Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Highlights

As I sat down to work on this year's highlights, I noticed a blogging trend - it's quite the bell curve having more at the beginning, middle, and end. The spring and fall seem to just be recaps busy with the regular activities of school. However, it was still a busy and fun year! Here's some of the highlights of 2018:

January - 

I started the year off with a girl's road trip to Georgia, followed by some sledding and snow with our family, and Evelyn and Olivia starting preschool with Madison! We also found out this month we would be relocating to Qatar, but weren't able to announce it yet despite Jason starting the job already at the end of this month.

February - 

I carried on single parenting and starting to prepare mentally for the move. The girls were sick a lot of the month and it flew by quickly (recap here). Jason was able to come visit to renew his visa and we were all thankful!

March - 

We started the month by having our site visit to Doha and finally announcing the move. Later the girls were off school for a couple weeks and thankfully my mom came to visit us so I had some help and relief. We celebrated Novruz and spent our time relaxing and enjoying Baku.

April - 

We celebrated Easter with friends before having to say goodbye to my mom. There was more sickness this month (strep throat) and the Formula One car race that I had to take the girls to since Jason wasn't able to fly back for it. The rest of the month was spent enjoying the nice weather and having a surprise visit from Jason!

May - 

The month was filled with move prep (like making purchases of Azeri goods before our shipment was packed), a visit from my friend Emily (which allowed me to play tourist and see some new spots in Baku and revisit some favorites), and a family trip to Israel in the middle.

June - 

The month seemed to be in fast-forward as we celebrated the girl's birthday with a Moana party, had our shipment packed and moved to temporary housing, flew to Georgia for a long weekend, had family pictures taken in Old City, and then had Madi's graduation from Bumblebee and lots of goodbyes to previous friends.

July - 

On the first of the month we headed to a hot and sunny Doha with Jason and explored the indoors of the city's many malls. We spent a little over a week with him before heading to America for the rest of the summer. We were able to visit Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma this summer and loved all the time we had with friends and family.

August - 

I left the girls with my mom in Oklahoma and flew to meet Jason in South Africa to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary. It was an amazing trip! We headed back to America to collect the girls and fly to our new home in Doha.

September - 

We got our shipment once we landed in Doha and started to get settled in our new home. The girls started at their new school and we found a church home and began different activities like swimming, Awana, gymnastics, and Bible study.

October - 

New country, new germs. A lot of the month was illness, but we had a lot of fun celebrating Halloween in our new compound, planting a garden, and surviving some massive thunderstorms and flooding multiple times.

November - 

It finally started to cool down this month enough for us to enjoy being outdoors for longer periods. We explored parks and playgrounds nearby and enjoyed the one in our compound as well. We celebrated Thanksgiving and my birthday and snuck in a much-needed date night. (See everything here.)

December - 

The first half of the month was busy with end of year Christmas programs at church, Parent's Night at school, and the end of term Family Day and Qatar National Day for the girls. Shortly after their term ended we flew to Sri Lanka to explore the country and celebrate Christmas (blog post to come later, but you can see pics on my Insta.)

Overall we had a wonderful 2018 visiting six countries, seeing family and friends in America, celebrating our anniversary, and moving to a new city. There have been challenges and changes, but the girls have handled them amazingly and we are so thankful for all that we've been blessed with this year. Goodbye 2018 - we won't forget you!

Here's previous year highlights - 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013


Best Nine 2018

I love seeing everyone's post of their Best Nine and making one for us each year. (I also love printing them on canvases so perhaps a minor addiction would be a better description - ha!)

Here's a casual and formal Best Nine of my sweet and sassy crew -

And here's a Best Nine of family pictures from all of our adventures this year!


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sri Lankan Adventure

We knew we would be staying on this side of the continent for Christmas and the girl's break in school. As we started looking at places I remembered a couple friends having amazing things to say about Sri Lanka and they were so right! We booked our trip with the same travel agency they recommended, Blue Lanka, and I would highly recommend them if you are looking to move around the island and see a variety (the driving is quite crazy and I wouldn't recommend it for foreigners, even after successfully driving in Baku!)

We had an absolutely lovely trip and I would definitely love to visit again - the food - wow; the mountains - gorgeous and much needed for this mountain girl after a few months in the desert; the beaches - a favorite for the girls. We really did get to see so much and packed the trip maybe a bit too tight in hindsight, but I am thankful our girls are such good travelers.

I think it's easiest for me to organize the blog into days / area we visited. And there's so many pictures. I probably should have narrowed it down more, but then I may never get around to finishing this blog post so just scroll quickly. ;-)  We landed in the middle of the night and after a few hours of sleep packed up to head northeast towards the middle of the island.

Sigiriya (Days 1-3):

En route to Sigiriya we stopped at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. We got a chance to feed the elephants, see them bathing, and learn about how elephant dung paper is made (and of course buy a notebook as a souvenir, haha)

The next day we headed to Sigiriya Lions Rock where the girls rocked at climbing up the mountain. They skipped the very last bit (which was crowded and steep) and hung with our guide while Jason and I went on up.

Afterward we headed to Polonnaruwa Ancient City and explored the ruins.

The following day we drove to Anuradhapura Ancient City. In hindsight, I would have skipped this. It was a lot of driving to see more stupas that we would see throughout the trip. The girls were pretty tired of the van at this point and it wasn't much fun for them. They were troopers though and pushed through!

The afternoon was definitely my favorite activity of our trip. We headed back towards Sigiriya and did a village tour. We took a tuk tun and then a boat to arrive at the village and had a meal prepared by hand and eaten on leaves and without utensils. The food was amazing and the girls loved eating outdoors and being on the boat. It was very authentic and enjoyable - a must do in my opinion.

The hotel we stayed at during our time was the Wild Grass Nature Resort. It was a secluded and fabulous villa. The staff were very helpful, made delicious Sri Lankan food, and loved interacting with the girls. There were tears from Madi when we left and each girl had a favorite guy, haha.

Kandy (Days 4-5)

After our tearful goodbyes we got in the van to head south to Kandy (and The Grand Kandyan). We stopped at a temple and then lunch along the way in the cutest spice garden restaurant.

We also visited the Dambulla Cave Temples along the way and the girls loved exploring the different rooms of the caves (and rocked another long hike up to the entrance). Once we finally made it to our hotel the girls enjoyed some pool time and a view of the mountains.

The next morning we headed to Kandy Temple of the Tooth and got to see the gold stupa which holds Buddha's tooth and is opened every seven years or something like that. It's not always located in Kandy so it was crowded and an experience to see.

We grabbed some lunch and bought traditional outfits for the girls to wear to a cultural show that evening.

We spent part of the day exploring the Botanical Gardens. After the hustle and bustle of the past few days it was great to stop and let the girls run around playing and smelling flowers.

That evening we enjoyed the cultural show and fire walk. Everyone loved the girls' outfits and it was wonderful to see their dances.

Nuwara Eliya (Day 6)

As we headed to this little England town we stopped and took a short hike to Ramboda Waterfalls. Afterwards we stopped at the Damro Tea Plantation and each enjoyed a cup of their local brew before  finishing our drive to the Grand Hotel.

Udawalawe (Day 7)

The next morning we explored the markets and the quaint little town before heading to a pleasant walk around Lake Gregory, a popular summer home location for Colombo businessmen. Finally we hopped on a train journey from Nanu Oya to Ella and then finished the drive to Grand Udawalawe.

Bentota (Days 8-10)
We woke up sooo early to go on a jeep safari in Udawalawe National Park. It definitely wasn't the experience we had in South Africa but it was still a lot of fun and the girls enjoyed seeing the animals so close and being in the open vehicle.

We headed back to the hotel fro breakfast and to load up and make our way to Bentota, where we'd spend the next couple days relaxing at The Surf Hotel. Along the way we stopped at the Galle Dutch Fort and City as well as a Turtle Farm and Hatchery.

When we finally arrived at our hotel the girls immediately changed into swimsuits and hit the beach. We were fortunate to have a room on the ground floor that opened up right to the pools, a green area perfect for play, and of course the amazing beach. We were welcomed with light rain followed by a full rainbow and a gorgeous sunset. We enjoyed ourselves for awhile before getting fancy for a Christmas Eve special dinner the hotel organized for guests.

We spent the next couple days (Christmas and Boxing Day) just enjoying the hotel and alternating between the beach and the pool. I was able to sneak away for a massage and facial and we did a little hiking onto the nearby rocks at Madi's request. The stay was lovely!

Colombo (Day 11)

We weren't ready to leave when the time came as the girls were enjoying the beach and it also meant our trip was coming to a close. We made the trek to Colombo and because we were all a bit exhausted still opted to do our Colombo tour via the van with McDonald's happy meals for the girls -ha!

However, we did get out and explore one final temple, Gangaramaya Temple, and I am glad we didn't miss it. The temple has a collection of Buddhas from around the world, Buddha's hair, and lots of jeweled Buddhas. The girls took on the challenge of counting the Buddhas which proved to be an effective way to pass the time, ha.

We were more than happy afterwards to check into our hotel, Shangri La, where we were surprised with an upgrade to a suite via Blue Lanka. It was a wonderful way to end the trip!

The girls were incredibly sad to say goodbye to our fabulous guide, Mr Rishan, and we hope when we visit Sri Lankan again he can be our guide because he helped make our experience unforgettable. He was knowledgeable about all the sites we visited, helpful with the girls, incredibly safe when driving, always on time, and adjusted our plans according to our girls' needs - basically everything we could have wanted in a guide!

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