Personal

Hello from the Land Down Under!

Hello all!  Greetings from chilly, rainy Sydney!  I arrived safely on Friday after a relatively uneventful trip… 36 hours door to door (and an extra 24 hours for my suitcase), save the two extra hours it took to take off from LAX due to an incident that removed two people from our flight.  The delayed arrival in Auckland allowed me the chance to watch the sunrise in New Zealand before I headed to Sydney.

I was greeted at the airport by my brother-in-law and a running hug from my two-year-old nephew that lasted until we arrived at the car.  Since then, I’ve been busy catching up with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting and subsequently snuggling with my newest nieces who are almost three months old now.  I would forget that I’m in Australia if it wasn’t for the Opera House sighting on the drive from the airport and the kookaburras who’ve enjoyed laughing outside my window in the morning (they sound like monkeys, so I wake up thinking I’m in the jungle).  I’ve also had some great treats including lots and lots of tea, sticky fig pudding, and the chance to chat with my sister’s friends, allowing me the fun of noticing differences in pronunciation and word usage.  I’m keeping busy holding babies and playing with nephews, which is just what I’ve been wanting to do as I anticipated this trip.  I’m sure there are many more adventures to come, but I did want to check in and share a few pics from my time so far in the southern hemisphere.  Plus I have no idea when I’ll have time again to post some photos, though I’ll do my best.  🙂

The sunrise over Auckland, New Zealand

The sunrise over Auckland, New Zealand

My adorable nephews and nieces... all six of them!

My adorable nephews and nieces… all six of them!

A present left outside my door from my nephews.

A present left outside my door from my nephews.

First attempt (and probably the last) at a pic of the girls and me.

First attempt (and probably the last) at a pic of the girls and me.

How I spend much of my day... it's pretty great.  :)

How I spend much of my day… it’s pretty great. 🙂

Something to prove I'm in Australia- kookaburras hanging out by the house.

Something to prove I’m in Australia- kookaburras hanging out by the house.


The Mansell Family

Now that school is out for summer, I have a second to sit down and post these pictures from last month.  These photos are of my great brother and sister-in-law and their really adorable and fun children.  We had a beautiful evening walking around a park the night of their wedding anniversary.   Can’t wait to meet #4 in July!

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Lowrie wanted a closer look.

He wanted a closer look.

I think they're representing themselves pretty accurately here.  :)

I think they’re representing themselves pretty accurately here. 🙂

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He's just too much sometimes.

He’s just too much sometimes.

Sisters... there's nothing else like it.

Sisters… there’s nothing else like it.

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Sneak Peek- I get to call these adorable children my nieces and nephew!

You may recognize these kiddos from some previous posts of mine (look here and here).  I can’t resist posting this sneak peek of a family session I did last weekend with my brother’s family.  There are more to come soon!

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The Canal- Indianapolis

With apologies for my long absence from this blog (teaching has been sucking the life out of me recently!), I am happy to share some recent photos with you!  We’ve finally had some springtime weather here in Indy and I was able to take advantage of the sunshine a couple Sundays ago.   My friend Steve was passing through Indy and I got to show him some of the sights, including the central canal.  Steve is an amazing photographer (see here and here for proof) and he gave me some fun tips on capturing the fountain water in action.  Enjoy these shots of springtime in Indiana!

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A Snowy Day in Eagle Creek Park

I awoke this past Wednesday to a winter wonderland outside my window.  I was almost late to school due to 1.) clearing the snow off my car (it always takes longer than I anticipate) and 2.) taking pictures of the snow covered trees in my apartment parking lot.  After work, my sister-in-law called me after driving through the local Eagle Creek Park to let me know that it was breathtaking.  I was so glad that I had brought my camera along that day!  I headed over her way and we jumped in the car to explore.  I think the photos speak for themselves.  Enjoy!

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And a bonus pic of me, compliments of my sister-in-law’s wonderful composition skills. 🙂

Job 37:5-7 (ESV)

God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend.
For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.
He seals up the hand of every man,
that all men whom he made may know it.

32 Reasons I Love February

Every year since I turned 28, in an attempt to curb the winter blues and celebrate the years of life God has given me, I have fun documenting highlights from my birthday month.    This year I thought I’d post it on my blog in addition to facebook.  I had the task of narrowing it down to 32 things (in honor of my 32 years) that I loved about the month of February.  I didn’t have photos of all the fun times, but here are 32 of them.

#1- An Almond Kringle from Wisconsin found in the local Target.  Delicious does not begin to describe it.

#1- An Almond Kringle from Wisconsin found in the local Target. Delicious does not begin to describe it.

 

 

#2- Brunch catching up with my wonderfully encouraging friend, Jen

#2- Brunch catching up with my wonderfully encouraging friend, Jen

 

 

#3- Buying yarn and having the teacher I share a classroom with whip up scarves for me!

#3- Buying yarn and having the teacher I share a classroom with whip up scarves for me!

 

 

#4- Free parking and Bru Burger after the Ash Wednesday service at church.

#4- Free parking and Bru Burger after the Ash Wednesday service at church.

 

 

#5- Valentine's Day treats from my students

#5- Valentine’s Day treats from my students
Yes, that’s a bear playing “Baby Love” with lit up red cheeks on the right. 🙂

 

 

#6- Going out to dinner and a movie with friends from my community group on Valentine's Day

#6- Going out to dinner and a movie with friends from my community group on Valentine’s Day

 

 

#7- Napolese pizza and a fun time with my friend Rachael

#7- Napolese pizza and a fun time with my friend Rachael

 

 

#8- Just hanging out with my brother's family and capturing this gem of a photo of my niece on a Sunday afternoon

#8- Just hanging out with my brother’s family and capturing this gem of a photo of my niece on a Sunday afternoon

 

 

#9- Someone to wave goodbye to and something to put on the fridge after I returned from my brother's family's house

#9- Someone to wave goodbye to and something to put on the fridge after I returned from my brother’s family’s house

 

 

#10- President's Day brunch at Cafe Patachou with my friends Shanda and Janae

#10- President’s Day brunch at Cafe Patachou with my friends Shanda and Janae

 

 

#11- Singing hymns with my community group on Sunday nights

#11- Singing hymns with my community group on Sunday nights

 

 

#12- The annual bake-off at school.  My kitchen and homemade Snickers bars on top and my friend Meyer's chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch contribution (bottom right)... they were both really good, but the Snickers took the prize. :)

#12- The annual bake-off at school. My kitchen and homemade Snickers bars on top and my friend’s chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch contribution (bottom right)… they were both really good, but my Snickers took the prize. 🙂

 

 

#13- My friend Kim bringing me her leftovers for my lunch at school- she knows I'm not great at cooking for myself all the time.  :)

#13- My friend Kim bringing me her leftovers for my lunch at school- she knows I’m not great at cooking for myself all the time. 🙂

 

 

#14- Speaking with Burmese parents  about our school's ESL program and assessments at a parent meeting (yes, I was slightly stalker-like when I got this photo- pictures help solidify memories, after all!)

#14- Speaking with Burmese parents about our school’s ESL program and assessments at a parent meeting.
(Yes, I was slightly stalker-like when I got this photo, but pictures help solidify memories, so I stalked a little.)

 

 

#15- A former student coming back to visit the evening of the parent meeting and drawing me a picture

#15- A former student coming back to visit the evening of the parent meeting and drawing me a picture

 

 

#16- Doing a lesson with my students about Helen Keller by having them blindfolded and trying to write words in each others hands.  Yes, I that's a steelers scarf used as a blindfold.

#16- Doing a lesson with my students about Helen Keller by having them blindfolded and trying to write words in each others hands.
Yes, I that’s a steelers scarf used as a blindfold.

 

#17- Birthday love from work friends

#17- Birthday love from work friends

 

 

#18- Birthday love from students: A gun safety drawing, pop-up birthday card, and neon eye shadow (that I had the chance to use a week later for my 80's outfit!)

#18- Birthday love from students: A gun safety drawing, pop-up birthday card, and neon eye shadow (that I had the chance to use a week later for my 80’s outfit!)

 

 

#19- Birthday evening with my brother, sister-in-law, nieces, and nephew:  Five Guys burger and the futuristic pop machine hit the spot!  :)

#19- Birthday evening with my brother, sister-in-law, nieces, and nephew: Five Guys burger and the futuristic pop machine hit the spot! 🙂

 

 

#20- Birthday recitations from my nieces and nephew (poor quality photos due to videoing at the same time- sorry!)

#20- Birthday recitations from my nieces and nephew (poor quality photos due to videoing at the same time- sorry!)
Those who know me well may recognize the towel pillow being held by my niece.  🙂

 

 

#21- Birthday cake!  (and being sung to by my Indy and South Carolina brothers' families, thanks to a well-timed call from the south!)

#21- Birthday cake! (and being sung to by my Indy and South Carolina brothers’ families, thanks to a well-timed call from the south!)

 

 

#22- An unheard of 2-hour delay: A day after my birthday present from IPS!

#22- An unheard of 2-hour delay: A day-after-my-birthday present from IPS!

 

 

#23- An ice storm and a car without ice on it (thanks to my brother's garage overnight)

#23- An ice storm and a car without ice on it (thanks to my brother’s garage overnight)

 

 

#24- Flowers.  I love them.  The end.

#24- Flowers. I love them. That is all.

 

 

#25- Turkish food with Kendra

#25- Out for Turkish food with Kendra

 

 

#26- A four hour brunch with college friends Kellie and Kendra

#26- A four hour brunch with college friends Kellie and Kendra

 

 

#27- Sunny Saturday fun: foot massages, the IMA, and signs of spring

#27- Sunny Saturday fun: foot massages, the IMA, and signs of spring

 

 

#28- February birthday celebration fun with my community group

#28- February birthday celebration fun with my community group

 

 

#29- An updated photo of my loves in Australia

#29- An updated photo of my loves in Australia

 

 

#30- My super expensive dream lens gift from my parents... or not.  Ok, so it's just a coffee mug, but it still makes me happy.  I'll get that lens someday.  :)

#30- My super expensive dream lens gift from my parents… or not. Ok, so it’s just a coffee mug, but it still makes me happy. I’ll get that lens someday. 🙂

 

 

#31- Packing up 435 English language assessments from our school and taking them downtown.

#31- Packing up 435 English language assessments from our school and taking them downtown (and being done with testing… for about a week).

 

 

#32- Going out for Mexican with friends from work and using my conversation starters present to talk about things other than school.

#32- Going out for Mexican with friends from work and using my conversation starters present to talk about things other than school.

 

 

Thanks for taking a look at some of the many reasons I’m thankful for my life through my February fun.  Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!


Maddie is a Senior!

My niece Maddie is a senior this year, so we had a great time taking some senior photos for her while we were all in Pennsylvania for Christmas.  The snow cooperated quite nicely as a backdrop.  We’re all so proud of the beautiful young woman Maddie has become.  God is (and will continue) using her in great ways to share His love and grace with so many.  Without further ado, here is beautiful Maddie!

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And here we have one of my all time favorite photos that I’ve taken. 🙂 She’s so beautiful.

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And now for a few behind the scenes photos:

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Had to get a shot of me with the senior.

The obligatory Mansell family funny face photo

The obligatory Mansell family funny face photo

This is what was going on behind us as we did our photo shoot.  We felt a little guilty for not helping, but they obviously had it covered.  :)

This is what was going on behind us as we did our photo shoot. We felt a little guilty for not helping, but they obviously had it covered. 🙂

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Many thanks to my sister-in-law for her help with getting these fun shots!


Indiana Fog

Monday was a dreary, foggy day here in Indianapolis.  When I got home Monday night, I was struck by the way the street and parking lot lights were reflecting on the trees and in the fog and had to take some pictures.

Here are a few of my favorites:

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The Mansell Family

Now that Christmas cards are sent out, I can share these pictures.  Over Thanksgiving I had the chance to take family photos for my brother’s family.  It wasn’t difficult since they are some of the cutest kids in the world!  Many thanks to one of my other brothers and niece who stood behind me and helped get the smiles you see here.  Enjoy!

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And here’s a bonus: My dad and his granddaughter on a walk out at the lake. 🙂


The Green Mango Cafe & Bakery in Battambang, Cambodia

As promised, it’s time to share about the great things happening in Cambodia that I was able to see this past June and July when I visited.  (Click here to see the previous posts from my trip, in succession.)

The Center for Global Impact has a fantastic thing going on in the city of Battambang in northern Cambodia.  Their website describes it well, so I’ll quote them here: “The Culinary Training Center (CTC) is the largest project undertaken by CGI to date. Students are enrolled in a two-year training program that will prepare them to enter into the most distinguished kitchens in Cambodia. The CTC plays a significant role in establishing a successful strategy for developing future employment opportunities for orphans, at-risk, and formerly trafficked women .”

My friends, Katy and Alan, and I were able to spend a few days in Battambang seeing The Green Mango Cafe & Bakery in action.  It was so fun to hang out with the head chef and teacher, Ryana, and get to know the girls in the school a bit. During those days, we ate a lot and I had a fun adventure at the market and on a bamboo train that I’ll post about in the future.  The food was SO delicious and the atmosphere was very comfortable.  It was fun to see how much business they were getting after the few short months they had been open.  Check out their website here.

I hope you enjoy a look at this great project that is providing work for some wonderful young women in Cambodia!  Oh, and since you probably can’t stop by for a food sampling anytime soon, please check out the Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook available for purchase here.  You won’t regret it!

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The food there is seriously delicious. I’m still craving the pickles and sauce (bottom left photo).  You really should go buy their cookbook (see link above).  🙂

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They had a big group that day!

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Chef and teacher, Ryana, does a great job keeping things running smoothly.

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The girls are able to build relationships with each other and volunteers. Through the school, they also have life skills and English classes, culinary teaching, and devotional times with mentors.

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They sell byTavi items there, another project of The Center for Global Impact.

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Place-mats out to dry.

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This makes you want to go buy the cookbook now, doesn’t it?

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The tuktuk is a moving advertisement for them. It goes to the market at least once a day! Stay tuned for a blog post about the sights, sounds, and smells of a Cambodian market. 🙂


Cambodia: …the Bad and the Ugly

As promised, this is the last post about the negative things I saw in Cambodia, with many beautiful and hopeful posts coming soon about all the great things happening there.  🙂

As I’ve mentioned before (click here to see previous posts), I was a bit surprised to find that Cambodia wasn’t as much like Thailand as I’d expected it to be.  There are a lot of similarities, but I didn’t expect Cambodia to be as underdeveloped as it appeared to me.  After learning about the effects of the Khmer Rouge’s rule on the country in the 70’s, it made more sense to me.  Cambodia has had a lot to overcome.

Below are some photos of some living conditions I was able to see in Phnom Penh.  It is known that some young women from this neighborhood have been sold into prostitution to help earn money for their family.  I was able to see some organizations that are working with people from this exact neighborhood, so that was encouraging.  I’ll be posting about that organization soon.    This web page explains Cambodia’s poverty situation in an understandable way (over 30% of Cambodians live below the poverty line).  The rural areas are even more affected by poverty as their traditional agricultural methods that don’t produce for quick profit.

This is the home of one of the girls being helped by a program that provides training and work for young women at risk of being sold into prostitution.

Another sad part of Cambodia’s story is its high rate of human trafficking.  Last fall, my friend led a book study on the book Not For Sale by David Batstone.  This book is very eye-opening to the problem of present-day human slavery all over the world.  The projects I visited, associated with the Center for Global Impact, and many others are working to fight against this problem.  Specifically in Cambodia, there is a problem with children being sold into prostitution.  Of Cambodia’s 15,000 prostitutes, 35% are under the age of 16 (click here for the source of this statistic and more information).  Here are some of the sights I saw that opened my eyes to this heart-breaking problem.

A sign in my hotel in Siem Reap

Sign from another hotel where I stayed in Battambang

Nighttime in Siem Reap on Pub Street

Pub Street in Siem Reap

One of the “motels” outside Phnom Penh

One of the “motels” outside Phnom Penh

One of the “motels” outside Phnom Penh

One of the karaoke bars near the airport that are known more for the prostitution available in the area than actual karaoke.

A karaoke bar near the airport where the women are lined up in chairs every night, basically a modern day brothel…

So, poverty and young women being sold into prostitution… sorry about the downer post.  However, there’s good news!  Organizations like Center for Global Impact, Hagar International, International Justice Mission, and many others are working to both help prevent and rescue women from this modern day slavery.  Just last night I heard an amazing woman, Somaly Mam, speak here in Indianapolis about her own experience of being sold in Cambodia’s sex trade as a little girl and now she’s helping save and assist in the recovery of thousands of girls.  Learn more about her organization by clicking here or read her book, The Road of Lost Innocence.  Stay tuned for more photos of beautiful Cambodia and the great things going on there.


The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Continuing the effort to get the sad posts over with, here is what I documented from the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Much like the previous post about the S21 prison in Phnom Penh, I must preface this by saying that some of the pictures and explanation below are graphic and tragic, so don’t feel pressured to continue looking.  The quick version is that the Khmer Rouge used this place to exterminate about 17,000 people who first went through  S-21 (Tuol Sleng prison) between 1975 and 1978.
The extermination camp of Choeung Ek is located about 15 km from central Phnom Penh.  It used to be a Chinese graveyard before the Khmer Rouge took over that area to dispose of people who didn’t fit into their plan for Cambodia.  Remains of thousands of people have been found in mass graves in this area.  In 1988, the Memorial Stupa was built with more than 8,000 skulls as a memorial to the victims.  I’ll allow the pictures to speak mostly for themselves.  Click here for Wikipedia’s information about the killing fields.  There was also a well-known movie called The Killing Fields made about the Khmer Rouge.  Thanks for bearing with me with these tough posts.  There are many hopeful projects and beautiful things about Cambodia to still share!

In an attempt to save bullets, they used things like trees to kill people.

Sites of some of the mass graves

There was an audio tour to listen to while walking around the area, including many survivors’ stories of the horrors that took place here.

The Memorial Stupa

The Memorial Stupa

There are more than 8000 skulls arranged by sex and age in the Memorial Stupa

In the museum, they had artifacts and information about many of the people killed by the Khmer Rouge.

These are the clothes that all prisoners and workers had to wear during the Khmer Rouge’s leadership of Cambodia.

The leader of the S-21 prison was recently convicted of his crimes.

Click here to see a video of his admittance of guilt in what happened at the prison.

Below are descriptions of sites on the land.

Discovery of a mass grave

Stay tuned for more information about the many ways the Khmer people are moving on from this horrible time

and all the great things that are happening now in Cambodia.


Cambodia: Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison)

Like ripping off a band-aid quickly, I’ve decided to post all of the sad stuff I saw in Cambodia in a row to get it out of the way.  As I continue to share Cambodia through my lens (click here to see previous posts), I do think it’s important to learn from history and not just brush over atrocities such as this.  I wanted to get a full look at what makes Cambodia the place it is and this is part of it.  Just a couple more posts of the bad and then I’ll post all the great, hopeful, beautiful things I saw.  So please stay-tuned!  The best is yet to come.  🙂

When I arrived in Cambodia, I was expecting it to be pretty similar to Thailand (where I spent the summer of 2003).  I was surprised to find that Cambodia seemed less developed than Thailand overall.  After learning more about the effect of the Khmer Rouge’s rule in the 70’s, it made a lot more sense.  When almost a quarter of a country’s population gets wiped out in four year period, it’s no wonder that it’s taking a while to get back on their feet.

When in Phnom Penh, my friends were gracious enough to accompany me on a very tough day visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields outside the city.  This post documents what I saw at the S-21 Prison, now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Please know that some of the descriptions and photos below could be considered graphic and are very sad.
I am no expert on the Khmer Rouge and I realize that I cannot explain everything about it in this little blog post, so please feel free to do some research on your own if you’d like more information.  I read the book First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and was given a heart-wrenching look into one girl’s experience living through the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975-1979.  Netflix also has a documentary on this specific prison.  Click here for Wikipedia’s information about the Khmer Rouge.  Basically, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, took over Cambodia to restructure it into a peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative.  They had to get rid of much of the population to accomplish this goal.  Much of my information about this comes from what I learned from the Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook, by the way.

Tuol Sleng was Tuol Svay Prey High School until the Khmer Rouge took it over and turned it into a prison in 1975.  From then until 1978, over 17,000 prisoners were taken through the school’s corridors before being taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek (which I will post about soon) where the majority of those prisoners were killed.  Much like the Nazis, the leaders of the Khmer Rouge kept very detailed records of each prisoner who went through S21.  The museum was full or photos of men, women, and children who were brought there.  Virtually all of them were killed soon after.

I found Tuol Sleng to be a very disturbing and sad experience.  It quickly brought to mind other stories of genocide that have occurred across the world and throughout history.  The evil human beings are capable is almost inconceivable, yet there are evidences of it everywhere.  It’s hard for me to know what more to say about that except that seeing things like this reminds me once again how much we need God and how thankful I am for His work in the world through Christ.  As I said before, the positive stories are coming soon, so please stick around!

Until then, I’ll let these photos speak for themselves.

Hard to believe an educational institution could turn into a place of such sadness.

No laughing- though I can’t imagine anyone being tempted to do that in this place.

Looking through a cell door

It felt strange to look at the beautiful green and flowery trees and to think about how the prisoners must have felt about this place.

By far, the most heart-wrenching part of this visit was seeing all the photos of prisoners, men, women, children, and babies who came through those gates.  Seeing the look in their eyes as they anticipated what to come led me to tears.  I can’t imagine the horror they went through.

This shows how every prisoner was forced to be photographed with a contraption holding their head up behind them.

The Khmer Rouge tried to wipe out the educated class, so people had to try to hide the fact that they were educated to escape being killed. This man was a doctor of law.

Remains and a memorial for those killed

Many of these leaders have not yet been prosecuted for the atrocities that occurred so many years ago…


Cambodia: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve posted about the trip… I continue to struggle with figuring out how to balance teaching full-time, editing photos, sleeping, sharing about my experience in Cambodia, etc.  I might figure this out sometime in the near future.  🙂

As you can imagine, sharing about a culture and travel experience through photos is a challenge.  It’s difficult to present a cohesive narrative, so I appreciate your willingness to follow along with the randomness of some of my posts.  Click here to see previous posts from my trip.

When I was given the opportunity to go to Cambodia, I told my friends who live there that I wanted to experience as much as I could of life there: including the good, the bad, and the ugly (knowing that all countries and cultures have good and bad to discover).  The day I’m presenting to you on this post included all of those things.  While in Battambang, I was given the opportunity to visit the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau.  A lovely Khmer woman from CGI came with me in the TukTuk and helped me find my way there.  I experienced a lot of the good of Khmer culture and country and some of the bad and ugly too… a typical Camobian pop bottle gas station, a moto ride, nice and helpful people, seeing beautiful artistry and a beautiful view of the countryside, and a very sad visit to a cave where thousands of killings took place in the 70’s.

Once arriving at the bottom of the mountain (or some may call it a really big hill… it’s about 12 km from Battambang), the next leg of the journey involved riding a moto up to the temple (with apologies to my father who is not a fan of such unsafe transportation!).  We had to stop for gas from the roadside “gas station” (aka old pop bottles filled with gasoline of varying types for easy moto fill-up).

A Khmer “gas station”

Filling up for our ride up the mountain.

Once there, I was able to see a freshly painted Buddhist temple still under construction.

This type of scaffolding was common throughout the country.

Then my guide led me to the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau.  This is a cavern area where the Khmer Rouge performed about 10,000 killings of Khmer people by throwing them off a ledge and into the cave below (please be aware that some of the photos below are very sad and disturbing).  The cave is now the home of a reclining Buddha and a memorial to the people killed there in the late 70’s.

A painting depicting the killings performed by the Khmer Rouge in that location

At the top of the staircase looking down toward the cave.

Before going down the stairs

Part of the memorial

The original memorial.

The new memorial stuppa

Sadly this is just a small representation of those who were killed in that place.

The official memorial

Looking up at the skylight through which people were thrown.

It was tough to process all of my thoughts and emotions as I left such a solemn place where such horrific things happened and then go up to the summit of the hill and see this beautiful view:

The valley below

There are some really great legends about these hills involving chickens, women, crocodiles, and other fun stories. I wish I could remember the details as they were pretty entertaining stories.

I’m not really sure how to close this post.  There really are no words to describe the sadness of seeing an example of what’s left behind from man’s inhumanity to man (something found throughout the world, not just in Cambodia).  Knowing there will be more posts about the bad and ugly that I saw in Cambodia, I can share that, overall, I experienced such good in Cambodia that I left feeling hopeful.  Stay tuned for the hopeful and thanks for bearing with me through the bad and the ugly.


Angkor Wat in Black and White

I had so many pictures to share from Angkor Wat, I decided to do a separate post with the black & white shots. Click here (or just look at the previous post!) to see the color photos.

The main entrance

I think this was the west portico just inside the main entrance.

Stone window with lathe-turned balusters

Part of the 800 meters of bas-relief carvings detailing battles and epic events, completed from the 12th to 16th centuries

Outside wall of the central temple.

Detail of the central tower

On the moat surrounding Angkor Wat

Stay tuned for more photos and reflections from Cambodia in the coming weeks!


Cambodia: Angkor Wat

I am so excited to finally be able to start posting photos from my adventures in Southeast Asia in June and July of this year.  I should probably start by explaining how I got to go on the trip, why I chose Cambodia, and why I’ll be doing so many blog posts about it.

Angkor Wat: Central Temple Hallway

This past February (on my birthday, no less), I found out I received a Teacher Creativity Fellowship from the Lilly Endowment to pursue my proposed project.  After hearing about Cambodia from my friends who are living and working there and doing a book study about the problem of human trafficking with the book Not for Sale by David Batstone, I had a great desire to learn more about the country.  I also wanted to see what the organization my friends are working with, Center for Global Impact,  was doing to help with the problems prevalent in the country.  So, I proposed to study photography and go to Cambodia over the summer to capture Light in the Darkness:  Beauty and Trauma in Cambodia.  Through these blog posts of photos that I took in Cambodia, I hope to share a piece of my experience and some information that will show both the beauty and trauma that I saw in Cambodia.  It is my hope that these posts will show both the needs that are present, as well as the hopeful and productive things occurring in the beautiful country of Cambodia.

I’ll begin with my first day there, which was spent outside of Siem Reap visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.  My friends Katy and Alan were gracious enough to endure a very hot day exploring this area and brought their friend, Ryana, along for the fun too.  There was so much to see and I know we only touched the surface.  This post is dedicated to the mother of all the temples, Angkor Wat.  The grandeur and scale of these constructions are difficult to show on a screen like this, considering the manpower, hours, and labor that must have gone into this back in the 12th century.  Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument.  It was built between 1113 and 1150, with many additions built later.  It was built to represent a microcosm of the Hindu universe with the five peaks symbolizing Mount Meru, though over the years more Buddhist symbolism was added to the sites which you will also see in some photos.  Click here to see an aerial photo of the area… it really helps you to see the magnitude of it!

The view from outside the moat and the sandstone causeway

The Main Entrance

Looking to the left in the main entrance gate

Angkor Wat Temple in the distance after crossing the moat with the libraries to the left and right along the path

I think this is the Library, but don’t quote me on that. 🙂

The central temple view from the pool

A little monkey outside the central temple entrance

An example of one of the intricate carvings all over the temple

The roofed section covering help to cover the 800 meter long series of bas-relief carvings that go the whole way around the temple.

One of numerous aspara (heavenly nymphs) carvings found all over the temple

Working our way up to the towers…

Laterite blocks were used for much of the structure, but were hidden and covered with stucco before being painted.

This is a lathe-turned baluster (so says the Ancient Angkor book that I bought!).

Originally built as a Hindu temple, it now holds many Buddhist shrines scattered throughout the temple.

At one of the Buddhist shrines

Central tower of the central temple- Rising 55 meters above the ground

Looking out to the main entrance facing west (note the big yellow balloon in the distance)

Weathering over time and vandalism from the time of the Khmer Rouge have left many artifacts damaged.

The way back down. The original flight was steep to symbolize the difficult task of reaching the kingdom of the gods.

Looking out at the retaining wall and a view of the sightseeing yellow balloon in the distance.

More lathe-turned balusters in the stone windows

A monkey under the dragon as we left the temple

Booths set up outside the modern day wat with food and souvenirs and very eager sellers. 🙂

Another view of the food and souvenir sellers with the modern day wat (temple) in the background

Between the central temple and the outer wall

Part of the 190 meter-wide moat that goes around the complex, measuring 1.5 km by 1.3 km. Note the little girl’s outfit: a pajama set (a trend I would love to see catch on in the U.S.) 🙂

With my wonderful friends, Alan and Katy, who endured a very hot morning in Cambodian heat so I could explore the Angkor temples.

A picturesque spot to rest. 🙂

I still can’t believe I was there!

I hope to be more consistent in my photos posts from this trip in the coming months.  Look here for some of my previous posts with observations from my time in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Thanks for checking in!  Feel free to leave some comments, observations, questions below!


Calvin and Lucy- A Photo Session in Singapore

Last month I had a great time visiting my cousin in Singapore and spending time with her and her family.  We had a chance to get a few photos of their adorable kids, aged 2 years and 10 months, in action one morning.  They are really fun children with gorgeous eyes and really entertaining personalities.  Calvin wasn’t quite as enthused about having his picture taken, so Lucy receives a bit more representation in this post.  I know his parents have plenty of adorable pictures of him, so I think it’s ok that Lucy got to shine on this day.  Does this mean I can add International Children’s Photographer to my title now?  😉

I hope you enjoy a few pictures of our time together.  There’s much more to come from my Southeast Asia adventures soon on the blog!

Calvin in action!

The attempt at a posed brother-sister shot didn’t quite work, but I love their expressions in this one! 🙂

Calvin with his mom

The whole family

A family photo from later that day

It was so fun to visit them and see their lives in Singapore!

and a bonus photo that Cate snapped of me in action- She calls this “metaphotography.”


Sneak Peek- Mollie and Collin, Pennsylvania Wedding

I had the honor of photographing my beautiful niece’s wedding to a great guy named Collin on Saturday in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

Here is a sneak peek of what is to come when I’m able to share more photos from their joyous celebration.  Enjoy!

The wedding party, minus the flower girls and ring bearers

A picture in the convertible for my dad…

and a bonus photo: one of the two beautiful flower girls, who also happens to be another niece of mine. 🙂

Stop back soon for some more photos from the wedding day and my long overdue Southeast Asia trip report!


IndyCar Experience

I’m interrupting my Southeast Asia blog posts to share the fun I had on my first day back in America a couple weeks ago.  My brother and some of his family came into town from Ohio for him to do the Indycar Experience at the Speedway.

I quickly realized that I didn’t leave the heat behind on my trip across the pond.  I felt for the people having to wear the racing uniforms in all that heat!  Having gone to all but four Indianapolis 500 races since 1987, this place holds a lot of family memories for me.  It was fun to see a new side of the track and my brother really enjoyed speeding around it with the help of driver Davey Hamilton!  Spending the day outside and catching up with family was a great welcome back to the States!

The IMS Museum

The fountain I enjoyed playing in during the 1987 Indy 500.

My brother and sister-in-law with 2/3 of their kids. 🙂

Stefan Gregoire trying to get a break from the sunlight in between laps.

All suited up and ready to go!

Gentlemen, start your engines!

That’s my brother!  Not too bad an attempt at capturing a car going almost 180 mph in focus!

Shaking Davey Hamilton’s hand after their laps around the track.

I think he enjoyed it.

My turn for a pic with my brother

Indy Driver Davey Hamilton and Lee

Have to document the Mansell Family’s claim to fame… our long lost cousin Nigel almost won the race in 1993. We were there cheering him on in our “Mansells for Nigel” shirts. Yes, you read that right.  We were the coolest family at the race. 🙂


Singapore: An Island, City, and Country All in One

I’m still working on editing the pictures from my fancy camera and preparing more detailed blog posts about my time in Cambodia, but I did want to give Singapore it’s time in the spotlight like I did for the others.  Here are some of my thoughts and observations from my brief time there a couple weeks ago.  I realize that one week in a place doesn’t make you an expert.  Since I spent most of my time with my cousin and her family, I didn’t really get to know the native Singaporean culture.  Nonetheless, here are some thoughts and highlights from my time there:

  • I had to work a little harder to come up with fun stories or interesting observations from my time in Singapore because, well, I felt pretty comfortable there since it’s pretty western.  It’s a very modern city/country/island and reminded me a lot of London or Sydney since there’s so much British influence.
  • I definitely experienced a bit of culture shock when I flew from Phnom Penh to Singapore and saw this recycling display in the airport.  There is recycling in Cambodia, but their methods of collection are pretty different.
  • Another form of culture shock came when I saw the prices of things.  We paid $2 for an unlimited amount of time for the fish massage in Cambodia.
  • It was really fun to hang out with my cousin (ok, technically she’s my second cousin, but we grew up in the same town, so she feels like a first cousin) and her family on the other side of the world.  It was great to reminisce about growing up in New Wilmington, PA and the quirks and fun of having lived in such a small town.
  • Singapore is two hours behind Sydney, so we were able to Skype with my sister’s family while I was there… a mini family reunion via Skype.  I loved it.  🙂
  • The Night Safari next to the Singapore Zoo was really fun and unique.  I got to see wolves howling in unison.  It was pretty funny to see raccoons on display as a novelty (since I just had to go outside on trash night to see a raccoon in person when I was little!).
  • Singapore is very orderly, clean, and organized.
  • They take this order and cleanliness so seriously that they have signs like this in the subway station:
  • (Durian is a fruit that is quite smelly… I tried it once and remember it tasting a bit like what I imagine dirty feet might taste like)
  • I learned a new word: alight.  Instead of saying “get off” or “exit” at a stop, they say “alight.”
  • My cousin had an app on her phone to request a taxi.  The taxi was pretty much waiting for us at the curb when we got off the elevator from four floors up.
  • They have signs in the buses and subways that tell people to be polite and give up seats for elderly and pregnant passengers.
  • I was on one bus where the bus driver stopped the bus to ask people to move and get up for an elderly passenger.
  • Singaporeans are very hard-working people.  The morning I went to catch the bus to Malaysia, I looked a bit like a backpacker.  It felt like the song “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” from Sesame Street as I stood there surrounded by a bus full of businessmen and businesswomen dressed up for work.
  • I rode on the Singapore Flyer (their version of the London Eye) on a rainy day and enjoyed seeing the very unique Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino (three towers with a “ship” on top) from a different angle.
  • Also, I discovered that if you take enough poor attempts at long arm photos of yourself in a place, people will offer to take your photo for you. 🙂
  • On the Singapore Flyer

  • When I saw the sunshine the next morning, I hopped on the bus to go down to check out the view from the top of that building and experience the “ship.”

    The view from the top of the Marina Bay Sands

    Stay tuned for some more posts of what I’ve been up to lately and many posts of pictures of my adventures from the fancy camera!


Back Home Again in Indiana

Hello all!

Just wanted to post quickly and let you know I made it safely back to Indy yesterday evening after 30 straight hours of travel from Singapore.  I’ve never been so excited to sleep in my own bed as I was last night!

Now I have some unpacking, photo-editing, and family visiting to do, but I will leave you with a sneak peek of what is to come…

A view inside Angkor Wat

A Muslim fishing village outside Phnom Penh

The Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

I hope to post a review of my adventures through photos over the next couple months.  My friends and cousin were amazing hosts and I saw some beautiful sights in Southeast Asia and while seeing some of the sad realities of what’s happened in Cambodia, I also saw some really encouraging things happening.  Stop back on the blog if you can.  Have a great week!


A Day and a Half in Malaysia

With the Porta de Santiago in Melaka (fort built by Portuguese in 1511) and wishing for a cold Coke and some AC right about then…

Hello again!

Wanted to check in quickly before my summer travel adventures comes to an end.  This week I had a quick excursion to Malacca (spelled Melaka in Malay), Malaysia to explore a new place for a couple days.  It’s a town on the Strait of Melaka a few hours bus ride northwest of Singapore.  To all you motherly protective types out there: Yes, I was careful and yes, I’m back in Singapore with my cousin and her family safe and sound now.  I still have lots to see in Singapore, so I’ll hold off posting on that for now (save this one comment:  Yes, I agree with what I posted previously, Singapore really is the antithesis of Cambodia).

So, since I’m now obviously an expert on all things related to Malaysia after the 30 hours I spent in the country ;), let me share some thoughts from my time there:

  • The trip between Singapore and Malacca is almost all palm tree plantations with mountains in the distance… really beautiful.
  • After my time in Cambodia and Malaysia, I have a renewed appreciation for encountering a western style toilet with toilet paper supplied (it’s possible to find them in both places, but not always probable)
  • Knowing absolutely zero words in Malay, I had fun trying to figure out some cognates of English words from the language when I read their signs (a nice change from not being able to read any Khmer letters/signs in Cambodia).  See if you can figure any of these out:  motosikal, polis, komuniti, sekyen, taksi, bas ekspres
  • I sat in the first seat on the way there and noticed that the bus driver waved to every single coach bus that was driving the other way on the highway… and there were many.  I don’t think the driver on the way back was quite so diligent in his friendliness.
  • A lady gave me directions to find a restaurant on the second floor of the mall.  I searched and finally asked someone only to be reminded that when they say second floor, that means third floor in America.  🙂
  • There are such a wide variety of cultures represented in Malacca (Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc.), that I have no doubt that I was accidentally offending one or more at a time at various points in my journey.  I think I read somewhere that you’re supposed to only eat with your right hand… well, that’s kind of a struggle for left-handed me.  Consider this my apology to anyone I offended while I was there.  🙂
  • Blue eyes are quite the novelty there.  While I was taking a picture of the fountain in the town square, I had two strangers ask to have their photos taken with me… sweaty, grungy, overheated me and my blue eyes.  Some people in Vietnam are really going to enjoy those vacation photos for years to come.  🙂
  • The malls and rest areas where I was have prayer rooms designated for Muslim men and women.
  • I met a lovely woman and her daughter from Brunei on the bus ride back and we had a great conversation where I learned all about Brunei (a country on the island of Borneo) and I told them a bit about my life as well as the Amish culture around where I grew up.  It was a really fun way to spend the bus ride.
  • I was a bit startled when the woman introduced herself and assured me that she wasn’t a terrorist even though she wore a head covering.  It made me sad to think that she assumes most Americans think that way.
  • She offered me some cherries.  When I declined, she taught me that in Brunei when you decline food, you have to touch the food as you decline it.  Interesting custom!  I wonder what things we Americans do that they would find a bit weird…
  • I tried a food in Malacca called Cendol… it involves coconut milk, syrup, iced shavings, green noodley things, and red beans.  It was actually quite refreshing after a hot morning of sight-seeing, though I could have done without the red beans.
  • The river going through Malacca made for a really lovely place to walk and have breakfast.  I look forward to sharing pics of it when I go through them all.
  • There are these rickshaw type bikes for people to ride in called trishaws.. they’re covered in gaudy decorations and each one has a blaring sound system.  Sometimes a whole hoard of them will go down the street at once with lots of different music blasting… photos and videos do not do them justice though I’ll try to share what I can when I get back.  🙂

Thanks for reading.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend!!


Checking in from Phnom Penh

Bayon Temple near Angkor Wat

Hello again!

Just wanted to check in quickly before I fly out tomorrow morning to visit my cousin and her family in Singapore.  Everything has gone really well here in Cambodia.  The past few week included some fun venturing out and exploring parts of Phnom Penh on my own while Katy and Alan were in meetings.  I’ve enjoyed visits to Wat Phnom, Central Market, the National Museum, and the Royal Palace.  We just returned from a quick weekend trip to a seaside town, Kep.  The place we stayed was up the mountain a little ways and we had a great view of the mountain and the sea… one of my favorite combinations.  🙂

I need to get back to repacking, but wanted to share a few more observations, highlights, etc. from my time here.  I head off to “the antithesis of Cambodia” (Singapore) tomorrow.  We met up with a man who has lived in both countries last week and that was how he described it to me.

  • I wasn’t allowed into the Royal Palace last Wednesday due to my non tank top shirt’s lack of sleeves.  Oops!  I returned Thursday more appropriately dressed.  🙂
  • After my tour, I went back in to take a few more pictures of the Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace. Everyone had left for lunch, so I had the place to myself to take pictures of the beautiful gardens and stuppas around the pagoda… it was very peaceful and a nice break from the city for a few minutes.
  • The amount and variety of items that I’ve seen balanced on bicycles and motos here is unbelievable (from IV bags attached to people to live chickens to rice bags to TVs and hundreds of other things).
  • Cambodians always return your change (bills- they don’t use coins) using both hands (something I didn’t realize until a couple days ago… another cultural mistake I’ve made!)
  • On Wednesday I got to buy some fabric in a home on stilts with bamboo floor from the woman who made the fabric on the looms under the house… it was a really unique experience.
  • When you get gasoline at the stations, they thank you/try to get you to return business by giving you pop cans and tissues… it kind of feels like you’re getting treats for buying gas there.  And who knew that they still make Pepsi Twist in other countries!?
  • We went to church on an island that used to be a killing field.  We took a boat to get to it… I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had to take a boat to get to church.
  • They sang a song at church called God is Good (in Khmer) that I loved to sing in my church in Honduras in Spanish.
  • The Khmer people are very friendly.  Kids love to yell hello when they see foreigners.
  • They have these raquet things here that have the special light and shock thing to use as a mobile bug zapper.  best.invention.ever.
  • Alan and Katy’s neighborhood has a bunch of dogs that like to sing together in harmony a few times every night. That, plus some repetitive croaking (or maybe its chickens… I really can’t identify the animal that never stops making noise), plus some roosters thrown in, make for lovely white noise to fall asleep to.  Here is a clip Alan made of the dog choir:  http://www.alanandkaty.blogspot.com/2012/02/dog-choir.html
  • The Daughter’s Project girls are currently making some purses.  When they make a hundred, they get to go out for ice cream.  When we arrived on Friday, over a hundred were completed.  They’re excited for ice cream now.
  • A woman who was at church on Sunday and we saw again Wednesday told Katy that I’d gained weight since Sunday.  Apparently Cambodian food agrees with me.  🙂
  • I’ve found that my taxi bargaining skills that I perfected in Honduras have transferred pretty well to getting a TukTuk deal.
  • Crossing the street here is quite the experience.  You kind of follow the same rule that the moto and car drivers follow:  pull out without looking and then look left right left right left right left the whole way until you make it to the other side.  It’s very much like a game of Frogger.
  • It’s really nice to be able to skype with my sister in Australia when we’re both in similar time zones.
  • Have I mentioned that it’s really hot and humid here?!  Thankfully the experience of getting to know Khmer people, their culture, and their country makes it worth it.  🙂

Well that’s it for now.  I hope you’re well and staying cool whever you are!

The not-so-relaxing fish foot massage in Siem Reap

With Katy and Alan in Phnom Penh

With Katy and Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh


Update from Cambodia

Hello again!  I’m finally getting a chance to sit down at a computer and thought I’d send a reflection your way via this blog.

I continue to have a really great time seeing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hopeful here in Cambodia.  It’s been an slightly overwhelming time with so much to take in in the short week I’ve been here, but really great overall.

Instead of giving you the play by play on all I’ve seen and done, I’m just going to share some fun tidbits along with some other thoughts on my brief time here.  Please note that I realize that I’ve only been here one week and I am a clueless American.  Being someone who loves to experience new cultures and knowing that our culture is equally foreign and strange to those who visit it, I hope these comments do not offend anyone and the non-expert source will be considered while reading.

  • Gas bottles are sold on the side of the road in old Coca Cola and other clear pop bottles, but they also have regular gas stations.  I rode a moto up a mountain to a temple and cave and the guy had to stop for gas. He  filled it up with a coke bottle of gas and we were on our way in about 10 seconds!
  • They use US dollars here and their bills for small change (no coins).  I’m a pretty big fan of not exchanging money and knowing how much things are.
  • Walking around a foreign country with a pregnant friend has its advantages:  when people stop, stare, and talk about us, I can just assume that they’re talking about the pregnant foreigner and not me.  🙂
  • It’s REALLY hot and humid here
  • People wear pajama sets as normal clothes here…  and you can wear flipflops with everything.  This is my kind of place!
  • Angkor Wat is actually a temple complex of many temples built in the 12th century and covering tons of land.  We explored three temples and barely scratched the surface.
  • Khmer is not a tonal language (I thought it was since Thai is tonal.  I was wrong).
  • Siem Reap, Battambang, and Phnom Penh have many NGO projects that are helping provide livelihoods for Khmer people.
  • It’s been a privelege to get to see some of those projects in action.
  • The Green Mango Cafe & Bakery in Battambang not only helps train young women in culinary arts, but it also has really good food… I had the fried pickles everyday I was there.
  • Today I went to the workshops of the Daughters’ Project and byTavi (www.bytavi.com), two sewing projects of the Center for Global Impact(www.centerforglobalimpact.org).  It was so great to see the place where my ID holder and my mom’s purse was made (Buy their stuff, it’s great!).
  • Seeing projects like this and seeing women learning about God’s word has been an experience that has left me encouraged and hopeful for further progress in this country.
  • A cultural thing that people do here is to get their picture taken at these studios… basically Khmer glamour shots.  Since it’s super cheap, I decided to jump in to said cultural experience.  Let’s just say that fake hair, fake eyelashes, and a tiara were involved in this process.  One of the funniest experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
  • Tonight my friends had teachers from their Khmer language school over for dinner.  I had a great time talking with three of the young women (in English) about teaching a language and their perspective on refugees as they asked me about the refugees at my school.
  • When your main purpose in being in a country is to take pictures to document it, I’ve discovered that you end up without many pictures of yourself due to your big fancy camera being too big and fancy to give to other people for self pics.  However, due to the climate’s effect on my outer appearance, I think that I’m ok with this fact.  The Khmer glamour shot is the best I’ve looked all trip, so maybe that’s all I need to prove I was here.  🙂
  • Have I mentioned that it’s REALLY hot and humid here?

If you made it through the list, thanks for allowing me to share a few pieces of my experience.  Tomorrow is going to be a tough and heavy day as I visit the Killing Fields and S21 museum to learn about some of Cambodia’s darker Khmer Rouge history.  Tough stuff that I’m not sure how to take in, but I’m thankful that it’s something people are willing to learn from today in hopes that history will not repeat itself.

Thanks again for reading.  Until next time…

jenni