Sunday, January 31, 2016

This past week was Transfer Week and what a week it was! It happens every six weeks with the arrival of a new group of young missionaries, providing them with Canada specific training, announcing their assignments, and getting them to their assigned areas. At the same time another group of missionaries are at the end of their missions and are going home. They need to be transported back to Calgary where they meet together, stay overnight in the mission home, receive their airline tickets and itinerary, and prepare to return home. So its one trip to the airport for the incoming group (Tuesday), and a few days later a return to the airport to take those who are leaving (Friday). These two events are busy enough, but now picture in your minds what else is going on; remember that missionaries work as companionships and when one is going home or is being transferred to another area, the remaining Elder or Sister must travel to a central place to receive another missionary to complete the companionship.

For those who are not familiar with LDS missions; when our young Elder or Sister missionaries have served for a certain length of time in a particular area, they are transferred to another area. This is done for a number of reasons. Since there are more potential areas of service than there are missionary pairs, some areas are closed as to missionaries serving there and others are opened (and speaking from my own experience, a change of missionary companionships is good for compatibility reasons; there were definitely some of my companions whom I was happy to see moving on to be someone else's challenge, - just sayin').

For the "car czar" (read Elder Thorley), the week was stressful for other reasons. With all the missionary movements, there is the problem of needing to move some of the cars around. In the meantime two new cars had arrived (Wednesday) and needed to be placed in areas where the cars were being taken out of the fleet. Three cars needed to come to Calgary for some collision repairs (mostly dented car doors and bumpers from slick and icy road mishaps, and sheared off mirrors, etc.). Cars being moved to other areas had to be taken into consideration. Since not all missionaries are qualified drivers, each companionship with a car has to have an approved driver. Some cars needed to be taken out of the fleet for 1-3 weeks for repairs and adjustments had to be taken to try to keep the companionships mobile. This had to be worked out for two staging points, here in Calgary and the other in Lethbridge.

The transfer day was Thursday, so on Thursday morning we all gathered at the Willow Park Chapel, which is very close to the mission home, and loaded up those being transferred to the south mission, -some in the mission van and others driving the cars going south. Despite the leadership's best efforts to ensure that the apartment keys, the car gas cards, the cell phones, etc. that are intended to stay in the area do not go with the transferring missionaries, something always goes awry and it did on Thursday as well, but that is a story for another time.

The drive to Lethbridge is nearly two hours. Gathering there were all the Elders and Sisters from areas sometimes hundreds of miles away, including those who were going home or were being transferred to the north mission. The scene was initially total chaos with some 20-30 missionaries who had not seen each other for some time hugging and renewing friendships - and ignoring instructions. Also picture, even though the day was quite warm (47 degrees!), the usual Lethbridge wind was blowing and it was hard to be heard over the elements. The goal was to be on the road back to Calgary within 45 minutes and we nearly made it, but first luggage had to be transferred from the cars to the van and trailer, car assignments had to be made for the cars going out to the south areas (which included the two new vehicles), and drivers designated for each of the vehicles identified. Also there was an effort to ensure (again) that no one was taking keys, phones, or gas cards to their new areas that were intended to remain.

Arriving back in Calgary, the group was met by the missionaries awaiting their new companions and again, it was difficult to be heard over the exuberance of missionaries greeting former companions and other with whom they had served in their previous areas. The Chinook winds, while lighter in Calgary than Lethbridge, had turned the church parking lot into slush. Finally we got everyone on their way to their areas. The day ended up with arranging to get the mission van, the truck and trailer, and the three "injured" cars to the mission office. The mission staff was exhausted!, but it was a nice feeling as, all in all, it had gone well.

The remaining events involving the missionaries returning home included meeting with President and Sister Miles for a dinner followed by a trip to the Calgary temple, and then on Friday morning we hauled all of those returning home to the airport and bid them a sad goodbye. It is a touching event to see missionaries shed tears as they bid goodbye to each other and this area in which they have served. They have each been blessed and they return home as more mature adults and are so grateful for the many wonderful memories they have of the people they have served and the message of the Gospel and the restoration of Christ's ancient church.

Yesterday, after washing our car and cleaning our apartment, Kathy and I decided to drive to the Banff mountains and on to Lake Louise to see the ice sculptures we had heard about. Kathy and I visited Lake Louise while we were dating and loved it. That was summer time; this time during the dead of winter. The weather, as mentioned above, has been warm in the region, and while it was warmer than usual at Lake Louise, it was still quite cold. I will include a number of pictures so you can see what we saw. Unfortunately, the pictures do not do justice to the detail carved into the sculpted ice in part due to some fresh snow on them as well. I have posted a video clip of the house made of blocks of ice for you to see.

Have a wonderful week!

Please see the pictures below, and the video clip posted on FaceBook on my page.

    Elk gathered in a meadow outside of Canmore.

                     My favorite

                     Sea horses

Snow sculpture

Don't know how there is water that is not frozen on this end of the lake.

Looking east from the lake

The hotel at Lake Louise


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Chinooks are for real! We have had an abnormally warm week with mild breezes and melting snow producing slushy roads but otherwise nice conditions. Last night were treated again to some snow, only a couple of inches, but no bitter cold weather to follow. Nice!

We are bracing for our first experience with receiving a batch of new missionaries and saying goodbye to the ones who are preparing to return home at the end of their missions. This is known as "transfer week" and it is uniquely challenging and busy. We will say more about it next week after the experience.

I learned this week that we are about receive a few new vehicles, - Nissan AWD Rogues. The timing of their arrival could be better so will have to delay doing the new car inspections until early the following week. Then, once we have decided which cars will come out of the fleet and be sold, we have to drive the new vehicles to the areas where they will be assigned and bring the older vehicles home to be detailed and sold. At least two of them will be going to missionaries in the Canadian Rockies where the snowfall is more of a problem and so we will get to see the Banff area in winter time. We enjoyed traveling there before we were married (having no idea we would be returning for a mission!). People here know that missionary cars turn over from time to time; I get one to two calls a week from people who are interested in one of our cars. I have yet to learn how a price gets set for them but will soon learn that facet of the process I'm sure. Anyway, the cars which are to be sold are detailed and tires replaced if needed, and either go to auction or are sold to private parties. I'm going to try something I hope will work. This is a funny Midas add called, Canadian Car Chase, which we first saw while in the MTC. I hope you get a kick out of it: Canadian Car Chase.

If I can figure out a way to do it, in a future blog I hope to share a very funny video we were shown in the MTC from a driving safety DVD the Church uses. It is about two hillbillies making fun of and mocking two missionaries backing out of a parking space. Missionaries in all missions are required to have the non-driving missionary get out and watch behind and to the sides of the missionary vehicle while the driver backs up. This truly helps improve safety. The importance of this was emphasized last week when one missionary pair didn't follow the rules and, in their hurry to get to an appointment, quickly backed up and into a pickup passing by. Fortunately this was in a church parking lot and the vehicle they ran into was one owned by the Church and operated by facilities maintenance personnel. The Church's insurance covers both vehicles. My recommendation to the mission president was that they walk for a couple of weeks.

Kathy has been busy much of the week working on the mission newsletter amid her other duties. It gets published electronically so that it can be seen and read by our missionaries when they send their weekly email home to their families.

Friday at the close of business, we went with one of the other couples to dinner and then to do a session at the Calgary temple. We enjoyed this so much that we are planning to make this a weekly event.

We wish you all the very best. We love and miss you!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sorry but no pictures to share with this posting.

Wow, the daytime temperature got up into the 40s for a couple of days this past week. While it was nice to not have to wear our heavy coats, it did make the roads and parking lots quite sloppy with slush as the snow melted.

As those of you who have visited Canada know, living here is very much like living in the U.S.; lots of the same stores and eating places and many of the same customs. Of course the language is the same and they drive on the right side of the road, but then there are the differences. The greatest difference is Canada's use of the metric system. Back in the 1970s I think it was, Canada made the decision to convert to the metric system to conform with Europe and pretty much the rest of the world. Distances are measured in millimeters, centimeters, and kilometers and volume in liters. Temperature is in Celsius degrees. The value of Canadian dollars is different than the U.S. Until we become more acclimated, all of this requires some mental gymnastics to convert values into something more meaningful for those of us with a U.S. mentality. Thank goodness we have an inner ring on our speedometer that shows kph.

I am gradually getting used to talking about speed and distance with the missionaries and with the various service managers with whom we do business for maintenance of our fleet of cars. It is interesting, however, that even some service managers who are Canadian natives refer to the a car's odometer distance traveled as"mileage" rather than as the odometer reading. All of the cars in the fleet get oil changes every 12,000 km, most of our car warranties run out at 60,000 km, and the cars get sold at auction or to individuals around 80,000 km.

With the ice and snow we average about one accident a day with our fleet of 80+ cars. Most of the accidents are parking lot accidents where someone slides into someone else or backs up and into someone. As to who is at fault, about 50% of the time it is one of our missionary drivers and about 50% due to other drivers running into one of our cars. With each accident, the missionaries involved, whether at fault or not, notify the mission office and then I give them instructions how to go online and fill out an incident report. This is automatically sent to the agency (Sedgwick) in Ottawa who handles the insurance coverage for the Church's fleet of cars whether mission cars, facilities management, social services, employment services, bishop's storehouse, family services, distribution, etc. (incidentally, each of these Church services are located in the same building we are in). Sedgwick acknowledges receipt of the incident report in an email back to us. The next step (at least for me) is to contact one or two collision/body and fender repair facilities for an estimate and photos. These are sent by email to Sedgwick and they then negotiate the repair costs with the repair facility and they authorize the repair and report the agreed upon price to me. I then set up the appointment and follow the progress of the repair until completion. Typically this takes the car out of service for more than a few days and I have to work with the missionaries through the zone leaders and district leaders to arrange for the affected missionaries to get to their areas and their appointments. We have one or two cars waiting to be sold or ones coming out of the repair shop that we can sometimes work into the process and this works okay for those serving in the Calgary area but when a car is needed clear across the mission this becomes problematic. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time on the telephone.

Most of the missionaries are, of course, quite young and are inexperienced when it comes to car problems so I get called about many things, some of which are a bit amusing. Each companionship has a designated driver and that is the person who does all of the driving. Some of the missionaries coming from countries other than the U.S. or Canada do not know how to drive or have too little experience to be an approved driver, and some don't want to drive. All missionaries who have driver's licenses in their home state or country are required to provide a copy of their license as well as their driving record from their home area. More than a couple of violations usually means they wont be driving while on their mission.

'Photocop' is big in Canada; this is the local term for intersections with cameras that capture speeding cars, those that are late going through intersections, speeding up to get through an intersection when the light is yellow, etc. Speed zones crop up with very little warning and the police are famous for being quite hidden and shooting pictures of cars that are in violation, in which case you don't get pulled over at the time, you just get a picture mailed to you with the stated fine and where to go to pay it or appeal it. The fines for moving violations are very expensive. Since the mission cars are all registered to the mission office, these pictures come directly to us and we average a couple a week. The office pays the fine promptly but then the missionary has to reimburse the mission from their own funds. When a missionary gets a second such violation, usually their driving privilege goes away, often for the rest of their mission. The mission president makes the determination, but pulling a missionary's driving privileges can complicate the assignment process if the other person in the companionship is not an approved driver.

Kathy is the person who receives and enters the gas receipts and monthly vehicle kilometer reports into the data base. She handles much of the office correspondence and the mission president's calendaring of activities and appointments around the mission. She handles incoming missionary referrals and ensures that these are distributed promptly and ensures that the results of these contacts are recorded. Kathy is also my assistant with vehicle matters; while we haven't had to do car inspections as yet, this is coming as we approach the first of the zone conferences which are held quarterly around the mission. While I inspect each of the cars (I will be out in the cold), she will sit in the warm car and record the findings as I call them off. A gift certificate is awarded to the pair of missionaries who have done the best job maintaining the car's cleanliness and needed service. The inspection involves checking the car for cleanliness, checking all fluid levels and tire pressure, tire tread depth, and looking for any unreported damages, warranty items, needed repairs, etc. We can hardly wait for this (wink, wink).  And one other thing to report, we have four new cars inbound to us. They are supposed to arrive within the next two weeks. These will replace some cars that are at or beyond the 80,000 km. These will be sold. We will then some additional new experiences; registering the new cars, determining where they can be best utilized (since they are AWD, they will likely go to the Banff area of British Columbia with is part of the mission), and preparing and selling the cars coming out of the fleet. I'll tell you how this goes when it happens. The Church is great at preparing guidelines to follow for all of this but there is no guarantee that all it will go smoothly. I guess I'm a glass half empty kind of guy. ;^)

We are doing well and are happy in the work we are doing. We wish you all the very best.

Elder and Sister Thorley

Sunday, January 10, 2016

At the risk of your deciding there isn't much very exciting to read in the Thorley mission blog, I will begin by saying we have nothing much to tell except that we were busy doing our jobs, but that is what we are here to do.

With the passing of the first day of January, the pace of the work picks up even more. Each missionary pair with a car (84 of them) is required to log their daily distance traveled. Each missionary pair has a certain number of approved kilometers for their given area. Each car has an associated gas card. All of this data is sent to the office and the data entered. This falls to Kathy and me. Fortunately, Kathy's great computer skills make data entry go quickly. The kilometer data is beat against the approved travel distances and a spreadsheet is prepared for the mission president. Kathy provides much of the input for the mission president's schedule and makes all his travel arrangements and handles much of his correspondence.

More snow, fog, and continuing slick roads resulted in a flurry of accidents involving missionary cars. Sub-zero weather also has been a problem for dead and dying batteries and this has particularly been so for the Subaru Imprezas. I don't think I will be interested in buying one of them for my own use. ;^) I am on the telephone constantly with repair facilities. The mission cars are scattered over a wide area; it seems as soon as one car is repaired, another takes its place in the shop. The circumstances of some accidents are rather humorous, others not so, but, fortunately none of our missionaries have been injured, except pride. None of the incidents this week involved turning donuts in parking lots!

Saturdays are the mission staff's preparation day (P-day) so we are not in the office. Kathy and I hurried through cleaning our apartment and then headed for Okotoks, a beautiful city south of Calgary. It was a beautiful drive and we enjoyed ourselves. The pine trees were right out of a Christmas post card scene; snow plus a coating of frost from some fog that had been present. Since the day was sunny, the trees just sparkled.

Today was our stake conference. It was wonderful. The Canada Calgary Stake is in good hands. We were so impressed with the stake presidency and others who spoke including our own President and Sister Miles. The stake center is a remarkable and unique building; it was designed by N. Eldon Tanner when he was stake president. The east side of the stake center looks out on the downtown area from a distance of a couple of miles; quite dramatic.

Tonight we were treated to a beautiful sunset (see below). If you look carefully, you can see mountains in the distance. They look small from this perspective but they are, in fact, the incredibly craggy and high mountains of Banff.

We send our best to all of you. We are happy in our work, busy but happy.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Well, I guess this speaks to finishing the blog entry when one starts it. This is the third time I have set about to update our blog. I have found that "saving it" to finish it later doesn't truly save it.

So we have lots to update since the Christmas blog. We have daily increased our knowledge and understanding of our office duties. Kathy is busy preparing handouts and other items for upcoming leadership conferences which will be held this week and in the near weeks to come for our missionaries, and she has been busy with Pres. and Sis. Miles' schedule - reserving church buildings around the mission and places for Pres. and Sis. Miles to stay as they make they way around much of Alberta and eastern British Columbia.

My duties of course, concern the 84 cars in the mission fleet. Cars and cold weather are not necessarily a good mix unless one is sitting in a warm car, gazing out on a beautiful winter scene, and not having to drive anywhere, but that is not what it is about. Slick roads, cars that won't start, batteries that are run down due to cranking a car engine, and missionaries practicing their winter driving skills in church parking lots (read, turning donuts in snowy parking lots and sliding into sidewalks and light poles) all made for a lively Christmastime period. This week begins my first exposure to having to deal with all the gas card receipts and car logs and where each vehicle stacks up against the mileage (excuse me, kilometer) limits. All of this information is entered into a data base. This data base also involves entering expense data for each car to account for tires, batteries, oil changes, and body and fender work. Once I have entered the invoices for work done, I am happy to hand them over to the office finance guru, Elder Peppinger.

We are now settled into our small but nice apartment. We bought a couple of bookcases from Ikea and now have adequate shelves for the stuff we brought. We are on the 12th floor of our building looking south so we benefit from the brief but pleasant sun exposure. As we look to the southwest we have a nice view of the mountains as well. Our apartment is warm, sometimes too warm. We pretty much don't have to set our thermostat as it remains in the mid-70s no matter what we set on the thermostat. Even the 4-level parking terrace is heated, and, as previously mentioned, we can walk through the parking terrace to a nice supermarket. The office is only 10 minutes away so even when it is cold outside, we are exposed only briefly.

We had a lovely New Year's Eve. We joined the other office couples and the couple who does the periodic inspections of the missionary apartments. We enjoyed a potluck dinner together and then played games until "late". We didn't last until midnight local MST; the picture below shows us celebrating midnight CST style. As we are such party animals, we went home about 11:15.

The picture which follows shows a wonderfully decorated holiday spot called Spruce Meadows. The site is a famous equestrian spot here in Canada. The grounds are made up of different equestrian venue sites, horse stables, and manicured gardens (not evident under the snow of course) but even in winter are beautiful. We look forward to seeing it in summer and attending some of the events.

   On Saturday Kathy and I were able to go to the Calgary Temple. We had visited the grounds before when we were here in July of 2013, but is was nice to see what a beautiful building it is inside as well. We have brought along a number of names of our kindred dead and look forward to doing proxy work for them while we are here. A picture follows.

Our very best to you for a happy and prosperous New Year!