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Escape to Santa Fe

Escape to Santa Fe

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When my parents were in town a few weeks ago, we managed to escape south for a few days and spend some time in Santa Fe, NM.  It was a fun adventure, punctuated by excellent food, family game-playing, and tons of museum time.  Something for everyone!!

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Here are our top picks:

Best breakfast: The Chocolate Maven (not Southwestern, but such wonderful baked goods and we could watch the bakers at work while we ate)

Best lunch: I can’t even remember–pretty much, Mexican food here is just really good all the way around!

Best museum: My personal favorite is the Folk Art museum that features a HUGE room full of toys and miniatures.  That’s where many of the pictures are from, and was one of the places the kids also enjoyed most.  I think Than’s favorite was the art museum, and my dad liked the history museum.

Best memory: TIME together–car time, eating time, game time–I just like to be with my family!!

Fabulous 4th Part 3

Fabulous 4th Part 3

After the 4th of July festivities on the west side of Idaho, we said goodbye to Uncle Nate and Aunt Kerry and headed back to Grandma’s house.  Here’s a look at a strange sculpture we passed, driving through the Craters of the Moon volcanic area.

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Back in Idaho Falls, we snuck in a few more games and I even stole away with each of my parents in turn for some “alone time,” a welcome treat.  There may or may not have been some more silliness going on as well…

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It is always sad to say goodbye, but this time was easier because we had one more destination left before home.  With a car packed unusually full, we headed off for one more night on the road.

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A few hours later, we arrived in Salt Lake City.  While Uncle Nate and Aunt Kerry finished their day of work, we ate a delicious lunch outside the fancy downtown mall and then toured Temple Square.  That prompted some interesting conversations about ways we agree and ways we disagree with what other people believe–always a good thing to go over.  We spent the rest of the afternoon at the excellent Natural History Museum of Utah.

Unfortunately, Than ended up with a very nasty migraine that put a damper on things for a few hours.  Fortunately, it was time to head to our hosts’ home and some rest, medicine, and quiet did the trick.  By the time dinner rolled around,  he had recovered and we enjoyed a pleasant walk to a nearby Italian/pizza place for a delicious meal together (marred only slightly by the fact that the TVs were playing the National Hot Dog Eating Contest.  Gross!!)  Then back to Nate and Kerry’s to put the kids to bed and share a pleasant evening of games and conversation.  It was so fun to see their home and enjoy their hospitality.

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And after all that, it was finally time to head home.  A long day’s drive, cooperative travelers, Adventures in Odyssey, and then we were there.  Phew!

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Thanks again to all our kind hosts for their warm welcome, their great ideas for things to do and places to eat, and the joy of time together.  Another year in the memory books, and we are already looking forward to the next one!

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St. Louis Summer Part 2

St. Louis Summer Part 2

And now, the conclusion of our St. Louis story.  (How did you ever manage to wait in suspense this long?!!)

Part of the fun of visiting my grandparents is that there are always new things to do, mixed in with the familiar favorite activities.  Here were some new adventures from this visit:

Sharing our Senegal stories with the extended family–we made our best approximation of our favorite Senegalese meal and served it on the grass outside.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins participated with good spirits!

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A visit to the CityPark sculpture garden in downtown St. Louis–This was a fairly new outdoor sculpture park and it was fun to have my cousin’s daughter along for the adventure.  There were fountains for splashing, a sculpture that involved a video screen where you could see yourself, and lots of interesting art to explore and experience.

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There was a new puzzle to assemble, new flowers to plant, a new tea house to enjoy, and plenty of new stories to tell and conversations to share.  I am so grateful that we have a hospitable family that welcomes us, entertains us, and adds to our rich store of memories together.

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Summer Starts in St. Louis

Summer Starts in St. Louis

“Take me to St. Louey, Louey, Take me to the fair!”  (Now, if you know that song, keep humming while you read.  It will add to the effect, I’m sure.)

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Our first big trip of the summer started as soon as school let out.  We found ourselves on the road for St. Louis!  Road trips have become easier as our kids grow up, and at this point we really just need new Adventures in Odyssey episodes, a few snacks, and the occasional pit stop.  Don’t worry, I still pack a big bag of new road trip ideas anyway–we just don’t use very many of them!

A good portion of our week with my grandparents is filled with activities we love, that we look forward to doing each time we visit.  (Stay tuned for a future post, part 2 of this one, with things that were new or different this time!)

I am so glad for the memory of my grandmother happily riding the carousel.  There is always a kid in there somewhere!

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A trip to the carousel generally goes with a trip to the Butterfly House, and this time was no exception.  I’ll save most of the butterfly pictures for future “Random Quotes” posts, but here is a little taste…

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And no visit to St. Louis is complete without a stop at the City Museum.  I stayed home to help with work around the house while Than and the kids enjoyed a fantastic day exploring this all-time-favorite place.  This year they even got to go on the roof and ride the Ferris Wheel up there, a special new experience.

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One final “traditional” highlight was a trip to the vast Missouri Botanic Gardens.  We were delighted to share our visit with my cousin’s wife and his daughter, who is just a year younger than Nathan.  Family time, a delicious lunch, and beautiful surroundings–what more do you need?

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Tourists in Dakar

Tourists in Dakar

Today you can enjoy our “tourist” photos from Dakar.  In an effort to keep jet lag at bay, we enjoyed several excursions to national landmarks in the few days we were there.  First among them was a trip to the African Renaissance Monument, a huge statue that is slightly taller than the statue of liberty.  There were a lot of stairs to climb!

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The brown-painted copper statue shows a man, woman, and child striding forward out of a huge rock.  Our helpful guide took us up the elevator to see the view from the man’s hat.

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He also led us through the various cultural exhibits inside featuring some art and artifacts from several West African countries.

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We were surprised to see these paintings next to paintings of Senegal’s presidents.  Do you recognize these two famous Americans?

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Another landmark we visited was a lighthouse on the hill opposite the statue.  The place where we stayed in Dakar was right at the foot of that hill, so we enjoyed the flash of the light every night from dusk to dawn.

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The lighthouse keeper proudly showed us around while our hosts interpreted everything he had to say.  We learned that during the day, the lenses surrounding the light are covered by curtains to keep them from magnifying the sun’s rays.  The light is powered by a surprisingly small LED bulb, and it has its own unique “signature” pattern that lets ships know there they are.  The lighthouse keeper turns it on whenever he decides it is dusk, and turns it off when the day has dawned.

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A final highlight of being in the big city is the shopping!  No, not a huge mall with Gap and Toys R Us.  The main “mall” is a crazy crowded outdoor market, an eye-opening and somewhat overwhelming experience.  There are also lots of “regular” stores too, a relief when most of the day-to-day shopping has to be done barter-style at local market stalls.  Our friends look forward to being able to get things that aren’t available in their town–mozzarella cheese, hot dogs, tomato sauce, pasta, and special treats from the American grocery store.  Our hostess even ran into this Santa at one of the shops.

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Our “tourist time” in Dakar was an important introduction to this new country and new culture.

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

“So, what does an average day look like for you?”  It didn’t take long for us to realize why this is such a hard question for our friends to answer.  Every day is so different from the last, and so full of things that were not originally part of the plan!  In a society where relationship and community are the main drivers, “getting stuff done” takes a back seat to “being with people.”  That’s a hard lesson to learn!

However, here are some snapshots of things we did often, the closest I can come to a look at “daily life.”

A lot of the action takes place right here–the door to the street outside.  Whenever the sun is up, there is a good chance you will hear knocking at the door!  There are kids wanting candy and attention, friends coming for conversation or help, and other acquaintances seeking medical care or prayer.  This front room is the site of lots of interaction.

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Another part of the daily routine is school–homeschool, for our friends.  All the kids from both families were happy to be on break while we were together!

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Since the weather was mild, the kids spent lots of time playing outside.  Sheep, rabbits, a dog, a toddler, and the combined imaginations of several girls provided lots of entertainment!

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Nathan also found some good ways to use his love of technology to keep everyone occupied.  There were plenty of occasions when the adults were talking, preparing something, or getting the car packed to go somewhere.  Nathan learned how to use the beloved iPad to entertain and interact!

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Our days almost always included at least one trip somewhere, visiting friends for tea or lunch or some other reason.  We spent one afternoon at a nearby village, probably the most stereotypical “old-school missionary experience” of the trip.

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Of course, everyday living also involves plenty of routine household chores.  The house helper kindly gave me a “cooking lesson” one day.  I am sure I slowed down her routine considerably, especially since the language barrier kept us from any easy communication, but it was fun to be able to work together anyway.

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And of course, any day that involved travel also involved loading into the faithful land cruiser.  It didn’t always have this much luggage on top, but it always had at least 10 people inside and usually more than that!

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Our days were packed full, no two alike.  Our gracious hosts did an excellent job of providing a good taste of what life can be like for them!

A View of the Country

A View of the Country

Here are some photos to give you an idea of what it looked like.  We started in the capital city of Dakar, on the westernmost tip of Africa.  The kids were in the ocean within a few hours of our airplane landing!

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After a few nights there, we drove to the inland town where our friends live.  It was just after the end of rainy season, so there was still quite a bit of green on the trees and bushes poking up out of the sand.  Unfortunately, that also meant that our highly anticipated picnic at the nearby sand dunes involved lots of prickly burrs instead of lots of rolling down the hills!

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Here are some pictures from the town  where we spent most of our time.

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Our friends live in the house with all the flowers spilling over the wall.  That colorful beauty was such a welcome sight!

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One of the national symbols of Senegal is the baobab tree-a very large tree that almost looks like it is growing upside down, with a huge trunk (some are big enough to walk inside) and spindly root-like branches.

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The fruit of the baobab tree, known as monkey bread, can be eaten fresh but it is more often boiled and sweetened before being turned into a drink.

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The weather was surprisingly mild, most days staying in the high 70s to low 90s. Within a week of our departure, the thermometer hit 100 again.  Much of the area we were in is very dry, but we did see some fishing boats in the ocean and at a nearby city we visited that is located at the mouth of the Senegal river.

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Now you have a visual backdrop for the rest of the Senegal stories yet to come!

 

Just a Taste

Just a Taste

Instead of narrating our African travels in a “day by day this is what we did” style, I decided to share various groupings of photos and the stories that go with them.  Today’s subject: food!

We ate quite a variety of things, and I don’t have pictures of any of it.  Sorry, foodie bloggers out there–I would rather taste than photograph!  I was impressed at my children’s willingness to try a lot of new foods, and we were grateful to remain more or less healthy the whole time, feeling free to eat whatever our hosts recommended.

Our first actual Senegalese meal was also the kids’ Senegalese favorite-chicken yassa (chicken in a citrusy onion sauce).  Here’s where we ate that day:

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When we were staying at our friends’ house, we enjoyed their house helper’s homemade Senegalese meals from a shared bowl on the floor each day for lunch.  We ate American-style food served at the table for dinner.  The house helper, pictured here with her favorite butcher, is an excellent cook and it was a pleasure to eat with her and learn from her!  (Don’t worry, you’ll hear more about her in future posts.)

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The most special meals we ate were for Christmas celebrations–a grandma-prepared Christmas Eve feast with lots of American favorites, and a Christmas Day lunch made with care by the pastor’s wife featuring grilled-spiced-fried chicken on a bed of salad and fresh French fries.

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Soda was often served as “dessert”, distributed carefully in little cups around the circle of finished diners.  Nathan’s favorite was the pineapple-flavored Ananas.  Other common choices were Sprite and Coke.

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A few funny food experiences?  Than’s lunch came complete with teeth one day…

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…and at an ice cream shop I enjoyed the flavor “Obama.”

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Where to Begin…

Where to Begin…

It has been over a month since we returned from our trip to Senegal, and I am still not quite sure how to convey our experiences in a blog-friendly form!  The best way would to learn about our adventures is for you to come over for dinner, conversation, and a look at the big photo book.  Until you can do that, however, I’ll take you on a greatly-condensed tour right here.  Get your bags packed!

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To begin, a bit of a list…

…24 days

…988 photos

…14 pieces of luggage

…6 airplane rides

…5 different places to sleep

…1 lost shoe (returned 2 weeks later)

…1 lost pant leg (never recovered)

…6 special people who welcomed our family as part of their own, sharing their home and their adopted country

The weather looked like this when we left:

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After 24 hours and four airports, we were safely delivered into the hands of our waiting friends.  My main memories are of uneventful travel, immense gratitude for in-flight movies and video games, a large group of orthodox Jews as across-the-ocean companions, and seemingly endless flying over the huge continent of Africa.

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It was with great relief that we finally spotted familiar English-speaking faces in the waiting crowd, received welcoming hugs, and helped the porter load our pile of baggage into the waiting car.  A welcoming dinner of American-style tortellini and red sauce, then the collapse into bed for some much-needed sleep.  The first night of many under mosquito nets with the sound of the calls to prayer as an early alarm clock!

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Senegal Bound

Senegal Bound

There are so many details involved in getting ready for our Africa trip.  It will be here so soon!  One of the fun parts has been learning a little more about where we are going.  Library books and DVDs, asking our friends lots of questions, and talking together as a family are all part of the process.

Of course, what research effort would be complete without some culinary exploration?  While at the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, we were able to sample some of the sodas that are sold in Africa.  I wonder if we will actually see any of it in a store or restaurant on our trip…

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We have also tried some of the recipes from my Senegalese cookbook.  Of course the kids are thrilled to test out eating with their hands while sitting on the floor!  We had grilled chicken in an onion lime sauce, millet tomato salad, rice, mangoes, and a strong ginger drink.  Now we just have to get there to find out what the food is really like.

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There are many other preparations underway as well, but these were the best ones to take pictures of.  Africa, here we come…