Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Lucky Ones

Yep, that's us... we are the lucky ones

I know that some of my friends feel that this is a crazy huge, who takes
their family and lives in INDIA for a year? : )

But, I have to tell you...I just feel so dang lucky.
This year has been an incredible and amazing GIFT.

And sadly, it feels like time keeps speeding up. The days and weeks are passing and I just want to hang on to them a little longer. There are many things that I will be so glad to
return to in the States:
smooth roads
our own car
family and friends
MORE SALADS (I'm not kidding!)
and PUbLiC SChOolS!
(Oh,yeah! Can someone give me a Hallelujah?)

But there are even more things I will miss:

the simplicity of life here

the time to just be together
the beauty of this campus and the surrounding villages
LIFE everywhere
...the villagers, the goats, cows, ducks, and birds
how amazing is it that every few weeks we get to meet another group of people that would sacrifice their time and money to come here and serve?
our cRaZy India FaMilY
 these wonderful long-term volunteers who have truly become our loved ones
and ThE ChiLdReN! heart hurts every time I think of saying goodbye to all these beautiful little people. There are so, so many of them that I have come to know and love and I will be leaving many pieces of my heart here with them.

On Friday, I went on a bike ride with Cohen, Avery, and Liberty to "the junction" intersection of two larger roads about 2 miles away. Cohen is too small to ride his own bike, so he straddles the little luggage rack on the back of mine.
(YES...that is about as comfortable for a little boy as you are imagining!  ; )

Even though the roads are bumpy and the bike seats are terribly uncomfortable, I love being out on a bike in the Indian countryside. Especially on breezy, cool days when the sun is hidden behind the clouds. I would love to say that is it all peace and palm trees in the breeze...but it's not. One thing is for sure, though--it is ALWAYS an adventure.

To go out as a white-skinned person means you will be stared at and at least half of the people will yell, "Hi. Bye. How are you?" as you go by. I have had men riding on a motorcycle speed by me saying, "Hi. How are you?" as they race on. It's as if they have to cram all the English that they know into those few seconds.

You never know what you are going to see when you go out in India. Groups of sari-clad women walking slowly with sheaves of wheat balanced on their head, 4 men straddling a motorcycle zipping by, a cotton candy peddler on a bike with a fluffy pink tower of little baggies on the back...and huge trucks zooming by literally 2 or 3 feet from your handlebars. It was pretty unnerving when we first got here, but now we are old pros. : )

The best part of the ride is that Cohen becomes a chatterbox on the back of my bike. His little disembodied voice is the soundtrack to all our off-campus adventures. India is the perfect place for Cohen...because he LOVES animals. So, to take Cohen into a village means he will
have his heart melted every other minute by some adorable baby animal.

"Oh, mom...look at that little tiny puppy. He's so cute!"
"Aaaaah...look at that little baby goat with his mommy"
"Oh, I love that little brown and white cow...he looks so soft"
..... chatter, chatter, chatter....

On the way back home through our neighboring village, after seeing more baby animals than he could stand, he asked, "Mom, how much does a farm cost?"
(This is not a new thing...he has been adamant that we need to buy a farm when
we get home for many months now.)

But now he's working out some of the details...
"The land, the house, all the much would it all cost?"

"Well, probably around 200,000 dollars", I say.

"What? But Avery's friend has a farm and I didn't know she was twice as rich as you!"
(Huh?? I have no idea why he thinks I have 100,000 dollars.)

"Well," he reasons, "I guess they only have sheep in their backyard."
(so, I guess that means they aren't twice as rich as us? ; )

His wheels are turning, so there is about 4 seconds of silence before he asks,
"Can we have sheep in our backyard?"

"Nope. Sorry, bud. We aren't allowed to have sheep."

"Uh...but why not," he whines, "They only 'maaaaah' a little and it's not even very loud."

Again, two beats of silence while the wheels turn...

"And if any of our neighbors complain, we can just make them fuzzy earmuffs out of the wool!"

That boy just makes me laugh!

Another India moment that made me laugh until I cried...
Yesterday, I was out on another bike ride...this time with Lon. Months ago, in the summer, we had gone on a long, long ride together and I wanted to do it one more time before we leave. It was a beautiful morning and the fun thing about this route is that it takes us through 2 villages that pretty much NEVER see white people. So, the looks on their faces are pretty much what you would expect if a two-headed alien rode by. : )

We had looped around and were out on the larger road headed back toward our local village when to our surprise, an Indian man passed us on his bike. This does. not. happen. We were going at a pretty good speed and Indians NEVER hurry anywhere. As he passes to the right of me, just 18 inches away, he stares right at me the entire time and does the little Indian head wobble to say hello. He then does the same thing to Lon 4 feet ahead of me.

"Oh, I see" I thought to myself..."he was just curious and wanted to see us." Not even 2 minutes later, we passed him up again and that was that...or so I thought!

We had been riding side by side and chatting for at least 5-10 minutes more when I happened to glance over my right shoulder and there he was...his front tire less than a foot away from our back tires. I said to Lon under my breath (though I'm fairly certain the man spoke no English),
"He's right there!!"

Now, in America, someone would have to be mentally impaired to act like this...but here in India, there are none of those social conventions. He had just decided to join us on our little bike ride. And it is not the prerogative of Indians to have any personal space!
So we aren't given any personal space either. : )

We tried everything....we sped up and sure enough, there he was pumping harder than I've ever seen an Indian pump.  Then we slowed down and he happily passed us again, head turned over his left shoulder to stare right into our faces, then wobble-wobble goes his head with his toothy grin beaming white against his chocolate skin.

But then once he passed us, he slowed and every few seconds checked over his shoulder to see if we were coming yet. Like he wanted to say, "Come on, guys! Hurry up."

Lon even stopped and pretended to fix his shoe and the man started coasting along not willing to lose his unwitting riding companions.

When we started riding again, he was about 30 yards ahead of us still craning his neck around every few seconds to see where we were. We came to the spot where we would turn off the main road and right then he looked back at us and I gave him a huge wave and his face lit up and he waved back like we were the best of friends and he wasn't just totally stalking us for the last mile and a half.

Crazy just gotta love it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Fog of Time

We have been waking up every morning to a thick blanket of fog over the jungle in every direction. It reminds me of home. Not Utah "home", but California "home" where I grew up and where every winter we had thick "pea soup" fog that would roll in at night and hang around to greet us in the morning. 

I used to love to go walking in the fog. I loved that feeling of being wrapped up and nearly invisible. I loved that you couldn't see anything --even just a few feet ahead of you. It is, admittedly, very scary to drive in that same fog...but to walk in it is just peaceful to me. So it has been making me feel happy and nostalgic to wake up every morning and greet the fog once again.

Today is our 7 month mark! It is unbelievable to me that we only have three more months here. 

I couldn't fall asleep last night and so I laid in bed thinking about TIME. About how the time here has been speeding by, even though each day feels like the normal 24 hours. But I think when life gives you a distinct experience like this...a time that is bracketed and separate from your regular life...time ALWAYS speeds up. The clock is always ticking toward those final moments when it will all be over and you will step back into "reality".

I am sure that it will all seem a little surreal to us--that we actually lived in India for a year at one time. It is so different from the life we will return to and probably not something we will ever have the chance to do again.

It was an unexpected blessing and a singular gift to have this opportunity. 
I will be forever grateful for it.

I was also thinking about the TIME we have with our children. I feel lucky to have Brooklyn back "with" us (even though she lives next door) for another year. Because she skipped kindergarten all those years ago, she left home a year early and it feels like another little gift to have that year back together...for my other kids to have her in their life again on a daily basis.

I was thinking about how different our lives have been for these months. How we spend all of our time together. How I am actually doing better than I thought I might do...I was honestly a little afraid that I would end up in a straight jacket after all our "togetherness". 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I L.O.V.E. my alone time when Lon and the kids are all gone to school! ; )

I was also thinking about the TIME we have until another child leaves for college.My heart sunk to think that we only have 18 months until Camry will also fly the nest. And I know how fast that Senior Year goes by! 
It was one of those moments that made me think, "Where have all the years gone?" And it made me realize that I will always be nostalgic for the time when my girls were little. 

Potty trained...but still little! ; )

We are happy for this new year. It is going to be a great year! We did some counting and were surprised and delighted to realize that we leave here on the 100th day of 2015. I don't really know why...but I thought that was kind of cool. ; ) So my kids have started counting down and each day it makes me a little more sad at the thought of saying goodbye to these adorable kids that I have come to know and love.

These girls are my little sweethearts. I love their bright, smiling faces and no matter how my day is going, it is always better after a rambunctious little hug from one or all of them!

We had a special opportunity to get to know two of the students really well over Christmas Break. Elina Mary and Praveen are brother and sister and had just returned to Rising Star from their home in Delhi (8 hours away) about a week before the holiday, so they stayed on campus all during the break.

We were able to go play with them every day and it was a rare privilege for my kids, Cohen especially, to have some one-on-one time with kids here. He had a blast and everyday would be ready to go over there with his bag of Christmas toys and books and the frisbee.

Another long-term volunteer and I went and did some shopping for them and the housemother that was caring for them so that they would have Christmas gifts to open. 
Here's the cute little outfits we got for them...

 Praveen is BRAND-NEW at Rising Star. His sister has been at Rising Star for a number of years, but he just arrived a week before Christmas. He is in UKG (upper kindergarten) and he is 5 years old. He is so delightful and just bubbling over with personality. We love him. (Since he is brand new, he has 4 open spots for if anyone is interested, let me know!!)

Elina Mary is a beautiful young woman. It was great to get to know her better and have more time to visit and enjoy some quiet time together.

Lon and I had a wonderful New Year's Day which included a long walk out to my favorite spot in the Indian jungle. It is a peaceful and beautiful spot on a raised path surrounding a small lake. There were the most adorable baby goats and cows and countless birds. And there happens to be a temple nearby that was broadcasting Hindi devotional music. So much sound in the jungle. It is something that I will miss, I think.

It was heavenly...and a great way to begin our year together. 
Our 21st year about time speeding by! I have now spent more of my life with Lon than without. ; ) Crazy! ...and wonderful, too!

It is always a rare treat to get a little alone time here. 
We even held hands and sneaked in a kiss since no one was looking. (shhh! don't tell!)
(There is NO public display of affection allowed here.)

This has been a great adventure for us and I am grateful for the things we have learned.
20 years in...and we might actually be figuring each other out. : )

Happy New Year Everyone! Make it a great one.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Our Christmas with Palm Trees

It has been a strange holiday season...with lots of sunshine and too little Christmas music. I normally have my Pandora station running nearly non-stop all through November and December...but Pandora doesn't work on this side of the world. (boo.) And while I certainly DO NOT miss the snow, it is strange to have the days be so balmy and bright. 

Our Thanksgiving a beautiful event...with fabulous volunteers and good food. Sadly, we had no pumpkin pie (no canned pumpkin can be found anywhere here) but we had rolls and mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and apple pie.  And most importantly, deep gratitude for this experience and the peace of shared serving and giving.

NEVER in my life have I had a month fly by faster than November did! Maybe just because I could not wait to get to December and finally have it be time to fly to Delhi and BE WITH MY SISTER!!
What a blessing that was.

And then came Christmas...

With a little help from Pinterest, we decided to save our toilet paper rolls all fall in order to make a Christmas Tree to hang on our wall. It is small and pretty flat...but we were excited with how it turned out...

Seriously...these kids are so kooky sometimes...I just love 'em!

 The cleaning ladies made beautiful "Rangolis" for us outside of our door and Dr. Susan's door.

 We had a peaceful Christmas Eve with our family and Ashley (another year-long volunteer). We did a White Elephant gift exchange, a "for-reals" gift exchange, and then our family homemade gift exchange.  
Our homemade family exchange is my FAVORITE thing every year. My kids were in weird moods when we took these photos.... Avery was grumpy and so was Cohen...which is why they both decided to wear things on their faces so they wouldn't actually have to smile. Ha!
The mask was a gift that Avery found months ago and hid in her suitcase to give to Cohen for Christmas.

Cohen made sleeping bags for Avery's two dolls.
Avery made an agility rope ladder for Liberty to work on footwork drills for soccer. (And also an iPod stand for Camry...that is what is in Camry's left hand. ; )
Liberty made a tea mug cozy for Lon (not pictured).
Camry made a beautiful painted peacock mug for me (also not pictured).
Brooklyn made a secret compartment book for Camry.
I made a toilet paper tube rocket for Cohen.
And Lon wrote a beautiful poem for Brooklyn that is on her iPad...lucky girl!

I just love seeing what everyone comes up with each year to personally make for their person. It will always be my favorite tradition and my favorite time spent together each holiday season.

It was nearly eleven when we got the kids in bed...just in time for Santa to come!!
 The big sign was from a teacher meeting on the last day of school.

Avery with her new Michael Vey book. 
(notice her maxi-pad slippers...her score from the White Elephant exchange!)

Cohen with his Webkinz Hedgehog. He LOVES him and named him Hedge.  
Yeah...I know, original, huh? ; )
This little boy has such a soft spot for animals! He says it was his Best Christmas Ever! He got four little carved necklace charms...a gecko, a penguin, a turtle, and a cobra. He got a wooden alligator from Sri Lanka, a stuffed animal turtle (that he named Shelton--which is actually pretty cute for a turtle), and a large plastic rhino (now named Horton) that makes a noise like a cow which was his White Elephant winnings. ; )

And after exactly 3 photos on Christmas morning, my camera got set down, I was distracted watching everyone open presents, and I never once picked up my camera again. ; )  Oops...thank goodness Ashley had her camera out and after she gets back from her New Year's trip (she left today) I can get more photos and pretend like I was a better mom and diligently recorded it all. : )

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Camels and the Taj...

We feel so lucky to have been able to go tour Northern India. It never would have happened if my sister had not come for a visit. What a wonderful trip it was and a fabulous way to commemorate our 20th Anniversary (on December 30, 2014)!!

We were able to leave the kids in the able hands of Brooklyn and Camry and spend 5 days up north with my sister and brother-in-law. What a feast for the eyes!

I am going to mostly just show you our experience through here we go!

I really love when I get the opportunity to fly. It never ceases to amaze me when that huge plane lifts off the ground and rises above the clouds. It was a beautiful sight...

So...first things first...this is my sister, Carol. I was SO excited to see her. Way more excited to see her than to see anything Northern India had to offer.

As we got into the car to start our tour, she said, "Oh...I have got a treat for you. A real food treat!" And she pulled out a ziploc bag from her purse with a SALAD inside. UNBELIEVABLE! Only my sister could figure out how to transport a fresh salad halfway across the world. It. was. Heaven.

Oh the joy of spinach and red leaf!!

Our first stop was Agra and the Taj Mahal. I had been told by many people that I HAD to see the Taj Mahal and now I know why they all said it. 

It really is breathtaking.

 We had a great tour guide who was very knowledgable--it turns out he grew up and still lives in a house just outside the south gate of the Taj Mahal. He took some great shots for us...including this one. When my daughter saw this one, she assumed it was a photo I had gotten off the internet.

 There were many new and wonderful sights....elephants and camels and amazing architecture.

This was a deep and intricate step well that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It is really hard to sense the scale but if you look at the top right of the photo, you can see some men up there. This thing was deep and so very intricate. All the rooms were places that the Royal Family could come during the hot summer months where the rooms would stay cool from the breezes off the water.

This was my favorite place....Jaipur. It was an ancient city in the middle of beautiful hills with a wall all along the tops of the mountains like the great wall of China. Every morning we would hear different calls to prayer being broadcasted. It was like being transported back in time!

This was our hotel in Jaipur. A beautiful old building right by this old section of the fort wall. It had a beautiful lawn and our rooms were right at the front with 2 huge window seats overlooking the entire city. There are peacocks on the top of the wall every morning and a huge group of monkeys came through one afternoon.

The Water Castle in Jaipur. Lon took this beautiful photo!

My sister and I on our elephant ride up to the Amber Fort. I was not overly excited before we went to go see forts...but let me tell you, this was GORGEOUS!!! We loved it.

I loved all the doors and have been collecting photos of them to do a cool print once we get home.

The Palace of the Winds...this is actually just a huge facade that was a place for the women of the Royal Family to sit (each had their own window) so that they could watch parades and festivities in the street without being seen by the public.

A completely crowded shopping bazaar in Delhi. Lon had to do some deep breathing to overcome his claustrophobia while my sister and I shopped for scarves.

 While we were in Delhi, we attended the wedding reception of our Tour Guide's cousin. It was the first time I have ever been cold here in India! ; )

It was a great trip and a great way to celebrate our 20th anniversary.
Who knows what the next 20 will bring?!?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taking our Monkeys to the Zoo...

One of the leprosy colonies we right next to the zoo in Chennai. We went there earlier in the summer with one volunteer group and had the privilege of going again today.

We are so blessed to have seven WONDERFUL short-term volunteers here for this week of Thanksgiving! We love them and wish they could stay much longer than 5 days!

There are even a little girl Avery's age and a little boy just a year and a half older than Cohen. They have been having a blast...pillow fights, soccer games in the courtyard, races around the track. It has been so great to watch them play.

We arrived at the colony ahead of the medical we had a few minutes to walk around and visit and we were immediately taken to see the baby goats. They were irresistible!  So cute.

Is there anything as cute as babies? Human or otherwise...they are so precious!

Here is my little Berlyn...she is an "unofficial twin" to Brooklyn. Their names are so close and they are only months apart in age, and she has become my fifth daugher--my India daughter.

I even let Cohen hold one for a second and he was in HEAVEN!!!

Here is our volunteer group in the medical line. Abraham (the patient) is singing and leading them all in a song. Lon wrote a post that spotlighted Abraham HERE. It is beautiful and poignant.

Here are the kids playing a game of Ninja while they wait for us to finish cleaning up.

This is one of the patients at Vandalur. She is a beautiful, sweet, smiling woman and she loves to see the kids. 

After Cohen walked away, she just hung on to Avery's hand for a while....
(I am pretty sure this will be one of my all-time favorite photos from India.)

The zoo is SO MUCH FUN!!  It costs 30 rupees for an adult (50 cents!!) and 10 rupees for a child. Then, you can rent a bike for only 10 rupees an hour. So, for $2.00, Cohen and Avery and I got to enjoy a beautiful afternoon riding around the zoo with some wonderful people. What a blessing to be constantly spending time with the kind of people who spend their hard earned money and vacation time coming to India to serve!!

Here is Avery being stopped by some women to shake the baby's hand and say hi!

It is a good thing that I have been in India for quite a while...otherwise, I do not think I would have been able to handle the "toilet" experience at the zoo today. First of all, you have to pay for the privilege of stepping into the most disgusting row of OPEN squatty potties you could ever imagine. was DIS.GUST.ING!!!

But, I had to laugh at the sign on the some point it was painted over, but should say 
And, apparently, at some point you paid different amounts depending upon your intentions once you entered the toilet.

But, now, it is an even 2 rupees for Urine or Defecation...phew...because who has time to stop and decide which one you need to pay for when you are desperately dismounting your bike and rummaging for coins in your purse. ; )

Because, let me tell you, only PURE DESPERATION leads you to walk into an Indian Public Restroom!

But...all's well that ends well. 
India teaches you to roll with the punches and always carry hand sanitizer!

On the way home, we got to see a whole group of monkeys at the Junction...including some adorable babies. Luckily, I had bought a banana and they absolutely LOVE eating the peels.