Thursday, December 25, 2008

A particularly great Christmas

Today was a beautiful and memorable Christmas. Planning presents, food, and festivities for a family of 17 and preparing the house for their visit has given me plenty to do over the past weeks, but it has all been worth it. I'll write more thoroughly when I have pictures uploaded, but here are a few highlights:
-the whole family Christmas caroling to friends, with a complete double quartet
-our nativity dramatization, especially the part where it took Ellie (Mary) several scampering attempts to mount onto Bryce (the donkey) and the part where Mish, with gold tinsel wrapped around her limbs, did a jig on the couch, playing the part of the star
-the Russian tea cake cookies Joe's mom sent
-Ellie being truly grateful for her presents and even informing me that "I got too many presents. I don't need a lot of presents, just three presents." Later, she said she was ready to open some more, so the sincerity of her original statement is called into question, but for a three-year-old, it was a nice thought.
-playing True Colors with my siblings-- for how well we know each other, we sure don't seem to see ourselves the way the rest of us do! I laughed harder playing that game than I have in a long time.
-a true group effort that cleared out a spot in the garage for Dad to park his car for the first time in his married life, and Dad declaring it the best Christmas present he's ever received. A little sad, but heartwarming, too.
-making 18 loaves of candy cane bread with Mom
-having a full house-- though the messes seem to always be a step ahead of our efforts, it sure feels great to have all of my siblings and their families here. I'm never happier than when surrounded by these people I love more than any others.
It's been a wonderful and memorable Christmas. I hope you've had a good one, too.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Jewelry for Sale

Mom and I are finally hosting a jewelery sale next week! I bought almost 200 pieces of jewelry in China with the express purpose of selling it for one of my favorite charities, Mothers Without Borders. When postpartum depression was convincing me that my life was not worthwhile, I focused on collecting jewelry for this charity. Keeping in mind the images of children in Africa who are among the world's most destitute, and knowing that this fundraiser would be for them, was an immense help in surviving that year in China.

I am mostly posting these jewelry photos for friends who can come to the event next Tuesday, but the rest of you are welcome to gawk.

Freshwater pearls in three natural colors: white, peach, and champagne, and dyed black pearls. White pearls come in a set with bracelet and earrings (stud or dangle).

Three-strand sets of floating pearls, sizes and shapes varying. Available in 10 colors.

Shell & pearl necklaces in natural and dyed colors.

Coral and turquoise necklace and bracelet sets. Faux-wood beads with various gem inlets.

Swarovski crystal with a single pearl, available in pink, green, and purple.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Secular Church

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Minnesota trip

The most important stop on our post-China travels was to Minnesota to catch up with all of Kyle's family. His parents, sibling, and their families all live not far from Minneapolis so whenever we're in town, a reunion is in order. Kyle's family is really good about organizing lots of activities and things to do while we're there (maybe they're afraid we'll get bored, but they don't know how home-bodied the Goodwin get-togethers are). This trip was no different. We went to the Minnesota State Fair, Children's Museum, went up to Duluth in the north over Labor Day weekend, and had a great backyard picnic with all of the family. Mom L and I squeezed in some good American shopping I'd been craving, too. =)

Here we are upon departure to the State Fair. Dad was unfortunately suffering from a blood infection so had to take it easy for a few days, but thankfully was able to join us on later trips.

Ever since the camping trip in summer '07, when their friendship began to really blossom, Ellie has been calling many of her cousins, friends, and stuffed animals "Yo-a-yai." To bad it's also the hardest of all her cousins' names for Ellie to pronounce, but nonetheless she absolutely delighted in all the time she got to spend with Lorelei on this trip.

Sure, he's all smiles now, but prying him off the horse was a completely different story.

Kyle's brother, Brett, won several awards at the fair for his fruits and vegetables, including first prize on these bee-autiful melons. Their garden is mighty impressive.

We didn't picture one of the best parts of the fair, which is of course the FOOD! I'd been hearing about some legendary fried cheese curds for years, and they were indeed tasty, although I was disappointed that the extra oil takes the squeak out of them. We also gorged on cookies, battered Australian cheesy fries, and Kyle and I naturally took advantage of the $1 chocolate milk with free refills, running across the fair to fill up instead of paying for a closer drink. Someday, our thriftiness will make us rich. Someday...

Minnesota has a great children's museum-- better than any I recall visiting as a child. Even better, we were able to secure free passes from a local library. Didi's favorite room was this nature playground area. After China, I can't tell you what a relief it was to just let my kids go wild in a play area, knowing that they wouldn't easily get hurt or contract fatal illnesses.

There was a fairy tale room...

And a science & nature room...

And a room simulating lots of real life experiences, like grocery shopping, going to the doctor, riding the bus, and starring in a rock band, of course.

In the bubble and splash area, I was trying to keep an eye on the kids and I turned around and saw a little girl whose face, arms, and head were just covered with bubbles. I couldn't really see her eyes, but I sensed she was desperate for a rinse. I looked around but didn't spy a mother rushing to the rescue, so I took her to the sink and rinsed her disguise off-- it was Gigi (my niece)! Haha, I honestly didn't recognize her under that thick layer of foam. It reminded me of revealing Harry the Dirty Dog, a favorite story from my childhood.

I also celebrated my birthday in Minnesota, and got an extra scoop of ice cream for the occasion. Grandpa's fudge sauce is what does the trick, though.

Probably the best day in Minnesota was when all three of Kyle's siblings and their families came over for a picnic lunch in Kyle's parents' beautiful back yard. The weather was perfect and there were almost enough toddler bikes to go around. Plus, Tana made the yummiest peanut butter bars anyone has ever tasted.

It may appear that Erik has been victimized here, but I believe Gigi was simply embracing an opportunity.

But he'd have you believe otherwise.

I think Logan liked being the older, stronger cousin, for a change.

Told you those bars were YUM! (I love Brandon in the back with Ellie, too. He is so good with all the kids and was kind enough to sprint all over the lawn with Ellie, engaging in some stick scavenging shenanigans of hers. It's so nice to have someone else around who can actually keep up with her.)

Check out Lorelei's hair AND Tana made that dress.

Here's Grandpa and Grandma Larsen with all nine of their grandkids, from top left going clockwise: Andrew Larsen, Logan Smentek, Erik Larsen, Brandon Larsen, Joseph Barnhart, Ellie Larsen, Lorelei Barnhart, Liam Smentek, and Gretchen/Gigi Barnhart. This one's a lot better than the last "all the grandkids" picture we attempted when four of them were infants.

With the second generation--

Over Labor Day weekend we took a trip up north to Duluth with Jeff & Kirstin and their boys, Logan and Liam. We enjoyed good cuisine, scenery, and the biggest hotel water park in the state!Kyle loves how I really tried to pretend I wanted my picture taken.

Here's his impersonation of me.

Kyle was most excited about skipping rocks on the lake. Seriously, he couldn't stop talking about it.

We didn't take any pictures at the water park, but stole this from Dad's blog. Of course it can't capture the experience. There was an enormous bucket that was gradually filled with water (maybe 100 gallons?) until it overflew and dumped the contents all over the play structure. There were some great tube slides (and I even got Mom to go down one with me) and plenty of wading/splashing areas for the kids. Liam and Logan were fearless in the water. I'm no water park connaiseur, but I was quite impressed with the facility. Good pizza, too.
This is the only shot I took of our dinner at Tana and Braden's, which is too bad because her gnocchi pasta dish was delicious and aestethically pleasing. The kids play so well together, and Mom and Tana gave me such great ideas for quilting and sewing projects. It's such a bummer we're only able to get together annually or so. We're so glad Mom and Dad brought us out this year, though. We had a wonderful time and I am so grateful to have such a great family-in-law!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It was time...

Back when the California skies were sunny, we got around to doing our annual car wash. No, it was not a fundraiser, but we should've been paid for all the bug guts we scraped off the van's splash guard. Some of those guts originated from road trips many moons ago...

The kids were excited to help us wash the car, until Ellie realized it was "work" and plucked all the blooms out of Grandma's garden instead.

Erik put forth a commendable effort. He embraced one of Grandma's favorite adages: "Anything worth doing is worth doing well" (and that's the one that still haunts and tortures me every time I'm doing housework), steadily scrubbing and re-scrubbing and re-scrubbing that spot on the car for the entirety of the experience.

Hope that spot stays sparkly clean until next year's annual wash.

Exciting ANNOUNCEMENT for our family!

We are proud to announce the elopement of our daughter with a much older, wiser, square-headed and red-eyed man named Mike. He has verbally promised to take care of her until the day she dies (except for the last 40 years of her life where she's likely to live alone and cold, because of the unexpected and drastic age disparity). She tells me that this is LOVE, and since love rules all, I have no problem with the marriage-- that would make me intolerant and hateful. I guess he makes pretty good money in the alley around the corner, but his working hours aren't so good for family life (he's gone much of the night). I think he's in pharmaceuticals.The Wedding DanceThe proud Best Man
Don't be alarmed at his ghastly appearance; it's just that he's now more bag than human after some life-saving surgeries following the Clone Wars (at least that's what he told us... I don't know, maybe he just put a bag on his head for some reason-- Heck! I don't even know the guy... but look how happy she is!).

First KissEllie and Mike are registered at IKEA, Target, and Milly's Renegade Ammunition Depot.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Have we Forgotten the Meaning of Marriage?

There is a perfectly good reason that I haven't been posting on our blog: I've been spending my nights commenting on proposition 8 videos on This has been an experience of mixed emotions, but one thing I'm not mixed on is my conviction that prop 8 is worth supporting, and will absolutely affect more people than just homosexuals. Perhaps the greatest of those effects will be upon children. So, with the election upon us, I must promote these videos found on

These videos hit the issue on the nail! If legalizing gay marriage was just about consenting adults, what respectable person would forbid it? However, children can NOT be separated from the discussion of marriage. I support gay rights, right up until the point that they compromise the rights of children, and really who can deny that children deserve a mother and a father? Well, lots of people have tried, but logic, nature, and endless research refute their claims. The gender of parents DOES matter, having both parents present DOES matter, and marriage DOES matter to kids.

A wise man I know puts it this way: why should the hurt feelings of adults trump the best interest of children? This is one of those issues with which knowledge is power. I firmly believe that if Californians truly understood both the meaning and consequences of proposition 8, we would have a landslide victory. The more I understand about the issues surrounding prop 8, the more I am in support of it.

I realize I'm again preaching to the choir addressing this on my blog, but watch these videos anyway. Even if you don't live in California, this battle will (maybe even soon) be coming your way.

Are we OK with Denying Children their Rights?

Do Mothers Matter? Do Fathers Matter?

What About Equality?

The Danger of Redefining Marriage


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cambodia/ Vietnam, May- June 2005

Like many of you know, I returned to Cambodia for a month-long research project in May 2005. Here are some pictures and stories from that trip:

Monsoon downpours sometimes come in a matter of seconds on mainland SE Asia. Luckily, these people found a tarp in the truck.

The picture below is such a classic Cambodia scene. The sign clearly explains in both Cambodian and Vietnamese that: littering is strictly prohibited.

Looking at this picture today, I was reminded of a time I ate a beautiful pineapple slice on a stick. Needing a place to discard my waste, I asked somebody where the trash can was--and without saying a word, he sternly pointed to the ground. Something must have gotten lost in translation because I saw a ton of trash, but not even a single can. (That pun's for you, Unky B.)

I don't think I've ever seen such beautiful blue skies with picturesque puffs of white clouds as those in Cambodian summers, like the one below. Though my cheap digital camera hardly captures its beauty, I felt like some hack photoshopped the world around me to be so perfect. I awoke from my daydream by tripping on a heap of trash. Oh the irony.

Can you tell which cloud carries the monsoon rains, below? As soon I spotted that beast, I headed for the safety of my home because clouds of this color are quick and unforgiving, and will consume you in a matter of nano-seconds. I don't know what I was thinking, though. It's like trying to escape the grasp of a crocodile, mid-death roll. Just give up man and enjoy the ride as long as you can.

This panorama is of the Tonle Sap river taken from the Cambodia-Japanese Friendship Bridge. If you look carefully in the distance, you can see where it meets up with the Mekong River. The Tonle Sap is the only river that changes directions twice a year. Huh? During the rainy season, the Mekong's capacity is so high that it actually pushes the Tonle Sap river upstream, changing its direction. As the rains stop, the river resumes its natural progression towards the sea, until the cycle starts all over again the next year. Pretty amazing, huh!

On another note, the bridge itself is the nemesis of any one-speed bike rider. There was a time that I had to pedal as fast as my chicken legs would go to get DOWN this unmerciful bridge (usually the redeeming part). The rainy seasonal winds over the river were so strong that had I not pedaled, I would have been blown backwards, I kid you not. Something is not right about this bridge.

This is the outer fence to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, this former school was turned into a torture/ interrogation prison where thousands of men, women, and children suffered humiliating deaths. Back in 2002, I lived about 2 blocks from this place and got the heebie jeebies every time I rode past it.

Whitey-tighties, a colorful bike, and leather boots.
This is a propaganda billboard in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, that celebrates the 30 anniversary of the Fall of Saigon (or the Liberation of Saigon, depending on who you ask). The caption says, "A nation to the utmost joy." Notice the doves flying towards the heart-shaped VN flag. Even the flowers can't contain the joy their country has, and as a result, they spontaneously spit petals out just to beautify the land. Now that's nationalism!

This picture has a story. After eating some yummy bún bò Huế off the street, my Vietnamese Dad took me on a day trip to Phan Thiết, about two hours by moped from his house. The spicy soup churned in my stomach with every bounce on the pavement, and eventually decided to fight back. I asked Dad to pull over, where I stumbled off the moped, and threw-up in an inebriated fashion. I approached the laughing bystanders in this food stall, asked for some water, and talked with them for some time. I don't know if they were more surprised that the foreigner spoke Vietnamese, or embarrassed that the foreigner understood what they initially said about me (they assumed I was drunk, of course, among other things). We all had a good laugh.

This area of Đồng Nai province was a major Viet Cong stronghold during the war, and visiting these fields made the war more vivid and real than I had ever known. I couldn't stop the Jimi Hendrix songs from eccoing in my mind as I tried to imagine what our troops suffered in these fields--probably this very one.

A wonderful family let me stay with them for the duration of my Cambodia stay. I feel so grateful to them because they helped me escape feelings of loneliness being away from Tiffany. In the evenings, I would watch the Cartoon Network with the kids and help them with their English; they sometimes even slept on the floor in my room to keep me company (actually, to make use of the air conditioner, but it made me feel good nonetheless). Sometimes, Sina would call for a dance party:

Here are some of the wonderful people who made my trip extra memorable: