When you end your elementary school days, you don’t graduate. You get a promotion. I don’t really get why, but for you, my middle child, it’s fitting. Up to this point, you’ve treated school like a job. You’ve worked hard, gained lots of knowledge and now you’re ready to move on to something bigger and better.
Instead of a new job with a fatter paycheck, which definitely would motivate you, your promotion is to middle school. Lucky you! At least Olivia won’t be there to harass you and your friends.
Middle school won’t be easy and I’m not just talking about getting good grades. You’re going to find yourself facing a whole new set of challenges navigating the social pitfalls and hurdles that come with 6th grade. You’ve already gotten a glimpse of it this year, but it ramps up tenfold in middle school. Have I scared you yet? I hope not because I know you know how to navigate around drama. Just like there was no drama Obama, you’re no drama Meak. (I know it doesn’t have the same ring to it, but you get the idea) You may like to know what’s causing drama in your friends’ lives, but you avoid it in your own life. That’s a good thing. You’re a no nonsense tell it like it is kind of kid. Stay that way and continue to stay kind. Kids can be cruel in any grade, but especially middle school. I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to Olivia. Don’t be a mean girl. I’d be shocked if you all of a sudden turn into one, but it doesn’t hurt to put it in writing.
Now back to this promotion ceremony. I’ve got mixed reactions about it. On the one hand, I’ve beamed with pride watching you go from not knowing a word of Spanish when you started kindergarten, to writing entire reports all in Spanish. You’ve also got a way with the English language and use your smarts to figure out common core math problems that stump me. That’s definitely something to celebrate and commemorate.
On the other hand, isn’t it every parent’s expectation their kid will make it past 5th grade? Yes I’m proud of all of your accomplishments and accolades these past six years, but couldn’t we celebrate with pizza instead of a big ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance?
While my skepticism about the ceremony remains high right now, I’m sure I’ll change my mind as soon as I see you deliver your speech to hundreds of people– all in Spanish. Yep, I’m that Mom. One that sees the ridiculousness of rewarding kids for something that’s expected of them, but also one that can’t wait to see her own kid hit another milestone in life.
Your name inspires many nicknames, like Care Bear, or Carrie Berry, or CJ — although that last nickname, derived from the first letter of your first and middle names, never really stuck.
You may be known as many things, but to me, you’ll always be my sweet youngest daughter, who can swing through a flurry of emotions in a matter of minutes. You may wake up in a foul mood because we’ve run out of bagels for breakfast or you can’t find your favorite Missouri Tiger scrunchie for your hair. I know well enough just to wait a few minutes and you’ll inevitably light up the room with your grin and a giggle as I dare you not to crack a smile. Try as you might, it’s just not in you to stay angry and upset.
While I know what I can do to turn your mood around, you’ve also got a surefire way to make me laugh. All you have to do is start speaking with an Italian accent, which you can do at the drop of a hat. I don’t know what it is about a 3rd grader sounding like Geppetto from Pinocchio, but it gets me every time. I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that you do it just to make me laugh, and if it’s that’s the case, please don’t ever stop. I love that you love entertaining me and others.
You’ve got a flair for the dramatic, but usually save it just for your family and best buds. Theater goers got a glimpse of your talent in this year’s school production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
While the audience saw an incredible performance of a “squirrel” and a “wall,” at home you really shined. You belted out all the songs and proved you could have stood in as Veruca Salt if she ever went down with the flu. That didn’t happen, so only a select few heard you sing “I want it Now,” over and over and over again. It may have been a little too good at times. Where you got your singing and dancing talents, I’ll never know. It certainly didn’t come from me or Dad.
You’re a special kid who’s slowly coming into your own. Don’t be afraid to let others see how awesome I already know you are!
In last year’s birthday blog, I wrote about you fretting over not losing any teeth. Well, I’m happy to report you’ve lost a ton of them in your 8th year. Are you now up to 5 teeth? See, I’ve lost count.
All I know is at one point it looked like you had more missing teeth than remaining ones in your mouth.At least your two front teeth are now coming in, although one is dropping at a peculiar angle. I’m pretty certain you’ll follow your sisters with a mouth full of metal.
This has also been the year of Harry Potter. After going to Universal Studios and walking through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you became hooked.
You were Hermoine Granger for Halloween (a great choice I must say) and we’re slowly making our way through the books and movies. As of now, we’re on Book #4 (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). We’ve renewed the 734 page monstrosity of a book 3 times from the library and I just got the notice today that we’ve maxed out and the book must go back. We’ve hit a temporary roadblock, but nothing a good spell can’t solve.
As I think back to your eighth wondrous year, Carrie, I can’t help but beam with pride. I know I say something similar every year, but it’s true. You’ve filled our home with so much joy and laughter, and maybe a few (actually 100s) shouts of “shut-up Olivia.” You’ve crushed this last year and I’m sure your 9th year will be filled with many more surprises and adventures with you playing the starring role.
Last year, I skipped out on the annual birthday blog tradition, using my speech to you on your Bat Mitzvah as an excuse. This year, I really have no excuse, except maybe laziness, and that probably won’t cut it.
So… here we are… you are… a year into your teenage years. I’ve got to say, so far, I like what I see. Don’t get me wrong. There are moments, plenty of moments, sometimes hours, when you drive me to the brink of insanity. Usually it has to do with you terrorizing your sisters.
Most of the time, however, the teenager I see before me is kindhearted, generous, and awkwardly quirky in the best possible way. Last year, I worried about you not feeling comfortable in your own skin. That’s not the case this year. I’ve seen you embrace your goofiness and find your own style, which almost always includes a hoodie and a humongous bun on top of your head.
How you’re able to keep it from falling out, I’ll never know, but it’s a skill that I envy.
Your cooking skills continue to improve, which is good since you always seem to be hungry. If you’re home, there’s a good chance you’re in the kitchen either whipping up a birthday cake, a batch of cookies, concocting something for dinner, or making a big pot of popcorn or pasta for an afternoon snack.
Most kids are content with maybe some chips or fruit, but nope, not you. Why stick with three meals a day when you can have four? I used to dread your culinary creations in the kitchen since your cleaning skills were severely lacking. While I still find some food clinging to pots and pans long after you’ve cleaned them, it’s a vast improvement from your early days of cooking.
As a teenager, you spend lots of time on your phone snap chatting with your friends and it seems like your phone is beeping and chirping dozens of times a minute. It’s a lot, but I do also see you consciously leaving your phone at home. I like to think it’s to give yourself a break from the nonstop online chatter with your friends, but I know better. It’s because you’re afraid of taking it somewhere, only to lose or break it. As you’re prone to falling simply by walking, I’m glad you know yourself well enough to take precautions against a catastrophic destruction to your phone. Or maybe it’s because you’ve already had to pay to repair the phone once and you’d rather spend your money on your volunteer abroad fund instead of screen replacements.
You’re a typical teenager beyond your phone being attached to your hand for many hours a day as you take random photos to snap to your friends. On any given weekend, there’s a decent chance you’re hanging out with your friends either downtown or taking the train to the mall with them. I’m glad you are always with friends since you inherited my sense of direction.
I’ve also enjoyed seeing you start to experiment with make-up, not that I think you need it, but I love seeing you continue to find your own look, even though you not so long ago told me you’d never wear make-up. Make-up or no make-up, you’re a beautiful girl inside and out.
It gives me so much joy watching you grow and mature. Bubbie mentioned to me how much older you seem to her. At first, her comment surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with her. You are more mature. You now stand a little taller, hold your head a little higher, and laugh a little louder. Your laugh is infectious by the way. When you laugh, you do so wholeheartedly with a wide open mouth and your head thrown back. How can people not join in with you, especially when you’re often times laughing at yourself.
You’re a pretty incredible kid and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for you as you approach your next big milestone– high school!
I love you to pieces and wouldn’t want to be with anyone else skiing in a blizzard!
I could say it happened in a blink of a eye, but in reality that’s not really true. I’ve watched you from near and far, taking in most of your memorable milestones. Even if I’m not the one documenting these oh so important events with pictures and video, I know that you’ve got me covered. I’ve got the huge number of your selfies on my phone to prove it!
You’ve got a way of making sure we take notice of you. You’re no wallflower (that’s a fancy word for shy) with us, and I love you for it. In school, that’s a whole other matter. If anything, you try at all costs to avoid getting noticed. I’m still trying to figure how you turn into a completely different kid the moment you step foot on school grounds. Your Dad and I have become used to hearing from your teachers that you need to speak up more often in class, so we were not surprised when your beloved 2nd grade teacher Maestra Usha said as much during our first conference with her. We thought you’d stay mute (that’s another word for silent) the entire year, but you’ve surprised us. You’ve not only raised your hand on occasion, you’ve spoken up when a certain classmate made fun of you. Sure it took a couple of days of our “closet talks” to get it out of you, but you not only had the guts to tell me, you bravely told your teacher.
You may still be small in stature, but you are growing. You really are. Remember your favorite bright yellow pants that you sadly had to give up since they were way too short on you? That’s proof right there, my dear. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever be the tallest kid in your class, but it’s also just as unlikely that you’ll be the smallest. Close, but not quite. Plus, I can speak from experience that being short isn’t so bad.
Now let’s talk teeth. Baby teeth, specifically. Many kids start losing their baby teeth in kinder and first grade, but why should you be like all the other kids? You still have every one of your baby teeth and you’re not at all happy about it. You want missing teeth just like so many of your friends, but with the exception of one tooth, they’re not budging. You were so hoping to lose that one loosey goosey before you turned eight, but alas it was not meant to be.
As I look back on this last year with you I see a girl who almost always has a twinkle in her eye, a kind word for a friend, and a plan to get out of eating her entire dinner but still getting dessert. You’re the perfect mix of naughty and nice. Some days I’d like to see more nice than naughty, but at least this way I know you’ll always keep me on my toes.
I love you, Care Bear! You’ve had a sensational seventh year and I have no doubt you’re 8th year will be great!
It’s not every day I get to wish you a Happy Birthday and beam with pride on your Bat Mitzvah, but today is that day!
I know it’s tradition for me to write a birthday blog, but with all the craziness preparing for your Bat Mitzvah today, I’m posting my Haftorah Drash (also known as parent speech) instead of the typical blog. I know, so lazy of me.
So here it is:
Shabbat Shalom Everyone —
First off– Congratulations are in order Olivia. This is a huge accomplishment.
I’ve watched you over these last several months studying and practicing– leading up to today. It paid off kiddo, in a big way. Your approach to your Bat Mitzvah is similar to how you approach many things. You start out a little fearful…. A little hesitant. You’re not always sure of yourself so you pause– you start again– and then eventually you find your voice.
One thing I want you to know is that you’ve got an important voice. On one hand your voice is full of innocence and wonder– which are great traits to have. I wish I still had them. But on the other hand– you have deep convictions — sometimes some would say to the point of stubbornness. Hmm. I wonder where that comes from? As much as we may butt heads– I don’t want you to ever lose that voice.
Fear is a major theme in today’s Haftorah portion. Uzzah was in charge of guiding the cart– which was carrying the Ark to Jerusalem. But during the journey, the Ox pulling the cart stumbled. Uzzah touched the ark to steady it. That was a big no no in the eyes of God– and God killed him on the spot for his mistake.
Understandably, this freaked out David— and he asks “How can I let the Ark of the Eternal come to me?” He fears that if simply touching the Ark killed Uzzah– bringing it to Jerusalem could mean his own demise, so he changes course parking the ark in a different city for three months. It’s this fear I want to talk to you about today.
In this case, David let fear guide his decisions– and while fear is a good emotion to have because it prevents you from ending up in the ER on a weekly basis– I don’t want fear to guide you in life. I want you to face your fears head on. I’ve seen you do that already today. Standing in front of all your friends and family and leading the service is not for the faint of heart– but you’ve done it.
You’ve also faced the fear of the unknown when it came to your multiple hospitalizations a couple of years ago. Doctors had a hard time figuring out exactly what was making you so sick. Not knowing what was causing your terrible headaches and inability to keep down food and water terrified me. I know it scared you too, but you soldiered through it like a champ. Your first “meal” in the hospital was a piece of toast with strawberry jam. That toast will live in infamy as the best toast ever. Eventually, doctors diagnosed you with migraines– and your illness is now mostly in check. When a migraine strikes, which still happens, it doesn’t scare you as much as it used to. You’ve got a way to attack it.
When there was still a lot of unknowns with your illness, I know one of your biggest fears was you didn’t want to be different from other kids. You didn’t want people to know how crummy you felt, so you hid that from a lot of people…. Even me and Dad at times. I want you to know that it’s ok to let people know when you’re not feeling 100% or even 50%. Sometimes, the best way to confront fear is to let others help you. It’s more than ok– not only to let others help you– but to ask for help when you need it.
While you don’t want to be different from other kids when it comes to your health– when it comes to your unique cultural background you don’t fear it at all. In fact, you embrace it.
I love that you’re not embarrassed or afraid to share your Jewish and Cambodian sides with others. Because of your Dad’s and my backgrounds, you not only look different from us– you look different from your friends. That could strike fear in some kids, but not you. You are proud of your heritage– and you should be! There’s a lot to be proud of. Your ancestors on both sides fought discrimination, oppression, and persecution to give future generations a better life. Millions of Jews died at the hands of Hitler during the Holocaust and millions of Cambodians died at the hands of Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge.These chapters are some of the darkest moments in history, but it’s important to never forget.
You come from a long line of some of the strongest and most resilient people in the world. While Cambodians and Jews may look different on the outside, I’d say we have more in common than people might think. Never forget where you come from– but don’t be afraid of what happened in the past. Use both your Cambodian and Jewish identities to help guide you to make good choices.
When I was your age– and feel free to roll your eyes at this point– one of my favorite authors– if not my most favorite author was Judy Blume. You’re not a huge fan– even though I’ve tried to get you to read a bunch of her books, but she wrote this in one of her books,
“Each of us must confront our own fears… must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure… or to be limited by the fear.”
I love that quote. Letting go of fear means taking risks– and getting out of your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable, Olivia because I don’t want you to be limited by fear. You’ve shown so far that you can do that. Keep it going– otherwise you’ll miss out on so much life has to offer.
Continue to embrace your uniqueness, kiddo. You’re truly one of a kind and I wouldn’t want you any other way.
You’re 10! You’re quite excited about this double digit milestone birthday.
You may be a year older, but you’re still the same Erin with your quirky sense of humor, love of superheroes, comics, and cheating at board games. None of those things have changed from last year.
You do look a bit different, most notably with your smile.
You know how to make the best out of the braces, choosing ahem… creative colors for your bands. You’ve always had a megawatt smile and the new hardware adds to it. I think you might secretly like the braces, not the expander mind you, but you’re able to rock the braces like few others.
You continued with the trifecta in sports; soccer in the fall, softball in the spring, and swimming in the summer. After the softball season though, you informed us you were hanging up your bat. Why? You’re not keen on the increase in practice time to an hour and a half.
While you’re retiring from softball at an early age, you’ve definitely been digging your time on the soccer field.
You played on an awesome team this year with a great group of girls. I watched with pride as you improved exponentially in the last year. You even scored a goal! Your skills were good enough to get an invitation to try out for a select team, but not quite good enough to make the team. You learned a hard lesson, one that you won’t forget. You’ll face plenty more disappointments and while they likely won’t get any easier, the disappointments will make you a stronger person. Trust me on this one.
You also made great strides on the swim team. This year, you actually wanted to swim in the meets. You may not have come in first, but I don’t think there was one time when I didn’t see a smile on your face when your fingertips touched the wall at the end of the race. Keep that enthusiasm going. Learning to love a sport just for the fun of it will serve you well when you’re old like me.
As a 4th grader, you’re still loving school. You’ve got great study skills and I rarely (if ever) have to remind you to do your homework. By the time I get home from work, it’s almost always already done. Well, except for reading. You save that for bedtime, just like me. Right now, your favorite books are the Lemony Snicket’s series, although it’s hard to tell, given the mini library that you’ve created in your bed. I love that you love reading, and when you get into a book, you really get into it. There’s been countless nights when you should be fast asleep and you come out of your room to tell me how good a certain book you’re reading is. You risk my wrath for staying up way past your bedtime just to share your joy.
You’ve accomplished a lot in this last year, and I’m just scratching the surface. I’m sure after you read this, you’ll remind me on what I’ve forgotten. That’s one of the many things I love about you, kiddo. You’re so self assured and comfortable in your own skin.
So happy birthday and congratulations on turning a decade. It has been a pure joy to be your mom!
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.
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.
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.
The girls loved it, and a fall early on didn’t stop Erin.
Full disclosure time. Yes, Erin and Olivia powered through the mountain bike. Carrie? She was attached to the husband’s bike.
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.
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.
Below, you’ll see the rules in black and white.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now they had to choose which bugs to consume.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We arrived in Siem Reap late morning, but didn’t plan on visiting any temples. Given that the husband was still not feeling great, we headed to the hotel, and were able to check in a little early. I love this hotel! Yes, the Shinta Mani has a pool,
nice clean rooms, and a restaurant with cool outdoor swings,
but the customer service makes it one of my all time favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at.
We spent the afternoon swimming in the pool, relaxing, and taking naps. As good as the kids have been, the 14 hour time change is pretty brutal. All three girls passed out after swimming, and when it was time to wake them up for dinner, none of them wanted to get up. It took lots of poking and prodding to rouse them out of bed. For dinner, we went to this huge banquet hall that served a buffet dinner (I know! But this time the husband stayed away from any and all raw seafood) and put on a traditional Cambodian dance show. This time it was Erin’s turn to fall asleep at dinner.
The next morning was our first day to visit the temples.
It was also the first day of the Cambodian New Year. We knew it would be busy, but we had no idea just how many people would descend on Siem Reap. We got our first taste when we arrived at Angkor Wat, which is the biggest and best known of the Cambodian ancient temples. It was crowded not just with foreign tourists like us, but also thousands of Cambodians celebrating the 3-day New Year.
At 8:30 a.m. Angkor Wat was already packed with people. Thank goodness for our tour guide who helped us navigate through the masses. The guide peppered us with fantastic history of Angkor Wat, but most of it was lost on the kids, with the exception of Erin who listened with great interest about the wall carvings depicting war scenes. Olivia may not have been into the history, but she was totally into the photography of Angkor Wat. That meant she didn’t want us taking any pictures of her.
Or maybe that was just her ‘tweendom coming out. After about 1 1/2 hours at Angkor Wat, the heat was getting to the kids and the husband, and the crowds were getting to me.
We decided to cut the tour short and resume in the afternoon with a stop at Ta Prohm,
also known as the Tomb Raider temple because it was featured in the Angelina Jolie movie.
It’s not just famous for the movie, but also for the huge trees and their massive vines that have grown in and around it. It’s interesting to see how much has changed at these temples in just five years. These temples were left untouched for centuries, but now that they have become tourist destinations, the wear and tear has taken its toll, so a big conservation effort is underway to restore them.
That means removing many of the iconic trees, which if left untouched would cause Ta Prohm to crumble even more than it already has. The renovations also caused many areas that we saw five years ago to be roped off this time around.
I’ve got to hand it to the husband. He felt terrible and should have stayed back at the hotel, but he didn’t want us to go alone, so he ventured out. In addition to the bad stomach, he had a bad reaction to the antibiotics, causing his glands, tongue and face to swell. His mom gave him an Alka Seltzer to take for the ride, which in hindsight was probably a mistake. At one point, I looked back at him, and he had his head resting on the back of the seat. He was looking a little green and was groaning a little. I asked if we should pull over and his non-response gave me my answer. The driver quickly pulled over to the side of the road, and husband promptly hurled while his mom rubbed his back. She’s much more nurturing than I am. He said he did feel better, and made it through the tour of Ta Prohm. He opted out for dinner so he could get some peace, quiet, and some rest. When we returned around 8 p.m., he was dead asleep.
The next day, the husband thankfully felt much better, and we took a two hour van ride to Phnom Kulen, which is a mountain region complete with a reclining Budha, a river with lingas (phallic carvings) carved into the river bed, and a beautiful waterfall complete with a flowered swing. We came here five years ago as well, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. This time, not so much. It turns out, we weren’t the only ones with the grand idea to head up to the mountain. Since the Cambodian New Year is a national holiday, literally thousands of other people also ventured up the bumpy dirt road. At least we were in an air-conditioned van. Many people drove mopeds, carrying several people on it. Others packed so tightly into trucks, cars, and vans, it was a wonder they made it up the mountain. I was as awestruck at the number of people as I was at the Reclining Budha,
and since I was one of the few Westerners at Mount Kulen, people looked at me awestruck. People pushed and shoved their way to the top of the stairs to see the Reclining Budha,
which seems the opposite of what you should do when paying respects to a Budha. We finally made it to the top, patted its head,
and made our way back down. By this time, we were ready to enjoy the river and the waterfall, but the place was far from serene.
There were people everywhere, along with their trash. At one point, a wooden bridge filled with people popped, and I was convinced it was going to plunge into the water. By some miracle, it didn’t. Knowing that to get to the waterfall, we would have to take a precarious hike, we decided not to push our luck, instead pushing our way through the crowds of people back to our van. There was only one problem. To get to Phnom Kulen, you take a dirt road that goes only one way. We had to wait for the police to stop people from coming up so we could go back down. That was supposed to happen at 12:30, but didn’t happen until 1:30. Then, with the thousands of people all trying to get out one way, it took us two hours to move a quarter of a mile. I’m far from a patient person, but the zen of the Reclining Budha must have had an effect on me because I didn’t lose it. I sat in the back of the van with Erin peeling and eating Kulen fruit, which are kind of like lychee, and have a sweet and sour taste.
I’d compare it to a sour gummy bear with a big pit in the middle. By the end of the neverending van ride, I became a master at peeling the fruit and getting all the flesh off the pit.
The kids wanted to head right back to the hotel after the van ride, but I wanted to check out another temple, Banteay Srei.
It was just a small detour, and it’s a beautiful temple made out of sandstone well worth seeing. I’m sure when the kids are adults they’ll appreciate us taking them to yet another temple after such a horrific van ride down from the mountain right?
After surviving the Phnom Kulen adventure, we decided to torture ourselves and the kids even more with a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call so we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Hey, everyone’s body clock is so messed up already, we didn’t see any harm in rousing them at o’crack hundred hours. This hotel is so kick-ass in its customer service that even though the restaurant wasn’t open, they set out pastries, coffee and tea, and sent us on our way with to-go breakfasts. The pastries were a god send for us because they placated the kids, and either they were on a sugar rush or so sleep deprived that they didn’t complain about the early morning adventure. Even at 5 a.m. it’s hot here. At least it wasn’t oppressively hot. At least not yet. By this time, we knew we’d have plenty of company at Angkor Wat, even at sunrise, and we were right.
The place was filled with amateur photographers who lined the moat leading into the temple. This included my budding photographer who’s face lit up as much as the sun did, as she snapped away on her point and shoot camera.
As early as it was, I’m so glad we did this. It was truly a spectacular sight to see the sun rising up over Angkor Wat.
We did a little more exploring of Angkor Wat
and the kids did their best Apsara poses before we headed out.
By this time, my shirt was soaked with sweat, and it was barely after 7 a.m.
We still had to see the Bayon, which is a magnificent Buddhist temple filled with the faces of Buddha.
As iconic and beautiful as Angkor Wat is, the Bayon is my favorite. There’s just something about seeing all those faces from multiple angles that captures my attention.
Unfortunately it didn’t capture the girls’ attention as much as it did mine, and the only way we got them to pose for pictures was through threats of taking away privileges.
If the girls would have had their way, we would have ended our temple tour after the Bayon, but I wanted to see a couple more, namely the Terrace of the Elephants and the Baphoun, which recently reopened after renovation. The kids didn’t get too far. They were hot and tired, but I got a closer look at Baphoun.
After climbing and climbing and climbing I made it to the top.
Well worth the climb and gallon of sweat that came out of me while trudging up the many steps.
By 9 a.m., we were hot and templed out for the day. I know I’ve written a lot about the heat and humidity, I don’t think I’ve experienced weather this steamy before. Not in Minnesota or Missouri in the Summer. Not even Corpus Christi, Texas.
Even though this trip to Cambodia has been vastly different from the one five years earlier, it has been unforgettable. The girls have truly embraced their Cambodian culture and even said they would like to live here, although I think Carrie only wants to move here because she thinks she wouldn’t have to go to school. Once we told her she’d have to go to school here too, she was a little less than enthused.