The latest blog posts from Uniting the World!

RCSL’s new English Language Centre in Mandur Village

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A couple of weeks ago, Rose Charities opened a new preschool and centre for English education in Mandur village. Housed in a beautiful, spacious and sunlit building right in the center of town, the school has been bustling with students, parents and teachers from the moment it opened. Three preschool classes are running in the mornings, while the afternoons are dedicated to students aged 10-17 who attend afterschool sessions for English or exam prep. There is a plan to hold adult classes in the evenings as well. For my final two weeks in Kalmunai I’ve been teaching intensive classes to a small of group of 17-year-olds who are going to be writing their A-level exam this year. They’re a great group and we’ve been having a ball in class, playing games, chatting, doing roleplays and dialogues and other speaking activities. Their improvement in the last two weeks alone has been astounding and just goes to show what a little confidence can do for your speaking ability. These students have had the English knowledge all along; they just needed a chance to put it into use in a setting where they felt comfortable!

Long overdue update

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Okay, so I’ve been a bit negligent in updating this blog. Okay, quite negligent. Yes, I know I haven’t written a thing since early October. I’m bad, I know. Stop looking at me like that. I KNOW. The problem hasn’t been a lack of things to write about; there has been so much happening and I have had so many new and interesting experiences that when I sit down to write something here, I never know quite where to start. Plus I get a bit self-conscious at the thought of people I don’t know reading what I’ve got to say, and it just became an easy thing to keep putting off. I hope I haven’t disappointed anyone out there…  So are we cool? Okay.

It’s January 26th today, which means I arrived in Kalmunai exactly four months ago. It’s strange now to think back to that early morning drive down Main Street, because so much of what shocked and amazed me on that first day has become so normal and expected that it’s hard to imagine things any other way. I can see myself getting back to Vancouver and saying, “Where are all the mangy dogs and banana shops and sidewalk garbage fires? Where are all the cows?” I barely take notice now as I weave between roaming cattle on my bicycle, but it when I first arrived it felt as if I’d stepped into a different world. I couldn’t believe how different it was! And it is different in a lot of ways, but the more I’ve gotten to know this place and its people, the more similarities I’ve been able to recognize between here and home; between people living in Eastern Sri Lanka and people living in at least parts of Vancouver –Yaletown really is incommensurable. I’m kidding. There may be vast differences in our lifestyles, our religious customs, our economic situation, but on an individual level we’re all after the same things. I made some great friends here and I’m sorry to be saying goodbye to them.

I’ve got more stuff to talk about, but it’s getting late now and the mosquitoes are biting my feet. To be continued.

A weekend workshop in Vellaveli

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In Vellaveli district last weekend, a two-day workshop took place with the object of providing training and professional development for the area’s preschool teachers. In total, about 60 preschool teachers attended a variety of seminars aimed at improving different aspects of their teaching toolkit. For my part, I ran a 2-hour session with a focus on teaching basic English vocabulary through songs. I introduced the teachers to eight fun and easy-to-learn songs that each teach a handful of themed English words. I chose these particular songs because they include actions to be performed while singing.  I had a good laugh watching a group of adults doing “the hokey pokey” for the first time, but I suppose I too must have looked ridiculous standing at the front of the class singing “Mr. Sun”!

A trip to chaotic Colombo

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Hi everyone! I thought I’d share with you a little of my experience visiting the Sri Lankan capital Colombo last week. Rose Charities Sri Lanka CEO Anthony Richard and I traveled there together to do the bulk-purchasing of school supplies for the coming 2013 school year.  This was my first time really seeing the capital, having traveled right through and onward across the country to Kalmunai immediately upon my arrival. Hoo boy! Is it ever a bustling, chaotic, noisy, traffic-filled city, and so different from the laid-back feel of small-town Kalmunai! We spent most of our time in the market district, Pettah, where we were doing our purchasing. This is the busiest market in the country, and the busiest I have ever seen.  It’s a maze of narrow streets filled with small shops of every description, each with merchandise spilling out onto the sidewalk and surrounded by throngs of people looking for the best bargain. I’m told you can buy just about anything here, and I believe it! The tiny lanes  are completely jam packed at all times with three-wheelers, motorcycles, bicycles, and people carrying impossible loads on their carts or on their backs. You can barely walk in there let alone use a vehicle, and yet people come through with their full-sized delivery trucks turning the place into one of those unscramble-the-tiles-to-make-a-picture puzzles as people try to get their three-wheelers just a little farther to the outside or move their motorcycles into an alcove or duck into a shop themselves as these trucks squeeze through at a crawl with no more than inches to spare on either side. And of course everyone is honking and shouting constantly and the trucks are kicking up dust and belching blue-black smoke into everyone’s faces! What a scene! While I stood looking dumbstruck, Anthony took care of business and we managed to extricate ourselves  and return to Kalmunai the following day with the supplies needed to run all the Rose Charities preschools. Just another day at the office, Sri Lankan-style. : )

Here, things are moving along. It’s day 6 for me now…

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Here, things are moving along.  It’s day 6 for me now, and my schedule is starting to fill up with classes. It’s looking good. We’ve begun daily morning classes with the office staff, and I’ve joined afternoon activities with primary school kids in Vellaveli village. On Saturday, we had the first class with the preschool teachers. I’ve had positive feedback about the class so far, and it sounds like more teachers will be joining next week. That’ll put us well over 20 students. Rajeeshan has placed an ad for English lessons and has already had a quite a bit of interest. We’ll try to start up two additional classes of 10-20 students (as many as we can get), for hopefully 8 hours a week total, so that will offset some of the cost of my accommodation here. So things are shaping up nicely so far.

In other news, it is HOT! My god! It’s been over 35 degrees on the thermometer, to say nothing of the humidity. I hope I acclimatize soon, ’cause I’m cooking over here! 🙂  Also, been watching the cricket world cup in the evenings. At first I had no idea what the hell they were doing, but I’m starting to pick it up now. Sorry to see NZ ousted, but it doesn’t matter; Sri Lanka is going to take the whole thing!!!


Terry Fox Run 2012

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CSLI teachers sacrificed their beauty for charity!! Today we auctioned our teachers and raised money for Terry Fox Cancer foundation. The student(s) with the highest bid got to “pie” a teacher in the face!!


… and  of course some video clips :

A soundtrack for Lawrence’s big trip

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CSLI has hosted students from almost every country in the world so, to honour this worthwhile effort and start Lawrence off on the right track, Mediazoic has assembled a soundtrack for his trip with music from more than 40 countries. Just click ‘Play’ on the tuner below to listen in.




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My time in Kalmunai is nearing the end so I’ve been doing some reflecting of my experiences. I have 2 more days of teaching then I am going to the hill country in the interior to visit a tea estate.  From there I will head to Columbo then leave back to Canada on the 25th.  Living in a place is so very different from being a tourist.  I would love to be able to live for a month or two in different countries around the world to get a better understanding of the people and their culture.  I think I should make that my goal.

In Sri Lanka I’ve met many gentle, sincere people who take pride in their country. I was lucky enough to travel the coastline, plains, mountains and jungles.  I’ve seen many great beaches and was lucky enough to see elephants in their natural environment.

I have had the good fortune to mix with Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim people and have learned a bit about each of their beliefs.  The landscape is dotted with both temples and mosques, some of them having a lot of history behind them.  I noted that many of the Muslim areas we drove through showed signs of more wealth.  Streets were wider, better lit at night and generally showed richer surroundings.  Many Muslims speak Sinhala and worship Islam.

I visited temples displaying many idols and images that the Tamils worship. Along the highways there are temples that our driver would stop at, pay a few coins and say a quick prayer to gain protection for a safe journey.  I was all for anything that would ensure safety while driving in this country!

Buddhists go to temples with large white domes. They celebrate the full moon days called Poya and take those days as a holiday. Today and tomorrow are Poya holidays but the Rose staff came to the office anyway to take advantage of 2 more days of learning english.

It’s a common site to see people stripping the trees of their flowers to bring to their place of worship.   I see respect for all beliefs and Rose Charities is a good example of different religions working and having fun together.

Kalmunai is a patriarchal society with traditional attitudes but I saw lots of evidence of equality between the sexes.  Rose Charity is focused on helping women.  Micro loans and an education helps many poverty stricken families move up the ranks to more of a middle class life.  Middle class in Sri Lanka is not what we in Canada think of as middle class but everything is relative.  The people are motivated by opportunities to improve their position and learning english is a definite plus for them. I was proud to be able to help in that aspect and hopefully teaching english is something Rose will continue to focus on.

Kalmunai is an area that is very conservative in their dress and behaviour. I have come to love all the different saris the girl’s wear. More common for everyday wear is a salver.  You can buy the material that makes the complete salver, you just have to sew it to fit your body shape and size.  Nilu made me one to wear for the women’s day celebration.  It has a long fitted top with slits up the sides.  Underneath are pants that have a similar color or pattern to the top. It is finished off by a long shawl worn around the neck and hanging down the back. The ladies always look neat and professional when they arrive at my 7 am class.  Personally although they look great I would die in this heat and many mornings wished I could slip into shorts and a T shirt (and I am not wearing a long sari or salvar).  Everyone takes off their shoes before entering any building.  Even the shops along the streets have peoples’ shoes lined up outside.  My flipflops get mixed in with 20 plus other ones outside the office but they are easy to locate because mine are one of the biggest pair.  I feel like the jolly green giant here ( or as Raajeeshan says…..the jolly white giant)  I really have never thought of myself as overly big but have met only one other woman as tall as me and very few men that are as tall. I do stand out and it is not just my size. I have not seen one other caucasian in Kalmunai.

Another obvious difference is the slower pace and more relaxed attitude when it comes to time. In my computer class we were doing a unit on scheduling and time management. It created lots of laughs and good fun as I pointed out how they can sit for an hour quite relaxed just waiting for a meeting to start.  I know I walk relatively quickly but damn these guys would be rear ended by a turtle!

Food is another major difference.  When you come here be prepared for everything having fresh chillies and curry leaves and being served lots of rice dishes and do not think of meat as a priority.  No thick steaks or pork chops on the barbeque!  You will find the food tasty albeit hot!  Rose has a great cook and I love how she does her different vegetable dishes. Lots of rice flour foods like string hoppers (vermicelli like), plain hoppers (pancake like) and pittu. Sambols is tasty;  made with coconut, tomato, onion, chilli and dried fish. You also always get sauces mostly made with coconut milk.  Their ice cream is homemade tasting and very rich and creamy.  Fish is great whichever way they cook it!  Sri Lanka has lots of outside vendor-like shops  where they make different lunch packets.  Their lunch packets have enough for 2 people and  have a variety of curries, a piece of chicken and a hard boiled egg (I think they deep fry them) .  Everything is wrapped in plastic with the sauce in a little plastic bag and then wrapped in newspaper.  Use of plastic sheets are common here. When you do go to a restaurant they put a sheet of plastic over your plate. (haven’t quite figured that one out!)  And of course I must not forget to mention the finger eating thing; cuts down on plastic forks for take out though! Dining out is not the entertainment we experience because most people prefer to eat at home.

I have talked lots about the roads and traffic but it never seizes to amaze me! I know there must be lots of accidents and injuries.  While here I have seen four dogs and one cow laying dead due to being hit by a vehicle. I don’t worry about remembering which way to look when crossing the road (they drive on the opposite side to us in Canada) because here you continue to look both ways then make a mad dash; a feat I’ve become quite inept at.  I used to take forever to cross the street to get to work in the mornings but now I feel like a local as I weave around the traffic. Amid the chaos there appears to be a method to the madness, with an art form of weaving and honking, when operating a vehicle.  Lane discipline is nonexistent, that is if there are lanes.  There are a few major connecting highways with lanes drawn but even those are narrow.  Most of the roads are hard packed red colored sand. Many are paved but are very narrow; more like the width of a bike trail in Canada.

I never tire of seeing cows or buffalo plodding along, oblivious to the traffic, while pulling a brightly painted cart. There are also lots of small belted diesel motors pulling trailers. Bicycles are common for all ages although riding one on the main roads is to take your life in your hands. Whole families get on the motorcycle, another common mode of transportation, and helmets do not seem to be mandatory. The woman sits sideways at the back with her skirts and shawl flapping about as the driver zips in and around road obstacles.  I must not forget to mention the ever present trishaws which provide a Sri Lankan taxi service.  It is a very competitive business so  when I am just out for a walk I get continuously asked where am I going and do I need a ride.  You can barter for the price to go to a place but it is commonly about a dollar per km. The cheapest way to commute is the public bus system.  Big red busses frequent the roads connecting even the most remote villages. They are in various states of disrepair as they travel along spewing diesel exhaust into the air.  They remind me of the busses I rode as a kid and are probably even older than that!  It is a crowded, hot, sweaty affair but for equivalent of fifty cents you can ride a long distance.

My reflections would not be complete without talking about the head wagging. I still get confused and forget that when they wag their heads from side to side they are not saying no or disagreeing with me but are really saying yes I understand and or agree. I’ll be busy teaching away and specifically ask if they understand and when they wag their heads I will repeat what I’ve taught a different way to ensure understanding.  Many times they must think I’m nuts because the head wagging told me they did understand so why am I repeating myself!

There are some things that I will not miss when I return to Canada. As much as I like summer, sunshine and heat, I will be glad to get some cooler weather.  Since I arrived it has been over 35 every day with humidity. I know mom would say only horses sweat and people perspire but in this case I sweated! I will also be glad to have longer days of light.  Just when it begins to cool down it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out.  That is a deterrent to being outside plus the fact that no women are around in the evenings.  There are only men on the streets so it is considered unsafe for women to be out and about.  We have bugs at home but I can’t say I have ever seen a cockroach before coming here. There are tons of different kinds of bugs, little guys that appear out of nowhere, tiny ants that bite, huge spiders, and the list goes on.  I suggest keeping all food in sealed jars or the refrigerator and I do sleep under a net. I won’t miss seeing garbage thrown on the ground and maybe that would help eliminate the rats.  We have rats at home also but I am not worried about one being in my house.

There are  things wherever one goes  that won’t be missed but in Sri Lanka the things I will miss outweigh the negatives.  I am going to miss the people I’ve encountered while here.  I will miss the politeness and respect that they have for each other and that they have shown me.  I will miss the laid back atmosphere when I return to the hustle and bustle of life at home. It has slowed for me since retirement but I still experience it when I look around at friends and family.  The desire to learn and motivation to improve oneself is another trait I wish I could see more of at home and in our schools. I love the tropical landscape, the warm ocean and the beauty of Sri Lanka.  It has been a great two months and a memory that I will cherish.  Thank you to Rose Charity for this experience and thank you to all my new friends for making my stay here so enjoyable.

Bits and pieces

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I have some time to jot down what I have been up to while my students are doing an assignment.  This entry is just bits and pieces of some things I’ve thought about or done since my last entry.

Yesterday there was some excitement at the office.  A dead mouse was found in Rajeeshan’s desk.  They had smelled something but had not found the source until his drawer was opened.  That was not good news but the worse was yet to come.  Some of the computer cords had been chewed and there was evidence of more than a mouse in the office. While cleaning up from that discovery the culprit was seen running across the floor and deking behind a filing cabinet.  Not a cute little mouse; rather a large ugly rat!
Many of the office staff, guys I might add, were in hot pursuit!  It was quite comical but I did not stick around to watch.  I inquired into the rat’s demise when I went to the office after work but alas there was no demise.  The hunt is still on and I am hoping they find it before it decides to move up the road to the place I am presently calling home.

I put the pictures up on facebook but forgot to mention that when at Aragum Bay Amanda and I rented a canoe for an hour and paddled on a lagoon.  We were told we’d see the jungle, elephants and many water birds.  Ever the optimistic I set out to at least have a paddle and some exercise.  Sure enough after about a half hour of paddling across to a point in the distance we were rewarded.  There was a herd of about 8 to 10 elephants knee deep in the water grazing and splashing away!  There were others in the distance and a few stragglers standing alone.  A couple locals in their dugout canoe kept saying come, closer…………and other words we did not understand.  The point being they wanted to be our guide to see the elephants, take pictures and then pay them for their help.  We obviously did not see any need for a guide being as the elephants were right in front of us.  We did get braver and paddle closer though. It was a rewarding experience and one that I will remember.  As we paddled back in the setting sun we enjoyed the abundance of water birds and the coolness of the evening air.

In Sri Lanka the first birthday is a big event to celebrate in a child’s life.  Yesterday the nephew of one of Rose’s staff (Jana)  turned one.  We were invited to go to the home of the birthday boy to help celebrate.  There were many chairs set up both inside and outside of the house.  We were given a plate of food upon our arrival.  It was a tasty rice, chicken curry.  I was asked if I needed anything else and an offer of cutlery was made.  For a change I decided to decline and eat with my fingers like everyone else.  A young man came around with a pitcher of water and basin for each guest to wash their hands. Someone ran out and purchased bottled water for Amanda and I. (the others had a drink in a glass but maybe they felt we only drank bottled water)  I was definitely the last to finish; I guess I’m a slower eater plus my fingers don’t scoop up the rice as efficiently as the locals! As soon as I finished the basin arrived for washing my hands and then I was offered an ice cream dixie cup.  The room was decorated with birthday balloons and a table set out for gifts.  After eating and visiting we left thanking the family and saying bye-bye to the birthday boy.  I presume the gift opening followed but we went back to work.
I have not seen another Caucasian in Kalmunai.  I am sure many of the locals have never seen one either so I do get stared at. I find when folks see me I get mixed reactions.  If they are a shop owner it is, “Hello, good afternoon mam, come in, come in!”  If it is a lady I receive big smiles and either a hello or a how are you greeting.

Older guys look and keep walking but the younger males want to talk.  Obviously they are not hitting on me due to a somewhat large age difference so I do take the time to walk along and chat.  I always get the introduction of, “Hello, where are you from?  How long have you been here?  Where do you live?  How are you? ” Depending on the time and place I ask about their english, school and whatever to give them practise in speaking english.  Sometimes they use me to ask about Amanda which is something we have had a chuckle over. It is especially humorous for us when Amanda can pick up on the Tamil words and know what they are saying!

Children for sure want to say hello and I see them timing their encounters just to say, “Hi, how are you?” then they walk along busily chatting and giggling with their friends.

Across the street from us is a family of 4 children.  Each morning as I leave my yard they are peeking through their fence waiting to greet me with a big, “Hello, how are you today?”  They are so adorable and I love how they practise their english on me.

I had expressed an interest in seeing all 14 preschools sometime before I leave Sri Lanka.  I have worked with and met all the teachers so now wanted to meet their children and see their working environment.  Today we drove out to one of the Muslim preschools that is in a village far from the office.  It was an interesting drive and I truly felt as though I was in the middle of a jungle when we finally arrived.  The distance gave me yet another appreciation for the dedication of the teachers making it to my classes.  The children were all seated on floor mats enjoying their morning snack when we arrived.  I got lots of giggles and excitement by blowing bubbles for them to catch.  They then took turns singing songs they’d learned or they stood up and introduced themselves to me.  It was one of the best preschools I’d seen so far and it has only been in operation for 4 months.  I was also impressed by the number of parent volunteers there to help.  It just went on to show the community involvement and the interest taken to give their children a leg up in their education!

Driving home I saw the canal which is dug into the ditches where they control the water flow to irrigate the rice fields. I saw women washing clothes in the canal while their children splashed and cooled off. I saw young men herding goats down a path, water buffalo grazing, and men working in the rice paddies.  I love driving along and never tire of the different sites and sounds of Sri Lanka!

Thoughts and Classes

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Classes continue to go well.  I really enjoy the staff and teachers that I’ve been working with.  I know the majority of them (especially the staff) understand what I am saying but they need to practise conversation more.  Last week I decided that in my 7 to 9 class they have to speak more so I made tokens.  Each student received 9 of them.  Any time they got caught speaking Tamil whoever caught them could take one of their tokens.  The first day nobody lost a token even though I know some of them slipped up apparently they denied it and would not give up their tokens!  I had to smile to myself but was pleased because they were correcting each other and speaking english so my goal was accomplished.  The next day I reexplained my reasons and the rules saying this will continue now until I leave and the one with the most tokens will receive a prize of sorts.
Another idea I had was to teach them how to have a debate.  I have more girls than guys but I  decided on girls against guys and gave them a topic to discuss among themselves and get ready for a debate.  Guys had to defend their idea that once married wives should stay at home doing household chores, visiting neighbors, shopping and caring for the children.  Girls had to defend the idea that all women need an education and should be free to follow a career of their choice. The debate was great fun ending up with a major spokesperson from each side. I made notes on points made and it ended up a tie for points but not for the winner. That evening I typed up points made on each side and then which points were stronger according to how they defended their ideas. I handed them copies next class and explained how I judged and my reasons why I gave some points more credit than others. Girls won!
The strongest male point was the strength of a family unit when the mother is in the home.  That really made me reflect on growing up in the fifties. Moms wore dresses and so did the little girls.  The men left for work but mom was at home to send the children off to school.  Kids came home to the smell of bread, cake or cookies baking and of course a home cooked supper.  Once chores were completed the kids ran outside to catch a game of scrub or just ride their bikes around the neighborhood and play with friends. My observations in Kalmunai kinda reflect that lifestyle. Women all wear saris, skirts or dresses and the little girls are adorable in their dresses with hair in pigtails or braids. I see groups of children laughing and catching a game of cricket before it gets dark.  I believe the family unit is very important to them.  The guys stated that women do a good job in the home, raising the children, visiting neighbors, ect.  They felt that with mom at home there is less chance of the children getting into trouble and that it keeps husbands and wives happy and not fighting thus a stronger family unit.
That point was defended further by saying it is not safe for women to be outside of the home on their own and especially after dark.  You do not see women on the streets after 6 pm. Therefore the guys said the women cannot work outside of the home and further their education because it is not safe for them.  I loved the girls comeback to that idea! Girls stated that in other places you see women on the streets, having careers and furthering their education.  They said the government  is now trying to help and protect abused women.  They also said that if guys really cared they would fight and work hard to change the fact that it is unsafe for girls; reason being it is guys that make it unsafe! Girls pointed out that many women hold good jobs and that their jobs benefit all society not just the family. They also pointed out the income would benefit the family.
Each side had other points and it was a great fun for me to observe.  There still exists a lot of male chauvinism but I believe many of the guys agreed with the girls points.
I had another class with the teachers on Saturday morning.  We reviewed what I’d taught at the workshop and practised the songs, games and fingerplays. I was happy to see that many of the teachers had learned the words and again I could see the joy of learning and participating  they exhibited. On Amanda’s travels last week she was at one of the preschools and she said she walked up to hear them singing one of the songs I’d taught the teachers. That’s rewarding plus the fact that many of them have come up to me to ask if I could please stay longer.  At the end of the class the english preschool teachers came and took my hand saying they had together prayed that I would stay or come back again to teach them more!
They do have opportunities in Kalmunai to learn english but having a different approach to teaching (and being Canadian) has made it interesting for them.  The have said on different occasions that they like my teaching method.  Guess all that drama has paid off!  Sometimes when they are laughing I say, “Are you guys laughing at me!”
They quickly say, “No mam,” and look worried that I might think that.  I really do not care I am just happy that they are having fun!
After work the other day Amanda announced to me that the guys were putting up a net and playing badminton.  That was right up my alley so I donned my running shoes and grabbed a racket.  Doesn’t take much to work up a sweat here!  They have real feathers in their birdies and playing outside in the sand made for a different game than back home in the gym.
After work on Saturday Amanda and I left for Arugan Bay.  It is rated as one of the top surf beaches in the world and is only a couple hours south of us.  We’d booked two nights at a beachfront cabana.  It felt good to be a tourist.  Eating, swimming, drinking, sleeping………………..I really must do more of that!  The place we stayed at was owned by a Danish couple.  The guy was killed in the 2004 tsunami when his resort was badly damaged.  It is again up and running and proved to be a neat resort.  Along the coast are several tourist resorts and we met lots of folks from Australia, New Zealand, England and Europe. Amanda took surf lessons from a local and was able to catch lots of waves.  Listening to the surf break on the beach all night was soothing but the little ants that atttacked me in my sleep sure were not.  I felt pinches but did not realize until morning just how many red welts my body had!  At least I think they were from the little ants! All in all it was a good mother’s day for me and I hope many other moms had a great Sunday!

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