U.S. Visit! | November 2013

November was another busy, yet blessed month which began with a road trip to sunny Southern California. It took us ten hours to drive south to San Diego (my birthplace), where we spent a few wonderful days with my brother David and his wife Shannon (despite me being pretty sick, surviving on meds). My dad had rented us an amazing beach bungalow, and we were so grateful for this mini vacation amidst our active U.S. schedule. David and Shannon generously treated us to a visit to the world-famous SeaWorld marine animal park and aquarium. It was precious to see my kids bond again so quickly and deeply with my brother and his wife. We were also able to have some quality adult time/conversations too, once the kids were in bed. After stopping by a salon for Paton’s first haircut (a little hard for Mama to say goodbye to those golden curls) we then headed north to Carlsbad, where my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Tom live. We spent an evening enjoying their sweet company, along with my beloved cousin R.T. and his so-great-with-my-kids daughter, Kaitlyn. Our journey continued back up north to La Habra, where Nate’s sister, Lydia and family live. They graciously hosted us for more than a week as we traveled around the L.A. area meeting with friends, attending Grace Community Church/The Master’s Seminary events and making a trip to The Master’s College to visit Pahnette and Krumm! (Cambodian friends who are currently in the U.S. to pursue a college education). Lydia and her hubby even hosted an open house for us, so that we could see multiple friends at once (so wonderful to see all of you!). It was fun to see several members from the 2012 TMC short term team to Cambodia! Nate had a fairly full schedule during our time in L.A. with ministry responsibilities etc., so the kids and I were able to spend quality time with Lydia and little Lindleigh. I am truly blessed by wonderful in-laws, and I consider Lydia a dear friend, as much as a sister-in-law. My kids ADORE their older Wells cousins, but it’s delightful to have a newer cousin, Lindleigh, who is a little closer in age. The kids and I also visited the La Habra Children’s Museum during our stay, and they definitely did not want to leave! We enjoyed a picnic at a local park and a trip to the beautiful Heritage children’s park with the gals. We extended our trip a little longer, since we were having such a lovely time with Lydia and her family, and then we continued up north, back to the Bay Area. We were gone for ten days or so.

When we returned “home” (Nate’s parents’ at that point), we continued meeting with friends, family and supporters as we sought to connect after being gone for two years. The kids and I joined my dear friend/former room mate Jess and her children at Happy Hollow, a place that I frequented as a child. We also had the rare opportunity to take our niece Aubrey out for her birthday (we don’t usually visit the U.S. in November). One of the hardest aspects of living far away is missing so much of the “little ones” lives (not that high schooler Aubrey is little, now!). With our adult relationships, there has been a solid bond established for years, but with the younger ones–the nephews, nieces and children of our friends–there is a definite ache that we are missing the significant years, and a fear that they won’t know us with the same familiarity that they know other uncles/aunts etc.

It was also a joy to visit with several of our “older” friends. We’re so grateful for the many relationships that have been sustained over the years–friends from childhood, high school and beyond. We are grateful that we can reconnect again, even after years apart, especially since long-term relationships in Cambodia are very rare (so many people coming and going). We cherish the unique bond that we have with friends (and family!) who have known us pre-Cambodia, pre-kids, pre-marriage, and pre-high school, for some of you. Thank you for continuing to invest in our lives, even though it’s not always easy to maintain such friendships. You encourage us in ways that you cannot possibly imagine.

We celebrated Nate’s 31st birthday on November 25th with a big breakfast at my parents (where we were then living), followed by a delicious lunch at his parents’ home. It’s a treat to celebrate birthdays with family! Nate’s mom pulled out some of the old family albums and the kids enjoyed looking at pictures of Daddy when he was a child. I always find myself quietly savoring such moments.

The kids experienced their first official dental appointments with the best dentist in town–Opa! My dad has been practicing dentistry for over 35 years (?) and as a dental professional myself (without being biased as a daughter!), he is truly one of the best out there! I’m so grateful that my kids had such a wonderfully positive first appointment, and that they had such an outstanding dentist to check their little teeth! I’ll greatly miss the benefits of having a dentist dad when he eventually retires, but for now, I’ll definitely take advantage!

My sister-in-law Kim and her girls wanted to bless Ava and I with a special holiday tea experience. It was fun to get dressed up and drive to a beautiful teahouse in Santana Row (a quaint European-inspired shopping avenue). Ava was thrilled to enjoy her first tea, and she relished being considered as one of the “big girls”. After the delicious, lovely tea, we drove to Valley Fair, the nearby mall, and enjoyed some holiday shopping. It was a delight to spend this quality time with just my sister-in-law and the girls, and both Ava and I will fondly remember this special occasion for many years to come.

Thanksgiving. It’s one of the holidays when I’ve really missed being with family (as much as we’ve enjoyed spending it with our team mates and visiting friends!). It had been four years since experiencing it in the U.S., and our kids had really never had an American Thanksgiving (Ava was one month old—pretty sure that doesn’t count!). Needless to say, I was ecstatic to finally spend it with everyone. Since our families live in the same town, it is very convenient, but also tricky when it comes to holidays (especially when it’s been four years since we’ve enjoyed the holidays with them!). To make the day a little less chaotic, we were going to celebrate the feast with Nate’s family on Thanksgiving Day, and then again with my family, a few days later (to let our stomachs digest the copious amounts of food!). Thanksgiving Day arrived, and we enjoyed the Norris (my family) traditional Thanksgiving breakfast–a pastry turkey (similar to a cinnamon roll) with eggs, bacon etc. The kids were delighted by the Thanksgiving Day parade (televised from NYC). A few hours later, we headed to Nate’s parents’ home to have the traditional Thanksgiving feast with everyone. Aunts and Uncles drove hours to attend the celebration with us. We had been there 30 minutes or so, when my brother-in-law noticed a huge lump (size of a baseball for you Americans) on the side of Ava’s neck. She had a very slight fever earlier, but nothing too concerning, and no other symptoms. The lump had grown in a very short span of time, so it was definitely a concern. Here we were, at our first Thanksgiving in four years, and we were faced with the reality that we would have to leave the festivities and take Ava to the Emergency Room (since it was a holiday, and all of the clinics were closed). Disappointed? Extremely. Worried about my daughter’s prognosis? Disturbingly, not really. My mother-in-law even commented as we were rushing out of the door to drive to the hospital, “You seem so calm about this!” and I realized that I WAS calm about it. We were used to dealing with the substandard medical services of Cambodia. The thought that we could drive to a quality hospital (or even call an ambulance if needed!) where well-trained medical experts would evaluate my child and give her the proper diagnosis and treatment (the majority of the time)–It was incredible! It made me realize, though, that I had learned to trust the Lord much more in Cambodia than in the U.S., especially when it involved my children. In reality, it should be the same trust wherever we are…regardless of the circumstances.  They administered antibiotics almost immediately, because the infection was spreading so rapidly (tests later revealed that it was a strep infection). We spent six or so hours in the hospital and then drove back to Nate’s parents’ home, where several family members were still present (Kim and Lydia and driven to the hospital, but we were discharged soon after). We enjoyed the Thanksgiving feast leftovers and then had dessert with everyone. So yes, it wasn’t the “finally having an American Thanksgiving!” day that we had pictured, but we had much to be grateful for!

As mentioned, we then celebrated the holiday a few days later with my side of the family–no hospital visits on that day! It was a joy to finally partake of this American tradition with most of my beloved family (we were definitely missing my Texas brother and his wife!). The occasion was made even more jubilant by an enormous announcement by my brother, David, and his wife! Expecting their first child in July! With my sister pregnant with their second, my brother, Trent, and his wife pregnant with their first (due in April), this would be the third grandchild born in 2014! (and this was before we were pregnant…making a total of four grandchildren born in the same year!) Our Thanksgiving celebration ended with three of the uncles/dads running around the house with the kids on their shoulders. Such sweet memories to be savored, indeed!

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