Monday, September 29, 2008

A Milestone for SWAN

This month is a milestone for SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations) a small humanitarian outreach organization with which our family is allied.

This last January (2008), my daughter Terry traveled to Bolivia, and with the Bolivian SWAN representative, Sonia, set up the first self-employment classes and extended the first microcredits. I blogged earlier this summer about how SWAN earns microcredit money from flipping burgers.

But, back to the milestone. This month, one of the first loans made last January is being paid off. It was given to a lady by the name of Gregoria, a mother of eight. When Gregoria heard about SWAN’s microloan program, she already had a very small business selling clothing. She came to the first overview meeting, took the 12-hour self employment course, and applied for a loan to augment her clothing inventory.

Gregoria’s business plan is to travel by bus from the small town of Montero to the city of Santa Cruz where she purchases clothing. She brings it back and sells it door-to-door to business people. She sells it on credit, allowing her customers to pay in installments. She has established a reputation as one who can buy good quality, fashionable clothing at fair prices and has not only repeat customers, but people who giver her special orders.

This month Gregoria will have paid off her loan off in seven months, about half the time she was allowed. She has done this during a period of civil unrest so bad that Americans have been advised to leave the country.

When Gregoria made application last January, Terry made a surface judgment that she wouldn’t qualify because she wasn’t poor enough. She dressed well and looked sharp. But after investigating, Terry found that she came from extremely humble circumstances. I have a picture of the shack that is her house and permission to use it, but I’m not going to post it. This lady is such a winner! I don’t want the world to see the conditions in which she’s forced to live. From the picture I posted above, you can see that what she has control over--her personal appearance--is clean and well-groomed. When she has come to the point where she can move her family to a better house, I'll post before/after pictures in celebration of what she's accomplished.

In addition to paying off her loan early, Gregoria attended the self-employment class again when it was offered to the second batch of microloan applicants, because she wanted to refresh her business skills. However, she’s been successful because she put into practice what she learned from the classes the first time through: pay yourself a small wage and put the rest back into the business.

As a side note, Gregoria has been caring for her aged mother, and her mother died last week just as the one of the pro-government factions was marching through Montero. All civilians were ordered to stay in their houses, but Gregoria had to brave the streets to bury her mother. This is one gutsy lady.

The great thing is that this new loan Gregoria is taking out will come from the funds that she paid back rather than from the fund for new microloans. That’s recycling at its very best.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seize This Day to Make a Difference

I’m offering you an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a young woman in an orphanage in Africa, but this is a carpe diem type of opportunity, one with a drop-dead date and place. The date is October 20, 2008, and the place is Lynden, Washington.

Stay with me and I’ll explain.

Yesterday I met Celeste Mergens, director of Project Thrive, an organization dedicated to sustainable solutions to the needs of vulnerable children in the world, particularly those in orphanages and on the streets. Celeste, a member of the Lynden Ward, Bellingham Washington Stake, is a dynamo. She has only been with Project Thrive for seven months, but she’s already making good things happen. Visit the Project Thrive web site. You’ll be impressed with the goals, and particularly with the Five To Thrive Model (click on ‘About Us’ to find it).

Celeste is working right now with the Academy of Hidden Talents, an orphanage in the Dagoretti Slums of Kenya.
When she began, there were five hundred children there. Since the civil unrest in Kenya, the number has swelled to over a thousand.

Celeste says she depends on the spirit in her work, and it often manifests itself in the form of questions she is prompted to ask. One of these questions is: What form of feminine hygiene do the girls of the orphanage use during their menstrual periods? The answer: None. The girls stay in their rooms, sitting on their beds, during the three or four days of flow. They have no alternative, as they have no access to supplies that would allow them to join the rest of the children in learning, play or work.

The solution is not to provide American-type sanitary products for these girls, because disposal avenues are non-existent, and with the problem of AIDS, it could also compromise the health of others nearby. The answer is washable, reusable feminine hygiene kits.

Here’s where seizing the day comes in:

Celeste is traveling to Kenya on October 23. She needs to have kits in hand on October 20. She needs to take 500 kits with her, each kit consisting of:
6 feminine pads according to pattern below
2 pair panties (she will provide)
1 bar hotel soap
1 gallon ziplock bag
4 large safety pins
1 washcloth
1 drawstring bag in colorful cotton/poly cloth big enough to contain all of the

SWAN has committed to do part of these kits, but with the time constraint, it’s not possible to do it all.

Pastor Enos Baxic Oumoa, the founder of this orphanage has said to the children: “See? You are cared for. God has no orphans… Only children, who must discover their talents and make a difference in this world.”

Here’s your chance to partner with the Lord in parenting these children. If you can aid in some way—even if it’s just passing along the information to someone who can make a kit or two (or three or ten)—please do it.

Kits should be sent to:

Celeste Mergens
810 H Street Road
Lynden, WA 98264.

You can email her with questions at

Remember, kits have to be there by October 20!

Carpe that diem! Let’s make it so Celeste has to pay for an extra suitcase to take this all.

I’ll report back on the response and include a picture of Celeste handing out the kits.

Here’s information on making the sanitary pads:

1) Lay out one yard of polyester blend fabric right side down - to act as an outside semi-moisture barrier that breathes. It is nice for this to be colorful patterned fabrics, they hide stains and are cheerful for the girls… but anything will be welcome!

2) Add 3/5+/- (depending on the thickness of the fabric you are using) one yard layers of absorbent cotton or flannel cloth. Note: polyester blends will not work here. Cyndi at has generously offered to facilitate wholesale 100% cotton birdseye or flannel cloth for Project Thrive period pad participants at a great rate. If you wish to purchase cloth through her, contact her via her website, or here is a direct link she has given:

3) Pin fabric layers together.

4) Sew or surge one selvage fabric edge, this will serve as the first edge and hold the layers in place.

5) Cut 9” from the seam to create a 9” strip, Repeat until you have multiple 9” strips, each with one sewn edge.

6) Cut the sewn/surged 9” strips every 2 ¾” to create 9” x 2 ¾” pads. Snip a slight curve at each corner to soften the points.

7) Complete the sewing/surging of the edges of each pad. If using a sewing machine, it is recommended to then zigzag to finish.

8) This should make approximately 36+ pads total per stacked yard.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

4-Wheeling as Service

My husband is an explorer. I am a fire tender. Two hundred years ago, he would have been pushing west with the mountain men, and I would have been clinging to the eastern seaboard, venturing no farther than the Appalachians. Can an explorer and a fire tender find happiness together? We have, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

I mean the smooth sailing bit literally. I vividly remember, still, the time we were out in our little diesel trawler when a freak storm blew up so fast out of the Pacific that the Doppler radar didn’t register it coming. We pounded across from Sucia Island to Macia, and someone with a better radio than we had said that it was going to get worse in the afternoon, so we figured we’d better head for home. I would guess the wind was blowing about fifty miles an hour, and a crossing that usually took us forty-five minutes took three hours. My husband, the explorer, was enjoying every minute of it, but all I could do to get through it was douse myself with cold water to stave off seasickness and sing “Jesus Savior, Pilot Me.” It took three months for my knuckles to regain their color. (However, that trip was great writing fodder, and I used it in my book, Mist of Quarry Harbor.)

Senior citizenry and Old Man Arthritis has slowed the explorer down considerably. He was able to extend his backpacking trips with the aid of burros, but finally, he had to give even that up. Wistfully, he thought that he’d probably never get back into the mountains—until the family bookkeeper said maybe we could manage to buy a couple of used four wheelers. The family bookkeeper, it turns out, is also the sidekick, and that’s how I ended up in the mountains of Central Washington traversing lonely forest service roads on a red Suzuki four wheeler.

I must admit, it was a glorious week. The sky was cloudless, and the weather was warm the entire week. The only bear we saw was when I was safely in the pickup, and we only got lost once.

My life has certainly been richer for throwing in my lot with an explorer, and I think my husband has learned a bit about fire tending, too. Though his gold standard for movies is The Guns of Navarone, he’s watched every Masterpiece Theatre offering with me at least once, and stayed awake during most of them. Why, the other day, when I came home from a meeting, he was watching the most recent Pride and Prejudice, all by himself. What a guy! No wonder I’m willing to follow him up the rocky, 12% grade to the lookout atop Bode Mountain astride an ATV.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Frozen Oatmeal

This is a blog about service, and I thought I’d spend a few minutes exploring the service that the food industry offers to our busy nation and all the working moms out there. No one appreciates the shortcuts more than I: the hot, already-cooked chickens, the salad mixes, the frozen desserts. I remember the hours and hours I spent as a stay-at-home mom, trying to compensate for being a single salary household by making everything from scratch. Since we had a cow and grew our own chickens, pork and beef, scratch took a looooong time. I remember, too, one of the most beautiful things about going back to work after seventeen years was buying frozen pizza for dinner. (I would add that scratch included making my own mozzarella cheese, but that’s another story.)

So, the other day, I was grazing through Costco, sampling the chips and peach salsa, the mini cream puffs, the gazillion-grain bread, when I came upon a sample that stopped me in my tracks: oatmeal. The little old lady (she was about my age) who was offering these particular samples was striving gamely to make this sound like a giant leap forward in food convenience, but…oatmeal?

“Straight from the freezer to the table,” she said. “And, it’s in its own bowl!”

I looked at the bowl she held up. It was a paper bowl, and it looked like it held a cup or a cup and a half of—I still couldn’t believe it—oatmeal.

“How much is it?” I asked.

She explained that they came four to a package and the price worked out to $1.47 a bowl.

Stunned, I pushed my cart down to the cereal aisle where I turned the large box of Quaker’s Oats over and read the quantities. Say that paper bowl did hold a cup and a half, if you made up an equivalent amount of these regular oats—boiled the water, put in the oats, stirred for a while, turned off the fire and let it sit for a few minutes—you could save about $1.25 a serving. I mean, is there anything easier to fix than oatmeal? If you used quick oats and did it in the microwave, you’d still be saving about $1.20 a serving.

Now, I love oatmeal. I really do. Sometimes when my husband works late and eats on the way home, I’ll fix a bowl of oatmeal for my supper. But I don’t plan on adding any of those “convenient” little packages to my freezer any time soon. It just doesn’t rank up there with frozen pizza.

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Hospitality at the Olympics, Part 3

This is the last of three articles written by Whitney, reflecting on her time working in Beijing during the Olympics. Whitney has a degree in hospitality and hotel management from Cornell University. She worked in Singapore for a couple of years (and also served in the Primay Presidency there) and then spent last year in Cairo before heading to the Olympics.

All the photos accompanying these articles are hers. I am very grateful to have her share her view of the Olympics with us. If you haven't read the previous articles, click here for Number One, here for Number Two.

And now, here is Number Three. Whitney writes:

The number eight turned out to be a very auspicious number indeed for these Olympic Games. The fact that the opening ceremonies started at 8:08pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of this century was chosen specifically for its associations with good luck. Michael Phelps also furthered to support the auspiciousness of the number eight as he defied all previous records and succeeded in winning an unprecedented eight gold medals. I personally think that not a lot of luck was involved with either the success of these games nor Michael Phelps' wins. Hard work, dedication and perseverance had more impact than luck for both Phelps and China.

China was an extremely gracious host and ensured a successful games in state-of-the-art facilities, with safety and security as a top priority. I was constantly in awe of the sheer number of people involved – whether it was the 14,000 performers at the Opening Ceremonies, the 800,000 security officials, the billions of viewers around the world – this was a truly global experience.

There is a certain feeling that I got at the last Olympics Games in Athens, which drew me back to working at these games. It is a feeling of hope. If the world can gather together to “play” games with each other and support one another’s accomplishments and celebrate the amazing feats of the human body, regardless of race, color, religion, age, and nationality, there is hope that we can do this in other arenas, such as politics, business and international trade. I saw that as I partnered with people from all over the world: China, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Serbia, Greece, and England.

This was China’s coming out party, and they were extremely gracious hosts to all of us involved in the games. If this was the teaser, I can hardly wait to see what their next feat will be.

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Victims of the Skagit Valley Shooting

I’m going to pause in the middle of Whitney’s trilogy of articles about the Olympics and write about something completely different.

Flags are flying at half staff all over Skagit County, and I feel that I need to pause and make reference to the situation. I know Whitney won’t mind.

On a Tuesday afternoon, September 2, a young man went on a shooting rampage in a hamlet just a few miles north of here. He killed six people and wounded four. One of the slain was the sheriff’s deputy who was the first responder to a call about a disturbance. Two were neighbors in different houses who lived nearby. Two more were construction workers doing a remodeling job next door. The last victim was a motorist driving on the interstate. The people investigating the car crash didn’t tie his death to the other carnage until they saw the bullet wound.

This is a tragedy of immense proportions, and people are still trying to understand it. The shooter suffers from mental illness, but with state laws as they stand, a person has to be judged to be an imminent threat to himself or others to be involuntarily committed to an institution. The family says they tried, but failed.

Fast and testimony meeting last Sunday was a somber affair, and I was surprised at how many of our congregation were touched directly by what happened. The arresting officer is a young father in our ward. His wife spoke of him praying, as he pulled onto the freeway in hot pursuit and knowing that there were at least five already dead, praying that he would live to see his wife and daughter again, but doing what he had to do.

Another brother in the ward is an EMT and works on an ambulance crew. He was one of the ones called to deal with the aftermath, with the bodies of the victims.

One of the victims was about the age of my oldest daughter. A friendly, outgoing checker at the local supermarket, she had greeted just about everyone in the community at one time or another as she scanned their groceries. Her aunt is a member of our ward, as well.

Seeing the flag at half-staff today, I thought about the service of each, about the slain deputy who began as an animal control officer and worked hard to progress to the position of deputy. She was always reaching out to those less fortunate, and she had told the family of the shooter to call her if they found they couldn’t deal with their son.

I thought about the young LDS patrolman, driving and praying, and, after all that killing and high speed chasing, how the shooter finally drove to the sheriff’s parking lot and gave himself up without incident.

I thought about the service of the men and women who drove the ambulances to give aid to the wounded and to bring back the bodies of the slain.

I thought about the families, gathering together, sustaining one another, doing what you have to do to carry on in the face of such senseless loss. My friend wasn’t at church on Sunday. I missed her beaming smile from the library window when I came in early for choir practice. It was only later that I learned that her niece was one of the victims.

As I drove past the school and the post office today, I appreciated that lowered flag. It made me pause to remember the two women and four men who died that Tuesday afternoon.

Skagit County Sheriff's Deputy Anne Jackson
Chester M. Rose
David Thomas Radcliffe
Gregory Neil Gillum
Julie A. Binschus
Leroy Lange

I dedicate this column to them and ask that you keep their families in your prayers.

Click here and here for links to news stories about the shootings.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hospitality at the Olympics, Part 2

This is the second of three articles written by Whitney, who worked in the hospitality sector at the Beijing Olympics. Click here to read her first report.
The photo is of one of the amenities at the Ritz Carlton: little tartlets with chocolate coins on top with the symbols for some of the Olympic sports

Whitney writes about her job:

A typical day for me started out around 7a.m. when I would walk around the hospitality suites at The Ritz-Carlton Financial Street and check to make sure that the food was hot, the staff prepared, and there weren’t any fires to put out from the night before. I would then meet with the Front Desk to go over arrivals for the following day to ensure that their system matched my company’s system, so each guest arriving had a room prepared and ready for them.

Around 10a.m., I would hop in a cab and go to the opposite side of town where I would start my day at The Shangri-La Kerry Centre, the other hotel that I was helping to manage. The taxi ride was one of my favorite parts of the day, as I had 30 minutes of quiet time in a cab to make phone calls, look at Banquet Event Orders for the following day, and check the prep for my meeting with the Front Desk at Kerry Centre. I also got to drive past Tiananmen Square and take a moment to realize what an incredible city I was in. When I arrived at Kerry Center, I had a meeting with the Front Desk Manager where I went over the daily arrivals for the next day. Usually, there were some discrepancies, which I would then spend the next hour following up on with individual program managers. Then I would meet up with my partner who handles the Food & Beverage at Kerry Centre and find out what other fires needed to be put out.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, I would take a cab back to Ritz-Carlton Financial Street, so I could be back in time for my daily bill review at 3 p.m. The bill review was where I signed all the bills for all the groups in the hotel and made sure that we were getting charged accurately. After that, I would walk around the hospitality suites and check in with all the program managers to find out how their guests were doing, deal with any issues they had with the hotel, and generally listen to their stresses and concerns.

In the evenings, I was usually free to go see some of the games, as long as I had my cell phone and a printout of the rooms for both hotels so I could answer questions about room moves or changes in arrivals and departures on the fly. When I returned home, I would get my reports from the hotels regarding the number of arrivals for the day and any issues from the guests and then send my daily report to the head office. I made it to bed around midnight or 1 a.m.

Occasionally, I would have the chance to sneak down to the beautiful pool at the Ritz and go for a swim or duck into the yoga studio for a bit of stress relief. That was my chance to take a breath and count my lucky stars for the opportunity to get to be a part of this amazing experience.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hospitality at the Olympics, Part 1

I introduced you to Whitney last May when she was working in Cairo and volunteering at St. Andrews, teaching English to Sudanese refugees. She’s now in China, and has just completed a stint at the Olympics working in the hospitality industry. She has a series of three reports for us.

Whitney writes:

The Olympics were an opportunity to create legends, feats that have never been accomplished in human history – record breaking both in individual performance as well as the collective performance. The individual versus the collective was an interesting contrast that played out on the Olympic stage in China.
These Olympics were both a coming out party for China as well as the biggest Olympics in terms of scale: number of venues, number of participants, spectators, etc. These games were carried out by the collaboration of thousands, maybe even millions, of people. The Opening Ceremonies provided a grand celebration and display of China’s hospitality and excitement to welcome the world to come play on their home turf.

My job provided me with the opportunity to have a front row seat at the coming out party, as I worked closely with the hospitality side of the games. My role was to ensure that the guests coming to stay at the games had a positive experience. On a micro level, I was the liaison between program managers (the tour leaders for each corporate group), the hotel, and the head office for my company. To put it another way, if the games were summer camp for business people and sports fanatics, I was a glorified camp director. I had to make sure that the campers, counselors, and owners of the camp were all communicating and happy.

To me, the theme of this Olympics was the term the Chinese scream as they support their countrymen in the various sporting events – Jaiyo! Jaiyo! – which roughly translates to mean: let’s go!
To give a bit of the background story, the Chinese have been preparing for these games for years. Many of the local hosts are college students who have gone through at least a year of hospitality training, which included: food & beverage service, cultural exchanges, English language training, tourism, and orientation training to become more familiar with the massive metropolis of Beijing. Beijing is four times the size of Singapore and larger than any city in the USA.
The amazing thing is that Beijing is only the third largest city in China. After the venues had been designed and built, the traffic was decreased so that only half the cars were allowed on the roads each day, and the policies were already in place to help decrease the amount of air pollution. So when the games finally came – it felt like the pulse of Jaiyo! Jaiyo! was a distinct beat reverberating around the city.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Another Letter from Iraq

We just returned from our annual Adair Family & Friends Labor Day Campout, and Lt. Colonel Patty Kubeja was sorely missed. Her husband, children, and step children were there, though, and Mark caught us up on what Patty has been doing.

When I got home, I had an email from Patty--a newsy email she sends out to family and friends. I know she won't mind my sharing it with you. She writes:

It has been two months since I last wrote. I have been meaning to write but just kept procrastinating. At first it seemed I didn't have much to say except it is still hot and I am still deployed, but after two months I do have a little more to share.

Soldiers are known for the sacrifice they give for their country. I have heard that for the past 19 years I have been in the military, but the word sacrifice has taken on a new meaning during this deployment. Missing so many important family events and missing out on a year of my children’s life, I can say I have truly felt the sacrifice. I have to say a Big Thank You to my loving husband and kids for supporting me and sacrificing along with me.

In August I was flown to Germany for a medical test. There was concern about a mammogram I had taken prior to deploying, and instead of waiting a year to have another one taken, they sent me to Landstuhl for the test. Everything turned out normal and I was cleared to return to duty. I had a nice little trip to Germany, and I can't describe how beautiful the green was to me. It was nice to smell grass and fresh air. The food even tasted fresher. I bought lots of chocolate and cheese to bring back with me. It was hard coming back to the dust and dirt and heat of Iraq, but I am back into the swing of things again.

One of the morale activities around here is fun runs. I am collecting tee shirts from these runs and think I will make a quilt when I get home. The run last Friday wasn't so fun. It was a half marathon. One thing I have learned is that when one is 43, it isn't smart to go run 13.2 miles without training. I felt like I aged 20 years after the race. My hip started hurting at 45 minutes, and by mile 10, I was really hurting. But I made it in 2 hours 2 minutes and 53 seconds. Crazy what we do for fun and recreation over here...maybe because it is FREE!!!

It is still so hot here the longer races have to be started early. It is still 90/95 degrees at 6 a.m. (Right now it is 10 p.m. and still 103 degrees outside.) The days are getting shorter, which is good, but only because we don't have the blazing sun. The hottest my thermometer has registered is 131 degrees. They say that soon it will start cooling... I am anxiously awaiting that.

Ramadan started here today...or in the morning depending on the sect of Muslims. For those at home who don't know, Ramadan is a month of fasting by the Muslims. They fast from sunup to sundown, pray, and read the Koran. I don't really have any contact with Iraqis, and we aren't close to a town, so I don't hear the call to prayers or see the effects of things basically shutting down for a month. It does affect the transportation of things since many truck drivers are Muslims and often stop working for the month.

Take Care...and thanks for your thoughts and prayers for me and my fellow soldiers.

Patty Kubeja

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