Saturday, December 29, 2007

In loving memory...


It is with a very heavy heart that I now write about the passing of one of the greatest women I have known. Just a few hours ago my dear Aunt JoAnn left this mortal existence to find the peace and rest that she so deserves. She was in the midst of battling cancer for the third time and had recently started chemotherapy again. This last dose proved to be too much for her as it left her very weak and with very few white blood cells. She was rushed to the ER earlier with breathing problems and eventually her heart stopped and the blood pressure was so low that they could not bring her back.

There is a gaping hole in the hearts of our family members and "Josie" as I lovingly called her will be so greatly missed. Everyone who met her could not help but love her for her genuine character and fun personality. I have so many fond memories of her and both my sister and I were blessed to have a close and special relationship with her.

I am very grateful that I was able to see her twice while I was home for the holidays. On Chrismtas Eve day my mother and I picked her up to help her finish up some last minute gift purchases. I only briefly saw her on Christmas Day as she was not feeling well enough to join us for dinner. Instead, we dropped off some food at her house. Oh how I wish now that we would have stayed and spent some more time with her. But I think there are always things....the "could have", "should have","would have" things that we would change if we had only known how soon those opportunities would be gone.

However on both occasions I was able to tell her I loved her as we parted ways. I hope there was no doubt in her mind how much I love her and esteem her. I certainly never doubted her love and concern for me. I don't know if she heard me in the hospital tonight but I expressed my love to her one more time...and later my anger for leaving us when we still weren't ready to let her go. :)

Grief and loss are unavoidable aspects of this life. But there is no grief and loss if we have not shared and loved. My own grief is bearable but it is so hard to watch my sweet sister and my cousins (my aunt's sons) grieve. My heart also goes out to my other aunt Sue who was in Hawaii with her family as this all unfolded. She will be on a plane in a few hours. But the most unbearable thing is to watch my dear mother grieve. She said to me tonight (paraphrasing), "I don't know what I'm going to do. I've never had a day of my life without my older sister." My mom retired just one week ago and was very much looking forward to spending more time with my Aunt JoAnn.

The next few days and weeks will be hard for our family. But along with all of the grief and loss and sadness also comes peace and comfort. Josie suffered many things throughout her life but she was a classy wonderful woman who loved a good laugh and I will miss her so very very much. I am happy to know that she is no longer held back by her physical problems and that she has been reunited with her parents and loved ones.

There will never be another Josie...I am glad she is mine. I will hold her close to my heart and will look forward to being reunited with her at some future date as well. I am grateful for the Savior and his Atonement that provides us all the opportunity to be restored in the Resurrection and reunited with those we love.

Here's lookin' at you Josie. You're one tough old bird and ain't nobody gonna fill your shoes. Keep on dancing and keep on smiling. We love you and already miss you more than we can stand...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bahama Mama

As promised, I am returning with a synopsis of my most recent travel escapades. Most of you probably know that over Thanksgiving I went on a 4 night cruise to the Bahamas with 4 of my friends. It was such a blast and I highly recommend Royal Caribbean for all of your cruising needs. Things couldn't have gone much better for us.

Sunday, November 18th

We flew into the Fort Lauderdale Airport and met up with our ground transportation. It was about a half hour drive to our hotel in downtown Miami. We ended up getting to the hotel sometime around midnight and we were all starving. Kim and Heidi headed across the street to Checkers (a burger stand) across the street while the rest of us dropped off our luggage.

We joined up with the girls and Checkers and soon discovered that perhaps our hotel wasn't in the best part of town. This guy...I swear he was totally high or otherwise wacked out...wouldn't stop talking to us and the overall vibe was not good. We escaped with only two meals and ran back to the "safety" of our hotel room. Guess that's what you get for a $60 deal on Hotwire, eh?

Monday, November 19th

The next morning got off to a much better start. We had some time to burn before heading to the port so this really nice valet or porter or someone pointed us towards a homestyle diner so we could grab some food. I'm sure we looked like total dweeby tourists as we walked the few blocks. Here's a self-portrait with some Miami high rises in the background:

I really enjoyed our diner experience. We had this great waitress that honestly seemed more like a character from a movie than a real-life person. We had awesome cheeseburgers and Candice got hit on by some Coast Guard guy and another guy bought her a piece of cake because he somehow ended up with the burger that was supposed to be hers. In case you are wondering, Candice was definitely the resident hottie on the trip. Anyway, here we are outside the lovely diner.
We made the short taxi ride to the port and found the embarkation process to be very easy. We went to our staterooms to drop off our luggage and tried to explore a bit. However, not too far into our explorations we had to suit up for the muster drill before we could hit the high seas. It was interesting to me that although our rooms were next door to each other, Heidi and I were assigned to a completely different muster station than Candice, Analee and Kim (hereafter referred to as the CAK.) Therefore if the ship were to go down we would not be able to know the whereabouts of our friends...hmmm. Anyway, we weren't too worried as you can tell by this picture of me and Heidi suited up in our oh-so-fashionable-prison jumpsuit-orange life jackets.

Shortly after the muster drill we were on our way and to make a long story short we had an enjoyable first night on the ship. I did have a little bit of sea sickness but nothing too bad. We also got quite a kick out of standing at the front of the ship and having our hair blow sky high. I can't find the picture I wanted to post of that right now so I'll try to remember to do it later.
Tuesday, November 20th

We arrived in our first port of Nassau, New Providence Island in the Bahamas. We had signed up for a "Forts and Pirates" tour which turned out to be much less exciting than we anticipated. We boarded a mini bus and got kind of a narrative tour through the city before stopping at Fort Fincastle. We got a little rowdy so they put us in Bahamian time out:

From there we moved onto Fort Charlotte where we could have chosen to pay yet another $5 to actually tour the fort and take pictures of the harbor. Instead, we took this picture for free outside the fort.

Our next stop was the Pirates of Nassau Museum. I was really looking forward to this because I have always been a bit fascinated by pirates. This museum was touted as the "highlight" of our tour and it sure was something. We were led on a guided tour by a crazy man dressed as a pirate who kept scaring the children on our tour recycling his same lame pirate jokes every 3 minutes or so. Needless to say I was a bit disappointed. I suggest you save your money and take the online tour yourself. The scariest pirates around belonged to this crew pictured on the left.

After the tour we spent some time on the beach. It got pretty windy (I think I still have sand in my left ear) so we headed back to do some shopping. There wasn't really anything exciting souvenir wise and the CAK headed back to the ship while Heidi and I forged on. She ended up with a couple of things and I bought a license plate.

Back on board it was time to get all glammed up for the Captain's Gala or something like that. Basically it was formal night and so we all got fabulous and had a great time posing for the formal portraits, including some rather awkward poses suggested by the photographer...we were laughing hysterically. I must say we all looked very nice and although I was skeptical before the trip, Candice was right...formal night was quite fun!

Wednesday, November 21st

This day's port of call was CocoCay--Royal Caribbean's private island. While the island wasn't all that exciting, it was actually really nice to have a day to just lounge in the sun and not have to do much of anything. The water was a bit colder than I expected but Kim and I had fun with the waterproof digital camera although our underwater self-portraits didn't turn out as well as we hoped:

Thursday, November 22nd--Happy Thanksgiving!

Our third port of call was Key West. It's kind of crazy to think that it is closer to Cuba than it is Miami. I thought about swimming the 90 miles to Havana but I'm just a little too afraid of the open water. But more on my fears later. Our shore excursion in Key West was called "The Big Three" which involved sea kayaking, snorkeling and dolphon watching.

Our first adventure was sea kayaking which I had never done before. It was quite enjoyable but I would like to try it in a one person kayak because I am too chicken of capsizing the kayak. Had that happened it wouldn't have been much of a problem though as it was low tide and many of the areas only had a foot or so of water. Here are Analee and Kim, the kamikaze kayakers:

We then suited up for snorkeling. I had been snorkeling once before in Cancun and for the life of me couldn't figure out why I had signed up to do it again. **Confession--I have an irrational but very powerful fear of being touched by fish or other sea life while in the water.** This makes snorkeling some what challenging, and at times, terrifying. However, I decided to buck up and try to be brave. I only said a bad word in my snorkel once (hehehe) although my heart got pumping a number of times. Overall it was a much better experience than my first time but I was still ever-so-grateful to get back on the boat. Thankfully the waterproof digitals were able to capture footage of my bravery.

On the way back to the ship we were tried to find some dolphins. We wer very lucky to run into a pod of about six of them and we followed them for a good twenty minutes. They were quite playful and just amazing creatures to watch close up. One even jumped out of the water for us. It was pretty cool.

This is our cruise ship, the Majesty of the Seas:

I was sad that it was already the last night of our cruise. We had such a fun time and even the stereotypical things about a cruise were so great. We enjoyed going to the cheesy shows in the theater and making fun of the horrible choreography and singing. The exception was the comedian they had the first night because he was funny and clean! Anyway, we wanted to commemorate the theater in a photo...notice the people behind us...definitely kindred mischevious spirits of ours!

Friday, November 23rd

It felt like the blink of an eye our cruise was over. However, we had scheduled an Everglades tour in Miami so we loaded on the bus and headed out to the Gator Park for our airboat tour and gator show. I really loved riding on the airboat even though our guide was a more annoying and less-funny version of Larry the Cable Guy. The Everglades are impressive and we were actually able to see a couple of alligators in the habitat.

After the airboat tour we moved on to watch alligators being fed and then a show about some of the wildlife in the region, including gators. Perhaps the coolest thing of all was that I got to hold a young alligator in my very own hands. Their skin is very cool to the touch and has quite an interesting texture. It was sooo cool!

I made some new friends at the Gator Park:

After the Everglades tour we went back to downtown Miami and checked into our hotel. We then took some local transportation (Metro mover) to an open air mall along the dock called Bayside. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe and wandered around for a while before barricading ourselves in the hotel room again. We did not make the mistake of another late night run to Checkers! :)

Saturday, November 24th

The days flew by way too quickly and it was time to head home. We had an early morning flight and had to leave our hotel by 4 a.m. which means we only got a very few hours of sleep. Despite the grumpy tired looks on our faces on that early morning we had a GREAT time on our cruise and I would happily do it all over again. Thanks to Heidi and the CAK for another great set of memories!

Monday, December 24, 2007

I'll be home for Christmas...

It's hard to believe that Christmas is tomorrow...seriously, where has this year gone? Regardless, I am happy to be blogging from lovely Simi Valley, CA and happy to be home for Christmas. I get to spend a glorious 10 days with my family and I couldn't be happier.

Thanks to the many people who responded to my last blog. I appreciate your support and encouragement. I am happy to announce that things have been much better in the last couple of weeks...even with all of the added holiday stress. So don't worry, I'm not as close to the edge any more.

There are so many things I've wanted to blog about but just haven't had time. So now that I'm free of work and a lot of other responsibilities for the next little while I hope to at least post something about my trip to the Bahamas last month. Stay tuned....

In other news, it's already been an eventful holiday break. I flew home on Friday night and thanks to airport delays didn't get home until long past midnight. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, however, the next day we all hopped in the car to head to Vegas to show some support for the Cougars at the Las Vegas Bowl.

It was a lot of fun for us all. My mom hadn't been to a football game for a good 30 years and my sis hadn't been at all. Our seats were great...thanks to taking my mom's wheelchair. The only bad thing was that it was FREEZING cold...c'mon Vegas, we expected something better from you!

Anyway, the Cougars didn't play as well as they have at other times this season, but a win is a win! And we can give a big thanks to Eathyn Manumaleuna for helping us put a mark in the W column. In case you missed the highlights and the amazing blocked field goal with 3 seconds you go:

Somehow I managed to forget to pack the USB cable for my camera so unfortunately I won't be able to post any of my own pictures from the game. I know...I can practically hear your disappointment over that one. Next time I promise to try to not be so thoughtless.

So after the game we headed back to the Stateline (aka Primm, NV) to spend the night at Buffalo Bill's. Not the nicest accommodations, but it will certainly do when you've been in the car for a good chunk of the day. The best part of the stay was that we got two free tickets to ride the Desperado roller coaster housed at the hotel...pictured below:

Yes, friends, that's a 45 foot drop straight down. Megan (my sister) and I braved the ride together. She's usually totally freaked out by roller coasters so it's a miracle that I got her on it in the first place. And well, I'm not a huge fan of heights either so I doubt it would have ever happened without the free tickets. I mean, do I look stupid enough to pay to risk my life on something like that? Never mind, don't answer that question.

Anyway, I must have been a little more scared than I thought because I seriously dreamed about that stupid roller coaster the whole night! But I have to say, it was totally awesome. I screamed for the first 2 seconds of that big drop and then it literally took my breath away. I was really proud of Megan too...I think she might have been less scared than I was!

The only bad thing is that now I will have to find something new to tease her about. It's been a tradition for me to tease her about us going on that roller coaster every year when we drive by. Oh well, now we have a great memory to last a lifetime.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On the edge...

I haven't really been feeling like myself over the last few months. It's been a crazy and hectic life...the good mixed in with the bad. But the end result has been me feeling a lot like the picture above. This week at work we had our annual health fair and I picked up some information from our EAP. What I found on the stress checklist confirmed that I really am overly stressed right now. Let's see how you measure up:

  • Do minor problems and disappointments upset you excessively?
  • Do the small pleasures of life fail to satisfy you?
  • Are you unable to stop worrying?
  • Do you feel inadequate or suffer from self-doubt?
  • Are you constantly tired?
  • Do you experience flashes of anger over minor problems?
  • Have you noticed a change in sleeping or eating patterns?
  • Do you suffer from chronic pain, headaches or backaches?
Unfortunately I answered yes to most if not all of these questions. Now the purpose of this post isn't to say "oh poor me" or whatever. It's just kind of a reality check as to where I am at right now. And I guess for anyone who reads this and may feel similarly to let you know you are not alone. Society tells us we must be perfect or we do not have worth. However, perfection is a journey, not a destination so maybe sometimes we have to be a little flexible in our expectations of ourselves and others.

I've been introspecting (can you say that?) quite a bit lately trying to figure myself and my life out. I consider myself to be a fairly strong, resourceful person with good coping habits but I just don't seem to be measuring of up as of late. Not that the tasks and trials are insurmountable...more that I just don't feel up to the task. My capacity to cope hasn't been up to par. I hope this all makes sense.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago in our Relief Society lesson, we read a section from the manual, "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church--Spencer W. Kimball" that helped me identify one of the keys of my current struggles:

"There are in our lives reservoirs of many kinds. Some reservoirs are to store water. Some are to store food, as we do in our family welfare program and as Joseph did in the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty. There should also be reservoirs of knowledge to meet the future needs; reservoirs of courage to overcome the floods of fear that put uncertainty in lives; reservoirs of physical strength to help us meet the frequent burdens of work and illness; reservoirs of goodness; reservoirs of stamina; reservoirs of faith. Yes, especially reservoirs of faith so that when the world presses in upon us, we stand firm and strong; when the temptations of a decaying world about us draw on our energies, sap our spiritual vitality, and seek to pull us down, we need a storage of faith that can carry youth and later adults over the dull, the difficult, the terrifying moments, disappointments, disillusionments, and years of adversity, want, confusion, and frustration. …"

As I read this, the proverbial light bulb went off in my head! I think one of my main problems is that I do not have a reservoir to draw on right now. You may have heard what I like to call the analogy of the bucket. Basically it's a very similar idea to the reservoir. We are each a bucket...which can be filled or dipped from. Sometimes life fills our buckets and sometimes it dips, sometimes we fill each others' buckets and sometimes we dip from them. But crucial to our reservoir is also our own effort to fill our buckets so that when the time comes we have sufficient reserve to dip from if necessary.

So I guess that's one place I can try to focus some of my energy. I need to work more on doing the things that will fill my bucket so that I can get out of my current situation and hopefully prevent it from happening again. But I have to find a way to do that while still maintaining all of my other responsibilities and commitments. Anyway, hopefully this continued introspection will benefit from some time away from my normal daily pressures as I soon will be leaving on a Thanksgiving vacation. Sorry that this post is kind of a downer!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Long live the 80's!!

So for Halloween this year, some of my coworkers invited me to join them in reliving the 1987 prom of Sweet Valley High School. I told them that it would be a cold day in you-know-where before I donned a puffy-sleeved prom dress but that I would try to come up with something that would fit in with the theme. Little did I know that my costume would turn out to be such a big hit with everyone.

Which brings up the it a problem if people seem to like you better the way you look in your costume than your normal day-to-day look? Is it time for a complete style overhaul? Or does it mean people just like to see a different side of you? Or in this case that you brought back a vintage piece of a beloved decade? I guess it partially depends on who is giving the opinion. But I guess I'll let you guys be the judge as well. Here I am in all my glory as an 80's punk rocker:

I have to admit, I really dug the whole punk thing myself. I felt like I had full license to pull an
attitude and give someone that "Are you asking me to kick your butt?" look whenever I wanted. Maybe it felt fun to look the part of the bad girl without living the lifestyle. I guess the whole idea of Halloween is getting to be someone else for a day. Stepping outside of your normal life and getting creative. Maybe I missed my calling in life. I think I would have made a totally awesome punk chic!

One of the benefits of working at a children's hospital is getting to celebrate the holidays,
especially Halloween, in a big way. We have an annual kids' costume parade followed by the employee costume contest. I am proud to announce that my friends from Sweet Valley High and I took 1st place in the group category. We must have looked quite hot strutting our stuff to vintage Cyndi Lauper--"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Here are 3 of my friends as prom queens as well as myself and another punk friend (our lone male representative was the emcee for the contest and therefore not in the picture but looked great in his checkered suit coat, thin tie, converse and mullet wig complete with braid!)

Halloween is always a good time. I sometimes dread coming up with a costume, but more
often than not when all is said and done it's worth the effort. I'm glad that Halloween is for "grown up kids" too... We all need the freedom to cut loose and get a little goofy now and then. Guess I'd better get thinking about next year's costume. In the meanwhile, I am sad to retire the punk costume which turned out to be much funner than I ever imagined. Of course, I can't promise that the fabulous wig won't show up somewhere before next Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My two month hiatus...

(noun) A break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

So I've been missing in action from the world of blog for about two months now. I can't say that I have a good reason as to why I have been missing but I think there are a number of influential factors including:

1. It took me so long to blog about India that I was all blogged out.

2. Work has been incredibly busy and after the long hours the last thing I have wanted to do is sit at a computer again.

3. Free time has been at a minimum especially considering I have been to Phoenix, Simi Valley and El Paso in the past 6 weeks.

4. My brain is fried and I have a pretty boring life so I have struggled to find something to write about.

That being said, I am going to try to start posting a few things here and there now that I have jumped the big hurdle of my first post back. Thanks to those of you who have actually looked at my blog in hopes (fear?) that something new would appear. I guess it helps to know someone actually looks at this so I'd better write occasionally. Ok, I've gotta hit the sack...Monday morning will be here all too soon. Until the next time...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Adventures in India-part 3-"Bombay to the USA"

And now for the long awaited third and final chapter in my India adventures...

Monday, July 30--I was really sad to be leaving our awesome hotel but at the same time I was ready to leave Jaipur behind. It was time to say goodbye to our serious but very nice driver Nagender (notice the cute "driver outfit" he has on) and I couldn't tell if he was more excited about his tip or the prospect of finally being rid of the crazy Americans! We were a bit worried about our domestic flight via Spice Jet Airlines but it really wasn't too bad. When we arrived in Mumbai (aka Bombay--many Indian cities are reverting back to more native-like names to further establish their independence from the British regime that ruled them for so long...) it was raining at a pretty good clip. It was evident that we would be experiencing more of the monsoon season along the coast.

We were a little worried about hiring a taxi and trying to get to our hotel. We really had no idea how far it was or how to get around the city or how much it should cost us. Upon exiting with our baggage we were promptly whisked away by two men who loaded us up and we thought we were on our way. They showed us the tariffs according to the zone of the city and it listed separate prices for a car with a/c versus without. As it was raining we told them we didn't really need the a/c but they didn't seem to like that choice so they promptly gave us a much better price for a car with a/c. The next thing we know we are at this random parking area where we, along with our luggage, were transferred to another awaiting car and driver. It was pretty strange and we were worried that we had really made a mistake by hooking up with this group.

It's hard to explain, but Mumbai is very different than any of the other cities we visited yet still very much India. This is one of the few places you can still see some of the footholds of the British Empire...many gothic buildings, British looking taxis, double decker buses, etc. It definitely feels like more of a cosmopolitan city than Delhi...the closest comparison I have is kind of like the New York City of India with a little bit of L.A. mixed in because it is the home of the Bollywood film-making industry and there is even a part of town known as "Film City."

Anyway, it was quite a long ride from the airport to our hotel...not to mention the fact that our driver had never heard of the hotel. Fortunately it is near a very well known train station (Victoria Terminus) so he at least knew how to get to the area. After having to turn around a number of times we finally realized that our hotel was housed inside some random building on the third floor. We were grateful to be out of the car and out of the rain.

We hauled our goods up to the hotel and presented them with our Travelocity reservation. They whipped out their big log book (although India has made many strides towards modernity, each hotel we stayed in had this huge book or ledger where we had to fill out our information for check-in)...anyway, they whipped out their book and my name was nowhere to be found. We were escorted to a waiting room where we sat for nearly an hour doing who-knows-what before they took us to the room.

The Empire Royale Hotel, as I mentioned, takes up the third floor of a building. This "floor" has been renovated into two separate levels with rooms. They were honestly the lowest ceilings I have ever seen and I'm not even a very tall person. Our room was nicely appointed but definitely had the look and feel of a cruise ship cabin. The bathroom seemed totally mismatched in terms of decor and layout. We also opened our window to get a load of our view and were greeted by this guy on the roof of the building next to us. WHAT?!?

Fortunately for us, there is a McDonald's situated right on the corner of the building we were staying in as it was a bit late and still kind of rainy. We ate something and being a bit tired from our travels just headed back the room. We watched the only English channel available, nothing less than the Hallmark channel, played some cards and called it a night.

Tuesday, July 31--We talked to our hotel about renting a car and driver for the day and they wanted to charge us double what we had paid in Delhi. Mind you, we knew that Mumbai was much more expensive than Delhi but this seemed ridiculous. We then ascertained from our guide book that where we were headed wasn't all that far away and decided to try our luck in a city taxi. Yeah, the ride over cost us just one measly dollar.

Our plan for the day was to take the ferry out to Elephanta Island to see some supposedly amazing cave sculptures. The ferry took probably about an hour and, in a brilliant move on my part, I got kind of seasick because I had forgotten to take a Dramamine back at the hotel. But it was kind of refreshing to be away from the crush of humanity and be riding a boat across Mumbai harbor. As we neared the island it looked like a lush green tropical paradise.

We unloaded and started the walk up towards the staircase that leads up to the caves. But ne'er you worry...if you're feeling too tired to walk, there is a lovely little train that will take you for the low, low price of 10 rupees. Random!! It was definitely more humid on the island but didn't feel as hot. It was pretty overcast but no rain fell. There whole island is teeming with monkeys and that was pretty cool.

We had to climb about a gazillion stairs to get up to the cave entrance. By the time we got there I was sweating just as profusely as if I had been at the Taj Mahal again...lovely! I definitely did not feel like an attractive person at any point during my time in India. Anyway, the cave itself was amazing...totally just carved out of the mountainside.

Elephanta Caves is an area filled with sculptures of a number of Hindu gods and goddesses and supposedly dates back to 600 A.D. The most highly touted sculpture is the Trimurti--a depiction of Lord Brahma the creator, Lord Vishnu the preserver and Lord Shiva the destroyer--as a 3 headed personage. The sculptures are all very cool but very difficult to photograph because there is not good lighting inside the cave obviously.

Other than the caves, there is really nothing else to do on the island...except for shop. The stairs to the cave are lined with all of these people selling their wares. We actually found some pretty cool stuff that we had not seen in any of the other markets we had been to so we made some good purchases. The road back to the dock is also lined with shops and Heidi inquired about the price of a wooden elephant only to have the owner follow her for a few minutes calling out different prices.

As we were still walking an Indian family was passing by us also on the way to the dock and the man struck up a conversation with us and gave us some tips on haggling for prices. It turned out that this man, Vijay, is actually a Christian missionary serving with his family in Saudi Arabia. He and his wife Leslie and two children Steven and Sarah (not the typical Indian-sounding names, eh?) were on vacation and in Mumbai for the first time as well.

Heidi had mentioned that her brother was a missionary in India a few years back and we ended up having a really great discussion with him about the similarities and differences in our beliefs. Vijay and his family belong to the Church of South India which he described as being somewhat similar to the Baptist Church although from what I've seen online it is described as more aligned with Protestant beliefs.

Anyway, as I mentioned, we had a great conversation with him during the hour-long boat ride and we were able to touch on many of the important topics covered in the old missionary discussions. I was very thrilled to find out that Heidi had put her small military copy of the Book of Mormon in her camera case so we were able to write in it and leave it with Vijay and his family.

I (we) had murmured some about the cost of coming to Mumbai and feeling like it was a waste, but after meeting Vijay and his family the purpose of our side trip there was very clear. It was amazing enough to meet a Christian family in India but even more amazing that we would meet a family who has been living in Saudi Arabia and would likely not have the chance to be introduced to the gospel as the LDS Church has no official presence there. We were definitely on somewhat of a high to have the great opportunity to meet them and share our beliefs with them.
We returned to the mainland anddecided to do the walking tour outlined in our guide book. It was kind of lame but we did see a lot more European-looking architecture as well as passing Bombay University. We decided to check our email in this little cyber cafe that was hotter than you-know-where and had the oldest computers known to man. But the best part was that it only cost 25 cents for a half hour. With no other options nearby, we had to suffer through another McChicken Burger at the golden arches and then retired to our room for more Hallmark Channel and games before bed.

Wednesday, August 1--We got up and checked out of our hotel but had them store our luggage so we could go out before going to the airport. We wanted to go to Mani Bhavan which is a house that Ghandi lived in and worked from off and on from 1917-1934. It was really hard to find a driver that knew where it was...which we found funny because they call him "Father of the Nation" and he is on all of the currency!

Anyway, it was a really cool place and they had photos of his life, letters he had written, a library of stuff by and about him, paintings and sculptures of him and a whole section completely dedicated to dioramas depicting different events from his life. Probably one of the biggest highlights was seeing the room he stayed in with some of his original belongings. We also went on the rooftop and it was incredible to think we were standing where Ghandi himself once stood.

I left the museum with a great respect for this man. It just goes to show the power that one person can have to influence people for good. In some ways Ghandi reminds me of President Hinckley in that he was a leader and a friend to the people because he traveled many places and was among the people. I was also reminded of Joseph Smith acknowledging that he was willingly going as "a lamb to the slaughter" because two days prior to his assassination Ghandi said, "If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips..." They both also reportedly shared very similar last words in crying out to God as they were being assassinated. It was a great experience to learn more about Ghandi and we bought some books about his life and his teachings.

We went back to the hotel and had to wait forever for the taxi they had called to come take us to the airport. There was another huge downpour the whole time we were driving there. I had to go through an extra security check at the airport for no apparent reason so that was kind of annoying. We arrived back in Delhi and were met by our driver who took us back to our hotel...or at least what we thought was our hotel. There had been some mix-up either by our travel agency or the hotel and they did not have a room for us. We were promised the same quality accommodations and were taken to a nearby hotel that was not that great but we didn't have any other choice that late at night. Needless to say we were not happy at all with the situation.

Thursday, August 2--Our last full day in India! We checked out of our gross hotel and were taken to another one that was only slightly better. As we did not want to waste the whole day to find a hotel that we would basically only use for showering and packing that night we just agreed and moved on.

This was the day we had designated to get the rest of our souvenir shopping done. Unfortunately it was raining on and off, which made things difficult at times. Luckily we had found this great area while Candice was with us that had pretty much everything we could ask for. By this point I was really feeling very "done" with the whole pushy vendor scene and the multiple "Excuse me madame"s as we walked around. Boddu had planned to meet up with us but with the rain and traffic got there a bit late. We took him out to lunch at a nearby TGI Friday's to thank him for all our help.

Later we all piled into an auto rickshaw as we went clear across town in search of some things that Heidi's brother Adam had asked her to buy. Sadly the first rickshaw broke down and Boddu had to negotiate with that driver and another one to help us continue on our way. We were able to get the things we needed and then Boddu took us to see the chapel he attends. It is a beautiful house that was converted as a church meetinghouse. We also ran into the missionaries who just happened to be there waiting for an appointment to show up. It was great talking to them and hearing a bit about their experiences.

It was time to say goodbye to Boddu and we were sad because he is such a great person and we had such a good time with him. We are hoping he will have a chance to come to the US some day soon so he can see the Salt Lake Temple and other church sites and visit his mission companions. We went back to the crappy hotel and stayed up again all night packing as we had to leave for the airport at 3 a.m.

Friday, August 3--This was probably the longest day of my life as we traveled about 36 hours to get back home thanks to some flight delays, including a 3 hour delay at JFK. I thought we would never make it. I was very happy to be back on American soil but even happier to walk into my own home.

India was such a crazy experience but such a good life experience. I wish I could truly communicate what it is like there but I think the only way to really understand is to experience it yourself. My one word of advice for most people is to strongly consider going on an organized tour if you want to go to India. I think we could have avoided some of our frustrations going that route but it is definitely doable on your own as well! Anyway, I hope you have been able to get a glimpse the unique world of India through my travelogue and pictures. Thanks for tuning in...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Adventures in India-part 2-"Agra & Jaipur"

I'm back with the second installment of my India adventures. I think there should only be one more after this...or at least I hope so. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post all of this. It would probably help if I wasn't so OCD and ADHD. I want everything to look just right but I get distracted as I go along so it takes twice as long!

Friday, July 27--We packed up our goods and piled into our little car to hit the road for Agra which was supposed to be about a 4 hour drive. It was interesting to see the changes as we moved out of metropolitan Delhi...still tons of people everywhere on the outskirts. As we moved further away there was actually a lot of green space with towns that would pop up here and there. The craziest thing was seeing camels hooked up to carts (as if they were oxen or horses) pulling loads down the road! It was also crazy to see buses fly by with a bunch of people riding on the top!

I'm not sure what our driver had eaten that morning but let's just say I don't think it agreed with him. I would have given anything to not be sitting right behind him! Our driver stopped the car a number of times...just pulled over to the side of the road for no apparent reason and would disappear for a while. Later we stopped at this "motel" type place that had a bathroom if we needed it, a restaurant and a slew of overpriced souvenirs. Mind you, none of us had asked for a bathroom break but we soon learned that the driver had his route marked and stopped where he wanted no matter what.

It was a pretty long drive and we were grateful as we finally pulled into Agra. Our driver stopped at Akbar's tomb and we were grateful to stretch our legs and check out another site. It looked a lot like some of other tombs we had visited but there were some sort of antelope or something roaming the grounds. They had the craziest swirly antlers.

I really am quite impressed at how well preserved these sites seem to be. They are very old and I am sure that a ton of people visit them each year. But I think there is great care taken to maintain and restore them. We had to walk down this long tunnel to get to the actual tomb and were surprised to find some random guy there "standing guard" and doing some weird chant. But it was definitely a pretty cool place.

Our driver then took us to our hotel--Holiday Inn Agra (yes, we decided to splurge a bit and enjoy a more "American" atmosphere.) It was very obvious that this was a higher class establishment than where we had previously stayed. We even had a cool doorman in full Maharaja costume. It was strange to walk on carpet again but we were pulled back to Indian reality when we saw that the rollaway bed again consisted of a folded wooden platform.

We got to the hotel in the early afternoon so we had a whole evening ahead of us. Heidi was really wanting to go see a Bollywood film so we talked to the front desk and they pointed us in the direction of the local mall. The mall was actually pretty normal although you had to buy the movie tickets on the ground level and the theater was on the top level. Weird.

Anyway, we chose to see the movie "Partner"--not only had the hotel recommended it to us, but it happened to be showing at just the right time. People kept looking at us like we were crazy..."You know the movie is in Hindi, right?" Little did they know it was more for the experience than anything. Anyway, the theater was actually really nice and had comfy seats. We were on the very back row as this is the reserved seating they gave us even though the theater wasn't very full.

So, here's the lowdown on Bollywood films in case you haven't seen one (try Bride and Prejudice if you're interested in learning more.) Anyway, these films are 3 hours long with an intermission...yes, an intermission in the middle! Randomly during various parts of the movie it cuts away to these massive song and dance numbers that have nothing to do with the plot. Hysterical! Plus people in the theater are clapping and standing up all during the show when they see something they like. Part way into the movie we realized that "Partner" is almost a perfect rip-off of "Hitch" so even though it was in Hindi we had a good idea of what was. All in all it was prett fun and I'm glad we got to experience it. Our little driver was waiting for us outside the mall and took us back to the hotel for the night.

Saturday, July 28--We got up really early...5-something to drive to the back side of the Taj Mahal to watch the sunrise. To get there we had to drive through some pretty poor parts of town...people sleeping all along the road and shanties made of tarps and plastic and whatever people could find. I was surprised to see how many people were out and about at that early hour. We got to the end of this road and had to walk down through some fields. Mosquitos kept biting us and we were sure we would all get malaria from it!

Sadly, it was way too cloudy and we never saw the sun come up. But it was nice to see the Taj...we practically had it all to ourselves except for some Indians that came to gawk at the 3 whities taking pictures! We got some good shots, including Heidi and I playing London Bridge with the Taj...yeah, yeah, I know...tacky tourist photo but it was just too funny.

We went back to the hotel and took a nap before getting ready and heading out for the day. Our first stop was Agra Fort and our driver asked if we wanted to use the company tour guide for the day. We said yes and boy was that the best decision we could have ever made. Our guide was Raj and he is officially my second favorite Indian (after Boddu.) There were a ton of vendors outside the fort and we were swarmed the minute we got out of our car. This was true in a number of places and probably on of my biggest pet peeves about India.

Agra Fort is a very impressive complex and it was nice to have a guide. It is across the city from the Taj and you can see it from different areas of the fort. The builder of the Taj was actually later imprisoned in Agra Fort and had to look upon his beautiful creation from his confinement. The Fort also boasted a couple of moats to improve its security and many beautiful areas designed by different members of the reigning family such as one daughter who loved the light and wanted lattice work with large spaces and another who hated light and wanted lattice work with very small spaces.

After the Fort we headed back to the hotel to meet up with Candice's coworker Melissa who had traveled up from Bangalore. We then went to have the full Taj Mahal experience. All I can say is that this place definitely deserves its spot as a Wonder of the World!! The intial view is so breathtaking and it seems almost surreal to be standing there taking it all in. The outside structure is amazing, but once inside it's just like any other tomb. And to think that this was all built as a tribute to the love one man had for a woman! Not to mention that many workers and designers either had their tongues cut out or their thumbs, hands or arms amputated so it could never be recreated!

I think I have never been as hot in my entire life as I was at the Taj. I honestly thought it would possibly be my last day on earth. But I figure, if you're gonna go there are a lot worse places to be buried than the Taj Mahal. Worst case scenario they could have just thrown me in there next to old what's-her-name! I didn't know my body could produce that much sweat and not get any cooler!

After we finished Raj took us to learn about artisan work that was used in the building of the Taj--specifically marble inlay work (all of the designs in the Taj are inlay, not paint.) Precious stones are crafted and used as inly design in the marble. This type of work is of Persian origin and all of the workers were brought in from Iran. This artisan work is still performed today...mainly as restoration work for the Taj. The learning of this work is a closely guarded family secret...those who do it now are the 12th generation descendants of the original Taj workers and are paft ofa family guild 7,000 strong. Part of the year they work to restore and maintain the Taj and the rest of the year they create artisan pieces to keep their skills honed. It was interesting to see them working. We were then led to the show room where we all ended up buying something...most of us got something small because it was expensive. But with something as unique as that, how could you pass it up.

It was getting late in the afternoon and our driver was pretty anxious to get on the road. We were supposed to have stopped at more ruins (Fatehpur Sikri) on the way out of town but with 5 hours ahead of us we opted just to get on the road. What followed was honestly the drive from hell. Not only was the road bad, it was under consruction and I would not suggest driving at night. I was claustrophobic (we now had 5 of us crammed in a small car) and the lights from oncoming cars gave me a headache. It was honestly just miserable and I thought we would NEVER get there.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived in Jaipur and checked into what is quite possibly the coolest hotel I have ever seen--the Umaid Bhawan. Highly recommended to anyone who might be going to Jaipur. We had a huge suite with stained glass windows, great Indian furniture and decore and a huge bathroom with a shower and separate tiled shower/huge tub thing. We stayed there on advice from one of my old college roommates and it was great.

Sunday, July 29--We got up in the morning and left for Amber Fort. On the way we drove through the old part of the city which is all painted pink. Hence, Jaipur is also known as the Pink City. We drove up through some hills to the base of the fort and were then able to ride an elepant to the top where the entrance is. How cool is that?! Once up top I made the mistake of taking out a bag of candy to give some to some kids and was promptly accosted by children and grown men alike who all wanted to get their hands on some. I didn't think it was possible, but the vendors in Jaipur were even more aggressive than in Agra and we were grateful once we entered the actual fort and were out of their reach.

Again, this was a really cool complex. It was different than the
other places we had seen because it is not built out of red sandstone and is also set up in the hills. There was so much cool architecture and lots of great photo opportunities. We had to walk back down the big hill to get back to our car and were hassled by more people trying to sell us stuff...I've never met so many persistent/pushy sales people in my life!

We went back to Jaipur and opted out of paying more money to tour the inside of the City Palace. It just didn't look that interesting. We paid a minimal fee to wander around this dumb outdoor astronomy thing that made no sense. Then as we came around the corner we ran into the coolest thing in the whole world--genuine snake charmers! We all stood there practically in shock. I think we were almost just as mesmerized as the snakes were! It was crazy!! You can see a short video here...

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to do some shopping as Jaipur is supposed to be famous for jewelry (particularly silver), silk and other things. We really did not have a positive experience shopping here (just ask Heidi about the pushy silk bedspread guy) and because of the pushy agressive people trying to sell us stuff we really had a bad taste in our mouth about Jaipur in general. We stopped in to grab a quick bite to eat before we had to get Candice and Melissa to the airport it was sad to see Candice leave but I am so glad we got to spend a few days with her. Heidi and I were pretty much done battling the people of Jaipur so we just went back to hotel, wrote some emails and relaxed the rest of the evening.