Sneaking away in London without my children: Kew Gardens

Halfway through our time in London, we split up for a day.  Sam took the girls to Harry Potter’s world, my parents had already left for the morning, and the boys wanted to stay home to play video games rest. I had my choice of sites to visit without them: the Florence Nightingale museum, the Royal College of Surgeons museum, the National Gallery, or the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Because it was a gorgeous, sunny day, I opted for Kew.


I have such warm memories of Kew Gardens from our trips there when I was a child. My mother and our London friend were both avid gardeners, so visiting Kew meant not only wandering acres of beautiful park and gardens, but learning about all the plants and trees. My own children, when invited to come with me, said, “Nah. It’s just a Botanic Garden, right?”  Um, no.


I was better off without them.

The Palm House

I spent the morning wandering paths and reading on a bench under the biggest catalpa tree I’ve ever seen.  A sawed off branch near the base of the trunk had 65 rings.  (I counted.)  I examined a Cyprus of Lebanon.  The grass was sprinkled with mums with prams, picnic blankets, and little children.

The Orangerie

When I got hungry, I went to the café at the Orangerie and had a lunch I never would have approved for my children, or ordered had they been there.

A few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a vacation when my kids would be big enough to do their own thing while I did mine. Time’s a flying, and this is where we are.  I am grateful for the day.

Guatemala Part 4, or Traveling with Kids

You can catch up with Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3 if you missed them.

Lucy the kitten

Sam and I headed into this trip with a great sense of its being an answer to prayer for us.  But my children’s response to the proposal was very different.  “Why would we want to go there?”  “Do they have wi-fi?” were two of the first questions (from the boys.)  The girls were more concerned about the food and if there would be wind there.  I reassured them all, “We don’t need wi-fi,” and “Yes, there will be lots of fruit,” and packed our bags.


We brought a babysitter with us, since I wasn’t sure what Sam’s “schedule” would look like.  I asked her to plan some nature study assignments and gave her a packing list.  We arranged for a Spanish school to send a teacher to the finca to teach the children Spanish while we were working. I bought a bunch of snacks, a Frisbee, and some small games and packed them in our bags.  We had medicine to prevent carsickness.  I thought we were ready to show the children another part of the world.


But then reality set in.  The flights were great; we arrived at the airport hotel for the first night, and they were already hungry.  A third of my snacks disappeared before dinner.  All the transportation was more expensive than we had been quoted.  The guidebook said to haggle, but it’s hard not to look desperate when you’re at a seedy bus station with five wide-eyed children.  And really, what they were asking was still peanuts compared to US prices.  So we just paid it and got off the street corner and into the cab.


We stayed at a beautiful coffee farm (“finca”) with a housekeeper/cook who did all our meals and laundry.  Good, yes.  But frankly, having five children with you and no kitchen access was a challenge.   My kids are used to being able to eat fruit or carrots whenever they are hungry.  Normally we eat at 7:30ish, 11:30ish, and 5:30ish.  Meals at the finca were at 6:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 7 pm to accommodate those going down to do medical work (which is an hour away).  There was no option to wander into the kitchen for an apple.


All our snacks (the ones they liked, at least) were gone by day 3.  I didn’t have a way to get to the supermarket.  So honestly, my kids were hungry most of the week.  The food we ate was delicious and plentiful, but not geared toward a kid’s metabolism.  And having been able to adjust our home schedule to their needs, I had forgotten how important regular calories are for kids.  We’re not yet at the point of being able to say to them, “Remember how hungry you felt?  Some kids feel like that all the time.”  Right not I’m still in the stage of saying, “I’m so sorry you were hungry all the time.”


Spanish class was fantastic.  The school sent two teachers (we had engaged for one, so the price different was almost double) for 5 hours/day Monday-Thursday.  The teachers were creative and patient and positive and excellent.  None of the five children were accustomed to sitting at a desk putting 5 hours of sustained attention toward anything (especially 3 hours past when they were hungry), but they learned a ton of Spanish.  All four of mine are practicing, throwing Spanish into every day speech whenever they can, and enthusiastically showing off to their grandparents.  Score there.  We hope to continue with the tutors via Skype in the spring.

But all my plans for nature study in the afternoon?  Well, the rain started at noon. Every day.  So by the time Spanish was over and the children had eaten, the deluge had already been going on for two hours, so even if they had wanted to go play in the rain [the girls did], it was so slippery and muddy that the housekeepers wouldn’t let them.  [I probably would have felt the same if I were the one hand washing all their muddy clothes.]  If I get a do-over, I will plan nature study in the morning and Spanish school in the afternoon.  But it meant I had tired, cranky children who didn’t get any exercise hanging out in the house every rainy afternoon with not a single magic wardrobe in sight.


Our weekends were wonderful.  The first weekend we went to a water park and then saw a national heritage sight with standing stones and an amazing Mayan observatory (Takalik Abaj).  Our guide here was so good.  We spent the second weekend in Antigua, where the children practiced their Spanish bargaining for things in the markets.  Moriah was especially adept at this– next time I will put her in charge of finding us a taxi.  Everyone walked around and ate whenever they wanted

We took a tour of the Catedral de Santiago, which collapsed in the earthquake of 1773.  Part of it has been rebuilt, and we saw two weddings there over the course of the weekend.  Our tour guide was animated and funny and full of great history, and the children liked the tour almost as much as the cheesecake.  The weekends gave us an opportunity to process together much of what we had seen and experienced during the week but couldn’t talk about as frankly as we would have liked.  I loved sharing this history and experience with my kids.


So what do I take away from this?  The trip pointed out to me how much control I have over my children’s day-to-day experience.  I have worked hard to have the flexibility to be with them and I cherish the opportunities to do so, but in Guatemala I didn’t really have any ability to micromanage their experience.  The children’s week was dominated by their minute, every day experiences: hunger, sticky bug spray, rain, throwing the toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet.  I hope as time goes on, they will be able to see the forest instead of the these inconvenient trees.  If I had it to do over (and I hope I will in a year or two) I would bring a lot more snacks and schedule nature study in the morning and Spanish class in the afternoon.  And while our babysitter did what I asked, she was a little young for what I was asking her to do.  I don’t think we will need one on our next trip, but I would choose someone older if I could, and someone who already spoke Spanish.  I don’t know that anyone would have been up to the task, actually.  Even when I spoke with the house staff in the morning about an issue, once I left at 7 am, it was out of my hands.  When I came back twelve hours later, nothing I asked had happened.  Culturally, the housekeeper told me “yes” because that’s what she was supposed to do, but in reality, she held the reins. It is a very macho culture, and I wonder if a request from Sam would have had a different effect. (Certainly, the two male doctors who came later in the week got what they asked for right away.)  That grates at me, but what can I do about it? Nada.


As the project develops, there will be a community center built with the clinic, and then there will opportunities for the children to minister.  On this trip, their work was to learn Spanish and to be gracious guests.  Being gracious is not their natural gift (though this year has afforded many chances to practice!) and it was hard.  In the future, they should have a chance to run children’s programs during parents’ classes and to bless the kids we are there to serve.  I think they are well suited to that task, and I hope this trip doesn’t spoil that vision for them.


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Vacation. I read something recently about the importance of distinguishing between a vacation with one’s spouse and a family vacation. (If you read this too, please send me the source so I can attribute it correctly.) The basic idea was to have clear expectations. Don’t go on a family vacation and expect to have dinner out with your spouse and hours to disengage.

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So here we are on vacation. We’ve done a fair amount of divide-and-conquer. I fell asleep; Sam took everyone to the pool. He went for a run; when he got back, I took mine. When several children were DONE with the hike, and one wanted to go on, he took the dissenters back, and I went on with J. Today, he gave me an appointment at the spa for a massage, and he took the kids to the pool.

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But there’s a fair amount of togetherness too: several days in the car (such an American phenomenon) while children ask “Are we there yet?”, watching Madagascar 3 together on the couch; meals and walks and an expedition to the grocery store to buy SweetP’s baptism anniversary cupcakes. (The rest of us were enticed by the cream puffs and chocolate squares, but I always make cupcakes, so she was determined to have cupcakes and, in the end, chose the buttercream-frosted cupcakes with “I love you, Mom” emblazoned on the top.)

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Folks tell me that in a year or two, the children will be ready to stay for a few hours without us, and we will actually get out for a nice dinner together. For the present we are reconciled to hikes with whiners and snuggles in the morning.

{phfr}: Thailand Edition

Pretty: These flowers started out white in the morning and grew darker as the day went on.  This was around 4 p.m.


Happy: Girl on a bike. Now, if only they’d had helmets…

Funny: We ate an awesome lunch at this restaurant, but it cracked me up that they were playing The Karate Kid in the bar.

Real: Thai toilet. I don’t love everything about traveling.

Celebrating the context of contentment, with Like Mother, Like Daughter.

Closing Thoughts

I write this at 2:45 am, as Sam and the children are snoozing away and I’m still on Thai time, wide awake.  I haven’t had much time to process my time there, but several strong impressions linger.

The folks at FBR and Partners are really serious.  They risk their lives– not only from land mines and the Burmese army, but from malaria and dengue– on a daily basis for the cause of justice.  Their rangers hike for months at a time, hauling half their weight on their backs, so that they can document the abuses happening there and provide life-saving medical treatment and education.  (One of them told me that she wished she had cut off the handle of her toothbrush so she wouldn’t have had to carry the extra weight around.)  It makes me want to do something.

What can I do?  I can pray: for them, for their safety and courage.  For leaders to repent and take justice more seriously than power.  Honestly, if leadership were truly about servanthood, instead of about power, we’d see a lot more justice in this world.

Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

I can work hard for justice in my little corner of the world, too.  Justice in the form of health care for everyone.  Justice in the form of standing up for the downtrodden, and speaking up against exploitation.  And I can raise my little people to be bringers of justice.  Pray-ers for peace.  Do-ers of kindness.


Food in Thailand

I’m home!  Sonia has just a few more days of fun in Thailand.  It’s much easier to post (especially photos) from home, so today I’m going to show you more of what we ate.  It was all delicious… except for the “mouse sh*t” chiles which we so hot I thought I was going to pass out when I bit into one.  Anyway…

Pigeon eggs…

Dragonfruit (which is white on the inside with tiny black seeds, like kiwi)


The swirling red thing is some plastic tied to what looked like a stirring stick for a flask on a warmer. It swirled around to keep the flies off the meat. It did a pretty good job.




Are you hungry yet? I am!

Cooking Class in Chiang Mai

9/21/2012- Thai Cooking- by Sonia Graber

So after teaching and a little bit of bicycling to the National Park we decided to take a Thai cooking class!  Great fun.  We started out the evening walking to the market to see what types of fresh foods and spices Thais use for cooking.  Some of which are definitely difficult for us to get in the US but not impossible.  Below  are obviously different kinds of eggs and little bananas to the right.  The Pink eggs for those of you wondering are “Century” eggs- if you have heard of them.  They are fertilized eggs that have part of developed chicken in them that are then fermented by some type of chemical process- I think they used to be buried in the past to ferment, but not anymore.  Needless to say, we didn’t use these items for cooking.


The class consisted of cooking 5 different dishes, soup, appetizer, curry paste making, and two different main dishes.  All of this in 4 hours.  Listed below is one of our favorite soups, tom-yum- kung.  There were 10 of us in class- 4 Israelis, two Brits, and two guys from Ireland.


Anne and I after a lovely evening of cooking and wonderful food!


Salawin National Park

Once our teaching was done, we had a morning in Mae Sariang to see the sights. Mae Sariang is not one of the main tourist sights of Thailand, but we enjoyed it.  We stayed in a beautiful “resort” (resort meaning a guest house that is not in the city) overlooking the river.  The teak floors and trim were in contrast to the lush greenery and white walls and bedding, but apparently I didn’t take a photo of it.


We were able to rent bikes for 50 baht.  There were nicer bikes for 100 baht, and after the first hill I was wishing I had gotten one, but how could I resist a red bike with a basket and a Mickey Mouse key chain dangling from the seat?

The park is 7 km from town, though it seemed like the last 3 km were more like miles.  The view was totally worth it.


Day Two Teaching

While we were back at our hotel, the students were practicing their resuscitation skills. When we came back in the morning, they were ready to go.

This day was full of laughter and good connections. We heard more stories of the medics, how long their journeys had been to get to the school, and a few of their hopes for the future.

After a ling afternoon of testing, which everyone passed, they had a cekebration feast. They gave us traditional bags and a beautiful song of blessing.

Indeed we were blessed by this brave and determined group of students.

No Cell Phone Service

How great is this: we have wifi but no phone service.  I guess that helps me see what life is like around the world.

We are meeting incredible people have eaten incredible food. Somehow we only have photos of the food.

This was Sonia’s breakfast today: a fried egg, kimchee, and roquefort cheese.

This was lunch in Tokyo:


Here’s Sonia preparing the baby so we could practice in the restaurant in Seattle.



Tomorrow we teach!