Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rooftop Photo Shoot

Well, the photographer in me is missing my old clients with their cute kids and lovely little outfits and perfect (and not so perfect) poses. So, since I wanted to take a great pic of my kids for their Papa (my dad) for his birthday, I went ahead and kept snapping after we got the one I wanted. Some of them are super cute.

It was a rainy day and we didn't have the energy to scope out new photo spots that day, so we just ran up to the roof of our apartment building and made do with what we found - proof that a good photo isn't about the perfect background, because they turned out pretty sweet! Check them out here.

Oh, and the "We love you" was for my Dad officially, but we love YOU, too, of course! :)

Oh, and I have done a few volunteer photo jobs for some local NGO's - stuff I can't really post or anything but has been useful to them for sure. What are some other ways I can use photography to help Cambodia? Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

IJM Cambodia Update!

When I signed on to facebook today, I saw this post from IJM's page... "Breaking news in CAMBODIA: Foreign pedophile sentenced to 8 yrs in jail. IJM's 5-yr-old client is safe at home w/ her family + continues to heal w/ IJM support."

Praise God. I knew about this case because my husband was there, but I can't write about things like this until they are over and "officially" released. We wouldn't want that little child in danger, right?

But I can mention it now. And here's my thoughts...

FIVE years old. FIVE. 5. So young. So small. So unfair.

This one got to me. I have a five year old. And the whole day Stephen was in court I was praying. When it was over, he told me that he didn't think he'd hear a guilty verdict. But alas, GUILTY and sentenced to 8 years in jail. God is just. Some say that punishment is too much or too little, but I know God is the Judge over all.

Here are some more press releases approved for me to show you from right here in Cambodia. Take a moment to read them and pray for the victims. Even after rescue, they have years to go before they will heal.

And if you aren't a fan of International Justice Mission on facebook but want to be, just click "Like" on their page to get updates! And you can always read more about IJM at www.ijm.org

And we will continue adding updates to our website at www.LivingforJustice.com/media

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homeschool Begins!

Well, we had our first wek of homeschool this past week. We started off with a light load for week one, just to get me into the swing of things. Oh, did I say me? I mean the kids! The kids! No, really, we all needed a good “practice week” before we hit it longer and tougher for the rest of the year. Here’s a little summary of how it went.

We all sat down to the table with our baskets containing this week’s work… Kindergarten for little Iron Man, preschool papers for little Hulk, and teacher guides for me. We calmly and quietly opened to the first page and began with a prayer, a Bible story, a song, and then the activity in the book. Everyone followed directions and no one complained or disobeyed.
And then I woke up.

It was Monday morning and time to start the real day! Monday was nothing like my dream day, nor was any other day of the whole week. But we had a blast learning together. I love working with the kids both together and separately as we try to all educate each other. I’ve been pretty honest from the beginning with many people, admitting that homeschool isn’t something I ever really desired but would attempt out of necessity (since private school is in the multiple thousands here). I feel God had definitely changed my heart about that as that monumental “First Day of Kindergarten” approached. I began to get eager not only to teach but to prepare, to organize, and to predict their little reactions to every lesson. And this week was no different. As the week went on, I stayed motivated and I think we all learned a lot from each other. Here are a few pictures from some of our favorite parts of the week!

Preschool Curriculum revolves around letter of the week, and we chose the letter based on the handwriting curriculum, so our first letter is L.

I told him to make an "L" out of play-doh. He quickly did this (note the knife stabbed into the dough) and then just played for a while. Hard to argue... it DOES look like an L, just not what I was expecting. Of course this kid never does what I'm expecting!

We played "Simon Says" during math time because we were studying about right and left.
Here they both have their left arms up correctly...

And here one of them is clearly wrong, but it's just so cute! Right? We had so much fun! They took turns calling it, too, but the first words to me were always "Simon Says put down your camera."

More things that start with L and some arts and crafts projects using the very limited supplies I've been able to find here in Cambodia. We're getting by...

Cutting practice.

And he said this was his favorite thing we did all week. It's a lesson out of his math book. When I asked why it was his favorite he said "just because it is." We'll have to work on communication at school, I guess.

All in all it was a good week. Here are some silly faces with our L crafts.

It was a fun week. It was a long week and we all got a little sick, too, but we had a great time.

Short summary of the week: It was great, and we can't wait until next week.

I can't believe I ever doubted whether this was right or not. AGAIN... God knew what was best for my family. Why do I have to keep getting reminders of that?!?!

We are thinking of all our friends who are starting now at their own schools (public, private, and home) all over the USA. We miss you. And dear Moms who are crying as they walk away to their first day of school, know this... it's going to be okay for you, too. God knows what is best for your family just like ours! He knows.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Eat Bugs

Yep. I eat bugs. On purpose? No way! Of course not? Don’t be ridiculous! I honestly don’t know why anyone would eat them unless I guess that’s all they could afford to eat or they were stranded in a jungle or something like that. But that’s not me. I just eat them accidentally. Every single day. Pretty much, anyway.

It’s definitely not on purpose but let me transport you back in time to the events of my past couple weeks and you can experience eating bugs with me.

#1 I am enjoying a wonderful peanut butter sandwich while my kids nap and I am reading a book on my kindle. I’ve put down the sandwich for a few minutes and when I pick it up again I take a bite while being completely engrossed in my book. A second or two after I swallow I feel that unmistakable tickle of an ant on my arm. I look down to see the sandwich covered in ants. The sandwich I just ate a huge bite out of. Gross.

#2 I am enjoying a nice, refreshing, Coca-Cola from a fountain at KFC. Yes, we have KFC here. But it is by no means the same. Not at all. They have curry and fish and all sorts of stuff, and I have to order from pictures because the menu is in Khmer font, which I can’t read, so I never know if I’m getting chicken or fish or… whatever… Anyway, it’s safe to drink there, so I’m enjoying a beverage and cooling off in the heat. As I get to the bottom, slurping every last drop out of the cup, I see something gray in the ice. Yep, sure enough, frozen in the ice is half of a moth. Or I think that’s what it is. I’m too disgusted to look too closely.

#3 I decide to make macaroni and cheese for the boys. Homemade, fatty, buttery, cheesy, gooey mac and cheese. I am so excited. I put the water on the stove and as I prep the sauce I see the rolling boil start. I always let it boil 3 minutes here before I throw in the pasta. That’s how long it takes to make sure any bacteria is dead. Or that’s what I tell myself. I look at the clock and 3 minutes later I dump in the bag of shells. As soon as I pour it in, I see thousands…ok, maybe not thousands… dozens, though… of tiny roaches float to the top. They were in the shells and floated out as I boiled the water. So I scooped them out and we ate it anyway. No, just kidding! We didn’t eat that pasta. And every time I have seen shells since I’ve been grossed out.

#4 I enjoy a sandwich at a local cafĂ©. It has grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, and some weird sauce similar to thousand island but with fresh herbs in it. I don’t care for the sauce so I scrape some of it off. As I do, I notice that one of the “herbs” is actually a gnat. Dead. In my sandwich. And if I’d asked for a refund for that I’d probably have been laughed at!

#5 I decide to just eat chips and salsa with some refried beans for lunch one day. Hey, I’m noticing a fattening trend among my eating habits here… Anyway, I sit at the table while the boys eat their healthy lunch and just snack out of the bag, dipping into the homemade guacamole, refried beans, and salsa I made. Oh, the beans and salsa were NOT homemade, just to clarify. But anyway, I sit eating a nice meal and as I look into the bag to see how many chips are left I see ants all in the bag. Eeew. Who knows how many I ate?

This is just a small sampling of the bugs I’ve partaken in here in Cambodia. And I live in a very modern, Western style apartment! Stephen tried the popular local treat - a fried tarantula. He’s tried some crickets and who knows what else, too. They sell that stuff at the market. As for me, I think I’ll stick to my oh, so healthy eating habits and just keep hoping a tarantula doesn’t make its way into any of my food. But, how could you accidently ingest one of those anyhow? They are gigantic. Those should be eaten by choice only. And I don’t see myself making that choice anytime soon.

I’m sure you now have this burning desire to visit me??? Anyone???

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More or Less

As I shop I am always amazed at how so many things are waaaay cheaper here in Cambodia. And then others are soooo much more expensive. I thought you might find it entertaining to read along and guess which are more or less as I share some stories with you.

More or Less? Coconuts
Haha, I had to start off with an easy one! Less of course! These are everywhere. They are the yummy green ones. They can be bought at the market or, more easily, off a cart from someone walking down the street. And if you ask nicely, they’ll cut the peel away while leaving the coconut in tact so that it stays fresh. When it’s time to enjoy, we can just punch a straw through and drink the coconut water, which is really tasty, by the way. Coconuts are about $1.50-$2 each but you get about 4 glasses of juice from one, so not a bad price, I think.

More or Less? Bottled Water
Um, this is both. See, you can’t drink the tap water so they capitalize on that. The local water that has been treated by reverse osmosis is cheaper ($1 or less), while the name brands like Dasani and the very popular Evian are very expensive - $2 to $3 per small bottle and $6 to $7 for large. We use giant 5 liter jugs that are just $1 each, local of course, but treated and wonderfully clean tasting.

More or Less? Avocados
I can’t believe this one. They are so cheap. They average about $0.25. Seriously. They are a bit different than the Hass ones you buy in the US or the California ones even, but they taste great and they aren’t that popular so they are readily available. This is something we buy all the time. I am sure my waistline will soon start to show that. “Good” fat is still fat!

More or Less? Electricity
I’ve talked about this before. Electricity is super expensive here. We were quite worried about it but I’ve given up enough other things so that I can run the A/C units more often than just at night here and still stay in budget. Electricity is something people think about enough that even televisions have “off” switches that turn it all the way off – so that even the remote won’t turn it on until the switch is activated. This is something that’s unheard of in the USA! Here you have to make sure switch on the TV is on before you can turn on with the remote. Same with DVD players and things like that.

More or Less? Water in home
Oh, this is so cheap. For our first month we owed $1.89 for our water bill. So funny how cheap that is! It would probably cost the apartment less to just pay it than to pay for the meters that measure it and the guy who comes to read it!!

More or Less? DVDs
And music. And software. And books…
All cheap. So cheap. Of course, they are all pirated so I feel conflicted about buying them. DVDs are just $1.50 and are available just about 1-2 weeks after the movie comes out in the THEATER in the USA. Harry Potter’s been out for a couple weeks now already. I haven’t bought it, but I’ve seen it in the market. And if we want to rent a movie or buy a movie, there aren’t legitimate stores to go to. It’s not like I have to choose whether to buy a legal DVD for $20 at one store or a pirated one for $1.50 at the market. Nope. Not an option. The market’s all there is. Tough choices. But they have everything. EVERYthing.

More or Less? Grapes and Strawberries
Well, we can get fresh mangoes for just a quarter each, apples and oranges for less than that, pineapple for a quarter or already cut up for $0.40, watermelons for $0.50 each, and all sorts of cheap Cambodian fruits, but these two are not cheap at all. Strawberries are only for sale in the big grocery store and cost about $4.50 for 6-7 strawberries. Now, I love strawberries, but that’s a bit too much. I don’t think so. And grapes are about $4 for a small bunch. Obviously they don’t have those types of farms here in Cambodia. I miss eating those because I refuse to buy them at that price no matter how much the kids beg.

More or Less? Kitchen small appliances (toaster, blender, coffee maker…)
These are very expensive. A blender is about $80. A toaster is almost as much. It’s crazy. I got lucky and got a few things from another IJM family who moved away as we moved in, but buying new is just ridiculously expensive. An iron, though, that’s only like $20. Supply and demand, I guess!

More or Less? Paper goods – paper towels, napkins, toilet paper
More, I’d say. I mean, about the same as you’d pay for name brands in the USA, but the quality is very poor and the quantity is lower per roll. Same quality issue with diapers and baby wipes. It’s very sad. I miss good diapers!

More or Less? Toiletries
This one depends… If I can read the words on the container, and especially if it’s a brand I recognize, then it’s way more expensive than I ever paid in the States. But if it’s in Khmer or Chinese or some other Asian font with a picture of a panda or something, it’s definitely affordable. Lots of trial and error on these products to save money. For example: I bought the kids some bath wash – the Asian kind was $1.20 and a good size container. The Johnson and Johnson one – in a teeny container – was $7.50. It’s crazy!

More or Less? Clothes and Shoes
I don’t know why I filled up 8 suitcases to move here. We could have come naked – ok, not naked because the FAA wouldn’t have let us on the plane – but with just what we were wearing, and we’d have been fine. Clothes are everywhere, and many are the same ones you wear in the USA. Go ahead – check your tags – I’ll bet you have quite a few things that say “made in Cambodia” in your wardrobe. Many of those things make it to the markets here and are sold at great prices (always less than $5 for everyday stuff). Shoes, too, though they don’t wear athletic shoes, so they don’t really sell them.

More or Less? iPhones, iPads, iEverythings…
Less. But these are pirated, too. Or stolen. Who knows. And they come with no warranty. So I haven’t given in to the popular culture of having one yet. Even the Cambodians with very little money seem to have an iPhone.

I could keep going for a while but I’m not sure if this is even entertaining or interesting at all. Take advantage of the comment feature and tell me what you want to hear about. I’d love to share! I have to make a list now so I can go barter at the market a bit!

Oh, and I KNOW something you all want is more photos. Here's a snapshot from the tourist area by the river front. It's the tourist area so it's nice and pretty :)

More later…

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

[Almost] Wordless Wednesday

Ok, it's 11:59am on Thursday here, but it's still Wednesday in California! And I have readers there, so here you go.

And it doesn't really matter anyway because everyone who knows me knows that I have never, ever, in my whole, entire life, been "wordless."

So let's just call it "Pretty Picture Day" where I show you sites without my rambling comments.

Pictures from pretty temples/statues/buildings around the city.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Conversation with God

Yesterday was an amazing day. It was a heart-wrenching day. It was a redeeming day. It was a day that I found myself praising God and questioning Him all at once.

And I think God is okay with that. He likes it when I ask tough questions because it gives Him a chance to answer them.

I don’t know who is reading this or even if anyone is. But if anyone IS reading this, there’s a good chance that you don’t understand what it means to have a “conversation” with a God who can’t be seen or audibly heard. I don’t even understand it. So here’s my awkward attempt at explaining it, or at least explaining what happened to me. It’s sort of a glimpse into my heart and the questions I asked, followed by the answers I found.

Let’s see: the day started with my previous blog post about perspective. It was great story from another blogger, named Rachel Held Evans. You can read it here. I found myself walking away from the computer with one thought on my mind: “THANK YOU, JESUS.” Thank you for giving me a life where I didn’t have to wake up each day and wonder which child to feed or if my son could be kidnapped and forced into war today. Thank you for the life I was born into and the blessings you poured out on me.

And later that day I took my children to a boys and girls club here in the city. This is a club open to children of all ages. As I stood there watching my own innocent children who have been blessed beyond measure play with these beautiful Cambodian children who have so little and are in so much need, one of the staff members quietly explained the “story” of each individual child to me. As I listened to these stories, I had to look away as I fought the giant lump in my throat and became conscious of the tears welling up in my eyes. For the first time since arriving in Cambodia, the stories were real. I was looking into the faces of the children who I’d been fighting for. The numbers and statistics turned into faces with little eyes looking at me with hope and little hands reaching out to be held. It was a life-changing moment. Each of them had a history I couldn’t even fathom.

Many of them who come to the group have no home. Numerous others have no family. Some of the ones with families were sold into the horrendous sexual slavery industry by those very families and later rescued. Others may still silently be living that life without yet being rescued. Several were living with HIV at a tender young age. A few are continually sought after as they leave shelters they are provided because they seek to return to this terrible life they were forced into at a young age – the only life they really know . None of them had bathed and all of them were hungry.

I wanted to know why. My “Thank you, Jesus” prayer became a question of “Why, Jesus?” Why does this have to happen? What made me deserve a life of plenty and them a life of none? How is this fair? How can God create all people and yet allow them such dissimilar lives?

I guess the look on my face gave away all I was thinking – the anger, the sadness, the hopelessness. The questioning that was happening in my mind was forced out of my mouth as I was asked what was wrong. I couldn’t hold in my questions any longer as one of the NGO’s staff approached to question how I was handling the day. I blurted out all I was feeling and I’ll never forget the look on her face as she responded.

She was smiling. How can you smile at this, I thought? Have you been doing this so long that you don’t notice their needs anymore? No. That wasn’t it. As I shifted my focus from the children to her – and her smile - I began to hear what she was saying. She explained that this was not a sad story. For many children, it was a story of rescue. Of redemption. Of hope. Of success, even. After all, many had left the lives they had before and were pursuing a better life. The ones still on the street at least had a place to go every afternoon, and a shelter as an option if they’d choose it. They had friends who were like them and a staff who taught them about Jesus. And that’s when Jesus’ words flooded my thoughts.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

I’d memorized these verses when I was in high school, and they came to me at that very moment. Today I found myself still thinking about them and I looked them up. Matthew 5: 3-6. My Bible then sent me to another passage: Isaiah 61:1-3.

“…He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting for the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

See, God doesn’t feel sorry for these people. I don’t think so, anyway. He loves them just as they are. Rich or poor, hungry or full, clean or dirty, they are blessed. He loved them before this organization began helping them. He loved them before and during the hard times of their lives. He loved them even before they were born. Isaiah 49:1 says Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth He made mention of my name.” This is true for all of us, not just Isaiah. God knew these children by name before their parents named them. He knew what life they would have and all the terrible things that would happen to them. He knew I’d meet them today. He also knows what future each child holds and what their future generations will do in time.

And though I have so much and they have so little, He loves us the same. We are all His children.

So I don’t know WHY some people have such a prosperous life while others are born into poverty, but I feel peace in knowing that by His love, we can all have the same eternity, an eternity with our Father in Heaven. If we believe.

And I can’t change the lives of each of these children. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can change ONE. And then maybe another. And another. And with each life changed, many more are touched in our time and future times.

Father, I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And so is each child I played with yesterday. I thank you for every single one of them. I pray you change their lives. I pray that the people reading this blog are inspired to help change lives as well. Bless each child, and thank you for giving my own children a spirit of enthusiasm and a heart for loving others. Use me to change the life of one child, Father, so we may all play together someday on the golden streets of heaven, praising You.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I have made a couple friends here (finally!) who are from the US and Canada. We have great discussions about serving God here in Cambodia and about all the "Mom" stuff involved in every day life here or anywhere. It wasn't until I read this blog post by author and blogger Rachel Held Evans that my whole perspective changed.

You can read it on her site or I've copied it here, with her permission:
I'm sure it will change your perspective, too.

A Different Kind of Mommy War

mothers1Photo by Amy Conner, World Vision

A popular topic on the blogosphere these days is the tension generated by the so-called “mommy wars.”

Cloth diapers or disposable diapers?

Dr. Sears or Dr. Ezzo?

Breast milk or formula?

Stay-at-home mom or working mom?

Home school , public school , or private school?

Disney or Veggie Tales?

The “mommy wars” are the result of the abundance of choices that women of relative privilege enjoy, and it’s a shame that we’ve allowed our insecurities to so divide and distract us.

For while we argue about stroller brands and family size, millions of women are engaged in a different kind of mommy war, fighting with every decision of every day for the very survival and future of their children.

The questions they must ask are much different than ours:

Which child should I educate?

Which child should I feed?

Can we afford both food and textbooks?

Will I survive my next pregnancy?

Should we migrate for better farming or risk another year of drought?

Will my daughter be raped if she goes out to gather firewood?

Will my son be kidnapped and forced into war?

Should we pay for a mosquito net or a vaccine?

How many of my children will survive?

Will I live to see them grow up?

Yesterday we met a group of women who are on the frontlines of the real mommy wars.

Before World Vision came to Colomi, a rural region east of Cochabamba, the women there tried to organize a support group for mothers of children with special needs. In Bolivia, children with special needs are so stigmatized that their mothers are often blamed for their challenges and encouraged to abandon them. Children who cannot walk must use their arms to drag themselves across dirt floors. Often, they are not bathed or spoken to for days.

The support group in Colomi attracted just a few families who faced the ridicule and scorn of the community and a lack of resources and education to really improve the conditions of their families.

And yet they pressed on, meeting as often as they could…

When World Vision established an ADP (area development program) in Colomi about a year ago, the first thing the staff did was ask mothers in the area about the needs of their children.

“We want to stop abuse,” they said, “and we want to learn how to care for our sick children.”

And so World Vision’s first project in Colomi was to establish a special needs center there, where several dozen children—most of them awaiting sponsorship—now receive hearing aids, prosthetics, life-saving surgery, education, and the healing power of love and friendship. Mothers gather several times a week to exchange stories and to learn how to better care for their children. The facility is still in need of more funding, but you hear the constant sound of laughter echoing off the cement walls.

Studies show that when women direct the distribution of resources, the chances of those resources being invested in education and health increase dramatically. The women of Colomi just proved that.

These are the real mommy wars, and we should all be fighting them.

Our battles are not against one another but against hunger, disease, misogyny, rape, neglect, and exploitation.

As Sarah Styles Bessey so aptly put it a few weeks ago:

If it is a war on women, I can't be Winston Churchill. I am not the one leading the charge and very few listen to my small voice with its strong Canadian accent. I may not be a Katie Davis or a Christine Caine or a Dorothy Day. I may not be a Nancy Alcorn, let alone a Mother Theresa or an Oprah Winfrey or any other well-known woman fighting some small or large battle in this war against our sisters, mothers and daughters, our friends. Our big voices of freedom and workers for the wholeness of women stand as the generals and governments, the tacticians and leaders are our Allied forces.

No, I am not that important. I am small.

And my life is a bit small.

So I will be the French Resistance.

I will be the small underground movement, the insurgency, the one taking every opportunity, however small, to strike a blow for the Kingdom's way of womanhood.

If you want to join the insurgency and fight a “mommy war” worth fighting, sponsor a child today.

Sponsor in Bolivia