Crazy Vacation Stories: Mexico Edition

When Jack was two years old, we took him to Mexico for a beach + adventure trip. Sitting on a beach is my ideal vacation. But Jeff needs almost constant activity, so we had a variety of things planned that made both of us happy. And Jack was along for the ride.


Jack is asleep in this picture, hence why Jeff is stabilizing his head.

First up, swimming with whale sharks. Not quite as dangerous as it sounds, since they only eat plankton, but they are the size of school buses. When I booked the whale shark tour from home, they said no children were allowed. But since we offered to pay for him, and convinced the tour company Jack would be no problem, they agreed.

Next I asked our pediatrician what to do to avoid Jack getting seasick. He suggested a small dose of Benadryl before we get on the boat. Sounds easy enough.

We boarded the boat and the benadry knocked Jack out. He sat asleep on Jeff’s lap while the boat motored out to find some whale sharks. The idea is that once you find a whale shark, two people at a time get in the water and swim with it for a few minutes. Also, since whale sharks are wild animals and unpredictable, this all happens quickly.


Whale Shark = Size of a School Bus

Finally we find a whale shark and Jeff and I are up first. The boat captain picks up Jack, who is still sleeping, and hands him to another female passenger. I tried to protest that Jeff and I go separately so one of us is with Jack, but the boat captain assured me Jack would be fine because “she’s a lady. She take care of baby.” Oh, that settles it. I hollered to her “his name is Jack” and jumped into the water.

Jeff and I got our three minutes with the whale shark, and got back on the boat as two other girls jumped in. Then the whale sharks were gone. You were supposed to see many of them while they’re migrating so that all the passengers had a turn to swim with them. But since they disappeared, we drove around in the boat searching for more whale sharks.

Hours passed. Then the boat ran out of gas. We are floating in the middle of the ocean. [This is a true story.] Eventually another boat pulls up and takes the passengers from our boat who hadn’t swam with the whale sharks yet. That leaves the two boat captains, two Australian girls, Jeff, Jack, and me. Floating in the ocean.

Another boat pulls up and begins towing us back to shore. By this point in the trip, Jack’s Benadryl has definitely worn off and we’ve run out of ways to entertain him on a small boat. To make it worse, the bobbing up and down over high waves mixed with the exhaust fumes of the boat towing us, is causing Jeff and I to feel seasick.

We are both laying down while half watching Jack who is eating some raisins. Nothing quite wakes you up and removes your seasickness like hearing your husband say to the toddler, “Did you just put a raisin in your nose?!”

The obedient, well-behaved child, who has never even thought of putting anything in his nose, chose this time to try it. We are being s l o w l y towed back to land, but no land is in sight at this point. We ask the captains for a first aid kit, hoping there would be some tweezers. How do you say tweezers in Spanish? They ask if we need a bandaid. Umm no.

Next the Australian girls in their 20s. One has nothing with her. The other digs around her purse and at the very bottom, where you have crumbs and old hair bands and gum wrappers, finds a paper clip. “Do you want this?”

A quick look at our circumstances reveals no better options. Jeff straightens out part of the paper clip, intending to stab the raisin. I hold Jack’s head still… although the boat is bobbing in the middle of the ocean… Jeff goes for it and thankfully we successfully remove the raisin. (Cue the choirs of angels)


Here is an example of watching Jack closely 🙂

We certainly could have had a dire medical situation on our hands, especially considering it still took us hours to get back to shore. The rest of the boat ride is a bit of a blur. I’m pretty sure we didn’t take our eyes off of Jack and gave him no small objects. Needless to say he learned his lesson.

As for the boat running out of gas, and the tour taking twice as long as planned, I think we got a small refund. At least we had our three minutes with the whale sharks.

My Birthday List

20120331-105506.jpgHave you ever had to brush your teeth using bottled water? Or make sure your mouth is sealed shut while showering so no water drips get in? I have. A few trips we have taken required our dependence on bottled water to avoid “travelers diarrhea” and other diseases, including Thailand, Mexico, and most of all Africa. Not only could we not drink the water (or ice), but we had to make sure not to eat any fruit or vegetables that we didn’t peel ourselves.

After a week climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, we ate lunch with our guides and porters and a “restaurant.” It didn’t look like any kind of restaurant we have in the states. We ate ribs from cows… But I saw the cows in Africa and they are so skinny you can see their bones. Along with the ribs were cucumbers, which I avoided because they would’ve been washed with unclean water. Jeff, however, had a brain lapse and began eating the cucumbers until I elbowed him and gave him a look. Not wanting to be rude, we didn’t make a big deal about it. He only consumed a couple small slices before realizing his mistake, and he was ok.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe recently returned from Cancun, Mexico where we also had to avoid tap water. However Cancun caters to tourists, so often the hotels and tour companies are equipped with purified water. But even the dependence on bottled water and making sure I had enough for the day and night, created a little anxiety in me. I am used to drinking 80-100 ounces of water a day! I’m constantly refilling my water bottle at home. Being in Mexico made me a little nervous… what if I can’t get enough water? What do I do?

The trip served as a reminder to me of the luxury I have living in America and having an abundance of clean water flowing from my faucets – every faucet. I shower in water clean enough to drink. I flush the toilet with water clean enough to drink. Meanwhile people all over the world walk miles to collect water which is unclean and causes disease.

According to, “Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses. 90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old.”

DSC_6896On Friday I turn 33 years old. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than helping meet actual needs for people, like clean water. Would you consider donating $33, or any amount, to Charity : Water and help me end the crisis of clean water? My goal is to raise $1,000 and right now every donation is matched by one of Charity : Water’s generous donors.

Clean water for all global citizens would cost $9 billion. Sound impossible? Annual US and European spending on perfume is $12 billion. Maybe if we realign our priorities we can make a real difference and save people’s lives. Join me by giving people a better life by giving them clean water. Donate today at Charity : Water.

When You Get an Envelope from the Red Light Enforcement Police

Jeff, Jack and I went up to Wisconsin over the weekend to visit family. The first chance he got, Jack climbed on to his three year old cousin’s new battery operated tractor. Jack sat on it happily moving the steering wheel but going no where. He didn’t Peg_Perego_Turf_Tractor_a1fc2645ca1e0b36e981_1know it moved. Then his cousin comes in, “Hey Jack! To make the tractor go you have to push the pedal with your foot.”

Such clear instruction. Jack lifted his legs up, located the pedal, and pushed his foot on it. Vroom vroom!

On the drive home I was thinking about how boring my car looks. Jeff’s car has lots of character. It stands out. It’s easy to spot on the road. My car blends in to the hundreds, or thousands, of other SUVs that are so similar. I was thinking about adding a window decal but Jeff has a thing against car decorations.

Me: Are you against stickers on your car, or my car too?

Jeff: What do you want to do?

Me: Add a Valpo decal in the window or Young Life.

Jeff: No you can’t do that. You could get running boards, or hella lights, or a bumper bar on the front of your car like police cars have.

Me: What? Those sound a lot more expensive than the $3.50 sticker I want.7995700002_large

What are “hella lights” you ask? Yes, me too. In fact I wondered if that was the technical term or what they are referred to in rap songs. It’s actually the brand name. See the picture for an example of how cool my SUV could look.

Me: What would I even use hella lights for?

Jeff: If you’re out at night and find yourself in the middle of a pick up game of basketball, you could flip on your lights to light up the court so the game can go on.

Me: That is often a situation I find myself in.

Then Jeff fell asleep. Don’t worry boys, I’ll get you home safely.


In other car-related news, yesterday an envelope came in the mail from the Police Department’s Red Light Enforcement Office. It was addressed to me. Yikes. I opened it to find… pictures of Jeff’s car driving through the red light!! Woohoo it’s not me!! Haha… you see Jeff and I bought new cars at the same time but the way we did it, we basically switched license plates. So that’s why it was addressed to me.

I put the ticket back in the envelope in the stack of mail and left it for Jeff to see.

Jeff: Uh oh, someone got a ticket!

(opens envelope)

Jeff: Oh no… it’s me!

Me: Muahahaha!

Perhaps the Red Light Cameras have taken pity on my boring-looking SUV and they only pay attention to fancy cars like Jeff’s.

Not What I Would Have Planned

Last weekend we had plans to go to Lake Geneva for a race Jeff was running (as I wrote about yesterday). We were going to leave at noon on Friday and spend the afternoon introducing Jack to the swimming pool. However, no one seems to have created an app to sync my iPhone calendar with our home paper calendar, and thus we had a conflict.

My sister-in-law had given me tickets at Christmas to a concert Friday night. So Jeff and I decided we would go to the concert, come home, wake Jack up, and drive up to Lake Geneva late Friday night. We assumed Jack would just go back to sleep in the car. Instead, Jeff slept in the car and Jack talked to me while I drove.

It ended up working out though because the wake for my friend Heidi who died earlier in the week was Friday afternoon. Jeff had an appointment to get his car worked on, so I took Jack and met my mom and sister at the funeral home. We knew there would be quite a crowd so we got there almost when it began.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it… hundreds of people waiting in a line that weaved through the large funeral home, looking at pictures of Heidi with her family and friends as some of her favorite Fernando Ortega songs played. The vast crowd was surely a testimony to her life: friendly, caring, compassionate, joyful.

If it was any other concert, I would have skipped it. But it was Chris Tomlin. I have all of his albums and have never seen him in concert. He’s one of the best contemporary Christian song writers and worship leaders. So I rushed home after the wake and Jeff and I rushed to make it to the concert on time.

Going from a wake to a concert isn’t what I would have planned. But this wasn’t just a concert, it was truly focused on Jesus, worshipping him with thousands of people around. As the first song played, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. Kari Jobe singing We Are“Make the most of the time we have left, We are the light of the world… We gotta let the light shine”

That’s Why I Wear Socks!

Even if you dated your spouse for a long time before you got married, there are still new things you learn once you’re married – about your spouse AND yourself. Most of these differences I discovered between Jeff and I led back to how we were raised. For example, I think its totally normal to eat “peanut butter bread” (bread with peanut butter on it) as a side to any pasta dish. That’s what we did in my family. (We are not Italian, in case that wasn’t obvious by the choice of peanut butter bread and not garlic bread).

One of the first “new things” I learned about Jeff was that he always wears socks in hotel rooms. Dingy hotels. Super nice hotels. It makes no difference. At home Jeff normally walks around barefoot. Despite my advice that the hotel floor probably gets cleaned more than our floors at home, Jeff insists on wearing socks at a hotel. I think its hilarious.

Last weekend we spent a night in Lake Geneva so Jeff could run the Gladiator Assault Challenge (you should read that with a low, growly, warrior voice). Jack and I went along so we could swim in the hotel pool. After dropping Jeff off at the race, a seven mile mud obstacle course on a ski slope, while it was 30 degrees and snowing – in April, Jack and I stopped at Target to pick up swim diapers because of course I forgot that the main purpose of our trip.

photo 2

Trying to wrangle a bathing suit on Jack, alone, is quite a challenge, which left me wondering how our swim was going to go. But we persevered and soon found ourselves at the pool with the elderly swim aerobics class. They must have been very focused on their water fitness because few of them even looked twice at Jack, let alone waved or smiled. Didn’t they see how cute he was in his little swim trunks?

Jack had fun splashing around but we only lasted about twenty minutes before realizing Jack really needed a nap. I wrapped a towel around him and tried to balance him on a chair while wrapping a towel around me and then decided I would just drip dry because I didn’t want to drop Jack on the floor. Especially while people were watching.

Back at our room I realized I should have turned the heat up before we left for the pool. I laid Jack on a towel on the floor, took his swim trunks and diaper off quickly so I could put him in warm clothes and get him in bed. It sounds so easy when you write it down. After Jack rolled over in this process several times, I basically sat on him to try to keep him still. Even that didn’t work. The boy is very strong.

Finally his wet clothes and diaper are off. But before I can get a new diaper on him, he rolls over twice, gets up on his hands and knees, and pees. Like a dog (except he didn’t lift his leg). It happened so fast there was no stopping it. No attempt was made at catching the pee.

I managed to get a diaper and clothes on Jack and put him in bed. When telling our adventure to Jeff he said “That’s why I wear socks!” Maybe wearing socks in hotel rooms is a smart idea…

Jeff crawling through mud under barbed wire at the Tough Mudder last summer

Jeff crawling through mud under barbed wire at the Tough Mudder last summer

I told Jeff I was blogging about this and asked if it was ok. His response: “Yes because not wearing socks in a hotel room is gross!” This coming from the same man who runs obstacle courses covered in mud while its freezing outside.

Shining in Darkness

20130411-172241.jpg Have you ever been in complete darkness? I don’t mean spiritually or depression, I mean physically can’t see any light?

Amidst our world travels – Australia, Africa, Thailand – we’ve also been to Mammoth Cave Kentucky. The largest cave in the world. Far below the surface of the earth, Jeff and I crawled through tunnels and squeezed through tight spaces with only our headlights to light our way. While we were down there our guide had everyone turn their lights off just for a minute. Complete darkness.

It’s a little scary. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face! But as soon as one light was turned on, I felt safe again. I could see everything around me.

Jesus says that we, as His followers, are the light of the world. He says “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

I’ve always wondered how to do that. Sometimes people compliment me for something I’ve done. But how do I get them to compliment God? How do I live in such a way so that I shine, giving glory to the Lord?

I think my friend Heidi was a great example of that. Today at Bible study our small groups combined to share stories and remember Heidi. Several people talked about how she was a light. Set apart. A special friend. Most of us knew while Heidi was living how special she was. But now that she’s in heaven we realize even more how great her impact on us. And we praise God for giving us such a light as an example.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

What have you learned – from Heidi or from other faithful leaders – that God is calling you to put into practice? How will you shine so that people see your good deeds and glorify God?

Lord may You show us the work You want to do in our lives to make us more like You. Help us to seek You with all our heart and mind. To hear Your voice comforting us and leading us. May You shine Your light through us to reach this dark world. In Jesus name we ask these things. Amen.


“When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4


The first night on Mt Kilimanjaro amazed me. During the night I got out of the tent to go to the bathroom, put on my headlight and shoes, unzipped the tent door, and stepped outside. Awestruck. I stared into the sky, marveling at how many stars there were and how bright they were. I certainly didn’t need my headlight on. In fact the need to go to the bathroom almost left. I’ve been to a lot of places in the middle of nowhere and seen a lot of stars – Iowa cornfields, Wisconsin farms, Wyoming mountains. But all of those stars I’ve ever seen in my life -added together – didn’t come close to the number of stars I saw that first night on Kilimanjaro.

I’m amazed that the God who created the universe, put each of these stars in their place, and calls them all by name… He knows me. He thinks about me. He hears me when I call to Him. He loves me.

Yesterday I had the cerclage removed. I was a little nervous about how painful it might be. It was uncomfortable but not super painful. As I waited for the doctor, I read through the first few Psalms. Every time I read Psalm 8 I think specifically about Africa, the stars, the animals, God’s amazing creation, yet He knows even me and hears me when I call.

I am officially off of bed rest. No restrictions on my activities! As I slowly regain some strength, I’m running errands and organizing things around the house. We are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Baby Chun. We can’t wait to meet this little guy and introduce him to all of you who have been praying for us on this journey. Thank you for trusting with us that the Lord of all creation hears our prayers.

Where Do You Run

When I first started training for Kilimanjaro, I thought Jeff and I would spend some quality time running together. Although I’m athletic, I’m not a runner, and Jeff had already been running regularly. A few times we’d run together and inevitably Jeff would get in front of me, then run backwards so he could see me, and shout “run through the pain!” which sounded about as encouraging as you’d expect from a Marines drill sergeant. Needless to say, for the sake of our marriage, I ran separately from Jeff.

In some ways, don’t tell him I said this, Jeff was right. I needed to run through the pain. I had knee problems and my lungs felt like they had collapsed, but I had to learn to keep pushing forward despite the pain. On Kilimanjaro if I had stopped when I was I pain, I wouldn’t have made it to the top. I wouldn’t have even completed day one. But when our picture was taken at the summit and we had completed the journey, I had a great sense of accomplishment. We reached our goal!

The last couple weeks I’ve had a lot of pain in my hips and my right shoulder. You wouldn’t think you could get injured on bed rest, but apparently it’s possible. Being pregnant though, my solutions are limited. I can’t just run to the doctor or to medicine. All I can take is Tylenol but I really need an anti-inflammatory medicine.

I’m not telling you these things so you think I’m tough, or so you’ll feel bad for me. I just wonder, where do you run when you have “pain”? If the pain is physical, or sickness, do you run to the doctor or the medicine cabinet? Do you run to friends complaining about your situation and seeking compassion? Do you run to alcohol or drugs to numb your brokenness?

Right now I’m glad I can’t run to medicine for relief. It forces me to run to the Great Physician, the only One who is able to heal me completely, or give me the strength to endure. As Paul says in the Bible: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10


Eyes On The Prize

Eight and a half weeks of bed rest complete. Six and a half weeks remain. At the doctor last Thursday I received more good news: my cervix is totally closed again, I can sit up for four hours a day, and I can go to church every week! Just to know I have the option to sit up feels like a new freedom.

Sunday marked 30 weeks in this pregnancy, which means I only have about 10 more weeks until I’m holding the baby in my arms. I’ve been so focused on getting through each day that I’ve hardly thought about the end of this journey. It had seemed so far away, but now feels like its right around the corner. I think as the end of this race draws near it is even harder to be disciplined.

Over the weekend Jeff ran the Go Ruck Challenge. As a team, the 28 people who signed up loaded their backpacks with 40 pounds of bricks and water, and set off at 1am to do whatever their leader told them. Twelve hours and 20 miles later they completed their journey. Push ups, sit ups, carrying each other, in and out of Lake Michigan, up and down hills, crawling, crab walking, and more. They were exhausted and sore, but they finished the race and they did it together.

The journey of faith is hard to complete on your own. It’s so much better to have other believers surrounding you, encouraging you, facing challenges with you. I went to church Sunday for the first time in 9 weeks. I had tears in my eyes just walking in. Even though we didn’t see people we know, it was encouraging to know all the people around us are also walking in faith following Christ.

I think church is such a special place to come together with other believers and worship the Lord. We can lean on each other to finish the race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2


Kilimanjaro or Bed Rest (Part 2)

I don’t think I answered the question of which one is harder: climbing Kilimanjaro or 15 weeks of bed rest. Last week I probably would have said Kilimanjaro. This week bed rest is getting to me a little.

I’ve found myself longing for strange things, like to go to Target. Who can live four months without going to Target?! My sisters gave me all their maternity clothes, most of which are really cute, but instead I’m wearing t-shirts and pajama pants. The one day each week I go to the doctor is my chance to dress nice, except when I come home I’ll be stuck downstairs the rest of the day so I still have to wear something comfortable. Oh the challenges…

Kilimanjaro required a lot of physical training to prepare, as well as a new level of mental toughness. Although I think disciplining my mind is certainly paying off now. What got me through the grueling 8 hour summit in the middle of the night in below zero temperatures was the thought that I’ll have a picture of me at the top and it will be my Facebook profile picture forever. Funny motivation.

One of the most challenging parts of Kilimanjaro for me was not having a lot of people to talk to. I love Jeff, and we had a great time, but I was longing for more people to build relationships with. In comparison, one of the best parts of bed rest are the relationships I’m building with people. I don’t think I could do this without so many friends and family spending time with me. It seems like I’m busier on bed rest than I was before! Having people scheduled to visit really gives me something to look forward to, a reason to put on real clothes, and makes the weeks go faster.

In conclusion, as of now having completed three weeks of bed rest, I think Kilimanjaro was harder. We’ll revisit this topic in a few more weeks and see if I’ve changed my mind. Also, my visitor schedule is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week so send me an email if you’d like one of those slots 🙂

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble…A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12)