Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Week in Paradise...

We had such a wonderful vacation to Sri Lanka!!

(Thanks to India's Visa regulations, we had to leave the country in the middle of our year here...
and lucky for us, the nearest country to visit is the "Hawaii of Asia"!)

Seriously, I kept thinking, "This is amazing...we are so dang lucky!" I never imagined being able to take our family to a tropical island. Ever since Lon and I went to Hawaii in 2010, the kids have been asking when they would get to go to Hawaii and I always answered...When you are grown up, you and your spouse can go! ; )

I must say, the trip had quite a rocky start. The older girls had SO much schooling to finish  before we left to complete their term. (I have refrained from writing a post where I rant about how much I HATE online schooling--it is SO much harder for the student!) ...and THE INTERNET WENT OUT for six days before we left. It was so stressful. We were finally able to get our PC laptop to work but we kept on having issues with the sites being blocked and we had to constantly seek out our tech guy in the office and have him fix it for us.

 Our last day here, the girls spent ALL DAY in Lon's office where there was a second laptop available. I was packing and trying to get everything else ready, Brooklyn (bless her heart) sat down with Liberty for 6 hours straight to help her understand matrices and get through a slew of math assignments and the test review so she could take her term final. Camry had an AP Calculus test that had to be done and she kept getting kicked off and having to email her teacher (remember there is a nearly 12 hour time difference...ugh) to reset the exam. It was so maddening. Camry ended up finishing her final at 3:30 AM (!!!) and could only lay down for 15 minutes before she had to shower and get packed for our 4:30 AM departure to the airport. Needless to say, she felt so sick all that first day and totally crashed the moment we got to our gate at the airport.

We had a delay of 1 1/2 hours because our plane was late and then when we arrived in Sri Lanka, immigration was a little bit frustrating. Luckily, our driver was still waiting (we were 2 hours late) and we all climbed into his van.

Then the fun finally began...

We had been driving for just about 15 minutes when we saw this amazing sight...





Seriously...when can you look out the window and see an elephant walking down the road???
It was absolutely surreal...Jumanji, anyone??

And it had those huge tusks! As you will see, none of the elephants that we see later in our
 trip have tusks. 

Our driver took us to our first rental house way up in the mountains near Kandy and we got all settled in. This house was quite grand and in the most amazing setting, but it was also clear that it has been years since someone actually lived there. It was pretty bare and the furnishings were a bit threadbare...but we ended up having a great time. (We stayed there three nights.)






The kids loved sleeping under mosquito nets.


This was our amazing view out over the jungle. Every night, we sat outside and watched huge bats fly overhead. That was actually how we spent our Halloween night...no candy, no costumes...just huge amazing real-life bats swooping overhead. : )



The kids also enjoyed the old swing out in the front yard...


And Cohen loved the resident dog. He belonged to the caretaker of the home who lived over the garage area. Since coming to India, Cohen has decided he wants to have a farm where he can have a dog, a cow, chickens, goats, pigs, and guinea fowl....all the animals he gets to see here everyday.



On Friday, we went to the Botanical Gardens and I am so glad we did. They were indescribably beautiful. SO CELESTIAL! This garden is what I imagine Heaven looking like. It was so peaceful and lush and restful. The tropical foliage was so vibrant and colorful.





Cohen got the chance to feed these huge fish in the Orchid House. He got scared when the huge thing popped out of the water and forgot to let go of the food. : )

They had the most amazing trees...this was an enormous tree that puts down roots wherever its branches come close to the ground. This "eye" made it look so lifelike---like an sprawling octopus.


We all walked out on the Suspension Bridge that literally bounced up and down as you walked across...just a little unsettling!




The trees had these amazing root systems that spread out in all directions.



And we thought this looked like it came straight out of a Dr. Suess book...




On Sunday morning, our driver came to pick us up and take us down to the coast and we had him snap one last picture of us before leaving this beautiful mountain home.

As we drove off, the kids were pretty excited.  This was the day they have been waiting for since the moment we decided to come to India

They were going to finally ride an elephant!! 

Lon and I did not ride elephants, so we were just able to get lots of great shots.
(We are going to ride elephants when we go to Delhi next month for our 20th Anniversary Trip...and we are so excited because my sister and her husband are meeting us there and then coming home with us to see Rising Star and what we are doing here!)

 What an amazing opportunity this was...so fun. Not something I ever imagined us experiencing!!!










We all got to feed Lakshmi some fruit. She loved it and was pretty impatient to get it into her mouth!


And we got to wade out into the river and give her a bath...which involved scrubbing her back with the husk of a coconut.



After the scrubbing was over, Liberty, Avery, and Cohen climbed on for their "Elephant Shower". 


They were sprayed 5 or 6 times until Cohen and Avery were absolutely drenched...


After saying goodbye to our guide, we walked next door...to visit a "companion" business--a business that, out of necessity, is right next to the Elephant Foundation. Here is their sign...any guesses what they make??

It was an Elephant Dung Paper Factory!!! And we had the most entertaining and eccentric guide you could ask for. We had the whole process explained to us...including how most of the colors come from feeding the elephants a certain diet. For example, if they want to make yellow paper, they simply feed the elephants a diet of bananas....wait a couple hours....collect the dung that evening and make yellow paper the following day. No joke!
It was so cool...we just had to buy a little pack of note paper on our way out.
You know you all can't wait to get a little note from me now....  ; )


After the elephant adventure, the driver brought us to our rental home in Negombo. It was a BEAUTIFUL and homey little cottage. So well stocked. New. Clean. We wished we could have stayed there for a month! We were greeted by the wonderful owner that lives next door. He had milk, bottled water, and orange juice waiting in the fridge for us and we were all delighted to see the TV, DVD player, and a basket full of great movie choices!!  There was a beautiful garden in the back with banana trees and a little cabana structure to sit under.

And can you possibly believe that this cost $45 a night??? Things are crazy cheap around here! 

It had an outdoor shower that the kids said was freezing. ; )


We stayed in Negombo for four nights/three days. Lon and I went exploring the first day...just to see where things were, to grab some groceries, and to check out places the girls might want to shop.

On the second day, the girls and I ventured out on our own and did a lot of fun shopping. Sri Lanka shirts for everyone and some great deals on some Christmas presents. We were hoping to meet Lon and Cohen to go to the beach, but then a literal monsoon started, so we caught a Tuk-tuk back home and enjoyed a cozy evening at home.

On our last day there, the sun was shining and we were able to finally go the beach. We had a great time...even though we had to deal with a lot of peddlers on the beach trying to sell their wares to the "rich" white people. : )






After we were all worn out from swimming (and more sunburnt than I care to think about), we did some shopping in the little touristy stores on the main beach road. Liberty got an adorable elephant carved from a coconut and I got a new hand fan and some more Christmas presents to squirrel away. 
Then we called our tuk-tuk driver, Sarath, to come and pick us up.  When we all went out, we had to hire 2 tuk-tuk drivers and I was able to snap this shot of half our family in one. It is quite an adventure to ride in one of these things! (In India, they have the exact same things--they just call them auto-rickshaws.)


We were all so sad to head home and we SO wish that we could afford another week or two in Sri Lanka before we flew back to the other side of the world. But we are so grateful for this wonderful experience and just feel SO lucky to have spent a week in such a beautiful place.

Life is good and God is good!

Oh...and this means we are officially half-way through our time here in India. Five months down, five more to go. The time is speeding by and it breaks my heart to think about saying goodbye to all the kids here and heading back home...
not knowing when we will make it back over to this side of the globe.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Life in the Green House...

I wanted to share some pictures of where we live. Mostly, I wanted to make sure that I got these pictures for our family to always remember our little home in India.


We live in what is called The Green House. The brown door is ours...on the second floor. Our Managing Director, Dr. Susan, lives on the first floor. She swears she can sleep through anything...and I hope that is true! Because with tile floors, wooden furniture, and four kids...it is anything but quiet up here.


 We have a beautiful courtyard outside of our home where two ducks and one kitty live. She was named Princess Kitty by one of our summer coordinators. She gives us a heart attack on a daily basis because she will dart across the path as we are warily scanning the ground for snakes after dark. There is a swing hanging from the tree and a duck pond near the wall. It can be a very peaceful place to sit and relax.



This is the view standing on our front steps...

And if I step up a couple of those stairs leading to our roof, this is the view out over the nearby farmland...

Lon and I both love to look out and see workers in the field and watch the people on bikes and motorcycles go by on the road outside of our gate. And from this very spot, we watch the most amazing sunsets we have ever seen. Absolutely gorgeous!


Now moving inside our house...
When you walk in our front door, you come into our living room. We really don't spend much time in here because it does not have an air conditioner. ; ) We have family dinner once a week on Thursdays (because Thursday is fish night at the school cafeteria....blech) so we only occasionally squeeze our whole family around this tiny table. Other than that, we eat with the other volunteers over at the Volunteer Hostel.


The first room on the right is Camry's, the second on the right is Liberty's and past that is our kitchen. The room straight ahead is Cohen and Avery's and then our bedroom is on the left past the kitchen table.  Here is our kitchen...


We recently got the shelving unit for our food and it has made it so much easier to organize. Under the sink area is a small countertop oven (on loan to me from Dr. Susan) that I pull up a few times a week to make yummy breads and such. Last night, I made french onion soup and used the oven to broil the toast and cheese on the top of the mugs.  It was divine! I have loved, loved, loved having an oven again and the family and other long-term volunteers enjoy eating whatever I make!

Here is our bedroom....which thankfully has a really comfortable bed (it's the only comfortable bed in the whole place)! The little kids are constantly begging to sleep with us. In fact, Cohen often campaigns for a rotating-bed schedule hoping to kick us out for a night and get the bed to himself! ; )

This is where we spend most of our time. The computer is often being used for online schooling or my sponsorship work for Rising Star and the desk on the left contains all of our homeschooling books and supplies.



Brooklyn does not live in the house with us...she lives over in the "Elephant House".


And this is what the inside looks like. It is a very beautiful place with all the trees and open air. Since the top of the Green House has a metal roof on it, I often come to the roof of the Elephant House to do my yoga in the morning.


Our houses are right next to each other. Here is a photo from the walkway in between the two buildings. I am standing right next to the Elephant House...and you can see on the left, through the gate, the red front door of the Green House. You can also see the beautiful murals that we get to walk by every day. Each session of volunteers gets to paint their own mural at the end of their time here with us.



It is a beautiful place...unlike anywhere else I have seen in India! We love it here.