"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finding Peace in the Midst of 12 Million People

As the saying goes, “My how time flies…” Almost a year ago I wrote a post about my then recent trip to Bangladesh. As the one-year anniversary of my return from that trip approaches I’ve been reminiscing about my experiences there. So, here’s more of the story.

Our first day in Dhaka was spent getting familiar with the city and shopping for some traditional tunic tops for Aimee and I. First, though, we needed to go to the ATM for some taka. It was weird to make a withdrawal for 25,000, which was the equivilent of about $325.00 U.S. dollars. Then it was off to the bank for change. In Bangladesh, they don't like to give out small bills. Luckily, the bank employees were feeling friendly that day, took mercy on the American tourists, and broke our large bills into smaller denominations. 

After a couple of days exploring in the city, the six of us loaded into our chartered van and headed to Srimangal, the tea capital of Bangladesh. We weren't the only ones leaving the city. Eid al-Ahda (the feast of sacrifice), a major Muslim religious holiday was being celebrated the next day. Many people return to their villages to celebrate Eid with their family, so traffic was crazier than usual.  People were literally packed on the top of buses and trains that were already filled beyond capacity. The streets were filled with people leading goats and cows home in order to sacrifice them the next day. I felt sorry for the animals, many of them brightly festooned with flowers and paper garlands, being led unknowingly to their fate. 

Here's a video clip to give a sense of the street noise in Bangladesh.

Travelers packed on top of a bus.
The drive to Srimangal was kind of harrowing. Roads in Bangladesh are notoriously dangerous and accidents are common. The posted speed limit on most highways is ridiculously low, and everyone drives as fast as they want.  Narrow highways are shared by large buses, trucks, cars, CNGs, rickshaws, bicyclists, and animal-pulled carts. The center line on two-lane divided highways is driven on like it's a third lane!  For most of the drive I put my head down trying to focus on reading and attempted to tune out the frequent exclamations of "Oh my Hell!" and "We're going to die!"around me. At one point a car coming from the opposite direction passed so closely it tore off our passenger side mirror. Here's a video clip from that day.

The drive was worth it though. Srimangal was amazing! We stayed at a small eco-cottage on a lime plantation. The thatched hut cottages were the perfect mix of rustic and civilized. There was running water (although the promised hot water never worked), indoor plumbing and electricity. All of our meals were prepared and served in the main house, which was just up the path from our cottages. The food was amazing, and I looked forward to the delicious sweet, hot tea served at the end of every meal.  
The front porch of our cottage.
The main house.
Celebrating Eid with sweet pastries from our host.
My brother and sister-in-law had stayed there numerous times and become friends with the owner. He  invited us to witness the Korbani (sacrifice) that would be performed the morning of Eid. Because this is a sacred Muslim religious ritual, it was very kind of him to allow three non-Muslim strangers to witness the Korbani. On the morning of Eid we walked across the street to his home and went around back where the ceremony would be performed. The whole thing was much more quiet and calm than I expected. Other than the death rattle of the cow, which was awful! I stood back, hiding behind my camera, snapping pictures and trying not to think too much about what I was witnessing.  
Preparing for the Korbani.
After the Korbani, we went back to the cottage where our host brought us a plate of traditional sweet treats prepared for Eid by his wife. After eating our snack and letting our minds recover from what we'd just witnessed, we headed up the road to explore the village. The atmosphere in the village that day was festive. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes with most of the young girls in bright new Eid dresses. Many of the women and girls had fresh Mehndi on their hands and feet. Everyone greeted us cheerily with "Eid Mubarak!" (Blessed Eid). It was a happy day of celebration, and everyone we met seemed happy to have us share it with them.  

As we walked through the village a young girl waved to us from her window. We pointed at the Mehndi on her hands, motioning that we liked it. My sister-in-law, Sam, could understand the girl and turned to us to tell us she was asking if we wanted her to paint some Mehndi on our hands. Of course we did! The six of us crowded into the small house, which was already full of family and friends there for Eid. Neighbors gathered in the doorway and peered in through the windows to see the six Americans, and to watch us have henna applied to our hands. We laughed and chatted with the kids, many of whom knew a few English words and were excited to show the Americans what they knew. I treasure my memories from that morning--the welcoming villagers, the generosity, and the feeling of warmth and kindness from nearly every person we met.   
A work in progress.
Curious kids watching us get Mehndi.
Aimee, Sam and I with our Mehndi artist.
The three days and nights we spent at the eco-cottage were so relaxing. Our days were spent exploring and sightseeing. Evenings were spent chatting on the porch of our cottage drinking cocktails made from our makeshift, limited bar. Dark came early, and every evening by 7 p.m. I was ready for sleep.For the first time in months I slept soundly, cuddled under heavy quilts, surrounded by mosquito netting. Early every morning before sunrise, I'd lay drowsily half asleep listening to the morning call to prayer being broadcast over loudspeakesr. The chanting soothed me, and I'd drift back to sleep to the sound of it.  
Our makeshift bar. 
Jon clowning for the camera while Atticus & Sam shop for snacks.

Before arriving in Bangladesh, I was worried about how I would cope with the poverty and beggars I'd see. I live a very comfortable middle-class life and I'd never before been confronted with such extreme poverty. Beggars and physically handicapped, disfigured people are everywhere. They surround you on the streets and swarm around cars stopped at intersections. Luckily, Jon and Sam educated us all on how to deal with the beggars, helping me be comfortable with the nearly constant onslaught. It was fun to watch them interact with some of the children that begged at a particular intersection.They had developed relationships with some of them and the children knew not to ask every day. With a few, they'd negotiated a deal that Jon and Sam would give them money every few days, if they in turn respected their space and didn't beg every time they saw them. One of the many reasons I love Jon and Sam is the respect they have for people, regardless of their circumstances. They've taught me so much about accepting people from all walks of life, seeing them as equals deserving of the same human rights, dignity and respect as anyone, regardless of material circumstances. 
While the women shopped, Jon & Atticus found some fun.
Sam buying a dress for a young beggar girl.
Jason & Jon bought dresses for some beggar girls we'd grown fond of.

One day near the end of my visit, we were walking down the sidewalk, followed by a crowd of curious locals as usual. Aimee and I were talking about the trip, and how we still had to pinch ourselves to believe we were really there. We'd done it! We hadn't just talked about how nice it would be to go, wishing and dreaming, but not acting. We made it happen. We were talking about everything we liked about Bangladesh, and getting a little misty-eyed at the thought of leaving. That's when it occurred to me, right there on a crowded, noisy sidewalk somewhere in Dhaka. I was at peace. Finally, after months of functioning under a cloud of sorrow and grief, I was living again. For over a week, I'd traveled and explored, never once afraid of memories lurking around a corner or in a particular house or place. There were no memories there for me. Everything was new. Not a single place or experience there reminded me of Julie. Until that moment I hadn't realized how heavily my memories had been weighing on me. Somehow, unconsciously, imperceptibly, I'd turned a corner while I was there. I remembered how to live in the moment, looking forward to new experiences and adventures.  

There are so many things I love about Bangladesh. The beautiful, friendly people, the history, the green rice paddies, the food, the clothes, the tea, the noise, the chaos, the savvy, entertaining beggar children, and relaxing evening rickshaw rides through Dhaka. But more than all those things, I'll always remember and be grateful for the way being there helped heal my soul.  

Me enjoying a rickshaw ride.
Tasting 7-layer tea.
Dressed in saris for a night out.
Me and my brother Jon.

Things That Are Important to Gillian A-Z

Today I'm sharing a writing assignment from my daughter.  Students were asked to write about things that are important to them, describing one thing for each letter of the alphabet.  I think Gillian's choices say much about who she is: creative, observant, sensitive, smart, careful, somewhat literal, and an all around good kid!  Enjoy.

Art is very important to me. It’s a way to express myself. During my free time I like to draw whatever I’m thinking about. I love being able to do whatever I want by using art. There are so many ways to express yourself through art. Art is beautiful.

       My best friends have a bigger impact on me that my family sometimes. At least it seems that way. My best friends are Kaylee, Sophie, and Allison. We have had so much fun together. Some people might think we’re total nerds but we have more fun together than most people. Sometimes it’s fun to be weird instead of worrying about what everyone else thinks all the time. My best friends are the best!

Change is beautiful. The changing of leaves is one of my favorite things to see. Every year my dad and I drive to Mountain Green to look at all the leaves. I love all the different colors. Yellow, orange, red, and sometimes brown. Whenever I see leaves that are that color I think of everything I’ve ever seen that is beautiful, like the ocean. I look forward to the changing of leaves every year.

My dad is extremely important in my life. I don’t know what I would do if anything were to happen to him. He’s very funny and makes me smile. My dad supports me through everything and I know he loves me more than any thing. My dad is great, he’s my dad.

The ability to eat is important to all of us. Eating food is what we need to survive. I’m thankful that my parents are able to buy me food. Some people hardly even have that. I like to eat when I’m hungry. My favorite type of food is probably Chinese. Thank goodness for good food!

My family is great. I have my parents, two sisters, and a brother. The oldest is my sister Ricki. She lives in St.George now. The second oldest is my sister Stacy. Then there’s my brother Dustin. I ‘m the youngest. My oder siblings are really half siblings, but I think of them as whole. They came from my dad’s first marriage so we have a different mom. They’re all married with small children. I love my family more than anything.

My grandparents are awesome. My mom’s mom lives in Colorado. We go there at least three times a year. I love her house. My mom’s dad live in Shadow Valley. His house is also very fun. He has a small forest in his yard with a little hammock. Every time I go there I end up falling asleep in it. My dad’s parents are both dead unfortunately. I don’t remember them because they died when I was really little. I love my grandparents and the presents they give me, and I love the treats they have by the front door.

Happiness is contagious. I love it when people around me are in a happy mood. It makes me want to be happy. There are many things to be happy about. Happiness is the key to a good life. I think happiness is part of what keeps you healthy. Be happy and you’ll have fun.

It’s important to be independent. If all you do is follow everyone else, what’s going to happen when you move out? Then you have to think for yourself, cook for yourself, and live for yourself. It’s best to just start being independent and having your own mind at a young age. If you’re independent people will like you more because you’re not copying them all the time. Independence is important.

My Aunt Julie was very special to me. She died by suicide in May 2010. I was camping in Lava Hot springs when I found out she had died. It’s hard for me to understand why she left me on purpose. She had been depressed for a long time.  Julie had beautiful curly hair, and whenever she walked into a room she put a smile on everyone’s face. She was the one I wanted to be with when we drove somewhere. Julie was a great aunt. I will always love her, and I think of her every day.

It’s important to be kind to others. I always try my best to be kind to everyone I interact with. When I describe my friends one of the most important qualities they have is kindness. Hopefully, when people describe me they say that I’m a kind person. Being kind to others is important to me because I want to make a good impression on other people.

  I have a little black dog named Lucy. She’s black with white on her paws. My mom got her for me as a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to get a dog at all. When I got in the car I saw a little dog bed in the back seat. When I asked my mom what it was for, she lifted up her jacket and there was a little tiny puppy in her lap! I even got to choose her name. I love Lucy.

My mom is great. She does everything she can for me and more. She cooks amazing food for me. I like it when she makes poppyseed chicken casserole. She also does laundry and shops with me. My dad’s great too, but no one can do for me what my mom does. She understands me more than anyone, and she always knows what to get me for Christmas. I love my mom.

Nature is beautiful. I love to look at the mountains and the moon at night time. I also like when it has just snowed and the streets aren’t plowed yet. Everything is white and beautiful. Nature is important to me because without it there wouldn’t be anything that’s naturally beautiful.

It’s important to be outgoing in life. To me childhood is for having fun. I try to enjoy things as much as I can instead of just sitting around watching T.V. all day long. I also like to try new things. I hope when I get older I won’t regret not doing anything. Being outgoing is important to me.

Peace is important to me. I don’t like it when people are fighting. It brings tension to a room. I try to make peace as much as I can. Things are so much better when everyone is at peace with each other instead of fighting with each other. Peace is better than war.


I always ask questions when I’m wondering about something. Some people are afraid to ask questions because they’re embarrassed, but I’m not. It’s important to ask questions because if you don’t you will never know. Then you might not ever know the right answer. So just ask a question, and you might get an answer.

Staying true to my religion is important to me. In my religion we believe in dressing modestly, no swearing, and staying clean, pure and chaste. I try to set a good example for people who look up to me. I never do any of the things that we shouldn’t do. I read my scriptures often and pray every day. I am a Mormon girl.

I love to swim. I’m on the Barracuda swim team. We practice at Ogden High School. My favorite stroke is the freestyle stroke. I also like to dive. To me the way people move with the water like they are one is amazing. I’ve always loved to swim. The swim team is also fun because my friend Kaylee swims with me. I like swim on Fridays the most because we play fun games underwater. Swimming is my favorite sport.

Having enough time to do things is important to me. I don’t like to be rushed. Whenever I am rushed to do something I usually do it wrong or forget something. I like to have plenty of time to enjoy things. I eat slow to enjoy my food. That doesn’t mean I’m slow doing everything, but I’m not too fast either. I like to have time to do things right.

I think having your own unique personality is crucial. Everyone is unique in their own way. I’m unique because I have a freckle on my ear right where my earring hole is. I also wear glasses. It’s annoying to me when people copy someone else. I like it when people do what they want to do.

I love going on vacation. The best one I’ve been on was when I went to Alaska with my dad. We went on a cruise for a week. My favorite thing that we did was whale watching. It’s weird when everyone thinks that Alaska is always cold like Antarctica. I went in July and it was very nice weather the whole time. Alaska is amazing. I love going on vacation.

Water is important to me because without it I wouldn’t be able to live. We need water for everything. It’s even inside us. I love the way water is so refreshing and pure. I also like to swim in it. Water is very important.

It’s better to live to the extreme than be careful all the time. Sometimes it’s okay to have fun and try new things. It’s also important to express yourself. There are many ways to express yourself. It could be through art, laughter, and many other things. So take a chance and do something a little outside of the box.

I have a yellow lab named Sophie. She is about five months old. Sophie is a big puppy. She weighs about 50 pounds right now and we think she’ll be about 80 pounds. We got her in the parking lot in front of Pet Smart. My mom and I were shopping in a store nearby and saw the puppies. We were shopping for school supplies, but we ended up coming home with a puppy. I love my puppy named Sophie. She’s adorable.

When I was little I loved going to the zoo. I like to look at the giraffes. Especially when there’s a baby one. They are so graceful. I also like to look at the elephants. They’re also very cute. The zoo is a very fun place to go. It’s important to me because of all the fun memories I have from there.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sick Day

Today I let my daughter play hooky from school.  She really was sick, but probably not so sick that she couldn't have gone to school.  I could tell by the way she was barely able to squeak out the words, "Mom, I don't feel good" that she'd caught the head cold I had a week ago.  Her grades are excellent, so I opted to let her have a day of R&R.  

Her sick day turned into kind of an adventure day, but I think she benefited from the break from her daily routine and some extra spoiling. When I got off work, we decided to make a quick trip to Salt Lake City to visit a new museum, The Leonardo. It was Groupon's Deal of the Day yesterday, and I'd wanted to check it out.  Our visit was spur of the moment, and I hadn't actually purchased the Groupon offer.  When we got there, the very friendly staff let me buy the deal on my phone, waited until I received my confirmation email, then scanned my ticket code directly from my phone.  Technology!  What did we ever do without it?

The museum was great.  Gillian's favorite part was the interactive multi-media section, and I loved the photography exhibition called This Light is Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement.  If you get a chance to see it, I highly   recommend it, as it will be showing across the U.S. for the next five years. 
Gillian making a virtual painting.
After the museum, we went to one of my favorite parts of Salt Lake, 9th and 9th, and ate at one of mine and Mike's favorite restaurants, the Thai Noodle House.  It was Gillian's first time having Thai noodles, which she rated as a two thumbs up experience.  

It was a fun evening, spent with people I love and would rather spend time with over anyone else.  Gillian is still sick though!  She might need to stay home and recuperate tomorrow...
Gillian working on a writing assignment during the drive to SLC.
My two favorite people.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Today I downloaded several hundred pictures from an old camera to my new laptop.  It's been a while since I'd looked at what was on that camera, so I took some time to reminisce and look at pictures from the last four years.  It was a fun trip down memory lane.  I've always loved looking at pictures, remembering happy times, special occasions, and just plain everyday moments from my life.

I scrolled through the last four years, organizing and editing as I went.  Yes, there were twinges of sadness as I looked at the many pictures of me with my sisters, but I refused to let myself linger on any one picture or memory too long.  Then I came to this picture and the floodgates opened.  Even though I've seen it before, tonight it struck a new chord with me that made me cry.  It was taken the morning after my sister's funeral.  The spray of flowers on the coffee table had been on her casket.  The children are my nieces and nephews, playing a game of Risk.  What the picture captures for me is how they're simply there together, being children, yet unknowingly, wordlessly, supporting each other during a sad, confusing time.  

I adore all of my cousins.  Maybe because to me they're like siblings, but better.  There's all the silliness of shared fun and games, whispered plans for coups against parental authority, and shared confidences, but without the kind of rivalry and fighting that happens between brothers and sisters. 

During most of my childhood, all of my cousins from my dad's side of the family lived near me in Utah.  We saw each other often.  There were Sunday evening outings together to get ice cream, gatherings at our grandparent's house, birthday celebrations, Christmas Eve parties, Thanksgiving dinners, camping trips, and frequent sleepovers between my two sisters and I, and our three female cousins closest in age to us.  A one night sleepover during the summer would often turn into several nights in a row of sleeping over.  

My mom was from Colorado, so my cousins on my mom's side lived in Colorado, but we also saw each other very regularly.  My cousin Michelle is closest in age to me, older by just ten months.  During our younger years when I'd first show up in Colorado for a visit, I always felt a little shy around Michelle. It would usually take us a few hours to warm up to each other. She was always anxious and ready to play the instant I showed up! Her energy, confidence and silliness was more than a little intimidating to me back then.  I don't remember exactly when that changed. I just know that I began to adore her at a very young age, and I've never stopped.  

Even as a child, Michelle had a quick wit, and loved to tease and have fun, while I was always more reserved and quiet. She was always the leader, and I was her willing follower.  It didn't take much to make us both break into fits of giggles.  We were probably very obnoxious to everyone around us for years!  When something was funny to us it could take on a life of its own. We had silly names for each other and everyone around us. We had so many inside jokes I'm sure much of what we said didn't make sense to anyone.  
Michelle & I wearing our mom's old dance formals.

Manitou photo booth silliness.

Pie on our faces.

Goofing off for the camera.
When we were older, the two of us, along with my older brother and our cousins Mike and Tony would sometimes stay together at our Grandma and Grandpa French's house. We would tease and torment each other without mercy.  Our days were spent plotting tricks and pranks to play on the boys, and they did the same in return. We all used to sneak down to the river and play in the water for hours, even though our grandma had forbidden us to go near there.  

As teenagers, Michelle and I had a special knack for irritating and embarrassing my older brother. Walking around the block with towels draped over our heads pretending to be nuns completely cracked us up, but for some reason mortified him.  The more he demanded we stop, the more we would do it. We also liked to put on our mother's old formals and traipse around the neighborhood, acting as if it was completely normal. One summer, we battled my brother almost daily for a week with water fights. Actually, it was more of an all out war.  We stopped at nothing, including spraying the hose full force into the house through open windows and doors. Amazingly, when my mom came home from work to find the carpets soggy, I don't think she even yelled at us.  

Through the years of laughter, double dating, pranks, teasing our younger sisters and brothers, teenage rebellion and more, our bond grew. As young adults, our lives took very different directions and we saw each other less.  When we did see each other though, we always picked up as if we'd never been apart. My love for her isn't something I've ever spent much time consciously thinking about. I just know that she's there for me, through thick and thin, without judgement, no matter what, as I am for her.  
Me with Michelle - 2010

Another inside joke.  Trust me, this picture is hilarious to the two of us.

The day Julie died, Michelle was one of the first people that called me. Even though she was hundreds of miles away I cried inconsolably with her, talking for at least an hour trying to make sense of my shock and confusion. The day of Julie's funeral, I was surprised and grateful when nearly all of my cousins showed up in Colorado, coming from California, Utah and Massachusetts. Even my cousin Mike, serving in the military overseas was there via Skype. That evening, with family and friends gathered together to relax and reminisce, Michelle knew exactly when it was time to stop crying with me and start me laughing again.  Laughing with her, and all my cousins that evening, after an emotionally exhausting day was exactly what I needed. Being surrounded by them brought me indescribable peace  and comfort.  
Me with Michelle after the funeral.
Comfort from my cousins on one of the hardest days of my life. 
I think that's why seeing the picture of my nieces and nephews tonight made me cry.  I wasn't crying out of sadness as much as I was out of gratitude--gratitude for the kind of comfort, love, support and understanding that I think is unique among cousins. Someday, I can only hope that my daughter and her cousins discover the same kind of special kind of bond and love that I have with my cousins.
Cousins together during a week of mourning. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Fun

For someone who doesn't particularly care for Halloween, I sure have devoted a lot of time and energy to it the last week or so.  It all started when Mike decided to be a plague doctor for Halloween.  He found a picture of a mask he liked, and took it to a friend who made one for him out of leather.  Next he needed a hooded, black robe.  After looking online and at various costume shops, thrift stores and antique shops, he couldn't find what he wanted for a reasonable price.  At the same time, he started watching documentaries about the plague (which turned out to be pretty interesting).  The only problem was, the more he kept watching, the more specific he was about how he wanted his costume to look.  

As Halloween drew closer, I finally admitted that I'm a pretty decent seamstress and could sew him a perfectly good robe.  At first I think he doubted my ability, since I haven't sewn in five or six years.  Finally, probably in desperation, he agreed to let me make it.  Here's a picture of him in his costume.  

Next on the Halloween fun agenda was getting pumpkins for Gillian and Isaac to carve.  Originally we'd planned to take them to a pumpkin patch with a corn maze and make an afternoon of it.  Costume sewing took priority though, plus neither of the kids acted too excited about going.  They mostly cared about carving.  We took them to my favorite local produce stand to pick out their pumpkins.  Below are some pictures from that afternoon.  Isaac hadn't ever carved a Halloween pumpkin before, and wanted to find a sizable one to work with, which he did.

Isaac teasing an oblivious Gillian.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of their carved pumpkins, but both of them looked great!

A few days earlier, I'd been inspired by a picture of a cake a friend of mine posted on Facebook.  Gillian and I spent a nice afternoon together on Sunday baking the cake and making cupcakes.  

On Halloween night, Gillian went out trick-or-treating with friends and I was left home alone to pass out candy.  After about an hour, I turned out the lights and headed downtown to spend some time with Mike while he tended bar.  As I drove through my neighborhood, passing crowds of young kids in costumes holding their parent's hands, I was hit with a wave of sadness.  

I'd never again hold Gillian's little hand in mine while going door-to-door collecting candy and showing off her costume to neighbors.  I already miss those times like the year we traversed the neighborhood with her friends who were identical twins, one of whom lost her first tooth that night.  Or, the first couple of years when trick-or-treating was new and kind of scary for her, resulting in tears and begging to go home after only one block.  Then there was the year 7 or 8-year old Gillian was determined not to wear a coat with her costume.  I kept nagging her to put her coat on.  Finally, she turned to me in a huff, "Mom, you're driving me crazy!"  then she paused and said, "Well, not literally, but you are bugging me".  Now my little girl was old enough not to need or want me along with her while she trick-or-treated. Honestly, where does the time go?  

This year Halloween made me more than a little nostalgic.  Maybe I do like it after all.

Gillian - 3 years old 
Princess Gillian with her cousins
3-week old Gillian on her 1st Halloween