Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chilling in Cali...

I'm really thrilled with the responses, both written and verbal, that my last post has received. Right now I'm in CA visiting my family and, last night at an "empty nesters" FHE that my mom attends, the sweet couple that runs it asked me to convey my thoughts about what it was like to have an Apostle at our stake conference. You would think that in a big place like Los Angeles the church leaders would visit all the time, but the members here have to take their turn just like everyone else in the rest of the world.

So far, it has been a nice trip. I arrived on Saturday afternoon to wind and rain. It almost made me feel like the airplane pilot had taken us in a complete circle. My mom picked me up and we headed straight to In n Out Burger, home of the Double Double and land of the fresh potato fries.

Sunday was church, and it was so nice to see some of my mom's friends, who embraced me and treated me like a long-lost niece. Some of them I've seen 3 days in a row already, with last night's FHE and the monthly "Ladies Who Lunch" today. We went to a cute place in Pasadena called Kathleen's. Good food, service, prices, and very clean. Just about all you could ask for.

Currently my mom and I are both scrambling to finish the book for her book club, which meets on Thursday. I'm a story person, which this is not, and I'm having a rough time feeling motivated.

In the short time I've been here, I've done a lot, including spending an afternoon with my cute 93 1/2 year old grandma, and a few hours with my niece and nephew. I love them all!

Coming up besides the book club is a sushi lunch with my mom and nephew, a day of babysitting, dinner with some high school friends on Friday night, and a few other things here and there. I'm hoping to make it to Disneyland on Saturday, but haven't solidified plans yet. We are having a family gathering on Sunday.

Again I count my blessings...for my husband's generosity as I take off for 2 weeks, my family in CA, and the love I feel in both of my homes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Our Amazing Stake Conference with Elder Russell M. Nelson

I am going to do something on my blog that I rarely do, which is talk about my religious beliefs. I rarely talk about them here because I like to keep them private, and also because I don't like opening myself and my faith up to criticism. But lately, I've been undergoing a real spiritual transformation and the events of the last two days have brought all of my feelings to the surface.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a lot is required. For a long time, I focused on that a lot. I also focused on other things, petty things, that were seriously impeding my spiritual progress. I felt it, and I knew it, and I still allowed it to happen. And for about 10 years I let this pettiness have more power than it deserved.

But something has happened to me this last year. I finally decided to shed the weight of those unimportant things that were keeping me from focusing on the Lord, on the Church, and from moving forward as a devoted daughter of God.
Yep, that little lost lamb up there is kind of the way I felt. And it wasn't like I had turned into a worldly, wild person, but I was not holding fast to the things I knew were true. Pride can do some real damage if you allow it.

I attribute this change to a number of things. Getting married has taught me a lot--much more than I ever anticipated--about being humble, patient, and unselfish. Not just the actual act of getting married, but WHO I married, because my husband has taught me so much about being a better person. Moving to a new state where the pace is slower, and a bit less competitive, has allowed me more time for reflection on what is important. And, yes, going back to church after many years away has had a big influence. I've been so fortunate to be in a ward (congregation) that has embraced me so much. I love the friends I've made and have learned so much from their examples. What started out as a social lifeline has become much, much more.

And, despite the fact that I'm annoyed at myself for wasting those 10 years, in some ways I'm grateful for them. The conviction in me of what it means to be a member of this church is probably stronger than it has ever been, and I don't think that would've happened if I hadn't come full circle. I have had to really humble myself, which doesn't come very naturally to me! But this way it feels more like a choice. And when you choose something without having it imposed upon you, you are able to take more ownership in it.

All of these feelings culminated in this weekend's Stake Conference. Now, if you're reading this and you're wondering what a Stake Conference is, let me quickly break it down. An LDS congregation is called a ward. Several wards make up a stake. We meet in our ward buildings each week for church, but once a year we meet together as a stake and have several special meetings that are meant to edify us as a larger congregation. That is called Stake Conference. And, twice a year, in April and October, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has General Conference, which is held in Salt Lake City, Utah and broadcast all over the world. At that time we hear from church leaders such as our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and other church leaders.

Now, I'm sure that if you are not LDS, you suddenly have a lot of questions, and that is OK. But, yes, we believe that we have a living prophet on the earth today. We also believe that prophet is supported by 2 counselors and 12 apostles. These men have the same authority and responsibilities as the apostles of old. But with the existence of these leaders, it is important to reiterate that ours is a Christ-centered church. Everything we teach, learn, read is all about living our lives in order to return to our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ.

Which brings me to our wonderful weekend. We had the incredible privilege of having an apostle of the Lord, Elder Russell M. Nelson, visit our little city in southern Washington yesterday and today and address us at our stake conference. The last time this area has received a church leader of this magnitude was 29 years ago.

Elder Russell M. Nelson
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I was very happy that Eric, my sweet and supportive hubby who is not LDS, agreed to go with me to the session for the adults last night. We have had numerous talks about religion and, although we don't see eye to eye on everything, we do agree on many of the most important things. I was so glad that he went with me.

When we arrived (2 hours early--had to get a good seat!) the session in progress was for the men of the stake. Elder Nelson was conducting a question and answer period, and Eric and I watched it on the monitors in the gymnasium at the stake center, where we waited until the chapel was opened up for the next session. Most of us are so used to seeing Elder Nelson in a very formal way, at General Conference, surrounded by the other church leaders, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the thousands of people in attendance. It was great to see him last night in such an informal and personal way, addressing a group of about 100 men who were seeking his counsel on being good husbands and fathers.

When the session ended, we had another hour to wait while the local church leaders and our important guest had dinner and rested. Eric and I were lucky enough to get seats with a great view to sit next to my good friend, Mary Alice, and her husband, David. I loved a comment that Mary Alice made to me last night, "Just think, in all of the world, there are only 12 apostles. And one of them is here tonight to speak to us."

As the session grew nearer and the chapel and gym started to fill up, it got pretty exciting. The night's speakers entered, as well as the stake presidency, to take their places up on the stand. I am very impressed with our local leaders and they are good, good men. But... as Russell M. Nelson came into the room and everyone stood up in respect during his entrance, we all knew we were in the presence of a special servant of God.

All of the talks were very good last night. Because it was the adult session, the topics were geared toward adult issues. It was very interesting to watch Elder Nelson during the talks. This is man who has probably listened to thousands of talks, yet he still gave each speaker his full attention. The only time he didn't, was when he was looking out into the congregation. I watched him as he scanned the face of each person, one by one, amidst the sea of people in front of him. I really like that I got to witness that.

When it was his turn to step up to the podium and address the congregation, everyone sat up a little taller in their seats and tuned in with a little more focus. The love and spirit in the room was palpable. I watched my husband listen to every word and soak it all in for us to discuss later.

Elder Nelson spoke of the whirlwind of depression that people sometimes get into as they think of the words "Be ye, therefore, perfect," knowing that this is an unattainable thing in this life. Ironically, this is a subject that Eric and I have talked about many times. He spoke of the path to perfection, and the things that are required of us in this life to travel that path. He spoke of the Atonement and the difference between eternal life and eternal glory--one is a gift and the other is a reward.

I wish I could remember every word. I do remember the feelings welling up inside of me as I sat, listening to him, with my husband at my side, and the thoughts that darted through my mind about things that I need to work on in order to achieve those great blessings.

By the time Elder Nelson was done and it was time to sing How Great Thou Art, I was a mess, tears flowing, and not one Kleenex in my purse. I looked over at Mary Alice, who was the same way and we both just whispered, "Wow." Eric looked at me and asked if I was OK. I was. I was very OK. So many things that Elder Nelson talked about felt very personal and exactly what I needed to hear, it almost felt unfair to the rest of the congregation that his comments were so tailor-made to my needs. And yet, I knew that couldn't be true. His words had touched everyone, and we had all just experienced something very special.

After the closing prayer, I took Eric's hand as we waded through the sea of people. Before I knew it, I was shaking the hand of an apostle and thanking him. How I dearly would've loved more time.

When we got home, we talked about the conference meeting. We talked a lot. And we were also tired. It was late, we had a snack, and the clocks had to be sprung forward an hour.

Still, I was on a spiritual high. And this morning's meeting was very good too, with many spiritual moments. But last night's was singular and the words that were spoken touched me very deeply.

Now, some who may be reading this might be thinking that this is awfully personal for a blog post, and perhaps it is. But faith IS personal. And it requires work. And it feels so good to be on the right track again.

If you have questions about what we believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, here are 3 links that may help. Remember that knowledge is power.


LDS Newsroom: "Mormonism 101: FAQ"


Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Big 4-1. There's no turning back now!

After celebrating Eric's birthday on Tuesday, we celebrated mine yesterday. (Those 24 hours of him being 4 years older than me are LONG gone!)

On Tuesday night he brought me some gorgeous deep pink roses and a lovely card for my birthday the next day and then we went for Mexican at our favorite place in town (his choice.)

Yesterday we had a nice lazy day at home (weekends for us are not at the same time as they are for most people.) We walked the dog, I got a mani-/pedi, we made dinner at home, and continued our Harry Potter movie marathon by watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1.

The fun part is when people ask me, "Did you go out for a nice dinner on your birthday?" Haha, no! I certainly had that option, but because we had been out the night before and will be out again tonight for Eric's nephew's birthday, I decided against it.

So, what did we have? I'll bet you'll never guess in a million years...

Sushi? No. Chicken? Nope.

Live and Onions? YES.

As part of our recent commitment to eating healthier (A whole other blog post,) we've introduced liver into our dinner repertoire. The green bean casserole, I'll admit, is not the healthiest side dish, but we needed something to offset the taste of the liver. Besides, it was my birthday!

So, yes, you read that right. My birthday dinner (that I cooked) was liver and onions and green bean casserole.

But don't get me wrong. Even though it wasn't a birthday filled with cake and fireworks, it was still wonderful. The most important gifts are something I get to have every day. I would be crazy not to feel very grateful.

Next stop...42! Ugh.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Happy Birthday, Eric!!

Today is Eric's birthday! And tomorrow is mine. He jokes because for a whole 24 hours he gets to be 4 years older than me instead of 3.

But seriously, it is hard for me not to count my blessings when I think of my sweet husband. He has changed my life in so many ways and has shown me a level of happiness that I never knew existed.

Three years ago we found each other by accident online and started a long-distance friendship. In December of 2009 he came down from Washington to California to visit me. This is a famous picture of that trip. It was New Year's Eve day, 2009, and we were at the Arboretum in Arcadia--one of my favorite places. I set up the tripod and camera in front of the waterfall to take a couple of pictures. After getting one photo, I set the camera's timer again and, a split second before it went off, Eric surprised me with a kiss on the cheek and this shot was immortalized forever:
One month later, Eric returned with a ring and asked me to marry him. Accepting his proposal was the most spontaneous thing I've ever done (and I am one of the least spontaneous people I know,) but I knew it was the right thing. He was (and is) my best friend. He was the person I wanted to share every victory and defeat with first, and my life had taken on new meaning just by knowing him. How could I not marry him?

Over the course of the next few months, from the proposal in January to our August 2010 wedding, we've calculated that Eric flew down to California about 10 times. I was still teaching and about to get laid off from my district. And, although the original plan was to live in California, we realized that it was time to look at Plan B, living in Washington.

Meanwhile, we had a wedding to plan, his house to sell, a house to buy for the two of us, and we needed to spend time together, despite being 2 states apart for our entire courtship and engagement:

Eric and I in Seattle during my first trip to Washington, April 2010. At this point we still thought we'd be living in CA after the wedding.

Two of the photos from our engagement picture session in May 2010. That was the craziest weekend ever! In 3 days we had to get the marriage license, book a place for our rehearsal dinner, pick out flowers, pick out tuxedos for the men in the wedding party, pick out wedding invitations, and take our engagement photos. I had a calendar in my kitchen to keep us on schedule during those crazy days. And we got it all done without losing our sanity. The black and white photo accompanied the invitations to our 150 guests. I honestly don't know how we were able to look so relaxed in these pictures.

Eric and my cute nephew during another CA visit. This may have been the visit where he came to support me during the long and horrible lay-off hearing at my school district. It did not turn out in the teachers' favor, but I'm SO glad he was there! And as my family got to know him, they liked him more and more.

And before we knew it, the big day had arrived! Our photographer, Nick Charrow (his website is HERE, and his blog about our wedding day is HERE) took several pictures of the wedding party when the guys and gals were still getting ready in their separate areas. This is probably my all-time favorite picture of my husband. Why? Because his sweetness and goodness shows in his expression. This is what I get to see every single day. Boy, am I lucky.

And then it was honeymoon time! We stayed our first night at the incredible Langham Hotel (formerly the Ritz-Carlton, Pasadena). It was the poshest hotel either of us had ever been in, and we wish we could've been there longer than one night! The service, the room, everything was amazing. Here's Eric being silly the next morning as we ate breakfast in the courtyard.

We honeymooned throughout the California coast. Our rationale was that we wanted to have a quiet honeymoon where we could focus on being together after having to spend so much time apart. We drove to San Jose the day after the wedding and stayed one night there. The next day we visited the very interesting Winchester Mystery House (I had seen a documentary on it a few months before and asked Eric if we could please stop there. It is definitely unique!)

The majority of our honeymoon was spent in the sleepy town of Mendocino, CA at the MacCallum House B&B (Murder, She Wrote was filmed there, along with many other films and shows.) We stayed there for about 7 nights, driving back to Los Angeles by way of Carmel and San Francisco.

We love being silly together. About 10 miles north of Mendocino is Fort Bragg, where we visited a couple of times to do laundry and go to the famous "glass beach." At the tiny mall there was a studio that did antique-y looking photos. We couldn't resist!

So why am I writing about these things on Eric's birthday and not on an anniversary? Because as we celebrate our birthdays together another year, I am just reminded of how blessed we are to have found each other and to be able to grow old together.

I have learned so much since marrying this wonderful man. I love his intelligence, his spirituality, his humor, his generosity, his work ethic, and so many more things that I can't even list. I love that everything he does is about being good and kind to me and to others.

He is my rock, my partner, and my best friend. He makes me feel protected, beautiful and very loved. Happy Birthday to my darling Eric!!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Indexing--A Fun and Valuable Service...

Ever since leaving my teaching career, I've been on the hunt for ways to use my time in a creative, fun, and interesting manner. I've really enjoyed being a more dedicated Visiting Teacher (in the LDS church, ladies are assigned other ladies to visit each month and serve if possible,) and it is fun to attend stamping parties once again.

But last week I happened upon a new adventure that I'm enjoying immensely...indexing. The church magazine, The Ensign, had an article all about indexing and what an important service it is. I had heard of it, but had never tried it.

So, what is indexing? Here is a direct quote from the article:
"FamilySearch indexing is the process of reading digitized versions of physical records—such as census, vital, probate, and church records—and typing the information they contain into an online searchable database. Through this work, indexing volunteers make it possible for members [of the LDS Church] and other family history researchers to easily locate their ancestors’ information on the Internet.

Indexing has brought a simplicity and ease to family history work. “In the past if you were looking for relatives, you had to wind through microfilm. When you found a family member you were looking for, you might be able to find connecting names. So you would rewind and wind the microfilm again and again,” says J√≥zsef Szabadkai, an indexer in Hungary.

Today FamilySearch continues to gather historical records from governments and record custodians all over the world. But instead of simply filming the records and making the films available to researchers, FamilySearch employees scan them into the indexing program. Volunteers pull up these images on their computers and type in the information as they see it. In this way, the information is digitized and can be found through the search function on FamilySearch.org while researchers sit in the comfort of their own homes."

I was intrigued, a fun and interesting service that I can do from home on my computer? (I love anything related to computers!) I wanted to try it. So I went to FamilySearch.org's indexing page HERE to see what it was all about. There I was met with a page that looks like this:

This photo is a link, so clicking on it will take you directly to the site. All of the other photos in this post are not links. You can click on them to see them full-sized, which I highly recommend to get full understanding of what I'm explaining. =)

This is a page that invites anyone who is interested to join the world of indexing, which, as the article states, is a worldwide project to translate scanned documents into digital information, thereby, overtime, eliminating the need to look at hard-to-read microfiche while working on family history.

Family history is an extremely important work in the LDS Church, as we believe that everyone, even those who have passed on, should have the opportunity for baptism, eternal marriage, and being sealed eternally to their families. Still, even if you are not LDS and don't believe these things, family history is important. Knowing where we come from is important, and genealogy (putting your family tree together) can open doors to finding out more about yourself.

So indexing is a way to make important public information, like birth and death certificates, war records, census records, etc. more available to everyone and anyone looking to work on their family history. This is something anyone can do, even kids (probably about 13 and up.) Again, this is something for anyone, regardless of religion, age, education level, and you only need basic computer skills and a computer on which to work.

On that opening page that I posted above the first thing you are invited to do is a "test run," where the site gives you an old document and asks you questions about it to see if you are able to find the necessary information. It is very easy and the site helps you through the first steps. Then, if you decide to continue, you are led to the page where you download the program to your computer. The download time is very short. I left the icon on my dock (the Apple desktop) so that it is very available whenever I have a few free moments.

Once you click on the icon that appears, you will see this page (my screen shot already shows the projects I'm working on): Click on the image to see full-sized...

At the top it says "Download Batch," which you click on to get your first set of items to index. A batch is a group of documents (usually around 10-20) that you will see in order to start indexing. For instance, right now I'm part of a project where I'm indexing names from Texas death certificates between 1890-1976. This is what I see with the batch I'm working on:

This is a death certificate of a man who died in 1954 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The red circles are mine, because morbidly curious that I am, I find the causes of death very interesting! (Aside from the natural causes, I've seen gunshots, "burned while house caught fire," and "fell while in a drunken state." ) And, of course, the saddest ones are the death certificates of children. I find the death certificates fascinating, because the loss of a loved one affects so many people.

There are many things that the site does to make it easy for indexers. For instance, there are tutorials. which I highly recommend. My accuracy greatly improved after watching one of the tutorials. And, if necessary you can send a batch back unfinished (although they discourage against it.) I will admit that I did do this a couple of times at the beginning. I was given a household census that was extremely difficult to read, even though it was in the Beginner category, and I just didn't feel like I had the skills to do it justice.

So how do you know how accurate you are while indexing? First of all, when you input names, places, and dates, the field you are working in may turn red. This just means that the database doesn't recognize it, it does not mean that what you inputted is wrong. At the end of the batch, when you're ready to submit it back, it goes through a quality check, which gives you a chance to double-check red-highlighted fields. It is important to do this, and not to just assume that you got it right the first time. For instance, I accidentally listed someone's name as Carfield when it should have been Garfield.

Lastly, you can check your accuracy once it has gone through arbitration. Each document is indexed by 2 people, and then a 3rd person, called an arbitrator, compares the 2, finds discrepancies, and is basically the tie-breaker.

This screen shot shows that I have a 97% agreement between the names I've indexed and the arbitration check.

You can also click on the results and see exactly where the discrepancies were, which is a good way to correct future mistakes. This is a list of batches I've already submitted and how accurate I was. As you can see, I started off terribly! 77%! That's like a C+!

But the value of looking over my mistakes is seeing what they were and not repeating them. A lot of them were very basic, because there are certain rules you have to follow. For instance, if you see VA, you have to type out "Virginia." If you see Wm., you have to leave it as is, and not type out William. You are also not supposed to leave a field completely blank. If the document is missing information or a section is unreadable, there are "blank" and "unreadable" icons that you are supposed to click.

The beauty of it is that every single time you click on a new field, there are guidelines off to the right to help you. So when I was on the field of a person's state of birth and saw VA, if I had read the guidelines properly, I would've seen that it said plain as day to type out the entire state.

Pretty cool, huh?

FamilySearch does encourage that you not bite off more than you can chew. They ask that the batches you download be returned within a week. So, although you can download up to 50 batches, I usually download anywhere from 3-5, just so I'm not overwhelmed, because as soon as you feel overwhelmed you don't want to do it anymore.

One great thing about indexing is that it really got me jazzed up to find out more about my own family. I'm lucky, because I am the owner of 2 books that were written about genealogy, one for each grandmother, and my maternal grandfather did a lot of research when he was alive. Still, there are HUGE gaps of information. We know literally nothing about my paternal grandfather and his family tree.

This is a book written by my cousin, Leopoldo, who did years of research into the Amayas, my maternal grandmother's family.

My great-great-great-great grandparents. Don't they look fun?

A book of genealogy on my maternal grandmother's side.
I had an uncle who invented the machine that tied the string on the newspaper. And, the Bunn coffee machines that you see everywhere? That started out as a family company!

A picture of my great-great grandmother Alice (Bunn) Gale. And for a colorful explanation of another relative, read the page opposite the picture, starting at 234. Isn't family history fun?

Some old (original) family photos of my dad's side of the family in our living room. I love that picture in the middle of my great-great grandmother Alice.

Family history is such a great and worthy work. I love knowing about my relatives from days passed that I would never know of if it wasn't for the efforts of those who have done family history. So indexing is a great way to be part of something bigger and better to help others who are doing their research. In the past 3 days I have indexed 246 names. I think that is awesome. It is relaxing, and a lot more productive that playing Words With Friends or Solitaire (I'm not dissing those games, they are a lot of fun and I play them too! =)

In this big world, where we often feel so small, it is quite fulfilling to be a part of something that connects us all. Whenever I start a new batch, I try to stay very focused and go in with a frame of mind that what I'm doing will help someone else, just as the work someone else is doing may help me in the future.

As it says on the indexing home page "Every person matters."

Here is a 5 min video explaining the process once more. I encourage you to see it full-sized, because it really walks you through each step.

Hopefully this post will recruit a few people! It really is a lot of fun getting a glimpse into the past as you do this important work. Happy indexing!