Family


Since we moved back to this side of the world, every break has been about accomplishing as much visiting with family and friends as we can manage to squeeze into the time allotted. This has been absolutely wonderful but has also left us looking for a bit of actual vacation time. Since we had neither the time or energy to do the planning needed for a trip, we opted for the easy route and booked a Western Caribbean cruise.Since our dates were predetermined by the school calendar we had little choice in terms of destinations or ship so ended up sailing out of Tampa on the Rhapsody of the Seas.

The ship was quite lovely, our little cabin very cosy and pleasant and our cabin and dinner company were just fine. As always the food was very plentiful and always available and there was opportunities to dance every evening. We were disappointed by just how “commercialized” everything on the ship has become since our last cruise thirteen years ago. Much of what used to be quiet sitting areas, library and games room had been converted to retail sales space and we were constantly bombarded with announcements and fliers for “once in a life time offers” for art, jewelry, photographs and of course your next cruise. .

Two of our days were spent sailing and we booked snorkeling excursions at each of our four shore stops. Roatan is a small island on the coast of Honduras, with beautiful reefs close enough to the beach that we were simply able to swim out and see some amazing coral and fantastic fish.

Belize does not have a port large enough for the cruise ships to dock so we needed to anchor quite a distance away from shore and tender into the port. We opted to take a forty-five minute boat ride to a tiny, private island that is completely surrounded by a coral reef that is said to have 106 different species of live coral, 500 species of colorful fish and hundreds of invertebrate species. The guide was very knowledgeable and the calm waters just off the beach were perfect for snorkeling.

In Cozumel, the reef was somewhat deeper so allowed for us to see some larger species of fish and different types of coral but unfortunately the weather was overcast and limited our vision somewhat. After just a few minutes on the beach, a thunderstorm hit and we ended up spending the remainder of the excursion under a thatch hut being plied with free margaritas. Costa Maya was much the same with some half-way decent snorkeling just off the beach and Ernesto offering endless free rum punch.

We finished our cruise where we began, in Tampa, and had a nice breakfast at the Sheraton Riverwalk where we had spent our first night. We would recommend the hotel, which is perfectly located and has a nice view of the river. Tampa was an unexpected surprise, a very nice American city with a lively core and pleasant vibe. In future we intend to explore a little more of Florida, especially the Gulf Coast, which is clean and affordable, and only an hour’s flight from Cayman. Bon voyage!

It is often said that cousins are the first friends we will ever have. True, but they are far more than that. Cousins not only draw from some of the same gene pool, but also show up on the same family tree. They share irrevocable experiences of childhood that can never be lost and an understanding of the unique joys and challenges of your crazy family. No matter where life takes you, neither geography or decades can take any of that away. All that is certainly true for Sandra and I.

Our mother’s were sisters and we were born five weeks (I being the more mature of the two) and one mile apart. As kids we did everything together. We were always in the same class at school until we headed into high school. I always figured that she got the beauty but I got the brains. Our lives took very different paths in that she married soon after graduating from high school and she and Larry raised their three kids fairly close to home. We both had two boys and a girl but my slower start meant that our oldest child was born about a month after her youngest. Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her kids settled close to home while ours scattered to various sides of the continent.

We had a great time of catching up and reminiscing this week as Sandra and Larry came to Cayman to get a break from winter and spend some precious time with us. We took the opportunity to celebrate not only our shared 65th birthdays but also their 46th and our 39th anniversaries, by taking a catamaran cruise across the North Sound to a favourite restaurant. That whole cousin thing was most evident when Sandra and I would kill ourselves laughing over shared jokes that only puzzled Steve and Larry.

It is always fun to introduce others to the beauty, peace and experiences of our adopted home of Grand Cayman. We shared beautiful sunsets, picnics on the beach and evening visits on the patio. Larry even decided that he enjoyed swimming in the ocean and Sandra reigned in her claustrophobic tendencies to explore the wonders of the underwater universe, in a submarine. It was wonderful visit all around.

March 22-29/17

Yesterday I was 64 and today I am 65, a significant milestone by most anyone’s definition. We marked the day with a cruise across the North Sound with some friends from CIS and dinner at our favourite, funky restaurant.

When I was young, I often thought about how it would feel to be 65. To be officially a senior citizen, a recipient of OAS, free from the challenges of work and child-rearing, just relaxing and trying my best to make my body and mind last as long as possible. Not surprisingly, that is not at all how it feels to be 65.

While I definitely do not feel old, I also most definitely do not feel young either; and I am rejoicing in the differences between the two. Seasoned by years of dealing with difficult, challenging and at times heart breaking circumstances while recognizing God’s ever-present hand; gives me the confidence that I can face whatever lies ahead without the fear and anxiety that often haunted the years when I was young. I have more confidence in the person that I am, in the gifts I have been given and the skills that I have developed and I have less need to measure up to the imagined or real expectations of others.

Yet I still enjoy and am no less interested in, the same things that I did as a young person. Plus, those things are enhanced by my own grown children, the spouses they have chosen and the wonderful grandchildren that we love so dearly. I am no less adventuresome, am still having fun and have the freedom, education and finances to choose my activities. I had a full and rewarding career in Nursing, eight amazing years to serve in SE Asia and finally the opportunity to pursue the education that had repeatedly been set aside in order to meet more urgent needs.

Most of all, I have the joy of sharing this journey with the love of my life; a faithful husband who loves the Lord and has supported and encouraged me every step of the way. He has a passion for excellence and a hunger for learning and his commitment to, and compassion for, those he serves have spurred me on to be that best that I can be.

I appreciate each day more fully, celebrate each small pleasure and experience more deeply and I am exceedingly grateful for each person in my life. I am fortunate to be in good health and the loss of health, even the lives of many friends, reminds me of just how blessed I am to still be able to speak into the lives of others. I have learned that every day is precious, love is a profound and sacred gift, prayer changes things, gratitude corrects perspective, being right is not always the most important thing. I know there is no point in judging others because they are often just trying to do the best they can, forgiveness and generosity are healing for me as much as for the other and dancing is good for the body and the soul. I know there are many more things left that I would like to do.


I love being a Grandma and one of the joys of this period of being an unemployed graduate, is the freedom to drop everything and hang out with kids and grandkids. Liz and Greg were able to get away for a week in Phoenix at Greg’s parent’s home there. They graciously invited me to meet them there to get in some stolen grandkid time. It is a great home, on a canal with a fun little pontoon boat for tootling around the neighbourhood. The great sun-soaked back yard has a lovely little pool and plenty of ducks to feed.

 

The kids are growing up so quickly and seem to develop in leaps and bounds between each visit. Russ is three and a half and a delight to be with. He is very polite, greeting new people with “hello, it is very nice to meet you”. It was fascinating to watch him independently reading books that most kids in grade two would struggle to read. He was delighted to be a big boy, sleeping on the pull-out in his other grandma’s room.

Layla, at fifteen months is as sweet as they come. She decided this week that walking is the best choice for mobility and went from a tentative steps between furniture to confidently motoring around the house and playground. She feel in love with some over-sized stuffed animals that decorate the bedrooms and spent hours playing with them. I took her for a walk to the drugstore and bought her a small, bug-eyed stuffed kitten. She spent the entire walk home playing a little game by herself in which she would hug and rock the kitten and then place it in the cupholder of her stroller. After a few seconds, she would repeatedly sign “more, more” and then finally pick up the kitten for more hugs. It was the sweetest thing I have ever seen.

Greg and Liz left on the Friday and I stayed on for a Grandma weekend with Greg’s mom, Holly. We were joined by Greg’s sister’s mother-in-law Joanne who also shares two grandkids with Holly who are essentially the same age as Russ and Layla. We had a fun, relaxing weekend, with some fine dining and wining, shopping and even a couple of rounds of Top Golf. These are ladies you can really brag bout your grandkids to.

It was the winter of 2006 when we were last together as a family. Together? Only in thought . Our son was in Albany, his wife Nicole any day expecting their first child. Pam’s dear mother, recently passed, was not yet interred. We had already signed on with Taylor’s College in Malaysia, and although we had sold our renovated hovel on Upper Ave, we had not yet moved into the condo we had bought on Wharncliffe as a hedge against what we were sure would be an escalation of real estate during our sojourn in Southeast Asia. The family gathered for a funeral, which was the closest to a family Christmas we had that year. It was to be the last gathering for us for many years, and our last Christmas in Canada until this year.

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Much has happened in the intervening ten years. We are much older, more educated, much more travelled, and perhaps wiser, though time will be the best judge of such an assessment. However, for all our adventures – and there have been many as any random sample of this weblog will attest – there has been a sadly missing dimension of this last decade: we have been miserable grandparents, at least in our own estimation. Following that sad interment of Pam’s Mom those many years ago, we returned to our home on Upper Ave to a voice mail from our son that said their first child had been born. With scarcely a pause to pack, we set out for Albany to welcome baby Benjamin into the world; a blessing of joy hard upon a season of sorrow.

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From that time until this season we have not been home for Christmas. Though Taylor’s College was good enough to send us home at company expense, it was only once a year. A meager salary – by North American standards, at least – meant that this was all we could afford while we were there. Though Malaysia was clearly the Lord’s will for us, and was productive in ministry for eight years, it warred against our hearts to be so far away from our children’s five children as they were born and began to grow.  It was for this reason that we began to pray as long as four years ago, that the Lord would see fit to relocate us to the Western hemisphere so we could be closer to our family.

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This year was the culmination of that prayer as we were able to travel not only to Toronto and London to see our siblings and their families, but also to Cleveland, Ohio to see Benjamin, now 10, and his two younger sisters in their new home. Words are insufficient – to see our son and his wife, and our grandchildren in their own home at Christmas; to play Santa in the distribution of presents; to sit around the table at a meal; to build Star Wars Lego with Ben; to dance with Abi and Eli to Wii, to watch The Wizard of Oz with our three grandchildren while their parents celebrated New Year’s in downtown Cleveland – these are gifts beyond measure, beyond price. These are treasures to hold in our memories for all time.

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Words fail. You read this and look at the prose and the content. These mean so little. How can words express the holes in our hearts over these long years without our family at this most holy time? For this Christ came. For this He died. To show to us the importance of a love that is willing to endure whatever it costs to show that love to others. How so very grateful we are to the love that has been shown to us by all our family; to my dear sister-in-law and her two lovely daughters who put up with us/put us up in Toronto; to Pam’s most gracious brother and sister-in-law in London who did the same in London; and to our son and loving daughter-in-law, who shared their home and children with us in Ohio.

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We are closer now than we were in Malaysia. It is but a four hour direct from Toronto on either Air Canada or Westjet. And we promise, as long as the Lord allows us to remain in Cayman, that we will never again go through a Christmas without our family, either in Cayman or in Canada. We cannot replace those ten years, but neither will we ever add to them again.

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Elizabeth Epp, Director of Health and Wellness

For thirty-three years we have been over-joyed as we watched our daughter Elizabeth grow into such a competent and caring woman. Despite a string of not so bright (or kind!) English teachers in her high school years, she still chose to get her degree in English and Communications, slogging long hours at Tim Horton’s to make ends meet. Her career path since then has been somewhat eclectic, from cleaning horse stalls to grooming dogs, from retail management to executive assistant in oil companies.

For the past three years we have been in awe of her strength, grace and compassion as she became a Mom to Russ, dealt with the unthinkable loss of their darling baby Raylan and their twins they never got to meet. We are so grateful for Greg, the young man that has been her supportive husband for the past six years. Their beautiful little Layla brought great joy and a measure of healing to their little family. Her first year of life was overshadowed by the illness and passing of Greg’s Dad, two days before her first birthday.

One of the most amazing things of it all was that all this time, behind the scenes, Liz was studying part-time to follow a dream to become a Recreational Therapist and work with Senior citizens. At one point, in the midst of loss, she was out of school too long and was forced to repeat a number of courses. She was able to use the last two months of her maternity leave to finish her final internship and before that internship was even finished she landed a dream job at a brand new luxury retirement community just a few minutes away from their home. Her new title is Director of Health and Wellness.

This is not a role that we saw in her future of our daughter when we were raising her, although we certainly saw her helping and compassionate spirit. We are both so delighted to see our darling daughter take this next step in her life, and of course we wish her all the best. But more than that. Our prayer is that she will grow to become the person in her career that she is in her dear heart.

 

We are very proud of our son Jonathan but readily admit that we can’t even begin to understand what it is he does. Best just to let him tell it.

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The last big company I worked for afforded me a number of different roles. At the start of my career, I worked for about 10 years as a software developer — a job I was passionate about and reasonably proficient at. After about a decade of that, though, I got a little tired of constantly learning how to solve the same problems again but with yet another new technology, but also afraid of turning into the guy in the cubicle next to me who was still doing the same job on 20 year old technology.

Fortunately, God moved my career toward more commercial roles, and I realized that my sweet spot would be somewhere between technology and business. It turns out there are a lot of different options for careers for people like me. I tried my hand at evangelism, business development, and finally product management. And that last stop, at Amazon, felt like home. As a product owner, you get to create the theories of market impact, define the vision, and once in execution mode, you can go as deep as you want with the engineering team on how to solve the problems that get you there. There aren’t many jobs where you can be in an executive board room one minute, and checking in code for the nightly build the next.

About 15 months ago, when I started my current job, our leadership had put out a dual challenge: do something in a space called “analytics”, and go fast. Analytics is just information software, which I wrote for years. And going fast is something we did really well at Amazon. It was a good fit. My new boss and I spent many hours reviewing analyst and market data, talking to customers and potential partners, and (for me) learning about what technology we had available to us in-house. Old friends and colleagues provided input and guidance, and a plan formed. We went back to the leadership and proposed assembling a small, cross-functional team with engineering, design, quality, business and product skills all reporting to the same leader (an “A-Team” if you like…) My boss would be that leader, and I would lead the product and technical effort. We set a goal of building a product in one calendar year, from sketch on a whiteboard to box on shelves — an unheard of target at this company, but one we thought we could pull off by combining new code with some existing bits pulled together to express something new.

In January of this year, after a few false starts and final approvals, we had the core of the team: 3 software developers, 1 part time designer, me as a product owner, and my boss as manager and business owner. Within a couple weeks we had added a test automation developer, a part time researcher and a front-end contract developer, and we were off to the races. Although we had those pre-existing bits, our computers, and a few cardboard boxes of tech that one of the developers brought with them, we were otherwise starting from scratch. The team built our test environment, simulating an industrial operation, our build system, pulling together and compiling the code from each participant, and our process, a combination of Scrum and Kanban with a lean Agile philosophy.

We work in 2 week sprints, automate our testing to ensure quality within a small team, and demo our work regularly to the leadership and potential customers. By August we had prepared a “preview release” that we invited 5 customers to run in their labs to validate our approach and ideas. And in less than 2 weeks, we’ll officially announce our product to the world at our annual conference. We lost a developer to retirement this summer, which impacted our velocity, but our contract developer moved to full time, as a great hire for the company, and we’ll soon have the empty seat filled for the final stretch of this race.

My job is a lot of things I love — and just a few I don’t. I do get into the code, a little more than I expected, but it helps take some of the pressure of the team’s deliverables. I present a lot, and throughout the year, as our product has evolved, those get more fun. Customers have never seen anything quite this cool coming from this space. We’re leveraging some consumer technology and ideas to make our product more approachable and interactive, with a focus on making sure customers can start using what we’re building within minutes (as opposed to weeks or months for most information software in industrial automation.) Because we’re in a big company, I also have to do a lot of paperwork — a necessary step for audit-ability and customer confidence — but thanks to some of the pre-work by other smart people in the company, we’re able to do a “light version” of the process, on the understanding that our product will be able to be updated and improved continuously after launch.

The codename for the product is Shelby — and as it started fetching information for us, Shelby took on a dog personality. Its software and hardware, married together as a single-purpose, near zero-configuration appliance. On start-up, it needs to know what language you speak, what time it is, and how it will get an IP address — and that’s about it. Shelby configures itself from there by exploring the operation its been connected to, identifying the parts, and building an information model about what it sees. Once that’s done, it starts analyzing the data and looking for problems in the operation, and producing information about what’s going wrong (or potentially, about to go wrong.) In the customer sites and labs we’ve been in, Shelby’s record so far is 121 devices and 23 problems — all discovered in less than 3 minutes. To be clear, this could be done before Shelby — but it would take weeks of custom system and tool configuration. Shelby makes turning data into information an instant and repeatable solution, that customers can buy as a (relatively) inexpensive product and service.

We’ve had highs and lows, support from outside has come and gone and come back again, but my little team has never failed to wow people with what we’ve accomplished in the short amount of time we’ve been working together. I couldn’t be more proud of my crew, and of our little product. Its industrial analytics for everyone; its a little bit of magic in a box, and its almost here.

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