Happy 9th Birthday Erin!

25 Jan

Happy, Happy, HAPPY Birthday Erin!

I know. I know. It’s your birthday, and I’m not at home to help you celebrate. For that, I feel terrible, but please know that I’ll be thinking about you all day. I hate missing your birthday and I know you do too. One of the many, many things I love about you is  you’re not afraid to say how you feel, and when I told you I’d be out of town on the day you turn nine, you made sure I knew how upset you were. I don’t blame you one bit.

While I may not be with you today, you can’t imagine the joy I’ve had seeing you grow, learn, and explore the world this last year. And what a year it has been!

This was the year you traveled outside the country for the first time, not once but twice!

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Sure, Cambodia couldn’t be more different than Switzerland and France, but you made sure to show your style in both regions. I don’t know anyone who can rock hats better than you. On both trips, we rarely saw you without the fedora or the beanie. You’ve also proved to be one awesome traveler…. with one exception. When jet lag sets in for you, it really sets in, and you want to sleep. Not even food can rouse you from a deep slumber.

Sleeping through a french meal and oblivious to the woman sitting behind you with the big bouffant hair.

Sleeping through a french meal and oblivious to the woman sitting behind you with the big bouffant hair.

Last year, you talked about traveling the world. This year, you can officially say you’re a world traveler. Now you’ve got bigger goals. You want to see the 7 wonders of the world. Will you take me with you when you go?

Speaking of goals….. you still love playing soccer, but now you’ve added another sport. Softball.

A true Diamond Diva

A true Diamond Diva

I love watching you take the field, playing just about every position, except pitcher or catcher. You’ve got a team spirit attitude and are not a kid who likes being the center of attention. That will serve you well in sports and in life.

You’ve been a pretty decent swimmer for the last couple of years, but in 2014 I forced you to do something you really, really, really didn’t want to do: join the swim team. I’m still not really sure why, but you tried with all your might to get out of it. You can be a stubborn kid, but I’ve got you beat. We eventually made a deal. You had to go to swim team practices, but I wouldn’t make you compete in any of the meets. You stuck to your guns, even when you saw how much fun your friends had swimming in the meets. But by the time of the last meet, guess who had enough of sitting on the pool deck? You!

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I was one proud Momma watching you face whatever fears you had about competing. Six months later, I don’t remember where you placed in your races, but I do remember the huge grin you had after you climbed out of the pool. I hope you’ll remember that as well.

Your dedication to doing well in school has not changed at all since last year. If anything, you’ve become even more motivated. You’re not satisfied to simply be at a 3rd grade reading level…. or 4th grade reading level….. or 5.6 grade reading level…. which is where you’re at right now. No siree… You want to be at a 6th grade reading level. I’m sure that has nothing to do with your big sister being in 6th grade, does it?

3rd grade is also where you start working on your times tables. I never liked being tested on this, but not you. You thrive under the pressure of me yelling out multiplication problems at you like a drill sergeant. I love watching you do the calculations in your head as you try and come up with the answer as quick as you can.

From experience, I know it’s not always easy being the middle child. At any given time, you may get left out. That’s why I was so excited that you and I got to go on a special trip to San Diego this summer for ComicCon.

This was not just a trip for fun. Nope. I put you to work to help promote Batkid Begins.

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Without a ton of complaints, you handed out what felt like thousands of postcards to anyone who would take one. Luckily, it was not all work and no play. You did get a chance to meet some cool characters and put your Lego skills to use.

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You have had quite the year, kiddo. Quite the year. And in the last 365 days, there hasn’t been one day that you haven’t done something that has made me laugh, smile, or sometimes shake my head in disbelief. I love you!

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Mom

Skiing in Switzerland

18 Jan photo 2

Leading up to our trip to the Swiss Alps, we had one sick kid on our hands, but I was hoping it was a case of food poisoning, not a stomach bug. By the time we left for Klosters, Carrie was feeling much better. Did we dodge the sickness bullet? I had my fingers and toes crossed that we did.

We arrived around noon and so far so good. We got checked into the hotel and the girls were ready to play in the snow. We lucked out and the snow had just started falling a day earlier. Klosters is a really cute mountain town, small enough that you can walk to the gondola, but big enough to find places to eat.

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Our hotel, the Piz Buin, worked perfectly for us. There was a long balcony outside our rooms and the girls promptly got to work trying to build a snowman. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cobble together quite enough for their vision of a snowman.

We then had to rent our ski equipment and get the kids and husband signed up for lessons. At this point, still no sign of sickness. Score. We had a couple of hours before dinner, so we started up a game of Scrabble. While some of us where scoring  big points in the game, it soon became apparent we were not going to escape another bout of sickness. This time it was Olivia’s turn. Just like Carrie, when it hit her, it hit her hard. Perfect timing for it to hit her, right after we bought her lesson, lift ticket, and ski rentals. I hoped for a miraculous recovery so she could ski the next day, but it was not meant to be, so she stayed with Auntie while the rest of us ventured out into the snowy conditions.

While the snow was much-needed and helpful, it made visibility a challenge.

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I promise. The Swiss Alps are somewhere behind me

The weather challenge also meant Carrie and Erin didn’t get as much out of their lessons as I would have liked. They stayed on the baby hill in the kids ski school all day and didn’t get to experience the gondola or trekking from the gondola to the ski runs. After  one day, Carrie decided she didn’t want to go for a second day.

The stomach bug that invaded Olivia’s immune system left after 24 hours, allowing her to at least ski for one day. As she said. “It would have really sucked to have come all the way to Switzerland and not be able to ski.” I couldn’t agree more. It also allowed Erin to get in another day of skiing and take a ride on the gondola.

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The smiles show how much they enjoyed their day on the mountain, but alas all good things must come to an end, and this photo meant the end to our time in the Alps.

The snow storm that blanketed the Alps also hit my sister-in-law’s town of Zug. It didn’t make walking to the bus station easy, but for 3 California kids, they were in snow angel heaven.

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Up ’til this point, we had not yet indulged in the best known Swiss cuisine, fondue. We saved it for our final night in Switzerland.  I had forgotten that one of the ingredients in fondue was wine, and at least at the restaurant we were at, they didn’t hold back  the booze. While it was fine for me and the husband, it was too boozy for the kids.

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This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and I’m so thankful we were able to share it with the kids. We’ve been so fortunate to be able to travel the world with the kids and I’ve got a feeling it will instill a lifelong love of travel in them. Erin has already said she wants to be able to see all 7 wonders of the world. I told her to start saving now for those trips….. and save enough to bring me along for the ride.

The Great European Vacation

3 Jan

Having family live in far away places has its benefits. Namely, breaking the travel budget to visit them and explore some really beautiful places. My sister-in-law’s stint in Switzerland will be winding down in the coming months, so it was now or never if we wanted to take advantage of seeing her and taking a side trip to France and the Swiss Alps.

We’re fortunate enough that the kids are old enough to stay relatively entertained by watching movies on the long flights. I definitely feel for the parents of young babies and toddlers walking up and down the aisles trying to calm their crying kids, while less sympathetic passengers give them the evil eye.

We arrived in Zurich, sleep deprived but excited. My sister-in-law met us at the airport and half of us drove back with her to her apartment, while the others took the first of many train rides.

On our first first full day in Switzerland, we traveled to Lucerne, which is about a 20 to 30 minute train ride from my sister-in-law’s town. It’s a beautiful town along the Reuss River, known for its covered bridges.

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

We strolled along the the river taking in the beautiful sights, while also trying to coax a certain 8-year-old out of her foul mood. Between the jet lag and being forced to wear a winter coat in December in Switzerland, this kid was not happy.

Not all smiles

Not all smiles

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Luckily, her mood improved after a Swiss inspired mac and cheese lunch, a trip to the Dying Lion Monument, and the neighboring Glacier Garden.

The Dying Lion honors the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution

The Dying Lion honors the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution

The Glacier Garden was just what we needed for the kids. It’s a park and museum, which allowed the kids to burn off some of their excess energy and put the middle child into a happy place.

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While the museum was cool, we all really loved the house of mirrors, even when all three kids bonked their heads by walking into mirrors.

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Lucerne was a great introduction to the beauty that is Switzerland and got us excited for our excursion to Paris the next day.

We took a 4 1/2 hour train ride to Paris, which was great, although the husband would argue that I spent most of the time looking at the French countryside with my eyes closed. He may have been right.

We began our tour of Paris with a trip to Notre Dame. It’s everything you’d expect. Massive, beautiful, and of course filled with kids who like posing in front of the historic church.

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We opted to wait in a long line to climb up lots of stairs to see the gargoyles. We bided our time by eating crepes and drinking hot chocolate. The wait was worth it, allowing us to see some stunning views of the city, even with the overcast sky.

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After this excursion, jet lag really set in and the two younger girls barely made it through dinner.

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They rallied the following day for the trek to the Eiffel Tower and climbing the nearly 700 steps for the first two levels. These kids were determined and step by step, they made it, with little complaint.

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All this climbing and walking made us hungry and thanks to a recommendation from the Rick Steves guidebook, we had what would be arguably our best meal of the trip. A dessert drenched in hot fudge can’t hurt either.

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We capped off this day with a visit to the Musee D’Orsay. I’m not much of an art aficionado, but this museum blew me away. I loved seeing all of the impressionist art. Plus, we went near closing time so the crowds were at a minimum. A bare minimum.

That definitely wasn’t the case when we headed to the Louvre the following day. We waited almost an hour just to buy the tickets, and once inside, it was packed. Jammed packed. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many people this place can hold, and as you can imagine, the biggest crowds clamored to take selfies with the Mona Lisa.

Selfies with the Mona Lisa

Selfies with the Mona Lisa

It’s true what a lot of people say about the famous portrait. It’s a lot smaller in person and not nearly as impressive as I would imagine. Still, the Louvre is a must do when you’re in Paris, so we were pleased we could check it off our to-do list.

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On our final full day in Paris, we spent time strolling along the Champs Elysees and doing a little shopping. Don’t make me try and pronounce it. My French is horrible. First off, we braved Paris traffic to take the perfect photo of the kids in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

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If we were to do holiday cards this year, (which we’re not) this would be on it.

We capped off our final night in Paris with another lovely dinner…. one which poor Erin didn’t quite finish.

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Surprisingly enough, Carrie chowed down at this meal, and at about 4 a.m. it all came back up when she got the stomach flu. Not the best way to end a trip to Paris, but pretty much something you should expect when traveling with family. Luckily, it was a 24 hour flu, so she rebounded pretty well for our final leg of the trip to the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, she also passed it onto her older sister.

That part of the trip will be saved for the next blog.

Adventures in Oregon

20 Jun

As summer vacations go, you can’t get much better than a road trip from Northern California to Oregon. Truth be told, when we planned this vacation with another family, I didn’t really know where we were going, other than Oregon. Two days before we left I figured I should probably take a look at where we were actually going. Our first stop on our road trip was to Crater Lake. Another admission. I thought Crater Lake was in California. I was wrong. It’s about 65 miles north of the border, smack dab in the mountains of south central Oregon. It’s also cold.  Cold enough that there’s still snow on the ground in mid June. For some people, like my family in Minnesota who endured more than their fair share of snow this winter, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment. For my kids and our friends’ kids? Pure heaven.

Snow fun at Crater Lake

Snow fun at Crater Lake

Yes, my middle child is sliding down the snow in a t-shirt and cowboy hat. If you look closely, you’ll also see she’s wearing Keens sans socks. Don’t ask. Sometimes it’s not worth the fight to try to get a kid to throw on a sweatshirt and socks. This was one of those times. She insisted she wasn’t at all cold, even if she tucked her arms in her sleeves during one of our hikes.

If you’ve never been to Crater Lake, I highly recommend it. I won’t get all Cliff Clavin on you, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version of  this natural phenomenon. Crater Lake was created about 7700 years ago when a volcanic eruption collapsed Mt. Manzama, which turned into Crater Lake.  The result is a sight to behold and photos don’t do it justice, not even panoramic ones taken with my iPhone.

Crater Lake and Wizard Island

Crater Lake and Wizard Island

I swear, I really didn’t photo shop the photo seen above here. It really is that blue, dare I say even bluer than Lake Tahoe.

As beautiful as Crater Lake is, it’s one of those places where you hike to the rim, look at the pretty scenery and then get out of dodge. At least that’s what we did. We had some serious vacationing to do in central Oregon, specifically in the town of Sunriver. Wikipedia calls Sunriver “a planned residential and resort community,” and it is all of that, but it suited our two families perfectly. Sure it’s a bit like living in Pleasantville, but given that we’re here on vacation, it doesn’t bother me. With the miles upon miles of bike paths, water park, horse stables, and marina, I’ll take it.

While you don’t have to leave the Sunriver compound, we did, and no, not just for the breweries in Bend, although I have to say we went to a couple of breweries with the kids for dinner, and the beer is not only great, but the outdoor atmosphere is a haven for kids and dogs.

The weather was less than stellar the first two days in Sunriver, with temperatures never getting out of the 50’s and a fair amount of rain and hail, so we explored downtown Bend, watched a movie, and hunkered down in the rental house. By the third day,  the sun returned and the temperature shot up into the 70’s, which was perfect timing, because we booked a mountain bike ride with The Paulina Plunge Mountain Bike Tour.

This by far was one of the best parts of the trip. (Big props once again go out to our friends who found this tour and booked it.) The tour company makes it easy. They drive you up the mountain, and with the exception of the “Minute of Misery” you coast down 6 miles, stopping for nature treks to waterfalls and lunch.

Waterfall stop on the mountain bike tour

Waterfall stop on the mountain bike tour

 

The girls loved it, and a fall early on didn’t stop Erin.

It's just a flesh wound

It’s just a flesh wound

Full disclosure time. Yes, Erin and Olivia powered through the mountain bike. Carrie? She was attached to the husband’s bike.

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I’m quite certain had she been forced to power her bike on her own, I would have had a much different opinion of this adventure. Even so, after she went down one of the “natural waterfalls” which entailed her going briefly underwater, the child melted down. I went down first and realized the force of the water pushing her underwater might freak her out. I waited while she went down the rock formation. At first she was all giggles, then she went underwater. When she popped back up and I grabbed her, all I saw were her huge brown eyes looking scared out of her mind. It took only a few seconds before she started crying. This was the point where we were so thankful she didn’t have to ride a bike on her own. I guarantee she wouldn’t have made it.

Erin, that’s an entirely different story. She was all about the adventure. She not only went down that waterside, but also opted to step it up a notch and go down a steeper slide.

It looks scarier in slow motion. Really it does. I thought about going down this one too, but then wisely chose not to after seeing another adult looking pretty beat up after he finished. I already have plenty of bruises and can only imagine how many more I’d have on my bum if I would have followed my 8-year-old.

Plus, I was starting to dry off a little bit and didn’t want to be soaked for the final 3 miles of the ride.  The wet jean shorts and t-shirt didn’t seem to bother Erin or Olivia too much. They finished up the ride like true pros. While it was downhill, it wasn’t necessarily easy. They still had to stay upright on the bicycles while braking and navigating over sand and gravel. You know it’s a good trip when the girls ask when we can go mountain biking at home. I had to break it to them that at home we won’t have a bus to carry us to the top of the hill.

We still have another day here and are going to try a water activity, maybe kayaking or white water rafting. This vacation is a far cry from Disney, but one I’d do again in a heart beat.

Olivia Gets Promoted (to Middle School)

5 Jun

Six years after my oldest daughter first stepped onto the Adelante campus, she’s about to walk away with greater knowledge than I could ever teach her, and no I’m not just talking about Spanish and math. On her first day of  kindergarten I worried if the husband and I made the right decision to send her to a Spanish immersion school. Now I have no doubts. Yes, she’s fluent in Spanish, but she’s also learned about countless cultures she’d never have been exposed to if we enrolled her in a different school. And she never would have met one of her closest friends.

Together since kinder

Together since kinder

They sat next to each other on the first day of kindergarten and they were still sitting side-by-side at today’s elementary school promotion to middle school.

Still sitting together

Still sitting together

I’m so proud of these two girls and the rest of their 5th grade class for all they have accomplished.  They started out as these little kids barely able to read or make it across the monkey bars on the little playground, and blossomed into smart, funny, creative ‘tweens whose legs would drag onto the ground if they weren’t too cool for the monkey bars today.

An amazing group of faculty and teachers helped them grow and master the monkey bars and long division, and I’m so grateful to them for caring as much for our kids as we do.

One of Olivia's many great teachers, Maestra Austyn

One of Olivia’s many great teachers, Maestra Austyn

Leading the way was an incredible principal who moved on to a new job this year, but was swarmed by the kids when she came to today’s ceremony.

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This show of love says it all. The kids care about her as much as she cares about them. I cried while watching this scene. I also cried during the teacher speeches. And I cried when a few of the kids spoke.  I didn’t cry when she received her certificate, but that’s only because I was taking pictures.

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And while she’s walking into a whole new adventure called middle school, I’ve got no doubts what she learned at Adalente will serve her well in the future.

So here’s to Adelante’s Class of 2014 and my (mostly) sweet Olivia.

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1 down. 2 more to go.

 

Texting Tween

28 May

We held off as long as we could could. We really did. Here’s the thing about ‘tweens though. They can just wear you down. So, after much begging, much pleading, and many promises from our 11-year old, the husband and I finally relented. We now have a texting ‘tween. With limits.

She’s been using one of our old iPhones for awhile, but it’s basically an iPod touch. There’s no phone number or data attached to it, just wifi. The husband did some research and decided to install the Pinger app, which only works with wifi. It’s baby steps, but still feels like a ginormous leap into the great ‘tween technology unknown.

Could we have waited? Of course. Should we have waited? We’ll see. 

The husband and I did make ourselves feel a little bit better about our decision by crafting a texting contract and making Olivia sign it.

It’s now got prime real estate on the refrigerator next to the class photos and works of art.

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Below, you’ll see the rules in black and white.

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We wrote it knowing full well she’ll break the rules and her fingers will twitch from texting withdrawals. It didn’t take long. Two days to be exact. This time, it was a small infraction, and it’s now in my possession for 24 hours. 

Wish us luck with our first foray into ‘tween texting. We’re going to need it.

Spring Break in Cambodia Part III

22 Apr

We spent the final two and half days of our trip back in Phnom Penh, but not before a great birthday sendoff in Siem Reap for Carrie. The Shanti Mani once again went above and beyond in its awesome customer service by decorating a swing in balloons for the young birthday girl and giving her a cake.

Birthday cake for breakfast

Birthday cake for breakfast

She was one happy camper!

We then boarded a plane again and headed back to Cambodia’s capital city. Stomach ailments seems to be a recurring theme for this trip, and this day hit me and Olivia, so we stayed back at the hotel while the husband took the other two kids on a culinary adventure. Leading up to this trip, Erin talked a lot about wanting to eat a bug while in Cambodia. Apparently a boy in her class saw a TV show where people in Cambodia ate bugs, which prompted one of her friends to  dare her to eat one. If you know my daughter, you know she’s almost always up for a challenge, especially if it involves food, so a cousin took them to the Central Market in search of bugs.

 

Central Market

Central Market

They saw lots of food at the market, but alas no bugs. This didn’t stop them though. They were on a mission, and they were going to find and eat bugs. Eventually, they found a couple of kids selling all different kinds of deep fried bugs along the river.

Bugs!

Bugs!

Now they had to choose which bugs to consume.

Deep fried crickets

Deep fried crickets seasoned with chili and onions

Erin tells me they chose the crickets because they were the smallest. Knowing they had to document the event, the husband had his cousin videotape it as proof.

Misson accomplished! Erin apparently even asked for seconds.

When that girl likes something she really likes it. Case in point? Her hat that she only took off her head when sleeping.

My girl and her hat

My girl and her hat

After much bargaining and negotiating at one of the many souvenir stands, Grandma Meak bought it for her on our first day in Angkor Wat. She loved that hat, and not only used it as an accessory, but also as a wallet. She kept two Riels (Cambodian currency worth a few cents in American dollars) under it. I’ve got to say, few people can rock a white straw hat like this girl. It works a lot better than using headbands to cover up a botched bang cutting job I did several weeks ago.  She even wore it for her little sister’s birthday party, which her grandparents so generously threw for her.

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Yep, that’s how we roll. Two birthday cakes in one day.

While birthdays are celebrated virtually the same way around the world, other things are vastly different. Take zoos for example. The one we visited in Cambodia was nothing like I have ever seen and neither was our drive. Much of it was a dirt road, or the road was only half paved. It’s amazing to me how rural the country is just a few kilometers outside of Phnom Penh. On the drive to the zoo, my father-in-law explained more of the history and politics as we passed by dozens of garment factories.

The only thing similar to the zoos in the U.S. is that most of animals are caged. Most. Not all.

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Take a good look at that photo. That momma monkey and her baby escaped their cage and no one cared. Part of me thinks they’re not really part of the zoo and set up their home here because they know people will feed them.

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We saw plenty of people feeding the animals through the fences, but there were no signs warning visitors to avoid feeding them snacks. Even when the animals were fenced into enclosures, we got up close and personal.

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No zoom needed get get good shots of the elephant or any other animals at the zoo for that matter.

It also looked like the animals for the most part were in their native elements. There was no sanitizing the zoo. There were animals and that’s it. Well except for the trash. There was lots of trash.

 

But you know what? The animals didn’t seem to care and from the looks of things, neither did the rest of the visitors.

Our final night of vacation ended with a river cruise on the Mekong and Tonle Sap.  I don’t know what it is about being on the water, but it makes everything feel at least a little bit cooler.It also helped that we hopped on the boat at sunset, making for some pretty spectacular photos.


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Even with the illnesses, the long flights, and continuing jet lag three days after we’ve returned, it was all worth it. I’d do this same trip again in a heartbeat. I’m so proud of the kids who embraced their Cambodian culture and hopefully sparked a life long love of international travel.

 

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