Feed on
Posts
Comments

Cami Turns 9!

It’s official!  This blue-eyed beauty is 9 years old!  The last year of single digits – so hard to believe!

8B8A5731 copy

Camille

Cami doesn’t seek the lime-light but she doesn’t shy away from it either.  During the annual Primary Sacrament Program, it’s always evident which songs she knows the best.  As the bishop remarked from the pulpit after last year’s program, if he ever needs to know the order of the modern day prophets, he just has to ask Cami.

3rd grade concert

Cami’s Class Music Concert

We found this also rings true for her school music class.  Cami is very confident in singing in a group and enjoys it immensely.

DSC_0214

Cami – Hillingdon’s Got Talent

Cami has had a love / hate relationship with dance this year.  She has stopped competing in solo competitions and tires of practicing for her UK grades.  Her teacher has begged us not to let her stop dancing, but it has been a struggle.  We were thrilled when she decided she’d like to learn a new solo to perform in the school’s talent show, Hillingdon’s Got Talent.

DSC_0213

Cami, Alina, & Shonali

Last year it was the 5th anniversary of the show so they gave out awards and Cami took first place in the lower school for her solo dance.  This year it was truly a talent show and all the kids received certificates and flowers.  Cami loved performing alongside some of her classmates without the pressure of placing.

IMG_9069

Family Circle

This year for Cami’s birthday activity, she chose to go ice skating as a family.  We’re glad she didn’t hear our internal groan, but none of us are big skaters.  Emma actually decided on arrival that she would just watch from the side.

IMG_9074

Solid on the Ice

We did have a lot of falls, but no broken bones and lots of smiles.  Afterward we were able to enjoy a lunch out as well so it made for a fun morning all around.

DSC_0257

Birthday Candles

On her actual birthday, Cami woke up on her own, all smiles.  She proudly carried her carrying case of sugar cookies for her classmates to school and enjoyed celebrating with them.  They sweetly had all made handmade cards and other drawings for her.  In ballet, she shared chocolates while they all sang to her.  After a FaceTime call from grandparents, we enjoyed her requested dinner of kabobs followed by marble cake and sorbet.

DSC_0247

Birthday Gifts

She may be the smallest of our bunch, but she has definite likes and dislikes.  We were glad we were able to fill her day with lots of ‘likes’.

Happy Birthday, Cami!

title page

Some of the best parts of our time in India was getting to see how ‘real’ people live.  There is something almost magical about visiting places outside of those tourists get to see.  It’s the chance to almost be a ‘fly on a wall’ and see what the real ‘flavor’ of the country consists of.  Our time in the southeast of India, while at Rising Star, gave us a good taste.

Just outside of the campus, lies a small village.  We were able to go on an early-morning walk with the directors to see the villagers go through their morning routines with their outside fires, washing, and preparing for the day.

Roadside house

Village Home

Fruited motorcycle

Early Morning Peddler

On the weekends, our volunteer duties were limited so we were able to go on outings to various places within a couple hours from campus.  We were able to take a day trip to Mamallapuram, an old seaport town, which has now been turned into a bit of a sleepy tourist beach town.

Mamallapuram street

Street View of Market

We enjoyed the small market . . . and German Bakery, where we enjoyed an “American Breakfast” of hash browns, eggs, toast, and salami.

Mamallapuram street woman

Bag Seller

Working man and woman

Construction Workers

After our short time in the market area, we drove to “Ideal Beach Resort” where we were able to enjoy a clean version of the shores of the Bay of Bengal.

boat on beach

Mamallapuram Beach

india sign

Dipping Hands in Bay of Bengal

The girls were excited to have some downtime for one of the other volunteers to do henna for them.

Cami Henna

Pool-side Henna with Monica

henna designs

Cami & Hannah’s Henna

Beach

Fun Beach Day

Sunday was Easter Sunday and we were excited to learn the Swine Flu warning had been lifted for Chennai, which enabled us to take the 2 hour bus ride into the city to attend church.

church in chennai

Church in Chennai

It was a different Easter for us – no Easter baskets or gifts – but, truly being able to follow the Savior’s example and serve as He did.  It was the best lesson we could have had this Easter.  We are His hands . . He continues to live through the good we do.

The Golden Triangle

Before leaving for Rising Star, we had booked our last 3-4 days in India to see the Golden Triangle:  Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi.  Why the term ‘Golden’ Triangle, I’m not sure, as it is strictly a tourist circuit for these three tourist hubs.  We flew up to Delhi, met our guide, and took off for Jaipur.

Jaipur:

One of the first things we discovered on our arrival to Northern India is how little we know about India’s history.  We tried to absorb as much as we could, but there is so much to grasp.  We will definitely need to read up on the history before we go again!

We did learn that Jaipur was founded by Jai Singh II, the raja (king) of Amer.  When the original capital city of Amer was struggling due to an increased population and hurting water supply, Jai Singh II, looked for another area to move his capital city and found Jaipur.  It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Pink City of India’ because at one time the whole city was painted pink to welcome Edward, Prince of Wales.  Today, many buildings remain pink to give it its distinctive look.

Jai Singh II was also known to be a lover of astronomy and constructed Jantar Mantar, meaning “calculation instrument.”  This area consists of nineteen instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, and other types of astronomy tools.  It also has the world’s largest stone sundial.

Large sundial

Observation Deck of Largest Stone Sundial

We made a quick stop into the City Palace as well.  Part of the Palace has been set aside as a museum, while the majority is still used as a royal residence.

Palace gate

City Palace

Palace window

View out to Courtyard

Emma and Caleb at palace

Relaxing in Courtyard

Palace arch

Beautiful Architecture

Woman at palace

Beautiful Colors & Textures EVERYWHERE

Across from our hotel was, yet another, palace called “Water Palace,” as it seems to be floating on water.  It was built there by the king for his hobby of bird watching.  Then he had a man-made lake built around it so it would be difficult to get to.  Over time, the palace has sustained damages and, from what we were told, no one has been there for a long time, although it is still pretty to look at.

Jaipur lake palace

“Water Palace”

The next morning we were up first thing to try to beat the queues at the Amer Palace (or Amer Fort).

Palace and lake view

Amer Fort

The trail leading up to the fort is a long switch-back so there is a fun option to take an elephant ride up, which we did.

Elephant driver

Elephant Driver

Caleb, Hannah and Elephant

Hannah & Caleb Riding Up

elephants down

Elephants Coming Back Down

The fort is divided into four main sections, each with its own entry gate and courtyard.  We arrived through the main entrance through the Sun Gate.  This opened into a large courtyard where armies would hold victory parades as they returned from battles.  The royal family’s women could only view these parades and celebrations through the latticed windows, built throughout the palace.

Wives' view

Latticed View of Main Courtyard

Looking back over the area we had hiked up with the elephants, there are beautiful gardens, a lake, and distant watch towers.

Palace view

External View

Inside, there was never an end to the beautiful architecture with amazing attention to detail.

palace arches

In the first courtyard lies the second gate, or the Ganesh Gate.  It is named after the Hindu God, Ganesh, who removes all obstacles in life.  This is the entry into the private rooms of the Maharajas.

Family at palace

Ganesh Gate

Again, above this gate are more latticed windows for the royal women to look through.

Palace window 2

Latticed Windows Everywhere

Palace sweepers

More Beautiful Colors & Architecture

As we completed our tour and were starting to be harassed by various vendors, we were sped along by our guide.  He ushered us into a jeep and we were speedily on our way down from the fort – away from the persistent merchants.  It’s so nice to be with someone who knows what they are doing!

Cami and Hannah in jeep

Cami & Hannah during Jeep Ride

Agra:

Each of the legs of the triangle are hours long so we had a lot of time to observe the goings-on of day to day travel as we passed.

Loaded bike

Tricycle Transport

Loaded truck

Horizontal Transport

Typical truck

Standard Truck View

Loaded moto

Standard People-Carrier (can you see all 5?)

We stopped in a tiny village on the way to Agra where we visited a man who made pottery.  He gave us a bit of a demonstration . . .

Pottery maker

Pottery Wheel Demo

. . . and then gave Chris a chance to try his hand.

Chris making pottery

Good Start

Chris was a good beginner, but every time he’d get to one point, the clay would fall.  The kids were gifted piggy banks made with this same clay, local clay mixed with water and dung.

Women on street

Women in Village

We then continued on our way to Agra, where we had a good night’s rest and were up early the next morning for a sunrise entrance to the Taj Mahal.

Taj 5

Not only is it an amazing time to see the Taj, but the crowds are supposed to be less.  Well, we were definitely surprised at the ‘less amount’ of people as there were still a lot.

Taj 1

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

Taj mineret

The Taj Mahal is beautiful and definitely worth the trip!  Its construction is amazing as it has a teak wood foundation, but everything else is pure marble, linked together – no steel beams or other metal.

Taj 2

Up Close

We had to wear foot covers as we approached the building, as even the floors are pure marble.

polishing marble

Donned with Foot Covers

As we went into the mausoleum, our tour guide unfolded the story of how the Maharaja built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his third wife (his only ‘love marriage’, as the others were arranged).  He told us that this wife was the only one that gave him children – 14 of them!  Although, only 6 survived – 4 boys and 2 girls.  The 3rd son was power-hungry and killed his older 2 brothers and imprisoned his father.

Taj marble insets

Even Closer – Inlaid Precious Stones

 The daughters took care of the Maharaja while he was imprisoned and made sure he was put in the mausoleum when he died.

Taj 3

For such a large building, it is just a mausoleum.  However, the Maharaja’s remains as well as his wife’s are actually at garden level so what we saw were the reproductions.

handstand 2

Handstands Around the World: India

Looking back towards the entrance of the Taj Mahal, we were told the British destroyed the orchard that was here in the beginning, as you couldn’t properly photograph the Taj Mahal.

Taj gate

Entrance to Taj Mahal Grounds

Taj with family

Family of Tourists

Taj under arch

It truly was a surreal feeling to be at the Taj Mahal and realize we have now seen 3 of the 7 Wonders of the World:  Great Wall of China, Coliseum in Italy, and now the Taj Mahal.  Only Petra, Pisa, Brazil, and Machu Picchu to go!

taj reflects

Reflecting on the Taj

Delhi:

If we thought we had a good feel for India at this point in our trip, we were proved wrong!  Delhi has its own feel and culture.

Being the capital city of India, with a city population of 13 million people, the city becomes a ‘beautiful dance’ of chaos.

Women on street 2

We dove right in by loading onto rickshaws and heading to the Old Delhi Spice Market.

Emma and Caleb in rickshaw

Caleb & Emma Lead the Way

Man with stuff on head

This is definitely the way to see the market area, although it got a bit scary as we began to weave in and out of the small market streets.

Rickshaw ride 3

Tiny Market ‘Streets’

Other rickshaws, motor bikes, and people shared these small pathways.  In any given moment, you could have 2-3 people touching your rickshaw, guiding their way through the street or trying to push you over to make room.

Delhi market street 2

Our rickshaw drivers definitely earned our respect for what they do.  It is not for the faint of heart!

Delhi market street

When we arrived in the Spice Market, the streets opened up and we knew we were in Old Delhi.  The look and feel were definitely a large contrast.

Rickshaw ride 2

Arriving in Old Delhi

We unloaded and had a brief tour of the Spice Market, sampling some cinnamon bark and buying some classic Indian spices.

Spice market

Spice Market

The kids felt on edge and it was sweet to see them have a moment of solidarity, holding hands or shirts so as not to lose each other.  In the meantime, Chris stood to the side taking pictures and marveling in the ‘beautiful chaos.’

On our way back to meet our tour bus, we took more time to absorb other things going on around us.  It wasn’t all a beautiful scene, but rather sharp contrasts of poverty.

Rickshaw driver resting

Rickshaw Driver Napping

Men resting on street

Lunch Break

Man bathing

Bucket Shower in the Street

Street dwellers

Squatters Living Quarters

It was definitely a rickshaw ride we will remember – the good and bad.

Becca and Cami in rickshaw

Becca & Cami – End of the Road

With our limited time in Delhi, we only made a few additional stops.  One was to Gandhi’s Memorial Park, where his cremated remains are.

Ghandi memorial

Gandhi’s Remains

The other was to a tourist shopping area to get a few things, as our ‘wish list’ had been building since our arrival.  But, with the rush, rush here and there, we hadn’t had much time to get anything.  We were happy to find some anklets for the girls, a couple chudidars, and bed sheets.

India arch

India’s Gate

After an early morning to see the Taj Mahal, traveling to Delhi, and packing what we could into one day there, we were exhausted – physically and emotionally.  India is a true treasure . . . and we have only touched the surface.  So, India . . . until next time!

Unconditional Love

Before leaving for Rising Star, we knew we would be working with those afflicted by leprosy.  However, we did not take into account how big the circle of influence was in regards to those affected by the disease.  There are those who have the actual disease, but then there are their children.  They would normally live their lives in a leprosy colony with limited opportunities for an education, a job, or even marriage.  Rising Star Outreach provides a way for these children to break out of this stigma and become their own person, unattached from the disease.  They do this through their boarding school, where the children attend school from kindergarten to 10th grade, enabling them to take exams to further their education for the last two years of school in other schools.  These ‘Rising Stars’ are the future in helping to break the curse of leprosy and are really the ones we came to help.

elephant house

Cami Dressing the Part

A normal day for us was getting up early for breakfast and attending a morning meeting with other volunteers in the courtyard.

Elephant house courtyard

Elephant House Courtyard

Depending on the assignment for the day, the women mostly had to wear chudidars, while the men wore modest shorts or trousers and shirts.

Chudiddar

Volunteer Chudidar Closet

When we were reminded of our assignments for the day and went over any other pressing issues, we had an uplifting thought and then a prayer.  Then we were off.

Elephant at house

Leaving Elephant House

The morning was set aside for the different areas of service:  education, community outreach, or medical.  We were usually done with these assignments by noon.  If we were off-campus, our outings were usually linked with a cultural experience in the area as well.  One day we visited a Hindu Temple . . .

Holy man

Hindu Temple & Holy Man

 

. . . and another day we biked around the zoo.

Kids on bikes

Biking with Brian

Emma's groupies

White & Blond?  Instant Celebrity!

We were always back to campus by early afternoon and had a couple hours to eat a late lunch,

Kitchen

Volunteers’ Kitchen

 

. . . take a refreshing bucket shower,

Shower

Heavenly Bucket Showers

Toilet

Our Squat Toliets

 

. . . or just rest.

Teak room

Teak Room = Our Home

room assignment

Family Bunking

inside room

Our Digs on Arrival

Most days, though, we tried to get together an Uno game with each other in the common room (aka Mango Room) and pull some other volunteers in as well.

Mango room

Mango Room

Sometimes the Uno tournaments got a little intense with elimination rounds.

uno

Uno Tournament

Then, as school let out for the children, we were able to become their families.  When we arrived at Rising Star Outreach and attended our orientation, one of the best words of advice given to us in regards to the children was to ‘just love them.’  If we are truly honest with ourselves, it is the children who showed us the most love . . . and you couldn’t help but love them in return.

Becca and girl

Maria

School girls 2

6th Standard Girls

Playground boys

Emma and friend

Navitha & Emma

Becca and girl 2

Boys on playground 2

School girls

Nishanti, Suba, & Mymonisha

As we would approach at the start of playtime, the children were waiting outside the hostel and ran to meet us.

celebrity cami

Playtime with Cami!

walkovers

Teaching Walk-Overs

splits

Split Demonstrations

Girl on playground

Just Watching

Girls on playground

Natural Beauties

They would come calling “Auntie” or “Uncle”, grabbing our hands and pulling us to the play area to practice cat’s cradle,

Hannah with boys

Teaching Hannah Cat’s Cradle

Boys on playground

“Spider Man” (aka Witch’s Broom)

 

. . . paint nails,

Painting Emma's nails

Manicure #1

mani pedi

Mani/Pedi Spa Treatment

Sangeetha painting nails

Pedicure #5

. . . watch videos of our own kids on our phones,

Becca and girls 3

Cami’s dance videos were a hit!

Becca with surrounding kids

More Spectators

Emma with girls

Scrolling through Emma’s Photos

. . . or play sports with the boys.

Boy with ball

Sweet Praveen

Basketball dunk

Playground boy

Hurt boy

Injured Praveen

After an hour of playtime, we would say goodbye and separate for dinner.

meal prep

Dinner Preparation

The volunteers eat the same food the kids do, which is prepared by the Indian cook in the dining hall.  It is the same food they would have on a normal day in their villages, which is a lot of red rice and sauce with boiled eggs.  The volunteers would supplement these dinners with cut vegetable salads and cut fruit.

typical dinner

Typical Volunteer’s Meal

During our dinner, we would always take turns going around the table to share our highs and lows of the day.

RSO dinner table

Volunteer Roof-Top Dining

Sometimes they were little things (like the heat), but other times they were bigger (like a child mentioning to another volunteer that they missed you when you didn’t show up for play time).  Our continual high every day was seeing our own children dive in and learn to give their love freely to these children.  They created memories and relationships that have even led to individual sponsoring.

Emma and Sangeetha 2

Emma’s Sponsor Child, Sangeetha

Emma buying Sangeetha necklace

Picking a Sponsor Gift

Cami and Abitha

Cami’s Sponsor Child, Abisha

Later in the evening, after we had cleaned up our own dinner, we returned to the hostels for ‘story time.’  The children would watch for the volunteers to arrive again as they got ready for bed.  It was fun for us to hear our names called by certain kids as we got close.  The girls and I always visited the girls’ hostel while Chris and Caleb visited the boys’ hostel.

usha

Usha & Cami – Instant Friends

In both hostels, we would sit on the floor with the children in their rooms, next to their sleep mats.  There were many requests for stories, but the ones they liked the best were stories from our own lives.  Sometimes those were the hardest as trying to relate 1st World humor or problems to those living in a different environment didn’t always make sense.  Emma started depending on her scripture knowledge and the children looked forward to hearing her tell scripture stories.  The younger girls and I sometimes would just talk and ask questions about the girls’ lives.  Other times, we would sing songs.  The most requested songs were from “The Sound of Music,” David Archuleta, or the hymns.

Girls with hymns

Ready to Sing!

As ‘lights out’ was called by the house mothers, those that were still awake, would call after us “come again tomorrow night, Auntie!”  Then, before we knew it, all our ‘tomorrow nights’ were gone.  Some of the girls I had gotten close to kept reminding me to come to their room that last night . . . and to bring my phone (electronics are usually not allowed during story time as they rile the kids up, instead of calming them down).  When we arrived, the girls were all having giggling fits.  As we tried to figure out what was so funny, they went to their cubbies and pulled out handmade cards they had worked on the previous night for us.

farewell cards

Farewell Notes

Then they ushered us all together so we could have one last picture together.

my girls

Girls from “G1″

It was the sweetest gesture.  Our stories that night somehow took on the theme of miracles.  The girls started sharing stories of miracles in their lives and it hit me that this whole experience had been a miracle for our family.  Our eyes were opened to the true meaning of unconditional love . . . as receivers and givers.

Friends from RSO

Stephenson / Bertha Volunteer Group

Before our departure, we were given ‘fun awards’ by the long-term volunteers.  They had all been thought out and given cute names then drawn out and designed on construction paper for us to bring home.  These will be a fun memory as well:

Cami: “SOOO Cute Award” – they had at least 3 stories of things she did or said during our 10 days that earned her this award.
Hannah: “Mani-Pedi Maniac” – as she helped paint the nails of many children (both boys and girls) during our 10 days there.
Caleb:  “The Humble Hunk” – many girls were sweet on him, but Caleb was clue-less and would barely tell them his name.
Emma:  “Golden Snitch” – she was a hide & seek champion with the kids
Chris:  “Flap-jack of all trades” – made pancakes for all the volunteers a couple different morning, winning their hearts.  The award was also for his many other talents he displayed during our 10 days – photography, DJ, construction, and real estate.
Becca:  “Mother to Many” – this was a special award to me because it reminded me of something that had been promised to me years ago and that, in that moment, I realized was happening in a different way than I had ever imagined.  Someone was truly inspired.

As we closed up our experience with the other volunteers, we were asked to share what we’re taking home with us from this experience – not something physical but a special memory or something we’ve learned.  Not sitting near our children and having them answer on their own accord was humbling for us as parents.

Cami – will remember the look of surprise and excitement on Abisha’s face when she told her she was her new sponsor.
Hannah – will have a special memory showing the kids pictures of her family from her phone and realizing how special it is to have a family and getting the children to talk about their own families.
Caleb – was touched with the friendships the boys had as they played football.  They loved being together and having fun.  He never saw an argument in any of their play.
Emma – touched that people can live with very little and be happy.  These kids only have what they can fit in a cubby, but they are some of the happiest people we’ve seen.
Chris – seeing how our kids dove in to serve with the children.  We always worried how they’d react when we would arrive at Rising Star, but he was so grateful for the positive experience.  It was almost more than we had hoped for.
Becca – taking home a greater understanding and appreciation for what unconditional love is.  Seeing these kids give their love so freely to those they barely know and doing it is willingly is definitely something to strive for.

RSO Group picture

Last Group of Volunteers

I loved the quote by Mother Teresa that the directors put on their mural just before leaving,  “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Painting mural

Working on Volunteers’ Mural

Our lives have forever been changed because of this experience . . . and it is all due to love . . . absolute and unconditional love.

Cami in sun

Sad to Leave

Rising Star Outreach

Wow!  Sitting down to put the last couple weeks into words is more challenging than I thought it would be!  Where do I start?  To quote Julie Andrews, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

For a number of years, we’ve had the desire to go on a ‘humanitarian trip’ with our family.  All our research turned up holidays to far off places, with a day of serving in an orphanage or some other form of service for one day.  We felt we wanted . . no, needed . . more.  Then a few years ago a good friend of ours spent two weeks giving service at a leper colony in India through Rising Star Outreach and his experience resonated with us.  We started researching what it would entail and realized we would have to wait a year or two until all our children were old enough to participate.  Then our window of opportunity came . . . and we jumped in with both feet!

RSO Sign

After a month of receiving various series of travel jabs (or immunizations) and gathering supplies, we were feeling pretty anxious.  As a family, we had been watching videos online of the work we’d be doing at Rising Star so we would be prepared and know what to expect.  As one of our friends put it, ‘get your funny faces out now.’  There is no easy way to prepare your children for the shock of deformities left behind from leprosy or the amount of poverty they would witness in a 3rd world country, but when we left for India, we were . . . ‘hesitantly excited’ . . . and anxious to serve.

Everyone with bags

Loaded with Donations & ‘Comfort’ Food

The first thing that hit us upon arriving in Delhi was the smell.  It hit us like a wave as we disembarked the plane.  It’s amazing how quickly it grows on you, though, and you just don’t notice it anymore.  We took another flight down to Chennai in the southeast part of India where Rising Star is located.  After a night in a hotel, two of Rising Star’s long-term volunteers picked us up for the 2 hour bus ride to the campus and we were in for the most amazing 10 days of our lives . . . forever to be changed.

hotel pickup

Hotel Pick-Up

rising star arrival

We have arrived!

Elephant house

Elephant House (aka Volunteer Housing)

Rising Star Outreach has four different initiatives, and we were able to see all of them in action:

Micro-Grant Loans

There is a strong stigma attached to leprosy, as people see those afflicted as unclean.  Traditionally, leprosy patients were unable to have jobs and provide for their families.  In turn, they had to survive by begging for two weeks at a time in their closest city before returning to their colony for a few days.  Then they would be back on the streets again.  Rising Star Outreach has been able to give loans to create small businesses so these colonists can be self-sufficient.

Working man

Village Worker

Woman with bowl

Stone Carrier

We were able to visit one of these colonies and see how these micro-grants have made a difference in their lives.

village tour

Micro-Grant Tour

As the people learn the skills they need to run small businesses, they are gaining self-respect and confidence.

welcome mats

Rice-Flour Welcome Mat

We met a beautician, shop owners, . . .

shop keeper

Sari Shop

. . . carpenters, day-care workers . . .

Two little girls

Going to School & Day-Care

singing time

Putting my Primary Chorister Skills to Use

singing time 2

“Once There was a Snowman”

viewing pictures

Loved Seeing Their Pictures

Daycare boy

Sweet, Sweet Day-Care Children

. . . seamstresses, cow-rearers . . .

Woman and cow

Out for a Walk

Woman and cow 2

Try Some Milk?

. . . and even garbage men.

RSO rubbish truck

Local Garbage ‘Truck’

We did find it a little humorous that the garbage still has a hard time finding its way into the waste bin.  However, how many American and European cities have this same problem?  Hopefully over time and practice, the culture will begin to take pride in using the receptacles.

trash collection

Waste Bin . . . and Garbage

Two of the biggest businesses were the artists selling their paintings . . . .

Choosing painting

What?!  The Washington D.C. Temple?!

(This man, Bala Chandran, was amazing.  We bought two works of art – both were his.  He has very little use of both of his hands but creates amazing paintings!)

. . . and the women selling their jewelry.

bracelets

Checking Out Wares from ‘Pearls with Purpose’

Cami choosing braclet

Absolutely beautiful . . . and awe-inspiring when you know they can produce such beautiful work with limited use of their limbs.

Cami and Woman

Cami with Leprosy Patient

boys with man

So Thankful at 81 Years Old!

Medical

As it was explained to us, leprosy is caused by a slow-moving bacteria.  After the bacteria is treated and the body is rid of it, the after-effects still remain.  These are the disfigurements and nerve damage.  Because the patients can’t feel their extremities, they don’t shift their weight to other parts of their body when needed and ulcers form (similar to bedsores).  These ulcers need routine care through cleaning and fresh bandages, which Rising Star provides in their mobile medical unit.

medical digs

Set up in the Community Center

We, as volunteers, were very hands-on in helping the doctors prep for their work.

Medical group

Assembly Line to Doctor

We had the privilege of removing the soiled bandages . . .

Becca with leper woman

Removing the Old Bandages

. . . cleaning their feet and open ulcers . . .

Medical

Cleaning / Oil Massages

. . . clipping toe and finger nails . . .

Emma medical

Amazing Emma

. . . and putting in eye drops.

Caleb eyedrops

Caleb’s Duties

Becca with Abraham

Helping Abraham Put Footwear Over New Bandages

The younger girls were able to be hands-on as well as they carried the dirty water outside to be disposed of and then washed each basin to be used again.

water carriers

Water Managers

Even  in down-times, if we weren’t busy, we had the priviledge of visiting with the patients . . . and playing with the children that came with their parents or grandparents.

Leper woman

Waiting to be Seen

Leper woman 2

Grandmother

Leper's grandaughter

Granddaughter

These medical days were some of our most humbling experiences while in India, not only to be with the patients, but to see our children step up and serve with patience, love, and gentleness.  It was definitely out of their comfort zone, but they were steller!

Dr Emma

Dr. Emma

Dr Caleb

Dr. Hunk Caleb

We also loved visiting the colonies because they truly did give an inside peek at their day-to-day life.

Women at watertank

Queuing up at the Water Tank

Woman washing

Morning Wash

Clothesline

Drying Laundry

shoes

Airing Sandals

Smiling girl

Beautiful, Happy Children

Old woman

Stately, Calm Grandparents

Community Outreach

There is never a lack of work to be done when you are involved in a successful organization.  Rising Star Outreach has grown a great deal since they started in 2002, supporting other organizations.  In 2004, Rising Star Outreach rented their first building and provided a home for 27 children from the leprosy colonies.  Today, in 2015, they have their own beautiful campus with a school and living quarters for 200 children who are preparing to enter mainstream society outside the leprosy colonies!

During our time in doing community outreach work, we were able to move bricks from an old building to another area of the campus to create a pathway, reducing the mud in the area during the rainy season.

work crew

Work Crew for the Day

shoveling brick

Cami Loading Her Bowl

brick bowls

Lots and Lots of Brick/Cement

tractor dump

Preparing to Unload Trailer

beginning of path

Start of New Pathway

We were also able to work on the new girls’ living quarters that will be completed when school resumes in the fall.

girls dorm work caleb

Caleb – Prep Work for Foundation

girls dorm chris

Chris Lending a Bit of Experience

assembly lines

Chris Manages the Assembly Line

girls dorm cami

Cami: Our Indian Worker

It was a privilege to work beside this amazing Indian man.  As we struggled working in the sun, with no shade, doing assembly lines to share the load, he worked to the side of us on his own.  He filled up his bowl with dirt, put it on his head, walked over to the dumping area (in bare feet), and walked back to do it all over again.

work companion

Working Side by Side

As we were walking back to the volunteers quarters after working on the girls’ quarters, we passed the small girls as they were lining up for lunch.  They asked us what we had been doing.  When we told them we had been working on the new girls’ quarters, a number of them thanked us.  It wasn’t a passing ‘thanks,’ but ‘Thank you, Auntie, for working hard on our new hostel’ or ‘Thank you, Auntie, for your service.’  The thanks continued as the line passed us on their way to the dining hall.  I was really in awe – how many other 5-7 year olds would think to thank someone for helping to build them a new building?!

Education 

Lastly, and probably most importantly, Rising Star Outreach helps educate the children to give them opportunities for the future and help break the cycle of poverty.

RSO school

Peery School

There are 60 staff on campus, which include amazing teachers.  The kids work so hard during the day, and the older ones have advanced study time in the evenings, as they prepare for their exams.

morning assembly

Morning Assembly

One of our favorite ways to serve was through the education rotation.  We had the opportunity to tutor the young kids in reading, writing, and conversational English.

yaminishri

Rhyming with Yaminishri

cami

Cami with Santhiya

tutoring hannah

Happy Hannah

caleb tutoring

Caleb at Work

emma and naveen

Emma with Naveen

We also got to enjoy a few PE classes where we learned how to play some new games.

one foot tag

Hopping Tag with the Kindergarten Class

end of pe

Back to Class

The older kids’ PE classes were always separated into boys and girls, as most of Indian customs are.

shoeless football

Bare-footed Football Game

Football sandals

Discarded Shoes

The boys always enjoy playing football, which they do during their breaks as well.  However, bare feet were NOT optional for PE and Caleb was definitely feeling it afterward.

football attitude

Football Attitude is International

The girls, however, taught us how to play a new version of volleyball, where there is no net – just a line drawn into the sand – and you have to catch the ball. If you let it fall on your side, the other team gets a point.

throw ball

Girls Playing ‘Catch-ball’

We also got to work with some of the older kids in the computer lab.  No matter the interaction with the kids, their excitement for learning was ‘catchy.’

We honestly can’t say enough about our amazing experience with Rising Star Outreach.  We would go again in a heartbeat!

Catching Up with Emma

High school is definitely one busy time!  As a 10th grader, Emma is in the last years of the MYP (Middle Years Programme) at her international school.  As a capstone course for the program, all 10th graders are required to do a ‘Personal Project.’

This Personal Project is an independent project of their choice in a topic that interests them.  As the months progress, the students are graded on the process (as they document each step in a journal), a final report, and the end-product.

10th grade project

Presenting her ‘Personal Project’

Emma chose to write a historical novel based on the experiences the Mormon pioneers had on their trek west.  It was a monumental task, but a growth experience as well. After doing all her research, Emma decided to scale the book back to target middle-school aged kids and have the book be in journal form.

To wrap up the project, all the students held an open-house evening where they displayed their projects and were available to discuss or answer any questions.  It was a fun night and a great way to share what they had learned.

IMG_8047

NHS Induction

Looking at the last 2 years of high school, the National Honor Society began their search for new inductees.  Many students were invited to apply for the society through teacher nominations.  When all the applications were turned in, a committee met to choose which students would be accepted for the honor.  Emma was very excited to receive her acceptance letter and had a very enjoyable and intimate induction ceremony at the school.

Only a few more months of school left and then the last two years of high school will be full of AP and IB courses.  We can’t believe it’s already time to start looking at universities.  Where does the time go?!

A Weekend in Poland

Last fall we were able to watch our friends’ children while they took a weekend trip away as a couple.  Between our two families’ schedules, our weekend away didn’t come until March.  We decided to do a trip that would be more appropriate to just do as a couple – – Auschwitz.

IMG_7813

Krakow Main Square:  Daytime

Chris has done a lot of work in Poland and has visited Krakow on a number of occasions, but it was a different experience going as a tourist.

DSC_0015

In Square

We stayed in the main square and enjoyed walking around at different times of the day. It’s definitely a different environment during the day than it is at night.

krakow square

Krakow Main Square:  Nighttime

We even found a Cinnabon shop!  We can’t even get those in London!  We may have visited the shop once . . . or twice . . . during our stay.

IMG_7820

Cinnabons

Then we made our way to the Jewish Quarter of the city, Kazimierz.

DSC_0082

The highlight was visiting the Remuh Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Europe.

IMG_7854

Looking in on Remuh Cemetery

The stones were beautiful, although it was sad that we couldn’t read any of them as they were written in Hebrew.

jewish cemetery

Grave Stones

It was interesting that many small stones were set on the gravestones, just as we would place flowers at a grave of a loved one.  They were marks that someone had visited; that the dead are not forgotten.  Underneath some of the stones were also written prayers, in various stages of disintegration.

prayers left at cemetery

Prayers Left Behind

During the German occupation of Poland, the Nazis destroyed the cemetery and used the tombstones as paving stones in their camps or sold them off.  After the war, many of the paving stones were unearthed and returned.  However, some were so fragmented that they were put together to form a new wall on one side of the cemetery.  This wall is now referred to as the ‘Wailing Wall.’

IMG_7875

“Wailing Wall”

We had set aside a full day for Auschwitz.  Not only did we allow for travel and touring time, but we knew we would need some down-time to decompress from what we had seen.  We were glad we did because we were both emotionally drained from our visit.

“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”

– George Santayana

DSC_0232

“Work Makes One Free” – Entrance Gate

We were able to take an English-speaking tour where we followed our guide through Auschwitz I with headsets.  It was amazing to listen to what went on in the camps – ‘amazing’ in a ‘incomprehensible’ way.

halt sign

Inside Auschwitz Fence

I definitely learned a number of new things.  One of which was when the people had their hair shaved off their heads and other parts of their bodies, these were saved and sent to Germany to make textiles!

DSC_0236

Block 24:  The Camp Brothel

I also learned that many of the inhumane things done to the prisoners were done to them by other prisoners (Kapos) who were ordered to do them.

wire fence

Barbed Wire Fences

I was surprised how well I was keeping it all together as we heard each terrible story after another.  Then we came to the room with the suitcases.  Each was labeled with names, addresses, and other specifics.  At that moment, these people became real, with names  . . lives . . . futures.  I fought hard to keep my emotions in check.

suitcases

Suitcases of Prisoners

Then we came to the shoes – millions of them!  Seeing all the shoes of the children was absolutely heartbreaking.  They came to the camp, promised a new way of life, and sent to ‘showers’ after their long journeys; many never living beyond that point.

shoes

Shoes of Prisoners – All Sizes

DSC_0276

The Death Wall (where shooting executions took place)

After touring Auschwitz I, we took a shuttle bus to Auschwitz II, or Birkenau.  This is where one of the main train platforms was.  They still have a cattlecar on the site that was used to pack hundreds of prisoners into for their trip to the camp.

cattle car

Train Tracks Leading into Birkenau

Guard towers

Guard Towers

Bunk ladder

Bunks in the Dormitories

 When the Germans knew the end of the war was coming, they tried to destroy evidence of what happened here. They evacuated about 58 thousand prisoners into the country, leaving them to their own devices. At the same time, the soldiers were burning the camp records, blowing up the crematoriums and gas chambers, and setting fire to warehouses full of property taken from the Jews.

DSC_0308

Destroyed Gas Chambers

Much of what we know went on in those chambers was due to the prisoners being forced to carry out these horrible, inhumane duties.  They wrote about events or other details on scraps of paper and then buried them nearby, in hopes that someone would find them later.  Thankfully many have been found . . . and these stories are preserved in history.

I was amazed to learn that the camps were open to the public by 1947 as requested by many survivors.  Some could ask ‘why?’  But, walking around these camps, you can’t help but become humble at humankind’s capacity and their resiliency.  These stories must be told . . . and not forgotten.

DSC_0290

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one a a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”

– Plaque at Birkenau

I was very grateful that Chris and I were able to go.  Seeing these things first-hand is beyond any understanding you would get from books about the time or place.  It truly felt like hallowed ground.

38 . . . Here I Come!

I haven’t talked much about Chris’s new ‘love’ of minimalism, but our lives have completely changed in the last couple months since my sister, Eliza, gave him the book Everything That Remains.  There was so much in the book that struck a chord with him.  Since then, he’s read other books along the same theme and continues to get more passionate about it.  The main premise?  We just have too much ‘stuff’ that is taking control of our lives.  In essence, we need ‘simplification.’  This, in turn, is where we find more time, peace, and happiness.

What does all this have to do with my birthday?  Well, everything!  Since we have gone through most of our house, purging everything and anything that we possibly don’t need anymore, gifts of the material sense weren’t on the top of the list.  Instead, Chris thought of giving me ‘experiences’.  The memories from these experiences are longer lasting.

So, experience #1:

Chris took the day off of work on Friday, the day before my birthday.  His plans didn’t start until the afternoon, but we walked up to the high street for breakfast – why not?!  In the afternoon, we took the train into Central London for our booking at one of the restaurants in the Shard, the tallest building in London (currently in the EU, as well).

the shard

Looking up at the Shard

Our late lunch / early dinner at the Oblix, on the 32nd floor, was great.  We had an amazing view of the city from our table and thoroughly enjoyed the food.  As you can only book a table for 2 hours, our time was up around 4:30 p.m., which was perfect for the next phase of Chris’s plans.  We had tickets to go up to the observation floors (floors 68, 69 and 72) at 5:00 p.m.  At this time of year, that coincides perfectly with sunset.  We also lucked out with a perfectly clear day so we got to see everything at dusk and then enjoyed watching the city lights come on along the Thames River.   

west view from shard

Westward View (London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral)

east view from shard

Eastward View (Tower Bridge, Tower of London)

It was truly magical and made you fall in love with London all over again!

Experience #2:

 On Saturday, we got up and headed into North London for a cooking class!  Chris had done a lot of research to find some of the best cooking classes in London and then tried to find availability that could work for us and my birthday.  He found Waitrose Cookery School had an Italian Cooking class on my actual birthday, so it was perfect!

cookery school

Chef Martin Demonstrating Before Setting Us Free

I was so glad Chris and I got to do this class together.  Not only was it a great way to spend the day together, but it was a lot of fun!

chris cooking school

Chris Preparing Osso Bucco

Not only did we cook the food, but we ate it during the day as well.  It was a 3 course meal with some extras.  Needless to say, we didn’t leave hungry!

Our menu for the day consisted of:

  • Tiramisu
  • Osso Bucco with Risotto alla Milanese
  • Spinach & Ricotta Tortellini
  • Fresh Basil Pesto
  • Pizza Margherita
  • Linguine with Crab, Chilli, & Garlic

Wow!  We actually got to make the tortellini pasta from scratch.  I always imagined making noodles quite difficult, involving pasta laying around to dry, but it was quite simple.  I would even try to do it at home, if I got a pasta machine.

pasta making

Rolling Pasta / Completion Certificate

The kids were good troopers and waited patiently to celebrate my birthday with me on Sunday.  Chris and Caleb made me a manicotti dinner, complete with salad and breadsticks.  Then we enjoyed a delicious cheesecake from Hummingbird Bakery and a few gifts.

It was the perfect birthday celebration and made me excited about what this next year has in store for me and my family!

bday celebration

Perfect End to a Perfect Birthday Weekend

Our “same place, same time” statement from our last retreat wasn’t 100% accurate this year, but at least we got the same place!  With others things happening in October, we just couldn’t make it work until this February.  That’s okay, we still wholeheartedly looked forward to it!

Anticipating the 2+ hour drive to Somerset, we brought along a new audio book Caleb got for Christmas, Focused by Noelle Pikus Pace.  The kids listened now and again but Chris and I were engrossed.  Each chapter, in and of itself, could have been a talk given in Sacrament meeting.  There are so many amazing people in this world, doing amazing things, and being amazing examples.  It was the perfect lead into our retreat.

audiobook

Focused by Noelle Pikus Pace

Even better . . . this time we got to bring Keira, our puppy, along.  It was her first long car ride with us and she did great!

keira car

Keira’s Car Accommodations

There is something to be said for pulling up to a familiar place, even if you haven’t been in over a year.  The farm was just as we remembered and we were so excited to be back!

holt farm

There’s Nothing like Holt Farm

We got to stay in the Old Barn (a renovated barn) again and it was comforting knowing what to expect, where things were, and we were even able to pre-assign bedrooms before we arrived.

the old barn

The Old Barn

Chris was really good about planning out our schedule for the few days of the retreat, making sure our time was spent on what we wanted to focus on.

schedule

Stephenson Family Retreat Schedule

Our ‘seminars’ this year included:

  • Media & Technology (and their addictive natures)
  • Five Love Languages
  • Minimalism
  • Budgeting, Compound Interest, & Investing
  • New Chore Chart System Introduction
  • Rising Star Outreach Introduction (a service organization we will be helping as a family)
  • Finding Happiness Now / Enjoying the Journey
  • Testimony
  • Giving

Our audience wasn’t the uptight, captive audience you’d find in a board room, but rather the relaxed, at ease audience you’d have at Family Home Evening.  Except, with having the whole weekend centered around this event, there were no cries that it was taking too long or that they had to be somewhere else.  All we had was . . . time!

lessons

Note-taking & Relaxing During Seminars

It wasn’t all note-taking and listening, though.  We did have some great hands-on object lessons for most of the seminars and the kids were always so positive about them.

testimony lesson

Learning about the “Pieces” of a Testimony

We also factored in time for fun games, like:

Airplane making & throwing contests –

airplanes

Learning the Art of Airplane Making

Wrapped candy bar game –

candy bar game

Frozen Candy Bar Game

Of course, we still had time for un-scheduled games and fun . . .

clue

Kid-favourite:  Clue

solataire

Solitaire

During break times, the adjacent game room was a big treat (ping pong, foosball, and snooker table).

pool

Caleb Playing Snooker

Of course, there were high aspirations for a large puzzle, but we just had so much else going on, we didn’t get too far.

puzzle fail

Failed Puzzle Attempt

Having Keira with us helped get us out of the house for at least 30-45 minutes every morning for a big walk and then randomly throughout the day.  On our first evening, I took Keira out and noticed the cows were ‘coming home’ so I tried to get closer to them for a good picture.  Keira was not a fan and actually couldn’t get far enough away.  The cows weren’t big on our presence either and actually started to get a bit aggressive with us.  It’s a good thing there was a fence between us!

charging cows

Aggressive Cows

When the cows were in their feeding barn, the scene was a lot more serene.

back of farm

Rear of Holt Farm

Of course, everything always looks better in the broad daylight . . .

backyard cows

Cows Peacefully Eating

caged cows

Safely Inside Gate

We enjoyed exploring more of Holt Farm during our walks.  The girls mastered the art of ‘stile hopping’ . . .

farm walk

Hannah’s Stile-Hopping Form

. . . while, Keira tried to master the art of ‘fence dodging’.  There is a reason stiles are only made for people and fences are made to keep animals out.

stile digging

Keira’s Attempt at Fence Dodging

Being winter, there was no end to the mud.  Even with wellies, we never failed to come home with dirty trousers.  But, it’s all about the experience!

muddy walk

Marks of Country-Traipsing

There is something to be said for walking along tractor tire marks and walking in the sheep fields.

hightailing sheep

Keira = Fox (in Eyes of Sheep)

We think Keira enjoyed her time in the countryside.  She loved tagging along on the walks.  Even without her lead, she stayed right with us and was concerned we all stay together.

companions

Faithful Companion

Back at the house, Keira was a big fan of the heated floors.  Add that into a ray of sunshine coming in the window and you have pure bliss!

heated floor

Soaking in the Rays

Of course, nap time isn’t complete without a little bit of cuddle time.

relaxing

Cuddling up to Caleb

With any holiday, we had amazing food – even if we had to cook it ourselves.  But, we chose some of our favorite easy meals for our few days there.

dinner

Favorite Home-Cooked Meals

Of course, you can’t forget the treats!

cookies

Emma’s Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies

treats

Jelly Bellies Win Every Time

Waking up early Sunday morning to head back to London was a little sad, but knowing we will be back soon makes it that much easier!

early morning

Sunrise in Somerset

Caleb Turns 14!

caleb

Caleb

Fourteen years have literally flown by!  Caleb came into the world as an upset infant, but as soon as he was mobile, he was the happiest child – and has stayed that way (for the most part).  We are so grateful for his lovable and humorous attitude that helps him interact well with each of his sisters differently.

birthday breakfast

Birthday Breakfast

Having a birthday during the week usually means we get to celebrate over a number of days, trying to fit everything in.  We got up early on the actual day to have a special M&M pancake breakfast and open gifts before school.

caleb's birthday

Styling with His Gifts

The following day, Friday, when everyone was home for dinner, we had Caleb’s requested birthday meal – shish kabobs, rice, and spinach salad.  Saturday, we pulled Caleb out of his gym training early and took him out to lunch at a local Tex-Mex restaurant, Chiquitos, before going to the theater to watch “Big Hero 6″.  Caleb decided he didn’t want a cake for his birthday, but would rather have root beer floats.  We had those Sunday for our Family Home Evening treat.  Nothing like making your birthday last for days!

 

birthday dinner

Chiquitos’ Lunch

This year has been a memorable one for Caleb as he started attending school.  He was really liking his homeschooled life – pushing through each morning to finish his school work by noon so he could have a few hours to himself before going off to gym training.  The thought of changing that comfortable life was hard for Caleb to accept, but we encouraged him to try school for a year to see how it went and how he could handle his other responsibilities.

first day of school

Caleb’s First Day of School

Every so often after school, I’d ask Caleb, “If you had to choose at this moment whether you came back home to homeschool or stayed at school, what would you choose?”  In the beginning the answer was always ‘come home to homeschool’ then eventually the answer became ‘undecided.’  Now, the answer is ‘definitely stay in school; I love it!’  I was so happy to hear that answer, thinking he was loving what he was learning and really starting to grasp how great an education can be.  When I asked him what his favorite parts of school are, the answer came, ‘my friends.’  He explained that he always thought he had enough friends through gym and church, but it wasn’t until he started school that he realized how important having other friends – that are different than you – can be.

We are grateful for this amazing guy.  He is a hard worker in everything he does.  He is a perfectionist in the gym and his own worst critic.

caleb high bar

High Bar – Elite Nationals 2014

Caleb is also a great teammate and a good example to all those around him.

Regional Qualifier

Heathrow Boys’ Sr. & Jr. Teams

We can’t wait to see what the next few years bring into his life!  Happy birthday, Caleb!!

It is no secret that winters in England are long and dreary.  Last year seemed particularly long so we decided to try to break this winter up with a sunny holiday over the New Year.  Our travel friends, the Ashton’s, had the same thought so we narrowed down some possibilities of warm destinations and settled on Crete, a small island of Greece.

As the trip came closer, the weather reports weren’t very promising, but we kept our fingers crossed.  It was no use; our “sunny” holiday was destined to be a ‘wash-out’, but you can’t win ’em all so we made the best of it.

We decided to plan our days according to the weather, so site-seeing was saved for those days that looked less menacing.  Looking at the sites in the surrounding area, we decided we really needed three days out.

Outing 1:  Knossos

Knossos, which was over an hour and a half drive from the villa, is considered the oldest European city.  It was the capital of Minoan Crete.  According to Greek mythology, the palace at Knossos was commissioned by King Minos and designed by the architect Dedalos.  Both these men have their own stories in Greek mythology.

cami knossos

Cami Braving the Rain

After Dedalos designed the labyrinth palace, King Minos imprisoned him so he wouldn’t give away the palace’s secrets.  But, Dedalos was a great inventor so he built two sets of wings for he and his son (Ikaros) to fly off the island.  Dedalos warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax on the wings would melt.  Dedalos didn’t listen and fell to his death in the sea.

boys

Caleb & Dallin

The Palace of Knossos is also associated with the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.  According to legend, King Minos required 7 young men and 7 young women to be delivered to him every 9 years.  They became the sacrifices of the people to the Minotaur who lived in the Labyrinth.  This continued until Theseus killed the Minotaur and made his way back out of the Labyrinth, using a ball of yarn one of the young women had given him.

ruins in the rain

Theseus was so excited to sail back home to his father, Aegean, that he forgot to change the color of the sails (which was the pre-arranged signal of whether Theseus had survived or died).  When Aegean saw the black sails, instead of the white, he assumed Theseus had died, so threw himself into the sea.  This is why the sea is named the Aegean Sea.

Kids at Knossos

“Clustering” Children

However many of the legends are true to this area, the ruins and restorations still being done, are awe-inspiring.

storage jugs

HUGE Clay Storage Pots

columns

“Upside Down” Columns

Arthur Evans, a British Archaeologist, is the one who bought the site and began excavating it in 1900 before beginning the restoration. 

sir arthur evans

Sir Arthur Evans

The on-and-off again rain didn’t damper the kids’ spirits.  Even though the younger kids weren’t too enthralled with the ruins and other artifacts, they were quite interested in the roaming peacocks, the big rain puddles, and finding ‘crystal rocks.’

crystals

“Crystal Rocks”

We also couldn’t leave Knossos without adding another picture to Caleb’s “Handstands Around the World” book.

handstand

Caleb’s Cretan Handstand

We began to discover on this first outing just how difficult it would be to find places to eat in the non-tourist season.  Many restaurants close down during the winter and you can’t depend on TripAdvisor to lead you to a good one. Chances are, by the time you get there, you will discover it’s closed.

We did find a great review in the nearby city and called ahead to make sure they were open and could take our party of 11.  We had an interesting time trying to weave our cars through narrow streets and then find parking, but we finally arrived at the waterfront, just in time for some blue skies

traveling kids waterfront

“Stephash” Buddies

We did enjoy the restaurant and the personal experience we had.  The Greeks love their food and the experience.  We were also pleasantly surprised to be given free dessert of fruit and then native baklava.

hole in the wall eats

The Best Restaurants are “Holes in the Wall”

Outing 2:  Chania

Chania was touted as a quaint town with a lighthouse so we thought it sounded like a great outing.  Surely, it would have lived up to its ‘quaint’ description in drier and warmer weather.  We began finding ourselves consistently say, “This would be really neat in the summer.”

google maps

What did we do before SmartPhones?

We arrived in town as soon as the rain hit.  We wandered around some cute alleyways, trying to navigate to the town centre.

back alleys

Back Alleyways

The alleyway walks were fun, as we tried to keep the younger kids from jumping in puddles or getting too wet.  In the end, we realized there was no hope for it, so we did a few ‘puddle jumping’ shots in front of Chania’s most recognizable landmark, the Church of the Trimartyri.

jumping in puddles

Puddle Jumping in Chania’s Square

Wet and cold, we wandered around to find a place for lunch.  As many restaurants, the Green Eye, had primarily outdoor seating.  The food and menu were amazing, but we will probably remember our experience of sitting under the heat lamps and trying to avoid the torrential downpour, more than the food.

Sadly, the weather didn’t improve any after lunch.  We decided to try to go out to tour the lighthouse on our way to the car, but walking along the harbour, we quickly realized that was not going to happen.

waterfront walk

Storm in the Harbour

Our tour of the lighthouse and the fort opposite were definitely ones to be done from afar.

lighthouse

 Braving the Elements

 

Outing 3:  Arkadi Monastery/Driving Tour

The owner of the villa we were staying in, had told us about a great driving tour around parts of the island, but with all the rain, we knew the roads wouldn’t be the best for that drive.  So, on our last outing, we did a shortened part of the driving tour, starting with the Arkadi Monastery.

monastery

Holy Monastery of Arkadi

The Arkadi Monastery is considered a national symbol in Greek history.  In 1866, there was a Cretan Revolt as the Greeks tried to fight off the Turks.  During that time, 943 Greeks (mostly women and children), sought refuge in the monastery.  As the Turks attacked the monastery, those hiding inside the magazine room were instructed to light a fire.  This caused an explosion that killed all the Greeks inside, as well as those Turks who were invading.  It is claimed to be a self-sacrificing act that caught the attention of the world.  A bullet from this 1866 revolt is still visible in one of the trees inside the fortress.

winter bare
Winter Months at the Monastery

girls monastery

Trying to Stay Warm

The highlight of the monastery for the kids was the many cats they befriended.  They named each of them and could tell you about their temperament.  It will be funny if the cats are what sticks out the most for the kids about this trip.

cats

Monastery Cats with Hannah

The shortened drive we took after the monastery wasn’t as windy as the full drive would have been, but we still had some kids feel a little ill.  As we drove over the mountain, there was a different feel to it – we actually saw a little bit of blue skies!

other side of the mountain

The “Other” Side of the Mountain

We had hoped to use the other side of the mountain as our lunch stop, but, true to the rest of the island, it was really hard to find anything open.  This side must be more of the touristy side, as it literally was a ghost town.  The kids wanted to get out of the car for awhile and try to skip stones even though it was super windy and cold.

 

skipping rocks

Skipping Stones

Villa-Bound

Even though the weather was less than ideal, we were really grateful to be with friends.  We had a great week, playing things by ear, and just hanging out.

villa doors

Our Villa

The kids were not deterred from enjoying all the amenities of the villa.  Any moment of sun or letting up of the rain, and they wanted to be in the villa’s pool.  The water was heated to an extent, so they were constantly checking it to see if it was suitable.

cold swim

Pool in the Villa

chattering teeth

Teeth-Chattering Cold

At other times, as we hung out in the villa, we had plenty of games, a puzzle we whipped out in 1 day (!), and plenty of movies to entertain us.

puzzle

1,000 Piece Puzzle + 11 People = 1 Day to Complete

One evening, the adults even went out into the little village to get a sense of where we were staying.  We were able to see the bells that woke us up our first morning there (as it was Sunday) and rang in the New Year as well.  Being right next door, it felt like they were just above our bedroom windows.

village bell

Village Church Bells

We continued to follow the path up the village slopes, and came to a pedestrian gate.

uphill path

Pedestrian Path

We had a great view of the little village set into the hill, with the sea just beyond.  It was amazing to see how little one village can be to house 300 people.

village view

Panoramic Village

This definitely wasn’t the holiday that we had planned, but we still got to see Crete and spend some down-time with friends.  Sometimes you just need something out of the ‘norm’ to be a success.

Older Posts »