Monday, June 29, 2009


Explooting. I assume most of you have never heard that word before, because I made it up on Saturday. In our attempt to bring some summertime fun to our life, we have adopted Sunday Explooting. The definition, drum role please... It’s the combination of Exploring and Ooty together. Isn’t that fabulous? I do hope to find that word in Wikipedia and Websters very soon. Anyway, our Explooting adventure was to an unnamed lake (I’m sure it has a name, but we just do not know it yet.) We parked at the side of the road, about 15 minutes outside of Ooty, and had to walk down this steep hill, about 200 yards worth. Once we stumbled upon the lake, we took in a beautiful view - of lake, rolling green hills and trash. Most days I can see past the trash, but yesterday I could not. Honestly, it was so frustrating. I did not like that I had to make rules that the kids could only throw rocks and sticks into the lake and no, James, you cannot throw that piece of glass or that small, iron pitchfork into the lake. Do you know what the most common piece of trash we saw was? Flip-flops. Funny, huh? Where did the flip flops come from? Was it the known graveyard for flip-flops in the greater Ooty area or did they break coming down that ridiculous hill? If a person had a business mind, they would set up a flip-flop business down by the lake and could be retiring in Florida in no time. To top of my grumpiness about the trash, when we were coming back up the steep hill, Ani was ahead of us and about two feet from her I saw a monkey tail. Now, I am pretty sure that I have shared my aversion toward monkeys with you. Just in case you are confused, I strongly dislike monkeys. Strongly. So, I hailed Ani back to us and together we walked past about a dozen monkeys, all surrounding us by two feet. One of them had a baby monkey on its back and looked as protective of its baby as I do of mine. I felt a strange bonding moment with that monkey... but then I came back to my senses and shoved the kids into the car and we were out of there. Thus concluding our first Explooty.

On any given day Ani waffles between being the best hiker in the world and being rockstar extraordinaire. This is her being both.

Nice throw James.

Sydney waffles as well. Note the purse.

See that thing hanging from her neck? Yes, that is an apron.

So, I need to mention it, because the rest of the world has been talking about non-stop since Thursday. Michael Jackson died. Our landlord told me on Friday. His exact words were “Sorry your Michael Jackson died”. First off, I loved that he is the one who told me and not somebody from the States. Second, he used the word YOUR. I have never considered Michael Jackson mine, but Grenville our landlord does. So, on Saturday night, we had the some Freedom Firm staff over for game night. We played Apples to Apples, listened to Michael Jackson and had a moonwalking contest. There were four countries represented among us doing the moonwalking and Shannon, from Great Britain, won.

Exciting news on the Freedom Firm front. Seven girls were rescued last Thursday in Pune. While Freedom Firm operatives were looking for two known minors trafficked from Bangladesh, they noticed that another minor girl was being sold in an adjoining room. They called the Pune police, and within half an hour she and six other girls were rescued. Just as exciting is that four traffickers were arrested and all were denied bail twice since then. The Freedom Firm social workers in Pune are now beginning to meet with these rescued girls regularly at various government homes.

Read the article of this rescue from the Pune Mirror (newspaper) here.

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Should I be taking the photo or saving my daughter?

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A quick thank you to Ridhus, one of our readers who last week posted some fantastic ideas for Explooting in and around Ooty.

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Now on to the moment that you have unknowingly been waiting for. Our first Palm Six Blog Giveaway. No, we will not be sending you a broken flip-flop or a rock from our newly formed rock pile in the front yard. Instead, we'll be sending a really great and beautiful gift. We have mentioned before that the girls that are in the Freedom Firm aftercare program have a micro-enterprise of jewelry and Aari work (Indian beadwork). We would like to send one of our readers a pair of earrings that the girls made. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on our blog with your name included and we will pull a name out of the proverbial hat in one week. Once we have chosen a winner, we will contact you and send you a pair of earrings. (as quickly as we can...)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aerial Shot of Ooty (on Google Maps)

This is Ooty. If you click around in this map, you'll find a little yellow house icon (that's our house), a little green school icon (that's Hebron School), and a little blue flag icon (that's the Freedom Firm office). (Actually, try clicking "Ooty, India in a larger map", that works a bit better.)

If you click "Satellite" and zoom in, you can actually see our house, the school, and the office.

Look close enough and you might even see us walking on the street.

View Ooty, India in a larger map

Sydney Turns Three!!!

Only she can't quite put up three fingers. (That dumb pinky keeps popping up too!)

At "Shanka's" House

Summer Fun (with Cardboard)

It's a ramp, for Hot Wheels cars. Fun, huh?

John Candy's Summer Rental

A friend of mine sent me this tall, hard-plastic Starbucks glass that looks exactly like the drink container you would get for a Starbucks Frappucino... and then throw away. But funny thing, this one is not a throwaway. I guess it’s a hot-selling new tumbler. Anyway, I got it for my birthday and I have been using it for every possible cold beverage I have. (I am actually using it right now.) I think it’s me pretending that I just went through the drive thru Starbucks... Oh, the games I play in my head that help me get through some of my days here.

So this past weekend we had Syd’s third birthday on the 19th, my birthday on the 20th and then Father’s Day on the 21st. It was quite a weekend of celebration. Everyone felt celebrated and we had lots of sweet moments together, but it was weird just having it be our little family... I actually felt quite proud of us. That we could celebrate with just us. But for as good as it was, I’m glad that next summer we will be able to celebrate the trio of days with our friends and families.

On Father’s Day we went to Ooty Lake. If you are from the Minneapolis area, think Lake Calhoun, India style. At least for one end of it, the other end has this crazy amusement-like place called Jolly World that I hope to never go to. I am pretty sure that I would walk in with four kids and maybe come home with two or three. The rides that I saw have probably been outlawed in the United States... since like 1950. Anyway, while we were walking around the lake, we ran into this guy, Shanka, that we have never met, but he had a horse which was an instant attraction for Ani. Well, he ended up inviting us to his house for tea. Turns out he is a cook for one of the expatriates in the area and we went to their house. They’re on holiday until Thursday, but it was kind of weird being in someone else’s house - someone that we have never met. I kind of just sat on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting for this family to come home from their holiday early and walk into our brood of six running all over their house, drinking their tea and eating their food. Do you remember the scene from Summer Rental, the John Candy film from the 80’s, when he and his family were accidentally staying in the wrong rental house and the real family came home late at night from a trip and found John Candy and his family in their house, where they actually lived and not just rented for a week, and John’s face was full of Noxema because he got burned so bad at the beach - super awkward, right? Well that’s how I felt minus the Noxema.

School is officially done for the next two months. I am really glad to have all the kids home. I am sure we will get stir crazy, being that there really is nothing to easily do here in the summer, but my kids do have great imaginations, so I’m sure lots of interesting things will be done. I am hoping to have Ani spend some time with FF’s aftercare girls making jewelry and also do some riding with FF’s horse’s that they use for therapy. I decided last week to be an interim manager for aftercare at FF. The director is taking a sabbatical for three months, so I am stepping in for her. The aftercare staff is so great, and I hope to support them and be a sounding board for them these next few months. I also look forward to all that I am going to learn about aftercare for girls with huge emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual needs. Oh, and by the way, FF received a call from a partnering organization and told us that the girls who left last week are now with them and are in counseling. FF staff will not be surprised if they come back here to Ooty. Sometimes leaving has to be part of the journey toward healing and freedom.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rat #2 Ran Out of the Bag

Living on the top of “mountain” (it’s really not a mountain, but let’s just call it that, because we do live at the top of a really high hill, at 7,400 feet above sea level) means that if you want to go someplace that is not at the top of the hill, you have to drive down, and then eventually up. For me, it’s a great abdominal workout that I get, resisting each switch-back curve, so not to squish the kids. But for the rest of my family, they just get ill. The traffic is coo-coo, with many, many near head-on collisions, the smells are a bit much, rotting garbage and diesel really do a number on the motion sickness and you can’t close the windows to the yucky smells because there’s no A/C in the vehicle. But, when the family did not feel like it could take any more, we stopped for a break and at that break we saw a mama elephant and her baby right across the road. It was fabulous. Right across the road was not a zoo, it was just a regular ol’ Indian jungle. Love it. The elephants were a gift - they put wind in our sails to keep on truckin’ down the “mountain”.

Down the “mountain” contained a bit of an oasis. With my dad being in town, which by way has been fabulous (more on him later), we thought it would be fun to venture out to the nearest big city, Coimbatore. My dad treated us to a night at a nice hotel, that comes with a nice outdoor pool, A/C, satellite TV, comfortable chairs, a bath tub big enough for an adult, and nice food (we ordered room service after the kids were sleeping, we were a bit giddy over it). We really felt quite spoiled. And also, we went to a Subway for lunch. Not a big deal usually, but a big deal for us. They had some “American” items, but also sported some Indian-style subs. A few choices to be had there were Chicken Tikka, Veg Shammi and Aloo Patty... sweet. It was a really great little getaway for the whole family... refreshing and fun to do with my dad.

Like I said before, it has been great having my dad here. He leaves Tuesday morning. After saying so many goodbyes when we left the States, I immediately get the hives thinking about saying goodbye to my dad. The next time we see him will be a year from now, when we go back to the States for a visit. Seems far too long to me. Anyway, I think he got a great glimpse of our life here. I especially feel like he got to really experience the quaint side of Indian life when he was in bed for a day and half with the yuck. Welcome to India Dad, aren’t you glad you came?

On our way out to a Freedom Firm gathering this week, I had a conversation with one of FF’s social workers. She had a hard week. Two of the girls that had graduated from FF’s Aftercare Program decided to leave. To help them re-enter life, FF places them in the local YWCA, has them continue to meet with FF staff and they earn a paycheck by making jewelry that FF uses as micro-enterprise to help rescued girls. Anyway, they decided to leave and with mixed emotions, the social worker was trying to sort out what to do with them not being under FF’s care. The women that work with these girls day-in and day-out are amazing. They feel so much and have such a tender spot for these girls. The social worker was saying that God loves them so much and wants His best for them, but she just doesn’t know if - with what they have seen and gone through - they can really live in that truth.

When my father-in-law comes to town (obviously this is Jayson talking now), I always have a building project ready for him. This time around I had a whopper - Curt, how about building my kiddos a sandbox? 6 pieces of wood, a handful of screws, and 6 bags of sand. Done. First, we went to the lumberyard. We literally had to walk on the lumber to get to the pile of wood we wanted. Next we took the wood planks 2 doors down to have them cut to length and planed. Screws? We had to drive from there up to the market to get screws. And while we were there, the owner heard Curt was a fisherman, so he took him to the “warehouse” where he gave him fish from the coast. Why not? The sand I had to come back for later - The car/van/can’s 3 cylinders can’t handle 6 bags of sand plus people. Needless to say, this was the cultural experience where Curt said, “Yup, I’m in India. Never experienced anything like that in the U.S.” Getting it all at one Home Depot would have been nice, but I don’t think we would have come home with a bonus bag of fish from the Indian Ocean. (Side note: I also had Curt tag along to help move one of FF’s staff into her flat. A rat scurried out of her bag as we went to pick it up. Then 5 minutes later when we actually built up the courage to try picking it up again, rat #2 ran out of the bag.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cow, Meet Car/Van/Can

Don't you hate it when it's pouring rain and you try to get in your car real fast and all of a sudden you realize there's a cow in the way... That was Tarrah's experience Saturday.

Saturday Morning Hike Through the Tea Fields

Jayson Tried to Introduce Pirate and Obi

Leeche - First Sour, Then Sweet

Grandpa Brought Marshmallows

Sour at First and Then Surprisingly Sweet

Sound the trumpets... My dad came yesterday! Isn’t that fabulous? He also brought with him five suitcases. Yes, five. Now, my dad is not a clothes horse, most of it was for us, and a bit for Freedom Firm. When he was packing up all those bags, we kept on telling him no dad, that’s too much...but our hearts were saying yes! Yes dad, bring it all. Bring the marshmallows, bring the baking soda, the new flip flops and sweaters, bring it all! I don’t mean to sound greedy... but it sure is fun.

So, I haven’t pet the cat yet. I know there are many cat lovers out there and I commend you. I feed the cat. This is my job. Jayson has taken to task the idea of making Obi and Pirate friends, kind of Milo and Otis like. Anyway, I came home the other night and asked why Jayson’s shirt was ripped... “Well, I had Pirate and Obi meet...”

Every day I wake up, look outside and wonder if this is the day that the Monsoon Season starts. Is that gloomy of me? Everybody is a bit dooms day about it. Once it starts, it doesn’t completely stop for 4 months. The question is, am I going to embrace the rain like I need to embrace the snow - to survive the Minnesota winters? Can we build a rainman? Can we dig rain tunnels? Hmm, I wonder what fun rain activities we will create? The thing about playing in the rain is this... since we live on a bit of slope here, when it rains lots of yucky things come flowing down the hill. If you haven’t noticed, India has a bit of garbage/animal poo issue... So, what will my kids find in the midst of rain playing, I kind of don’t want to think about it.

We had a party here on Sunday, celebrating Esther, one of FF’s rescued girls. She was baptized, so we decided to party. I decided to outsource the Indian food and I, along with others, made the Western food. I have decided that I do not want to go through the peanut gallery of comments about my lame Indian food making. So, Maria, one of the house mothers, brought a big ol’ pot of Chicken Biryani. And it was mmm, mmm good. Anyway, it was beautiful to watch Esther being celebrated, these girls have just not had much of that in their lives... I will gladly throw them a party any day.

I cooked at Cooking Club at Kurinji - the women’s center - yesterday. Okay, now most of the food that has been cooked has been from the cook’s country of origin. I did not. I couldn’t choose. So, I decided to cook Mexican. Now, I would have to say that Mexican and Indian are quite similar - I am sure both Indians and Mexicans would say different. But in my humble opinion, these are the similarities I see. Both use rice and beans often, tortillas and chapattis are super similar, both types of food make me sweat... So, I thought I would just bridge the cultural gap by cooking Mexican.

I picked up some different fruit this week at the market. My fruit guy always loves giving me new fruit. I think he loves seeing my nonsensical reaction. This one’s called leeche, which I’m pretty sure I had heard of, but maybe that was lingonberries. When I tried it, it was sour at first and then surprisingly sweet. There’s not much to it... I would not say, Oh, I’m so hungry I’ll just have a leeche. It’s more of a bizarre looking fruit that is just kinda fun. But I offered one to my dad today and the wow-factor wasn’t there for him. I’m going to blame jet-lag and hope for better results tomorrow.