to eat a meal in this part of the world.  We just recently took out our table and some plastic lawn chairs so our family could practice what its’ like to eat around tables again.  Not joking.
  • Being the majority.  I’m trying to prepare myself for being normal.  It’s hard to know what to think when all of a sudden I’ll be able to walk down a street or through a store without everyone staring at me.  Will I feel offended that not everyone we meet wants a selfie with me or my kids?  Will I know how to handle being surrounded by people who share the same faith as me?  Will I feel relieved or let down?
  • Guy-girl relationships.  In this part of the world, I would never touch a man who wasn’t my husband -- even if he were a close friend or family member.  Also, I would never touch my husband in public.  These days, if I see people of opposite sexes holding hands, it kind of freaks me out.  It feels a bit scandalous.  We recently had a Western couple visit our area for 3 weeks.  We spent quite a bit of time with them and when it came time for them to leave, I mustered up my courage and shook the husband’s hand . . . with his wife standing right there.  It felt completely awkward.  So, if you are my family member or a member of my church or a long-time friend who happens to be male, if you come to give me a hug, don’t feel bad if I’m a bit awkward at it.  I’m WAY out of practice!!!
  • Shopping.  I am NOT used to American stores.  I’m used to picking out veggies at the local stand.  The tomatoes they have are the tomatoes.  The eggs are in trays -- just one kind of eggs.  Everyone gets the same ones.  No, we’re out of bananas today, try again tomorrow.  Also, if I go to the ‘supermarket’, if I see tortilla chips, I buy them ALL -- yes, all of them.  They may not have them again for a month or two.  So, I’m not sure how I’ll handle getting all my food (and everything else) all in one place where there are so many options.  If you see me at the store staring blankly at the chip isle, ask if you can help me and just drop a bag of the cheapest tortilla chips in my cart, okay?
  • So much fun!  This one worries me a bit.  We have a great life and wonderful experiences in our home, but those things are still pretty normal.  We still have laundry to do and school lessons, and rooms to clean and things like that.  We have quiet visits over tea with neighbors and friends and a big outing is a trip to a local garden.  So, when we hear all of the amazing things we’ll get to do with our family and friends (camping, hiking, amusement parks, museums, swimming, skiing, sports) it feels pretty overwhelming.  It is all going to be so fun, but at the same time, have you ever done intense outings and visits for 7 months straight?  Neither have I.  Neither have my kids.  I’m looking forward to chats around coffee and trips to the library just as much or maybe more than all the bigger stuff.  Because what I miss the most is just normal life where I grew up.  And that’s what I want my kids to really know, too.  They know normal here.  I’d like them to know normal there.  I’m optimistic that there will be time for both.
  • Speaking of the library.  I was starting to tell my kids some of the great things we were going to be able to do and see.  I talked about how we’d get library cards and take out books from the library.  Jed pipes up, “How much does it cost?”  “It’s free.”  “Really?  How long can I borrow them for?  What if it takes me a while to read it?”  “You get it for about 2 weeks at first, but if no one else wants it, you can just borrow it again.”  “Really?  What if you finish early?”  “You can bring them back anytime and get more.”  “Really?”  It was so fun watching his eyes sparkle!
  • Driving on the right.  Even as I wrote that, I had to think about it and make sure I got the correct direction.  Ha!  This will be the first time I go back to the States since I started driving a lot here.  On the left.  Dear Lord, may I not screw it up!
  • Western clothes.  I remember when I got back from Ecuador years ago, I was shocked by women in shorts in the airport.  I’d only been gone for 4 months.  It’s been years, people, and the last time we were back it was in the winter.  I feel exposed if I’m wearing a shirt with sleeves above the elbows or I forgot my scarf around my neck while I walk around the house.  I am looking forward to flowing skirts, though!
There’s lots of other things, but you can ask me later after I’ve had a few days to settle in.  See you soon, I hope!

The kids playing at the only clean, free, safe park I've experienced in this country -- it's at a mall in Delhi!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Deleting . . . and Adding

I’m doing something crazy!  I’m going out on a limb here, people!  I’m going to take Facebook off my phone!  I know, monumental, right?  Funny thing is, I’ve only had a smartphone for about a year now.  It’s not like I’m drastically modifying my way of life.  Or am I?

It may seem like a pretty simple thing, but these days, I realized that I spend more time reacting to statements that people wrote to LOTS of people or writing things that will be sent out to LOTS of people than I do actually writing individual messages or talking with individual friends.  I realized that I might know how many kids you have and if you moved recently or if you had a tasty dinner, but I have no idea about your dreams, your disappointments, your hopes, your fears, your real thoughts and feelings.  I’ll call this the ‘Christmas Card Connection‘ or CCC.  Now, I love Christmas cards.  It’s so fun to get them and hear from all my friends around the world, learn what their year was like, remember them, catch up so that if I run into them in another year or two I’m not totally in the dark.  But, that’s not a real friend, it’s an acquaintance.  A real friend is someone I can call when I need to cry it out, someone I can rejoice with when they reached a goal, someone I would drop everything for just to bring them a meal if they were sick, someone I could laugh with over an embarrassing moment.

Living where I do, maybe I’m feeling this void more than others might.  In this culture, I don’t talk to members of the opposite sex unless I have to.  Many women stay in their homes and relate with their female relatives.  It’s difficult to leave the house and some weeks I never leave the radius of 2 blocks around my house.  It can be hard to get into a deeper relationship with people here because of the language barrier, so my friendships are few.  So, I’ve found myself filling that void with looking at what everyone is doing of Facebook.  It makes me feel connected to people.  Even if it is only the CCC.  Somehow, I’m comforted that people are out there living their lives who know who I am, who like my comments, who ‘haha’ my posts.  And blogging does that too, to some extent, though I’d keep doing it if nobody read it because it’s kind of my journal and diary, too.  It could be that this is a phenomenon that only I am feeling, but I suspect that others do it for similar reasons.  There are plenty of studies out there that explain why we can’t put our phones away.  But I want to put mine away.  I want to have a real relationship with real people that isn’t just CCC but shows I actually care about what happens in their lives on a personal and not just communal level.  Community is fine if it brings people together, but it seems that this CCC kind of community just drives people apart.  It makes it so we never have to really know what’s going on in anyone’s life, but just what they want to show us on our screen.

You may argue that this superficiality was rampant long before the touchscreen.  I’d agree.  But, I didn’t have any patience for it back then, either . . . so . . . 

There are a few things that have pushed me over the edge.  One of those is the ugliness that has run rampant with trolling and posting of hateful opinions on every side of every issue.  I live in a pretty stressful environment with people who are very different from myself in many ways.  I don’t have the emotional capacity to care that someone I met twice just posted a meme that would break the hearts of my friends here.  I don’t have the patience or brain space for another post that attacks my faith from a person who I would like to just sit and have coffee with.  It’s exhausting.  I don’t have room in my heart to be offended when I just want a friend.  So, I’m done filling my eyes and head and heart with all the hate, judgement, fear, and division that keeps popping up.  I love you all too darn much!

Then there was the death of a high school classmate.  I hadn’t seen him since graduation because both he and I left our hometown and our paths never crossed after that.  We were friends on Facebook, but he didn’t post much, so I really knew so little about him.  I know so little about most of my classmates.  It reminded me that Facebook doesn’t mean that I really keep up with anyone.  It’s also a poor substitute when you wish you could just sit down and chat with a person and that opportunity has passed.

Another thing is simple loneliness.  There can be days in a row where I see and speak with no one but my family.  I love them, but it’s also important for me to have relationships outside of them.  I do have local friends and other foreign friends who live here, but I want to focus on those relationships and also people who are ready to do the work that it takes to keep up a friendship long distance.  I’ve enjoyed so much getting to run into people I’d lost track of for a decade or more through FB.  It’s really fun to see people who are growing, who’ve made it, who have a life they’re finding fulfillment in.  That’s been a great gift.  But, these assurances and Christmas Card moments are getting farther and farther between.  So, I’d rather spend time writing emails and calling people.  Having that real conversation, sharing that personal feeling.

I listened to a podcast recently that kind of hit me hard.  It made me sad for what we’re losing and not so hopeful for what we’re gaining.  It was TED radio’s 2-part podcast called Screentime.  If you want to check it out, I recommend it.  It’s not doomsday or anything, but some of the things they were talking about just reminded me how much I want to proactively pursue face-to-face, or at least ear-to-ear or eye-to-eye interaction.

So, I’ll still have a Facebook account. I’ll still post my blog updates here, since it’s an easy way for people to find them (though you can subscribe if you want to).  I’ll check my account once in a while -- starting with about once a week, maybe -- but I won’t check it several times a day.  I might miss some kids being born or some great recipes, but I’ll be doing something even dearer to my heart.  I’ll be emailing and calling friends and hearing their birth stories and recipe ideas personally.  And in another few months, I’ll be dropping in on some of you for a cup of coffee and a long chat!

If you’d like to keep in touch like this and don’t have my email address or phone number, just message me or leave a comment and I’ll get back with you.  Leaving off this post for now, hoping you have a great chat with someone today.

And here are a few pictures of what I look like now.  I realized that, since I never take selfies, that it's rare for me to post a photo of myself!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Limit

As I wrote in the last blog, our family just finished a long vacation.  We were planning on going straight from Egypt back home, but I made a mistake with the flights and booked a return flight for a day too soon.  When I got around to trying to fix the problem, the airline didn't have 5 seats available on the next day's flight anymore.  Also, the only road route into our hometown was blocked by landslides, so everyone was trying to fly in.  That meant, the prices for flights were at least 4 times normal.  We decided to just stay in the big city for a few nights until the prices went down and we could afford to get back home.

Chris and I wanted to stay for cheap and, since our family has stayed in some pretty cheap places in the past, we looked for the very cheapest hotel we could find where there were 2 large beds and breakfast for 4 people.  We found one in the budget tourist section of the city.  It cost about $15/night for the room and breakfast.

Just a few months before, we had stayed in the same area at two different hotels.  They sure couldn't be called fancy, but inside they were relatively clean.  Our first one was the Cottage Ganga Inn.  It cost us $30/night.  In these kinds of hotels, the hotel staff sleep on the floor and couches in the lobby.  We woke them up upon coming home late so they could open the door and let us in.  There was an elevator that took us up to our room with two large beds.  The shower had no curtain, but there was a shower and a bar of soap and a few one-use tetra-packs of shampoo.  There were towels and only a few small holes and stains on the sheets.  We ate breakfast at a little chai stand nearby where we enjoyed potato fried bread and sweet, spiced tea next to outdoor urinals -- without doors -- that men came and used while we were eating.  Classy.  After we'd stayed there a week, we found out that there wasn't a card machine, so we had to pay with cash.  Also, I discovered that Ganga means cannabis.  So, there's that!

The next time, our room and amenities were similar, but we were staying on the 4th floor without an elevator.  Smyle Inn.  It cost us $25/night and included breakfast.  We had breakfast on a little rooftop terrace where the kids got excited because we got a muffin each day.  The hardest part of that stay was that they were cleaning the sewer right outside the door of the place.  As we left the hotel each morning, we had to hold our breaths and walk past a huge pile of poo.  Fun.

So, we thought, what difference could $10 make?  Well . . .  to start off, we had just gotten off a plane at 2:30 in the morning.  We paid for an extra night at the hotel so that we could go there straight from the airport.  We arrived at Mohak Palace at 4 AM and woke up the staff.  They started telling us they had a triple room -- but I paid for a quadruple.  So, the guy behind the counter sent me with a porter-type guy to see the room.  Up 3 flights of stairs.  Past a large pile of dirty sheets.  Past another pile of dirty dishes.  Carrying a sleeping Lucy.  It was a triple.  I quickly told him, "No, that's not what I wanted."  So we went up another flight of stairs.  It was a quadruple.  As I looked around the room, my heart sunk.  The sheets were filthy.  The warm blankets looked as if they hadn't been cleaned or changed in over a year.  There were no towels, no shower, no soap, and no drinking water.  But, I was exhausted and there was no other choice.  At least there was enough room for us all to lay down.  "Okay," I said and walked back down the stairs to wait for Chris.

As they were working on the paperwork, Jed and Abe started crying and fussing.  They wanted to lay down.  So, the porter took me back upstairs with the kids and luggage while Chris finished the paperwork.  I reached into our luggage and took out our dirty beach towels.  I covered the bed with one of them and spread the other on top of the kids.  It was then that I saw the pillows.  Under the cases, the once-white pillows were dark gray-brown.  Yuck!  I told the kids to go to sleep and set up the other bed.  Chris came in and realized we had no clean water.  Then, he couldn't find his filter.  As we tried to fall asleep without blankets, we chatted a bit.  We agreed that this place probably wasn't where we wanted to spend the next few days.  Also, Abe's birthday was coming up.  Probably we should find somewhere else.  Maybe splurge and stay somewhere that felt like a birthday celebration.  We fell asleep thirsty, but laughing.

In the morning, that is 2 hours later, I was awakened by a worker pulling garbage cans of laundry up the steps.  He was having a loud conversation with his mother.  In the room next to us, it sounded like there was a group of about 20 college students throwing a party.  Our door handle was jiggled multiple times until I got up and flung the door open.  A sheepish local guy apologized and ran into the room next door.  After we got out of bed, Chris went out to find us some water.  As he did, I talked to the kids.  I asked them what they thought of this new hotel.  "It's okay," said Lucy.  "It's good as long as we're together," said Jed, the Philosopher.  "I thought there'd be more people with Mohawks," pipes in Abe. 

I paused, trying not to laugh and to collect my thoughts.  "Well," I said, trying not to sound too excited, "this place isn't what Daddy and I were expecting.  We thought we'd like to find another place to stay for Abe's birthday."  The smile that spread across Jed's face said it all.  "Really?"  "Yeah, buddy, why are you smiling?  Don't you like this place?"  "Well, I didn't want to say anything, but it's pretty bad."  Bless them.  None of them begged to leave, but all of them were ready when we headed out of the hotel that day.  We took Abe to a hotel with an indoor pool so he could go swimming two days in a row.

Well, we figured out the limit for our family.  We'd like a place with clean sheets, soap, filtered water, and towels.  It costs more than $15/night.  Now we know.

Sadly, we don't have any photos of the Mohak Palace.  I do have a video, but it takes too long to download those.  But here's a photo of the place we moved to.  Complete with birthday present Light Sabers!

Travel Champions

I've been getting ready to post some pics from our vacation with my Mom to Egypt.  As I did so, I kept seeing these faces.

I spend pretty much all day every day with my kids.  They are the source of some of my biggest joys, hardest belly laughs, deepest sobs, and ugliest tantrums.  Sometimes it wears me out being with them all the time.  Sometimes I wish I had a Grandma or Aunt to drop them off with or a school to send them to or a nanny who would handle bath time.  When we're holed up in one room for most of the winter, it doesn't help my attitude toward them.  They mirror my whines, my frustrations, my weariness, and my lack of patience and we can get hard on each other.
So, it was an extreme blessings to get away from the house, climate, culture, and classroom for a few weeks and spend time in Delhi and Egypt.  We had planned this trip for about a year with my Mom.  We were supposed to go in September, but when she was diagnosed with cancer and having surgeries for hernias, we knew we'd have to postpone our trip.  So, in February, with my Mom all healed and my family all stir-crazy, we hopped a plane.

I've continued to be overjoyed with the fact that my kids are growing older.  There is something sweet and wonderful about newborns and toddlers, but traveling with them isn't it.  Traveling with 1-3 newborn-toddlers will rank in the hardest things I've ever done list.  And I live over here.  So, you can imagine or empathize.

We took off for Egypt with three kids who have spent their whole lives traveling.  They now know how many lines we need to get through in each airport.  We often have conversations "Is this the airport with the playground?"  "No, this is the one without a Pizza Hut."  "Can I run right here?"  "Yes, but just until the elephant statue."  When they heard that their cousin who is almost 8 just flew in a plane for the first time, they couldn't believe it.  They fly multiple times a year.

Here they are, getting ready to get on another flight.  We took 10 flights total in the month of February.

On the plane, they get their own bag with activities or books they can look through and they did wonderfully well -- even when our 4 hour flights had no movies to watch!  Again, it's been exciting and fun to have bigger kids.  They want to help with the luggage, rarely throw a fit, and even play games that I sometimes enjoy!  I can remember pacing the isle of our long plane rides trying to calm down my 1 1/2 year old and maneuver my pregnant belly so I didn't hit sleeping passengers in the head.  I also remember how the first time we ever were in an airport and didn't have to spank a misbehaving child in the bathroom was a big deal.  How times have changed!

Our kids are also very comfortable in hotels.  We have a lot of conversations like, "Is that the one with the pool on the roof?"  "No, it was the one with muffins for breakfast."    "Is this one close to the park?"  "No, but it's close to the paratha stand."  We've stayed in so many hotels, I wouldn't even venture a guess and the kids have gotten pretty good at sleeping wherever we lay them -- 3 across, all of us in one bed, 3 in a single bed, laid out on 2 chairs, laid out on the floor with blankets, 2 on a sofa, etc.

No trip would be complete without glow sticks.  Our kids love that when we're sleeping in a new place, they each get a glow stick at bedtime.  Here's Abe at one of our hotels with his mini light saber.

Whenever we go anywhere, I don't feel quite complete if my hands are empty and this is why:

Wherever we go, I've pretty much always got a kid or two holding my hands.  Jed is getting older and sometimes doesn't want to hold anyone's hand anymore.  He feels like he can do it himself.  I'm sure he can.  At this point, he could probably get on a plane and fly to the States on his own, he's so used to things.  But, It's strange to see him getting this independence.

Since they've traveled a lot, my kids have seen a lot of things that other kids haven't gotten to see.  The Taj Mahal, the Himalayas in Nepal, the beaches of Thailand, much of the central U.S.  But this trip, we really got to see so much!  Here are just a few pictures of some of the things they got to experience.

Here they are in front of a statue of Ramses the Great.  They were supposed to pose like a Pharaoh.
And here they are in front of a sphinx.  We were told that the sphinx wore a stern expression to scare enemies, so I told them to make a mean face.  Gotta love Lucy!

And now for some pyramid shots!  Here they are at the Step Pyramid in Saqqara.

And here they are at the Great Pyramids at Giza.  Notice how Abe was already trying to figure out how to climb it!

And what trip to Giza wouldn't be complete without giving the Great Sphinx a swift uppercut?

Here they are walking out of a tomb at the Valley of the Kings.

And Lucy sitting on the High Dam in Aswan before we started our Nile Cruise.

My kids are each so different, and yet, each such adventurers.  They're also great at making friends.  If it's their uncles in Delhi,

Our tour guide in Cairo,

Our taxi-driver's wife in Giza,

Nubian musicians on a felucca ride,

Alabaster carvers in Luxor,

A boat captain in Aswan,

Or even imaginary friends at the mall in Delhi.

Now, I'd like to show you a series of pictures that perfectly illustrates my kids.  I was sitting in the sand on the beach by the Red Sea.  There is a beautiful coral reef there and also, gorgeous granite mountains behind us.  It made for a wonderful array of shells, rocks, and coral in the sand at our feet.  I was collecting rocks and shells and coral that I liked so I could take a picture (since it's illegal to take the coral and shellfish from the Sinai Peninsula.)  Jed decided he wanted to have a picture of what he found, too.  He spent quite a while, scouring the sand, digging up the very best things he could find, running back and forth to show me the treasures he saw.  Here was the picture of what he found that he meticulously set out on his hand:
Abe saw what we were doing and had to jump in.  He wants to be a part of everything.  But, there were too many other things to do for him to stay at it very long.  He found 1 coral, 1 rock, and 1 shell.  Then he went back to burying his feet in the sand.
Lucy wasn't about to be outdone by her brothers.  She scooped up some interesting specimens, ran over to me, shoved them in my face, and said, "Here, Mama!"  She just barrels into life!

Now, for some more gratuitous, cute beach pictures.

And here they are on the glass-bottom boat ride we took out to the coral reef.

And here are some photos of our hike up Mt. Sinai.  This was the most magical part of the trip for me.  Jed was so excited to be on the mountain.  He ran ahead and kept having to double back to us.  Abe walked the whole way up on his almost 6-year-old legs.  Lucy walked almost the whole way up and half the way down.  We ascended 700 feet and hiked a total of about 10 miles. 5 up and 5 down.  They just kept going!  We were on the mountain for about 8 hours and they went from too hot to too cold but all were glad to be there.  Here we are all at the very top.  Bundled up because it was CHILLY!

And here's Jed's best Bedouin look!
Abe taking a short rest.  Mom was walking with us and was taking it easy.  She's a sprightly 63 years old and just got over cancer and hernias.  Abe never wanted to get very far ahead of Grandma.  He wanted to do it WITH her.  Such a soft-hearted boy.
And then there's the other side of him . . .
Lucy was thrilled to be on the mountain, "We're the adventure girls, right Mama?"  Forever, Lucy.
 And my crazy, Bedouin girl!

When we were almost to the top, I told them to all give me their best adventure poses.  They speak for themselves.

Now for a few photos with food.  We had lots of great food experiences while in Egypt, but I haven't ever been one to take a picture of my plate.  Our kids were great travelers, eating lots of new things, and complaining very little.  If you ask Abe what his favorite parts of the trip were, one of them was the food on the cruise boat (because we let him have dessert at lunch AND dinner!)

Here they are enjoying some hot chocolate after a long day of playing at the beach in the cold wind.

And here's Jed enjoying some ice cream after a walk in the hot sun by the Nile.

And our favorite place the whole trip.  A German Bakery on the Red Sea coast.  Don't judge me for eating Western Food in the Middle East.  I haven't had a decent croissant or pretzel in 2 years!

And now for a few more random pics of "The Crazies" as they are often called.

Lucy being a princess in a horse-drawn carriage.

And the boys being knights in helmets we found at a bazaar in Delhi.

Just Abe . . .
Jed with a weapon.  This kid can make a weapon out of anything.  Literally anything.

And now the kids beings sweet and silly:


These pictures really show how I relate to all my kids.  All taken by Chris.  He knows perfectly!


Jed had hurt himself and came for a hug -- even though he's a tough guy!

And here are the kids with their Daddy!
Now for a picture that shows my hope for our kids.  We were sitting in the cathedral at one of the churches in old Cairo near where Jesus and his family stayed when they fled from Bethlehem.  My prayer is that they will understand more about our faith, be thankful for the wonderful legacy of faith in their past, and forge a new legacy of faith in their future.

Now a few family pics from our dress-up night on the cruise.  Just so you can see that we're not always nuts.

And now for one last picture.  Here's the last photo we got of the kids with Grandma.  One thing, sadly, that our kids have learned all too well is how to say goodbye to the people we love.  Here we were about to get on our last flight with Grandma before she left for America.  We never enjoy this part.  The kids are much more aware of what goodbyes mean.  At least this time it was only for a few months.  We'll be hugging you soon, Grandma!!!