Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne!

It's the last day of the year and time to review the happenings of the previous twelve months and think and reflect on what the new year might bring. Here are a few highlights from 2010:

Welcomed in the new year with our children and 4 month old granddaughter. Organized a "Done in a Day" event at the Golden Age Club/Downtown Friendship Centre for the Junior League of Calgary. Began team-teaching a parenting class at our home. Endured another endoscopy.


Attended the judicial swearing in ceremony of our friend, Bill Tilleman, to the Court of Queen's Bench. Attended the wedding of former YSA member, Rob Koffman. Took a week long vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with our son Derek and his wife Courtney. Volunteered at the Ronald McDonald house.

Discovered a Morton's neuroma in my left foot:( Took photos at the Calgary Safety Expo for the Junior League of Calgary. Traveled to Washington DC to visit our daughters. Attended a rally for immigration reform on Capital hill, and the DC kite festival in front of the Washington monument. Got a tour of the National Portrait Gallery by Jennifer, who was there on an internship. Helped Michelle out for a
couple of days following her surgery.

Had a molar extracted:( Went to Utah to attend the graduation ceremonies at BYU for our daughter Jennifer and daughter-in-law, Courtney:)

Took photos at the JLC's Kids in the Kitchen event. Prepared the end of the year slideshow for the JLC's May Celebration dinner. Was hired for a photo event by the Bank of Montreal. Attended my brother-in-law Doug's 60th birthday party.

Underwent Radio Ablation Therapy on my esophagus. Attended and photographed a
press conference for the 60th anniversary celebration of the Junior League of Calgary.
Traveled to southern Alberta for the wedding of our niece, Jenna.

Attended and photographed the Junior League of Calgary's 60th Anniversary Celebration. Hosted three Albanian students at our house for a few days. Applied for a business number and opened a business bank account for Judi Lee Photography. Flew to Utah for our nephew Austin and Missie's wedding. Hosted a small birthday party for my brother Dennis's 60th. Officially photographed my first wedding, that of my nephew Logan and his new wife Amanda.

Spent a week in Whistler with our family (minus Michelle). Celebrated the first birthday of our granddaughter Elizabeth at our home in Calgary. Lost two of our dear former YSA members to a terrible car accident on our anniversary (Maren and Mike Melnyk). Endured another endoscopy.

Flew to Boston/Cambridge to visit Carolyn, Jeff and Elizabeth and attended a photography workshop by David Tejada. Flew to DC and visited Michelle for a couple of days
on the way home. Got new glasses. Photographed the MOA signing between the JLC and Brenda's House.

Worked at a casino on Thanksgiving weekend. Began team-teaching a marriage class in our home with Gary. Bloodwork revealed continuing struggle with iron-deficiency anemia and low thyroid. Attended the Family Roots conference with Dick Eastman as the featured speaker. Enjoyed a lovely dinner out with our friends Ben and Janet at Farm.

Celebrated a normal mammogram. Visited my Aunt Ethel
in the nursing home on Remembrance Day. Vacationed in Hawaii with Derek, Courtney and Jennifer for a week, then Maui with Gary for a week.

Enjoyed another wonderful luncheon at Brenda Christensen's house. Endured another endoscopy. Took care of Gary's mom for a week over Christmas. Enjoyed having Jennifer, Stephanie and Michelle home for Christmas. Hosted the annual Lee Family Christmas Eve party for the last time. Enjoyed hearing about Stephanie's semester in Israel.

A significant part of the year was spent photographing the property belonging to Gary's partner Ian, near the Ghost reservoir, west of Cochrane. Also, spent time helping my brother with some WCB claims. Spent many hours updating and managing the Junior League of Calgary website. In spite of a continuing to struggle with some health issues, I have been truly blessed this year.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dealing with Uncertainty in Life

(Talk given in Calgary 4th ward , 2010 07 11 )

A famous mathematician (John Allen Paulos) once said, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.” For those of us who find comfort in being in control of our lives, that is a frightening thought, yet we all know that life is a journey full of ups and downs and all of us will experience times of uncertainty throughout our lives. The nature of mortality is such that we have been given limited knowledge, we are unable to know future outcomes with certainty, and we have been given the freedom to choose how we will think and behave. Living within these parameters often creates in us a feeling of emotional limbo when we consider the possibility that something we fear, may or may not happen. When faced with the decision of how to proceed, the fear of making a wrong choice can sometimes paralyze us. Whatever the uncertainty, it usually brings up feelings of anxiety, worry, self-doubt, despair, and can often feel totally overwhelming.

As difficult as it is to deal with uncertainty, it is an important component of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us. As Elder Richard G. Scott has said, “ A fundamental purpose of earth life is personal growth and attainment, consequently, there must be times of trial and quandary to provide opportunity for that development. [Our Heavenly Father’s] plan of happiness was conceived so that we will have challenges, even difficulties, where decisions of great importance must be made so that we can grow, develop and succeed in this mortal probation.” The famous mathematician finished his statement about uncertainty by saying that,” knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” Therefore, I think it is wise not to think of uncertainty as a problem to be solved; but as a reality to be lived through. We need to make peace with the process of life.

Uncertainty can arise in a variety of situations. Sometimes we feel uncertain about a particular course of action to take, such as when we have to face a decision about what type of employment or schooling to pursue or where to live. Sometimes we are forced into a state of uncertainty when a member of our family becomes stricken with an illness or becomes disabled through a serious accident that was no fault of their own, and we don’t know what the future will bring. Parents often feel uncertainty over their children, particularly if the course they are pursuing is not a happy one. Any time we suffer a loss or when there is a big change or transition in our lives, it is usually accompanied by feelings of uncertainty. Sometimes, due to circumstances beyond our control, the life that we planned for ourselves gets derailed and we are forced to forge a new life. A young father who loses his wife to cancer, a young couple who are unable to conceive children, a single woman who longs for an eternal companion, an unwelcome divorce. These are times and situations when it can feel like life has control of us more than we have control over our own lives.

Other kinds of uncertainty in our lives may be centered in the very things we think and believe. Early in our lives, most of us think very simply in terms of black and white and things just seem to make sense. However, sometimes, as we gain a little experience, we realize that a new dimension of gray can exist in the world. Elder Bruce C. Hafen describes this as a “growing awareness that there is a kind of gap between the real and ideal, between what is and what ought to be…. [This happens] when we sense that some things about ourselves or the circumstances we witness are not all we wish they were, we become aware of the distance between the real and the ideal.” This can cause frustrations to arise.

Some examples of this might be when an important righteous prayer seemingly goes too long unanswered. A new convert who enters the waters of baptism with visions of the church as heaven on earth becomes disillusioned when he becomes conscious of the imperfections of other Church members, or even a bishop or a stake president. One may also begin to become aware and confront controversial topics, such as the role of women in the church or differing political philosophies among Church members.

Elder Hafen said that “Experiences such as these can produce confusion and uncertainty and one may yearn with nostalgia for simpler, easier times, when things seemed not only more clear but more under our control. There may be the beginnings of skepticism, of criticism, and unwillingness to respond to authority or to invitations to reach for ideals that seem beyond our grasp.”

The mists of darkness in Lehi’s dream provide fitting symbolism for the times of uncertainty we experience in life, yet the iron rod also shows us that there are gospel truths that we can grasp onto to help us on our journey. The question is, then, how do we, as simple but ever-so complicated human beings, live and move and grow in this uncertain world? I would like to suggest four gospel principles that can serve as our iron rod and help us through our times of uncertainty. While these four principles are distinct, they are also very much interconnected. They are: patience, faith, hope and charity.

In Elder Uchtdorf’s priesthood address at our last General Conference, he taught that patience is the ability to put our desires on hold for a time. He explained that human beings seem to always want what we want, and we want it now and that the very idea of waiting can be unpleasant and at times bitter. ” It would do us well to remember that life is a process, that growth does not come without a time of struggle, and that there are many things that we can do during our times of uncertainty to help us learn what we are here to learn. Patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace. Patience requires us to accept that things may not happen in the way that we might have hoped or as quickly as we would like, which can free us from suffering and keep us from worrying about things we have no control over.”

Elder Uchtdorf said that one thing patience is not, is passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. “Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can – working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” Hope is an important part of that process.

I came across this simple but fitting definition of hope which says “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.”

The prophet Ether exhorted, “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” When going through a time of uncertainty, there is often a larger purpose that we do not understand. It is at those times that we have a choice; we can either live in hope or in despair.

Elder Uchtdorf teaches us that “despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward. Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion and of fear.” Elder Neal A Maxwell taught that “none of us can afford to be without that needed hope and love in the treks through our Sinais of circumstance.” And that “Each time a hope is fulfilled, it creates confidence and leads to greater hope.”

Hope is the way to peace. In times of uncertainty, we can hold tightly to the hope that we have a loving, powerful Heavenly Father who designed a world where things will “work together for [our] good”. This type of hope refreshes us with courage during difficult challenges and gives us strength when we feel threatened by fear, doubt, and despair.

The next principle, faith, is closely intertwined with hope. Elder Uchtdorf stated that “the things we hope for lead us to faith.“ Elder, M Russell Ballard, on the other hand, taught, that, “As we put our faith and trust to work, hope is born. Hope grows out of faith and gives meaning and purpose to all that we do. It can even give us the peaceful assurance we need to live happily….[in an uncertain world]. But faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—real faith, whole-souled and unshakable—is a power to be reckoned with in the universe. It can be a causative force through which miracles are wrought. Or it can be a source of inner strength through which we find peace, comfort, and the courage to cope.”

As the end of the Savior’s mortal ministry drew near, He offered this reassuring hope to His beloved disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

In the book of Mormon, Moroni asked the question, “and What is it we shall hope for?” He answered the question himself by saying “ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal.” Elder Ballard urges us to, “Please turn to [The Savior] if you are discouraged and struggling for direction in your life. Armed with the shield of faith, we can overcome many of our daily challenges and overpower our greatest weaknesses and fears, knowing that come what may, we will be all right.”

The last principle that can help us through times of uncertainty is charity.

Elder Dallin H Oaks, explained that in this life “We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ. The Apostle Paul illustrated this in his famous teaching about the importance of charity (see 1 Cor. 13). The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited, is that charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47), is not an act but a condition or state of being. ……Charity is something one becomes.”

At times of uncertainty, it is important to avoid falling into the dark hole of self-pity and despair, which can canker our souls. Elder Uchtdorf points out that the scriptures say that there must be “an opposition in all things.” “So it is with faith, hope, and charity. Doubt, despair, and failure to care for our fellowmen lead us into temptation, which can cause us to forfeit choice and precious blessings.” It is during our times greatest trial that we can truly understand the meaning of charity.

Elder Robert C. Oaks of the seventy pointed out an interesting insight into the relationship between charity and patience as taught in the Book of Mormon.

“Mormon, after pointing out that if a man “have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity,” goes on to name the 13 elements of charity, or the pure love of Christ. Interestingly, 4 of the 13 elements of this must-have virtue relate to patience (see Moroni 7:44–45). First, “charity suffereth long.” That is what patience is all about. Charity “is not easily provoked” is another aspect of this quality, as is charity “beareth all things.” And finally, charity “endureth all things” is certainly an expression of patience (Moroni 7:45). From these defining elements it is evident that without patience gracing our soul, we would be seriously lacking with respect to a Christlike character.”

“Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call “the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10; 1 Ne. 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become.” (Elder Dallin H Oaks)

On a bit of a different note: Because we do not all experience life in the same way, we sometimes do not understand the unique challenges that others are facing. It is important for us to be kind, patient and charitable with those who may be experiencing uncertainty in their lives, for whatever reason. Sometimes there is a tendency to inadvertently be a bit judgmental of others when they don’t live up to our expectations. This can be particularly true in our church culture, where we tend to place quite a bit of emphasis on having certainty, and often leaves those who have questions or uncertainty feeling that something is wrong with them, or that they don’t belong, which can lead to even more despair and discouragement.

Also, there are also those who suffer from more severe forms of grief, depression or other problems for whom living by these principles will not be enough. For those who suffer in this way, medication and/or counseling by a professional may also be necessary, and is in no way an indication of lack of righteousness or faith.

Brothers and sisters, I believe that as we take the time to understand the unique challenges each one of us face, we will become more loving and charitable and kind towards each other. Let us learn to love each other the way our Father in Heaven loves each of us.

It is my prayer that when we face times of uncertainty, we will look to our Father in Heaven and his son Jesus Christ with patience, hope, and faith and charity and that we will find peace and comfort in knowing that all these things shall work together for our good.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother's Day

Well another Mother's Day is coming tomorrow and I can't say that I am overjoyed. Don't get me wrong. I love mothers and all that they do to make the world a better place. I am happy to acknowledge the great worth of mothers, I guess for me personally, Mother's Day is a rather painful day.

My own mother passed away when I was 27, and Mother's Day always reminds me that she is no longer here and how sad were the days before her passing. I have really missed having a mother these past 24 years. So many wonderful things have happened to me since then that I wish she could have been a part of. When I think of her life, I am also saddened. She had much to be grateful for, but she was not a happy woman for much of her life, and I am sad that she was not able to overcome the pain and bitterness that defined her later years. Her death from cancer was a very painful thing to watch, and I am not sure I have ever really dealt with that experience.

I suppose I could think about my grandmothers on Mother's Day, but I never really knew either of them very well. My mother's mother was in England and I only saw her twice in my life, once when I was 2 1/2 and again when I was 12. The second time I saw here, she had dementia and didn't really know who I was. She hardly spoke. My dad's mother lived closer, but was quite a gruff woman who had been scarred by a tough life as a pioneer, homesteading in southern Saskatchewan in her youth, living through the Depression, losing three young adult sons to tragic deaths, and being married to an alcoholic husband. While I knew her better than my other grandma, I had no real personal relationship with her and didn't feel a lot of warmth and love.

Of course, I am a mother myself, so one would suppose that perhaps this would be a reason to love Mother's Day. I have five amazing children, two of whom are married to wonderful spouses. I became a mother at a very young age (20) and I suppose that is all that I ever wanted to be. Being a mother was not easy, but I determined that I was going to put my whole soul into it. Like most mothers, however, I never felt that I was a good enough mother, and always hated the attention given on Mother's Day, like I was being put on some kind of pedestal or something. The reward of being a mother was enough for me. I certainly didn't need the guilt incurred by trying to live up to some impossible ideal. As difficult as it was, the years I spent raising children were wonderful.

Which brings me to today. All of my children have left home and are living their own lives now. I live in a big house, once full of life and noise and chaos, now full of empty rooms, that are occupied sporadically only a few days a year. Mother's Day for me now is just a reminder of what once was, and can never be again. The last thing I want to think about is that.

I guess the only way for me to get through another Mother's Day is to look past all the pain and sorrow and appreciate the good things that mothers do. To be grateful for all the mothers who sacrifice their lives and dreams every day to selflessly raise a new generation. To honor those women, who may or may not have children of their own, who 'mother' those who need it most. Hats off to all of you! Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mapping Sin

Something to mull over.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Freedom Is As Freedom does

Having just written a talk for church on education and the need for freedom of thought and expression I thought this was a timely article.  Click here to go to the article.

A couple of years ago I read the book “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck, and jotted down this passage.  “The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.  And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.  And this I must fight against: any idea, religion or government which limits or destroys the individual......I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.  Surely, I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us fron  the uncreative beasts.......Our species is the only creative species and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man.”

I was quite moved by this idea of individual freedom, and yet, at the same time, bothered by what I perceived to be a focus on conformity of thought in the church.   Surely, God wouldn’t have made us thinking creatures to begin with if he didn’t expect us to use our minds and be individuals!  

I  then came across this quote from a talk by Elder Hugh B. Brown, in which he said basically the same thing as Steinbeck. “We live in an age when freedom of the mind is suppressed over much of the world. We must preserve this freedom in the Church ……… and resist all efforts of earnest men to suppress it……….”

 God wants us to think freely and decide how we as individuals will apply the correct principles that we are taught. This can sometimes be a difficult thing to accept for those who want to see everything in terms of black and white, because it means that there isn’t always an easy answer to everything, and it demands that we be tolerant and accepting of the decisions of others, even if we don’t agree with them.  

Another great Hugh B. Brown quote:  “Just as the truths of science must be tested and verified by reason and factual investigation, so the moral and spiritual truths which the world is seeking from its prophets must be proved and validated in the experience of men.  In his search for truth, every man must be true to himself.  He must answer to his own reason and to his own moral conscience.  Anything less than this would betray his dignity as a human being and a child of God.”  

Friday, April 17, 2009

Little Steps

For those of you who may not know, I had surgery on my foot about 4 1/2 weeks ago to correct a painful bunion.  Having never broken a bone in my life, this has been a real learning experience.  I had talked to people who had the surgery and so I kind of new what to expect but there is nothing like actually experiencing something yourself.  The week before my surgery I came down with a bad case of the flu and ended up in bed for the whole week.  There was even some question as to whether I should go ahead with the surgery since I had a fever for most of that time.  Fortunately, the fever had lifted by surgery day and I did go ahead with it.  

There are a few things that this experience has taught me.  First, laying in bed for three weeks and hobbling around on crutches has given me a new appreciation for what it must be like to be handicapped.  I have a great deal of empathy for people who need crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, etc. to get around all the time.  Fortunately for me, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  But for those who have chronic illnesses and conditions that make getting around difficult, my heart goes out to them.

Second, I have always been an independent person, so relying on others to help take care of me is not an easy thing for me to do.  Through this experience, I have realized how little it takes to lose our self-reliance, and how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful husband, who took time off work during an extremely busy time, to look after me.  I am also grateful for good friends & family who took time out of their busy days to call me, bring over meals, sit and visit, play games, bring me flowers and magazines, and take me out for a drive and lunch.  I feel deep gratitude for these kindnesses and have a renewed desire to try and be more aware of things I can do to be a better person myself.

Third, I have developed a new appreciation for the miracle of life and the wonder of the human body.  It amazes me that when injured, the body knows exactly what to do to heal itself.  All I have to do are a few things to help facilitate this healing, like keeping my foot elevated, staying off of it, applying ice to reduce swelling, and keeping the incision clean.  My body takes care of the rest!  I am not sure I will ever understand how it does that, but just knowing that it does convinces me that there is a God in heaven who created us.

The last thing that I have learned is that "by small things are great things are brought to pass".  There have been many little milestones along the way.  Coming off the anti-inflammatory medication, getting rid of the ice boot, getting my stitches out, getting the pin out, having my first shower without the protective boot, replacing big gauze bandages with bandaids, walking without crutches, etc.  These are all little things, but each milestone has given me something to look forward to, and looking back over the last 4 1/2 weeks, I realize I have really made a lot of progress.  I have learned that in life, some things take time, and that I need to be satisfied with every small step of achievement along the way, for that is how great things happen.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Years

Wow!  I can't believe that it has been two years since my dad passed away.  Time really does fly!  Anniversaries can be difficult  for some, but for me, I guess it is a chance to take some time to think about my dad and remember him and the influence he has been in my life.  I'm not really one to visit cemeteries and gravesides on anniversary days because I don't feel that I need to be at the place where a person is buried to feel close to them.  I feel my dad near me whenever I think about him and that is a comfort to me.  

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tribute to my Dad

On April 14th, 2007, my dad passed away, just four days short of his 89th birthday. Even though he lived a long, full life, I feel profound sadness at having lost one of the most influential people in my life. Losing a parent is one of those defining moments that make you pause and reflect on your own life and the meaning of it. It also makes you think about the person you loved, and what you will miss the most about them. I am fortunate to have had many years of good memories with my dad, and as a tribute to him, I would like to tell you some of the things that I loved about him and that have influenced me for good in my own life.

Dad was a practical man. When something needed to be done, he just did it. He was not overly emotional or sentimental about anything, but was always ready to take care of things without a lot of fuss. He didn’t like to hang onto a lot of stuff, especially if it had no use to him. Growing up, our home was always orderly and uncluttered and everything had to be put in its place. Even the garage, where he spent many hours tinkering and fixing things was well-organized. We didn’t have a lot of extra stuff around the house, but if dad thought he could use it for something, it stayed. He always had extra bits of wood and wire and string around in case something needed fixing.

As a child growing up, it seemed that my dad could fix anything, a skill he no doubt learned growing up on the farm. If he didn’t have a part to fix something with, he would often make one himself. He was a great problem solver, especially if it required something that he could do with his hands. This talent was evident, even as he was lying in his hospice bed. The buzzer they had clipped to his bed sheet for him to use to call the nurses kept falling down and he couldn’t ever find it when he needed it. One day he remarked to me that he could fix the darn thing if only he had a bit of haywire! Dad would never think of hiring someone to do a job that he could do himself.

He was frugal. “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” could easily have been his motto. He lived within his means, rarely going into debt for anything. When we moved to our new home in Willow Park, his first priority was to pay down the mortgage as soon as possible so we wouldn’t have to be in debt. I remember him sitting me down and telling me that there wouldn’t be a lot of money left to get me a bunch of new clothes and things, not something a teenager wants to hear. Once, I noticed a really expensive car drive by and said how lucky that person was to own such a vehicle. His comment was, “he probably doesn’t own it, the bank owns it.” This philosophy of staying out of debt really inspired me and helped me get through the early years of our marriage when times were lean.

Dad had self-determination and self-discipline. His years of playing sports and his military training and management experience no doubt instilled in him these great qualities. I don’t ever remember him sleeping in past 7 o’clock in the morning, even on weekends and holidays. As a teenager, it was kind of annoying to be awakened early on a Sunday morning, when all I wanted to do was sleep in. I now recognize this as a great quality, and one that deserves emulating.

Dad was a man of the earth, and had a natural curiosity for science. He instilled in us a love of nature and the physical world. Dad could see many analogies for life in animals and nature, such as the need for children to be independent (ie: mother birds kicking their babies out of the nest, etc.) Although he didn’t have a lot of formal education, he did enjoy reading and learning about the world around him.

Dad loved music and instilled in us a love for it as well. Our stereo was the centre of the living room, and on weekends Dad could often be found listening to music; anything from opera, to Rogers & Hammerstein, to “Donald Where’s Your Trousers.” Having music in the house was a priority, and Dad enjoyed playing the clarinet with one of us accompanying him and singing songs around the piano. He also enjoyed listening to his children and grandchildren perform, and even though he didn’t say very much, you could always see the pride and joy in his eyes.

Dad was the most self-reliant person I have ever known. If I could think of one word that defined my dad, it would be “work”. Growing up on the farm during the Depression necessitated the need to work hard to make a living. To my dad, accepting the dole would be about the worst thing that anyone could do. He was never motivated by status or prestige, but just a desire to do the best job that he could in whatever he was doing. He always had a project of some kind on the go, especially around the house. Whether it be renovating, building a deck, painting, fixing a car, it seemed he was always busy working at something.

But Dad also knew how to relax and enjoy life. He enjoyed simple things. He didn’t have a lot of wants and desires and it didn’t take much to make him happy. Puttering around the house, doing a crossword puzzle, drinking a cold beer on a hot summer day or just relaxing on the patio with friends were all things that he enjoyed. He loved traveling (especially to Hawaii), golfing, dancing and socializing with friends. He was never the type of person who needed a lot of material things, but he did enjoy what he could afford.

Dad was a family man in the classic sense of the word. Like many men of his generation, he worked hard during the week to support his family, and on weekends was there to look after us kids while mom went shopping, etc. I have fond memories of the porridge and pancake breakfasts he would cook for us on Sunday mornings. He was never a man of a lot of words, but he conveyed his love to us by working hard, providing us with music and dance lessons, teaching correct principles, and delivering the odd spanking when needed. Dad took pride in the accomplishments of his children and grandchildren and enjoyed spending time with them.

My Dad was very courageous. He lived through some tough times and suffered some significant losses in his life, but I never ever heard him complain or expect sympathy from anyone because of it. Even his last days, knowing the end was near, were faced with courage and little complaint. He knew that it was his time to go and courageously resigned himself to it.

Dad never sought a lot of attention in his life, but had a quiet confidence about him. He was comfortable with himself and didn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone. He didn’t envy anyone. He was a humble man. His last wishes were an indication of the way he lived his life. He didn’t want a funeral with a lot of pomp and circumstance but said that it would be alright if we said a few nice words.

It’s difficult to sum up a life in a few words. How can you measure the influence that a person like Dad had on those around him? Like all of us, he wasn’t perfect, but the most important thing is that Dad loved well, and he knew that we loved him. It’s that love and influence that will continue on in the lives of his family and those who knew him, and I believe, in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Goodbye Dad! I will always love you!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sailing, Sailing............

We've been back for a couple of weeks now, but I thought I'd post a few pictures to tell you about our trip to the Virgins Islands on our week-long Wind Star Cruise.

Day 1 - St. Thomas
We stayed overnight in the Wyndham, Sugar Bay. It was quite expensive ($400 USD/night), and was not as nice as we had hoped. It took us an hour to check in (at 1 am) and our bathroom had water all over the floor from a leak that we couldn't fine the source of. We heard a lot of people complaining at the front desk about a number of things, and overall felt that the place was not as well-run as it should have been. It did have a nice beach and pool area, though. Here's a picture of Gary checking things out.

There were a lot of wildlife walking around the grounds here. Here's a picture of an Iguana that I took.

And a crane, I think.

Day two - Cruise begins from St. Thomas.
Here is a picture of me with our cruise ship, the Wind Star, in the background. It was a lovely ship and the crew were really friendly. We were really happy with everything, especially the great food and excellent service.

Day 3 - St. John
We took a fun excursion in the morning. It was a nature hike to the Rockefeller Resort, then we kayaked to a more secluded beach, and did some snorkeling. It was here that we ran into our first totally nude sunbathers. We were told that naked sunbathing is not allowed on St. John, but that didn't seem to matter to this middle-aged couple, who were quite friendly and kept asking us questions about our cruise. You can't see them, but they were lying right next to Gary as he snapped this picture.

Gary got this great shot of me snorkeling!

Day 4 - St. Martin/St. Maarten

Our excursion on this day was a bus tour around the Island. We got to see both the French and Dutch sides. It's amazing how different they were considering how small the island is. Here we are on the Dutch side. They have a beautiful wide beach here along a boardwalk where you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas. We had fun here watching pelicans dive-bomb the fish alongside the dock.

One of the stops on our bus tour of St. Maarten, was this clothing optional beach. If you look closely you can see that the people behind Gary are not wearing any clothes. I snapped this picture before I realized that there was a sign on the beach prohibiting photos. This was a very interesting cultural experience, and all I can say is, it was very good for our self-esteem!

Day 5 - St. Barths
On this island, we decided to get a bit more adventurous and rent a jeep. Here's a picture of Gary, looking right at home in the driver's seat.

In the morning we stopped at one of the beautiful beaches on the island, Gouverneur Beach.

Sunscreen - a daily ritual.

There were spectacular views here.

We stopped at this seaside resort, called Eden Rock, to have a look around. I went into the little gift shop they had there to see if I could buy a beach towel. I found one, but the price was marked at 185 euros!! Needless to say, I went elsewhere! They did have a lovely little beach there, though.
Another highlight of St. Barths was the annual Mardis Gras parade, which happened to be on the day that we were there. It was another interesting cultural experience. People get all dressed up in silly costumes, like the ones below, and parade through the streets.

There was a lot of rum flowing, and a lot of people were dressed like pirates. I especially liked this little "baby pirate".

Even Gary managed to get into the parade!

Day 6 - Jost Van Dyke
This is a small island of about 150 people. We decided to do the ATV excursion here. It was fun, except that the guy leading it was so paranoid that someone was going to have an accident that he kept yelling at us if we looked around too much, or got out of line a little bit. Other than that, it was fun and we got to see more beautiful scenery.

Day 7 - Tortola
We decided to forgo an excursion of this day and just walked around the little port that they have there. A highlight, was to lie in a hammock on the beach that was tied to two palm trees, outside of Foxy's, sipping Pina Coladas. Yum! This is a view of Tortola from the ship just before we set sail.
Another highlight of our trip was the "sail away" ceremony that they had each night on the back deck. They played this fabulous orchestral music as the sails were unfurled. It was especially beautiful at sunset.
Day 8 - Virgin Gorda
Our last day was spent on Virgin Gorda, a very lovely island. One of the famous tourist attractions here is called The Baths, which is a really interesting series of rock formations along the beach that you can hike and climb in. Here is a picture of Gary on the beach by The Baths.

The snorkeling was much better here. I snapped this picture underwater of a beautiful blue fish. I also saw a flounder, but i didn't take a picture because it was so well camouflaged .

We had a wonderful time and would encourage anyone to go on a Windstar Cruise!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mormon Socials

We went to a Christmas party the other night at our church. It was in the family ward that we belong to but don't currently attend because we are now serving in a singles ward. We decided that it would be nice to visit with people that we hadn't seen for a while. We enjoyed visiting with the people at our table, but I have to say that for the most part, I think Mormon parties are a bit odd. Here's why:

Mormons just don't know how to mingle a la cocktail party style. There were some hors d'oevres and punch there to start out the evening, but instead of partaking of the goodies and visiting, most of the people in attendance immediately plunked themselves down at their tables to stake out their spots. I realize that most Mormons don't have a lot of experience in the cocktail circuit, but that just seems a bit odd to me. Social functions are generally to give people a chance to socialize with others. Sure, you get to visit with the people at your table, but what about all the other people that are there, and especially the visitors? How can we get to know them? Perhaps most people only come for the free meal. I have noticed this a lot at other Mormon social functions as well, but somehow it seems like we ought to be a little more friendly at Christmas.

Mormon Christmas parties are very serious occasions. I have nothing against being serious, but what's wrong with having a little fun at a social event? We get enough of the serious stuff on Sundays. Perhaps this is just a particular trend in our area, but I think it's a bit disturbing. Now I happen to like Christmas carols like "Silent Night" and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear", but what would be wrong with a little "Feliz Navidad" once in a while to liven things up, especially on a Friday night in the gym? It's pretty sad when you're at a party and don't feel like you can even clap for a musical number because the program is so serious. I think that kind of stuff should be saved for Sunday. Make our parties a little fun. I have to say that I think the "reader's theatre" type programs that are passed around through the church and performed at every Relief Society dinner or Christmas Party are also really boring.

At 9 o'clock, the party is over! The minute the event is over, everything gets torn down and put away before you can even take a breath. There were a lot of people there that we would have liked to have visited with when we first arrived, but we couldn't do that because everyone sat down so quickly. So after the dinner and program, we thought we'd have time to do some more visiting. As it turned out, we only had time to visit with one couple for about five mintues, because the next thing we knew the decorations were torn down, the tables were all pulled from under us and put away and we were sitting on our chairs in the middle of the gym with vacuum cleaners all around us. Mormon events seem to only last about two hours at most, but it seems that even then, people can hardly wait to get out of there.

I have to ask myself, what is the point of having a "ward social" where there is little or no socializing going on? Sometimes I think our socials are treated more like a "duty" than a fun time to get to know one another. Let's lighten up and have fun!

Monday, December 04, 2006

What's in a Name

Okay, so I came across this cool website today, that tells you all about your name and what it means. I think it's kind of funny, because, when I was in Junior High I decided to change the spelling of my name to Judi, because a 25 cent numerology book told me I would have a better life with that spelling. I figured that using the "i" instead of "y" made better sense anyway, because my real name is Judith. It brought back a lot of memories when I found this site because when I put my name in, I remembered why I wanted to change it. Anyways, this is what it says for Judi Lee.

There are 7 letters in your name.

Those 7 letters total to 30.

There are 4 vowels and 3 consonants in your name.

Your number is: 3

The characteristics of #3 are: Expression, verbalization, socialization, the arts, the joy of living.

The expression or destiny for #3:An Expression of 3 produces a quest for destiny with words along a variety of lines that may include writing, speaking, singing, acting or teaching; our entertainers, writers, litigators, teachers, salesmen, and composers. You also have the destiny to sell yourself or sell just about any product that comes along. You are imaginative in your presentation, and you may have creative talents in the arts, although these are more likely to be latent. You are an optimistic person that seems ever enthusiastic about life and living. You are friendly, loving and social, and people like you because you are charming and such a good conversationalist. Your ability to communicate may often inspire others. It is your role in life to inspire and motivate; to raise the spirits of those around you.

The negative side of number 3

Expression is superficiality. You may tend to scatter your forces and simply be too easygoing. It is advisable for the negative 3 to avoid dwelling on trivial matters, especially gossip.

Your Soul Urge number is: 22

A Soul Urge number of 22 means: The Soul Urge of the master number 22 is very much that of the master builder. You would like to use your abilities in an important humanitarian undertaking, and have an innate desire is to express the significant power you feel in a concrete manner, as a builder, engineer, diplomat, etc. In some way you want to make a considerable contribution to the world.

The 22 gives a broad, universal outlook with a rather practical and common-sense approach. You have especially high intelligence, with an unusual perception and awareness. This number often denotes a high degree of diplomatic abilities and high ideals. You are a very capable person and you may possess special leadership abilities that you can and should develop. People respect you and recognize your superior foresight and vision.

The negative side of the 22 soul urge is a high degree of nervous energy and a tendency to be very dominating. It is unfortunate that all who possess the urge of 22 do not use its energies to the greatest advantage; but then it should be recognized that these energies are understandably the most difficult to focus and direct.

Your Inner Dream number is: 8

An Inner Dream number of 8 means: You dream of success in the business or political world, of power and control of large material endeavors. You crave authority and recognition of executive skills. Your secret self may have very strong desire to become an entrepreneur.

You should try it!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

India - Day 10 - End of the journey

We had another fairly leisurely morning, then boarded the bus back to Delhi. We hoped that perhaps the ride back would be quicker, but it turned out to be just as long. We stopped at the same hotel (the one with the dancing girl) on the way back, so the driver could eat lunch. When we arrived in the south part of Delhi, the traffic became very heavy. We were concerned that Rama (she works for SKS) would be late for her flight back to Bangalore, so she decided to get off the bus and take a taxi or autorickshaw to the airport, which was much faster.

Because of the bombings the previous night, we didn't feel comfortable driving around the Delhi tourist places, so we booked a room at the Radisson hotel and hung out there with David Schappell and Jayme Hommer. It was really quite a nice hotel, and we had some time to just chill out and visit. Later in the evening, Dave and Sharon Richards, the couple from our group who were visiting friends in Delhi, joined us for dinner (they were on the same flight back). The Richards had been at the Dille Haat market on Saturday at the time of the bombings, and were told to leave and that they were shutting it down. Nothing actually happened at that market, but it was probably a good precaution. They didn't know at the time that approximately 60 people died and 200 were wounded. I was sad, because that is the market that Liz in Bombay had told us was so good. Apparently you have to pay a small fee to get in, so it keeps all the beggars and hawkers out. And they have clothing and arts and crafts from all over India. Also, the food that they serve there is supposed to be safe to eat. Oh well, I guess we'll have to come back to Delhi some day!

Our flight left Delhi at 1:30 am and there was increased security there. Other then having to stay awake for a long time, everything else went without mishap. We landed in Amsterdam about 5 am, and we had about a 6 hour layeover, so we decided to take a train into the city and walk around. There wasn't much to do, as nobody was really up yet, but it was really beautiful and peaceful walking along the canals. Eventually, some of the shops started to open and we stopped and had some yummy pastries and hot chocolate. It was just as I had remembered it 35 years ago, when I was there as a child. Bikes everywhere! We even saw a two-story parkade that was just for bikes! I don't know how they can tell whose is whose.

We left Amsterdam around 11:30 am Monday morning and arrived in Calgary at 6 pm Monday night. All in all, we travelled about 32 hours in a row. Needless to say, we were pretty tired when we arrived home. It took a couple of weeks to get over the jet lag.

We're so glad we were able to make this trip. It was really an overwhelming experience and gave us a new perspective on the world and on some of the ways people are trying to make a difference in the poverty there. India was definitely a place of contrasts. At first all I could see was the poverty and disadvantage, but the longer I was there, I saw that there were so many more layers. The people that we met were wonderfully bright, hardworking and very helpful. The culture was fascinating. The food was wonderful. While an Indian vacation is definitely not for everyone, I would certainly recommend it for the more adventurous. If I went back again, I would definitely want to educate myself better on the shopping, what to buy, where to buy it, prices etc.

My favourite part? It's hard to pick just one favourite, but it would have to be meeting the people on our excursion and visiting the people in the villages.

Second favourite. Seeing this guy riding down the road beside our bus on a camel!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

India - Day 9

Today we passed up the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal at 6 am with the group, and decided to sleep in. Did that ever feel good! I'm sure it would be cool to see the Taj at sunrise, but we decided that it couldn't be that much different in the afternoon, and we needed our sleep. So we got up at 8 am and had a lovely, leisurely breakfast with Suzanne Pacifico-Ahlgren. (You can read some of her comments about the India Excursion by clicking here

At 11 am we boarded a bus and took a guided tour of Agra fort. It is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and is truly a remarkable place. You can read more about the fort by clicking here
Here's a few images that we took at the fort.

Later in the afternoon the same tour guide took us on a tour of the Taj Mahal. We entered through the main gate, which is the one that the Shah would have entered in. It is really cool to actually be there. It almost looks unreal. It is a beautiful building, built with great symmetry. I always thought that it was a mosque, but in reality it is a tomb, built by the Emporer Shah Jahan to house the body of his wife, Mumtaz, the love of his life. The theme of the building is grief, and there are quotes from the Koran written on the outside, all having to do with grief. On one side of the building, is a mosque, and on the other side is a dummy mosque, to complete the symmetry.

We had to either take off our shoes or wear booties to cover our shoes to go inside. The building is made out of marble, inlaid with precious stones. Since the marble is not porous, the dirt and grime easily wash away, so it remains looking beautiful and white, in spite of all the soot in the air. If you're interested in ready more about the history of the Taj Mahal, go to

Here's a picture of us in front of the Taj Mahal

Later in the evening as we were getting ready to go to dinner, we heard on the news that there had been some bombings in Delhi. The bombings were at 6 pm and this was at 6:15 pm so the details were still a bit sketchy. We were worried about some of the people from our group who had left for the Delhi airport around 3:30. As the news reports continued to come in, we learned that three markets had been bombed, as well as a bus. Fortunately, everyone from our group was safe and accounted for, but we were disappointed that it would no longer be safe for us to tour the markets in Delhi the next day, something we had looked forward to. I quickly went to the shops in the hotel and bought a few more souvenirs to take home, since I had planned to do this in Delhi. In the evening we had another nice dinner with the last five people left in our group.

Monday, November 21, 2005

India - Day 8

Today we flew to Delhi, then took a tourist bus to Agra. The estimate was that it would take us 3 hours to get there from the airport, but it ended up being more like 5 1/2. There was a lot of time to just sit and observe the daily lives of the people in both the city and rural areas. The traffic in Delhi was very heavy, and there seemed to be a lot more smoke and air pollution there.
We had heard about the cows in Delhi, and finally got to see them firsthand. They are all over the place. I read a news article that said there are about 40,000 of them. A lot of rural people can't afford to feed them, so they let them roam around the city where they feed on garbage. Apparently they have a new program going on where they take some kind of air gun and shoot a computer chip into the cow's stomach so they can monitor who the cow belongs to. I'm not sure how effective that would be but I guess anything's worth a try. You can read about it here.

There is so much garbage everywhere. You see piles of it on the side of the road, and often there will be cows and pigs and people rooting through it. We also saw a lot of little kids playing in it. Sometimes you see it on fire, but mostly it is just sitting there rotting away.

On the way out of Delhi, we noticed a lot of people living in tents and under tarps on the side of the road. In one area, there were a lot of monkeys running around too. There were also a lot of stray dogs on the streets that look very underfed.

We made a pit stop about halfway on our journey at a hotel that had washrooms. Outside the hotel, there was a man and his daughter dressed up in some kind of fancy looking outfits. The man had an interesting looking musical instrument, and when we got off the bus he immediately started playing it, and the little girl started dancing for money. At first I thought it was kind of cute. But then I felt sorry for the little girl, that she had to do this instead of playing or going to school.

Along the highway to Agra, we saw quite a large number of small mosques. It seemed that every little town had one, and around 1 o'clock you could see all the men gather to say their prayers. With all the prayers each day, I wondered how anybody gets any work done. I found it quite fascinating to watch.

We saw a lot of agricultural activities going on as well. We would often see groups of women in the fields cutting and baling what looked liked some kind of grass. I was later told by an Indian friend that it was probably sugar cane. There seemed to be a lot more smoke in these areas too, and I guessed that they were probably burning the stubble after the cane was cut.

Another thing we noticed was that people would often just squat by the side of the road to go to the bathroom. And anywhere you would see a stone wall or fence there was usually some guy peeing on it. We joked about how in Jerusalem they have the wailing wall but in India it's the peeing wall!

The city of Agra was a bit disappointing. It was very dirty and smoky, and seemed very overcrowded. The area around the Taj Mahal seemed particularly dirty and smoky and we noticed a lot of people cooking food on open fires, which may have contributed to it. I couldn't tell what they were burning, but it smelled pretty bad. I had a sore throat for the entire time we were in Agra from breathing all the smoke. One morning I even woke up with what felt like smoker's cough.

The hotel Amarvillas in Agra was fabulous. It is such a shame that it is surrounded by so much of a contrast. It felt strange to be staying in such opulance when outside the walls of the hotel there was so much poverty. The view of the Taj Mahal from the hotel was great, but at times it was quite difficult to see it through all the haze. It was only 600 metres away, yet there were times when we could hardly see it. There is definitely something magical about being there though.

In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner with the members of our group who were left. I think there were about 10 of us. The best part was that when we opened the menus, they had something besides Indian food. Not that we didn't like the Indian food, but it is a little hard on the stomach when you have it for every meal and are not used to all the spices. We had a fun time and some great conversation.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

India - Day 7

We had a morning breakfast meeting where Mike Murray gave us a presentation on Unitus and the roll that is plays with the MFIs as an accelerator. I really learned a lot, and it clarified a lot of things for me. For those of you who may of just joined in, you can read about Unitus at their website

Today was shopping day! After 11:30 we got on a bus to find all the great things that Hyderabad has to offer to a happy shopper! Our first stop was a store that is famous for selling pearls. Actually, Hyderabad has a number of stores that sell top of the line pearls. It is estimated that 80% of the pearls in the world make their way through Hyderabad. The pearls originate elsewhere, then are polished and sorted here. Hyderabad is also noted for it's fine jewelry, and prospective brides come from all over the country to buy their jewelry here.

The store that we went to gave our group a 20% discount, which was pretty good. Some of the people in our group who have bought there before, have had their their pearls evaluated at 4 times what they paid for them back at home. So we knew they were good quality. I bought a beautiful two strand, peachy coloured pearl necklace and matching earrings for myself, and a dusty rose coloured set for Grandma Lee, for "babysitting" Stephanie.

The next store we went to was called Kalanjari, and is a really nice clothing store, where even the natives do their shopping. I bought some beautiful Indian clothing and also made Gary buy a traditional Indian outfit for himself, complete with turban and pointy shoes! He looked really funny. Even the sales clerks were laughing.

My favourite clothing for women is called a salwar kameez. It is usually made up of a pair of pants, covered by a tunic, and finished with a scarf or shawl. If you'd like to see what a salwar kameez looks like visit
The one I got is very traditional, and is made with a type of weaving called Himroo, which is usually passed down as a family heirloom. It is made of gold silk, black and dark dark green pants and shawl, and has the lovely gold weaving in the front bodice and along the edges of the scarf. "Himroo weaving originated in Aurangabad, which was formerly a part of Hyderabad state, but it now in Maharashtra. It remains, even today traditional, a hereditary occupation in Andhra Pradesh. The techniques uses a special loom, with cotton yarn forming the warp an silk yarn forming the weft, to produce a brocade-like fabric used mainly for shawls, bedspreads and furnishing. One may observe Himroo weaving near Dar-ush-shifa in the old city." It is really beautiful!

Our shopping trip lasted a bit longer than we were expecting, so we missed the bus back to the hotel. That's when the fun really started, as we had to take an autorickshaw to get there. For those of you who don't know what an autorickshaw is, it's pretty much what it sounds like, a motorized rickshaw! One guy sits in the front, and the passengers sit in the back. It's not very big and has no windows in the back, but it's great for getting around in the traffic here because it can go just about anywhere. It can actually fit more people than you think. I saw one once that had at least 10 school kids crammed into it, with all their school bags tied to the back somehow. Because it was now rush hour, the exhaust fumes were really bad, particularly when a bus pulled up beside us, with its tailpipe right in our face. I should have brought a surgical mask with me! Some people actually do that because the air is so bad. I'm sure I would wear one too if I were travelling in this all day. Here is a photo of an autorickshaw.

In the evening, we had another traditional Indian meal at a great restuarant where we sat on giant couches with big pillows on the roof of the building overlooking the city. It was great! Some of our newfound Indian friends from Unitis helped to explain the food and culture to us. In the distance you could hear the sound of firecrackers going off in anticipation of Diwali, or Festival of Lights, which is one of there big celebrations that begins Nov 1.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

India - Day 6

Today we had to get up at 5 am to travel to another more rural village. We had no trouble getting up, as our friend at the mosque was there once again with his prayer call blaring over the loudspeakers. It took us approximately 1 1/2 hours to travel to today's village. The village itself was much different from the one we visited yesterday. It was a bit more quiet, probably because is was still morning when we arrived, and the children were getting ready for school. The lanes were made of dirt, not concrete blocks like yesterday, and the homes were on larger plots of land, separated by flat stones. It was estimated by one of the SKS people that one small home on its piece of property would cost around $200 dollars in this village.

We first attended a meeting where the group ofwomen met with the loan officer to make their weekly payments. The 30 or so women sat in a circle for roll call, then recited the pledge all together. One member of each troup (5 people) then handed the payment to the loan officer as the husbands and children looked on from behind the fence.

Following the meeting, we walked around the village and were able to see where some of the women lived. The homes were also a little different here. Most of them had a clay or plaster type base with a grass roof.

We wandered around the village for a while and of course, we attracted quite a crowd wherever we went. We eventually made our way to "main street", where a number of the borrowers had set up their businesses. Most of the businesses were nothing more than a wooden table or a wooden booth where they would sell their wares to the local villagers and anyone else passing through.

When we would stop at one of the stalls to talk to the women about their business, we were immediately surrounded by a crowd of women, children, and mostly men. It was a bit unnerving at first as I felt a bit like someone who'd stumbled into a group of cannibals that were going to eat us any minute(my overactive imagination at work). It turns out they were just very curious onlookers who wanted to see what we were doing in their village. Many of them would walk up to us, put their hands together and say "Namaste", which is the Hindu word for hello and goodbye, and can also mean welcome. I was particularly touched by an elderly man in a traditional turbin who slowly moved toward us. At first I thought he was a beggar, but it turned out that he was only trying to get close so he could say "Namaste).

It was fascinating to see everyone at work. One of the borrowers and her husband had booth where sold sandals. I bought a pair for roughly $2.10 CD.

Another women's business was selling metal bowls, graters and other utensils.

Another had a store where they sold candy and other small snack food items. She and her family were Christians, which is pretty rare in this part of India.

The children in the village were fascinated with the bubbles we brought. There were two little girls of about 11 yrs old who I thought were really cute. Ond had very light brown eyes, which were quite unusual looking, and very striking. I gave the bottle of bubbles to her when we left.

There were some other interesting buildings in the village. There was a "hospital", a pharmacy, and a small school that was built by the United Nations. The children were pretty excited to show me around the one-room school. They showed me the scale that they were weighed on every day, presumably to make sure they are getting enough nutrition.

Along the road that leads to the village we saw a number of people working in the rice fields and some with very primitive looking ox-drawn plows. Along the main highway there were also many people living in tents along the roadside, and there seemed to be no end to the variety of little booths set up to sell all kinds of little things. One thing we noticed that really struck us was there were very few beggars in the villages and the people generally seemed to be quite industrious and bright.

After touring the village, we made a stop at the SKS branch office where we met a few of the loan officers.

It was here that we had our first experience at a washroom outside the hotel. Thank goodness Jayme gave us a bag with a number of "essential" items, as the bathroom had a toilet, but no toilet paper. We learned that Indian people prefer to use water to clean themselves, so there was a little water jug beside the toilet, and water all around it. It was a bit tricky, but we all managed to take care of business the North American way, thanks to the small roll of toilet paper packed in our bag.

On the way back to Hyderabad I saw one other interesting thing. On the back of two bicycles, two men were delivering the two parts to a queen size bed! One had the mattress and the other had the bed frame (completely put together). It was crazy! How could anyone fit two such awkward and heavy items on the back of a bike through busy highway traffic?

We had out customary late night dinner tonight at 8:30 pm. We ate at a restaurant called
Tabla on the very top floor of a building. It was typical South Indian food, very spicy and very filling. My favourite thing is the India bread, called Naan, which I eat far to much of. The dhala is also very good served with rice. It is made out of legumes, such as lentils, peas and beans and served with a runny pepper sauce.

Two of the people from the group had birthdays that day, so the restaurant played a rather bouncy rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" in English and Hindi over the restaurant loudspeakers. The song seemed to go on and on for at least 5 minutes, and was really quite comical. They love their bouncy music here. If you've ever seen a Bollywood movie you'll know what I mean.

Monday, November 14, 2005

India - Day 5

(I have reached my maximum upload for photos on blogspot, so I have now replace them links to photos, imbedded in the text. Just click on the underlined link and it will take you to the photos which are saved in FlickR. To see all the FlickR photos taken by a number of people in our group, go to

We went to sleep to the sound of a Muslim prayer call blaring over a loud speaker, then woke in the morning to the same thing at 5 am. There are a lot more Muslims in this part of India. I actually think the prayer call sounds kind of cool, but when you're not used to it, it is a little hard to sleep to. There were also a lot of roosters crowing and train whistles blowing early in the day. And of course the ever present sound of horns honking in the traffic. (That would explain why the hotel supplied us with a set of earplugs on the night table.) Once we were awake, we started the day with a wonderful buffet breakfast. There are so many cool Indian foods to try, it's really hard not to overeat. I wish I could remember the names of everything!

Breakfast was followed by a presentation given to our group by Vikram Akula, the CEO of SKS, which is the microfinance institution whose operations we were there to observe. He told us all about how he came to start SKS and a little about how it operates. You can find out more about SKS and the work that they do in India by visiting (I could try and explain about SKS and microfinance but I think the website does a much better job).

Vikram is an amazing person, as were many of the people we met who work for SKS and Unitus. He was educated in the US, but felt a real need to return to India to use his education and influence to help alleviate poverty there. He is completely dedicated to SKS and we really enjoyed getting to know him. He was a real inspiration.

Unitus (the organization that sponsored our trip) works in partnership with microfinance institutions (MFIs) like SKS to help expand the number of people that they are able to reach. To watch a short video that describes the work that Unitus does in partnership with microfinance organizations such as SKS, visit (the video explains it much better than I could, and has clips of some of the people that were with us on our trip)

In the afternoon, the large group was divided into three smaller groups that visited three different villages served by the Bhongir Branch (Nalgonda District) of SKS. It took about 1.5 hours to travel to our village, along a two-lane bumpy highway. The village we visited was just off the this road. We were there to attend a Compulsory Group Training meeting, where 5 new borrowers were admitted to the program, as well as a Group Recognition test, to ensure that the borrower group understands how the program works and what is expected of them. This was quite a moving experience.

The first thing we did was meet the five women who were being initiated, then took a tour of the village to see the homes where these women live. The SKS loan officer is required to do a quick survey of the property and to rate it, using a point system, based on the size and age of the home, as well as whether it had electricy and access to water, etc. The total number of points has to be below a certain number before the woman can qualify for a loan. We followed him around as he rated the homes of each of the 5 women.

Photos of borrowers in their homes:

It was a wonderful experience to see the home where these women live. We were impressed with how clean they were, even though they were very simple. The whole village seemed much cleaner than some of the other areas we had seen. The women were a bit shy, but still let us take some pictures. One of the girls was just 19 years old and had a 9 month old baby.

After touring their homes, we went into the little yard outside the home of one of the borrowers and watched the loan officer explain about interest. It was fascinating to watch, as the women are all illiterate and he had to use stones. He also taught them the borrower's pledge, which goes like this:

"We shall attend the weekly meetings without fail.
We shall pay back the loan installments without fail to our Sangam.
We shall help the needy in our Sangam, whenever required.
All the Sangam members will abide by the rules and responsibilities of the Sangam.
We shall use the loan amounts taken from the Sangam for uplifting our family economy."

For those of you wondering what a Sangam is, here is an excerpt from the SKS website that explains it.
"As groups are formed within a village, a collective or Sangam evolves which consists of a maximum of eight groups or 40 members. Sangam meetings are held on a weekly basis during which SKS staff collect and record group savings, loan distributions, and loan repayments. In addition, weekly sangam meetings serve as a forum for discussion of loan proposals, loan utilization, and community issues. Each Sangam elects a leader and deputy leader who are responsible for facilitating meetings and ensuring proper compliance with SKS procedures."

Everyone in the village was very interested in seeing who we were. Some gathered around us and others stared from a distance. We quickly made friends with the children when we brought out bubbles and stickers. The kids really liked it when we took pictures of them with our digital cameras, and then showed them what they looked like. We would usually start by taking a picture of one or two kids. Then a couple more would come and want their picture taken. Then a few more, until we had a whole crowd. The adults liked it when we took their pictures too.

There was one young woman who stood out to me. See (she is the one in the green). She spoke a little bit of English, and so we were able to communicate a bit. She had the most beautiful smile, and had a certain glow about her. She asked me who my husband was, and then said, "family". I had some photos of my family that I brought out to show her and told her that this was my family. I told her I have 4 daughters and 1 son. I showed her my daughter's wedding picture, and she pointed to Jeff and said "husband." I said, "yes." She smiled and told some of the other women to come and look. Pretty soon I had a whole group of women standing around me to look at my photos. They all smiled, and at that moment I felt a real bond of sisterhood because family was something we could all relate to.

When I looked out at these beautiful women and children, I couldn't help thinking about in the caste system how they are classified as "untouchables". How sad! They were beautiful and bright to me. It was a very moving experience when they all gathered outside our bus to wave goodbye.

To see photos of our visit to the village, you can click on the following links:

When we arrived back at the hotel in the evening, we were greeted by a lot of security guards and one of those metal detector things that we had to walk through before we were allowed to get on the elevator. This was because the Prime Minister of Mauritius was staying in our hotel. He was in Hyderabad to meet the governor and to visit with representatives of Bharat Electronics Limited, followed by a visit to Hitec City. I guess it was a pretty big deal because the newspaper said that the Hyderabad Police announced restrictions on traffic movements on some routes in the city in connection with his visit. Unfortunately, we saw all the hoopla, but didn't actually see the Prime Minister.

We did however have a surprise later in the evening. As we were standing outside of the banquet room waiting for the hotel staff to get our dinner ready, a beautiful young couple in traditional Indian clothing, followed by a large group of phototgraphers, walked by. We wondered what was going on, until we read the bulletin board that tells what is going on in all the banquet rooms. It turns out that there was a press meeting for the new Bollywood blockbuster, Taj Mahal, An Eternal Love story, in the room next door to ours. So we had fun watching the papparazzi and observing the two stars. When we walked out of the banquet room after dinner, the crowds had dissipated somewhat, and the reporters were interviewing the producer/director of the film. A young man approached us and started chitchatting, asking us who we were and where we were from. Then he told us that he was working on the movie (I can't remember what he did exactly). We walked along slowly together, chatting away, when all of a sudden he looked over to a beautiful young woman sitting on a bench alone, and introduced her to us as the main actress in the movie. Her name is Sonya Jehan , and she told us that her mother is French and her father Pakistani. She aked us about ourselves, then told us that this was her first movie, and that she wasn't sure if she would do another one because she is a private person and was not enjoying all the publicity, and that she loves acting. She also told us that in real life she is married, but is not supposed to tell that to everyone. She is an extremely attractive girl, and it was a real thrill to have met her. I hope that we will be able to see the movie some day. Here's a link to an article that we cut out of the newspaper, telling all about her and the movie